December 31, 2009
Intellectual Entrepreneurs : A highbrow journal rises in an era of sound bites
From Harvard Magazine:
Don’t be misled: n+1 is not a math quarterly. It’s a twice-yearly literary magazine whose first issue declared, in 2004, “We are living in an era of demented self-censorship…a time when a magazine like Lingua Franca can’t publish, but Zagat prospers.” Seven issues later, at more than 200 pages apiece, the Brooklyn-based n+1 continues to air trenchant views. “Pointed, closely argued, and often brilliantly original critiques of contemporary life and letters,” wrote A.O. Scott in the New York Times Magazine, describing n+1’s enterprise as “a generational struggle against laziness and cynicism.” Even intellectuals in Europe have championed it: theater director Alessandro Cassin, in Milan’s Diario, for example, cited n+1’s “brand of intellectual bravery that has its roots in magazines like T.S. Eliot’s Criterion and the Partisan Review.”
Newsmaker of the year: Steven Chu
Nature is pleased to name physicist Steven Chu, Nobel laureate and the US Secretary of Energy, as its Newsmaker of the Year.
Steven Chu made his name — and earned his Nobel prize — by developing an ingenious laser technique for capturing and studying atoms. He is an extraordinary experimentalist who loves the challenges of the lab. But five years ago, he embraced a much bigger challenge when he took the helm at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and dedicated it to clean-energy research. Chu was sworn in as secretary of the US Department of Energy this January, and is now charged with transforming the way the world's largest economy powers itself. That is why Nature has selected Chu as its Newsmaker of the Year.
Chu has already had a significant impact. From his position near the top of President Barack Obama's administration, he has helped make the case that the United States must commit to reducing its greenhouse-gas emissions, not only to save the planet but also to ensure that the country will be able to compete with China, India and Europe in the emerging green economy.
The mystery element in all this is freshness
I didn’t know until a friend told me that if you squeeze a dried bunch of lavender the tickly sharp scent is released all over again. Pips that fall away can be gathered and bundled into sachets, squeezed again months later, and your head aches with memories you’ve not even recalled till now, the scent as piercingly fine as at the beginning. Certain pictures release the same kind of charge. The soft, glowing languor of Watteau’s group of watchmen in The Portal of Valenciennes in the Frick; the gusting dread in the Met’s picture by Millet (untypical for him) of wild turkeys in an autumn windstorm; the Manet in the Barnes of sailors tarring a boat: the paint doesn’t look like torch-fire, it is torch-fire, and the boat under repair is the picture we’re looking at right now being painted and repainted. But one I’ve lived with longest, the one that has watched me over the arc of many years, is a small self-portrait Tintoretto made at the age of twenty-three that hangs in Philadelphia. I saw it when I was twenty years old, and I only recently realized how I’ve clung to its presence as I’ve gone about the work of making my life. It’s always the same but keeps changing up on me. I never could resist the picture’s brash daring—his over-the-shoulder stare says: Just watch what I can do.more from W. S. Di Piero at Threepenny Review here.
America is at once that rare thing, a complex cliché, and something all too familiar, a set of contradictions: "one nation under God, indivisible", but with a dozen varieties of Christianity, the product of Puritanism and the Enlightenment, a colony-turned-superpower equally defined by acts of violence and belief in freedom, isolationism and interventionism, conformity and self-reliance. And yet most of us have no trouble understanding the idea of an essential, even stable America, and possess what the critic Greil Marcus has called "a sense of what it is to be an American; what it means, what it's worth, what the stake of life in America might be". The interplay between America's heterogeneity and its aspiration to coherence is captured in the wording of the Declaration of Independence ("one people"), in the system of government (a federal republic), even in its adopted name (United States). But if we prefer not to think of these as contradictions, if America is a paradox rather than a hypocrite, if it possesses unity despite its divisions, then this is due to a distinctive process, something not quite covered by the terms "polity" or "democracy" or "melting pot".more from Leo Robson at The New Statesman here.
In praise of suburbia
The late J. G. Ballard was famous for living in suburbia, Shepperton to be precise. He thought it odd that anyone should think this odd. The suburbs were, in his view, the logical subject for any writer seeking to track shifts in culture, for the important post-war cultural trends had started there. The ’burbs were where it was at; they were socially as well geographically edgy, to use the sort of language he wouldn’t have used. It is hard to think of a more unfashionable claim. To the intelligentsia, the suburbs were and always have been the place where nothing happens, or nothing good. While the fates of the city and the countryside vex every bien-pensant breast, nobody pays much attention to the people who live in between, except to finger them as the Enemy. Lewis Mumford, in his heyday as the urban guru, declared that the flight to the suburbs “carries no hope or promise of life at a higher level”. D. H. Lawrence wrote in Kangaroo of the “utterly uninteresting” suburbs of Sydney (where he had been for all of a fortnight): those myriads of bungalows offered “no inner life, no high command, no interest in anything, finally”. From Byron to Graham Greene and Cyril Connolly, the “leafy middleclass suburbs” have been denounced as smug, small-minded and spiritually derelict.more from Ferdinand Mount at the TLS here.
For You to Understand
To be a jacket
To be a slave
To be a stepladder
To be forsaken
For you to understand
You must have a disability
To be a breast of money
For those who are abled
And be the belt
For civil servants
And be a grass mat for feet
The feet of the rich
The feet of the wealthy
For you to understand
You must have a disability
And ask for help day and night
No one will listen
The government and community
They all emphasize
They emphasize your worthlessness
And you also feel worthless
But for you to understand
You must have a disability
Discrimination has become obvious
To be undermined
People see a disability
And do not see a person
But for you to understand
You must have a disability
by Bongekile Joyce Mbanjwa
translation by Siphiwe ka Ngwenya
from Izinhlungu Zomphefumula
publisher Botsotso, Johannesburg, 2008
ROTFLMAO!!! Total Eclipse of the Heart: Literal Video Version
This is really funny! Please watch:
[Thanks to Zaneb Khan Beams.]
Happy new year from all of us at 3QD!
Simple Math Expressions Yield Intricate Visual Patterns
John Matson in Scientific American:
On December 5 John Baez, a mathematical physicist at the University of California, Riverside, posted a collection of images of polynomial roots by Dan Christensen, a mathematician at the University of Western Ontario, and Sam Derbyshire, an undergraduate student at the University of Warwick in England.
Polynomials are mathematical expressions that in their prototypical form can be described by the sum or product of one or more variables raised to various powers. As a single-variable example, take x2 - x - 2. This expression is a second-degree polynomial, or a quadratic, meaning that the variable (x) is raised to the second power in the term with the largest exponent (x2).
A root of such a polynomial is a value for x such that the expression is equal to zero. In the quadratic above, the roots are 2 and –1. That is to say, plug either of those numbers in for x and the polynomial will be equal to zero. (These roots can be found by using the famous quadratic formula.) But some roots are more complex. Take the quadratic polynomial x2 + 1. Such an expression is only equal to zero when x2 is equal to –1, but on its face this seems impossible. After all, a positive number times a positive number is positive, and a negative number times a negative number is positive as well. So what number, multiplied by itself, could be negative?
More here, including slide show.
Tony Judt writes movingly about having Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS)
From the New York Review of Books:
By my present stage of decline, I am thus effectively quadriplegic. With extraordinary effort I can move my right hand a little and can adduct my left arm some six inches across my chest. My legs, although they will lock when upright long enough to allow a nurse to transfer me from one chair to another, cannot bear my weight and only one of them has any autonomous movement left in it. Thus when legs or arms are set in a given position, there they remain until someone moves them for me. The same is true of my torso, with the result that backache from inertia and pressure is a chronic irritation. Having no use of my arms, I cannot scratch an itch, adjust my spectacles, remove food particles from my teeth, or anything else that—as a moment's reflection will confirm—we all do dozens of times a day. To say the least, I am utterly and completely dependent upon the kindness of strangers (and anyone else).
During the day I can at least request a scratch, an adjustment, a drink, or simply a gratuitous re-placement of my limbs—since enforced stillness for hours on end is not only physically uncomfortable but psychologically close to intolerable. It is not as though you lose the desire to stretch, to bend, to stand or lie or run or even exercise. But when the urge comes over you there is nothing—nothing—that you can do except seek some tiny substitute or else find a way to suppress the thought and the accompanying muscle memory.
But then comes the night.
Matt Kresling: Seventeen
The amazing story of how Esperanto came to be
Esther Schor in The New Republic:
To Esperantists, the man who created the language-movement is a household god, a patron saint. As for non-Esperantists who are aware of Zamenhof, he’s too unthreatening nowadays to be derided as a quixotic dreamer. Most regard him with mild condescension as a MittelEuropean, Jewish Geppetto, hammering together his little toy language in the hope that it might someday become real.
But inside this Geppetto was not only the dream of a new language, but also of something far stranger and unimagined: a new people altogether, and neither the Jews nor the Esperantists were the people he envisioned. Project by project, credo by credo, member by member, he tried to build a new people, a Geppetto with the audacity of Frankenstein.
December 30, 2009
U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan
President Obama asks how our strategy in Afghanistan will serve U.S. security interests, but McChrystal’s report answered an entirely different question: how can Afghanistan control its own territory? He prescribed for the United States the impossible task of creating a new Afghanistan while engaging in counterinsurgency against the Taliban. COIN inevitably requires military action against a major segment of the Afghan population and, in doing so, undermines the project of state-building.
In Obama’s “all of the above” plan, the Americans in Afghanistan will not be engaged in counterinsurgency—or in reconstruction—at all, but in creating something out of nothing.
Helena Cobban, Syed Saleem Shahzad, J. Alexander Thier, Andrew Exum, Aziz Hakimi, and Andrew J. Bacevich respond. Syed Saleem Shahzad:
The Obama administration’s troop surge fails to address the real threat in Afghanistan: the insurgents’ efforts to develop a regional strategy in South Asia. Washington’s focus—members of al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the traditional Afghan Taliban—misses the mark. Nir Rosen does, too, when he asks whether “a few hundred angry, unsophisticated Muslim extremists really pose such grave dangers to a vigilant superpower, now alert to potential threats.”
The November 2008 Mumbai attacks and the recent FBI arrests in Chicago for conspiracy to launch attacks in New Delhi suggest that containing the threat from Afghanistan is extremely complicated, and solutions must go beyond troop surges in Afghanistan, training Afghan police and soldiers, or even political dialogue with Taliban commanders inside the country. Intelligence agencies are now realizing that both the Mumbai events and the Delhi plans—plotted directly by al Qaeda affiliated groups, which I call the Neo-Taliban—were directly linked to Afghanistan, but also incorporated wider aims. The goal was to expand the theater of war to India so that Washington would lose track of its objectives and get caught in a quagmire.
An escalation of hostilities between Pakistan and India—open war—would cut off the NATO supply route to land-locked Afghanistan through the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi. NATO’s only alternate route—through Central Asian republics into northern Afghanistan—is economically unsustainable in a long war.
The chief planner of both conspiracies was Ilyas Kashmiri, a former Kashmiri separatist who survived an air strike from an unmanned CIA Predator in Pakistan’s North Waziristan in September 2009. According to U.S. intelligence, Kashmiri heads al Qaeda’s global military operation. We spoke in an exclusive interview on October 9, 2009: “Saleem!” he said,
I will draw your attention to the basics of the present war theater and use that to explain the whole strategy of the upcoming battles. Those who planned this battle actually aimed to bring the world’s biggest Satan [the United States] and its allies into this trap and swamp [Afghanistan]. Afghanistan is a unique place in the world where the hunter has all sorts of traps to choose from.
He added: “al Qaeda’s regional war strategy, in which they have hit Indian targets, is actually to chop off American strength.”
God has Left Politics: Indian Exceptionalism?
Hartosh Singh Bal in the magazine Open:
Religiosity is on the ascendant in this country as never before. In the last five years, daily attendance at Hindu shrines has risen dramatically. At Tirupati, it has gone up from 20,000 to 35,000. At Vaishno Devi, annual attendance has gone up from 5 million in 2004 to 7.7 million in the first 11 months of this year. But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), stuck in New Delhi debating the Liberhan report in the backdrop of what could have been, has found its vote share in consistent decline over the past decade. In the Indian general election held earlier this year, it dipped to its lowest level since the party shot to prominence in 1991. If today the party is in shambles, offering little hope even to its most committed supporters, it is because it has failed to ‘harvest the souls’ that according to conventional wisdom should have been the saffron party’s for the taking.
This paradox, India’s increasing religiosity and a right wing in terminal decline, is uniquely ours. Across the world, the growth of middle-class religiosity fuelled by consumerism has strengthened right wing movements. Countries such as Turkey, which have seen a boom in the economy, have responded by voting in right wing governments to power, and in the US, the growth of evangelism has benefitted the Republicans.
For well over a decade, this was also the trend in India. In 1987-88, the telecast of Ramayana on national television—Doordarshan had a broadcast monopoly then—gave an impetus to the Vishva Hindu Parishad’s (VHP’s) Ram Janmabhoomi movement. It was this temptation of numbers that lured Lal Krishna Advani into launching his 1990-91 Rath Yatra to usher in Ram Rajya.
For observers such as Chandan Mitra, journalist and Rajya Sabha MP representing the BJP, the rise of the saffron party coincided with a ‘surge in pop religiosity’. As he says, “Advani himself has written about how the telecast of the Ramayana helped the movement. I would certainly say that this was true from 1989 to 1999.” And then, something seems to have changed.
no local vision
When I first read Edgar, and realised he was making up these elaborate stanzas and then replicating them throughout the poem as if to prove that his idea of formal freedom was all discipline and vice versa, I thought immediately of Richard Wilbur in that sumptuous post-WWII phase when he was producing the intricately articulated clarities of “Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning” and “A Baroque Wall Fountain in the Villa Sciarra”. But at our first epic lunch the second bottle of Cloudy Bay had barely been broached before Edgar revealed that, much as he admired Wilbur, for him Anthony Hecht had been the Man. Either way, a foreign technical influence had been the right kind to suspect. If Edgar had read neither Wilbur nor Hecht, he might still have got the idea from Larkin, who was making up stanza forms quite early in his career; and of course Larkin got it from Hardy and the later Yeats. Edgar might quite possibly have concocted the whole approach if he had read nothing but Keats’s Odes. What is certain, however, is that there had been very little Australian poetry like it. If Edgar was getting his technical inspiration out of the air, it was out of the world’s air, and not just the air of his own country.more from Clive James at clivejames.com here.
The Art of the Ditch
From The New York Review of Books:
Not long after takeoff from LaGuardia last January 15, as the Charlotte-bound US Airways flight was climbing out smoothly over the Bronx on a northerly heading, something hit the airplane. Something that seemed big. There was a loud noise and a collective gasp from the passengers. Some of them had seen something like a flash of brown going into the engines. The airplane began to wiggle a little and decelerate. The flight attendants were still strapped in their seats not near any windows, but they guessed what had happened. There was a smell of something burning. It had become completely quiet. There was no word from the cockpit. A woman would text her husband, "My flight is crashing."
The airplane was not crashing, but it was definitely headed down. At about 2,500 feet it had collided with a flock of Canada geese flying southwest; geese are not uncommon in the New York area, their ancient migratory routes passing over it. At least five birds had hit the plane, three or more going into and virtually destroying both engines. The copilot, Jeffrey Skiles, had been at the controls, and he and the pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, had suddenly seen, at the same time, the flock of geese slightly above and ahead.
"Birds!" Sullenberger cried just before they hit.
"Whoa!" Skiles said.
They were fortunate that a bird—Canada geese are large—hadn't crashed directly into the windshield, but the engines were already banging and winding down. Fire was coming from both of them, flames from one and fireballs from the other. Briefly, for some fifteen seconds, Sullenberger tried to restart the engines and also, more or less instinctively since it was not part of the procedure, he started an auxiliary power unit in the tail to maintain electrical power. His pulse rate must have been high, but he said calmly, "My aircraft," and took over the controls.
One spring day in 1952, Miss Grace Kelly, of Philadelphia, now resident in New York, went across to “a barn-like studio on the far West Side of Manhattan.” That is how she later described it, as if recalling a foreign trip. In the barn, she did a screen test, for a movie called “Taxi,” opposite Robert Alda: the fair young maid and the darker, troubled fellow, each pleading with the other. Kelly wears a soft sweater and, beneath it, a white blouse, whose demure collar is just discernible. We can also make out a mild Irish accent—not much of a stretch, for one of the Kelly clan. “It ain’t that I’m not fond of you,” she says, in words that have weighed like lead, throughout history, on the hearts of disappointed guys. Her eyes keep moving across the man, as if he were a passage of verse. There is both hesitancy and force in this woman; you can picture her, faced with a decision, flitting back and forth, and yet, once decided, becoming quite fiery and sure. It was a combination that appealed to the director of “Taxi,” Gregory Ratoff. He liked the look of Kelly, all the more so because, in his view, the look was that of a plain Jane. According to Kelly, “I was in the ‘too’ category for a very long time. I was too tall, too leggy, too chinny. I remember that Mr. Ratoff kept yelling, ‘She’s perfect! What I love about this girl is that she’s not pretty!’ ”more from Anthony Lane at The New Yorker here.
Using Light and Genes to Probe the Brain
From Scientific American:
In 1979 Francis Crick, famed co-discoverer of DNA’s structure, published an article in Scientific American that set out a wish list of techniques needed to fundamentally improve understanding of the way the brain processes information. High on his wish list was a method of gaining control over specific classes of neurons while, he wrote, “leaving the others more or less unaltered.” Over the past few years Crick’s vision for targeting neurons has begun to materialize thanks to a sophisticated combination of fiber optics and genetic engineering. The advent of what is known as optogenetics has even captured popular attention because of its ability to alter animal behavior—one research group demonstrated how light piped into a mouse’s brain can drive it to turn endlessly in circles. Such feats have inspired much public comment, including a joke made by comedian Jay Leno in 2006 about the prospect for an optogenetically controlled fly pestering George W. Bush.
Controlling a subordinate or a spouse with a souped-up laser pointer may be essential for science-fiction dystopia and late-night humor, but in reality optogenetics has emerged as the most important new technology for providing insight into the numbingly complex circuitry of the mammalian brain. It has already furnished clues as to how neural miswiring underlies neurological and mental disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia.
The Ping-Pong Prodigy
Ben Shpigel in the New York Times:
Three times a week, Michael Landers takes the Long Island Rail Road to Penn Station. He rides the subway downtown for two stops, then walks two blocks to SPiN New York, at 23rd Street and Park Avenue South, where for three hours he practices table tennis in his quest to become the best player in the United States. On the train home, he does his math homework.
At 15, Landers is the youngest player to win the men’s national singles championship. He overcame a three-games-to-one deficit in the best-of-seven final on Dec. 19 in Las Vegas, where controversy almost derailed his bid. Six of the eight quarterfinalists defaulted after protesting what they considered to be insufficient prize money. Landers was ushered straight to the final, where he defeated his higher-rated opponent, 26-year-old Samson Dubina.
More here. Here's some video of that final match against Dubina:
What a Teacher and a Student Learned about Life While Corresponding about Math
David T. Kung in American Scientist:
Take a minute to think back a few years—okay, maybe a few more than that—to your high school days. Think past the awkward dances, the tortured relationships, the overhyped football games, to your high school math teachers. Who were they? What were their lives like? What did they do when they weren’t teaching you how to factor, what a logarithm is or how to take derivatives? What are they up to now?
Unlike many of us, Steven Strogatz can actually answer these questions, at least with regard to his high school calculus teacher, Don “Joff” Joffray. Strogatz shares those answers and much more in The Calculus of Friendship. Part biography, part autobiography and part off-the-beaten-path guide to calculus, this quick read details 30 years of correspondence between Strogatz (who is now Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University) and Joffray.
Calculus, Isaac Newton’s ingenious invention for modeling change mathematically, serves as both text and subtext for the letters that pass between Strogatz and Joff. Focusing almost exclusively on questions of mathematics, these brief notes frame the unlikely friendship of a teacher and his star student. With the precision of an award-winning mathematician and the clarity of a best-selling science author, Strogatz leads us on an excursion through some of the lesser-known mathematical sights—the ones usually reserved for the “members only” tour. All the while, we see the relationship between the two men gradually change as they slowly (and I do mean slowly) break down the walls that appropriately separate teacher from student.
At TED India: Asher Hasan's message of peace from Pakistan
Why Do More Women Than Men Still Believe in God?
Lauren Sandler in DoubleX:
Last week, a new study confirmed something essential about women, something that refuses to budge, even though many say it’s long past time. Professors at Trinity College in Connecticut analyzed the numbers of Americans unaffiliated to any religion. While the number of male nonbelievers was rocketing, the overall totals were slowed by women hitching themselves to the anchor of faith: “Gender difference is a brake on the growth of the No Religion population,” says the study, which found that 19 percent of men were no longer denizens of a religious America, while only 12 percent of women live outside the faithful fold. In the past, one could say that women tended the hearth, and men participated in the marketplace. But today?
These statistics are consistent with a recent Pew Forum summary of religion in America. In fact, a researcher at Pew told me that studies going back as far as he can remember have shown this discrepancy, and reaching back into history, even prehistory, we find the same story. And yet, major religions—put down your crystals and pocket those pentagrams, ladies—have always favored men. Not a single major faith is led by members of its female flock, and the more deeply adherent a religious group becomes, the less freedom it offers its women, not to mention power. It's hard not to compare women sticking with faith to wives confined to bad marriages: They’re so committed to the institution that they'll willingly shrink under mistreatment just to maintain their own status quo.
Researchers have offered many theories about why women are religious in greater numbers than men.
December 29, 2009
Biology Knows Nothing of Politics: Aminatou Haidar's Hunger Strike
Brian Eno and Stefan Simanowitz in New Internationalist:
Anyone who has seen Hunger, Alexander McQueen’s harrowingly visceral film about the Maze prison hunger strike will have some idea of just how horrific it is to die by starvation. Bobby Sands, a fit 27-year-old man, survived 66 days without food. Aminatou Haidar, a delicate 42-year-old mother of two is now on the 29th day of her hunger strike, but with a perforated ulcer and a constitution weakened by years of imprisonment and torture, there are fears that she will not survive much longer. Suffering dizziness and loss of vision she is now too weak to stand and Lanzarote Hospital director, Domingo de Guzmán, has warned that Ms Aminatou's life expectancy is now ‘hours or days rather than weeks’. Listing her symptoms as hypotension, nausea, anaemia, muscular-skeletal atrophy and gastric haemorrhaging, Dr Guzman believes she is nearing an irreversible deterioration which could result in her death even if she were to abandon the hunger strike. But abandoning her strike is not something Aminatou Haidar, a Nobel Peace Prize-nominated human rights activist, will countenance unless her single demand – to be allowed to return to her country – is met.
Known as the ‘African Gandhi’, Aminatou Haidar has been on hunger strike in Lanzarote airport since being deported there from her home in Western Sahara on 15 November. On 13 November Haidar had flown back to Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara, from New York where she had picked up the Train Foundation’s Civil Courage human rights award. On her arrival in Laayoune she wrote her address on her landing card as being in ‘Western Sahara’ rather than ‘Morocco’. As a Saharawi she has never recognized Moroccan sovereignty over her native land, which has been occupied by Morocco in breach of international law for over 34 years.
Ashis Nandy and the Postcolonial TrapJoshua F. Leach in Butterflies and Wheels:
Postcolonialism is, in theory, anti-hierarchical and anti-oppressive. But because it has only one idea, it can easily become oppressive in practice, and to quite a large extent. To show that this is true within the context of one postcolonial scholar’s book, The Intimate Enemy by Ashis Nandy, is the purpose of this essay.
Ashis Nandy might seem an unlikely candidate for such an accusation. He is a political activist and a major commentator on contemporary affairs, known for his championing of nonviolence and tolerance. One of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals, he has written about communal violence, particularly Hindu-Muslim riots and the emotionally charged landscape of nationalism. He is no friend to the Hindu right, which he has accused of being itself a product of British colonialism. All varieties of chauvinism are subjected to fierce criticism at Nandy’s hands, and he is a member of numerous human rights and civil liberties groups.
These views are decent and humane, and Nandy is no friend to injustice. Yet he is very much a member of the postcolonial movement, and it often leads him to support a blinkered traditionalism for no other reason than that it seems to be anti-Western and anti-modern.
His book, The Intimate Enemy, appeared in 1983, at a time when postcolonialism was flourishing and when its arguments must have appeared fresh and controversial, although they have now gone quite stale. In essence, Nandy is making a case against modernity, and against the entire project of secular liberal rationalism, which he sees as more or less inseparable from colonialism, capitalism, and all the aspects of modernization and development he finds objectionable.
Many of Nandy’s concerns about the modern world are quite understandable: it is what he would put in their place that is less clear. Nandy is mostly concerned with bureaucratization and the diminishing of individuality it entails. He is horrified by modern hierarchies of wealth and privilege, by the inequities of modern societies and the gruesome contrast between wealth and poverty which prevails in contemporary India. Most important of all, he recognizes that modern science, modern weaponry, and modern efficiency have made mass murder all the more easy and warfare all the more deadly. All of these criticisms are certainly valid and ought to be taken into consideration. What is less valid is the accusation that liberalism, secularism, or rationalism are responsible for these problems, and the corollary position that the Enlightenment experiment is bankrupt.
Patrick Bond Remembers Dennis Vincent Brutus, 1924-2009
Brutus' political activity initially included extensive journalistic reporting, organising with the Teachers' League and Congress movement, and leading the new South African Sports Association as an alternative to white sports bodies. After his banning in 1961 under the Suppression of Communism Act, he fled to Mozambique but was captured and deported to Johannesburg. There, in 1963, Brutus was shot in the back while attempting to escape police custody. Memorably, it was in front of Anglo American Corporation headquarters that he nearly died while awaiting an ambulance reserved for blacks.
While recovering, he was held in the Johannesburg Fort Prison cell which more than a half-century earlier housed Mahatma Gandhi. Brutus was transferred to Robben Island where he was jailed in the cell next to Nelson Mandela, and in 1964-65 wrote the collections Sirens Knuckles Boots and Letters to Martha, two of the richest poetic expressions of political incarceration.
Subsequently forced into exile, Brutus resumed simultaneous careers as a poet and anti-apartheid campaigner in London, and while working for the International Defense and Aid Fund, was instrumental in achieving the apartheid regime's expulsion from the 1968 Mexican Olympics and then in 1970 from the Olympic movement.
Upon moving to the US in 1971, Brutus served as a professor of literature and African studies at Northwestern (Chicago) and Pittsburgh, and defeated high-profile efforts by the Reagan Administration to deport him during the early 1980s. He wrote numerous poems, ninety of which will be published posthumously next year by Worcester State University, and he helped organize major African writers organizations with his colleagues Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe.
“The Fish I observed here mostly, were what we call Snooks, neither a Sea fish nor a fresh Water fish, but very numerous in these salt Lakes.” So observes William Dampier in his 1699 travel narrative documenting his voyage to Australia and New Guinea, one of the first British voyages of discovery and the earliest known written mention of a fish called snook. At least since 1791, you could “cock a snook” at someone if you wished to deploy a derisive gesture. You can play snooker if the mood strikes, a billiards game in which opponents use a white cue ball to pocket other balls (fifteen red and six colored) in a set order. You wouldn’t want to be a schnook, from the Yiddish: a patsy, dolt, sucker, sap, milquetoast. Nor would you want to be snookered: thwarted, tricked, enticed, trapped. But you might be a Snook, if that happens to be your surname. 164 Snooks fought for the Union during the United States Civil War; only six fought for the Confederacy. One Snook, first name Kelly, apparently lives in my little burg today. Livies work best. Try a pilchard, pinfish, mullet, or greenie, quivering beneath a popping cork. Or a brown shrimp pierced across its horny ridge on an eighth-ounce jig. Quarter-ounce in stiff current. Cut-bait works in a pinch. Ladyfish. Heads or tails. Or go artificial. Topwater plugs and poppers on cool mornings. Skitterwalk, zara spook, super spook, popa dog, glad-shad, bangolure, high rollers. Mind your retrieve. Walk the dog. Switch to suspending twitchbaits once the sweat beads on your lip. Bomber long A, goldeneye, cisco kid, X-rap, rat-l-trap, crystal minnow. Young guns favor soft plastics. Jerkbaits, Texas-rigged and weedless, dunked in Carolina lunker sauce. Paddletails, splittails, curlytails, shadtails, baitbusters, worms, frogs, what have you. Don’t forget your colors. Natural presentations a good rule of thumb. Match the hatch. Rootbeer or motor oil for daylight dark bottoms; gold flake at night. Chartreuse, all else fails. Salts swear by white bodies and red heads.more from Andrew Furman at AGNI here.
Inheritance of Dust
As far back as anyone can remember, the tiny Mayan pueblo of Pocoboch did not exist to the world. And the world barely existed for Pocoboch. Over the centuries, a handful of outsiders managed to find the jungle village hidden in the center of the Yucatán Peninsula: colonial Spanish missionaries bestowed on the town a rustic adobe chapel—although not even the eldest of the remaining old men has any idea when it was constructed—and on the people a fierce religiosity, expressed in neither Castilian nor Latin but the Maya that, much later, Mexican government teachers would labor so vigorously to eradicate. But even few missionaries were zealous enough to venture here. Afflicted as it was with a landscape of tendrillar jungle flora stretching in steamy layers toward a turquoise sky forever dotted with cumulous clouds, Pocoboch was a village from which even fewer people escaped. A town so sequestered that forty-one years ago, when Eduardo Romero Martín turned twenty-three, the farthest he had been was the neighboring town. The journey in those days, on the only path out of Pocoboch, required a three-hour trek through the ensnaring monte; now it is a ten-minute school bus ride for Eduardo’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Geidy.more from Lygia Navarro at VQR here.
The term “real time” has become such a part of English that we have forgotten how unreal it sounds. Earlier this month, Google announced it would be adding real-time information to its search results, and we already expect real-time information about all sorts of other things: traffic, weather, stock quotes, flight tracking - for some reason, we feel we need to know about all the boring hassles of our lives with split-second precision. But when we’re telling stories, when we’re sharing personal, emotional information, we rely on “unreal times.” We want times that relate to experiences, not to abstractions. We’ve always had flexible times in English (lunch time, teatime, nap time) and times that, while tethered to the clock, convey much more than flashing numbers can get across: midnight, high noon. And there are other times - just as real, in a sense - that have never seen a clock, much less a traffic-and-weather update. If you listen (especially online, the Disneyland of data for the language researcher!), you can find a whole clock full of unreal times.more from Erin McKean at The Boston Globe here.
The winds of change
Dushka H. Saiyid in DAWN:
There is consensus on three issues across the political spectrum of Pakistan: that military takeovers are not the solution to our problems; that corruption is a major issue in this country and we need accountability; and that we are proud of our independent judiciary and media, which have emerged as a check on an overweening executive, whether civilian or military, after decades of struggle.
The ghost of army takeovers has been laid to rest, ironically enough, by the Musharraf experience. The general’s exit revealed how he had weakened the federation as a result of his policies: a trigger-happy approach in Balochistan; confused and ineffective attempts to stem the rising tide of the Taliban; and monumental incompetence in not planning for the country’s energy needs, which has left the economy in a shambles. With such a damning record, who in God’s name would want the army back?
Carpe Diem? Maybe Tomorrow
John Tierney in The New York Times:
For once, social scientists have discovered a flaw in the human psyche that will not be tedious to correct. You may not even need a support group. You could try on your own by starting with this simple New Year’s resolution: Have fun ... now! Then you just need the strength to cash in your gift certificates, drink that special bottle of wine, redeem your frequent flier miles and take that vacation you always promised yourself. If your resolve weakens, do not succumb to guilt or shame. Acknowledge what you are: a recovering procrastinator of pleasure.
It sounds odd, but this is actually a widespread form of procrastination — just ask the airlines and other marketers who save billions of dollars annually from gift certificates that expire unredeemed. Or the poets who have kept turning out exhortations to seize the day and gather rosebuds. But it has taken awhile for psychologists and behavioral economists to analyze this condition. Now they have begun to explore the strange impulse to put off until tomorrow what could be enjoyed today.
Discovering the Mathematical Laws of Nature
Claudia Dreifus interviews Frank A. Wilczek in the New York Times:
He is good-natured, funny and thought to be among the smartest men in physics: Frank A. Wilczek, 58, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was one of three winners of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics. The award came for work Dr. Wilczek had done in his 20s, with David Gross of Princeton, on quantum chromodynamics, a theoretical advance that is part of the foundation of modern physics. Here is an edited version of two conversations with Dr. Wilczek, in October and this month.
Q. THE DISCOVERY THAT YOU WON THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR — YOU DID THAT AT THE AGE OF 21, RIGHT?
A. It was my doctoral thesis. In the early 1970s, I was doing graduate work in mathematics at Princeton, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a mathematician. Luckily, their math building is connected to the physics building. And I somehow drifted over there and met David Gross.
There were a lot of really interesting things happening in physics at that time. Once I started in that direction, there was no looking back. I discovered I was really good at theoretical physics and that there were all sorts of things I could do. One idea came after another.
MQM only party in Pakistan to consistently condemn Taliban terror
Nadeem F. Paracha in Dawn:
Condemning the Karachi attack, MQM chief Altaf Hussain, whose party has been triumphing in the electoral politics of the city ever since 1988, called the perpetrators of the devastating attack as ‘Yazids’ and once again advised Karachiites to boycott those parties whom he believes are sympathising with the Taliban cause. As mentioned above, ANP too has now criticised these parties, accusing them of encouraging the Talibans’ barbaric ways and agenda.
But who are these parties?
MQM has been highly critical of mainstream right-wing parties such as the Jamaat-i-Islami whose leadership has been in the forefront of popularising the notion that the Taliban are actually ‘freedom fighters’ (against ‘US imperialism’ in the region), and those who are attacking the civilians of Pakistan through bomb and suicide attacks are not Taliban but the ‘paid agents of anti-Islam forces.’
Shaffi Mather: A new way to fight corruption
Iranian men in hijab
Masoud Golsorkhi in The Guardian:
During the student's day demonstrations last week an Iranian student named Majid Tavakoli was arrested by the authorities after giving a rousing pro-democracy speech. The next day, government newspapers published photographs of him dressed in a full hijab – with chador and headscarves, as typically worn by more devout adherents to the Islamic dress code that is mandatory for women Iran. There is a dispute about the authenticity of the image; whether it was photoshopped or whether he was forced to wear women's clothes by his captors.
Either way the pictures were meant to humiliate Tavakoli, and by extension the green movement. The publication of such pictures has a specific meaning in the vernacular of Iranian politics, drawn from historic precedence. In July 1981, the then disgraced president, Banisadr, was alleged to have escaped from the country dressed as a woman. Whether true or not, he was certainly photographed on his arrival in Paris minus his signature moustache...
Within hours of Tavakoli's photograph being published in the newspapers, hundreds of young Iranian men posted photographs of themselves dressed in headscarves, bed sheets and other forms of improvised hijab. This has spread online in chat rooms and websites and soon enough to the meetings of the opposition.
The message sent back to the men in charge in Iran is an invitation to wake up and smell the coffee. The contemporary opponents of the regime are not hampered by the symbolic language of oppression. They are taking ownership of it as a step towards dismantling the very architecture of the system of oppression.
December 28, 2009
The Work of the Moving Image in the Age of its Digital Corruptibility
"The cinema can, with impunity, bring us closer to things or take us away from them and revolve around them, it suppresses both the anchoring of the subject and the horizon of the world... It is not the same as the other arts, which aim rather at something unreal or a tale. With cinema, it is the world which becomes its own image, and not an image which becomes world."
Giles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement Image
Take 12 images and splice them end to end: a shaded length of acetate through which a bright white light is to be shone. This makes one second of film. The reel spools onwards, as the seconds tick by, and from these independent images (isolations of time separated in space) an illusion of coherence emerges.
During a recent flurry of internet activity I stumbled across the work of Takeshi Murata. His videos, having made their way, legitimately or otherwise, into the mysterious Realm of YouTube, have achieved something of a cult status. Among various digital editing techniques Murata is one of the most famous purveyors of the 'Datamoshed' video. A sub-genre of 'glitch-art', datamoshing at first appears to be a mode of expression fine-tuned for the computer geek: a harmless bit of technical fun with no artistic future. But as I watched Murata's videos, from Monster Movie (2005), through to Untitled (Pink Dot) (2007) I became more and more convinced that datamoshing has something profound to say about the status of the image in modern society. Furthermore, and at the risk of sounding Utopian, datamoshing might just be to film what photography was to painting.
Take a human subject. Any will do. Have them sit several metres from your projection, making sure to note that their visual apparatus is pointing towards, and not away from, the resulting cacophony of images. There is no need to alert the subject to your film. Humans, like most animals, have a highly adapted awareness of movement. Your illusion cannot help but catch their attention. As soon as the reel begins to roll they will be hooked.
Cinema is all pervasive. Not just because we all watch (and love) movies, nor that the narratives emerging from cinema directly structure our modern mythos. Rather it is through the language of cinema, whether we are sat in front of a screen or not, that much of the past hundred years of cultural change, of technological and political upheaval can be understood. For Walter Benjamin, whose writings on media appeared almost as regularly as the images flashed by a movie projector, the technology of film fed into and organised the perceptual apparatus of the modern era.
Soon the subject will tire of your film. This has nothing to do with their attention span, nor is it an indication that your film itself is dull. Rather, in a very short time the human subject will grow so accustomed to the cacophony of images that they will begin to consider it as a natural component of their world. The solution is simple. Over the coming decades, as new technologies emerge, incorporate them into your film. For instance, sound has long been important to humans. Why not use some? And while you are at it, throw in some colour, expand the size of your images, begin projecting 24 images a second rather than 12... But I am getting ahead of myself. First you will need a good story, or better still, a political aspiration you wish to impose upon your solitary viewer. Don't hesitate to let your imagination fly. It's amazing what can be expressed with 24 images a second.
Benjamin was talking about mass production, about technological reproducibility and the impact that it was having on our notion of identity. What did it mean to be subsumed by material objects, each identical in kind to the last? The role of cinema in grasping this change was, for Benjamin, crucial. Like the illusion which emerges from 24 images projected each second the fragmentation of modern society only increased as the cohesion it promoted intensified. As the objects around us lose their uniqueness, being merely replicas of one another, so the human subject mistakes the closeness of perception for the authenticity of the object. Film was, and perhaps still is, a kind of expulsion from the present experience. In cinema reality becomes multiplied. Via contiguous images an experience of clarity works to sharpen human perception. Once a film ends this mode of seeing carries onward into the world, pushing the present deeper and deeper beneath the apparatus of society. For Benjamin film, and more directly cinema, was the looking glass of our times. And as our times grew ever more complex in their appearance, so it was film which would stand as our totem:
"Seriousness and play, rigor and license, are mingled in every work of art, though in very different proportions... The primary social function of art today is to rehearse the interplay [between nature and humanity]. This applies especially to film. The function of film is to train human beings in the apperception and reactions needed to deal with a vast apparatus whose role in their lives is expanding almost daily."
Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility
Consider the frame of your film as a frame upon a world. Within its boundaries your human subject will experience depths of motion, of emotion, that explode their centered selves. Before long your subject will begin to mistake movement of the frame for movement within the frame, for is it not the case that as the movie camera follows its actors it isolates them within the repeated image? Watch as the horse gallops, each flick of the hooves moving it onwards in space and time. The horse gallops in relation to the moving frame: an isolated image of change for the single viewer to behold. Note how your human subject mistakes time for space, and space for time. Note how, before long, the horse's gallop elicits a knowing yawn beneath the viewer's lingering gaze. Perception has exploded, and the world will never be the same again.
In cinema the image became multiplied, expanded and distributed. Through the machine of the projector images spooled, one after another; through the machine of Hollywood film was expressed, dispersed and made contiguous with the substance of society. It appears that now, in the age of the digital, video has replaced film as our noun of choice, and like the omnipresent images of the filmic event, it is now video itself which has become multiple. YouTube is to video what cinema was to the image. Instead of directors and editors, we now have video mix-ups and internet memes. Instead of montage we have 'channels', instead of Grand Opening Nights and Red Carpets we have 'Share this on Facebook' buttons and vast comments sections filled with debate, debase and debunk. In short Youtube, and distributive systems like it, have become the new frame within which the images of video, and their illusionary after-effects, are isolated and re-expressed, in endless repetition:
"The cinematographic image is always dividual. This is because, in the final analysis, the screen, as the frame of frames, gives common standard of measurement to things which do not have one - long shots of countryside and close-ups of the face, an astronomical system and a single drop of water - parts which do not have the same denominator of distance, relief or light. In all these senses the frame ensures a deterritorialisation of the image."
Giles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement Image
By now your human subject should not only understand the language of film, they should live it. Over 100 years have passed since you began your experiment, and in that time film, by becoming cinema, has grown to such proportions that no aspect of human perception may escape from it. Like a stone-age baby brought up to be a chattering homo-sapien, your subject will, by now, be a walking, talking embodiment of the cinematic. You may fear this coming of age, and quite rightly, for rather than admiring from afar the power of the camera, of the edit and the montage, your subject will believe that their world was always this contiguous. The copy has been copied, beyond its means to produce unique moulds. Cinema has begun to simulate itself. The last image rolls now, the last flicker of light colours the retina. Today the great experiment has ended.
Digital distribution systems like YouTube are only possible because of a series of clever algorithms which compress the information contained within each video. Data compression, in a nutshell, turns 24 separate images a second into the minimal of information required to create an approximation of those same frames sliding into each other. Why place every frame of a video online if within each frame, and shared amongst them, there exist aspects of the image which remain the same across contiguous moments? Compression is like the reduction of video into its component DNA. By reducing a video to the DNA required to compose each image half of the job of compression is done. The second, and perhaps, cleverer part of video compression is the addition of another segment of 'DNA' which tells video software how the movement between each image should be expressed. Datamoshing plays with these elements. It breaks the notion of separation between image and movement, indeed, it creates a new merging reference between the two. In the datamoshed video image and movement are blended, even interchanged for one another. Each unique image in the datamoshed video becomes a token of movement within a frame that extends far beyond the isolated/compressed moment.
In a datamoshed video an image from frame 10 of the video can leak, corrupt and interface with an image in frame 100. What's more, the movement DNA exchanged between contiguous frames can jump ahead, can blend with a previous image or be removed completely. To the datamosher, time and image become a delicious paint pallet expressing in motion. To the datamosher, a series of frames, or even a series of videos, can be tempted to break their boundaries and merge, forging brand new steps in a whirling datamosh-dance.
As cinematographic subjects we have an integral understanding of the language of film. Although we know that the frames of cinema are separate, are mere instant images of a whole, we crave the illusion of movement they create. Takeshi Murata's short film, Untitled (Pink Dot), corrupts this separation between image and movement, the viewer and the viewed. In an early frame we briefly notice Sylvester Stallone fire his gun, but as the resulting explosion rips across the frame his image is transposed into the fire, leaving a remnant of his figure to merge with the resulting miasma. Throughout this interplay, a pulsing pink dot draws our attention at the centre of the frame. This dot, surely a symbol of our viewing, perceiving centre, is blended, symbiotically, with the datamoshed miasma. It is as if we, our viewing centres enraptured by the filmic event, have been consumed by its flow. Our cinematic instinct still perceives the figure of Rambo, of the flash of the machine-gun pulse, but as the explosive fire tears through the pink dot it is as if our minds have been melted through too.
What would have Walter Benjamin and Giles Deleuze thought of datamoshing? of YouTube videos displayed on iPhones? of High Definition data files corrupted by pink dots and compression artefacts? These new technologies and modes of distribution play into our instincts in much the same way that film did 100 years ago. Reality has always been formed in feedback with our technologies. As our art and culture express time and space in ever greater multiples so our minds are forced to complexify to catch up. The feedback which follows, through artistic expression and cultural contemplation, drags the human subject through their world at ever greater speeds. According to media theorist Lev Manovich, this continued feedback between technology and art determines the boundaries of our world:
"Modernisation is accompanied by a disruption of physical space and matter, a process that priveleges interchangeable and mobile signs over original objects and relations... Before, different physical locations met within a single magazine spread or film newsreel; now they meet within a single electronic screen."
Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media
Cinema evolved alongside the most expansive century that mankind has ever seen. It allowed us, along with various other technologies, to isolate the complex present in ways inconceivable before. I don't wish to offer any branching philosophy here, nor talk at length on the perceptual or cultural importance of 'compression artefacts'. Instead I ask you to gather up your perceptive apparatus, and let it sift slowly through the various videos distributed throughout (and below) this article. In the realm of YouTube where every video can lead to every other, where all moving images can be re-appropriated, re-edited and re-distributed as pure data, in this realm, datamoshing symbolises the perceptual status of our times. There is something about the datamoshed video, in the way it takes advantage of the viewer's cinematic instinct, that fascinates me. And when I look up from the datamoshed video, blinking hard to make reality fall back into focus, the world makes a little more sense to my viewing, perceiving centre. To me reality feels more datamoshed every time I look up. To me the real world looks like it might have been datamoshed all along.
Videos featured in this article:
• Silver by Takeshi Murata
• Monster Movie by Takeshi Murata
• Venetian Snares, Szamar Madar by David O'Reilly
• A backwards version of Chairlift, Evident Utensil, by Ray Tintori, encoded backwards by YouTube user PronoiacOrg
• MishMosh, by YouTube user datamosher
• Untitled (Pink Dot) by Takeshi Murata
• How to Datamosh: Part 1, by YouTube user datamosher
Coffee’s made, the tea-water’s on
and here's a glazed pane of iridescent frost
stroked by a ghost etcher’s point
—struck through with silver and laced with light:
its gravure of fern fronds glistens
on a clear silicon plate
And there's a brilliant postage stamp of blue
piercing an otherwise stratocumulus dome
marking a bit of sky beyond the frost-etcher’s art:
a frame within a frame a window in a window
a thought within a name
............................... The furnace sparks
the burner fires before the blower starts and
warm air rushes from a grate
as if a house might warm its cupped hands
to mitigate the lethal silence of a still cold place
as we will sometimes hunch and blow to mitigate
a frigid shadow stillness:
.....................................a blast of breath
from our own deep furnace in winter
while we wait
by Jim Culleny, 12/18/09
Losing the Plot: Habits of the Heart (Complete Novel)
“We are just props for validating and furthering their policy! We say no to them and they punch us hard and prove their point with another explosion! Can't you see that?"
"No, jan--I cannot--You have made this a habit--of blaming America for everything!"
"No I have not made it a habit! Isn’t it curious that every time they make a policy statement—quoting D’Touqueville to us----every time they want to force Pakistan to take a position in their war and Pakistan resists---some sort of a violent event takes place in Pakistan to prove their point? Isn’t that just a little suspect? They are going to increase their troops here—they are going to expand the war into Pakistan—they are going to occupy us---just wait and see!” Zarmeenay had argued, in an urgent tone, her eyes wide and serious as she had packed to leave for Baluchistan. “ We have to stop them Mama.—we have to push back! Amir, Amreekah, Mama! Amir Amreekah!”
“I don’t know Zarmeenay.” Rukhsana had argued with her daughter, “Maybe it’s time we stopped blaming everybody else for all the criminals that have been created right here in Pakistan in the name of religion.’
“Mama! Please—there no such thing as Al Qaeda! There’s no such thing as the Taliban! This is all the same old, same old, overt-covert good old CIA—now breaking up Pakistan—we will have Pushunistan, Baluchistan—Serakiistan—Kashmir, Baluchistan, Karachistan, Sindhistan—just wait. They will do worse to us than what they did to Yugoslavia and the breaking apart of the Soviet Union—just wait---……They will murder all of us!”
“Don’t you agree with me Mama, that they killed Benazir Bhutto? They already knew who was her murderer the moment she died? They had decided who to accuse of her murder the day she was murdered? So Benazir is dead, and Baitullah Mesud is dead—But they can’t find Osama Bin Laden in all these ten years of looking for him with all the sophisticated technology that they have?”
“Really! I’m so worried about you darling! Zarmeenay, you are beginning to go too far! I’m scared for you! You talk like this everywhere in public and I’m afraid for you! ” Rukhsana had said to Zarmeenay just before she had left the house.
“Don’t be afraid, Mama. Don’t be afraid! That’s been our main problem we’ve been afraid for too long. It’s too late to be afraid now, we have to take action. We have to save ourselves, our country! You’ll see Mama! I’m right! It’s time to listen to your heart Mama, I’m listening to mine. We have to fight for Pakistan!”
And Zarmeenay had disappeared. Just like that vanished. Now she was dead.
And Stanley was dead. Both of them killed. Both of them burned in the same fire. Their bodies were never recovered from the fire. All the gossip and all of the news in Islamabad was about the retired American embassy man, Stanley McMullen, who had decided to live in Pakistan after his retirement. An eccentric who ran a coffee shop called the Little Margalla Café. Stanley McMullen had been killed by a mob at his own café when the mob had accused him of kidnapping and killing Zarmeenay Shah whose body had been found at the doorstep of the café.
And Rukshana hoped. She had always prayed five times a day---since she was a child. When she had been married to her first cousin--Jamshed-she had moved with him all over the country as an army wife—the only constant routine in her life had been her five times a day prayer. She had embraced the social life that came with her marriage. Jamshed Shah was a powerful man, a handsome man, a man of the world, with many relatives, many friends and many mistresses. She was his first wife. She was beautiful.
Jamshed Shah had, despite the opposition of his own mother and hers, taken his bride with him, instead of leaving her in the family house in the village. They had been a modern couple. General Jamshed Shah insisted upon it: when in the city do as the city does—in the village do as was expected. In the city she had worn saris, she had shed the chaddar choosing instead diaphanous duppattas and tightly fitted shalwar kameezes with plunging necklines. She presided over the arrangements for the cocktails and banquets they threw and they were invited to at least three almost every night at embassies, and the homes of colleagues and friends. He took her with him on all his travels abroad. They had an enormous mansion on their lands, they had a sprawling home in the mountains in Changa gali, they had lavish homes in Islamabad and Karachi and Lahore. And they had acquired an apartment in New York, to add to their collection of the ones in London and in Paris.
General Jamshed Shah’s acquisitions included mistresses, too. This was a fact of life, not to be broached or questioned. Ever. Jamshed Shah was a man of tradition. He could do all he wanted, she would have to do with what he did. She could do nothing that he did not wish her to do. He was not a jealous man. He was an honorable man. He would have killed her with his own hands had he suspected anything of her. She never gave him any reason to.
And still there had been Stanley. She had met him in Trieste. And from the moment she had turned to look at him, they had been involved—two strangers coming together in a foreign land sharing their observations of observing strangers.
She had accompanied her husband to a conference for NATO allies.
On the first day of their weeklong trip her husband had informed her in the morning that she would be on her own that evening, the conference would be running late and the participants were to have dinner together without their spouses. Left to herself, Rukhsana, had left the hotel in the early evening for a stroll along the marina, the fishing boats were returning after a day at sea. A world of red rooftops, cobbled streets, colorful fishing boats and turqoise water. She had sat down on a bench and watched the various fishing crews bring in their hauls. The evening breeze was a little chilly for her even though it was the month of June so she had drawn her Shartoos tighter around her, wrapping her arms in its soft, warm folds. She had spotted a man still in the distance running towards her around the curvature of the marina—He was lean and tall, he wore a grey t-shirt—and shorts, and had strong muscular legs. As he came closer she had looked away and out towards the water.
A yacht was pulling in to the docking space right in front of where she sat. She leaned further forward and with one elbow on her knee she rested her chin on her hand engrossed in the advance of the incoming boat. The swank high powered yacht had also caught the attention of the crowd strolling along the marina promenade and some had stopped in their tracks to watch as well. Men especially ooohed and aaahed as the women with them waited and watched them. She felt a bond with this community of wives and girlfriends these bystanders watching their men, indulgently, patiently, contemptuously, irritably, affectionately, pitifully, gamely—watching their men enjoying and wanting the toys of men. From the corner of her eye she had noticed someone had plunked himself down on the other side of the bench. It was him, the runner taking a break. He had flung one arm on the back of the bench his hand almost in touching distance of her shoulder when she leaned back.
In the yacht two people. A man--a beautifully tanned man--his skin the tones of olives and honey. His body slim, muscular, wiry, perfection. The woman--tall, leggy, not a beauty--gawky almost, with sleek long auburn hair. The man focused on parking the boat alongside the quay. The woman sat in the back—dabbing her face with make-up and peering into a pink compact mirror. He wore an olive colored T shirt---blue jeans. She wore something similar. Then the couple disappeared down the hatch to the cabin under. The crowd continued to watch. The man emerged first--white T shirt, blue jeans--carrying a plastic bag full of garbage which he disposed off in a trash bin on the promenade when he got off the boat. The young woman emerged wearing short, shorts, grey colored and a white t-shirt. Rukhsana stared at the six inch high heel sandals, of silver satin-- diamante straps across the toes and at the ankles tied in bows at the back.
Rukhsana looked at her companion on the bench and shared an exchange of glances of delight with him. “Oh my God!” She said delighted, “How perfect! Like in a film!”
He laughed: "Yes. The lifestyles of the rich and famous!"
"Are they famous?" She turned to him in her excitement and asked wide eyed.
His eyes twinkled and said, "Well, the yacht says something and her knock out legs say something! How can she walk in those heels?”
"I can't believe the heels!"
"Yeah, probably a model."
"Yes or maybe a French actress."
"And he's so handsome."
"Do you think so?"
"Well look at him!"
"He’s not my type," Stanley said, "Now the young lady well I might….."
Rukhsana laughed: "Yes—even though she has a plain face!”
"Imagine they may be famous!" Rukhsana said with glee.
The girl in the six inch high heels came tottering, swaying down the steps of the yacht the man reached up to her and embraced her and lifted her off the steps into his arms and on to the ground. At that moment the girl looked over her shoulder at Rukhsana and the girl was obviously surprised and delighted by this gesture. Rukhsana was so happy for her she clapped with joy. The man sitting next to her laughed.
"Oh this is so perfect! So romantic!" Rukhsana had breathed in delight
"Yes" said the man: "It’s so tender."
Rukhsana turned quickly to look at him.
"Yes!" She nodded her agreement breathlessly, "It is! It is so tender."
He had stared at her as her eyes shone and then after a pause he said "I’m Stanley McMullen, Pleased to meet you."
“Oh" said Rukhsana. She stood up perplexed suddenly and looked around as though to see who was watching her, “I’m sorry, I’m so late.” With that she hurried away. She had been warned by her husband of forward European men.
The next morning Rukhsana got up early to go watch the fishing boats leave for the day. She picked the same bench to sit on. It was six thirty a.m—
He must have come up behind her—because she jolted when she heard him say “Our yacht’s gone".
"Yes." She said. "I was hoping to see them again!”
“Yes. Me too.”
She looked around her “Did you run?"
“Yes, I’m done. Our rich guy and his rich and famous girl friend probably sailed out late last night.
"Yes, I thought I’d see them again".
"Me too. I thought about it all last night."
He looked at her and smiled.
She looked away embarrassed.
After a pause, he began—"Well...."
She interrupted him and said hurriedly: "Also, I was thinking…."
"I think they were not the owners you know? I think they were just the servants."
He looked at her taken aback—and tried to mask his amusement with a look of earnest interest. “You think they were the hired help?”
"Yes. The hired help, I mean. I think he is the yacht captain and she is the waitress on board."
"Really! Well that’s rich!"
She giggled. "Very funny!"
He smiled. She was just a girl, this wife of someone else.
"You see," she said, "I think the two of them had deposited the owners on a nearby island or maybe another part of the bay. And meanwhile they had the evening off? Don’t you think? So they came across to here you see to spend the evening in style."
"Huh! How’d you figure that?"
"Well for one, her compact---it was rather cheap. The kind of compact that could be bought at a drug store or pharmacy. And then making up her face in full view of passersby, well it’s simply not done, that’s a clear clue that she wasn’t really well brought up."
"Yes, well. Uh huh. Not well brought up huh?"
"Yes. And that surprised look on her face and her sharing it with us. As though, she didn’t expect that kind of attention."
"Should a woman expect that kind of attention?"
"Well yes, if she is someone. And then of course he was a dead giveaway."
"What about him. You said he was so handsome.'
"He was! At first that’s what I thought, that he was handsome. But the way he stood. You know? His whole posture?"
"His posture?" Stanley laughed. "You noticed his posture? What about it?"
"Didn’t you notice it?"
"How he threw out the garbage in the plastic bag?"
"Well most people throw out their own garbage whether they are wealthy or poor in Europe or in America."
"Yes. Perhaps. But he didn’t hold his head up high--his shoulders didn’t announce primacy over the world. In fact the way he was slightly hunched at the shoulders y’know seemed to show that he was used to deference to some other more powerful person. Posture is important."
"Uh huh. Well," he said, "Good for them. Good for them. I’m glad they had their special moment."
"Yes! I am too." Again, she had looked away.
Stanley looked at her and nodded. "You’d make a great spy you know. You have such insight!"
She laughed. “I know servants.”
"Well what do you think people passing us by are making of the two of us?"
"Nothing. There is nothing to make of us."
"Maybe they think we’re a…."
She interrupted him and said: "Spies exchanging information."
He laughed! "Have you had breakfast yet? "
"No." She replied, confused. "Why?"
"Would you like to go get some breakfast with me?"
She stared at him. "Get some breakfast with you? No! I can’t I must get back to my hotel I am to have breakfast with my husband."
"Oh!" he said—"Of course! But if you could would you have had breakfast with me?"
She looked alarmed and stood up to go. Then stopped and asked him," Do you run here every morning?" She asked.
"Yes—and in the evenings too." He had hesitated and then added: "I run at 6.00 am and p.m."
She made it a point not to be at the marina for the rest of the week.
On the last evening of the conference there was a cocktail party for all the participants and their spouses. She had been separated from her husband as she talked to the wives of several of the other participants. She had spotted Jamshed through the crowd his back was to her he was engrossed in conversation. He was talking to someone hidden from her view. It had been Stanley McMullen. Stanley had seen her approaching and had grinned at her and bowed.
"Rukshana there you are! Mr. McMullen may I introduce my wife." Jamshed had said. She had noticed how her husband’s broad shoulders had slumped forward ever so slightly.
She had been ashamed. She had stood very straight and turned her gaze from her husband and bowed her head to Stanley as she felt a strange sensation of excitement, embarrassment and humiliation go through her all at once. Her husband had continued talking about Stinger missiles in a tone so gentle that she recognized it from her wedding night two years before.
As her husband chatted to him, Stanley had focused his attention entirely on her husband.
"Ah! I am looking forward to this evening's plan!" said the General—"We have all been invited to an outing tonight by our hosts. We are all going gambling tonight at the floating casino in the bay-we can continue our conversation there."
"No, no!" protested Stanley, "I’m afraid, I’m not a gambling man."
Jamshed had laughed and said, "Quite right too! It shows your wisdom sir!
"Good night Mrs. Shah, General. Enjoy the casino." Stanley had excused himself saying it was past his bedtime he was an early riser.
"Oh no! said Rukhsana I am not going anywhere. I will go for a walk, she had said, You go Jamshed, and win us some money. I’ll go for a walk."
Stanley had smiled at both of them and said good bye again and taken his leave.
She ordered room service after Jamshed had left and wrestled with her own will. And then she had gone for a walk along the marina. She had sat on the bench for an hour watching couples strolling by hand in hand.
She made her way back to her room as church bells rang midnight.
And after that evening in Trieste it was at her own home that Stanley had arrived two months later. The Shahs had had thrown a dinner party in honor of the reelection of President Reagan. They had invited the American Ambassador, and his staff. They had all come. The earthen oven roasted goat--saji at the General’s house was famous all over Islamabad particularly with the embassies. It went so well with beer and scotch. The General himself had of course introduced her again to Stanley. "You remember Mr. McMullen?"
"No I don’t think we’ve met." She had stood so ram rod straight her chin almost absurdly held high that her spine hurt.
Stanley had smiled.
"Of course, you remember Rukhsana at the cocktail party in Trieste," Jamshed had said. "She remembers you, Mr. McMullen," Jamshed had said reassuringly.
She had winced.
He said,"Please call me Stanley".
“Please forgive me, Sir, you will have to excuse me for a moment". Jamshed had said and moved away to greet a guest coming in.
Stanley had leaned forward and said conspiratorially: "You know I had them checked out. They were actually rich. You were right and wrong. They were newly rich. But not famous. You were right you see. Upstarts! "He had laughed. "Not well brought up---probably they had served and waited on others at some point."
She had looked around her to see who was watching. It seemed to her that the whole party was looking at her. But no one paid any attention.
"You didn’t show up at the marina again. I noticed when I went running."Stanley said.
"Were you afraid, too?"
"No. Why would you say that?"
"I don’t know. If you weren’t afraid, you would have been there the next morning or evening or the next or the next. That’s quite a compliment you paid me Mrs. Shah with your absence."
"You do presume too much." She replied.
"In which case I apologize! I trust you enjoyed your walk that last night there."
"You are wrong Mr. McMullen," she had replied, "I gambled that night."
"You did?" He said in confusion.
"Yes," she replied, "And, I lost."
She walked away towards her husband and the guests who had just arrived.
After that, she had carefully assessed each invitation card. If there was any possibility that Stanley would be there, she made an excuse for wanting to stay home and Jamshed went on his own. If she could not avoid the invitation she made sure that she found herself a spot amongst the most conservative of women present who were happier left alone and didn’t mingle with the men—And amongst them she engrossed herself in their conversations and kept her back to the men.
It was on the janamaz that Stanley had found her the night he had ventured into her house, walked past the guards at the front gate and through the front door and up the stairs to her room, ostensibly there to visit her husband who lay sick and recuperating from a mild heart attack and in a valium induced sleep in a room downstairs. But she had not shown any surprise or resisted. She had waited there for him and there he was. Zarmeenay had been created on a prayer rug.
General Jamshed Shah had been informed by his colleagues in the Intelligence services who wished him well, that his daughter Zarmeenay—had been kidnapped by the CIA, interrogated and killed. It appeared that the café had a secret underground bunker a basement which functioned as a holding center for secret interrogations Stanley McMullen had been the interrogator and murderer.
When Jamshed had told Rukhsana she had hardly reacted.
For twenty six years she had been connected to Stanley through her thoughts. She had only to think of him and know that the reason she had thought of him was because she was in his thoughts that very moment too. Childish. It was a game she played that had grown into a belief: a way of being. If she dreamt of him it was a signal to her that he was thinking of her too. That night as she knelt on her janamaz he had been in her thoughts—as he had been since the day she had met him. And by the last evening in Trieste, she was obsessed with him. That evening in Islamabad, as she had knelt in prayer he had come in through the door just walked right in.
Now with an intensity more than ever before he was in her thoughts. So clearly there that she had convinced herself that this meant that he was alive. She followed him in her imagination- Sleep meant losing sight of him---Nightmares beyond her control—so she minimized the need for it--Her waking hours all devoted to a cherished day dream. He would make his way back to them. He knew their weapons, he knew their codes, he knew their strategies, he knew their interrogations; he knew them and their stories; he knew their bureaucracies, he knew their security; he knew their structures, their motivations. He had their identities, he had multiple passports and he would go, he would go to them. Yes he would. He would take this back to them. He would make his way to the Center from where they remotely operated their death warrants—their killing machines. From where they sent men like him, men like Stanley to places like this. From where they made the world into a video game suited to their cowardice and greed. From where Zarmeenay had been murdered by the moving of a joystick and the push of a button. Yes, he would take it to them. Yes he would. Yes he would. Yes he would. There was hope. That’s all there was. Hope. It would all go on and on and on and on. There would be no end to it. She had to hope.
She was at peace.
Also by Maniza Naqvi:
That Sara Aziz (A Play)
The Leftist And The Leader (A Play)
December 27, 2009
Obama steps up rhetoric on Iran
From Yahoo! News:
The strongly-worded statement contrasted with careful initial responses by the White House following post-election protests in Iran in June and came as the nuclear showdown between Tehran and world powers reached a critical point.
"We strongly condemn the violent and unjust suppression of civilians in Iran seeking to exercise their universal rights," White House spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement.
"Hope and history are on the side of those who peacefully seek their universal rights, and so is the United States.
"Governing through fear and violence is never just, and as President Obama said in Oslo -- it is telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation."
10 Muharram, 1431 A.H.
Once again, on Ashura, the 10th of Muharram, a Yazeedi perversion of Islam in the form of the duplicitous regime in Iran is faced by the brave of that country. Thanks to the lessons of Karbala, the evil side will not win. I guarantee it. But like the original Ashura, a price will be paid in the blood of innocents. Even for a secular person like me, the actions of the courageous youth of Iran are a powerful lesson that while still today, just as in the time of Imam Husain, standing up to tyranny is difficult, there really is no other choice for those with a healthy conscience.
These photos from today are from Tehran 24:
Dennis Brutus, 1924-2009
South African poet and former political prisoner Dennis Brutus, who fought apartheid in words and deeds and remained an activist well after the fall of his country's racist system, has died. He was 85.
Brutus' publisher, Chicago-based Haymarket Books, said the writer died in his sleep at his home in Cape Town on Saturday. He had been battling prostate cancer, according to Patrick Bond, who directs the Center for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, where Brutus was an honorary professor.
Brutus was an anti-apartheid activist jailed at Robben Island with Nelson Mandela in the mid-1960s. He helped persuade Olympic officials to ban South Africa from competition from 1964 until apartheid ended nearly 30 years later.
Born in 1924 in what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, Brutus was the son of South African teachers who moved back to their native country when he was still a boy. He majored in English at Fort Hare University, which he attended on full scholarship, and taught at several South African high schools.
By his early 20s, he was politically involved and helped create the South African Sports Association, formed in protest against the official white sports association. Arrested in 1963, Brutus fled the country when released on bail, but was captured and nearly killed when shot as he attempted to escape police custody in Johannesburg and forced to wait for an ambulance that would accept blacks. Brutus was sentenced to 18 months at Robben Island.
Power in the Streets
Is Iran moving towards dual sovereignty, to borrow a phrase from Trotsky? ("Dual sovereignty" exists at the moment when there are two legitimate but incompatible sources of legitimate power.) Via Andrew Sullivan:
The Daily Nite Owl, Josh Shahryar, has also been live blogging events on this Ashura.
Also see this report from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran:
An eyewitness told the Campaign that Basij forces attacked protestors near Daneshjoo Park, beating them with batons, wood sticks and metal pipes. He reported that after a protestor’s dead body was moved through the crowd, protestors started to beat back Basijis and brought down several from their motorcycles, setting the vehicles on fire.
“The Basij and special forces were extremely violent. They beat protestors directly on the head. There were many people with bloodied heads and faces. A young protestor was tied to the back of a van and dragged on the asphalt. Protestors attacked the van, took the passengers out and set the van on fire. There were thousands of special forces and Basij members confronting the protestors,” he said.
An eyewitness told the Campaign live shots were fired in Enqelab Street and other eyewitnesses also said live ammunition was used against the protestors at Pol-e College where three people have been reported killed. According to several eyewitnesses, by late afternoon, government forces were busy cleaning and washing blood-covered streets to destroy any signs of the violent confrontations. More protests are expected during the night in Tehran.
Iconography of Karbala
The following pictures are from a procession taken out in remembrance of the Karbala tragedy on the eve of Ashura in Karachi on Wednesday. Dawn.com takes a look at the various symbols prevalent in Muharram processions in Pakistan. Feature by Salman Siddiqui. Photos by WhiteStar/Fahim Siddiqi.
When Ashura comes, the main streets of Pakistani cities are filled with thousands of mourners. Streetlights turn into posts for black-colored flags as the towering Alams (flags) lead the Muharram procession that include a variety of Taazias and Zuljinah (Imam Hussain's legendary horse) to remember the battle of
that took place 1,300 years ago. Karbala
“The outsider is the safest and handiest repository for the hate one feels
toward God when one’s life go south."
--A.R. Spokewell, Hard Times in Paradise: the Immigrant Ruse
Thank God they’re all gone
except for one or two in Clinton Maine
who come home from work
at Scott Paper or Diamond Match
to make a few crank calls
to the only Jew in New England
they can find
These make-shift students of history
whose catalogue of facts include
every Jew who gave a dollar
to elect the current governor
every Jew who’d sell this country out
to the insatiable Israeli state
I know exactly how they feel
when they say they want to smash my face
Someone cheated them
they want to know who it is
they want to know who makes them beg
It’s true Let’s Be Fair
it’s tough for almost everyone
to exaggerate the facts
to make a point
Just when I thought I could walk to the market
just when Jean the check-out girl
asks me how many cords of wood I chopped
and wishes me happy Easter
as if I’ve lived here all my life
Just when I can walk into the bank
and nod to the tellers who know my name
where I work who lived in my house in 1832
who know to a penny the amount
of my tiny Jewish bank account
Just when I’m sure we can all live together
and I can dine in their saltbox dining rooms
with the melancholy picture of Christ
on the wall their only consolation
just when I can borrow my neighbor’s ladder
to repair one of the holes in my roof
I pick up the phone
and listen to my instructions
I see the town now from the right perspective
the gunner in the glass bubble
of his fighter plane shadowing the tiny man
with the shopping bag and pointy nose
his overcoat two sizes too large for him
skulking from one doorway to the next
trying to make his own way home
I can see he’s not one of us
by Ira Sadoff
from New American Poets of the ‘90s;
David Godine publisher, Boston, 1991
NOAM CHOMSKY: “Gaza: One Year Later”
December 18 marked the beginning of the month of Moharram. Shiites, and in particular Iranians, have been mourning the killing of their third Imam, Hossein, the quintessential martyr, since his death in the battle of Karbala on October 10, 680, which falls on Ashura, the 10th day of Moharram. Ashura has been commemorated for at least a thousand years, beginning probably in Baghdad, Iraq, in the 4th Islamic century. Tradition holds that Imam Hossein and 72 of his followers were slain on that day after fighting bravely with the much larger army of the Umayyad Caliph, Yazid ibn Moaaviyeh, which some historians have said was 100,000 men strong.
The death of Imam Hossein, his friends, followers and members of his family by a Sunni Caliph is perhaps the main reason that Shiism is considered a rebellious sect in Islam. Because the Shiites have been a minority throughout the history of Islam, they have transformed the historical battle of Karbala to symbolize ideological confrontation with the ruling elite, and have used a powerful combination of actual events and legend to stir up great emotion; it has been an occasion to complain bitterly about their marginalization in much of the Islamic world and to demand their rights. They invoke Imam Hossein's famous quote that, "Every day is Ashura, and every land is Karbala."
The Birth and Death of the Cool
From The Washington Post:
This very attractive book, with a cover that subtly recalls a Miles Davis LP from over half a century ago, is a study of how the notion of "cool," with all its elegance and purity, was co-opted by wretched American corporate types who, in true fairy-tale fashion, killed the cool golden goose that they thought was going to lay them golden eggs. To put it more plainly, the author sets up his work with three short biographies of early jazz icons -- Bix Beiderbecke, Lester Young and Miles Davis -- and lays out what he thinks they stood for, both in their music and in the outer world.
Then, in just a few following chapters, he takes some dizzying leaps to places where readers may have trouble following him. Gioia's contention is that the mantle of cool passed all too soon from these aloof, original, extremely gifted musicians to another set of equally iconic but very public figures, such as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. Jordan and Woods were hired to endorse Nike and General Motors, who traded on their images to sell running shoes and cars. In an evolution of events that no one expected, "square" personalities like Rush Limbaugh began to intone from the radio, Bob Dole endorsed Viagra, and comparatively unprepossessing contestants like Susan Boyle appeared on "Britain's Got Talent." That, according to the author, signified the end, the death, of the whole idea of "cool." (The term "square" is mine here. Gioia never uses it.)
Ashura: Fierce Street Protests in Tehran
Six months after the fraudulent elections, the despicable regime is still unable to quell the Irani people's demand for freedom. I am convinced that the days of this brutal government are numbered. This is from CNN:
Since the disputed presidential elections in June, protesters have turned public gatherings into rallies against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was declared the overwhelming winner of the race.
Police, wary of the potential that Ashura gatherings could present, were out in full force Sunday to quell disruptions while demonstrators planned widespread protests.
Near Imam Hussein Square in central Tehran, security forces used tear gas to disperse demonstrators and blocked roads to prevent more from arriving, a witness said.
Protesters seized a motorcycle belonging to a security force member and set it on fire.
The unrest follows day-long clashes between the two sides in the streets of Tehran on Saturday.
On Saturday evening, a pro-government mob barged into a mosque where former president and reformist leader Mohammad Khatami was speaking.
The dozens-strong group forced Khatami to end his remarks abruptly when it interrupted the gathering at Jamaran mosque.
Earlier Saturday, scores of security forces on motorcycles charged protesters on sidewalks whenever they started chanting anti-government slogans, witnesses said.
Baton-wielding security forces bashed and bloodied at least three protesters, arrested at least two people, and smashed the window of at least one car, eyewitnesses said.
December 26, 2009
Health Reform: Magnificent Xmas Present But Needs Assembly
Abraham Verghese in The Atlantic:
So its done. The health care legislation has passed and that makes this a special Xmas. Despite its flaws, it is a milestone for a nation that could be so generous with its aid abroad, yet stymied in caring for its own. I clearly could not have been a politician--I would not have the patience of the president to tirelessly campaign for this and to see it through; nor would I have the tenacity of the opponents to the legislation who opposed it to the end.
This morning I will drive in for my rounds at the hospital (my team is on call, bless their hearts,and will stay all day and night, while I get to come home well before nightfall) and I am already trying to digest what this Xmas present means for my patients and for my house staff. In the last few days we pulled out all stops to get patients home. The ones who can't go home are too ill, and going home may not be an option; instead it might be a specialized nursing facility or rehabilitation place. One or two of these patients have been very much on my mind, long after I leave the hospital, their suffering both palpable and difficult to forget, and making me conscious of the blessings of just walking outside, stepping into a car and going somewhere.
get the led out
Is there a more mythic band than Led Zeppelin? At the pinnacle of their success, with Robert Plant's hair lighted by stadium lights, they looked like they'd just come down off Mt. Olympus. "Plant," writes Mick Wall in his new book "When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin," "was tall, blond and looked good enough to eat, a veritable golden god shaking what he'd got -- the perfect visual foil to [Jimmy] Page's darker, more slender, slightly effeminate persona." "When Giants Walked the Earth" devotes a lot of time to this mythic image of the band, telling us about Page's studies of magic and how this shaped their music -- maybe even contributed to the band's decline. It's a hoary cliche, but one has to ask, did Led Zeppelin sell its soul for rock 'n' roll?more from Nick Owchar at the LAT here.