January 31, 2010
Guns Of Brixton Video by someone obsessed with Paul Simonon
Life, Friends, is Boring
Dialogue, debate or disagreement? How useful is the distinction between ‘East’ and ‘West’ in today’s world?
From Himal Southasian:
If it was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who preached that the East and the West are inseparable, it was Rudyard Kipling who became famous for advocating the idea of their perpetual incompatibility. Today, the foremost characteristic of any East-West discourse continues to be a wrangle over a mutual cultural misunderstanding. The ‘West’, the East Asian studies scholar Martin Bernal has suggested, is as much a construction as the ‘East’ of Edward Said’s Orientalism. Likewise, Victor David Hanson, the author of the influential book Why the West has Won: Carnage and Culture fron Salamis to Vietnam, wrote in 2002 that “the East continues to stereotype the West, with not a clue about its intrinsic nature.” Hanson mockingly portrayed non-Westerners as baffled by a “mysterious Western paradigm – the freedom to speak freely”. For Avishai Margalit and Ian Buruma, Occidentalism, or the popular understanding of Western cultures, constitutes “a cluster of images and ideas of the West in the minds of its haters”. They infer that what is really hated about the West by those who only know it from afar is its secularity and rationalism. But do such vague notions on either side really hold any water in today’s globalised context?
Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long.
--Bob Dylan, Mississippi, Love and Theft
Our enthusiasm fostered these days that run
among the crowd of days all alike.
Our weakness placed on them
our last hope.
We used to think and time that should have been priceless
was passing us poorly
and these are, well, the coming years.
We were going to solve everything now.
Life was ahead of us.
It was best not to act rashly.
by Enrique Lihn
from The Dark Room and other poems;
New Directions Books, 1963
Nuestro entusiasmo alentaba a estos días que corren
entre la multitud de la igualdad de los días.
Nuestra debilidad cifraba en ellos
nuestra última esperanza.
Pensábamos y el tiempo que no tendría precio
se nos iba pasando pobremente
y estos son, pues, los años venideros.
Todo lo íbamos a resolver ahora.
Teníamos la vida por delante.
Lo mejor era no precipitarse.
The Intersecting Lives of da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped
From The Wshington Post:
Five hundred years after his death, Cesare Borgia still ranks as one of history's most reprehensible figures: ruthless, power-hungry and peacock-vain. But his reputation as a brute obscures the full human dimensions of this duke who sought to reunite Italy and place himself at the head of a new Roman Empire. As Paul Strathern explains in his masterful narrative history, "The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior," Borgia was also brilliant, handsome, charismatic and well-versed in the classics, "a superb exemplar of the Renaissance man."
Borgia is joined in these pages by two other exemplars of the age: Niccolò Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci. Strathern has produced a compact triple biography that focuses on the intersection of these three extraordinary men in late 1502. The trio spent only a few months in close proximity, but the impact on their own lives and on the Renaissance was far-reaching. Strathern, a novelist and author of other popular histories, does for Machiavelli and da Vinci what he does for Borgia: creates a flesh-and-blood portrait for each that defies historical stereotype. Using his novelist's eye and a historian's sweep, Strathern conveys the emotional subtleties that animated their lives. It's no small feat that he makes you care deeply for these complex figures who lived half a millennium ago.
A Colledge for the Promoting of Physico-Mathematicall Experimentall Learning
Our own PD Smith in The Independent:
This year the Royal Society celebrates its 350th birthday. The "Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge" was founded on 28 November 1660, when a dozen "ingenious and curious gentlemen" met at Gresham College, London, after a lecture by Christopher Wren, the 28-year-old Professor of Astronomy, and decided to found "a Colledge for the Promoting of Physico-Mathematicall Experimentall Learning." Among the signatories of that historic memorandum were Wren, chemist Robert Boyle, clergyman and polymath John Wilkins, Sir Robert Moray, and mathematician William, Viscount Brouncker.
Today it is the longest-lived scientific society in the world and this superb collection of essays, extensively illustrated, is a fitting tribute. It has had 8,200 members, including Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, Ernest Rutherford and Francis Crick: people who radically transformed the way we see the world. As Bill Bryson rightly says, "this isn't just the most venerable learned society in the world, it is the finest club."
There had been earlier scientific societies such as Prince Federico Cesi's Academy of Linceans in Italy. But the Royal Society is without doubt the most influential. In 1665 it began the tradition of publishing scientific research. Its Philosophical Transactions is the oldest scientific journal in continuous publication. From the outset, under its German-born editor Henry Oldenburg, the journal was truly international, as was the Society itself. As Bryson puts it, the Society "created modern science". The original members gathered on Wednesday afternoons in Gresham College where they would observe experiments – conducted by Robert Hooke – and engage in debates. "They loved to talk", says James Gleick in his essay on their limitless curiosity. Anything could be discussed apart from God or politics.
Howard Zinn, a radical treasure
Bob Herbert in the New York Times:
Think of those who joined in — and in many cases became leaders of — the abolitionist movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the feminist revolution, the gay rights movement, and so on.
Think of what this country would have been like if those ordinary people had never bothered to fight and sometimes die for what they believed in. Mr. Zinn refers to them as “the people who have given this country whatever liberty and democracy we have.”
Our tendency is to give these true American heroes short shrift, just as we gave Howard Zinn short shrift. In the nitwit era that we’re living through now, it’s fashionable, for example, to bad-mouth labor unions and feminists even as workers throughout the land are treated like so much trash and the culture is so riddled with sexism that most people don’t even notice it. (There’s a restaurant chain called “Hooters,” for crying out loud.)
I always wondered why Howard Zinn was considered a radical. (He called himself a radical.) He was an unbelievably decent man who felt obliged to challenge injustice and unfairness wherever he found it. What was so radical about believing that workers should get a fair shake on the job, that corporations have too much power over our lives and much too much influence with the government, that wars are so murderously destructive that alternatives to warfare should be found, that blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities should have the same rights as whites, that the interests of powerful political leaders and corporate elites are not the same as those of ordinary people who are struggling from week to week to make ends meet?
Simon Singh and Andy Lewis discuss homeopathy
Be free! Or I’ll kill you
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad in Pulse:
Some strands of feminism have a long history of serving as adjuncts of Western imperialism. Today they also enable domestic prejudice. Gore Vidal once mocked George Bush’s idea of democracy promotion as being synonymous with: ‘Be free! Or I’ll kill you’. In a similar vein, some feminists today want to ‘liberate’ Arab-Muslim women by constraining their freedoms. These women can’t possibly know what they really want, you see. The European feminists, like Bush, know what’s best for them. What could my sister — who studied at a co-ed university (in Peshawar!) but turned to wearing the hijab after moving to Canada — know about her interests? She must be told by the enlightened Westerner. She must be liberated.
Ignorance and racism combine in this potent form of messianism to sanction prejudice which increasingly targets Europe’s immigrant population. Like the Orientalists of yore, this brand of feminism insists on seeing the brown or black woman in the subordinate role, wistfully awaiting a Westerner liberator. They are childlike, they must be protected in the same manner that a responsible parent protects an unruly nestling. They must be saved from the hijab, or — God forbid! — the veil. To protect their freedom of choice, their freedom to choose must be revoked.
Today more and more assertive Muslim women living in the West are taking up the hijab, as a defiant assertion of their identity and independence. It is no longer a religious symbol, it is a political symbol.
January 30, 2010
Meis on Rye: Is it really any surprise Holden Caulfield's not the hero he once was?
Our own Morgan Meis, six months ago, in The Smart Set:
I'm for the kids. It’s crazy not to be. Are you, dear reader, mighty Atlas, going to hold the world in place and keep it from changing into something new? One lesson of all hitherto existing human history is that the kids have the advantage in the long run. This is a function of time and finitude. The only real wisdom comes in realizing that the kids of today will get their comeuppance with the swift passing of a decade or so. They, too, will wake up one day to find themselves representatives of what was, instead of what shall be. The kids keep on coming.
We learned recently (from a New York Times article by Jennifer Schuessler) that Holden Caulfield, the anti-hero of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, has lost his appeal among the teenage crowd. This came without fair warning. No pimply representative of the Millennials stepped forward to cushion the blow. Instead, we are informed by Barbara Feinberg — "who has observed numerous class discussions of 'Catcher'" — that a 15-year-old boy from Long Island has said, "Oh, we all hated Holden in my class. We just wanted to tell him, ‘Shut up and take your Prozac.’"
It is easy to respond defensively and with contempt. People don't like to have their heroes snubbed, especially when the snubbing comes from some little punk from Long Island whose fingers are surely rubbed raw from constant tweeting, texting, gaming, and masturbation. We (shall we define 'we' as that part of the population over 30?) find subtle ways to undercut the legions of cheeky hormone machines.
Don't ever tell anybody anything
"Don't ever tell anybody anything," J.D. Salinger wrote in the closing lines of "The Catcher in the Rye." "If you do, you start missing everybody." For more than two decades now, I've thought about that ending as a piece of code. Not that Salinger, who died Wednesday at age 91 in Cornish, N.H., was an oracle, despite what his most dedicated followers -- those who hung around his driveway, hoping for a glimpse of the reclusive author, or parsed his sentences on a million websites -- might believe. But Salinger was a writer who refracted his perspective into language, producing work that was personal and profound. Between 1951 and 1965, he produced four uncommonly sensitive books of fiction -- "Catcher," "Nine Stories," "Franny and Zooey" and "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" -- before retreating to his home in Cornish and refusing to publish any more.more from David L. Ulin at the LA Times here.
the way we learn
In the four rigorously reasonable essays in “The Marketplace of Ideas,” Louis Menand takes up four questions about American higher education: “Why is it so hard to institute a general education curriculum? Why did the humanities disciplines undergo a crisis of legitimation? Why has ‘interdisciplinarity’ become a magic word? And why do professors all tend to have the same politics?” Menand, a professor of English at Harvard and a staff writer for The New Yorker, offers answers notable in part for what they don’t contain: namely, the complaint that it’s all been downhill since 1970 because of feminism, multiculturalism, postmodernism, deconstruction and queer theory. Yes, humanities enrollments have declined since 1970, as have enrollments in the social and natural sciences. But as Menand points out, that’s partly because departments of business administration and computer science have drawn students away from all fields in the liberal arts and sciences and partly because the decades following World War II were anomalous in the history of American higher education — a “Golden Age” of tremendous expansion, when the number of undergraduates increased fivefold and the number of graduate students ninefold. To assess the American university by starting from 1970 is to take the high-water mark as if it were the mean.more from Michael Bérubé at the NYT here.
Ae Fond Kiss
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, and then forever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.
Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerfu' twinkle lights me;
Dark despair around benights me.
I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy,
Naething could resist my Nancy;
But to see her was to love her;
Love but her, and love forever.
Had we never lov'd sae kindly,
Had we never lov'd sae blindly,
Never met—or never parted—
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.
Fare thee weel, thou first and fairest!
Fare thee weel, thou best and dearest!
Thine be ilka joy and treasure,
Peace. enjoyment, love, and pleasure!
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, alas, forever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee!
by Robert Burns
Don’t Objectify Him: Tino Sehgal at the Guggenheim
Walk into the Guggenheim between now and March 10th and you will find it empty. There are no paintings on the walls, no sculptures in the rotunda or multimedia installations that require dim lights and headphones. What you will find instead are people – several dozen of them scattered along the bare, spiraling ramp of the museum – ready to engage in chatty, cerebral dialogue about what we, the viewer, consider progress - among myriad other topics. Welcome to "This is Progress," a work by Tino Sehgal, a London-born conceptual artist who produces only ephemeral performances that he refers to as "situations." Insert Jersey Shore joke here. Sehgal allows no documentation of his work (no photos, video, or audio), nor does he allow the creation of any objects related to it. There is no wall text, no certificates, no hernia-inducing catalogues loaded with artspeak. In fact, when I showed up for the press preview, there was no speechifying by curators and no press releases (all museum shows should be this awesome) – just the experience of walking into an empty museum wondering what exactly I was in for.
Accompanying me was Susanna Heller, a Brooklyn-based painter - and, coincidentally, a Guggenheim Fellow - who responded to a call by WNYC to be part of this highly unusual experience. (Since the only existing record of Sehgal’s work are the people who experience it, we thought it’d be prudent to take back-up.) So what did we see and do? As we ascended the ramp, we were greeted by a young girl (about 8, missing front teeth, seriously cute), who asked us to follow her. Soon, she was peppering us with all manner of grown-up questions: What is progress? What does progress mean to us? Could we provide examples to support our answers? As we spoke, we strolled slowly up the ramp and were deposited in the hands of a young man in his late teens, where we continued the discussion on somewhat more adult terms. As we continued up the ramp, we were relayed to another performer and another. On some occasions, the questions we were asked were in keeping with the theme of progress; in others, they came completely out of left field. We discussed painting, man's relationship to nature and tried to understand why humans venerate the objects they do. Trying to recount all the details here is like trying to reconstruct a particularly intense dinner party conversation: It was fascinating while it happened, but on the retelling can seem trite and pretentious.
By the time we reached the top of the museum’s ramp, we’d had some pretty intense dialogues – with complete strangers – about ideas, society and ourselves. I didn’t want it to end. Neither did Susanna. In fact, as soon as we finished, we went right back down and did it again and had a completely different set of equally intriguing discussions.
More here. (Note: Thanks to Asad Raza, Producer of the show)
The Night Belongs to Us
From The New York Times:
The downtown rocker Patti Smith’s memoir of her early career and her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe is a spellbinding, diverting portrait of funky-but-chic New York in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Apart from a certain shared apprehension of immortality — complacent in one case, but endearingly gingerly in the other — the skinny 28-year-old on the cover of Patti Smith’s seismic 1975 album, “Horses,” doesn’t look much at all like Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein. But because the shutterbug was Robert Mapplethorpe, who was soon to become fairly legendary himself, that exquisite photograph of Smith on the brink of fame is as close as New York’s 1970s avant-garde ever came to a comparable twofer. The mythmaking bonus is that the latter-day duo were much more genuinely kindred spirits.
Born weeks apart in 1946, Smith and Mapplethorpe played Mutt and Jeff from their first meeting in 1967 through his death from AIDS more than 20 years later. They were lovers as well until he came out of the closet with more anguish than anyone familiar with his bold later career as gay sexuality’s answer to Mathew Brady (and Jesse Helms’s N.E.A. nemesis) is likely to find credible. Yet his Catholic upbringing had been conservative enough that he and Smith had to fake being married for his parents’ sake during their liaison.
A Short History of Hydrogen Sulfide: From the sewers of Paris to physiological messenger
Roger P. Smith in American Scientist:
Early last year, reports began to emerge in the Southeastern United States of a strange illness. Homeowners reported nosebleeds, sinus irritation and respiratory problems that appeared to be associated with corrosion of copper pipes and air conditioner coils in their houses.
The culprit seems to be drywall imported from China and possibly contaminated with strontium sulfide, an unstable salt that releases hydrogen sulfide on exposure to moisture. It was used widely in the housing boom of 2004–2007, and in the rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when domestic suppliers could not keep up with the demand. The Consumer Products Safety Commission is now investigating whether sulfide gases given off by the drywall, including hydrogen sulfide, are to blame. The Florida Department of Health maintains a Web site with information for consumers. Lawsuits abound, and many who are able to do so have moved out of their homes. Several estimates place the number of affected houses at 100,000.
To those experiencing or investigating this phenomenon early on, it seemed bizarre. But in fact, this is just the latest chapter in the history of a chemical whose effects were first noted in the 16th century. And there is still more to learn about its role in the human body. Recent research offers insights into its biochemical actions as well as some intriguing suggestions for medical uses.
In 1713, a remarkable Italian physician named Bernardino Ramazzini published De Morbis Artificum, or Diseases of Workers. In Chapter 14, titled “Diseases of Cleaners of Privies and Cesspits,” he describes a painful inflammation of the eyes which was common among such workers. The inflammation often led to secondary bacterial invasion, and sometimes to total blindness. Displaying amazing insight, Ramazzini hypothesized that when the cleaners disturbed the excrement in the course of their work, an unknown volatile acid was produced, which was irritating to the eyes. It was also at least partially responsible for the odor of excrement, and it is now known to be generated wherever organic matter undergoes putrefaction.
Ramazzini further postulated that that same acid was causing copper and silver coins which the workers had in their pockets to turn black on their surfaces—an eerie resonance with the phenomena recently observed by U.S. homeowners.
The Froth of Khan
Nadeem F. Paracha in Dawn:
What can one say about Imran Khan? A great former cricketer, a compassionate philanthropist … a sorry excuse for a politician. But his continuing forays into bad politics and tactical blunders can be excused, for he is yet to understand that politics is not a game of cricket, and that the democratic election process does not follow the selection policy he enforced as the captain of the Pakistan cricket squad.
The truth is, Khan’s penchant for picking up talented players seemed to have gone haywire when he decided to pick his early political mentors.
Coming from a highly educated, cultivated, and somewhat liberal background, Khan had slipped into reverse gear by the time he decided to enter politics in the early 1990s. In other words, instead of looking forward to becoming an integral part of a new, democratic, and General Zia-less Pakistan, Khan struck an ideological partnership with shadowy characters who were hell-bent on keeping the country stuck in the 1980s – a decade when Pakistan pulled and damaged all of its important political, economic and social muscles under the stressful weight of a myopic dictatorship and the damaging jihad that a dictatorship sponsored in Afghanistan.
By the time Khan officially entered politics sometime in late 1995, it wasn’t his pristine education at Oxford University, or a more insightful understanding of Pakistan’s political history, that was informing his political make-up. On the contrary, his ideology was weaved from the usual reactionary claptrap one expects from former ISI men, especially those who got emotionally involved in Pakistan’s counterproductive Afghan jihad project.
James Cameron's Laser Cats 5
Mencken, Islam, and Political Correctness
Edward Cline in Capitalism Magazine:
Two months after the John Scopes monkey trial of July 1925, H.L. Mencken, writing for the Baltimore Evening Sun, took to task two prominent publications, the New York World and the New Republic, for castigating Clarence Darrow, chief defense counsel of Scopes, over his conduct during the trial. The World was infuriated by Darrows brutal cross-examination of William Jennings Bryan, the states star counsel against Scopes, an experience which humiliated Bryan and is thought to have contributed to his death later that same month. The New Republic objected to Darrow having made the issue of evolution vs. the Bible a national, rather than merely a local one, even though the trial was broadcast on radio.
What drew Mencken's ire was the Worlds position that one's religious beliefs, should be respected and not subjected to criticism or satire.
Once more I find myself unable to follow the best Liberal thought. What the Worlds contention amounts to, at bottom, is simply the doctrine that a man engaged in combat with superstition should be very polite to superstition. This, I fear, is nonsense. The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.True enough, even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force.
More here. [Thanks to Markella Hatziano.]
January 29, 2010
In Memory of Howard Zinn, an American and a Jew
Michael Furman in Jewcy:
A close friend called me today and notified me of Howard Zinn's death. After a half hour of the requisite investigatory quest through the digital abyss, the news seemed to coalesce in my mind with the myriad headlines of the day. The modern information onslaught indeed seems malleable to me, over time becoming little more than a monstrosity of factoids. How the whole has become less than the sum of its parts.
Over tea and thought, however, my knowledge of the good professor's passing became quite real, substantive, and sobering. After all, Zinn remains among my biggest inspirations.
As a student of history, he shattered the myth of objectivity with a forceful blow, displaying in a massive tome the hollow nature of facts; it is instead our perspectives, our manipulations, and our conclusions that smack of bias and are deeply flawed. While we all know the adage that ‘history books are written by the winners,' Zinn overwhelmed us with the sheer tragedy of this mantra, and exposed the ugly underbelly of our collective memory.
As an American, he upheld the virtues of the Declaration of Independence, even if he admonished its author.
The Emergence of the Indian Public Sphere
Nalini Rajan in The Hindu:
As citizens of a nation in the making, Indian scholars have been deeply interested in the writings of Benedict Anderson and Jurgen Habermas. Anderson has discussed the ways in which print capitalism allows a literate monolingual population to imagine the nation through the newspaper and the novel. Habermas, for his part, has delineated his notion of the public sphere as a realm of free debate and rational argument.
In a country where, even today, one in every three does not have signature literacy, it is hard to straitjacket the complex idea of nation-building into the phenomenon of print capitalism. Some of the essays in this book pertain to pre-colonial India when barely six per cent of the population was literate. What is exciting about the descriptions of the colonial era is that they uncannily mirror the post-colonial state’s obsession with a strong law and order paradigm (see Rajeev Dhavan’s essay). If nationalist struggles and an emerging free press were seen as an infectious disease (because it spreads quickly) by the British colonialists, revolutionary movements and the free media are viewed with suspicion by the Indian state even today, as Ranajit Guha points out.
Undoubtedly, the Indian public sphere has rarely been based on the force of better argument. It has often assumed symbolic, non-constitutional forms of politics (see Francesca Orsini’s essay), like salt-making, drum-beating, horn-blowing, and bazaar gossip. Arvind Rajagopal dubs this dual nature of the public sphere as a ‘split public’ — a term that calls to mind Partha Chatterjee’s distinction between the ‘us’ of civil society and the ‘them’ of political society. C.A. Bayly calls the indigenous public sphere as the “Indian ecumene,” or the form of cultural and political debate that was typical of north India, before the emergence of the print media.
God Was on Everybody’s Side: An Interview with Jean Comaroff
In the Immanent Frame:
[David Kyuman Kim]: Jean Comaroff, tell us about the role of religion in your work.
JC: For me, as a scholar, religion has always been an exercise for a left hand. I started out working on these issues because I was interested in the relationship between politics and religion and the uneasy ways in which anthropologists at the time separated them. I was interested not least because, if you went to Africa in the 1960s to study religion, religion was assumed to be a matter of “tradition.” Already I felt that this term, in its then unproblematic usage, was less than helpful.
When I got to my field site, in rural northwest South Africa, the religious lingua franca was Christianity, African Christianity, which was inseparable from anything else you might call spiritual, religious, or moral life. I was Jewish in my upbringing, but the kind of Christianity I encountered was profoundly unlike the Christianity I had known about growing up in white South Africa, or when I subsequently lived in England.
There was concern among my advisors at the London School of Economics [LSE] because Christianity was regarded as a topic for comparative religion or sociology, not for anthropology. There was no anthropology of Christianity at that time, so it was really quite a struggle at that point to find relevant interlocutors.
At the same time, it was obvious that Christianity had long been a key dimension of local history. In South Africa, Christianity was inseparable from the whole logic of the way colonialism had been made and was then being unmade.
JD Salinger: reclusive, eccentric author of an undying masterpiece
From The Telegraph:
Was JD Salinger best known, in later years, for being the most celebrated literary recluse in the world? After 1965, he withdrew from engagement with the literary world, emerging only at the hands of the occasional journalistic tale of stalking, in a furious-looking snatched photograph, or some unsubstantiated rumours. He made no distinction between a respectful inquiring scholar like Ian Hamilton and any number of scandalous muckrakers.
That wasn’t his real fame, however. The four books he published before that withdrawal have gone on selling in steady, substantial numbers. Catcher in the Rye in particular has never stopped being loved by a huge audience since it was taken up by the first generation of campus near-dropouts. The two stories in Raise High The Roof-Beam, Carpenters are the celebrated New Yorker oblique tender style at its pinnacle and summit. Some people thought that with Franny and Zooey, Salinger demonstrated a love for his fictional family, the Glasses, which no reader could be expected to match. For others, it stopped, exquisitely, on the verge of the sentimental.
The Ape That Never Grows Up
Chimpanzees have an aggressive reputation and often fight rather than share. Bonobos, on the other hand, are famously playful and friendly. A new study hints at a difference in how the two apes develop, suggesting that bonobos retain a youthful lack of social inhibition longer than chimpanzees do. Understanding how and why these two apes--the closest living relatives to humans--differ from each other could yield clues about how our own species evolved to be so social. Anatomical studies of ape skulls have suggested that bonobos' brains mature more slowly than those of chimps, says the lead author of the new study, Victoria Wobber, a graduate student in the lab of Harvard University primatologist Richard Wrangham. But no one had looked for corresponding differences in the development of social behaviors in the two apes, Wobber says.
So she and colleagues conducted experiments on about 60 apes of various ages at the Tchimpounga Sanctuary in the Republic of the Congo and the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the first experiment, the researchers put a bowl of fruit in an enclosure and allowed pairs of age-matched chimps or bonobos to enter. The apes scored high marks for social tolerance if they shared the food, particularly if they came close together and ate from the bowl at the same time. Young animals of both species were good at sharing, the researchers found. Although older bonobos appeared to maintain their youthful tolerance, chimps tended to be less tolerant with age. In pairs of older chimps, the more dominant one often hogged all the food. And even when sharing occurred, two individuals rarely ate from the bowl at the same time.
Jake Addresses the World from the Garden
……………Rocks without ch'i [spirit] are dead rocks.
……………..—Mai-Mai Sze, The Way of Chinese Painting
It's spring and Jake toddles to the garden
as the sun wobbles up clean and iridescent.
He points to the stones asleep and says, "M'mba,"
I guess for the sound they make, takes another step
and says, "M'mba," for the small red berries crying
in the holly. "M'mba" for the first sweet sadness
of the purplish-black berries in the drooping monkey grass,
and "M'mba" for the little witches' faces bursting into blossom.
That's what it's like being shorter than the primary colors,
being deafened by humming stones while the whole world billows
behind the curtain, "M'mba," the one word. Meanwhile I go on
troweling, slavering the world with language as Jake squeals
like a held bird and begins lallating to me in tongues.
I follow him around as he tries to thread the shine off a stone
through the eye of a watchful bird. After a year of banging
his head, all the crying, the awful falling down, now he's trying
to explain the vast brightening in his brain by saying "M'mba"
to me again and again. And though I follow with the sadness
above which a stone cannot lift itself, I wink and say
"M'mba" back to him. But I don't mean it.
by Jack Myers
from New American Poets of the ‘90s;
publisher: David R. Godine, 1991
Salinger's Best Story
Chris Wilson in Slate:
I love J.D. Salinger, who died today, far too much to write about him with any perspective. Perhaps this qualifies me to eulogize his last anthologized work—the story of a man who loves and admires his deceased brother too much to write about him with any perspective.
"Seymour: An Introduction" was originally published in The New Yorker in 1959 and was printed in book form, alongside "Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters," four years later. It runs about 120 pages and has no appreciable form, reading like an unedited, freewheeling character description. I know several avowed Salinger fanatics who have never made it through the thing, and I don't blame them: The story is dense, tiresome, and irritating. Its charm is difficult to diagnose. But I submit that it's the best story the guy ever wrote.
Narrated by Buddy Glass—the second eldest brother of the prodigious family that occupies the majority of Salinger's post-Catcher fiction—it takes place years after Seymour Glass committed suicide. There is very little plot. Buddy, like Salinger, has retreated to a bucolic existence in New England, where he is preparing a volume of his dead brother's poetry for publication. The story is a jumble of anecdotes, musings, and epic descriptions, punctuated by Buddy's still-raw anger and confusion over his brother's suicide.
In the Next Industrial Revolution, Atoms Are the New Bits
Chris Anderson in Wired:
Here’s the history of two decades in one sentence: If the past 10 years have been about discovering post-institutional social models on the Web, then the next 10 years will be about applying them to the real world.
This story is about the next 10 years.
Transformative change happens when industries democratize, when they’re ripped from the sole domain of companies, governments, and other institutions and handed over to regular folks. The Internet democratized publishing, broadcasting, and communications, and the consequence was a massive increase in the range of both participation and participants in everything digital — the long tail of bits.
Now the same is happening to manufacturing — the long tail of things.
The tools of factory production, from electronics assembly to 3-D printing, are now available to individuals, in batches as small as a single unit. Anybody with an idea and a little expertise can set assembly lines in China into motion with nothing more than some keystrokes on their laptop. A few days later, a prototype will be at their door, and once it all checks out, they can push a few more buttons and be in full production, making hundreds, thousands, or more. They can become a virtual micro-factory, able to design and sell goods without any infrastructure or even inventory; products can be assembled and drop-shipped by contractors who serve hundreds of such customers simultaneously.
Today, micro-factories make everything from cars to bike components to bespoke furniture in any design you can imagine. The collective potential of a million garage tinkerers is about to be unleashed on the global markets, as ideas go straight into production, no financing or tooling required. “Three guys with laptops” used to describe a Web startup. Now it describes a hardware company, too.
More here. [Thanks to Kris Kotarski.]
The greatest athlete for his age the world has ever seen
James Zug in Squash Magazine [July 2004]:
Hashim Khan, who I think can fairly be described as the greatest squash-racquets player of all time, made his American debut in the winter of 1954.
Hashim Khan, may his tribe increase, completely changed the course of events in the game of squash racquets.
The more I think about it, the more firmly convinced I am that the greatest athlete for his age the world has ever seen may well be Hashim Khan, the Pakistani squash player.
That was how Herbert Warren Wind led off his three epic articles on squash in the New Yorker, in 1973, 1978 and in 1985. Being the New Yorker, the articles were rigorously fact-checked, and all hyperbole was stricken with a red pen. These three sentences were true then and are true today.
Yet, Wind and the New Yorker got his birth date wrong. There is no birth certificate for Hashim Khan. Ned Bigelow, the founder of the United States Open and the man responsible for bringing Hashim to the US and thus revolutionizing our game, made a trip to Pakistan in the 1960s solely to dig up the elusive piece of paper. But the Northwest Frontier Province of the Raj four decades before independence did not focus on record-keeping, and after days of searching Bigelow declared that there was no extant proof of Hashim’s arrival in this world (most of Hashim’s children don’t know their birth date either). Hashim grew up thinking he was born in 1914. When he was first approached, in 1951, about coming to England to play in the British Open, he thought they would not let him play in the tournament if they knew he was 37. So he made himself 35, with 1916 as a birth date. A few years ago he changed it back to 1914. Many people believed he was born even earlier, in 1910 or 1912. Regardless, Hashim is now sticking to 1914, which makes the first of July 2004 his 90th birthday.
Many happy returns, indeed, for whenever he was born, Hashim can look back on a legacy greater than anyone else in the history of squash.
More here. Hashim Khan won the British Open seven times between 1951 and 1958, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest squash players of all time. He also won five British Professional Championship titles, three US Open titles, and three Canadian Open titles. Hashim Khan's son Sharif Khan later won the American Open between 1969 and 1981 an unbelievable 12 times, losing only once in 1975! It is good to note that in 2010 Hashim Khan is still healthy, and at age 96, still playing squash. Watch this video, Aps, and others:
Haiti and the hypocrisy of Christian theology
Richard Dawkins in the Washington Post:
You nice, middle-of-the-road theologians and clergymen, be-frocked and bleating in your pulpits, you disclaim Pat Robertson's suggestion that the Haitians are paying for a pact with the devil. But you worship a god-man who - as you tell your congregations even if you don't believe it yourself - 'cast out devils'. You even believe (or you don't disabuse your flock when they believe) that Jesus cured a madman by causing the 'devils' in him to fly into a herd of pigs and stampede them over a cliff. Charming story, well calculated to uplift and inspire the Sunday School and the Infant Bible Class. Pat Robertson may spout evil nonsense, but he is a mere amateur at that game. Just read your own Bible. Pat Robertson is true to it. But you?
Educated apologist, how dare you weep Christian tears, when your entire theology is one long celebration of suffering: suffering as payback for 'sin' - or suffering as 'atonement' for it? You may weep for Haiti where Pat Robertson does not, but at least, in his hick, sub-Palinesque ignorance, he holds up an honest mirror to the ugliness of Christian theology. You are nothing but a whited sepulchre.
January 28, 2010
J. D. Salinger, 1919-2010
J. D. Salinger, who was thought at one time to be the most important American writer to emerge since World War II but who then turned his back on success and adulation, becoming the Garbo of letters, famous for not wanting to be famous, died Wednesday at his home in Cornish, N.H., where he had lived in seclusion for more than 50 years. He was 91.
Mr. Salinger’s literary representative, Harold Ober Associates, announced the death, saying it was of natural causes. “Despite having broken his hip in May,” the agency said, “his health had been excellent until a rather sudden decline after the new year. He was not in any pain before or at the time of his death.”
Mr. Salinger’s literary reputation rests on a slender but enormously influential body of published work: the novel “The Catcher in the Rye,” the collection “Nine Stories” and two compilations, each with two long stories about the fictional Glass family: “Franny and Zooey” and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.”
“Catcher” was published in 1951, and its very first sentence, distantly echoing Mark Twain, struck a brash new note in American literature: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
Though not everyone, teachers and librarians especially, was sure what to make of it, “Catcher” became an almost immediate best seller, and its narrator and main character, Holden Caulfield, a teenager newly expelled from prep school, became America’s best-known literary truant since Huckleberry Finn.
they wont be able to hear us scream
Human beings are making it harder for extraterrestials to pick up our broadcasts and make contact, the world's leading expert on the search for alien life warned yesterday. At a special meeting on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (Seti), the US astronomer Frank Drake – who has been seeking radio signals from alien civilisations for almost 50 years – told scientists that earthlings were making it less likely they would be heard in space. Astronomers assumed that a standard technique for any alien intelligence trying to pinpoint other civilisations in the galaxy would involve seeking signals from TV, radio and radar broadcasts, Drake told the meeting at the Royal Society in London.more from at The Guardian here.
"There’s just so much shit isn’t there? With art writing. So much bollocks. People who’ve swallowed dictionaries. All that crap.” Damien Hirst dismisses the practice of criticism in his introduction to these essays by Gordon Burn, although he may be thinking of his recent detractors rather than Vasari and Ruskin. Conversely, he acknowledges his friend Burn as “an artist in his own right . . . . [He wrote] almost like fucking carving it out of marble”. Others agree: Burn, who died last year, won a Whitbread Award for Alma Cogan, a novel based unapologetically on post-war cultural icons. Sex & Violence, Death & Silence collects Burn’s “encounters” with the Pop Artists who rose to stardom in the 1960s, and the Young British Artists of the 90s. “Encounters” is Faber’s cool coinage for occasional pieces. It seems to imply that all these writings were composed on cigarette paper as the author abandoned parties at dawn. Yet Burn is always erudite, and his prose has a beauty that many of the YBAs deliberately eschew in their work.more from Nancy Campbell at the TLS here.
Chopin: Prince of the Romantics
From The Guardian:
Did they or didn’t they? It had been a year since the start of her doomed affair with the composer Frédéric Chopin, and George Sand took a knife and carved a date on the panelling of the bedroom of her country home at Nohant in France, June 19 1839. Was it the anniversary of the consummation of their love? This was the first affair that the sexually adventurous Sand had had without it going disastrously wrong. Or was it the date when the pair stopped having sex? The composer’s health was failing, and did his lover fear that strenuous activity might kill him?
The question is asked in this thoroughly modern biography, in which Adam Zamoyski seeks to sweep away what he calls the “sugary blur of sentimentality and melodrama” that has traditionally surrounded one of the masters of romantic music. The story of Chopin, the Polish child prodigy who played for the tsar at the age of 15 and went on to compose and perform some of the world’s most sublime piano music before dying tragically early at 39, has been widely told – as has the saga of the unlikely coupling between the fey composer and Sand, the swarthy, mannish, cigar-chomping writer, who had dumped her sick husband while on honeymoon in Venice and run off with the doctor summoned to treat him.
Factory of Tears
And once again according to the annual report
the highest productivity results were achieved
by the Factory of Tears.
While the Department of Transportation was breaking heels
while the Department of Heart Affairs
was beating hysterically
the Factory of Tears was working night shifts
setting new records even on holidays.
While the Food Refinery Station
was trying to digest another catastrophe
the Factory of Tears adopted a new economically advantageous
technology of recycling the wastes of past –
The pictures of the employees of the year
were placed on the Wall of Tears.
I’m a recipient of workers’ comp from the heroic Factory of Tears.
I have calluses on my eyes.
I have compound fractures on my cheeks.
I receive my wages with the product I manufacture.
And I’m happy with what I have.
by Valzhyna Mort
translation by Valzhyna Mort ,Franz Wright, and Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright
from Factory of Tears; Copper Canyon Press, 2008
The Shocking Truth About Running Shoes
Haile Gebrselassie, the world's fastest marathoner, once said of his early career, "When I wore shoes, it was difficult." A new study reveals why: Humans run differently in bare feet. Researchers have discovered that sneakers and other sports shoes alter our natural gait, which normally protects us from the impact of running. The finding offers new insight on how early humans ran and raises concerns that sports shoes may promote more injuries than they prevent. About 2 million years ago, the ancestors of modern humans evolved the physiological "equipment" for running--long legs, large buttocks, and springy structures in the feet, among other features. Athletic shoes weren't invented until the early 1900s, and it wasn't until the 1970s that they found widespread popularity. So how did humans manage to run comfortably before the invention of purpose-built footwear?
Daniel Lieberman, a human evolutionary biologist at Harvard University--and an avid runner--decided to find out. He and colleagues looked at more than 200 shod and unshod runners in the United States and the Rift Valley Province of Kenya, which is known for its great endurance runners. The volunteers represented a spectrum of shoe experience, including adults who had grown up wearing shoes, those who had grown up running shoeless but who now wore shoes, and those who had never worn shoes at all. Lieberman's team arranged a trial in which each group ran shod (either in ASICS GEL-Cumulus 10s or in their own shoes) and bare and measured their running gait and the impact on their bodies. The researchers noticed a difference right away. Whereas shod runners tended to land on the heel of the foot, barefoot runners landed on the ball of the foot or with a flat foot. The unshod runners' style causes more flex in the foot's springlike arch, ankle, and knee and engages more foot and calf muscles, blunting the impact on the body and making for a more comfortable "ride." As their feet collide with the ground--in this case, a running track--barefoot runners experience a shock of only 0.5 to 0.7 times their body weight, whereas shod heel strikers experience 1.5 to two times their body weight--a threefold to fourfold difference.
How the Great Howard Zinn Made All Our Lives Better
Harvey Wasserman in The Palestine Chronicle:
Howard Zinn was above all a gentleman of unflagging grace, humility and compassion.
No American historian has left a more lasting positive legacy on our understanding of the true nature of our country, mainly because his books reflect a soul possessed of limitless depth.
But his timeless masterpiece broke astonishing new ground both in its point of view and its comprehensive nature. The very idea of presenting the American story from the point of view of the common citizen was itself revolutionary. That he pulled it off with such apparent ease and readability borders on the miraculous. That at least a million Americans have bought and read it means that its on-going influence is immense. It is truly a history book that has and will continue to change history for the better.
But that doesn’t begin to account for Howard’s personal influence. He was a warm, unfailingly friendly compadre. He shared a beautiful partnership with his wonderful wife Roz, a brilliant, thoroughly committed social worker about whom he once said: “You and I just talk about changing the world. She actually does it.”
But Howard was no ivory tower academic.
Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train
An Interview with Howard Zinn on the State of the Empire
Wajahat Ali in CounterPunch [from April, 2008]:
At 85 years old, the indefatigable Howard Zinn still maintains the prolific activist and academic jab fueled by his political and social activism nurtured during The Civil Rights Movement. The esteemed historian and controversial rabble rouser’s seminal work, The People’s History of the United States, taught in high schools and colleges across the nation, has been adapted as a documentary, The People Speak, featuring readings by Sean Penn, Matt Damon, Viggo Mortenson and Marisa Tomei. Still touring and giving lectures, Zinn shows no signs of stopping, however his hectic schedule has slowed to devote more time for his family obligations. After nearly a month of back and forth emails and missed opportunities, Professor Zinn agreed to an interview reflecting on his historic and memorable time at Spelman College in the ‘60’s, his thoughts on the Democratic Party, his philosophy of dissent as democracy, and his hope for America’s future.
ALI: Your experiences and acts of civil disobedience at Spelman College are, by now, thoroughly well known. However, in the 21st century, one could look at the student body at many liberal college campuses and see that fiery protest and consciousness replaced by apathy and materialism. Where has that fighting spirit gone? You spoke against “discouragement” at the 2005 Spelman College commencement speech - what of it now?
ZINN: What you describe as the difference between the Sixties and today on campuses is true, but I would not go too far with that. There are campus groups all over the country working against the war, but they are small so far. Remember, the scale of involvement in Vietnam was greater – 500,000 troops vs. 130,000 troops in Iraq. After five years in Vietnam, there were 30,000 U.S. dead vs. today we have 4,000 dead. The draft was threatening young people then, but not now. Greater establishment control of the media today, which is not reporting the horrors inflicted on the people of Iraq as the media began in the U.S. to report on U.S. atrocities like the My Lai Massacre. In the case of the movement against the Vietnam War, there was the immediate radicalizing experience of the Civil Rights Movement for racial equality, whose energy and indignation carried over into the student movement against the Vietnam War. No comparable carry over exists today.
Bill Moyers interviews Howard Zinn
Daniel Ellsberg remembers Howard Zinn
I just learned that my friend Howard Zinn died today. Earlier this morning, I was being interviewed by the Boston Phoenix, in connection with the release in Boston February of a documentary in which he is featured prominently. The interviewer asked me who my own heroes were, and I had no hesitation in answering, first, “Howard Zinn.”
Just weeks ago after watching the film on December 7, I woke up the next morning thinking that I had never told him how much he meant to me. For once in my life, I acted on that thought in a timely way. I sent him an e-mail in which I said, among other things, what I had often told others about him: that he was,” in my opinion, the best human being I’ve ever known. The best example of what a human can be, and can do with their life.”
Our first meeting was at Faneiul Hall in Boston in early 1971, where we both spoke against the indictments of Eqbal Ahmad and Phil Berrigan for “conspiring to kidnap Henry Kissinger,” from which we marched with the rest of the crowd to make Citizens’ Arrests at the Boston office of the FBI. Later that spring we went with our affinity group (including Noam Chomsky, Cindy Fredericks, Marilyn Young, Mark Ptashne, Zelda Gamson, Fred Branfman and Mitch Goodman), to the Mayday actions blocking traffic in Washington (“If they won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the government”).
January 27, 2010
Howard Zinn, 1922-2010
Mark Feeney and Bryan Marquard in the Boston Globe:
Howard Zinn, the Boston University historian and political activist who was an early opponent of US involvement in Vietnam and whose books, such as "A People's History of the United States," inspired young and old to rethink the way textbooks present the American experience, died today in Santa Monica, Calif, where he was traveling. He was 87.
His daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn of Lexington, said he suffered a heart attack.
"He's made an amazing contribution to American intellectual and moral culture," Noam Chomsky, the left-wing activist and MIT professor, said tonight. "He's changed the conscience of America in a highly constructive way. I really can't think of anyone I can compare him to in this respect."
Chomsky added that Dr. Zinn's writings "simply changed perspective and understanding for a whole generation. He opened up approaches to history that were novel and highly significant. Both by his actions, and his writings for 50 years, he played a powerful role in helping and in many ways inspiring the Civil rights movement and the anti-war movement."
For Dr. Zinn, activism was a natural extension of the revisionist brand of history he taught. "A People’s History of the United States" (1980), his best-known book, had for its heroes not the Founding Fathers -- many of them slaveholders and deeply attached to the status quo, as Dr. Zinn was quick to point out -- but rather the farmers of Shays' Rebellion and union organizers of the 1930s.
As he wrote in his autobiography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train" (1994), "From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."
DeLillo's glacial aesthetic
Over the last ten years, Don DeLillo has become determined to solve one of the great riddles of the ancient art of storytelling: What is the slowest speed at which a plot can move before it stops moving altogether, thereby ceasing to function as a plot? And what kind of quantum transformations might take place at that moment of absolute-zero narrative momentum? This obsession is not exactly new. DeLillo has never been celebrated for his rippin’ yarns. But his recent stretch of post-Underworld metaphysical anti-thrillers—The Body Artist, Cosmopolis, Falling Man—has reached a whole new level of inertia; they make his early talky masterpieces (White Noise, The Names) look like Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. Stasis, paradoxically, has become the animating force of his plots. Recent characters include a billionaire who gets stuck in traffic for 200 pages; a highbrow Zen contortionist who spends long stretches pretending to check her watch in slow motion; and a man who appears to be falling out of buildings but ends up hanging, frozen, in midair.more from Sam Anderson at New York Magazine here.
There’s a new old art star in New York this winter: Agnolo Bronzino, the sixteenth-century Florentine painter, whose entire corpus of some sixty known drawings (a few attributions are uncertain) is on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum, to rousing effect. His arrival heralds a new old movement: Mannerism, the most commonly despised period in Western art history and, I think, the one that best befits creative culture today. We are mostly Mannerists now. Art about art, and style for style’s sake, Mannerism held sway from the end of the High Renaissance, circa 1520, until the Baroque kicked in, seven decades later. Even the strongest Mannerists—Pontormo and Bronzino in Florence, Parmigianino in Rome, Tintoretto in Venice, and El Greco in Italy and Spain—squirmed under the crushing criteria that had been established by Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Titian. They did so in ways both ingeniously elegant and gamily perverse. Think of Parmigianino’s elongated body parts, then of El Greco’s elongated everything. Recall Bronzino’s “The Allegory of Venus and Cupid,” at the National Gallery in London: a confounding tour de force of over-the-top sensuality and cryptic symbolism, painted for France’s racy, bookish Francis I. (Cupid lewdly embraces his naked mother while, among other things, Father Time presides, a butterball putto rejoices, a cute-faced and snake-tailed grotesque proffers a honeycomb, and a dove departs on foot like a stricken guest from a party that is way out of hand.) As the Mannerists toiled in the twilight of the Renaissance, so do we in relation to the modern age—the word “modern” having been torn from its roots to signify things that loom behind us.more from Peter Schjeldahl at The New Yorker here.
Edward Said and Me
H. Aram Veeser in Politics and Culture, edited by Amitava Kumar and Michael Ryan:
Said felt he had to transform every situation he entered. Any less would be passivity, and he was phobic about letting things happen to him: it smacked of victimage. It was customary at this epoch for radical students to liberate college classes. The professor of a liberated class was expected to stand aside and accept the verdict of History. I don’t think anyone tried this on Said, who had once used his umbrella to brush aside two friends of mine, who were kissing on the Hamilton Hall stairwell. On one occasion I recall, he addressed the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, who were very big on liberating classrooms and even whole buildings. Students, visiting radicals, Harlem residents, and street people had pressed into Hewitt Lounge, in the student center. Imagine a group who had the political moderation of Robespierre and the sartorial verve of the Hell’s Angels, and you’ll have a pretty fair grasp of the scene. Several of my fellow “Freshman Cabalists” affirmed that Said was indeed expected to speak, and pretty soon he arrived.
What followed was a series of tiny collisions and Gestalt readjustments. He was, for instance, punctilious in his dress: a black cashmere blazer over a bespoke, wide-striped English tailored shirt. French cuffs were a rarity in our group, and he had them. As he entered Hewitt Lounge, a ripple went through the assembled company, and the person speaking—who happened to be the society heiress and declared radical action freak, Josie Biddle Duke—interrupted herself and announced that Said had arrived.
More here. [Thanks to Maud Newton.]
To be reminded can be a motivating slap in the face
for amnesiacs during a too-long flight in a young bubble.
As You Like It —Excerpt
JAQUES: All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like a snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
from As You Like It
Paying Zero for Public Services
In Doha last month, CommGAP learned about the work of 5th Pillar, which has a unique initiative to mobilize citizens to fight corruption. In India, petty corruption is pervasive – people often face situations where they are asked to pay bribes for public services that should be provided free. 5th Pillar distributes zero rupee notes in the hopes that ordinary Indians can use these notes as a means to protest demands for bribes by public officials. I recently spoke with Vijay Anand, 5th Pillar’s president, to learn more about this fascinating initiative.
According to Anand, the idea was first conceived by an Indian physics professor at the University of Maryland, who, in his travels around India, realized how widespread bribery was and wanted to do something about it. He came up with the idea of printing zero-denomination notes and handing them out to officials whenever he was asked for kickbacks as a way to show his resistance. Anand took this idea further: to print them en masse, widely publicize them, and give them out to the Indian people. He thought these notes would be a way to get people to show their disapproval of public service delivery dependent on bribes. The notes did just that. The first batch of 25,000 notes were met with such demand that 5th Pillar has ended up distributing one million zero-rupee notes to date since it began this initiative. Along the way, the organization has collected many stories from people using them to successfully resist engaging in bribery.
More here. (Note: Thanks to my dear friend Abha Pandya)
Scientists link flame retardants and reduced human fertility
Women exposed to high levels of flame retardants take substantially longer to get pregnant, indicating for the first time that the widespread chemicals may affect human fertility, according to a study published Tuesday. Furniture cushions, carpet padding and other household items contain hormone-disrupting flame retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs. Two of the most widely used compounds have been banned in the United States since 2004, but they remain ubiquitous in the environment, inside homes and in the food supply.
Epidemiologists from the University of California at Berkeley studied 223 pregnant women in California’s Salinas Valley, an agricultural community with predominantly low-income, Mexican immigrants. More than 97% of the women had PBDEs in their blood, and those with high levels were half as likely to conceive in any given month as the women with low levels.
The State of the Union Speech: What I'd like to hear but won't
Stephen M. Walt in Foreign Policy:
I don't expect President Obama to devote much time to foreign policy issues during his State of the Union address tomorrow, because other topics (health care, the economy, regulating Wall Street, etc.) are causing him the most trouble these days. Plus, if he was going to talk a lot about foreign policy, what exactly could he say? That we are making great strides in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Nope. That his Cairo speech has transformed our standing in the Middle East and brought us to the brink of Middle East peace? Hardly. That we have turned the corner on climate change, nuclear arms reductions, or relations with Iran? Um ... not exactly. That relations with allies like Japan have never been better? Well, no. That the Guantanamo prison has been closed on schedule, as he promised a year ago? Er. ... not quite. When you look at the list, you can see why he wants to talk about a discretionary spending freeze and other exciting topics like that.
To be fair, the absence of tangible achievements isn't entirely Barack's fault. As I've written elsewhere, there were few low-hanging fruit when he took office, and nobody should have expected him to fix all of these difficult challenges in a single year or even in a single term. (You may even recall that back when he assumed office, he warned us that it would take time to repair all that was broken). So even if he had done everything right -- and he hasn't -- a lot of big-ticket items on his foreign policy agenda were going to defy easy solution.
But what would I like to hear him say on Wednesday night?
Google, copyright, and our future
Lawrence Lessig in The New Republic:
There has been a rage of attention to the recently revised proposal for a settlement by Google of a lawsuit brought against it by the Authors Guild of America and the Association of American Publishers (AAP). In 2004, Google launched the sort of project that only Internet idealists such as the entrepreneur and archivist Brewster Kahle had imagined: to scan eighteen million books, and make those books accessible on the Internet. How accessible depended upon the type of book. If the book was in the public domain, then Google would give you full access, and even permit you to download a digital copy of the book for free. If the book was presumptively under copyright, then at a minimum Google would grant “snippet access” to the work, meaning you could see a few lines around the words you searched, and then would be given information about where you could buy or borrow the book. But if the work was still in print, then publishers could authorize Google to make available as much of the book (beyond the snippets) as the publishers wanted.
The Authors Guild and AAP claimed that this plan violated copyright law. Their argument was simple and obvious--at least in the autistic sort of way that copyright law thinks about digital technology: when Google scanned the eighteen million books to build its index, it made a “copy” of them. For works still under copyright, the plaintiffs argued, this meant that Google needed permission from the copyright owner before that scan could occur. Never mind that Google scanned the works simply to index them; and never mind that it would never--without permission--distribute whole or even usable copies of the copyrighted works (except to the original libraries as replacements for lost physical copies). According to the plaintiffs, permission was vital, legally. Without it, Google was a pirate.
Mr. Deity and the Promised Land
[Thanks to Nikolai Nikola.]