February 28, 2010
The Heroic Life of the Atlantic Salmon
Richard Hamblyn in the London Review of Books:
Salmon – the name, it’s thought, derives from the Latin salire, ‘to leap’ – has always been a fish apart, marked by its unusual capacity to migrate between the distinct worlds of salt and fresh water. According to William Camden’s Britannia (1586), the salmon leaps of Pembrokeshire were Britain’s first tourist attractions, at which scores of people would gather to ‘stand and wonder at the strength and sleight by which they see the Salmon get out of the Sea into the said River’. The spectacle remains one of the great sights of autumn, and people still crowd the banks of the Teifi to watch the returning salmon launch themselves at the cascading waters in brute determination to reach their ancestral spawning grounds upstream. Many don’t make it, but for those that do, it marks the end of an extraordinary circular migration that begins and ends in the same shallow gravel-beds to which every sea-run adult will seek to return at least once in its life: an impulse that was confirmed by Francis Bacon in the 1620s, when he tied ‘a Ribband or some known tape or thred’ around the tail of a sea-bound smolt, retrieving it the following year when the fish returned as a splendid silver grilse.
‘Smolt’, ‘grilse’: as Richard Shelton observes, salmon are spoken of in a ‘stained-glass language’ of their own, their life stages marked by an ichthyological lexicon unchanged since Chaucer’s time.
More here. [Thanks to J. E. H. Smith.]
animals can instinctively solve navigational problems that have baffled humans for centuries
Dave Munger in Seed Magazine:
The nervous system of the desert ant Cataglyphis fortis, with around 100,000 neurons, is about 1 millionth the size of a human brain. Yet in the featureless deserts of Tunisia, this ant can venture over 100 meters from its nest to find food without becoming lost. Imagine randomly wandering 20 kilometers in the open desert, your tracks obliterated by the wind, then turning around and making a beeline to your starting point—and no GPS allowed! That’s the equivalent of what the desert ant accomplishes with its scant neural resources. How does it do it?
The Attack on Climate-Change Science
Bill McKibben in The Nation:
Twenty-one years ago, in 1989, I wrote what many have called the first book for a general audience on global warming. One of the more interesting reviews came from the Wall Street Journal. It was a mixed and judicious appraisal. "The subject," the reviewer said, "is important, the notion is arresting, and Mr. McKibben argues convincingly." And that was not an outlier: around the same time, the first President Bush announced that he planned to "fight the greenhouse effect with the White House effect."
I doubt that's what the Journal will say about my next book when it comes out in a few weeks, and I know that no GOP presidential contender would now dream of acknowledging that human beings are warming the planet. Sarah Palin is currently calling climate science "snake oil," and last week the Utah legislature, in a move straight out of the King Canute playbook, passed a resolution condemning "a well-organized and ongoing effort to manipulate global temperature data in order to produce a global warming outcome" on a nearly party-line vote.
And here's what's odd. In 1989, I could fit just about every scientific study on climate change on top of my desk. The science was still thin. If my reporting made me think it was nonetheless convincing, many scientists were not yet prepared to agree.
Now, you could fill the Superdome with climate-change research data. (You might not want to, though, since Hurricane Katrina demonstrated just how easy it was to rip holes in its roof.) Every major scientific body in the world has produced reports confirming the peril. All fifteen of the warmest years on record have come in the two decades that have passed since 1989. In the meantime, the Earth's major natural systems have all shown undeniable signs of rapid flux: melting Arctic and glacial ice, rapidly acidifying seawater and so on.
Somehow, though, the onslaught against the science of climate change has never been stronger, and its effects, at least in the United States, never more obvious: fewer Americans believe humans are warming the planet.
Do you have to be Jewish to report on Israel for the New York Times?
Jonathan Cook in Mondoweiss:
Shortly after I wrote an earlier piece on Bronner, pointing out that most Western coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict is shaped by Jewish and Israeli journalists, and that Palestinian voices are almost entirely excluded, a Jerusalem-based bureau chief asked to meet. Over a coffee he congratulated me, adding: “I’d be fired if I wrote something like that.”
This reporter, who, unlike me, spends lots of time with the main press corps in Jerusalem, then made some interesting points. He wishes to remain anonymous but has agreed to my passing on his observations. He calls Bronner’s situation “the rule, not the exception”, adding: “I can think of a dozen foreign bureau chiefs, responsible for covering both Israel and the Palestinians, who have served in the Israeli army, and another dozen who like Bronner have kids in the Israeli army.”
He added that it is very common to hear Western reporters boasting to one another about their “Zionist” credentials, their service in the Israeli army or the loyal service of their children. “Comments like that are very common at Foreign Press Association gatherings [in Israel] among the senior, agenda-setting, elite journalists.”
Barack Hussein Obama, Jr.
Every year, we celebrate Black History Month by linking at least one relevant story every day. Along with Abbas, I am elated to end this unspeakably tragic journey on a high note which has restored the concept of the American Dream. Barack Obama summarized the unique potential that America offers to its citizens with eloquence: "My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or blessed, believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success." Barack Obama ZINDABAD!
President of the United States. Born Barack Hussein Obama on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, grew up in Wichita, Kansas, where her father worked on oil rigs during the Depression. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dunham's father, Stanley, enlisted in the service and marched across Europe in Patton's army. Dunham's mother, Madelyn, went to work on a bomber assembly line. After the war, the couple studied on the G.I. Bill, bought a house through the Federal Housing Program and, after several moves, landed in Hawaii. Obama's father, Barack Obama, Sr., was born of Luo ethnicity in Nyanza Province, Kenya. The elder Obama grew up herding goats in Africa, eventually earning a scholarship that allowed him to leave Kenya and pursue his dreams of college in Hawaii. While studying at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, Obama, Sr. met fellow student, Ann Dunham. They married on February 2, 1961. Barack was born six months later.
Obama's parents separated when he was two years old, later divorcing. Obama, Sr. went on to Harvard to pursue Ph.D. studies, and then returned to Kenya in 1965. In 1966, Dunham married Lolo Soetoro, another East–West Center student from Indonesia. A year later, the family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, where Obama's half-sister Maya Soetoro Ng was born. Several incidents in Indonesia left Dunham afraid for her son's safety and education so, at the age of 10, Barack was sent back to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents. His mother and sister later joined them.
While living with his grandparents, Obama enrolled in the esteemed Punahou Academy, excelling in basketball and graduating with academic honors in 1979. As one of only three black students at the school, Obama became conscious of racism and what it meant to be African-American. He later described how he struggled to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracial heritage with his own sense of self. "I began to notice there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog...and that Santa was a white man," he said. "I went to the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror with all my senses and limbs seemingly intact, looking the way I had always looked, and wondered if something was wrong with me."
"We've Got Issues": Big Pharma might not be lying
A hundred years ago it was rarely diagnosed in children. In the intervening timespan the number and type of diagnoses have exploded. Moreover, the number and type of treatments have also exploded. The favored treatment usually involves powerful medications with serious side effects. Big Pharma has made a fortune from these medications and is constantly searching for new variations to patent and sell.
I'm talking about childhood cancer, but I bet you thought I was talking about childhood mental illness. After all, everyone in contemporary society knows that childhood mental illness is over-diagnosed, that drugging children is the preferred method for dealing with the normal problems of childhood, and that normal children are being treated with powerful psychotropic medications simply because they are quirky and authentic.
That's what Judith Warner (author of "Perfect Madness") thought, too, when she sold a proposal back in 2004 for a book that would explore the over-diagnosis of mental illness and over-treatment of children with psychiatric medication. She knew it for all the reasons listed above: Childhood mental illness was rarely diagnosed in children 100 years ago; since then the number and type of diagnoses have exploded; the number and type of treatments have also exploded; the medications used to treat childhood mental illness are powerful and can have serious side effects; Big Pharma has made a fortune from these medications and is constantly searching for new variations to patent and sell.
The fundamental austerity of the secularist worldview
Warren Breckman in Lapham's Quarterly:
One standard image of the nonbelieving secularist is of a hedonistic immoralist—as Fyodor Dostoevsky feared, if God is dead, everything is permitted. But to the contrary, it may be that secularism does not escape the dynamic that Freud believed is the motor of religion: the repression of instinct followed by a sublimation into other satisfactions—in other words, precisely the process that turns religion into an obsessional neurosis. Even among champions of the secular worldview, we sometimes find worries that secularism lacks magic and emotional depth, that it is a hyperrationalist creed that preserves the internal compulsions of religion without its animating beliefs or its consoling message of cosmic meaning and personal redemption. Frequently, the counsel of the secularist is to be brave, buck up, and face the world as a heroic pessimist. Defenders of religion are all too ready to claim that secularism offers at best a wizened form of experience and sensation. Such a view has us moderns living within a purely immanent world, blocked from any relation to a truly transcendent sphere. In such a world, the colors are a shade paler, the sounds a tone flatter than in a world touched by the divine. A host of religiously minded writers would warn that where our belief in the transcendent has vanished, we seek impoverished substitute sources of transport: in artistic experience, sport, love, or at the extreme, drugs. There will be many secularists, myself among them, who believe that the emotional and sensory scale is not so irretrievably tilted in favor of religious experience. And I would challenge secularists to reaffirm the depth and authenticity of their nonreligious experience. Nonetheless, it may be that the fundamental austerity of the secularist worldview helps account for religion’s obstinate refusal to go away.
Liberals and Atheists Smarter?
From Science Daily:
More intelligent people are statistically significantly more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to the human species in evolutionary history. Specifically, liberalism and atheism, and for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence, a new study finds.
The study, published in the March 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Social Psychology Quarterly, advances a new theory to explain why people form particular preferences and values. The theory suggests that more intelligent people are more likely than less intelligent people to adopt evolutionarily novel preferences and values, but intelligence does not correlate with preferences and values that are old enough to have been shaped by evolution over millions of years."
"Evolutionarily novel" preferences and values are those that humans are not biologically designed to have and our ancestors probably did not possess. In contrast, those that our ancestors had for millions of years are "evolutionarily familiar."
Sean Carroll: Origin of universe, arrow of time
Lecture at the University of Sydney:
Part 2 is here.
I am the son of a black man from Kenya
On this, the last day of Black History Month, which my sister Azra is foremost in celebrating here at 3QD, I am posting what I think of as the best political speech of my lifetime. This is Barack Hussein Obama on race, in America:
Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.
The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.
Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.
And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.
More here. And/or see the video:
February 27, 2010
Brown v. Board of Education: The Climax of an Era
From The Nation:
The Supreme Court's decision outlawing segregation in American public education was unanimous. If anything, world opinion was even more emphatic. Even the Communist powers, we suspect, must privately have applauded the decision. In Kenya a spokesman for the Luo tribe voiced the growing world-wide sentiment against all forms of racial discrimination when he said "America is right . . . If we are not educated together, we will live in fear of one another. If we are to stay together forever, why should we have separate schools?" Quite apart from this sentiment, the decision was especially welcome at this time since it enabled us and our friends abroad for the first time in some years to be equally and simultaneously enthusiastic about an important announcement from Washington. The decision was a fine antidote to the blight of McCarthyism and kindred fevers.
The dead no less than the living must have rejoiced. Among the ghosts that smiled with pleasure--it is somehow easier to imagine them smiling than cheering--were Homer Adolph Plessy, the one-eighth-Negro plaintiff in Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the iniquitous "separate but equal" doctrine was first announced, and his counsel, Albion Winegar Tourgée--who is better known, perhaps, for his novels about the Reconstruction period. Another beaming ghost would be Justice John Marshall Harlan whose great dissents in this and the Civil Rights Cases have at long last been fully vindicated.
Not every ghost smiled, we may be sure. Glum and dour must have been the ghost of the late Senator Theodore G. Bilbo, but in this case, happily, there was compensation. For only a week or so before the Supreme Court's decision a life-size bronze statue of the Senator was unveiled in the Mississippi Capitol. "His imperfections were infinitesimal," said Mississippi's Secretary of State in unveiling the statue, "when compared to the magnitude of his contribution to mankind."
We’re Closer To Ending Aging Than You Think
Over at Big Think:
Devo's Focus Group-Based Comeback Album
Todd Martens in Pop & Hiss, the LA Times music blog:
Monday night, Devo will publicly launch the marketing campaign for its forthcoming album -- its first in 20 years -- when the Los Angeles-via-Ohio band performs at the Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. With the release of the album not due until the spring, the Olympics appearance won't be the grand unveiling of new material, which principal Gerald Casale promises will occur at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. But if all goes according to plan, the path leading up to the final product may make for a better story, anyway.
Casale speaks of Devo's May release, which the band has narrowed down to three possible titles, as somewhat of a formality. It's one aspect of a recently signed all-encompassing merch, music and tour record deal with Warner Bros., but the forthcoming album isn't necessarily the centerpiece.
"People still do that," Casale said of releasing a new CD. "We don’t feel it’s very important. I don’t know how many people buy CDs. When you look at the number of downloads Lady Gaga had compared to hard physical product, it’s 100,000 to one. That’s the way people get their music. This idea of the precious order of a 12-song CD is passe. It’s over. People go and get what they want off the Internet and the put it on their iPod and shuffle it."
That's one reason why Casale said the band won't be making the final decision on the songs and track-listing for its upcoming album. Instead, he said, the band will trust the consensus reached by those polled by an advertising agency. Casale said the new-wave pioneers have retained a company called Mother L.A. and that the firm will present focus groups with multiple mixes of new songs.
"It’s an art experiment," Casale said. "The experiment is the business of art. It’s always there, but nobody ever talks about it."
“Religious freedom” and Its Critics
Scott Appleby in The Immanent Frame:
During his landmark address to the world, delivered in Cairo last June, President Obama proposed to open a new era of engagement with “Muslim communities”—engagement, that is, not just with Muslim states or regimes, but also with other economically and politically influential social sectors, including religious groups, educational institutions, civic organizations, health care institutions, and youth affiliations.
In the hopes of accelerating the process of rethinking America’s attitude toward the Muslim word, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has issued a Task Force Report (TFR), entitled “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy.” As co-chair of the task force (with Richard Cizik), which has been convening since the fall of 2008, I welcomed the president’s shrewd remarks about Islam, and I was pleased to work with the dozens of leaders in business, higher education, government, and media who signed the report, which was released today. Our hope is to build on the president’s ideas and explain why they apply not only to Islamic communities, but to religious communities more generally.
Three aspects of the approach sketched by Obama in Cairo are new, or at least newly placed front-and-center in American foreign policy. First is the administration’s willingness to see Islam (and, by extension, all transnational, globalizing religions) as a no-longer-ignorable “player of impact,” for both good and ill, in setting national and international agendas, ranging from the provision of health care to economic development and environmental sustainability to women’s rights, conflict resolution, and democratization. Second is the “for good” part of that formula. Even before 9/11, the agency of religious actors abroad has been perceived and framed primarily in terms of counterterrorism policy: how do we defeat Al-Qaeda and the Taliban? But this is just one part of the security and prosperity puzzle. The enormous constructive—or potentially constructive—roles of religious actors beyond our shores, while never formally denied by past administrations, have rarely been viewed as an asset to be developed. Oddly, for a religious nation such as ours, believers elsewhere have been seen as adversaries or obstacles, and not as partners.
How to build on this new awareness of religion? The TFR outlines the major elements of a comprehensive policy of constructive engagement with religions and religious actors abroad, indicating whom to engage, how to help them succeed, what vocabulary to use, and what the limits of such engagement are.
Going off-piste is about pursuing private passions. Mine include two eminent Victorian and Edwardian gentlemen, suitably whiskered, fond of wearing three-piece tweed suits and spats - although surely not together. They are seemingly the very antithesis of ardour and are more or less overlooked today: Alfred Edward Housman and Edward William Elgar. Last year marked the sesquicentenary of Housman's birth, and it passed without pomp and circumstance; and notwithstanding the popularity of the tune of the same name at the Last Night of the Proms, few today associate Elgar with the piece. The two men originate from the same corner of the Welsh Marches where the counties of Shropshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire meet, were born within a few miles of each other, and died at the same age. But as far as I can gather from the biographies I have devoured, they lived oblivious of each other. Sociology is obsessed with outsiders. As the Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman once said, the discipline finds itself at home in the world of hipsters, drug addicts, jazz musicians, night people, drifters, grafters and skid-row denizens: "It prefers the offbeat to the familiar, the standpoint of the hip outsider to the dull insider." I disagree, or at least I believe this no longer applies. It is not people on the margins of society who are more interesting but those who transgress its boundaries; those who do not fit because they transcend rather than live outside convention.more from John D. Brewer at THE here.
Philip Hoare is best known for his biography of Noel Coward, but he turns his attention to a much grimmer subject than the follies of "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" in "The Whale," an eminently readable chronicle of the tragic interaction between humans and whales. Using Herman Melville's life and "Moby-Dick" as touchstones, Hoare traces the whaling industry from its origins in 18th century New England to the present. Although the basic story of the near-extermination of the great whales is well known, the numbers Hoare cites are staggering. In the mid-18th century, more than 5,000 street lamps burned whale oil every night in London alone. Turning whales into oil, corset stays and scrimshaw was big business: "By 1833, seventy thousand souls and seventy million dollars were tied up in whaling and its associated crafts; ten years later that figure had nearly doubled. The United States exported a million gallons of oil to Europe each year." Production on that scale decimated whale populations: more than 1 million sperm whales swam the world's oceans in 1712; by the end of the 20th century 360,000 existed.more from Charles Solomon at the LA Times here.
77,000 tons of apocalyptic yumminess
The mountain that John D’Agata is ostensibly concerned with in his slim but powerful new book, “About a Mountain,” is Yucca Mountain, located approximately 100 miles north of Las Vegas. And he’s not the only one interested in it: since the mid-1980s, the United States government has been doing back flips to bury the country’s entire reservoir of spent nuclear waste — some 77,000 tons of apocalyptic yumminess — deep inside Yucca. In the summer of 2002, the summer after D’Agata helped his mother move to a Vegas suburb, Congress was proceeding with plans to make the mountain a nuclear dump. Also that summer, 16-year-old Levi Presley jumped to his death from the observation deck of a third-rate Vegas hotel. These subjects, disparate though they are, animate D’Agata’s sprawling narrative. The author of a well-regarded book of essays and the editor of two exceptional essay anthologies, D’Agata has an encyclopedic understanding of the form’s intricate artistry. Moreover, he is a serious thinker who regularly lays down stylish, intelligent sentences: “I do not think that Yucca Mountain is a solution or a problem. I think that what I believe is that the mountain is where we are, it’s what we now have come to — a place that we have studied more thoroughly at this point than any other parcel of land in the world — and yet still it remains unknown, revealing only the fragility of our capacity to know.”more from Charles Bock at the NYT here.
I know these leaves
are not fragile,
but I'm alone
as I brush past them;
garbage in hand,
clear sky above
sharp with dawn.
The house is empty—
no socks on the floor,
no strands of hair in the tub,
just a few shreds
of cardboard from packing
and the fragile, faint
of your missing soap.
by Christine Klocek-Lim
from How to Photograph the Heart
publisher: The Lives You Touch Publications, 2009
This is the second poem I've posted here of the poetry of Christine Klocek-Lim. Both are from a chapbook collection, How to Photograph the Heart. I like these poems. They're at the same time direct and nuanced. Her words are concise and lush, again at once. Her voice is clear. Her poems are grounded. To find out for yourself how full a little chapbook can be: just go here.
There's something about Alice
A S Byatt in The Guardian:
As a child, I think, I kept the Alice books in a different box in my brain from other books about imaginary children. I don't think they were read to me – there was "a war on". I think I puzzled them out when I was about seven or eight, younger than Alice Liddell was on the famous "golden afternoon" in 1862 when she and her two sisters rowed from Folly Bridge, Oxford, to Godstow with the 30-year-old Lewis Carroll and his clerical friend Robinson Duckworth, and were told the first version of the story. A child reader's imagination inhabits the world of a book in many different ways, depending on the book. She walks deep into imaginary forests; she saves desperate beasts; she flirts with brave boys. The Harvard academic Maria Tatar has observed wisely that children do not usually "identify" with fictional children – they stand a little apart inside the fictional world and intensely observe the people and the action. But Wonderland and the world through the Looking Glass were, I always knew, different from other imagined worlds. Nothing could be changed, although things in the story were always changing. There was, so to speak, nothing going on in the hinterland of the clearing with the Mad Hatter's tea party, or beyond the Red Queen's garden gate. Carroll moves his readers as he moves chess pieces and playing cards. This is not to say that the reader's experience of the world is not vivid, enthralling and entirely memorable. It is just different.
Lights, Karma, Action
Daisy Rockwell in Chapati Mystery:
The quote at the beginning of this post is from the novel Home Products (Picador India, 2007), by Amitava Kumar, which will be published in the US in July 2010 under the title Nobody Does the Right Thing. I first heard this excerpt, along with other sections of the novel, presented as part of a year-long lecture series on ‘the city’ as a unit of study. Kumar’s lecture was the final presentation of what had been a series of buzz-word-heavy talks dealing exclusively with issues surrounding the ‘mega-city’—massive metropolises such as Bombay, Hong Kong and São Paolo. Kumar’s lecture itself was titled “Lights, Karma, Action: Report from Bombay.” As the series had progressed, I had been perplexed at the lack of attention being paid to all the lesser cities of the world, the also-rans, where millions of people live, but one can’t find a good wild-mushroom risotto for love nor money. I settled in for this final talk with low expectations: another afternoon, another trip to Bombay.
The lecture was, from the start, a surprise, as it was not a lecture at all, but a reading of a work of fiction. I kept waiting for the story to stop and the dry dissection to begin, but it never did. And what I, along with the rest of audience no doubt, had assumed would be a “report from Bombay” to us, the audience sitting in a lecture hall at a major research university in the United States, was instead a report from Bombay to Patna, the capital of Bihar. This change in direction was shocking and destabilizing, as we reversed direction to travel instead from mega-city to provincial city.
Jaws — Maui, Hawaii
[Thanks to Gerard Bryan.]
Up against the wall: challenging Israel's impunity
Jamal Juma in Electronic Intifada:
Six years ago, we were busy preparing for the start of the hearings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. The world's highest court was to decide on the legal consequences of Israel's wall in the occupied West Bank, which together with the network of settlements, military zones and Jewish-only roads annexes around 46 percent of Palestinian West Bank land. The court's decision, months later, was clear: Israel's wall is illegal, it needs to be torn down and the international community has an obligation to ensure that it is dismantled.
A victory? Not quite. Until today, neither foreign governments nor the UN have joined the Palestinian communities who have been destroyed by Israel's wall in their efforts to dismantle it. Still, Palestinian villages show incredible perseverance and creativity in protesting the theft of their land and tearing down pieces of the cement blocks or iron fencing. They do so in the face of overwhelming repression.
The year 2004, when the court was deliberating the case, marked the first wave of repression aimed at the grassroots movement mobilizing against the wall. The key features of the Israeli attacks consisted of killings, mass injuries, arrests and collective punishment measures such as curfews, the closing of access to the villages protesting the wall and the denial of permits for farmers and workers to reach their jobs and lands beyond the wall or the "green line," the internationally-recognized boundary between Israel and the occupied West Bank. The villages in northwest Jerusalem bore the brunt of Israeli violence.
Today the movement against the apartheid wall is once again in the crosshairs of Israeli repression.
Edward Anatolevich Hill
Our own Justin E. H. Smith has unearthed much information about yesterday's video. From Justin's blog:
The man singing is Edward Hill, also known as Eduard Khil', or, better yet, Эдуард Хиль. According to his Russian Wikipedia page, Hill was born in Smolensk in 1934, and finished his studies at the Leningrad Conservatory in 1960. By 1974 he had been named a People's Artist of the USSR, and in 1981 he was awarded the Order of the Friendship of Peoples. He is best known for his interpretations of the songs of the Soviet composer, Arkadii Ostrovskii. As for the peculiar name, I could find no information, but imagine that he is descended from the English elite that had established itself in western Russian cities by the 17th century. He is not a defector of the Lee Harvey Oswald generation. He is entirely Russian.
The song he is interpreting, "I Am So Happy to Finally Be Back Home," is an Ostrovskii composition, and it is meant to be sung in the vokaliz style, that is to say sung, but without words. I have seen a number of comments online, ever since a flurry of interest in Hill began just a few days ago, to the effect that this routine must have been meant as a critique of Soviet censorship, but in fact vokaliz was a well established genre, one that seems close in certain respects to pantomime.
Recent interest in Hill has to do with the perceived strangeness, the uncanniness, the surreal character of this performance. There is indeed something uncanny about a lip-synch to a song with no words, and his waxed face and hair helmet certainly do not carry over well. But once one does a bit of research, one learns that the number was not conceived out of some desire to cater to the so-bad-it's-good tastes of the Western YouTube generation, but in fact was meant to please --to genuinely please-- Soviet audiences who were capable of placing this routine, this man, and this song into a familiar context. The audiences would recognize, for example, that the same number had been performed by the Azerbaidzhani singer Muslim Magomaev in a film from the early 1960s, The Blue Spark:
February 26, 2010
Let Justice Roll Down
Martin Luther King Jr. in The Nation:
From 1961 to 1966, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. wrote an annual essay for The Nation on the state of civil rights and race relations in America. This article originally appeared in the March 15, 1965, issue.
When 1963 came to a close, more than a few skeptical voices asked what substantial progress had been achieved through the demonstrations that had drawn more than a million Negroes into the streets. By the close of 1964, the pessimistic clamor was stilled by the music of major victories. Taken together, the two years marked a historic turning point for the civil rights movement; in the previous century no comparable change for the Negro had occurred. Now, even the most cynical acknowledged that at Birmingham, as at Concord, a shot had been fired that was heard around the world.
Before examining 1964 in greater depth, some comment is necessary on the events currently unfolding in Alabama. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act and with the defeat of Barry Goldwater, there was widespread expectation that barriers would disintegrate with swift inevitability. This easy optimism could not survive the first test. In the hard-core states of the South, while some few were disposed to accommodate, the walls remained erect and reinforced. That was to be expected, for the basic institutions of government, commerce, industry and social patterns in the South all rest upon the embedded institution of segregation. Change is not accomplished by peeling off superficial layers when the causes are rooted deeply in the heart of the organism.
Those who expected a cheap victory in a climate of complacency were shocked into reality by Selma and Marion, Ala. In Selma, the position was implacable resistance. At one point, ten times as many Negroes were in jail as were on the registration rolls. Out of 15,000 eligible to vote, less than 350 were registered.
More here. (Note: Thanks to Abbas Raza)
a giant burst of happiness for the infinite creativity of America
It’s also—praise God—small. The Biennial has finally been pared down to a manage-able 55 artists. It is not visually assaultive; it gives all the art room to breathe, whereupon you realize how bombastic most such shows are. The 2010 Biennial is anti-blockbuster. It avoids razzmatazz, star power, and high production. It’s more like a medium-size group show than a big museum smorgasbord. It isn’t New York–centric, youth obsessed, or drawn mainly from a coterie of high-powered New York galleries. It is quiet. The art world has clamored for these things for years, and people should cheer this show. They probably won’t, though. By now it’s clear that there is no such thing as a “good biennial,” that the form itself is bound to generate a mixed bag. This time, the clunkers are the bland placeholders. Too much of the two-dimensional work either recaps ideas about craft and abstraction in generic ways or touches on issues of identity without saying anything. But the unexpected curatorial choices outnumber the banal. I love that, instead of encountering a huge installation in front of the giant fourth-floor window, we see Richard Aldrich’s tiny abstract voodoo doll. Huma Bhabha’s Giacometti-esque sculpture of decaying gods stands almost directly below Sharon Hayes’s videos of someone trying to listen very hard: Does she hear them? Or that the self-reflective, formalistic films and photos of Babette Mangolte are given an entire room, and thus form one of the beating hearts of this show. This veteran artist’s obsessive examinations of what it means to make and display art, her investigations into seemingly outmoded ideas of modernism and presentation, and the ways these things make visible the self are touchstones for much of the work in this show.more from Jerry Saltz at New York Magazine here.
Inside a book that contains the whole universe
My first perception of Borges is Borges himself. In other words: I see Borges. Let me explain. I must be nine or ten and I’m walking my uncle, who’s in his twenties, along the pedestrian Calle Florida in Buenos Aires. I say that I’m walking my uncle because my uncle is blind. My uncle hoped to become a great painter. During his adolescence he’d won important scholarships and prizes, but he went blind from juvenile diabetes, and at this point – he doesn’t know it, but he senses it – he has two or three or four years left to live. So we’re walking and suddenly someone says, ‘There’s Borges,’ and I look and I see Borges and I say to my uncle, ‘There’s Borges.’ Borges is coming toward us and he, too, is on the arm of a friend or a fan and then my blind uncle – who was the humorous type, wickedly funny – shouts ‘Borges! How are you? You look great.’ And Borges turns his unseeing gaze on the precise spot from which the voice of my blind uncle issues and reaches him and the two of them look at each other without seeing each other, and there I am, in between, unable to believe what I’m seeing.more from Rodrigo Fresán at Granta here.
back to the real experiences!
We’ve all heard the trope that wine is an everyday pleasure, that there are so many interesting, authentic wines under $20. Yet so many people still ignore this notion, still remain intimidated by wine — or else approach wine as a luxury to be acquired, a foe to be conquered, or a scientific puzzle to be methodically solved. I want to weed out the so-called “luxury” experiences that don’t deliver, and seek out the ones that do. I want to tell stories about wines from lesser-known regions and grape varietals, as well as values from well-known producers. I want to talk about wine as an idea, rather than as a status symbol. Beyond the quality-price ratio, I want to explore wine as a legitimate plank of the humanities, worthy of the highest sort of criticism. A good value wine offers us an experience similar to that of a book or a film or an art exhibition. Tasting wine, then, becomes no different from study in any of the other humanities — reading works of Russian literature or looking at German Expressionist paintings or listening to Rigoletto. It goes without saying that you don’t have to be rich to enjoy those cultural activities. I believe it’s the same with the wine. That’s what this column will be about.more from Jason Wilson at The Smart Set here.
Friday PoemMy Mother's Sari
There, in the wooden box
my mother's sari, enveloped in white muslin,
Her sense of order is in each one
of its folds,
and the press of her palm.
A universe of ironing lies beneath the pillow.
Tiny packets of camphor, incense and
fragrant roots –
My mother's sari's tucked-in eagerness
coupled with the jingling of bangles
is the zest to get down to work.
Lines running across the broad pallu,
the unbroken bridges of an upright life,
keeping all evil at bay –
a cane to reprove naughty children.
Folds tucked into a knot,
a mysterious treasure-house of meanings,
the pretty yellow Madhura sari
with its green border of blooms . . .
. . . that queen was perhaps like my mother.
Endless is my mother's sari –
the more I wrap it around me, the more
I remember becoming a midget once
trying to measure it,
trying to drape it.
My mother's sari –
the latex of mango and cashew,
a heaven of Ranja, Kepala and Suragi
golden wheat beads auguring
the New Year Kani,
the old rolling over each year
to yield a new import.
My mother's sari,
with stars all over its body,
shields those in distress
from rain or shine,
it glows uniquely in the darkness.
My mother's sari
of voile or handloom,
with a small dream of silk
When the dream came true,
Father was no more.
She wears it now
but the dream is gone.
There! My mother's old, Udupi weaver's sari
looks at me from where it hangs.
I unfold it and envelope myself in it
uttering with a long sigh
the word 'Amma' –
a word that remains forever fresh,
however worn with use.
publisher: Christ College Kannada Sangha,
translation: Dr. Ramachandra Sharma and
Ahalya Ballal, 2009
Koestler: The Indispensable Intellectual
From The Telegraph:
On the evening of March 1 1983, Arthur Koestler sat down opposite his wife Cynthia in their Knightsbridge sitting room, swallowed a handful of sleeping tablets washed down with brandy and wine, and waited to die. It was the end of an extraordinary journey that had taken him from the heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to British-occupied Palestine, Weimar Germany, the Spanish Civil War, the French Foreign Legion, George Orwell’s London and California at the height of flower power. To his admirers he was one of the greatest writers of the modern age, a brave, lonely man who had dared speak truth to power. And yet, even in death a shadow hung over him for, as Koestler’s friends were horrified to discover, Cynthia, then just 55 and in good health, had killed herself alongside him. As everyone knew, she was totally under her husband’s thumb, and their friend Julian Barnes was not alone in wondering: “Did he bully her into it?”
At once melodramatic, moving and disturbing, Koestler’s passing was typical of the man. Although he is best remembered today as the author of one of the 20th century’s most influential novels, Darkness at Noon, even he would surely have admitted that his own life story was too implausible for fiction. Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Budapest, he was a shy, nervous boy who shocked his parents by dropping out of university, converting to Zionism and disappearing to Palestine, where he tried (and failed) to join a kibbutz and eventually wangled a job as Middle Eastern correspondent for a German newspaper empire. By 1931, he was well regarded enough to be picked as the chain’s correspondent on board the Graf Zeppelin’s pioneering flight over the North Pole. And if his odyssey had ended there, it would make an entertainingly unlikely story.
“Identity” is a dangerous word
Tony Judt in the New York Review of Books Blog:
“Identity” is a dangerous word. It has no respectable contemporary uses. In Britain, the mandarins of New Labour—not satisfied with installing more closed-circuit surveillance cameras than any other democracy—have sought (so far unsuccessfully) to invoke the “war on terror” as an occasion to introduce mandatory identity cards. In France and the Netherlands, artificially stimulated “national debates” on identity are a flimsy cover for political exploitation of anti-immigrant sentiment—and a blatant ploy to deflect economic anxiety onto minority targets. In Italy, the politics of identity were reduced in December 2009 to house-to-house searches in the Brescia region for unwanted dark faces as the municipality shamelessly promised a “white Christmas.”
In academic life, the word has comparably mischievous uses. Undergraduates today can select from a swathe of identity studies: “gender studies,” “women’s studies,” “Asian-Pacific-American studies,” and dozens of others. The shortcoming of all these para-academic programs is not that they concentrate on a given ethnic or geographical minority; it is that they encourage members of that minority to study themselves—thereby simultaneously negating the goals of a liberal education and reinforcing the sectarian and ghetto mentalities they purport to undermine. All too frequently, such programs are job-creation schemes for their incumbents, and outside interest is actively discouraged. Blacks study blacks, gays study gays, and so forth.
As so often, academic taste follows fashion. These programs are byproducts of communitarian solipsism: today we are all hyphenated—Irish-Americans, Native Americans, African-Americans, and the like. Most people no longer speak the language of their forebears or know much about their country of origin, especially if their family started out in Europe. But in the wake of a generation of boastful victimhood, they wear what little they do know as a proud badge of identity: you are what your grandparents suffered. In this competition, Jews stand out. Many American Jews are sadly ignorant of their religion, culture, traditional languages, or history. But they do know about Auschwitz, and that suffices.
Pedophiles who never do anything are exercising a virtue that borders on the saintly
Megan McArdle in The Atlantic:
A couple of years back, I learned that an adult I had grown up around was a pedophile. He had never, to anyone's knowledge, done anything about it. Certainly he was never anything but decent to me, and I babysat his kids when I was a pretty young kid myself. Rather, a technician mucking around on his work computer had discovered a stash of child porn. He went to jail for a while. His life was destroyed.
This changed a lot of the way that I think about pedophiles. I used to use the kind of hyperbole one often hears--that people who look at child porn "should be shot" and so forth. I don't say those things any more.
Obviously, I am not going to defend the use of child porn at all; it's despicable, and jail is the appropriate sentence, because the man who purchases child pornography is encouraging its manufacture. But it made me think of them for the first time with sympathy. They didn't choose to be like this--God, who would? Sex is one of the most powerful drives we have, and as Dan Savage's columns testify every week, we have little control whether it focuses on something relatively normal, or something . . . um . . . extremely statistically unlikely.
What do you do when your sex drive is channeled towards something so utterly morally wrong--something it is socially taboo to even think about, that you can't help thinking about?
Я очень рад, ведь я, наконец, возвращаюсь домой
[Благодаря J. E. H. Smith.]
How the U.S. military used social networking to capture Saddam
Chris Wilson in Slate:
The war in Iraq will always be remembered for the failures of intelligence that preceded it and the insurgency that bedeviled coalition forces long after President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat operations. Amid all that disaster, the capture of Saddam Hussein has become a forgotten success story. It's an accomplishment that wasn't inevitable... I'll explain how a handful of innovative American soldiers used the same theories that underpin Facebook to hunt down Saddam Hussein. I'll also look at how this hunt was a departure in strategy for the military, why its techniques aren't deployed more often, and why social-networking theory hasn't helped us nab Osama Bin Laden.
In the war's early days, coalition forces raced through the deck of the cards. By May 1, 2003, when President George W. Bush stood beneath that infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner, 15 of the men on the cards had surrendered or been captured. Coalition troops bagged another 12 top targets in May, including one of Saddam's sons-in-law. But despite snagging all those high-profile detainees, the trail to Saddam—if he was alive—was not getting any warmer. And when the military did catch someone important, he usually wasn't much help.
3 Quarks Daily Prize in Arts & Literature
March 22, 2010, NOTE: The winners have been announced here.
March 10, 2010, NOTE: See list of nine finalists here.
March 8, 2010, NOTE: Voting round closed. See list of twenty semifinalists here.
March 1, 2010, NOTE: Nominations are now closed. Go here to see the list of nominees, and vote.
February 22, 2010, NOTE: Nominations are now open.
Dear Readers, Writers, Bloggers,
In May of last year we announced that we would start awarding four sets of prizes every year (on the two solstices and the two equinoxes) for the best blog writing in the areas of science, philosophy, politics, and arts & literature. We awarded the science prizes, judged by Steven Pinker, on June 21, and then announced the winners of the philosophy prizes, judged by Daniel C. Dennett, on September 22. This was followed by the politics prizes, judged by Tariq Ali, for which the winners were announced on December 21. We are now going to do the Arts and Literature Prizes, and here's how it will work: we will soon begin accepting nominations for this prize. After the nominating period is over, there will be a round of voting by our readers which will narrow down the entries to the top twenty semi-finalists. After this period, we will take these top twenty voted-for nominees, and the four main daily editors of 3 Quarks Daily (Abbas Raza, Robin Varghese, Morgan Meis, and Azra Raza) will select six finalists from these, plus they may also add up to three wildcard entries of their own choosing. The three winners will be chosen from these by former U.S. Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky, who, we are extremely pleased, has agreed to be the final judge.
The first place award, called the "Top Quark," will include a cash prize of one thousand dollars; the second place prize, the "Strange Quark," will include a cash prize of three hundred dollars; and the third place winner will get the honor of winning the "Charm Quark," along with a two hundred dollar prize.
* * *
(Welcome to those coming here for the first time. Learn more about who we are and what we do here, and do check out the full site here. Bookmark us and come back regularly, or sign up for the RSS feed.)
* * *
- The nominations are opened. Please nominate your favorite blog entry by placing the URL for the blog post (the permalink) in the comments section of this post. You may also add a brief comment describing the entry and saying why you think it should win.
- Blog posts longer than 4,000 words are not eligible.
- We will accept poems and fiction, as well as book or art reviews, criticism, and other types of writing about arts or literature.
- Each person can only nominate one blog post.
- Entries must be in English.
- The editors of 3QD reserve the right to reject entries that we feel are not appropriate.
- The blog entry may not be more than a year old. In other words, it must have been written after February 21, 2009.
- You may also nominate your own entry from your own or a group blog (and we encourage you to).
- Guest columnists at 3 Quarks Daily are also eligible to be nominated, and may also nominate themselves if they wish.
- Nominations are limited to the first 200 entries.
- Prize money must be claimed within a month of the announcement of winners.
- You may also comment here on our prizes themselves, of course!
February 28, 2010
- The nominating process will end at 11:59 PM (NYC time) of this date.
- The public voting will be opened immediately afterwards.
March 7, 2010
- Public voting ends at 11:59 PM (NYC time).
March 22, 2010
- The winners are announced.
And another Mini-Contest!
For each of our contests, I have asked designer friends of mine to produce "trophy" logos that the winners of that prize can display on their own blogs. You can see all of them here. I am now running out of designer friends, so here is an offer: send me your design for a logo for the winners of the Arts & Literature Prize (it must contain the same info as in the examples I have linked to, and the size is 160 X 350 pixels), and if I use it, I'll send you $25. Try. It'll be fun. Deadline: March 10, 2010.
One Final and Important Request
If you have a blog or website, please help us spread the word about our prizes by linking to this post. Otherwise, just email your friends and tell them about it! I really look forward to reading some very good material, and think this should be a lot of fun for all of us.
Best of luck and thanks for your attention!
February 25, 2010
a catholic literature?
In many of O’Connor’s best stories, “Parker’s Back” prominent among them, the religious theme is so subtly dramatized that it can be overlooked by casual readers unaware of the author’s larger purpose. Whatever else her fiction is, it is not Catholic propaganda.6 In the end, though, a critical approach that denies or downplays O’Connor’s faith will necessarily result in only a partial appreciation of her work. It is no more possible to understand a book like Wise Blood without taking Catholicism seriously—if only to reject it—than it is possible to understand the fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer without taking Judaism seriously. The difference, of course, is that Singer viewed religion with reluctant skepticism, O’Connor with unswerving certitude. As I once wrote in these pages: O’Connor’s Christ-haunted characters differ profoundly from Singer’s demon-infested Jews. In O’Connor, unbelievers living in a fallen world tainted by modernity suddenly find themselves irradiated by grace, but, like Hazel Motes . . . they struggle in vain against its revelatory power. In Singer’s world, by contrast, there are no sudden revelations, only the unquenchable desire to believe, against all evidence to the contrary, that life has meaning.7more from Terry Teachout at Commentary here.
You arrive for work and someone informs you that you have until five o’clock to clean out your office. You have been laid off. At first, your family is brave and supportive, and although you’re in shock, you convince yourself that you were ready for something new. Then you start waking up at 3 A.M., apparently in order to stare at the ceiling. You can’t stop picturing the face of the employee who was deputized to give you the bad news. He does not look like George Clooney. You have fantasies of terrible things happening to him, to your boss, to George Clooney. You find—a novel recognition—not only that you have no sex drive but that you don’t care. You react irritably when friends advise you to let go and move on. After a week, you have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. After two weeks, you have a hard time getting out of the house. You go see a doctor. The doctor hears your story and prescribes an antidepressant. Do you take it?more from Louis Menand at The New Yorker here.
Welcome to post-imperial Russia in the post-nostalgia age
"Never in my life have I taken first place”, muses the narrator of Kamennyi most (The Stone Bridge), as he lines up his toy soldiers on a flea market stall in Moscow on a quiet autumn Sunday in 1998. Such is the opening of Alexander Terekhov’s 832-page novel, last year’s most talked-about work of fiction in Russia which took second prize in the Big Book awards. A graduate of the Journalism Faculty of the Moscow University (like many of the leading literary figures of his generation), Terekhov, who was born in 1966, began his career as an essayist and journalist. He published his first novel, Krysoboi, in 1995 (it came out in English as The Rat Killer in 2008). Kamennyi most is his second, and so far it exists only in Russian. Greeted with mixed and sometimes muddled reviews but always acknowledged as compelling, Kamennyi most takes its title from Moscow’s Bolshoy Kamennyi most, or Great Stone Bridge, the site of the murder mystery at the centre of the novel. The bridge’s single span connects the two banks of the Moscow River in the heart of the capital. On one bank stands the residential apartment complex for high Soviet officials – a brooding Constructivist giant of the 1930s, echoing the Lenin Mausoleum which was the setting for Yuri Trifonov’s novel The House on the Embankment (1976). The other bank is dominated by the Kremlin, a medieval fortress in Gothic style, the seat of the “Emperor”, as Terekhov’s narrator calls Joseph Stalin.more from Gregory Freidin at the TLS here.
...The pears are not seen
...as the observer wills
Sometimes they are pears.
At other times sirens in a basket.
And not so often, violins
one tunes with a stem.
Pears hold their heads up high
they have cello-shaped waists and
Buddha adapted their way of sitting
in order to reside inside
The pears are dressed in a green suit
with red pockets.
The poets among them wear
a felt fedora with a leaf.
Their single hair jumps to attention
or curves like a whip, raised against
the clay-ness of the bowl, the
pressing of fingers,
The great communist painter,
Pablo Picasso, framed them into
With lopped heads they resemble
their common bretheren, the apples.
Their shadow is like sudden
a breathtaking leap that ends
the murmur of the stem, the echo of
by Shai Dotan
from On the Verge;
publisher: Am Oved, Tel Aviv, 2005
translation:Ohad Stadler, 2008
Rosa Louise Parks
Rosa Louise Parks was nationally recognized as the "mother of the modern day civil rights movement" in America. Her refusal to surrender her seat to a white male passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, December 1, 1955, triggered a wave of protest December 5, 1955 that reverberated throughout the United States. Her quiet courageous act changed America, its view of black people and redirected the course of history.
Mrs. Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley, February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama. She was the first child of James and Leona Edwards McCauley. Her brother, Sylvester McCauley, now deceased, was born August 20, 1915. Later, the family moved to Pine Level, Alabama where Rosa was reared and educated in the rural school. When she completed her education in Pine Level at age eleven, her mother, Leona, enrolled her in Montgomery Industrial School for Girls (Miss White's School for Girls), a private institution. After finishing Miss White's School, she went on to Alabama State Teacher's College High School. She, however, was unable to graduate with her class, because of the illness of her grandmother Rose Edwards and later her death.
As Rosa Parks prepared to return to Alabama State Teacher's College, her mother also became ill, therefore, she continued to take care of their home and care for her mother while her brother, Sylvester, worked outside of the home. She received her high school diploma in 1934, after her marriage to Raymond Parks, December 18, 1932. Raymond, now deceased was born in Wedowee, Alabama, Randolph County, February 12, 1903, received little formal education due to racial segregation. He was a self-educated person with the assistance of his mother, Geri Parks. His immaculate dress and his thorough knowledge of domestic affairs and current events made most think he was college educated. He supported and encouraged Rosa's desire to complete her formal education.
When It Comes to Salt, No Rights or Wrongs. Yet.
John Tierney in The New York Times:
Suppose, as some experts advise, that the new national dietary guidelines due this spring will lower the recommended level of salt. Suppose further that public health officials in New York and Washington succeed in forcing food companies to use less salt. What would be the effect?
A) More than 44,000 deaths would be prevented annually (as estimated recently in The New England Journal of Medicine).
B) About 150,000 deaths per year would be prevented annually (as estimated by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene).
C) Hundreds of millions of people would be subjected to an experiment with unpredictable and possibly adverse effects (as argued recently in The Journal of the American Medical Association).
D) Not much one way or the other.
E) Americans would get even fatter than they are today.
Don’t worry, there’s no wrong answer, at least not yet. That’s the beauty of the salt debate: there’s so little reliable evidence that you can imagine just about any outcome. For all the talk about the growing menace of sodium in packaged foods, experts aren’t even sure that Americans today are eating more salt than they used to.
When you don’t know past trends, predicting the future is a wide-open game.
Salman Khan: 1200 Lessons in Math and Science
Spencer Michels at the website of the PBS Newshour:
A 33-year-old math and science whiz kid -- working out of his house in California's Silicon Valley -- may be revolutionizing how people all over the world will learn math. He is Salman Khan, and until a few months ago he made his living as a hedge fund analyst. But he's become a kind of an unseen rock star in the online instruction field, posting 1200 lessons in math and science on YouTube, none of them lasting more than about 10 minutes. He quit his job at the hedge fund to devote full time to his Khan Academy teaching efforts, which he does essentially for free...
Khan's story -- featured Monday on the NewsHour -- is inspiring. A math and science graduate of MIT with an MBA from Harvard, he was one of those math-savvy kids who did great in school, and then decided to make some money. As an Indian-American (born in New Orleans), education -- especially math and science -- were important in his household. But when one of his cousins, a seventh grader, told him at a family gathering that she was having trouble with math -- especially converting grams to kilograms -- he decided to help her, long distance. He devised a method where he talked to her via the computer, with a blackboard on the screen, and after a few weeks she started to get it. Her progress was speedy, and he decided that the method he'd improvised, would work for others.
So he began putting short math lessons on the Internet, never showing his face, but keeping it simple and direct. He has a great gift for communicating, for explaining math concepts that I used to have problems with, and so did a lot of others.
More here. And here's a short overview video about the Khan Academy [recipient of the 2009 Microsoft Tech Award in Education]:
Alternative Medicine Remains Popular, Legal, and Ineffective (or Worse)
Melly Alazraki in Daily Finance:
Britain's House of Commons on Monday dealt a blow to CAM. "Homeopathic products perform no better than placebos," said the Parliamentary committee's report, which concludes: "To maintain patient trust, choice and safety, the Government should not endorse the use of placebo treatments, including homeopathy."
In the face of the looming health-care reform, U.S. Senators have been trying to add various provisions to the bill: Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has tried to push insurance coverage for alternative medicines; and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has attached a provision that would cover Christian Science prayer treatments.
It's unclear whether faith-based medicine has ever been clinically tested, but a spotcheck of the NCCAM Health page and its Office of Dietary Supplement fact sheet shows that many remedies have very limited health benefit, if any. WIth an industry whose products offer a greater risk of danger than a promise of benefit, and as the public keeps buying into these remedies, the U.S. should intervene not to support the trend of their growing use, as Harkin and Hatch would seem to support, but reducing our reliance on quackery.
H. M. Naqvi: "I Am Intimate With My Brush"
At the Jaipur Literature Festival. This performance took place at Music Stage at the festival on January 24, 2010:
Just a Few More Words About Gender and Language
Our own Justin E. H. Smith in his own blog:
I certainly did not mean to suggest with my recent etymological reflections on 'seminal' that I am at all interested in restarting the political-correctness wars of the early 1990s. That is an old and boring topic, and by now it is only the most dithering and out-of-the-loop callers on AM talk-radio, along with the very most impotent and alienated of bloggers, who continue to find menacing the basic proposals for language reform that came out of these wars. I am a strong advocate of a prescriptive approach to language that actively molds it to better fit the ideas we wish to express, and if we are committed to the idea of gender equality then we should certainly try to speak in a way that does not, e.g., presuppose that all doctors are male. But what I do not like is when we, on the side of gender equality, help the talk-radio callers to make their inarticulate point for them by being stupid ourselves, and I take the mistaken belief that 'seminal' refers only to male semen to be one such instance of stupidity.
There are numerous other ones, and most of them seem to arise from the belief that we can identify, isolate, and eliminate a definite set of lexical items, rather than recognizing that different words and expressions might be appropriate at different registers. Yes, we should signal our commitment to gender equality in the way we use direct, declarative speech, but we should not presume that the new rules of direct declarative speech excuse us from mastering all the different ways of speaking and writing of fellow language users who do not or did not share our sensibilities.
February 24, 2010
Some people have it rough. Born into the East Coast cultural aristocracy in 1913, Mercedes Matter began life as a beloved and privileged artistic prodigy. Her father was Arthur B. Carles, a pioneer American abstract painter who studied with Matisse, showed at Alfred Stieglitz's 291 gallery and exhibited work in the legendary Armory Show. He was also an unrepentant bohemian: long-haired and bearded, a lifelong alcoholic and womanizer. Her mother, Mercedes de Cordoba, was a Parisian correspondent for Vogue and a favorite model of photographer Edward Steichen. Her uncle Pedro was a star of Broadway and early Hollywood, and her aunt Sara was a famous fashion photographer and illustrator. Her father started her painting at the age of 6, and she spent her early teens touring the art capitals of Europe. After attending the progressive girls' school Bennett College in Millbrook, New York, she moved to Manhattan and began studying with Hans Hofmann at the Art Students' League.more from Doug Harvey at the LA Weekly here.
why not have fun?
The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health is housed in a former Jesuit seminary built in the 1950s, on a rise with broad views of the Berkshires. The long hallways have the institutional feel of a high school, except that everyone is speaking in respectful tones, and rolled yoga mats are everywhere, like baguettes in Doisneau’s Paris. On the walls are limited-edition photographs of lean people doing yoga in front of moss-dappled Indian shrines. At the gift shop on an early February weekend, visitors could have their tarot read, or a photographic portrait taken of their aura. And one of the featured speakers, offering a weekend-long seminar, was a senior professor at Harvard University, Ellen Langer. Langer is a famous psychologist poised to get much more famous, but not in the ways most researchers do. She is best known for two things: her concept of mindlessness - the idea that much of what we believe to be rational thought is in fact just our brains on autopilot - and her concept of mindfulness, the idea that simply paying attention to our everyday lives can make us happier and healthier. She was Harvard’s first tenured woman professor of psychology, and her discoveries helped trigger, among other things, the burgeoning positive-psychology movement. Her 1989 book, “Mindfulness,” was an international bestseller, and she remains in high demand as a speaker everywhere from New York’s 92d Street Y to the leadership guru Tony Robbins’s Fiji resort. And now a movie about her life is in development with Jennifer Aniston signed on to star as Langer.more from Drake Bennett at The Boston Globe here.
Malcolm X has been described as one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history. He is credited with raising the self-esteem of black Americans and reconnecting them with their African heritage. He is largely responsible for the spread of Islam in the black community in the United States.
Many African Americans, especially those who lived in cities in the Northern and Western United States, felt that Malcolm X articulated their complaints concerning inequality better than the mainstream civil rights movement did. One biographer says that by giving expression to their frustration, Malcolm X "made clear the price that white America would have to pay if it did not accede to black America's legitimate demands."
In the late 1960s, as black activists became more radical, Malcolm X and his teachings were part of the foundation on which they built their movements. The Black Power movement, the Black Arts Movement,and the widespread adoption of the slogan "Black is beautiful" can all trace their roots to Malcolm X.
Test-Tube Babies May Face Greater Health Risks Than Naturally Conceived Children
From Scientific American:
Since the birth of the first "test tube baby" in 1978, more than three million children have been born with the help of reproductive technology. Most of them are healthy. But as a group they're at a higher risk for low birth weight, which is associated with obesity, hypertension and type 2 diabetes later in life.
Carmen Sapienza, a geneticist at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, is studying two groups of children—one comprising those conceived naturally, the other made up of children conceived via assisted reproductive technology—to identify epigenetic (changes in gene expression caused by molecular mechanisms other than mutations in the DNA sequence itself) differences among them. He is particularly interested in a chromosomal modification called "DNA methylation," research he presented February 22 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "We found that 5 to 10 percent of these chromosome modifications were different in children born through assisted reproduction, and this altered the expression of nearby genes," Sapienza says. Several of the genes whose expression differed between the two groups have been implicated in chronic metabolic disorders, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Scalia v. The World: On Antonin Scalia
Michael O'Donnell in The Nation:
In a recent dissent that was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, Scalia argued, astonishingly, that the Constitution does not forbid executing a demonstrably innocent man, so long as he has been given a fair trial first. (Justice John Paul Stevens, the senior liberal on the Court, responded in a concurring opinion that putting to death an innocent person would "be an atrocious violation of our Constitution.") In his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, from 2003, in which the Supreme Court struck down Texas's anti-sodomy law, Scalia compared laws outlawing gay sex with those prohibiting bigamy, incest and bestiality. Having cleared his throat, Scalia then declared,
Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children's schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive. The Court views it as "discrimination" which it is the function of our judgments to deter. So imbued is the Court with the law profession's anti-anti-homosexual culture, that it is seemingly unaware that the attitudes of that culture are not obviously "mainstream" [and] that in most States what the Court calls "discrimination" against those who engage in homosexual acts is perfectly legal.
Scalia's expression of base sentiments in fluid, vigorous prose is a strange blending of the high and the low--like a Catholic Mass in which the liturgy is led by a bearded hippie strumming a guitar and singing in Latin. Scalia attempted to qualify these ugly lines in the next paragraph of his dissent by insisting, "I would no more require a State to criminalize homosexual acts--or, for that matter, display any moral disapprobation of them--than I would forbid it to do so." Scalia seems genuinely baffled at the widespread incredulity that increasingly greets such protestations. His trademark busy italics might convey a spirit of apolitical rectitude, but they can't conceal the striking overlap of his judicial opinions with socially conservative policy preferences.
If there is nothing more admirable than a judge forgoing personal beliefs to uphold legal principles, there is nothing more distasteful than a judge who claims to do so against strong evidence to the contrary. Scalia's purportedly neutral, apolitical jurisprudence has moved him to vote against affirmative action, protection for abortion, rights for gays and lesbians, and equal treatment of women, and in favor of practically unfettered capital punishment, gun ownership and the open embrace of Christianity by the state.
Man’s Inhumanity to ManAlexandar Hemon discusses 5 books on the topic, in The Browser:
Tell me about The Known World.
It’s a novel about slavery, but specifically the few recorded instances of black slave-owners, and it’s a masterful, masterful work, the most complete work of literary imagination in recent American fiction. Edward P Jones could be one of the greatest living American writers. Again it blocks the simple emotional reading that provides redemption, and teaches you that slavery was bad. It shows how dehumanising the whole system was, not only to the slaves, but to everyone involved; it is quite literally soul-emptying. It is of course, again, in some ways like the Holocaust: it was not madness, it was a rational system, an economic system in which all participated in various ways. Even among the slaves there were differences and hierarchies, and degrees of ethical involvement with the issue of slavery. Jones narrates, or manages, dozens of characters. They’re all individually defined, but there’s no central consciousness the way there might be in a straight up psychological novel that you follow as it progresses through some sort of sociological landscape, and so it’s like he’s conducting an orchestra of characters. He shifts from one to the other and has this particular narrative device in which he goes beyond the knowledge of his characters to tell the reader what will happen to them in the years after slavery. The suffering is not simply the physical suffering of individuals; it goes well beyond that. It goes to the heart of the system.
What Jones does is very important, I believe, when we’re talking about war and violence and suffering: not to reduce the understanding to a mere emotional response. Of course the Holocaust is horrifying, of course slavery is horrifying, but if you just see emotional release and redemption then you never understand it and never experience it as a reader.