August 31, 2011
Frans Hals' non-religious religious art
Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:
Frans Hals is often described as a "loose" painter. You can see what that means in one of Hals' great paintings currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The painting is called "The Smoker," from 1625. You wouldn't be surprised, though, if someone told you it was painted 250 years later than that. The face of the young man smoking a pipe at the center of the painting is rendered in almost impressionistic strokes. A dab of red here, a curve of yellow there. The collar of the man's shirt is created with a rough stab of white down the middle of the canvas. The painstaking brushwork of other Dutch masters from the Golden Age is notably absent. That is not to say Hals was sloppy, a crime for which he has sometimes been accused. Hals labored at his chosen craft all life long. It is just that he worked very hard to achieve a looser style. You can see it even in his formal portraits, in works such as "Portrait of a Man" from 1636-8. The face of the man in that painting is rendered with all the precision you might find in a Rubens of roughly the same era. And the expressiveness of the man's face is reminiscent of Rembrandt. But if you look at the man's left arm, the one cocked at his hip, you notice that the style devolves (or evolves?) into that of the loose Hals again. The elbow — and the folds of garment around the elbow — are painted with the same rough gestures and impressionistic swaths of color that are so startling in "The Smoker."
Monty Python - Silliest Interview We've Ever Done
Libya’s Revolution: A Model for the Region?
Maria J. Stephan in Waging Nonviolence:
Recent analyses of the Arab Spring have questioned the efficacy of nonviolent resistance compared to armed struggle in ousting authoritarian regimes. The relatively expeditious victories of the nonviolent uprisings (not “revolutions,” as some suggest) in Tunisia and Egypt stand in stark contrast to Libya, where a disparate amalgam of armed groups, guided politically by the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) and backed militarily by NATO, are on the verge of removing Moammar Qadhafi from power. As someone who has written extensively about civil resistance, notably in the Middle East, while at the same time working on the Libya portfolio within the State Department, I’ve been grappling with the meaning and significance of the Libyan revolution and its possible impact on the region.
Israel's Image Won't Improve Without Policy Changes
Gary Wexler in Forward:
Even with all the efforts of Camera, the Israel Project, the Jewish Federations and all the other organizations that blast my email inbox daily with defensive statements, Israel is increasingly emerging as the world’s pariah nation.
Yet, as strange as it may sound coming from a marketer with an advertising background, who has represented hundreds of Jewish organizations worldwide, I have arrived at the conclusion that the solution will not be found in branding, marketing, public relations or the writings of political pundits. The problem is that all their concepts, strategies, words and legitimate defenses – no matter how powerful and clever – are not going to elevate Israel’s plummeting image. Hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors and the Israeli government have been poured into this effort, yet the situation only worsens every month. I am as much to blame as anyone for being a supporter of these actions.
It has become clear that the world doesn’t care about Israel’s wines, its Bauhaus architecture, its fashion, its alluring women, its sexy gay men, its beaches, its ballet or its hummus. The world, its media and its university campuses are riveted upon Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians as well as the state of its democracy.
No, the answer to Israel’s image problems does not depend upon the marketing. It depends first upon the policies.
We’re on your case, mate
A t whose expense comes the mild irony when, this fall, the cheaply produced scandal sheet Private Eye will have an exhibition of its cartoons and pictorial covers at the Victoria and Albert Museum, a building consecrated to taste and restraint? Perhaps the show’s modest title furnishes a clue: “ Private Eye: The First 50 Years.” Keep in mind that, a half-century ago, the British establishment was almost as near in time to its Victorian forebears as we are to the half-forgotten names—like Harold Macmillan (who even in his own day was described as an Edwardian)—who were so pitilessly lampooned in Private Eye’ s first issues. I was a mere sheltered schoolboy at the time, but couldn’t fail to notice the exciting fact that the authorities were getting nervous. In spite of a BBC monopoly on the airwaves, the semi-official censorship of cinema and the theater, and the titanic, still-enduring prestige of Winston Churchill and the royal family, you could hear the noise of collapsing scenery as a whole parcel of scandals—sexual ones, property ones, espionage ones—started to unwrap at the same time. Private Eye, which could be bought inexpensively and smuggled under the jacket, was the ideal samizdat bulletin, where you could very often read next week’s real news. They so nearly called it Bladder, which would have gone well with the bathroom humor, the word bubbles, the dirty paper, and the graffiti-like cartoons. But that image would also have evoked the squeaky rubber balls of the old court jesters, meant to rebound in the end from the armor of authority.more from Hitch at Vanity Fair here.
does cursive matter?
In that regard, the past two years have been good to me. Forty-four states¾most recently Hawaii (Aloha) and Indiana (Go Hoosiers!)—have tacitly affirmed what I insisted all those years ago, with their adoption of an education platform called the Common Core State Standards, which replaces decades-old handwriting requirements with a “keyboarding” mandate. “The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers,” reads the program’s website. “With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.” Of course, competing in the global economy isn’t everybody’s sole concern. “How do they expect these children to sign all their papers when their kids are students?” asks Pamela on one online forum. “Sign their checks, mortgage papers, marriage licenses, personal correspondence?” she continues. “Can you imagine what it would be like to find the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence illegible?” wonders Dwain. “What if the computer goes down or the power goes off?” writes Deeply Shaded. Those are the sorts of questions asked by legions of hand-wringers in thousands of comments on hundreds of websites that have reported on cursive’s demise. A recent CNN story tellingly titled “Nation of adults who will write like children?” opens with some unkind words about the penmanship of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber and ends with the strange warning: “If you write slowly, your hand may not be able to keep up with your mind’s attempt to have a thought, form it into a sentence, and remember it long enough to write it down.”more from Graham T. Beck at The Morning News here.
the great robot debate, 2011
The Late, Great Theodora Keogh
From The Paris Review:
From the end of the forties to 1961, the beautiful, talented, temperamental, generous American expatriate dancer and writer Theodora Roosevelt Keogh (1919–2008) wrote nine vivid novels as sensational, in their way, as anything you’ll ever read. She wrote her novels the way people used to write them: on rackety typewriters in walk-up apartments and hotel rooms in Saint-Germain-des-Prés on Paris’s Left Bank, where she’d moved in the late forties with her new husband, the designer and illustrator Tom Keogh. This was after she graduated from Miss Chapin’s School, made a formal debut in New York Society, dipped into Radcliffe, and ran away in wartime to dance in a ballet company in Rio de Janeiro (and high-kick at the Copacabana) with Alexander Iolas, the future New York gallerist. Fifty years later, gossamer webs of gossip still cling to Theodora Keogh’s life. No, her pet margay did not bite off her ear in the Chelsea Hotel. Stimulated by the atmosphere of that once-lively refuge, the margay took a few irritated nips off an earlobe, after which Theodora styled her hair a little differently. And, no, her second husband, Tommy O’Toole, wasn’t a tugboat captain. More like a steward on the Circle Line when Theodora met him, although he and Theodora did live on a tugboat in New York harbor while she was writing a novel in a neighborhood bar.
For a woman who grew up without the money her social advantages implied—she was the namesake of her grandfather, President Theodore Roosevelt, and the favorite niece of his witty daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth—Theodora always took care to select her own society. But she never had to choose between living it up or writing it down. She did both—and at the same time, too. Keogh’s novels are mostly set in places she’d lived in intensely and knew by heart: the Upper East Side of New York, the Left Bank of Paris, the North Shore of Long Island.
Research indicates certain probiotics may influence brain functioning
It was just last year that a certain company selling a special probiotic enhanced yogurt was ordered by a U.S. court to stop suggesting in its advertisements that it's product had health benefits that went beyond the norm. Now, new evidence by Javier Bravo and colleagues at University College Cork, suggests the company may have been on to something. In their paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the team describes how mice given the prbiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus, showed signs of being less anxious and depressed and even had lowered levels of stress hormones. Building on recent research that suggests there may be more of a gut-mind link than scientists have realized (such as depression and anxiety linked to bowel problems) Bravo and his team decided to look into probiotics and their possible impact on mood. In their research, they focused on Lactobacillus rhamnosus, a probiotic bacterium normally found in the gut, and which is also commonly found in various kinds of yogurt and other types of dairy products.
To find out if ingesting L. rhamnosus did indeed have any impact beyond normal nutritional value, the team fed half of a group of mice a broth heavily laden with the bacterium for a period of time; the other half were given the same broth without the probiotic. Afterwards, the mice were tested to see if any discernible behavioral changes resulted. Bravo et al found that the mice that had been given the probiotic demonstrated less anxious type behaviors, such as more of a willingness to traverse narrow walkways or to venture out into wide open spaces, activities that are known to cause stress in mice. They also found that the mice that had eaten the probiotic were less likely give in to the sensation of drowning when put in water, a sign that normally indicates depressive behavior. And finally, they found that the treated mice also had lower levels of stress hormones in their blood.
I don't know what to say to you, neighbor,
as you shovel snow from your part of our street
neat in your Greek black. I've waited for
chance to find words; now, by chance, we meet.
We took our boys to the same kindergarten,
thirteen years ago when our husbands went.
Both boys hated school, dropped out feral, dropped in
to separate troubles. You shift snow fast, back bent,
but your boy killed himself, six days dead.
My boy washed your wall when the police were done.
He says, "We weren't friends?" and shakes his head,
"I told him it was great he had that gun,"
and shakes. I shake, close to you, close to you.
You have a path to clear, and so you do.
by Marie Ponsot
from Springing -New and Selected Poems
August 30, 2011
Debating "Guilty Pleasures"
Good taste can be idiosyncratic, in fact, it's expected to be. You're supposed to like what you like for your own well-thought-out reasons, and not just like what everyone else likes. (There are also shared cultural and class standards of "good taste," but those aren't what I'm talking about.)
Someone with taste has a well fleshed-out theory about what makes a work of art good or bad. The cultivated observer is supposed to be able to see something new and rigorously scrutinize it according to their code...
Having coherent reasons for your preferences is integral to the concept of good taste. You're supposed to be able to recognize a band that swings hard, or a rocking baseline, or witty lyrics, or whatever you think is important in music.
You gain status for your good taste if you can reliably pick stuff that other people will like. You can't be capricious. If you recommend songs strictly because they have sentimental value for you, they're unlikely to appeal to other people. You have to appeal to shared musical values.
"Guilty pleasures" are things people like but can't justify liking. The concept of a guilty pleasure only makes sense if you try to live by an aesthetic code in the first place.
False world, good-night!
Washington, Hollywood, Wall Street, the Pentagon: These names have a social meaning apart from geography. Each one indicates a certain world of activity—and the word world, in its primary sense, refers not to a planet but to the realm of human doings. The dictionary tells me that the Old English "weoruld" means something like "human life" or "age of man." Worldly has an ambiguous, shifting place on the scale from negative to positive adjectives. To be unworldly might signify being a dupe, and worldly knowledge is desirable. Too much worldly knowledge, though, may suggest a villain played by Alan Rickman. Those good and bad connotations are epitomized by another place name that, in 16th- and 17th-century England, was a synonym for "the world" in the urbane, social sense: the royal court. In Ben Jonson's time, the court was all of the above. It was Washington and Hollywood, the Pentagon and Wall Street, and more: a single seat of all kinds of power, concentrated in a few buildings in one city, a worldly magnet attracting all the most ambitious, gifted people in the worlds of art, money, politics, religion, sex, learning, and glamour. The court embodied worldliness at its most alluring and at its most treacherous.more from Robert Pinsky at Slate here.
the hazare thing
IN THE past week, the world has been captivated by the bitter confrontation between the Indian government and a short, bespectacled seventy-four-year-old man named Anna Hazare, a self-styled anti-corruption crusader. On August 16, Hazare’s arrest and internment in Tihar Jail, South Asia’s largest complex of high-security prisons, sparked candlelit marches across the country, leading a shaken government to order his release in less than twelve hours. In a stunning turnaround, Hazare refused to leave, insisting that the government remove all conditions on his “fast-unto-death” in protest of the government’s recent anti-corruption legislation, which he feels is not strong enough. Hazare walked out of Tihar a national hero on August 20 and is currently lodged within the expansive public grounds of Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, surrounded by tens of thousands of supporters, national flags, and mammoth portraits of Mohandas Karamchand (“Mahatma”) Gandhi. Today (Wednesday) is the ninth day he has refused to eat. As an admirer of Gandhi’s, I have found the ceaseless comparisons of Hazare with Gandhi—propagated by the media, Hazare’s supporters, and Hazare himself—troubling and inappropriate. I am not alone in my reservations about Hazare, who is not a popular figure within left and progressive circles in India. His movement has been portrayed, so far accurately, as a narrow, middle-class, upper-caste phenomenon that is dangerously tinged with authoritarianism and Hindu nationalism.more from Mitu Sengupta at Dissent here.
LIKE CORRUPTION, crime, and asbestos, “inflation” is a word that many Americans imagine in all-red capital letters, flashing across TV screens amid warnings of crisis. For anyone who remembers the gloomy, scary 1970s, when the inflation rate in the United States reached double digits, the word is shorthand for an economy that has spiraled out of control, the dollar losing value and prices climbing feverishly. “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber, and as deadly as a hit man,” said Ronald Reagan in 1978, as nervous citizens imagined the day when they’d have to push a wheelbarrow full of cash to the grocery store in order to buy a loaf of bread. That particular nightmare never came to pass, thanks to drastic measures taken by the Federal Reserve. For the better part of the past 30 years, the dollar has stayed stable, reassuring American families and the nation’s trading partners, with the central bank standing guard over the economy and doing everything necessary to keep inflation low. You might say that Kenneth Rogoff has been one of the guards. As a research economist at the Federal Reserve during the first half of the 1980s, he helped ensure that the word “inflation” would never again flash across American TV screens.more from Leon Neyfakh at the Boston Globe here.
Research team turns terabytes of image data into model of neural circuits
Sarah Zhang in The Harvard Gazette:
The brain of a mouse measures only 1 cubic centimeter in volume. But when neuroscientists at Harvard’s Center for Brain Science slice it thinly and take high-resolution micrographs of each slice, that tiny brain turns into an exabyte of image data. That’s 1018 bytes, equivalent to more than a billion CDs.
What can you do with such a gigantic, unwieldy data set? That’s the latest challenge for Hanspeter Pfister, the Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Computer Science at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).
Pfister, an expert in high-performance computing and visualization, is part of an interdisciplinary team collaborating on the Connectome Project at the Center for Brain Science. The project aims to create a wiring diagram of all the neurons in the brain. Neuroscientists have developed innovative techniques for automatically imaging slices of mouse brain, yielding terabytes of data so far.
Pfister’s system for displaying and processing these images would be familiar to anyone who has used Google Maps. Because only a subsection of a very large image can be displayed on a screen, only that viewable subsection is loaded. Drag the image around, zoom in or out, and more of the image is displayed on the fly.
This “demand-driven distributed computation” is the central idea behind Pfister’s work, for which he recently won a Google Faculty Research Award.
More here. [Thanks to Sughra Raza.]
Dan Ariely: The field of financial advice is quite strange
Dan Ariely in his blog:
- How much of your current salary will you need in retirement?
- What is your risk attitude on a seven-point scale?
From my perspective, these are remarkably useless questions — but we’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s think about the financial advisor’s business model. An advisor will optimize your portfolio based on the answers to these two questions. For this service, the advisor typically will take one percent of assets under management – and he will get this every year!
Not to be offensive, but I think that a simple algorithm can do this, and probably with fewer errors. Moving money around from stocks to bonds or vice versa is just not something for which we should pay one percent of assets under management.
Actually, strike that. It’s not something we should do anyway, because making any decisions based on answers to those two questions don’t yield the right answers in the first place.
To this point, we’ve run a number of experiments. In one study, we asked people the same question that financial advisors ask: How much of your final salary will you need in retirement? The common answer was 75 percent. But when we asked how they came up with this figure, the most common refrain turned out to be that that’s what they thought they should answer. And when we probed further and asked where they got this advice, we found that most people heard this from the financial industry. Sort of like two months salary for an engagement ring and one-third of your income for housing, 75 percent was the rule of thumb that they had heard from financial advisors. You see the circularity and the inanity: Financial advisors are asking a question that their customers rely on them for the answer. So what’s the point of the question?!
Copyright: Forever Less One Day
The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America
Wajahat Ali, Eli Clifton, Matthew Duss, Lee Fang , Scott Keyes, and Faiz Shakir at the Center for American Progress:
A small group of foundations and wealthy donors are the lifeblood of the Islamophobia network in America, providing critical funding to a clutch of right-wing think tanks that peddle hate and fear of Muslims and Islam—in the form of books, reports, websites, blogs, and carefully crafted talking points that anti-Islam grassroots organizations and some right-wing religious groups use as propaganda for their constituency.
Some of these foundations and wealthy donors also provide direct funding to anti-Islam grassroots groups. According to our extensive analysis, here are the top seven contributors to promoting Islamophobia in our country:
- Donors Capital Fund
- Richard Mellon Scaife foundations
- Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
- Newton D. & Rochelle F. Becker foundations and charitable trust
- Russell Berrie Foundation
- Anchorage Charitable Fund and William Rosenwald Family Fund
- Fairbrook Foundation
Altogether, these seven charitable groups provided $42.6 million to Islamophobia think tanks between 2001 and 2009—funding that supports the scholars and experts that are the subject of our next chapter as well as some of the grassroots groups that are the subject of Chapter 3 of our report.
And what does this money fund?
The Genius in My Basement
In 2008, at a Downing Street reception, Gordon Brown presented a young man, a member of Plane Stupid, with a Transport Campaigner of the Year award. During the ceremony, the young man superglued himself to the premier's sleeve. The prize is sponsored – £10,000 a year – by Simon Phillips Norton, a rich recluse and public-transport obsessive who lives, surrounded by timetables, ticket-stubs, packets of Batchelors Savoury Rice, in a run-down multi-occupancy house in Cambridge. A former child prodigy, he is still believed to be one of the world's great living mathematicians, although he hasn't held down an academic position since 1985, when he was 33. And he used to be Alexander Masters's live-in landlord, which is how he comes to find himself the subject of this book.
I don't like your books, Alex," Simon says in the epigraph to one of Masters's chapters. "Your representation of me as interesting is inaccurate," he says in another. "You must be very careful not to jump to easy answers," says John Horton Conway, a fellow mathematician. "Oh dear, I have a feeling this book is going to be a disaster for me," Simon comments in the epigraph to the book.
The New Generation of Microbe Hunters
Gina Kolata in The New York Times:
The first bacterial genome was sequenced in 1995 — a triumph at the time, requiring 13 months of work. Today researchers can sequence the DNA that constitutes a micro-organism’s genome in a few days or even, with the latest equipment, a day. (Analyzing it takes a bit longer, though.) They can simultaneously get sequences of all the microbes on a tooth or in saliva or in a sample of sewage. And the cost has dropped to about $1,000 per genome, from more than $1 million. In a recent review, Dr. David A. Relman, a professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology at Stanford, wrote that researchers had published 1,554 complete bacterial genome sequences and were working on 4,800 more. They have sequences of 2,675 virus species, and within those species they have sequences for tens of thousands of strains — 40,000 strains of flu viruses, more than 300,000 strains of H.I.V., for example. With rapid genome sequencing, “we are able to look at the master blueprint of a microbe,” Dr. Relman said in a telephone interview. It is “like being given the operating manual for your car after you have been trying to trouble-shoot a problem with it for some time.”
Dr. Matthew K. Waldor of Harvard Medical School said the new technology “is changing all aspects of microbiology — it’s just transformative.” One group is starting to develop what it calls disease weather maps. The idea is to get swabs or samples from sewage treatment plants or places like subways or hospitals and quickly sequence the genomes of all the micro-organisms. That will tell them exactly what bacteria and viruses are present and how prevalent they are. With those tools, investigators can create a kind of weather map of disease patterns. And they can take precautions against ones that are starting to emerge — flu or food-borne diseases or SARS, for example, or antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria in a hospital.
August 29, 2011
Patricia Churchland to Judge 3rd Annual 3QD Philosophy Prize
UPDATE 9/19/11: The winners have been announced here.
UPDATE 9/13/11: The list of finalists can be seen here.
UPDATE 9/12/11: The list of semifinalists can be seen here.
UPDATE 9/6/11: Voting round now open. Click here to see full list of nominees and vote.
Dear Readers, Writers, Bloggers,
We are very honored and pleased to announce that Professor Patricia Churchland has agreed to be the final judge for our 3rd annual prize for the best blog writing in philosophy. (Details of the inaugural prize, judged by Daniel C. Dennett, can be found here, and more about last year's prize, judged by Akeel Bilgrami can be found here.)
The following biographical sketch is from Professor Churchland's Wikipedia entry:
Patricia Smith Churchland (born July 16, 1943 in Oliver, British Columbia, Canada) is a Canadian-American philosopher noted for her contributions to neurophilosophy and the philosophy of mind. She has been a Professor at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) since 1984. Since 1999 she has been UC President's Professor of Philosophy at UCSD, and has held an adjunct professorship at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies since 1989. Educated at the University of British Columbia, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Oxford (B.Phil.). She taught philosophy at the University of Manitoba from 1969 to 1984 and is the wife of philosopher Paul Churchland.
The central focus of my research has been the exploration and development of the hypothesis that the mind is the brain. My first book, Neurophilosophy (1986), argued in detail for a co-evolution of psychology, philosophy and neuroscience to answer questions about how the mind represents, reasons, decides and perceives. A major unanswered question in Neurophilosophy concerned the theoretical apparatus needed to bridge the gap between lower and higher levels of brain organization. I turned to this task in 1987, and began to collaborate with Terry Sejnowski on the book The Computational Brain (MIT 1992).
Patricia Churchland won a MacArthur ("Genius") Award in 1991. She has also served as president of the American Philosophical Association (Pacific Division) and the Society for Philosophy and Psychology.
As usual, this is the way it will work: the nominating period is now open, and will end at 11:59 pm EDT on Spetember 5, 2011. There will then be a round of voting by our readers which will narrow down the entries to the top twenty semi-finalists. After this, we will take these top twenty voted-for nominees, and the four main 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 Professor Churchland.
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.)
August 29, 2011:
- The nominations are opened. Please nominate your favorite philosophy 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. (Do NOT nominate a whole blog, just one individual blog post.)
- Blog posts longer than 4,000 words are strongly discouraged, but we might make an exception if there is something truly extraordinary.
- 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 August 28, 2010.
- 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.
September 5, 2011
- The nominating process will end at 11:59 PM (NYC time) of this date.
- The public voting will be opened soon afterwards.
September 11, 2011
- Public voting ends at 11:59 PM (NYC time).
September 19, 2011
- The winners are announced.
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, post a link on your Facebook profile, Tweet it, or 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!
Moving Beyond the “Melting Pot”
by Parag Khanna and Aaron Maniam
The tragic shooting rampage and bombing in Norway, and the spontaneous and destructive riots in London, revealed not only the elevated ethnic tensions which beset once homogenous and placid European nations, but also the fundamental new global reality of multi-cultural and multi-national states. Increasingly, governance of socio-cultural norms is in uncharted territory. As national complexions grow more variegated, one-time majorities are becoming minorities. Migration is literally the face of globalization—and as both advance around the world, we will have to re-think citizenship just as our attitudes towards sovereignty are evolving.
So far, the response to these facts has been flailing at best, despondent at worst. It was Holland’s growing right-wing movement led by politician Pim Fortuyn that partially inspired Anders Breivik. Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel caused great consternation in Germany when she declared in October 2010 that multi-culturalism had failed. Even Canada, for many the poster child for successful multi-culturalism, is in a state of doubt about its open immigration policy and tolerant political climate.
While some countries may restrict immigration from developing countries, high immigrant birthrates and slow policy changes mean there is no turning back the clock on the ethnic blending taking place around the world. Close to 15 percent of America’s population now comprises Hispanic immigrants; approximately 15 million Arab-Muslims have settled in the European Union; up to 15 million of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) 60 million residents are of South Asian origin. The total population of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates has surged from just 5 million in 2006 to 8.25 million in 2010—with Emirati nationals now accounting for just 11.5 percent of the population. An estimated one-third of Israel’s population will be made up of Arab Muslims by 2025.
In the face of such a complex reality, strict legal citizenship, as currently understood and practiced, appears too inflexible to accommodate the varieties of attachment that can constitute a broad-based sense of loyalty and belonging in diverse societies. Overwhelming demographic change compels us to find more pragmatic and forward-looking solutions.
Instead of citizenship, such societies must begin to adopt policies that promote two concepts in particular.
The first is stakeholdership. Citizens, non-citizens, guest workers, migrant laborers, expatriates, and other categories of residents that inhabit the same social, economic and political space may all have different status in terms of residency and voting rights, but for the society to succeed, all must feel as if they are stakeholders in its present and future. Are they rewarded for their role in maintaining social order and prosperity? Do they have incentives to contribute to the economy and overall welfare? What expectations do the state and society have of them irrespective of their citizenship status? These are questions associated with stakeholdership—questions to which a growing number of societies must quickly find answers.
Recent surveys suggest that citizens take a stable national identity for granted while contributing little to its development. A 2011 survey by Newsweek found that 40 percent of Americans would fail the national citizenship test questions which immigrants study for to become American. Under the concept of stakeholdership, citizenship would of course not be legally in jeopardy due to ignorance of political facts, but individuals or groups that demonstrate commitment to their desired national identity should be granted it more readily than is presently the case. Citizenship is more about what people are in a limited legal sense; it is conferred rather than earned. Stakeholdership is more about what people do to contribute to the general good.
The second principle focuses on nurturing all stakeholders into reasonable persons of goodwill. In navigating the intricate and often tense relations within diversifying societies, such individuals put reason and pragmatism ahead of primordial identities like race and language. They emphasize shared person-hood over stereotypes, appreciating the reality of multiple identities and associations each individual carries within them. Persons of goodwill make genuine efforts to not construe others’ perceptions of their culture and heritage as insults and offenses. In many ways, reasonable persons of goodwill are the bedrock of stakeholdership, providing the motivation and the means for such meaningful involvement in society to take place.
Political leaders today tend to skirt the increasing importance of setting clear expectations of how reasonable stakeholders in and of their state should act irrespective of what they may feel themselves to be. After the July 7, 2005 terrorist bombings in London, then Prime Minister Tony Blair faced the difficult admission that the attacks were carried out by citizens of his own country, even though they were planned half a world away in Pakistan. But in the immediate aftermath he also spoke of a “British way of life,” a unified code that could not bend to communities that would seek to uphold or impose alternative virtual nations within the British state. Citizens and stakeholders alike must also concede a certain allegiance and commitment to the rule of law—or find other homes to which they would rather belong.
Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew stated in an April 2011 interview that the Sino-Indian-Malay city-state is “one society even if not yet one nation.” Despite Singapore’s stunning achievement of first-world prosperity within one generation, he still worries deeply that his policies aimed to force people to inter-mingle in schools, shopping centers and neighborhoods have yet to penetrate widely and embedthemselves into the population’s psychological DNA. The point is that citizenship alone does not compel individuals to feel integrated as stakeholders in a collective. More positive incentives would help ensure that all residents act as reasonable persons of goodwill and as common stakeholders in their collective national future
Because Singapore is a city-state, it is a microcosm and potential role model for the many major cities where these approaches will be essential tools to maintain loyalty and continuity of residence, as well as attract talent for the long-term. When the financial crisis struck Dubai, thousands of expatriates were put on notice to depart the emirate because their residency was linked to employment rather than property ownership or other demonstrations of stakeholdership such as children enrolled in local schools or commitments to community organizations. Yet so many British, German, and other multinational employees would have chosen—and indeed, had chosen—to make Dubai their de facto permanent home despite not being citizens. This is a case where stakeholdership should have been prized over citizenship; and where emphasizing their reasoned goodwill towards surrounding communities would have helped create both tangible and intangible reasons for them to remain.
The stale framework that places societies on a continuum from “salad bowl” to “melting pot” no longer does justice to the complexities of today’s multi-ethnic societies. Instead, the successful states of the future are those that inspire and incentivize people from all walks of life to act as reasonable stakeholders in a common project. This is not an alternative to citizenship, but its next evolutionary phase in a world of multiple identities.
Parag Khanna is a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation and author of How to Run the World. Aaron Maniam is a diversity practitioner in Singapore, including serving as Chairman of the Singapore Indian Development Association’s Youth Club, former president of a group of young Muslim professionals, and a volunteer facilitator with an interfaith dialogue program.
LEGOS and the Changing Face of American Higher Education
On Thursday I will put a summer of research and writing behind me and return to my professorial duties in the classroom. When I do, I will greet a fresh crop of college students, as I have done every year since 1999.
I often get asked if I notice any difference, if students have gotten “better” or “worse” over the years since I first began teaching. The question itself can often be a bit loaded; the person posing it may be expecting me to confirm their suspicions. The truth, however, is a little more complex, which is why I often answer: “Both.” It seems to me that as time goes by, the students entering my classroom, on the whole, are getting better at some things and worse at others.
My home institution, Towson University in suburban Baltimore, is a good place to observe such trends and vacillations among American college students. Originally founded as the Maryland state normal college for training K-12 teachers, it first opened in 1866 with eleven students in a Red Man’s social club in downtown Baltimore. It has since grown into a full fledged university, its ongoing expansion reflected in its name changes over the years: Maryland State Normal School (1866); Towson State Teacher’s College (1935); Towson State College (1963); Towson State University (1976); Towson University (1997).
While TU still produces more teachers than any other institution in the state, the College of Education is now just one among eight colleges at the university, including the College of Liberal Arts where I am based as a tenured member of the History Department. Currently the second largest school in Maryland with a total student population of about 22,000, only the flagship campus at College Park is larger. I sometimes joke to people from outside the state that Towson University is the biggest school no one’s ever heard of.
TU is not a top tier school chock full of super achievers. Nor is it a private school where demographics are so severely skewed by income that the student body is grossly unrepresentative of the American population at large. But then again, Towson is not a community college where demographics trend more towards poverty. The vast majority of Towson students come from middle class families that range from almost poor to almost rich. A fair number will be the first or one of the first in their family to graduate college. Many of them work at least part time. About a third lof them are commuters. And while the clear majority of students are white suburbanites, there is a rising minority enrollment, and a steady population of both rural and urban students. Since Towson is a state school, most of its students come from Maryland, but competitive out-of-state tuition rates make it regionally attractive, and plenty of students are drawn from Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York, as well as a smattering from more distant parts of the country, and there are nearly 1,000 international students.
Anywhere from 200-250 of these students (mostly undergraduates) will filter through my classes in a given academic year. In upper division classes, a majority of them will be History majors. But in the introductory surveys, which I teach 2-3 sections of per year, very few of them are History majors because those courses meet a university general education requirement that all students must fulfill.
In my experience with the thousands of Towson students I’ve taught and advised during my ten years there, I find that they generally spread the full gamut when it comes to issues like talent, preparation, and work habits. I have no graduate Teaching Assistants at my disposal, and so I personally run every discussion in which they partake and grade every piece of material (all of which are written assignments) that they submit. My grades often approximate a bell curve, though not because I grade on one, but because that’s just the way things tend to sort themselves out at a place like Towson.
In other words, Towson University offers a reasonable cross-section of Northeastern American college students. And so when someone asks me about whether students are getting better or worse, I feel reasonably comfortable saying “both.”
One area in which I find students have improved noticeably over the years (some colleagues will no doubt disagree) is in their writing. Their formal grammar is still problematic, their spelling’s no better, and as young adults they’re of course still prone to misue the passive voice and big words they don’t really understand in an effort to sound smart. And lord knows their handwriting is worse than ever, making their essay-filled blue books a nightmare in some respects. However, their ability to cobble together a clear thought and to organize some of those thoughts, I believe, is getting better.
I attribute that to their having grown up with the internet. They simply write a lot more than prior generations of students. And certainly all of them, just like all of us, have had that unpleasant experience of sending an email or text that was meant to be ironic or sarcastic but is taken the wrong way, or for some other reason there is a fundamental miscommunication with you and the reader and difficulties ensue. It can be a painful lesson in the need to write clearly and the importance of knowing your audience, and a lot of them have already learned it by the time they get to my class.
Another way in which they’re better is that they are, for lack of a better word, far more post-modern than earlier generations of students. They did not grow up in Cold War America, with its emphasis on rigid categories or its harsh and sometimes moralistic critiques (or dogmatic defenses) of the fringe. And in addition to a post-Cold War America, they also grew up in a post-Civil Rights America, a place where bigotry, while it still certainly exists, is no longer openly acceptable in the popular culture, while diversity is a nearly universally lauded world view.
In short, they don’t remember the 1980s. Actually, most of them weren’t even born yet. Thursday’s new freshman will have entered this world in 1993. So they don’t even really remember the 1990s. They’ll claim to remember 9-11. They almost have to since it is the seminal event in defining post-Cold War America. But the truth is, all they’ll really have is the foggy memories of an 8-year old.
The result is that today’s students are far more comfortable simply accepting an idea, person, or thing for what it is. They have less of a need to pigeon hole and presume. When confronted with a round peg and a square hole, they are less likely to try and jam the peg in, or to blame it, judge it, and then cast it out. And I think that is to their credit.
Simply put, they’re much more open minded than my generation was at their age. Disco or Rock n Roll? Many of them instinctively recognize that kind of nonsense for the false dichotomy that it really is. Why on earth should one feel compelled to choose? The notion that either genre represents some murky value system that demands our loyalty is ridiculous, and they would have no compunction about liking The Village People and Led Zeppelin.
Personally, I’ll take “Macho Man” over “Stairway to Heaven” any day.
But recent students also have their weaknesses and blind spots. And one of the they ways in which they can frustrate faculty and undermine their own performance and development has to do with LEGOS.
Yes, LEGOS, that classic toy of colorful, plastic, interlocking blocks invented by a Danish carpenter.
The carpenter in question, one Ole Kirk Christiansen (1891-1958), named his invention for the Danish phrase leg godt, meaning “play well.” And indeed, I and millions of other children of the Baby Boom and Generation X eras played well with them, along with their earlier American counterparts: Lincoln Logs (invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son) and Tinker Toys (from the same company that brought you the Erector Set).
Legos, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys and the like were all early 20th century versions of classically minimalist children’s toys. Featuring new colors, shapes, and materials made possible by the industrial revolution, they were not complex. They were just a just slightly more sophisticated version of simplicity.
After all, what is a box of LEGOS? Well, really it’s whatever you want it to be, or perhaps more accurately, whatever you can make of it. It’s just a bunch of blocks, waiting for you to create something. Anything. Or nothing at all. It’s up to you.
But not anymore. Now LEGOS come with specific plans and goals. LEGOS have transformed into pre-determined set pieces. Some of them are crass cross-promotional tie-ins with other child-oriented, entertainment business brands such as Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, and Sponge Bob Square Pants. Others are more generic in their design. But make no mistake. The family-owned LEGO Group of Billund, Denmark is no longer offering the world a simple, inexpensive toy with which children might challenge themselves by finding creative ways to “play well.” Instead it is pushing pricier set-pieces in which children are given clear directions.
Here are your instructions. Do it this way. Here is your goal. Achieve what has been carefully laid out for you. Your success or failure will be defined by these very clear and rigid parameters.
And this prescribed version of LEGOS, metaphorically speaking, has been very detrimental to the newer generation of college students. Growing up in a highly structured world of play-dates, organized activities, and adult-monitored “fun,” on the whole they thrive in an environment that presents them with detailed directions and clearly stated, narrowly defined goals.
What they tend to lack is creativity and initiative.
In college this often translates into a generation of students who want the answers but are less interested in asking questions. But it’s not just about grades. Of course most students have always wanted to do well, the system has often emphasized correct answers, and so many students have always placed a premium on them. Rather, the issue is that many students do not trust the educational process unless it is clearly delineated and points directly to the A+ at the end of the rainbow.
If the process is more open, then they are often confused and worried. If they are challenged to forge their own path, to find their own answers, or god forbid to ask questions that have no clear answers, then they are apt to panic or stare at you blankly. That kind of process either scares or confuses them.
In the end, it seems to me, the reason they do not trust an abstract process of education is because they do not trust themselves. They have not been given ample opportunity to find things on their own. They haven’t spent enough time discovering, wondering, and inventing. Instead, too often they have been given detailed blueprints about what their LEGO world should look like.
As a Historian, this is very troubling. History is a field that straddles the Social Sciences and the Humanities. Abstraction is a big part of what we do. And in a discipline with ever-expanding borders, and source material (or “data”) that is at once horribly inadequate yet far too voluminous to use comprehensively, initiative and self-direction are at a premium.
If you’re going to write a 25 page research paper, it really would be for the best if you picked your own topic, found and selected your own sources, constructed your own narrative, and drew your own conclusions. Yes, of course the professor is here to help, and rightly so. But the professor’s job in that situation is not to pick a topic and sources for you, but rather to guide you in a more subtle way.
We can talk about why you have more short blocks than long ones, what the blue blocks might mean as opposed to the red ones, and interesting places where you might find some other blocks that may prove helpful. But in the end, I can’t tell you what to build. Hell, I can’t even give you detailed directions on how to build it, only general ones. You have to do that for yourself.
Self-Determination is an odd little concept, and whatever it is, certainly some people have more of it than others. But that’s one of the reasons why parents send their kids to college. Lest we forget, two-thirds of Americans do not have a college degree. Higher education is still a sign of privilege and opportunity to some degree, pun intended. It’s the chance to take the blocks of your life and build something that approximates your dreams, without the daunting challenges and fantastic odds of a Horatio Alger story or a Lotto ticket.
Come Thursday, I will begin the 15 week-long process, conducted twice yearly, in which I try to drive that home to my students. Along the way I will show them some things that other people have built. And then I will pour a bunch of strange new blocks onto the floor, in the form of lectures and assigned readings, and ask them to build something relevant through discussions, exams, and papers.
The opportunity is theirs to pursue as they see fit.
Sovereign Bonds (And A Million Pound Question)
by Gautam Pemmaraju
Two weeks ago, India and Pakistan commemorated their 64th year of independence, and two weeks from now, 13th September will mark Operation Polo - the 1948 military action against independent Hyderabad by Indian armed forces deposing the defiant princely ruler, The Nizam, who had refused to accede to the newly formed Union of India.
As Indian troops advanced on Hyderabad, the beleaguered independent militia of the Razakars put up a futile and foolhardy resistance while the Hyderabad State Force under the command of Major General Syed Ahmed El Edroos fell back. At the very same time, a delegation of the embattled state’s representatives, including the then finance and foreign minister Moin Nawaz Jung, were in Paris, desperately petitioning the UN Security Council in the hope of a cease-fire resolution. It was during this period, as the House of Asaf Jah, the dynasty that had ruled for seven generations, was about to fall, that Mir Nawaz Jung, the Agent General of Hyderabad stationed in London met Habib Ibramim Rahimtoola in the presence of Pakistan’s foreign minister Sir Mohammed Zafarullah Khan, at the latter’s house in Hampstead. The Hyderabad representative requested the Pakistani High Commissioner to accept a bank transfer of over a million pounds from an account in National Westminster Bank in his name.
As Mir Laik Ali, the last Dewan or Prime Minister of independent Hyderabad, writes in his account The Tragedy of Hyderabad (Karachi, 1962), the Security Council was to meet formally on the 20th of September 1948, but Sir Alexander Cadogan had agreed on “an urgent meeting” given the “rapidly deteriorating situation in Hyderabad”. In an archival film clip, Cadogan is seen opening the meeting by speaking of the two items on the agenda before the council: “one, the adoption of the agenda and two, communications from the government of Hyderabad to the security council”.
What the representatives, Mir Laik Ali, and Mir Osman Ali Khan Asaf Jah VII, the Nizam of Hyderabad, collectively desired, was a timely intervention in their hope to assert and maintain the claim of sovereignty and independence. Unfortunately for them, it was already too late. Hyderabad had fallen to Indian forces. Commander-in-Chief El-Edroos had ceremonially surrendered his army to General JN Chaudhari, stoically understating to camera that “the men under my command were called upon to perform a superhuman task”, while Mir Laik Ali and the Nizam, had both separately addressed the state on its radio station - Deccan Radio. The princely ruler’s broadcast on 17th September 1948, drafted by KM Munshi, India’s Agent General in Hyderabad, announced the state’s capitulation, welcomed the ‘police action’ and informed the people of the withdrawal of Hyderabad’s representation before the security council. Laik Ali also mentions that Munshi broadcast his own message as well: “Both the broadcasts purported to the effect that all wrongs had been committed by the previous Governments and particularly the last Government…”
Former civil servant and independent scholar VK Bawa, in his book The Last Nizam (Hyderabad, 2010, 2nd ed), also mentions Laik Ali’s broadcast where he made an appeal for communal harmony and adds: “But the Indian version ascribes to him a sentiment that he did not mention. It said he pinned his support on the United Nations, and hoped to keep the flag of Hyderabad flying”.
On 20th September in Paris, the UN Security council met in a “confused manner” and as Laik Ali writes, “the cease-fire resolution or the merits of the case slipped into the background and attention was focused on the issue whether the request of the Nizam for the withdrawal of the application of Hyderabad from the United Nations was genuine or made under duress”.
It was on this very day, 20th September, that Mir Nawaz Jung, the Agent General of Hyderabad in London, as the late Omar Khalidi wrote, “presented a letter from his boss – Moin Nawaz Jung (d.1993), Hyderabad Finance and Foreign Minister – to the National Westminster Bank seeking transfer of funds. The bank accepted and notified the parties concerned. The amount was of British £ 1,007,940 and 9 shillings.”
On 11th April 2008, press reports here in India mentioned that the Union Cabinet had approved an out-of-court settlement with Pakistan and the heirs of the Nizam with regard to the 60 year-old dispute. The reports also mentioned that the cabinet had also approved the ‘negotiating strategy’. This dispute had for long been on the agenda of outstanding issues, amongst, need one say, countless and more egregious others.
Immediately after the fall of the state and his broadcast to that effect, the Nizam of Hyderabad had issued a firman (order) asking all the members of this government, his officials, to return immediately to Hyderabad. He also wrote to the London bank requesting no withdrawals from the account. Mir Osman Ali Khan contended that the money transfer had been done without his consent, while Moin Nawaz Jung’s motive, still in Paris then, as Khalidi writes, “was to deny funds to India, who he believed were usurping his master’s kingdom”.
What was this money? Why was it sitting in a London Bank? And why was it transferred to the Pakistani High Commissioner?
Did the account in the bank belong to the Nizam personally or to the Hyderabad State? Before the absorption of princely states, the two were not always clear. Deeming it state funds, India, as the successor state, claimed the funds and asked its transfer in 1950, while Rahimtoola, now made his country’s ambassador to France, asked the money to be transferred to his London successor M.A.H. Ispahani.
The bank refused both Rahimtoola’s and the Indian government’s claim; the Indian government filed a suit to recover this money in 1956 and Judge Gerald Upjohn ruled that the Nizam held legal title over the money while Pakistan “had no equitable title”. This dispute got further complicated on appeal since Pakistan had to involve itself in a matter that involved its High Commissioner. It then became entangled with doctrinal issues of sovereign immunity as the matter went before the House of Lords in 1957 and famously became Rahimtoola vs Nizam of Hyderabad 1958, AC 379.
Viscount Simonds, disagreeing with the appeals court in refusing to stay proceedings brought against Rahimtoola by the Nizam, offered the initial arguments before the House by examining in what capacity the appellant accepted the transfer of said funds. Referring to ‘the three possible views’ here, he says:
The first is that he was acting as a private individual. This view is so clearly untenable that I will not say more about it. The other alternatives were stated thus by Romer L.J.1: (1) that he was acting as “agent” for Pakistan, and (2) that he was acting as the “organ” or “alter ego” of Pakistan, and that the learned Lord Justice came to the clear conclusion that he accepted the transfer in his official capacity as servant or agent of Pakistan.
The legal point in question became then one of ‘impleading a foreign sovereign’ - the courts of a country (in this case Great Britain) do not make him a party to legal proceedings ‘against his will’, whether the proceedings are ‘against his person’ or ‘seeking to recover from him specific damages or property’.
It is suffice to say here that the opinion of the House, by extending the idea of immunity to commercial transactions in this case, eventually entailed wider implications (in international & human rights law as well – read here, and here), particularly with regard to the doctrine of sovereignty, state immunity, comity, and the extra-legal idea of ‘dignity of a sovereign’. The famous Lord Denning, ‘a judicial gang of one’, ‘a maverick in legal garb’ (see book review by Hutchinson here) is often quoted with regard to the limitations of judicial immunity:
Sovereign immunity should not depend on whether a foreign government is impleaded, directly or indirectly, but rather on the nature of the dispute…Is it properly cognizable by our courts or not? If the dispute brings into question, for instance, the legislative or international transactions of a foreign government, or the policy of its executive, the court should grant immunity if asked to do so, because it does offend the dignity of a foreign sovereign…but if the dispute concerns, for instance, the commercial transactions of a foreign government…there is no grounds for granting immunity.
The other judges differed with this opinion and the outcome was that Pakistan had ‘legal title’ over the funds, but the ‘beneficial interest’ or ‘equitable title’ was that of the Nizam of Hyderabad. This again, underscored the complexity of the dispute and presented, what was in effect, an impasse. The money remained frozen in account and it was only in April 2008, following what seemed to be a diplomatic settlement, that some progress was made. The way out, as the courts and the House foresaw and sagely ruled, was ‘intergovernmental’.
The decision to seek an out-of-court settlement was not without its litigious detractors. A former legal adviser to the current title-holder and grandson of the last ruling Nizam, Mir Barkat Ali Khan Mukarram Jah Bahadur, argued that the money was the personal wealth of the family and that no other party had any claim over it. The money, now over 30 millions pounds, Begum Scheherazade Javeri was reported to have said, should be apportioned amongst the legal heirs - 8 main claimants who are direct descendants of the Nizam, and 300 others. Mukarram Jah (see John Zubrzycki’s excellent book The Last Nizam), the son of the late Princess of Berar Durrushevar, daughter of Sultan Abdul Mejid II, the exiled last Ottoman Caliph and Prince Azam Jah, the older son of the last Nizam, lives modestly in the Turkish town of Antalya.
So what was a million pounds of the Nizam’s money doing sitting in National Westminster Bank in 1948?
It was widely believed and reported that the Nizam of Hyderabad, at that point, was the wealthiest man in the world. So a million pounds in a foreign bank sounds like one of very many small stashes. This bank account though, maintained and operated by the Agent General of Hyderabad in London, was a special contingency fund.
El-Edroos, in his intriguing account Hyderabad of the Seven Loaves, writes that during the tenure of the Nawab of Chattari, the Prime Minister of Hyderabad who had preceded the hapless Mir Laik Ali, he was instructed to proceed ‘abroad’ to explore procuring ‘arms and equipment’ for the Hyderabad armed forces. A third of the states’ forces had served in the 2nd World War and had relinquished their weapons and ordnance on return to India, Edroos informs us. The government of India was to rearm the depleted force at its cost, but failed to do so due to a combination of several intervening circumstances, as I have written before here. This was critically, of course, also linked to the deteriorating relations between Hyderabad and India. El Edroos writes that the then finance minister Nawab Liaquat Jung transferred 35 million rupees to ‘a leading bank’ in England during the war period. Travelling incognito in early August 1947, El Edroos’ first stop is Karachi, where he checks in to the Palace Hotel and thereafter meets Colonel Iskander Mirza, Defense Secretary of the Pakistan government. He meets also Ghulam Mohammad the Finance Minister, who had held the same portfolio in Hyderabad, and who was to later become the Governor General of Pakistan after Jinnah’s death. Upon arrival in London El Edroos was received by Mir Nawaz Jung, the Agent General, who had arranged his stay at the Dorchester. Fascinatingly, El Edroos writes:
I was in the first instance introduced to a man called Dennis Conan Doyle, the son of the famous author Conan Doyle. Conan Doyle was in the Intelligence Department of the Government of France and was married to Princess Midwani who was a white Russian.
El Edroos returned to Hyderabad unsuccessful. He could find no way to import weapons legally since it was not recognized as an independent nation.
It was only later that the government of Hyderabad, through Mir Nawaz Jung, engaged the services of the Australian ‘adventurer’ Sidney Cotton, who via his fleet of planes ferried essential commodities, arms and ammunition, and people surreptitiously.
Hyderabad and the Union of India had signed a ‘Standstill Agreement’ in November 1947, after the Nizam had refused to accede to India a few months earlier. The negotiations of the draft were difficult and beset with many problems. One of the contentious issues during the period of drafting of the final agreement was a loan of securities worth 200 million rupees by the Nizam’s government to Pakistan.
A recent monograph, A State In Periodic Crises (2010) published by CESS, Hyderabad, authored by former civil servant BPR Vithal reveals the minutes of meetings in early 1948 between members of the Hyderabad government and those of India, based on documents left behind by LN Gupta who was Secretary, Finance Department, in the Nizam’s government. Mountbatten was also in attendance as he played a key role in convincing Indian princely rulers to accede to the newly formed union.
On 30th of January 1948, the same day MK Gandhi was assassinated by the right wing Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse, a meeting of officials of Hyderabad, led by Moin Nawaz Jung (mentioned earlier), met VP Menon and other representatives of the Government of India in Delhi. During the course of discussions, Menon asserted the fact that India had always openly pressed for accession and viewed the Standstill Agreement as part of the process. Hyderabad, of course, did not see things in the same way. Vithal cites the aforementioned documents, pointing to Moin Nawaz Jung describing the deterioration of relations between Hyderabad and India as being linked to three primary issues: the currency ordnance (Hyderabad had its own currency), the restrictions on export of metals, and the 200 million rupee loan to Pakistan, aside from the ‘minor matter’ of the appointment of a publicity officer to Karachi. As Lucien Benichou also points out in his book From Autocracy to Integration (Hyderabad, 2000), this loan was considered by India as a breach of the Standstill Agreement. Hyderabad, however, contended that it had occurred before the signing and its arduous drafting, and besides, it was purely an economic matter – ‘an investment devoid of political significance’. In Vithal’s monograph:
Mr. Menon said that, "The Government of India is a popular Government and must represent the popular will. Popular opinion was that the Hyderabad loan was given deliberately to Pakistan. It must be remembered that the Kashmir issue had become serious and naturally the man in the street thought that Hyderabad had helped Pakistan to attack India. .. It was true that the arrangement was entered into some time ago; there could be no good reason for withholding the information from the Government when in November the Standstill Agreement was entered into.
I will conclude this curious, tangled account here with two thoughts. Firstly, the complexity and criticality of Hyderabad’s position, its claim of sovereignty, the events leading up to the military action, the rise of the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen, the role of its leaders from Bahadur Yar Jang to Qasim Razvi, the political identity of regional Muslims, the Telangana peasant uprising and the Communist movement, the roles of the Andhra Mahasabha, the Arya Samaj, the Hyderabad State Congress, the various intrigues and politics leading to Hyderabad’s fall, its subsequent integration, and the many other associated events and ideas that critically contribute to the idea of the post-colonial nation-state, are under articulated and generally overwhelmed by nationalist viewpoints and dogma. Secondly, the nuanced role of El Edroos, a man of intriguing character and pragmatism to my mind, who claimed to have issued secret instructions to all his sector commanders to fall back and not offer resistance to the invading Indian army, is similarly lost in the larger politics of the nation and the popular narrative of the defiance/betrayal of Hyderabad. The 4-day war, its subsequent aftermath, and the effects on the people at large are still evident. On all sides.
As for the small matter of the disputed 1 million pounds (30 million now)…what indeed does that mean in today’s world?
Believing is Seeing
in the undergrowth
of an eastern wood a rabbit
not much bigger than a squirrel believes
there are eaters in the overgrowth
and sees them everywhere
it stops stock-still,
as still as if its
clock had stopped
no twitch or blink
more stone than hare
believing in suddenness it sees
in every micro-acre of space
what its cells perceive
what it knows is there
what it must never
dare to unbelieve
by Jim Culleny
Secular Humanism 2.0
by Kevin S. Baldwin
I recently found myself in the unusual position of almost agreeing with Michele Bachmann. Wait: Before you stop reading this or welcome me to the fold, let me explain. I was reading a recent article in the Los Angeles Times about Bachmann's enthusiasm for the ideas of Presbyterian Pastor Francis Schaeffer and his disciple, Nancy Pearcey (The LA Times article was informed by a New Yorker piece ). Basically, they all believe that the secular humanistic values that developed during the Renaissance and Enlightenment were bad because they turned people away from the inerrant truth of the Bible. If only we could turn back the clock to the Middle Ages (cue Monty Python's "bring out your dead")!
"How could I agree with this?" you may ask. I didn't really, but it got me to thinking that maybe what's wrong with secular humanism is not secularism nor humanism, but that its humanism as practiced, is to the exclusion of other species and a disregard for the biogeochemical processes upon which we all depend. No, I am not suggesting eating crunchy granola, while holding hands, singing "Kumbayah," and celebrating Gaia. Looking backward to the Middle Ages or even to pagan times isn't the solution to what ails us: Looking forward to a more inclusive, humble, secular humanism may be.
To the extent that reductionistic science has allowed us to focus on components and variables that we can understand and manipulate to our benefit, and economics has allowed us to ignore the resulting negative externalities, we have dramatically improved some aspects of our lives at the cost of decreased biodiversity and altered biogeochemical processes. When the blind spots of science and economics have reinforced one another, the result has not always been good. When science and economics have hybridized in a complementary manner, the results have been more productive, e.g., environmental economics and biomimicry.
We are pretty successful at isolating individual variables, and manipulating them to see how they affect a simple system. We are not so great at understanding how multiple interacting variables can affect an outcome in a complex system (see Thalidomide). Another example of our shortcomings might be failing to predict rare but serious drug interactions. Yet another example is the story of the World Health Organization parachuting cats into Borneo to reestablish ecological order after DDT spraying led to a rat & caterpillar population explosions through a complex chain of events.
To avoid the kind of cultural solipsism that is so easy to slip into in the early 21st century, I keep the following quote from David Abram's (1996) "The Spell of the Sensuous" (Vintage Books) close at hand: “Many indigenous peoples construe awareness, or ‘mind’, not as a power that resides inside their heads, but rather as a quality that they themselves are inside of along with the other animals and plants, the mountains and the clouds.” Can this broader conception of awareness be rehabilitated and updated for our own time? Can we make decisions while acknowledging we are embedded in a landscape of other creatures and entities?
Science and Economics (with its step-sister, Business) are two of the more prominent areas of inquiry that emerged from the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Many of the things that we consider to be progress over the last few centuries have happened as a result of their contributions. Unfortunately, many unintended consequences (e.g., overpopulation, overconsumption, pollution, peak oil, and global warming) have also resulted. These could be considered the bitter fruits of Secular Humanism 1.0.
Bringing the best science and business practices together could help us to continue to maximize progress while minimizing its consequences for future generations and other species: A kind of Secular Humanism 2.0. Entrepreneurial spirit tempered by an appreciation of the strengths and the weaknesses of both industrial capitalism and the scientific method, a more wholistic accounting that avoids externalities, and a system of ethics that extends to other species may serve future generations better than what we are currently doing. Innovators and decision-makers who take into account a triple bottom line of "Ecology Equity Economy" or "People Profit Planet" instead of strictly thinking in terms of shareholder value and quarterly earnings statements may give us a fighting chance against the challenges that lie ahead: Certainly better odds than a return to medieval theocracy.
The Great Land Grab: Bhatta And The Route of War
Nearly 80 percent of the war supplies, non lethal war supplies, as they are called, for the US led coalition troops fighting in Afghanistan, snake through the city of Karachi. Much of the containers and oil tankers to the north from the Port either go through the Northern Bypass or through the National Highway from the oil terminal in Keamari. The Lyari Expressway does not carry heavy traffic although it was meant to and by night its southbound track shifts to becoming a northbound route carrying lighter cargo from the port to the Super highway which leads all the way to the Khyber Pass in the North at the border with Afghanistan. If the war in Afghanistan stops then the violence in Karachi and in Pakistan will subside. Just think what this war machinery moving through Karachi means for the city and what impact it has on the security, society and on the economy when it moves through the country going from the south of the country to the north to the Khyber Pass. Safe passage of these precious goods is assured through the city by gangs of extortionists and enforcers who collect a fee—Bhatta from the war enterprise. These gangs have deep connections to the militaries, international mercenaries and political parties. Their leaders are the biggest Bhatta collectors in the chain and are given safe haven to live in Dubai and in London. International business interests and local armed mercenaries have made Karachi their base to protect their war supplies. There is big money to be made. Karachi has always been of interest to Empire and it has never let it go. Their bidding is done through petty gangs across the city who have also learned to collect Bhatta from ordinary citizens, households and shopkeepers. These extortionists know how to enforce their rules: Non compliance means death.
Hundreds of residents of Karachi have lost their lives to violence in July and August of 2011 alone. Since the beginning of the US led war in Afghanistan in 2001 thousands of citizens of Pakistan and Karachi residents have been killed. The war in Afghanistan in the 1980s had a similarly gruesome impact.
The Lyari Expressway was meant to carry heavy loads and its northbound traffic from the port of Karachi was opened in December 2009. The Expressway was meant to be able to shift goods to and from the port on a high speed route bypassing the congested streets of the city center. But the Northbound route has not become fully functional yet. Nor can the Expressway carry heavy loads such as oil tankers. The Lyari Expressway was highly controversial when it was under design and it was opposed by citizens and community action groups, urban planners and activists because it displaced thousands of people, their homes and livelihoods, and it threatened to change the social fabric of the city. But it was built anyway under the Military regime of General Musharraf. Some who opposed the expressway were killed including one who belonged to a well known family and was also a political and social leader and activist who opposed the construction of the Expressway. He was found dead in 2002 inexplicably and improbably by having committed suicide by hanging himself in the guest room of his family home. Another person among many an FM station talk show host who was spoke up against the Expressway on his show was beaten up and threatened that he would be pushed off the roof of the building where the radio station was housed. Construction of the Expressway began in 2002. The bomb blast and the fire in Bolton Market which occurred during a Moharram procession in 2009, many believe, simply cleared out the shopkeepers and traders who had earlier refused to move out of the way of the Lyari Expressway’s planned support route.
The Lyari Expressway’s primary purpose was and is to provide a swift route for goods moving from the port to the rest of the country up north and bringing supplies down to the port. It carries to and fro from the port precious and high value imports and exports: the supplies going to the war and as most Karachi residents are convinced heroine from Afghanistan trucked back to the same waiting ships that bring in war supplies. Hardly any civilian city traffic can be seen on this Expressway.
The forces that rule Karachi thrive on the enterprise of war in Afghanistan. They dream of making Karachi a Dubai or a Singapore or a Hongkong. They in turn are linked to the petty street and neighborhood thugs linked to organized gangs and gang bosses who owe allegiance to these bigger bosses. They all owe each other. They are in the business of land grabbing, logistics, finance, drugs and weapons trade.
Whoever can ensure the war supply routes is king. Whoever can do that extorts Bhatta. This is the artery that feeds the heart of the golden goose. The Lyari Expressway in parts of the city is elevated above rooftops and in others runs alongside densely packed neighborhoods and passes through and over all the areas of Karachi currently in flames. The war supplies are swiftly moved on cargo trucks by night over this flyover that passes on a raised structure through the heart of the city passing alongside the large slum of Lyari, then through all of the city’s neighborhoods---while the war supplies move unobstructed from the Karachi port towards Afghanistan a war rages in Karachi including turf battles and land grabbing and strong arming to ensure territorial rights for guaranteeing the safe passage of the war machinery. The war supplies for Afghanistan bring death and destruction as their daily traffic to Karachi.
A drive on the Expressway feels eerily like on an exclusive and unobstructed rollercoaster ride dipping and rising alongside and above the city from the port on either side are the sprawling, densely packed and heavily congested neighborhoods and traffic congested streets of Lyari, Ranchore Lines, Soldier Bazaar, Liaqatabad, Nazimabad, Orangi, Sohrab Goth, Gulberg all the way till it reaches the Superhighway on the city’s outskirts.
Karachi a city of nearly 20 million people spreads out on either side of the expressway and convulses with its toxic impact. The graffiti on the massive structure’s concrete walls—and pillions hint of the rage that seethes around it. Each night while millions of Karachi residents try to sleeps or lie awake unable to sleep because of the heat and power cuts or anxiety over the raging violence in the streets—the war supplies slip by --slithering quietly and silently from the Port through and around the city swiftly, smoothly, safely.
Karachi was a tiny fishing village more than 150 years ago. It became a lucrative piece of real estate for Empire as its trading outpost and a cantonment town when the war began in Afghanistan between Britain and Russian in 1850s for territorial control of Central Asia. Then Great Game of Empires was on as it is now. The Empire owned Karachi then as it does now. Traders flocked to Karachi from other parts of India to position themselves as suppliers and servicers of the war around the newly built port which was built for the purpose of war supplies to be able to supply the war. Mercenaries and the army of the British Empire was housed in barrack in the city---in places named Abyssinia Line and Ranchore Lines. War had always benefited the city. In 1838, the British afraid of the Russian Empire’s expansion to the Arabian Sea, occupied Karachi and the city served as the landing port for their troops for the First Afghan War. In 1843, they annexed Sindh and shifted the capital of the province from Hyderabad to Karachi. Then the British made Sindh a district of the Bombay Presidency and Karachi was made the district headquarters. Troops were stationed in Karachi and businessmen from all over the country arrived to cater to the needs of the army, an opportunity not to be missed. Karachi started to become a vibrant town, particularly the part where the military barracks and commercial activities merged particularly at the confluence of the military barracks and commercial sector. This area became known as Saddar, the Presidency. Karachi is built on and continues to expand on the land grabbing effort called Empire and War—and within it, the forces that rule it—have grabbed land from small villages called Goths to expand its boundaries the biggest land mafia is probably the military with its Defense Housing Societies where the elite of the city live. Land is grabbed from the poor and it is grabbed from the sea. Reclamation of land from the sea continues unchecked and unregulated with no regard to the environment or to city planning. It is handled improperly, senselessly and dangerously with construction beginning even before the land has dried.
Karachi has always been the conduit for the supplies of war. In the powerful, muliti layered and international mercenary war machinery these local guarantors of safe passage of war goods are just petty thieves and gangs, extortionists who murder and collect Bhatta—extortion fees. But in the lives of Karachi and Pakistan’s citizens they are the biggest bosses, the most powerful forces of rulers and administrators, the police, the army, the politicians.
Whoever can ensure safe passage for war supplies extracts Bhutta from the war enterprise and controls Karachi . And this system extends all the way North along the supply route on the Super highway which cuts through the entire country from Karachi to Khyber Pass. All the way to Khyber Pass from the Karachi port extortionists, enforcers and service providers for the war machinery. Extortion cascades from the top down---from the Generals to the political leaders to their minions of militias and gangs. Extortion. Bhatta.
The routes of war supplies and their traffic must be part of the story of why there is such murder, mayhem and criminal violence in Karachi. The violence must be seen through the prism of war and land grabbing. The war is profitable for all those involved in making it happen. As long as the war goes on the gangs in Karachi and Pakistan will be encouraged to keep fighting and killing each other for the profitable business of collecting Bhatta for ensuring safe passage for these goods and to keep the conveyor belt for war supplies running smoothly. An analysis of what is happening in Karachi which looks for its root causes in poverty, ethnicity, population and a lack of services tells only a very small part of the story. This suits the enterprise of war because it ensures that the route for war continues uninterrupted.
Also by Maniza Naqvi:
That Sara Aziz (A Play)
The Leftist And The Leader (A Play)
Educating Steve Jobs
by Sarah Firisen
First it was Libya, most recently it was Hurricane Irene, but in the middle of the week the single biggest news item, at least measured in terms of newspaper real estate, was that Steve Jobs has stepped down from running Apple. Is it stretching superlatives to say that he may be the one person alive who has most changed the course of history? As Joe Nocera said in the New York Times this week, probably more than anyone else alive, Steve Jobs has known the feeling of what it's like to have changed America, and probably the world. We can debate whether or not the personal computer as it is now has changed the world for the better, but it must be beyond dispute that it has changed it dramatically for most people.
So, let's make the sad assumption that Steve Jobs has stepped down from Apple irreversibly, what now? Where's the next Steve Jobs coming from? Clearly, the industrial world needs more Steve Jobs, but specifically, America needs more. What does it take to turn out, not only the next Steve Jobs, but perhaps a generation more likely to create multiple "Steve Jobs"-like innovators than the generation before? I don't know exactly, but I'm pretty sure that, whatever it is, we're not doing it as a society.
There are many myths about Steve Jobs, many attempts to distil the je ne sais quoi that made this man as impactful as he has been, but one thing I think is certain: we're moving our education system in a direction away from any lessons learned from the bio of someone like Jobs. One of the favourite stories about the Apple founder is that, when he dropped out of college and no longer had any courses that he had to take, he chose to take a calligraphy course. What he learned in that class was reflected years later in the typography for the first Mac. And this in turn changed the personal computer interface forever.
This kind of story is repeated over and over, both in Jobs' story and in the story of other innovators; the story of creative epiphanies springing from the exposure to a wide range of ideas, a wide range of disciplines. Yet we have a public school system that is increasingly deemphasizing art, music, social studies and the like in favour of test prep.
Forbes recently published a piece, Understanding Apple: Five Myths About Steve Jobs. Reading this piece and so many other attempts to dissect the success of the man, what emerges is that Steve Jobs isn't some genius of perfection who has never made a misstep. Rather, he's a master of the art of quickly learning from failures, of which Apple has had many; of seeing the kernel of a brilliant idea in other people's concepts (that those people and organizations had often failed to capitalize upon) and moving those ideas to the next level. He's a master of melding form and function, not sacrificing one to the other. How is it that almost all other technology companies haven't figured this out? I don't know, but they haven't. Apple consistently creates objects that are beautiful and functional. It turns out that aesthetics matter after all. So why are we dropping art classes in our public schools so that there's more time to prep for standardized tests?
Is there any evidence at all that the way that we're educating our children in the US is in any way likely to lead to a Steve Jobs mentality? Maybe that's a lot to ask; maybe one Steve Jobs comes along every generation, if we're lucky. But are we even getting close? Are we even trying? Are we exposing our children to a wide range of disciplines and ideas and encouraging their creativity?
I know that I've harped on about this over time, but innovation, at any level, requires an appetite for failure. Anyone remember the Newton? An abject failure of Apple's, and there are many others. Yes, it's easy to just remember how fabulous the iPhone and iPad are and how much we all love our Mac Books. But there were plenty of failures. And, under Jobs, Apple learned from these failures and came back even stronger. But we're educating our children to be failure averse.
Does anyone really think that it doesn't matter whether or not we can regularly and reliably turn out Steve Jobs-like, even Steve Jobs-light, individuals? I don't know, but I do know that we are not educating in a way that maximizes the chances of doing so in the future. And that's probably not a good thing.
August 28, 2011
Ugly? You May Have a Case
Daniel Hamermesh in the NYT:
Beauty is as much an issue for men as for women. While extensive research shows that women’s looks have bigger impacts in the market for mates, another large group of studies demonstrates that men’s looks have bigger impacts on the job.
Why this disparate treatment of looks in so many areas of life? It’s a matter of simple prejudice. Most of us, regardless of our professed attitudes, prefer as customers to buy from better-looking salespeople, as jurors to listen to better-looking attorneys, as voters to be led by better-looking politicians, as students to learn from better-looking professors. This is not a matter of evil employers’ refusing to hire the ugly: in our roles as workers, customers and potential lovers we are all responsible for these effects.
How could we remedy this injustice? With all the gains to being good-looking, you would think that more people would get plastic surgery or makeovers to improve their looks. Many of us do all those things, but as studies have shown, such refinements make only small differences in our beauty. All that spending may make us feel better, but it doesn’t help us much in getting a better job or a more desirable mate.
A more radical solution may be needed: why not offer legal protections to the ugly, as we do with racial, ethnic and religious minorities, women and handicapped individuals?
Salil Tripathi in Caravan:
[Sanjiv] Mehta is very proud of his shop on Conduit Street. It is called The East India Company.
Yes, the same one. In one of history’s ironic twists, a Gujarati man born in Bombay now owns the company that was set up at Leadenhall Street at the end of the 16th century by British traders and merchants who went around the globe looking for a good cuppa and some spices and ended up colonising half the world—including India, the jewel in the crown—before collapsing in 1873. The company has been revived, but now it sells luxury teas, coffees, chocolates, jams, biscuits and chutneys. The minimalist 2,000 sq ft shop has a staff of 35, and aims to rake in £6 million (433 million) in its first year.
To be sure, The East India Company had ceased to operate when it was dissolved in 1873, its balance sheet smeared with red ink, as its income simply could not cover the cost of maintaining the empire it had built. After setting up trading operations in India in the 17th century, it had rapidly transformed from a mercantilist trading firm into a state, taking over territory, minting currency and maintaining its own army. The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 (as the British view what Indians call the first war of independence) delegitimised the company’s political role in the eyes of the British establishment. Queen Victoria took over the governance of India in 1858; 15 years later, the debt-ridden company was dissolved.
But sometime in the 1980s, a group of British investors came together, and sought government approval to begin trading using the company’s title, in effect reviving it. Few knew about it then; the investors didn’t make any plans public, keeping a low profile.
One of the commodities they traded in was tea, and it was to Mehta that they turned for the trades. He saw huge potential in rebuilding the brand, even though he knew buying the company from a group of investors would be a daunting, time-consuming project. He understood the political significance of an Indian trader taking over the company that had once colonised India, and he was aware of the negative connotations the company’s name suggested for many patriotic Indians. Why should an Indian revive a company that enslaved Indians and sent them to far-flung places as indentured labourers?
Slowly, step-by-step, Mehta began buying over the investors, and after nearly three years, he bought out the last investor, acquiring full control of the company in 2006. At the same time, he studied the company’s history, consulted experts, talked to brand consultants and began assembling in his mind the architecture of the company that would no longer be an embarrassment, but would nurture the brand.
Does America Need Manufacturing?
Jon Gertner in the NYT Magazine:
For decades, the federal government has generally resisted throwing its weight —and its money — behind particular industries. If the market was killing manufacturing jobs, it was pointless to fight it. The government wasn’t in the business of picking winners. Many economic theorists have long held that countries inevitably pursue their natural or unique advantages. Some advantages might arise from fertile farmland or gifts of vast mineral resources; others might be rooted in the high education rates of their citizenry. As the former White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers put it, America’s role is to feed a global economy that’s increasingly based on knowledge and services rather than on making stuff. So even as governments in China and Japan offered aid to industries they deemed important, factories in the United States closed or moved abroad. The conviction in Washington was that manufacturing deserved no special dispensation. Even now, as unemployment ravages the country, so-called industrial policy remains politically toxic. Legislators will not debate it; most will not even speak its name.
By almost any account, the White House has fallen woefully short on job creation during the past two and a half years. But galvanized by the potential double payoff of skilled, blue-collar jobs and a dynamic clean-energy industry — the administration has tried to buck the tide with lithium-ion batteries. It had to start almost from scratch. In 2009, the U.S. made less than 2 percent of the world’s lithium-ion batteries. By 2015, the Department of Energy projects that, thanks mostly to the government’s recent largess, the United States will have the capacity to produce 40 percent of them. Whichever country figures out how to lead in the production of lithium-ion batteries will be well positioned to capture “a large piece of the world’s future economic prosperity,” says Arun Majumdar, the head of the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The batteries, he stressed, are essential to the future of the global-transportation business and to a variety of clean-energy industries.
A Meaningful Relationship with a Catfish
To the extent that philosophers have felt the need to argue against sex with animals at all, the most common strategy has been to appeal to the fact that these beings lack life projects, and thus that a sexual relation with them cannot amount to a shared life project with a human being. It is further presumed, without argument, that any morally praiseworthy sexual relation ought to be such a project.
Something like this account is often heard in response to the conservative complaint that to accept homosexuality in our society will lead quickly to an 'anything goes' atmosphere in which bestiality, among other perversions, thrives. As former congressman Rick Santorum worried, or pretended to worry, in 2003, once you've got man-on-man sex, why not man-on-dog?
In a 2005 article ("Homosexuality and the PIB Argument," Ethics 115 (April, 2005): 501-534), the philosopher John Corvino responds to Santorum's reasoning with a lengthy account of the various respects in which same-sex activity differs from what has come to be called 'PIB', that trifecta of unacceptable sexual relations: pedophilia, incest, and bestiality. Corvino would keep bestiality in its traditional place, while promoting same-sex relationships from their traditionally marginal place into a mainstream one. His argument is based largely on the claim that sexual contact with an animal cannot, by definition, contribute to a profound interpersonal interaction, while a same-sex, intraspecies relationship is as well-suited to do so as a heterosexual one.
here i am
New York Wakes to Hurricane’s Fury
From The New York Times:
Hurricane Irene made its second landfall, this one early Sunday in southern New Jersey, as the storm continued its relentless push toward New York City. Though the storm weakened as it moved up the Eastern Seaboard, it continued to funnel storm surge and floodwater to the Jersey Shore overnight, where the National Hurricane Center said the center of the storm crossed over land near Little Egg Inlet, north of Atlantic City, around 5:35 a.m. The storm’s maximum sustained winds are estimated to be 75 miles per hour, making it a weak category one hurricane.
The Letting Go
Siddhartha Mukherjee in The New York Times:
It had rained heavily the night before. The steep stone steps of the ghat are slick and slippery, and when my father pulls me onto the boat, the water feels more stable than the ground. The boatman rows out toward the open river, and the city of Varanasi swings into full view. On the bank, wrestlers are performing calisthenics; a vendor is selling marigolds; a man is throwing birdseed at pigeons. The river moves sluggishly at first — but then a current forces the boat around the bend, and we are floating silently by the Manikarnika ghat, where the dead are burned. I am 8 or 9 years old. Save a distant uncle who has died of renal failure, I have had no personal experience of death. I imagine it as little more than a corporeal exit from the world. It is an unforgettable sight: row upon row of burning bodies on wooden pyres by the river’s edge. There are dozens of pyres lighted at the ghat, like lanterns along the river. Around them, a circus of death unfolds. There are sons waiting for a professional barber to shave their heads. Men carry the bodies down to the water.
The bodies, swathed in white cloth and strewn with flowers, are bathed, washed and then taken onto a bedlike pile of wood and set alight. The fires burn sometimes for hours. When the flames begin to sputter, the priest shovels the ashes, still smoldering, into the river. The melodrama of the scene is nearly perfectly offset by the glum, mechanical matter-of-factness of its participants. Mounds of ash and marigold and wood chips are floating all around the boat. There is a man standing by one of the fires and facing the boat, with his arms still taut, as if holding the body — except he is holding air. I bury my face in my father’s lap, but curiosity, literally morbid, forces me to look and to look again, as we drift past. The scene on the bank is mesmerizing. Then the boat rounds another bend, the haunted tableau vanishes, and we debark at another ghat. Decades later, having trained as an oncologist in Boston, I attend the funeral service of a woman who has died after a long battle with cancer. I remember approaching the coffin, and then registering something odd: the woman has been coiffed and dressed up, and there is the faintest blush of lipstick — lipstick? — on her mouth.
There are things I want so badly
ppp and then I don't want them at all,
so I go to sleep and when I wake up
ppp it's not desire in heart, crotch, lungs
or brain, it's outside of myself and coming
ppp at me like the Smog Monster
or that thumb of mossy Jove-smoke
ppp that climbs around Io, nudging
under her arm and around her back,
ppp slowly jibbing her backward off
her stump. It's not how her head is slipped
ppp in its socket on the top end
of her neck. It's how the one hand
ppp drops to bring the smog-thing closer;
how the pale other flutters up like a sea-
ppp weed wad, boneless, glad to the dark.
by Daisy Fried
from She Didn't Mean To Do It
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000
August 27, 2011
Imagining the Downside of Immortality
Stephen Cave in the NYT:
IMAGINE nobody dies. All of a sudden, whether through divine intervention or an elixir slipped into the water supply, death is banished. Life goes on and on; all of us are freed from fear that our loved ones will be plucked from us, and each of us is rich in the most precious resource of all: time.
Wouldn’t it be awful?
This is the premise of the TV series “Torchwood: Miracle Day,” a co-production of Starz and the BBC that has been running over the summer and ends in September. The “miracle” of the title is that no one dies anymore, but it proves to be a curse as overpopulation soon threatens to end civilization. The show is a nice twist on our age-old dream of living forever. And it is right to be pessimistic about what would happen if this dream were fulfilled — but for the wrong reasons. Materially, we could cope with the arrival of the elixir. But, psychologically, immortality would be the end of us.
The problem is that our culture is based on our striving for immortality. It shapes what we do and what we believe; it has inspired us to found religions, write poems and build cities. If we were all immortal, the motor of civilization would sputter and stop.
Poets and philosophers have long been attuned to the fact that the quest for immortality drives much of humanity’s peculiar ways. But only in recent decades has scientific evidence backed this up.
the Coming Age of Longevity
In Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels," Gulliver encounters a small group of immortals, the struldbrugs. "Those excellent struldbrugs," exclaims Gulliver, "who, being born exempt from that universal calamity of human nature, have their minds free and disengaged, without the weight and depression of spirits caused by the continual apprehensions of death!" But the fate of these immortals wasn't so simple, as Swift goes on to report. They were still subject to aging and disease, so that by 80, they were "opinionative, peevish, covetous, morose, vain, talkative," as well as "incapable of friendship, and dead to all natural affection, which never descended below their grandchildren." At 90, they lost their teeth and hair and couldn't carry on conversations. For as long as human beings have searched for the fountain of youth, they have also feared the consequences of extended life. Today we are on the cusp of a revolution that may finally resolve that tension: Advances in medicine and biotechnology will radically increase not just our life spans but also, crucially, our health spans. The number of people living to advanced old age is already on the rise. There are some 5.7 million Americans age 85 and older, amounting to about 1.8% of the population, according to the Census Bureau. That is projected to rise to 19 million, or 4.34% of the population, by 2050, based on current trends. The percentage of Americans 100 and older is projected to rise from 0.03% today to 0.14% of the population in 2050. That's a total of 601,000 centenarians. But many scientists think that this is just the beginning; they are working furiously to make it possible for human beings to achieve Methuselah-like life spans.more from Sonia Arrison at the WSJ here.
Believing Is Seeing
In the brutally hot summer of 1936, Arthur Rothstein, a young photographer working for a branch of the Farm Security Administration, made a series of images that soon took on a bizarre life of their own. They were photos of a sun-bleached cow skull resting in a bone-dry corner of South Dakota, one of several drought-decimated states during the Dust Bowl era. The wider reality they alluded to, of a natural catastrophe wreaking havoc on America's farmers and tearing at the nation's social fabric, was undeniably, frighteningly real. But within days of their publication in newspapers across the country, the photos' "authenticity" was being mocked and challenged by skeptics who claimed that Rothstein had repeatedly posed the skull, like a stage prop, possibly to drum up support for Franklin Roosevelt's big government spending programs. To learn how this political, journalistic and aesthetic brouhaha played out, and whether Rothstein himself or those claiming "fake" were in fact twisting the visual evidence, you'll want to read Errol Morris' brain-teasing, occasionally unsettling new book, "Believing Is Seeing (Observations on the Mysteries of Photography)."more from Reed Johnson at the LA Times here.
Oh victorious cow!
Oh victorious cow! In its bid for world domination this cunning ungulate has succeeded in training a great army of apes to do its bidding. These slavish primates, so reliant on the gifts of the udder, first killed off the cows’ predators, such as wolves and bears, and even exterminated those other large herbivores, mastodons and mammoths, that once offered competition for the best grasslands. Now the apes are clearing the world’s ancient forests and turning them over to pasture where their bovine masters might graze. They act as if mesmerised by those big wet eyes. In return for these services a certain sacrifice is made: some cows must be willing to die for the good of their kin. This is the price of power over the primates, who have become addicted to the meat and milk the cows provide. Thanks to this blood pact, the world cattle population has risen to well over a billion, and their dominion is rapidly spreading. But for those pesky vegetarians, their victory would be secure. So might the relationship between humans and cows look were it not for our tendency to put ourselves at the centre of every story. Where biologists come across relationships like the one between us and our cattle elsewhere in nature, they describe them as “mutualist”, meaning that through their mutual interaction both species benefit. So we provide protection and pasture for cows in return for milk and meat, just as some species of ants provide protection and pasture for aphids in return for the sweet liquid they secrete.more from Stephen Cave at the FT here.
The Arab Awakening
Rami G. Khouri in The Nation:
When Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in rural Tunisia on December 17, 2010, he set in motion a dynamic that goes far beyond the overthrow of individual dictators. We are witnessing nothing less than the awakening, throughout the Arab world, of several phenomena that are critical for stable statehood: the citizen, the citizenry, legitimacy of authority, a commitment to social justice, genuine politics, national self-determination and, ultimately, true sovereignty. It took hundreds of years for the United States and Western Europe to develop governance and civil society systems that affirmed those principles, even if incompletely or erratically, so we should be realistic in our expectations of how long it will take Arab societies to do so.
The countries where citizens are more actively agitating or fighting for their rights—Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen are the most advanced to date—have very different local conditions and forms of governance, with ruling elites displaying a wide range of legitimacy in the eyes of their people. Governments have responded to the challenge in a variety of ways, from the flight of the Tunisian and Egyptian leaderships to violent military repression in Syria, Libya and Bahrain, to the attempt to negotiate limited constitutional transformations in Jordan, Morocco and Oman. A few countries that have not experienced major demonstrations—Algeria and Sudan are the most significant—are likely to experience domestic effervescence in due course. Only the handful of wealthy oil producers (like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates) seem largely exempt, for now, from this wave of citizen demands.
Adolf & Eva
Richard J. Evans in The National Interest:
It was a marriage solemnized in the shadow of death. Shortly before, Hitler had dictated his “political testament” to one of the secretaries in the bunker. In it he declared that since his life was now almost over, he had decided “to take as my wife the woman who, after many long years of loyal friendship, came to the already besieged city. . . . It is my wish that she go with me into death as my wife.” On the afternoon of April 30, the pair retired into Hitler’s private quarters, where Eva Hitler, as she now was, sat down on a sofa. She bit a cyanide capsule and died instantly. Hitler, wanting to make doubly certain of his own death, did the same, while simultaneously firing a bullet through his right temple. Upon hearing the noise, some of the others present in the bunker entered the room and organized the removal of the bodies to the garden, where, acting on instructions, they poured petrol over them and burned them until they were unrecognizable. The still-functioning Nazi propaganda machine issued a statement claiming Hitler had died fighting to the end. No mention was made of his new wife. She died as she had lived, invisible to all but a handful of the Führer’s intimates.
Who was Eva Braun? Why did she link her fate so inextricably to that of the German dictator? Why was her existence kept so secret for so long? Was she just a simple, apolitical, naive young woman captivated by Hitler’s charisma? Was her relationship with the dictator merely platonic? In this new book, the first serious, scholarly biography of the girl who after her death became one of the world’s best-known women, the historian Heike Görtemaker sifts thoroughly and cautiously through the available documentation to try and find an answer to these perplexing human questions.
At 10 he built his first bomb. At 14 he made a nuclear reactor. Now he's 17...
Judy Dutton in Mental Floss:
Taylor Wilson makes people nervous. While his beanpole frame and Justin Bieber–esque haircut suggest he’s just a harmless kid, his after-school activities paint a far more ominous picture. At age 10, he built his first bomb out of a pill bottle and household chemicals. At 11, he started mining for uranium and buying vials of plutonium on the Internet. At 14, he became the youngest person in the world to build a nuclear fusion reactor. “I’m obsessed with radioactivity. I don’t know why,” says Wilson in his laid-back drawl. “Possibly because there’s power in atoms that you can’t see, an unlocked power.”
Shouldn’t teams in hazmat suits descend on Wilson and shut down his operations before someone gets hurt? On the contrary, there are people in the government who think that Wilson is key to keeping this country safe. “The Cold War is really when nuclear physicists got their shot, and those people are all retiring,” points out one of Wilson’s mentors, Ron Phaneuf, a professor of physics at the University of Nevada in Reno. “I think the U.S. Department of Energy is a little concerned that the motivation of young people to get interested in that kind of science has waned. I think that’s one of the reasons doors have been opened to Taylor. He’s a phenomenon, probably the most brilliant person I’ve met in my life, and I’ve met Nobel laureates.”
When the U.S. Department of Homeland Security heard about Wilson two years ago, officials invited him to their offices to hear more about his research and determine whether or not it could be applied toward their counter-terrorism efforts.
3QD Readers Patrick and Scott get married
John Hoel, the videographer:
Marriage equality is something that I'm passionate about and so I couldn't have been more thrilled when Patrick and Scott asked me to film their wedding day. When thinking about what to write here, maybe a political statement, a witty argument, and so on, I quickly realized that nothing I could say comes close to what is communicated through watching Patrick and Scott get married while surrounded by the love and support of their friends and family. Their day was absolutely stunning and every detail was packed with signifigance and meaning, right down to the wedding cake wrapped in vintage postage stamps in honor of Patricks Grandfather who was an avid collector...
"When our law lags behind, people continue to live their truth and create their own version of a family, and this is what Patrick and Scott are deciding to do today." In lieu of wedding gifts they asked guests to contact their members of congress in support of repealing the defense of marriage act - and if you could do the same that would be amazing. contactingthecongress.org/
Congratulations, Patrick and Scott, from all of us at 3QD!
The Artist of Disappearance
Anita Desai's new book is her best since Fasting, Feasting and shares the apocalyptic vision of her extraordinary Fire on the Mountain. India's greatest living writer has always hidden devastating criticisms of the status quo just beneath the jewelled seduction of her surfaces. Her new volume, a trio of linked novellas about the art world, is also a sequence of underground detonations, culminating in a physical explosion that tears apart a mountain – and at a stroke demolishes the 21st-century's corrupt linkage between art and celebrity. These stories about art are also stories about ourselves. The characters, sketched in with Desai's usual blend of irony and tender sympathy, are people who look at pictures and read books: the rich who collect and neglect art, the civil servants who fail to support it, the adapters and critics and publishers who cluster round the edges, their restless jostling muddying and blurring its outlines. Last of all, but most beautifully, in her final story Desai writes about the secret part of all human beings that can create no matter how wretched our circumstances, a precious gift she suggests must at all costs flee the roaring, vacuous maw of 21st-century media.
All three novellas feature different forms of disappearance. The first, "The Museum of Final Journeys", is narrated by a failed writer and junior Indian administrative officer, the privately educated inheritor of British imperial traditions: irritable, hierarchical and bored.
The Eerie Aftermath of a Mass Exit
From The New York Times:
Perrotta has delivered a troubling disquisition on how ordinary people react to extraordinary and inexplicable events, the power of family to hurt and to heal, and the unobtrusive ease with which faith can slide into fanaticism. “The Leftovers” is, simply put, the best “Twilight Zone” episode you never saw — not “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” but “The Monsters Are Us in Mapleton.” That they are quiet monsters only makes them more eerie. The Garvey family — Kevin, Laurie and their two children, Tom and Jill — are the Mapleton residents at the center of Perrotta’s novel, which opens three years after a rapturelike event has whisked millions of people off the face of the earth. Just how many millions Perrotta doesn’t specify, but it can’t have been too many, because the phones still work and Starbucks still dispenses coffee by the grande. Nor do all (or even most) of the missing qualify as Camping-style Christians; those raptured away include Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and the odd alcoholic. When Tom Garvey pledges a fraternity at Syracuse, one of the brothers tells him about a rapturee from Alpha Tau Omega: “He kept a hidden camera in his bedroom . . . used to tape the girls, . . . then show the videos down in the TV room. One girl was so humiliated she had to leave school. Good old Chip didn’t care.”
The rapture’s failure to conform to biblical prophecy has driven some people plumb over the edge. The Rev. Matt Jamison becomes chief among the rapture deniers of the remaining Mapleton population: “He wept frequently and kept up a running monologue about . . . how unfair it was that he’d missed the cut.” The minister’s response to this unfairness is to insist this wasn’t the real rapture, and to prove it with a newsletter full of scurrilous tittle-tattle about the disappeared. Other survivors go over the edge in different ways. The Barefoot People (young Tom Garvey eventually becomes one) believe the proper response to the mass disappearances is to party down pretty much 24/7. There’s a Healing Hug movement, led by a guru named Holy Wayne whom Perrotta memorably characterizes as “that age-old scoundrel, the Horny Man of God.” The Huggers are waiting for one of Holy Wayne’s teenage “brides” to deliver the “miracle child” who will, presumably, usher in a new age of cosmic grooviness.
August 26, 2011
The Selfish Gene: The Musical
Mairi Macleod in New Scientist:
I couldn't imagine how Richard Dawkins's iconic book The Selfish Gene could be turned into an Edinburgh Festival Fringe show, billed as the world's first "biomusical". But you know what? Bex Productions has managed to pull it off.
Jonathan Salway has a background in theatre, not biology, but when he read Dawkins's book, the clarity of writing, the fascinating subject matter and even the humour so inspired him that he felt compelled to transform it into musical comedy and set about dissecting the book to write script and songs with the help of fellow writer Dino Kazamia and music by Richard Macklin.
In the show a fusty Oxford professor, played by Salway, tries to lecture the audience on the fundamentals of evolutionary theory. Meanwhile, the Adamson family share the stage, going about their daily trials of life, unwittingly providing examples of the points he's making. He frequently interrupts and explains to them why they're feeling and behaving the way they are, and sporadically gets involved in their lives along the way.
The family is played by four fresh and enthusiastic youngsters, all former drama students of Salway himself, and they helpfully wear T-shirts announcing who they are: Mum (Emma Seigell), Dad (James Barnes), Son (Olly Towner) and Daughter (Heather Pegley), but later swap for other roles, and even the live musicians contribute the odd line.
The show opens with the song We Are Machines Made By Our Genes, and the prof tries to push the idea that our genes make us selfish - look at how female praying mantises eat the heads of their copulating mates and gulls eat their neighbours' chicks, given the chance.