Tuesday, December 16, 2014
It was Auden who famously claimed that “poetry makes nothing happen”, though what he meant by “nothing” is open to discussion. Yet if we choose to take that dictum at face value, there is no better test of its veracity than the work collected here – where, at the very least, poetry makes compassion happen (and compassion in turn gives rise to other events). There are, also, merits in its refusals – in what it will not aid and abet, as when the poet, returning from New York to Belfast, is confronted on the train by his old adversary, the man of violent action, in “The Flight Path”:
So he enters and sits down
Opposite and goes for me head on.
“When, for fuck’s sake, are you
going to write
Something for us?” “If I do write
Whatever it is, I’ll be writing for myself.”
And that was that. Or words to that effect.
This is a dilemma Heaney also works through carefully in “Weighing In”, where he interrogates the efficacy (through the figure of the mocked and crucified Jesus), of “the power/Of power not exercised, of hope inferred//By the powerless forever”. Yet although it may be easy, in moral terms at least, to reject the gunman’s invitation to “drive a van/Carefully in to the next customs post”, it is also the case that, in a world where the balance no longer holds, the temptation to “Prophesy, give scandal, cast the stone” becomes harder to resist.
The great risk of this essay is that I analyze to death any love, affection, or appreciation anyone might have for the funny bits in Geoff Dyer’s books. My defense comes down to this: seeing as there are so many funny bits in his books, isn’t it odd that they get discussed so seldom? The comedy in Dyer’s oeuvre, it seems to me, is taken as a given, as the light ground to the text that allows the dark, serious, big stuff to stand forth.
That’s one risk, to add to the two general risks we admiring Dyer critics run. Firstly, of taking an academic approach to a writer who took such great delight in burning in disgust a collection of academic essays on D.H. Lawrence—“How could it have happened? How could these people with no feeling for literature have ended up teaching it, writing about it?” And secondly, of saying anything too directly complimentary about a writer who states he has “little instinct for personal reverence and, though I’ve not exactly been inundated with offers, I know I would hate to be revered myself.”
He does make it clear that it’s reverence for the person that is unacceptable. Reverence for the work is fine—for about ten seconds. Perhaps this would be a good point to bring in his line (I’m not quite sure where it originates, but it crops up in plenty of interviews) about writing an inch from life: “I like to write stuff that’s only an inch from life, from what really happened, but all the art is of course in that inch.”
Harriet Hall in The Skeptical Inquirer:
In 1800, conventional medicine was a disaster. Doctors weakened patients with bloodletting and purging, they poisoned them with mercury and other harmful substances, and they often killed more patients than they cured. Dr. Samuel Hahnemann was looking for safer, more effective ways to help his patients. He had an epiphany after he took a dose of cinchona bark and developed symptoms similar to those of malaria, the disease cinchona was supposed to treat. He extrapolated from this one observation to conclude that if any substance causes a symptom in healthy people it can be used to treat the same symptom in sick people. He formulated this as the first law of homeopathy,similia similibus curentur, usually translated as “like cures like.” He diluted his remedies so that they would no longer cause symptoms; this led to his second law of homeopathy, the law of infinitesimals, which states that dilution increases the potency of a remedy. When he observed that his remedies worked better during house calls than in his office, he attributed it to jostling in his saddle bags, so he added the requirement of “succussion,” specifying that remedies must be vigorously shaken (not stirred) by striking them against a leather surface at every step of dilution.
Homeopathic remedies are usually labeled with the notation X or C, corresponding to ten and one hundred. 15C would mean that one part of remedy was diluted in 100 parts of water, one part of the resulting solution was again diluted in 100 parts of water, and the process was repeated fifteen times. Hahnemann died before Avogadro’s number was available to calculate how many molecules are present in a volume of a chemical substance. Today we can calculate that by the thirteenth 1:100 dilution (13C), no molecules of the original substance remain. Hahnemann typically used 30C remedies.
Samira Shackle in New Statesman:
By now, you are probably familiar with the bare facts of the case. This morning, at around 10am local time (5am GMT), militants wearing army uniforms stormed a school in Peshawar, a violence-wracked city in Pakistan’s north-west. They killed children and teachers, taking others hostage. At present, the death toll stands at 126. The majority of the dead are aged between 12 and 16. Scores more are injured, and according to spokespeople for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which carried out the attack, hundreds are being held hostage – although the numbers are not verified. The Pakistani army says it has killed six terrorists and is searching for more. The operation is still ongoing. The Army Public School and Degree College teaches the children of military personnel as well as the children of civilians. The TTP says the attack is revenge for the Pakistani military’s current operation in the tribal areas of Pakistan; it claims it attacked a school “because the government is targeting our families and females”. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced since the military operation began in June. Operation Zarb-e-Azb (literally, “sharp strike”) aims to attack the power structure of the TTP and associated groups, and to clear out the militants’ safe haven once and for all. Since the start of the offensive, Pakistan has been waiting for the reprisal attacks that the group promised. But even in the blood-soaked context of Pakistan – a country that has lost well over 40,000 innocents to terrorist attacks since 2001 – this morning’s incident in Peshawar is shocking. It is difficult to match the sheer horror and senselessness of the mass slaughter of children. Perhaps aware of the potential damage to its cause, the TTP has said that its gunmen have been instructed “not to kill minor children”; scant comfort for the families of the scores of older children who have already been murdered.
...The question now is whether this incident will actually change anything. There is a chance that the sheer brutality of the event will answer some of the internal political debates about how best to tackle the terrorist threat. As recently as spring, the Pakistani government was pursuing talks with the Taliban, even as violent attacks across the country surged. Many in the mainstream political right wing still agitate for appeasement and negotiations rather than a military operation. And amongst the wider population, there is a fault-line of people who explicitly or tacitly support the actions of the TTP and associated groups, even as they suffer the effects of this campaign of terror. Some commentators have suggested that the sheer brutality of this assault will undermine the arguments of those who would like to see negotiations with the TTP, and will perhaps reduce that element of support amongst the wider populace.
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad in The Nation:
Pakistan suffers from an enduring sense of vulnerability that was born of the calamities that attended its creation. It was the trauma of partition that formed Pakistan’s national psyche. The new nation inherited all of British India’s security challenges but with a fraction of its resources. In the post-partition distribution of state assets, it got the short end of the stick. Its military was formed from the rump of the old British Indian Army. Handicapped and impoverished, it had to contend with a troubled western frontier where Afghanistan—the only country to vote against its admission to the United Nations—was making irredentist claims. Its eastern neighbor, India, bore it even less good will. Its most populous province, Bengal, was separated by over a thousand miles of hostile territory.
The latent threats were not long in materializing. Pakistan went to war with India over Kashmir shortly after partition. The partition protocols had given the subcontinent’s princely states the right to accede to Pakistan or India. Among these were three large Muslim-majority states: Junagadh, Hyderabad and Kashmir. India forcefully annexed the first two. The third had a Hindu maharaja ruling over a 77 percent Muslim population. In a controversial move, the British had awarded India a land corridor to Kashmir. Fearing that Kashmir would suffer the fate of Junagadh and Hyderabad, members of Pakistan’s military and political establishments conspired to infiltrate tribal militants into the valley. Alarmed by insurgent advances, the maharaja appealed to India’s British governor general, Lord Mountbatten, who agreed to intervene if the maharaja signed the instrument of accession. In short order, Indian troops marched in and beat back the tribesmen, triggering the first shooting war between the two nascent states. India appealed to the UN, and the Security Council passed Resolution 47, which called for an immediate cease-fire and a plebiscite to decide the future of Kashmir. The resolution was never implemented.
John Tierney in The New York Times:
Just be yourself. The advice is as maddening as it is inescapable. It’s the default prescription for any tense situation: a blind date, a speech, a job interview, the first dinner with the potential in-laws. Relax. Act natural. Just be yourself. But when you’re nervous, how can you be yourself? How you can force yourself to relax? How can you try not to try? It makes no sense, but the paradox is essential to civilization, according to Edward Slingerland. He has developed, quite deliberately, a theory of spontaneity based on millenniums of Asian philosophy and decades of research by psychologists and neuroscientists. He calls it the paradox of wu wei, the Chinese term for “effortless action.” Pronounced “ooo-way,”it has similarities to the concept of flow, that state of effortless performance sought by athletes, but it applies to a lot more than sports. Wu wei is integral to romance, religion, politics and commerce. It’s why some leaders have charisma and why business executives insist on a drunken dinner before sealing a deal. Dr. Slingerland, a professor of Asian studies at the University of British Columbia, argues that the quest for wu wei has been going on ever since humans began living in groups larger than hunter-gathering clans. Unable to rely on the bonds of kinship, the first urban settlements survived by developing shared values, typically through religion, that enabled people to trust one another’s virtue and to cooperate for the common good. But there was always the danger that someone was faking it and would make a perfectly rational decision to put his own interest first if he had a chance to shirk his duty. To be trusted, it wasn’t enough just to be a sensible, law-abiding citizen, and it wasn’t even enough to dutifully strive to be virtuous. You had to demonstrate that your virtue was so intrinsic that it came to you effortlessly. Hence the preoccupation with wu wei, whose ancient significance has become clearer to scholars since the discovery in 1993 of bamboo strips in a tomb in the village of Guodian in central China. The texts on the bamboo, composed more than three centuries before Christ, emphasize that following rules and fulfilling obligations are not enough to maintain social order.
These texts tell aspiring politicians that they must have an instinctive sense of their duties to their superiors: “If you try to be filial, this not true filiality; if you try to be obedient, this is not true obedience. You cannot try, but you also cannot not try.” That paradox has kept philosophers and theologians busy ever since, as Dr. Slingerland deftly explains in his new book, “Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity.” One school has favored the Confucian approach to effortless grace, which actually requires a great deal of initial effort.
Monday, December 15, 2014
by Tasneem Zehra Husain
Remember Plato's allegory about the cave? Prisoners, chained inside a cave, sit facing a blank wall with a fire lit behind. All they know of the world is through shadows cast on the wall, by whatever it is that moves between them and the fire. The entirety of their knowledge is constructed from observations of these moving silhouettes. For them, reality consists of flat images, devoid of color and and (three-dimensional) form.
But of course the fallacy must be exposed, and so one prisoner somehow breaks free of his shackles. He turns and sees the fire, and the objects that cast the shadows. Suddenly, he is confronted with things far more complex than he could have conceived, with qualities he lacks the vocabulary to describe. Should he venture out of the cave, his confusion and disorientation increases by several orders of magnitude. Bathed in light and color, he is assaulted by the unfamiliar sensory richness that surrounds him. Were he now told that he had been harboring a delusion his entire life, and that this is in fact reality, he would have a hard time wrapping his mind around it.
The point of this story, of course, is that we are prisoners of our experience. Imagination helps us explore extrapolations and combinations of the familiar, but what if there are things that lie beyond our ken? Who's to say that what we perceive isn't just a sliver of the whole truth? Plato's millennia old allegory remains relevant, because even now we are haunted by the insecurity that we might be missing out - that the universe is more than we can know. So here's an interesting twist: what if our perception adds a dimension, instead of slicing it out? How could that happen? Let me give you an example.
About twenty years ago, stereograms were all the rage. On the surface, these ‘Magic Eye' pictures were merely repeated patterns, but if you stared at them long enough and in the right way, a three-dimensional image would pop out of the paper. In case you haven't seen these before, here's one you can practice on.
The only advice I have to offer, if you're new to this, is that it generally works best if you hold the paper (or screen) relatively close to you. Beyond that, it just takes some patience. As with all illusions, once you've seen through it, it's much easier the second time around. (Hint: this particular stereogram hides a single word.)
But how do these images work? The answer lies in the way we perceive depth. As we look out onto the world, both our eyes form individual images, from their own spatially separated viewpoints. (To compare the difference between the image formed by one eye and the other, try holding a pencil up, a foot or so in front of you. First close one eye, and then the other. The pencil appears to move.) The brain processes both these images and combines the information to form a judgement about depth.
Stereograms create the illusion of depth by tricking the brain. Because of the repeated patterns, the eyes might each be looking at two distinct points, but be confused into thinking that they are the same. The brain, as it processes the images from each eye, assumes those two points should overlap and, as a result, conjures up an illusion of depth. So human physiology leads us to add a perceived dimension, even when it is not physically present.
By Namit Arora
On how caste patriarchy in urban India hijacks and distorts the reality of gender violence.
Delhi now lives in infamy as India’s ‘rape capital’. Two years ago a gruesome and fatal gang rape unleashed intense media and public outrage across India. Breaking some of their taboos and long silence around sexual assault, angry middle-class men and women marched in Delhi shouting ‘Death to Rapists!’ The parliament scrambled to enact tough new anti-rape laws.
Many Delhiites have since grown fearful of their city’s public spaces. Opposition politicians, spotting an emotionally charged issue, promised to make Delhi safe for women. Campaigning for the BJP, Narendra Modi told Delhiites last year, ‘When you go out to vote, keep in mind "Nirbhaya" who became a victim of rape.’ AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal even promised private security guards with ‘commando training’ in every neighborhood. All this might suggest that a rape epidemic has broken out in Delhi’s streets, alleys, and buses. Mainstream media outlets in India and abroad seem to agree.
Anyone trying to analyze the issue must at least ask: who are the rapists, where do they rape, and how common is rape in Delhi? The latest 2014 data on rape from Delhi Police is a great place to start, not the least because it challenges the conventional wisdom of Delhiites and their media and politicians. It shows that, as in other countries and consistent with previous years in Delhi, men known to the victims commit the vast majority of rapes—96 percent in Delhi. These men include friends, neighbours, ‘relatives such as brother-in-law, uncle, husband or ex-husband and even father.’ More than 80 percent of them rape inside the victim’s home or their own. Strangers commit only 4 percent of rapes, which are also likelier to be reported. Yet so many people fixate on this latter scenario and conclude from it that Delhi is unsafe for women to go out by themselves.
The hard truth is that sexual predators are not so much ‘out there’ in the faceless crowd but among the familiar ones. ‘Statistically speaking’, journalist Cordelia Jenkins wrote in Mint last year, ‘the problem [of rape in Delhi] is not on the streets at all, but in the home; the greatest threat to most women is not from strangers but from their own families, neighbours and friends.’ In other words, we ought to worry about rape less when women enter public spaces and more when they return home. Why do so few Indians—men and women, even policy makers and public figures—seem to realize this? Some feminists have argued that this wicked blend of pious concern with plain denial is the modus operandi of patriarchy itself.
So how common is rape in Delhi? The reported incidence, which drives the media and public fear and perception of this crime, is far lower than in every one of the 76 cities in a 2009 report from the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ). Delhi in 2012 reported 4 rapes per 100K population vs. 107 in Minneapolis, 88 in Cleveland, 58 in Philadelphia, 43 in Boston, 36 in Houston, and so on. Western European capitals are better on average than U.S. cities but not by much. Even in terms of other violent crimes like robbery and murder, Delhi is better than most of these 76 U.S. cities. Strangers this year committed about 8 rapes per month in Delhi, the second largest city in the world with 25 million people. In London, a third as populated as Delhi, strangers committed about 36 rapes per month—a rate 13X Delhi’s. By comparison, Delhi seems significantly safer for women. Other Indian metros are even safer than Delhi. Could this really be true?
Poet Builds a House
all that we are arises with our thoughts,
the Dhammapada says,
with our thoughts we make the world
…….thing one: tour the foundation,
…….scrape down its roughness
…….with the edge of a hammer head,
…….dis the mason who left behind a lumpy job,
…….who forgot what a trowel is for,
…….who was halfway home already when he bent into his forms
…….smoothing like a dilettante, fatigue calling the shots,
…….the day’s dregs, the ache in his legs
with our thoughts we make the world
…….two: eyeball the foundation top
…….to get a handle on what you’re up against
…….noting bulges humps and dips, or not—
…….with luck you've been left the work of a perfectionist
…….a Michelangelic cement mechanic
…….doing god’s work as he smoothed loose Portland
…….to a chalk line while in the background
…….the symphonic smell of oil-soaked wood
…….played to a concrete vibrator’s percussive drill
…….driving trapped air from aggregate,
…….time and chemistry turning wet concrete to stone
…….upon which a carpenter will set a sill
all that we are arises through our thoughts
…….three: set sill straight to lines struck on the top of the wall
…….parallel and square and fix with bolts
the world is made with thought
…….four: make cycles to the lumber pile grabbing two at a time
…….whip to shoulder and carry over sun-baked soil raising dust
…….until the need for sweat and beams has been fulfilled
…….and the house is framed by god’s good must
all that we are by thought arises, says the Dhammapada.
we make the world with thoughts
…….thus a house, conceived and brought about
…….by hammer blows in the skull of a carpenter
…….driving nails through a sawyer’s vision of cut joists
…….its walls and roof arranged in geometric imagination, arises
…….because, as the Dhammapada says,
…….the world is brought about by thought
with our thoughts the world arises
…….when you think about it (as the verse apprises
…….and Buddha taught)
…….our home —our world, is built by thought
by Jim Culleny
by S. Abbas Raza
A friend's wedding recently provided occasion for me to return to Karachi, the city of my birth and much of my fondly remembered childhood, after an absence of several years. Both my parents died a few years ago and the last member of my immediate family to have remained in Karachi, my older brother, also finally left some time ago. So, for the first time, I was faced with a decision about where to stay for the week I was going to be there. Several friends and relatives offered space in their houses but I decided that, since I needed to do some work while there, it would be better for me to rent a room in a hotel where I would have some privacy as well as reliable Internet. And then a friend suggested that I stay at the club where he is a member and which happens to be probably the most exclusive and oldest such club in Karachi. It was built by the British, of course, in 1871. A room was booked for me.
I arrived to find a large suite with a sitting room, bedroom, kitchenette, and bathroom, all with 14-foot ceilings and an air of somewhat faded grandeur but still one of unmistakable luxury in the colonial style. There was a staff of young men bustling about, eager to serve me in every way possible and to claim some small tip. Some lunch, sir? Would you like your shoes polished? Any shirts to be pressed? Someone told me of the various amenities available: among other things, tennis and squash courts, swimming pool, gym, saunas and steam baths with masseuses, a bistro, a formal dining room, and a nightly barbecue of fresh seafood and meats on the beautiful lawns, to which one can stroll in the evening sea breeze. Or one can order from room service if one prefers to dine in privacy. And all this is in the heart of Karachi, surrounded by high barbed-wire-topped walls and an elaborate security apparatus worthy of a small military base.
I liked it all in the beginning. One felt enclosed in a safe cocoon, in an otherwise notoriously dangerous city, where people magically appeared to take care of one's every need. I sent off some laundry to be washed and pressed and drank some Diet Pepsi from the minibar as I got set up on the Internet and hung up my good suit in the impressive wardrobe. I ordered a chicken karhai, some prawn masala and some rice and bread for lunch and had it in my room after taking a shower, and then I slept for a couple of hours in air-conditioned comfort while the staff darted around in the scorching heat making sure I and others like me had everything we needed. And I was happy. And then something changed.
by Akim Reinhardt
I still remember the first time I heard it. It was back in the late ‘90s, when I had cable. There was this openly gay guy, bald, a little overweight, a beard I think. He had some design show about sprucing up your house.
There weren't a lot of openly gay men on American TV back then. They were just breaking through into mainstream culture. There was the sitcom Will & Grace, and those five gay guys who taught straight men how to dress. Anyway, this guy, whose name I can't remember, was enough of a national sensation that Saturday Night Live spoofed him for a while.
I was sitting on my velour davenport watching cable TV. I flipped by his show. He was pointing out all the bric a brat cluttering a room and said: "I'm in tchotchke heaven."
Except he didn't say it right. He said choch-kee. Kinda rhymed with Versace. I cringed.
I was living in Nebraska at the time. I didn't have any real desire to move back to my native New York City, but there were certainly things I missed about it. After all, it was still the 20th century, before Manhattan had transformed into a playground for tourists and millionaires, and Brooklyn into an equivalent for the six-figure crowd.
Back then I would watch Law and Order repeats and really enjoy the opening segment where some bit characters would stumble across a corpse. Those people playing those bit characters often seemed liked they'd been plucked right off the street. I cherished little New York moments like that. The mere sight of fellow Bronx native Jerry Orbach as Detective Lennie Briscoe would make me wistful for the old days when Orbach did drug store commercials on local TV.
So to hear this hammie cable hack say choch-kee was like a kick in the gut. Stop mispronouncing my word, I thought. Then he said it again. I changed the channel.
Current show at Neue Galerie, NYC.
by Leanne Ogasawara
“.....all the charming and beautiful things, from the Song of Songs, to bouillabaisse, and from the nine Beethoven symphonies to the Martini cocktail, have been given to humanity by men who, when the hour came, turned from tap water to something with color in it, and more in it than mere oxygen and hydrogen.”
Acre is the smell of iodine and spices. Haifa is the smell of pine and wrinkled sheets. Moscow is the smell of vodka on ice. Cairo is the smell of mango and ginger. Beirut is the smell of the sun, sea, smoke, and lemons. Paris is the smell of fresh bread, cheese, and derivations of enchantment. Damascus is the smell of jasmine and dried fruit. Tunis is the smell of night musk and salt. Rabat is the smell of henna, incense, and honey. A city that cannot be known by its smell is unreliable. Exiles have a shared smell: the smell of longing for something else; a smell that resembles another smell. A panting, nostalgic smell that guides you, like a worn tourist map, to the smell of the original place.
Anyone who has ever taken the bridge across the water to Venice, knows that cities (no matter how close in proximity they might be to each other) have their own distinct and discrete smells. Venice smells swampy and sweaty and you notice it the minute you arrive; Bali is overwhelmingly of heavenly frangipani and temple incense; Hue like fish sauce and lotus, Saigon like warm bread and coffee (and I think it smells like spies too)-- each has their own beautiful colors and culture; their own spirit and fragrances. And, cityscapes –like landscapes—become the particular atmosphere to which those who live in these particular places become attuned.
by Bill Benzon
I am going to continue the psycho-cultural argument I introduced in my previous 3DQ post, American Craziness: Where it Came from and Why It Won’t Work Anymore. The core of my argument somes from an old article in which Talcott Parsons, one of the Grand Old Men of 20th century sociology, argues that life in Western nations generates a lot of aggressive impulses that cannot, however, be satisfied in any direct way. Rather those impulses must be redirected. Parsons was interested in how nationalist sentiment directed those impulses against external enemies, such as the Soviet Union, the Chinese, the North Vietnamese, Iraqi and the Taliban. But Parsons also recognized the existence of internal enemies, such as African-Americans from slavery up through and including the present day.
In that post I pointed out that the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s foreced Americans to redirect the aggressive impulses that had been absorbed in the Cold War. I argued that those impulses were focused, once again, on African Americans. Since then I’ve been reading danah boyd’s recent study of cyberculture, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (Yale UP 2014). I was struck by her argument that teens spend so much time online because they’re physical lives are restricted in way that mine had not been.
That prompted me to write Escaping on a Raft in Cyberspace, in which I agued, in effect, that some of the aggressive impulses that had been directed toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War have now become directed at our own young, with the Internet serving as the “trigger” for that redirection. I reprise that argument in the first section of this post. I go through Parsons’ argument in the second section, this time a bit more carefully. I wrap up that section by arguing that the logic of our response to teens in cyberspace is the same as our response to the bombing of the world trade center. In both cases anxiety caused by a real danger is amplified by repressed aggression resulting in actions that are inappropriate to their ostensible cause. In the final section I ask how can we, as a society, better distinguish between real danger and projected fantasies.
by Brooks Riley
by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash
Nobody gets paid enough in this country. Here's a statistic that will blow your head right out of your ass: if we were paid by how much we've increased our productivity over the last 30 years — in other words, if our wages kept pace with our productivity — the median household in America would, instead of earning just under $50,000 a year, make $92,000 a year.
That's $42,000 stolen from you every year.
You've become more valuable to your company by $42,000 a year, but they still pay you for the value you gave them way back in 1980.
$42,000 a year robbed from all of us.
By companies who keep what should be our wages as their profits.
And those profits are going nowhere. The money just sits there. Huge heaps of it. More than in all history. In 2009, US companies had $5.1 trillion in today's dollars in cash, sitting idle.
Money that could be put to work in the economy as wages to make people buy and spend so our economy could flourish.
Imagine how great an economy we'd have today if our median household income was $92,000 instead of $50,000.
There's got to be a law about this: when your productivity goes up, your pay should go up. Simple. The Pay-For-Productivity Bill.
Put it in Congress now.
The fact is this: we are a Walmart economy instead of a Ford economy.
Henry Ford paid his workers double the going rate because he wanted his workers to be able to buy the cars they made.
A virtuous circle.
But Walmart pays their workers so little, these workers have to go on foodstamps to get by. There should be a class action suit by all US tax payers: we want the $6.2 billion back that we give to Walmart workers every year out of our taxes in public assistance, because Walmart doesn't pay them enough to goddamn exist.
A very vicious circle — where we pay to help Walmart rip off its workers.
by Eric Byrd
A few years ago I found a copy of the 1990 English translation of Guido Ceronetti's The Silence of the Body: Materials for the Study of Medicine in a used bookstore's Humor section. Those are usually dead zones of joke books, cartoon compilations and political jesters, over which the eye skims. I had never before heard of Ceronetti, who on reading turned out to be my favorite kind of writer, an "admirable monster" like Baudelaire and Cioran, an anatomist who finds cheer in perfection of phrase, monstrous because he so elegantly exposes our monstrosities, and I have idly wondered, when drawn to my copy, hunting after a half-recalled aphorism, why the book had been put where it was, how this unclassifiable thing was so classified (a librarian, I think this way); and then, this week, while Googling for a cover image to insert into this column, I noticed that the dust jacket says, "Translated by Michael Moore." Michael F. Moore is a prize-winning translator from the Italian, of Manzoni, Moravia, Levi and Eco. Sub-sub-Borgesian mystery solved.
"Admirable monster" – by contemporary lights, sure, but by others, simply a humanist. In the world Ceronetti evokes, and to which he truly belongs, painters slice and study cadavers and the philosopher reads by Caravaggian candlelight, a skull at his elbow; the comedian is a poet of venereal and urologic affliction, and the tragedian devises serial slaughters and eulogistic pomp; and all who are literate transcribe remedies. It is a tradition increasingly macabre, marginal, and self-conscious as a society begins to believe in perfectibility, to conceal or euphemize bodily horrors, becomes accustomed to surgery as a polite profession and adopts the taboo of mortuary secrecy. As we suffer less visibly and live longer and hope more and more to defeat death, "the curse of dragging about a corpse" – what Cioran identified as the "very theme" of The Silence of the Body – recedes as a mainstay of literature.
by Josh Yarden
Translation has its limitations
how do you say...
we stumble, severely at times
We do not realize when we do not realize
understanding stands down
misunderstanding stands in
The translator pretends to be Superman
disguised as a reporter for the Daily Planet
able to leap tall constructs in a single bound
Translators transcend boundaries
across time and place
we have all sorts of advantages
Just one mysterious weakness
we are vulnerable to the substance of our planet
Kryptonite is a cryptic message
Once free of the burden of place
eternal outsiders are never stuck at home
odd ducks can swim in any lake or just fly away
by Matt McKenna
Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman is a gorgeous and wry dramedy about a 90s-era movie star attempting to regain relevancy in a media landscape to which he can no longer relate. This description may make the film out to be yet another highfalutin take on upper-class midlife crises in the 21st century, and perhaps to some extent that is true. However, as tempting as it is to read Birdman as a trite story about a rich guy having a tough go at it, the film is best understood as a metaphor for Hillary Clinton's rise to fame as the wife of President Bill Clinton and her subsequent struggle to realize her political potential in the subsequent years.
In Birdman, Michael Keaton plays Riggin Thompson, a Hollywood actor who may have some talent but has hitherto squandered it by performing in mass-market drivel, particularly in his career-defining role as a superhero wearing a bird costume. (The parallels to Keaton's own career-defining role as a superhero in Tim Burton's 1990s Batman films is an interesting footnote, however coincidental and irrelevant to the discussion at hand.) While apparently lucrative for Riggin, the fictional Birdman franchise typecasts him as an action movie buffoon rather than the impassioned, serious actor he sees himself as. To prove to his fans (and dare I say--himself?) that he is indeed a real actor with real creative talent, Riggin stages a Broadway rendition of Raymond Carver's short story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Riggin hopes that the intellectual nature of the story and the nuanced performances its stage adaptation requires will finally help him escape from behind the long shadow cast by the Birdman films.
Until 25th January, 2015
by Sue Hubbard
Some years ago I was commissioned by the Royal Academy magazine to write ‘a feminist appraisal' of Allen Jones' work. As an RA, Jones had the privilege of reading the piece before it went to press. Although he's referred to himself as a feminist on a number of occasions he seemed uncomfortable with this perspective. He vetoed the article and it was never published. I decided, therefore, to take the opportunity to revisit the work of this 77 year old pop artist to see if my response was any different a number of years on.
As I walked through the Royal Academy I remembered how the Viennese painter, Oscar Kokoschka, returned from the First World War to find that his lover Alma Mahler had married the founder of the Bauhaus school, Walter Gropius. To deal with his unrequited passion Kokoschka ordered the doll-maker Hermine Moos to make an exact, life-size replica of his ex. When the mannequin finally arrived, Kokoschka was horrified to find that, far from being life-like, it had furry limbs. Yet despite the doll's hirsute appearance they made trips to the opera, took long carriage rides and, it was said, had intimate rendezvous. Eventually Kokoschka threw a champagne party and afterwards wrote: "When dawn broke – I was quite drunk, as was everyone else – I beheaded it out in the garden and broke a bottle of red wine over its head."
Sunday, December 14, 2014
Ted Underwood, Hoyt Long, and Richard Jean So in Slate:
Six-hundred-page books about economics translated from French don’t usually become best-sellers. Part of the reason Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has been so widely read is that it refuses to be just a book about economics. It traces the history of economic inequality with graphs of wealth and income, arguing that the past several decades have seen soaring disparity between the 1 percent and the rest of us. But it also shows how inequality shaped individual lives with stories drawn from novels. When Piketty spoke to President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers in April, even they responded to the literary aspect of his work, quibbling over his interpretation of Balzac.
As literary historians, we’re thrilled to see economists arguing over details in a novel. But Piketty’s claims about fiction and inequality are important enough to probe in more depth, which is why we decided to test some of them on a scale only recently made possible by computers. Piketty’s account of literary history turns out to be wrong—but wrong in a way that casts a surprising new light on the way novels dorespond to the changing economic fortunes of people in the real world.
Novels by Balzac and Jane Austen matter for Piketty because they dramatize the immobility of a 19th-century world where inequality guaranteed more inequality—a world our own century is beginning to resemble once again. Since returns on capital were reliable, especially for large fortunes, the best way to get ahead was to start out ahead; income from labor could never catch up. The stability of 19th-century wealth is felt not only in plots that center on inheritance, but also, Piketty adds, in the references that flesh out a fictional world.
Sven Beckert in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
If capitalism, as many believe, is about wage labor, markets, contracts, and the rule of law, and, most important, if it is based on the idea that markets naturally tend toward maximizing human freedom, then how do we understand slavery’s role within it? No other national story raises that question with quite the same urgency as the history of the United States: The quintessential capitalist society of our time, it also looks back on long complicity with slavery. But the topic goes well beyond one nation. The relationship of slavery and capitalism is, in fact, one of the keys to understanding the origins of the modern world.
For too long, many historians saw no problem in the opposition between capitalism and slavery. They depicted the history of American capitalism without slavery, and slavery as quintessentially noncapitalist. Instead of analyzing it as the modern institution that it was, they described it as premodern: cruel, but marginal to the larger history of capitalist modernity, an unproductive system that retarded economic growth, an artifact of an earlier world. Slavery was a Southern pathology, invested in mastery for mastery’s sake, supported by fanatics, and finally removed from the world stage by a costly and bloody war.
Some scholars have always disagree with such accounts. In the 1930s and 1940s, C.L.R. James and Eric Williams argued for the centrality of slavery to capitalism, though their findings were largely ignored. Nearly half a century later, two American economists, Stanley L. Engerman and Robert William Fogel, observed in their controversial book Time on the Cross(Little, Brown, 1974) the modernity and profitability of slavery in the United States. Now a flurry of books and conferences are building on those often unacknowledged foundations. They emphasize the dynamic nature of New World slavery, its modernity, profitability, expansiveness, and centrality to capitalism in general and to the economic development of the United States in particular.
Read the rest here.
Serge Schmemann in The New York Times:
There is no way that the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the C.I.A. could have been anything less than devastating, but at least it could have been a demonstration of how a great democracy confronts terrible acts it committed at a time of high stress and confusion, how it acknowledges the wrong and seeks ways to prevent it from ever happening again. Yet even before the report was released, it had been relegated to fodder in the tedious and agonizingly petty partisan squabbling that has become the norm in Washington. Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the committee, deserves great credit for her perseverance in having at least the executive summary of the report released despite the resistance of Republicans and the timidity of the White House.
...The head of the C.I.A., John O. Brennan, and other apologists for the agency are now arguing that the interrogators were “patriots,” and that the problem consisted of some officers who went “outside the bounds” of the rules. But if the people who ordered, justified and inflicted the waterboarding, “rectal hydration” and the like were patriots, why did the White House keep it secret even from members of its own administration? The report cites a striking internal C.I.A. memo relaying instructions from the White House to hide the program from then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, because he would “blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s going on.” That the White House felt compelled to withhold the C.I.A.’s clandestine activities from a distinguished soldier who was serving as its own secretary of state is a clear indication that those who ordered these abuses knew perfectly well what they amounted to.
Corner of 50th St. and Fifth Av.
Taking my usual walk
I run into sirens flashing red, turning
and a small crowd
watching the dark-haired man
with the thin mustache,
PR about 30
maricón, a voice in the crowd shouts.
Two uniforms have his head
wedged down in the gap
between the bucket seats,
red sirens turning turning
just over his head.
Another pulls down his pants
holds him tight around the waist
the fourth pummels
the pale orbs over and over
till the PR's face is flushed
the cop's fist red
the sirens turning turning.
The first two look bored
eyes drifting slowly
over the crowd
not meeting our eyes.
He just thud got out thud of jail
I hear a Rican say
thud, the cop's arms like baseball bats.
Finally the thuds end.
They pull his head out of the crack,
pull pants over livid cheeks,
manacled hands going down
to cover his buttocks
the sirens turning turning
I wade through the thick air thinking
that's as close as they let themselves get
to fucking a man, being men.
by Gloria Anzaldúa
from Borderlands/La Frontera, The New Mestiza
Aunt Lure Books, San Francisco, 1999