Monday, October 20, 2014
by Grace Boey
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Internet trolls. I’d always been vaguely aware of their presence, and had read some articles here and there about the threats they pose to constructive debate—but I never truly realized the full nature of their pestilence until I had to deal with them myself. Since I started publicly writing and commenting online, I’ve encountered abusive, non-constructive comments and emails on an increasingly frequent basis. I also co-manage an atheist social media page; I’m not the direct target of the trolls that lurk here, thankfully, but I do have to trawl through their vile comments, where they often abusively attack (or embarrass) causes I care about deeply.
Naturally, none of this has been good for my blood pressure. Last month, I became irritated enough to start work on a long exposition of online trolling—in the process, targeting specific trolls I’d personally encountered. Yes, hell hath no fury like a woman trolled, and I spent more time than I’d care to admit compiling comprehensive records of at least three of these individuals’ online activities. I even uncovered the physical, non-virtual identity of one of them.
You’d think I’d be happy for striking troll-hunter’s gold. Yet, the more I wrote and uncovered, the less I wanted to publish a piece bashing trolldom in general, let alone one that put specific individuals on the spot. Though I was pleased with the quality of the article, I refrained from running it. And very fortunately so—a couple of weeks after the piece would have been published, the Brenda Leyland troll-exposing controversy erupted.
Here’s what I've come to think: there’s very strong reason to believe that many compulsive Internet trolls need our active help. The impersonality of the internet makes it easy for them to dehumanize others, but for this same reason, it’s also easy for us to completely dehumanize them. But we must resist this temptation. Who are the people behind these monikers and computer screens, really? Why do they thrive on trolling, and why on earth don't they have anything better to do? How did they become this way? When we really stop to think about these questions, a disturbing social and psychological picture emerges. Virtual trolls may be a problem as much to their human selves as they are to their human victims.
Walter Johnston. Flaky Thorn Acacia. Timbavati, South Africa, 2014.
On safari in August we were told that a "gall making wasp" injects a kind of growth hormone into the thorn to make it expand (see below) and thus provide a well protected nourishing home for its eggs.
I have not been able to corroborate this. If someone else can, I'd love to learn.
Here's the best I have found:
"Myrmecophilous acacia are found in Eastern Africa and Mesoamerica ...
...They develop some to most of their stipular spines into inflated, globose, ovoid, fusiform or thick cyclindrical armatures. Their spines look like galls or horns leading to species names like White swollen thorn acacia (=A. bussei), Black-galled acacia (A. malacocephala), Hairy-galled acacia (=A. mbuluensis), Bull`s Horn acacia, or Ant-galled acacia also called Whistling thorn acacia
The swollen thorns are genetically fixed. They are not randomely generated by the sting of an insect, like the galls produced by a wasp that injects her chemicals into a leaf, which then forms galls. Therefore the so-called gall-thorns are not real galls.
The fresh thorn is drilled open by an ant queen. Then it is carved out and she lays her eggs inside, starting a new colony ...
The obligate mutualistic Acacia-ants (Pseudomyrex in Mesoamerica and Crematogaster in Africa) protect the plant in different ways: they fiercly attack browsing mammals, ravaging insects and epiphytic vines. They prevent any twig from neighbouring trees to touch their host – to prevent hostile ants from invading their tree. For the same reason they cut shoots of their tree that develop too far towards the canopy of neighboring trees."
Walter Johnston. Swollen thorn of the Flaky Thorn Acacia. Timbavati, South Africa, 2014.
More on acacias here.
Photographs posted with permissin from Walter Johnston.
by Bill Benzon
“The interests of humanity may change, the present curiosities in science may cease, and entirely different things may occupy the human mind in the future.” One conversation centered on the ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.
In scientific prognostication we have a condition analogous to a fact of archery--the farther back you are able to draw your longbow, the farther ahead you can shoot.
R. Buckminster Fuller, Critical Path
Let’s get started:
- A week ago The Guardian published a long piece in which Pankaj Mishra argued that the Western world no longer provides a model the rest of the world should or even can follow, if it ever had.
- A couple of weeks ago polymath David Byrne asserted that he’d lost interest in contemporary art, feeling it had devolved into “inoffensive tchotchkes for billionaires and the museums they fund,” a sentiment that the late Robert Hughes had been promulgating for some years.
- Back in 1996 science journalist John Horgan published The End of Science, in which he argued that many fields of science had reached a point where they were no longer intellectually productive. The big problems had been solved, more or less, and further investigations seemed to be running in circles without any clear sense of progress.
Not only am I sympathetic which each of these ideas, I think they all reflect the same underlying cause: the wellsprings of old ideas – about social organization, artistic expression, and scientific explanation, certainly, but also about fiction, legal codes, economics, education, music, gender and family, and a host of others – have run dry and new ones have not yet been discovered.
I’m quite familiar with this phenomenon in the case of literary studies, where I received my graduate training. The French landed in Baltimore in the Fall of 1966 and catalyzed three decades of intellectual invention. The invention all but stopped about twenty years ago, leaving literary studies afflicted with a sense of malaise that goes deeper than budget cuts and umbrage taken at silly articles in which humorists of The New York Times take potshots at papers presented at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association.
How could new ideas just stop? Have people gotten stupid or is something else going on? If so, what?
Lauren Davis extemporizes about how astronauts became known as gods:
The stories told of ancient beings so powerful that they could fling themselves into space and explore the points of light in the heavens. When Lady Adelaide moved into one of their unused crafts, many called it blasphemy. She called it research.
by Leanne Ogasawara
That's what I wanted to tell him about. But the evening when I finally had my chance to chat with a former astronaut and now NASA leader, I had lost my voice.
He was standing there holding court about the state of science education in the country. He was also discussing the lack of political vision, and I thought how the level of this decline came with an astounding --and perhaps corresponding-- level of malaise. Looking back, other than World War II and perhaps the country's early days of Revolutionary politics, has anything truly excited and united people here more than scientific innovation and the space program? Apropos of this, not so long ago a friend, who had just turned 50, listed in a Facebook post several of what he considered to be the highlights of his half century on earth-- and of eight great achievements, three were space related (and of the other five, only one, the eradication smallpox, was even serious).
Yes, space is exciting. It also generates wonder in people--especially children.
So, how could we let it decline?
Manned missions to Mars is the next big dream it seems. Not surprisingly, when the Dutch non-profit outfit Mars One held open applications for new astronauts, the largest group by far to apply were Americans--and this was for a one-way mission!
One could argue that discovery is something that is inherently part of the human condition and that space is just in our blood. So, also not surprisingly, the former astronaut mentioned above spoke excitedly about Mars. "A human astronaut can do what it took the robotic rover to do in a long day in under twenty minutes," he said. "And, let's face it, Mars is the only place humans could possibly live," he continued.
by Josh Yarden
I just finished reading the end of the Five Books of Moses, again, and even though I did not read the entire five books this year, or any other year for that matter, I have already started over from the beginning. This past week was the festival of Simchat Torah, dedicated to celebrating our connection to the text we have come to know as the first five books of the Bible. It marks the end of the cycle of weekly readings, and the beginning of the renewed cycle. We went strait from the account of Moses' passing (at the end of the Book of Deuteronomy) to the meditation on the creation of the world (at the beginning of the Book of Genesis), as though that is the natural order of the verses in a Torah scroll.
Each year is a new beginning in the cycle of Torah reading, but even if you were to read the 79,847 words of a complete Torah scroll, even if that is all you did all year, you would still have skipped over much of what there is to find there. There is always more there than previously met the eye, because the nearly eighty thousand words are presented in prose poems. Scratch the surface, and even the seemingly mundane legalistic sections are bursting with metaphor, wordplay, and oblique references to other parts of the text.
Revisiting the text is never quite returning to the same text. The words remain the same, but since a year has passed, or perhaps many, the reader is never quite the same as during a previous read. The old text now exists within a new context. As we approach familiar stories with additional sensibilities, we can gain something new each time we read it again. Many passages of Torah can be understood more deeply over time. Here is one illustration of how a story that will be coming around again soon is given to multiple interpretation.
A young person reading the story of the binding of Isaac might imagine being tied down on an altar and prepared for sacrifice by a parent. Reading the same words as the parent of a young child makes it quite a different story. What could possess a person to even consider the possibility of sacrificing a child? Abraham was somehow stopped from committing the act of ritual slaughter, but that moment is nonetheless the last time that Abraham and Isaac speak or meet face to face in the biblical narrative. Indeed, later rabbinic writings retell the story as though Abraham had actually sacrificed his son.
Studying the biblical text anew provides some insight as to how the story could be understood that way. There are things we sacrifice, metaphorically speaking. People are at times among the ‘sacrifices' we make. Even though we do not physically cut them down, we do at times give up on people for various reasons, perhaps regrettably so. The parent of a young adult might come to wonder if in some sense, he had not in effect 'sacrificed' a relationship with a son or daughter on the 'altar' of something previously held with a blindly driven commitment… a career, or something even more frivolous. After sufficient damage is done, it may be too late to repair the relationship.
by Brooks Riley
There was a time when American football was played without helmets, and there was a time when Dracula's best trick involved opening doors with his mind. Since those early days, however, both American football and the Dracula films have taken a turn for the extreme, and their body counts have increased as a result. That's not to say the days of yore were without death: football killed nineteen college athletes in 1905 and the Dracula character murdered a literal boatload of people in 1922's Nosferatu. But both the NFL and the Dracula films have clearly dialed up their intensity in the past decade to the detriment of both players' health and horror audiences' entertainment. It is therefore no surprise that these two institutions have become reflections of each other, entangled particles reacting in tandem to the pressure of consumerism that demands more/bigger/louder of everything upon that which it fixates. Indeed, the latest Dracula film, Dracula Untold, is a clear metaphor for the modern day NFL, an undead sports league that stalks the entertainment landscape leaving not two puncture wounds on the necks of its victims but rather chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the rattled brains of its players. Though the league currently has over a hundred million viewers in the United States, one has to wonder if football's dire health risks and the NFL's byzantine rules designed to protect players will eventually lead to the sport's eventual irrelevance in the same way that Dracula Untold's absurd death toll and convoluted mythology makes the film unwatchable.
The first on-screen appearance of Dracula in the 1922 silent German film Nosferatu technically wasn't an appearance by Dracula at all--the vampire was renamed Count Orlok in an attempt to avoid copyright infringement after the producers were unable to secure the rights to Bram Stoker's novel. But whatever. Dracula's/Count Orlok's powers are few and mainly limited to telekinetically opening and shutting things like doors and coffin lids--a cool trick for sure, but nothing compared to titular Transylvanian's abilities in Dracula Untold. Not satisfied with merely controlling doorways or converting the innocent living into the vile undead, the latest iteration of Dracula can summon the entirety of the planet's bats and hurl them at invading armies like an ICBM from an aircraft carrier. He also possesses a set of powers similar to Superman's including incredible strength, speed, endurance, flight, and so forth. That said, there are a few downsides to being a vampire in the Dracula Untold universe, mainly having to do with the fiending for human blood and the inability to go outside on a sunny day. Tradeoffs.
by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash
What is it about Ebola and America? We have fewer cases than you can count on one hand of this horrible disease, among a nation of 300 million plus, and we're freaking out as if ISIS has landed and beheaded everyone in Congress (not a bad idea, actually, they'd be doing us all a favor).
And now our President has gone and appointed an Ebola czar. What is this new Czar supposed to do? Go and comfort the families of the one dead from Ebola and the couple of others now in hospital? Big job. Jeez, why is our President acting like a scare-mongered wimp himself? He is supposed to be the grownup in the room. One would expect him to say something like this:
"My dear Americans,
Take a chill pill. Ebola is not a threat to our nation. The Republican Party is a bigger threat, the way they stand against raising the minimum wage for our folks who need to get food stamps even though they're working all day. Why do Americans who actually work have to earn so little that they can't even feed themselves? And why are we subsidizing Walmart and McDonalds who pay their employees so little they need food stamps? Walmart is costing you over $6 billion a year out of your taxes you pay in public assistance to their employees. Ebola is the least of our problems. Ignore it. I do. No need to act like a bunch of hysterical wimps. Let the GOP do that. They're good at being wimps. It's the other side of their coin. They act like wimps because they're bullies. So why don't you go out in November and vote against them? I need Congress back on my side so we can actually make some laws that will benefit the American people."
But no. Obama, unprincipled politician that he is, has his finger to the wee fart of any slight political breeze, and he now appoints an Ebola czar so people will think he's doing something about something that's actually not worth a president's attention, or any American's.
But that's how Obama rolls. He has now decided he needs to degrade ISIS, because they beheaded some folks, and we Americans, hysterical wimps that we are, are all upset about it.
What Obama forgets is that everyone in the Middle East loves ISIS. Turkey loves them because ISIS kills Kurds. Assad loves them because they make even him look good. Israel loves them because they make the Arabs look like barbarians. Shia-dominated Iraq loves them because they give the Shia a good reason to kill more Sunnis. Iran loves them because their success makes Iraq more dependent on Iran. Saudi-Arabia loves them because they kill Shias. ISIS is exactly what the Middle East needs, and for us to degrade them, is exactly what the Middle East doesn't need.
To quote Obama, for us to take on ISIS is getting involved in a "dumb war." We could be using ISIS to buy cheaper oil from them, which is the best way we have of taking advantage of their existence. That would be proper realpolitik.
by Eric Byrd
A few years ago Slate's culture editor David Haglund posted a piece called "Marilynne Robinson, the Terrence Malick of the Literary World." Malick and Robinson, he said, are kindred artists. They share a pattern of striking debuts, mid-career hiatus, and late fertility; also, an unfashionable theological seriousness, and a deep attention to the connectedness of all life, a view of nature as a "shining garment in which God is concealed and revealed." After happening upon Robinson's 1989 polemic Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution at a time when I was obsessed with Malick's latest film (and his first set in the present of filming) To the Wonder, I would add that their similar preoccupation with wholeness means a similar horror at environmental pollution, and a desire to remind their audiences that, all being connected, those who exploit the environment exploit their fellow man; and that the immediate toxic aftermath, and the red-handed schemes of disposal, first harm the poor and powerless.
In Mother Country Robinson situates the blithe disposal of nuclear waste in the Irish sea and the contamination of Cumbria within Britain's tradition of "expropriation and immiseration" of its poor, from the Poor Laws, to the displacements of industrialization, to the contemptuous coercions of the welfare state. To the Wonder was filmed in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, a town in which Malick lived part of his childhood, a town on the edge of a contaminated zone that embraces northeastern Oklahoma, and parts of Kansas and Missouri. A century of unrestricted lead and zinc mining (privileged war industries, supplying lead shot for the Civil War and shell casings for the World Wars) resulted in generations of intellectually delayed or disabled schoolchildren, cancer-ridden adults, and a landscape undermined by excavations and dotted with "chat piles," hillocks of granular lead-laced waste on which miner's families used to picnic. Ben Affleck's character, Neil, an environmental scientist, is shown climbing one. Within the zone, Picher, Oklahoma, was in 2009 entirely abandoned – its 1,600 residents paid to leave – and now stands as a ghost town. Robinson was born and raised in Sandpoint, Idaho, near the Coeur d'Alene Basin, another condemned zone of lead-zinc mines.
To the Wonder is so exciting a development because it is a masterful integration of the autobiographical past and the social present. On first viewing I thought it was about hydraulic fracturing, "fracking" – which it is. Past pollutions inform ours. In the United States, for the sake of "energy independence" state governments, with the tacit approval of the Federal, are knowingly poisoning hundreds of rural communities. One of the most striking sequences of To the Wonder is Neil's survey of an endangered neighborhood. His presence, and the invasive intimacy of his work – locks are snipped from young hair, and bagged as specimens; excavators claw the properties – draws a crowd, fearful, agitated, almost hostile. They are sick and want to know why. A priest played by Javier Bardem despairs before the diseased and immiserated flock.
by Sabeen Mahmud
Twenty-four years ago, I fell in love for the first time—with a Macintosh Plus computer which profoundly altered the course of my life and was significant in shaping my anti-establishment, anti-war, pro-freedom worldview. It became an invaluable portal into myriad subcultures, from beat poetry to the Yippies, fuelled by the dark meanderings of Pink Floyd.
After college, I spent the next several years developing multimedia products, exploring the intersection between technology, art, literature, and music. But, by the mid-2000s, I was getting increasingly restless. Karachi was a cesspool of chaos. People were leaving in droves, our politicians continued to make promises they had no intention of fulfilling, and the country lurched from one military dictatorship to another. It was a depressing time and my first moment of existential crisis. Disillusioned, I agreed to an offer to move to Delhi.
Whilst waiting for my visa to come through, I started fantasizing. What would it take to create a space that espoused liberal, secular values through its programming and projects?
The next day, the conversation moved out of my head and onto a whiteboard. I sketched out a fantasy space: a large open courtyard for theatre, dance, spoken word and improv performances, readings, talks, and film screenings. All around the courtyard would be smaller rooms for workshops and events, a bookshop, a coffeehouse, studios for artists and designers, shops for artisans to showcase their work, and a bed-and-breakfast that would pull in some income to subsidize operations. With Rs. 12,000 (about US $113) in my bank account, I ran a check on the cost of land through my estate agent who gave a ridiculous, astronomical figure which paralyzed me into inaction for months.
Toward the end of 2006, I was walking up the stairs to my office and the penny dropped. I realized that the grownups were right: I should start small, test, and iterate. So, trained by those key people in my life – my mother Mahenaz and my mentor Zak, I took a leap of faith and relinquished my Dehli plan to cater to my lofty ambitions settling on an 1800 square feet office, with an open(ish) on the second floor of a building.
Finding some money
I had decided that this little social enterprise in the making was to be a not-for-profit venture and with that model, raising capital from investors or getting a bank loan approved was not an option. We had Rs. 1,000,000 (about US $9,400) stashed for my grandmother's health fund. With her consent, I used the money to get things going.
In January 2007, we christened The Second Floor (T2F). After some quick consultations and brainstorming, PeaceNiche was born and T2F became its first project.
The target launch date for T2F was set for May 2007.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Justin E. H. Smith in his own blog:
There was a war here not long ago. Mass graves were filled by the bodies of people whose loved ones, the survivors, are still walking around, selling vegetables and bus tickets, huddling and smoking. This war was the expression of a sort of popular will, and it was part of a process of geopolitical realignment that ought to be of significant interest to self-identified Westerners, yet is not. Neither Samuel Huntington, nor Sam Harris, nor Bill Maher, nor anyone even lower among the pundits whose reptilian lobes do not just kick in in moments of distress, but whose careers in fact depend on the continuous buzzing of these lobes: none of these people, I note, ever care to acknowledge, in their professional performances of Islamophobia, that what is perhaps the most Americanophile country in the world is also a Muslim country.
Books by disillusioned physicians reveals a corrosive doctor-patient relationship at the heart of our health-care crisis
Meghan O'Rouke in The Atlantic:
For someone in her 30s, I’ve spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices and hospitals, shivering on exam tables in my open-to-the-front gown, recording my medical history on multiple forms, having enough blood drawn in little glass tubes to satisfy a thirsty vampire. In my early 20s, I contracted a disease that doctors were unable to identify for years—in fact, for about a decade they thought nothing was wrong with me—but that nonetheless led to multiple complications, requiring a succession of surgeries, emergency-room visits, and ultimately (when tests finally showed something was wrong) trips to specialists for MRIs and lots more testing. During the time I was ill and undiagnosed, I was also in and out of the hospital with my mother, who was being treated for metastatic cancer and was admitted twice in her final weeks.
As a patient and the daughter of a patient, I was amazed by how precise surgery had become and how fast healing could be. I was struck, too, by how kind many of the nurses were; how smart and involved some of the doctors we met were. But I was also startled by the profound discomfort I always felt in hospitals. Physicians at times were brusque and even hostile to us (or was I imagining it?). The lighting was harsh, the food terrible, the rooms loud. Weren’t people trying to heal? That didn’t matter. What mattered was the whole busy apparatus of care—the beeping monitors and the hourly check-ins and the forced wakings, the elaborate (and frequently futile) interventions painstakingly performed on the terminally ill. In the hospital, I always felt like Alice at the Mad Hatter’s tea party: I had woken up in a world that seemed utterly logical to its inhabitants, but quite mad to me.
Shougat Dasgupta in The Caravan:
Who speaks, and who is being spoken for, have always been loaded questions for postcolonial novelists. If a nation is, at least in part, imagined into being through feats of storytelling, the storyteller acquires a kind of authority over the soul, such as it is, of the nation. For a certain kind of postcolonial novelist—say, VS Naipaul—the novel must remain an unfinished business: the protagonist cannot develop beyond a certain point; he is stunted and half-formed, like his nation. For another kind of postcolonial novelist—say Hanif Kureishi—it is the former imperial centre that seems half-formed; no longer cocksure, forced to cede ground to the immigrant, or at least to the immigrant’s children, to reconcile itself to a new order. For Naipaul’s failed nationalists and doomed Third World intellectuals, emigration and self-exile is necessary penance; for Kureishi’s first generation Londoners, the baggage of their parents’ histories, the baggage of the ‘home’ country has to be sloughed off so that a new kind of English person can be created. Other postcolonial novelists writing in English have also taken up the theme of finding, creating and claiming a place in new national communities.
Ideas of home and belonging are hardly particular to postcolonial or migrant literature. Novels, from Don Quixote on, have been preoccupied with the radical act of leaving home on journeys and quests, followed by a return; the protagonist fundamentally changed, matured by having lived a little. Home and away: you need the one to recognise the other. The English novel developed in the eighteenth century, alongside an empire expanding ever further afield. Englishness was confronted by foreignness, and the outlandish travel narrative was among the most popular literary genres of the time. Stories, Edward Said wrote in Culture and Imperialism, “are at the heart of what explorers and novelists say about strange regions of the world; they also become the method colonised people use to assert their own identity and the existence of their own history.”
The novel has been a way of asserting and establishing individual and national identity, of making coherent what seems incoherent, of answering (or failing to answer) essential questions: Who are you? Where do you come from? What is your place in society? For a writer like Salman Rushdie, the loss of home can be assuaged by restoring the past “whole, in CinemaScope and glorious Technicolor,” as he wrote in the essay ‘Imaginary Homelands,’ and by creating “Indias of the mind.” Rushdie, for a while, offered hybridity, the double perspective, as a happy alternative to Naipaul’s baleful gloom.
Sophia Nguyen in The Point:
In the dog days of August, two books about the Ivy League landed comfortably on the New York Times bestseller list. One was William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep. The other was Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s Land. Despite their disparate genres, the nonfiction tract ends up in fantasy, while the escapist entertainment roots itself in reality—and both are invested in the drama of gifted children.
Heavily quoting emails and essays from his former students at Yale, Deresiewicz’s higher-ed polemic takes down elite colleges and the adults they produce—zombies with status anxiety where their curiosity and humanity used to be. Rather than challenge students with a rigorous education, Deresiewicz argues, the Ivy League and other elite colleges now promote a narrow notion of success. It begins with admissions offices, which have become inhumanly ruthless sorting machines further stratifying the upper class. Having selected for a certain breed of strivers, the schools then encourage their students to become a conformist herd, seeking meaning in credentials. Failing to find that meaning, the hunger only intensifies.
By contrast, the Magicians trilogy is a fantasy series about young wizards. Its protagonist, Quentin Clearwater, attends a magical college and later discovers a land he’d thought was only imaginary: Fillory, a magic kingdom from his favorite childhood book. Over three books, Quentin gains and abdicates a throne, meets a dragon, learns how to wield a sword and brings his first love back from a fate worse than death. But he is also the ur-sheep: a standard-issue, passably polymathic high schooler who does nothing more or less extraordinary than gain admission to an exclusive college. Amidst all the defensive noise made by Ivy Leaguers rebutting Deresiewicz with their personal stories, the Magicians trilogy furnishes him with a kind of confirming anecdote. It may be pure coincidence that the two were published within a week of each other, but they are symbiotically linked—and so are their fates.
Ali Mobasser in lensculture:
Afsaneh was born on the 28th of March 1957 in Tehran, Iran. She grew up with her parents and her older brother Afshin (my father). Her father was an army general who had been Chief of The National Police between 1963 and 1970 and had proceeded to become Head of Civil Defence and Deputy Prime Minister of Iran until 1979. The children lived a happy and privileged life, going to the best schools and spending their holidays in their villa by the sea.
In 1979, The Islamic Revolution of Iran changed the course of their lives forever. Their properties and assets in Iran were seized by the new establishment and my grandfather went into hiding to avoid capture and execution. Afsaneh had returned to Iran from London where she was studying to be with her mother who was dying of cancer. My grandfather, risking his life, made a visit to his wife's hospital bedside to say his final goodbye before fleeing Iran. She passed away three months later at 47. Afsaneh joined her father in the United Kingdom where they were to seek asylum. Neither were to ever return to Iran. My father arrived in London in 1983 (having separated from my mother). In the summer of 1985, at the age of eight, my mother sent me to London from Mission Viejo, California where I had been living. Afsaneh and my father raised me in Afsaneh's two bedroom flat in Putney, south-west London where I was to share a room with my father until leaving home at eighteen.
Noam Scheindlin in Warscapes:
The 17th Century Kabbalist, Nathan of Gaza, speculated that before the world came into being, there were, in the endlessness of existence, two lights: the one, active, thinking, with the impetus to create; the other passive, concealed and full in itself. When the first light contracted itself to make room for creation, the second light resisted and remained unmoved. It is this second light that became the force we think of as evil in the world. In this new poem by Meena Alexander, which, she tells us, was written during the recent bombing of Gaza, while she was reading the poet Nellie Sachs, nothing seems to hold still, as unity and becoming vie for the world.
When the instruments of war are melted into fish hooks,
When the factories of death are finally stilled
When evil is swallowed up in a hot wind
That strikes our names into the base of the uncharted sea,
A garden fed by the streams of longing will rise up.
In limestone crannies the forget- me- not takes root
And how quickly the sky- blue agapanthus,
Flower of all love, restores itself.
Search for the laurel -- tree of flight and metamorphosis,
Bruised alphabets are cut into its bark,
They shine with red resin, glow in the dark.
In the shade of that tree you will find your child.
His clothing wet with sea salt
He crouches, picture book in hand, utterly bewildered,
A kite string tangled in his hair.
Go find him there, Beloved, wordless, waiting.
The Men Who Wear My Clothes
Sleepless I lay last night and watched the slow
Procession of the men who wear my clothes:
First, the grey man with bloodshot eyes and sly
Gestures miming what he loves and loathes.
Next came the cheery knocker-back of pints,
The beery joker, never far from tears,
Whose loud and public vanity acquaints
The careful watcher with his private fears.
And then I saw the neat mouthed gentle man
Defer politely, listen to the lies,
Smile at the tedious tale and gaze upon
The little mirrors in the speaker's eyes.
The men who wear my clothes walked past my bed
And all of them looked tired and rather old;
I felt a chip of ice melt in my blood.
Naked I lay last night, and very cold.
by Vernon Scannell
Saturday, October 18, 2014
In a series of dispatches from this tantalizing world of “more or less,” Gottland chronicles the history of the Czech Republic in the twentieth century. Each of its seventeen chapters focuses on one or more individual figures—Tomáš Bata, a self-made billionaire; Lina Baatová, an actress who became the lover of Josef Goebbels; Karel Gott, the wildly popular crooner who lends his name to the book’s title—all of whom were caught up and tangled in the unfortunate net of their country’s history. During the last century, the Czech Republic was occupied first by the Germans, then by the Russians, and now by the specters of those years. In his nuanced portrait of a nation, Szczygieł poses questions as critical to literature as they are to history: how should one act when oppressed? To what extent is compromise necessary, justified, or cowardly?
The Czechs compromised; like many small nations, they had very little choice. The alternative was annihilation. “This we know,” Szczygieł writes, “in order to survive in unfavorable circumstances, a small nation has to adapt. It has carried this down from the days of the Habsburgs and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.” The Czechs, Gottlandtestifies, have proved to be remarkably resilient—Hitler is said to have shouted in a rage, “The Czechs are like cyclists—they hunch their upper bodies, but pedal below!”—yet adaptation has had its price, and its scars are no less painful for being invisible.
According to Teachout, however, it’s much worse than this. Our current Supreme Court, in Citizens United, “took that which had been named corrupt for over 200 years” — which is to say, gifts to politicians — “and renamed it legitimate.” Teachout does not exaggerate. Here is Justice Kennedy again, in the Citizens United decision: “The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach. The government has ‘muffle[d] the voices that best represent the most significant segments of the economy.’ ”
You read that right: The economy needs to be represented in democratic politics, or at least the economy’s “most significant segments,” whatever those are, and therefore corporate “speech,” meaning gifts, ought not to be censored. Corporations now possess the rights that the founders reserved for citizens, and as Teachout explains, what used to be called “corruption becomes democratic responsiveness.”
Let me pause here to take note of another recurring peculiarity in corruption literature: an eerie overlap between theory and practice. If you go back to that “censorship” quotation from Kennedy, you will notice he quotes someone else: his colleague Antonin Scalia, in an opinion from 2003. Google the quote and one place you’ll find it is in a book of Scalia’s opinions that was edited in 2004 by none other than the lobbyist Kevin Ring, an associate of Jack Abramoff who would later be convicted of corrupting public officials.
Clive James has always written with verve about poetry, and though much of his latest book is drawn from articles already published, the material was well worth collecting. Poetry Notebook may not have the idiosyncratic range of his Cultural Amnesia (2007) but it has the same knack of entertaining his readers, even those inclined to disagree with what he says.
Reflecting on the influential critic Ian Hamilton, James remarks: “Hamilton was strongest where he found weakness”. That is not his own purpose here, except perhaps in his account of Ezra Pound’s followers, of whom I shall have more to say. What he wants to explore is the intensity of language that enables certain lines of poetry to lodge in the mind even when the rest of the poem has been forgotten. He finds these in Shakespeare, naturally, but also in Robert Frost, WH Auden and Richard Wilbur. Philip Larkin is an important presence throughout, being exemplary in his ability to write a resonant line that miraculously carries significance without contortion. There is also a whole chapter on Michael Donaghy, a thoughtful tribute to a much-loved and talented poet, who spoke all his poems by heart and died far too young.
Stassa Edwards in The New Inquiry:
Grigori Rasputin’s dick is on display at the Museum of Erotics in Saint Petersburg. Housed in a jar of formaldehyde, the member, which the museum’s owner claims he obtained from a French antiquarian, is quite sizable. Actually, it’s enormous for a human penis: Wide and meaty, it measures about a foot long. According to the museum, just gazing on the preserved member can cure a range of problems, everything from infertility to a humdrum sex life. But the specimen isn’t a human penis. It more than likely came from a horse.
It wouldn’t be the first time something inhuman was passed off as Rasputin’s dick. An earlier version circulated after Rasputin’s 1916 murder, legendary for being long and difficult: an initial failed poisoning, followed by multiple gunshots, a beating, and finally a drowning. Legend has it that in the midst of the horror show the man in charge of the grisly plot, Prince Felix Yusupov, somehow managed to castrate the mad mystic. Rasputin’s penis was supposedly scurried out of the country and ended up in the hands of Russian émigrés in Paris. There, his dick became a kind of religious relic of their vanished homeland, a potent piece of a vanished social order.
Susan Stewart in The Nation:
Writing in 1930 with Baudelaire and, subsequently, Goethe on his mind, T.S. Eliot took up the question of what it means for a poet to possess “the sense of his own age.” While it may be true, he noted, that Goethe was the representative Enlightenment dilettante, pursuing his scattered scientific and aesthetic “hobbies,” and Baudelaire a “theological innocent,” writing as if the problem of evil had never occurred to anyone before, Eliot nevertheless concluded that “they are both…men with restless, critical, curious minds and the ‘sense of the age’: both men who understood and foresaw a great deal.”
Is there any poet in the postwar period who was driven by a sense of the age—its archaisms and barbarisms, its new looks and new media, its corollary fears and hopes—more intensely than Pier Paolo Pasolini? Born in 1922—the same year as the American poet Jackson MacLow, a year younger than the Italian poets Andrea Zanzotto and Maria Luisa Spaziani, a year older than the French poet Yves Bonnefoy—Pasolini seems of an entirely different era from his long-lived contemporaries. He is fixed in the amber of the 1960s and ’70s—not only because of his early death (murdered on the beach at Ostia on November 2, 1975, at the age of 53), but also because in his poems, films, novels, plays, journalism, criticism, drawings and paintings, he continually took the measure of his time.