Monday, June 20, 2016
by Jonathan Kujawa
In April Donald Trump howled that the Republican delegate selection process was "rigged". This was back when it looked like he wouldn't have a majority of the delegates going into the Republican convention. In the first round the delegates are required to vote for a particular candidate according to how they were allocated in their state's vote. If Trump didn't win a majority in the first round, then in subsequent rounds delegates would be free to vote for whomever they liked (Nixon 2016!). Now that he has a solid majority of the delegates, the fairness of the rules used in the arcane underworld of delegate selection no longer holds Trump's interest. Of course, if the "Anybody but Trump" cabal inserts a "conscience clause" in the convention rules to unbind Trump's delegates, he'll no doubt once again start screeching "rigged". Trump's dire warnings of riots at the convention must be causing lots of sleepless nights among party bigwigs.
On the other side, the supporters of Bernie Sanders have vociferously argued that their guy is also the victim of a rigged system. For a party which claims the high ground of reason and adulthood, the Democrats have done their fair share of conspiracy theorizing: dark suggestions of voter suppression, frenzied freak-outs at the Nevada State convention, and ominous grumbles about "super delegates" subverting the process. Even now there are fantastical scenarios involving the super delegates spontaneously throwing their vote to Sanders and causing a contested Democratic convention.
It turns out democracy can be wickedly unfair.
The bizarreness of this election year aside, surely democracy will tick along and ensure the will of the people comes out on election day. After all, on November 8th the votes will be counted and the numbers won't lie . Right?
Peter Soriano. From Permanent Maintenance, 2015.
"… his largest wall drawing to date. Commissioned by the Colby College Museum of Art, this multipart piece spans approximately one hundred linear feet …"
Current exhibition at Colby College in Maine.
by Olivia Zhu
Predictive policing is catching the public’s attention. Interest in the topic hasn’t abated, ever since greater scrutiny, strained budgets, and racial tension have plagued police departments and the communities they are meant to protect. The Marshall Project and ProPublica, among a host of other news organizations, have published in-depth—and extremely popular—descriptions and critiques of the trend.
These pieces merely scratch the surface of the technologies and methods required for predictive policing. The majority of discussions in this space focus on the ethics involved: Are the results increasing instances of racial profiling? Does the practice violate Fourth Amendment rights?
But here’s the thing.
Although predictive policing is in its infancy with regard to adoption and success, there’s far more to it—and there are better questions to be asking.
For example, journalists have wondered about the quality of the data that police departments are shifting into newly purchased software programs. It’s certainly not wrong to state that predictive models will only be as good as the data that serves as their foundation. Nevertheless, assessors have quibbled over whether the data that police departments collect under- or over-represents poor, often minority-dominated communities.
One theory goes that these underserved communities don’t trust the police, and thus are less likely to report crime—making it less likely they’ll be served by any of the benefits of predictive policing. Conversely, perhaps police presuppose that certain neighborhoods are more prone to crime, and decide to patrol them more frequently. That, in turn, increases the likelihood that more incident reports are filed for the region. Predictive models suggest more patrols in these areas, and racial profiling may occur as a result.
The very first set of questions that should be asked, then, is: “How can we determine if under- or overreporting is happening?” “Do reporting trends vary by type of crime?” and “Once we know, can we fold the knowledge into effective predictive policing programs?”
by Tamuira Reid
According to an article written by Therese J. Bouchard for the site, World of Psychology, there are "8 Ways to Help Your Bipolar Loved One Cope".
1. Educate yourself. "Education is always the starting point. Because until a spouse or daughter or friend of a manic-depressive understands the illness, it is impossible to say and do the right thing." -TB
I try to imagine your rage as something beautiful. Lightning raging across the sky. Wind raging across a thirsty desert. But all I see is you, Giant Man. Trapped in a body with a broken mind. What does it feel like? I don't recognize you in these moments, not even in the eyes. They go grey, flat. Like still water or trapped rain.
2. Learn how to talk to your loved one. "[He] doesn't say much when I'm clutching tissue paper, crying my eyes out. And he's hesitant to speak when I'm manic. When I don't want to get out of bed in the morning, he reminds me why I need to." - TB
I feel like I've lost my mind, T.
Then let's find it.
It's not funny.
I'm not laughing.
Go fuck yourself.
3. Make some rules. "All those times the school administrators rehearsed what, exactly, would happen in the case of an emergency? Families of bipolar persons need them as well: a plan of action for those times when the bipolar person is sick." - TB
You cut the deck and wait and cut it again. We open our Pepsi's and sit on the floor in our underwear.
We learned to play cards like this in rehab. To kill the boredom. To pass time thinking about anything other than how much we wanted to use.
When I went into treatment for my drinking problem, everyone warned me not to fall in love. Rehab booty is bad booty. Ridiculous, I thought. Who the hell finds love in a place like this?
It was my 25th day. Morning meeting. Bunch of newly sober drones reading from the Big Book. I was knitting a scarf for Linda, because she finally kicked dope and was leaving and had no chance in the world really but we all liked to pretend she did. A scarf with blue and black squiggly lines. That's when I heard it. Your voice. It cut through the room on some silvery thread. I looked up and saw you, Giant Man, with a stream of light pouring down on you from a hole in the cabin ceiling. Perfectly illuminated. It was so cheesy and over-the-top but there you have it. Fuck, I remember thinking. Oh fuck.
If I could go back to that morning and change it all. Stay in my room instead of going to morning meeting. If I'd gone to the center by the beach instead of the rehab on the mountain.
Go fish, you say and smile.
by Brooks Riley
by Jalees Rehman
"The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics."
—Samuel P. Huntington (1972-2008) "The Clash of Civilizations"
In 1993, the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington published his now infamous paper The Clash of Civilizations in the journal Foreign Affairs. Huntington hypothesized that conflicts in the post-Cold War era would occur between civilizations or cultures and not between ideologies. He divided the world into eight key civilizations which reflected common cultural and religious heritages: Western, Confucian (also referred to as "Sinic"), Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin-American and African. In his subsequent book "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order", which presented a more detailed account of his ideas and how these divisions would fuel future conflicts, Huntington also included the Buddhist civilization as an additional entity. Huntington's idea of grouping the world in civilizational blocs has been heavily criticized for being overly simplistic and ignoring the diversity that exists within each "civilization". For example, the countries of Western Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia were all grouped together under "Western Civilization" whereas Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Gulf states were all grouped as "Islamic Civilization" despite the fact that the member countries within these civilizations exhibited profound differences in terms of their cultures, languages, social structures and political systems. On the other hand, China's emergence as a world power that will likely challenge the economic dominance of Western Europe and the United States, lends credence to a looming economic and political clash between the "Western" and "Confucian" civilizations. The Afghanistan war and the Iraq war between military coalitions from the "Western Civilization" and nations ascribed to the "Islamic Civilization" both occurred long after Huntington's predictions were made and are used by some as examples of the hypothesized clash of civilizations.
It is difficult to assess the validity of Huntington's ideas because they refer to abstract notions of cultural and civilizational identities of nations and societies without providing any clear evidence on the individual level. Do political and economic treaties between the governments of countries – such as the European Union – mean that individuals in these countries share a common cultural identity?
by Maniza Naqvi
They come for us five times a day. The azaan goes off with a bang as the loudspeaker switch is flipped on. It's so loud—I feel like I've been electrocuted—and there's a white light that goes off in my head—then the call to prayer which would have sounded lyrical, reassuring, soothing and calming at a different decibel now tears apart any peace or calm that might have crept in, might have tiptoed into this cold institutional facility somewhere in the heart of the Midwest. But instead it's like a kick on the side of my head--- by army boots. Then just as the deafening noise ends, the guards, come in with their own deafening numbing vocal assault. Muscular women, heads covered in tightly wound hijabs, clapping their hands harshly, screaming, "Let's go! Let's go! Let's go ladies!' As if they were the TSA security at JFK or Dulles. Only now, after all that practice we've had, and they have too, they're shouting at us and we're not going anywhere, we're here, in a prison compound, "Let's go! Let's go! Salaat time. Salaat time. Now!"
And we are all forced, forced to get up and go say our prayers…what we call Namaaz…, those of us who have been Muslim longer than our guards ever have been—they are all new converts, all young, all, from Chicago, New York, LA, Kentucky and Tennessee. They are forcing us to relearn what we have taken as a given: as our flesh and our bones and our blood. They are determined to make Moss—LEMS, out of us.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
THOSE WINTER SUNDAYS
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
Robert Hayden, 1913 - 1980
Regan Penaluna in Nautilus Magazine:
[Misty] Hyman came of age as a world-class swimmer during the underwater revolution. “I was 13 when I started staying under water longer than is typical,” she says, explaining she could go 30 meters without breathing. “I found I could be faster under water than at the surface.” Most swimmers were using the dolphin kick to propel themselves underwater, but Hyman’s coach, Bob Gillet, wanted to experiment. In 1995 he came across a study in Scientific American about how tuna were able to swim at almost 50 mph, where dolphins top out around 25 mph. The study found that the flick of a fish tail generated more efficient thrust than that of a marine mammal tail. Gillet wondered whether the dolphin kick might be more powerful on its side, so the undulations were horizontal, like those of a fish.
One cool December day in Phoenix in 1995, Gillet put it to the test. Hyman showed up for practice at Gillet’s outdoor pool, and he asked her to try it. “In the most respectful way, I called him a mad scientist,” she says. Her first attempts were awkward, and she ended up three lanes over from where she started. But she got better, and soon she was cutting through the water like an eel. She was going faster than she did with the dolphin kick. Faster than she had ever swum before. This gave Gillet another idea.
They went to the local country club pool, where the lighting was brighter and Gillet could walk out to the edge of a diving board to capture video. They took a long, thin rubber tube, fastened it to Hyman’s wrist, ran it down the length of one side of her body, and fastened the other end to her ankle. Then they filled the tube with store-bought food dye, and Hyman corked the tube with her thumb. She jumped into the pool, released her thumb, and took off as Gillet filmed. What they saw in the footage afterward astonished them. The dye swirled out to reveal huge vortices after each of her horizontal kicks. Gillet suspected that these miniature whirlpools, reaching 4 feet in diameter, propelled her forward. He also thought it was possible that when Hyman did the dolphin kick facedown, the bottom of the pool and the surface of the water interfered with these vortices and slowed her down.
Claire Potter in Dissent:
Pornography transformed women into “adult toys,” wrote feminist activist, journalist and Women Against Pornography (WAP) co-founder Susan Brownmiller in 1975, “dehumanized objects to be used, abused, broken and discarded.” “Pornography is the theory; rape is the practice,” former Ms. magazine editor Robin Morgan declared in 1977. Pornography, some argued, was a form of terror: women “will know that we are free when the pornography no longer exists,” wrote Andrea Dworkin, one of the most well-known advocates of anti-porn feminism, in 1981. In 1996, legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon argued against the idea that pornography was a creative practice entitled to First Amendment protection. While pornography itself was not responsible for sexual assaults against women, wrote MacKinnon, “men who are made, changed and impelled by” porn were.
Yet porn also had its defenders: politicians, media figures, and civil libertarians who had historically sought to free sexuality from control by the state. Even more importantly, porn was vigorously defended within feminism. Beginning with a clash between feminists at the 1982 Barnard Conference on Sexuality, the struggle came to a head when Dworkin and MacKinnon drafted an anti-pornography civil rights ordinance at the request of city officials in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Although the ordinance passed, Mayor Donald Fraser refused to sign it, prompting anti-pornography activists to take it to Indianapolis, a city whose mayor supported the legislation. Here, the Feminist Anti-Censorship Task Force (FACT), a coalition of New York academics and culture workers allied with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), successfully challenged the ordinance’s constitutionality. Allowing people who believed they had been harmed by porn to sue for damages, they argued, would turn all erotica and sexual materials into a potential legal liability for the seller and result in de facto censorship. In effect, this prevented enactment of the ordinance anywhere in the United States.
Defenders of porn within radical feminism did not seek to deny the reality of exploitation and sexual violence: novelist Dorothy Allison, a member of FACT, wrote freely about having been subjected to cruel, sexualized beatings and incestuous rape as a child. But feminists who called themselves “pro-sex” objected to the idea that consuming or making porn was categorically harmful. Journalist Ellen Willis asked in 1979: “Is there any objective criterion for healthy or satisfying sex, and if so what is it?”
Shadi Hamid makes the case in The Atlantic:
To understand the Middle East’s seemingly intractable conﬂicts, we need to go back to at least 1924, the year the last caliphate was formally abolished. Animating the caliphate—the historical political entity governed by Islamic law and tradition—was the idea that, in the words of the historian Reza Pankhurst, the “spiritual unity of the Muslim community requires political expression.” For the better part of 13 centuries, there had been a continuous lineage of widely accepted “Islamic” politics. Even where caliphates were ineffectual, they still offered resonance and reassurance. Things were as they had always been and perhaps always would be.
Since the Ottoman Caliphate’s dissolution, the struggle to establish a legitimate political order has raged on in the Middle East, with varying levels of intensity. At its center is the problem of religion and its role in politics. In this sense, the turmoil of the Arab Spring and the rise of the Islamic State, or ISIS, is only the latest iteration of the inability to resolve the most basic questions over what it means to be a citizen and what it means to be a state.
It is both an old and new question, one that used to have an answer but no longer does. Islam is distinctive in how it relates to politics—and this distinctiveness can be traced back to the religion’s founding moment in the seventh century. Islam is different. This difference has profound implications for the future of the Middle East and, by extension, for the world in which we all live, whether we happen to be American, French, British, or anything else. To say that Islam—as creed, theology, and practice—says something that other religions don’t quite say is admittedly a controversial, even troubling claim, especially in the context of rising anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States and Europe. As a Muslim-American, it’s personal for me: Donald Trump’s dangerous comments on Islam and Muslims make me fear for my country. Yet “Islamic exceptionalism” is neither good nor bad. It just is.
Brian Connolly in the LA Review of Books:
Democracy, especially in the United States, has always been vexed by the concept of sovereignty. It is one thing to invoke the liberating, empowering phrase “popular sovereignty,” the sine qua non of democracy; it is another altogether to think through the sovereignty of popular sovereignty — which remains a question of domination and subjection that on the surface seems inimitable to democracy. Donald Trump makes manifest this latent desire of the people (or at least an increasingly large segment of the people) to be subjected to some sovereign authority. The glaring contradictions, the all-encompassing narcissism, the insistent claims to violate the law, to do what needs to be done, to “Make America Great Again,” are all evidence not of Trump’s failings — his combination of danger and incompetence is, as most opinion polls suggest, apparent to nearly everyone — but of a political reality taking hold in the United States today: the desire for a new age of the sovereign.
“Sovereignty” is a concept with a long and complicated history, grounded in the fantasy of an indivisible, final political authority. German political philosopher Carl Schmitt’s well-known definition of sovereignty — himself a staunch proponent of dictatorship — is very much at the core of Trump’s appeal. “Sovereign,” Schmitt wrote in his classic work of 1922, Political Theology, “is he who decides on the exception.” This definition has become a recurring trope in work on sovereignty in the United States, particularly since 9/11. But what, exactly, is the exception? Schmitt elaborates, claiming that a sovereign:
decides in a situation of conflict what constitutes the public interest or interest of the state, public safety and order [. . .]. The exception, which is not codified in the existing legal order, can at best be characterized as a case of extreme peril, a danger to the existence of the state, or the like. But it cannot be circumscribed factually and made to conform to a preformed law.
The sovereign, in a moment of conflict, determines the interest of the state, public order, and safety, and is able to do so by declaring exceptions to the law which cannot rest on facts, in order to articulate and enact dictatorial powers in a moment of crisis. A shadow of this definition lingers over Trump, who consistently articulates the United States as in a state of perilous crisis.
Arunas L. Radzvilavicius in Aeon:
At its heart, sex is a process of genetic mixing: it creates unique sets of genes and trait combinations different from either of the two parents. In eukaryotes (organisms such as animals and plants), the molecular machinery of recombination deliberately breaks the chromosomes into chunks, only to reunite the pieces of maternal and paternal origin into novel permutations that are then passed on to the progeny: a remarkable act of molecular wizardry, perfected over billions years of evolutionary tinkering.
But it is not the molecular workings of recombination that captivates biologists the most, it’s the fact that genetic mixing in the form of sex has evolved in the first place, in spite of it being a cumbersome and costly endeavour. Evolutionary theorists agree that cloning, in many ways, is a more efficient mode of reproduction, which, in a world governed by the rules of natural selection, should readily outcompete sex. An asexual female, for example, would produce twice as many offspring as the sexual one, avoiding the burden of bearing males or searching for suitable mating partners.
Sex is unknown in bacteria – the simplest and most ancient living cells on Earth – that reproduce by simply splitting into two. Evolving considerably later, eukaryotes are built of much larger and awfully complex cells, their insides full of organelles and membranous labyrinths buzzing with sophisticated molecular machinery and cargo-transport networks. Unlike bacteria, very few eukaryotic species revert to strict asexuality, and those that do seem to be relatively short-lived on the evolutionary timescale. Sex is costly, but it also appears to be essential for the long-term survival of complex life.
Some of the most talented theorists have striven to understand why. Myriad explanations made their way into science journals and textbooks – from the earliest proposals that sex generates variation and speeds up adaptation, to mathematical models demonstrating that gene shuffling bolsters resistance to parasites and slows down the accumulation of hazardous genetic defects. But even with the overwhelming amount of attention the problem has received over the years, it is still considered unsolved.
Amy Davidson in The New Yorker:
Of all the words that Donald J. Trump flings into the world, the four most Trumpian are “We have no choice.” It’s a favorite phrase, and one that he used last week in response to the attack at Pulse, a gay dance club in Orlando, where Omar Mateen shot and killed forty-nine people and wounded fifty-three more. Mateen was an American, born in New York to Afghan parents. Yet Trump said the lesson of Orlando is that “we have no choice” but to institute a temporary ban that would prevent non-citizen Muslims from entering the United States. He said the same thing when he first called for the ban, last December, after the San Bernardino shooting. That time, he chanted it in triplicate—“We have no choice! We have no choice! We have no choice!”—as if it were a spell that would make him Presidential, or make his listeners forget that he is not.
Trump has invoked choicelessness to explain everything from why he will build a wall on the border with Mexico to why he talked about his anatomy during a Republican primary debate. The phrase is a dismissal of rational discussion and an intimation of the doom that awaits if Trump is not heeded. In his recent book, “Crippled America,” he said of his decision to run for the White House, “I had no choice. I see what’s happening to our country; it’s going to hell.” Orlando was the first major domestic-terrorism crisis since Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee. His first response was to brag about “the congrats” he’d been receiving for having been “right on radical Islam.” Over the next few days, he suggested that President Obama had willfully failed to stop the shooting, for mysterious and possibly sinister reasons (“There’s something going on”), and accused American Muslims as a group of being similarly delinquent. He said, “They’re not reporting people, and they have to do that,” and insisted that America is “not going to continue to survive like this.”
Sir Ian Kershaw in The Telegraph:
So what is new about Wachsmann’s book, and why is it so important? Odd as it might seem, his is the first comprehensive study of the camps, based on mastery of a huge literature and stupendous research in many parts of the world. Its value lies in no small measure in the way it weaves together the history both of the perpetrators and of the victims. Wachsmann tells the terrible story through the eyes of those who inhabited the camps. He writes of the camps as places where people lived. Prisoners become individuals, not just objects of terror. The behaviour of guards is shown to be more complex than mere sadism and brutality. A great virtue of the book is the way in which Wachsmann differentiates the camps. He shows the differences in organisation and structure as the vast camp network develops. For many readers, these differences will be new. The best-known camps are Dachau and Auschwitz. Both were places of horror, but with different purposes. Dachau, near Munich, was the prototype SS camp, meant to be widely known as a deterrent to opponents of the regime, especially at first communists. It served to hold prisoners who were subjected to arbitrary terror and forced to labour until the point of exhaustion, without any judicial protection, until (at least in theory) they were fit to rejoin society as compliant citizens.
Auschwitz, in a part of Poland annexed by Germany in 1939, had all this too, aimed primarily at recalcitrant Poles, but was unique within the system because it was an extermination camp as well as a concentration camp. The death camps further east in German-occupied Poland (Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka), on the other hand, operated outside the concentration camp system. They did not imprison people and force them to work. Their sole purpose was to kill the Jews – close on two million, nearly all from Poland – as quickly as possible. But within the KL system itself, Jews were a minority among the prisoners. The Holocaust, as Wachsmann emphasises, mainly took place outside the concentration camps.
Saturday, June 18, 2016
Patrick Ryan in Literary Hub:
My dad worked a lot of jobs. As a young man, in Ohio, he repossessed cars for a summer. (“Don’t ever repossess cars,” he told me. “Nobody likes you. I had to carry a baseball bat and keep a loaded pistol in the glove compartment, just in case of trouble.”) He then worked as a desk clerk at a hotel in Washington DC. Later, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, he stood in a caged room all day and checked out camera equipment to staff photographers. When the Apollo program began to wane in the mid-1970s, he quit ahead of the layoffs that were coming, honed his skill at fixing cars, and got a job as an auto mechanic. But after a few years, the owner retired and sold the garage.
And so my dad mulled around for a bit and flirted with the idea of becoming his own boss. He looked into opening a liquor store, a cafeteria-style restaurant, a wholesale inner tube business. But he lacked the one thing a man with a dream needs to get anywhere: capital. He would become a realtor, he decided. He would sell houses. He got his license and tried that for a while—just as the real estate market in the area was entering a major slump. By coincidence, his marriage to my mother was also in a slump; they separated on the eve of their 23rd wedding anniversary and divorced soon after.
From Sci News:
The study, published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides a straightforward answer to a puzzle that researchers have been wrestling with for years: how can birds with their tiny brains perform complicated cognitive behaviors?
“For a long time having a ‘bird brain’ was considered to be a bad thing. Now it turns out that it should be a compliment,” Dr. Herculano-Houzel said.
Dr. Herculano-Houzel and co-authors systematically measured the number of neurons in the brains of 28 avian species ranging in size from the tiny zebra finch to the emu.
“We found that birds, especially songbirds and parrots, have surprisingly large numbers of neurons in their pallium: the part of the brain that corresponds to the cerebral cortex, which supports higher cognition functions such as planning for the future or finding patterns,” Dr. Herculano-Houzel said.
“That explains why they exhibit levels of cognition at least as complex as primates.”
That is possible because the neurons in avian brains are much smaller and more densely packed than those in mammalian brains.
Amy Finnerty in The Wire:
Upon learning this month that his autobiographical novel Family Life had won the €100,000 International Dublin Literary Award — the world’s richest prize for a single novel — Akhil Sharma exhaled, thinking: “Thank God, another disappointment averted.” He received the news in a hotel room in Guatemala.
It makes sense that the India-born, Manhattan-based American novelist, journalist and professor of creative writing remains ever alert to bad news. When he was eight years old and his family moved from Delhi to New York in the 1970s brimming with hope, they could hardly have imagined that his older brother, Anup, the character Birju Mishra in the book, would soon be catastrophically disabled in a swimming pool accident: left permanently brain damaged, blind, unable to speak and requiring round-the-clock care for the rest of his life. (He died just four years ago). Family Life puts the prolonged and harrowing ordeal under fluorescent lights.
The author of an award-winning first novel, An Obedient Father, Sharma spent 13 years wrestling Family Life onto the page, a process he has likened to “chewing gravel”. A few years in, despairing and overweight, he says, he gave up on the project. Then he started running inhuman distances every day and, accessing the grit that he’s used to succeed at pretty much everything he’s ever set his mind to, he staggered across page 218 and handed in the manuscript to his editor, Jill Bialosky at Norton.
Jenny Diski was dying. It was 10:07 a.m. on April 25; I Googled to make sure, before I filed this review, that she was still alive. She was. Her “onc doc” gave her a year in April 2015, which meant, if she survived another seven days, she would technically beat the projections. She did not. She died on the morning of April 28, 2016.
Diski, as she makes vitally clear in her new memoir, “In Gratitude,” spent her every moment on earth beating the projections of authority figures. She overcame abusive and neglectful parents, foster homes, suicide attempts, repeated hospitalizations and the persistently gloomy conviction of relatives, caregivers, teachers, doctors and occasionally herself that she would fail at whatever she attempted.
Diski did not fail. Over the past 30 years, Diski published 17 books of fiction and nonfiction and became a writer who commanded descriptions from reviewers like “individual” and “wildly various”; her books — such as her 1997 “so-called travel book,” “Skating to Antarctica” (which she described as being about “Icebergs, mothers. That sort of thing”) — all proof, as Giles Harvey wrote in a 2015 New York Times Magazine profile, of her “spectacular originality.”
In September 2014, two months after the diagnosis, Diski began publishing essays in The London Review of Books about her illness and impending death.
Respected, parodied, revered, despised, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle has been with us for just four years. Few in the English-speaking world knew the Norwegian’s name in 2012, but in just four years he has come to seem so omnipresent that NYRB critic, author, and beloved contrarian Tim Parks recently chastised us against “the impression of [Knausgaard's] huge and inevitable success.”
There is some truth there. He has not sold in numbers that would put envy on J.K. Rowling’s face—there is a degree of hype—but with U.S. sales of the first four volumes of the series likely topping 200,000 copies, Knausgaard is certainly far more successful and better-known than all but a handful of authors of the last few years. And now that we have Book 5 the end is in sight; the method behind the entire cycle has at last come into view. It is time to take stock.
At the start few would have predicted Knausgaard’s extraordinary success, but there were signs. James Wood rhapsodized Book 1 in The New Yorker in one of his best reviews of 2012, drawing on a beloved Walter Benjamin essay to examine Knausgaard’s fascination with death. In support of that first book Knausgaard gave well-attended events in New York City, and he received a lengthy profile by The New York Times. Surely if you swing a cat in many metropolitan areas it will collide with a few authors who have attained similar notoriety; still, it was a promising beginning.
Ten years before he died in 2012, the great British historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote that the only region outside Europe which he thought he knew well and where he felt entirely at home was Latin America. “Nobody who discovers South America can resist the region,” he wrote in his autobiography Interesting Times.
Hobsbawm first visited the region in 1960 and was soon “permanently converted”. So began a 40-year intellectual engagement that is of particular interest today, as it illuminates Latin America’s apparent swing away from the political left and away from the revolutionary changes that Hobsbawm, a Marxist, hoped to see.
As a card-carrying Communist, Hobsbawm’s interest in Latin America was first piqued and then sustained by its potential for revolution. There was the “endearing” early promise of Fidel Castro’s triumph in January 1959. More importantly, beyond Cuba there was “a continent apparently bubbling with the lava of social revolutions” — first in Peru and Colombia, then in Chile, later in Central America and Venezuela, and finally Brazil.