Sunday, July 26, 2015
The solution to extremism lies through strategies that enable rather than constrain the space for Muslim free expression.
Zaheer Kazmi in Open Democracy:
In expanding the focus of the state’s enforcement powers from monitoring the planning and execution of specific terrorist acts to scrutinizing any opinions it deems ‘extremist’ in everyday environments, Cameron’s anti-extremism strategy also marks a significant departure from previous governments in its unprecedented degree of intervention into the policing of ideas in the UK.
Stifling dissent in these ways—through what Cameron has called the need for a “muscular” rather than “misguided” liberalism—can have paradoxical implications which allow ISIS to subvert the role of the ‘freedom fighter.’ This subversion lies at the heart of the radicalisation conundrum and can help to explain why jihadists can attract young Muslims to their cause. Cameron’s Birmingham speech rightly identified the problem of the allure which ‘makes celebrities of violent murderers,’ but suppressing rather than re-channelling the impulses that lead impressionable minds to make such dangerously mistaken choices may not, in the end, defuse the potency of this attraction.
From The Economist:
The Nazis succeeded in exterminating millions of Jews. But they did not succeed in extinguishing their history. That is the story told by Samuel Kassow, an American historian, in a poignant and detailed account of the secret archive of the Warsaw ghetto.
In the autumn of 1940, Warsaw's Jewish population, swollen by forced immigration, amounted to nearly 450,000 people, all of them walled into an area covering less than four square kilometres. By early 1942 about 83,000 had died from hunger. That summer 300,000 were sent away to death camps, mostly to Treblinka. In April and May 1943 the remaining 60,000 were killed, or captured and deported, in the Warsaw ghetto uprising, during which the Germans levelled that part of the city.
Mr Kassow starts his story amid the passionate arguments among Jews in the declining days of the three great empires: the German, the Austro-Hungarian and the Russian. Was the great dream to be integration? Was it in identification with the surging national consciousness of countries such as Poland, at that stage still partitioned? Was it emigration to a Jewish state in Palestine? Or in the hope of a socialist paradise based on a brotherhood of man rather than ethnic, religious or national affiliation? Or some mixture of the above? Was Hebrew the real language of Jews, or a snooty, artificial distraction? Was Yiddish a degenerate linguistic compromise, or the essential literary and political medium?
Manu Joseph in The New York Times:
The global view that ancient Indians performed extreme gymnastics while making love was seeded by a late-19th-century English translation of a Sanskrit text called the Kama Sutra, which contained, among other things, details of sexual positions, practical advice on seduction and a note on types of erotic women, who were named after mammals even though, as a book released this month observes, they made noises like birds.
“The Mare’s Trap: Nature and Culture in the Kamasutra” by Wendy Doniger, an American academic, argues, as some discerning couples may have suspected, that the sex in the Kama Sutra is more prank than instructional manual. But the grand ambition of her book is to elevate the Kama Sutra to the status of two great philosophical works that have influenced Indian society: Manu’s Dharmashastra, which invented castes and defined women as subordinate to men, embarrassing some fine people who share the author’s name, and Kautilya’s Arthashastra, a ruthless book on statecraft.
Very little is known about the origins of the Kama Sutra. No portion of the original text has survived. It was probably written in Sanskrit by one Vatsyayana. He seems to have been a compiler of sexual habits, and he blamed another scholar for inventing some of the very difficult sexual positions. Ms. Doniger believes that the Kama Sutra is about 2,000 years old, but she told me that this is based solely on circumstantial evidence.
The reason she takes the Kama Sutra so seriously is that even though she feels that the sexual positions were fantasies, she sees in the rest of the work nothing short of anthropology, a rare portrait of an affluent ancient society.
J. W. Mason in Jacobin:
The Greek crisis is not fundamentally about Greek government debt. Nor in its current acute form, is it about the balance of payments between Greece and the rest of the world. Rather, it is about the Greek banking system, and the withdrawal of support for it by the central bank. The solution accordingly is for Greece to regain control of its central bank.
I can’t properly establish the premise here. Suffice to say:
1. On the one hand, the direct economic consequences of default are probably nil. (Recall that Greece in some sense already defaulted, less than five years ago.) Even if default resulted in a complete loss of access to foreign credit, Greece today has neither a trade deficit nor a primary fiscal deficit to be financed. And with respect to the fiscal deficit, if the Greek central bank behaved like central banks in other developed countries, financing a deficit domestically would not be a problem.
And with respect to the external balance, the evidence, both historicaland contemporary, suggests that financial markets do not in fact punish defaulters. (And why should they? The extinction of unserviceable debt almost by definition makes a government a better credit risk post-default, and capitalists are no more capable of putting principle ahead of profit in this case than in others.)
The costs of default, rather, are the punishment imposed by the creditors, in this case by the European Central Bank (ECB). The actual cost of default is being paid already — in the form of shuttered Greek banks, the result of the refusal of the Bank of Greece (BoG) to extend them the liquidity they need to honor depositors’ withdrawal requests.
2. On the other hand, Greece’s dependence on its official creditors is not, as most people imagine, simply the result of an unwillingness of the private sector to hold Greek government debt, but also of the ECB’s decision to forbid — on what authority, I don’t know — the Greek government from issuing more short-term debt. This although Greek treasury bills (T-bills), held in large part by the private sector,currently carry interest rates between 2 and 3 percent — half what Greece is being charged by the ECB.
George Dvorsky in io9:
Kepler 452b is located 1,400 light-years from our Sun. It weighs in at a hefty five Earth-masses and features a radius about 1.63-times larger than Earth’s. Technically speaking, that makes it a super-Earth, which is defined as an exoplanet with a mass between two- and ten-times that of Earth.
This possibly rocky planet orbits its G2 host star—the same type as ours—every 384 days, which is the longest orbital period of any small, transiting exoplanet observed to date. (“Small,” in this context, refers to a planet with a diameter less than two Earth-radii). The astronomers aren’t completely sure it’s a terrestrial planet, however, assigning a confidence level between 49% to 62%. There’s a distinct possibility, therefore, that Kepler 542b is more like a mini-Neptune than another Earth, which would reduce its odds of harboring life—or life as we know it—to basically zero.
Its host star is about 10% bigger than ours, and features an effective temperature of approximately 5,757 Kelvin (5,483 degrees Celsius). Kepler 542b is situated about 5% farther from its star than Earth, but receives about 10% more energy. It likely features a thicker atmosphere and cloud cover, and active volcanoes on its surface. Stellar evolution models place the age of the host star at 6-billion years, plus or minus a couple of billion.
As noted by the Kepler researchers at the press conference yesterday, “It’s the closest thing that we have to the planet Earth,” adding that it “receives roughly the same amount of energy, and with a star that’s a bit older and brighter.”
But is it Habitable?
Probably not—but it’s not an impossibility. Breathless talk of Kepler 452b being “Earth 2.0” or “Earth’s twin” tends to overlook the differences between the two planets (the possibility that it is actually a small gas planet, for example). That said, it has a number of things going for it that are intriguing, from an astrobiological perspective.
Mazviita Chirimuuta in Nautilus:
Philosophers have a bad reputation for casting unwarranted doubt on established facts. Little could be more certain than your belief that the cloudless sky, on a summer afternoon, is blue. Yet we may wonder in earnest, is it also blue for the birds who fly up there, who have different eyes from ours? And if you take an object that shares that color—like the flag of the United Nations—and place half in shadow and half in the full sun, one side will be a darker blue. You might ask, what is the real color of the flag? The appearances of colors are frequently changing with the light, and as we move the objects surrounding them. Does that mean that the actual colors change?
All these questions point us to the idea that colors are, despite first appearances, subjective and transitory. Color is one of the longstanding puzzles in philosophy, raising doubts about the truthfulness of our sensory grasp on things, and provoking concerns as to the metaphysical compatibility of scientific, perceptual, and common sense representations of the world. Most philosophers have argued that colors are either real or not real, physical or psychological. The greater challenge is to theorize the subtle way that color stands between our understanding of the physical and the psychological.My response is to say that colors are not properties of objects (like the U.N. flag) or atmospheres (like the sky) but of perceptual processes—interactions which involve psychological subjects and physical objects. In my view, colors are not properties of things, they are ways that objects appear to us, and at the same time, ways that we perceive certain kinds of objects. This account of color opens up a perspective on the nature of consciousness itself.
Picture: In this painting, “The Tree,” by Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi, the dynamic, wavy black-and-white patterns seem to generate colorful vertical lines. Chirimuuta chose this painting as the cover to her book, Outside Color, because, she says, “I like to think that this symbolizes how color comes into the world because of the continual interactions between perceivers and things perceived.”
Oliver Sacks in The New York Times:
A few weeks ago, in the country, far from the lights of the city, I saw the entire sky “powdered with stars” (in Milton’s words); such a sky, I imagined, could be seen only on high, dry plateaus like that of Atacama in Chile (where some of the world’s most powerful telescopes are). It was this celestial splendor that suddenly made me realize how little time, how little life, I had left. My sense of the heavens’ beauty, of eternity, was inseparably mixed for me with a sense of transience — and death. I told my friends Kate and Allen, “I would like to see such a sky again when I am dying.” “We’ll wheel you outside,” they said. I have been comforted, since I wrote in February about having metastatic cancer, by the hundreds of letters I have received, the expressions of love and appreciation, and the sense that (despite everything) I may have lived a good and useful life. I remain very glad and grateful for all this — yet none of it hits me as did that night sky full of stars.
I have tended since early boyhood to deal with loss — losing people dear to me — by turning to the nonhuman. When I was sent away to a boarding school as a child of 6, at the outset of the Second World War, numbers became my friends; when I returned to London at 10, the elements and the periodic table became my companions. Times of stress throughout my life have led me to turn, or return, to the physical sciences, a world where there is no life, but also no death. And now, at this juncture, when death is no longer an abstract concept, but a presence — an all-too-close, not-to-be-denied presence — I am again surrounding myself, as I did when I was a boy, with metals and minerals, little emblems of eternity. At one end of my writing table, I have element 81 in a charming box, sent to me by element-friends in England: It says, “Happy Thallium Birthday,”a souvenir of my 81st birthday last July; then, a realm devoted to lead, element 82, for my just celebrated82nd birthday earlier this month. Here, too, is a little lead casket, containing element 90, thorium, crystalline thorium, as beautiful as diamonds, and, of course, radioactive — hence the lead casket.
At the start of the year, in the weeks after I learned that I had cancer, I felt pretty well, despite my liver being half-occupied by metastases.
“I carve to the beat of the heart”
................... — Barbara Hepworth
Below an oasis of shadows
palms and mirroring pools
where sculptures grow like trees;
an ochre jacket, overalls stiff
with dust, still hang expectant
behind the greenhouse door
mallet, chisel, drill,
the paraphernalia of a mason’s art
seem only momentarily set aside.
On her bench a block of stone
white, unhewn, waits
in perpetuity for her hands
to set free the trapped planes of light.
In the silence
the punctured cry of gulls.
by Sue Hubbard
from Everything Begins with the Skin
published by Enitharmon
An article by Sue Hubbard on Hepworth will appear on Monday here
at 3QD to coincide with the Barbara Hepworth exhibition at Tate Britain:
Barbara Hepworth - Sculpture for a Modern World;
the exhibit will run until 25th Oct 2015
Saturday, July 25, 2015
Mohammed Hanif in the New York Times:
When I take my dog for a walk on the beach near my house in Karachi, this is how people react: Mothers tell their kids, look, a dog; kids ask me the dog’s name and if they can touch him; most grown men either recoil or ask me about the price and the breed. Sometimes when I see someone heading to the neighborhood mosque, I cross to the other side of the street. There is a popular belief among the pious that if they come in contact with a dog, they become unclean. You have to take a ritual bath before you can offer your prayers.
Worshipers are usually in a hurry in Karachi. These are perilous times, and I don’t want to come between men of God and God by delaying their prayers. They are, after all, fulfilling their obligation as I am trying to do.
I grew up in a very religious household where dogs weren’t exactly loved, but our faith wasn’t threatened every time a dog appeared on our doorstep. As a teenager in our village in central Punjab, I saw our local imam, who led the prayers, playing with his Russian poodle.
More here. [Thanks to Ruchira Paul.]
Peter Beinart in The Atlantic:
I have a fantasy. It’s that every politician and pundit who goes on TV to discuss the Iran deal is asked this question first: “Did you support the Iraq War, and how has that experience informed your position?”
For me, it would be a painful question. I supported the Iraq War enthusiastically. I supported it because my formative foreign-policy experiences had been the Gulf War and the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, all of which led me to exaggerate the efficacy of military force and downplay its risks. As Iraq spiraled into disaster, I felt intellectually unmoored. When my sister-in-law was deployed there for a year, leaving her young daughter behind, I was consumed with guilt that I had contributed to their hardship. To this day, when I walk down the street and see a homeless veteran, I feel nauseous. I give some money and a word of thanks, and think about offering an apology. But I don’t, because there’s no apology big enough. The best I can do is learn from my mistake. These days, that means supporting the diplomatic deal with Iran.
I’m not saying that everyone who supported the Iraq War must feel as I do. I’m simply saying this: In most televised discussions of Iran, the word “Iraq” never comes up, and that’s insane. The Iraq War was one of the most important, and damaging, episodes in the history of U.S. foreign policy. The debate preceding it pitted people who believed Saddam Hussein was malevolent but rational against people who believed he might well nuke the United States. It pitted people who trusted that International Atomic Energy Agency inspections could contain Saddam’s nuclear program against people who thought he would build a nuke under the IAEA’s nose. Most fundamentally, it pitted people who believed that the only way to keep America safe was to force Iraq’s utter capitulation, via regime change, against people who preferred an imperfect accommodation that did not risk war. Sound familiar?
Allison Schrager in Quartz (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File):
A new paper from University of Michigan economics professor Michael Mueller-Smith measures how much incapacitation reduced crime. He looked at court records from Harris County, Texas from 1980 to 2009.Mueller-Smith observed that in Harris County people charged with similar crimes received totally different sentences depending on the judge to whom they were randomly assigned. Mueller-Smith then tracked what happened to these prisoners. He estimated that each year in prison increases the odds that a prisoner would reoffend by 5.6% a quarter. Even people who went to prison for lesser crimes wound up committing more serious offenses subsequently, the more time they spent in prison. His conclusion: Any benefit from taking criminals out of the general population is more than off-set by the increase in crime from turning small offenders into career criminals.
High recidivism rates are not unique to Texas: Within 5 years of release more than 75% of prisoners are arrested again.
Slavoj Zizek in In These Times:
Varoufakis repeatedly made this point clear: what was needed to give the Greek economy a chance to rebound was not more borrowing but an overall re-haul. The first step in this direction would be an increase in the democratic transparency in regards to the exercise of power. Our democratically elected state apparatuses are increasingly impaired by both a network of “agreements” (TISA, etc.) and by non-elected “expert” bodies that wield the real economic (and military) power. Here is Varoufakis’s reporton an extraordinary moment in his dealings with Jeroen Dijsselbloem:
There was a moment when the President of the Eurogroup decided to move against us and effectively shut us out, and made it known that Greece was essentially on its way out of the Eurozone. … There is a convention that communiqués must be unanimous, and the President can’t just convene a meeting of the Eurozone and exclude a member state. And he said, “Oh I’m sure I can do that.” So I asked for a legal opinion. It created a bit of a kerfuffle. For about 5 to 10 minutes the meeting stopped, clerks, officials were talking to one another, on their phone, and eventually some official, some legal expert addressed me, and said the following words: “Well, the Eurogroup does not exist in law, there is no treaty which has convened this group.” So what we have is a non-existent group that has the greatest power to determine the lives of Europeans. It’s not answerable to anyone, given it doesn’t exist in law; no minutes are kept; and it’s confidential. So no citizen ever knows what is said within. … These are decisions of almost life and death, and no member has to answer to anybody.
Sounds familiar? Yes, to anyone who knows how Chinese power functions today. After Mao’s death, Deng Tsiao-Ping established a dual political system: the state apparatus and legal system are redoubled by the Party institutions which are literally extralegal—or, as He Weifang, a law professor from Beijing, put it:
As an organization, the Party sits outside, and above, the law. It should have a legal identity, in other words, a person to sue, but it is not even registered as an organization. The Party exists outside the legal system altogether.
It is as if, as Walter Benjamin put it , violence which sustains state power remains present, embodied in an organization with an unclear legal status.
David Shariatmadari in The Guardian (Photograph: Richard Saker):
His 2011 book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, a primer on a career’s worth of psychological inquiry, won the US National Academy of Sciences book award, and the enthusiastic approval of his peers. It tells the story of “two systems” of thought, one automatic and intuitive, the realm of systematic biases, the other conscious and deliberative. It is a challenging work, clearly written but stuffed even so with difficult problems and counter-intuitive explanations. Despite that, it has sold millions of copies around the world. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, professor of risk engineering and author of The Black Swan, places it “in the same league asThe Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud”.
What’s fascinating is that Kahneman’s work explicitly swims against the current of human thought. Not even he believes that the various flaws that bedevil decision-making can be successfully corrected. The most damaging of these is overconfidence: the kind of optimism that leads governments to believe that wars are quickly winnable and capital projects will come in on budget despite statistics predicting exactly the opposite. It is the bias he says he would most like to eliminate if he had a magic wand. But it “is built so deeply into the structure of the mind that you couldn’t change it without changing many other things”.
The same applies to our habit of predicting stereotypical outcomes at the expense of what’s known about the world. When told of a student, Tom, who has a preference for neat and tidy systems and a penchant for sci-fi, most of us guess that he’s studying computer sciences and not a humanities subject. This is despite the fact that the group studying the latter is far larger. “Think of it this way. A form of stereotyping is involved in understanding the world. So I have a stereotype of a table, I have a stereotype of chairs. Now when you start having stereotypes of social groups, it’s the human mind at work. It’s not a different mind. It’s what you need to get around in the world.” You can slow down and become aware of this, Kahneman believes, but the underlying mechanism isn’t going to change.
Rosecrans Baldwin in The Morning News:
Sarah Hepola is the personal essays editor at Salon and a contributor to The Morning News since 2002, one of our very first writers. She’s also a close friend, in part because her pieces have always been exactly what we want to publish at TMN: investigative essays that are personal, funny, and very smart. Her new book, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget is an addiction memoir, and it’s also all of those things, but much more. As the Times critic Dwight Garner wrote recently, with a little more flamboyance than we expect in his reviews, “Simply extraordinary…. Ms. Hepola’s electric prose marks her as a flamingo among this genre’s geese.” Blackout tells the story of the author’s problems with “the gasoline of all adventure,” as she puts it, from a very specific and misunderstood angle: the phenomenon of blackouts, or those moments when a drinker’s long-term memory shuts down while drinking. In Hepola’s experience, blacking out was part of some of her worst moments as an alcoholic, and the book finds her investigating what the phenomenon is exactly, and what really happened when her memory turned off. After we read the book, we were surprised to realize how little we knew about blacking out, too, so we reached out to Sarah to find out more.
Blacking out isn’t the same as passing out, not the same as “browning out,” as they say in It’s Always Sunny. What is it?
A blackout is when you drink so much that your long-term memory shuts down. You can still talk and make jokes and flirt with random guys, but the recorder in the brain isn’t working, so, afterward, you won’t remember a thing. It’s an alcohol-imposed amnesia. Not everyone will have blackouts, which makes it confusing for those who don’t, and for those of us who do, it’s unforgettable. You wake up, and pieces of your night are missing.
Peter Brown in Lapham's Quarterly:
When Christians of late antiquity thought of religious giving, they went back to what for them was the beginning—to the words of Jesus. The words of Jesus to the Rich Young Man described a transfer of “treasure” from earth to heaven: “Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.’ ” Jesus repeated this challenge to his disciples: “Sell your possessions and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” The transfer of treasure from earth to heaven was also current in Jewish circles. In the Jerusalem Talmud of the late fourth century, there is a story about King Monobazos, the Jewish king of Adiabene on the Euphrates. He was said to have spent his fortune providing food for the poor in Jerusalem. His infuriated relatives accused him of living up to his name, which was derived from the word bazaz—“to plunder.” Monobazos was plundering his earthly inheritance. He answered them: “My fathers laid up treasure for below, but I have laid up treasures for above. They laid up treasures in a place over which the hand of man may prevail: I in a place over which no hand can prevail.”
The words of Jesus and the story of King Monobazos urged or described heroic acts of renunciation and generosity. By the third century, however, in both Judaism and Christianity, the gesture of giving had become miniaturized, as it were. One did not have to perform feats of heroic self-sacrifice or charity to place treasure in heaven. Small gifts would do. For instance, Cyprian, who became the bishop of Carthage around 249, treated the steady, low-profile flow of alms to the poor on the same footing as the renunciation of all wealth that Jesus had urged on the Rich Young Man. Heaven was thus not only a place of great treasure houses, it included prime real estate in a state of continuous construction due to almsgiving performed on earth by means of common, coarse money.
When one turns to present-day scholarship on this theme, we find that the idea of a transfer of treasure to heaven is surrounded by a loud silence.
Friday, July 24, 2015
Anonymous in the NY Review of Books:
Ahmad Fadhil was eighteen when his father died in 1984. Photographs suggest that he was relatively short, chubby, and wore large glasses. He wasn’t a particularly poor student—he received a B grade in junior high—but he decided to leave school. There was work in the garment and leather factories in his home city of Zarqa, Jordan, but he chose instead to work in a video store, and earned enough money to pay for some tattoos. He also drank alcohol, took drugs, and got into trouble with the police. So his mother sent him to an Islamic self-help class. This sobered him up and put him on a different path. By the time Ahmad Fadhil died in 2006 he had laid the foundations of an independent Islamic state of eight million people that controlled a territory larger than Jordan itself.
The rise of Ahmad Fadhil—or as he was later known in the jihad, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—and ISIS, the movement of which he was the founder, remains almost inexplicable. The year 2003, in which he began his operations in Iraq, seemed to many part of a mundane and unheroic age of Internet start-ups and a slowly expanding system of global trade. Despite the US-led invasion of Iraq that year, the borders of Syria and Iraq were stable. Secular Arab nationalism appeared to have triumphed over the older forces of tribe and religion. Different religious communities—Yezidis, Shabaks, Christians, Kaka’is, Shias, and Sunnis—continued to live alongside one another, as they had for a millennium or more. Iraqis and Syrians had better incomes, education, health systems, and infrastructure, and an apparently more positive future, than most citizens of the developing world. Who then could have imagined that a movement founded by a man from a video store in provincial Jordan would tear off a third of the territory of Syria and Iraq, shatter all these historical institutions, and—defeating the combined militaries of a dozen of the wealthiest countries on earth—create a mini empire?
The story is relatively easy to narrate, but much more difficult to understand. It begins in 1989, when Zarqawi, inspired by his Islamic self-help class, traveled from Jordan to “do jihad” in Afghanistan. Over the next decade he fought in the Afghan civil war, organized terrorist attacks in Jordan, spent years in a Jordanian jail, and returned—with al-Qaeda help—to set up a training camp in Herat in western Afghanistan. He was driven out of Afghanistan by the US-led invasion of 2001, but helped back onto his feet by the Iranian government. Then, in 2003—with the assistance of Saddam loyalists—he set up an insurgency network in Iraq. By targeting Shias and their most holy sites, he was able to turn an insurgency against US troops into a Shia–Sunni civil war.
Mishi Saran in The LA Review of Books:
THE WORD “FASCISM” has been doing the rounds in India and China.
The first time I heard it, I was at a small, polite dinner in Shanghai a few years ago. At least I thought it was polite; I should have known that behind closed doors, Chinese intellectuals let opinions buzz, as fast as flies over summer watermelon. China’s President Xi Jinping was newly in power.
“I’m reading Mein Kampf,” said a frail woman with tidy, grey hair sitting opposite me.
I sat a little straighter; I’d never actually heard anyone say that.
“I’m recognizing that the Chinese Communist party uses the same tactics. They unite people with hate; love is not a uniting factor. They give the people slogans.”
Her declaration seemed to loosen lips in the room, and others chimed in, with reports of how anyone writing a thesis now had to submit an abstract to the Party chief stationed at whatever institution.
“I never really like Wen Jiabao, but at least we could speak then,” a man said. “Now, under Xi, this kind of tightening, I don’t know …”
The next time I encountered the word — or more accurately the allusion — was in relation to my homeland, when Indian Prime Minister Modi stormed to a landslide victory in the country’s elections in May 2014, and a magazine called Open put Modi on the cover with the title, “Triumph of the Will,” a nod to a 1935 Nazi propaganda film. I wasn’t paying attention at the time, busy packing up house, saying goodbye to Shanghai after eight years of living there. I had to find a place to live in our new home, Hong Kong, and settle our little girl into a new school routine.
A year later, when Modi was due to visit China in May 2015, I accepted an invitation to come to Shanghai to hear him speak. The Indian Association based in Shanghai, loosely affiliated with the Indian Consulate, had contacted Indians living in cities across China and in Hong Kong too.
Perry Anderson in Jacobin:
Five years of mass unemployment and welfare cuts later, Greek debt had merely soared still higher. Syriza won office because it promised, with much fiery rhetoric, to put an end to the submission of Greece to the rule of the troika. It would “renegotiate” the terms of the country’s wardship in Europe. How did it hope to do so? Simply by pleading for kinder treatment, and cursing when it was not forthcoming — pleas and curses alike appealing to the loftier values of Europe, to which the European Council could surely not remain deaf.
Incompatible with these outpourings, mingling supplication and imprecation, was, all too plainly from the start, any thought of desisting from the euro. There were two reasons for that. Provincial in outlook, the Syriza leadership found it difficult to make any mental distinction between membership of the EU and of the eurozone, treating exit from the one as if it were virtual expulsion from the other: the ultimate nightmare for any good European, as they held themselves to be.
They were also conscious of the fact that Greek standards of living — lubricated by low interest rates brought on by the convergence of spreads across Europe; topped up with Structural Funds — had indeed increased in the Potemkin years of Simitis, leaving warm popular memories of the euro, which did not connect subsequent miseries with it. Syriza made no attempt to explain the connection. Tspiras and his colleagues assured all who could listen that, on the contrary, there could be no question of abandoning the euro.
With this, they gave up any serious hope of bargaining with the real — not their dreamland — Europe. By 2015, the threat of a Grexit was economically much weaker than it would have been in 2010, because by now the German and French banks had been paid off with the bailout nominally going to Greece. Despite residual alarmist talk elsewhere, the German finance ministry has for some time, and with good reason, dismissed any dramatic material consequences from a Greek default.
But for the European ideology, to which all eurozone governments subscribe, the symbolic blow to the single currency — indeed, in the typical language of the day, the “European project” itself — would be grievous, a setback it was felt critical to avoid.
Pankaj Mishra in The Guardian:
Violence has erupted across a broad swath of territory in recent months: wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, suicide bombings in Xinjiang, Nigeria and Turkey, insurgencies from Yemen to Thailand, massacres in Paris, Tunisia and the American south. Future historians may well see such uncoordinated mayhem as commencing the third – and the longest and the strangest – of world wars. Certainly, forces larger and more complex than in the previous two wars are at work; they outrun our capacity to apprehend them, let alone adjust their direction to our benefit. The early post cold war consensus – that bourgeois democracy has solved the riddle of history, and a global capitalist economy will usher in worldwide prosperity and peace – lies in tatters. But no plausible alternatives of political and economic organisation are in sight. A world organised for the play of individual self-interest looks more and more prone to manic tribalism.
In the lengthening spiral of mutinies from Charleston to central India, the insurgents of Iraq and Syria have monopolised our attention by their swift military victories; their exhibitionistic brutality, especially towards women and minorities; and, most significantly, their brisk seduction of young people from the cities of Europe and the US. Globalisation has everywhere rapidly weakened older forms of authority, in Europe’s social democracies as well as Arab despotisms, and thrown up an array of unpredictable new international actors, from Chinese irredentists and cyberhackers to Syriza and Boko Haram. But the sudden appearance of Islamic State (Isis) in Mosul last year, and the continuing failure to stem its expansion or check its appeal, is the clearest sign of a general perplexity, especially among political elites, who do not seem to know what they are doing and what they are bringing about.
Alison Abbott in Nature:
Neuroscientists have identified an area of the brain that might give the human mind its unique abilities, including language. The area lit up in human, but not monkey, brains when they were presented with different types of abstract information. The idea that integrating abstract information drives many of the human brain's unique abilities has been around for decades. But a paper published1 in Current Biology, which directly compares activity in human and macaque monkey brains as they listen to simple auditory patterns, provides the first physical evidence that a specific area for such integration may exist in humans. Other studies that compare monkeys and humans have revealed differences in the brain’s anatomy, for example, but not differences that could explain where humans’ abstract abilities come from, say neuroscientists. “This gives us a powerful clue about what is special about our minds,” says psychologist Gary Marcus at New York University. “Nothing is more important than understanding how we got to be how we are.”
A team of researchers headed by Stanislas Dehaene at the INSERM Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit at Gif-sur-Yvette near Paris, looked at changing patterns of activation in the brain as untrained monkeys and human adults listened to a simple sequence of tones, for example three identical tones followed by a different tone (like the famous four-note opening of Beethoven’s fifth symphony: da-da-da-DAH). The researchers played several different sequences with this structure — known as AAAB — and other sequences to the subjects while they lay in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. The fMRI technique picks up changes in blood flow in the brain that correlate with regional brain activity. The team wanted to know whether the subjects of both species could recognize two different features of the sequences: the total number of tones, indicating an ability to count, and the way the tones repeat, indicating an ability to recognize this type of algebraic pattern.
The sun is an orange from the Peloponnese
staining clouds and stuccoed walls,
sailboats tacking out to sea.
Damson shapes chase light from under vines;
shadows grope their way,
thick arabesques of lace furrowed at the frame.
Hills are a smoke-stained fresco flaking,
rooftops shrill as pomegranate seeds.
Poplars are the spears of long-dead warriors
sprouted from a rill of dragon’s teeth.
Rising from that faded terracotta dome
come the curling throaty notes
of evening mass below, swelling in
and out of polyphony like a weaver’s skilful woof
their path the disappearing smoke
dragged from a censer’s golden arc.
Far across this dim intaglio
a white cat pads along a cooling lintel stone.
Only the distant thrum of a scooter
navigating narrow roads.
by Sarah Howe
from A Certain Chinese Encyclopedia
publisher: tall-lighthouse, Luton, 2009
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Julian Barnes in the London Review of Books:
Just as there are writers’ writers, so there are painters’ painters: necessary exemplars, moral guides, embodiers of the art. Often they are quiet artists, who lack a shouty biography, who go about their work with modest pertinacity, believing the art greater than the artist. Noisier painters sometimes unwisely patronise them. In France, the 18th century gave us Chardin, the 19th Corot, and the 20th Braque: all true north on the artistic compass. Their relationship with their descendants is sometimes one of influence, more usually one of semi-private conversation across the centuries (Lucian Freud doing versions of Chardin, Hodgkin painting ‘After Corot’). But it also goes beyond that – beyond admiration, beyond style, homage, imitation. Van Gogh, even as he was violently wrenching himself towards a form of painting which still startles us today, was filling his letters and his mind with thoughts of Corot (he also greatly valued Chardin). It was a tribute by the living artist to his predecessor’s clarity of seeing, an acknowledgment that this is what painting is. Just as the young John Richardson, visiting Braque’s studio for the first time, felt that he had arrived ‘at the very heart of painting’.
But these apparently quiet artists often turn out to have been more far-sighted and more radical than we assume. Corot, for example, once dreamed the whole of Impressionism. As Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo in May 1888,
When good père Corot said a few days before he died: last night I saw in my dreams landscapes with entirely pink skies, well, didn’t they come, those pink skies, and yellow and green into the bargain, in Impressionist landscapes? All this is to say that there are things one senses in the future and that really come about.
By the time of Van Gogh’s letter, the century-long struggle in French art between colour and line had been settled in favour of colour. (Settled for the time being, that is – until a few years later Cubism restored the primacy of line.) Corot pink developed into a leading, raging, shocking colour: the pink loitering surreptitiously in shadows, the overt pink of Monet’s haystacks and Van Gogh’s Pink Peach Tree, and still active in the pink of Bonnard’s last painting, Almond Tree in Blossom. But yellow and green were there too, as Van Gogh noted, and orange and red; oh, and blue and black. The tops were taken off all the tubes, and colour seemed to get its freedom and intensity back: richnesses that had been suppressed – either by self-censorship or academic dictate – since the days of Delacroix.
Gwynn Guilford in Quartz:
Sneakily but steadily, the Chinese government is pumping torrents of money into its banks. And many trillions of yuan have been flowing into stocks via the interbank lending markets.
Just as interesting, though, is where the cash isn’t flowing. Despite the flood from the central bank, the money geysering forth isn’t making its way into ordinary people’s pockets, their checking accounts, or growth-boosting infrastructure projects. That’s a disquieting hint that China’s $30 trillion in debt is terrorizing its economy far more than the country’s robust 7% GDP growth rate implies.
The first thing to note is the scale of the sums gushing out of the People’s Bank of China. Sources of this largesse include interbank lending, lowering of bank capital requirements—which freed up an estimated 1.5 trillion yuan ($240 billion)—and “innovative liquidity tools” (meaning, backdoor lending to banks).
This money should spur growth. However, Wei Yao, economist at Société Générale, has spotted a curious divergence that suggests it’s not.
Tosin Thompson in The New Statesman:
Every year, we travel through time.
In autumn, we travel forward in time by one hour, and in the spring, we travel back in time by one hour. Every four years we gain 24 hours in February, and every three years an extra second is added to a minute.
Time appears, and then – *poof* – disappears again. But, wait a minute (whatever a minute is). Time cannot spring in and out of existence, can it? Time loans the universe a second, an hour, or possibly a day until the deadline whereby the universe must pay time back, right? But where has time been all this time?
Time is hard to define. We measure time in years (the time it takes Earth to orbit the sun), days (one rotation of the Earth) and lunar months (the time it takes the moon to wax and wane). Time – hours, minutes, seconds, milliseconds, nanoseconds – are all man-made constructs. We made them up.
And time is a concept that doesn’t necessarily apply to the universe.
Time has always been inextricably linked with the sun. The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians used sundials that roughly divided daylight into 12 equal segments. 60-minute hours and 60-second minutes are the product of the ancient Mesopotamian sexigesimal (base 60) numbering system. The French attempted to use the decimal system (base 10 rather than 12) for time-keeping, but that never caught on. The Greeks improved the sundial by marking gradations on sundials to indicate the divisions of time during the day.
And then the Scientific Revolution (1550-1700) came along. According to Vincenzo Viviani, Galileo's first biographer, 20-year-old Galileo got bored during prayers at the Cathedral of Pisa in 1583. As he daydreamed, something caught his eye: a swinging altar lamp. Curiosity got the better of him and he swung the lamp to find out how long it took to swing back and forth. He used his pulse to time large and small swings.
Galileo discovered something remarkable that nobody else had: the period of each swing was exactly the same. Then, the pendulum clock was born – the most accurate way of timekeeping at the time.