Thursday, February 16, 2017
Video length: 54:20
We are left pondering several related questions: how did Rasputin survive as long as 1916; what was it about him that made the imperial couple shut their eyes to his ostensible turpitude; and what did his influence on them amount to? The reasons for Rasputin’s longevity lie partly within the imperial couple themselves. Nicholas was reserved and diffident, Alexandra was mystically inclined and pathologically private, but they both believed absolutely in the prerogatives of autocracy. They craved emotional support from someone who was not part of or beholden to the court elite around them. As Smith points out, Rasputin was not the first “Our Friend” at the imperial residence of Tsarskoe Selo: in the early 1900s Nicholas and Alexandra had been intimate with a renowned occultist named Monsieur Philippe, parting with him only after being told repeatedly of the damage he was doing to their reputation. It was only a matter of time before the Frenchman was replaced by someone closer to home. Rasputin was the right candidate at the right moment: as an authentic Russian peasant, a native of Siberia, that bastion of fearless and uncorrupted national values, he offered the imperial couple a direct line to “the people” and indulged their belief that they ruled in the interests of common folk and in defiance of treacherous urban elites. Perhaps Nicholas and Alexandra were not entirely misguided: the elites of court and high officialdom were hardly the most reliable source of disinterested information or intelligent insight, as Smith shows us at many turns.
‘Eppur si muove’ — And yet it moves. Galileo’s defiant insistence that the Earth revolves round the Sun, his refusal to submit to the Inquisition, is a familiar one. It’s the battle cry not of a reformer but of a revolutionary, a passionate teller of truths.
It’s a credo he shared with composer Claudio Monteverdi. Born barely three years after the astronomer, Monteverdi faced his own inquisition. Defying those who would make music an immoveable sphere, bound in place by harmonic proprieties and structural conventions, he made works that rejected tidy formalism in favour of messy, fleshy humanity. His was music that moved in every sense, that lived as vividly as those who inspired it. He may celebrate his 450th anniversary this year, but Monteverdi was the first modern composer.
‘It solicits the ear and roughly, harshly strikes it… those dissonances are crude, ugly and insupportable.’ Provoking critical scorn with his experimentation long before Stockhausen or Boulez, Monteverdi’s musical prescience cannot be overstated.
Two men in particular had reason to celebrate the evening of July 9, 1981. One received the Pulitzer Prize the year prior, having refashioned his literary career after a series of controversies, failures, and skirmishes. The other was barely a month out of prison, a murderer whose letters, collected in book form, promised an inside look at the horrors of incarcerated life.
The latter was Jack Henry Abbott. His book was toasted with white wine that July night at Il Mulino in Greenwich Village. The former was Norman Mailer, who had provided the introduction, an extended thank-you for Abbott’s help on writing that Pulitzer winner, The Executioner’s Song.
The celebration was short-lived. Nine days later, the day before In the Belly of the Beast received a rave review in theNew York Times, Abbott was a fugitive. He had murdered again. Freedom evaporated. Once captured, in late September, Abbott would never see the outside world again.
Writers like Michael Mewshaw and Felice Picano assigned blame to Mailer in subsequent essays on Abbott’s book, arguing Mailer went out of his way to ignore Abbott’s lengthy criminal record stretching back to age eleven.
Sheherzad Preisler in Tonic:
Social-media-driven #fitspo is all the rage, so why not measure the nation's health using Twitter? A new study does just that in a brutal state-by-state comparison of calorie burn. The Lexicocalorimeter creates a ratio of caloric input to output in geotagged locations. It does so by sifting through countless tweets, looking for mentions of food and physical activities. The former can be anything from "nacho cheese Doritos" to "tofu"; the latter ranges from "The Carlton Dance" to "bear hunting." The numbers used to calculate the calories found in certain foods—caloric input—and calories burned during physical activities—caloric output—are based on generalized values. The study, led by researcher Peter Dodds and a team of scientists at the University of Vermont, provides an analysis of each state. As it turns out, New Jersey burns fewer calories than the average state; "getting my nails done" is the most prevalent activity on its low-intensity list and "running" appears less frequently than America's overall average. Colorado's input-to-output ratio was the most balanced of all the states (meaning they burned lots of the calories they inhaled), while Mississippi's was the least balanced.
Analyzing 50 million tweets from 2011 and 2012, the researchers found that the largest contributor to calories burned nationwide was "watching TV or movies" (calories burned!), and the food responsible for most calories consumed in each state was pizza. The only exceptions were in Wyoming, whose largest caloric contributor was cookies, and Mississippi, where ice cream was the calorie-bomb of choice. Some results from the analysis come as no surprise—that a lot of people note eating lobster in Maine and Massachusetts, for example. Other results strike as more arbitrary, as with the relative popularity of talking on the phone, showering, and sitting in Delaware, Virginia, and Tennessee, respectively.
From Roll Call Magazine:
Often called "one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced," John Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties, and building what he calls "The Beloved Community” in America. His dedication to the highest ethical standards and moral principles has won him the admiration of many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the United States Congress. He has been called "the conscience of the U.S. Congress,” and Roll Call magazine has said, "John Lewis…is a genuine American hero and moral leader who commands widespread respect in the chamber.”
He was born the son of sharecroppers on February 21, 1940, outside of Troy, Alabama. He grew up on his family's farm and attended segregated public schools in Pike County, Alabama. As a young boy, he was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which he heard on radio broadcasts. In those pivotal moments, he made a decision to become a part of the Civil Rights Movement. Ever since then, he has remained at the vanguard of progressive social movements and the human rights struggle in the United States. As a student at Fisk University, John Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1961, he volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. Lewis risked his life on those Rides many times by simply sitting in seats reserved for white patrons. He was also beaten severely by angry mobs and arrested by police for challenging the injustice of Jim Crow segregation in the South. During the height of the Movement, from 1963 to 1966, Lewis was named Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which he helped form. SNCC was largely responsible for organizing student activism in the Movement, including sit-ins and other activities.
While still a young man, John Lewis became a nationally recognized leader. By 1963, he was dubbed one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. At the age of 23, he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963. In 1964, John Lewis coordinated SNCC efforts to organize voter registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer. The following year, Lewis helped spearhead one of the most seminal moments of the Civil Rights Movement. Hosea Williams, another notable Civil Rights leader, and John Lewis led over 600 peaceful, orderly protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965. They intended to march from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state. The marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as "Bloody Sunday." News broadcasts and photographs revealing the senseless cruelty of the segregated South helped hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Despite more than 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries, John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence.
More here. (Note: At least one post throughout February will be in honor of Black History Month)
At Full Moon
I can see him, silhouette of
a man in his bathroom window.
By that light he works on apace.
Rubs lather into his cheeks
and then with a razor
shaves the wolf from his face.
by Ester Naomi Perquin
from Servetten halfstok
publisher: Van Oorschot, Amsterdam, 2007
translation: 2010, Paul Vincent
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Anjuli Raza Kolb in the Boston Review:
There is a word that has been hovering around me like a familiar since the morning after the U.S. presidential election. It comes from the title of the Palestinian novelist and politician Emile Habiby’s bizarre and wonderful 1974 book, The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist (al-mutasha’il, a mashup of mutafa’il [optimism] and mutasha’im [pessimism]). Through the oxymoronic condition of pessoptimism, the novel—which Edward Said styled the national epic of Palestine—describes life for a fairly ordinary Arab on and across the borders of Israel, roughly from the Nakba in 1948 through the June War of 1967. The facts of this ordinary life for Saeed, whose first name means “happy,” include separation from his family, a politically expedient marriage arranged by a party boss, a stint in jail for overzealous loyalty to the Israeli state, the loss of his child and wife, multiple relocations, forced anti-communist spying, the constant threat of expulsion, the stripping of rights, and, most importantly, a radical, deranging solitude.
In one of the letters to an anonymous correspondent in which he chronicles his adventures, Saeed the Pessoptimist explains how he inhabits his name under such conditions: “I don’t differentiate between optimism and pessimism and am quite at a loss as to which of the two characterizes me. When I awake each morning I thank the Lord he did not take my soul during the night. If harm befalls me during the day, I thank Him that it was no worse.” A self-consciously quixotic type, Saeed compares his adventures to those of Cervantes’s antihero, as well as to Candide’s. Fellow Palestinian writer Salma Jayyusi situates the Pessoptimist in a genealogy of three archetypes of Arabic literature going back to the eighth century: the picaresque hero, the fool, and the traitor/informer.
Rae Ellen Bichell at NPR:
About 3,000 years ago, a potter near Jerusalem made a big jar. It was meant to hold olive oil or wine or something else valuable enough to send to the king as a tax payment. The jar's handles were stamped with a royal seal, and the pot went into the kiln.
Over the next 600 years, despite wars destructive enough to raze cities, potters in the area kept making ceramic tax jars, each one stamped with whatever seal represented the ruler du jour.
They didn't know it, but in the process, the ancient potters were not just upholding centuries of tax bureaucracy.
As a group of archaeologists and geophysicists wrote Monday in the journal PNAS, they were also creating a long-lasting record of activity some 2,000 miles beneath their feet. And that record is now yielding clues to a big mystery about this planet: how its magnetic field has changed over time.
Robert Kolker at Bloomberg:
On Aug. 18, 2010, a police lieutenant in Gary, Ind., received an e-mail, the subject line of which would be right at home in the first few scenes of a David Fincher movie: “Could there be a serial killer active in the Gary area?”
It isn’t clear what the lieutenant did with that e-mail; it would be understandable if he waved it off as a prank. But the author could not have been more serious. He’d attached source material—spreadsheets created from FBI files showing that over several years the city of Gary had recorded 14 unsolved murders of women between the ages of 20 and 50. The cause of each death was the same: strangulation. Compared with statistics from around the country, he wrote, the number of similar killings in Gary was far greater than the norm. So many people dying the same way in the same city—wouldn’t that suggest that at least a few of them, maybe more, might be connected? And that the killer might still be at large?
The police lieutenant never replied. Twelve days later, the police chief, Gary Carter, received a similar e-mail from the same person. This message added a few details. Several of the women were strangled in their homes. In at least two cases, a fire was set after the murder. In more recent cases, several women were found strangled in or around abandoned buildings. Wasn’t all of this, the writer asked, at least worth a look?
Video length: 12:21
One of the greatest game-changers in French literature was the Essaisof Michel de Montaigne, which first appeared in 1580. The title itself was a linguistic innovation, announcing the birth of a new literary form in which serious topics would be dealt with in a style that was tentative, ironic and anecdotal, rather than rigorous, serious and systematic. Thanks to Montaigne, intellectual argument would be liberated from the chapter and verse of the scholar’s treatise and the repetitive rote of lecturers in schools. It would become indistinguishable from the spontaneous conversation of civilised companions sauntering round town or galloping over the countryside or sitting at a well-furnished table.
The content of the Essais followed the form: a celebration of ‘diversity of judgement’, as Montaigne put it, by means of ‘fooling and fantastication’. All of us, he said, ‘are, I know not how, double in ourselves, which is the cause that what we believe we do not believe, and cannot separate ourselves from what we condemn’. For him, doubt and hesitation were the mark of true wisdom, and resolute certainty was ‘for lunatics’.
The Essais were a game-changer for English literature too. Francis Bacon tried to match their conscious nonchalance in his own Essays in 1597, and in 1603 they were ‘done into English’ by John Florio to enormous effect. Florio’s translation was a linguistic revolution in itself: it is the source of almost two hundred new words in the Oxford English Dictionary, from ‘abecedarian’ and ‘amusing’ to ‘sophisticated’ and ‘unfoolish’. It also opened a new vista of fantasy, exoticism and ruminative indirection, from Shakespeare’s Tempest to Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy and Thomas Browne’sReligio Medici.
I was talking online with friend and fellow blogger Artur Sebastian Rosman about the current obsessions in the news. One thing we both have noticed: suddenly everything and everyone is being called a “fascist.” But what, exactly, does the word mean nowadays, other than an all-purpose pejorative, something pleasant to scream at your opponents?
We went back the expert, George Orwell. Here’s what he said: “Of all the unanswered questions of our time, perhaps the most important is: ‘What is Fascism?’ One of the social survey organizations in America recently asked this question of a hundred different people, and got answers ranging from ‘pure democracy’ to ‘pure diabolism’. In this country if you ask the average thinking person to define Fascism, he usually answers by pointing to the German and Italian régimes. But this is very unsatisfactory, because even the major Fascist states differ from one another a good deal in structure and ideology.”
Seems it stumped him, too:
It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.
Malcolm Guite is the chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge, and reading Mariner: a Voyage With Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a little like saying grace before discussing Coleridge. This is Coleridge as a middle-aged Anglican as opposed to Coleridge the opium addict or the creator of Christabel, literature’s first lesbian vampire. Guite argues that the two-volume life of the poet by Richard Holmes, “brilliant” though it is, does not draw out his contribution to Christian thinking, which is the purpose of the present book. “Prayer”, he writes, is the poem’s “central theme and prominent at all its turning points”. The ballad is a narrative of sin and atonement: when the mariner kills the albatross he experiences profound guilt and isolation. He finds repentance in the blessing of the water-snakes; when his ship goes down “like lead into the sea”, his submersion is a baptism.
Guite is by no means the first to interpret “The Ancient Mariner” as an allegory of man’s fall: critics have usually divided between pagan, for whom the poem is a drug-fuelled nightmare or an account of debilitating guilt, and Christian, for whom it offers hope. For Guite, the mariner’s “redemption” lies in returning to “the land of the Trinity”, where his new mission is “to tell his own transformative tale to those who need to hear it”. A different interpretation of the mariner’s life on land is to see it as a form of purgatory: a pariah, he is doomed to roam the world repeatedly confessing his crime – if killing an albatross with a bow and arrow can be called a crime (depending on your interpretation of the poem).
The choices made by white men, who are prepared to abandon their humanity out of fear of black men and women, suggest the true horror of lost status
Toni Morrison in The New Yorker:
Under slave laws, the necessity for color rankings was obvious, but in America today, post-civil-rights legislation, white people’s conviction of their natural superiority is being lost. Rapidly lost. There are “people of color” everywhere, threatening to erase this long-understood definition of America. And what then? Another black President? A predominantly black Senate? Three black Supreme Court Justices? The threat is frightening.
In order to limit the possibility of this untenable change, and restore whiteness to its former status as a marker of national identity, a number of white Americans are sacrificing themselves. They have begun to do things they clearly don’t really want to be doing, and, to do so, they are (1) abandoning their sense of human dignity and (2) risking the appearance of cowardice. Much as they may hate their behavior, and know full well how craven it is, they are willing to kill small children attending Sunday school and slaughter churchgoers who invite a white boy to pray. Embarrassing as the obvious display of cowardice must be, they are willing to set fire to churches, and to start firing in them while the members are at prayer. And, shameful as such demonstrations of weakness are, they are willing to shoot black children in the street. To keep alive the perception of white superiority, these white Americans tuck their heads under cone-shaped hats and American flags and deny themselves the dignity of face-to-face confrontation, training their guns on the unarmed, the innocent, the scared, on subjects who are running away, exposing their unthreatening backs to bullets. Surely, shooting a fleeing man in the back hurts the presumption of white strength? The sad plight of grown white men, crouching beneath their (better) selves, to slaughter the innocent during traffic stops, to push black women’s faces into the dirt, to handcuff black children. Only the frightened would do that. Right?
These sacrifices, made by supposedly tough white men, who are prepared to abandon their humanity out of fear of black men and women, suggest the true horror of lost status.
More here. (Note: At least one post throughout February will be in honor of Black History Month)
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Carole Cadwalladr in The Guardian:
I meet Daniel Dennett, the great American rationalist, on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, as good a day as any to contemplate the fragility of civilisation in face of overwhelming technological change, a topic he examines in his latest book.
Dennett is a singular figure in American culture: a white-haired, white-bearded 74-year-old philosopher whose work has mined the questions that erupt at the places where science, technology and consciousness meet. His subject is the brain and how it creates meaning and what our brains will make of a future that includes AI and robots. He’s in London with his wife, Susan, to mark the publication of his latest book – From Bacteria to Bach and Back – and I find him in a rented flat in Notting Hill, scowling at his laptop. “I was about to send a tweet,” he says. “Something like, ‘Republican senators are in an enviable position. How often does anybody get a real opportunity to become a national hero? Who’s going to step up and enter the pages of history?’”
Dennett has the intellectual heft for his pronouncements to have impact: a star speaker on the TED circuit and friend to many of the Silicon Valley elite, he’s also that rare breed, the mythical creature of publishers’ dreams – a writer of meaty, serious books that also sell.
It’s clear that his latest was conceived and written in a different time. Dennett, a close ally of Richard Dawkins (and a similarly quasi-militant atheist), had decided to look at culture from an evolutionary perspective. His last chapter, where he contemplates our technological future, was intended to be thought-provoking. Instead, it’s quietly terrifying: we’re only just starting to wake up to the potential outcomes of the technology that we’re inventing but increasingly don’t understand, he writes. Human co-operation and trust aren’t givens. They’re the byproducts of a cultural process that can be reversed. And civilisation is far, far more fragile than any of us want to realise.
Ana Sandoiu in Medical News Today:
From an evolutionary perspective, fear and anxiety are quite useful. These deeply ingrained emotions used to protect our ancestors from predators, and in our times the "fight-or-flight" response is still a healthy reaction to dangerous situations.
When fear is proportionate to the danger a person is in, it is a normal, adaptive response. However, some of us have exaggerated reactions to stressful situations.
As the National Institute of Mental Health explains, when the fear response is disproportionate or lasts a lot longer than what is normally expected from the situation - to a point where it interferes with an individual's well-being and daily functioning - it is classed as an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders include a wide range of conditions that reportedly affect 18 percent of the adult population in the United States.
Because we share some of the brain's architecture with our fellow mammals and we have a similar response to fear, studying animal models has provided scientists with important insights into the neuroscientific basis for fear processing.
Philip Ball in Prospect:
Scientists exhausted by the relentless demand to “demonstrate impact” and churn out peer-reviewed papers find ways of cheering themselves up. A popular consolation is to imagine reviewers’ reports on Einstein’s “grant application” for his work on special relativity, condemning his revolutionary thoughts as sheer speculation, devoid of any practical application, and worthy of no funding at all.
Lost golden ages are rarely as golden as we remember: back in 1905 Einstein wasn’t funded either, but still working in the Swiss patent office. The rueful jokes do, however, make a valid point about the way conservatism and bandwagon-riding often dictate progress in scientific careers today. Now you need polish, pizzazz, and state-of-the-art facilities. Gone are the days when it was possible to conduct cutting-edge experiments, as Ernest Rutherford did, with little more than sealing wax and string. But something has been lost in the face of the incessant need to score CV points, create spin-off companies, and descend into ever-narrower specialisms. The greatest of scientists, like physicist Erwin Schrödinger, have often thought profoundly outside their own particular specialisms; others, like Francis Crick, one half of the pair who unravelled the mysteries of DNA and partly inspired by Schrödinger, had the versatility to switch fields entirely.
Many virtues of that vanished age, before the intellectually narrowing pressures on today’s careers, are preserved in the person of the veteran British mathematical physicist, Roger Penrose—a theorist of black holes and quantum particles, sometime collaborator of Stephen Hawking, and an unlikely best-selling author. I met the 85-year-old don in the new Mathematical Institute at Oxford, where he is still cooking up challenging new ideas. You have to enter the building across a tiling scheme Penrose invented in the 1970s, which covers the courtyard in a pattern that seems to be orderly but can never quite repeat itself.
Although his insights are often fiendishly technical and expressed in eye-watering mathematics, Penrose is irrepressibly eclectic in his learning.
Video length: 28:48
They are locked in opposition, the two fictional sisters. Sisters in blood, Elizabeth Costello calls them, but not in spirit. Elizabeth is an aging Australian novelist imagined by J. M. Coetzee. In his story “The Humanities in Africa,” she has traveled to Zululand to celebrate her sister Blanche, now Sister Bridget, who is receiving an honorary degree from a university there. Once a classicist, Sister Bridget long ago abandoned the academic path to pursue a religious vocation with the Sisters of the Marian Order. Now she administers their hospital, Blessed Mary on the Hill.
The opposition between the sisters pivots on humanism and beauty. Sister Bridget’s support for making and venerating crucifixes repulses Elizabeth, who describes the tradition as “mean,” “backwards,” “squalid,” and “stagnant.” Elizabeth asks: What does Blanche have against beauty that she would import into Zululand this “Gothic obsession” with ugliness and death? Sister Bridget’s fetishization (as it seems to Elizabeth) of the crucifix elevates suffering and mortality over and above the best humanity is capable of being. Why not instead turn to the Greeks, whose art presents humanity in its prime of life: healthful, vigorous, and strong (130)? For her part, Sister Bridget accuses Elizabeth of cherishing a conception of beauty rejected by the ordinary people of Zululand and around the world. Ordinary people have freely chosen the crucifix over Greek statues, Sister Bridget claims, because it speaks to their condition in a way the ideals of Greek beauty do not (140–41).
y any reasonable criteria—the fascination of his person, the achievement of his work, the scope of his influence—Marx counts as a great man. But there exists no great full-scale biography of him, capturing his spirit and ideas in their complexity. B
In his studious reconstruction of Marx’s social milieu and intellectual formation, Stedman Jones comes close at times, but he imparts little of the enthusiasm, anxiety, hope, and dread that Marx can only have felt as a person who, like anyone else, had to live his life as a project and try to understand it as history. Stedman Jones seems to take for granted Marx’s posthumous eminence in a way that Marx, even at his most grandiose, naturally could not do himself. The result is a story deprived of the drama of uncertain expectation that informs any life, especially one devoted to the hypothesis of a new kind of society. And yet the shape of the story—as singular, jagged, and intent as the key to some door—still comes through, a bit as if you were reading a great novel in what you suspect is a so-so translation.
What would a properly Marxist life of Marx look like? Jean-Paul Sartre, in his Marxist phase, worried about the problem of biography. In Search for a Method(1957), he presents individual human life as the zone of two overlapping but incommensurable truths: On the one hand, an individual is a creature of psychology and the product of his family, and, on the other, a creature of history and a product of society.
One of the few original works to survive the intervening years (most have been lost or destroyed—the exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute consists mainly of plans, photographs, and maquettes) is Michael Monro’s equally blatant King Kong, a huge fiberglass gorilla originally installed outside the Bull Ring, a Brutalist shopping center in Birmingham. It now stands—face grimacing, arms stretched in welcome—outside the Henry Moore Institute. Like Kimme, Monro thought obviousness was what the people wanted. “In this case they will like him won’t they?” he said at the time. “Because they can understand it and appreciate it. He’s a giant gorilla.”
Monro was only half right. Though children enjoyed playing on King Kong, and a pair of disgruntled builders climbed it as part of a protest for better compensation and working conditions a few months after it was installed (placing a trowel in its hand and a hardhat on its head), the public didn’t seem to warm to it particularly. At the end of the six months there was a half-hearted campaign and public collection to keep King Kong in Birmingham, but only one person, a crossing guard named Nellie Shannon, gave any money to the cause. Her £1 donation was later returned.
Cheryl Bentsen in Boston Magazine:
At Clare College, Gates began collecting the best minds of his time, albeit for a purpose he had yet to conceive. He was homesick at first, and desperate for any sign of familiarity. Everyone he spoke with kept asking if he’d met a young man named Anthony Appiah. “You figure when white people do that they’re talking about a black person but are too polite to say it,” Gates says. “I’m thinking, motherfucker must be black, right?” After hooking up with Kwame Anthony Appiah (his full name), Gates was introduced to Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian who was then teaching at Cambridge. The three men formed an unusual trio. Very much the elegant aristocrat, Appiah, then just 18, was the son of Joe Appiah, a prominent Ghanaian lawyer and politician, and the nephew of the King of the Asante, Otumfuo Nana Opoku Ware II; on his mother’s side, he was the grandson of Sir Stafford Cripps, former chancellor of the British Labour Party. Soyinka, 16 years Gates’s senior, was a playwright, novelist, poet, and essayist from the Yoruba region of Nigeria who would later become known in the West as the Shakespeare of Africa. Rounding out the trio was Skip Gates, a poor young student from Appalachia. Meeting Appiah, Gates says, “It was love at first sight. He is the smartest human being I have ever met.” He was also someone Gates constantly tried to emulate, by wearing little silk neck scarves, as Appiah did, by growing his hair like his. “He was everything I wanted to be. He was pure reason, but very sensual. He loved life. He loved to eat. He loved wine. He loved drama and art. And he seemed to respond to me and to Sharon.” Adds Sharon: “Skip was taken with Anthony’s aristocratic lineage. He seemed like a prince to us.”
Appiah was a frequent dinner guest at Adams and Gates’s off-campus digs, where after a night of good food, wine, and talk, Appiah invariably ended up sleeping on the sofa by the coal stove. “Skip was sort of an evangelist for African American causes about which I knew nothing,” says Appiah. “He seemed worldly to me. He had a big Afro, and a big white felt hat, the kind you saw in blaxploitation movies. And as a stringer for Time, he was going to Paris to see James Baldwin and Josephine Baker, and Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver. After I met Skip, I began to learn to think about race in western culture.”
But there was just one issue in their friendship that created a bit of awkwardness. “I’m sure I was as homophobic as anybody, I’m embarrassed to say,” Gates says. “Being American—blunt and unsubtle—I had to figure out how to deal with it.”
More here. (Note: At least one post throughout February will be in honor of Black History Month)
Monday, February 13, 2017
by Holly A. Case
A few years ago someone took a photograph in Budapest of a slight young woman blowing on a street sign that appears to bend under the superhuman force. From a passing car an astonished driver looks on. The woman is Suzi Dada. She's funny, but her superhuman strength is real, and it's serious.
Dada is forever getting into the right kind of trouble. She's been confronted by police, the Hungarian secret service, and members of the extreme right party Jobbik. Unable to rely on her parents for support since starting college around the turn of the millennium, she has long been independent and self-reliant, not to mention a free radical. It took her nearly ten years to finish her university degree in history and education, but during that time she started an underground art group called Szub-Art Club for the Support of Contemporary Artistic and Subcultures, and co-founded a prankster street art group known as the Two-Tailed Dog that has since become a locus of opposition to the nationalist, anti-pluralist government of Viktor Orbán. Her attitude about almost always being the only woman who's doing what she's doing is, "I don't do it as a woman. I just do it."
Suzi went to university in Szeged, a quiet college town near the Serbian border with a good cinema, very good ice cream, and a lot of students. Back in the 1990s, many of them were looking outward while reflecting inward: devouring literature, learning languages, hosting concerts and dance parties, and traveling the world every chance they got. In the 2000s, Dada's generation got into electronic music, extreme sports, and street art. These subcultures were little known and barely tolerated in Szeged, so Suzi organized a demonstration of skateboarders' skills for local retirees who had hitherto viewed the youngsters as "street kids with baggy pants," rather than the winners of international skating competitions that many of them were.
On particle “action at a distance”: “…if particles have definite states even when
no one is looking (a concept known as realism) and if indeed no signal
travels faster than light (locality)… (and, as has) recently been
discovered … you can keep locality and realism by giving up just a little
bit of freedom.” This is known as the “freedom-of-choice” loophole.
Action at a Distance
He was not looking but
she really was not an apparition
standing at the center of the room
She was standing but
being there in that spot
precisely where she was,
not on the moon, say,
nor in the wind gathering speed
toward eternity (though
that wind always blew) he knew she
They were free but
things are not always what they seem.
The world’s a funny place.
Even Einstein said parts of it are spooky,
yet we love and hate
in the places we stand
practicing all in freedom, or not
Yet he knew