Saturday, December 03, 2016
Video length: 13:57
Maureen O'Connor in The New York Times:
I started reading “The Women Who Made New York” in October, around the time the presidential race got ugly — and extra New York-y. Speaking at a Trump rally in Ocala, Fla., former Mayor Rudy Giuliani ridiculed Hillary Clinton’s work to rebuild New York after Sept. 11. “I was there that day,” Giuliani said. “I don’t remember seeing Hillary Clinton.” Newspapers published those quotes — accompanied by pictures of Giuliani and Clinton standing shoulder to shoulder at ground zero on Sept. 12, when elected officials were first permitted onto the site. “I made a mistake,” Giuliani later admitted. He had forgotten the woman was also there. Forgetting — and belatedly remembering — women is a historiographical tradition as old as history itself. “The Women Who Made New York” positions itself as an antidote to that process. Written by Julie Scelfo and illustrated by Hallie Heald, the volume features 126 female artists, activists, politicians, criminals and tycoons. Legends like Brooke Astor, Ella Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, Anna Wintour and Debbie Harry receive authoritative write-ups that also pay tribute to the lesser-known women who cleared the path for them. You’ve heard of Billie Holiday, the legendary jazz singer whose haunting performance of “Strange Fruit” described lynching in agonizing, unforgettable language. But what about Ethel Waters, the daughter of a young rape victim who rose out of poverty to become one of the first Harlem musicians to make it big on Broadway? Six years before Holiday recorded “Strange Fruit,” Waters began performing “Supper Time,” a song about a woman discovering her husband has been lynched. “A number so moving it routinely stopped the show,” Scelfo writes, bringing contemporary social commentary to the Great White Way.
Equally enriching is Scelfo’s treatment of women usually relegated to “wife of” status. A chapter called “The Builders” opens with a paean to Emily Warren Roebling, who completed the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge when her engineer husband fell ill. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis appears in “The Preservationists,” in an entry that focuses on her work to preserve historical buildings. The famous men in Jackie’s life appear only in asides — or when their presence serves a greater purpose, like the time Jackie choreographed a kiss on the steps of City Hall while campaigning to save a Park Avenue landmark. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Jackie O profile so resolutely focused on substance instead of style — to the point that I felt a little bit deprived, until I turned the page and saw Heald’s dreamy watercolor portrait of the windswept first lady in a sumptuous roll-neck sweater. At last, I thought, a book that indulges my superficiality without wasting any words on it.
I live with ghosts.
Laggard ghosts who wear their fatigue like a sheet
Petulant, unrepentant ghosts who never sleep
Ghosts like mouth sores
Ghosts that look me in the eye at midday
and buzz in my ears in the dead of night
Chinese laundry ghosts
Ghosts that tap and tease and taunt
Politically correct ghosts
Ghosts of chance
Mami and Papi ghosts
The ghosts of all my Nochebuenas past.
My ghosts and I,
we have what you’d call this complicated relationship
At this very moment, they tap tap tap tap tap
on the back of my head,
just behind my ears.
They know I’m listening, I pretend that I’m not.
But with every ghostly tap my spine vibrates
like a tuning fork.
If I could, I would leap to grab the greatest ghost
of them all and wring his neck like a wet towel.
But my life offers no such satisfactions.
The ghosts extract their pound of flesh
gram by gram, day by day.
You cannot sneeze them away.
They do not respond to treatment or medication
(my therapist is a ghost).
By now, the ghosts are more me than me.
One of them wrote this poem.
by Gustavo Pérez Firmat
from Paper Dance
Persea Books, 1995
Friday, December 02, 2016
Thomas Pakenham in the New York Review of Books:
In 1664 John Evelyn, diarist, country gentleman, and commissioner at the court of Charles II, produced his monumental book on trees: Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest Trees. It was a seventeenth-century best seller. Evelyn was a true son of the Renaissance. His book is learned and witty and practical and passionate all by turns. No later book on trees has ever had such an impact on the British public. His message? A very modern one. We are in desperate need of trees for all kinds of reasons. Get out there with your spade and plant one today.
Despite the catastrophes that crippled London in the next two years—the great plague and the great fire—Evelyn lived to see the book reprinted four times. A century later it was reissued with elegant copperplate illustrations and an exhaustive commentary to bring it up to date. Later editions of the book (renamed Silva) have followed, and many authors have tried to write in the spirit of Evelyn. But somehow Sylva has always remained head and shoulders above its successors. That is, until the present. The two new books on trees under review are both outstanding. In different ways their authors share many of Evelyn’s best qualities.
Fiona Stafford’s The Long, Long Life of Trees treads closest in the footsteps of Sylva. Evelyn, it is true, was more adventurous in his choice of trees to be described in detail. He covers an astonishing range: a tally of thirty-one genera, which include newly introduced trees from the American East Coast, like red oaks and Weymouth pines, as well as trees that were seen as exotic in England, such as the cedar of Lebanon and the Irish strawberry-tree.
Stephen Hawking in The Guardian:
As a theoretical physicist based in Cambridge, I have lived my life in an extraordinarily privileged bubble. Cambridge is an unusual town, centred around one of the world’s great universities. Within that town, the scientific community that I became part of in my 20s is even more rarefied.
And within that scientific community, the small group of international theoretical physicists with whom I have spent my working life might sometimes be tempted to regard themselves as the pinnacle. In addition to this, with the celebrity that has come with my books, and the isolation imposed by my illness, I feel as though my ivory tower is getting taller.
So the recent apparent rejection of the elites in both America and Britain is surely aimed at me, as much as anyone. Whatever we might think about the decision by the British electorate to reject membership of the European Union and by the American public to embrace Donald Trump as their next president, there is no doubt in the minds of commentators that this was a cry of anger by people who felt they had been abandoned by their leaders.
It was, everyone seems to agree, the moment when the forgotten spoke, finding their voices to reject the advice and guidance of experts and the elite everywhere.
I am no exception to this rule. I warned before the Brexit vote that it would damage scientific research in Britain, that a vote to leave would be a step backward, and the electorate – or at least a sufficiently significant proportion of it – took no more notice of me than any of the other political leaders, trade unionists, artists, scientists, businessmen and celebrities who all gave the same unheeded advice to the rest of the country.
Ed Yong in The Atlantic:
Imagine a calendar. Chances are you just thought about a rectangular grid, with time progressing from the top-left to the bottom-right. But around one percent of you may have pictured something different—a V, for example, or a hoop encircling your head.
These weird shapes are called “calendar forms.” They’re a type of synesthesia—the mental phenomenon where people involuntarily map one type of sensation onto another. Some associate letters or numbers with colors, others taste sounds or see smells, and people with calendar forms map time onto space. Sure, everyone does that to an extent—for example, we might picture numbers on a line going from left to right. But calendar forms are especially vivid and perceptually real—people actually see the units of time occupying the space around their bodies.
The English polymath Francis Galton first described calendar forms in 1880, and the phenomenon has been rarely studied since. But Vilayanur Ramachandran, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego who has been studying synesthesia for a long time, has been slowly amassing and studying people with this odd perceptual quirk.
He met one such person, a 25-year-old woman named Emma, a year ago. Her calendar is a hula hoop, which stretches horizontally in front of her and touches her chest at one point—always December 31st, no matter the actual time of year. Emma uses her calendar to organize her life, attaching events to the various months and zooming around the hoop to access them.
Video length: 11:00
I gave up heroin and went home and began the methadone treatment administered at the outpatient clinic and I didn’t have much else to do except get up each morning and watch TV and try to sleep at night, but I couldn’t, something made me unable to close my eyes and rest, and that was my routine, until one day I couldn’t stand it any more and I bought myself a pair of black swimming trunks at a store in the centre of town and I went to the beach, wearing the trunks and with a towel and a magazine, and I spread my towel not too far from the water and then I lay down and spent a while trying to decide whether to go into the water or not, I could think of lots of reasons to go in but also some not to (the children playing at the water’s edge, for example), until at last it was too late and I went home, and the next morning I bought some sunscreen and I went to the beach again, and at around twelve I headed to the clinic and got my dose of methadone and said hello to some familiar faces, not friends, just familiar faces from the methadone line who were surprised to see me in swimming trunks, but I acted as if there was nothing strange about it, and then I walked back to the beach and this time I went for a dip and tried to swim, though I couldn’t, and that was enough for me, and the next day I went back to the beach and put on sunscreen all over and then I fell asleep on the sand, and when I woke up I felt very well rested, and I hadn’t burned my back or anything, and this went on for a week or maybe two ...
Impressive though this is, Cocteau is more, much more than just a cineaste. He came to cinema quite late in life – he was approaching sixty when he made his two most famous films – and before that time had put his swift mind and expressive hands to many other arts. He was a poet, a playwright, a set designer, a theatre director, a novelist, a travel writer, a librettist, a jewellery maker, an actor and an autobiographer. There is a famous trick photograph by Philippe Halsman, used on the cover of Arnaud’s book, that shows a six-armed Cocteau, like a chic Parisian Vishnu, wearing a reversed coat of his own design and holding a book, a pen, a pair of scissors, a cigarette…
Combined, his many talents brought him early fame. Ezra Pound said that Cocteau was the best writer in Europe, and in the 1920s he was the figure who at once presided over and epitomised the miraculous, jubilant Paris of les années folles, luring rich patrons and hard-up artists to the most exciting nightspot in town, Le Boeuf sur le Toit, teaching them to love the high life of jazz and cocktails (often referred to as Coct-ails) while bashing away gleefully on a drum set. The final coup of his first, dazzling period came in 1930, with the staging of La voix humaine, which thrilled almost everyone. With the single exception of one play, La machine infernale, he did not fare nearly so well in the later 1930s or during the occupation, when he seemed to be far too chummy with the more cultivated members of the German army.
The legendary status accorded Delmore Schwartz in the decade after his miserable death from a heart attack in 1966 in a fleapit hotel in midtown Manhattan was only in part a response to his own writing. Perhaps America’s most genuine claimant to the title of poète maudit, Schwartz was unforgettably commemorated by John Berryman in a section of Dream Songs (1969), by Robert Lowell in a poignant elegy (“your name, Schwartz, / one vowel bedevilled by seven consonants”), and then by Saul Bellow, who modelled the gifted but increasingly deranged Humboldt ofHumboldt’s Gift (1975) on his friend. The novel first celebrates Schwartz/Humboldt’s dazzling debut as a poet, then sorrowfully tracks his perverse and wayward behaviour and eventual descent into paranoia. (It was Schwartz, incidentally, who coined the aphorism: “Even paranoids have real enemies”.) James Atlas’s biography of Schwartz, published two years after Humboldt’s Gift, revealed in unsparing detail the extent to which the doomed career of Bellow’s charismatic but troubled poet was based on aspects of Schwartz’s life.
Like Bellow, both Lowell and Berryman emphasize the precipitous decline in the quality of Schwartz’s poetry after the enormous success of his first volume, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities (1938); the immensely well-read Schwartz borrowed the title from W. B. Yeats). “Your dream had humor”, Lowell reflected; “then its genius thickened, / you grew thick and helpless, your lines were variants.” Henry, the narrator of Berryman’s Dream Songs, agrees: “I’d bleed to say his lovely work improved / but it did not so”. In the face of such assertions one hesitates to put the case for Schwartz’s poetry of the 1950s and 60s.
Stephen Burt in The Boston Review:
Like many of you, I have spent the days since the election in a combination of frantic distraction; intermittent, flailing activism; attempts to focus on my private and professional life; and fear. The more I read from experts in relevant fields, the more I envision the next four, or eight, or ten years not so much as a Republican administration—enacting policies that will hurt immigrants, people of color, and the poor—but rather as a kleptocratic, potentially authoritarian, generation-long takeover, one that could extend outward and downward from Capitol Hill and Pennsylvania Avenue into the federal judiciary, the civil service, and the national security state.
...So instead I have been rereading W. B. Yeats—for example, “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing” (1913):
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honor bred, with one
Who were it proved he lies
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbours’ eyes. . . .
No other poet has captured so well the feeling of noble failure—of having lost an unfair fight—along with the feeling of conflict between serving a very flawed nation and serving the ideals embodied in art.
Heidi Ledford in Nature:
The CRISPR–Cas9 tool enables scientists to alter genomes practically at will. Hailed as dramatically easier, cheaper and more versatile than previous technologies, it has blazed through labs around the world, finding new applications in medicine and basic research. But for all the devotion, CRISPR–Cas9 has its limitations. It is excellent at going to a particular location on the genome and cutting there, says bioengineer Prashant Mali at the University of California, San Diego. “But sometimes your application of interest demands a bit more.” The zeal with which researchers jumped on a possible new gene-editing system called NgAgo earlier this year reveals an undercurrent of frustration with CRISPR–Cas9 — and a drive to find alternatives. “It’s a reminder of how fragile every new technology is,” says George Church, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. NgAgo is just one of a growing library of gene-editing tools. Some are variations on the CRISPR theme; others offer new ways to edit genomes.
CRISPR–Cas9 may one day be used to rewrite the genes responsible for genetic diseases. But the components of the system — an enzyme called Cas9 and a strand of RNA to direct the enzyme to the desired sequence — are too large to stuff into the genome of the virus most commonly used in gene therapy to shuttle foreign genetic material into human cells. A solution comes in the form of a mini-Cas9, which was plucked from the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus1. It’s small enough to squeeze into the virus used in one of the gene therapies currently on the market. Last December, two groups used the mini-me Cas9 in mice to correct the gene responsible for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
The Reading Room
had at its center an enormous globe that showed the way the
world was. It turned as easily about its expensive spindle as the world itself
and I spun it slowly, exploring place after place, each country with a color
defining “I amness.” How much blue the sea took to get its proper share.
Sometimes I would sit in the room and read my books for awhile
before roller skating home on the street that had the smoothest sidewalks
so the wheels clamped to my shoes with a key would not catch on a tree-
root-propped slab, tear loose, and send me tumbling to another scraped
knee. Sometimes I’d finish my book and return it before setting off from the
The room was high-ceilinged, tall windowed, square, with a
square of leather-cushioned chairs surrounding the globe. This is how I want
to live, I felt rather than said, in a solid, permanent, somewhat dustily elegant place,
with the round certainty of the way things are before me.
This was sixty years ago or more. Only the blue of the sea has
stayed itself. Now the whole old globe with its intricate, pattern of forgotten
countries rests, a curiosity, in the back room of the antique shop of the
world. Maybe the library still stands, though most of the books I read have
long ago disintegrated or disappeared.
by Nils Peterson
from A Walk to the Center of Things
Thursday, December 01, 2016
The story of the takeover of the elected school board starts in September 2014, when, as one local newspaper reported, John Kasich started “to talk with business leaders and develop recommendations for improving the [failing] district.” Later that month, Kasich told freshman legislators in a closed-door orientation meeting in a back room at the state capitol that the Youngstown “school system is in such a mess, I want to just shut it down and put one great big charter school in there,” according to Youngstown state representative Michele Lepore-Hagan. “Everyone,” Lepore-Hagan told me over the phone, “kind of just stopped and looked at him,” in disbelief. (When asked for a comment, a governor spokesperson pointed me to an article that denied the statement: “When [Kasich] talked to Lepore-Hagan,” it read, “he wasn’t suggesting that a transformation was imminent.”) The plan was set in motion the following month, when the regional chamber of commerce convened a secretive “Youngstown City Schools Business Cabinet.” Eight months later, on June 23, 2015, the governor’s office began reaching out to legislators and lobbyists. “We have kept this low key,” Kasich’s Director of Legislative Affairs wrote that day in an email subpoenaed by a state court to a lobbyist, “but it will be intro’d [as an amendment] to [House Bill] 70. . . . Creates charter accelerator.” Twenty-four hours later, the takeover mechanism was passed into law. In May of 2016, the state-controlled Youngstown City Schools Academic Distress Commission appointed the CEO, who, thanks to HB 70, enjoys unilateral authority to cancel teacher and employee union contracts, hire and fire at will, close schools, convert them into charters, and shape curriculum.
What I have essentially discovered in my recent observations of Pousette-Dart’s work is that they appear to have been made for future generations of artists. Pousette-Dart’s maturity ripened early in part through his friendship with John Graham. One suspects that Graham’s theory of abstract painting—a potential synthesis of his obsessions with the occult, esoteric philosophies, Freud, Jung, “primitive” art and European modernism, revealed and defined in his book System and Dialectics of Art (pub. 1937)—appealed to the young Pousette-Dart’s sensibilities. What was so impressive was how he materialized those diverse references so confidently in his work. Take, for example, Symphony No. 1, The Transcendental (1941 – 42) which was painted when he was barely twenty-five years old. I should also note that he was the first of the New York School to make a mural-size painting (it measures 7.5 × 10 feet), and that his personal style owes nothing to the athletic gesture that is often identified with certain works by Pollock, de Kooning and Kline, or the subtle applications of the hard-edge geometry of Reinhardt, or the fields of suffused and unbroken color in Rothko and Newman. Yet unlike Graham, who by the ’50s began to reject Cubism, Surrealism, and abstraction in favor of figurative art, Pousette-Dart stayed on course with his commitment to abstraction until the very end. Whichever way his broad interests manifest in a complex and diverse repertoire of images, each painting, as Roberta Smith wrote in her New York Times review, “exemplifies the exultation of material that courses through much American painting.”1 This is the brilliant and indispensable truth about Pousette-Dart’s art. He used dense layering of paint, pigment, and form to create complex light infused compositions, a hallmark of his work that remained constant throughout his career. Whether one can detect similar palimpsests of vertical ghostlike auras in Blue Image (1950), Presence(1956), and Ossi #2 (1958), the paint applications in each differ vastly. It’s also important to understand that these are singular paintings that represent larger series and it is the protean as well as prolific nature of his sensibility that allowed these investigations to evolve in parallel while perpetually cross-pollinating. In the first, a transparent and uneven blue wash pours over occasional spots of yellow and red, and light pencil marks hover around a skeleton of unmediated black lines made by his usual method of squeezing paint directly out of the tube. The second was painted with a minimal palette of dark gold, light brown, and white, over a crusty, thick, and irregular yet fine stucco-like texture. The third has a heavy, coarse texture, formed predominantly from white over black and tempered with a gray wash.
The night America elected Donald J. Trump president, 38-year-old Richard B. Spencer, who fancies himself the “Karl Marx of the alt-right” and envisions a “white homeland,” crowed, “we’re the establishment now.” If so, then the architect of the new establishment is Spencer’s former mentor, Paul Gottfried, a retired Jewish academic who lives, not quite contently, in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, on the east bank of the Susquehanna River. It’s the kind of town that reporters visit in an election season to divine the political faith of “real Americans.” A division of candy company Mars Inc. makes its home there, along with a Masonic retirement community, and the college where Gottfried taught before a school official encouraged his early exit.
Gottfried settled in Elizabethtown after his first wife died, when he decided to put family concerns ahead of professional ambitions and then set out to wage a low-level civil war against the Republican establishment. The so-called alt-right—identified variously with anti-globalist and anti-immigrant stances, cartoon frogs, white nationalists, pick-up artists, anti-Semites, and a rising tide of right-wing populism—is partly Gottfried’s creation; he invented the term in 2008, with his protégé Spencer.
Shikha Dalmia & George J. Borjas in Reason:
Even as the mighty Statue of Liberty beckons the world's "poor and huddled masses" to America's shores, Americans themselves have been ambivalent, to put it mildly, about how many newcomers ought to be welcomed and from where. To the extent that a pro-immigration consensus has existed, it was always an uneasy one. But Donald Trump's meteoric political rise after embracing an extreme restrictionist agenda has shattered that fragile status quo, dividing pundits and public, academics and analysts throughout the 2016 election season. There's an absence of good polling data to shine a light on how immigrants themselves feel about this issue, but it's clear that even they don't all agree.
George J. Borjas is a celebrated Harvard University economist who emigrated from Cuba to the United States with his mother at the age of 12, three years after Fidel Castro's regime took over the country and confiscated his father's garment factory. He has made vital contributions to many fields of economics, especially immigration, and has a new book, We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative, out this month. In it, he challenges the notion that immigration is "universally beneficial."
Shikha Dalmia is a Reason Foundation analyst and a native of New Delhi, India, who came to America 31 years ago as an idealistic student looking to escape the corruption of a socialistic mixed economy. She writes extensively about immigration and firmly believes America shuts the door on outsiders at its economic and spiritual peril.
What follows is a spirited exchange between the two on the empirical claims and proposed policy prescriptions in We Wanted Workers.
More here. [Thanks to Terrance Tomkow and Tunku Varadarajan.]
Richard Feynman’s Poignant Letter to His Departed Wife Arline: Watch Actor Oscar Isaac Read It Live Onstage
From Open Culture:
I adore you, sweetheart.
I know how much you like to hear that — but I don’t only write it because you like it — I write it because it makes me warm all over inside to write it to you.
It is such a terribly long time since I last wrote to you — almost two years but I know you’ll excuse me because you understand how I am, stubborn and realistic; and I thought there was no sense to writing.
But now I know my darling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and that I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you. I want to love you. I always will love you.
I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead — but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you. I never thought until just now that we can do that. What should we do. We started to learn to make clothes together — or learn Chinese — or getting a movie projector. Can’t I do something now? No. I am alone without you and you were the “idea-woman” and general instigator of all our wild adventures.
More here. [Thanks to Jennifer Oullette.]
Martha Nussbaum’s new book about the dangers of anger tells us more about the limits of the liberal mindset than the actual world of politics
Amia Srinivasan in The Nation:
he 2016 presidential election was, it seems, decided by angry white men in the Rust Belt: angry that their fellow Americans increasingly do not look or sound like them; angry that black lives matter and that a black man is in the White House; angry that the movements of capital are indifferent to their needs and that movements of people have increased; angry that a woman thought herself fit to run the country.
One might well think that anger itself was the problem. Many have been calling for a return to a more civil and reasonable form of political discourse. But some go even further: Perhaps what we need is the total eradication of anger from our politics. If so, then those of us on the left should respond to Trump’s election not with our own anger but with something altogether cooler and calmer.
In her latest book, Anger and Forgiveness, the philosopher Martha Nussbaum argues for just this. Even “great injustice,” she says, is no “excuse for childish and undisciplined behavior.” For not only is anger bad because of its consequences—alienating political opponents, breeding revenge and violence, inhibiting progress—it is also a bad thing in itself, an immoral and incoherent way of responding to the world.
Video length: 28:54
Alexandra Suich in The Economist:
“This is going to become the best club in the city,” Ken Fulk says confidently. We are 49 storeys high, looking down at the Bay Bridge from a new high-rise, the Harrison, packed with multi-million-dollar condominiums that are all for sale. Fulk was hired to glam up the skyscraper’s interior, and thought the top floor should be a swanky members’ lounge and wine bar, where residents could mingle for drinks and host private events while gazing at the glistening bay. The space is both modern and retro. A fire roars in the centre of the room, light fixtures in the shape of pagodas hang from the ceiling and there is a bar covered in crocodile skin. Luxurious amenities are part of the Harrison’s allure, but so is Fulk himself. San Francisco is having its Manhattan moment. Buildings are stretching skyward, and people are moving here in swarms to seek their fortunes. Fulk is helping reimagine the city’s interiors. He came to prominence in 2013 with the opening of The Battery, a private club, which quickly became an after-hours destination for techies, who linger in banquettes beneath the main lounge’s exposed-brick walls.
But most of Fulk’s business is designing private houses for the city’s wealthy technorati. His clients include Mark Pincus of the gaming company Zynga; Kevin Systrom of the photo-sharing app Instagram; Jeremy Stoppelman of Yelp, the online review site; and Michael and Xochi Birch, who sold their social network, Bebo, for $850m in 2008 and now own The Battery. While minimalist interiors are in vogue, Fulk’s signature style is bold, eclectic and gleefully maximalist. “With contemporary design, you feel like you walked into a hotel room,” says Systrom.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
From the New York Times:
Tell us about some of your favorite writers.
You see, I don’t have a bookshelf with my eternal beloved ones on it. They come and go. A few of them come more often than the others: Chekhov, Cervantes, Faulkner, Agnon, Brener, Yizhar, Alterman, Bialik, Amichai, Lampedusa’s “Il Gattopardo,” Kafka and Borges, sometimes Thomas Mann and sometimes Elsa Morante and Natalia Ginzburg.
What moves you most in a work of literature?
The short answer is that when a work of literature suddenly makes the very familiar unfamiliar to me, or just the opposite, when a work of literature makes the unfamiliar almost intimately familiar, I am moved (moved to tears, or smiles, or anger, or gratitude, or many other, different, kinds of excitement).
John Horgan in Scientific American:
Noam Chomsky’s political views attract so much attention that it’s easy to forget he’s a scientist, one of the most influential who ever lived. Beginning in the 1950s, Chomsky contended that all humans possess an innate capacity for language, activated in infancy by minimal environmental stimuli. He has elaborated and revised his theory of language acquisition ever since.
Chomsky’s ideas have profoundly affected linguistics and mind-science in general. Critics attacked his theories from the get-go and are still attacking, paradoxically demonstrating his enduring dominance. Some attacks are silly. For example, in his new book A Kingdom of Speech Tom Wolfe asserts that both Darwin and “Noam Charisma” were wrong. (See journalist Charles Mann’s evisceration of Wolfe.)
Other critiques are serious. In “Language in a New Key,” in the November Scientific American, Paul Ibbotson and Michael Tomasello contend that “much of Noam Chomsky’s revolution in linguistics, including its account of the way we learn languages, is being overturned.” The online headline says “Evidence Rebuts Chomsky's Theory of Language Learning.” Ibbotson and Tomasello propose that children acquire language via “general cognitive abilities and the reading of other people’s intentions.”
Seeking enlightenment, I asked psychologist Steven Pinker what he thinks about the recent criticism of Chomsky.
Yanis Varoufakis in Project Syndicate:
If Donald Trump understands anything, it is the value of bankruptcy and financial recycling. He knows all about success via strategic defaults, followed by massive debt write-offs and the creation of assets from liabilities. But does he grasp the profound difference between a developer’s debt and the debt of a large economy? And does he understand that China’s private debt bubble is a powder keg under the global economy? Much hinges on whether he does.
Trump was elected on a wave of discontent with the establishment’s colossal mishandling of both the pre-2008 boom and the post-2008 recession. His promise of a domestic stimulus and protectionist trade policies to bring back manufacturing jobs carried him to the White House. Whether he can deliver depends on whether he understands the role America used to play in the “good old days,” the role it can play now and, crucially, the significance of China.
Before 1971, US global hegemony was predicated upon America’s current-account surplus with the rest of the capitalist world, which the US helped to stabilize by recycling part of its surplus to Europe and Japan. This underpinned economic stability and sharply declining inequality everywhere. But, as America slipped into a deficit position, that global system could no longer function, giving rise to what I have called the Global Minotaur phase.
According to ancient myth, King Minos of Crete owed his hegemony to the Minotaur, a tragic beast imprisoned under Minos’s palace. The Minotaur’s intense loneliness was comparable only to the fear it inspired far and wide, because its voracious appetite could be satisfied – thereby guaranteeing Minos’s reign – only by human flesh. So a ship loaded with youngsters regularly sailed to Crete from faraway Athens to deliver its human tribute to the beast. The gruesome ritual was essential for preserving Pax Cretana and the King’s hegemony.
After 1971, US hegemony grew by an analogous process.