Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Colin Coopman in Aeon:
Imagine you are asked to compose an ultra-short history of philosophy. Perhaps you’ve been challenged to squeeze the impossibly sprawling diversity of philosophy itself into just a few tweets. You could do worse than to search for the single word that best captures the ideas of every important philosopher. Plato had his ‘forms’. René Descartes had his ‘mind’ and John Locke his ‘ideas’. John Stuart Mill later had his ‘liberty’. In more recent philosophy, Jacques Derrida’s word was ‘text’, John Rawls’s was ‘justice’, and Judith Butler’s remains ‘gender’. Michel Foucault’s word, according to this innocent little parlour game, would certainly be ‘power’.
Foucault remains one of the most cited 20th-century thinkers and is, according to some lists, the single most cited figure across the humanities and social sciences. His two most referenced works, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975) and The History of Sexuality, Volume One (1976), are the central sources for his analyses of power. Interestingly enough, however, Foucault was not always known for his signature word. He first gained his massive influence in 1966 with the publication of The Order of Things. The original French title gives a better sense of the intellectual milieu in which it was written: Les mots et les choses, or ‘Words and Things’. Philosophy in the 1960s was all about words, especially among Foucault’s contemporaries.
Video length: 1:23:07
Given the restrictions on Krzhizhanovsky’s work, it’s unsurprising that people (or sometimes creatures) desperate to find an audience for their tall tales feature heavily in his stories. If there can be said to such a thing as a typical Krzhizhanovsky story – this is, after all, a person who wrote stories in which the Eiffel Tower tries to join the Soviet cause, a man gets lost in a tiny room, and a toad from the River Styx bemoans the lack of exclusivity in the underworld – it would be “Someone Else’s Theme” in which a dishevelled man offers a stranger an entire philosophical system in exchange for dinner. Krzhizhanovsky’s pessimism about publishing under the Soviets is exemplified by his novella The Letter Killers Club, in which writers gather to tell each other stories under the strict condition that none of them can be written down. Throughout Krzhizhanovsky’s work there are withering assessments of the kind of literature that did satisfy the demands of the state. In “The Bookmark” he speaks of “the long, bare literary pavement of today,” while in “Seams” he bemoans the fact that “If in the past writers looked for themes in their inkwells, close at hand, in and around themselves, now they don’t look at all: Themes are assigned.”
The tall tale of Baron Munchausen was a perfect fit for Krzhizhanovsky. The real-life inspiration for this purveyor of the fabulous was Baron Hieronymus von Münchhausen, a German nobleman who fought with the Russians against the Turks in the mid-18th century. After his retirement, the Baron threw lavish dinners at which he regaled his guests with exaggerated versions of his military exploits.
When I wrote my book about Tesla, I thought he belonged to me alone. I had never heard of him before. No one had ever taught me about him in school, and certainly no one had ever named a car after him. I knew only of Tesla the hair-metal band. When I discovered Tesla the poet-inventor, who built a motor powered by june bugs at age nine, and later harnessed Niagara Falls, and later concocted ways to photograph thought, it seemed I’d dreamed him into existence. Thus he belonged to me, only me.
Tesla worked independently in laboratories he built himself with little corporate or military interference. He invented radio. He invented our modern AC electrical system. But as he often failed to protect his patents—not believing a person could own thunder and lightning—eventually he could no longer afford a proper laboratory. He then made his inventions in his New York City hotel rooms, in his mind.
What’s the difference between invention and discovery? Is it just a question of ego? Or is it one of money?
Living with Tesla’s legacy and papers for more than three years of research, one hard thought kept cropping up. Everywhere I knew people who were making buildings, mugs, plays, paintings, sweaters, chocolate, operas, but I didn’t know any people, except children, who were trying to fly, who were grafting DNA for wings. I didn’t know anyone with a basement lab made for playing with protons. I wondered why we are well acquainted with the phrase starving artist while the term starving scientist does not even exist.
The work in the Biennial that you are most apt to remember, “The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes” (2017), by the Los Angeles artist Samara Golden, marries technique and storytelling on a grandiose scale. Golden has constructed eight miniaturized sets of elaborately furnished domestic, ceremonial, and institutional interiors. They sit on top of and are mounted, upside down, beneath tiers that frame one of the Whitney’s tall and wide window views of the Hudson River. Surrounding mirrors multiply the sets upward, downward, and sideways, to infinity. To reach a platform with a midpoint view of the work, you ascend darkened ramps, on which ominous hums, bongs, and whooshes can be heard. Concealed fans add breezes. Politics percolate in evocations of social class and function, with verisimilitude tipping toward the surreal in, for example, a set that suggests at once a beauty parlor, a medical facility, and a prison. But the work’s main appeal is its stunning labor-intensiveness: sofas and chairs finely upholstered, tiny medical instruments gleaming on wheeled carts. Golden is the most ambitious of several artists in the show who appear bent on rivalling Hollywood production design, with a nearly uniform level of skill. I’m reminded of a friend’s remark, apropos of the recent New York art fairs: “I thought I missed good art, but that’s always rare. What I miss is bad art.”
Boyd Tonkin in The Spectator:
Just 350 years ago, in April 1667, John Milton sold all rights to Paradise Lost to the printer Samuel Simmons — for £5, with another £5 due once Simmons had the first run of 1,300 copies off his hands. That sounds like a bargain for the 12-book epic poem of Satan’s war with Heaven, Eve’s ‘fatal trespass’ and the expulsion from Eden that soon became a monumental pillar of the literary canon. Samuel Johnson — who as a Tory deplored Milton’s revolutionary politics — placed it first (for design) and second (for execution) ‘among the productions of the human mind’. Some readers, though, have always found it dear at any price. Deeply torn between his awe at the ‘wonderful performance’ of Paradise Lost and his horror at the ideas of this ‘acrimonious and surly republican’, Johnson in his Life of Milton leads the prosecution as well as the defence. ‘Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure,’ he sniffs. ‘We read Milton for instruction, retire harassed and overburdened, and look elsewhere for recreation.’ As the sort-of anniversary nears, even Milton’s champions put on apologetic airs. Professor John Carey, who made his name as a scholar with a brilliant edition of Milton’s shorter poems, has now abridged Paradise Lost into a reader-friendly 230-page volume, The Essential Paradise Lost. Carey neatly condenses the argument rather than just cherry-picking an assortment of golden goals from the untiring dazzle and swagger of its verse. Even this lifelong Miltonian, however, kicks off with a cringe, sighing that ‘almost no one reads it’ now.
Enough. Milton, as much as Shakespeare, remains our contemporary. As Wordsworth put it in a sonnet from 1802, ‘Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:/ England hath need of thee.’ One half of a nation almost as bitterly — if not as bloodily — divided as in his day needs to understand how the blind, scorned radical, ‘though fallen on evil days… In darkness, and with dangers compassed round’, channelled his dismay at the failure of England’s revolution and the restoration of monarchy into a masterpiece that finds salvation through despair. In 1660, Milton was arrested, imprisoned and might have gone to his death as an impenitent regicide without a few well-placed admirers. His epic, with its aim to ‘assert eternal providence/ And justify the ways of God to men’, climbs from his pit of disillusion to find meaning and hope in calamity. A hero for Remainers, then.
Philip Ball in Nature:
The famous warning never to work with animals or children seems not to have reached Tomás Saraceno. The Argentina-born, Berlin-based artist embraces the unpredictability and scene-stealing capacity of orb-weaving spiders. Thousands of the arachnids are his collaborators in a forthcoming exhibition at the Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art. Visitors will wander amid more than 190 square metres of webs woven by Parawixia bistriata, an orb-weaving spider native to several South American countries. A second space hosts an “arachno concert”. For this, the web of another indigenous orb-weaver, Nephila clavipes, is connected to sensors that pick up the movements of plucked threads. These vibrations are broadcast through loudspeakers, stimulating the spiders' movements in a feedback loop. Meanwhile, acoustic waves from the loudspeakers propel “cosmic dust” — fine particles of chondrite meteorites — into the air, their dancing motions picked out by beams of light. Saraceno wants to suggest a conceptual link between spider webs and the “cosmic web” of matter — galaxies, nebulae, dust and dark matter — that permeates the Universe, a topic he has discussed with astrophysicists.
The social behaviour of P. bistriata is complex. The spiders live in a colony; during the day, they build a communal hive-like nest. At dusk, they add individual webs linked into a network, for capturing prey. As they mature, the spiders start to hunt alone. Thus Saraceno's installation is very much a group project, built from an estimated 40 million or so individual threads. He calls each a “trace in the air”, like the trajectory of a grain of dust. As he explains, visitors first see “only faint details”. Then, “as they navigate through interlacing, glittering web fibres, harbours of nebulae and hybrid clusters of galaxies appear, introducing microcosms of cooperation”. Visitors are encouraged to lie down and look up at this silken cosmos.
The N. clavipes installation, meanwhile, is an elaborate symphony. The tiny meteoritic particles — sourced in cooperation with the Berlin Museum for Natural History — mingle with dust in the air to become part of the sonic landscape. Their movements are tracked by video and magnified on a screen, while a custom-built algorithm translates the trajectories into low-frequency sound, sent through 24 loudspeakers. Dust, webs, spiders and visitors' incidental sounds are woven into an acoustic tapestry.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Caleb Carr in the New York Times:
Since ancient philosophers first began to ponder the problem of criminal behavior, great minds in science and law have sought a single holy grail, the point at which the two fields intersect: What nervous or brain dysfunctions can explain how people become so incapacitated that they are not responsible for their own criminal behavior?
The latest candidate is neuroscience. With functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRIs), positron emission tomography (PET scans) and other related methods, scientists can observe the brain in action as it responds to various forms of stimuli. Yet this is an obscure, highly specialized world; group studies in a laboratory, most scientists maintain, cannot yet be applied to the behavior of an individual, especially an individual’s commission of a violent crime.
But defense lawyers have rushed to bring brain scans into courtrooms. Some of what they propose is out-and-out chicanery; some may hold real value; whatever the case, the job of piloting the public through the complex neuroscientific maze — in order that potential jurors may better judge whether a violent offender should be condemned to death, to a long or life sentence in America’s barbaric present-day prison system, or should have their sentences reduced or changed because of a brain irregularity or insult — is vital to society.
The latest person to offer his services as guide in this regard is Kevin Davis, in “The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America’s Courtrooms.”
Video length: 3:25
Dennett’s latest book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back, is unlikely to win over his critics. Their outrage is due to Dennett’s failure to address what is known as the “Hard Problem” of consciousness: “Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all?” as David Chalmers puts it. Dennett says his “refusal to play ball with my colleagues is deliberate.” He realises that—as in politics—if you debate on your opponents’ terms, you have already lost. To win, you must set the agenda. His bet is that if you understand consciousness in the right way, the Hard Problem will be exposed as an artefact of an outmoded way of thinking—a pseudo-problem comparable to the fruitless quest in the early 20th century for the élan vital that animates matter.
This approach, however, leaves Dennett almost completely silent on the very thing that characterises consciousness: subjective feeling. This is partly why Dennett is often accused of effectively denying that consciousness exists, of claiming that we are no more aware than zombies. Dennett has denied this. And in his writing, at least, he shows every sign of being very conscious indeed. Although you could mistake the works of some philosophers for the outputs of Turing machines, Dennett writes with sensuous verve—ideas and arguments are “ravishing,” “delightful,” “amusing” and “delicious.”
In a way, post-socialist societies are like the clock shop where each clock shows a different time and ticks at a different speed. These differential relations over time and temporal representation organize and perpetuate inequalities. Indeed, repair practices are especially meaningful when the ordering sense of time is vanishing and changes extend social asynchronicity. In a society such as the Estonian one, which is conditioned by multiple disruptions, accelerated changes, inequality and pressure for aimless innovation, repair appears as a practice that establishes continuity, endurance and material sensitivity.
This argument may seem counter-intuitive; the imperative to mend imposed under the Soviet regime contrasted with the subsequent availability of cheap mass-produced goods; post-socialist practices of consumer citizenship seemed to signal the decline of repair. However, contemporary mending and the reluctance to dispose of material possessions can also be a way to resist dispossession and adapt to convoluted changes; the act throwing away is perceived as a threat to memory, to security, and to historical and ecological preservation.
In Estonia, the Soviet experience is often depicted as an unnatural and somehow unreal time. Indeed, 1991 appears as a year of massive obsolescence. Abandoned factories, rusting machinery, decaying buildings, chemically polluted zones, environmental catastrophes and industrial debris have for decades symbolized the collapse of the USSR – the disintegration of the regime in its literal and material sense.
Why the Poets always Read First and the Fiction-writers Second
at the Sunday Afternoon Readings at the Art School in Carrboro, NC
The reason is that poetry was present
at the poorly advertized
first audition of the Universe
when a slight breath of cloud
passed over the dark waters
Poetry was in fact that cloud
which passed effortlessly
through God's ears
While the ancestors of fiction-writers
took tenthousand centuries
toiling sideways in the primal mud
on their miniscule legs, gossiping
intensely of their plots and
because poetry came out of the tree
like a bird
without a nest
because poetry is so close to dance
and therefore swirls and twists even
if ever so slightly
and allied as well to music of flutes
and drums recalling certain rituals
for example — two people, a man and a woman,
howling, alternately, in the dark cave
because poetry came out of the tree
and then darted right back into it
because the students of ontology
and deontology continue to bow
their heads in disbelief and
cannot make up their minds what
sort of universe this is
but meantime the rock can skip
across the waters
and the sea mammal can rise
out of the deep, snorting and braying,
and so God is probably
a poem, still in the process
of composition by an undeniably talented
but distracted surrealist who was there
in the Garden of Eden and
whispered to Adam: "Isn't that a mango?"
because in the pitchdark
I take off my clothes and stand
in the not-so-sacred woods bathing in
moonlight, waiting for you
perfectly sober, perfectly aware
that what I do
is destined by the chains of protein
rattling in my cells
and I am locked to the wall of my being
noisy with pleasure, waiting
to be extinguished
the reason is that this arrangement is
practical. the poet has to leave earlier.
he has fewer words but those few
are strangely heavy. so he will unwrap
them a little, let them cry out like an infant
we cannot figure out. all we know is
sooner or later
it will sleep
because there is the missing nest,
the bird, the puddle in the rain
and the branch vibrating with
what is about or not yet about
by Lou Lipsitz
from Seeking the Hook
Signal Books, 1997
Derek Walcott has spent a lifetime learning how to see the Caribbean. The archipelago’s history is for him a tale of perspectives in parallax: of the eyes that have beheld the islands, and those with which the islands have beheld the world. The story begins with the willful blindness of colonialism, a misapprehension of the people and the natural environment. In his 1992 Nobel lecture, the poet decried “that consoling pity…[in] tinted engravings of Antillean forests, with their proper palm trees, ferns, and waterfalls”—the prelude to an aesthetic indictment charged with moral force: “A century looked at a landscape furious with vegetation in the wrong light and with the wrong eye.”
Across his work Walcott has sought a rectification of vision, a way of contending with those who, inverting the crime of Lot’s wife, sin by refusing to look. The tourist with postcards printed on the insides of his eyelids, the Afrocentrist whose motherland mirage rejects the Creole culture around him, the Naipauline exile who measures his home by the tape of another world—all are heretics in Walcott’s universe, which is governed by values similar to those enumerated in St. Lucia’s motto: “The land, the people, the light.” Another Life (1973), Walcott’s first long poem and the story of his birth as an artist, remembers the exuberance with which the poet and his friend “Gregorias” (the painter Dunstan St. Omer) devoted themselves to the St. Lucian landscape, swearing “that we would never leave the island/until we had put down, in paint, in words/…every neglected, self-pitying inlet.”
Lauren Markham in Orion Magazine:
Beginning in 2006, Harcharek spent two years asking a version of that question to elders throughout the North Slope. She wanted to know: What should Iñupiaq students understand, value, want, and dream? What do they need to get there? What should our schools look like and feel like, and what should we teach in them? The elders’ response was almost unanimous: given that the modern world is encroaching, and that the earth itself is changing in ways both subtle and swift, it’s important to integrate the old ways and the new ways—traditional knowledge and contemporary thinking—into what the community’s young people are taught. Today, the North Slope Bureau School District’s twelve Iñupiaq values—identified during those conversations with elders—hang in classrooms throughout the region:
Avoidance of Conflict
Knowledge of Language
Family and Kinship
Respect for Elders and for Each Other
Respect for Nature
Harcharek and her team also developed four “realms” of the district’s core curriculum, all related to the Iñupiaq values: the Environmental Realm, which includes lessons about hunting, survival, and respect for the land; the Community Realm, which includes units on parenting, cooperation, and the roles of elders in the community; the Historical Realm, which includes storytelling and discussions of Iñupiaq culture in a global context; and the Individual Realm, which includes learning about leadership, values and beliefs, naming systems, and the cycle of life. Harcharek and others then painstakingly mapped the Iñupiaq Learning Framework to the state-mandated student-learning standards. (The Winter Sources of Drinking Water unit, for example, incorporates both the Alaska state standard for earth science and the Iñupiaq Learning Framework’s standard for lessons about the complex technology developed by the Iñupiat people, which allows them to live in the harsh Arctic climate.)
A 20-year demographic study of a large chimpanzee community in Uganda's Kibale National Park has revealed that, under the right ecological conditions, our close primate relatives can lead surprisingly long lives in the wild. The study, published March 19 in the Journal of Human Evolution, establishes an average life expectancy of about 33 years in its sample of 306 chimpanzees, nearly twice as high as that of other chimpanzee communities and within the 27- to 37-year range of life expectancy at birth of human hunter-gatherers. These findings are important for understanding the evolution of chimpanzee and hominin life histories, the researchers argue.
"Our findings show how ecological factors, including variation in food supplies and predation levels, drive variation in life expectancy among wild chimpanzee populations," said Brian Wood, assistant professor of anthropology at Yale University, the study's lead author. "They also inform the study of the evolution of human life history, helping us to imagine the conditions that could have changed mortality rates among our early hominin populations." The Ngogo chimpanzees reside in the center of Kibale National Park, in southwestern Uganda. The directors of the Ngogo Chimpanzee Project—David Watts (Yale), John Mitani (University of Michigan), and Kevin Langergraber (Arizona State University)—have monitored births, deaths, immigrations, and emigrations in the unusually large Ngogo chimpanzee community since 1995, producing the largest demographic dataset available for any community of wild chimpanzees. This study reveals that Ngogo chimpanzees have the highest life expectancy on record for any group of wild chimpanzees. Favorable ecological conditions largely account for the Ngogo community's high life expectancy, according to the study. The forest in Ngogo provides a relatively consistent and abundant supply of high-energy and nutritious foods, including easily digestible figs.
A review by Gerald Dworkin in The New Rambler:
One of the most risible of the false statements made by President Trump was his claim to “have studied the writings of the nominee closely.” The nominee was Judge Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. This from a man who says “Do me a favor: Don’t send me a report. Send me, like, three pages.”
Had Trump chosen to actually read some of Gorsuch’s writings he could have read the short speech that Gorsuch gave as a tribute to Scalia after his death.
Had he wanted to get a broader picture of Gorsuch as a thinker, Trump could not have done better that to read The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. Published in 2006, this book was a version of Gorsuch’s D.Phil thesis written under the supervision of John Finnis at Oxford. Finnis is a well-known legal scholar whose views on what is sometimes called the new Natural Law have been influential in contemporary discussions of issues such as homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia. Although influenced by Catholic thought, Finnis attempts to give non-religious support to views that are commonly based on religious arguments.
Ajay Singh Chaudhary in the LA Review of Books:
Games are machines for producing affect, and the affect the public most fears in games is rage. The moral panic that surrounds games always turns on the fear that games — steeped in an aesthetic and a comportment of aggression — will somehow seep into the “real world.” Although research into this question has proved consistently inconclusive (and replete with serious methodological issues) the fear is understandable in a year in which it seemed that the most ridiculous controversy of 2014 (the bizarre, nearly impenetrably hateful, stupid, and labyrinthine “Gamergate”) might become part of the body politic itself. But that idea — as slippery as the new obsession with “fake news” — generated through a thousand tweets but less convincing numbers on the ground, also misses what a game like DOOM can do. Unlike in, for example, Valve’s Counter-Strike (almost the Platonic ideal of a contemporary first-person shooter), the thickness and absurdity of the world — complete with its resonances with our own — is intimately interwoven with the gameplay itself. The demons and the UAC are driven with pitch-perfect intensity by Michael Gordon’s beyond-on-the-nose Nine Inch Nails for the 21st-century soundtrack. Instead of the world receding into abstractions of geometry and hit-boxes, as is often the case in especially competitive multiplayer shooters, DOOM’s rhythmic dynamic range keeps the plodding idiocy of a world working to build a brighter tomorrow through the endless squeezing of a (literally) hellish today in sharp focus.
DOOM’s rage is telegraphed from the very first moment of the game, but it is only when you are somewhere in the middle of one of its fully fleshed out scenarios, dancing from one platform to another, whirling through your array of weapons, prying the jaws of some Hell beast apart while cursing the utter inane idiocy of DOOM’s world — which is to say our world — that DOOMbegins its rage education in earnest. Games are machines for producing affect, but they are also pedagogical ones: DOOM is instructing us. Pankaj Mishra recently argued that ours is an age of anger. Doomguy occupies the subject position of the 21st-century rage agent par excellence: put-upon, yet powerful; crumpling like a fragile heap from just a few demonic projectiles but with a rage potential unmatched; disenfranchised but with so many tools of power at hand. Mishra wisely encourages his readers to turn to the social theorists of the 19th century who took irrationality seriously; to the Darwins, the Freuds, the Webers, and Nietzsches who saw in modern humanity sexual impulses, old Gods, churning natures, and ressentiment instead of simple, orderly, maximizing rationality. But DOOM already knows that. DOOM takes us as we are.
Monday, March 20, 2017
by Ashutosh Jogalekar
There seems to be no end to biology's explosive progress. Genomes can now be read, edited and rewritten with unprecedented scope, individual neurons can now be studied in both space and time, the dynamics of the spread of viruses and ecological populations can be studied using mathematical models, and vaccines for deadly diseases like HIV and Ebola seem to hold more promise than ever. They say that the twentieth century belonged to physics and the twenty first belongs to biology, and everything we see in biology seems to confirm this idea.
There have been roughly six revolutions in biology during the last five hundred years or so that brought us to this stage. The first one was the classification of organisms into binomial nomenclature by Linnaeus. The second was the invention of the microscope by Hooke, Leeuwenhoek and others. The third was the discovery of the composition of cells, in health and disease, by Schwann and Schleiden, a direct beneficiary of the use of the microscope. The fourth was the formulation of evolution by natural selection by Darwin. The fifth was the discovery of the laws of heredity by Mendel. And the sixth was the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson, Crick and others. The sixth, ongoing revolution could be said to be the mapping of genomes and its implications for disease and ecology. Two other minor revolutions should be added to this list; one was the weaving of statistics into modern genetics, and the second was the development of new imaging techniques like MRI and CT scans.
These six revolutions in biology resulted from a combination of new ideas and new tools. This picture is consistent with the general two-pronged picture of scientific revolutions that has emerged through the ages: a picture consisting in equal parts of revolutions of ideas and revolutions of technology. The first kind was popularized by Thomas Kuhn in his book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions". The second was popularized by Peter Galison and Freeman Dyson; Galison in his book "Image and Logic", and Dyson in his "The Sun, the Genome and the Internet". Generally speaking, many people are aware of Kuhn but few people are aware of Galison or Dyson. That is because ideas are often considered loftier than tools; the scientist who gazes at the sky and divines formulas for the universe through armchair calculations is considered more brilliant than the one who gets down on her hands and knees and makes new discoveries by gazing into the innards of machines.
i’m having coffee
i’m dreaming I’m having coffee with Whistler’s mother
i’m scratching a knuckle with my nose
i’m not listening to my wife while gazing out a window
i’m imagining our small distant sun rising over the horizon of Neptune
i’m having coffee, paper cup with a heat sleeve
i’m playing with two small stones, twiddling them in my palm like Queeg
i’m remembering throwing stones through a neighbor’s bias
i’m sitting, but you don’t want to know where
i’m wondering if death is simply the mirror parenthesis of birth
i’m lying in bed staring at the ceiling slightly chilled. I need another blanket
i’m fooled again
i’m not fooled again
i’m having coffee, dark roast, the only kind
i’m wrong about a lot of things, too many
i’m dumber than a stump but smarter than a breadbox
i’m still wondering what it’s all about Alfie
i don’t care what it’s all about, I’m picking asparagus
i’m inside a cosmic question bouncing off its walls
i’m having coffee, Colombian this time, but dark, as I said…
i’m puffed as a peacock but simultaneously beside the point
i’m over the hill but still climbing
i’m loose as a goose and tight as a fundamentalist’s ass
i’m unknown, thank god, remembering Elvis
i’m anonymous as a red leaf in the Berkshires in Fall
i’m having coffee gazing over the rim of a mountain watching a small cloud glide
i’m as unbelievable as your average Mohammed or Mike
i’m at least as believable as your average Mohammed or Mike
i’m beating my head against the wall again painlessly
i’m taking an aspirin just in case
i’m having tea , green, trying to take coffee’s edge off
i’m under the gun, but still over the clover
i’m not sure
i’m cock sure
i’m as fraught with anticipation as I was when I was twenty, just not as often
i’m remembering something, but quickly change channels
i’m thinking again of a Dylan line, so many good ones blowin in the wind
time out of mind
I am having coffee
I am not having
I am not not
by Elise Hempel
Sometime during college, back home in the Chicago area for the summer, I found a job as a secretary for a successful real estate agent who kept two offices in his condo – his own out of sight in a bedroom, and the other, for his secretary, right there as you walked in, the large, dark wrap-around desk commanding a good portion of the living room. I don't recall my exact secretarial duties, except for answering the phone, but I remember my boss's name and his face, as well as my overall discomfort with having no fellow employees, with being in an office that was also someone's home – just the two of us there together all day long.
And I remember what he asked me to do for him on my last day of work before I returned to school for the fall semester: Would I let him take my picture? Would I get down on the shag carpet on all fours and stick my butt up in the air while he sat on the sofa with his camera and snapped a permanent image of his favorite part of me?...
What did I say at that moment, and how long did I pause before I complied? Why didn't I shout no or spit in his face? Why didn't I grab my purse and my final paycheck and storm out of that condo, resolutely slamming the door behind me? How many more suggestive comments had there been before then, inappropriate remarks I'd tried to ignore, laughed off because I had no idea what to say?
Aydın Büyüktaş. Flatland, USA. 2016.
"Inspired by Edwin Abbott’s 1884 publication ‘Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions‘, Aydın used drones and 3D modelling software to produce the elaborate images. Each image requires around 18-20 aerial drone shots which are then stitched together digitally to form sweeping landscapes that curl upward without a visible horizon. You can see more of his gravity-defying work on his personal site."
by Carol A Westbrook
It's Lent. For many people, that means you have to deprive yourself of food that you like to eat, and instead punish yourself by eating fish. In actuality, you are not required to eat fish during the forty days of Lent, devout Catholics and other Christians are only required to abstain from meat on Lenten Fridays. Fish is merely a protein can be conveniently substituted for the missing meat course--or you can eat eggs, cheese, pizza or eggplant Parmesan instead.
Yet some people are so unused to eating fish that when it appears in their diets it is memorable. Eating fish means "Lent." And they hate it.
During Lent we "try" to eat fish, and for many, McDonald's Filet-O-Fish is the answer. The company sells nearly a quarter its filling, 390-calorie sandwiches during the six-week Lenten season. Although it contains wild-caught Alaskan Pollock, the sandwich contains only 2.8 oz. this fish (as I calculated from the protein content provided in McDonald's online nutritional information). Since 2.8 g of Alaskan Pollock has only 73 calories and 0.8 g of fat, the Filet-O-Fish's 390 calories and 18.2 g of fat can only be attributed to the bread, tartar sauce, and melted cheese.
I don't eat Filet-O-Fish because I honestly like fish a great deal more than I like bread, tartar sauce and melted cheese. Truly, I love fish. I love eating it in any way, shape or form -- from smoked and pickled, to raw, fried, steamed and everything between. For example, while vacationing in Martinique, I had a plate of whole fried ballaboo, a local reef fish with a cute pointy nose that was meant to be eaten whole after deep-frying, sans pointy nose. Yum! (See the picture on the right). But most Americans don't share my passion, they hate fish.
by Brooks Riley
by Max Sirak
Would you lord over light, bending beams this way and that, going invisible, and launching lasers?
Would you opt for elemental mastery? Controlling fire, air, wind, or water could definitely have its perks.
Would you wish to wrangle the weather? No more rained-out picnics, bike rides, rounds of golf, beach days, etc. doesn't sound bad. Ideal conditions for all outdoor outings would be swell.
Wielding weather was always my choice when I was kid. I remember lying in bed at night and thinking how much better it'd be if I could just make it snow instead of hoping the meteorologists on TV were right. Then school would be canceled whenever I felt like it, whether the flakes fell or not.
Now, my answer is a bit different. If I could choose to have any superpower it would be the ability to travel by teleportation. No more airfare. No more gas stations. No more traffic. No more delays. Just close my eyes and pop.
Italy for grocery shopping (and morning espresso with Abbas). Back to the States for a late breakfast with Tim. Over to San Francisco to see nieces and nephews. Happy hour in DC with Jonah and Rachel. Bounce back to Europe for a bottle of Bordeaux or to pick up a port from Portugal, depending on my mood. Then on to Ohio for home-cooked dinner before calling it a night under the Colorado sky.
For My Nephew Omar On His Engagement to Nadia
This small box hides a porcelain elephant
rigged up in howdah and trimmings,
a Kashmir-style sapphire
on the forehead — an inner eye;
conch shell ears fan out,
supple raised trunk
cradles a bird’s nest
without breaking the eggs.
“A matriarch of her herd,”
said the woman who sold it,
“175 years old, maybe more.
Parting with this thing,
(Raj kitsch or art?)
I have long held dear
with my childhood’s faith
I have this dream
you will one day walk
like an elephant
joyously on water.
by Rafiq Kathwari, Beaver Dam, 29 October 2005