Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Even though the essays here are divided into thematic sections, the feel of the book that emerges as the two D’Ambrosios converge is something like the impact of a powerful memoir: It recounts how one of the most profound essayists at work today found his vision, while presenting a selection of what his broad range of experiences has led him to believe about our world, our nature, and our literature.
There’s an interesting backstory to Loitering, as well. About ten years ago, D’Ambrosio published a collection of nonfiction pieces called Orphans with the little-known Clear Cut Press. Even though Orphans reprinted work that had first appeared in the New Yorker andHarper’s Magazine, not many readers knew of D’Ambrosio’s nonfiction; most of it originally appeared in more local venues like Seattle’s The Stranger and the interesting but short-lived magazine Nest. But if you were following D’Ambrosio’s career closely, you couldn’t help but notice that the right people seemed to know about Orphans. It was a handsome little paperback, about the size of a wallet, with one of those little bookmark ribbons attached to its spine to suggest that you wouldn’t just read this volume but study it. For a few years there, once the first run sold out and no more printings were forthcoming, Orphans was like a piece of street art or samizdat: It was rare, and even knowing it existed made you serious.
Alison Flood in The Guardian:
This was the year of vaping, according to Oxford Dictionaries, which has chosen “vape” – the act of inhaling from an electronic cigarette – as its word of 2014 after use of the term more than doubled over the last year. Vape – defined as to “inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device” – beat contenders including slacktivism, bae and indyref to be chosen as Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2014. The shortlist is compiled from scanning around 150m words of English in use each month, applying software to identify new and emerging usage. Dictionary editors and lexicographers, including staff from the Oxford English Dictionary, then pinpoint a final selection and an eventual winner, which is intended to be a word judged “to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance”.
The concept of slacktivism also took off this year, said the publisher, defining it as “actions performed via the internet in support of a political or cosocial cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement”, and pointing to the Ice Bucket challenge, the no make-up selfie and the hashtag #bringbackourgirls as three examples of the trend. “It was inevitable that vocabulary around the subject of the Scottish independence referendum would make its mark on the lexicon,” it said of the word indyref, while bae is a form of endearment which “originated in African American English and has been propelled into global usage through social media and lyrics in hip-hop and R&B music”.
In the old days
the myths were the stories we used to explain ourselves.
But how can we explain the way we hate ourselves,
the things we’ve made ourselves into,
the way we break ourselves in two,
the way we overcomplicate ourselves?
But we are still mythical.
We are still permanently trapped
... somewhere between the heroic and the pitiful.
We are still godly;
that’s what makes us so monstrous.
But it feels like we’ve forgotten
.. we’re much more than the sum of all
the things that belong to us.
The empty skies rise
over the benches where the old men sit –
they are desolate
and the young men spit;
inside they’re delicate, but outside
... they’re reckless and I reckon
that these are our heroes,
these are our legends.
by Kate Tempest
from Brand New Ancients
Publisher: Picador, London, 2013
Liza Gross in The New York Times:
Dara Satterfield hadn’t planned to conduct experiments at the Texas State Fair, but that is where her study subjects showed up last month. She was still in Georgia when they arrived, so she hurriedly packed her car, then drove all night. As she pulled into the fairgrounds in Dallas the next morning, they were feasting on nectar-filled blossoms of frostweed alongside the Wild West Pet Palooza. The hungry travelers, like most monarch butterflies that migrate from breeding grounds in the northern United States and southern Canada, had stopped in Texas to consume enough calories to power the last leg of their flight to the oyamel fir forests of central Mexico and survive five months overwintering there. So many monarchs blanketed the frostweed that Ms. Satterfield, a 27-year-old doctoral student at the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia, allowed herself to hope that one of the world’s most celebrated migrations could be revived.
Less than 20 years ago, a billion butterflies from east of the Rocky Mountains reached the oyamel firs, and more than a million western monarchs migrated to the California coast to winter among its firs and eucalypts. Since then, the numbers have dropped by more than 90 percent, hitting a record low in Mexico last year after a three-year tailspin. Preliminary counts of migrants this fall are encouraging. “But we’re definitely not out of the woods,” said Ms. Satterfield, who studies human effects on migratory behavior. “One good year doesn’t mean we’ve recovered the migration.” To make matters worse, she and her graduate adviser, Sonia Altizer, a disease ecologist at Georgia, fear that well-meaning efforts by butterfly lovers may be contributing to the monarch’s plight.
Monday, November 17, 2014
Update 20 Nov: Voting round now open, will close on 25 Nov 11:59 pm EST. Go here to vote.
Dear Readers, Writers, Bloggers,
We are very honored and pleased to announce that Huw Price has agreed to be the final judge for our 5th annual prize for the best blog and online-only writing in the category of philosophy. Details of the previous four philosophy (and other) prizes can be seen on our prize page.
Huw Price is Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy and a Fellow of Trinity College at the University of Cambridge. He was previously ARC Federation Fellow and Challis Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney, where from 2002—2012 he was Founding Director of the Centre for Time. In Cambridge he is co-founder, with Martin Rees and Jaan Tallinn, of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk.
His publications include Facts and the Function of Truth (Blackwell, 1988; 2nd. edn. OUP, forthcoming), Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point (OUP, 1996), Naturalism Without Mirrors (OUP, 2011) and a range of articles in journals such as Nature, Science, Philosophical Review, Journal of Philosophy, Mind and British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. He is also co-editor (with Richard Corry) of Causation, Physics, and the Constitution of Reality: Russell's Republic Revisited (OUP, 2007). His René Descartes Lectures (Tilburg, 2008) have recently appeared as Expressivism, Pragmatism and Representationalism (CUP, 2013), with commentary essays by Simon Blackburn, Robert Brandom, Paul Horwich and Michael Williams.
He is a Fellow of the British Academy, a Fellow and former Member of Council of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and a Past President of the Australasian Association of Philosophy. He was consulting editor for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy from 1995–2006, and is an associate editor of The Australasian Journal of Philosophy and a member of the editorial boards of Contemporary Pragmatism, Logic and Philosophy of Science, the Routledge International Library of Philosophy, and the European Journal for Philosophy of Science.
As usual, this is the way it will work: the nominating period is now open. There will then be a round of voting by our readers which will narrow down the entries to the top twenty semi-finalists. After this, we will take these top twenty voted-for nominees, and the editors of 3 Quarks Daily will select six finalists from these, plus they may also add up to three wildcard entries of their own choosing. The three winners will be chosen from these by Huw Price.
The first place award, called the "Top Quark," will include a cash prize of 500 dollars; the second place prize, the "Strange Quark," will include a cash prize of 200 dollars; and the third place winner will get the honor of winning the "Charm Quark," along with a 100 dollar prize.
(Welcome to those coming here for the first time. Learn more about who we are and what we do here, and do check out the full site here. Bookmark us and come back regularly, or sign up for the RSS Feed.)
The schedule and rules:
November 10, 2014:
- The nominations are opened. Please nominate your favorite blog entry by placing the URL for the blog post (the permalink) in the comments section of this post. You may also add a brief comment describing the entry and saying why you think it should win. Do NOT nominate a whole blog, just one individual blog post.
- Blog posts longer than 4,000 words are strongly discouraged, but we might make an exception if there is something truly extraordinary.
- Each person can only nominate one blog post.
- Entries must be in English.
- The editors of 3QD reserve the right to reject entries that we feel are not appropriate.
- The blog entry may not be more than a year old. In other words, it must have been first published after November 9, 2013.
- You may also nominate your own entry from your own or a group blog (and we encourage you to).
- Guest columnists at 3 Quarks Daily are also eligible to be nominated, and may also nominate themselves if they wish.
- Nominations are limited to the first 100 entries.
- Prize money must be claimed within a month of the announcement of winners.
November 17, 2014
- The nominating process will end at 11:59 PM (NYC time) of this date.
- The public voting will be opened soon afterwards.
November 25, 2014
- Public voting ends at 11:59 PM (NYC time).
December 1, 2014
- The finalists are announced.
December 22, 2014
- The winners are announced.
One Final and Important Request
If you have a blog or website, please help us spread the word about our prizes by linking to this post. Otherwise, post a link on your Facebook profile, Tweet it, or just email your friends and tell them about it! I really look forward to reading some very good material, and think this should be a lot of fun for all of us.
Best of luck and thanks for your attention!
Emergence is a word deep enough to lose oneself in. It alludes to realities appearing, not suddenly or out of nothing, but slowly dissolving in to our consciousness - like a fuzzy picture, coming into focus. It refers to a gradual process, one that is smooth - not jerky - and yet results in an outcome that could not have been predicted, given the origin.
“The attitude of man is twofold in accordance with the two
basic words he can speak.” —Martin Buber, I and Thou
In a diner my elbows rest upon Formica. I hold a book.
Curlicues of vapor rise above the coffee you’ve just poured.
I lure Thou with my take on Buber
hoping to shift the poles of my twofold attitude
from I-I to a here beyond that incarceration
when Thou and I might disappear in conjugation
by Akim Reinhardt
I've made some deep runs in my time.
I once drove non-stop from central Wyoming to eastern Iowa before passing out at a highway rest stop for a couple of hours, waking up with a scrambled brain, driving the short distance to Illinois, then staring with confusion and regret at the chili cheese omelette I'd ordered at a pre-cell truck stop where drivers sat with piles of quarters in front of them at booths hard wired to pay phones.
Another time I went from the Nevada-Utah line to eastern Nebraska, staving off sleep during the last several hours by frequently leaning my head out the window at 80 miles per hour, the wind and rain whipping me in the face beneath the dark night sky.
My most recent super haul was from Windsor, Arizona to northeastern Kansas, where I'd finally pulled over to sleep in a rural parking lot. But that was fifteen years ago. I was in my early thirties back then.
In the months leading up to the trip I've chronicled here, I had wondered: What do I still have left in me? What would the road be like for me in my late forties?
I had no illusions. I knew I wouldn't be busting tail nonstop for 1,200 miles. Even in my prime that was at my outer limits. It was unthinkable now.
But beyond the issue of endurance, I was more intrigued, and even fretful, about how I would take to the road.
What would it be like to long haul now compared to back then? What would my state of mind be after 600 miles? Seven hundred? Eight hundred, if that was even feasible. Would I still find driving alone for vast stretches to be meditative? Would I still marvel at the expanse of this continent? Or would I simply be middle aged and grumpy? Would I be helpless to enjoy a solo, long distance drive as I once had? Would I just be petty and impatient to reach my destination?
Even since before I first left Maryland back in late August, I knew this would be the jaunt. From Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to Reno, Nevada. No other stretch of the trip is much more than 500 miles. This one's over 1,200.
Going in, I knew that South Dakota to the Nevada-California border in late September would sort it all out.
Watercolor on paper.
by Bill Benzon
During the course of my adult life I have witnessed the collapse of the political culture of my nation, the United States of America. To be sure, there have been some good things – the Civil Rights movement, for example – but the framework that served from the nation’s founding through the end of World War II no longer functions well.
Over the last three or four decades the prison population has increased enormously, as has economic inequality, and during this century we’ve become mired down in an enormously destructive, expensive and militarily ineffective series of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As far as I can see there is no near-term prospect of ending either the internal problems or the hopeless and ill-founded war on terrorism.
How did this happen?
The problem, I believe, is rooted in the cultural psychodynamics of the nation-state. The sociologist Talcott Parsons diagnosed it in his classic 1947 article, “Certain Primary Sources and Patterns of Aggression in the Social Structure of the Western World” (full text online HERE). At some length and with great sophistication Parsons argued that citizens of Western nations project many of their aggressive impulses onto other peoples so that, in attempting to dominate those peoples, they are, in a psychological sense, attempting to attain mastery over themselves. I fear this problem is not only a Western one, but that’s a side issue in this context. It’s not merely that I’m writing about America, but that America remains the most powerful nation in the world, with by far the largest military establishment. Through that establishment America has tethered the rest of the world to its internal psychodynamics.
If by chance Parsons’ argument strikes you as improbable, well, I urge you to read his essay in full. Pending that, I offer as a bit of supporting evidence an extraordinary statement made by Mario Cuomo, ex-governor of New York, in interview published in The New York Times Magazine on March 19, 1995:
The Second World War as the last time that this country believed in anything profoundly, any great single cause. What was it? They were evil; we were good. That was Tojo, that was that S.O.B. Hitler, that was Mussolini, that bum. They struck at us in the middle of the night, those sneaks. We are good, they are bad. Let’s all get together, we said, and we creamed them. We started from way behind. We found strength in this common commitment, this commonality, community, family, the idea of coming together was best served in my lifetime in the Second World War.
That’s what Parsons was talking about.
I have no idea whether or not Cuomo is familiar with Parsons but, while he is certainly an intelligent and sophisticated man, he is not an academic. When he spoke those words he was speaking as a practical politician skilled at the complex and messy business of governance. The socio-cultural milieu that Parsons analyzed is the arena in which Cuomo lived his professional life. Judging by his political success, he had a good intuitive grasp of those dynamics.
by Josh Yarden
On the verge of sacrificing
his own son on an alter
the one he loves
bound for glory
pausing to consider
which he loves more
Abraham says: "Abraham!"
and he says, "Here I am."
in an inglorious bind
. . .
He caught himself this time
at the line or just beyond
the point of no return
he averts his glance
they will never meet again
When he raises his eyes
he sees another ram caught
horns locked in the thicket
. . .
Fruit of the tree of knowledge
bursting with ambiguity
hangs on a metaphor
yet often out of reach
At times we gain a good grasp
after matters unravel badly
the lines are not fixed
by Leanne Ogasawara
His boss was known for his mad pranks. Yes, in the good old days, people valued playfulness, remember? Kings and dukes were known to play around, and this means that an artist working for Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy say, might be asked to lend a hand in the fun once in a while. Or maybe job titles were more flexible back then; for in addition to spying missions made on behalf of his liege, Jan van Eyck also almost certainly had a part in creating decorative items for the Duke's fabulous parties and as part of his unending practical jokes. From rainmaking devices that squirted water on ladies from below, to books that sprayed soot on whoever tried to read them, the Duke of Burgundy was even known to have used magical mirrors.
Mirror, mirror on the wall....The history of the late Renaissance has been called by some as the history of optics-- and mirrors show up all over the place. We see this both in science and in art. And yet where art is concerned, most books used in college survey courses in this country at least do not feature the word "lens in their pages," I have read.
Last month, I wrote the rise of optics in late Renaissance science and the 2012 book, Baroque Science. The book is highly recommended as an absolutely fascinating account of Europe's "estrangement of the senses" vis-à-vis the rise of optical science in the 17th century. While the book was about scientific innovations (microscopes and telescopes), art history loomed large-- and so I ended the piece mentioning the famous quote by art historian Erwin Panofsky which suggested that van Eyck's eye functioned "as a microscope and a telescope at the same time." It was an interesting quote, and this all eventually led me to re-visit the infamous the Hockney-Falco Thesis, where van Eyck also plays a pivotal role.
The British artist David Hockney began his notorious crusade in pure disbelief. How was it possible that the Old Master painters had been able to draw so realistically? In his book Secret Knowledge, he has several examples, which are so perfectly drawn that he suggests it would be absolutely impossible to draw like that today. Look at the chandelier above for example, the arms, Hockney and Falco suggest are simply too perfectly proportioned for having been done by the human eye alone.
by Brooks Riley
by Eric Byrd
Like Ségur's account of the retreat from Moscow and Grant's mostly martial memoirs, Pushkin's History of the Pugachev Revolt narrates a welter of suffering – axe-armed mobs, corpulent gentry flayed alive, a total civic breakdown in which "the simple people did not know whom to obey" – in an coolly "classical" style; that is, a style terse, spare, unemphatic, and above all swift. Pushkin moves the story along, notes, but does not dwell on the bizarre, and merely hints at the picturesque. Suvorov's cavalry, pursuing Pugachev's nucleus of mutinous Cossacks across the steppe, stops to interrogate the hermits. Steppe hermits! What an occasion for Byronic pathos, for Delacroix's palette! Pushkin tells us in what direction the hermits pointed the horsemen – and that is all. The narrative rides on. The hermits recede in the dust of the cavalcade. Pushkin could have colored them – he knew the Imperial archives, and did months of fieldwork in the formerly rebellious regions – but his style would not indulge him. "Classical" styles ache with the suggested; they trace around mysteries. D. S. Mirsky said that Pushkin straddles European definitions of "Classic" and "Romantic" – and his prose shows it.
Mirsky also said that Pushkin was, at heart, too much an eighteenth century classicist narrator to analyze the grievances behind the revolt to the twentieth century's satisfaction. Certainly – but the book contains plenty to trouble the chauvinist. Nicholas I, Pushkin's personal censor, demanded the original title, The History of Pugachev, be changed to The History of the Pugachev Revolt — because "a rebel," said the Czar, "could not have a history." Nicholas like all autocrats plugs one leak merely to open another. To reduce Pugachev to an opportunistic bandit is the raise the question of his opportunity. And Pushkin is very clear that his opportunity was the fundamental discontent of the landless:
Pugachev was fleeing, but his flight seemed like an invasion. Never had his victories been more horrifying; never had the rebellion raged with greater force. The insurrection spread from village to village, from province to province. Only two or three villains had to appear on the scene, and the whole region revolted. Various bands of plunderers and rioters were formed, each having its own Pugachev…
Pushkin's novella The Captain's Daughter elevates the revolt onto the even more ambiguous plane of romance. The background of the revolt falls away. The novella only fleetingly mentions the series of mutinies, going back decades, of the Cossack and other steppe horse tribes that had entered the Czar's service as guards of empire's fluid frontiers with the Ottoman sultan and the Shah of Persia, only to be robbed and oppressed by local officialdom. It says nothing about a significant portion of the Pugachev hordes, the "factory peasants," serfs uprooted and sent to toil in the mines, foundries and arsenals of the military-industrial base Peter the Great had established to equip the armies and fleets of this newly modern, European state. On the other hand, the Pugachev of The Captain's Daughter is attractive, honorable and merciful at key moments, and thereby spellbinding – the very stuff of Nicholas' censorial nightmares. "It was my first encounter with evil," Marina Tsvetaeva wrote – The Captain's Daughter was a children's book when she was a child – "and evil proved to be good. After that I always suspected it of good."
Strained Analogies Between Recently Released Films and Current Events: Interstellar and the 2014 Midterm Elections
by Matt McKenna
Christopher Nolan's Interstellar may have been advertised as a science fiction blockbuster set in the vast nothingness of outer space, but the message of the film is clearly directed at more terrestrial concerns. While Interstellar attempts to distract its audience with riddles about space, time, and the nature of reality, the movie simultaneously drives home a critique of American politics and in particular the 2014-midterm elections. In fact, it's been rumored that the film's release was pushed back to November 5th--the day after the midterm elections--just so the movie wouldn't be viewed as a brazen attempt to influence voters.
How can a movie about saving the world via space travel be so political? Well, consider that the primary conflict in Interstellar involves the principal characters considering how long humanity can struggle on a dying Earth before being forced to colonize a new planet and ensure the survival of the human species. As you can imagine, most members of the audience will find the parallels to the recent midterm elections a bit obvious in that these characters are clearly meant to represent American voters who were asked to consider how long their government can struggle in a dying political environment before being forced to break up the toxic two-party system and ensure the survival of democracy in the United States. Well, the good news is the film is pretty optimistic, but the bad news is that maybe it shouldn't be.
Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, is Interstellar's quiet-talking protagonist and renaissance man: he is a fabulous engineer, an incredible spaceship pilot, and by the time the film's plot begins, also an excellent agriculturist. This battery of skills comes in handy for Cooper as he is respected by both farmers and scientists for his breadth of knowledge which includes the intricate details of growing corn during the ongoing global blight and the incredibly specific skill of how to reprogram a wayward Indian military drone. It is therefore by fortunate happenstance (or is it?!) that Cooper ends up following a spookily transmitted message to a secret NORAD facility where he learns that Earth will soon become uninhabitable. Cooper is told he must fly a spaceship through a wormhole and locate a new planet to either 1) send the people of Earth or 2) grow a bunch of test-tube babies and reboot the human species.
At this point, you're probably rolling your eyes over the overt political parallels. And yes, even from the very beginning of the film, Nolan drops hints of the politicized nature of the story.
Sunday, November 16, 2014
Jody Rosen in NYTimes' T Magazine Blog:
McCabe had spent the last three years of his life thinking about London’s roads and landmarks, and how to navigate between them. In the process, he had logged more than 50,000 miles on motorbike and on foot, the equivalent of two circumnavigations of the Earth, nearly all within inner London’s dozen boroughs and the City of London financial district. He was studying to be a London taxi driver, devoting himself full-time to the challenge that would earn him a cabby’s “green badge” and put him behind the wheel of one of the city’s famous boxy black taxis.
Actually, “challenge” isn’t quite the word for the trial a London cabby endures to gain his qualification. It has been called the hardest test, of any kind, in the world. Its rigors have been likened to those required to earn a degree in law or medicine. It is without question a unique intellectual, psychological and physical ordeal, demanding unnumbered thousands of hours of immersive study, as would-be cabbies undertake the task of committing to memory the entirety of London, and demonstrating that mastery through a progressively more difficult sequence of oral examinations — a process which, on average, takes four years to complete, and for some, much longer than that. The guidebook issued to prospective cabbies by London Taxi and Private Hire (LTPH), which oversees the test, summarizes the task like this:
To achieve the required standard to be licensed as an “All London” taxi driver you will need a thorough knowledge, primarily, of the area within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. You will need to know: all the streets; housing estates; parks and open spaces; government offices and departments; financial and commercial centres; diplomatic premises; town halls; registry offices; hospitals; places of worship; sports stadiums and leisure centres; airline offices; stations; hotels; clubs; theatres; cinemas; museums; art galleries; schools; colleges and universities; police stations and headquarters buildings; civil, criminal and coroner’s courts; prisons; and places of interest to tourists. In fact, anywhere a taxi passenger might ask to be taken.
If anything, this description understates the case. The six-mile radius from Charing Cross, the putative center-point of London marked by an equestrian statue of King Charles I, takes in some 25,000 streets. London cabbies need to know all of those streets, and how to drive them — the direction they run, which are one-way, which are dead ends, where to enter and exit traffic circles, and so on. But cabbies also need to know everything on the streets. Examiners may ask a would-be cabby to identify the location of any restaurant in London. Any pub, any shop, any landmark, no matter how small or obscure — all are fair game. Test-takers have been asked to name the whereabouts of flower stands, of laundromats, of commemorative plaques. One taxi driver told me that he was asked the location of a statue, just a foot tall, depicting two mice sharing a piece of cheese. It’s on the facade of a building in Philpot Lane, on the corner of Eastcheap, not far from London Bridge.
If you go to LTPH headquarters, where the examinations are conducted, you will behold a grim bureaucratic scene, not much different than the one you might find in an office devoted to tax audits: nervous test-takers, dressed in suits, shuffling into one-on-one sessions with stone-faced examiners. But for more than a century, since the first green badge was issued to a hackney cabman piloting a horse-drawn carriage, the test has been known by a name that carries a whiff of the occult: the Knowledge of London.
Read the full article here.
Gabriella Coleman on Medium:
For six years I have been studying the protest ensemble Anonymous. Some challenges come with the job. By definition, Anonymous is a faceless collective. As many participants in this milieu conceal their identities carefully, it was impossible to tell who lay behind the mask.
Nevertheless, since most Anons engaged with each other using pseudonymous nicknames, I interacted with a stable cast of characters on the chat channels where I did the great bulk of my ethnographic research on Anonymous. People developed reputations, and their personalities and linguistic idiosyncrasies shone through their text-based conversations.
But Sabu was unique.
Even before his name, picture, and the details of his life were splattered on a FOX news article/website on March 6, 2012 — the day the bombshell news was released that this charismatic figure was working as an informant for the FBI — Hector Monsegur, better known as “Sabu,” clearly stood out. Both on Twitter and during chat conversations, Sabu exuded a sort of defiant and revolutionary attitude. His calls for people to rise up were routinely directed towards his “brothers” and “sisters.” He would liberally pepper his conversation with the word “nigger”; and while the term is popular among Internet trolls, Sabu used it without even a trace of irony or knowing political incorrectness. Rather than a rich, alienated, white, basement-dwelling teen, Sabu sounded like a street-hardened brother. Was it possible that his alienation and anger were borne not of middle-class anomie, but instead of poverty and racial marginalization?
The answer turned out to be a definitive yes.
Read the rest here.
Eve Hepburn in openDemocracy:
What should the EU do? At the moment, the official position is to keep its head down and say nothing about the internal affairs of one of its valued member-states. But will this strategy work when more independence referendums – official or unofficial – add more cracks in the sovereignty of the EU’s currency member-states?
For Scotland and Catalonia are not the only cases of independence aspirations in the EU. The next country to watch, without a doubt, is Italy, whereby a poll released last month by Demos showed that 31% of Italians wanted their region to become independent, a figure that was significantly higher in several autonomist regions.
The highest was Veneto, a wealthy northern region of Italy with a strong identity, where 53% of survey participants preferred secession. This reflects the success of the nationalist parties in Veneto – most notably the governing Liga Veneta-Lega Nord (LV-LN) – in agitating for independence. The regional assembly passed a bill in June this year to hold a referendum on independence, and President of the Region Luca Zaia of the LNV promised that he would see this through.
These events follow an unofficial referendum in Veneto earlier this year in March, supported by several nationalist parties, whereby 89% of participants voted to leave Italy. While the legitimacy of the poll is questionable (as many Latin Americans of Venetian descent voted), another surveyby La Repubblica has confirmed the Demos poll, showing that about 55% of Venetians want independence. And if and when the plebiscite is held, given these high numbers in favour of secession, there may be a greater possibility of success than in Catalonia or Scotland. However, everything will ultimately down to the Italian Constitutional Court which, like its Spanish counterpart, views consultative referenda on the fragmentation of the Italian state as illegal.
An unofficial referendum was also held in the German-speaking province of South Tyrol in 2013, which lies on the northern periphery of Italy and which was previously annexed from Austria. Here, over 90% of participants expressed their support for self-determination, and the pro-independence Sud-Tiroler Freiheit went on to win its highest share of the vote in the subsequent regional elections. The issue of secession from Italy is unlikely to go away, not least because it is the ultimate goal of the South Tyrol People’s Party, which has ruled the province throughout the post-war period.
Read the original article here.
Each week in Bookends, two writers take on questions about the world of books. The French government has declared books an “essential good.” This week, Daniel Mendelsohn and Mohsin Hamid debate whether the United States should do the same.
Daniel Mendelsohn and Mohsin Hamid in the New York Times:
“I hope this letter doesn’t give you the impression that I’ve quite lost my mind with delirium over Paris and France,” wrote Joseph Roth, the Austrian journalist and novelist, in a letter to his editor soon after being assigned to Paris in 1925. Some hope. “Paris,” he gushed about the city that would become his home, “is the capital of the world.”
It still feels that way if you’re a writer. “You’re going to feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven,” a novelist friend of mine, unconsciously echoing Roth, knowingly murmured in 2007, when one of my books came out in a French translation. I soon saw what he meant. In the United States, there is one nationally broadcast radio program that has significant coverage of books — NPR’s “Fresh Air,” which book publicists fight over like pi-dogs over a picked bone. In Paris, I soon lost count of how many in-depth radio and TV shows, some as long as an hour, I taped or broadcast live at the circular, weirdly sci-fi-looking Maison de la Radio...
In France, books are treated as an “essential good” like food and utilities, subject to low taxes. At the same time, price discounts on books are limited to 5 percent and can’t be offered in conjunction with free shipping. As a result, it costs pretty much the same to buy a book everywhere in France, including online, and independent bookshops are holding their own against larger competitors.
It’s hard to imagine similar laws being enacted in the United States. Books have no privileged position in the American system of law and commerce. We, the workers of the book business — writers, agents, editors, designers, publicists, booksellers and others — often bemoan this fact. Books, it seems to us, are different. We forgo higher wages doing other things because we love what we do, because we believe in what we do. Surely our industry deserves special treatment...
New York City
Elizabeth Kolbert in the New York Review of Books:
Every fall, an international team of scientists announces how much carbon dioxide humanity has dumped into the atmosphere the previous year. This fall, the news wasn’t good. It almost never is. The only time the group reported a drop in emissions was 2009, when the global economy seemed on the verge of collapse. The following year, emissions jumped again, by almost 6 percent.
According to the team’s latest report, in 2013 global emissions rose by 2.3 percent. Contributing to this increase were countries like the United States, which has some of the world’s highest per capita emissions, and also countries like India, which has some of the lowest. “There is no more time,” one of the scientists who worked on the analysis, Glen P. Peters of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, told The New York Times. “It needs to be all hands on deck now.”
A few days after the figures were released, world leaders met in New York to discuss how to deal with the results of this enormous carbon dump. Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, had convened the summit to “catalyze climate action” and had asked the leaders to “bring bold announcements.” Once again, the news wasn’t good. It almost never is.
“There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today,” Graça Machel, Nelson Mandela’s widow, told the summit in the final speech of the gathering. “The scale is much more than we have achieved.” This mismatch, which grows ever more disproportionate year after year, summit after summit, raises questions both about our future and about our character. What explains our collective failure on climate change? Why is it that instead of dealing with the problem, all we seem to do is make it worse?
These questions lie at the center of Naomi Klein’s ambitious new polemic, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. “What is wrong with us?” Klein asks near the start of the book. Her answer turns upside-down the narrative that the country’s largest environmental groups have been telling.
Michael Lewis in The New Republic:
The grotesque inequality between the haves and the have-nots is seldom framed as a problem that the haves might privately help to resolve. Instead, it is a problem the have-nots must persuade their elected officials to do something about, presumably against the wishes of the haves. The latest contribution to the discussion comes from Darrell West, a scholar at the Brookings Institution. “Wealth—its uses and abuses—is a subject that has intrigued me since my youth in the rural Midwest,” West writes in the introduction to his study of billionaires. From his seat in Washington, D.C., he has grown concerned about the effects on democracy of a handful of citizens controlling more and more wealth.
Drawing on the work of Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, West notes that the concentration of wealth in the top 1 percent of American citizens has returned to levels not seen in a century. One percent of the population controls a third of its wealth, and the problem is only getting worse: from 1979 to 2009 after-tax income for the top 1 percent rose by 155 percent while not changing all that much for everyone else. By another measure of inequality, which compares the income controlled by the top 10 percent with that of the bottom 40 percent, the United States is judged to come forty-fourth out of the eighty-six nations in the race, and last among developed nations.
Alka Sehgal Cuthbert in Spiked:
Bad reason number one: Shakespeare’s good for activating neural activity. That’s right, certain academics have been conducting all manner of neuroscientific experiments on Shakespeare readers – they’ve even come up with a piece of research entitled Event-Related Potential Characterisation of the Shakespearean Functional Shift in Narrative Sentence Structure. I kid you not. By observing the amount and location of neural activity in people’s brains while reading Shakespeare compared to lesser playwrights, the study found that, lo and behold, there’s more going on in the brain when people read the bard. Apparently, this is because he uses words in unusual and unexpected combinations. You don’t need to be a neuroscientist or literary expert to see that this insight is banal at best. There are easier and quicker ways, I’m sure, to boost your neural activity if that’s what you really want to do. Bad reason number two: reading great literature can make us better people, more empathetic and more compassionate. For example, psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano applied ‘theory-of-mind techniques’ to people who had been randomly assigned either popular and non-fiction books or literary classics. They ‘found’ that the latter group was better at identifying emotions in others.
...An important and worthwhile aspect of reading literature is that it demands we interpret the work. This involves considering both its objective form and the contents of our subjectivity. It involves making judgements based on our interpretations. This capacity to interpret and understand for ourselves, rather than take something as given, is something we can bring to bear on other areas of life, including attempts by academics to justify art in terms of science or moral virtue. If we permit these bad reasons to dominate the way we understand and justify reading Shakespeare, we go against his own profound humanism.