Writing About Boxes

Mel Bochner writing about the new publication of Donald Judd’s collected writing.

For my generation, Judd posed the same problem as Picasso did for the Abstract Expressionists; you either had to go over, under, around, or through him. Conceptual, process, and Earth art, each in their own way, constituted a rejection of the “specific object.”

The importance of Judd’s sculpture is clear, but can his writings still be useful to a new generation of artists? I believe the answer is yes, but only if their republication provokes younger artists to initiate the kind of vigorous public conversation that is so conspicuously missing from the art world today.

Eco and the Funnymen

From The Village Voice:

Eco Novelist Umberto Eco talks about Homer, the Internet, comic books—and ladies’ shoes: In the Eco-ian universe, books aren’t merely stand-alone islands to be traversed in linear fashion; they are nodes in an exponentially expanding extranet. To read one book, you sometimes have to pass through several others, accumulating countless references and subtexts along the way. “We’ve been reading books in a hypertextual way ever since Homer,” Eco says. “We read a page and then we jump, especially when we’re rereading it. Think of the Bible. When people read it, they’re always jumping here and there, constantly connecting various quotations.”

More here.

Identical Twins Exhibit Differences in Gene Expression

From Scientific American:Twins

At first glance identical twins seem, well, identical. In fact many of these sibling pairs show minor physical variations and differences in characteristics such as susceptibility to disease. Just what causes these dissimilarities is unclear. But a new report further suggests that epigenetic factors–that is, differences in how the genome is expressed–could responsible.  Environmental factors, including smoking habits, physical activity levels and diet, can influence epigenetic patterns and may help explain how the same genotype can be translated in different ways, the scientists say. 

More here.

Straussian Spouts Off

The one-of-a-kind Stanley Rosen, Strauss student and Platonist of sorts, in an interview at Diotima.

BAI: So, somehow, the idea of the philosopher-king is a serious political proposal?

ROSEN: It’s a serious political proposal as a model. You want philosophers to be kings, not physicists, not mathematicians, not economists, but philosophers in the Platonic sense of the term. You want them to be kings. If it’s impossible to have that, then we at least want intelligent people with good practical common sense, who are compromised, but nevertheless, much better than completely ignorant people. The question of the status of the virtues in Plato is very difficult. Plato finally holds that virtue is knowledge, which means that the only genuine virtue is wisdom. And that means, as he says in the Republic that temperance, justice, and other virtues are demotic virtues, vulgar virtues, and the true virtue is knowledge, in other words, wisdom, sophia. The true virtue is wisdom. The situation is quite different in Aristotle, where you have ethical virtue. In Plato, justice is based upon knowing what belongs to each person; ultimately for him knowledge is accessible to the wise man. So, Confucius’ emphasis upon nobility and virtue is probably somewhat more Aristotelian than Platonist. Aristotle is much more sensible than Plato.

Ideas Suck

I actually deeply disagree with the following analysis from Jonathan Chait at TNR. Still, in the name of intellectual debate I forward it on to you. And hey, it’s provocative.

The notion that conservatives are winning politically because they are winning intellectually has a certain appeal, particularly for those in the political idea business. And the aspiration of liberals to sharpen their thinking is perfectly worthy. As analysis, though, it’s all deeply misguided. The current ubiquity of such thinking owes itself to the fact that liberals and conservatives have a shared interest in promoting it. (Liberals in the spirit of exhortation and internal reform, conservatives in the spirit of self-congratulation.) But, more than that, it reflects a naïveté about the power of new ideas, one that is deeply rooted in long-standing misconceptions of how our politics operate.

What To The Slave is the 4th of July?

I have been meaning for some time to direct interested parties who don’t already know about it to a great site called Wood’s Lot. It seems to be Canadian, and posts amazingly good links to and excerpts from articles, poems, and art. I don’t think there are permalinks, and WL does not comment but only quotes, the WL archive forming a kind of Commonplace Book of fine passages and food for thought, but have a look at the current main page for a passage from and link to a classic and timely Frederick Douglass essay, “What To The Slave Is the 4th of July?”

The raw-food diet

From The Independent:

Meloned050705_102522a_1 There was a time when only hippies and health fanatics would consider living on raw food. No more. A raw-food revolution is under way – and celebs are leading the way. Uma Thurman, Natalie Portman and Alicia Silverstone have all been eating uncooked food in the name of optimum health. Woody Harrelson went so far as to publish a 400-page tome on Living Cuisine. But then, the beautiful people, I suspect, were beautiful and shiny haired before they gave up ovens. What could raw foods do for me? I decided to give my oven a rest for a week, to see if I can catch any symptoms of glamour and gorgeousness. 

One week later…

My blood pressure is up to 110/70 but this is probably just because I have been rushing around in the heat. But I have lost weight. Two kilos, which is five pounds, which is almost half a stone. In just one week. No sign of celebrity gorgeousness yet, but maybe that will come. Perhaps raw is the way forward.

More here.

Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited

From the New York Times:Sex1_1

Some people are attracted to women; some are attracted to men. And some, if Sigmund Freud, Dr. Alfred Kinsey and millions of self-described bisexuals are to be believed, are drawn to both sexes. But a new study casts doubt on whether true bisexuality exists, at least in men.

The study, by a team of psychologists in Chicago and Toronto, lends support to those who have long been skeptical that bisexuality is a distinct and stable sexual orientation. People who claim bisexuality, according to these critics, are usually homosexual, but are ambivalent about their homosexuality or simply closeted. “You’re either gay, straight or lying,” as some gay men have put it. In the new study, a team of psychologists directly measured genital arousal patterns in response to images of men and women. The psychologists found that men who identified themselves as bisexual were in fact exclusively aroused by either one sex or the other, usually by other men.

More here.

Natural selection gets help from humans

From MSNBC:Snowlotus_vlg_3p

When Charles Darwin explained evolution, the process he observed was natural selection. It turns out inadvertent human selection can also cause species to evolve. Take the case of the snow lotus, a rare plant that grows only at high levels in the Himalayas. Researchers have discovered that one species of the plant has been shrinking over time — the one people like to pick. A snow lotus species called Saussurea laniceps is used in traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine and is increasingly sought after by tourists. The largest plants are picked, and that occurs during their only flowering period. The result is that only smaller, unpicked plants go to seed.

More here.

Critical Digressions: Live 8 at Sandspit

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,

Beach_2_1 Last night, on the way to (and from) Sandspit beach, we tuned to Live 8 on FM 91 and heard Madonna, the Pet Shop Boys and Junoon. After washing down crab “lollipops” with Murree beer in the spray of the dark frothy sea, we reclined on the sand and smoked a Dunhill, fondly recalling Live Aid in ‘85. We remember the balding Phil Collins behind a piano singing “In the Air Tonight” with great feeling; the exciting new band, U2 (whom we often confused with UB40); and square-jawed Bob Geldof’s speeches on famine. We also remember attempting to conceptualize “famine.” When we asked our mother, she gave us a lecture on being grateful that our father puts food on the table and on the importance of finishing all the food on our plate – especially our vegetables.

Crowd_1 Live 8 has been billed as the “biggest and best rock concert the world has ever seen.” Will Smith proclaimed that “this is bigger than the World Series, the Super Bowl, even the Olympics” – a rather parochial observation. Although nostalgia colors memory, we believe that Live Aid was epic, historic. Live 8 felt like a rerun. Live Aid generated funds. Live 8 generated rhetoric. The calls for revolution were silly: taking to the stage Madonna asked the crowd, “Are you ready to start a revolution? Are you ready to change history? I said, are you ready?” Perhaps in ‘85, revolution had some promise, certain meaning. Now it just means going round and round. Madonna’s been going round and round for the last twenty years but we don’t know if she has contributed to the relief of the poor. What about Geldof? Last we heard, he “dubbed himself ‘Mr Bloody Africa’ for his role as a reluctant spokesman on issues concerning the continent.” He added, “visiting Africa ‘bores me profoundly.’” That may explain why the only Africans on stage were back-up singers. And what of the brown masses? What of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka? Live 8 might be a noble endeavor but here in South Asia, one of the poorest regions of world, Africa seems far away.

Freddymercury_1 Also, although we were excited by Live 8’s main event, Pink Floyd’s reunion and performance (especially as Sandspit last night was something like the dark side of the moon), somehow it did not compare to Freddy Mercury chanting “We Will Rock You” while waving the length of the microphone before him like a god. It seemed that during those moment on stage in ‘85, Mercury realized that although he commanded godlike appeal, he was mortal and would die. When performing live, both Floyd and Queen typically relied on spectacle but when standing before us, without the smoke, the outrageous costumes and dazzling lights, the former shrinks to size while latter grows in stature.

Nusrat_1 As we sprawl and smoke on the beach, we mull the following: although comparing Queen to Floyd may make sense, can one compare, say, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to Pavarotti? Is it  a “melon-to-melon” comparison? Is it a matter of a discrepancy in discourse, a matter of assigning significance to one tradition over another? We considered consulting critics but we realized we don’t know of any. Although we are familiar with, say, Michiko Kakutani, the Pulitzer winning New York Times literary critic, we aren’t familiar with the Times music critic. In fact, come to think of it, we have never consulted a music critic. Like you, ladies and gentlemen, we like to think that we know music. Like you, we can tell good from bad music. And like you, we’ve been listening to music as far as we can remember: the Sabri Brothers, the “Sound of Music,” and Tom Jones’ “Greatest Hits,” figure prominently on the soundtrack of our five-year-old memories. Since then, we have discovered bands on our own, including the “Flaming Lips,” the “Arcade Fire,” and “Architecture in Helsinki.”

Moonrise_1 We obviously don’t care about the canon of music criticism. On the other hand, we do care about literary criticism. We are, for instance, curious about the critical consensus on McEwan (who is probably overrated), Foer (who is definitely overrated) or Yates (who is underrated). Whether at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge or at Thomas & Thomas in Saddar, we, like you, always flip a book around to read the quoted accolades on the back. Why this difference in the reception of music and literary criticism? Is it because critics are only important to mediums that require exegesis, like visual art. After all without critics, Rothko’s black canvases remain black canvases. We need Arthur Danto (and our superb in-house experts) to make sense of Brillo boxes. We need Akbar Naqvi to canonize Pakistani art. Right? Frankly we don’t know, and at this moment, don’t care. We know this: we are comfortably numb and it’s a warm, lusty summer night and the shreds of moon in the sky suggests that God is in Heaven and all is well with the world.

Forked tongues

From The Guardian:Unfolding_final

Although there is no master plan driving the process, it is clear that language change is a universal phenomenon, and patterned rather than random: certain kinds of changes recur in widely separated languages. Deutscher seeks to explain the underlying principles at work here, drawing on evidence from both real and reconstructed “proto” languages. He also seeks to show how those principles could account for a much earlier development, one linguists can only speculate about, since if it happened it took place so far back in prehistory as to be beyond reconstruction – the formation of human languages as we know them from the simpler systems that were their hypothetical precursors.

Deutscher imagines what he dubs a “Me Tarzan” stage of linguistic evolution, when humans communicated using a small number of words and some basic rules for ordering them, and applies what we know about language change to explain how such a “primitive” system might have acquired the complexity that is evident in even the oldest languages known to scholarship. 

More here.

On a New Showtime Series, America’s Protector Is a Muslim

From The New York Times:

Cell_1 The lead character is an undercover F.B.I. agent who has managed to infiltrate a Southern California sleeper cell largely because he is a practicing Muslim. The character, Darwyn, is the first major role created on an American series – whether before or after the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings – that depicts a Muslim as a hero seeking to check the intentions of terrorists.

That the production has such a high gloss of credibility – at least in terms of the prayers that Darwyn utters, the ways he interprets the Koran and his struggles to reconcile his religion with his daily life – is a function of the creative team supporting it: three of those playing prominent roles behind the scenes are themselves Muslims. And having been raised on a steady diet of Arab bad guys – whether on shows like “JAG” or “24,” or movies like the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle “True Lies” – they say they welcomed the opportunity to put a character on television who looked like them, shared their values and sought to save the day.

More here.

Monday Musing: Defending Jeff Koons, or, Why Don’t You Like My Puppy?

This short essay is inspired by a comment made by our own Timothy Don in his wonderful Negotiation of June 13th. As I wrote in the comments, Timothy is one of the few people writing on art at the moment I truly enjoy and profit from reading (Arthur Danto being another).

And let’s be honest, friends, art criticism is a foul business. Most people engaging in it would get a punch in the nose if they tried to write that way somewhere else. For the most part, it’s pretentious, jargon-obsessed junk. As Clement Greenberg once mentioned, “The fact is that most art writers are cold; they’re usually people who wouldn’t be able to survive writing about anything else.” And I’m glad I brought up Clement Greenberg here. The man could write very clearly about what are often difficult ideas. I love the guy. Love to read him, love to think about what he had to say. But it ought to be mentioned here that he was wrong, completely wrong. And Timothy Don is a wonderful writer on art, and he has many Greenbergian impulses and he’s sometimes wrong too.

He’s not wrong in his impressions and much of his analysis. He’s generally hitting the nail on the head with that. But he’s wrong in his aesthetic judgments. He’s wrong, as Greenberg might have put it, in his taste. Now that’s not to say that Timothy Don has bad taste. I know the man and I can tell you that his taste is impeccable. The more important point is that he thinks there is taste at all, which is why, after a great reflection on why he began to appreciate Basquiat despite himself, he still feels he has to draw the line at Jeff Koons. But there is no such line. The Greenbergian moment is over. It’s over. The Kantian argument lost. All there are now are many things and the struggle is to figure out what they are and why they are interesting. And because of that fact there is no reason to be so hard on our little friends like Mr. Koons. Mr. Koons was trying to liberate us from our Greenbergian fetors.

We must learn to love Jeff Koons.

Indeed, I would say that the thing that was first being called postmodernism a couple of decades ago is only really coming into its own now. Partly that’s because it isn’t so ‘post’ anymore, its just the way we apprehend the world. More and more, it is simply natural. You could call this a new naturalism, though it’s a naturalism so thoroughly interfused with the artificial that the distinction just isn’t interesting anymore. And this allows for a new immediacy, a new sincerity.

In an elegant little essay by Douglas Coupland of Generation X fame, something of this same point is made about Jeff Koons. One of the things that probably infuriated people so much about Koons was the way that he came off as such the glib ironist. It seemed like he was sneering at everyone and everything even as he made a killing off the 80s art boom.

But Coupland suggests that that really wasn’t Koons’ attitude at all.


To watch Koons speak in interviews, he is always maddeningly espousing warm, gooey, puppy love for his creations – and he answers every pointed question with the same beatific smile, like the Pope playing poker. While the work can sometimes appear dazzlingly, shamelessly shallow, he himself tells us that it possesses untold hidden depths – the polar opposite of Warhol. Koons’ work is detached yet also sentimental. Or… is it? He has never, as far as one can tell, presented any evidence of ironic detachment from his source material and its spawn. Which means that he is either a very cool cucumber – cooler than Warhol – or he’s the Rain Man of the art scene. Is his work deep? Is it shallow? Is he for real? Is he a shaman? Is he an idiot savant?

When he made his stupid giant puppies and his annoying little porcelains he loved them, he thought they were important and meaningful. And he was confused by the rancor directed his way. “My puppy is so beautiful,” he was saying. “Why don’t you love my puppy?” But we didn’t listen. We were so smart. There was no way we were going to fall in love with his dumb fucking puppy. Rabbit

The fact is he was right. He was teaching us how to live aesthetically in this world, sort of like Warhol tried to do before him but one step further along. If you can love the puppy you’ve achieved a certain kind of freedom. You’ve achieved a new level of sensibility adequate to a situation of absolute aesthetic pluralism (Arthur Danto). Now that makes certain kinds of distinctions impossible, it ruins the capacity for taste in the way Greenberg meant it, but it’s immensely liberating as well because it puts you right back squarely in this world, the one we’re actually inhabiting now. It allows a hell of a lot of the things that are out there to become beautiful again. Beautiful not as the authentic object with its aura from times past. Beautiful in a new way. Beautiful like a porcelain figurine of Michael Jackson and his frickin monkey. If you can love that little figurine, really love it, no pretending, than you’re going to be OK. You’re going to be better than OK. You’re going to be in love with the world again because an almost infinite array of potential aesthetic pleasure is going to open up to you.

Now those of you out there committed to criticism in its more robust sense, to Greenbergian attitudes or others, are having a hard time here. You’re disgusted maybe. But I don’t think you should be. Because the most liberating aspect of Koons’ work is that it just doesn’t impose an aesthetic criterion beyond itself. One can still like abstract expressionism and the fact is such things are still being produced. In a way, Gerhard Richter is a version of Jeff Koons. He also realized that there is little reason in the aesthetic world of the present to confine yourself to any one trajectory of taste or to this or that aesthetic criterion. Richter was just a lot more uptight about than Koons. And hey, that’s OK if you still want to be uptight about art. There’s lots of uptight art out there for you.

But if you’re willing to give it a go, Koons can be interesting therapy. Clement Greenberg was talking about Donald Judd one day and he said, roughly, ‘these boxes are OK, but they just don’t have the right proportions. If they were more interesting as boxes they would be better’. Now that’s a man, God love him, who is unwilling or unable (or both) to allow the possibility of another criterion. Judd wasn’t thinking about his boxes that way. And Jeff Koons’ Puppies are not meant to be looked at as Judd’s boxes are. According to Koons, his puppies are meant to be a symbol of ‘love, warmth, and happiness’. I don’t know, I think that I’m prepared to believe that they are symbols of exactly that. In a funny way, it took a lot of balls to make cuddly art. You have to tip your hat to the man, the little bear has a button in its hand that says ‘I Love You’. Damn.

Here’s a last shot. Coupland puts it this way and I find the comment persuasive. Enjoy.

Most older artists have chosen to opt out of the ironic/post-ironic discourse (‘Let the damn kids figure it out’), but for the young, the irony/post-irony discourse is as common as oxygen, and to ignore it is to will irrelevance onto oneself. But the consensus seems to be mounting in both the art and Jacksonliterary worlds that, in order to jump dimensions, one has to play with all polarities of irony: heartfelt confession morphing into old sitcom punchlines morphing into Serzone blankness. In other words, being Jeff Koons.

Dispatches: Aesthetics of Impermanence

In a recent article in The New Republic, Rochelle Gurstein argues that those who find formal aesthetic appeal in ‘postmodern art’ are ‘comically’ mistaken, since they are mistakenly looking for beauty in objects whose intent is solely conceptual. Therefore, she writes, an art dealer who admires a smudged Warhol silkscreen for its aesthetic qualities is giving in to the ‘obdurate yearning for beauty.’ He doesn’t get the joke. This argument, derived and oversimplified from the magisterial philosopher of art Arthur Danto, wrongly treats all contemporary art as though it belonged to a specific historical category, that of conceptual art. More significantly, it freezes the category of the aesthetic, as though the associations between it, beauty, and taste made by Matthew Arnold and Walter Pater were still operational. But the aesthetic (and with it, what counts as beautiful) is defined contingently, not transhistorically: today, Warholian silkscreens are used as visual shorthand to advertise fifteen-minute train service to Heathrow airport. The aesthetic field is a recursive phenomenon, one that incorporates its own critiques; the story of culture is one of endless reappropriation and transformation.


To me, the latest such transformation is being made by street art, if I can loosely apply that term toCallie_studio_9_subway_party_119 envelop the work of many artists in many mediums in many parts of the world (thanks to Antlered Girl for introducing me to some of these artists, and for the photo at left of a piece by Os Gemeos). From the subway canvases of the graffiti artists memorably chronicled by Martha Cooper to the paintings and drawings of Jean-Michel Basquiat to Barry McGee’s pieces and installations to the folkloric beauty of Os Gemeos, artwork that begins outside the framing of galleries and museums has begun to refine our sense of where to look for aesthetic objects. Simply walking around New York City, with your eyes open and the right guides, reveals a diverse array of works, painted and drawn, on walls and paper. Not that New York is the only place where such things are happening: check out the London Police. Much of this, like much art since modernism, challenges traditional realist perspectives, substituting for it a more elastic, hieroglyphic, totemic geometry. But it doesn’t stay inside. That these artworks ask no price and sit unprotected by archival storage, reminds one of Pierre Bourdieu’s dictum that the modern aesthetic field refuses or reverses the economic logic that pervades social life.

One of the recognized functions of art is to visualize new possibilities, not only in the aesthetic Swoon_poster_tharena, but for our social arrangements themselves. Perhaps the predominant movement of the last hundred years of art history has been the importation of objects from worlds beyond the salons of high culture: African masks and Duchamp’s urinal being the exemplars. Street art, if I may attempt a spontaneous philosophy of it, does the reverse: what joins together the artists I am grouping is their exportation of the artwork outside the sanctioned space of the gallery. In their embrace of the transience of city life, these artists also challenge an accepted order: our acceptance of the state’s right to sell off our daily visual field, our public space, to advertisers, while expunging the markings of its citizens from view (except for the often patronizing efforts of ‘public art’ initiatives). Thankfully, in all vital cities, the impulse to write back remains healthy, as the dialogues scribbled on any subway platform billboard will tell you. An infinitely more accomplished example would be the artist Swoon, who makes paper cut-outs and detailed, expressionistic drawings. While they make conceptual points about enlarging the sphere of art, the importance of everyday reality, and the dignity of urban life, they are also, to put it simply, radically beautiful.

A few years ago, a space in the Times Square subway station was cleared for the installation of a mural by Roy Lichenstein, the sanctified Pop artist. What his work replaced was an ancient surface, stratified with layers of grime and thousands of scraps of bygone wheatpaste. Though lacking aesthetic intent, perhaps that doomed surface, in its complexity, more faithfully rendered New York experience than the official art that succeeded it. This lingering sense, combined with the drive to mark one’s landscape with signs of individuality, of subjective uniqueness as opposed to the productions of the culture industry, is what drives street art.

Not all public artistic incursions need be imposed by an artist whose power to do so was delegated by a foundation, a state, or a corporate body. The wheat-pasted urban collage recalls Walter Benjamin’s studies of modernist urbanity, in which he focused on the ephemera, the flotsam, of a culture in order to interpret the many ways in which a society’s past, present, and emergent future can be glimpsed in candy wrappers and discarded fliers, street swindles and Parisian arcades.  Today’s street artists have absorbed and expressed Benjamin’s insights by making works that both refer to and are part of the jumbled proscenium of urban modernity. Wheatpasted surfaces like the one I remember have been brilliantly recalled by the artist Jose Parla (also known as Ease), whose recent works recreate the visual density of subway walls and other marked territories. I can think of no better contemporary visualization of ‘porosity,’ the image Benjamin and Asja Lacis developed to name the colliding complexity of urban semiotics, than these works. In its autonomy, in its generosity, in its authentic aesthetic complexity, street art reminds us that we are the social, and we must continue to impinge upon its representations of itself. In this world, in multiple ways, we must remember the utopic truth that: we make it up.

Making sense of the Iranian elections

In OpenDemocracy, Fred Halliday offers this:

“The conservative victory signals two things. First, there are very real policy differences within the Islamic leadership. Second, Ahmadinejad’s triumph highlights a vital underlying factor in the formation of Iran’s revolutionary regime: that the state, its ideology and its mentality were forged not in the years of Islamist struggle against the Shah (1963-1978), nor during the course of the revolution itself (1978-1979), but in the much more brutal and costly war with Iraq (1980-1988).

This was the second longest inter-state war of the 20th century, one in which as many as 750,000 Iranian soldiers died. The institutions created during that war – the pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards), the basiji (Mobilisation) and the intelligence services – are at the core of the Islamic Republic, not the clergy, the revolution’s political leaders, or the regular army. It is significant that most of the eight-to-ten key people around Khamenei owe their prominence to this conflict. . .

In a broader perspective, the election outcome shows how much Iran – far from being an anomaly in modern politics – reflects general trends in the contemporary world.”

Ardashir Tehrani offers another view.

“This was a coup d’état led by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It was foreseeable as soon as it became known that between 66 and 70 of the new members of the majlis (parliament) elected in February 2004 were members of the Revolutionary Guards militia – enough to give these forces, and the ruling elite, control of the institution. . .

General Firouzabadi, head of the joint chiefs of staff, issued an order that all militia forces vote for Ahmadinejad. Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, a real hardliner, had issued a fatwa urging everyone to do their “sharia duty” and vote for Ahmadinejad. There was also a rumour that every basiji (pro-regime vigilante) was told to recruit ten ordinary citizens to cast a vote for Ahmadinejad.

Why the need for a coup d’état? “

Also read the takes of a number of Iranian democrats.

The Battle Over Shelby Foote

Field Maloney in Slate:

Southern storyteller and maverick historian. Click image to expand.

Southern storyteller and maverick historian

Our nation’s obituarists responded to the death of the Civil War historian Shelby Foote on Monday night by splitting, roughly, into two familiar camps: those above and those below the Mason-Dixon line. Foote was universally recognized for his three-volume history The Civil War: A Narrative, which he published beginning in 1958, and more recently for his star turn in Ken Burns’ 1991 PBS documentary. The tenor of the Northern praise was respectful, occasionally admiring, but restrained—at least compared to the Southerners, a number of whom had reverential firsthand tales of droll conversations and shared bourbons with the elegant, puckish Mississippian. One columnist from North Carolina called Foote’s history of the Civil War “the Iliad of our nation,” while a reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution lamented, “we’ve lost a modern day Homer.” One Washington Post writer boldly ventured that with Foote’s passing now the Civil War could “finally be over.”

More here.

‘The Genius Factory’: Test-Tube Superbabies

Polly Morrice reviews The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank by David Plotz, in the New York Times Book Review:

”All parents expect too much of their children,” David Plotz writes in ”The Genius Factory,” his beguiling account of one man’s struggle to ensure that everyone’s children — at least white ones — would come up to the mark. In our era of rampant parental ambition, of ”aggro soccer dads and home schooling enthusiasts plotting their children’s future one spelling bee at a time,” the cockeyed vision of Robert K. Graham, a California millionaire who sought to create cadres of baby geniuses, seems less bizarre than it probably did in 1980, when Graham’s Repository for Germinal Choice, better known as the Nobel Prize sperm bank, opened its doors.

More here.

Real Insiders: A pro-Israel lobby and an F.B.I. sting

Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker:

AIPAC is a leviathan among lobbies, as influential in its sphere as the National Rifle Association and the American Association of Retired Persons are in theirs, although it is, by comparison, much smaller. (AIPAC has about a hundred thousand members, the N.R.A. more than four million.) President Bush, speaking at the annual aipac conference in May of 2004, said, “You’ve always understood and warned against the evil ambition of terrorism and their networks. In a dangerous new century, your work is more vital than ever.” AIPAC is unique in the top tier of lobbies because its concerns are the economic health and security of a foreign nation, and because its members are drawn almost entirely from a single ethnic group.

More here.

Is the particle there? Schrödinger in Clontarf…

Hilary Mantel reviews A Game with Sharpened Knives by Neil Belton, in the London Review of Books:

BefoschroedingerNeil Belton’s account of one year of Schrödinger’s life is bleak, judicious, thickly atmospheric. No kind of weather suits this latitude: winter is a raw season of privation – cold bathwater and rationing – and summer leaves the clerks and shop assistants ‘stunned and listless’ in their shirtsleeves on Stephen’s Green, while the smell of the river envelops the Georgian slums with their gaping doors and shattered fanlights. The city, censored and self-censoring, is constantly listening into itself, and testing the power of silence. Ireland’s citizens, like the physicists of the time, need to accommodate themselves to duality, coexist with paradox. Schrödinger is an honest and searching observer, but his role is limited; it is a brutal physical fact that he is losing his sight. His work does not progress. His home life is miserable; Hilde, for whose sake he endured sweating and chancy interviews with the Irish authorities, has become both emotionally and physically disengaged from him. He feels Ireland to be a sort of Limbo; Limbo, his unhappy wife points out, lies close to Hell.

More here.