William Logan in The New Criterion:
Last year a Dublin literary magazine sponsored an open competition for the best Seamus Heaney imitation. The winning poem began,
Niall Fitzduff brought a jar
of crab apple jelly
made from crabs off the tree
that grew at Duff’s Corner—
still grows at Duff’s Corner—
a tree I never once saw
with crab apples on it.
This would be hilarious, if Heaney hadn’t written it himself (I was kidding about the competition, though surely he would win). At sixty-seven, his Nobel dusty on the shelf, Heaney is old enough and honored enough not to have to impress anyone. He’s so full of genial sanity and sly little tricks with syntax (no one since Shakespeare has been shiftier at manipulating the sequence of tenses), it’s easy to be gulled by his calloused facility.
The poems in District and Circle (the name of a London Underground line) sometimes take up the subjects of poems from twenty or thirty years ago. You go through the book thinking, Oh, there’s the Tollund Man again, and there’s Glanmore, and there’s the Underground—you’d be forgiven for thinking this a Seamus Heaney greatest hits collection.
Richard K. Betts reviews Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzer, in the New York Times:
By Stephen Kinzer’s count, the United States has toppled foreign governments 14 times in the 110 years between the 1893 coup in Hawaii and the occupation of Iraq, making regime change by force as American as apple pie. But Mr. Kinzer says the results are always damaging to the countries involved, and to American security as well.
Mr. Kinzer, formerly a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, has written on this subject before, in books on United States intervention in Iran and Guatemala. In ”Overthrow” he surveys all 14 cases in an admirably written page-turner.
Although the book does not add to historical knowledge of the individual cases, it may be the first to bring them together in a comparison over time. This makes the narrative more interesting than a single case study, but also more depressing.
In Mr. Kinzer’s treatment there are no bright spots. In one instance after another, arrogant Americans are shown tossing out legitimate governments and installing corrupt brutes who turn out to cause more problems for foreign policy than did the ousted leaders.
Mr. Kinzer’s main explanation for these recurrent misadventures is greed.
More here. [Thanks to Syed Tasnim Raza.]
Ahmed Rashid in the New York Review of Books:
In December 2005 I spent several hours a day in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul interviewing some of the people who passed by. The hotel, perched on a hill at the edge of the city and long ago written off by the Intercontinental chain as a loss, has been through some rough times in Afghanistan’s twenty-three years of war. In 1992 I spent more than a month using the hotel as a bunker to avoid getting hit, first as the Communist regime crumbled and then as the civil war unfolded across the city below me. For much of the following decade the hotel was without regular electricity or running water and you never saw an Afghan woman there.
In 2005, sitting on a sofa in the hotel’s lobby, I found on my left a former Taliban commander with a beard down to his waist, and on my right a young and beautiful Afghan woman from Herat, whose only concession to “covering up” was a very loose and flimsy head scarf. They were both members of the new Afghan parliament that had been elected on September 18; for the past week they had been receiving instruction from UN experts on what a parliament was and how to behave in one. The two-hour lunch breaks allowed the members of parliament (MPs) to meet each other informally. As he argued with the woman, I could see that the former Taliban officer was still in a state of shock that she was there at all.
Helena Cobban in the Boston Review:
On January 25, Palestinians went to the polls and, in an election supported by the United States and judged free and fair by observers, elected members of Hamas, a movement on the U.S. State Department’s terrorist-organization list, to 76 of the 132 parliamentary seats.
Six weeks after the election, I sat down separately with two of the key architects of the Hamas victory, Prime Minister–designate Ismail Haniyeh and Foreign Minister–designate Mahmoud Zahar, and with a dozen other Hamas leaders, activists, and supporters in Gaza and the West Bank. A main question in diplomatic circles has been how Hamas will respond to the “three demands” that the United States and its allies have placed on the new Palestinian government: that it recognize Israel’s right to exist; that it affirm its commitment to all international agreements concluded by its predecessor, the Fateh Party; and that it renounce violence. President George W. Bush and the leaders of the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia—the so-called Quartet that has sought since 2002 to manage Israeli–Palestinian diplomacy—stressed that they could not work diplomatically with the new Palestinian government if it did not meet these demands. The United States and the EU also threatened to withhold economic aid, and Israel threatened to block its provision.
David D. Perlmutter in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Media attention to blogging has exploded, in part because of a number of what I call blogthroughs, events that allowed bloggers to demonstrate their powers of instant response, cumulative knowledge, and relentless drumbeating. Those incidents included bloggers’ role in challenging the memo about President Bush’s National Guard service revealed on CBS, which may have led to Dan Rather’s resignation as anchor of the network’s evening news; video logs of the tsunami in Southeast Asia; and the high-profile use of blogs by Howard Dean’s campaign for the last Democratic presidential nomination. Now, according to various measurement and rating services such as Technorati and BlogPulse, tens of millions of Americans are blogging on all kinds of subjects, like diets, relatives, pets, sports, and sex. Bloggers include journalists, marines in Afghanistan, suburban teenagers, law-school professors, senators, and district attorneys.
Of greatest interest to modern students of politics are the blogs that focus on public affairs.
Brendan O’Neill in Spiked:
Over the past six weeks a Western security force has effectively taken over the small African nation of Namibia. A beach resort in Langstrand in Western Namibia has been sealed off with security cordons, and armed security personnel have been keeping both local residents and visiting foreigners at bay. A no-fly zone has been enforced over part of the country. The Westerners have also demanded that the Namibian government severely restrict the movement of journalists into and out of Namibia. The government agreed and, in a move described by one human rights organisation as ‘heavy-handed and brutal’, banned certain reporters from crossing its borders.
However, this Western security force is not a US or European army plundering Namibia’s natural resources or threatening to topple its government. It is the security entourage of one Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the celebrity couple better known for living it up in LA than slumming it in Namibia. They reportedly wanted their first child to be born in Namibia because the country is ‘the cradle of human kind’ and it would be a ‘special’ experience (1). And it seems that no security measure is too stringent in the name of making Ms Jolie feel special. Welcome to the new celebrity colonialism.
Jennifer Oullette in her always excellent blog, Cocktail Party Physics:
The father of modern architectural acoustics is an American physicist named Wallace Clement Sabine. In 1895, he was a lowly faculty member of Harvard’s physics department, who was handed the knotty problem of improving the infamously bad acoustics of the university’s Fogg Lecture Hall, part of the recently constructed Fogg Art Museum. Sabine didn’t have any particular expertise with sound — he didn’t even hold a PhD (the horror!) — but he doggedly tackled the challenge as he would any other physics experiment. He spent several years studying the acoustical qualities both the museum’s lecture hall, and the Sanders Theater, widely considered to have excellent acoustics, in order to determine what might be causing the difference in sound quality. Specifically, he was attempting to find some objective formula or standard by which to measure and assess the acoustics of performance space designs.
It wasn’t an easy task because so many variables had to be taken into consideration. He and his assistants tested each space repeatedly under varying conditions, moving materials back and forth between the two halls — such as hundreds of seat cushions from the Sanders Theater — and making careful measurements armed only with an organ pipe and a stop watch. He timed how long it took for different frequencies of sounds to decay to inaudibility under those varying conditions: with and without Oriental rugs, various numbers of people occupying the seats, and so forth.
Ultimately, he was able to determine that there was a definitive relationship between the quality of a room’s acoustics, the size of the chamber, and the amount of absorption surfaces that were present. And he came up with the formula for calculating reverberation time, still the critical factor for gauging a space’s acoustical quality…
The field of concert hall acoustics has advanced far beyond Sabine’s rudimentary first measurements, although there are still purists who believe that there will always be a subjective element that eludes attempts at strict mathematical description. Nonetheless, using just those sorts of quantifiable tools, Leo Beranek, one of the most eminent acoustic engineers, has identified three basic aspects to achieving a sufficiently good sound in a concert hall: (1) Listeners should be as close to the orchestra as possible; (2) Listeners should have a line of sight to the orchestra so the sound can travel unobstructed; and (3) the interior surface of the hall should be made of a hard material so that sound energy is not absorbed or lost. So an acoustical consultant needs to balance strength, reverberation and clarity requirements when designing a performance space.
Computer modeling has become one of the modern acoustician’s most important tools. It turns out that the sound diffusing through a performance space can be modeled as particles of light bouncing around that space, much like a billiard ball bounces around a table in response to being hit by the cue.
Alexandra Lange in New York Magazine:
This is Tomorrowland—a new city, a city larger than San Francisco, built on top of the city we know. In ten years, New York City will be transformed in ways we can only guess at. But in the pages that follow, you will explore our best guess, based on the plans, the dreams, the cornerstones, and the rising steel in nine city neighborhoods, spread over all five boroughs. In 2016, we won’t be able to be so parochial anymore—one Times Square isn’t going to be enough to fulfill the entertainment needs of that bigger, younger, more diverse population, and you’ll be talking about the lights on 125th Street. Fresh Kills will be three times the size of Central Park. If you imagine the city as a play—every neighborhood has a role—a lot of understudies are finally going to be called onstage.
Across the five boroughs, New York’s skyline (and everything else) is being reimagined by some of the world’s best architects. Here are a few of the city’s future landmarks—scrunched together in a way that obviously won’t happen in the real world, but that may very well happen in the mind’s eye.
- Atlantic Yards, Brooklyn, phase one, 2010; phase two, 2016
- The New Museum, Chelsea, future
- 80 South Street, Downtown, future
- IAC Headquarters, High Line, 2007
- Silvercup West, Queens, 2009
- Freedom Tower, Downtown, 2011
More here. [Thanks to Margit Oberrauch.]