Native informers and the making of the American empire

“Lacking internal support or external legitimacy, writes Hamid Dabashi, the US empire now banks on a pedigree of comprador intellectuals, homeless minds and guns for hire.”

From Al-Ahram:

DabaSo there is in fact no absence of interest or insight into how and on what general contours is the American empire navigating its turbulent course. As part of this more general concern about an American empire, with or without hegemony, one might also propose that given the way the US propaganda machinery is operating ever since 9/11, it seems (both domestically and internationally) to be completely contingent on a mode of momentary amnesia, a systematic loss of collective memory, a nefarious banking on the presumption that no one is watching, no one is counting, and no one is keeping a record of anything–that history is dead, as is memory, recollection, experience. This proposition may indeed work and tally well with the principal thesis that set this predatory empire in motion, namely Francis Fukuyama’s notion of “the end of history,” which in this case amounts to the end of collective memory and the effective erasure of shared experiences–even (or perhaps particularly) of the most recent history.

How could one account for this politically expedited collective amnesia –of manufacturing consent and discarding history at the speed of one major military operation every two years?

More here.  [Thanks to Zara Houshmand.]

A Frigid and Pitiless Dogma

John Derbyshire reviews Party of Death by Ramesh Ponnuru, in the New English Review:

Can Right to Life (hereinafter RTL) fairly be called a cult? This is a point on which I cannot make up my mind. Some of the common characteristics of culthood are missing—the Führerprinzip, for example. On the other hand, RTL has the following things in common with every cult in the world: To those inside, it appears to be a structure of perfect logical integrity, founded on unassailable philosophical principles, while to those outside—among whom, obviously, I count myself—it seems to some degree (depending on the observer’s temperament and inclinations) nutty; to some other degree (ditto) hysterical; and to some yet other degree (ditto ditto) a threat to liberty. My own ratings of RTL on those three degrees are 2, 6, and 4 out of a possible ten each…

Whether it is a cult or not, RTL is made as presentable as possible in Party of Death, with writing that is engaging and lucid. Will Ponnuru’s book make any converts to the RTL whatever-it-is? That depends on how much exposure it gets outside RTL circles. Just to be on the safe side, the mainstream media are studiously ignoring the book—a sad reflection on the current state of public debate, and of respect for rhetorical virtuosity. RTL-ers are welcoming Party of Death very joyfully, though, and they are right to do so, as it is an exceptionally fine piece of polemical writing in support of their… cause.

More here.  Ramesh Ponnuru has a response here.

Reflooding Restores Wildlife to Iraqi Marshes

David Biello in Scientific American:

00069b232b041477ab0483414b7f0000_1In the 1990s the Garden of Eden was destroyed. The fertile wetlands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers were diked and drained, turning most of 15,000 square kilometers of marsh to desert. By the year 2000, less than 10 percent of that swampland–nearly twice as big as Florida’s Everglades–remained. But reflooding of some areas since 2003 has produced what some scientists are calling the “miracle of the Mesopotamian marshes”–a return of plants, aquatic life and even rare birds to their ancestral home.

More here.

Our Transhuman Future: Cyborgs, Lizard Men, and Cat People

William Saletan in Slate:

060605_hn_transhumanisttn2 Heeeeeeere’s Cat Man!

On a projection screen at Stanford Law School, an auditorium full of nerds stared at a picture of a guy who’d done himself up like a cat—not with makeup, but with tattoos and surgery. The guy’s whiskers were implanted. His nose had been converted to a cat nose. His teeth had been filed into the shape of cat teeth. His head has been flattened, and he was looking for a doctor to implant a tail. And that’s just the tip of the freakberg. Behind him, there’s Lizard Man, Amputee Online, the Church of Body Modification, and, the Web site for people who like to be impaled on hooks.

Our guide to the self-mutilators, professor Robert Schwartz of the University of New Mexico, wasn’t trying to gross us out…

More here.


Vali Nasr reviews Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope by Shirin Ebadi and Azadeh Moaveni, in The New Republic:

The book is a powerful condemnation of the dictatorship of the ayatollahs, at its best when it recounts the suffering of those whom Ebadi represented. The gross injustices and the everyday cruelties of the Islamist regime in Iran would be comical were they not so tragic.   

But the narrative loses its poignancy when it shifts to the writer herself. As commendable as her efforts on the part of the victims of injustice in Iran have been, Ebadi’s confused rendition of Iranian history, which vacillates between celebrating the revolution and condemning its consequences, makes it difficult to regard her as a symbol of democracy. Still, it is possible to look beyond her perplexing tentativeness and regard her story as emblematic of the paradox of a revolution that mobilized, educated, and ultimately frustrated Iranian women. Revolutionary fervor promised to break down traditional patriarchy, but in its place there appeared new discriminations. Ebadi hopes that the unfulfilled promises of revolution will finally bring a fury down upon the Islamic Republic and fracture its pious edifice. But this hope, however fond, is a distant one–more distant than Ebadi seems to understand.

More here.

Physicists probe the fifth dimension

From MSNBC:Physics

The cosmos would make perfect sense … if it turns out we’re living in a 10- or 11-dimensional realm where gravity is bubbling off a different plane entirely. At least that’s what’s emerging as the hottest concept on the frontier of physics. Though these sound like virtually unverifiable claims, physicists are trying to come up with ways to gather evidence to back up or disprove the extradimensional theories currently in vogue. But it’ll take several years to get that evidence, if it can be gotten at all.

The claim that the cosmos has more than the four dimensions we can perceive — that is, three spatial dimensions plus time — is exotic enough. But the quest to prove that claim brings in a virtual menagerie of mysteries: mini-black holes and dark matter, gravitational waves and cosmic inflation, super-high-energy particle collisions and ultra-powerful gamma-ray bursts.

Even the physicists behind today’s most-talked-about extradimensional theory, Harvard University’s Lisa Randall and Johns Hopkins University’s Raman Sundrum, aren’t yet exactly sure whether the approaches will pay off.

More here.

Taking the Orange at second bite: Zadie Smith’s On Beauty wins £30,000 fiction prize

From The Guardian:Smith1_2

Zadie Smith’s novel On Beauty last night triumphantly passed the “desert island” test of a good read by winning the £30,000 Orange prize for fiction. After a record three-hour judges’ meeting, she narrowly beat exceptionally strong contenders by Hilary Mantel and Sarah Waters to take the first major literary award to match her prodigious celebrity.

She had the additional joy of finally winning the prize which first gave her recognition. She broke into the limelight as a 25-year-old when her debut – the exuberantly youthful, instantly bestselling White Teeth – was shortlisted for the Orange. On Beauty is the fruit of her early maturity and of her marriage to the poet Nick Laird.


Here they all were. Howard indulged in a quick visual catalogue of their interesting bits, knowing that this would very likely be the last time he saw them. The punk boy with black-painted fingernails, the Indian girl with the disproportionate eyes of a Disney character, another girl who looked no older than fourteen with a railroad on her teeth.

And then, spread across this room: big nose, small ears, obese, on crutches, hair red as rust, wheelchair, six foot five, short skirt, pointy breasts, iPod still on, anorexic with that light downy hair on her cheeks, bow-tie, another bow-tie, football hero, white boy with dreads, long fingernails like a New Jersey housewife, already losing his hair, striped tights – there were so many of them that Smith couldn’t close the door without squashing somebody. So they had come, and they had heard. Howard had pitched his tent and made his case.

More here.

Aula 2006 ─ Movement

Dear 3QD Reader,

Helsinkispace_top_1Aula is a Helsinki, Finland-based open community of people working in different fields of life including science, art, business, government and NGOs. In 2002, they started a group weblog called the Aula Point of View, which I edited until 2004 at the invitation of two of Aula’s founding members, Marko Ahtisaari and Jyri Engestrom. Like 3 Quarks Daily, the Aula POV was mainly a links blog, and this is how I got my start in blogging. So, in a very real sense, 3QD owes its existence to my earlier blogging experiences at Aula. (If you’d like to know the full story of the Aula POV, I wrote a short article about it which was published in the book Exposure, and the article is available online here.)

Aula_banner_sky_thinNext week there is a meeting in Helsinki organized by Marko and Jyri called Aula 2006 ─ Movement. It’s a two day affair with some very interesting speakers and will focus on various broad themes related to the direction in which society, culture and technology are heading:

The theme Movement points to mobility 2.0 (mobility meets web 2.0), the overlapping of the physical and the virtual, and the social movement-like nature of new technologies…

Movement also means a section of a piece of music, and the gathering will include interventions in music and dance. This event will be less of a conference, more an intimate gathering of people to discuss, detail and experience critical topics.

We, meaning 3 Quarks Daily, are Aula’s official blogging partner for this event, and Morgan Meis and I will be traveling to Helsinki next week to attend the meeting, give a short presentation, and report any and all happenings of interest there. Each day this week, starting tomorrow, I will be profiling one of the main speakers: Clay Shirky, Alastair Curtis, Martin Varsavsky, and Joichi Ito. And next week, as I mentioned, Morgan and I will be blogging live from the meeting itself.

So in addition to the usual links, there will be some Aula 2006 ─ Movement related blogging here for the next nine or so days. We hope you’ll find it interesting.

And if you should happen to be in Finland, do try to come to the public event on Wednesday, June 14th. It should be a lot of fun!

Chocolate Power

In New Scientist (via InkyCircus):

Microbiologist Lynne Mackaskie and her colleagues at the University of Birmingham in the UK have powered a fuel cell by feeding sugar-loving bacteria chocolate-factory waste. “We wanted to see if we tipped chocolate into one end, could we get electricity out at the other?” she says.

The team fed Escherichia coli bacteria diluted caramel and nougat waste. The bacteria consumed the sugar and produced hydrogen, which they make with the enzyme hydrogenase, and organic acids. The researchers then used this hydrogen to power a fuel cell, which generated enough electricity to drive a small fan (Biochemical Society Transactions, vol 33, p 76).

The process could provide a use for chocolate waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill. What’s more, the bacteria’s job doesn’t have to end once they have finished chomping on the sweet stuff. Mackaskie’s team next put the bugs to work on a production line that recovers precious metal from the catalytic converters of old cars.

Shafer Takes Down Peretz

This piece is 6 months old. I missed it when it came out. Moreover, in it, Jack Shafer reprints a piece he wrote in 1991 on Martin Peretz, but it’s worth reading.

[Peretz is] an insufferable name-dropper, he’s gratingly pedantic (he can’t avoid the word “perfervid,” using it five times in those 40 columns), and he’s so enamored of his own wit that he can’t resist recycling his previously published punch lines. “If [Amin] Gemayel is a researcher on anything, I am an astronaut,” he wrote in the May 8, 1989, New Republic. Six months later, in a dispatch from Paris, he wrote, “[I]f the Palestinians are any closer to actual independence in the West Bank and Gaza than they were a year ago, then I am an astronaut.” OK, Marty! OK! You’re an astronaut!

Peretz’s view from space is easily summarized. The Arabs are an undifferentiated mass, consumed by antique tribal hatreds, fated to fratricide, torn asunder by their religious sectarianism. The “general afflictions of Arab politics,” he wrote March 14, 1988, are “the principal resistance to compromise, the intoxicating effects of language, the endless patience for vengeance.” How about that for a MacNeil/Lehrer conversation-stopper? “[The Lebanese] fight simply because they live. And the culture from which they come scarcely thinks this is odd. Their men fight on and on, and the women and children bleed” (March 19, 1990). Has a guest slot opened up on Washington Week in Review? The moderate Arab “is a figment of the imagination” (May 7, 1984). Has Oprah called yet?

One definite Peretz theme that clangs in column after column is that there are no Arab nations. The partisan of Zion hasn’t staked this position for the convenience it lends in delegitimizing the call for a Palestinian state. Nor has he adopted it to make it easier to repel the arguments of those who would paint the nation of Israel as a counterfeit creation of Western imperialism. Peretz actually believes what is in his clips.

The Marine Corps and Haditha

This past NYT’s Week in Review has an informative piece by John Burns on Haditha. (Even though it doesn’t answer all the questions I have about what happened and why.) It contextualizes and historicizes the apparent war crime, and it does so without excusing them (unless you believe that to understand something is to excuse it). For that, it’s to be commended. I wonder if all those hawks who see in similar attempts to do the same with Al Qaeda will charge Burns with trying to let the soldiers off the hook with his talk of seeing their comrades killed, “growing pressures” and “resentment”. I doubt it.

Whatever emerges from the military investigations, the narrative of the Marines’ experiences in Iraq will have a central place for the brutalities associated with Haditha. Last summer, in two separate attacks over three days, Taliban-like insurgents operating from bases at mosques in the city killed 20 Marine reservists, including an enlisted man who was shown disemboweled on rebel videos that were sold afterward in Haditha’s central market.

Like other Marine battles, from Tripoli to Iwo Jima to Khe Sanh, the story of their battles in Iraq will center on themes of extraordinary hardship, endurance and loss, as well as a remorselessness in combat, that offer a context, though hardly any exoneration, for what survivors allege happened that November day.

They also offer a counterpoint to another theme at play here, one also learned with great bitterness in Vietnam: the hard cost to military intentions of killing innocent bystanders in a counterinsurgency. That is a lesson the Marines know well and accept as an institution. But in recent months in Iraq it has been recited largely by Army generals, and the distinction has begun to cause resentments between the two services as the Haditha investigations begin.

Privately, some marines say the killings at Haditha may have grown out of pressures that bore down from the moment in March 2004 when a Marine expeditionary force assumed responsibility for Anbar province, with Haditha and its 90,000 residents emerging as one of its most persistent trouble spots.

it begins

ON WEDNESDAY, CONDOLEEZZA RICE said that Washington had changed its mind and, under the right conditions, might be ready to join Europe and negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program. Next Sunday, in Nuremberg, Iran plays Mexico in the first round of the World Cup. Who can say for sure which event, in terms of Iran’s engagement with the world, will be seen by history as the more important?

As a large part of mankind awaits with acute excitement the epic quadrennial tournament of the World Cup, America yet again sits it out. Yes, the brave guys of the United States team are in Germany, ready to play the Czechs, Italians, and Ghanaians (London bookies make the Yanks 80-1 to win the Cup, which is at least better than Iran, at 250-1). Yes, more and more Americans have played the game at school or college. Yes, they know about bending it like David Beckham. Yes, “soccer moms” are a significant sociological and electoral group.

And yet there is no pretending that the final in Berlin on July 9 will matter to America remotely as much as baseball. You have the World Series, the rest of us have the World Cup, and never the twain shall meet.

more from Boston Globe Ideas here.

david salle does Sistine


I’D SEEN THE SISTINE CHAPEL a couple of times and been awed—along with hundreds of others craning their necks—but I’d never really studied the paintings. After doing some reading on their iconography, I began to see images that had a metaphorical quality I thought I could deal with. The idea of the commission was not to repaint the ceiling, but to make some kind of contemporary reference to it. Together with Carlo, I picked the three themes of the Creation, the Flood, and the Last Judgment as being representative of the whole. The first painting I worked on represents the Creation. Rather than take the most famous image from that cycle, in which God touches Adam’s hand, I used the image of God as a purple-clad protean actor flying around, building, making stuff happen. This seemed the most compelling and straightforward image to use, because God was so identifiable and, in Michelangelo’s mind, linked to the idea of the artist-creator.

more from Artforum here.

a poem for warren zevon

I want you to tell me if, on Grammy night, you didn’t get one hell of a kick
out of all those bling-it-ons in their bullet-proof broughams,
all those line-managers who couldn’t manage a line of coke,

all those Barmecides offering beakers of barm –
if you didn’t get a kick out of being as incongruous
there as John Donne at a Junior Prom.

Two graves must hide, Warren, thine and mine corse
who, on the day we met, happened
also to meet an individual dragging a full-length cross

along 42nd Street and kept mum, each earning extra Brownie points
for letting that cup pass. The alcoholic
knows that to enter in these bonds

is to be free, yeah right.

the poem continues at the TLS here.

Inspiring Evolutionary Thought, and a New Title, by Turning Genetics Into Prose

From The New York Times:Dawkins_9

Thirty years ago, a young biologist set out to explain some new ideas in evolutionary biology to a wider audience. But he ended up restating Darwinian theory in such a broad and forceful way that his book has influenced specialists as well. “Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think” is a collection of essays about Dr. Dawkins’s book “The Selfish Gene” and its impact. Contributors to the book, edited by Alan Grafen and Matt Ridley, are mostly biologists but include the novelist Philip Pullman, author of “His Dark Materials,” and the bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries.

The biologists have copious praise for Dr. Dawkins’s work of synthesis, while the writers remark on his graceful and vivid style. It is quite surprising for anyone to be commended from such opposite quarters, but “The Selfish Gene,” published in 1976, was unusual. Written in clear and approachable language, it worked its way so logically into the core of Darwinian theory that even evolutionary biologists were seduced into embracing Dr. Dawkins’s view of their world.

Dr. Dawkins’s starting point was the idea that the gene, not the individual, is the basic unit on which natural selection acts. The gene’s behavior is most easily understood by assuming its interest is to get itself replicated as much as possible — hence the “selfish” gene of the title.

More here.

Scientists get inside look at viruses

From MSNBC:Virus_1

Exactly 25 years ago, in the body of the world’s first diagnosed AIDS case, the full capabilities and mysterious workings of a virus unfolded. Three years later, in 1984, Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute of Paris and Robert Gallo, then of the National Cancer Institute, announced their discovery of HIV, the virus that infects the human immune system and causes AIDS.

Even though the smallest viruses are only about one-millionth of an inch long, they live up to their Latin namesake — poison. They are capable of infecting and hijacking a human body, creating health hazards as minor as the common flu and as disastrous as the AIDS epidemic.Viruses are neatly organized, petite packages of genetic material, shaped like rods, filaments, harpoons, or spheres. Proteins surround the package, which is called a capsid. Some viruses have an added layer of lipids that coat the capsid. Little extensions on the virus are called antigens, which help the virus hunt down the target host cell.

More here.