The forgotten founder: John Witherspoon

Roger Kimball in The New Criterion:

He is as high a Son of Liberty, as any man in America.
—John Adams on John Witherspoon, 1774

1768Who is the most unfairly neglected American Founding Father? You might think that none can be unfairly neglected, so many books about that distinguished coterie have been published lately. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington—whom have I left out? It has been a literary festival of Founders these last few years, and a good thing, too. But there is one figure, I believe, who has yet to get his due, and that is John Witherspoon (1723–1794). This Scotch Presbyterian divine came to America to preside over a distressed college in Princeton, New Jersey, and wound up transmitting to the colonies critical principles of the Scottish Enlightenment and helped to preside over the birth and consolidation of American independence.

More here.


“After years as a purely experimental science, a decade-long international effort will make nuclear fusion a reality.”

Britt Peterson in Seed Magazine:

It’s hard to take fusion energy seriously when its proponents employ descriptors like “power of the Sun” and “energy from a star” to explain it. This kind of hyperbole—and the fact that scientists have never created a sustained fusion reaction capable of generating more electricity than it soaks up—make fusion sound like a fantastical scheme devised by Lex Luthor. But in the wake of the current energy crisis, new money and political support may finally channel enough resources into fusion to make the elusive process a reality.

On May 24, the US, EU, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan and India signed on to help build the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Cadarache, in the south of France. ITER is the largest fusion research project to date and one of the biggest international scientific collaborations ever. Its budget is 10 billion euros over 20 years, more than three times that of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. The reactor is scheduled to be functional by 2016.

More here.

The Threat to the Planet

Jim Hansen in the New York Review of Books:

Gore_al20060713Animals are on the run. Plants are migrating too. The Earth’s creatures, save for one species, do not have thermostats in their living rooms that they can adjust for an optimum environment. Animals and plants are adapted to specific climate zones, and they can survive only when they are in those zones. Indeed, scientists often define climate zones by the vegetation and animal life that they support. Gardeners and bird watchers are well aware of this, and their handbooks contain maps of the zones in which a tree or flower can survive and the range of each bird species.

Those maps will have to be redrawn. Most people, mainly aware of larger day-to-day fluctuations in the weather, barely notice that climate, the average weather, is changing. In the 1980s I started to use colored dice that I hoped would help people understand global warming at an early stage. Of the six sides of the dice only two sides were red, or hot, representing the probability of having an unusually warm season during the years between 1951 and 1980. By the first decade of the twenty-first century, four sides were red. Just such an increase in the frequency of unusually warm seasons, in fact, has occurred. But most people —who have other things on their minds and can use thermostats—have taken little notice.

More here.

An Assessment of the AFL-CIO’s Dissidents’ New Federation One Year After the Split

Nearly a year ago, 6 major unions left the AFL-CIO and, with a seventh that’d left years ago, formed Change to Win, in order to pursue new strategies for organizing labor. In The American Prospect, a look at the new federation’s first year.

The organization’s own Web site tells the tale. It references six Change to Win campaigns: the Hotel Workers Rising campaign of UNITE HERE, an effort the union has been planning for five years to organize the entire Hilton chain; Uniform Justice, a three-year-old, largely stymied joint effort of the Teamsters and UNITE HERE to unionize the Cintas laundry company; Justice at Smithfield, a nearly 12-year-long campaign by the UFCW to unionize the world’s largest hog slaughterhouse; a joint effort of SEIU and the Teamsters to organize bus drivers who are employees of a British conglomerate; the Teamsters port campaign; and a public awareness campaign directed at Wal-Mart.

Every one of these campaigns antedates Change to Win. Every one of them would be proceeding whether or not Change to Win had come into existence. In one way or another, the Change to Win unions are helping these campaigns out, but to date, that help consists chiefly of having smart people design a blueprint.

What the smart people haven’t done is figure out how to initiate the kind of large-scale endeavor Woodruff spoke of, that would justify the establishment of a whole new federation and the sundering of the old one. In the months leading up to Change to Win’s formation, leaders of SEIU, UNITE HERE and the Teamsters spoke of Change to Win undertaking massive campaigns of its own. Teamster President Jim Hoffa pledged his union to back such action on the day he announced it was leaving the AFL-CIO. But no such campaigns have been launched, because two fundamental impediments stand in their way.

What to Do in Iraq, A Roundtable

Larry Diamond, James Dobbins, Chaim Kaufmann, Leslie H. Gelb, and Stephen Biddle (responses and counter-response to Biddle’s article from March/April 2006) on how to what to do in Iraq, in Foreign Affairs. James Dobbins:

When states disintegrate, the competing claimants to power inevitably turn to external sponsors for support. Faced with the prospect of a neighboring state’s failure, the governments of adjoining states inevitably develop local clientele in the failing state and back rival aspirants to power. Much as one may regret and deplore such activity, neighbors can be neither safely ignored nor effectively barred from exercising their considerable influence. It has always proved wise, therefore, to find ways to engage them constructively.

Washington’s vocal commitment to regional democratization and its concomitant challenge to the legitimacy of neighboring regimes work at cross-purposes to its effort to form, consolidate, and support a government of national unity in Iraq. Iraqi political leaders will work together only if and when they receive convergent signals from their various external sponsors. The administration’s drive for democratization in the region, therefore, should be subordinated (at least for the next several years) to its efforts to avert civil war in Iraq. Unless Washington can craft a vision of Iraq and of its neighborhood that all the governments of the region can buy into, it will have no chance of securing those governments’ help in holding that country together. The central objective of U.S. diplomacy, therefore, should shift from the transformation of Iraq to its stabilization, with an emphasis on power sharing, sovereignty, and regional cooperation, all concepts that Iraq’s neighbors can reasonably be asked to endorse.

Planet Wal-Mart

John Lanchester in the London Review of Books:

SamwaltonThe moment of revelation is a little different for every person who experiences it. For Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, the road to Damascus came in the form of a pair of knickers. At the time – 1945 – Walton was in his late twenties, and was running a small department store in Newport, Arkansas belonging to a franchise called Ben Franklin. Walton had grown up in Missouri and attended the state university, then gone on to a clerical job during the war. He married Helen Robson, borrowed some money from her lawyer-banker father, then opened his Ben Franklin ‘variety store’.

The life-changing pair of panties appeared in a list of goods sold by a garment-industry middleman in New York. The pants were ‘two-barred, tricot satin panties with an elastic waist’ and their price, $2 a dozen, was 50 cents cheaper than that offered by Walton’s current supplier. This differential allowed Walton to sell the knickers at four for $1 instead of three for $1. The panties began to get up off the shelves and walk out of the shop on their own.

More here.

The Secrets of Supervolcanoes

Ilya N. Bindeman in Scientific American:

0006e0bfbb43146cbb4383414b7f0000_1Lurking deep below the surface in California and Wyoming are two hibernating volcanoes of almost unimaginable fury. Were they to go critical, they would blanket the western U.S. with many centimeters of ash in a matter of hours. Between them, they have done so at least four times in the past two million years. Similar supervolcanoes smolder underneath Indonesia and New Zealand.

A supervolcano eruption packs the devastating force of a small asteroid colliding with the earth and occurs 10 times more often–making such an explosion one of the most dramatic natural catastrophes humanity should expect to undergo. Beyond causing immediate destruction from scalding ash flows, active supervolcanoes spew gases that severely disrupt global climate for years afterward.

More here.

The lone wolf

“Beloved in the West, scorned by Japanese literati, Haruki Murakami tries to make his own world, a realm of jazz and rhythmic writing.”

Ben Naparstek in the Melbourne Age:

Lone_wolf_narrowweb__300x3500HARUKI MURAKAMI would seem the very picture of the Japanese writer-prophet. He gazes out over the rooftops of Tokyo’s chic suburb of Ayoama, speaking in low, urgent tones about Japan’s rightward lurch.

“I am worrying about my country,” says the 57-year-old writer, widely considered Japan’s Nobel laureate-in-waiting. “I feel I have a responsibility as a novelist to do something.”

He is particularly concerned about Tokyo’s popular governor, the novelist Shintaro Ishihara. “Ishihara is a very dangerous man. He is an agitator. He hates China.”

As Murakami discusses plans to make a public statement opposing Ishihara, and weave an anti-nationalist subtext into his next novel, it’s hard to recognise the writer often derided by the Tokyo literati as an apathetic pop artist – a threat to the political engagement of Japanese fiction.

More here.

A startling array of weapons

Julian Borger in The Guardian:

A braided leather whip, a sniper rifle, six jars of fertiliser and a copy of the “Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook” were among the presents foreign leaders have given George Bush. They are clearly trying to tell him something.

The inventory of official gifts from 2004, published this week by the state department reads like the wish list of the sort of paranoid survivalist who holes up in his log cabin to await Armageddon, having long ago severed all ties with the rest of the world.

The president received a startling array of weapons, including assorted daggers, and a machete from Gabon. He got the braided whip with a wooden handle from the Hungarian prime minister. The “Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook”, a gift from the Sultan of Brunei, has some tips on how to use some of these implements in a tight spot.

More here.

Mature sperm and eggs grown from same stem cells

From Nature:Egg_1

Stem cells from a mouse embryo have been coaxed into producing both eggs and sperm in the same dish. The eggs and sperm are the most mature yet grown in the lab, and the advance brings researchers closer to their ultimate aim: producing human eggs and sperm from adult body cells so that infertile men and women can have their own children.
Applying the technique to humans would be controversial, not least because it raises the possibility that men might be able to produce eggs, and women sperm. But researchers point out that any human application would be decades away, which would allow time for ethical debate over the technology.

In the meantime, they hope that lab-produced eggs and sperm will help them to learn exactly how these cells are created in the body, something that is crucial to understanding fertility disorders and embryo development.

More here.

The Year of Henry James: The Story of a Novel

From The Guardian:

Jamesh1 Lodge argues in The Year of Henry James, his record of the affair, that James has always been both a writer’s writer and a critic’s writer. Since Lodge himself is both together, the allure in his case proved doubly strong. But as he points out, James also created some of the most memorable women characters of the period, which makes him fit meat for the feminists; and queer theory gets a look in, too, as gay critics debate exactly how repressed his (probable) homosexuality was. In any case, novels about historical figures have become fashionable in the past decade or two, as Lodge reminds us, and a lot of these have been writers on writers. Literary types have never been notable for their lack of narcissism, and this book is no exception.

There’s another reason, however, for this rash of Henriads, which one wouldn’t really expect Lodge to note. In a post-political age, writers are more likely to be enthused by exquisite states of consciousness or the intricacies of personal relationships than by more workaday matters; and the aloof, fastidious James, a man famously described as chewing more than he could bite off, appears to fill this bill exactly.

More here. (For Anjuli Kolb who made me read James again recently).

After Freud

“On his 150th anniversary, Freud’s legacy is being dismantled by the ideas of his greatest challenger, Aaron Beck. Cognitive therapy is now the orthodox talking cure in Britain, and the government wants more of it. But with cognitive science comes a new battle for the meaning of the human mind.”

Alexander Linklater and Robert Harland in Prospect:

Essay_linklater_1Psychoanalysis is hardly redemptive, and never promised to be. When early patients of Freud’s complained to him that nothing could change the original circumstances which made them unhappy, he agreed—with a caveat: “Much will be gained if we succeed in transforming your hysterical misery into common unhappiness.” This is one of Freud’s most celebrated remarks, though it appears in Studies in Hysteria, which was published in 1895, before he had developed the full psychoanalytic method. But it captures the pessimism—or realism—which threads its way through all Freudian practice. It is one of the peculiar fascinations of psychoanalysis that a method seized upon by so many in the search for self-transcendence should have sprung from a man so captivated by the irredeemability of human nature.

“The crowning paradox of psychoanalysis is the near-uselessness of its insights,” Janet Malcolm wrote in the New Yorker in 1983. “To make the unconscious conscious—the programme of psychoanalytic therapy—is to pour water into a sieve. The moisture that remains on the surface of the mesh is the benefit of the analysis.”

More here.



The New York Times television critic Virginia Heffernan has a new blog at the Times site. Here’s how they are describing the blog:

With television and the Internet converging at last, who’s going to watch all this here-goes-nothing online video? Everything from political propaganda videos to nip slips (the popular video of, yup, celebrities revealing their breasts) seems to expect an audience. “Screens” will find, review and make sense of all those senseless new images: web video, viral video, user-driven video, custom interactive video, embedded video ads, web-based VOD, broadband television, diavlogs, vcasts, vlogs, video podcasts, mobisodes, webisodes, mashups and more.

VhAnd here is a bio of Heffernan:

Virginia Heffernan is a television critic for The Times. Before coming to the newspaper, she wrote for Slate, and before that she was an editor at Harper’s and Talk magazines. She has a Ph.D. in English from Harvard. In 2005, she published a comic novel, “The Underminer,” which she wrote with Mike Albo.

Check out the blog here.  [Thanks to Asad Raza.]

3QD’s World Cup Analyst Alex Cooley On the US’s Last Game and Their World Cup Run

[Alex writes] Well, after the backs to the wall display against Italy, it was all bound to end tragically. I was wait-listed for “conditional tickets” for the pivotal Ghana game in Nuremberg so had to content myself to yet another day of Berlin decadence. To avoid overt match-fixing (such as the German-Austria 0-0 in 1982 with no shots that eliminated unlucky Algeria) the final games of the group stages are played simultaneously. Finding a venue for the Ghana-US game was tricky as most establishments were showing Italy-Czechs. We settled on a fine little Irish pub out in Kreuzberg that featured two screens side by side, an absolute must for any die hard fan wanting to cling to a sliver of hope and sweat over two results.

Some yanks were in the crowd, but most of the neutrals and German were firmly pro-Ghana, a sentiment underscored by pundits referring to them as the “Brazil of African football.” ughh!! In truth, the game was always going to be hard (Cooley had originally predicted a devastating defeat) but if the Italians managed to beat the Czechs, a win would see us through on 4 points. Not!

For the third time the US once again fell behind early, although this time I had drunk enough pilsners (I was prepared) to cushion the blow. The first Ghanaian goal was also symbolic of captain Reyna’s role on the US team. After receiving a backpass Reyna’s first instinct is usually to take care of the ball and calm play down rather than look for quick counter options. Unfortunately, yesterday Reyna failed to notice the really fast Dramani barrelling in on him – the speedy Ghana forward gleefully accepted Captain America’s parting gift, strolled into the box and lashed his shot past Keller. Reyna was injured on the play and after a few minutes exited his last US game.

Without him the US mounted a semblance of a spirited fightback and just before halftime the pesky Beasley nicely poked the ball away from two defenders and sent a sweeping cross for young Texan Clint Dempsey to smash home. Coupled with the Italians scoring in their Czech game, the US was now tied and, remarkably, in need of only one more goal to go through to a dream match against Brazil.

But, all too predictably, our new-found cheeriness and football fantasy lasted just 2 minutes. A shoddy clearance by Bocanegra saw the ball pop-up at the edge of the penalty area. Gooch won the ball as the smaller Pimpong hurled himself across the turf like a human cannonball. German referee Marcus Merk, probably suffering a flashback from all the designer drugs he ingested in Berlin during his student years, pointed to the spot and Stephen Appiah blistered home the penalty kick. Given our serious lack of creativity and quality forwards – note: our joint top scorer this tournament was Italy’s right back – climbing out of another deficit was simply too much for this group of yanks.

The second half was painfully predictable: the US had lots of possession but could not cross the ball with any quality while the Ghanaians, obviously having watched lots of Italian training videos, performed their best platform diving impersonations and writhed around in excruciating agony each time they were touched. Having played very well against Italy Landon Donovan reverted to Czech like form with the whole front line, with exception of Dempsey, looking pretty timid. Er, that thing with the white posts – its is called a “goal” – at some point it might be fun to actually try and shoot the ball at it..Just to really rub it in and round off a wonderful afternoon, the BBC roundtable gleefully jocked the Ghanaians while they cheerfully mused that “Even though we were egging on Ghana I suppose the Yank fans, if there are any, could feel a bit hard done by, couldn’t they..” Man, I love the British media.

Overall, we didn’t play that poorly and thought we did a decent job containing Essien (although Appiah was excellent), but its not like we came out with the passion and urgency that were needed to really take it to them. I would place most of the blame on manager Bruce Arena who I think should honorably fall on his sword in the next couple of days. 8 years is a long time, perhaps too long, and during his second World Cup Arena was exposed in the 1st and 3rd game as tactically stale and overly loyal to some veterans who were clearly out of form. And while many seem to be clamoring for a foreign mercenary-type coach, I’m not as keen unless they have significant experience working in MLS and have a prior understanding of the various quirky institutions that comprise US soccer and its player development.

Since us Yanks excel in mindless optimism, let’s think about some of the bright spots going forward into South Africa 2010. The two bright spots for me on the team were the fearless play of Dempsey and the excellent defending of Gooch. Both should be solid contributors for one or two cycles. The Nike-sponsored youth academy at Brandenton is starting to produce excellent young players. Just last year a crop of them won its “group of death” at the Under 20 World Cup, including beating the eventual tournament winners Argentina; some of these players should be vying for team places in 2010. Also, even though Major League Soccer is not competing with baseball or basketball (and probably never will), the league is in financially the best shape ever and continues to steadily expand. And over the course of this year over 18 million players will play some form of organized soccer in the United States.

So, if the above doesn’t cushion the blow, I highly recommend Berlin cocktails. Happy hours last until 9pm here and then start again at midnight. There’s no better way to start four years of hurt than with a bucket of caipirinha (see I do appreciate some elements of Brazil).

I’m now adopting Germany and England as my “next choices” (and still picks to meet in the final) as well as the spirited Aussies. Mark’s off to Mannheim with his bass to get some band back together again so I’ll be posting solo until mid-next week.

‘Beware of Pity’

Joan Acocella in the New York Review of Books:

ZweigIn the 1920s and 1930s Stefan Zweig was an immensely popular writer, a man who had to barricade himself in his house in Salzburg in order to avoid the fans lurking around his property in the hope of waylaying him. According to his publisher, he was the most widely translated author in the world. Today, while he is still read in Germany and also in France, his name is barely known to the average Anglophone reader. In the last few decades, however, there has been an effort on the part of several publishers to get Zweig back into print in English. In my opinion, no book of his deserves reissue more than his one novel, Beware of Pity (Ungeduld des Herzens, 1938).

Zweig was a friend and admirer of Sigmund Freud, his fellow Viennese, and it was no doubt Freud’s writings, together with the experience of two world wars, that persuaded him of the fundamental irrationalism of the human mind. Absolutely central to his fiction is the subject of obsession. And so it is with Beware of Pity. To my knowledge, this book is the first sustained fictional portrait of emotional blackmail based on guilt. Today, it is a commonplace that one person may enslave another by excessive love, laced with appeals to gratitude, compassion, and duty, and that the loved one may actually feel those sentiments—love, too, of a sort—while at the same time wanting nothing more than to be out the door.

More here.