The next day my Bass turned up, which made me happy since I can still go to Mannheim next week and the recording I had planned. Most of the round of 16 games are being held close to Mannheim, so it should be a fun place to take off to the games when not playing music. I will, as usual, be supporting Germany. Admittedly being married to a German gives me an excuse for backing Germany. But I always liked them, and not just becuase they always beat England on penalties. The way they play is supposedly negative and boring, but I have never seen it that way. (If you want negative and boring try Italy). They play as a team – not as a collection of individuals who might get lucky (pace England against T and T, Brazil against Australia). What confirmed this was last Wednesday’s game against Poland. What this day also confirmed is that Germany is a wonderfully odd place.

So Cooley and I were invited by some friends to a local bar. Bench seating, blacked-out windows, a projector TV, a BBQ for half-time, and every drink in the house was three Euros. Perfect. The seating capacity must have been 100 with about 150 people crammed in. The weather here is great, but since no one on Germany has ever heard of Klimanlaage (air conditioning) when the door was shut it was pretty damn hot…and it was going to get hotter.

The first half was tense enough. The Poles fought extremely hard and at half time it could have gone either way. Both teams were playing great football and both were really playing as teams. What changed the second half was the genius that is Klinsmann. I love the fact that the people who control German football (the Bayern Munich Mafia with Beckenbauer in the role of Don Corleone) hate Klinsmann and take every opportunity to have a go at him in the media. “He’s really a Californian…his wife isn’t at the World Cup…his training methods and dieticians are all American…it will all end badly, etc, etc.” Bullshit. This game sent notice that the Germans are going all the way.

Here then was the moment when the knives were out for Herr K. 64 minutes in and 0-0 against Poland and the Poles were playing as good as the Germans. Then came the German substitutions. Odonkor for Freidrich, Borowski for (the marvelously named) Schweinsteiger, and Neuville for Podolski – all in 12 minutes. A desperate last throw of the dice or tactical genius?

Although Odonko often lost out to his marker, his pace on the wing opened up space for the Germans. This move, plus the stability Borowski brought to the midfield meant that the Poles were finally being carved open. Klose and Klose came the shots (if you pardon the pun) off the crossbar twice in the 89th minute. But you knew, if you were watching this, that the Germans did not think they were going to draw, and they didn’t. 90 minutes in, Odonko to Neuville, and its goodnight Poland and a large piece of humble pie for the Media and the Bayerishe Mafia. The bar, the street, the city and the whole country went ballistic – and for once, there wasn’t a bloody Brazil top in sight.

We hung around a bit and then walked back to Oranienburger Strasse for a kebab (possibly the best one in Berlin is at the end of OB Strasse). As I was ordering my kebab a young and punky German couple in their 20s – think tattoos and pierced lips – came in and ordered their kebabs too. They were quite animated and said to me how hungry they were etc. So we all got our kebabs and went outside. Cooley and I sat at a table beside the kebab shop and the two twenty-somethings sat on a bench beside the road some five meters away.

The male part of the couple was very excited and very shirtless, standing up and shouting “’Shland, Schland!” over and over to the passing traffic. His partner was also very excited, and post kebab decided to remove her top too and jump around for the passing cars. Shortly thereafter they started making-out. Then they started REALLY making out, minus her bra and his pants as he held her up a lamppost.

A crowd started to form around them, and when the cheer went up you knew it was full on. A live sex show in the middle of the street. 100 percent ‘going for it’ flat out on the pavement.

Now the crowd was getting bigger and bigger. Every camera phone and video in the crowd was rolling (the fact that this scene is not on You Tube is odd to say the least). More and more people were coming over to see what was going on. That most of the crowd was made up of rather portly Swedish men made the spectacle all the more sleazy. So there they were, banging away on the pavement, and just as I said to Cooley “where the heck are the cops?” just like the Germany – Poland game earlier, the cry went up, the shot went in, the goal was scored, and the crowd started to disperse.

Our ‘kebab and sex show’ couple picked themselves up off the ground and began to put their clothes back on, and then we noticed it. The cops were there the whole time, sitting in a car around the corner eating a kebab and watching the show. Meanwhile, and most oddly, the female half of the pair reached into a bag she had with her, pulled out three bras, chose one, and put it on.

Now, there is something unusual about a person who not only has sex in the street, but wanders around with three bras in her bag at 2am? Its almost as if she knew that the one she was wearing was going to be pulled off and torn as part of the show.

After such a spectacle that there was only one thing for us to do, head for home, and we did. The show that is Deutschland’s Weltmeisterschaft never ceases to amaze and amuse.

p.s. Having done my Team Nike post I will refrain from pointing our how poor Brazil were against Australia. Harry Kewell’s lack of bottle was what separated the teams. I would however just like to note however that when Ronaldinho did a perfectly ordinary back-heeled a pass along the line to a teammate in the second half, the way the stadium reacted you would think he had just done an overhead kick from 30 yards into the goal. They are going to have to do a lot better than this if they want to get past the quarters.

Selected Minor Works: The Opposite of Sports

Justin E. H. Smith

[An extensive archive of Justin Smith’s writing can be found at www.jehsmith.com]

Hamburg, Germany

I have just given a talk at the University of Hamburg in the Ernst Cassirer Memorial Lecture Series. What my hosts did not tell me when I was invited was that the event would coincide with some of the early matches of the World Cup, being hosted this year in (just my luck) Germany. I had come to Hamburg to discuss the legacy of Aristotle in the Protestant Reformation, but ended up being practically shut out by the nationwide roar accompanying the Poland-Germany match, with borderline hooligans –and as far as I’m concerned they’re all borderline hooligans– roving the streets shouting ‘Tor!’ as I droned on to an empty auditorium in poorly accented German about Martin Luther’s commentary on Genesis. Today I would like to explain why not just the victory of Germany over Poland, but also the victory in Europe of the drunken rabble over traditional piety, of the circus over the temple, is a thing to be bemoaned. I recognize that some in the 3QD community are ‘pumped’ about this year’s competition, and I do so hate to be a prick. But the fans among you may take comfort in the knowledge that I am grossly outnumbered, and that my quaint plaidoyer will assuredly come to nothing.

How, I want to know, does it manage to command such passions, this month of noise in which the outcome is known in advance? The winning team is of course not known in advance; what is known is that one or the other of them will win, according to inflexible rules that bind all of them equally. The only way the affair can amount to anything more than a mere stochastic process –as when atoms are bound to decay, even if we can’t say which ones– is if something goes terribly wrong, if some non-sportive interference breaks into the flow of events, some interference from the truly interesting domain of politics, a domain from which the fans like to sanctimoniously claim sports gives us a needed reprieve.

Thank God for the irruptions of the political, I say. Without them, there really would be no reason to pay attention to international athletic competitions. With them, we get bizarre reports of Iran’s soccer team being made to watch Sally Field in Not without my Daughter during their visit to France for the 1998 World Cup; we get a Cold War sublimated through doped-up East German shot-putters and 75-pound, slave-driven Chinese gymnasts. And we get Kim Jong Il at his zany best. In 1972, the now-Dear Leader gave a speech to the North Korean national soccer team: “It is very important to develop sports,” he declared. “Pointing out that physical culture is one of the means to strengthen the friendly relations with foreign countries, the great leader [Kim’s father, Kim Il Sung] said that physical culture should be developed. At present, however, the instructions of the great leader are not carried out to the letter in the sphere of physical culture, and sports exchange is not conducted properly, as required by the Party. A common example is the fact that our soccer players were defeated in the recent preliminaries for the Olympic Games.” Kim takes defeat as itself proof that the athletes are lapsing into counterrevolutionary laziness. Should this unsubtle hint that the higher- ups expect to start seeing some victories cause a bit of stress, the Dear Leader has a cure: “As for those whose nerves are on edge,” he assures the team, “they will get better if they live in tents on Rungna Islet.”

(Speaking of geopolitics, why is it that every time American football is brought up by, or in the company of, a European, an awkward apology has to be made for the sport’s name? There are millions of Americans who believe that what they watch on Sunday mornings is football, and as far as I understand language that is enough to make it so. Nor shall I make any apologies for calling soccer ‘soccer’. That is just what it is called where I am from, and to do any differently is nothing but an affectation, like spelling ‘color’ with a ‘u’, or saying ‘bloody’.)

With the end of the Cold War, for the most part sporting events are no longer about nationalism, but about transnational corporations. Nations either prove they can behave themselves, like the perpetually prostrate Germans, or they are not invited, like the North Koreans. An important part of good behavior is to allow yourself, your team, your stadium, and your country to be covered in advertisements.

The corporations have proved better than the old nation-states at pretending that what they are doing is not political. Rather, it is at its dreariest just business, and at its best downright fun. Nike and the other image-makers have convinced us that competitive sports are something that one gets involved in not for love of Fatherland, but for the sheer, personal enjoyment of it. To be Beckham, the suggestion is meant to be, would be to know a life of unmodulated, unadulterated joy.

I am a runner, and so I have no choice but to go into some of the same stores, and think some of the same thoughts, as soccer fans. I buy Nikes and knee-braces, and I run round municipal lakes and parks with athletes and fans of competitive sports. This is the closest I ever come to community with them. When I run in Germany I am often asked by these over-earnest folk, “Ah so, you like to make sport?” Yes, I want to say. Gern. It gives me great joy. It makes me feel like Beckham. With the right shoes on, and the right sport-beverage, I almost feel as though I’m in a commercial, as though I’m moving in slow-motion, as though the promise of the masses chanting ‘We will, we will rock you,’ is at long last coming true.

Bullshit. I run because I’m afraid of letting myself go, as they say, since to do so would be to allow the inevitable unraveling of this mortal coil to define the terms from here on out. It has nothing to do, in other words, with fun. It has to do with sheer terror. In a bygone era, there were many Germans who wrote with conviction and power about terror in the face of death. Now they ‘make sport’.

I do not spend all that much time in Germany, but somehow have managed to be here just in time for the past three World Cups. If it weren’t for these coincidences between my research and lecture schedule on the one hand, and the world’s athletic schedule on the other, I would have no idea of soccer beyond my youth-league misadventures. My first lessons about the World Cup were in 1998, when a gang of German hooligans rampaging outside a stadium in France ended up killing a French policeman. Helmut Kohl went on TV with utmost contrition. He noted, rightly and obviously, that this event brought back distressing memories of a still living history, and declared, wrongly, that this murder had nothing to do with the true spirit of competitive sports. The German people rushed to agree with him on both of these points. Might it be worth considering, though, that far from being the cancer cells of fandom, the hooligans are in fact the true fans, making explicit what it is all this shouting and side-taking is really all about? To wit, violence, in its mild form only vocal and gestural, but not for that reason categorically different from a kick in the shins or a brick in the head.

Heidegger liked to say that the ‘forgetfulness of Being’ that came with the rise of Western rational thought had its ultimate issue in Gerede or pointless small-talk. Heidegger was of course pumped up in his own idiotic way, but still it seems to me that there is something we may justly call ‘forgetful’ about sports fandom. There are, in marked contrast, many other things human beings do in order to come to terms with their fate, rather than to avoid it. These are, in their own way, the opposite of sports. I for my part would rather go to church, I would rather go to a funeral, than to invest one second of my attention in a staged contest between men, in the aftermath of which everything, but everything, is destined to remain the same.

Rx: Ian McEwan, medical ethics and plagiarism

I recently read the novel Saturday by Ian McEwan. I have to admit that in the proverbial sense, despite all the excellent reviews this book has received since its release last year, it really is very good. Near the end, Mr. McEwan’s plot started me thinking about issues related to medical ethics, patient-doctor relationships and the difference between cure and healing. The book tells the story of a Saturday in the life of a neurosurgeon. Right from the start, this weekend is quite extraordinary starting with the doctor chancing upon the sight of an exploding airplane from his bedroom window in the early morning hours and evolving into an increasingly macabre day, finally ending with the doctor and his family held hostage in their own home. Without wishing to divulge any crucial aspect of the plot in this exceptionally well researched and equally well written book, I would like to get to the part that I found thought provoking. In the course of the evening, the criminal who has singularly invoked the wrath of the good doctor by abusing his beloved wife and their twenty-something daughter, retains a head injury. The police and ambulances arrive and the abuser is rushed to the hospital under police custody. No sooner has the family finally soothed their frayed nerves enough to have a drink and think about the dinner they never had does the phone ring and a medical colleague on the line requests the doctor’s expert services urgently at the hospital. The criminal who was just brought in with the head injury is turning out to be a complicated case and therefore in need of greater expertise than what the inexperienced registrar on call could offer. In fact, the neurosurgeon is badly needed. The doctor who called of course has no idea of any connection between the neurosurgeon and the injured patient. The neurosurgeon decides to go and lend his expertise to save that miserable low life who only hours ago had desecrated all that was precious to him. Here is the problem. If he does not go, the man is likely to die. If he does go and operate, can he be trusted to save the life of a man who just a short time ago had inspired the deepest hatred and anger that the doctor was capable of feeling towards another human. Can the doctor be impartial?


I faced an interesting dilemma myself some years ago which made me question my own ability to be impartial. I had received a scientific grant to review from a Government agency. I read it, took detailed notes throughout, and formed a generally negative opinion of the grant. However, before I wrote the formal review, I decided to read it yet another time since something somewhere in the grant had left me feeling uneasy. Sure enough, I realized the source of my discomfort rather quickly upon the next read. There were several passages in one of the published papers sent as supplemental material with the proposal which were much too familiar. In fact, I recognized them as having been written by one of my post docs in a paper we had submitted for publication, and which had been turned down by the reviewers. Now at least we knew who the reviewer was. Apparently he disliked our paper enough to recommend rejection, but liked it enough to plagiarize parts of it. More importantly, we had subsequently submitted our paper to another journal where it was already accepted for publication and was in press. This meant that when our paper finally came out, it would contain passages that had already been published by another author and ironically enough, we are the ones who would appear to be the plagiarizers. Plagiarism is a serious offense and needed to be reported and of course I felt angry and violated. The question was whether I should send in my review of the grant anyway or not. Eventually, I decided to excuse myself from the review process, even though my negative opinion had been formed prior to the discovery of the plagiarized piece, because I did not wish to even give an appearance of a conflict of interest.

It is worthwhile at this point to recall the following Principles adopted by the American Medical Association. These are not laws, but standards of conduct which define the essentials of honorable behavior for the physician.

A physician shall be dedicated to providing competent medical care, with compassion and respect for human dignity and rights.

I. A physician shall uphold the standards of professionalism, be honest in all professional interactions, and strive to report physicians deficient in character or competence, or engaging in fraud or deception, to appropriate entities.

II. A physician shall respect the law and also recognize a responsibility to seek changes in those requirements which are contrary to the best interests of the patient.

III. A physician shall respect the rights of patients, colleagues, and other health professionals, and shall safeguard patient confidences and privacy within the constraints of the law.

IV. A physician shall continue to study, apply, and advance scientific knowledge, maintain a commitment to medical education, make relevant information available to patients, colleagues, and the public, obtain consultation, and use the talents of other health professionals when indicated.

V. A physician shall, in the provision of appropriate patient care, except in emergencies, be free to choose whom to serve, with whom to associate, and the environment in which to provide medical care.

VI. A physician shall recognize a responsibility to participate in activities contributing to the improvement of the community and the betterment of public health.

VII. A physician shall, while caring for a patient, regard responsibility to the patient as paramount.

VIII. A physician shall support access to medical care for all people.

Adopted by the AMA’s House of Delegates June 17, 2001.

Obviously, writing a negative grant review is not the same as saving a life, but the point is how each of our actions would be perceived given that they were performed while we functioned under a spell of psychic violation. Two important tenets of medical ethics are important in this context. In the words of Eric Issacs, M.D., Director of Quality Improvement, San Francisco General Hospital:

Beneficence: refers to acting in the best interests of the patients. This concept often is confused with nonmaleficence, or “do no harm.”

Veracity: is truth telling and honesty.

Clearly, as the only neurosurgeon on hand who could save the patient’s life, the doctor had no choice but to operate and therefore practiced beneficence. However, given the extraordinary circumstances under which the doctor was operating, it was all the more important for him to practice veracity. The patient was unconscious and there was no immediate family to whom he could have spoken, but there were other members of the medical staff and the operation theatre as well as the police escort. I think that under the extraordinary circumstances, the honorable thing to do would have been to practice full disclosure and then proceed with the operation to save the life of a fellow human.

Since the criminal had been caught, one can imagine that now the doctor could overcome his anger and afford to treat him only as a patient. The problem here is the paradox of cure and healing; the doctor may have been cured because the criminal was caught, but not healed. The doctor’s wife asks:

“You’re not thinking about doing something, about some kind of revenge, are you? I want you to tell me.”

“Of course not.”

The distinction between cure and healing is best summarized in this excellent passage by a real life good doctor, Abraham Verghese (“The Healing Paradox” The New York Times, 12-8-02): “If you were robbed one day, and if by the next day the robber was caught and all your goods returned to you, you would only feel partially restored; you would be cured but not healed, your sense of psychic violation would remain. Similarly, with illness, a cure is good, but we want the healing as well, we want the magic that good physicians provide with their personality, their empathy and their reassurance. Perhaps these were qualities that existed in the pre-penicillin days when there was little else to do. But in these days of gene therapy, increasing specialization, managed care and major time constraints, there is a tendency to focus on the illness, the cure, the magic of saving a life. Science needs to be more cognizant of the other magic, the healing if you will, even if we reach for the proven cures. We need to develop and refine that magic of the physician-patient relationship that complements the precise pharmacologic interventions we may prescribe; we need to ensure the wholeness of our encounter with patients; we need to not lose sight of the word “caring” in our care of the patient. And doggedly, in this fashion, one patient at a time, we can restore faith in the fantastic advance of Science we are privileged to witness”.

Dan Nexon on Doctor Who and the New Science Fiction

My old colleague Dan Nexon over at Duck of Minerva (also a guest at Lawyers, Guns and Money) has a take on the new Doctor Who very different from Jenny Turner’s in the LRB.

Within the span of five months in 2004-2005 remakes of two “classic” science-fiction series entered their regular seasons. The first regular episode of the “re-envisioned” Battlestar Galactica aired in October of 2004. The first episode of the new Doctor Who series aired in Britain in March of 2005. Battlestar Galactica has already emerged as perhaps the best science-fiction television series ever made, and probably one of the best television dramas ever produced. Despite some missteps in the second season, BSG arguably outshines the current fare being offered on HBO; it comes close to the glory days of the Sopranos and Homicide: Life on the Streets. I consider BSG, along with the short-lived Firefly, to be part of a new “new wave” of science-fiction programming that clearly draws influence from the sensibilities of the HBO renaissance in drama that began with the Sopranos. Like the Sopranos, both BSG and Firefly adopted unapologetic attitudes towards sex, religion, and the portrayal of ambiguous ethical situations. BSG arguably represents a further evolution than Firefly on many of these counts. One could also make the case that BSG shows what Star Trek: Deep Space Nine might have been if its creative talent, including Ronald Moore, had been freed from the fetters of Star Trek conventions. Although the distance between Homicide and The Wire is less extreme than between ST:DS9 and BSG, there is something of an analogy here.

Garrison Keillor, Shock Jock

When Garrison Keillor comes up, I’m reminded of a Simpsons episode in which Homer is watching Prairie Home Companion on PBS. He can’t understand why people are laughing, so he goes to the TV, bangs it as if it were broken, and says, “Stupid television! Be more funny! [sic to the best of my memory]” My response to Keillor is similar, though the admittedly over-harsh review of Levy’s American Vertigo was funny even if a bit unfair. In Slate, our friend Sam Anderson has an interesting piece on Keillor’s appeal.

Though Keillor is associated with the Midwest, his sensibility comes largely out of New York City. He began his career in the early ’70s writing short humorous essays for The New Yorker (he later became a staff writer then left, on a very high horse, when Tina Brown took over as editor in 1992). He is probably the purest living specimen of the magazine’s Golden Age aesthetic: sophisticated plainness, light sentimentality, significant trivia. He was inspired to create A Prairie Home Companion, in fact, while researching a New Yorker essay about the Grand Ole Opry, and we might think of the radio show as his own private version of the magazine, transposed into a different medium. The “News From Lake Wobegon” is basically an old-style Talk of the Town piece about the Midwest.

Keillor the writer often stands in sharp contrast to Keillor the radio persona. When he steps offstage and removes his bowtie, the transition seems to activate a surprising, and often fierce, critical intelligence. In January he published a viciously funny front-page essay in the Times Book Review accusing the French author Bernard Henri-Lévy of intellectual sloppiness in his efforts to grapple with America. With Twainian flair, Keillor turned Henri-Lévy’s own stylistic excesses against him. It was impossible to imagine the piece in his radio voice: The thought was way too fast and sophisticated. The critique was so spirited because Keillor’s approach to America is the exact opposite of Henri-Lévy’s: whereas the Frenchman (according to Keillor) is “short on the facts, long on conclusions” and possessed by a “childlike love of paradox,” Keillor is always deliberately long on facts, short on conclusions. He avoids paradox and all other forms of rhetorical cleverness, and he prefers anecdote to explanation. He’ll name 34 different garden vegetables and nine generations of Inqvist children before he’ll offer anything that might seem like a generalization.

A Look at The Roma Band Kal

In In These Times, a look at the Roma music group Kal.

Anti-Roma sentiment runs high in Europe, where Roma people suffer hate crimes, high incarceration rates, and lack of educational and housing opportunities so often as to barely warrant mention in local or international news. In Europe, Roma people have long since been thought of, or addressed as, “Black,” which translates to “Kal” in Romani…

A Serbian-based Roma music group, Kal, has become an important new voice in the fight for Roma rights, with their eponymous debut album (Tango Records, 2006). It is a reclaiming, of sorts, and a way of diffusing the negative connotation affiliated with being called “Black”—and all of what is supposed to be associated with that word: dirty, ugly, impure and undesirable.

Kal is a brave, engrossing album deeply rooted in Balkan Romani music; the musicians’ training forms the solid backbone to this album. But Kal also blends an unlikely combination of Middle Eastern, Argentinian, Turkish, Indian, and even Jamaican influences, musical genres that the band has absorbed into its repertoire.

The Selfish Gene, 30 Years Later

In the TLS, a look at one of Dawkins’ popular masterpieces, The Selfish Gene, 30 years later.

The impact of Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene (1976) was such that people now trade stories about their first encounter with it, much as they do about other momentous events. For me, it was nearly three decades ago. Strolling the narrow streets along the Arno, I turned into my favourite libreria – a dusty Florentine mousehole sheltering a small but select group of books tended by the ancient Luigi, a gruff but kindly bibliophile. Greeting me with his customary “Buongiorno, Professore!”, Luigi bestirred himself from his chair, brushing his beloved tomcat Orsino from an ample lap. “I have some new books in English for you to see.” I sighed, realizing that there was only a small chance that among them I would find anything on the massacre of Huguenots at Wassy in 1562, my special interest at the time. As I scanned the books in their cardboard box, one of them caught my eye: a slim volume with a garish Dalí-esque cover, called The Selfish Gene. “That’s odd”, I said to myself. “I’ve been working on genes all my life, but I’ve never come across a selfish one.” I started to read the first chapter, which was intriguingly titled “Why are people?”:

Intelligent life first comes of age when it works out the reasons for its own existence. If superior creatures from space ever visit earth, the first question they will ask, in order to assess the level of our civilization, is: “Have they discovered evolution yet?”

On Chomsky’s Failed States

In the Guardian, the Observer’s foreign affairs editor Peter Beaumont has a long and critical review of Chomsky’s Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. He also has a commentary on it in the Observer, though the review also reads like a commentary. From the review:

What is most troubling about all this is that there is much that Chomsky and I should agree on. Like him, I was opposed to what I believed was an illegal war in Iraq. In my travels in that country, I, too, have been troubled by the consequences of occupation. Where I differ from him, however, is that I reject Chomsky’s view that American misdeeds are printed through history like the lettering in a stick of rock. Instead, the conclusions I have drawn from more than a decade of reporting wars on the ground is that motivations are complex, messy and contradictory, that the best intentions can spawn the worst outcomes and, occasionally, vice versa.

But you’ve got to admire him for the verbal speed with which he comes out from his corner, if not for his grasp on reality. He hits you with five facts before you have had time to digest the first. Chomsky is an intellectual bruiser. Bang, bang, bang, he goes, and all that is left for slower-witted mortals is to hang on, ‘rope-a-dope’, like Muhammad Ali and try to survive until the round is over. Except it doesn’t work quite so well in his written prose.

The New Poet Laureate: Donald Hall

In the Boston Globe, a profile of and reading from the new United States poet laureate, Donald Hall.


Is poetry dead? Hall scoffs at the idea in his essay “Death to the Death of Poetry,” first published in 1989.

“This is your contrary assignment: Be as good a poet as George Herbert. Take as long as you wish,” Hall writes in his essay “Poetry and Ambition,” which was first a lecture and then published in 1983.

His criticism is stinging.

“The McPoem is the product of the workshops of Hamburger University,” and “every year, Ronald McDonald takes the Pulitzer.”

His expectations for poems are stirring.

Poems, “to satisfy ambition’s goals, must not express mere personal feeling or opinion — as the moment’s McPoem does. It must by its language make art’s new object.”

The King and I: The son of Yul Brynner traces the family’s roots around the world

From The Washington Post:King_1

“Yul has an extra quart of champagne in his veins,” an admirer once said of Yul Brynner, the exotic, charismatic actor who ruled Broadway and Hollywood for several decades and won an Academy Award for his signature role as the King of Siam in “The King and I.”

In fact, as Empire and Odyssey reveals, Yul Brynner had the most fascinating mixture imaginable in his DNA, which accounts for the intriguing and glamorous persona that emerged. Yul Brynner created many myths about himself, among them that he was born of a gypsy and a Mongolian Prince. But, as this family biography by his son, Rock, shows, the true story is even more extraordinary. The author is also an historian, and, unlike so many celebrity biographies, his book shows the research and panoramic view of an academic true to his calling.

More here.

Updike’s Other America

From The New York Times:

‘Terrorist,’ by John UpdikeUpdike_2

To ponder Updike’s work in now old-fashioned sociopolitical terms, it might be said that he examines our struggle to maintain a viable center for our inner life while enduring the most revolutionary force in history — American capitalism. According to some accounts, the term “Americanization” was coined in France during the 19th century, and even then there seemed to hover about it a wariness, a prescient caution. Today, nobody abroad and very few people in the United States who invoke “Americanization” mean anything good by it. The word “globalization,” used negatively, has come to serve as a virtual synonym.

This pondering of truisms is more germane to an appreciation of John Updike’s new novel, “Terrorist,” than one might first think. One of the most interesting things about this book is its convergence of imagined views about the way this country is and the way it appears. The views are, variously, those of an American high school boy, half-Irish, half-Egyptian by background, who is intoxicated by Islam; an elderly Lebanese immigrant; that immigrant’s American-born son; and a rather ambiguous Yemeni imam who is the high school boy’s religious teacher.

More here.

Naturalist E.O. Wilson is optimistic

From Harvard Gazette:Wilson_2

Despite all the destruction of forests, pollution, overpopulation, and overfishing, Edward O. Wilson is optimistic about the future of life on Earth. Science, prudent actions, and moral courage are showing some signs of making a difference, says one of the world’s most influential naturalists, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and Pellegrino University Professor Emeritus at Harvard.

Wilson cited one encouraging sign. “In 1960, women on the planet gave birth to an average of six children each,” he told a group of Harvard alums celebrating their 50th reunion during the University’s June 8 Commencement celebration. “That number is down to three children today, and the trend is likely to accelerate.” He sees the 21st century as “the century of the environment,” a time when humans will celebrate and preserve biodiversity, or wreck life on Earth.

Wilson is working on recruiting another great force into the battle for life – religion. In a forthcoming book (“The Creation,” September 2006), he suggests that scientists “offer the hand of friendship” to religious leaders and build an alliance with them. “Science and religion are two of the most potent forces on Earth and they should come together to save the creation,” believes Wilson, who was raised as a Baptist in Florida and Alabama. In November, scientists and evangelists will hold a conference that may start them across the existing cultural gap on a bridge of biodiversity.

More here.

Nanoparticles in sun creams can stress brain cells

From Nature:Brain_23

Tiny particles used in some sun creams have the potential to cause neurological damage, researchers in the United States have found. Bellina Veronesi of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s research laboratories in North Carolina and her co-workers have studied the effect of nanoparticles of titania (titanium oxide) on cultures of mice cells called microglia, which protect neurons in the brain from harm.

They find that the particles provoke the cells to manufacture chemicals that are protective in the short term but potentially damaging when released in the prolonged manner seen in the experiments. Scientists working with nanoparticles have known for a long time that size matters: at these very small scales, the properties of materials can change. For one thing, the chemical reactivity of powders depends on their surface area, which increases as the particles get smaller.

More here.

3QD’s Other World Cup Analyst Mark Blyth: Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, and Learning to Hate Team Nike

It’s nice to think of the World Cup as the coming together of a cosmopolitan select. Admirers of the beautiful game come from everywhere to applaud, converse, and celebrate. Part of this is true. The other part that is true is how clueless petty nationalists from all over the world get together to talk total crap about things they think they know much more about than they actually do. Thus far, my world cup wobbles between both sects.

So after arriving in Berlin I discovered that Easyjet had managed to lose my bass guitar (more on that later), which needless to say put me in a great mood. This was heightened when 24 hrs. later they admitted to having no idea where it was. I suspected it was on tour with a Heavy Metal band that checked in at Copenhagen at the same time as me. I hope it got a groupie.

So the first day was very much a mixed bag of games. The Australia – Japan game was a classic. 1-0 down until the 84th minute when Tim Cahill from Everton took the game by the scruff of the neck and banged in two in six minutes. When John Aloisi knocked in the last one on 92 mins I felt a lot better. This was what the World Cup was all about – great underdog comebacks. Go the ShielaRoos!

My mood was then substantially altered by Bruce Arena’s decision to take a bung from a betting syndicate and play half of his players out of position. The resulting “Gersenkirschen Massacre” has been detailed here by Alex Cooley. Suffice to say that as an American-by-default I was equally pissed off. So far, one for the Aussies and none for the Yanks. I wonder what would happen with Italy.

What the hell was I thinking? Every time there is an international tournament involving the Italians I fall for it. The great players, the Azzuri-legend, the ‘dark-horse’ for victory bullshit…and it’s the same every time. This time the poor Ghanaians had to suffer ‘forza Italia” which basically involves going one goal up that then slowing the game down to a pace where your grandma would fall asleep. If they win, they will do so by boring their way to the semis. So much for the first day. Little did we know the delights that the next day would bring.

What it brought, courtesy of my friend Alex Hamilton’s friend Pete (Thanks Pete) was a ticket to the Brazil – Croatia game. First game in Berlin, first game with the Brazilians. First game against Balkan warriors – exciting stuff. The stadium is awesome. 80 thousand seats and each with a perfect view. I know it had an expensive refit, but really, after this, why bother designing stadiums? Just copy this one. Anyway, to the game and the bizarre sociology of German identity.

So we get inside the stadium and are forced to drink Budweiser (Bastards!!!) but the atmosphere is amazing. The Croats are going nuts, and the Brazilians, well, there must be 60 thousand of them, which is interesting when you consider that Brazil is country with an income distribution so skewed it makes the US look like Denmark. And then you begin to realize that while there are some Brazilians here, most of the crowd are Germans in Brazil shirts. Now I don’t want to come across as the petty nationalist here, but I cannot think of another country where football fans would have their home country shirt in the closet, along with another country’s shirt for special occasions. After all, its not as if Brazil and Germany historically had a lot in common (no jokes about ‘the Boys from Brazil’ please). The first football club in Brazil was set up by Brits, for example. So I got to wondering why it was that so many Germans identified with Brazil, and then the game started.

Brazil is of course the greatest team in the world? Bollocks and my arse. Croatia should have had them, and if the marvelously named Dado Prso had a strike partner in the mould of Jan Koller they would have had an equalizer at the least. Brazil may have some of the greatest individual players around; Kaka, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos, Adriano are clearly super-world class. But are Emerson, or Fred, or Gilberto in the same league? Ronaldo had clearly eaten so many pies he was rooted to the spot throughout the game by force of gravity. One moment of brilliance by Kaka separated the two teams. So I got to wondering why was it that not only did around 50 thousand Germans have Brazil tops, but why does this team have the reputation of being so good? I’m not doing a ‘US media on Bode Miller’ here and extrapolating a trend from one data point, but Germany and Italy combined have more World Cups, and Brazil have crashed and burned on more occasions than internal Aeroflot flights.

In search on answers I began to question random Germans in the stadium (being nicht so schlecht auf Deutsch – as they say) and the responses ranged from the poetic “in my chest I have two hearts, one for Germany and one for Brazil” to the pathetic “they are the best team in the world.” The former is just weird – the latter is the worst form of “Jordan Jocking” – that is, supporting someone because they are the best since everyone agrees they are the best, regardless of any actual evidence to the contrary.

I began to think about how much team Nike (Brazil) are the most media exposed team of all time. They are billed as favorites six months before the tournament began and everyone just accepts it. They may have amazing individuals, but they are yet to convince me that they are a team. (Argentina’s demolition of Serbia and Germany’s ‘never say die’ against Poland show what it means to be a team). And as for all the samba soccer stuff, they have one of the most vicious defenses around. Does anyone think Croatia’s captain Niko Kovac left the field with bruised ribs just by falling on them? So after the game I went in search of other answers as to why so many Germans wear Brazil shirts, and the answer never varied…“because they are the best.” Really, OK, let’s experiment. I started asking people to name the back four…eh??? Mmmm??? Roberto Carlos – one point. No chance. Yes, Ronaldinho is amazing, but that’s not a team.

And then it struck me. It’s a bit like being the ‘Anti-Scotland.’ Scottish national identity is such that you are regarded as a traitor if you do not support, let’s say, Sudan or Zimbabwe over England, and quite a few Scots have the jerseys of other teams in the closet; just in case they play England. But this is an identity is born out of a sense of weakness in ones own team (and a boat-load of history, no matter how distorted). The Germans, in contrast, have consistently good teams (even when they think that they don’t) so why the aping of Team Nike?

My hypothesis? Its because the Germans are not allowed to have a national identity. So they seek the one that they would like to have, cool, bohemian, good dancers, suntans etc., – hence the mindless Brazil-jocking. The Germans I spoke to regarding this (admittedly unscientifically derived) hypothesis remarked that showing the German flag as much as they do at the moment (in the middle of hosting the tournament) is unprecedented. Yet as a US resident, I see more Stars and Stripes in the my local 7-11 than I have in the whole of Mitte. So, having seen the game and gotten some sense of where the cosmopolitanism of the Germans comes from (as usual, from inter-generational war guilt), it was time to go home to our local bar in Mitte. And when we did, the other side of my world cup came into sharp relief.

We ran into an Irish bloke and I asked him if he thought it odd that not just in the stadium, but here on the street there were thousands of Germans, who were hosting the damn tournament and have a good team, wearing another team’s colors. After all, could you imagine the Irish having two tops in the closet? The response was of course “well, you have to admit that they are the best team ever.” I did not, and things got heated. Maradona was better and did more than Pele – period. They scraped their way to the final in France and were deservedly hammered, etc. But then he responded with the clincher argument. I was sitting with Alex Cooley, and he was contributing to the conversation. So our Irish friend pointed out that as an American he knew fuck all about anything about football so we should shut up. Brilliant logic. So there you have it. Nationalism trumps cosmopolitanism in the defense of an over-hyped team most people know bugger all about while sitting in a city filled with Germans in denial. I was having a blast – and the best was yet to come.

Internet Piracy and Social Welfare

I don’t normally post on pieces behind subscription walls, but this piece in the Journal of Law and Economics is interesting. “Piracy on the Hi C’s” by Rafael Rob and Joel Waldfogel suggests that illegal downloading of music increases social welfare; statically, the result is predictable. The usual reason for providing intellectual property rights, as currently practiced, is that even though they’re statically inefficient, in that they reduce use that doesn’t take away from someone else’s use of a product, they are disincentive to provide the good in the first place. How the lower supply compares to welfare imporvement is an open question. But they do measure it.

Recording industry revenue has fallen sharply in the last 3 years, and some—but not all—observers attribute this to file sharing. We collect new data on albums obtained via purchase and downloading, as well as consumers’ valuations of these albums, among a sample of U.S. college students in 2003. We provide new estimates of sales displacement induced by downloading, using both ordinary least squares and an instrumental variables approach with access to broadband as a source of exogenous variation in downloading. We find that each album download reduces purchases by about .2 in our sample, although possibly by much more. Our valuation data allow us to measure the effects of downloading on welfare as well as expenditure in a subsample of University of Pennsylvania undergraduates, and we find that downloading reduces their per capita expenditure (on hit albums released 1999–2003) from $126 to $101 but raises per capita consumers’ surplus by $70.

lost highway expedition

From Domus:

Nuitpreview“From Ljubljana to Sarejevo, via Zagreb, Novi Sad, Belgrade, Skopje, Prishtina, Tirana and Podgorica, this summer (from 30 July to 24 August) a group of artists, architects and designers will be travelling across the Balkans, visiting nine cities and capitals. The programme for this unique expedition, organised by the School of Missing Studies and the Centrala Foundation for Future Cities, includes a two-day stay in each place with workshops, guided tours and seminars during which new projects, networks, architecture and politics will be generated around a single theme: the future of the Western Balkans.”

Lost Highway Expedition website

uk architecture week

ArtDaily reports:

Londonlink1 “2006 marks the tenth anniversary of Architecture Week, the annual national public celebration of historical and contemporary architecture in the UK, which this year takes place from 16 – 25 June. The week aims to explore architecture and the built environment via the arts and culture in an entertaining and informative way, with a rolling schedule of activities organised and co-ordinated through Arts Council England, Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and Architecture Londonlink2sm Centre Network offices across the country. This year’s theme is ‘The Power of Ten’ and the week will showcase over 500 events across the UK – many organised on the idea of 10 – featuring celebrated architects and celebrities, exhibitions, talks and tours. Full details can be found at www.architectureweek.co.uk.”

Opening Eyes, Belatedly, to Paul Klee

From The Washington Post:

Klee_1 “Klee and America,” on view at the Phillips Collection, offers alternate explanations for our country’s slow warming to the idiosyncratic painter. This nation, after all, did accept him, although the embrace was warmest after his death.

The artist’s American market witnessed its first uptick toward the end of his career, when his reputation in Europe soured due to Nazi interference. In the early 1930s, he benefited from the efforts of a strong cohort of expatriate American dealers who pushed his work stateside — and by the middle of that decade, his work found Americans sympathetic to his talent and his persecution. Later in the 20th century his impact was clear, but it’s been 20 years since Americans saw a major Klee show. If we struggle to conjure a Klee in our minds, perhaps we can be forgiven our fuzzy-headedness.

The nearly 80 works in “Klee and America,” organized by Houston’s Menil Collection, serve as a barometer of the artist’s rise in this nation’s consciousness during his lifetime. Only those paintings and works on paper that landed on U.S. soil are on view.

More here.

The man who heard his paintbox hiss

From The Telegraph:Bakandinsky2

Russian-born artist Wassily Kandinsky is widely credited with making the world’s first truly abstract paintings, but his artistic ambition went even further. He wanted to evoke sound through sight and create the painterly equivalent of a symphony that would stimulate not just the eyes but the ears as well. A new exhibition at Tate Modern, Kandinsky: Path to Abstraction, shows not only how he removed all recognisable subjects and objects from Western art around 1911, but how he achieved a new pictorial form of music.

Kandinsky is believed to have had synaesthesia, a harmless condition that allows a person to appreciate sounds, colours or words with two or more senses simultaneously. In his case, colours and painted marks triggered particular sounds or musical notes and vice versa. The involuntary ability to hear colour, see music or even taste words results from an accidental cross-wiring in the brain that is found in one in 2,000 people, and in many more women than men.

Synaesthesia is a blend of the Greek words for together (syn) and sensation (aesthesis). The earliest recorded case comes from the Oxford academic and philosopher John Locke in 1690, who was bemused by “a studious blind man” claiming to experience the colour scarlet when he heard the sound of a trumpet.

More here.

Hearts and Minds

From Science:Giraffe

What do giraffes and fighter pilots have in common? They both experience extreme rushes of blood from the head: pilots (from the force created by rapid acceleration) and giraffes (merely from lifting their necks). Pilots wear special flight suits to avoid fainting. Now, a new study suggests that a powerful heart is what keeps the giraffes from swooning.

Thanks to its long neck, a giraffe’s head can rise up to 5 meters in mere seconds after the creature takes a drink. One would expect this dramatic motion to trigger a massive drain of blood from the brain, but giraffes obviously aren’t fainting all over the place. As long ago as 1955, researchers speculated that giraffes keep their head full using a sort of siphon system, whereby the pull created by blood flowing from the brain via the jugular vein draws extra blood from the heart via the carotid artery. Others hypothesized that the heart alone did the job, pumping blood at sufficiently high pressure to keep the brain running smoothly.

More here.