Last night I made it to the first Escort gig. Escort is a giant disco ensemble band started by my friends Dan Balis, Eugene Cho, and Darius Maghen. (You can listen to their single “Starlight” here; click on the record if you want it from iTunes.) Of it, Stylus says:
Forget Metro Area’s arty recontextualization of digital disco, ‘80s R&B, and techno, the nine members of Brooklyn’s Escort unashamedly calls themselves “a modern disco and boogie ensemble,” and deliver one of the most convincing and satisfying throwbacks to the heydays of Prelude & West End Records that I’ve heard in awhile. “Starlight” is great nearly to the point of suspicion, melding together the tight disco-funk of Chic with the exquisite production of an Environ record (Darshan Jesrani of Metro Area is on hand for a dub on the flipside, naturally,) and doing it so well that you not only wonder why it hasn’t been done before, but how you lived without it. Augmented by violins, airy female vocals, and a bubbly synth hook, you’d be forgiven for choosing this to be the summer jam for both 1983 and 2006. Recommended, and then some.
Also read the odd but positive review of the performance at riffmarket (28 July 2006 “I Don’t Miss Broadway”.) They’ll have more shows in the city and you should go.
Via Political Theory Daily Review, Joshua Greene looks at what neuroscience means for the ethics, in Nature Reviews:
The big meta-ethical question, then, might be posed as follows: are the moral truths to which we subscribe really full-blown truths, mind-independent facts about the nature of moral reality, or are they, like sexiness, in the mind of the beholder? One way to try to answer this question is to examine what is in the minds of the relevant beholders. Understanding how we make moral judgements might help us to determine whether our judgements are perceptions of external truths or projections of internal attitudes. More specifically, we might ask whether the appearance of moral truth can be explained in a way that does not require the reality of moral truth.
As noted above, recent evidence from neuroscience and neighbouring disciplines indicates that moral judgement is often an intuitive, emotional matter. Although many moral judgements are difficult, much moral judgement is accomplished in an intuitive, effortless way. An interesting feature of many intuitive, effortless cognitive processes is that they are accompanied by a perceptual phenomenology. For example, humans can effortlessly determine whether a given face is male or female without any knowledge of how such judgements are made. When you look at someone, you have no experience of working out whether that person is male or female. You just see that person’s maleness or femaleness. By contrast, you do not look at a star in the sky and see that it is receding. One can imagine creatures that automatically process spectroscopic redshifts, but as humans we do not. All of this makes sense from an evolutionary point of view.
In Dissent, Michael Walzer and Jean Bethke Elshtain debate just war and Iraq. Walzer:
So Iraq was not similar to the German or Japanese or the (hypothetical) Rwandan case: the war was not a response to aggression or a humanitarian intervention. Its cause was not (as in 1991) an actual Iraqi attack on a neighboring state or even an imminent threat of attack; nor was it an actual, ongoing massacre. The cause was regime change, directly—which means that the U.S. government was arguing for a significant expansion of the doctrine of jus ad bellum. The existence of an aggressive and murderous regime, it claimed, was a legitimate occasion for war, even if the regime was not actually engaged in aggression or mass murder. In more familiar terms, this was an argument for preventive war, but the reason for the preventive attack wasn’t the standard perception of a dangerous shift in the balance of power that would soon leave “us” helpless against “them.” It was a radically new perception of an evil regime.
No one who has experienced, or reflected on, the politics of the twentieth century can doubt that there are evil regimes. Nor can there be any doubt that we need to design a political/military response to such regimes that recognizes their true character. Even so, I do not believe that regime change, by itself, can be a just cause of war.
First it was Orhan Pamuk. Now Elif Shafak is being tried for “insulting Turkishness”. In openDemocracy:
“Can you go out? Can you walk on the streets without fear of assassination or an assault from Turkish nationalists?” asked the Belgian journalist at the end of the line as he was conducting a phone interview with me over the weekend. “Are you safe in Turkey?”
Am I safe in Turkey…? I wanted to ask him back: Tell me please, are you safe in Belgium? And I wanted to keep asking: Are we safe on this planet…?
Each and every one of us, wherever we might have put down our roots, can we effortlessly and assertively answer that question affirmatively and claim that yes indeed, we are safe and sound, and so are our children? I don’t think so. In the post 9/11 world, in a world where the number of those who believe in a “clash of civilizations” increases day by day, no one is safe anymore.
Stanley Hoffmann on America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy by Francis Fukuyama, Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy by Stephen M. Walt, and Diplomacy Lessons: Realism for an Unloved Superpower by John Brady Kiesling, in the New York Review of Books:
The US is back to debating what to do next but the setting of this debate is quite different from that of the past. In addition to the familiar world of interstate conflicts, some of the most horrible wars of recent years have been internal; and some of the most spectac-ular acts of violence have been committed by private groups of terrorists not allied to any state. More than a few of the members of the UN—Zimbabwe, Somalia, Uzbekistan—are “failed” or murderous states, whose inhabitants live in a nightmare of chaos and violence. The “realists,” i.e., those who believe national interests are fundamental—must now take into account the UN, which for all its flaws serves to certify legitimacy, as the current administration discovered when it defied the predominant opinion of the Security Council in attacking Iraq.
It is also a world in which globalization—partly under American leadership—erodes effective sovereignty of states (although least for the US) and creates a world economy that offers a very complex combination of permanent competition—especially for oil— and incentives to cooperate, not only for states but for private interests. There is now a transnational society that includes multinational corporations, nongovernmental organizations, criminals, and terrorists. This global economy, with its unprecedented combination of private and state capitalisms, can be immensely destructive, as when it eliminated millions of jobs in developed countries. It deepens inequality—at home and abroad.
Carl Zimmer in his blog, The Loom:
The Washington Post has an article today called And the Evolutionary Beat Goes On . . .. It is based on some interviews with scientists who are documenting evidence of natural selection in humans. I won’t be surprised if it gets emailed hither and yon, but not for the text, which is based on stuff that’s been out for some months now. No, it’s got a slick animation with the following caption: “A morphing demonstration of human evolution shows the transformation from a small lemur, up the evolutionary ladder into a human: seen here as legendary evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould.”
The article goes into all sorts of contortions to accommodate this movie. In the lead, it reads,
Stephen Jay Gould would have been pleased.
No, not about his mug shot at the endpoint of evolution in the illustration above, but about the growing evidence that evolution is not just real but is actually happening to human beings right now.
But the article ends on an entirely different note…
Come to think of it, the late Stephen Jay Gould might have been upset with the above illustration. Contrary to the popular imagination, evolution is not a linear process that culminates in the triumphal ascent of humans at the top of the genetic heap. The process is analogous to a bush, where twigs and leaves push out in every direction.
So…the paper is showing something that further promotes a popular misconception about evolution–the evolutionary ladder. Nice job, folks.
In fact, of course, the movie is even more misleading…
More here. [Be sure to click the link Carl provides above to see the silly morph.]
Stacy Schiff in The New Yorker:
Because there are no physical limits on its size, Wikipedia can aspire to be all-inclusive. It is also perfectly configured to be current: there are detailed entries for each of the twelve finalists on this season’s “American Idol,” and the article on the “2006 Israel-Lebanon Conflict” has been edited more than four thousand times since it was created, on July 12th, six hours after Hezbollah militants ignited the hostilities by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers. Wikipedia, which was launched in 2001, is now the seventeenth-most-popular site on the Internet, generating more traffic daily than MSNBC.com and the online versions of the Times and the Wall Street Journal combined. The number of visitors has been doubling every four months; the site receives as many as fourteen thousand hits per second.
I do not exonerate the Lebanese from responsibility for the horrors that are taking place. Building a democratic country is the duty of all Lebanese. The different religious groups have to find a way to unite in a political project. Factionalism and fear will make it impossible to confront the weapons that are destroying a country that has risen from the rubble only to find itself once again buried in rubble.
Before me I see the same images of death that I witnessed 24 years ago. The pictures themselves, the noise of invading aircraft in the skies of Beirut and all over Lebanon, are the same. Do I see or do I remember? When you are incapable of distinguishing between what is in front of you and what you remember, it becomes clear that history teaches nothing – and clear too that what the Israelis call war is not war but merely the first skirmishes of a war that has not yet begun. Woe to anyone who believes that this massacre is war. Since 1973, the Arab world has fought only on the sidelines.
The Israelis should take care not to deceive themselves and believe that they have achieved victory, because the nature of such non-wars is that they can be repeated over and over again.
more from the London Review of Books here.
Cosma Shalizi reviews The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy by Kenneth Pomeranz:
One of the central questions in world history is, to put it a bit leadingly, “Why Europe, of all places?” That is, why did the Industrial Revolution begin there, leading Europe to a level of power, wealth, and global domination quite without precedent in human experience? This is inevitably a comparative question: why nineteenth century Europe, rather than one of the other centers of civilization? Why not Song-dynasty China? And also: why anyplace at all?
Pomeranz’s book is one of the most interesting, and in large measure convincing, attempts to answer this question, by focusing very specifically on north-west Europe, especially Great Britain, and comparing it intensively and symmetrically with other, comparably-developed parts of the Old World. The key claim, and perhaps the most controversial, is that it is very hard indeed to identify any internal, socio-economic causes of or dispositions towards exponential growth in the Britain, the Dutch Republic, etc. of 1750, or even 1800, which did not equally apply to comparably-sized and -developed parts of China (like the Yangzi Delta) or Japan; India, he thinks, really was further behind.
More here. [Photo shows Kenneth Pomeranz.]
“Fucking Painters,” reads the headline in a typically acerbic oil-on-canvas in Steve Hurd’s new solo show at Rosamund Felsen Gallery. Or rather, “sretniaP gnikcuF,” as the entire lengthy text — a blogger’s review of a San Francisco Rachel Lachowicz opening — is reproduced backward, thus rendered illegible to all but the most diligent (or mirror equipped). The chatty text goes on to flatteringly characterize Lachowicz as “a seriously smart sculptor/painter who is best known for her elegant and hilarious send-ups of art by famous male artists” while name-dropping ’90s-L.A.-art-world where-are-they-now candidates Keith Boadwee, Kim Dingle and Kim Light.
more from the LA Weekly here.
From the New York Review of Books:
Already while living in Berlin in 1915, Ball and Hennings had organized a series of antiwar literary evenings with the intention, they said, to provoke, perturb, bewilder, tease, tickle to death, and confuse the audience. In Zurich, Janco made cardboard masks reminiscent of the ones used in African rituals and Japanese theater, but also strikingly original. As Ball wrote in his journal, “The masks simply demanded that their wearers start to move in a tragic-absurd dance.” Patrons of the cabaret who came expecting to hear selections from the works of Voltaire and Turgenev or another balalaika orchestra were subjected instead to skits enacted by masked figures dressed in colorful costumes made from cardboard and poster paint who accompanied themselves with drums, pot covers, and frying pans as they recited poems that sounded like this:
Gadji beri bimba
Glandridi lauli lonni cadori
Gadjama bim beri glassala
Glandridi glassala tuffm Izimbrabim
Blassa galassasa tuffm Izimbrabim.
The noise from the stage was deafening. There was bedlam in the audience too. The performers behaved like new recruits simulating mental illness before a medical commission. In less than a month the cabaret, which at first had welcomed all modern tendencies in the arts and hoped to entertain and educate the customer, had turned into a theater of the absurd. That was the intention. “What we are celebrating,” Ball wrote in his diary, “is both buffoonery and a requiem mass.” The scandal spread.Lenin, who played chess with Tzara, wanted to know what Dada was all about.
George Smith in The Village Voice:
Sharon Weinberger’s Imaginary Weapons is another tale of military technology… It’s a fascinating investigation into the investment in the hafnium bomb, a device that entranced the military because salesmen promised a weapon with the bang of an atomic bomb in the size of a golf ball. As with Halter’s book, one defining feature of the story is the military’s enthusiastic pursuit of the dubious. In Imaginary Weapons, this is tied to the philosophy that the U.S. cannot afford to be taken by “technological surprise” by any adversary. This idea has fostered blind unreason and a penchant for pursuing any and all weapons projects, no matter how irrational.
In any case, “hafnium isomer” is a radioactive material that barely exists. It is expensive and difficult to make in even microscopic amounts, yet scientists receiving Pentagon funding became convinced it could be a wonder weapon in the war on terror. The hafnium bomb would be useful for sterilizing biological terror weapons hidden in underground bunkers. Another motivation was the logic—straight out of Dr. Strangelove—that America must not fall behind in a hafnium bomb gap to terrorists or rival nations. That there was no proof of any of this did not matter.
“Why do so many brilliant fiction writers turn out atrocious dramas – and so many good playwrights produce bad novels?”
Philip Hensher in The Guardian:
For the first time in more than 30 years, James Joyce’s only play, Exiles, is being given a professional performance in London. The National Theatre’s production brings to light an important moment in Joyce’s career. Joyce was always interested in the stage: his first publication was a long essay on Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken, and theatrical episodes, such as the “Night-town” scene in Ulysses, often enliven his novels. And Exiles was written at an interesting point, between the relatively sober Portrait of the Artist and the wildness of Ulysses. Surely it’s worth more than a revival every 30 years?
Unfortunately not. Exiles, like most plays written by novelists, is a notoriously plonking effort. In this homage to Ibsen, little of the master’s command of the stage is evident. If Joyce hadn’t gone on to write Ulysses, it is most unlikely that Exiles would ever be performed at all.
William Grimes in the New York Times:
When last spotted, at the end of his memoir “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” Toby Young was slinking out of Manhattan, a ruined man. Fired as an editor at Vanity Fair and banished from the Eden of American celebrity culture, he threw in the towel and returned to London.
Mr. Young, I am happy to report, learned virtually nothing from his American misadventures. “The Sound of No Hands Clapping” finds him once again madly pursuing fame and riches, worshiping the same false celebrity gods, and in general making an absolute fool of himself. For readers, this is very good news. Mr. Young’s pain is their gain.
This time around Mr. Young fails on two continents.