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From The Washington Post:Bell

Born in 1847, raised in Edinburgh and London, hauled off to Canada to escape the tuberculosis that had killed his two brothers, Alexander Graham Bell made history before age 30 by inventing the telephone. Reluctant Genius (Arcade, $29.95) is a puzzling name for Charlotte Gray’s biography. The man she depicts tortures himself when in love, clashes with his parents about his career and suffers over his shortcomings as a husband, but he positively revels in his role as genius. Nothing seemed to suit him better than to pursue — with as few distractions and interruptions as possible — his obsessive inspirations.

More here.

New Orleans Then and Now


One year after Hurricane Katrina struck the United States’ Gulf Coast, the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, is a patchwork of recovery and neglect, as seen in these pairs of then-and-now photographs.

At top, cars cross over New Orleans’ Industrial Canal to the city’s Lower Ninth Ward in July 2006. Below, two men paddle by the same bridge on August 31, 2005, two days after Katrina made landfall, eventually causing levees to fail, flooding much of the city.

From The National Geographic: More here.

gaddafi: still him


It isn’t so much a tent as an awning, open to the desert at the edges. Inside, there are some white plastic chairs, a plastic table and two easy chairs. I am sitting in one of them, waiting for Colonel Gaddafi. To get here, I flew to Tripoli and then took another plane up the coast, followed by an hour and a half’s car ride into the desert scrubland. Gaddafi moves around a lot, like the nomadic groups he comes from, and no doubt also for security reasons. This evening he is camped at a small oasis, replete with camels and some tired-looking palm trees. It’s only a few minutes’ wait before he arrives.

Dressed in a brown-gold robe, he cuts an impressive figure. There are no guards or minders in view, and the occasion is a completely informal one. He is instantly recognisable and would be so to a great many people across the world, whatever their feelings about him might be. In a way, it is an extraordinary phenomenon. Libya is a tiny country in terms of population, with only 5.8 million people. Gaddafi’s global prominence is altogether out of proportion to the size of the nation he leads. He is now 64, in power since 1969. Rumours abound that he is in failing health, but he looks robust.

more from The New Statesman here.

strange tales: el buen tono and the arctic radio


Who was this Nordic-looking man and why was he promoting El Buen Tono’s cigarettes? Why would a Mexican tobacco company choose an icy landscape as the backdrop for a product that was grown in the tropics? And what was the connection between radio and the blimp, another invention of the modern era that fascinated Ernest Pugibet? Looking through newspapers from 1926—the year the ad was first published—I was able to uncover a tale that was even more bizarre and even more fantastic than the android cigarette sellers or the radiophonic beer. It turns out the advertisement had to do with a news item that was the talk of the town in Mexico City during the summer of 1926.

In the first days of May of that year, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, a seasoned adventurer who had been the first man to reach the South Pole, set out on an ambitious expedition to the North Pole.

more from Cabinet here.

who is Eugène Carrière?


An exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris this summer marks 100 years since the death of the once-famous French painter Eugène Carrière. Goncourt’s Journals confirm Carrière’s prominence in the cultural life of fin-de-siècle Paris; the artist’s writings and letters reveal his part in the political issues of the day: in the Dreyfus affair alongside Clemenceau and Zola, in anti-war agitation, and a concern with women’s issues and workers’ education. He left indelible images of his contemporaries, in particular his best-known painting, a portrait of the poet Paul Verlaine.

At the entrance to a nondescript block of artists’ studios in Paris, a plaque reads, “Here lived the painter/ Eugène Carrière (1849-1906)/ Verlaine posed for him in his studio.” When the mayor of Montmartre tugged away the white sheet at its ceremonial unveiling, he revealed an added inscription, graffiti scrawled in large white letters: “Fuck off I love you”.

more from The Guardian here.

A Muslim Labour MP on Islamist Terrorism

A letter from Labour MP Shahid Malik, in the August 15th Times (London):

ON FRIDAY last week I agreed to add my name to a letter to the Government from Oxfam, other non-governmental organisations and individuals to express, in the wake of the Middle East crisis, our commitment to the fundamental humanitarian principle that all innocent lives should be valued equally.

As has been made apparent to me over the past few days, the letter was open to several interpretations. It has never been my contention that the Government ought to change foreign policy because of terrorist threats within our borders. We must never be held to ransom by those who would deliberately shed innocent blood in the name of their cause. I firmly believe that justice, righteousness and national interest should be our policy compass. So when ministers such as Kim Howells and Douglas Alexander argue that “no government worth its salt would allow any policy to be dictated by threats of terror”, we are at one.

I doubt if many would question my commitment to fighting terrorism. I have vociferously argued, ever since it was revealed that the leader of the 7/7 bombers was my constituent, that no policy, domestic or foreign, can ever justify or excuse British-born Muslims strapping on suicide belts.

Berger on Grass

From last Monday’s Guardian, John Berger on the Günter Grass controversy.

Without ethics man has no future. This is to say mankind without them cannot be itself. Ethics determine choices and actions and suggest difficult priorities. They have nothing to do, however, with judging the actions of others. Such judgments are the prerogative of (often self-proclaimed) moralists. In ethics there is a humility; moralists are usually righteous.

These thoughts come to my mind as I read the macabre denunciations being levelled today against Günter Grass. About him as a man and about his great work as a writer, they totally miss the point, and might be dismissed as laughable, but, as an index of a certain recent moral climate in Europe, they are troubling. They are an example of moral judgments made in a carefully constructed vacuum of experience. They are what is left after the emptying out of lived experience, and they are a strident denial of what we know in our bones to be real.

Rorty Reviews Another Take on Morality and Biology

In The New York Time Book Review, Richard Rorty reviews Marc D. Hauser’s Moral Minds:How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong.

We need, Hauser says, a “radical rethinking of our ideas on morality, which is based on the analogy to language.” But the analogy seems fragile. Chomsky has argued, powerfully if not conclusively, that simple trial-and-error imitation of adult speakers cannot explain the speed and confidence with which children learn to talk: some special, dedicated mechanism must be at work. But is a parallel argument available to Hauser? For one thing, moral codes are not assimilated with any special rapidity. For another, the grammaticality of a sentence is rarely a matter of doubt or controversy, whereas moral dilemmas pull us in opposite directions and leave us uncertain. (Is it O.K. to kill a perfectly healthy but morally despicable person if her harvested organs would save the lives of five admirable people who need transplants? Ten people? Dozens?)

Hauser hopes that his book will convince us that “morality is grounded in our biology.” Once we have grasped this fact, he thinks, “inquiry into our moral nature will no longer be the proprietary province of the humanities and social sciences, but a shared journey with the natural sciences.” But by “grounded in” he does not mean that facts about what is right and wrong can be inferred from facts about neurons. The “grounding” relation in question is not like that between axioms and theorems. It is more like the relation between your computer’s hardware and the programs you run on it. If your hardware were of the wrong sort, or if it got damaged, you could not run some of those programs.

Knowing more details about how the diodes in your computer are laid out may, in some cases, help you decide what software to buy. But now imagine that we are debating the merits of a proposed change in what we tell our kids about right and wrong. The neurobiologists intervene, explaining that the novel moral code will not compute. We have, they tell us, run up against hard-wired limits: our neural layout permits us to formulate and commend the proposed change, but makes it impossible for us to adopt it. Surely our reaction to such an intervention would be, “You might be right, but let’s try adopting it and see what happens; maybe our brains are a bit more flexible than you think.”

The End of Irony

From The New York Times:Messud_1

Claire Messud is a novelist of unnerving talent. Her first three books — two novels and a pair of novellas — deftly evoke the lives and mores of radically different characters and locales, from an aging Holocaust survivor in Canada to a young woman coming of age on the southern coast of France. Until recently, though, she may have seemed something of a writer’s writer — a crafter of artful books praised more for their “literary intelligence” and “near-miraculous perfection” than for their sweeping social relevance. Now, in “The Emperor’s Children,” her splendid new novel, she has produced a formally nimble novel of formidable scale. Set mostly in New York City at the turn of the 21st century, “The Emperor’s Children” is a masterly comedy of manners — an astute and poignant evocation of hobnobbing glitterati in the months before and immediately following Sept. 11.

More here.

Battle of the blockbusters

From The London Times:

Amis_2 Books selects the titles that everyone will be talking about this autumn and gives you the lowdown on them.

MARTIN AMIS: House of Meetings
What’s the story? Set in the USSR between the end of the Second World War and Stalin’s death, this short novel follows two brothers, held in a labour camp above the Arctic Circle, in love with the same girl.
The background Amis is interested in Communism — his father was once a Communist, and he wrote about Stalin in his nonfiction book Koba the Dread. A Soviet prison camp, then, might prove more fertile subject matter for a novel than the macho violence of his much-reviled Yellow Dog.
Cape says “Amis at the height of his powers.”
We say Left off the Man Booker longlist, perhaps too short to qualify, this is nevertheless a strong contender to be the literary novel of the year.

More here.

Today: You are invited to…

[Photo of Secret Society by Lindsay Beyerstein.]

This year at our ball, 3QD is very proud to feature:

Darcy James Argue conducting Secret Society

Secret Society is a dynamic new big band featuring Darcy’s original works. It is also a showcase for singular, exciting soloists like trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Will Vinson, and pianist Mike Holober. Secret Society is a forward-looking ensemble, influenced by contemporary big bands like the Maria Schneider Orchestra and the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, but also atmospheric indie bands like Broken Social Scene and Calexico, and adventurous new music ensembles like Eighth Blackbird and Anti-Social Music. Secret Society made their New York debut at the CBGB Lounge on May 29, 2005, playing to a large and enthusiastic audience, and continue to draw listeners and create a buzz everywhere they perform.

In addition to Secret Society and Pulse, Darcy’s music has been performed by the BMI New York Orchestra, the Eastman New Jazz Ensemble, the NEC Jazz Composers Orchestra, the McGill Jazz Orchestra, and ensembles of the Peabody Conservatory.

“Argue is a stunningly skilled bandleader who steers an ensemble stocked fat with exceptional players […]. Argue’s charts serve notice of a sophisticated composer, one who knows his Stravinsky and Ligeti as well as his Bob Graettinger and Thad Jones. I look forward to hearing more from this band.”Steve Smith, Associate Music Editor, Time Out NY

“Darcy James Argue’s big band skillfully realizes the leader’s mature, emotive compositions and thick arrangements.” — Hank Shteamer, Time Out NY

“Darcy James Argue has developed an experimental yet accessible voice as a composer… his gifts are outstanding.”Bob Brookmeyer

Much more information about Darcy and Secret Society can be found here.

In addition, there will be hors d’oeuvres/drinks/dancing/DJs and more.

Also, light food from the divine Jackson Heights restaurant Kebab King will be available.

Place:   Flux Factory

Date:    Saturday, August 26, 2006

Time:   9:00 pm

Dress:  White (wear anything that is white, even a scarf; not formal)

Cover:  Five dollars

RSVP:  In the comments to this post

Please consider helping us make this event possible by making a small donation.
(There is a “Make a Donation” button at the top of the right-hand column.)

See you, and thanks!

Hezbollah gaining strength where democracy once dwelt

Rashid Khalidi in the Chicago Tribune:

Khalidi_rashid_1Hezbollah’s rocket attacks on Israel, initially condemned by some Lebanese, are now seen as a justified response to Israel’s offensive against Lebanon. For the Lebanese, the fact that most of their casualties were civilians, a third of them children, and that the bombing has created a million refugees, severely damaged the environment and systematically destroyed the country’s infrastructure–from bridges and power plants to airports, milk factories and lighthouses–substantiates this belief.

The idea that this or any other Lebanese government will act against Hezbollah after the fighting ends is therefore perfect fantasy. The “successes” of American and French diplomacy over the last year in driving a wedge between Lebanese and isolating Hezbollah, a futile exercise in any case, have gone up in the smoke of Israeli air raids on every part of Lebanon.

In their place is bitter anger at the United States, which has once more shown that neither Lebanese democracy nor Arab civilian casualties, nor anything else in the Arab world, counts in American calculations when Israel’s perceived interests (and President Bush’s “war on terror”) are at stake.

More here.

The Shape of Things to Come, by Greil Marcus

Eric Homberger in The Independent:

MarcusGreil Marcus, reigning top banana of American rock critics, has stories to tell about the collision of restless musical innovation with a greedy recording industry doing its level best to suck creativity dry, and make money doing so. That David and Goliath story has simplified our understanding of rock, and Marcus rejects it. Rather, he has been obsessed by more complex moments of confrontation, such as Bob Dylan’s appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963.

As he vividly told it in Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes, Dylan walked on stage with a Fender Stratocaster, and the shocked audience booed. Backstage, his friends were thinking that this was a lynch-mob. In England, Dylan was accused of being a Judas. With an electronic guitar in his hand, Dylan’s back turned towards the audience felt like an act of betrayal.

Coinciding with the early stages of the civil rights movement, the folk revival of the early 1960s saw itself as a crusade for national renewal. In an America reeling from assassinations and racial violence, the songs of the people, especially poor black people in the rural south, possessed a redeeming moral force. Electronic guitars embodied the big-money, high-technology corporate world that repeatedly strangled the authentic voice of the people.

More here.  [Photo shows Greil Marcus.]

Picasso’s Other Muse, of the Dachshund Kind

Alan Riding in the New York Times:

26lump_ca0_1Some old masters made a point of including the faces of fellow artists and patrons in the crowds portrayed in large oil paintings. Pablo Picasso paid similar homage to a more unusual friend: a self-assured little dachshund called Lump.

Yes, that’s Lump at the bottom of the canvas in Picasso’s multiple reinterpretations of Velázquez’s masterpiece “Las Meninas.” Gone is the somnolently regal hound of the original. In its place is, well, a sausage with four short legs and two pointed ears.

Picasso painted 44 studies in his “Meninas” series between Aug. 17 and Dec. 30, 1957 — and Lump appears in 15 of them.

More here.

The Opening Shots Project

What do 2001: A Space Odyssey, Annie Hall, and Raiders of the Lost Ark have in common? Great opening shots. And film critic Jim Emerson has a blog dedicated to them. This is Nareg Torosian on the opening shot of Punch-Drunk Love:


As described on the DVD’s back cover, the focal point of the movie is Barry Egan, “a socially impaired owner of a small novelty business, who…is unlikely to find love unless it finds him.” On the surface, nothing much happens during the handheld shot that begins the movie, but for this first minute and a half, Anderson is able to set up three crucial elements for the rest of the film:

1. Barry’s loneliness. The set is about as sparse as can be – one desk and one chair in the corner of a large, unadorned, warehouse-like room. No one else will enter the frame, and other than the voice on the other end of the telephone, no other sound can be heard. (A metallic ping that breaks the silence will attract Barry’s attention and cause him to leave, thus creating a bridge to the film’s next shot. Jon Brion’s lush, atmospheric score/soundscape will not come to play for several minutes.) Anderson shoots the sequence in a long shot, and the resulting amount of empty, indifferent space conveys the character’s sense of isolation and emotional distance; this composition is mirrored later when Barry calls the phone sex service in his apartment and when he calls Lena from a pay phone in Hawaii. Even the first spoken line (“Yes, I’m still on hold”) subtly hints at his feeling of emotional repression and arrested development.

More here.

Edward Tufte: The Leonardo da Vinci of Data

Tufte’s most recent book, Beautiful Evidence, is filled with hundreds of illustrations from the worlds of art and science. It contains historical maps and diagrams as well as contemporary charts and graphs. In one chapter alone, there’s an 18th-century depiction of how to do a cross-section drawing of how a bird’s wing works, and photos from a 1940s instruction book for skiing.

They all demonstrate one concept: Good design is timeless, while bad design can be a matter of life and death.

More here.

2006 National Book Festival

From the Library of Congress website:

Welcome to the Web site for the 2006 National Book Festival! The festival, which will be held on September 30, is organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress and hosted by Laura Bush. It is free and open to the public and features more than 70 award-winning authors, illustrators and poets appearing in “Fiction & Fantasy,” “Mysteries & Thrillers,” “History & Biography,” “Children,” “Teens & Children,” “Poetry,” and “Home & Family” pavilions. Browse this Web site to learn about the authors who will be appearing throughout the day in the pavilions and signing their books.

More here.  [Thanks to Rachelle Lacroix.]

Science Is Dead

From the blog “Jon Swift“:

Not only are scientists responsible for bad things like the Holocaust, they are always trying to scare us about bad things that don’t exist like global warming. Frankly, it’s a wonder scientists have any credibility at all considering how they are always trying to terrify us with alerts of threats that don’t pan out and lying about things that turn out not to exist. Only a scientific dead-ender could think that anything scientists say should be believed. I’m glad the Bush Administration has done something about it, fighting the War on Science with the same fervor it has brought to the War on Terror and the War in Iraq and all of the other wars it has declared.

Now that two of my least favorite subjects in school, science and history, are dead, I’m hoping that the Bush Administration will redouble its efforts to kill off two other subjects I didn’t much care for, Math and Geography. While important strides have been made, I still think more can be done to send Math and Geography to the dustbin of History, which, course, has itself been sent to the dustbin of . . . something else, I guess. I’m not ready to declare victory until our schools are teaching only two subjects: Religion and Gym.

More here.

Shooting A Shaykh In The Mouth

Ali Eteraz at his eponymous blog:

The editor of a leading Pakistani think-tank advocating equity, fairness and gender equality in Pakistan’s Islamic Laws has been shot in the mouth. The Daily Times reports:

LAHORE: Al-Mawrid Research Institute’s monthly magazine Ishraq’s editor Manzoor-ul-Hassan was shot on Wednesday night by unidentified men in front of the Al-Mawrid building in Model Town Extension, sources told Daily Times.

Hassan was walking alone in front of the building at around 9pm on Wednesday night when two unidentified men on a motorcycle shot him in the mouth. Hassan survived but is reportedly in a critical condition.

As we speak, as you sit in your chair, connected to the vast outside world something immense, and like all immense things, something uncontrollable, is happening in Pakistan. The setting is a combustible South Asian nation. The battle is for the equality of Muslim women and simple human dignity. The war within the Law of God has become a war between Violence and Reason. One speaks with the authority of bullets and flame; the other through the authority of pamphlet and humility.

More here.

The Grand Wake for Harvard Indifference

From Harvard Magazine:Nazi

At noon on November 16, 1938, some 500 Harvard and Radcliffe students jammed Emerson Hall to express their outrage at Kristallnacht, as the Nazis sarcastically dubbed the pogrom in Germany and Austria that had littered the streets with broken glass. But that lunch-time gathering turned out to be much more than a student protest meeting. Besides starting an initiative that eventually brought 14 young refugees from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia to study at Harvard—and two refugees, in a parallel effort, to Radcliffe—it gave rise, with astonishing speed, to a national grassroots movement that helped hundreds of persecuted Central European students find refuge and education at colleges and universities across the United States. Though now largely forgotten, the humanitarian effort that emanated from Harvard highlights a tectonic change among many students at the time—from ivory-tower existence to social activism. And the story also illuminates a gradual transformation of Harvard and other leading colleges: from institutions that educated mainly the children of the elite to institutions that prized scholarly excellence. Now, as the generation of activists who led that effort is passing from the scene, it seems worthwhile to recall their story, especially as today’s students consider engaging in larger issues—among them, again, immigration.

More here.