September, 2006. There now exists an ‘arc’ of domination by Shiite militias in the north of Baghdad. Sunni militias have carved out a few enclaves in Baghdad’s south, and are now expanding into nearby areas. The pieces of the puzzle are slowly aligning themselves as Iraq’s sectarian divide widens.
Predictions for the near future:
(1) Azamiyah is being surrounded and will eventually fall into Shiite control.
(2) The Sunnis are pursuing territorial ambitions to consolidate their control in the southern areas of Sadiyah, Dora, and Muradiyah. This will lead to a new ‘river war’ between the Sunni and the Shiite militias on the opposite sides of the Tigris.
(3) The growth of these ‘neighborhood coalitions’ will marginalize the influence of the soldiers and politicians in the Green Zone.
More maps here (including some animated ones).
Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (called Bacha Khan), the great political and spiritual leader of the Pushtuns and devoted friend of Mohandas Gandhi, was a disciple of nonviolence and champion of the rights of women. The image of Pushtuns has changed considerably. Ahmed Rashid in the BBC on Pushtun efforts to combat that image:
They are angry, frustrated and now want to reclaim their identity from being lumped with the Taleban and as perpetrators of terrorism and suicide bombings.
Most Afghan prisoners held by the Americans in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba or at Bagram air base near Kabul are Pashtun.
Those who have emerged from these – and Afghan and Pakistani-run jails are also Pashtun.
So are the thousands of civilian casualties who have been bombed by mistake or carelessness in southern Afghanistan by US and Nato pilots during military operations since 11 September.
US soldiers who knocked down doors and interrogated women, alienating the population, did so largely in the Pashtun south, where American forces have been accused by locals of treating all Pashtuns as the enemy – an association that Nato is now trying to change.
Though the amaryllis sags and spills
so do those my wishes serve, all along the town.
And yes, the new moon, kinked there in night’s patch,
tugs me so—but I can’t reach to right the slant.
And though our cat pads past without a tail, some
with slinking tails peer one-eyed at the dawn, some
with eyes are clawless, some with sparking claws
contain no voice with which to sing
of foxes gassing in the lane.
parade smart shirts, while my broad back supports
a scrubby jumper, fawn or taupe.
more from Roddy Lumsden’s poem here.
Two things happened during the early 1980s that seem to have helped Sebald find his way into the unique literary form that would define him as a writer. During a visit to his parents in Sonthofen, he came across a photo album his father had prepared as a Christmas gift for his mother in 1939 while he was a soldier in the Polish campaign. Neatly pasted and captioned, the photographs showed various scenes of war, including entire villages razed, the chimneys still smoking, as well as a smiling gypsy mother holding her child behind barbed wire. The album proved disquieting not only because it confronted Sebald with his father’s military history and the unanswered questions about his actual wartime activities (“I still don’t know exactly what he did or did not do”) but also because it brought out the “dizzying” disjunction between his own family’s private memories and the external history of German destruction.
more from Bookforum here.
Alison Lurie looks at four books by or about Alice Munroe, in the New York Review of Books:
In the imagination of most Americans, Canada is a blur. It contains a lot of pine trees, moose, and Mounties; its population is relatively small, its politics relatively polite. Canadians are honest and serious but slightly dull. Some of us may pity or scorn them for not having joined the revolution of 1776: in this view, they are like the goody-goody siblings who never rebelled against their parents.
On the other hand, we also admit Canada’s virtues, including a working national health care system, the acceptance of draft protesters during the Vietnam War, and the possession of many of the most brilliant and original writers in North America. It has sometimes taken us a while to notice these writers, of course. Alice Munro, for instance, had published three brilliant and strikingly original collections of stories and won the Governor General’s Prize before her work first appeared here in The New Yorker. It is only recently that she has been recognized as one of the world’s greatest short story writers.
It is perhaps not only Munro’s Canadian origin that has delayed this recognition. Her stories also avoid the subjects that today most often guarantee popular success in America: money, fame, power, and the exploitation of dramatic news events.
Faye Flam in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
We take for granted that men prefer young women and that older women will buy all sorts of products to appear young. We all know what Joan Collins meant when she quipped that the problem with beauty is that it’s like being born rich and getting poorer.
Yet the youth premium doesn’t apply to other creatures. A paper published last week in Current Biology reports that chimpanzee females grow sexier with age. Chimp males are natural gerontophiles.
Boston University anthropologist Martin Muller and colleagues observed this pattern over many years following wild chimps at Kibali National Park in Uganda.
The finding makes sense, he says, if you know that chimps employ a completely different mating strategy than we humans. The females are not just promiscuous, they’re almost frantically so. “It looks like their primary goal is to mate with all the males,” Muller says.
“Spanish to English? French to Russian? Computers haven’t been up to the task. But a New York firm with an ingenious algorithm and a really big dictionary is finally cracking the code.”
Evan Ratliff in Wired:
Jaime Carbonell, chief science officer of Meaningful Machines, hunches over his laptop in the company’s midtown Manhattan offices, waiting for it to decode a message from the perpetrators of a grisly terrorist attack. Running software that took four years and millions of dollars to develop, Carbonell’s machine – or rather, the server farm it’s connected to a few miles away – is attempting a task that has bedeviled computer scientists for half a century. The message isn’t encrypted or scrambled or hidden among thousands of documents. It’s simply written in Spanish: “Declaramos nuestra responsabilidad de lo que ha ocurrido en Madrid, justo dos años y medio después de los atentados de Nueva York y Washington.”
I brought along the text, taken from a Spanish newspaper transcript of a 2004 al Qaeda video claiming responsibility for the Madrid train bombings, to test Meaningful Machines’ automated translation software. The brainchild of a quirky former used-car salesman named Eli Abir, the company has been designing the system in secret since just after 9/11. Now the application is ready for public scrutiny, on the heels of a research paper that Carbonell – who is also a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and head of the school’s Language Technologies Institute – presented at a conference this summer. In it, he asserts that the company’s software represents not only the most accurate Spanish-to-English translation system ever created but also a major advance in the field of machine translation.
Diane McWhorter in Slate:
For some reason, I keep thinking about an observation Eleanor Roosevelt made in an unpublished interview conducted in May of 1940, as the German Wehrmacht swept across France. She expressed dismay that a “great many Americans” would look with favor on a Hitler victory in Europe and be greatly attracted to fascism. Why? “Simply because we are a people who tend to admire things that work,” she said. So, were the voters last month protesting Bush’s policies—or were they complaining that he had not made those policies work? If Operation Iraqi Freedom had not been such an unqualified catastrophe, how long would the public have assented to the programs that accompanied the “war on terror”: the legalization of torture, the suspension of habeas corpus, the unauthorized surveillance of law-abiding Americans, the unilateral exercise of executive power, and the Bush team’s avowed prerogative to “create our own reality”?
From the website AskPhilosophers:
There is a paradox surrounding philosophy that AskPhilosophers seeks to address. On the one hand, everyone confronts philosophical issues throughout his or her life. But on the other, very few have the opportunity to learn about philosophy, a subject that is usually taught only at the college level. (Why? There is no good reason for this and plenty of bad ones.) AskPhilosophers aims to bridge this gap by putting the skills and knowledge of trained philosophers at the service of the general public.
If you have a question that you think is in some way philosophical or relates to philosophy, feel free to ask it here. If you are not sure whether your question is appropriate, send it in anyway.
Here’s an example question, and an excerpt from the response by Peter S. Fosl:
Is homosexuality ethical? If so, what differentiates it from incest? More specifically an infertile incestual relationship that has two consenting adults.
….what’s the moral difference between (a) an infertile (heterosexual, I take it) incestuous relationship that comprises two consenting adults and (b) a binary homosexual relationship? I suppose I would say that the crucial moral difference is that the infertile incestuous relationship involves close family members while the homosexual sexual relationship (assuming it’s not incestuous) does not. The moral weight here is born by the moral prohibitions built into the idea of family.
I’m not an anthropologist, but I’m told by them that every organization of family involves some sort of incest prohibition. Could there be families without incest prohibitions? I don’t know, but I have my doubts. Could there be homosexual families? The existence of many homosexual families makes it abundantly clear that there can be.
More here, categorized and alphabetized for your convenience.
Alexander Waugh in Literary Review:
These are the words I wrote down in my little blue book when I first read 50 Reasons to Hate the French in proof back in July of this year:
As a congenital Francophile, weaned from my cradle on the great cheeses of Normandy and the rich clarets of the Médoc; as someone for whom the glories of French culture, fashion and landscape have provided the keenest sensations of adolescence; as a grown man whose very fibre has, at times, fallen, prostrate, before the altars of all French people, places and things, I am greatly encouraged by the publication of this book. Eden and Clarke’s inspired new gospel (which I read on a flight to Damascus) has cleared my head of all those erring passions and revealed to me the true darkness lurking behind all that fake accordion music and garlic. So verily, verily say I now unto you, the French are a vicious, absurd and inadequate people and I very much hope that this super book of proofs to that effect will succeed in one day drubbing their whole abominable nation right off the face of our lovely planet.
For three months I have been without a copy as I sent mine to my brother who runs a Marmite and Stilton emporium in the magnificent chalk-white market town of Saintes on the banks of the river Charente. In the time it has taken him to respond I have finished off at least a case of Château Talbot 2002 (too young? I think not); I’ve eaten three goose necks stuffed with foie gras brought to me by a pilgrim from Castelnaudary, and God knows how many Crotin de Chavignol; I’ve collapsed in tears of laughter at a cinematic farce called Le Dîner de cons and have spent nearly every moment of my free time practising Ravel’s Concerto pour la main gauche on the piano. Needless to say, after all these infusions, my feelings for the French have reverted to their pristine state of amorousness, which is why (alarmed only by apparent gullibility) I seized on the opportunity offered by Literary Review to take a second look.
It’s December, and I guess we’re off to an early start with the year-end lists. 3QD’s own best books of the year list isn’t posted until Christmas eve each year, so here’s the New York Times’ one:
By Gary Shteyngart. Random House, $24.95.
Shteyngart’s scruffy, exuberant second novel, equal parts Gogol and Borat, is immodest on every level – it’s long, crude, manic and has cheap vodka on its breath. It also happens to be smart, funny and, in the end, extraordinarily rich and moving. “Absurdistan” introduces Misha Vainberg, the rap-music-obsessed, grossly overweight son of the 1,238th richest man in Russia. After attending college in the United States, he is now stuck in St. Petersburg, scrambling for an American visa that may never arrive. Caught between worlds, and mired in his own prejudices and thwarted desires, Vainberg just may be an antihero for our times.
THE COLLECTED STORIES OF AMY HEMPEL
A quietly powerful presence in American fiction during the past two decades, Hempel has demonstrated unusual discipline in assembling her urbane, pointillistic and wickedly funny short stories. Since the publication of her first collection, “Reasons to Live,” in 1985, only three more slim volumes have appeared – a total of some 15,000 sentences, and nearly every one of them has a crisp, distinctive bite. These collected stories show the true scale of Hempel’s achievement. Her compact fictions, populated by smart, neurotic, somewhat damaged narrators, speak grandly to the longings and insecurities in all of us, and in a voice that is bracingly direct and sneakily profound.