Maps of War


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).

Pushtuns Combat Their Image Problems

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.

against complaint

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.
Round-shouldered pals
parade smart shirts, while my broad back supports
a scrubby jumper, fawn or taupe.

more from Roddy Lumsden’s poem here.

becoming sebald


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.

Escape Artist

From The New York Times:

Hand600span_1 WALT DISNEY PICTURES must be the most enduring entertainment brand ever created. Look at the studio’s peers, all forged, like Disney, in the 1910s or ’20s. What does it mean, many decades later, to be a Warner Brothers picture, an MGM film or a Paramount movie? When my mother was a little girl, she knew what she was getting with a Disney picture. So did I when I was a kid. And so do my kids today (although, at the ages of 10 and 8, they’re now more interested in the tween shows on the Disney Channel). And what were/are we getting? Wholesome family entertainment with cheerful humor, wisecracking sidekicks, happy forest creatures, scary parts, some occasionally disturbing psychological or social implications, and often — this is the part my mom, the softy, has hated her whole life — a dead animal. Plus a sentimental ending. While the recipe has coarsened in the hands of the studio’s more recent stewards, the basic idea remains.

Forty years after his death at the age of 65 from lung cancer — he was a heavy, lifelong smoker — the man himself has largely receded. Those of us old enough remember the midcentury mustache and the warm but ragged “Uncle Walt” voice, familiar from his gig as host of his “Wonderful World of Color” TV show. Otherwise, he’s the George Washington of popular culture: familiar but indistinct, ubiquitous but remote. Like his most famous but oddly personality-less creation, Mickey Mouse, Disney became a talking, moving logo. He himself was complicit in this, at once fostering it and resenting it. Gabler quotes him telling a colleague: “I’m not Walt Disney anymore. Walt Disney is a thing. It’s grown to become a whole different meaning than just one man.”

More here.

Meteorite yields life origin clue

From BBC News:Meteorite

Scientists say that “bubbles” like those in the Tagish Lake meteorite may have helped along chemical processes important for the emergence of life. The globules could also be older than our Solar System – their chemistry suggests they formed at about -260C, near “absolute zero”. Details of the work by Nasa scientists are published in the journal Science. Analysis of the bubbles shows they arrived on Earth in the meteorite and are not terrestrial contaminants.

These hollow spheres could have provided a protective envelope for the raw organic molecules needed for life. Dr Lindsay Keller of Nasa’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, told BBC News that some scientists believed such structures were “a step in the right direction” to making a cell wall. But he emphasised that the globules in Tagish Lake were in no way equivalent to a cell. The hollow spheres seem to be empty, but they do have organic molecules on their surfaces.

More here.

The Lamp in the Mausoleum

Alison Lurie looks at four books by or about Alice Munroe, in the New York Review of Books:

Alicemunro1sizedIn 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.[1]

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.

More here.

A society in which older gal is sexier

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.

Mini_hellenmirrenYet 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.

More here.

Me Translate Pretty One Day

“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:

Ff_210_translate_f_1Jaime 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.

More here.

Warning: This article contains the word Nazi

Diane McWhorter in Slate:

061128_nazi_ustnFor 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”?

More here.

Why Women Aren’t Richer

From Time:

Women_richer1128 Why aren’t women in the U.S. better at saving and managing their money? I’ve heard all the excuses: “I don’t have time … I’m too disorganized … I don’t do numbers … My husband does that.” As I discuss at length in my new book, Make Money, Not Excuses (Crown Business), I’m convinced that the real reason is a thought process that goes something like this: “I don’t have anything to wear! I’m going to buy that dress, that skirt, that bag, those shoes!”

Research suggests that 2% to 5% of the U.S. population–women and men equally, according to a recent study–are compulsive buyers. These people are special cases; they have a psychological disorder and need treatment. But a significant percentage of American women–12% to 15% by some estimates–are what Nancy Ridgway at the University of Richmond calls excessive buyers. They shop not out of need but out of a desire to make themselves feel better, to give themselves a pick-me-up.

More here.

Taking poetry to heart

From The Guardian:

Nick Seddon has agreed to learn 100 poems in a year. Which would you recommend?

Poems1 When this summer I accepted the madcap challenge to learn 100 poems in a year, I certainly didn’t imagine it would be a life-changing experience. Indeed, having never attempted anything remotely like this before – I got all the way through school and university without learning a single poem – I’m not really sure what I expected at all.

OK, I’ll admit I rather liked the idea of taking poems into my mind as one might pluck apples from a tree, a sort of intellectual kleptomania. And because it was conceived of as a race, I guess there was also a tinge of macho competitiveness. And yes, I suppose it did cross my mind that reciting poetry would be a sly way to seduce the ladies.

But those shady motives feel rather redundant now. Six months ago a friend and I drew up a list of our favourite poems and having been going strong ever since. I am half way through, but I’m no longer doing this simply because I want to reach the end point. It’s been all about falling in love with poetry again, and discovering it as if for the first time. Right from the start I have found that memorizing revives things that have become stale or deadened.

More here.

You ask. Philosophers answer.

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.

50 Reasons to Hate the French

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.

More here.

The Sarcastic Bible Hero

David Plotz in Slate:

Elijah issues his challenge—my God vs. yours, for all the marbles. “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” Elijah proposes an incineration contest. He’ll get one bull and the 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah will get another. Both will call on their gods, and whichever incinerates the animal is the true Lord.

The rival priests go first. They shout to Baal all morning long, to no effect. Elijah interrupts their fruitless prayers with perhaps the first insult-comic routine in history, a hilarious, sardonic attack on Baal and his silence. “At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’ ” Reading this, you can imagine exactly what kind of man Elijah was—brilliant, blunt, and sarcastic. (Have you ever heard Barney Frank interviewed? That’s what Elijah sounds like.)

The Baal priests grow increasingly frantic, cutting themselves with swords and raving to their god. But, of course, Baal doesn’t answer. Then, Elijah takes center stage. A superb showman, he has the Israelites gather close around him, heightening the drama. Then he builds an altar with 12 stones—one for each tribe—and soaks the altar and the bull three times with water, so there will be no charge of spontaneous combustion. (For all you animal rights fans, I should note that the bull is already dead.) Elijah prays to the Lord, “Let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me.” The Lord ignites the bull, the stones, and even the water. The Israelites fall on their faces and pray to Him. At Elijah’s urging, they seize the 850 false prophets and slaughter them.

More here.

The NYT’s 10 Best Books of 2006

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.

Scribner, $27.50.
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.

More here.