Ben MacIntyre and Paul Orengoh in the Times of London:
Barack Obama’s grandfather was imprisoned and brutally tortured by the British during the violent struggle for Kenyan independence, according to the Kenyan family of the US President-elect.
Hussein Onyango Obama, Mr Obama’s paternal grandfather, became involved in the Kenyan independence movement while working as a cook for a British army officer after the war. He was arrested in 1949 and jailed for two years in a high-security prison where, according to his family, he was subjected to horrific violence to extract information about the growing insurgency.
“The African warders were instructed by the white soldiers to whip him every morning and evening till he confessed,” said Sarah Onyango, Hussein Onyango’s third wife, the woman Mr Obama refers to as “Granny Sarah”.
Mrs Onyango, 87, described how “white soldiers” visited the prison every two or three days to carry out “disciplinary action” on the inmates suspected of subversive activities.
There has never been a more important time to invest in green technologies, yet many of us believe these efforts are doomed to failure. What nonsense, writes Chris Goodall.
From The Guardian:
Myth 1: solar power is too expensive to be of much use
In reality, today's bulky and expensive solar panels capture only 10% or so of the sun's energy, but rapid innovation in the US means that the next generation of panels will be much thinner, capture far more of the energy in the sun's light and cost a fraction of what they do today. They may not even be made of silicon. First Solar, the largest manufacturer of thin panels, claims that its products will generate electricity in sunny countries as cheaply as large power stations by 2012.
Other companies are investigating even more efficient ways of capturing the sun's energy, for example the use of long parabolic mirrors to focus light on to a thin tube carrying a liquid, which gets hot enough to drive a steam turbine and generate electricity. Spanish and German companies are installing large-scale solar power plants of this type in North Africa, Spain and the south-west of America; on hot summer afternoons in California, solar power stations are probably already financially competitive with coal. Europe, meanwhile, could get most of its electricity from plants in the Sahara desert. We would need new long-distance power transmission but the technology for providing this is advancing fast, and the countries of North Africa would get a valuable new source of income.
Webb Keane in the Immanent Frame:
By focusing on freedom of the press rather than social relations, the defenders of the newspaper could count on a family of common sense views of what pictures and words are, and how they function in the world. They tapped into a widespread and habitual way of thinking that treats representational acts as referential and communicative in function. In this view, pictures and words are vehicles (and in the case of words, arbitrary social conventions) for information, itself a distinct entity that stands apart from persons and their actions.
This view is not the only one found in the Euro-American world, nor should we imagine that the sense of offence some Muslims expressed is fundamentally alien to “the West,” as American reactions to the “Piss Christ” artwork make clear. We should also not assume it arises from some sensitivity peculiar to religious faith, as American responses to flag-burning and Spanish laws against lèse majesté show. But it does have a privileged relationship to the moral narrative of modernity, in particular to those strands associated with liberal thought and the concepts of freedom associated with them. It is implicit in John Stuart Mill’s classic defense of press freedom, according to which the reader should evaluate the message and ask how well it fares in competition with the alternatives, which determines whether we should accept it as true.
Matthew Noah Smith and Bruce Robbins respond in the comments section. Smith:
No one reasonably can deny that speaking and publishing are actions. Uttering sentences and printing text (or images) are actions par excellence. They are subject to all the normal practical considerations to which other actions are subject. For, as a formal matter (i.e., abstracting from the particulars), whether I ought to say something (or print something) or do something else is no different a question than whether I ought to run to catch the bus or just walk and wait for the next bus. In all cases, what is at issue is intentional behavior.
So, Keane surely cannot mean that defenders of the printing and publication of the Danish cartoons (or utterers of offensive speech) believe that printing and speaking are not actions in this sense. If he does mean this, then the target of his objections above is a particularly dimwitted crew.
Those who read it young remember a flickering phantasmagoria, a sequence of real and surreal scenes reflected on the inner waters of the poet’s imagination. Even the title of Rainer Maria Rilke’s only novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, published in 1910, suggests an actual notebook, a reservoir of images meant for use in poems. Malte Brigge’s great themes are the same as Rilke’s, and Malte’s attempts to think them through can seem tentative, like so many rope ladders flung up into empty air. But the great poetry cycles that Rilke completed a decade later, the Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus, circle around their themes in like manner, not tapering straight toward a point but blocking out the massive slopes that, each in turn, seem to foreshorten the peak of a very real, solid mountain. Despite appearances, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge is highly structured, and upon careful reading becomes, definitively, a novel. The Notebooks comes from the epicenter of Modernism, discordant and fragmentary. And its reactions to the contradictions of its moment, like those of many other works of romantic spleen, could uncharitably be called overreactions. Its famous set pieces of urban alienation come early.
more from The Nation here.
Amitav Ghosh in the New York Times:
There can be no doubt that there are certain clear analogies between the two attacks: in both cases the terrorists were clearly at great pains to single out urban landmarks, especially those that serve as symbolic points of reference in this increasingly interconnected world. There are similarities, too, in the unexpectedness of the attacks, the meticulousness of their planning, their shock value and the utter unpreparedness of the security services. But this is where the similarities end. Not only were the casualties far greater on Sept. 11, 2001, but the shock of the attack was also greatly magnified by having no real precedent in America’s history.
India’s experience of terrorist attacks, on the other hand, far predates 2001. Although this year has been one of the worst in recent history, 1984 was arguably worse still. That year an insurgency in the Punjab culminated in the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. This in turn led to riots that took the lives of some 2,000 Sikhs.
Damian McElroy in The Telegraph:
Officials said drug paraphernalia, including syringes, was recovered from the scene of the attacks, which killed almost 200 people.
The heavily built men, who had undergone training at a special marine camp established by the Lashkar-e-Taibat (LeT) terrorist group in Pakistan, had also used steroids to build a tougher physique.
“We found injections containing traces of cocaine and LSD left behind by the terrorists and later found drugs in their blood,” said one official.
“There was also evidence of steroids, which isn't uncommon in terrorists.
“These men were all toned, suggesting they had been doing some heavy training for the attacks. This explains why they managed to battle the commandos for over 50 hours with no food or sleep.”
One terrorist used the drugs to keep on fighting despite suffering a life-threatening injury.
Dean Terry in Our Strange World:
At first this photo seems to be a couple with a large head floating between them. But look again – things aren’t always what they seem.
Most people who look at this old photograph will probably see a large bearded head between the two figures. It looks like an image of Jesus.
You’ll probably think it’s just a crude hoax from bygone days. But look again, carefully. This is not a hoax at all. What the photo actually shows is a child sitting on the man’s knee.
Block out the head’s “hair.” That’s just a collection of foliage in the background. The “eye” is the face the child, shadowed by a large white bonnet. The “nose” is the sleeve of the child’s shirt. And the “mustache” is the child’s arm, bent at the elbow.
Be patient. It may take you awhile to see this.
Fenella Saunders in American Scientist:
Sian Beilock, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, and her colleagues gathered a group of hockey players from college and minor-league teams, as well as avid fans and “novices” with no hockey experience whatsoever. The participants underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan while they passively listened to a set of sentences that related either to everyday activities (“The individual pushed the cart”) or hockey actions (“The hockey player saved the shot”). The researchers recorded which areas of the brain the sentences activated in the three groups of participants.
After the scan, the participants heard the same sentences again, but this time they were asked to perform a matching task: After each sentence, they were shown a picture and selected, as quickly as possible, whether or not the illustration showed the action being described in the sentence.
Previous research has established that responses should be faster when the picture matches the sentence. “The idea is that if you understand the sentence better, then you should be better at discriminating between people performing actions that match versus people performing actions that don't,” Beilock explains. This result was true of all the participants for the everyday actions. But for the hockey-related sentences, only players and fans showed the effect.
Looking at the MRI scans, Beilock and her colleagues were able to account for the increased comprehension of hockey-related sentences in players and fans. Those two groups showed activation in the part of the brain called the left dorsal premotor cortex, an area that lights up as a person plans to perform a well-learned action—and not usually a brain region implicated in language comprehension.
Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone:
It sounds strange to say, but this election season may have done to the word “Republican” what 1972 did for the word “liberal”: turned it into a poisonous sobriquet that no politician with bipartisan aspirations will ever again welcome. The Republicans didn't just break the party — they left it smashed into space dust. They weren't just beaten; the very idea of Republican conservatism was massively rejected in virtually every state where large chunks of the population do not believe in the literal existence of a horned devil, and even in some that do.
They lost in every way imaginable, on every political front. The symbol of their anti-gay crusade, Colorado congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, was beheaded. The party that had made so much hay running against Mexicans saw noted anti-immigration crusader Bill Sali of Idaho ousted along with several other members of the Immigration Reform Caucus. The GOP's grasp on the so-called “moral values” issue likewise went up in roaring flames, with Rep. Vito Fossella of Staten Island the poster child — his morals were once so perfect that he refused to be seen with his gay sister, and now he's a national joke, bounced after being caught drunk driving and having unprotected, babymaking sex with a married Air Force officer.
Marie Gottschalk in Dissent:
Throughout American history, politicians and public officials have exploited public anxieties about crime and disorder for political gain. The difference today is that these political strategies and public anxieties have come together in the perfect storm. They have radically transformed U.S. penal policies, spurring an unprecedented prison boom. Since the 1970s, the U.S. prisoner population has increased by more than fivefold. Today, the United States is the world’s warden, incarcerating a higher proportion of its people than any other country—or about one out of every hundred adults. A staggering seven million people—or one in every thirty-two adults—are either incarcerated, on parole or probation, or under some other form of state supervision.
These figures understate the enormous and disproportionate impact that this unprecedented social experiment has had on certain groups in U.S. society. If current trends continue, one in three black men and one in six Hispanic men will spend some time in jail or prison during their lives.
Public dismay over the crushing economic burden of incarcerating and monitoring so many people is growing. But does this dismay herald the beginning of the end of the prison boom? The answer is not simple.
Shire Hell, by Rachel Johnson (Penguin Books). JM comes over and pushes me gently back down on the fake fur. I try to rise up to kiss him – it’s so lovely, the kissing – but he pushes me down, again. He likes to kiss me all over before he does anything else. He starts with my eyes, and plants a tender kiss on each lid. … He moves on to my ears, a kiss that makes my nipples stand erect, and me emit little moans that drown out to my own ears the loud, distracting sound of Cumberbatch swiping dock leaves and tearing nettles and long grasses very close to the rickety stoop. JM’s hands are caressing my breasts, now, and I am allowed to kiss him back, but not for very long, for he breaks off, to give each breast in turn the attention it deserves. As he nibbles and pulls with his mouth, his hands find my bush, and with light fingers he flutters about there, as if he is a moth caught inside a lampshade.
more from Literary Review here.
BARACK OBAMA’S WINNING map asserted the political dominance of a new, dynamic America, as he flipped blue some of the country’s youngest, most diverse, and fastest-growing areas. Yet in the Deep South, the one region where Obama failed to win a state, there is little evidence of that demographic churn. Its political behavior seems tied more closely to antebellum industry than to any of the social changes the country has undergone since. The accompanying map shows that even this year, cotton remains kingmaker: The map of Obama’s Southern voters is strikingly similar to the historical map of cotton production circa 1860, on the eve of the Civil War (a phenomenon pointed out by blogger Allen Gathman).
more from Boston Globe Ideas here.