“Working Sisters” The everyday lives of migrant women in China’s world factories

From Harvard Magazine:

China The massive rural-to-urban labor migration that has been transforming China since the late 1980s—an estimated 130 million people—is unprecedented in that nation’s history. Unprompted by direct ecological or political factors such as famine, war, or the forced relocation of population groups under draconian state policy, migration in post-Mao China is more likely to be instead the result of structural forces (economic need and consequences of agricultural reform) that are beyond the control of individual farmers. Motivated by the search for opportunities to improve their own lives, rural people have taken the initiative, making decisions to shape their own destinies—and fostering unforeseen entrepreneurial individualism in the process. Above all, restless young village women have assumed a major role in the current population shift, establishing a brand-new identity as dagongmei (literally, “working sisters”) in the booming industrial cities in China’s coastal areas, contributing to what sociologists call the “feminization of the global workforce.”

In Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, Leslie T. Chang ’91, who spent a decade in China as a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, delivers a vivid portrayal both of the dynamics of this internal migration and of women migrants as active players in globalization and local social and economic change.

More here.

Am I Still Here? Looking for validation in a wired world

From Orion Magazine:

“We fall in love, we drink hard, we run to and fro upon the earth like frightened sheep,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. “And now you are to ask yourself if, when all is done, you would not have been better to sit by the fire at home, and be happy thinking.”
Do we like sitting by the fire?

We do.

Does it make us happy to think? It does. For a while. But pretty soon don’t we start worrying, now that we’ve stepped away from the world, that the world is slipping past without us? Don’t we wonder, when we come back, Am I still here?

Oh, the strange mix of revulsion and pleasure Z and I felt when we returned from five days under the sky in the middle of Idaho and watched the e-mail counter piling up: 21, 32, 58, 74 e-mails! Z has 74 e-mails! Z is indeed part of it all! Z was missed! Z exists!

More here.

What’s All the Flap About?

Fenella Saunders in American Scientist:

ScreenHunter_21 Dec. 28 12.37 It’s not just poetic alliteration that makes the pat phrase “a butterfly fluttered by” so appropriate. The insects, although not always that speedy, often take a flight path that involves so many erratic dips and turns that they almost look out of control. But it’s not because they can’t do any better: Such unpredictable flight is how butterflies evade birds and other predators. However, most butterflies are brightly colored, which would seem to counter their evasiveness by making them easier to spot and track. “The question always bothered me,” says Thomas Eisner, a biologist at Cornell University. “Why are butterflies flaunting their visibility?” As Eisner and Benjamin Jantzen, a doctoral candidate now at Carnegie Mellon University, report in the October 28 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a butterfly’s ability to evade and its blatant pigmentation may go hand in hand.

The first step was to find out what physical feature of butterflies allows them to move so erratically. It’s been known for about a century that the front wings in butterflies are the ones driven by the insect’s muscles; the hind wings are passively coupled to the front ones. Eisner decided to investigate just what the back wings were doing by trimming them away bit by bit. To his surprise, he found that if he removed the entire hind wing, the insects had no problem flying. Indeed, when Eisner went on to test an extensive list of butterfly and moth species, he found that without exception they were all capable of sustained flight with only their front wings. “It is pretty startling that they’re that overendowed with lifting surface,” says Jantzen.

More here.

Scientific illiteracy all the rage among the glitterati

Steve Conner in The Independent:

ScreenHunter_20 Dec. 28 12.26 When it comes to science, Barack Obama is no better than many of us. Today he joins the list of shame of those in public life who made scientifically unsupportable statements in 2008.

Closer to home, Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith faltered on the science of food, while Kate Moss, Oprah Winfrey and Demi Moore all get roastings for scientific illiteracy.

The Celebrities and Science Review 2008, prepared by the group Sense About Science, identifies some of the worst examples of scientific illiteracy among those who profess to know better – including top politicians.

Mr Obama and John McCain blundered into the MMR vaccine row during their presidential campaigns. “We've seen just a skyrocketing autism rate,” said President-elect Obama. “Some people are suspicious that it's connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it,” he said.

His words were echoed by Mr McCain. “It's indisputable that [autism] is on the rise among children, the question is what's causing it,” he said. “There's strong evidence that indicates it's got to do with a preservative in the vaccines.”

Exhaustive research has failed to substantiate any link to vaccines or any preservatives. The rise in autism is thought to be due to an increased awareness of the condition.

More here.

Waltz with Bashir

A. O. Scott in the New York Times:

“Waltz With Bashir” is a memoir, a history lesson, a combat picture, a piece of investigative journalism and an altogether amazing film.

Directed by Ari Folman, an Israeli filmmaker whose struggle to make sense of his experience as a soldier in the Lebanon war of 1982 shapes its story, “Waltz” is by no means the world’s only animated documentary, a phrase that sounds at first like a cinematic oxymoron. Movies like Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life” and Brett Morgen’s “Chicago 10” have used animation to make reality seem more vivid and more strange, producing odd and fascinating experiments.

But Mr. Folman has gone further, creating something that is not only unique but also exemplary, a work of astonishing aesthetic integrity and searing moral power.

That it is also a cartoon is not incidental to this achievement.

More here.

Oh the humanity

Robyn Creswell contemplates the provocations of Faisal Devji, whose fascinating new book upturns conventional accounts of al Qa’eda by investigating ‘the rich inner life of jihad’.

From The National:

ScreenHunter_19 Dec. 28 12.00 The field of jihadi studies, situated at the crossroads of policy-making, intelligence work, journalism and academic research, sprang up almost overnight following the attacks of September 11. It now boasts all the infrastructure that comes with the discovery of a glittering new frontier, as fascinating in its way as superstrings or Martian ice. Conferences, courses and research centres are devoted to explaining the intricacies of holy war. Amidst this mushroom patch of interlocking institutions and individuals, the work of Faisal Devji – an assistant professor at the New School for Social Research in New York – sticks out like a rare flower. Devji’s studies, which focus on the doings and sayings of al Qa’eda, are so at odds with what passes for common sense in this field that one sometimes wonders if he isn’t merely thumbing his nose at received wisdom. In his latest book, The Terrorist in Search of Humanity, he suggests that al Qa’eda has in some sense inherited the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. He also argues that the ideology of jihad is a “humanitarian” one, and that the militants of al Qa’eda are “the intellectual peers” of environmentalists and pacifists. What does he mean by such provocations?

More here.

Sunday Poem

Abuelo, Answers and Questions
Maurice Kilwein Guevara

Abuelo, why are there flies?
They're reporters for the dead, mi joven bestia.
What do they report?
If the millionarios won or lost.

I forgot.

Abuelo, who puts the scorpion in my bed when I'm asleep?
Why, is it there when you wake?
Don't worry, the dead don't sting.

How old am I?
Almost five years old.
How old are you?
Old as bones. When the moon was born,
I was already eight years old. . . .
When I was a boy, I lived on the coast of Colombia
and rode the fins of blue whales at night
from Barranquilla to Nantucket Island
and back, before dawn.

Abuelo, why do I have steel hooves?
To kick truth in the ass.
Abuelo, why do I have shiny hooves?
To dance a little cumbia. To play with mirrors.
Abuelo, why do I have hooves?
Because they run in the family.

The Lives They Lived

ScreenHunter_18 Dec. 27 19.46From the New York Times Magazine:

Philip Agee | b. 1935: Unspooked
George Carlin | b. 1937: Hard Laughs
Will Elder | b. 1921: His Mad World
Bobby Fischer | b. 1943: The Wonder Match
Steve Fossett | b. 1944: The Aviator
Edwina Froehlich | b. 1915: Founding Mothers
Charlton B. Heston | b. 1923: After Ben-Hur
Albert Hofmann | b. 1906: Day Tripper
Kathleen Kinkade | b. 1930: Commune Creator
Harry Kozol | b. 1906: Inside Her Head
John List | b. 1925: Wanted
Mildred Loving | b. 1940: The Color of Love
Harriet McBryde Johnson | b. 1957: Happy Nevertheless
Jim McKay | b. 1921: The Unexpected Anchor
Ron Rivera | b. 1948: Solution in a Pot
Tim Russert | b. 1950: Role Model
Irena Sendler | b. 1910: The Smuggler
Lew Spence | b. 1920: A Tune for His Times
Stephanie Tubbs Jones | b. 1949: A Clinton Loyalist
Levi Stubbs | b. 1936; Dee Dee Warwick | b. 1945: Soul Bearers

You really must read . . .

From The Guardian:

Paperbacks The Booker prizewinner, Barack Obama's memoir or an introduction to the meaning of life – which books stood out for you in 2008?

Steven Bailey
Bognor Regis

Barack Obama's grandly titled The Audacity of Hope (Canongate) was first published in 2006. But he's now taken on a new importance. The book acts both as a personal statement – his reflections on faith, family and race – and as a considered analysis of the political system. Will his high-minded ideals be compromised by the messy practicalities of the American political process?

Sam Banik

Judt's Reappraisals (Heinemann), about our collective cultural amnesia, is an excellent anthology of essays on writers, humanists and Marxist intellectuals. Judt is enlightening on the political milieu of European nations, America's last half-century and Israel. Steve Toltz's Booker-shortlisted debut, A Fraction of the Whole (Hamish Hamilton), is an elegantly written novel about a family of émigrés in Australia.

More here.

TOP TEN SPACE PHOTOS: Most Viewed of 2008

From The National Geographic:

Earth The heavens smiled down on Earth Monday in a rare celestial trifecta of Venus, Jupiter, and the moon. The planets aligned—an event known as a conjunction—Sunday night, and were joined by a thin sliver of moon on Monday. (Related: “Sky Show December 1: Jupiter, Venus, Moon Make 'Frown'” [December 1, 2008].) The rare planetary meeting was visible from all parts of the world, even from light-polluted cities such as Hong Kong and New York.

People in Asia witnessed a smiley face (above, photographed from Manila, Philippines), while skywatchers in the United States saw a frown. The three brightest objects in the sky were so tightly gathered that one could eclipse them with a thumb, according to NASA's Web site. The next visible Venus-Jupiter conjunction will be on the evening of March 14, 2012, but the two planets will appear farther apart in the sky.

More here.

Saturday Poem

One may measure and measure after a listening look
but never without troubling the flow. –Li Chen

Man and Camel

Mark Strand

On the eve of my fortieth birthday
I sat on the porch having a smoke
when out of the blue a man and a camel
happened by. Neither uttered a sound
at first, but as they drifted up the street
and out of town the two of them began to sing.
Yet what they sang is still a mystery to me —
the words were indistinct and the tune
too ornamental to recall. Into the desert
they went and as they went their voices
rose as one above the sifting sound
of windblown sand. The wonder of their singing,
its elusive blend of man and camel, seemed
an ideal image for all uncommon couples.
Was this the night that I had waited for
so long? I wanted to believe it was,
but just as they were vanishing, the man
and camel ceased to sing, and galloped
back to town. They stood before my porch,
staring at me with beady eyes, and said:
“You ruined it. You ruined it forever.”

Louder than bombs

Andrew Exum in The National:

ScreenHunter_15 Dec. 27 14.39 Israeli officials, led by defense minister and Labour Party leader Ehud Barak, have been talking since the summer about the “disproportionate” punishment they intend to inflict on Lebanon in the event of another war. News reports suggest that the Israeli Defense Forces are training for a large-scale ground campaign backed by punishing air and artillery strikes. “In the last war, we made a distinction between Hizbollah targets and Lebanese national targets,” a senior IDF general told The Jerusalem Post last month, adding that “there is no longer a reason to make this distinction.”

The head of the IDF’s Northern Command, Gadi Eisenkot, left no doubt about Israel’s aims when he told an Israeli paper that the army had devised a “Dahiyeh Doctrine” – in which Israel would level large swathes of the mostly-Shiite southern suburbs of Beirut, where Hizbollah maintains many of their offices and enjoys overwhelming support from the local population.

“We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective, these are military bases,” he said. “This isn’t a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorised.”

More here.

Violens’ “Spectator & Pupil” music video directed by Alia Raza

Paul Lester in The Guardian:

There are bad New Bands, there are promising ones, there are even a few great ones. And then there are those who you just know are going to dominate the scene for the next few months at least. Many of the agenda-setting new bands we've praised in this column over the last year have been American – Fleet Foxes, MGMT, Black Kids, Boy Crisis, Hockey, Amazing Baby, Chairlift – which somewhat makes a mockery of, or renders redundant, the notion of British-only music awards like the Brits and the Mercury Prize. How can geography be a criterion when you're measuring musical worth?

Violens, to be geographically precise, belong in the pantheon of Great New New York Bands. They only formed last winter, but already they're responsible for some highly accomplished and beautifully realised music, with the emphasis on the “beautiful”. We say that because we assumed from their name (pronounced vy-lenz) that they were going to be some sort of sub-Sonic Youth art-drone collective, when actually their breezy psychedelia recalls the late-60s sunshine-pop heyday of The Zombies, The Left Banke and their ilk, only with a shiny 80s production. Some of it really is rather lovely, but then if you see their name as a conflation of “violence” and “violins” it makes sense, and suits these lushly orchestrated songs about nightmares, the passage of time, speculations on spiritual messages and accounts of drug-induced hallucinations.

More here.

Have a Thermodynamically Consistent Christmas

Sean Carroll in Cosmic Variance:

ScreenHunter_14 Dec. 27 13.07 The important event this Dec. 25 isn’t celebrating the birthday of Isaac Newton or other historical figures, it’s the release of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a David Fincher film starring Brad Pitt and based on the story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. As you all know, it’s a story based on the device of incompatible arrows of time: Benjamin is born old and ages backwards into youth (physically, not mentally), while the rest of the world behaves normally. Some have pretended that scientific interest in the movie centers on issues of aging and longevity, but of course it’s thermodynamics and entropy that take center stage. While entropy increases and the Second Law is respected in the rest of the world, Benjamin Button’s body seems to be magically decreasing in entropy. (Which does not, strictly speaking, violate the Second Law, since his body isn’t a closed system, but it sure is weird.)

It’s a great opportunity to address an old chestnut: why do arrows of time have to be compatible? Why can’t we imagine ever discovering another galaxy in which entropy increased toward (what we call) the past instead of the future, as in Greg Egan’s story, “The Hundred Light-Year Diary”? Or why can’t a body age backwards in time?

First we need to decide what the hell we mean. Let’s put aside for the moment sticky questions about collapsing wave functions, and presume that the fundamental laws of physics are perfectly reversible. In that case, given the precise state of the entire universe (or any closed system) at any one moment in time, we can use those laws to determine what the state will be at any future time, or what it was at any past time. That’s just how awesome the laws of physics are. (Of course we don’t know the laws, nor the state of the entire universe, nor could we actually carry out the relevant calculation even if we did, but we’re doing thought experiments here.) We usually take that time to be the “initial” time, but in principle we could choose any time — and in the present context, when we’re worried about arrows of time pointing in different directions, there is no time that is initial for everything. So what we mean is: Why is it difficult/impossible to choose a state of the universe with the property that, as we evolve it forward in time, some parts of it have increasing entropy and some parts have decreasing entropy?

More here.

Slumdog Millionaire’s Bollywood Ancestors

Amitava Kumar in Vanity Fair:

Satya_confrontation-300x151 Slumdog Millionaire has a pedigree. Its director, Danny Boyle, says there are at least three Bollywood films that inspired him directly. Those films were themselves influenced by a long family tree that stretches back to the last days of the nineteenth century.

Here, then, is a list of Slumdog’s ten most flamboyant and influential Bollywood ancestors:

Black Friday (2004). This film, by young director Anurag Kashyap depicts the March 1993 bomb blasts that tore apart Bombay (as Mumbai used to be called). It was based on a book by journalist S. Hussain Zaidi and filmed in an edgy, realistic style. A famous sequence from the film, a 12-minute police chase through the crowded Dharavi slum, is mimicked by Danny Boyle in the opening scene of Slumdog Millionaire, where truant slum-kids take the place of Black Friday’s militants.

More here.

The 10 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating

Jonny Bowden at ABC News:


ScreenHunter_13 Dec. 27 12.52 Absent from most American kitchens, this cruciferous vegetable is a major player in European and Asian diets.

Why it's healthy: One cup of chopped cabbage has just 22 calories, and it's loaded with valuable nutrients. At the top of the list is sulforaphane, a chemical that increases your body's production of enzymes that disarm cell-damaging free radicals and reduce your risk of cancer. In fact, Stanford University scientists determined that sulforaphane boosts your levels of these cancer-fighting enzymes higher than any other plant chemical.

How to eat it: Put cabbage on your burgers to add a satisfying crunch. Or, for an even better sandwich topping or side salad, try an Asian-style slaw. Here's what you'll need:

4 Tbsp peanut or canola oil
Juice of two limes
1 Tbsp sriracha, an Asian chili sauce you can find in the international section of your grocery store
1 head napa cabbage, finely chopped or shredded
1/4 cup toasted peanuts
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Whisk together the oil, lime juice, and sriracha. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl and toss with the dressing to coat. Refrigerate for 20 minutes before serving. The slaw will keep in your fridge for 2 days.

More here.