Sri Lanka: After war, Justice

SLLuther Uthayakumaran in openDemocracy:

The long war in Sri Lanka is, it seems, finally at an end. But for many Sri Lankans, even those who have longed for this day – and for whom the last few weeks have been especially intense – it has not ended in the way that we would have wanted. The prolonged siege in the northeast pocket, the shelling, the further loss of life, the vanquishing of the enemy – all this means that the conclusion of this twenty-six-year war is likely to be defined in terms of military victory alone, with no reference to a political solution and the return of democracy. This too is a tragedy.

There is a great responsibility now to make sure that Sri Lanka's future is not defined by the way the war has ended – and that the questions of democracy, justice and accountability are addressed fully in its aftermath. This article is a modest first contribution to that agenda.

There are many ways to view the terrible conflict that has sundered the island since 1983. When the war turned in the 1990s-2000s into a binary battle between the Sri Lankan state and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE / Tamil Tigers), it was ever clearer that for both sides thought and acted solely in terms of the aspirations of states, nationalisms and counter-nationalisms; and that in consequence they regarded the lives of civilians were becoming less and less important. Some of us responded by seeking to establish a position that placed the rights of the individual citizen at the centre of concern.

The Ambivalence Artist

Ambivalenceartist 130 90David Marcus in Dissent:

J.M. COETZEE made an early career out of ambivalence. Restrained and impersonal, he mined the caverns of despair from the safe distance of allegory and literary appropriation. Life and Times of Michael K, his 1983 Booker Prize winner, tracked the itinerant life of a slow-witted gardener in the sparse prose of Kafka. Foe, a work of revisionist and feminist genius, challenged the rugged masculinity of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe by inhabiting the voice of an imagined female companion. Master of Petersburg occupied not only the melancholic timbre of a Dostoevsky novel—it was, after all, about the great master—but also the stilted Victorian English of a Constance Garnett translation.

Over the past decade, however, Coetzee has adopted an increasingly direct and confessional style. Once dedicated to ectomorphic reticence, he has now allowed himself the fattier tissues of biography. Beginning with his second Booker Prize winner, the 1997 Disgrace, he has spoken through a series of half-selves. Reclusive and dissatisfied, the protagonists of Disgrace, Elizabeth Costello, and Slow Man laid bare the moral and psychological crises of a midlife colonial: shame and guilt foremost, but also the persistent anxieties of physical and sexual decline.

At first glance, Diary of a Bad Year, Coetzee’s most recent entry, seems to follow this “late” tendency toward novelized autobiography. A book of journal entries, it maps the tortuous cartography of Coetzeean doubt through a near biographical stand-in: the eponymous John C, author of Waiting for the Barbarians and recent émigré from South Africa to Australia (a migration Coetzee himself made in 2002).

The End of American Capitalism?

Mark Blyth over at eJournal USA at

If you draw what statisticians call a time series of the returns to the U.S. banking sector from 1947 to 2008, it is possible to talk with some confidence about the average rate of profitability of the sector over time, the peaks (1990s to mid-2000s), the troughs (1947 to 1967), and the sharp growth of the sector’s profitability over the past 10 years. If you then add in the data for the period between August 2008 and April 2009, the entire series, like the banking system it describes, simply blows up. Averages, means, variances, and the like dissolve, so extreme have been recent events. Indeed, when the former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, Alan Greenspan, admits that his understanding of market processes was deeply flawed, and when the current chairman, Ben Bernanke, says that we face the greatest crisis since the Great Depression, we should probably take it seriously.

And serious it is. With a grossly diminished $1.3 trillion in assets and as much as $3.6 trillion in liabilities, coupled with a halving of the stock market, the U.S. financial system is either severely stressed, insolvent, or, worse still according to some, at the end of its tether. The end of capitalism has been declared many times before. And yet, to paraphrase American writer and humorist Mark Twain, reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

Tuesday Poem

Karin Gottshall

You were carried here by hands
and now the wind has you, gritty
as incense, dark sparkles borne

in the shape of blowing,
this great atmospheric bloom,
spinning under the bridge and expanding—

shape of wind and its pattern
of shattering. Having sloughed off
the urn's temporary shape,

there is another of you now—
tell me which to speak to:
the one you were, or are, the one who waited

in the ashes for this scattering, or the one
now added to the already haunted woods,
the woods that sigh and shift their leaves—

where your mystery billows, then breathes.

The Captive Mind

Christopher Hitchens in The Atlantic Monthly:

Edward-upward-wide Early in the 1930s, when he was managing the Hogarth Press for Leonard and Virginia Woolf and preparing the anthology—New Signatures—that would be received as a species of generational manifesto, John Lehmann wrote that he had

heard with the tremor of excitement that an entomologist feels at the news of an unknown butterfly sighted in the depths of the forest, that behind Auden and Spender and Isherwood stood the even more legendary figure of … Edward Upward.

In that reference to the literary-political celebrities of the ’30s, Upward received his due. In a once-famous attempt to get the whole set into one portmanteau term, which was Roy Campbell’s coinage of MacSpaunday to comprehend the names of Louis MacNeice, Stephen Spender, W. H. Auden, and Cecil Day-Lewis, Upward was omitted altogether (as was his friend and closest collaborator, Christopher Isherwood). On the eve of Valentine’s Day this year, at the age of 105, the last British author to have been born in the Edwardian epoch died. If Upward is not better known than perhaps he ought to be, it is probably because he helped instill the Communist faith in his more notorious friends, and then not only outlived them and their various apostasies but continued to practice a version of that faith himself. (For purposes of comparison, MacNeice died in 1963, Day-Lewis in 1972, Auden in 1973, Isherwood in 1986, and Spender in 1995, so with Upward’s death, the last link to that era is truly snapped.)

More here.

Message in What We Buy, but Nobody’s Listening

From The New York Times:

John Why does a diploma from Harvard cost $100,000 more than a similar piece of paper from City College? Why might a BMW cost $25,000 more than a Subaru WRX with equally fast acceleration? Why do “sophisticated” consumers demand 16-gigabyte iPhones and “fair trade” coffee from Starbucks? If you ask market researchers or advertising executives, you might hear about the difference between “rational” and “emotional” buying decisions, or about products falling into categories like “hedonic” or “utilitarian” or “positional.” But Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico, says that even the slickest minds on Madison Avenue are still in the prescientific dark ages.

Instead of running focus groups and spinning theories, he says, marketers could learn more by administering scientifically calibrated tests of intelligence and personality traits. If marketers (or their customers) understood biologists’ new calculations about animals’ “costly signaling,” Dr. Miller says, they’d see that Harvard diplomas and iPhones send the same kind of signal as the ornate tail of a peacock.

More here.

Monday Poem

New Thing
Jim Culleny

Twitter header -sharper

I opened a Twitter acccount out of curiosity.

I admit it, I was born into a far simpler techno world —pre-TV, prime-time radio, number-please phones on party lines, straight-6 engines with carburetors, 78 records with needles the size of ten-penny spikes —an antiquated world. And although it’s a little murky to me now, we are each what we were to a great extent. So when I finally grasped the concept “Twitter” my first response was WTF?

The idea that an up-to-the-minute account of my thoughts and actions, no matter how brief, would have any value, or would be worth the bother to anyone, seemed pretty absurd. But it wouldn’t be the first absurdity to take-off like the Enola Gay.

I first became aware of Twitter listening to political debates and interviews. It seemed interviewers and the world suddenly wanted to know which well-placed twits Twitter, and how many follower-twits they’d accrued. Who knew that something as edgy as Twitter would appeal to dinosaurs in dark suits & red ties, or pant suits with PC dos?

Read more »

Swing Territory, Part II

DriggsHaddix Douglas Henry Daniels, One O’clock Jump: The Unforgettable History of the Oklahoma City Blue Devils (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006, 274 pp.)

Frank Driggs and Chuck Haddix, Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop—A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, xi + 274 pp.)

by Todd Bryant Weeks

[Part one can be found here.]

Frank Driggs, the widely known collector and historian, and Chuck Haddix, a disc jockey, archivist, and director of the Marr Sound Archives at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, have combined their respective talents to give us a new, thorough history of Kansas City jazz in its heyday, the 1920s and 1930s. As one would expect, the authors give particular attention to the bands of Walter Page, Bennie Moten, George Lee, Andy Kirk, Jay McShann, and Count Basie. Also discussed in detail are the early careers of Mary Lou Williams, Eddie Durham, Pete Johnson, Big Joe Turner, and Charlie Parker.

Driggs, whose immense collection of photographs has allowed him to make a good living while keeping the history of the music alive, has had a 60-year love affair with Kansas City jazz. An early colleague of Marshall Stearns, Driggs began interviewing musicians from the Southwest when few historians were interested and little was known about the development and dissemination of the Kansas City sound. His research is the backbone of this work, while Chuck Haddix, a Kansas City native, brings extensive knowledge at the local level. Haddix has spent several years collecting his own stories and rubbing elbows with local experts, most notably Milton Morris, original owner of the Hey Hay Club. One gripe that has dogged Driggs in the past is the lack of solid documentation for his writing; this proves of little consequence here, as Haddix, through exhaustive newspaper research, has corroborated many of the stories Driggs dredged from myriad anecdotal sources. This text sets a new standard for histories on the subject.

Read more »

A Bomb Won’t Go Off Here

by Daniel Rourke

A bomb won't go off here… (Click to enlarge)

Y: I like the use of the past tense. Saying “weeks before” sets up the seen* as a narrative.

X: Oh yeah.

Y: It’s almost like the story’s not ended, like we now are still part of the story.

X: And that there’s people there all the time.

Y: That they are always on this street.

X: Yeah, in that little square. And they’ve always all got long, blondish hair. Shopping.

Y: Does it mean that a bomb might go off somewhere else?

X: That’s exactly what it means. It means that a bomb’s not going to go off here, but it is going to go off somewhere else.

Y: Somewhere where people aren’t more suspicious?

X: Not people: shoppers.

Y: Somewhere where shoppers aren’t more suspicious.

X: There’s no such thing as people – there’s just shoppers.

Y: By reporting someone studying the CCTV cameras to the police the shopper didn’t become anything of greater value than a shopper. They managed to stay as a shopper and yet still act in a way which protected the rights of all shoppers everywhere.

X: That is the best thing you can be for society. A citizen is secondary to a shopper. For the good of the country there is nothing better than a shopper who reports suspicious looking un-shoppers. If you’re an un-shopper, and you are in a shopping precinct, then you’re not there for the good of the country.

Read more »

Style Mavens

ID_NC_MEIS_ELEME_AP_001 For his birthday (today), Morgan Meis gives us this, in The Smart Set:

Omit needless words!

That's what you'd have if you reduced the 105 pages of William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White's The Elements of Style — which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year — to three words. The idea is that fewer words leads to clarity. Clearness and brevity go together, as do confusion and prolixity. You are also advised to avoid pretentious words like “prolixity” (though I'm not sure a more concise word exists in this instance). But when in doubt, omit, simplify, pare.

The fun of The Elements of Style is in Strunk's outrageous confidence. Bill was enjoying himself. He wrote the book as a manual for his English students at Cornell University. E.B White, Strunk's student at Cornell, loved the tone, the advice, and the man. How could he not? In the “Principles of Composition” section, the 15th principle is “put statements in positive form.” Strunk tells us to “avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, noncommittal language.” Here's his example of what to avoid:

The Taming of the Shrew is rather weak in spots. Shakespeare does not portray Katherine as a very admirable character, nor does Bianca remain long in memory as an important character in Shakespeare's works.

Here is how he fixes it:

The women in The Taming of the Shrew are unattractive. Katherine is disagreeable. Bianca insignificant.

I'm actually rather fond of Kate, especially before she gets tamed, but you have to love the example. The Elements of Style abounds in such wonders.

Bush’s Intellectual Torturers

Todorov Tzvetan Todorov in Project Syndicate:

The newly published documents do not disclose the very facts of torture, which were already well known by whomever wanted to know them. But they do reveal a great deal of information about how the torture sessions unfolded and how the agents involved perceived them.

What is most striking is the discovery of niggling little rules, outlined in CIA manuals and co-opted by the government’s legal executives. One would have thought that torture was the result of blunders or unintentional excesses committed on the spur of the moment. On the contrary, these memos make clear that torture was a tactic formulated in minute detail.

In the Bush administration’s “guidelines,” torture can be divided into three categories, of varying levels of intensity: “baseline” (nudity, dietary manipulation, sleep deprivation); “corrective” (hitting); and “coercive” (water-dousing, box confinement, water-boarding).

For a facial slap, the interrogator was supposed to hit with fingers slightly spread, at equal length between the tip of the chin and the bottom of the corresponding earlobe. Dousing a naked detainee with water was to last 20 minutes if the water’s temperature measured 5 °C, 40 minutes at 10 °C, and up to 60 minutes at 15 °C. Sleep deprivation could not exceed 180 hours, but could start over again after eight hours rest.

Rise of the Nu Mohemians

Ka Kirsty Allison in 3AM Magazine:

Tokyo’s streets are a homage to sci-fi fantasy, seventies style. Fields of mirrored skyscrapers are snaked by webs of towering monorails, glass-fronted mainstreet superstores flash with phosphorescent adverts. But like every Big Brother backdrop, a revolution occurs a few alleys back from the sheen, and in Tokyo, mazes of traditional cubed houses hold a variety of secret Steppenwolf doorways.

Behind one such door in the North of the city is a library bar with vintage issues of Visionaire and opulent Japanese-edition fashion photography books, it stands as a temporary salon for writers who don’t use pen & papers, or laptops, they write novels on their mobiles.

Drinking an £8 coffee, Ryu, king of the new ‘mohemians’, explains how he came to be credited as the first m-novelist.

“It came from necessity, I was working in a bar in Shibuya where the girls with the orange faces are” begins the 23 year old whose profits from his first m-book have allowed retirement to a desert island, where he’s profoundly in love with the local delicacy of octopus balls. In broken English and through a translator he goes on to tell how he felt disturbed by the repetitive cycle of observing chicks arriving to the scene, enticed by the appeal of darker life, slipping into a world of wrist-cutting, drugs, prostitution, debauchery and occasional degradation.

From his bar he assembled a team of groupies who spilt their stories to him. He emerged as a writer making notes on his phone about the new faces’ demise. “I sent the first notes and chapters to girls fresh to the area as cautionary tales, they told their friends, and their friends” Using emoticons to signify character moods and shortcuts of text speak, he uploaded test chapters to a website which got downloaded to phones.

Obama’s Living Virtues

Jasper-johnsflags1968_2-224x300Jennifer Herdt over at The Immanent Frame:

Many commentators have taken Barack Obama to be proclaiming a new set of civic virtues or even a new civil religion to guide Americans into an uncertain future. Yet in his Inaugural Address, Obama himself argued otherwise: “Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism—these things are old.” So we may well ask—how old are these values? In what traditions are they rooted? Are they religious or secular? For the answers to these questions will be reflected in Americans’ willingness—or unwillingness—to unite around them.

Obama terms these “values.” But they are for the most part more specifically virtues, that is, settled traits of character that dispose a person to act in excellent ways. And Obama does elsewhere speak of these as virtues, most revealingly, I think, in his early memoir, Dreams from My Father, written before he aspired to political office. During his college years, his growing consciousness of racism tempted him to wallow in hatred and despair, to cling to an identity of alienation from anything tainted by white culture, including its hypocritical moralism, its “needlepoint virtues.” Yet he eventually came to recognize these virtues as themselves unsoiled, to see that the fact that these were the values of his white Midwestern grandparents did not mean he had to reject them in order to be authentically black.

schama on banks


Unaccustomed as they are to being told to stand in the corner wearing dunces’ hats, American bankers, so it’s been reported, are getting grouchy about the “stress tests” inflicted on them by the Treasury as a condition of receiving bail-out funds. They have, it’s rumoured, been “pushing back” against restrictions on executive pay. Beggars, it seems, can be choosers. But before they get just a bit above themselves, perhaps they should ponder the long history of the love-hate relationship between banking and government in America. They could do worse than to take a look at the $20 bill. For there, breaking into the space separating the words “Federal” from “Reserve” is the cresting mane of Andrew Jackson, the most hair-conscious president of the United States. Aside from cultivating his pompadour as the insignia of a free frontier spirit, his locks tied in an eelskin, the seventh US president was also the sworn enemy of paper currency and central banking. Jackson, who was in the White House from 1829-1837, was a new brand of politician in American life. No one would confuse him with the Virginian gentlemen-planters who had dominated high office in the early republic. He had been Indian fighter, scourge of the British and darling of the frontier crowds. But what really got his dander up was the Bank of the United States, the institution granted the monopoly to print paper money. The “Monster”, he declared at the height of his presidential knock-down battle with its president Nicholas Biddle, “wants to kill me but I will kill it”.

more from FT here.

Thoughts of money soothe social rejection

From Nature:

Chinesenotes Handling or even contemplating money can relieve both physical pain and the distress of social rejection, according to a study by Chinese and American psychologists1. But remembering cash one has spent intensifies both types of hurt. The findings suggest that the mere thought of having money makes people feel physically stronger and less dependent on the approval of others to satisfy their needs. “Money activates a general sense of confidence, strength, and efficacy,” the researchers propose.

The study backs up previous experiments in which experimental subjects who had been subconsciously primed with thoughts of money were less likely to ask for help on difficult tasks. “Previous work hadn't gone as far as to link reminders of money to something at a physical perceptual level,” explains Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who was involved in both past research and the present study, which was published in Psychological Science.

More here.

You can never have too many mothers

From Salon:

Story For as long as she's been a sociobiologist, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy has been playfully dismantling traditional notions of motherhood and gender relations. In 1981's “The Woman That Never Evolved,” the newly minted Harvard Ph.D. blasted a hole in the dominant model of sexual selection, in which hypersexual males pull out all the stops to impress passive females. Despite the snickers of her male colleagues, Hrdy maintained that women are subject to sexual selection, too: Females apes, it turns out, frequently compete with each other for male attention, trick males into copulating with them, and engage in sexual activity for pure pleasure. Later, Hrdy's monumental “Mother Nature,” published in 1999, thoroughly refuted the idea that there is any such thing as maternal instinct: Mothers in nature often abort fetuses, favor healthy babies while nudging runts away, and even commit infanticide so that they can try to breed again under better circumstances.

Now a professor emeritus at the University of California at Davis, Hrdy is back with another book, “Mothers and Others,” and another big idea. She argues that human cooperation is rooted not in war making, as sociobiologists have believed, but in baby making and baby-sitting. Hrdy's conception of early human society is far different from the classic sociobiological view of a primeval nuclear family, with dad off hunting big game and mom tending the cave and the kids. Instead, Hrdy paints a picture of a cooperative breeding culture in which parenting duties were spread out across a network of friends and relatives. The effect on our development was profound.

More here.

The Disembodied Book

Jurgen Neffe's article from Die Zeit, in signandsight:

In the shadows of the global financial crisis of the early 21st century, another revolution is gathering pace, whose repercussions reach far beyond the current correctable economic buckling. It impact on the world will compare with Gutenberg's. And with it, the era of the printed book will come to a close. Dissolved digitally like sound and image beforehand, limitlessly copyable, globally downloadable by the million with the click of a mouse, the book is entering the world of multimedia like its disembodied cousins from film, photography and music. This is the disintegration of the oldest serially produced data carrier in terms of form and content.

The medium of enlightenment is losing its message and probably some sense and sensibility along the way. Sooner or later bound piles of printed paper will be available only as luxury items in specialist shops, like vinyl records today. Even the most iron-willed bibliophiles won't be able to get their hands on Gutenberg's legacy in its current from. The collapse of the book industry, much as we mourn it, follows the logic of a long chain of bygone trades, crafts, manufacturing processes and business procedures.

The change is unstoppable, the only moot point is how long it will take to arrive. But we're not talking generations. I mean, who still remembers the typewriter, that so recently so indispensable friend to all typers and texters? Aren't we all witness to how furiously email is turning the screw on the letter. And Wikipedia on the faithful old lexicon?