Monday Poem

To Roof

Ah, to put a roofing spade
to desiccated shingles

To lean upon the spade-handle’s end
leveraging stubborn nails
from their impacted seats

To wrench my back

To abrade my bleeding hands again
stroking the asphalt’s pebbled face

To fight a wind while laying felt
which, like Ahab’s sails, would whisk me
to a mad roofer’s end

To slam my thumb once more

To slash my hands with flashing
imagining the course of rainwater
down a 4 square deck–
……… to place aluminum just so
as if I could plumb
a droplet’s depth

To race the advance of a front

To look skyward anxious
under gathering clouds

To become so unfocused in haste
my courses, like the venal
schemes of politicians, veer off
disordered and untrue
leaving poor substrate constituents
vulnerable to a deluge

Ah, but then, at last,
to button it up

To take the scaffold down
and store the ladder

To pack the tools and,
eye-balling the shingled slope,
wax smug

To hope again I’d out-danced
natural law

To think I’d punked Poseidon
(who pelts my roof with rain and hail)

To stride off then self-satisfied
and step upon a roofing nail


By Jim Culleny; Sept 27, 2009

There are 237 reasons why women have sex

Tanya Gold in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_05 Oct. 04 18.12 Do you want to know why women have sex with men with tiny little feet? I am stroking a book called Why Women Have Sex. It is by Cindy Meston, a clinical psychologist, and David Buss, an evolutionary psychologist. It is a very thick, bulging book. I've never really wondered Why Women Have Sex. But after years of not asking the question, the answer is splayed before me.

Meston and Buss have interviewed 1,006 women from all over the world about their sexual motivation, and in doing so they have identified 237 different reasons why women have sex. Not 235. Not 236. But 237. And what are they? From the reams of confessions, it emerges that women have sex for physical, emotional and material reasons; to boost their self-esteem, to keep their lovers, or because they are raped or coerced. Love? That's just a song. We are among the bad apes now.

More here.

Roman Polanski sex case arrest provokes backlash in Hollywood

Paul Harris in The Observer:

ScreenHunter_04 Oct. 04 17.27 The Polanski backlash has spread far and wide. He was never popular at all on the right wing of America's culture, but now middle America is firmly in favour of seeing him in a Californian courtroom. Talkshow hosts, radio commentators and newspaper editorials from coast to coast have all insisted that the arrest was long overdue and that Polanski needs to be brought to the US.

“Hollywood people really don't see the world in the same way as average people… that is why there is a backlash,” said Mike Levine, a Hollywood PR expert.

But it is perhaps no surprise that the gap between Hollywood and the rest of America has grown so large on this particular case. Because of his long and illustrious career, Polanski is a friend and colleague of nearly all the main players in the film world. They are his confidantes and his peers. His movies have made them stars and helped them to earn millions. They live in the same rarefied world of global fame. “Elite Hollywood culture is protecting one of its own,” said Alexander Riley, a professor of sociology at Bucknell University.

More here.

I’m a combination of an old man and a baby


ON DENYING CHRISTIAN IMAGERY IN HIS FILM “KNIFE IN THE WATER” An accident. The rope [in the shape of a halo] was simply to cushion his head. And he spreads his arms because, you know, he wants a better suntan (1972)


ON HIS FILM “FRANTIC”, STARRING HARRISON FORD It's a film about jet-lag (1988)


more from Roman Polanski at The Guardian here.

I’ll always love her, though


The Association for the Advancement of Advanced Intelligence report . . . will also grapple . . . [with] probable changes in human-computer relationships. How would it be, for example, to relate to a machine that is as intelligent as your spouse?
The Times.

Don’t get me wrong; my wife is great. I bristle when I overhear someone say that my DVR is smarter than she is. Chloe went to SUNY-Binghamton. She’s plenty smart. My DVR knows French, but so what? It’s not like I go to French restaurants with my DVR. . . . O.K., one time I went to Le Pescadou with my DVR. Chloe and I were going through a weird time. I was hungry. There was nothing on TV. No, that last part about TV is a joke. Get it? Because I was with my DVR? Doesn’t matter. Point is— No, actually, it does matter. My DVR would have got it.

My DVR is very funny. Not funny ha-ha, not like my A.T.M., but funny. It loves that movie “My Dinner with Andre.” Between you and me, I have no idea if that movie is funny or not. I try to laugh in the right places, but who knows? And, well, sometimes it’s nice to not always be the person who “knows” when to laugh, to be with someone—O.K., not someone, your DVR, or a G.P.S. system—and learn something.

more from Zev Borow at The New Yorker here.

Jatin Das at San Francisco (Sep 20 to Oct 20)

Das Jatin Das, one of the most prolific figurative painters, is also a graphic artist, sculptor, muralist and a poet. He was born in 1941 in Mayurbhanj, Orissa. Jatin studied painting at Sir J J School of Art in Bombay (1957-62). Since he finished his art educated he has been participating in all important national and international art exhibitions, namely the Biennales in Paris (1971), and in Venice (197 8) and the Documenta in Kessel (1975).

A tirelessly innovative explorer of dynamic human figures in terms of linear structuration and breezy brushwork, Jatin Das focuses mainly on man-woman relationships in varying moments of crises, contacts, revelation, and emotional tension. There is a monumentality in his treatment of human forms, which is retained even when the forms are energized by way of rhythmic discontinuities of color-planes and rushing lines. A sensitive colorist who refuses to treat his imagery in 3-D volumes, Jatin charges his palette with emotional nuances.

More here. (Note: Jatin Das, who is also the father of my brilliant friend Nandita Das, is showing his work at The Artist Alley Gallery in San Francisco. Please go see it if you can.)

Ancient Skeleton May Rewrite Earliest Chapter of Human Evolution

From Science:

Ape Researchers have unveiled the oldest known skeleton of a putative human ancestor–and it is full of surprises. Although the creature, named Ardipithecus ramidus, had a brain and body the size of a chimpanzee, it did not knuckle-walk or swing through the trees like an ape. Instead, “Ardi” walked upright, with a big, stiff foot and short, wide pelvis, researchers report in Science. “We thought Lucy was the find of the century,” says paleoanthropologist Andrew Hill of Yale University, referring to the famous 3.2-million-year-old skeleton that revolutionized thinking about human origins. “But in retrospect, it was not.”

Researchers have long argued about whether our early ancestors passed through a great-ape stage in which they looked like protochimpanzees, with short backs; arms adapted for swinging through the trees; and a pelvis and limbs adapted for knuckle-walking (Science, 21 November 1969, p. 953). This “troglodytian,” or chimpanzee, model for early human behavior (named for the common chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes) suggests that our ancestors lost many of the key adaptations still found in chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas, such as daggerlike canines and knuckle-walking, which those apes were thought to have inherited from a common ancestor.

More here.

Infections responsible for four-fifths of cancers?

Andrew Grant in Discover:

Breast%20Cancer%20Cell Most current research into the causes of cancer focuses on genes and environmental triggers. Evolutionary biologist Paul Ewald of the University of Louisville in Kentucky argues that scientists have overlooked the most important cause: parasites, especially viruses. Blending medicine and Darwinian biology, Ewald considers cancer and other diseases from the pathogen’s point of view, showing how natural selection determines why the smallpox virus, for instance, is a ruthless killer while viruses for the common cold are relatively benign. He says that once we identify the viruses that trigger cancer, we can work to prevent their transmission and force them to evolve from fatal scourges into mere nuisances, eventually turning cancer into a manageable disease.

DISCOVER: What is new about the way you are thinking about disease?
Paul Ewald: I apply Darwinian principles to medicine with the goal of solving problems. Medicine is not very good at addressing evolution, and to me that’s a great problem in regard to infectious disease. Humans barely evolve quickly enough to adjust to rapidly evolving infectious agents.

D: Why do you believe that viruses lie behind many types of cancer?
PE: To progress toward cancer, you need a few specific genes to be mutated, within a limited number of cell divisions, to cause the cells to divide uncontrollably. But if you mutated almost any of the other 30,000 genes, the cells would die or be crippled. So how do all those specific mutations occur so rapidly without destroying the cells? It turns out that each virus that’s been studied and associated with cancer—such as hepatitis B with liver cancer or human papilloma virus with cervical cancer—evolves characteristics that allow it to target those genes immediately upon infection. They’re pushing cells to the brink of cancer because the cells will grow faster with the virus embedded inside and won’t be able to stop dividing. These viruses don’t really benefit if you get cancer, but they do benefit when the viral genome can replicate and persist despite a sophisticated immune system.

More here.

How Often Do Women Falsely Cry Rape?

Emily Bazelon and Rachael Larimore in Slate:

ScreenHunter_03 Oct. 04 09.38 Because of the 18-year-old Hofstra student who recanted after telling police that five men had tricked her into a bathroom and then gang raped her two weeks ago, that question has been flying around the Internet. As Cathy Young notes in Newsday, the answers often fall into one of two camps. “Many feminists argue that the problem of false accusations is so minuscule that to discuss it extensively is a harmful distraction from the far more serious problem of rape. On the other side are men's-rights activists, claiming that false accusations are as much of a scourge as rape itself.”

But isn't the rate of false rape charges an empirical question, with a specific answer that isn't vulnerable to ideological twisting? Yes and no. There has been a burst of research on this subject. Some of it is careful, but much of it is questionable. While most of the good studies converge at a rate of about 8 percent to 10 percent for false rape charges, the literature isn't quite definitive enough to stamp out the far higher estimates. And even if we go by the lower numbers, there's the question of interpretation. If one in 10 charges of rape is made up, is that a dangerously high rate or an acceptably low one? To put this in perspective, if we use the Bureau of Justice Statistics that show about 200,000 rapes in 2008, we could be looking at as many as 20,000 false accusations.

More here.

Ocher, saffron, sepia, umber, vermilion

Orin Hargraves at the Visual Thesaurus:

ScreenHunter_02 Oct. 04 09.01 Once you step away from the main compass points of the color wheel, however, English gets more interesting, and more grabby. English speakers came into contact fairly early on with names of pigments and dyes through trade and cultural exchange and these words, mostly of foreign origin, have been kicking around in English for many centuries. Perhaps even more so than the principal colors, they have retained their power to evoke specific and vivid images: consider, as a sample, alizarin, bistre, cochineal, henna, indigo, lapis lazuli, ocher, saffron, sepia, umber, vermilion. Add to these the partly-overlapping list of color names with a real-world referent (whether natural or manufactured) such as amber, burgundy, chartreuse, ebony, fuchsia, ivory, lilac, olive, turquoise — all of which are also mainly foreigners with long-time, permanent resident status in English.

From the rich vocabulary available you might get the impression that English speakers are connoisseurs of color, but usage statistics tell a different story.

More here.

Punishment, Personal Identity, and Polanski

Nick Smyth weighs in, over at Yeah, OK, But Still:

It has been notoriously difficult to say what makes a person the same person over time, especially given then enormous physical and psychological changes that a person undergoes. In the span of a decade, a person can completely reform their beliefs, their values, and their patterns of action, and can even suffer total memory loss. It seems natural to say, as Derek Parfit does, that they are not really “the same person”, but rather they are connected to that past person, only insofar as they share that past person's psychology. They are thus (say) 25% connected, and that former person survives only to this small degree.

Let's assume that Polanski is significantly different in this way: that he is no longer Polanski1973, that person's youthful immorality and disregard has been completely wiped out and replaced with kindness and thoughtfulness. The former criminal only survives to some small extent (say, 25%, though the number doesn't really matter).

As Bernard Williams quickly pointed out, there is something seemingly absurd in attempting to apply this result to the question of his responsibility for a 30 year-old rape.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad revealed to have Jewish past

Damien McElroy and Ahmad Vahdat in The Daily Telegraph:

Ahm_1494743f A photograph of the Iranian president holding up his identity card during elections in March 2008 clearly shows his family has Jewish roots.

A close-up of the document reveals he was previously known as Sabourjian – a Jewish name meaning cloth weaver.

The short note scrawled on the card suggests his family changed its name to Ahmadinejad when they converted to embrace Islam after his birth.

The Sabourjians traditionally hail from Aradan, Mr Ahmadinejad's birthplace, and the name derives from “weaver of the Sabour”, the name for the Jewish Tallit shawl in Persia. The name is even on the list of reserved names for Iranian Jews compiled by Iran's Ministry of the Interior.

Experts last night suggested Mr Ahmadinejad's track record for hate-filled attacks on Jews could be an overcompensation to hide his past.

More here.

the mystery of the four birds

Photo of Bernardo ATxaga1

It was a very short song, and the birds that were mentioned, four in number, were only small; but the secret the song concealed, the clear meaning it contained for anyone able to see beyond its absurd surface, had a great deal to do with what we term the “major themes.” The song was a traditional song and widely known, sung over and over by generations of Basque children, and it went like this:

Txantxangorria txantxate,
Birigarroa alkate,
Xoxoa dela meriante,
Txepetxa preso sartu dute.

Which means:

The robin sings his song,
The song thrush is the jailer,
And, with the blackbird’s help,
They’ve put the poor wren in prison.

It obviously wasn’t pure nonsense, nor was it a folk version of some English limerick, since, albeit obscure, it did make some kind of sense. But the idea that a bird—the poor wren—should have ended up in prison on the orders of the authorities—the song thrush—and to the great delight of Robin Redbreast, was not much help in gaining an overall understanding of the story, nor did it answer the fundamental question: what had gone on between the robin and the wren? Or to put it another way: why was one so overjoyed at the other’s misfortune?

more from Bernardo Atxaga at Threepenny Review here.

philosopher-bums, filthy-minded teenage prostitutes, and incorruptible government ministers


When Jakov Lind died in 2007, The Guardian hailed him as a writer who was a consummate survivor, an odd, sort-of Jew who had lived through the peak of Nazi power “inside the lion’s mouth” where he did not “have to feel the animal’s teeth and claws.” The author wrote some decidedly odd books, books that his publisher once said “never made a profit,” though “it was an honor to publish him,” and when he died he left behind a brilliant body of work that was largely out of print. Thanks to the efforts of an enthusiastic few, this work, translated by the legendary Ralph Manheim, is now experiencing a resurrection. Lind is not only a major post-Holocaust writer; he is also a modernist of extraordinary talent and vision. His writing shows an intriguing, Beckettian dissolution of reason, and it owes a clear debt to the absurdists, whose themes of obsession and the perversion of reality closely resemble Lind’s work. Born in Vienna a decade before the Anschluss, Lind also owes something also to the Austro-Jewish literary tradition exemplified by Stefan Zweig—there’s a humanist regard that colors his work and tinges his cynicism with a smirking regret. This sort of weeping giddiness characterizes all of Lind’s writing, from his excellent dramatic efforts like The Silver Foxes Are Dead to his short stories and his extraordinary dark novels.

more from Jeff Waxman at The Quarterly Conversation here.

To be an American this patriotic, it probably helps to be Scottish


Craig Ferguson isn’t kidding. That’s what struck me as I turned the pages of the Scottish late-night comedian’s memoir, “American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot.” Almost every time Ferguson has a chance to go for a cheap, easy laugh — the mother’s milk of late-night comedy — he runs in the opposite direction. Take the opening scene in which he meets George W. Bush at a reception before the 2008 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, where Ferguson, a newly minted American citizen, is to be the entertainment. He recognizes that making fun of Bush near the end of his catastrophic presidency would be like shooting fish in a barrel, so what does he do instead? He bonds with Bush as a fellow recovering alcoholic, clinking glasses of sparkling water with him as the president makes an earnest toast to America. I repeat: this is the opening scene of a book by a comedian. That’s what we in the comedy business call courage, and it pretty much sets the tone for the rest of this memoir, in which Ferguson admirably avoids wisecracks and instead goes for something like wisdom.

more from Andy Borowitz at the NY Times here.

What Scorsese and All the Rest Know About Roman Polanski That Maybe You Don’t

Allison Benedikt in The Village Voice:

Roman-polanski If it's weird to you that every filmmaker you've ever liked is taking Roman Polanski's side in the curent controversy, perhaps it's because you don't know Polanski like we know Polanski.

Sure, it seems obvious: Polanski raped a kid, Polanski fled the country, Polanski should pay for his crime. But if all that were true, why would the world's most prominent filmmakers and artists sign a petition demanding his release? I'm not just talking cranks like Pedro Almodovar. Good, stand-up Americans like Wes Anderson and Alexander Payne are demanding that justice be served by forgetting about all this rape business. And if you knew Roman Polanski like we know Roman Polanski, you would surely understand how artistically narrow-minded it is to treat him like a rapist just because he raped someone.

More here. [Thanks to Maud Newton.]

Darwin In Chile

From Edge:

Edge was invited by Alvaro Fischer, the Director of Fundacion Ciencia Y Evolucion in Chile to attend the Foundation's Darwin Seminar in Santiago, entitled “Darwin's Intellectual Legacy To The 21st Century” and join the eight speakers (all Edge contributors) on a trip to the “extreme south” including a trip along “The Beagle Channel”, named after the ship HMS Beagle which surveyed the coasts of the southern part of South America from 1826 to 1830.


The Seminar, which ran for two days, attracted an audience of 2,200 people on each day…

Pinker Dennett Our intention is to illuminate and discuss how Darwinian thought influenced the disciplines that focus on the study the individuals (biology, neuroscience, psychology); the individual within their social interactions (anthropology, sociology, economy, political science); and how these concepts pertain, in general, to a moral philosophy.”

“We wish to explore how, from Darwinian thought, there emerges a vision of what it is to be a human being. And that this vision is fundamental and coherent with the entire body of accumulated scientific knowledge. With reverence for the details of their application, it is the impact of Darwin's ideas that is the reason we are celebrating Darwin's anniversary.”

More here.