The Unrepentant Whore


One day in the deep end of winter, 1998, it rained on Vancouver’s City Hall. It rained on the 6.9 Mercedes that pulled up to the entrance a little before noon. It rained on Jamie Lee Hamilton’s good swing coat as she emerged from the car and lugged out four bulging garbage bags. It rained on the fourteen media crews that watched her carry the bags up the steps, hair plastered to her face. It rained on all of them as she dumped sixty-seven pairs of stilettos at the city’s feet — one for every woman who she believed had gone missing from the Downtown Eastside. Nobody knew that this was the start of the largest serial killer case in Canada’s history; nor that Robert Pickton was still, then, taking women back to his pig farm on the outskirts of the city to mutilate and murder them; nor that, more than a decade later, in 2009, a constitutional appeal would argue that our country had systematically imperilled the lives of these women with brutal laws that forced them to work in untenable conditions. All Hamilton knew was that women — sex workers — were disappearing and nothing was being done.

more from Michael Harris at Walrus here.

the spectre of the niqab and the burqa


It has been condemned as sinister, frightening, misogynistic and oppressive. Indeed, nothing seems to provoke more suspicion of Europe’s 15 million Muslims than the face veil worn by a tiny minority of women. Even many followers of Islam are keen to disown and denounce it. In heated discussions with my own father over the past few weeks, I discovered that he is one of those who take a sterner line, describing the face veil as “un-Islamic and unnecessary”. “If not for anything else,” he told me, “it should be banned for security reasons.” I am no fan of the face veil, but I disagree with Dad. Moves to ban it will surely backfire. In recent months, several European governments have begun to legislate restrictions on both the niqab, a face veil that leaves the area around the eyes clear and is usually combined with a full body covering, and the burqa, which covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through. On 29 April, Belgium became the first European country to impose a nationwide ban on wearing a full face veil in public. Just three days earlier, the five-month-old government of the Belgian prime minister Yves Leterme had collapsed amid bitter feuding between the political parties, but legislators in the House of Representatives found time to push through the bill with almost unanimous support. Hostility towards the veil has united a divided nation.

more from Mehdi Hasan at The New Statesman here.

severed heads, etc.


Perched on Monte alle Croci, a hill just south of the Arno with sprawling views of Florence below and the Pistoian Apennines and Apuans due north, sits the Basilica of San Miniato. The church, which was built in three stages from 1018 to 1207, is more quietly stunning than Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce and the Duomo; it is also older than these popular Florentine basilicas. Olivetan monks look after the San Miniato complex, which includes the church, a monastery, a bishop’s palace, a bell tower, and a cemetery. I have visited San Miniato often over the past several months, but have caught sight of the white-robed Olivetans only a handful of times and usually behind the raised counter of the little gift shop where they sell the elixirs, unguents, teas, honeys, and other products they make. Sometimes, as I walk the many steps that lead to the church, I imagine a lone monk peering at me sight unseen through the barred windows of the monastery that sits brown and heavy next to the church’s luminous white and green marble facade. He knows I will enter the church and sit in a pew set on the right side of the nave, the only place in this exquisite, thronged city where I can think clearly—or not at all, it is difficult to say which. The church is often empty in the morning and that’s when I like to walk from my apartment in the Oltrarno east along the river into the San Niccolò neighborhood and up the hill to San Miniato.

more from Suzanne Menghraj at Guernica here.

Friday Poem

Clock Factory Near the River

After a while, a man who works in a clock factory
begins mistaking the constant ticking
for the sound of water
dripping in a deep well
his great-grandfather
once spoke of.
And it is only after he has returned
his apron and his tools to his locker,
and come through the heavy doors
into evening,
and walked along the river with the other men,
that time and water are once again
separate things.

by Yehoshua November
from Adirondack Review, Spring 2010

The metabolic secrets of good runners

From Nature:

Fit A healthy heart and svelte physique are not the only physical changes wrought by exercise: researchers have also identified a host of metabolic changes that occur during exercise in physically fit athletes. These changes, described today in Science Translational Medicine, suggest that exercise revs up the pathways that break down stored sugars, lipids and amino acids, as well as improving blood-sugar control. The results might eventually lead to dietary supplements that boost athletic performance or invigorate patients suffering from debilitating diseases, says study author Robert Gerszten, a clinician scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Metabolic profiling has lagged behind large-scale studies of gene and protein expression, in part because the collection of metabolites in the human body — sometimes referred to as the metabolome — is so complex. “The alphabet for the DNA world is four letters long, and for the protein world it's twenty amino acids,” says David Wishart, a metabolomics researcher at the University of Alberta in Canada who was not involved with the new work. “The alphabet for metabolites is about 8,000 different compounds, so it's a tough language to learn.” Gerszten and his colleagues assayed 210 of these metabolites to fill a gap in our understanding of the effects of exercise. “It's well known that exercise protects against cardiovascular and metabolic diseases and predicts long-term survival,” says Gerszten. “But how exercise confers its salutary effects is less understood.”

More here.

Cyborg Soldiers and Militarised Masculinities

Masters_84x84Cristina Masters in Eurozine:

In “Fact and Fantasy: The Body of Desire in the Age of Posthumanism”, Renée C. Hoogland (2002: 214) argues that “in the increasingly technologized age of posthumanism, bodily matters are, quite simply, too substantial to be left to the 'empirically' inclined minds of natural scientists”, and therefore calls on cultural theorists to take up the weighty issue of bodily matters. Recent developments indicate, however, that bodily matters are more and more coming under the ambit of the “strategic” and “security” inclined minds populating military institutions and government administrative offices, in ways perhaps far more troubling and disturbing in all of its potential and real implications. In the post-9/11 context of the war on/of terror, one can scarcely overemphasize the dangerous possibilities signalled in this shift. Dangerous, in that bodily matters are being taken up by institutions primarily concerned with the defence and security of the nation-state in an increasingly biopolitical architecture of power.

For many, it is right that such matters should be taken up by the entity with which we have authorised to act in our name and in our defence – the state. Others, in particular critical theorists of international politics, have expressed grave concern over the deadly security practices at work in the US-led war on/of terror, including not only the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, but also and significantly, the new security measures around immigration and asylum, individual freedoms and liberties, search and seizure, and the power to detain indefinitely, to name but a few.

Feminists, as much as militarists, have pointed to the virtues of advanced technology in addressing some of the pressing issues of our day, whether explicitly those of identity politics or that of war. With regard to the latter, nowhere is this more apparent than in the US military, where technology has been lauded as the answer to the question of security and terrorism. With regard to the former, feminists such as Jean Bethke Elshtain (2003) have linked advanced military technology to just war practices, and a number of feminists have advanced arguments in favour of technology's transgressive potential both in terms of challenging the strictures of gendered regimes of power, and in support of women's participation in institutions such as the military.

Breaking the Cycle

QuantA conversation with Emanuel Derman in Edge:

[EMANUEL DERMAN:] One of the things I've been thinking about a lot, both in relation to the financial crisis and in relation to the way people understand the world in general, is the role of models in the world. There are a variety of different approaches to trying to understand the world, in all its facets, from the physical sciences to the social sciences and even one's personal life. I've categorized them in two ways: I like to distinguish what are called “theories” from “models”. Theories, in my view, really try to capture the essence of the world, as in physics in one short equation, or in other fields, in one short schema.

It seems to me you can't really act in the world without having some kind of model or theory of how the world is going to behave in the future.

Models are simpler to describe in that they are similar to metaphors or analogies: you try to understand something that is difficult to comprehend in terms of something else you already comprehend. You try to understand the brain, for example, and you say, well, the brain is a lot like a computer. Or you try to understand a computer, and you assume people understand the brain and then say a computer is a lot like a brain.

In the same way in finance one says stock prices behave a lot like smoke diffusing off the tip of a cigarette . These are models or metaphorical ways of describing the world that add insight but you can't really rely on them very substantially in the long run. I'll give some examples in a little while.

The other extreme is to use theories, which are really ways of directly apprehending the way the world or the universe works: examples are Freud, Einstein and Newton. Of course, theories can be right or wrong, but theories are different from models.


1274711938berman_052110_380pxB Christopher Hitchens reviews Paul Berman's The Flight of the Intellectuals, in Tablet:

“Look here upon this picture, and on this …” In the left frame, a privileged young Swiss-Egyptian academic, whose father and grandfather were pillars of the Muslim Brotherhood and who has expressed strong sympathy for the jihadist preachings—and social and moral precepts—of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, purveyor of fatwas and self-described “Mufti of martyrdom operations.” In the right frame, a young woman from Somalia who has endured genital mutilation and forced marriage, made her escape to Europe, spoken out for the rights of women, seen a colleague of hers murdered for the same advocacy, abandoned religion for the values of the European enlightenment, and now conducts her life under permanent police protection.

Which of these two individuals garners the most respectful attention from our liberal intellectuals? To phrase it more closely, which of them has attracted the sympathetic understanding, and which the contempt, of two of the contemporary writers who have best earned that title? I refer to Timothy Garton Ash and Ian Buruma, who in the years during and after the Cold War did a great deal to enlarge our understanding of Eastern Europe and Asia, and to demonstrate the incompatibility of civilization with the principles of totalitarianism.

Ian Buruma has written a long profile of Tariq Ramadan (the picture in the left frame) and taken many of his claims to be a reformist and modernizer at their own face value. Timothy Garton Ash was helpful in getting Ramadan a position at St. Antony’s College, Oxford. Both men have written disparagingly of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, as if she were an intemperate extremist. Oh, and one more thing. Garton Ash has written that “It’s no disrespect to Ms. Ali to suggest that if she had been short, squat, and squinting, her story and views might not be so closely attended to.” Perhaps that statement is indeed free from any hint of disrespect, but can the same be said of Garton Ash’s judgment that for all her courage she is no more than a “slightly simplistic Enlightenment fundamentalist”? (The appellation “Enlightenment fundamentalist” is itself borrowed from Ian Buruma; I should perhaps declare at this stage that I find the ideas of the Enlightenment to be superb in their simplicity.) Meanwhile, it’s hardly possible to read of a media appearance with Tariq Ramadan that does not describe him as arrestingly handsome and charismatic. No disrespect, of course, but I’d be the first to agree that it can’t be his writing that draws the crowd.

Religion Gone Global

Reza_new_smallNathan Schneider interviews Reza Aslan in The Immanent Frame:

NS: Last April in Pasadena, California, I heard you announce, for the first time, your support for a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine situation. What convinced you of that position?

RA: What has brought me to the bi-national state, instead of the two-state solution, are the enormous obstacles, both political and religious, in the way of implementing the peace process as it was defined in UN Security Council Resolution 242. To be as frank as I can possibly be, there’s not much left of a Palestinian state. Every single day, more Palestinian land is being irretrievably lost to Israeli settlements, so time is running out. These are the realities on the ground in the region.

I also have to say that, for years now, the two-state solution that I’ve been championing in my writings, speeches, and discussions with political leaders has not been exactly aligned with my political and philosophical outlook. I am a globalist. I believe fully in the promise of globalization. We are fast approaching a world without borders, without boundaries, and the ethno-nationalist conception of nationhood that was so much a part of the twentieth-century way of thinking, especially when it came to the establishment of the state of Israel, is no longer feasible in the twenty-first. A two-state solution is anachronistic. The rest of the world is starting to look like the EU, so why are we trying to create something that would be anathema to that in Israel-Palestine?

NS: In this and other questions of geopolitics, how does your training as a scholar of religion affect your thinking?

RA: When I say that I’m a scholar of religions, people sometimes think that what I do is textual exegesis. My job is to talk about the role that religion plays in human societies. We have to understand that all religions, in all parts of the world, are always more a matter of identity than they are a matter of belief. We in the United States, a quintessentially Protestant country, have been lulled into the false idea that religion is about one’s private, confessional experience. It’s not, not even here in the United States. When one says “I am a Muslim,” “I am a Jew,” or “I am a Christian” that person is making an identity statement. Religion is about who you are in an indeterminate world. It’s about your worldview. It encompasses every aspect of your identity, from where you live to how you vote. To think that we can have a full and complete conception of the world, and of international relations, without literacy in religion is, in the twenty-first century, absurd.

anyone who hasn’t begged in the time of Mubarak will never beg


On 6 October 1981, President Anwar al-Sadat attended a parade to mark the anniversary of the crossing of the Suez Canal in the 1973 war with Israel. It was also an occasion to display the American, British and French aircraft Egypt had recently acquired: symbols of its realignment with the West after more than two decades as a Soviet ally. Sadat wore a Prussian-style uniform but no bullet-proof vest: it would have ruined the line. Rumours of a plot were in the air, and his vice president, Hosni Mubarak, had warned him not to go. Sadat brushed this off, but when he stood to receive the salute, he was killed in a hail of grenades and bullets, fired by a group of Islamist soldiers in his own army. ‘I have killed Pharaoh, and I do not fear death,’ the lead assassin, a 24-year-old lieutenant, declared. Only eight days later a new pharaoh rose in Egypt, and he has been in power ever since. Hosni Mubarak, who stood beside Sadat at the procession, was an improbable successor: a circumspect career soldier whose appointment to the vice presidency in 1975 had come as a shock to political observers. Born in 1928 in a small village in the Nile River Delta, the son of an inspector in the Ministry of Justice, Mubarak was little known to Egyptians, or even to his colleagues: he was a loner, with no outside interests to speak of, and no taste, or talent, for the rituals of mass politics at which both Nasser and Sadat excelled.

more from Adam Shatz at the LRB here.

the mystery of the mysterious mystery cults


The ancient Greeks and Romans must have been very good at keeping secrets. Or so our lack of information on the famous “Eleusinian Mysteries” (celebrated in an impressive sanctuary just a few miles outside Athens) would suggest – not to mention our lack of information on all the other, similar, initiatory religions found throughout the ancient world, from the ecstatic cult of Dionysus featured in Euripides’ Bacchae to the worship of the god Mithras by the Roman squaddies on Hadrian’s wall. There must have been literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of initiates, across the millennium of Classical history. And at Eleusis they included some of the most prominent (and garrulous) writers, thinkers and politicians of antiquity: Socrates and Plato, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius, and many more. These cults are often set apart, by modern writers, from the calmer, less participatory, less emotional traditions of Graeco-Roman state religion. But we have no explicit ancient account of what the secret mysteries of any cult actually were, what happened at initiation or what exactly was revealed to the initiates. So far as we can now tell, there was hardly a leaky vessel among them; or, at any rate, whatever the gossip on the ancient street, there was no one who risked committing the religious secrets to writing and so sharing them with posterity.

more from Mary Beard at the TLS here.

Out of the Bois d’Amour and into the fire-ravaged Griffith Park


Once upon a time a boy named Pierre went into the woods … actually he first went to the San Fernando Valley — it wasn’t until much later that he made it to the woods, although clearly it was worth the wait. The Pierre in question is Pierre Picot, an artist with a quintessential L.A. pedigree — UCLA undergrad in the ’60s, CalArts student in the ’70s, and a lengthy teaching stint at Art Center — but who was actually born in France and emigrated here at the tender age of 12. His relationship with Art Center ended on a sour note (as relationships with Art Center often seem to) a few years ago, and by a string of coincidences, he wound up teaching at the Pont-Aven School of Contemporary Art in Brittany, right next to the Bois d’Amour forest, where Paul Gauguin invented modern art. That’s when he went into the woods. When he emerged, Picot had embarked on a series of landscapes — ink on paper and oil on canvas — that have carried him along for the last four years, and make up half of his new show at Tom Jancar’s Chinatown gallery. It’s Picot’s first solo exhibition at a commercial gallery in many years. Though he crops up regularly in group shows and has been featured at venues like Pasadena’s Armory Center for the Arts, his profile has been restrained compared to the a-go-go ’80s, when he was part of L.A.’s contingent of neo-Expressionists, exhibiting alongside the likes of Julian Schnabel, David Salle and Robert Longo. “I was doing the right stuff at the right time — it was sort of punky New Imagery. For five years it was like fwishhhht!” Picot makes the sound of an ascending bottle rocket. “But I hated the art world. I quit the art world and my gallery — Jan Baum — in 1985.”

more from Doug Harvey at the LA Weekly here.

The Wise Man

From The New Republic:

Laqueur-logo This wise and interesting book condenses a lifetime of political learning into a few hundred crisply written pages. Laqueur came of age as Europe entered the worst of times. He grew up in Weimar and then Nazi Germany, and then worked as a journalist in the Middle East from 1938 to 1953. In London, he helped to found and edit two important journals, Survey and the Journal of Contemporary History, before moving to Washington and working as a scholar of international affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in the last decade of the Cold War. (He is certainly the least K Street-like man ever to work on K Street.) Laqueur has been a significant figure in historical scholarship regarding Nazism and the Holocaust, the Soviet Union and the Cold War, the history of Zionism, anti-Semitism and the Israel-Arab conflict in the Middle East, European history since 1945, and the academic study of terrorism—the latter was his theme long before September 11. He may be the only scholar of contemporary history who has made important contributions to all of these fields. Along with Aron, he is one of those few intellectuals who, for decades, was an important voice in both the academy and the policy world.

More here.

Dr. Craig Venter shakes the heavens with synthetic life

From The Daily Bruin:

Venter If imitation is the highest form of flattery, what then are we to make of Dr. Craig Venter’s recent stab at God? La Jolla’s own mad scientist and crew might just give the Big Guy a run for his money, raising all sorts of moral crises, ethical dilemmas and plumbings of faith. Team Venter shook the scientific world last week with its announcement of the first successfully synthesized self-replicating bacterium. The bacterium in question – a chimeric copy of Mycoplasma mycoides, genomically synthesized and injected into a recipient cell – has a new nickname (Synthia) and an even louder reputation (the first synthetic life form). Like Mary Shelley’s pithy Prometheus, our Dr. Venterstein has done what was once the sole domain of the gods – that is, creating new life. A product of synthetic genomic engineering, Synthia is perhaps the first creature since Jesus to lack proper earthly parents.

The DNA she bears was not written by God or nature, but by our Craig and his cronies at the J. Craig Venter Institute, on a computer. Somewhere in her genome lie some James Joyce quotes and an e-mail address, coded in the language of life itself. Critics are quick to point out that the good doctor did not build Synthia from scratch. This explains the words of second-year behavioral neuroscience student Christian Frese, who dismissed it as little more than “putting a new operating system on your computer.” This, of course, is a feat even the CLICC Lab is all too capable of accomplishing; is the Venter lab any more deft? To be sure, our Craig did recycle 3 billion years’ worth of natural life, sculpting his Synthia after a pre-existing genome and molding it into a pre-existing cell. If not rivaling God, it certainly plagiarized.

More here.