Afghanistan’s first media mogul

Ken Auletta in The New Yorker:

ScreenHunter_01 Jul. 03 00.00 Every day in Kabul, politicians and journalists in search of information come to a barricaded dead-end street in the Wazir Akbar Khan district to see Saad Mohseni, the chairman of Moby Group, Afghanistan’s preëminent media company. At the last house on the right, burly men carrying AK-47s lead them up creaky stairs to a small second-floor office. Mohseni, a gregarious man with a politician’s habits, often stands up to greet visitors with a hug, then returns to his desk, where a BlackBerry, two cell phones, and a MacBook Air laptop are constantly lit up; fifteen small flat-screen TVs, set to mute, are mounted on the office walls.

Mohseni speaks so rapidly that the words sometimes run together, and he periodically interrupts himself to call out to his assistant—“Sekander!”—to make a phone call or produce a piece of paper. But he listens as intently as a psychiatrist, gathering information from an intricate network of sources: government and anti-government Afghans, American officials, foreign correspondents, diplomats, intelligence operatives, reporters, business and tribal and even Taliban leaders.

One morning this spring, Jon Boone, the Afghan correspondent for the London Guardian, stopped by. Boone, a lanky man with blond hair and stubble, sat on a folding chair and asked Mohseni if he thought that President Hamid Karzai was genuinely interested in reconciliation with the Taliban. Mohseni quickly said he thought Karzai was.

Boone peppered Mohseni with questions. At one point, when Mohseni did not know an answer he called out to Sekander to get the speaker of parliament on the line. The speaker could not be found, so Mohseni grabbed his cell phone and punched the number of the Vice-President.

More here.

Inside A Psychopath’s Brain: The Sentencing Debate

Barbara Bradley Hagerty at NPR:

Brain Kent Kiehl has studied hundreds of psychopaths. Kiehl is one of the world's leading investigators of psychopathy and a professor at the University of New Mexico. He says he can often see it in their eyes: There's an intensity in their stare, as if they're trying to pick up signals on how to respond. But the eyes are not an element of psychopathy, just a clue.

Officially, Kiehl scores their pathology on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, which measures traits such as the inability to feel empathy or remorse, pathological lying, or impulsivity.

“The scores range from zero to 40,” Kiehl explains in his sunny office overlooking a golf course. “The average person in the community, a male, will score about 4 or 5. Your average inmate will score about 22. An individual with psychopathy is typically described as 30 or above. Brian scored 38.5 basically. He was in the 99th percentile.”

“Brian” is Brian Dugan, a man who is serving two life sentences for rape and murder in Chicago. Last July, Dugan pleaded guilty to raping and murdering 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico in 1983, and he was put on trial to determine whether he should be executed. Kiehl was hired by the defense to do a psychiatric evaluation.

More here.

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is morally repugnant

ScreenHunter_01 Jul. 02 22.56
Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times:

On one side of a barbed-wire fence here in the southern Hebron hills is the Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheir, where Palestinians live in ramshackle tents and huts. They aren’t allowed to connect to the electrical grid, and Israel won’t permit them to build homes, barns for their animals or even toilets. When the villagers build permanent structures, the Israeli authorities come and demolish them, according to villagers and Israeli human rights organizations.

On the other side of the barbed wire is the Jewish settlement of Karmel, a lovely green oasis that looks like an American suburb. It has lush gardens, kids riding bikes and air-conditioned homes. It also has a gleaming, electrified poultry barn that it runs as a business.

Elad Orian, an Israeli human rights activist, nodded toward the poultry barn and noted: “Those chickens get more electricity and water than all the Palestinians around here.”

More here.

The new single womanhood

From Salon:

Md_horiz In the kickoff essay in “How Did You Get This Number,” Sloane Crosley's recently published second volume of autobiographical essays, the writer, a well-liked literary publicist, describes how, months before turning 30, she spun her globe and booked a flight to the place her finger landed, Lisbon. How spontaneous! How impulsive! How glamorous! But writing just a few years after her trip, Crosley describes her adventure as a grim, surrealist jumble of days. Isolated by the language barrier, Crosley spent an off-season week wending her way through Lisbon's impenetrable tangle of streets and watching porn in an uncomfortable hotel room alone. “While the emotional sum total of my trip would eventually add up to happiness … hidden between the cathedral and castle tours was the truth,” Crosley writes. “I have never felt more alone.” It's a terrific evocation of how many women feel, not necessarily about their off-peak vacations to minor European capitals, but about the journey through early adulthood that Crosley is chronicling.

Embedded in Crosley's quirky yarns about travel, work and friendship is a fresh accounting of the mixture of exhilaration and ennui that marks many modern young women's lives. In this, Crosley is a valuable contributor to what is becoming a new subset of the memoir genre; hers is the latest in a string of entries from professional young women anxious to reflect on the adventure of coming into their own on their own. Unlike the tales of trauma and addiction that studded the first wave of publishing's autobiographical boom, Crosley and her compatriots are staking out stylistically understated but historically explosive territory by describing experiences that may not be especially unusual, but are unprecedented, because the kind of woman to whom they are happening is herself unprecedented. This crop of books is laying out what it feels like to be a young, professional, economically and sexually independent woman, unencumbered by children or excessive domestic responsibility, who earns, plays and worries her own way through her 20s and 30s, a stage of life that until very recently would have been unimaginable or scandalously radical, but which we now – miraculously – find somewhat ho-hum.

More here.

Genetic variations offer longer life

From Nature:

News_2010_328 A cluster of 150 variations in DNA sequence can be used to predict — with 77% accuracy — whether a person has the genetic wherewithal to live to 100 years old, researchers have found. The finding, published online today in Science, is the result of a trawl through the genomes of more than 1,000 centenarians, scouring about 300,000 sequence variations for possible links to exceptionally long lifespans.

What emerged, found a team led by Thomas Perls, a professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine in Massachusetts, was a complex mix of genetic variants, potentially affecting everything from bone metabolism and hormone regulation to stress responses and brain-cell function. Some of the variants could have a role in staving off debilitating age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and cardiovascular disease. This complexity has been hinted at in previous experiments, says Thomas Kirkwood, director of the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University, UK. “The search for single genes with big effects on longevity has not proven fruitful,” he says. “We're not looking for genes that simply specify a clock. The story, when it emerges, will intrinsically be quite complicated.”

More here.

canada sucks too


I am writing these words on January 1, 2010, almost exactly twenty-three years after I first came to Toronto. The Toronto Star’s book section is small, ineptly edited, and not worth reading. (And when I say ineptly edited, I mean that the current book editor, in allowing personal attacks and collegiate vitriol to stand as “book reviews,” has directly contributed to the irrelevance of the two measly pages the Star now puts out, dutifully, Sunday after Sunday.) The Globe and Mail’s book section has been reduced from a stand-alone magazine to a handful of pages in the Focus section. As a contributing Globe reviewer, I have found the slow deterioration of the paper’s book coverage even more painful to witness than the Star’s. It is the last remaining book section worthy of the name, I suppose, but it’s a shadow of its former self. Its editor, Martin Levin, still manages to dig up capable reviewers now and then, but one wonders if the newspaper itself really cares, since it has decided to pander to popular taste (or, more accurately, the decline in popular taste) by shortening the reviews and including more breezy interviews with “interesting” authors. Neither the Sun nor the National Post has book sections worth mentioning. And one also wonders: is it to some feeling of guilt that we owe such book sections as remain in our newspapers, like vestigial limbs?

more from André Alexis at The Walrus here.

john wayne philosophy


Almost all the great American Western movies are intensely political films within a distinctly American framework. In effect they all adopt in one way or another the mythological fiction that so fascinated political philosophers in the 17th and 18th centuries: the problem of the transition from a state of lawlessness, ruthless self-interest, and terrifying uncertainty, the “state of nature,” to a political order, the rule of law and the surrender of one’s right to decide everything in one’s own case. They represent to us our own beliefs and passions about our founding; that is, about what was founded, and why the transition from the supremacy of virtues like honor, courage, and self-reliance to the now more important virtues of civility, trustworthiness, and prudence, were, all in all, “worth it.” Some films are also haunted by the fact that the first founding essentially failed. The great experiment didn’t work; the nation exploded into one of the most deadly civil wars in recorded history, and the constant re-appearance of these ferocious animosities in the conflicts in Westerns can suggest that there is a real and continuing question about whether the “second founding” in the West (the conquest of native American lands) made possible more a lengthy truce than the achievement of, finally, a true union.

more from Robert Pippin at The Washington Post here.

fodor v darwin


In 1959 the psychological doctrine known as ‘behaviourism’ was at the peak of its influence. Pioneered in the early 20th century by Edward Lee Thorndike, Clark Hull and J.B. Watson, behaviourism rejected explanations of action in terms of mysterious inner processes such as ‘thought’ and tried to explain behaviour purely in terms of the organism’s conditioning by experience. By the middle of the century, the behaviourist approach had been developed in a detailed and radical form by B.F. Skinner. Skinner explained learning in terms of reinforcement: organisms produce novel behaviours spontaneously, and those that are positively reinforced are more likely to occur in similar circumstances in the future. This view, developed in work on rats and pigeons, was extended to cover human language in Skinner’s 1957 book Verbal Behaviour. A young linguist, Noam Chomsky, published a review of Verbal Behaviour two years later. It was perhaps the most devastating book review ever written. Chomsky argued that Skinner’s theoretical vocabulary could be applied to human linguistic behaviour only in an empty, post hoc way. He also thought that Skinner’s behaviourism had a simple architectural flaw: it held that external factors – especially experiences of reinforcement – were of ‘overwhelming importance’ in the explanation of behaviour.

more from Peter Godfrey-Smith at the LRB here.

Thursday Poem

My hand wants to hold the book
And the book to hold it
To be its prolongation
It rounds off my being in the story
In each of the pages
Returns to the beginning
I see how it is beside me always.
The books that wait for me to return
To them
The books that adopt different colors
Those that shine in our words
Those that pale into oblivion
Those that jump all over the house
Those that open all their pages
Like umbrellas
The fans that break letters on the wind
Those that, like flower vases,
Are on every table.

by Margarita Cardona
translation: Laura Chalar

Mi mano quiere sostener el libro
Que la sostenga
Ser su prolongación
Concreta mi ser a la historia
En cada una de sus páginas
Vuelve al principio
Veo cómo me acompaña siempre.
Los libros que esperan que vuelva
Sobre ellos
Los libros que toman diferentes colores
Los que brillan en nuestras palabras
Los que palidecen olvidados
Los que saltan por toda la casa
Los que como paraguas abren
Todas sus páginas
Los abanicos que rompen letras por el viento
Los que como floreros
Están en todas las mesas.

Can money buy happiness? Gallup poll asks, and the world answers

From PhysOrg:

A worldwide survey of more than 136,000 people in 132 countries included questions about happiness and income, and the results reveal that while life satisfaction usually rises with income, positive feelings don't necessarily follow, researchers report.

Happy “The public always wonders: Does money make you happy?” said University of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology Ed Diener, a senior scientist with the Gallup Organization. “This study shows that it all depends on how you define , because if you look at life satisfaction, how you evaluate your life as a whole, you see a pretty strong correlation around the world between income and happiness,” he said. “On the other hand it's pretty shocking how small the correlation is with positive feelings and enjoying yourself.”

The Gallup World Poll conducted surveys on a wide range of subjects in a representative sample of people from 132 countries from 2005 to 2006. The poll used telephone surveys in more affluent areas, and door-to-door interviews in rural or less-developed regions. The countries surveyed represent about 96 percent of the world's population, the researchers report, and reflect the diversity of cultural, economic and political realities around the globe. This “first representative sample of planet earth,” the authors wrote, “was used to explore the reasons why 'happiness' is associated with higher income.” The researchers were able to look at a long list of attributes of respondents, including their income and standard of living, whether their basic needs for food and shelter were met, what kinds of conveniences they owned and whether they felt their psychological needs were satisfied.

More here.

Do Parasites Make You Dumber?

From Science:

Iq What can you do to make your kids smarter? Keeping them healthy might help. A new study suggests that worldwide differences in intelligence can be explained by disparities in infectious disease. The researchers found that countries most heavily affected by infectious diseases generally had the lowest average IQs. They propose that these illnesses hinder children's brain development, though their conclusion is gathering mixed reviews. The new research relies on data first published in 2002 in a controversial book called IQ and the Wealth of Nations. In the book, psychologist Richard Lynn of the University of Ulster in the United Kingdom and political scientist Tatu Vanhanen of the University of Tampere in Finland searched the published literature to come up with measures of average IQ for 81 countries. They also estimated IQ for another 104 countries by averaging the IQs of nearby nations. Hong Kong topped the list, with an average IQ of 107. The authors argued that national differences in IQ at least partly explained differences in national wealth. In 2006, they expanded the data to include IQ measurements from 113 countries and new estimates for 79 more.

Several groups have attempted to explain the pattern. In the new study, Christopher Eppig, a Ph.D. candidate in biology at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and his colleagues propose that low IQ is tied to the toll of infectious diseases. Their idea, which the researchers call the “parasite-stress hypothesis,” is that children who contract “parasites,” which they define to include everything from intestinal worms to bacteria and viruses, devote more energy to fighting off infection. As a result, they have less energy available for brain development. Countries where infectious diseases are prevalent, Eppig and colleagues argue, will have lower intelligence.

Picture: In this map, countries shaded purple have the highest average IQ. Those shaded dark red have the lowest IQ—and, typically, the highest incidence of infectious disease.

More here.

Vuvuzelas sound like death getting raped

Occasional 3QD contributor and insanely diehard, lifelong football fan Saifedean Ammous has arrived in South Africa for the World Cup. He'll be posting his coverage of the championship at a blog he has created for the purpose: The Long Ball to Freedom. Here's a taste of his initial reports:

Kasrilses The stadium looked glorious. It is a true feat of architectural genius, and the atmosphere inside was electric. As I mentioned earlier, the journey from and to the stadium was very pleasant, short and fun.

And I finally got to see the vuvuzelas in action. Now, I’d gotten plenty of headache watching the World Cup on TV, but was willing to be open-minded about them. At Chris’s insistence, I even tried blowing one of the things. But when I got to the stadium my mind was made up: those evil spawns of the devil must be banned! They are an awful monstrosity. They sound like death getting raped. But it isn’t the noise or loudness that is the worst thing about these horns, it is that they have subdued the wonderful football atmosphere of the games.

An integral part of every game and every major footballing occasion is the crowd. They chant, sing, boo, react to the players and spur the players on. With the vuvuzela, all of that is lost. All you can hear all throughout the game is the incessant droning sound of helicopters spraying pesticide. Whatever happens on the pitch, the drone remains the same. It gets louder at times, quiter at others, but the tone is itself. All the singing, chanting, booing and cheering is drowned away. This is a real pity. I would have loved to hear the thousands of Mexicans and Argentines chant and sing throughout that exciting game.

More here. [Saif is leftmost in photo.]

Borges on Pleasure Island

Rivka Galchen in the New York Times Book Review:

Galchen-popup He lived most of his life with his mother. He loved detective and adventure novels. (His first story in English was published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.) Though he started to go blind in his 30s, he never learned to read Braille. And in his later years he made some unappealing political remarks about being happy that, following the military overthrow of the Perón government, “gentlemen” were again running the country. (Perón, to be fair, had “promoted” Borges from head of the National Library to head of poultry inspection.) Such remarks are perhaps why he never won the Nobel.

But perhaps Borges’s most glorious and provocative “fault” was that he lived to be 86 and never wrote a novel. “It is a laborious madness, and an impoverishing one,” he wrote, in the introduction to a 1941 collection of his short stories, “the madness of composing vast books. . . . The better way to go about it is to pretend that those books already exist, and offer a summary, a commentary on them.”

More here.

Al Qaeda’s First English Language Magazine Is Here


Mark Ambinder in The Atlantic:

As the U.S. struggles to manage its efforts to influence opinion about Al Qaeda abroad, Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula has produced its first English-language propaganda magazine.

It's called “Inspire,” and you can read parts of it below. A U.S. official confirmed that the pages correspondent to the version its open-source collectors had obtained.

“Inspire” includes a “message to the people of Yemen” directly transcribed from Ayman Al-Zawahari, Al Qaeda's second in command, a message from Osama Bin Laden on “how to save the earth,” and the cover includes a quotation from Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American born cleric who is believed to be directly connected to the attempt to destroy an airplane over Detroit by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day. (The director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, made that disclosure at a security forum in Aspen, CO, Fox News reported.)

The table of contents teases an interview with the leader of AQAP who promises to “answer various questions pertaining to the jihad in the Arabian Peninsula.” It includes a feature about how to “make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom.”

More here.

Architecture is not about words. It’s about tears.


In February 1998, at the age of 91, Philip Johnson, the godfather of modern architecture, who 40 years earlier had collaborated with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe on the iconic Seagram Building, in Manhattan, traveled to Spain to see the just-completed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. He stood in the atrium of the massive, titanium-clad structure with its architect, Frank Gehry, as TV cameras from Charlie Rose captured him gesturing up to the torqued and sensually curving pillars that support the glass-and-steel ceiling and saying, “Architecture is not about words. It’s about tears.” Breaking into heavy sobs, he added, “I get the same feeling in Chartres Cathedral.” Bilbao had just opened its doors, but Johnson, the principal apostle of the two dominant forms of architecture in the 20th century—Modernism and Postmodernism—and the design establishment’s ultimate arbiter, was prepared to call it on the spot. He anointed Gehry “the greatest architect we have today” and later declared the structure “the greatest building of our time.”

more from Matt Tyrnauer at Vanity Fair here.

stupid and unafraid


I’m noticing a new approach to artmaking in recent museum and gallery shows. It flickered into focus at the New Museum’s “Younger Than Jesus” last year and ran through the Whitney Biennial, and I’m seeing it blossom and bear fruit at “Greater New York,” MoMA P.S. 1’s twice-a-decade extravaganza of emerging local talent. It’s an attitude that says, I know that the art I’m creating may seem silly, even stupid, or that it might have been done before, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t serious. At once knowingly self-conscious about art, unafraid, and unashamed, these young artists not only see the distinction between earnestness and detachment as artificial; they grasp that they can be ironic and sincere at the same time, and they are making art from this compound-complex state of mind—what Emerson called “alienated majesty.” The best of the work at “Greater New York” pulses with this attitude. The worst of it is full of things that move, light up, or make noise, all frantic enough to make you feel like you’re at a carnival rather than a museum. I yearned to see more art here that demands that you stop and be still, like painting, of which there is very little. Instead, the curators—Connie Butler, Neville Wakefield, and Klaus Biesenbach, the museum world’s unofficial czar these days—favor things that are “about” painting, like Dave Miko’s canvas propped on a little shelf with drips painted on the wall behind it, carrying the heavy-handed title Lonely Merch Guy. (When will everyone get over the ossified idea that painting’s particular alchemy is suspect? Bad dogma!)

more from Jerry Saltz at New York Magazine here.

the digger years


Christopher Hill, to whose memory these volumes are dedicated, had a lot of time for Gerrard Winstanley. The Digger leader figures prominently in all of Hill’s major works on the revolutionary years of the seventeenth century, and in particular in his classic study, The World Turned Upside Down. That book examined the “other revolution”, the one that “might have established communal property, a far wider democracy in political and legal institutions, might have disestablished the state church and rejected the protestant ethic”. On this view, Winstanley emerges as something of a hero, an embodiment of the radical potential of the 1640s: the Diggers, said Hill, “have something to say to twentieth-century socialists”. The World Turned Upside Down is a book, and an image, that continues to exert a considerable hold over those interested in the countercultural potential of the revolution, as even the most cursory web search reveals. Revisionist historians, by contrast, have tried to cut the English revolution down to size or to cast it in its own terms. In so doing, they naturally also cast a critical eye over the reputation and contemporary significance of its radical heroes. In Winstanley’s case, this led to an emphasis both on the strangeness of his thought for twentieth-century socialists and on the fact that he was a Digger leader only briefly in a long and, in many other ways, very respectable life.

more from Michael Braddick at the TLS here.