Tuesday Poem

Getting Laundry Done in Rampur

Dobiwallah, please take my socks;
these ragged trousers and shirts;
and the shalwar kameez I bought
in the town upstream of here
between one bus and the next.

Beat them clean for me. Hurl them
into the cold waters, against
sharp-edged volcanic rocks — don’t let
the fear of crowding, the stupid words
spilled as answers to strangers
stay in their cloth. Hammer it out.

If a button comes off the shirt,
let it float all the way past Agra
(if they let such a tourist
so close to the Taj Mahal for free).
Let it come to Delhi and be gathered
by a hand glad for one more thing
the river brings. I will follow.

by Hanna Coy
from You Are Here, 2010

Seeing the Natural World With a Physicist’s Lens

Natalie Angier in The New York Times:

ANGI-sfSpan If you’ve ever stumbled your way through a newly darkened movie theater, unable to distinguish an armrest from a splayed leg or a draped coat from a child’s head, you may well question some of the design features of the human visual system. Sure, we can see lots of colors during the day, but turn down the lights and, well, did you know that a large bucket of popcorn can accommodate an entire woman’s shoe without tipping over?

Yet for all these apparent flaws, the basic building blocks of human eyesight turn out to be practically perfect. Scientists have learned that the fundamental units of vision, the photoreceptor cells that carpet the retinal tissue of the eye and respond to light, are not just good or great or phabulous at their job. They are not merely exceptionally impressive by the standards of biology, with whatever slop and wiggle room the animate category implies. Photoreceptors operate at the outermost boundary allowed by the laws of physics, which means they are as good as they can be, period. Each one is designed to detect and respond to single photons of light — the smallest possible packages in which light comes wrapped.

More here.

Caucasian Nation

Marco Roth in n + 1:

ScreenHunter_02 Nov. 02 10.10 The present blooming fantasy of white victimization has roots in the peculiar violent institutions of the 19th-century American South. In the distant mirror of history, it’s easy to spot the irony and the guilt: even before the Civil War began, whites worried that their slaves would rise up and repay their masters in kind — filch the fruit of their labor, rape them, and beat them, sometimes to death. As soon as the balance of power shifted and news of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse circulated throughout the former slave states, those fears ran amok. Mark Summers, a historian of the disastrous “Reconstruction” that condemned recently freed blacks to another century of oppression, has observed that the South, unlike the North, had no truly independent newspapers or magazines. What fair and balanced organs then existed reported rumors and falsehoods, like the arrival of a “liberating” French army sent by Napoleon III the same week of Lee’s surrender, or the forced seizure of former plantations by mobs of roving blacks. In Summers’s telling phrase, “the white south saw with dreadful clarity things that did not exist.”

More here.

The signature of the bluffing brain

Ed Yong in Not Exactly Rocket Science:

Poker The best poker players are masters of deception. They’re good at manipulating the actions of other players, while masking their own so that their lies become undetectable. But even the best deceivers have tells, and Meghana Bhatt from Baylor University has found some fascinating ones. By scanning the brains and studying the behaviour of volunteers playing a simple bargaining game, she has found different patterns of brain activity that correspond to different playing styles. These “neural signatures” separate the players who are adept at strategic deception from those who play more straightforwardly.

In the game, a buyer and a seller negotiate over the sale of an imaginary object. The buyer is told about the object’s value in private and suggests a price to the seller, who then sets the actual price. If the price is less than the value, the deal goes ahead, the seller gets the price and the buyer gets the difference between that figure and the object’s value. If the seller’s price is too high, the deal is called off and no one gets anything. This goes on for 60 rounds and at the end of each, the players aren’t told about the outcomes.

Because of this set-up, buyers do best if they set low prices, because they stand to gain the most profits if the sellers accept. Sellers, however, prefer high prices to make the most from their sale. To play successfully, buyers have to keep in mind the object’s real value, the price that they offer, how they think the seller will react to their move, how they could make the most money, and how they can manipulate the seller to accomplish that.

More here.

The Phantom Left

Chris Hedges in Dandelion Salad:

Jon-stewart-rally The loss of a radical left in American politics has been catastrophic. The left once harbored militant anarchist and communist labor unions, an independent, alternative press, social movements and politicians not tethered to corporate benefactors. But its disappearance, the result of long witch hunts for communists, post-industrialization and the silencing of those who did not sign on for the utopian vision of globalization, means that there is no counterforce to halt our slide into corporate neofeudalism. This harsh reality, however, is not palatable. So the corporations that control mass communications conjure up the phantom of a left. They blame the phantom for our debacle. And they get us to speak in absurdities.

The phantom left took a central role on the mall this weekend in Washington. It had performed admirably for Glenn Beck, who used it in his own rally as a lightning rod to instill anger and fear. And the phantom left proved equally useful for the comics Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who spoke to the crowd wearing red-white-and-blue costumes. The two comics evoked the phantom left, as the liberal class always does, in defense of moderation, which might better be described as apathy. If the right wing is crazy and if the left wing is crazy, the argument goes, then we moderates will be reasonable. We will be nice. Exxon and Goldman Sachs, along with predatory banks and the arms industry, may be ripping the guts out of the country, our rights—including habeas corpus—may have been revoked, but don’t get mad. Don’t be shrill. Don’t be like the crazies on the left.

“Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own?” Stewart asked. “We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is—on the brink of catastrophe—torn by polarizing hate, and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done. But the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day. The only place we don’t is here [in Washington] or on cable TV.”

The rally delivered a political message devoid of reality or content.

More here.

James A. FitzPatrick’s India

By Namit Arora

Traveltalks James A. FitzPatrick (1894-1980), American movie-maker, is best known for his 200+ short documentary films from around the world. They appeared in two series, Traveltalks and The Voice of the Globe, which he wrote, produced, and directed from 1929-55. Commissioned by MGM, the shorts played before its feature films and were no doubt a mind-expanding experience for many. Some of them are now online at the Travel Film Archive. Nearly eighty years later, what should we make of FitzPatrick and his travel films?

FitzPatrick's shorts on India—including Jaipur, Benares, Bombay, The Temple of Love (Delhi & Agra, no audio), and others not yet online—are a rare and unique window into Indian public life in the 1930s. We can see what many of these cities' prominent streets and traffic looked like before motor vehicles and billboards, what familiar urbanscapes and skylines looked like, and how uncrowded these cities were before the big rural migrations, not to mention 70% fewer Indians. It is interesting to hear an American public figure from the 1930s pronounce on the castes of India, the religiosity of the Indians, and how they shared their public spaces with animals. They have the charm of quaint narrative conventions we find in period pieces. His films are valuable records of history also because they are a unique encounter of two very different cultures—illuminating the world behind the lens through the one in front.

But having said that, I also think their present value owes more to the paucity of video records of everyday life from that era, than to the quality of FitzPatrick's mind. FitzPatrick seems to me very much a man of his time. In his directorial choices and opinions, he may well qualify as a textbook orientalist. This is not to say that his films are devoid of truth, empathy or humor. It is to say that he brought along with him a marked sense of cultural and racial superiority, as he trained his viewfinder on what he found amusing, outlandish or admirable.

§

James_fitzpatrick FitzPatrick saw Bombay as “the first constructive imprint of western civilization upon this much talked of and generally misunderstood country.” He was impressed by the cosmopolitan life and energy of Bombay, whose population was “over one million people, representing practically every race and creed in the world.” But even in Bombay, he notes, “the 15th century is constantly rubbing shoulders with the 20th” and “the ancient procession goes on in strange defiance.” In his day, Jaipur was apparently “off the beaten track of tourist travel” despite being “unquestionably the most colorful of all the cities in India [and] one of the cleanest and most prosperous.” He doubts if there is another “place in the world where birds and beasts live in closer proximity with mankind.” The people of Jaipur, he finds, have “a contented and peaceful nature, living in a sort of bovine resignation to life”. While in Benares, “the Hindu Heaven”, he suspects that “in the whole world there is no stranger manifestation of human faith in the supernatural than what is witnessed here on the banks of the sacred Ganges.” It confounds him that millions of “dumb animals”, “made and kept worthless by the Hindu religious code, roam the land devouring annually millions of dollars worth of food for which they produce nothing.”

Read more »

Yet Another Monday Poem

Learning by Heart

He recited a short poem to me
Which he had learned by heart
Not to impress or intimidate
Me, or anyone else,

But just in case one year
Spring might be late in coming
And he need cheer his friends
Saddened by the dearth of birdsong.

Or perhaps for that moment in love
When he would be struck speechless,
When he knew that he would need
To borrow another man’s tongue.

Or maybe just so that if he wanted
He could tie a brightly colored cravat
On the neck of an autumn crepuscule
Too-soberly dressed in a charcoal suit.

For Robin Varghese, April 8, 2010—S. Abbas Raza

Monday Poem

Bread on the Water – mp3

Bread Upon the Water

Oh, the young don't keep
and the old just go
and the keeper of the sheep
casts a long, long shadow
but your song won't come
where your life won't go

so throw your bread on the water
and beat your feet to the chimes
and if you have a daughter
and you count your change to the dime
and if you open up the borders
it'll all fall in behind

Well, every book just speaks
and every light just shines
and every touch just feels
and every look just finds
and everywhere just is
and every road's a line

so throw your bread on the water
and beat your feet to the chimes
and if you have a daughter
and you count your change to the dime
and if you open up the borders
it'll all fall in behind

When every deed is done
and the morale is so low
and the dream is over
just like it didn't grow
well, the soil is still good
and with what we know

throw your bread on the water
and beat your feet to the chimes
and if you have a daughter
and you count your change to the dime
and if you open up the borders
it'll all fall in behind

song by Jim Culleny, 1970
© 1972, Jim Culleny and Starship Productions

Attached mp3 recorded 1972,
Intermedia Studios, Newberry St., Boston, MA

To Spend or Not To Spend: The Austerity vs. Stimulus Debate

Greek unions protest

Public sector austerity has come back to the West in a big way. Governments throughout the European Union are wrestling against striking civil servants, a stagnant private sector, and an entrenched public welfare system to drastically reduce spending. The budget cuts are broad, and they run deep. Under pressure from global financial markets and the European Central Bank to reduce public deficits, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Greece have issued “austere” budgets for the coming year that simultaneously raise taxes and slash government spending. David Cameron’s new Conservative government has violated its campaign pledge to spare Britain’s generous middle class subsidies in an attempt to close a budget gap that is among the world’s largest, at 11 percent of GDP. Supposedly confirming the wisdom of austerity, the financial press has trumpeted the re-election of Latvia’s center-right government, which passed an IMF-endorsed budget with austerity reductions equal to 6.2 percent of GDP. Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis won his “increased mandate” – “an inspiration for his colleagues in the EU” – against a backdrop of 20 percent unemployment and a cumulative economic contraction of 25 percent in 2008 and 2009, the most severe collapse in the world.

Latvian electoral politics notwithstanding, austerity has been a tough sell worldwide. Both the protests that broke out across Europe at the end of September and the general strikes mounted against Socialist governments in Portugal, Spain, and Greece attest to the resistance all governments face in cutting public spending. And opposition has not been confined to the streets. At a G20 summit in Washington DC on April 23, the finance ministers and central bank governors of the world’s 20 largest economies agreed that extraordinary levels of public spending should be maintained until “the recovery is firmly driven by the private sector and becomes more entrenched.” Indeed, Larry Summers, the departing Director of the White House National Economic Council, still argues that the United States must continue its policy of economic stimulus in the form of deficit spending on infrastructure rather than pull back public resources, lest it cede the small gains of the nascent recovery.

Read more »

0

To be able

Just to be

Present

With

Without

Want

Of

Possession.

Is it possible?

This nothing?

Is that the space

Of not

That space?

That refuge?

Is it possible?

This nothing?

Where nothing, is.

After journeys of

Need,

Want,

Loss.

This addition

Of shedding is

Nothing.

The place arrived.

Ethiopia1 041

Build me a space where the walls hold up the sky.

Where the ceiling allows in

The moon and his daughters:

The star at dusk and dawn’s star.

Where there is room for thought to settle in and scatter on

The citrus and jasmine scented breeze

From the courtyard.

There, in the shade of the trees, a water pool

Harvests the rain, and reflects the promise of fruits in blossom above

And sounds of sparrows mingle

With the rustling of the leaves.

By Maniza Naqvi

The Owls | The Sorrow Gondola by Tomas Transtromer

A Page from the Nightbook

Sorrow-gondola-cover By Tomas Tranströmer

One night in May I stepped ashore
through a cool moonlight
where the grass and flowers were gray
but smelled green.

I drifted the slope
in the colorblind night
while white stones
signaled to the moon.

In a period
a few minutes long
and fifty-eight years wide.

And behind me
beyond the lead-shimmering water
lay the other shore
and those who ruled.

People with a future
instead of faces.

*

Translator's Note:

In the days leading up to the announcement of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, the literary world was abuzz after British odds-makers, Ladbrokes, published their Nobel predictions in The Guardian (UK). They originally placed the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer in pole position. For devotees of Tranströmer’s poetry (and there are many, as he’s the 20th century’s most translated poet behind Pablo Neruda), this was far from surprising news. I first encountered Tranströmer's work through Samuel Charters’ translation of the book-length poem Baltics (Oyez, 1975). For me, Tomas Tranströmer’s poetry is uncontainable, organic, apparitional, and wrought with simultaneities. His work is stripped down to an acute, essential lyricism that he finds in the natural world and the wilderness of the imagination. He has always been outside of academic circles and has never belonged to an aesthetic movement. His background is in psychology, the piano, and entomology. He writes with spiritual overtones yet avoids the trappings of religious poetry. He alludes to political peril and the great human failings of our recent history yet he does so without pandering to didacticism. His allegiances are to liminal spaces, hinterlands, intersections, border crossings, and the images that take us there.

–Michael McGriff

*

“A Page from The Nightbook,” by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Michael McGriff and Mikaela Grassl, from The Sorrow Gondola, Green Integer Books, 2010. Click here for Green Integer's ordering information on this title. The Owls site is for digital writing and art projects. New projects on the site include Micrograffiti, edited by Stacey Swann, and Pima Road Notebook, by Keith Ekiss. Cross-posts appear here thanks to 3DQ. Updates from The Owls are available via email subscription on the main page. To add The Owls to your Facebook news stream, Like the site here.

Last Call: 3 Quarks Daily is looking for New Monday Columnists

Dear Reader,

AbbasHere's your chance to say what you want to the large international audience of highly educated readers that make up the 3QD audience! Several of our regular columnists have had to cut back or even completely quit their columns for 3QD because of other personal and professional commitments, and so we are looking for new voices. We cannot pay, but it is a good chance to draw attention to subjects you are interested in, and to get feedback from us and from our readers.

You would have a column published at 3QD every fourth Monday. It should generally be between 1000 and 2500 words and can be about any subject at all. To qualify for a Monday slot, please submit a sample column to me by email (s.abbas.raza.1 at gmail.com) as an MS Word-compatible document, which I will then circulate to the other editors, and we will let you know our decision fairly quickly after we have a vote on it a fews days after November 1. If you are given a slot on the 3QD schedule, your sample can also serve as your first column. Feel free to use pictures, graphs, or other illustrations in your column. Naturally, you retain full copyright over your writing.

To browse previous columns, go to our Mondays page.

Please DO NOT submit more than one piece of writing, and also do not send the URL for a whole blog or website. I do not have the time to look through multiple postings. Select one piece of writing that you think is representative of the kinds of things you'd like to do at 3QD and just send that.

Several of the people who started writing at 3QD have gone on to get regular paid gigs at well-known magazines, others have written well-received books. Even those who have not, have written to me saying that it has been a uniquely rewarding experience. (See, for example, Aditya Dev Sood's note in the comments section of this post.) If you have a blog or website of your own, please help us to spread this invitation by linking to this post.

The absolute deadline for sample submissions is 11:59 PM EST, November 1, 2010, (that's today) so start writing!

All best,

Abbas