Sex, Lies, and Hemingway

From The Paris Review:

Gardenofeden_blog On a late night last week, I slipped out of the Paris Review offices, and into a more glamorous setting across the street. On lower level of the Tribeca Grand Hotel, movie stars were posing with practiced ease in front of a cluster of photographers. The occasion was a preview screening of the film Garden of Eden, which will be released on December 10. Among the celebrities there were Mena Suvari—who oozed classic Hollywood glamour in an all-black ensemble, bright red lipstick, and soft, blond, Veronica Lake waves—and Matthew Modine, tan, rugged, and sporting a jaunty blue scarf. Both star in the new film, based on the Ernest Hemingway novel of the same name. It’s an autobiographical tale set in Europe between the wars that chronicles a love triangle between Hemingway stand-in David Bourne (Jack Huston), his wife, Catherine (Suvari), and the stunning Italian heiress Marita (Caterina Murino), whom Catherine introduces into the relationship during the couple’s seaside honeymoon—a decision she will later come to regret.

The novel, unfinished at the time of Hemingway’s death and published—amid editing controversies—in 1986, was recently adapted for the screen by James Linville, former managing editor of The Paris Review. “My experience in the film industry has been very good so far,” he told me. “And much less rough and tumble than the New York poetry world. I’m being fun,” he hastened to add, though it's easy to see why one would want to trade the world of rejection slips for the chance to mingle with beautiful people.

More here.

In Cybertherapy, Avatars Assist With Healing

From The New York Times:

Cyber His talk was going just fine until some members of the audience became noticeably restless. A ripple of impatience passed through the several dozen seated listeners, and a few seemed suddenly annoyed; then two men started to talk to each other, ignoring him altogether. “When I saw that, I slowed down and then stopped what I was saying,” said the speaker, a 47-year-old public servant named Gary, who last year took part in an unusual study of social anxiety treatment at the University of Quebec.

The anxiety rose in his throat — What if I’m not making sense? What if I’m asked questions I can’t answer? — but subsided as his therapist, observing in the background, reminded him that the audience’s reaction might have nothing to do with him. And if a question stumped him, he could just say so: no one knows everything. He relaxed and finished the talk, and the audience seemed to settle down. Then he removed a headset that had helped create an illusion that the audience was actually there, not just figures on a screen. “I just think it’s a fantastic idea to be able to experience situations where you know that the worst cannot happen,” he said. “You know that it’s controlled and gradual and yet feels somehow real.” For more than a decade, a handful of therapists have been using virtual environments to help people to work through phobias, like a fear of heights or of public spaces. But now advances in artificial intelligence and computer modeling are allowing them to take on a wider array of complex social challenges and to gain insight into how people are affected by interactions with virtual humans — or by inhabiting avatars of themselves.

More here.

Johann Hari gets to grips with his weight

Johann Hari in The Independent:

12hari2_500389t There are moments in life when you feel the universe is telling you – as politely as possible – that you have become a Fat Bastard. For me, the most crucial of those celestial hints came on 23 December last year.

I was jabbering on my phone and hurried into my local KFC to inhale a mixture of lard, salts and chicken corpse when one of the staff exclaimed: “Johann! We have something for you!” And from below the counter, he pulled out a large Christmas card, signed by everybody who worked there. “You are our best customer!” he exclaimed, and – in unison – the staff applauded me. I half-expected Colonel Sanders himself to descend from the back room and smother me with his secret blend of herbs and spices.

This was not an isolated incident. Shortly before, I was watching television late at night, ambling through the channels pointlessly, when I burst out laughing. I had stumbled across a person who looked like a really fat version of me. Chuckling, I texted a friend of mine who is also usually awake at 3am – and then suddenly it hit me. It was a repeat of a programme I had recorded a week before. It was no lookalike. It was me.

Oh, and when I interviewed the Dalai Lama, even he called me fat. When a man revered as an infinitely forgiving living deity calls you a munter, you take the hint.

More here.

Let’s not waste the blasphemy law, please!

Ejaz Haider in Pakistan's Express Tribune:

ScreenHunter_06 Nov. 23 09.59 Now this NCSW [National Commission on the Status of Women], I am told, has strongly condemned the death sentence an additional sessions judge, in his infinite wisdom, has passed on Aasia Bibi. Worse, it is now talking about gross irregularities in the judicial process and questioning how an illiterate Christian woman could have cited Islamic textual and exegetical references to blaspheme against the Prophet (pbuh).

As if the prickly Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) was not bad enough. I ask you! How can technicalities be invoked to prevent the faithful from doing the right thing? Would we now have to subject the operation of our piety to such commissions?

But let me present a simpler argument. It’s a case of logistics. The best catch, I agree, is always an Ahmadi, preferable to a Christian, a Hindu or a Shia or even a shrine-worshipping Muslim. But it’s not every day that one can find an Ahmadi. Some we have allowed to escape to infidel lands. The remnants are breeding slower than the rate at which we can find and kill them. (There’s an argument here, in fact, that we should spare Ahmadis for a while so they can breed enough for our sport.) They are not always readily available, even though we have the ever-vigilant Khatm-e-Nabuwwat sniffing for them everywhere. So, what does one do on a bad, no-Ahmadi day? Right! One should get hold of whoever is available. And if it’s a Christian woman, so be it.

A sort of lagniappe, a Christian woman, but something is better than nothing. Also, my sense is that while killing a Christian is not going to get prime real estate in Paradise, even the shanty side of Paradise is likely to be pretty good.

More here.

A Jury of One

By Feisal Naqvi

LahoreLegal Every night on my TV screen, Alan Shore stands up in defense of a quixotic quest. Sometimes he defends the clearly guilty; sometimes he protects the innocent. But in each episode full of courtroom magic, he bends the jury to his will.

As a lawyer working in Pakistan, I have no shortage of interesting cases. But it is difficult for me to re-enact my Lahori version of Boston Legal because we have no jury trials in Pakistan.

Interestingly, the case which led to the end of jury trials in the sub-continent was certainly worthy of a Boston Legal episode, if not several.

In 1959, Kawas Nanavati, a commander in the Indian Navy, was stationed at Bombay. Married to an English beauty by the name of Sylvie, and universally described as handsome, the 34-year-old mariner seemed to have it all. Unfortunately for him, his wife was sleeping with his best friend, Prem Ahuja.

On April 27, 1959, Nanavati confronted his wife and learnt of her adultery. Pausing only to sign out a revolver from the Navy’s storeroom, Nanavati then dashed off to Ahuja’s house where his friend was lolling around in a towel. Nanavati asked him if he would marry Sylvie and take care of the children. Ahuja’s somewhat undiplomatic response was blunt: “Will I marry every woman I sleep with?”

What happened next is unclear. Nanavati claimed that after Ahuja spotted the revolver, he and Ahuja struggled and that he shot Ahuja during that struggle. In self-defence. Three times.

The Bombay police did not agree with Nanavati’s interpretation of the facts and promptly charged him with murder. The trial became a cause celebre in India. The Parsi community to which Nanavati belonged was outraged, organising rallies and petitions in his favour. Newspapers gave saturation coverage to the case, and later the trial. When Nanavati left the court room after testifying, he was showered with hundred rupee notes smeared with lipstick. Like many teen idols after him, he received marriage proposals by the handful, as India concluded that he was too good for his wife even as a penitent Sylvie, dressed in a white nylon sari, testified in favour of her husband. Bombay’s merchant community also jumped in on the act, selling miniature Nanavati revolvers and Ahuja towels.

The prosecution, of course, never had a chance. Their biggest talking point was that if Nanavati had indeed struggled with Ahuja, Ahuja’s towel would have come off instead of staying on. The fact that Nanavati had first dropped his family off at cinema before signing out a revolver under false pretences also seemed to indicate that he had been in control of his emotions and that the “heat of the moment” story was not true.

None of this mattered to the jury which returned a not-guilty verdict. Considering the judgment to be perverse, the trial court judge referred the matter to the Bombay High Court which ultimately found Nanavati guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Shortly thereafter, the Indian government abolished all jury trials on the grounds that jury verdicts were overly susceptible to media pressures.[i]

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Obama The House Negro — Pity The Man Who Walks On His Knees (And The Nation He Leads From That Position)

by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash

Lemmings Just when you think Obama can't be more disappointing, he lets you down again. Yes, he can.

The midterm elections have come and gone as blip-quick as the adult mayfly — which gets to live, fly, mate and die in 24 hours (there's some consolation: the males fly around with two penises, the females with two vaginas).

Obama campaigned and campaigned but the pitiful Democrats got thumped and shellacked and shat upon from a dizzy height like a gaggle of virgins sodomized in a fancy castle by the Marquis de Sade's massively endowed manservant Latour. They gave up 64 seats in the House: a GOP takeover.

Had it not been for the good fortune of some idiot candidates nominated by the Tea Party, they would've lost the Senate, too. In a state where Senate Leader Harry Reid was universally despised, the GOP managed to dig up a crazy-as-a-rattler-on-crystal-meth candidate that the people of Nevada feared more than they hated Harry Reid. Amazing. Bonk me with a blowdryer.

However, this was but a screwup in a teacup compared to what the Dems did, which was wreck their chances for making any more “reforms” for the next two years or more. And a silent fart in a huge cathedral compared to what our President has wrought, which was wreck his chances for re-election. Just like the Republicans have successfully obstructed anything that can do the country any good over the last two years so they can blame everything wrong on the Democrats, they are now going to make damn sure nothing good happens at all so they can blame everything wrong on the president, and replace him with Mitt Romney (maybe even Sarah Palin). Simple election strategy, and amazingly effective.

Pity poor Obama. That hopey-changey thing didn't work out so well for him at all. He got only two short years to be an effective President. He came from nowhere real fast, and he's going back there real fast: the Mayfly of Presidents.

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Portrait of an Artist as a Middle-Aged Man

Munger-sculptureLet's get one thing straight: Mark isn't really my brother. He's my stepbrother, but I'm closer to him than any other member of my family. At first glance, you wouldn't expect us to have much in common. I have two graduate degrees; he has a GED. I'm training for a marathon; he can barely walk a mile.

For over two decades, the only times we spoke to each other were at infrequent family gatherings. I didn't even call him when my stepsister—his sister—died in a horrible accident. But about six years ago, I was working on a memoir and contacted him to verify some details of the manuscript. He emailed a week later with an apology: “I'm sorry that I didn't get back to you sooner. Everything in my life seems to go slow.” But he had read the whole thing and gave me excellent, detailed feedback. Then he closed with this:

Well, I have so much more to say, but I'm already sore from sitting this long…. I don't know if you know this or not, but I have some seriously painful arthritis in my hips and lower back. So much so, that I had to quit school. I guess I don't know if you even knew that I was going. That's the reason I moved to Tacoma, to try to get a better life… Oh well… Right now I'm in constant pain and I can't walk as well as an average 80 year old!

He had been taking classes to become a dental technician. Years of working in warehouses and construction had taken a serious toll on his body, and he thought this new career would be something he would be able to do. But it was too late—even sitting at a workbench was too painful for him, and he had to drop out, in debt with thousands of dollars in student loans and no way to pay rent.

He wasn't on speaking terms with his father (my stepfather), and his mother had financial problems of her own. A few months later, when I was finally able to visit him (we live on opposite coasts of the country), I saw that he wasn't exaggerating about his condition. Although at the time he was just 39 years old, he stood stooped over, like a man twice his age. He leaned hard on his walking stick, and labored as he shuffled along, periodically wincing in pain.

Although Mark's situation was tragic, it's by no means unusual. Over 13 million Americans receive Federal benefits for a disability that makes them unable to work, and many others are rejected from the program even though they cannot work. The benefit Mark now receives, about $600 per month, is almost enough to cover his essential living expenses, but it can't cover unanticipated surprises like the $400 pair of insoles he had to buy a few months ago to relieve excruciating pain in his feet. Due to byzantine health regulations, if he had had diabetes, the insoles would have been covered, but since his foot pain was caused by arthritis, he had to pay for them himself.

Why isn't more being done about people like Mark, who worked for two decades and paid into a Social Security system that is now letting him down?

I would submit that at least part of the reason is this: Not enough people like me know people like Mark. My friends are professors, administrators, and other professionals who may struggle paying the bills from time to time, but certainly don't face the sort of day-in and day-out fight for the rudiments of survival that Mark does. If you've never sold a car to pay your rent, or had a bullet sail through the wall of your apartment, or had police shut down a meth lab in your building, you probably don't understand the kind of life Mark has had to lead.

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JoyTis the season…this time of the year we throw the word Joy around a lot. But really, what is joy? Happiness seems to be a pretty consistent lack of depression and a state of bliss is usually only achieved by yogis. Isn't contentment really one step away from the acknowledgement that you're actually miserable? Joy though, well joy seems to be something that is fleeting for most of us most of the time, but that is realistically attainable. Joy is that spring in your step, the gleam in your eye, the new love in your life or the pleasure of finding yourself surrounded by your loved ones and, for at least a short time, truly enjoying each others company.

I find that as a middle-aged adult, joy is something that I have to work on; if I'm lucky it sometimes comes to me unbidden, sneaking up behind me and shouting “boo!”. I've come to realize that, while I'm lucky to be generally happy with my life, it's those moments of joy that are truly energizing and inspirational. Recently, I've tried to come to a better self-awareness of what really brings me joy and attempt to seek those things and experiences out.

One realization that I have come to, better late than never, is that for too long in my life, I have settled for a career that was satisfying enough, but not joyful in any way. I made a change, and now, I am able to find true joy in the creativity my job affords me and the wonderful colleagues I get to interact with day in and day out. I work for bosses who appreciate me and let me know it–people I trust, respect and have a deep affection for. Given how many hours a week I spend working, I now realize what a huge gap it was in my life that those hours used to be joyless.

And these musing about the nature of joy, and how important it is for me to feel it in my life more than I have in the past, make me think about my daughters and the joy they have in their lives. Children truly have a capacity for joy that most of us seem to lose as we get older. Most children, at least in the western world, have enough of a carefree existence that, even if their parents are burdened by worries, debts, frustrations, they manage to find enormous joy in their friends, their toys, their pets, their music. But do they find it in their schools? I spend the majority of my life working and children spend the majority of theirs learning. Now that I've realized how important it is that I find joy in those hours of my life, I have to ask the question, shouldn't we give our children this as well?

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Love on a Discount: Metro Manila’s Cheap Motels

Motels3 Huddled in certain city areas all around Metro Manila, motels have taken on a different kind of notoriety. They have huge flashy signs, spelling out specific hour promos, and sometimes feature Christmas lights in the middle of the year. Attendants position themselves on the driveway, ready to direct cars to empty rooms. Beyond providing respite for travelers, motels are a favorite destination of lovers and everyone in need of a quick romantic getaway, availing of the per hour rates which have gone lower and lower over the years. The signs which often feature lovers sleeping peacefully, or pictures of roses and wine, can be availed of for as low as two hundred pesos (less than five US dollars), for the standard three hours.

These motels feel like an adult’s version of a theme park, with each featuring its own packages, themes, promises. The buildings huddle together, compressed into one area, as if asked politely, to contain themselves. Certain cities are famous for having their own motel centers. Pasay City is famous for its pollution and its petty crimes, its cheap late night entertainment of seedy bars and a quick five minute ride to the motel of your choice. These forms of entertainment, susceptible to police raids and Phoenix-style resurrections, are also a quick ride away from century old Churches.

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Brute Neighbors: Urban Nature and the redress of the arts.

by Liam Heneghan

“Industries have been migrating steadily from the larger cities, leaving behind a lazarus stratum of the urban population that exists partly on the dole, partly on crime, partly on the sick fat of the city… Nothing more visibly reveals the overall decay of the modern city than the ubiquitous filth and garbage in its streets, the noise and massive congestion that fills its thoroughfares, the apathy of its population toward civic issues and the ghastly indifference of the individual toward the physical violence that is publicly inflicted on the other members of the community.” Murray Bookchin (1979) Limits of the City Black Rose Books (reprinted in 1996).

“The more it [the city] concentrates the necessities of life the more unlivable it becomes. The notion that happiness is possible in a city, that life there is more intense, pleasure is enhanced, and leisure time more abundant is mystification and myth.” Henri Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, 2003 (1970)

Despite our brooding discontent, our lingering sense that our environing world is in decline, that the world around us is aflame with war, famine, disease, climate weirdness, that our cities are unlivable, that our economies are doomed to collapse, that we are brotherly and sisterly no more, that under our use and abuse, nature’s web is frayed and weary; despite all of this, surely our best days should be ahead of us?

We are, after all, a vernal species, freshly minted by evolutionary processes dating back no more than a couple of hundred thousand years. If a species typically sticks around a million years, by simple calculation we have run less than a quarter of our course. Can we really have sRiverbirchlandscapequandered all of our chances so very soon? In a recent project poet Chris Green and I ask, paraphrasing Seamus Heaney, if poets, artists, creative writers, philosophers, and photographers, can help redress the environmental problems that beset us. Artists who live where the flames rise highest, that is in cities – seemingly the very epicenter of our crises, cannot necessarily be appealed to for succor in tough times. Good art after all may do very little, but by the reckless blaze of good work, surely we can see the new terrain in all its ambiguity and complexity, and re-envision the task ahead in a more hopeful way than we have become used to.

Our natural proclivities equip us for debacle and solution in seemingly equal measure. Primates, such as we are, are characterized by generalized natures, there is little that is distinctive about all of us other than our lack of distinction. Said another way we have evolutionary suppleness – a commitment to innovation. We humans, for instance, having no specialized defense mechanisms – we exude no toxic or noisome chemicals, our teeth may gnash but rarely assail, we have no carapace to shield our moist vulnerability. Biological features noteworthy about us are extensions of our beastly condition: we are mobile, and we have brains swollen like ripe fruit atop erect bodies; clever apes that we are, we have perfected the manipulation of the surrounding world in a manner that extends our reach beyond bodily limitations – technology, another extension of primate innovation, is our ecology. For ninety-nine percent of our history we exclusively gathered, and occasionally hunted, and our numbers were modest; we lived within the confines of local ecological systems. Though perennially extending our range, pullulating out from our African home-range to encompass much of the inhabitable earth, we have generally been more constrained by nature, than we were a strain on nature. A mere geological moment ago, everything changed. Ten thousand years ago we became dramatically less mobile, we cultivated and accumulated rather than collected, we domesticated plants and animals, and indeed we ultimately domesticated ourselves. The reverberations of this agricultural revolution, this domestication revolution, are still omnipresent. Anthropologists inform us that civilization and its accoutrements: permanent architecture, metallurgy, writing, villages, towns and cities, are aftershocks of the agricultural revolution.

About one year ago, a decided marker in the quarter million year gestation of this species was reached. Our primate tendencies of mobility, braininess, dexterousness, and suppleness, characteristics that had served us handsomely on the savannas of the world had resulted in the completion of the following colossal transition: we had now become an urban species. More than fifty per cent of the world’s population now lives in cities!

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Conceptual Conceits: Apparitions, Fictions and Illusions in Death Photography

Henry_Peach_Robinson_Fading_Away_1858 The celebrated post-modernist Urdu writer Naiyer Masud’s book of stories The Essence of Camphor1 begins with a black and white photograph of the author as a young boy of four to five years, lying on a bed facing the camera, eyes somewhat askew yet curious, clutching onto his favourite ball. Behind the bed, sheathed by an ornate bed cover upon which the young boy lays, is a table or a chest covered similarly and on which sits an alarm clock. A drape behind this clock completes this seemingly aphasic tableau, plain and perhaps white, but embellished with a floral pattern in its centre. The focal point of this image seems to be the clock – one’s attention is immediately drawn to it. The text below the photograph reveals that the author was very sickly then, suffering from a continuous fever for over forty days. All hopes of his survival were lost. Consequently, the author’s parents called in the famous Lucknowi photographer, Mirza Mughal Beg, to make a portrait of the dying child – a memento mori. The author had willed that his ball be buried alongside him in the grave that was to be his final resting place. Done in the western pictorialist style of deathbed/post-mortem photographs of the 19th century, the clock’s centrality is not merely to mark a referential time of death, but also to symbolically represent the passage, and indeed, the very evanescence of life itself. The ornate bedcover and drapes act as embellishments, funerary accoutrements, to beautify the scene, to render it as the stage of an exalted, melancholic event in the creation of the idealized ‘mourning portrait’ – a relic for the bereaved with which they could grieve in a ‘novel and acute form(s)’2 and retain the presence of their departed loved one.

But Naiyer Masud did not die (most fortuitously for us) and what was intended to be his last photograph turned out to be his very first portrait. In the Proustian render of the image, the talismanic ball, its underlying theme, its accompanying caption, and its surreal context, suffused with as intense a melancholic character as one can extrapolate from the archetypal untimely death of a masterful writer-in-making, this portrait of an artist as a near-dead young boy, is not so much moderated or tempered as it is instead amplified on a parallel plane to, suggest cunningly, a Borgesian duplicity of sorts – a literary trick, a fiction, a defeat of time, destiny and death itself. Perhaps emblematic of his writerly life, mimicking the spectral atmospherics of his stories, wherein ghostly psychological afflictions and unspoken incantations drift by in Lucknow’s old quarters, by-lanes, and the minds of the characters who inhabit the city and the narrative, the image, perhaps in shadowy pursuance of ‘the signs of the soul in men’3, can be read as a conceptualist artifice, invoking the conceits of many a literary and artistic prankster.

Susan Sontag informs us that ‘picture taking is an event in itself’; immortality is conferred on the event by the ‘image-world that bids to outlast us’.4 Further, she also argues that ‘photography is an elegiac art, a twilight art. Most subjects photographed are …touched with pathos’, and that ‘all photographs are memento-mori’. If that constitutes an emotive register there is always the claim to ‘another reality’; the native surrealism inherent in photographs is in part due to ‘its irrefutable pathos as a message from time past’.5

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The Geeks and the Antiheroes

“The sign of being at home is the ability to make oneself understood without too much difficulty, and to follow the reasoning of others without any need for long explanations.”
—Vincent Descombes, on Proust's narrator, and all of us

Geeks These people step into the room, in pairs or alone. They’re all the way from towns you’ve never heard of in Georgia and Kentucky and Oklahoma and Arkansas. From Kansas and Louisiana and Texas. They manufacture farm equipment, or they preach. Or they speak only Korean at home, and what they do for work – or used to do – never fits into this stilted conversation.

Welcome to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

The old man who looks more like Nora’s grandpa than her father has his hair newly buzzed and wears the name of his equipment manufacturer on his shirt pocket and asks what good will it do them, what we’re teaching them. He really does mutter something about commie liberals a few times. I’m sort of amazed at how calmly I am able to answer him. He talks about a much older girl they have who went upstate for a teacher’s degree – and he guffaws at how Nora in seventh grade scored, well, so much higher on the SAT than the older girl did on the way to college. This funny knack his kid has, like how some people turn out double-jointed or ambidextrous.

The divorced father of the girl we’ve been calling Anastasia, from outside Plano, scratches out notes with a pencil and says very little. His hair is an artificial grey and his forehead shines. On the phone, his ex-wife is alternately condescending and irate. Stacy’s older sister didn’t do so great on her ACT, but she knew what she wanted to go to school for and it was easy to sign her up. But then, now, Stacy got this perfect score in seventh grade, and it seems like she’s good at mostly everything. And I don’t know what to do for her. The father’s face is like putty.

Nora’s mother, who must be a couple of decades younger than the old man, tells how the older girl was kind of lazy and used to ask her little sister how to spell out certain words and what they meant. Here was this nearly grown high school girl asking her little third-grade sister to check her homework for her, the mom remembers. The old man says maybe Nora’d like to go to work for the family business – though she’s got her eye on the city university. He snorts at this – the most expensive college in the state.

They ask me what they should do with Nora. I speak slowly because I’m sleep deprived, and they mistake this for calm and gravity.

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Taking Back Plymouth Rock

On Thanksgiving Day, 1970, Indians took Plymouth back from the Pilgrims.

It was the work of the American Indian Movement (AIM), which had been founded in 1968 by Dennis Banks and several other Anishinaabe men (more commonly known as “Ojibway” or “Chippewa”) living AIMin Minneapolis. Banks and his partners originally formed AIM to help the local Indian population, which had grown substantially in many cities around the country since WWII. During the previous quarter-century, there had been two forces driving people away from reservations and towards urban centers. One was access to better paying jobs in the manufacturing sector, which had recuperated with the outbreak of war and grew during the heyday of America’s industrial might that followed. The other was a disingenuous federal program of the 1950s-60s called Relocation. The actual goal of federal policy makers had been to liquidate reservation populations by luring Indian people to distant cities with empty promises. The actual result had been the rise of Indian ghettos that cropped up in cities across America.

Inspired by the Civil Rights movement, the emerging Black Power movement, and a desire to re-connect with their Indian culture and heritage, early AIM efforts included openly monitoring the city police to prevent and report abuses against Indian people, fighting housing and job discrimination, and setting up Survival Schools: after school programs for Indian children where they could stay out of trouble, pick up tips on handling the city’s mean streets, and learn about Indian culture and history, topics that were still absent from most public school curricula.

Initial successes led to increased popularity and funding, and organizational expansion soon followed. In early 1970, a Cleveland chapter of AIM was founded by Russell Means, an Oglala Lakota Sioux from Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota who had mostly grown up in the Bay area of California after his father had taken a job at a defense plant during the war. As an adult, Means had gone back to South Dakota, briefly working as an accountant at the nearby Rosebud Reservation. By then,Means and Banks, 1973 the failures of Relocation were obvious to all, and Indians were routinely using the program for their own purposes, not the government’s. In that vain, Means had used Relocation to move his family to Cleveland where he founded the Cleveland Indian Center in 1969.

Means had a forceful personality, tremendous charisma, and he was fearless in advocating for issues he believed in. He also brought to AIM an inspired appreciation for political theater. Though there would eventually develop a long history of tension and competition between them, Banks’ and Means’ talents, approaches, and interests dovetailed substantially, and the two of them would soon emerge as the Movement’s primary leaders and spokesmen. Thanksgiving Day, 1970 would provide them the opportunity to perform on a national stage for the first time.

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Floods and Plagues: New Lessons From the Old Testament

The late spring/early summer of 2010 was much wetter than normal in West Central Illinois. The sewer backed up into my basement while I was out of town. I returned home to an unmistakable smell and dismissed it as a “freak event” while I cleaned it up. A couple weeks later, I was home during a particularly Biblical downpour. The sewer began to back up again and, despite my best efforts to staunch the flow with a plunger, sewage poured out of my basement toilet with a ferocity that was reminiscent of the elevator scene in Stanley Kubrick's “The Shining” except in sepia-tone. When I called the city to remind them that I paid for sewage to be taken away from my house not delivered to it, I was told that May and June of 2010 were unusually wet and that the city's old-school combined system could not handle it (newer systems have separate pipes for sewage and storm run-off). The voice on the phone told me that we had received 24″ of rain in May and June. I checked the weather for 2010: In May we received 11.90″ and June 11.78″. I checked the climate records: The long term average for May was 4.27″ and the previous record for the month 11.29″ recorded in 1908. The long term average for June was 4.26″ and the previous monthly record of 13.97″ had been set in 1902. In other words, in two consecutive months we had nearly equaled or exceeded all time records, which were set over a century ago! This gave me something to think about as I squee-geed, shop-vacced, and Cloroxed my basement for the second time in as many weeks: How does a culture or civilization respond when all of its assumptions about the world (and the resulting necessary embodiment in infrastructure) no longer apply?


The instant flood and prospect of illness presented by the excrement got me thinking about two classic tales in the Old Testament: The Noahic Flood from Genesis and the Ten Plagues of Egypt from Exodus. As a Biologist I get some grief for being a scientist and for Science and Religion being incompatible. On the one hand, science is not known for supporting supernatural explanations of any kind. On the other hand, naturalistic accounts could explain some phenomena that appeared to be supernatural to people of the Old Testament.

I was brought up by a completely lapsed Southern Baptist, thoroughly agnostic father and Bahá'í mother (who was herself the product of a non-practicing Jewish father and non-practicing Catholic mother). Not surprisingly, I decided at a pretty young age that everything in the Abrahamic tradition could be read metaphorically rather than strictly literally, so I was amazed when I began to realize there was a cottage industry of scientists who tried to explain things in the Bible using modern methods and methodologies. If for no other reason than that I could tell people that science supported some of the things in the Bible (and that therefore they were not completely opposed to each other), I began to save some articles and make some notes.

In the late 1990's a pair of geologists published a book that explained the Noahic flood as the flooding of land around the Black Sea as the Mediterranean rose from melting glacial ice sheets and spilled over the Bosporus and offered some compelling evidence to support their ideas. At about the same time, a pair of epidemiologists (Marr and Malloy, 1996) arrived at a plausible epidemiological explanation of the 10 plagues of Egypt. I would like to explore both of these hypotheses a bit and put together my own synthesis.

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Landmarks in the Critical Study of Secularism

0816633320.big_ Matthew Scherer over at the SSRC's The Immanent Frame:

In September of 2010, Talal Asad, William E. Connolly, Charles Hirschkind, and I met at the annual American Political Science Association conference to discuss two seminal texts in a recently emerging field of study, which could tentatively be called the critical study of secularism. The texts in question were Connolly’s Why I Am Not a Secularist (1999) and Asad’s Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam and Modernity (2003), each now roughly a decade old.

In preparing for this conversation, we did not set the task of doing justice to the scope and subtlety of these texts but aimed instead to use them as a starting point for taking stock of and thinking about the ground that has been covered in the critical study of secularism since their original publication. What follows here are five questions that emerged for me in re-reading Why I Am Not a Secularist and Formations of the Secular. They aim to draw together common themes, underline divergences, and generally open Asad’s and Connolly’s texts again for discussion.

First question: What is secularism?

It sounds naive, but disagreement about the basic significance of “secularism” is a recurrent problem in today’s discussions. There may, however, be important reasons for the muddle that besets critical literatures on “the secular,” “secularity,” “secularism,” and “secularization,” sending them around this question again and again.

Why I Am Not a Secularist and Formations of the Secular, at any rate, remain two of the most striking, ambitious, and important restatements of the problem of secularism. To be sure, they acknowledge and grapple with the persistence of familiar and, in some sense, indispensable answers: That secularism is simply the separation of church and state. That it is, more specifically, a form of separation that makes religion private while making power and reason public. That secularism is an ideology. That it is an institutional formation that governs the conduct of individuals and communities. Yet they also show how such answers are insufficiently accurate, woefully unhistorical, and incomplete in more fundamental ways.

As Tigers Near Extinction, A Last-Ditch Strategy Emerges

Tiger_recovery_175b Caroline Fraser at Yale Environment 360:

The most venerated predator on Earth, the tiger is also the most vulnerable, described in a recent World Bank document as “enforcement-dependent.” The phrase is borrowed from the medical world, where patients reliant on blood products are known as “transfusion-dependent.” Saved only by scarce conservation dollars and thin ranks of poorly equipped park guards, the tiger’s hold on life is tenuous. Without future infusions of expensive, well-coordinated, state-of-the-art life-support, Panthera tigris is doomed in the wild.

Now, in one of the most high-profile conservation interventions in recent memory, the World Bank is stepping in to try to secure that life support. At a meeting later this month, the bank's president, Robert Zoellick, will seek approval from the leaders of 13 tiger range countries for an extraordinarily ambitious plan to save the world’s few remaining tigers and their habitat. At the same time, a group of leading tiger scientists and conservationists is lobbying for a similar effort to protect the tiger’s last remaining breeding populations.

The tiger’s situation has grown desperate in a mere century. A hundred years ago, there were over 100,000 in the wild, with more than 40,000 in India alone. Currently, the total number of tigers worldwide is calculated at fewer than 3,500. Three subspecies — Javan, Bali, and Caspian tigers — vanished during the 20th century. A fourth, the South China tiger, has not been seen in the wild for more than 25 years and is assumed to have gone extinct during the 1990s.


Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker:

ScreenHunter_05 Nov. 21 19.21 It is to William Makepeace Thackeray that the English language owes the colloquial use of the word “snob”—a formerly obscure term that the novelist popularized in a series of satirical essays published in Punch in the mid-nineteenth century. In them, Thackeray—who went on to write “Vanity Fair”—attempted a taxonomy of the type, ranging from the Military Snob (“With his great stupid pink face and yellow moustachios”) to Sporting Snobs (“Those happy beings in whom Nature has implanted a love of slang”) and the Dinner-giving Snob (“a man who goes out of his natural sphere of society to ask Lords, Generals, Aldermen, and other persons of fashion, but is niggardly of his hospitality towards his own equals”). “I have (and for this gift I congratulate myself with a Deep and Abiding Thankfulness) an eye for a Snob,” Thackeray wrote. “You must not judge hastily or vulgarly of Snobs: to do so shows that you are yourself a Snob.”

This last observation has been taken as a motto by Snob, a Russian-language magazine that, having been launched in Russia and Europe, has just been rolled out in the United States. Snob, which is being funded by Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire who recently acquired the New Jersey Nets and an interest in a big chunk of Brooklyn real estate, looks like a cross between Tatler and The New York Review of Books, printed on the kind of paper stock usually reserved for royal invitations. It features articles by Gary Shteyngart and Salman Rushdie, photography by Ellen von Unwerth and Francesco Carrozzini, and an alarming cover price of eight dollars. It is aimed at international Russians—those successful, educated cosmopolites who might live part of the time in London or New York but who, the folk at Snob like to say, think in Russian.

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