deaf: an ethnicity?


The newly published The People of the Eye sets out to define the Deaf-World and to fight for it. Where Deaf activists have spent decades arguing that deafness is not a defect but a character trait — a benefit even — The People of the Eye goes a step further. It asserts that Deaf is an ethnicity. An ethnicity like all officially classed ethnicities, to be given its due, politically and culturally. Authors Harlan Lane, Richard C. Pillard, and Ulf Hedberg write that, although Deaf identity is based not on religion, race, or class, “there is no more authentic expression of an ethnic group than its language.” Language is the core of American Deaf life. The important characteristic that distinguishes deafness from other conditions classed as disabilities is that deafness is a matter of communication. With the emergence of Deaf schools, literacy allowed Deaf people to better communicate in the hearing world. As ASL developed, Deaf Americans could better communicate with each other, and with this came the creation of a Deaf culture, even a new way of being. ASL signers say that they spend much more time thinking about and dealing with language than most Americans, resulting in a rich and independent tradition of Deaf language arts — literature, theater, journalism. Deaf people have their own clubs, their own rituals, their own places of worship, their own newspapers, their own sense of humor. The People of the Eye discusses, too, how the fully embodied language of ASL and Deaf pride created a culture of storytelling in the Deaf-World, and how this storytelling developed a unique narrative structure based on the particularities of ASL.

more from Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set here.



More than fifty years have passed since critics rediscovered Buster Keaton and pronounced him the most “modern” silent film clown, a title he hasn’t shaken since. In his own day he was certainly famous but never commanded the wealth or popularity of Charlie Chaplin or Harold Lloyd, and he suffered most when talkies arrived. It may be that later stars like Cary Grant and Paul Newman and Harrison Ford have made us more susceptible to Keaton’s model of offhand stoicism than his own audiences were. Seeking for his ghost is a fruitless business, though; for one thing, film comedy today has swung back toward the sappy, blatant slapstick that Keaton disdained. There’s some “irony” in what Judd Apatow and Adam Sandler do, but it’s irony that clamors to win the identification of the supposedly browbeaten everyman in every audience. Keaton took your average everyman and showed how majestically alone he was. The story of his life seems in its twists and dives borrowed from his movies, survival demanding a pure lack of sentiment. There were twenty years of child stardom in vaudeville and nearly a decade making popular silent movies, followed by alcoholism, a nasty divorce, a nastier second marriage, twenty years producing a few dreadful blockbusters for MGM followed by a long series of low-budget flops, and a third lasting marriage, until his silent work was unearthed and brought him renewed recognition. “What you have to do is create a character,” he once said. “Then the character just does his best, and there’s your comedy. No begging.” He embodied this attitude so entirely in his silent films that you can’t watch him without feeling won over, a partisan of the nonpartisan side.

more from Jana Prikryl at the NYRB here.

wikipedia, a UNESCO site?


Boasting more than 18 million entries in 279 languages, Wikipedia is arguably the largest store of human knowledge in the history of mankind. In its first decade, the digital encyclopedia has done more to challenge the way we think about the relationship between knowledge and the Internet than virtually any other website. But is this ubiquitous tree of knowledge as culturally sacred as the pyramids of Giza, the archaeological site of Troy, or the Native American mound cities of Cahokia? Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, thinks so. Spurred on by a German chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation, the digital encyclopedia will launch a petition this week to have the website listed on the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s world heritage lists. If accepted, Wikipedia would be afforded the international protection and preservation afforded to man made monuments and natural wonders. The first digital entity to vie for recognition as cultural treasure, Wikipedia argues that the site meets the first and foremost of UNESCO’s criteria: “to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius. ”

more from Jared Keller at The Atlantic here.

Ideas festival: Great minds think and drink alike

From The Telegraph:

Ruth Most people go to Hay-on-Wye for the annual literary festival – not to ponder profound existential questions. But this year, more than 7,000 visitors will arrive for the world's largest philosophy festival. HowTheLightGetsIn was founded in 2009 by the philosopher Hilary Lawson, whose aim is create a festival-like atmosphere, in which to discuss issues that make us tick. The festival is named after lyrics found in a Leonard Cohen song, “Anthem”; (“There is a crack in everything/ That's how the light gets in”). Philosophical debates, this year including Philip Pullman discussing the role of fantasy in his novels and life, are combined with live bands, film screenings, comedy and all-night parties.

“I'm not a geek, interested in intellectual puzzles,” Lawson says. “I'm interested in philosophy because it's about understanding the world and our lives. When we started the festival three years ago, philosophy was more likely to appear in Monty Python. It was a laughable matter, it was technical and analytical – not about our lives. Our aim is to overturn the current intellectually conservative environment, where ideas and philosophy are not valued or taken seriously. Our goal is to create an open, vibrant, intellectual culture which combines innovative thought with rich experience.”

More here.

Top Ten Myths About the Brain

From Smithsonian:

Brain 3. It’s all downhill after 40 (or 50 or 60 or 70).
It’s true, some cognitive skills do decline as you get older. Children are better at learning new languages than adults—and never play a game of concentration against a 10-year-old unless you’re prepared to be humiliated. Young adults are faster than older adults to judge whether two objects are the same or different; they can more easily memorize a list of random words, and they are faster to count backward by sevens. But plenty of mental skills improve with age. Vocabulary, for instance—older people know more words and understand subtle linguistic distinctions. Given a biographical sketch of a stranger, they’re better judges of character. They score higher on tests of social wisdom, such as how to settle a conflict. And people get better and better over time at regulating their own emotions and finding meaning in their lives.

4. We have five senses.
Sure, sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch are the big ones. But we have many other ways of sensing the world and our place in it. Proprioception is a sense of how our bodies are positioned. Nociception is a sense of pain. We also have a sense of balance—the inner ear is to this sense as the eye is to vision—as well as a sense of body temperature, acceleration and the passage of time. Compared with other species, though, humans are missing out. Bats and dolphins use sonar to find prey; some birds and insects see ultraviolet light; snakes detect the heat of warmblooded prey; rats, cats, seals and other whiskered creatures use their “vibrissae” to judge spatial relations or detect movements; sharks sense electrical fields in the water; birds, turtles and even bacteria orient to the earth’s magnetic field lines.

By the way, have you seen the taste map of the tongue, the diagram showing that different regions are sensitive to salty, sweet, sour or bitter flavors? Also a myth.

More here.

The King and I: My Quest to Build the Perfect Production of King Lear.

110517_CB_Lear_Bam_TN Jessica Winter in Slate:

Thackeray found King Lear boring. Tolstoy was no great fan. Samuel Johnson dreaded rereading the play—he recoiled from the death of Lear's youngest daughter, Cordelia. (Johnson preferred playwright Nahum Tate's sentimental rewrite of Lear, published in 1681, which inserted a happy ending and supplanted Shakespeare's version onstage for more than a century.) Nineteenth-century essayist Charles Lamb declared that staging Lear “has nothing in it but what is painful and disgusting,” concluding, “The Lear of Shakespeare cannot be acted.” Nearly two centuries later, Harold Bloom concurred: “You shouldn't even go and see somebody try and act the part,” the scholar said, “because it's unactable… I've never seen a Lear that worked.” Beginning with a vain, irrational king rejecting both his favorite child and his most faithful servant on a whim, ending with a mad, uncrowned derelict dying of a broken heart—with a detour wherein another foolish old man's eyes are gouged out—King Lear is a shocking spectacle of two families eating themselves alive.

Yet more and more actors have attempted the unactable in recent years; in New York City alone, they've included Ian McKellen, Christopher Plummer, Kevin Kline, and Stacy Keach. The latest is Derek Jacobi, who performs the title role in the rapturously received Donmar Warehouse production of the play (at BAM Harvey Theater in Brooklyn through June 5). The laurelled English actor Greg Hicks will do Lear at the Lincoln Center Festival this summer, and Law & Order's Sam Waterston takes the role for the Public Theater in the fall; a film version starring Al Pacino is also in the works. To a confident actor in the winter of his career, the notion of Shakespeare's tragedy as “a labyrinthian citadel, all but impregnable” (Kenneth Tynan) may seem less like a warning and more like a provocation.

That's how a viewer can approach King Lear, too. Like most, I first read it in college, where I took notes in lectures and seminars about its reputation as a play that resists being played—and, flush with those earnest yet contrarian energies peculiar to late adolescence, I sought out every Lear I could find. And I still do. This quasi-completeist mission is perverse, because its frisson depends largely on expectations of shameless presumption and abject failure. (You fiends! How dare you dare to stage this!) But the promise—always kept—is the thrill of seeing actors try the impossible.

Bob Dylan’s Curious Dotage

Dylan6 Tim de Lisle over at More Intelligent Life:

A few years ago a concert promoter took the BBC television series “Walking with Dinosaurs” and turned it into a stage show that toured the world’s indoor arenas. Seen from one angle, it was an enterprising move. Seen from another, it was quite unnecessary. The world’s arenas were already crawling with dinosaurs, in the form of old rock stars.

The early years of the 21st century have been the age of the veteran in rock and pop. Records are now trumped by live music, a field where the oldies can dominate. The golden age of popular music, the Sixties, is just close enough for the central figures from it to be still on the road. The Rolling Stones do a world tour every few years; Paul McCartney, with a small child to think about, does a short tour every few months. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, now a doddery old teddy bear propped up by a dazzling young band, turns out every other year. Simon & Garfunkel, not always on the best of terms, manage a month here and a month there. And then there is Bob Dylan.

Dylan tours even more than the others. In the 20 years to 2010, he gave 2,045 concerts, according to the fan site, where you can study the setlist for every one of those nights. In April he will play in Singapore, Australasia and—if Beijing lets him in, after rebuffing him last year—China. In the summer he is expected in Europe. Not for nothing are his wanderings known as the Never Ending Tour.

Dylan’s gigs are unlike those of all his peers. If a show by McCartney or the Stones has a fault—apart from some creaking on the high notes—it is that it can be predictable. The Stones always play “Satisfaction”, “Brown Sugar”, “Jumping Jack Flash”; McCartney always does the Beatles classics he wrote himself—“Let It Be”, “Get Back”, “Hey Jude”. With Dylan, the only sure thing is “Like a Rolling Stone”, locked in as the first encore. Otherwise, he reserves the right to leave out any song. And often it’s a relief when he does, given the way he treats the songs he does play, which veers between indifference and outright sabotage.

The Destroyer

081027_r17847_p465 Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker:

“Empowerment” has been one of the rhetorical pillars of Mugabe’s government, but many of the schemes to benefit black “indigenous Zimbabweans” have been used by those in positions of authority or influence to enrich themselves. For all the talk of redistribution, Mugabe and his circle have not so much broken with the past as assumed for themselves an updated version of the country-club life style once enjoyed exclusively by the nation’s whites. There are many newly built luxury villas in Harare, and a sizable number of Mercedes-Benzes and Volvos, the vehicles of choice among Zimbabwe’s black nomenklatura. (Affluent whites seem to prefer S.U.V.s.) In 2005, Mugabe and his wife moved into a new twenty-five-bedroom mansion in Borrowdale Brooke, a Harare suburb, which cost a reported ten million U.S. dollars to build. Nobody knows exactly how he paid for it, but in Harare it is received wisdom that the mansion was financed by the Chinese, to whom the President had granted lucrative mining and trade concessions. Mugabe said openly that he had the help of “foreign governments.” (He added that Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, a personal friend, had donated tropical timber for the roof; China was reported to have supplied the shiny blue roof tiles.) Grace Mugabe has become infamous for her shopping expeditions abroad and, like Imelda Marcos, her expensive taste in shoes; she has been quoted as saying that because of her narrow feet she can “only wear Ferragamo.” Shortly after her marriage to Mugabe, Grace oversaw the construction of another mansion, called Graceland, which was allegedly built with public funds. She later sold Graceland to the Libyan government.

Another legacy of the colonial era is the cross-hatching of interests between the government and the private sector. A mining-company official I met with, a white man and a prominent figure in Zimbabwe, spoke of fending off direct requests for bribes from a senior cabinet minister, whom he described as “especially rapacious.” He confided that the executives of several mining companies had, under pressure, given large sums of money to government officials that were used to help fund the ZANU-P.F. election campaign. He added that Mugabe and his cronies would probably continue to use the threat of expropriation of the mines as a “political bludgeon” to extract bribes from mining companies. Meanwhile, he expected to see “more Chinese take over more dubious concessions.”

This kleptocratic style of government has had a trickle-down effect: corruption and graft are depressingly unremarkable in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

the novel’s not dead


It is from Woolf that we get our sense that the novel is irrevocably divided into two kinds: new and retrograde. From her we inherit the feeling that all that matters in literature is “now,” that contemporary writing is a constant battle between the forces of innovation and life-giving freshness (“life,” “truth,” “the real”) and the turgid, sordid, compromised writers of yesteryear. Bakhtin would say such bifurcations are fatuous and a waste of time; I would go one step further and call them a convenient fiction, a chimera, and a sideshow. Or, to put it another way: there is no crisis of realism in contemporary fiction; there is only, among certain literary critics, a crisis of ownership, a last-ditch effort to keep debates over fiction stalled where they have been for nearly a century. What we have seen for the last ten years or so is a kind of proxy battle, very much in Woolf’s spirit, in which a contrived debate about novelistic method masks a silent—perhaps largely unintentional—effort to maintain cultural, racial, and geographic boundaries.

more from Jess Row at Boston Review here.

Jharia Burning


At the center of Dhanbad City, in the Jharia region of northeastern India, amid a handful of concrete buildings, stands the enormous bronze statue of a coal miner. He is shirtless, muscular, and handsome. He strides doggedly forward, a mining helmet on his head, a pickax slung over his shoulder. The message is clear: Coal is my life. The area around Dhanbad produces India’s highest grade of coking coal, which in turn fuels the blast furnaces used for smelting steel. Contained in twenty-three large underground mines and nine open cast mines across an expanse of 450 square kilometers, Jharia’s heart of coal also produces power: two thirds of all electricity in India is generated in coal-fired plants. The earth beneath Jharia contains one of the largest coal reserves in the world. But the coal is also on fire.

more from Allison Joyce at VQR here.

This will be the century of disasters


In the same way that the 20th century was the century of world wars, genocide, and grinding ideological conflict, the 21st will be the century of natural disasters and technological crises and unholy combinations of the two. It’ll be the century when the things that we count on to go right will, for whatever reason, go wrong. Late last month, as the Mississippi River rose in what is destined to be the worst flood in decades, and as the residents of Alabama and other states rummaged through the debris of a historic tornado outbreak, physicists at a meeting in Anaheim, Calif., had a discussion about the dangers posed by the sun. Solar flares, scientists believe, are a disaster waiting to happen. Thus one of the sessions at the American Physical Society’s annual meeting was devoted to discussing the hazard of electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) caused by solar flares or terrorist attacks. Such pulses could fry transformers and knock out the electrical grid over much of the nation. Last year the Oak Ridge National Laboratory released a study saying the damage might take years to fix and cost trillions of dollars. But maybe even that’s not the disaster people should be worrying about. Maybe they should worry instead about the ARkStorm. That’s the name the U.S. Geological Survey’s Multihazards Demonstration Project gave to a hypothetical storm that would essentially turn much of California’s Central Valley into a bathtub. It has happened before, in 1861-62, when it rained for 45 straight days. The USGS explains: “The ARkStorm draws heat and moisture from the tropical Pacific, forming a series of Atmospheric Rivers (ARs) that approach the ferocity of hurricanes and then slam into the U.S. West Coast over several weeks.” The result, the USGS determined, could be a flood that would cost $725 billion in direct property losses and economic impact.

more from Joel Achenbach at Slate here.

Tuesday Poem

Wise I

WHYS (Nobody
The Trouble I Seen)

If you ever
yourself, some where
lost and surrounded
by enemies
who won't
let you
speak in your own language
who destroy your statues
instruments, who ban
your omm bomm ba boom
then you are in trouble
they ban your
own boom ba boom
you in deep


probably take you several hundred
to get

by Amiri Baraka
from Modern American Poets

“Clarence Darrow: American Iconoclast”

Darrow From Salon:

On the first page of this biography, Andrew Kersten calls Clarence Darrow America's greatest lawyer. That's not quite right. The title cannot belong to a man who tried to bribe a jury, represented the mafia, and defended unrepentant murderers and terrorists for the right fee — not when there are Thurgood Marshall, Louis Brandeis, and Charles Hamilton Houston to choose from. That said, it is beyond dispute that Darrow was a master in the courtroom, particularly in cross-examination and closing argument. He married a skeptical intellectualism to the savvy of an expert huckster, resting his foot on the jury box as he quoted Tolstoy and aimed for the spittoon.

Darrow had a talent for finding his way into cases that combined great liberal principles with flashbulb publicity. He fought creationism in the Scopes monkey trial; defended labor leaders and anarchists from conspiracy charges; and represented blacks in Detroit who fired back at a lynch mob. He also served a term as a state legislator in Illinois, and made speeches and wrote books espousing a surly, progressive, but unpredictable politics. Today we might call him a lefty maverick.

More here.

On Your Marks, Get Set, Measure Heart Health

From The New York Times:

Well How fast can you run a mile?

For people in midlife, this simple measure of fitness may help predict their risk of heart problems as they age. In two separate studies, researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and the Cooper Institute in Dallas analyzed fitness levels for more than 66,000 people. Over all, the research showed that a person’s fitness level at midlife is a strong predictor of long-term heart health, proving just as reliable as traditional risk factors like cholesterol level or high blood pressure. The two reports were published last month in Circulation and The Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

In the studies, fitness was measured using carefully monitored treadmill testing to gauge cardiovascular endurance and muscle fatigue. But in analyzing the data, the researchers suggested that the treadmill results could be translated to average mile times, offering a simple formula for doctors and individuals to rate their fitness level at midlife and predict long-term heart risk. “When you try to boil down fitness, what does fitness mean?” said Dr. Jarett D. Berry, assistant professor of internal medicine and cardiology at Southwestern Medical School and a co-author of both papers. “In both these studies, how fast you can run in midlife is very strongly associated with heart disease risk when you’re old. The exercise you do in your 40s is highly relevant to your heart disease risk in your 80s.”

More here.

Lisa Randall to Judge 3rd Annual 3QD Science Prize

UPDATE 6/20/11: The winners have been announced here.

UPDATE 6/13/11: The finalists have been announced here.

UPDATE 6/11/11: The semifinalists have been announced here.

UPDATE 6/3/11: Voting round now open. Click here to see full list of nominees and vote.

Dear Readers, Writers, Bloggers,

Randall(web) We are very honored and pleased to announce that Lisa Randall has agreed to be the final judge for our third annual prize for the best writing in a blog or e-zine in the category of Science. (Details of last year's science prize, judged by Richard Dawkins, can be found here.) Professor Randall studies theoretical particle physics and cosmology at Harvard University. Her research connects theoretical insights to puzzles in our current understanding of the properties and interactions of matter. She has developed and studied a wide variety of models to address these questions, the most prominent involving extra dimensions of space. Her work has involved improving our understanding of the Standard Model of particle physics, supersymmetry, baryogenesis, cosmological inflation, and dark matter. Randall’s research also explores ways to experimentally test and verify ideas and her current research focuses in large part on the Large Hadron Collider and dark matter searches and models.

Randall’s studies have made her among the most cited and influential theoretical physicists. She has also had a public presence through her writing, lectures, and radio and TV appearances. Her book Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions was included in the New York Times' 100 notable books of 2005. Randall has also recently pursued art-science connections, writing a libretto for Hypermusic: A Projective Opera in Seven Planes that premiered in the Pompidou Center in Paris and co-curating an art exhibit Measure for Measure for the Los Angeles Arts Association.

Randall has received numerous awards and honors for her scientific endeavors. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, was a fellow of the American Physical Society, and is a past winner of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, a National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, a DOE Outstanding Junior Investigator Award, and the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. In 2003, she received the Premio Caterina Tomassoni e Felice Pietro Chisesi Award, from the University of Rome, La Sapienza. In 2006, she received the Klopsteg Award from the American Society of Physics Teachers (AAPT) for her lectures and in 2007 she received the Julius Lilienfeld Prize from the American Physical Society for her work on elementary particle physics and cosmology and for communicating this work to the public.

Professor Randall was included in the list of Time Magazine's “100 Most Influential People” of 2007 and was one of 40 people featured in The Rolling Stone 40th Anniversary issue that year. Prof. Randall was featured in Newsweek's “Who's Next in 2006” as “one of the most promising theoretical physicists of her generation” and in Seed Magazine's “2005 Year in Science Icons”. In 2008, Prof. Randall was among Esquire Magazine's “75 Most Influential People.

Professor Randall earned her PhD from Harvard University and held professorships at MIT and Princeton University before returning to Harvard in 2001.

Professor Randall's new book Knocking on Heaven's Door comes out in September. You can pre-order it here. And follow her on Twitter here.


As usual, this is the way it will work: the nominating period is now open, and will end at 11:59 pm New York City Time (EST) on May 31, 2011. There will then be a round of voting by our readers which will narrow down the entries to the top twenty semi-finalists. After this, we will take these top twenty voted-for nominees, and the four main editors of 3 Quarks Daily (Abbas Raza, Robin Varghese, Morgan Meis, and Azra Raza) will select six finalists from these, plus they may also add up to three wildcard entries of their own choosing. The three winners will be chosen from these by Professor Randall.

The first place award, called the “Top Quark,” will include a cash prize of one thousand dollars; the second place prize, the “Strange Quark,” will include a cash prize of three hundred dollars; and the third place winner will get the honor of winning the “Charm Quark,” along with a two hundred dollar prize.

(Welcome to those coming here for the first time. Learn more about who we are and what we do here, and do check out the full site here. Bookmark us and come back regularly, or sign up for the RSS feed.)

PrizeScienceAnnounce2011 Details (please read carefully before nominating):

The winners of this Science Prize will be announced on or around June 21, 2011. Here's the schedule:

May 23, 2011:

  • The nominations are opened. Please nominate your favorite blog entry or e-zine piece by placing the URL for the blog post (the permalink) in the comments section of this post. You may also add a brief comment describing the entry and saying why you think it should win. (Do NOT nominate a whole blog, just one individual blog post.)
  • Blog posts or e-zine articles longer than 4,000 words are not eligible.
  • Each person can only nominate one blog post.
  • Entries must be in English.
  • The editors of 3QD reserve the right to reject entries that we feel are not appropriate.
  • The blog entry may not be more than a year old. In other words, it must have been written after May 22, 2010.
  • You may also nominate your own entry from your own or a group blog or e-zine (and we encourage you to).
  • Guest columnists at 3 Quarks Daily are also eligible to be nominated, and may also nominate themselves if they wish.
  • Nominations are limited to the first 200 entries.
  • Prize money must be claimed within a month of the announcement of winners.

May 31, 2011

  • The nominating process will end at 11:59 PM (NYC time) of this date.
  • The public voting will be opened soon afterwards.

June 10, 2011

  • Public voting ends at 11:59 PM (NYC time).

June 21, 2011 (or thereabouts)

  • The winners are announced.

One Final and Important Request

If you have a blog or website, please help us spread the word about our prizes by linking to this post. Otherwise, post a link on your Facebook profile, Tweet it, or just email your friends and tell them about it! I really look forward to reading some very good material, and think this should be a lot of fun for all of us.

Best of luck and thanks for your attention!



Les Bisous

by Justin E. H. Smith

Tumblr_kw7kqjVymk1qa399ro1_400 I get some of my best writing done at Charles de Gaulle International Airport, where I now sit.

I could use my time here otherwise; I could learn the layout of the place, something that after countless visits remains entirely mysterious to me. I've made out at least a vague resemblance to some coiled viper that has, at intervals, swallowed several large rodents, causing it to bulge in spots and to narrow in others. The whole snake surrounds a mass of concrete curly-queues, traffic roundabouts at various elevations, each serving its own class of vehicle. Everything is concrete: concrete slabs of ceiling supported on concrete pillars, concrete ramps blocked off by concrete barriers. The ghost of General de Gaulle himself haunts this grey mess. It sings of French third-way-ism, flimsy viennoiseries at certain narrowings along the viper's vertebrae, sad succursales of the Hippopotamus chain at others; the shells of abandoned Minitel cabins: all the sagging, unsustainable sadness of a half-Soviet hybrid. It looks to be on the verge of collapse, and indeed great chunks of it have collapsed. Scrap metal litters the runways and has been known to trip up Concordes. The arrivals screens have been seen to report as retardé what they might more accurately have described as disparu.

I sit and stare at my computer screen and write because, in truth, this place terrifies me.

But I'm sitting here, obviously, because I've been going around France again, which means also going around exchanging bisous. This is problematic for me, as I am an American, and even among Americans am exceptionally awkward when it comes to physical contact. But over the years I've practiced, and have now reached the point where I am able to kiss strange cheeks with passable elegance.

But why all this kissing, anyway?

Something needs to be done to inaugurate social interaction. There must be some signalling of a transition from each doing his or her own thing, to each participating in a shared moment. The Japanese mark this transition by a subtle bow, Americans by a handshake (or sometimes a half-assed 'hug', a concept to which I'll return shortly); bonobos mark it by genital displays. But the merely visual presentation of the Japanese does not seem transformative enough, and in the bonobos' case it seems to misread the character of the impending interaction (or at least to read it in a way that human beings would rather not acknowledge too soon). The American handshake is indissociably linked to commercial interests, to deal-making and to vulgar Mammonism. One needs, as the Europeans have understood, to get the lips involved, to make a little suction noise that announces that two human bodies are in the same place doing the same thing, in order to set a properly human encounter in motion.

Some etymological considerations. The verb 'to kiss' in many languages is formed by onomatopoeia. In Sanskrit the verbal root is chumb– (giving us the lovely syllabic redoubling of the third-person singular perfect form: chuchumba, 'she kissed'). 'Kiss' and 'küssen' hear the sound differently than their Indo-European ancestor, but somehow no less accurately. When the verb is not onomatopoeic, it often emerges from a semantic cluster that is even more revealing than the natural sound of a kiss. Thus the Russian tselovat' is connected to tsel', which is to say 'target'. And isn't that what kiss-compressed lips in fact are? Isn't that what bodily orifices are?

Read more »


by Rafiq Kathwari

As arranged, they meet the first time.
He’s law student. She’s a child-bride.

She wears red— for rancor?
Head bowed, veiled little stars

In gold thread, waits on the bed
Like an arrow drawn on a bow.

Henna-touched hands, a mirror poised
On lap: A girl staring back.

If he sits beside her,
She will see him glance at her image.

In the courtyard, children sing
“Petals fall from almond trees.”

The singing could continue until
He displays a blood-stained sheet.

Footfalls on stairs, whispers,
Robes rustling, attar of roses;

His hand on her chin, her heart leaping;
He kisses her eyes closed.

“Stop. Sever the bond,” I scream,
“He’ll play possum, make you prey.”

The mirror slips from her fingers,
Bangles clash on her fleshy arms.

Rafiq Kathwari is a rebel Kashmiri-American poet who divides his time between New York, Dublin and
Srinagar. This poem is from his unpublished opus, My Mother’s Scribe.

Pakistan: The narratives come home to roost

by Omar Ali

Imran-Khan3 Most countries that exist above the banana-republic level of existence have an identifiable (even if always contested and malleable) national narrative that most (though not all) members of the ruling elite share and to which they contribute. Pakistan is clearly not a banana-republic; it is a populous country with a deep (if not very competent) administration, a very lively political scene, a very large army, the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal and a very significant, even if underdeveloped, economy. But when it comes to the national narrative, Pakistan is sui-generis. The “deep state” has promoted a narrative of Muslim separatism, India-hatred and Islamic revival that has gradually grown into such a dangerous concoction that even BFFs China and Saudi Arabia are quietly suggesting that we take another look at things.

The official “story of Pakistan” may not appear to be more superficial or contradictory than the propaganda narratives of many other nations, but a unique element is the fact that it is not a superficial distillation of a more nuanced and deeper narrative, it is ONLY superficial ; when you look behind the school textbook level, there is no there there. What you see is what you get. The two-nation theory and the creation of Pakistan in 712 AD by the Arab invader Mohammed Bin Qasim and its completion by the intrepid team of Allama Iqbal and Mohammed Ali Jinnah in the face of British and Hindu connivance is the story in middle school textbooks and it turns out that it is also the story in universities and think tanks (this is not imply that no serious work is done in universities; of course it is, but the story of Pakistan does not seem to have a logical relationship with this serious work).

Read more »