Monday Poem

“Shu” is the single teaching of Confucius and “jen”
it’s counterpart. Shu means reciprocity; jen is love,
kindness and goodness. T’ien is heaven.
Confucius and the Teaching of Goodness

Shu and Jen

Goodness came like two hearts
and sat beside me. My name is
, said she

In the window two birds flew
The window was open when,
pointing, Shu said, Jen

The two hearts of Shu said,
What can we do for you?

The two birds of Jen crowed,
Looks like you need a friend.

The world is split in two,
and you are too,
said Shu

See the birds of Jen, she said?
They feed each other and
so are free in T’ien

Think of me, said Shu
and you may be free too

by Jim Culleny, 6/18/11

Indians Abroad: A Story from Trinidad

By Namit Arora

[I somehow managed to write a 3,500-word essay on Trinidad without mentioning cricket, rum, or the steelpan. Can I be forgiven for that?]

NationalMuseum7 In April this year, I visited the Indian Caribbean museum near the town of Chaguanas in Trinidad. Set in a large hall, the museum had no other visitors. Its curator, Saisbhan Jokhan, 69, came out to greet me. Jokhan, I soon realized, not only loved to talk but was also a trove of information. As I began taking notes, he asked if I was a journalist. Yes, I said; I wrote for a venerable publication called 3 Quarks Daily, and I intended to write about the Indo-Trinidadian experience. His eyes lit up and for the next ninety minutes, he accompanied me in the museum, explaining and answering my questions.

The museum commemorates the history of a million Indo-Caribbeans whose ancestors came as indentured laborers from India between 1838-1917. Its panels include details on immigrant ships, copies of girmits, or indenture agreements, and rare archival photos of life on sugarcane plantations. Evocative objects abound: an improvised sarangi, a pair of wood slippers, a rotary sugarcane press like the ones still used in mofussil India, even a lifesize model of an indentured worker’s hut. Other displays show milestones in the life of the community, such as a 1970 photo of the first Indo-Trini policewoman; a panel on Alice Jan, the first lady of Indo-Trini culture; Indo-Trinis winning the right to build their own schools in 1952, allowing them to replace Christian teaching with Hindu teaching.

The museum is run by the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, a conservative Hindu organization that also runs many temples. Talking to Jokhan it struck me that he lived with a clear sense of ‘his people’, what they have suffered, what challenges awaited them. His tone, and the museum’s singular focus, brought to mind a pastiche of Jewish museums I have seen over the years. This too felt like a museum designed to preserve the collective memory of a people’s suffering and struggles, and Jokhan seemed to me the right man for the job: proud of his identity, devoted to his community, slightly paranoid.

Jokhan’s historical memory is alien to people like me who have joined the Indian diaspora in recent decades. We have fostered the stereotype of Indians as a model minority, led by professionals and marked by diligence and enterprise in the pursuit of opportunities around the globe. But most of the Indian journeys in the colonial era were very different. They involved harsh unskilled labor on sugarcane estates, horrible living conditions, and severe discrimination. Trinidad, which I will look at here, is one chapter of that past; others include Guyana, Suriname, Jamaica, South Africa, Fiji, Mauritius, and Réunion.

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When the Individually Rational Sums to the Collective Insane

by Nick Werle

The most striking aspect of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation is the pacing of its narrative. The story, which tracks the fall of the Galactic Empire into what threatens to be a 30,000-year dark age, never tracks characters for more than a few chapters. The narrative unfolds at a historical pace, a timescale beyond the range of normal human experience. While several short sections might follow one another with only hours in between, gaps of 50 or 100 years are common. The result is a narrative in which characters are never more than bit players; the book’s real focus is on the historical forces responsible for the rise and fall of planets. The thread holding this tale together is the utopian science of psychohistory, which combines psychology, sociology and statistics to calculate the probability that society as a whole will follow some given path in the future. The novel’s action follows the responses to a psychohistorical prediction of the Empire’s fall made by Hari Seldon, the inventor of the science, who argued by means of equations that the dark ages could be reduced to only a single millennium with the right series of choices. In comparing the science of psychohistory and the actual events that accompany the Galactic Empire’s fall, Asimov’s time-dilated narrative weaves together disparate theories of history and science articulated around the problem of predicting the future, the historical primacy of crises, and the irreducible difference between studying an individual and analyzing a society as a whole. In Asimov’s imagined science, however, we can trace the real logic of macroeconomics and begin to understand why Keynes could never produce such dramatic predictions.

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Just Right Goldilocks

by Wayne Ferrier

AA_NASA IMAGE exoplanet In the constellation of Libra is Zarmina’s World, the first habitable planet discovered outside our own solar system. Zarmina’s World orbits Gliese 581, a red dwarf star that is about a third the mass of our sun. It's about 120 trillion miles away, which in the scheme of things is right smack in our neighborhood. Using current technology, it would only take us several generations to make it there—not outside the realm of our current capabilities. The two scientists who discovered Zarmina’s World, Steven Vogt and Paul Butler, calculate that there could be as many as one out of five or ten stars in the universe that might have Earth-like planets in the habitable zone. With an estimated 200 billion stars in the Milky Way alone, there could be as many as 40 billion planets that could potentially harbor life here. However, this is all very speculative just how common these Earth-like planets really are in the Milky Way.

Temperatures on Zarmina—for convenience sake let’s call it Zarmina—get as hot as 160 degrees and as cold as 25 degrees below zero, but in between “it’s shirt-sleeve weather,” says co-discoverer Steven Vogt of the University of California at Santa Cruz. And the low-energy dwarf star Gliese 581, Zarmina’s sun, ought to continue to shine for billions of years, a lot longer than our sun will, which increases exponentially the likelihood that life could possibly develop there.

It's unknown if there is water on Zarmina, and what kind of atmosphere it actually does have. But because conditions there are ideal for liquid water, and because there always seems to be life on Earth where there is water, there is a lot of excitement being generated about the discovery of this Earth-like planet. But that’s the catch—does it have liquid water and the kind of atmosphere that really would make it really, really habitable?

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Memories from New York City, Chichicastenango and Amsterdam

by Haider Shahbaz

We want someone to whisper to us. But nobody does. And we get scared. There are sounds, faint sounds; they come from upstairs and downstairs, and some from the apartment next to us. And we wait for them to whisper to us. They will whisper, we know. From across the skin, across the wall, across the road, the city, the ocean, the wind and the sun they will whisper. So – we wait.

We do not like New York City. It feels, sometimes, as if it has no humans; only concrete and glass and plastic and fabric. Behind sunglasses and walls and windows and cars and clothes and books and earphones: who knows – who knows, if humans still exist. But it is that rare smile, a lingering stare, the confused question, the error so to say that gives it away. The little interactions we have: performances of our own consciousness.

There was consolation in that consciousness: to know that I can hurl myself in to these windows, blast this concrete to smithereens. I can run in to these brothels of human feelings they call shops and with every last breath in my lungs, shout. I can strip them naked and slap them and caress them and smell them. I can hold their hand, and if they want and if I want, we can go across the earth and see that the grass still grows, and flowers still bloom and dust still settles. I can walk up to someone and whisper in his ears, delicately, patiently: the messiah will not come, but I am here, and I will hold you and love you.

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The Commemoration 2010
Anton Kusters. The Commemoration – Socho. January 13, 2010.

Photograph from the Yakuza Project: “893-Yakuza is a personal visual account of the life inside an inaccessible subculture: a traditional Japanese crime family that controls the streets of Kabukicho, in the heart of Tokyo, Japan. Through many months of delicate preparations and negotiations by my brother Malik, our fixer Taka-san, and myself, we became the only westerners ever to be granted this kind of access to that closed world.”

More here, here, and here.

Thanks to Paul Gibson for the introduction!

Why We Care

by Kelly Amis

Decrepit school Michelle Alexander’s New York Times op-ed “In Prison Reform, Money Trumps Civil Rights” is a powerful and depressing assessment of why more Americans are suddenly waking up to our nation’s status as the world’s most prolific jailor (while the U.S. represents just 5% of the world’s population, we account for 25% of the incarcerated).

Alexander explains that while decades of social justice advocacy made scant progress towards eliminating the policies that land inordinate numbers of especially black and Hispanic U.S. citizens behind bars, today’s economic crisis is rousing unprecedented calls for prison reform. In other words, suddenly maintaining a prison system bursting-at-the-seams with minority inmates is not worth the price tag.

The resulting interest convergence (in which formerly “tough on crime” policymakers are joining forces with social rights activists) may result in positive policy change, but I can’t help wondering if change will last if it’s not grounded in enlightened agreement about what is fair and just…and even “American”?

Regardless, I believe the same phenomenon Alexander describes is happening today in K-12 education reform: attention is finally being paid to long-standing inequities that keep urban, minority students from achieving on par with their peers due to an awakening of perceived economic interest from our nation’s majority, not because social justice arguments are finally gaining ground.

Does the motivation matter? Maybe, ultimately, it doesn’t. That would be great. But as someone who has witnessed first-hand the discrimination in our education system, I have mixed emotions about today’s sudden interest in implementing commonsense reforms—specifically those having to do with teacher quality—since their raison d’etre is neither based on student well-being nor equity.

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Golden dust in the afternoon

by George Wilkinson

Every year, the Earth captures thousands of tons of interplanetary particles, with objects in the micron size range striking every thirty microseconds. Because of their small size, some of them waft to the surface with minimal heat damage—thus their interiors preserved traces of their interplanetary origins. Although micrometeories fall in over the earth’s entire surface(and can be collected from rainspouts), scientists try to collect them in isolated environments, away from both natural and anthropogenic contaminants. Sable_glaciaire_et_micrometeorites_collectes_dans_la_glace_bleue_a_cap_prud_homme An ongoing program in Antarctica makes use of the extremely clean, dry environment to collect micrometeorites from the icepack. Scientists melt ice by the ton and sieve the meltwater to recover a fine grit very rich in micrometeorites. Because of the heterogeneity of the collected particles, they have to be analyzed individually, by electron microscopy and specialized spectroscopy.

But how faithfully does the dust collected on earth reflect its interplanetary reservoir? The STARDUST space mission collected dust from the coma of the comet Wild-2, a Jupiter family comet recently deflected nearer to earth, making use of an aerogel as a high-tech butterfly net to capture dust particles with relative velocities approaching that of a rifle bullet. STARDUST returned to Earth bringing back thousands of small (<30 μm) solid particles. The examination of Wild 2 samples made it possible to explore the connection between micrometeorites recovered on earth and cometary and asteroidal objects as they exist in the interplanetary space.

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Summer Reading

by Meghan Rosen

Cover 15 years ago, General Motors debuted the first fully electric vehicle for lease in the United States. The EV1 was silent, fast, and as aerodynamic as an F-16 fighter jet; but most importantly, it could run between 70 and 150 miles on a single charge. (Toyota’s Prius Plug-in Hybrid, for comparison, has an all-electric range of 13 miles.) Between 1996 and 1999, more than 1000 EV1s were manufactured. 800 were leased out in Arizona and California, and, according to the brand manager at GM, inspired “maniacal loyalty” in their drivers.

Four years later, despite pleas from drivers, and a waiting list of interested customers, GM declared the electric-car program a money loser, and ordered the car’s destruction. Existing EV1s were taken from their drivers, transported to the desert (in some cases, under police protection), and crushed. (Today, a few can be found in museums, but they’ve been disabled so as to never drive again.)

The plight of the EV1 was chronicled in the 2006 documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car?, but Seth Fletcher’s new book, Bottled Lightning, is not just about the the EV1. It’s about the batteries that make electric vehicles a reality, the lithium that powers them, and the players who forge global energy policies. But the long, rocky history of electric cars is where Fletcher is most compelling.

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Late Retort

“Fire log in cunt,”
a pious father yells
at his daughter who tells him
that an egg she swallowed
has grown a chick
inside her belly.

Sure that his only child is possessed,
he buys a perky hen
to entice the chick and purge it.
Hen flutters in his hands as he
chases his daughter barefoot
around their backyard

a day after snow.
The daughter hops like the snow hare
that lunges deep
into the throat of a glacier
to outrun the elk
and eludes the fuming father.

Three score and three years later,
she plumbs a memory,
summons all her frail strength
to yell, “Fire log in prick,”
back at her long-deceased father,
who she insists in a shrill voice

is alive at her childhood home in Kashmir.
In New Rochelle, New York,
in my usual heartless way,
I administer two pills
Ativan & Zyprexa
to chill Mother’s mind.

Rafiq Kathwari is pleased to debut “Late Retort” at 3QuarksDaily which demands original content. Remember, you read it here first.

Tis the Season We Commence

by Frederick William Zackel

[I have always wanted to write my own commencement speech.]

ScreenHunter_05 Jun. 20 10.18 Congratulations, graduates! All the hard work and sacrifice has paid off.

I think everybody here should applaud you again for all you did and had to do to get here. No, seriously, give them another round of applause.

Hey, guys, I got a pop quiz for you. Yeah, your last one.

I call you guys because until recently I had two of my own kids in college, and I see you as being the same wonderful guys as them. And I am as happy for you, I am as proud of you, as I am of them. (Mostly.)

I say “guys” because saying “guys and gals” all the time sounds awkward as hell, and I hear women all the time on campus saying “guys” as a rallying cry. “Hey, guys, it’s get it together timer, so let’s focus and do it!”

This pop quiz has only one question.

What do you call the top one percent of any population?

Are they the ruling elite? The Ruling Class?

One percent of the population of this world are college graduates.

Congratulations on joining the Ruling Elite.

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Zoned Out: Boredom In A Digital Age

by Mara Jebsen


“Peoples bore me, literature bores me. Especially great literature”

-–John Berryman

It is Thursday and I am in the café in which the ceiling fan and rock’n’roll seem to make a gentle pact to keep rhythm. To the left of me lies one Brooklyn neighborhood, and to the right, another. Above these ceiling fans are two apartments stacked on each other, but I don’t know how they are shaped or furnished. Above them is the sky, which today is blue-mottled with clouds. The café basement, which I have never seen, hums below us, and below that, I imagine, a lot of native Brooklyn dirt, and the complicated systems of water and electricity that make the city go, go, go —and below that—I don’t know.

Often I map myself. I've got an ignorant, sensual GPS system. I track what I can and can’t sense. Maybe it’s common amongst those of us who traveled a lot as children—this desire to physically locate oneself in time and space. Then, I was there. Now, I am here. Here smells like oranges. But my mapping habit is getting compromised because lately, I usually have the laptop in front of me. There’s google maps, and all kinds of information that I could use to extend my senses. The sheer reach of it freaks me out.

Once, I was blindfolded for a week. It was in Cambridge in 1998, the summer I was 19, the one I now remember as the summer of jazz and the playboy bunny. I was a waitress at the time in a music club, and sometimes I modeled a little for a photography class (I have a distinct memory of clambering around a cemetery during a heatwave in a wedding dress. Polyester lace climbing up my neck) but the money from that wasn’t adding up to rent. The blindfold was part of a medical study that I knew through various channels was safe and aboveboard. They paid me 1,000 dollars to stay in the hospital, to do funny little exercises, and to get six MRIs so they could study the effect of the blindfold on my brain activity.

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Some thoughts on Africa 2.0

by Tolu Ogunlesi

In its Feb 19, 2011 editorial, “A fresh chapter is opening in Africa’s history” the Guardian (London) observed:

“The African lions are finding their voice. A new generation of men and women has the ambition and imagination to reshape the continent in their own image – confident, assertive, successful, bold and proud… The story of Africa is changing. And we will be spreading the news.”

These days it seems a lot easier to pull up, from the internet, cheering news about Africa. The word “revolutionary”, when used these days regarding the continent, is less likely to be referring to a ‘revolutionary guard’ than an expression of people power, or technological innovation.

Tweeting recently from the Pivot 25 Mobile Apps & Developer Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, journalist Dayo Olopade reported: “The last panel at #pivot25 yields the best statistic: Mobile airtime beats beer as the most profitable business in East Africa.”

To hear that the business of ‘talking’ is outpacing that of drinking can only be good news – especially when we assume that at least some of that mobile phone expenditure goes towards creating connections that produce economic and political value; the kind that have helped drive the M-PESA mobile banking revolution in Kenya and altered (to varying degrees) the political landscape in Tunisia, Egypt and even Nigeria.

JM Ledgard’s article, “Digital Africa”, published in the Spring 2011 edition of The Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine. Ledgard, the Economist’s Nairobi correspondent, writes very knowledgeably about how undersea broadband cables and smartphones are helping transform a shackled continent into a wired one.

Olopade herself is working on a book (due out 2012), “The Bright Continent: How African Ideas Are Changing the World”, which promises to “demonstrate how the regional tradition of resourcefulness, creativity, and “making do” – combined with the recent explosion in communications and other technologies – transforms the continent’s problems into teachable moments in health, energy, education, media, justice and more.”

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Growing a better NIH: A radical way to fix the nation’s medical-research establishment

From The Boston Globe:

Growingabetternih3__1308338873_2486 The United States spends around $30 billion a year on the National Institutes of Health, an agency that has been called the “jewel in the crown of the federal government.” The NIH is by far the nation’s most important single funder of medical research — the scientific work that drives our university labs, our drug companies, and our major hospitals — and its budget amounts to an enormous bet that by advancing basic medical science, we can reap improvements in national health care. In one arena, at least, that bet is paying off: America has become the unquestioned global leader in biomedical science. As it has, the NIH has also become critically important to states like Massachusetts, which reaped more than $2 billion in funding last year, fueling a high-tech economy of high-paying jobs.

But biomedical science is not the same thing as health, and in a very important sense, our investment in the NIH is not fully paying off. The agency’s own mission statement holds that its ultimate goal is applying knowledge to “enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.” And on that count, America is doing less impressively.

More here.

Are the world’s women disappearing?

From Salon:

Women What would our world be like if it contained far fewer women? It may seem like the stuff of post-apocalyptic fiction, but according to journalist Mara Hvistendahl, the author of “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men,” truth is coming closer to fiction. According to Hvistendahl, a science writer and correspondent for Science magazine, the world is currently experiencing a demographic shift that is tilting our population in favor of men. The main source of her concern is the fact that a growing number of parents in various parts of the world have been using ultrasound technology to determine the sex of their fetus and, in a disturbing number of cases, terminating females. Based on personal anecdotes and research from fields as disparate as demography, sociology, economics and genetics, Hvistendahl speculates about what this means for everything from bride buying and sex trafficking to male violence, and why it might be causing global unrest. Salon spoke with Hvistendahl about our overpopulation fears, what this trend means for abortion and America's own curious sex selection trend.

The international sex ratio is nearly equal, with 101 males for 100 females. So why is the sex imbalance at birth in some countries, like China and India, a problem?

The sex ratio imbalance in Asia is such that it has skewed the sex ratio at birth of the whole world. We are talking about 160 million women and girls who are missing from the population. This is reshaping whole societies. There are many men who are growing up and can't find wives, so they're going to poorer countries to buy them. Sex trafficking is on the rise as well. Prostitution and crime have increased, and these are all huge problems.

More here.

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor

From The Telegraph:

Fermor-fag_1917810f Leigh Fermor was the architect of one of the most daring feats of the Second World War, the kidnapping of the commander of the German garrison on Crete, and also the author of some of the finest works in the canon of English travel writing.

His most celebrated book told the story of his year-long walk across Europe from Rotterdam to Istanbul in 1934, when he was 18 and the Continent was on the verge of cataclysmic change. His account of his adventures was projected as a trilogy, of which only the first two parts have so far been published, A Time of Gifts in 1977 and Between the Woods and the Water nine years later.

The journey was a cultural awakening for Leigh Fermor that bred in him a love of language and of remote places and set the pattern for his future life. The exuberant personality revealed in his writing won him many admirers, who also revelled in the remarkable range of his learning and the irresistible flow of his descriptive prose, rivalled for luxuriousness only by that of one of his principal influences, Norman Douglas.

Others were not so taken with his tales, suspecting him at best of a faulty memory and at worst of private myth-making, and dismissing his parade of arcane erudition as more intellectual snobbery than dilettante scholarship. Yet such criticism misread the essential modesty of the man, insisted too narrowly on accuracy in a genre founded by storytelling, and failed to realise that Leigh Fermor was above all a comic writer. It was for comic, often self-mocking, effect that he loosed his great streams of words, their tumbling onrush of sound designed to intoxicate and above all to entertain.

More here.