Obama’s Palestinian Veto: Let’s Be Honest

Henry Siegman in the New York Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_01 Sep. 30 22.59 Over the past few days, much has been written about the Palestinian bid for UN recognition of its statehood and Washington’s opposition to it. But the real importance of last week’s events at the UN does not lie with the US response itself, but with the effect that response has had on the international community. For now, the Palestinian bid must be reviewed by a special UN committee, a process that will take weeks or months, thus postponing any immediate reckoning with the veto threatened by the Obama Administration. But for the first time, there is a broad recognition of the emptiness of the American claim that the US is uniquely qualified to bring the Israel-Palestine conflict to an end, and awareness that it may instead be the main obstacle to peace.

This recognition marks a dramatic shift from only two years ago. In his speech in Cairo in June 2009, Obama seemed to announce a new American commitment to fairness, international law, and a two-state solution when he proclaimed that:

the Palestinian people—Muslims and Christians—have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they’ve endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations—large and small—that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

In his speech at the UN General Assembly last week, however, Obama reserved his compassion for those responsible for the Palestinians’ misery. “Let’s be honest,” he said. “Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it,” and Israeli citizens have been killed by suicide bombers on their buses. “These are facts, they can not be denied,” he said. As noted by The New York Times’s Ethan Bronner, the speech could have been written by an Israeli government official: “It said nothing about Israeli settlements, the 1967 lines, occupation, or Palestinian suffering, focusing instead on Israeli defense needs.”

More here.

Personal Best: Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you?

Atul Gawande in The New Yorker:

Atul After eight years, I’ve performed more than two thousand operations. Three-quarters have involved my specialty, endocrine surgery—surgery for endocrine organs such as the thyroid, the parathyroid, and the adrenal glands. The rest have involved everything from simple biopsies to colon cancer. For my specialized cases, I’ve come to know most of the serious difficulties that could arise, and have worked out solutions. For the others, I’ve gained confidence in my ability to handle a wide range of situations, and to improvise when necessary. As I went along, I compared my results against national data, and I began beating the averages. My rates of complications moved steadily lower and lower. And then, a couple of years ago, they didn’t. It started to seem that the only direction things could go from here was the wrong one.

Maybe this is what happens when you turn forty-five. Surgery is, at least, a relatively late-peaking career. It’s not like mathematics or baseball or pop music, where your best work is often behind you by the time you’re thirty. Jobs that involve the complexities of people or nature seem to take the longest to master: the average age at which S. & P. 500 chief executive officers are hired is fifty-two, and the age of maximum productivity for geologists, one study estimated, is around fifty-four. Surgeons apparently fall somewhere between the extremes, requiring both physical stamina and the judgment that comes with experience. Apparently, I’d arrived at that middle point. It wouldn’t have been the first time I’d hit a plateau. I grew up in Ohio, and when I was in high school I hoped to become a serious tennis player. But I peaked at seventeen. That was the year that Danny Trevas and I climbed to the top tier for doubles in the Ohio Valley. I qualified to play singles in a couple of national tournaments, only to be smothered in the first round both times. The kids at that level were playing a different game than I was. At Stanford, where I went to college, the tennis team ranked No. 1 in the nation, and I had no chance of being picked. That meant spending the past twenty-five years trying to slow the steady decline of my game.

More here.

The Marriage Plot

From Guardian:

Eugenides-The-Marriage-Pl-007 The first thing we know about Madeleine Hanna is her library. “To start with, look at all the books,” Jeffrey Eugenides suggests of his heroine, and proceeds with a tracking shot of her shelves: “A lot of Dickens, a smidgen of Trollope, along with good helpings of Austen, George Eliot and the redoubtable Brontë sisters… the Colette novels she read on the sly… the first edition of Couples, belonging to her mother, which Madeleine had surreptitiously dipped into back in sixth grade…” Madeleine Hanna is an English major at Ivy League Brown University in 1982. Her thesis is concerned with “the marriage plot” as it existed in the 19th-century novel and the way, with marriage having lost its gravitas in her era of quickie divorces and prenups, the novel itself has been diminished. Much as Madeleine may believe this thesis as a critic, however, as a 20-year-old woman there is much about her life that seems Victorian. She is, cliche of cliches, caught in a love triangle herself, torn between two fellow undergraduates: the charismatic and depressive Leonard Bankhead on the one hand and the studious and spiritual Mitchell Grammaticus on the other. Her heart shouts Leonard (most of the time); her head and her Waspish parents murmur Mitchell.

As well as locating the style of Madeleine's dilemma, Eugenides's opening tracking shot of those library shelves is also a nudge to the reader: this is the territory we are in. And here is the challenge he sets himself: to breathe new life into the redundant marriage plot; to create a properly absorbing love triangle, not only as pastiche or irony, but as something as full of life as those books on Madeleine's shelf. In the 400-odd pages that follow he mostly succeeds in this aspiration, both knowingly and brilliantly. This is Eugenides's third novel. It is 18 years since the precocious and perfectly formed The Virgin Suicides marked him out as a writer who would always be required reading. In between times, the fabulous family saga Middlesex, which, along the way, told of the unlikely coming of age of a hermaphrodite in Michigan, became a huge bestseller and Pulitzer prize-winner, without ever seeming entirely coherent.

More here.

A Eulogy for Carl Oglesby

Oglebyss

In 1965, when Carl Oglesby threw himself into the New Left—“the movement” was the more intimate term, meaning life-force, energy, motion—he was a 30-year-old paterfamilias with a wife and three small children, living in a nice little Ann Arbor house on (he relished the memory) Sunnyside Street, making a solid living as a technical editor-writer for a military-industrial think-tank called Bendix. He golfed, drove a snappy little sports car, wrote plays, and smoked good dope—a damn fine life for the son of an Akron rubber worker and the grandson of a coal miner. He’d been a champion debater in high school and at Kent State University, and for a time an actor. Pretty much an autodidact, he was reading Cold War revisionist scholarship in an effort to figure out why America, the only country on earth he could ever have hailed from, was burning up peasants on the other side of the world. At high velocity, as people did then, he “went through changes.” One minute he was writing against the Vietnam war for a Democratic congressional candidate (who refused to deliver the speech); the next, he was writing it up for the University of Michigan literary magazine; the next, he was turning it into a pamphlet for Students for a Democratic Society, which was organizing a national demonstration against the war but didn’t yet have any antiwar “literature” on offer.

more from Todd Gitlin at TNR here.

the Western Desert art movement

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SINCE the first triumphs of the Western Desert art movement, which had its origins in remote Papunya 40 years ago this month, a shining dream has haunted the Australian indigenous art market: the dream of international acceptance and global cultural prestige. Those first, mysterious boards with their elusive symbols painted by the desert men; the grand topographic panels of the mid-1980s; the wild, jagged colour fields poured out in the far western sand-dune communities in recent years: how is it they charm Australian audiences so easily and dominate private collections and state galleries in this country, yet fail to win such concerted admiration in the wider world? Aboriginal art promoters and enthusiasts, Australian and foreign, have tried repeatedly in the past two decades to overcome the indifference of the fickle, shifting contemporary culture establishment and stage breakthrough shows that would put the indigenous tradition on the map: regularly, a landmark exhibition is held, word spreads, then ebbs away, and all the optimism dies.

more from Nicolas Rothwell at The Australian here.

A walk through the Egyptian Museum in Cairo with licensed tour guide Ahmed Mohammed, at the rate of 150 Egyptian pounds per hour

Museum2

Really. I heard there are police interrogation chambers in the basement. No, those are next door. But four days after the revolution they found one tourist walking around down there, he was looking to find more Tutankhamun exhibit. I heard this from security police. After the revolution, we took a lot of time to repair ourselves. I don’t know if it is right to tell you this kind of information — tourists are going to think Egypt is not safe. Anyway, when Tutankhamun was alive, he slept in this bed. Very uncomfortable, very narrow. You know, when I was working here with a Russian tour group, when I told this woman that this is Tutankhamun’s bed, she asked me a very strange question: “Where is his wife?” I have nothing to tell her! I wanted to make a joke. I tell her, “Maybe under the bed.” She told me, “No, no, not like that. I mean, the bed is so narrow, they must have only done 67.” I asked her, “What?” She said, “You know, 67, they do it all over the world, especially in Russia.” I say, “How old am I? I’m thirty years old, I don’t understand what this means, 67.” For thirty minutes, she explains it to me. I’ve been married for nine years, I’ve never done 67. No joking! Tutankhamun and his wife — first love story. She was his half-sister — first love story. They found two sarcophagus, side by side. And here’s his toilet, made of papyrus.

more from Bidoun here.

The Reluctant Luddite

Dirk Olin in Dartmouth Alumni Magazine:

ScreenHunter_07 Sep. 30 11.08 Carr’s biography makes sense in hindsight. Game player, English major, punk—he is now a journalist and leading iconoclast of the information age. He has written three books, with the most recent, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, arguing that online overuse is infecting society with collective attention deficit disorder. The book earned Carr the title of Pulitzer finalist earlier this year.

That thesis “came out of a personal realization,” Carr says. “I came to the conclusion that my brain had been reprogrammed due to my use of the Internet. I just didn’t have the concentration I used to have. And not just with books. I was getting antsy even reading a longish magazine piece.”

But isn’t that what happens as one approaches middle age?

“That was my initial thought,” says Carr. “But a lot of studies show that attention spans for things like reading can increase as you get older. No, I think the Net has retrained me so that I expect to consume information rapidly, jumping around and clicking on links and checking e-mail, even when I’m in the middle of reading something else.”

The point of departure for his current work was formulated as a question—“Is Google Making Us Stupid?”—that headlined his article in The Atlantic in 2008 and led to his Pulitzer-nominated tome. The Shallows offers calm, collected provocation. Slate called the book “Silent Spring for the literary mind.”

More here.

The Neuroscience of Beauty

Steven Brown and Xiaoqing Gao in Scientific American:

ScreenHunter_06 Sep. 30 11.02 The notion of “the aesthetic” is a concept from the philosophy of art of the 18th century according to which the perception of beauty occurs by means of a special process distinct from the appraisal of ordinary objects. Hence, our appreciation of a sublime painting is presumed to be cognitively distinct from our appreciation of, say, an apple. The field of “neuroaesthetics” has adopted this distinction between art and non-art objects by seeking to identify brain areas that specifically mediate the aesthetic appreciation of artworks.

However, studies from neuroscience and evolutionary biology challenge this separation of art from non-art. Human neuroimaging studies have convincingly shown that the brain areas involved in aesthetic responses to artworks overlap with those that mediate the appraisal of objects of evolutionary importance, such as the desirability of foods or the attractiveness of potential mates. Hence, it is unlikely that there are brain systems specific to the appreciation of artworks; instead there are general aesthetic systems that determine how appealing an object is, be that a piece of cake or a piece of music.

We set out to understand which parts of the brain are involved in aesthetic appraisal.

More here.

Is Das Racist’s Himanshu Suri for real?

Vivek Menezes in The Caravan:

The first time Das Racist ever performed ‘Michael Jackson’, the first single from their much-anticipated debut album Relax, was at Columbia University’s Bacchanal Spring Concert on 30 April earlier this year. The picturesque, grassy quadrangle in the centre of campus was packed with thousands of students and walk-in concertgoers from thegrittier neighbourhoods beyond the university’s walls, and the Brooklyn-based trio was notching another step on their improbable journey toward rap credibility: opening up for the west coast rap legend Snoop Dogg.

I was standing stagefront when Das Racist’s Himanshu Suri (aka ‘Heems’) announced the song; a distinct hush of anticipation fell over the crowd. Within moments, the band exploded across the stage, frenetically yelling the song’s catchphrase into their mics: “Michael Jackson! One Million Dollars! You feel me? Holler!” Just one scant minute later, the audience had taken up the refrain, and the callback spread all the way to the back of the crowd, hundreds of yards from where I stood—a few thousand people hollering, and I was doing the same.

But before they had even begun to captivate the audience with their music, and make us dance uncontrollably at their feet, Das Racist had first made sure to ruffle the feathers of the elite crowd that stood before them, filling the air with palpably awkward and uncertain murmurs. “This is the most collegiate shit I ever seen,” Heems said when he had first walked onto the stage. With an expression that made it seem as if he was smelling something putrid, he continued: “You look like a Tommy Hilfiger ad.” He proceeded to greet the Ivy Leaguers with a “shout-out” to Queens College and Stony Brook University, both decidedly public institutions. The audience was thoroughly confused, and it only got worse.

More here.

In Prenzlauer Berg

Justin E. H. Smith in his blog:

ScreenHunter_04 Sep. 30 10.28 Among the grimmer thoughts one has to contend with on any visit to Berlin is this: that one could very well be staying not only in the logistical nerve center of the Final Solution, but in the very building, and perhaps in the very same room, in which a Holocaust victim once lived. This possibility rose to 50%, in fact, when I was in Berlin a few days ago, and stayed in a six-unit building which housed, according to the commemorative plaques paved into the sidewalk outside, three separate Jewish couples who did not see the end of the war.

These plaques ensure that no visit to Berlin will ever be too fun. They are also the most decent, and most properly scaled, Holocaust memorials I've seen, anywhere, just the opposite of the misfired maze near the Brandenburger Tor (which induces, paradoxically, a sense of fun one knows one isn't supposed to be having), and a universe away from the grandiose theoretical statement of Libeskind's Jewish Museum. The plaques pull you away from the abstraction of large numbers and into the scene of what must have happened right there, in that building, the scene of individual lives unravelling.

More here.

Why (and how) to tax the super-rich

Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott in the Los Angeles Times:

ScreenHunter_03 Sep. 29 15.39 President Obama is right to insist on the “Buffett rule”: Millionaires should not be paying income tax at a rate lower than their secretaries'. But correcting this inequity is only a small step toward fairness.

The more serious inequality problem facing the United States involves overall wealth, not just income. While the top 1% of Americans earned 21% of the nation's income, they owned a staggering 35% of the wealth in 2006-07, the most recent year for which statistics are available. We should be taxing that wealth directly, and not merely focusing on million-dollar incomes.

We propose a 2% annual wealth tax on households owning more than $7.2 million in net assets. Such a tax would target the 0.5% of Americans at the top of the pyramid, and would yield at least $70 billion a year. This calculation is based on Federal Reserve data that we have updated to take into account the recession's impact on housing and stock prices to 2009. Because we have used very conservative assumptions, the revenue yield could well be higher.

Obama's operational proposal for a “Buffett tax” is vague, so it's hard to predict how much it would raise. But our initiative would generate at least half the $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction that Congress' super-committee is aiming to achieve over the next decade. And the burden would fall on the Americans who have suffered least from the economic downturn.

More here.

Thursday Poem

A Thousand Feet of Snow

Stars are again like a teary ballad, and at nights
dogs tune their cloven violins.
I do not let sorrow come,
I do not let it near.
A thousand feet of snow over my heart.
I mumble a lot to myself, in the street
I sing aloud.
Sometimes I see myself in passing, with a hat, perfect food
for winds, with some thought or other aslant.
I talk about death, when I mean life. I walk with my papers
in a mess, I don’t own a single theory, only a swearing dog.
When I ask for liquor, I’m offered ice-cream,
I may be a Spaniard, with my hairline
low like this, indeed:
I may not be from these parts.
I sweat, trying to talk, once and a while
I tremble.
Almost more than for my death, I mourn for my birth.
And all I ask for
is a thousand feet of snow over my heart.

by Sirkka Turkka
from Mies joka rakasti vaimoaan liikaa, © 1979
© Translation: 2001, Kirsti Simonsuuri

Read more »

a reformation of the culture and practice of science

Scixfer_HL

“Faster.” Could any other word better capture the reigning paradox of our age? The world today—whether measured in technological or ecological terms—appears to be changing more rapidly than ever before. Our modern system for generating novelty and prosperity has stretched to encompass the entire planet, growing more complex and expansive, so that now it seems to groan and shudder beneath its own weight. In its service, some things are falling apart: Non-renewable resources are profligately consumed, ecosystems disrupted, and social traditions steadily relinquished. There seems no way to stop or slow these processes without causing immense, cascading catastrophe. The only alternative then is to quicken our pace, to innovate past these growing pains. But where is the center of this innovation, and can it hold? Science is the center, and academia, industry, and government all must work together to strengthen and stabilize it. It was science that brought us here, through careful and systematic investigation—and exploitation—of phenomena in the natural world. And it is the endeavor of science that holds the greatest promise for ensuring the continued and widespread positive growth of our civilization.

more from Seed here.

Libertarians With Antlers

From Slate:

Ant Charles Darwin, not Adam Smith, will one day be considered the father of economics, says Cornell University professor and New York Times columnist Robert H. Frank in his new book, The Darwin Economy. He argues that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection gives a better description of how markets work, and fail, than Smith's theory of the invisible hand. This insight reverses two centuries of intellectual traffic. Thomas Malthus' ideas shaped Darwin's, and many of the tools of modern evolutionary biology, such as game theory, are borrowed from economics. It leads Frank to many excellent suggestions for improving society by means of a fairer and more efficient tax system that takes the laws of biology into account.

The same insight also leads him to say some misleading things about how natural selection works. Frank's biological misfires aren't mere naivety; they touch on ideas at the leading edge of evolutionary thought and show what stands in the way of the reforms he advocates. Frank bases his argument on the Darwinian notion that life is graded on a curve. How much is enough depends on what others have got. Most people, for example, would rather live in a 4,000-square-foot house that was bigger than their neighbor's than a 6,000-square-foot house that was the smallest on the street. Economists call these positional goods, and contrast them with things that aren't so relative, such as safety at work, where most people think it's better to be safe in absolute terms than the safest worker in a hazardous factory.

More here.

anonymous pics

Corndept

I’ve been collecting anonymous photographs for more than two decades now and probably own a thousand or so, in all kind of formats. Nineteenth-century tintypes and cyanotypes, cabinet cards and cartes de visite, turn-of-the-century RPPCs (Real Photo Postcards), disaster pix, police mugshots and Bertillon cards, photo-booth strips, deaccessioned newspaper photos (especially ones with white crop marks), old prom photos, not to mention a recently acquired batch of ratty, Nan Goldin–style, 1970s Polaroids. Should I be in rehab? Lately I’ve managed to put a small part of my collection into serious, made-for-collectors-type albums—the organic kind, that is, with acid-free archival sleeves and glassine pockets. You can get them in the kale and beets section at Whole Foods. But most of my pictures, alas, remain scattered about, secreted away in boxes and drawers and plastic bags, stuck into books, or else just hiding out somewhere in my house. Where, I’m not sure: domestic life becomes ever more Grey Gardens–like. No more vintage photo shows, says spouse Blakey—nor will I be going anywhere near the eBay log-in page—until I unearth all the mute, two-dimensional Missing Persons already lurking somewhere in the downstairs closet. As addictions go, collecting old photos of obscure provenance may be harmless enough.

more from Terry Castle at the Paris Review here.