Tuesday Poem

Ministers In Charge Of Individuals

we have no parents no children no flesh-and-blood
loves we have no homes we have god
we haven’t got him in the sky and not in the depths not
in stones we have no prophets we have no teachers
we have no permitted books no forbidden
books we have god we don’t love him
we don’t hate him we aren’t friendly with him
we have nothing but “I” nothing but self
we are the ministers of individuals

by Benjamin Shvili
from Shiray ha tie-ar hagadol
publisher: Schocken, Tel Aviv, 1999

translation: Lisa Katz, 2012

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Mira Nair’s 9/11 drama to open Venice film festival

From The Guardian:

Mira-Nair--007Mira Nair's latest film, the 9/11 drama The Reluctant Fundamentalist, is to open this year's Venice film festival next month. Nair's first new work since her poorly received 2009 biopic Amelia, about the aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, the movie is based on Mohsin Hamid's novel and stars British actor Riz Ahmed as a young Pakistani man working on Wall Street in September, 2001. When terrorists strike the World Trade Center, his bright future is shattered along with his belief system, reports Deadline. Other castmembers include Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, Liev Schreiber, Martin Donovan, Om Puri and Shabana Azmi. The Reluctant Fundamentalist, for which William Wheeler has adapted Hamid's 2007 book, will screen out of competition at Venice's 69th edition, which this year runs from 29 August to 8 September.

More here. (Note: Congratulations to dear friends Mira and Mohsin!)

What Is the Nocebo Effect?

From Smithsonian:

Pristiq_pillsWhat if taking an absolutely harmless substance could make you sick? What if a sugar pill caused you to feel nausea, or a fake dose of lactose triggered unwelcome stomach symptoms in patients who are lactose intolerant? The strange truth about medicine and the brain is that they often interact in completely unpredictable and counterintuitive ways. Nowhere is this more true than with the bewildering phenomenon known as the nocebo effect. Most of us already know about the placebo effect. As part of medical studies, a control group is typically given an inert substance (usually a sugar pill) that provides a baseline to which researchers can compare the effectiveness of the new medicine being tested. The members of this group are told that the placebo is real—and surprisingly, they sometimes experience an actual improvement in their symptoms, simply because they expect that the medicine will make them feel better.

An opposite tendency—and one that has been largely overlooked by the research community—is the nocebo effect. Put simply, it is the phenomenon in which inert substances or mere suggestions of substances actually bring about negative effects in a patient or research participant. For some, being informed of a pill or procedure’s potential side effects is enough to bring on real-life symptoms. Like the placebo effect, it is still poorly understood and thought to be brought about by a combination of Pavlovian conditioning and a reaction to expectations. Last week, researchers from the Technical University of Munich in Germany published one of the most thorough reviews to date on the nocebo effect. Breaking down 31 empirical studies that involved the phenomenon, they examined the underlying biological mechanisms and the problems it causes for doctors and researchers in clinical practice. Their conclusion: although perplexing, the nocebo effect is surprisingly common and ought to be taken into consideration by medical professionals on an everyday basis.

More here.

Tino Sehgal fills Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall with storytellers

Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_08 Jul. 24 11.20According to Sehgal the work is about the relationship between the individual and the mass: “It is about what it means to belong to a group, which is also quite a personal question for me.” The Turbine Hall was intriguing, he said, because “it is such an unusual space for a museum, since museums were invented to train visitors in polite behaviour. But the Turbine Hall is different: it is made to make people gather together and puts them in a joyful, bodily, unrestricted space.”

Several hundred participants are involved in the project. They were recruited through networks of friends and acquaintances, and rehearsed by Sehgal and his producer, Asad Raza. The stories they tell visitors are based on a set of open-ended questions asked by Sehgal, such as: “When did you feel a sense of belonging?” and “When did you experience a sense of arrival?” The participants work in four-hour shifts, with breaks, and are paid, according to the Tate curator Jessica Morgan, between £8 and £9 per hour. Most are fitting the work at Tate around other professional commitments, from posts at universities to freelance photography.

According to Raza the work “shows London to itself; it is a more accurate picture of London than something that is cooked up by one particular person”. On Monday morning though, none of the participants was black: according to Dercon, “we have complete diversity but we didn't select them as if we were casting a sitcom”.

More here.

does art matter?

ThinkPiece_2

The epilogue of DeLillo’s Point Omega returns the reader to the narrator’s sixth and final viewing of Gordon’s 24-Hour Psycho. During this visit, the protagonist interacts with other visitors and incorporates personal memories into his interpretation of the video sculpture in the gallery. His ruminations on news media, Hitchcock’s film, Gordon’s installation and his own experiences (detailed earlier in the novel), intermingle. In effect, these four forms of media – mainstream press, a classic film, a video installation and an award-winning novel – each reach their publics in different ways. But often they overlap, one folded into the other. This seems to be DeLillo’s point. His narrator’s deeply engaged reading of a contemporary art installation offers a dynamic model of the process by which art emerges from other practices, crystallizes in form and experience, only to move beyond those conditions in often-unpredictable ways to generate new narratives and knowledge. Art works are social subjects in this way, and not simply aesthetic objects. They are meaningful only when seen in relationship to a wider network of beliefs and practices, economies and exchanges. Art is the current, not the fixture.

more from Alexander Alberro at Frieze here.

Why Barack Obama And Benjamin Netanyahu Don’t Get Along

Obama-netanyahu-2Peter Beinart gave a lecture at the Everet Jewish Life Center in Chautauqua on the personal, religious, and Zionist roots on both sides of the Obama-Netanyahu relationship. The audio's not perfect but it's really worth a listen, so I recommend headphones.

Listen to the speech here.

For Beinart's bio, along with the rest of the series' speakers, click here.

Mr. Wrong: Ifti Nasim (1946 – 2011)

Note: In honor of my best friend's first death anniversary, I am posting again the obituary I wrote (with a brokem heart).

by Azra Raza

According to every convention, my friend Ifti was all wrong. He was born at the wrong time. He should have been born in 2150. He was born in the wrong country. He should have been born in Hollywood. He was born to the wrong parents. He should have been Tallulah Bankhead’s child. He was born to the wrong siblings. He should have been my sister. He was born in the wrong body. He should have been Marilyn Monroe. He was born to the wrong friends in Pakistan. His friends should have been Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, Joan Crawford, Tennessee Williams, and Bette Davis. He was born to lead a life of luxury, dividing his time between the French Riviera and throwing extravagant parties in Manhattan. Instead he became a car salesman.

And if he had to become a car salesman, he should have been wearing the conventional salesman’s clothing. Ifti wore silks and brocades. He should have cinched his best car deals by groveling in front of clients. Instead, he succeeded by sassily telling Oprah Winfrey when she asked him how big the engine of the Mercedes was, “Are you going to sleep with it?” And when Mary Anne Childers asked him to open the trunk of the car she was buying from him, he famously remarked, “Honey, do it yourself, I just got my nails done.”

And while other salesmen were attending classes to polish up their PR skills, Ifti was busy being a gay activist. He created SANGAT, the organization devoted to Gays and Lesbians of South Asian origin. And why couldn’t SANGAT be content with their periodic display of solidarity by marching through town in the Annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Day Parade? Instead, Ifti raised funds to hire lawyers who have successfully fought cases to earn Immigration status for individuals seeking asylum because of their sexual preferences. And why did I regularly meet strangers in Ifti’s home who had found sanctuary in his ever-welcoming apartment?

Ifti could have been a highly successful stand-up comic. Instead he became a writer. And if he had to become a writer, he could have stuck to one genre alone. Instead he wrote poetry in Urdu, English and Punjabi; he published several books of short stories and became a serious journalist writing pithy, enormously unsettling, weekly columns unmasking the hypocrisy of some of our more pious and decent members of society; he started his own highly successful radio talk show.

And if he did decide to write about homosexuality, why could he not follow the traditions of the “love that dare not speak its name” and convey his agony through innuendo and metaphor? Instead he published the first ever book in Urdu devoted openly to homosexual love. Nirman (or Hermaphrodite) uses direct, graphic imagery and explicit language.

More here.

The Argument from Ugliness

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

Kinkade Disney BambiThe theistic argument from beauty is an instance of a broader class of arguments for God’s existence known as teleological arguments. The basic form of this kind of argument is as follows:

1. The universe (or parts of it) exhibit property X.

2. Property X is usually (if not always) brought about by the purposive actions of those who created objects for them to be X.

3. The cases mentioned in Premise 1 are not explained (or fully explained) by human action or non-intentional events internal to the universe.

4. Therefore: The universe is (likely) the product of a purposive agent who created it to be X, namely God.

The variety of teleological arguments is as broad the range of properties one can reasonably substitute for X. Traditional teleological arguments plug in for X the claim that some feature of the universe is fine-tuned for life, or that the universe has whatever is required in order to support creatures capable of consciousness, or moral responsibility. The argument from beauty, by contrast, begins from the premise that the universe exhibits beauty. This, the argument runs, entails that the universe must have been created by God, and thus that God exists. But teleological arguments have what we call evil twins. These are arguments that are teleological in structure, but proceed from premises concerning the imperfection or nastiness of the universe to the conclusion that there is no God. The universe, after all, is a mixed bag. Thus, for every theistic argument from, say, fine-tuning, there’s an atheistic challenge beginning from the observation that precious little of the universe is inhabitable and that living creatures are actually poorly designed. Similarly, for every theistic argument from consciousness, there’s an opposing atheistic argument that contends that consciousness deeply flawed and in any case not much of a boon. And for every theistic argument from the fact of moral responsibility, there’s an atheistic argument from immorality. This is what we call the evil twin problem: if theists contend that teleological arguments are valid in their logical form, then they must confront the atheist versions.

Here we will pose the evil twin problem for the argument from beauty: the argument from ugliness.

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The Hungry Games

by Misha Lepetic

Success comprises in itself the seeds of its own decline
and sport is not spared by this law.
~Pierre de Coubertin

Tae_kwon_do-AthensAs we helplessly hurtle towards the next inflammation of the Olympic Games, some notes on the effects of the Games on the built environment might be in order.

The Olympics may pretend to be the premier competition among nation-states, but their physical manifestation is always sited within the city. Given that cities are, by their very nature, already crowded places, something must give when, to paraphrase Joseph Conrad, the immovable object of the city meets the irresistible force that is the Olympic Games. Furthermore, once the Olympic hurricane blows through town, what are the long-term consequences?

This can be divided into three fairly discreet phenomena: the forced relocation of populations that suddenly find themselves “in the way” of breathlessly ambitious master plans; the design, construction and fetishization of dozens of state-of-the-art facilities for a few days’ worth of competitions; and the long, drawn-out consequences of deciding (or, more accurately, not deciding) what to do with these facilities once the athletes, media and sponsors have moved on to pastures greener.

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Stripped chinar and charred roof: a requiem for Ziarat Dastgir Sahibun

by Vivek Menezes

You won’t find the Truth
By crossing your legs and holding your breath.
Daydreams won’t take you through the gateway of release.
You can stir as much salt as you like in water,
It won’t become the sea.

(by Lal Ded, translated by Ranjit Hoskote)

3q9My journey to Ziarat Dastgir Sahibun in Sringar began on a cool, cloudy afternoon in Goa last December at the annual Arts + Literary Festival, when Ranjit Hoskote finally released a master-work after two decades of labour, ‘I Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded”.

Like many here, no doubt, I’d encountered the writings of this revolutionary fourteenth-century mystic earlier. But the preternaturally brilliant Hoskote has completely re-cast her in a new light. I dare say most of those present when he talked about Kashmir (with Bilal Tanweer and Jerry Pinto) became as immediately hooked as I was. This is when I started to seek out more information about the unique, confluential Sufism that came to prevail in Kashmir, without much effacing the Shaivism, Buddhism, and indigenous nature-worship that preceded it.

And so a family trip to Kashmir this May, which readers of 3QD already know about.

As described in that purposefully touristic post made from Srinagar itself, there is a bizarre gulf between Kashmir’s very real status as a tourism destination with near-limitless appeal (and demand to match), and the quality and quantity of reliable information available to travelers.

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Ultrasound Technology Can Impede Informed Consent

by Evan Selinger

UltrasoundEarlier this year, controversy surrounded ultrasound legislation in Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, and Idaho. Lost in the critical commentaries on abuses of patients’ and physicians’ rights was concern over a fundamental violation of liberty. This issue hasn’t gone away, even though sonogram coverage isn’t currently grabbing headlines.

Medical experts routinely use ultrasound technology in ways that favor the Right to the Life agenda, even in states that don't have mandatory ultrasound laws. This problem goes unnoticed because the potential harm caused by the medical community is not the result of political ideology. Rather, it arises from inadvertent exploitation of patients’ natural human weaknesses and cognitive tendencies. To understand why, we need to grasp how typical conversations about ultrasound images can impede rather than foster informed consent.

In cases where advocates pushed for mandatory ultrasound, proponents insisted that women considering abortion should be subject to robust informed consent policy. From this perspective, ultrasound technology looks like a perfect tool for ensuring women understand the profound ramifications of using surgery to terminate a pregnancy. Unfortunately, discussions of what ultrasound images reveal isn’t limited to objective medical facts.

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Burmese Days

by Maniza Naqvi

“… How does our affair progress? I hope that, as dear Mr. Macgregor would say—U Po Kyin broke into English—eet ees making perceptible progress?”

Burmese-Days-3Burmese Days by George Orwell remains relentlessly relevant and a touchstone for cynics eight decades after it was written. The novel opens with U Po Kyin at age 56 thinking of his achievements with satisfaction—and plotting intrigue to further his interests. He thinks back to his first memory of the British troops with their weapons entering victoriously into Mandalay in 1885. “To fight on the side of the British, to become a parasite upon them, had been his ruling ambition even as a child. He does this by playing one side against the other, planting intrigues and solving them, always putting himself in the position of the problem solver, the loyalist to all—taking bribes and ruthlessly controlling everyone.” U Po Kyin's memory of British troops marching into town is set in the moment in which the oil company Burmah Oil is born in 1886 and when Burma became a province of Imperial India. (here, and here and here.)

George Orwell was in Burma in the Indian Imperial Police from 1922-1927 Eric Arthur Blair or George Orwell was born in India, on June 3, 1903 in Motihari Bihar (here). Orwell’s novel follows the trajectories of the ambitions and the psyches of Imperial administrators, their military officers, wives, concubines, their merchants and those who served them. The title of “U” has been bestowed on U Po Kyin for his services enroute his own trajectory from a lowly clerk to a minor official to a Sub divisional magistrate, through planting seditious activities and creating rebellions and quelling them himself so that he can demonstrate his loyalties to the Imperial masters by jailing adversaries while havig his fingers in every pot in his subdivision for personal gain and pleasure.

His good works of building Pagodas will ensure his next life. But in this life his most ardent desire is to be a member of the British Club:

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Absurd Wars?

by Edward B. Rackley

250px-Democratic_Republic_of_the_Congo_(orthographic_projection).svgTo remark on how seamless our online and natural worlds have become is ho-hum these days, but last week as I slurped morning coffee and chatted online with a former Mai Mai rebel (whom I’ll call ‘Dikembe’) in turbulent eastern DR Congo, I found new reason to pause. Exchanging views on our perennial topic—solutions to Congo’s problems—felt as natural as the morning paper, but his statements resisted their usual meaning and tugged at me the rest of day. The part that recycled in my mind went a bit like this:

Dikembe: Things are bad in EDRC, Kabila [the president] can’t manage the situation.
Me: What does he manage? Nothing new there.
D: That’s why we reject him.

[pause]

D: So how many Congolese have to die before the international community pays attention?
Me: The int'l community is impotent, you’ve seen that countless times. You have a government, ask them. You elected Kabila, why did you choose him? Or are you saying the elections were a fraud?
D: Aha, now you understand me perfectly. We are hearing that even his own security forces are moving against him. Only the international community can save us now.

In a previous episode of Congo’s tumult Dikembe and I worked together disarming combatants and reintegrating them into civilian life. Many were minors, Dikembe’s former subordinates from different local militias. Our program offered vocational training and the tools to start new businesses but few ex-combatants took it seriously. Most went along with the programs to kill time, selling the clothes and tools they received for cash. A lesson for us was that the adrenaline of pillage and the instant authority of the gun had become integral to their identity, defining them long after the firing stopped. Many ex-combatants, especially children, remained fiercely loyal to former commanders, rejecting their families and all forms of authority. Psychologically they were listless and volatile, preferring the bustle and relative anonymity of towns to the monotony and awkward familiarity of village life. Dikembe was no hero, but sage enough not to follow the herd. I watched him adapt to civilian life in wartime, a humbling series of privations, as he resisted the lure of easy money and influence through armed crime and extortion.

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Faster, higher, and stronger? We can do better.

by Quinn O'Neill

Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-S0611-0025,_Günter_AmbraßOlympic excitement is in the air as the world’s best athletes get ready to take the stage. Many of them have been preparing for this for most of their young lives. It’s a shot at a gold medal and the glory that comes with it, and a chance to test their mettle against the very best in the world.

Perhaps we should qualify the term “best in the world”, though, since a lot of potential competition is eliminated rather unfairly before the games begin. A champion’s win is really only a fair victory over those who've had the same opportunity to develop their talents. There are about a billion people in the world who can’t afford to eat let alone participate in sports, and a lot more who can only afford to participate at lower levels.

It’s a privilege to be able to dedicate your life to achieving extreme excellence in a sport, especially since Olympic sporting activities tend to be of little practical value. Sure, sprinting skills might come in handy when you're trying to outrun a predator, and I guess you never know when you might need to row backwards across a lake really fast, but by and large, the utility of such skills doesn't justify the effort it takes to develop them. Watching events like javelin and race walking, it would seem that human beings will compete at just about anything, just for the sake of competing.

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