10 Things Holden Caulfield Hates

Heba Hasan in The Atlantic:

041938_beerpong_crop[Last week was] the 61st anniversary of J.D Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, a novel that introduced us to the most beloved/hated embodiment of disaffected youth in all of literature—and quite possibly pop culture as a whole. To celebrate, we've rounded up ten things that Holden Caulfield hates. We could have taken the easy way out and just said all of humanity, but that wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining. And besides, nothing makes you feel more grateful about the fact that you're not a self-destructive, angst-ridden teenager (anymore) than reminding yourself exactly why Holden Caulfield loathes Jesus' Disciples.

1. Bros

“He was one of those guys that think they’re being a pansy if they don’t break around forty of your fingers when they shake hands with you. God, I hate that stuff.”

Can’t you just picture Holden at a frat party? Sitting on a couch by himself and judging how phony all those guys at the beer pong table are?

More here.

Let my mother go

Michael Wolff has stood by while doctors keep his mother alive, despite the fact that she has severe dementia. Here, in this provocative and heartbreaking plea, he reveals why our obsession with longevity is making old age a living hell.

Michael Wolff in The Guardian:

Wolff-008On the way to visit my mother one recent rainy afternoon, I stopped in, after quite some constant prodding, to see my insurance salesman. He was pressing his efforts to sell me a long-term-care policy with a pitch about how much I'd save if I bought it now, before the rates were set to precipitously rise. I am, as my insurance man pointed out, a “sweet spot” candidate. Not only do I have the cash (though not enough to self-finance my decline) but a realistic view: like so many people in our 50s – in my experience almost everybody – I have a parent in an advanced stage of terminal breakdown.

I didn't need to be schooled in the realities of long-term care: the costs for my mother, who is 86 and who, for the past 18 months, has not been able to walk, talk or to address her most minimal needs and, to boot, is absent a short-term memory, come in at about $17,000 a month. And while her insurance hardly covers all of that, I'm certainly grateful she had the foresight to carry such a policy. (Although the carrier has never paid on time and all payments involve hours of being on hold with its invariably unhelpful helpline operators – and please fax them, don't email.) My three children deserve as much.

And yet, on the verge of writing the cheque, I backed up.

What I feel most intensely when I sit by my mother's bed is a crushing sense of guilt for keeping her alive. Who can accept such suffering – who can so conscientiously facilitate it?

“Why do we want to cure cancer? Why do we want everybody to stop smoking? For this?” wailed a friend of mine with two long-ailing and yet tenacious in-laws.

More here.

The Turkish paradox

Mehdi Hasan at Al Jazeera:

ScreenHunter_06 Jul. 22 16.21Turkey is a paradox: it is secular and Islamic, modern and traditional, wants to be Western – yet tends to looks eastwards. But whatever Turkey is doing, it seems to be working.

Last year, Turkey emerged as a source of inspiration for countries in the Middle East during the Arab Spring; the country is now considered to be a regional superpower. Wherever Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan goes in the Arab world, he is mobbed by cheering crowds.

Meanwhile, Turkey's dynamic economy is breaking records. In 2011, it became the fastest growing economy in Europe – and the second fastest in the world. Foreign businesses are queuing up to invest in Turkey.

Is it any wonder that the country is thus held up as “the model”, both for emerging economies and for Muslim-majority countries struggling with the transition to democracy? However, inside Turkey, some say liberal democracy and secular freedoms are under assault. There does seem to be a climate of fear in the country's largest city. In Istanbul, I met nervous journalists and bloggers willing to speak only in hushed tones about the growing number of restrictions on free speech. Within 24 hours of our arrival, one of my Al Jazeera colleagues was detained by police officers, who went through his bag and rifled through one of our scripts. They loudly objected to a line referring to the country's “increasingly authoritarian government”. Who says that Turks don't do irony?

More here.

Compassion Made Easy

David DeSteno in the New York Times:

15GRAY-articleInlineEmpirically speaking, does the experience of compassion toward one person measurably affect our actions and attitudes toward other people? If so, are there practical steps we can take to further cultivate this feeling? Recently, my colleagues and I conducted experiments that answered yes to both questions.

In one experiment, designed with the psychologist Paul Condon and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, we recruited people to take part in a study that was ostensibly about the relation of mathematical ability to taste perception — but that in actuality was a study of how the experience of compassion affects your behavior.

Each experimental session consisted of three individuals: a real participant and two confederates (i.e., people who secretly worked for us). First, the participants were told that they had four minutes to solve as many of 20 difficult math problems as they could and that they would receive 50 cents for each one they solved correctly. Twenty was far more than the typical person could do; the average number solved was 4. After time expired, the experimenter approached each person to ask how many problems he or she had solved, paid the person accordingly, and then had the person place his or her work in the shredder.

More here.

Is Your Child Gay?

From Scientific American:

Is-your-child-gay_1We all know the stereotypes: an unusually light, delicate, effeminate air in a little boy's step, an interest in dolls, makeup, princesses and dresses, and a strong distaste for rough play with other boys. In little girls, there is the outwardly boyish stance, perhaps a penchant for tools, a square-jawed readiness for physical tussles with boys, and an aversion to all the perfumed, delicate trappings of femininity.

These behavioral patterns are feared, loathed and often spoken of directly as harbingers of adult homosexuality. It is only relatively recently, however, that developmental scientists have conducted controlled studies to identify the earliest and most reliable signs of adult homosexuality. In looking carefully at the childhoods of gay adults, researchers are finding an intriguing set of behavioral indicators that homosexuals seem to have in common. Curiously enough, the age-old homophobic fears of many parents reflect some genuine predictive currency.

More here.

A Visit With Art-World Hero Chuck Close

From The Village Voice:

CcLou Reed's got wrinkles in his wrinkles.” Artist Chuck Close and I are in his ground-floor studio on Bond Street. He's describing a giant tapestry of Reed's face that he's hoping to have ready by mid October. The studio is jammed with assistants color-correcting dyes, poring over photographic images, and managing office business. It's an especially busy time for Team Close—the 72-year-old painter is preparing for his long-awaited fall show at Chelsea's Pace Gallery. Arrayed around the walls are some of his closest friends—Roy, Paul, Philip, Laurie, Cindy. In his relaxed company, it's practically immaterial that they're all celebrities. “I always wanted to make paintings of ordinary, undistinguished people,” Close says as if reading my thoughts. “It's not my fault they became famous.” There's a certain kind of virtuosity that amplifies its achievements by a million trillion. Beethoven composed his Ninth Symphony while deaf. James Joyce wrote Finnegans Wake with a magnifying glass. Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States while black.

For people who love art, young or old, with-it or fusty, Republican or Democrat, the painter Chuck Close has long formed part of this virtuosic pantheon. An artist celebrated like few people in or out of the art world, Close commands not just attention, but also bona fide affection. To see him at huge museum affairs, art-fair openings, or charitable events is to see Moses part waters thick with social climbing, calculation, and envy. His presence—like that of a civil rights leader or sports hero—is mollifying. As he once put it to me, “For the last 14 years, I've not gone a day where I go outside and don't have someone tell me how much they like what I do. I'm really very, very lucky.” Never mind that Chuck Close is a partial quadriplegic and largely confined to a wheelchair.

More here.

Sunday Poem

Sonnet 91

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their bodies' force,
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest:
But these particulars are not my measure;
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments' cost,
Of more delight than hawks or horses be;
And having thee, of all men's pride I boast:
Wretched in this alone,that thou mayst take
All this away and me most wretched make.

by William Shakespeare

A Real-Life Fairy Tale, Long in the Making and Set to Old Tunes

From Larry Rohter in the NYTimes:

RodriguezIt’s a real-life tale of talent disregarded, bad luck and missed opportunities, with an improbable stop in the Hamptons and a Hollywood conclusion: A singer-songwriter is signed to a contract in the late 1960s after producers with ties to Motown Records see him playing in a smoky Detroit nightclub called the Sewer. He makes a pair of albums that sell almost nothing and then drops out of sight. So why, 40 years later, would anyone feel compelled to make a movie about this obscure artist, known professionally as Rodriguez?

Because, as it turns out, on the other side of the globe, in South Africa, Rodriguez had become as popular as the Rolling Stones or Elvis Presley. But he never knew of that success. He never saw a penny in royalties from it, and he spent decades doing manual labor to make ends meet and raise his three daughters. It wasn’t until fans in South Africa, trying to verify rumors he was dead, tracked him down through the Internet and brought him there to perform to adoring multitudes, that his career was resuscitated.

“This was the greatest, the most amazing, true story I’d ever heard, an almost archetypal fairy tale,” said Malik Bendjelloul, the Swedish director of “Searching for Sugar Man,” a documentary that opens on Friday in New York and Los Angeles. “It’s a perfect story. It has the human element, the music aspect, a resurrection and a detective story.” Because of an odd confluence of circumstances it is also a story unlikely ever to occur again.

More, including some great song samples, here.

The Minority’s Minority: Ahmadis in India

Sunni supremacist groups have terrorised the Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan and declared them non-Muslims. This hatred is now taking roots in India.

Sai Manish in Tehelka:

ScreenHunter_04 Jul. 21 17.22“The breed of Qadianis will never change. They may multiply up to 99 generations; still the 100th one will continue to be a dualist-infidel and apostate. The reason is that their crime is a never-ending one. The offence will never cease to exist in their progeny. Let it be clear to every Muslim that the crime of apostasy runs throughout the lineage of a Qadiani. If he is adamant and refuses to renounce his apostasy, then Allah’s sacred soil deserves to be cleaned of his foul existence. By the law of Shariat, they should be awarded capital sentence because they are dualist-infidels (zindiq). If they are masquerading as Muslims on the globe, it is because they have not been sentenced. Hunt the liar in his mother’s haunt [Britain]. I ask my Muslim brethren — Don’t you have any grace left in you to answer these shameless Qadianis? Peel their camouflage off from every nook and corner of the world, just as it has been done in Pakistan.”

From a booklet published by the Majlise-Tahaffuz-e-Khatm-e-Nubuwwat Trust, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

More here.

Great Books—and the Best Places to Read Them

From Smithsonian:

About 10 years ago, while passing a hot afternoon on the deck of a tourist lodge in Belize, a friend on his way out to go bird-watching asked why on earth I had my nose buried in a book. “Here we are in the jungle of Belize,” he said. “There are jaguars in the woods, and crocodiles in the swamp, and grackles in the trees—and you’re reading a book?” I explained that reading while traveling—if done right—can serve as a sensory supplement to one’s surrounding environment, not necessarily a distraction, as he believed. I explained that many years from now, any mention of Dovea sailing memoir by Robin Graham—would sweep me right back to these Belizean tropical forests where I read the book, and the coral reefs off the coast, and the croc-filled lagoons, and the villages, sulking in the boggy Caribbean heat and odors of fermenting cashew apples and mangoes. And I was right. When I think of Dove, I go right back to Belize. Because reading a book charges up the mind with information and memories. These become entangled with the scents and flavors of reality, and rather than detract from an experience, a good book can enrich it. Never in the past 15 years have I left home for a week or more without a piece or two of literature, and below I list some of my favorite reads—and where best to read them.

Top Picks:

BooksDownAndOutBIGParis, Down and Out in Paris and London. Ernest Hemingway may have spent his days in Paris thoughtfully fingering his beard at sidewalk cafes and drinking the house wine, but George Orwell voluntarily dived into a life of grim poverty as he made a journalistic effort to understand the plight of Europe’s working classes. In Down and Out in Paris and London, Orwell describes short-term jobs in the Parisian restaurant circuit, weeks of unemployment, living in a pay-by-the-week hotel and selling his clothes to scrape up the rent. He lives franc to franc, describing the logistics of saving coins and managing free meals and dodging the landlady. In one especially dismal spell, Orwell and a friend named Boris, living together at the time, go three days without food. Following false rumors of job openings, they drag their feet throughout the city, growing weaker every hour. Orwell even goes fishing in the Seine in the hopes of landing something to fry in a pan. When the pair finally acquires a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine, they devour what must be among the most satisfying dinners ever eaten in Paris. Orwell eventually lands steady work, but not before learning how strangely liberating it is to hit rock-bottom, to own nothing in the world but the clothes you’re wearing and have no worries but finding a bite to eat. T. S. Eliot, an editor at Faber & Faber at the time, would later decline the manuscript offered by the young writer: “We did find [the book] of very great interest,” Eliot wrote, “but I regret to say that it does not appear to me possible as a publishing venture.”

More here.

R.I.P. Alexander Cockburn, 1941-2012

AlexCockburnCorey Robin over at his blog:

Alexander Cockburn, one of the finest radical journalists—no, journalists—of his generation, has died. Because of the similarities between him and Christopher Hitchens—both Anglos (he of Ireland, Hitchens of England) in America; both friends, for a time; both left (though, in Hitchens’s case, for a time); and both dying relatively young from cancer—people, inevitably, will want to make comparisons. Here, very quickly, are three (and why I think Cockburn was ultimately the superior writer).

First, Cockburn was a much better observer of people and of politics: in part because he didn’t impose himself on the page the way Hitchens did, he could see particular details (especially of class and of place) that eluded Hitchens. At his best, he got out of the way of his own story and allowed his readers to see things they never would have seen without him.

Second, he was extraordinarily well read, but he didn’t make a parade of his learning. One sly quote from Gibbons or Tacitus was enough. He understood, unlike Hitchens, that less is more, and that helped him—to an extraordinary degree—on the page. Ever the over-achieving schoolboy, Hitchens simply drew too much attention to himself, and even his finest sentences (which were quite fine) had a way of distracting from the matter at hand.

Does America Have a Responsibility to Stop Mass Killings?

Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic:

AmericaDoes the U.S. have a responsibility to intervene abroad to stop egregious human rights abuses? The so-called “responsibility to protect” was the subject of a panel that my colleague Jeffrey Goldberg moderated Sunday in Aspen. He shared the stage with Anne-Marie Slaughter, who served in the Obama Administration as Directory of Policy Planning in the State Department, and is known to advocate for interventions like the one in Libya. In fact, all of the panelists were, broadly speaking, advocates of American intervention, at least in situations like the Rwandan genocide. To spur a more wide-ranging conversation, law professor Steven Carter was briefly assigned to channel the perspective of Sen. Rand Paul, a leading non interventionist.

“The spirit Rand Paul captures goes deeply in American history,” he said, adding that in situations like the killings in Darfur, a lot of Americans think it's tragic, but nevertheless feel as though we've got our own problems to address, and that it would be good if someone else did something.

The conversation then turned away from Sen. Paul.

What followed was a survey of the various moral and practical questions interventionism raises. Is it fair to send U.S. troops who volunteered to protect American interests into conflicts like Rwanda where our national security isn't at risk? What measures, short of combat troops on the ground, can be effective? Should authoritarian leaders who've committed atrocities be given amnesty and political asylum if it'll result in fewer lives lost? Is assassination ever legitimate?

Read the rest here.

Buying Time

From The New York Times:

BookThirteen years into her marriage, during her son’s 12th-birthday party, Amanda Bennett found her husband, Terence Foley, doubled over in pain on their bed. Alarmed, she rushed him to the hospital, where he was found to have a severe bowel disease. A doctor casually mentioned that a scan also showed a “shadow” on his kidney. “You are going to want to get that looked at,” he said. As Bennett writes in her memoir, “The Cost of Hope,” the shadow was looked at. It was rescanned, removed and sent to a lab. It was diagnosed twice — first as “collecting duct” cancer, then as “papillary” cancer (doctors still disagree over what it was) — and treated with drugs bearing price tags of $200 per daily pill and $109,440 for four one-hour intravenous drips. It also spread to Foley’s lungs, and in December 2007, it took his life. He was 67. The bill for his seven years of treatment totaled $618,616.

Bennett is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and an executive editor at Bloomberg News (this book grew out of an article she wrote for Bloomberg). Her memoir is equal parts marriage confessional and skilled investigative report. It’s a story of the sometimes amusing, sometimes baffling relationship and hectic but rewarding life she shared with Foley for over two decades. It’s also the fascinating account of an illness — its origins, composition and progression — and of the cost (mental, physical and financial) of trying to treat it via the complicated, frustrating, outrageously expensive American health care system.

More here.

Alexander Cockburn, 1941-2012

Jeffrey St. Clair in CounterPunch:

ScreenHunter_01 Jul. 21 14.37Our friend and comrade Alexander Cockburn died last night in Germany, after a fierce two-year long battle against cancer. His daughter Daisy was at his bedside.

Alex kept his illness a tightly guarded secret. Only a handful of us knew how terribly sick he truly was. He didn’t want the disease to define him. He didn’t want his friends and readers to shower him with sympathy. He didn’t want to blog his own death as Christopher Hitchens had done. Alex wanted to keep living his life right to the end. He wanted to live on his terms. And he wanted to continue writing through it all, just as his brilliant father, the novelist and journalist Claud Cockburn had done. And so he did. His body was deteriorating, but his prose remained as sharp, lucid and deadly as ever.

In one of Alex’s last emails to me, he patted himself on the back (and deservedly so) for having only missed one column through his incredibly debilitating and painful last few months. Amid the chemo and blood transfusions and painkillers, Alex turned out not only columns forCounterPunch and The Nation and First Post, but he also wrote a small book called Guillotine and finished his memoirs, A Colossal Wreck, both of which CounterPunch plans to publish over the course of the next year.

More here.

Saturday Poem


As a policeman, most of my Grandfather’s ties
were clip-on, so that they would come away
easy as a plucked flower, should someone
try to throttle him. He died, suffocated
in an open necked shirt, the victim
of his own tobacco habit and intransigence.

I remember borrowing a black tie from my father
to attend his funeral. Dad has many black ties,
all serpentine with stomachs knotted in grief.
I thank my father for a love of fine silk ties,
for the Windsor knot which I slacken or tighten
like the grip between his hand and his father’s.

by Richie McCaffery
from Body, July 16 2012

My First Coup d’Etat


On February 24 1966, military officers in Ghana toppled President Kwame Nkrumah, who had led the country to independence nine years before. Nkrumah was exiled to Guinea and never returned. Senior government officials were rounded up and detained. John Dramani Mahama was seven at the time and attending a prestigious boarding school in the capital, Accra. Though his father was a minister in Nkrumah’s government, Mahama received no word that anything was wrong until the end of term that April, when nobody came to pick him up. The next day an “auntie” – as dormitory matrons were called – put Mahama in a taxi and together they went to his father’s house, where they found policemen and soldiers. Asked where the honourable minister was, a soldier with bloodshot eyes replied gruffly: “He no longer lives here.”

more from Xan Rice at the FT here.

the jazz standards


What makes “The Jazz Standards” so engaging is just this sort of anecdotal texture, Gioia’s ability to write as an inhabitant of both the tradition and the songs. He takes us through music that’s well known (“Beale Street Blues,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Mood Indigo,” “Embraceable You”) and not so well known (“Nardis,” “Billie’s Bounce,” “East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)”), but either way, his connection is a starting point. “When I was a very young child,” he recalls, discussing the song “I’ll Remember April,” “I saw the Abbott and Costello movie ‘Ride ‘Em Cowboy’ on several occasions on television, but I have no recollection of ‘I’ll Remember April,’ which was introduced in this unlikely film by Dick Foran. But a decade later, I encountered ‘I’ll Remember April’ again — this time in a version by pianist Erroll Garner from his landmark album ‘Concert by the Sea.'” From there, he riffs briefly about Garner (“I am convinced that a young musician could build a killing style using his tricks and techniques as a foundation”) before highlighting a dozen or so covers by artists including Getz, Keith Jarrett and Frank Sinatra, who recorded it in 1961.

more from David L. Ulin at the LA Times here.