the ’89 essay


There’s a less elaborate argument for gay marriage: it’s good for gays. It provides role models for young gay people who, after the exhilaration of coming out, can easily lapse into short-term relationships and insecurity with no tangible goal in sight. My own guess is that most gays would embrace such a goal with as much (if not more) commitment as straights. Even in our society as it is, many lesbian relationships are virtual textbook cases of monogamous commitment. Legal gay marriage could also help bridge the gulf often found between gays and their parents. It could bring the essence of gay life–a gay couple–into the heart of the traditional straight family in a way the family can most understand and the gay offspring can most easily acknowledge. It could do as much to heal the gay-straight rift as any amount of gay rights legislation. If these arguments sound socially conservative, that’s no accident. It’s one of the richest ironies of our society’s blind spot toward gays that essentially conservative social goals should have the appearance of being so radical. But gay marriage is not a radical step. It avoids the mess of domestic partnership; it is humane; it is conservative in the best sense of the word. It’s also about relationships. Given that gay relationships will always exist, what possible social goal is advanced by framing the law to encourage those relationships to be unfaithful, undeveloped, and insecure?

more from Andrew Sullivan at Slate here.

Same-Sex Marriage


There is something appealing—even romantic—about the Justice’s legal vision, demarcating as it does intimate worlds and dignified individuals threatened by a distant bureaucracy. But—at least since the Civil War—Americans are citizens of the nation first, and creatures of a national legal culture. For better and worse, in times of war and peace, this culture shapes their bodies and minds, their moral views and life choices. The problem with DOMA is not that it is a powerful regulation of sexuality, but that it is an unfair one. In questioning Solicitor General Donald Verrilli about the federal government’s authority to pass DOMA, Chief Justice Roberts recognized the complex relationship between sex and public power: “you agree that Congress could go the other way, right? Congress could pass a new law today that says, We will give Federal benefits. When we say ‘marriage’ in Federal law, we mean committed same-sex couples as well, and that could apply across the board.” Verrilli replied in the affirmative, and someday soon, the nation—whether through Congress or the Court—will hopefully “go the other way.”

more from Jeremy K. Kessler at n+1 here.

When the Devil Danced in Hungary


In interviews, Krasznahorkai presents himself as a yogi of aesthetic severity. “The reader must content themselves with these lone concrete, but vague, indications, quite simply because what I describe…can happen anywhere.” For after all: “Time and space aren’t very important. Only the situation counts.”3 This aesthetic of restriction has its modernist history—in the novels of Franz Kafka or Samuel Beckett—but I think that Krasznahorkai’s fiction is in fact more mischievous than his statements might imply. It isn’t simply that he leaves information out; he also presents the information he does offer in a systematically oblique way. Satantango is structured in two parts, two halves of six chapters each, which form a quilt of both time frames and perspectives, moving from character to character, all arranged around this particular evening at the local bar and the following couple of days. The second chapter of Satantango, for instance, begins a little further back in time than the first. This isn’t, however, made clear until toward the chapter’s end. It is also written from the perspective of new characters: two men who sit waiting in the corridor of what appears to be a government office. After four pages, the reader discovers that one of them is Petrina; after another five, that the other is Irimiás—the two men whose arrival at the collective farm so excites Futaki and Mr. and Mrs. Schmidt.

more from Adam Thirlwell at the NYRB here.

The Rise and Fall of Charm in American Men

From The Atlantic:

Mag-article-largeOnly the self-aware can have charm: It’s bound up with a sensibility that at best approaches wisdom, or at least worldliness, and at worst goes well beyond cynicism. It can’t exist in the undeveloped personality. It’s an attribute foreign to many men because most are, for better and for worse, childlike. These days, it’s far more common among men over 70—probably owing to the era in which they reached maturity rather than to the mere fact of their advanced years. What used to be called good breeding is necessary (but not sufficient) for charm: no one can be charming who doesn’t draw out the overlooked, who doesn’t shift the spotlight onto others—who doesn’t, that is, possess those long-forgotten qualities of politesse and civilité. A great hostess perforce has charm (while legendary hostesses are legion—Elizabeth Montagu, Madame Geoffrin, Viscountess Melbourne, Countess Greffulhe—I can’t think of a single legendary host), but today this social virtue goes increasingly unrecognized. Still, charm is hardly selfless. All of these acts can be performed only by one at ease with himself yet also intensely conscious of himself and of his effect on others. And although it’s bound up with considerateness, it really has nothing to do with, and is in fact in some essential ways opposed to, goodness. Another word for the lightness of touch that charm requires in humor, conversation, and all other aspects of social relations is subtlety, which carries both admirable and dangerous connotations. Charm’s requisite sense of irony is also the requisite for social cruelty.

…More important, charm, for all its appeal, isn’t a moral virtue—it’s an amoral one. Americans, especially American men, have always been, for some very good reasons, ambivalent about charm. It’s an attribute alien to many men because they are ingenuous, a quality that can itself be either admirable or unlovely. Many American military men deserve our esteem; the many I have known indeed do, but I have never met one with an ounce of charm. Indeed, what American hero has possessed it? The quintessential modern American hero, the eternally jejune and earnest Charles Lindbergh, who became a god when not yet a man, was in every way the antithesis of charm. America’s entire political history has been in some basic way a struggle between Jefferson—self-righteous, humorless, prickly, at once intellectually ardent and woolly—and Hamilton, a man foreign-born, witty, stylish, coolly brilliant, generous, possessed of a rare rapport with and an understanding of women. And just as Hamilton’s political vision triumphed, so did Jefferson’s political style.

More here.

How long can you go without food and water?

From HowStuffWorks:

Food-and-water-2The question of how long you can go without food depends on a lot of factors. Will and determination definitely play a part. Political prisoners on hunger strikes and fasting religious leaders have been known to go for weeks at a time without any food. Gandhi fasted for 21 days while in his 70s. People lost in the wild have also survived for long periods of time without eating. Medically speaking, most doctors agree that healthy humans can go up to eight weeks without food as long as they have water. People have gone longer and been fine, and people have starved to death in less time. Being strong and in good physical shape can help you survive longer, but so does having extra body fat. The body stores energy needed to live in the form of fat, carbohydrates and proteins. The carbs are the first thing to be used up without more food coming in. The fat goes next, which explains why people with more of it can survive longer. Then the proteins go. If you get to the point that your body is using up proteins, basically the body itself, then you're in bad shape.

…Now back to the question at hand. How long can you go without water? Assuming you're in reasonable shape and in ideal conditions — that is, not in the heat or cold and not exerting, a human can probably live for about 3 to 5 days without any water. Healthier humans can live another day or so longer.

More here.

Thursday poem

Be a Valley

Be a valley to which, by nature,
water flows

Be an example to which, by nature,
the lives of others flow

Keep in view the child’s mind which,
like water, flows

To be whole see whole
Consider opposites
See finite and infinite

Be newborn

Being man
understand being’s portal, woman,
through which new life flows

See dark and light
In honor be humble
In strength be weak

To have integrity means to know outer and inner
because to each the roots of selfhood reach

In the newborn, as in an uncarved block,
are imminent possibilities waiting to be formed

Wisdom keeps its wholeness
being many

from the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu, V. 28
adaptation by R.Bob

A Note To Beginning Science Writers

Carl Zimmer in The Loom:

ScreenHunter_225 Jun. 27 00.39From time to time, I get letters from people thinking seriously about becoming science writers. Some have no idea how to start; some have started but want to know how to get better. I usually respond with a hasty email, so that I can get back to figuring out for myself how to be a science writer. I thought it would be better for everyone—the people contacting me and myself—to sit down and write out a thorough response. (I’m also going to publish a final version of this on my web site, here.)

First a caveat: I am probably the wrong person to ask for this advice. I stumbled into this line of work without any proper planning in the early 1990s, when journalism was a very different industry. The answer to “How do I become a science writer?” is not equivalent to “How did you become a science writer?”

I was the sort of kid who wrote stories, cartoons, and failed imitations ofWatership Down. By college, I was working on both fiction and nonfiction, majoring in English to learn from great writers while trying to avoid getting sucked into the self-annihilating maze of literary theory. After college, I spent a couple years at various jobs while writing short stories on my own, but I gradually realized I didn’t have enough in my brain yet to put on the page.

More here.

You Can’t Eat Sharia

Mohamed El Baradei in Foreign Policy:

Elbaradei165346375Two years after the revolution that toppled a dictator, Egypt is already a failed state. According to the Failed States Index, in the year before the uprising we ranked No. 45. After Hosni Mubarak fell, we worsened to 31st. I haven't checked recently — I don't want to get more depressed. But the evidence is all around us.

Today you see an erosion of state authority in Egypt. The state is supposed to provide security and justice; that's the most basic form of statehood. But law and order is disintegrating. In 2012, murders were up 130 percent, robberies 350 percent, and kidnappings 145 percent, according to the Interior Ministry. You see people being lynched in public, while others take pictures of the scene. Mind you, this is the 21st century — not the French Revolution!

The feeling right now is that there is no state authority to enforce law and order, and therefore everybody thinks that everything is permissible. And that, of course, creates a lot of fear and anxiety.

You can't expect Egypt to have a normal economic life under such circumstances.

More here.

Surprising findings from a comprehensive report on gun violence

William Saletan in Slate:

130606_HN_HANDGUN.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeBackground checks are back. Last week, Vice President Joe Biden said that five U.S. senators—enough to change the outcome—have told him they’re looking for a way to switch their votes and pass legislation requiring a criminal background check for the purchase of a firearm. Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who led the fight for the bill, is firing back at the National Rifle Association with a new TV ad. The White House, emboldened by polls that indicate damage to senators who voted against the bill, ispushing Congress to reconsider it.

The gun control debate is certainly worth reopening. But if we’re going to reopen it, let’s not just rethink the politics. Let’s take another look at the facts. Earlier this year, President Obama ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assess the existing research on gun violence and recommend future studies. That report, prepared by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, is now complete. Its findings won’t entirely please the Obama administration or the NRA, but all of us should consider them. Here’s a list of the 10 most salient or surprising takeaways.

1. The United States has an indisputable gun violence problem. According to the report, “the U.S. rate of firearm-related homicide is higher than that of any other industrialized country: 19.5 times higher than the rates in other high-income countries.”

More here.

pocket worlds


There are a thousand pocket worlds in Johannesburg, rubbing up against each other. The students and arts scene in Brixton and Braamfontein, the black hipster hang-out of Newtown around the Market Theatre and Café Sophiatown, the suits and shiny cars in Bank City by the Diamond Building. Hillbrow has always been a separate animal. The twin towers of High Point used to be the most desirable blocks in the most cosmopolitan neighbourhood with restaurants and bars and clubs. When my dad was considering divorce in the 70s, he planned to buy an apartment here as the perfect swinging bachelor pad. That was before Hillbrow turned bohemian: sex and drugs and rocking disco soul thanks to the likes of Brenda Fassie, the madonna of the townships, who hung out here, got high here, made love here, in the middle of the hip multi-racial scene of artists and musicians and gays and lesbians in the 80s and 90s. Now it’s the place people bring their hopes, packed up in amashangaan, the ubiquitous cheap plastic rattan suitcases used by refugees and immigrants from small towns in the rural areas, looking for work, looking to break in. Low income, high aspirations.

more from Lauren Beukes at Granta here.

beyond the religious-secular cleavage


While religion is a very important factor in the recent events—as in virtually all political conflicts in contemporary Turkey—to see the protests through the secular-vs.-religious framework is to overlook the complexity of what is actually going on. It is also to miss the transformative potential and the genuine novelty of the Occupy Gezi movement. Surely, the prompt and widespread mobilization of the protesters, many with no prior experience in activism, is partly due to the accumulated resentment that people with non-conservative lifestyles as well as religious minorities feel toward the policies of the government. The most emblematic issue here is the government’s imposition of increasingly strict regulations on the sale and consumption of alcohol. Although the alcohol consumption rate in Turkey is the lowest among the OECD countries and its taxes on alcohol are some of the highest in Europe, the government has recently proposed new legislation that will place further restrictions on the retail sale and public consumption of alcohol. Erdoğan defended the recent legislative proposal in his typical style, declaring that he does not want “a generation that drinks and wanders about wasted day and night,” and suggested that this was a regulation, not a ban: “if you are going to drink, then drink your alcoholic beverage at home.” The proposal followed the removal of outdoor tables in the Beyoğlu district—the heart of entertainment and nightlife in Istanbul—by the AKP-controlled municipal government last summer, as well as Erdoğan’s infamous remark that his government aims to “raise religious generations.”

more from Ateş Altınordu at Immanent Frame here.

Spending time in jail is no fun


Like many Chinese who grew up during the Cultural Revolution, Liao was more or less self-educated in literature, although he received a grounding in the Chinese classics from his father, a schoolteacher. His memoir is sprinkled with the names of Western writers—Orwell, Kundera, Proust—some of whose works penetrated even the prison walls in Chongqing. Among them, amazingly, was Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” In Liao’s words, “On the page was an imaginary prison, while all around me was the real thing.” Unlike his friend Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Prize-winning critic and a writer with strong political convictions, Liao never wished to stick his neck out. He describes himself as an artist who simply wanted to be free to write in any way he liked. As recently as 2011, he told the journalist Ian Johnson, “I don’t want to break their laws. I am not interested in them and wish they weren’t interested in me.” But, in 1989, he put himself “on a self-destructive path” by performing his poem in bars and dance clubs, howling and chanting in the traditional manner of Chinese mourning.

more from Ian Buruma at The New Yorker here.

Wilde Ride

From The Daily Beast:

WildeIt is little surprise that Wilde, a fad avant la lettre—whose celebrity largely preceded his principal accomplishments—owed his American tour to a satirical skewering of which he was the target. Gilbert and Sullivan had just composed their operetta Patience, an all-purpose mockery of aestheticism whose Reginald Bunthorne was a direct parody of Wilde, with the character spouting sentiments such as: “The meaning doesn’t matter if it’s only idle chatter of a transcendental kind.” Wilde, with no less aplomb than you would imagine, promptly embraced the play. (As Morris reminds us, “the only thing worse than being talked about, he said, was not being talked about.”) Richard D’Oyly Carte, the producer of the show, saw an immediate opportunity to capitalize on the American run, and proposed that Wilde give a lecture tour. Imagine, say, Robert Penn Warren’s publisher arranging a lecture tour for Huey Long, or the Comedy Central Bill O’Reilly tour. Wilde promptly accepted. Wilde set sail from Liverpool with letters of introduction from James Russell Lowell and Edward Burne-Jones. (Lowell wrote to Oliver Wendell Holmes, “he should need no more introduction than a fine day.”) The passage does not seem to have been a pleasant one. “I am not exactly pleased with the Atlantic,” Wilde declared. A letter subsequently appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette, reading: “‘I am disappointed in Mr. Wilde,’ signed ‘The Atlantic Ocean.’” He arrived in New York amidst the trial of Charles Guiteau, recent assassin of President James Garfield, and unwittingly played a hand in a Supreme Court case: he sat for several photos with the eminent photographer Napoleon Sarony, who would later sue a lithographic company for the unwarranted replication of these photos, winning in the case Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony, which established early copyright protections for photographs.

…Wilde then went off to Philadelphia for a lecture at the Horticultural Hall—he was bored, as so many others along the way were, by the train’s views of New Jersey. He then called on Walt Whitman in Camden, where he drank elderberry wine and milk-punch (“a stoutish mixture of milk and whiskey”), offered praise, and received some admonishment: When he ventured the starchy observation that he, Wilde, couldn’t bear “to listen to anyone unless he attracts me by a charming style, or by beauty of theme,” the older poet put him in his place. “Why, Oscar,” said Whitman, “it always seems to me that the fellow who makes a dead set at beauty is in a bad way. My idea is that beauty is a result, not an abstraction.” Wilde quickly retreated. “Yes,” he said, “I think so too.”

More here.

Wednesday Poem

Uncommon Beauty

I did not ask for uncommon beauty in afterlife.
Only one that restores the life I had in you.

Do not bury me in your yard after you slay me.
Mad after me, why should the world find you?

I will get around to love’s grand gestures too.
Past ordinary sorrows, I will be back for you.

Must we go with Khizer, that hoary travel guide?
I will grant he is a sage and he looks out for you.

I have called on lovers to look out for Ghalib.
He is a good man, better poet and hurting like you.


by Ghalib
Southern Review, Summer 2013
translation by M. Shahid Alam

The Hunt for the Prehistoric Roots of Cancer

From Discover Magazine:

CanWhen you search the archives for the first known case of human cancer you come across the story of a prehistoric hominid called Kanam Man. The only remains that have been found of this relative of Homo sapiens is a petrified jawbone, and inside the curve of the tooth line is a large lump that many scientists believe to be osteosarcoma, a cancer of the bone. The Kanam jaw, discovered in Kenya in 1932 by Louis Leakey, was my portal into the world of paleopathology and, in particular, the obscure sub discipline of paleo-oncology — the search for the ancient roots of cancer. I tell the story in chapter 3 of The Cancer Chronicles, which is excerpted in the current issue of Discover.

In the piece, “The Long Shadow,” I also write about Egyptian and Peruvian mummies and early medieval skeletons — an accumulating body of evidence that cancer has been with us all along. There was an ancient Scythian king whose skeleton, retrieved from a royal burial chamber, was eaten by what appears to be metastatic prostate cancer, and an Egyptian woman whose face was all but destroyed by nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Visually the most striking example may be an enormous tumor the size of a basketball growing on the femur of an early medieval Saxon man. Finding cancer in the distant past shouldn’t be surprising. All of us multi-celled creatures — the metazoans — are the result of an evolutionary compromise. Each individual cell is granted enough power and autonomy to ensure the robustness of life, yet it must work in accordance with its neighbors. When this delicate balance is upset, the cell reproduces like mad, dividing and dividing, and a tumor begins to grow and evolve like an aggressive new species in the ecosystem of the body.

More here.