the black church after mlk

1389021688eddielongAnthea Butler at Dissent:

After the heyday of the freedom movement passed in the 1970s, two contrasting paths gradually emerged in black churches: one stayed true to the message of social justice while the other turned to an emphasis on individual morality and a gospel of prosperity. Most rising religious leaders took the latter approach. In the 1990s T.D. Jakes—whom Time dubbed “America’s Preacher”—organized “Women Thou Art Loosed” conferences that promoted spiritual and sexual health. These gatherings, which attracted audiences of over 10,000 women, combined spiritual counseling, group therapy, and personal confession. In a dramatic style, Jakes spoke to women about the abuse they had suffered, and they let their emotions flow. The sermons were just the cornerstone of a thriving business, which included teaching materials, a book, and a movie. Jakes used the message of respectability and prosperity to build a massive support group for women, who are the majority in most black churches. While Jakes said little about politics, other ministers employed talk of moral uplift to advance their views about social issues—in particular, their opposition to same-sex marriage.

more here.

pynchon as serious moral fiction

17208457Cassandra Nelson at First Things:

Don’t be fooled by the slapstick comedy and the silly names, the labyrinthine plots that careen around and veer maddeningly toward irresolution and paranoia, the playful gags and the abundant nods to pop culture—or to stoner culture, for that matter. Thomas Pynchon writes serious ­moral fiction.

Although his name has become a byword for postmodernism and impenetrable prose, Bleeding Edgemakes clearer than ever before what has been true since the publication of V. half a century ago: Pynchon is a writer with a profound, unwavering moral vision and an abiding commitment to realism. Not the realism of a Balzac or a Howells, of course, but the kind employed by Dostoevsky and Flannery O’Connor, the kind that forgoes verisimilitude in favor of the fantastic and the grotesque in order to make a point about the nature of reality—what is real and enduring, and what isn’t.

“Tanks are mortal, pears eternal,” was Milan Kundera’s memorable formulation in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and this eloquent phrase pretty well captures Pynchon’s take on the subject, too. Perennial champion of the animate over the inanimate, tireless advocate of love, not war, he begins and ends Bleeding Edge with the simultaneous bursting into bloom of “what looks like every Callery Pear tree on the Upper West Side,” as Ziggy and Otis, two brothers on the cusp of adolescence, head to school.

more here.

apocalyptic america

ID_PI_GOLBE_APOCO_AP_001Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set:

Judgment Day is upon us, the radio evangelist proclaimed a few years ago, setting May 21, 2011 as the date. All across America, billboards became Camping advertisements for Apocalypse. “Cry mightily unto GOD for HIS Mercy” was one suggestion, “Joy to the World” claimed another. All across the nation, there were Americans who laughed, and those who readied themselves. Camping’s believers stopped paying their credit cards, quit their jobs, said farewell to friends. Some spent their life’s savings in preparation for the End — some spent it on the Rapture campaign itself.

When Judgment Day did not come, Camping tried to assuage believers. “Please forgive me, America!” a new billboard read. “I was terribly wrong about … May 21, 2011. There is forgiveness in those who trust in Jesus Christ.” Then he said that he had gotten the timing wrong and that the End would, in fact, happen in October. But October passed the same as ever and then Harold Camping had a stroke. By that time, accounts of thousands who had mistakenly given up their Earthly existence came pouring through the news. “Yet though we were wrong,” wrote Camping in a letter to his Family Radio Family, “God is still using the May 21 warning in a very mighty way.” Look at the millions and billions of people who heard the message of Christ’s imminent return, Harold Camping wrote. And he would still come, Camping assured us.

more here.

Tuesday Poem

Turn Turn Turn
Music by Pete Seeger, 1919-2014
(Adapted from Ecclesiastes)
Speaker 4

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it's not too late

Pete Seeger died yesterday


the maddening brilliance of germaine greer

Philip Hoare in The Telegraph:

Germaine-greer_2800077bOn the shores of New South Wales, a coast along which, even now, one could imagine James Cook sailing past on the Endeavourof a civilisation on the edge of utter wilderness. growth forest into what would eventually become lavatory paper.

In many ways, Greer’s book is a middle-aged escape act. Put her in the open country, and she feels happy: “Only in suburbia do I begin to feel frantic and hopeless, suddenly back where I was in my teens, imprisoned, heartsick, revolted by the endless roofscape, waiting for life to begin.” She’d rather end her life in the wastes: “Better a swift agony in the desert than my mother’s long twilight in a seaside nursing home.” After much searching of Australia’s wild corners, Greer finally finds her utopia in the shape of Cave Creek, 60 hectares of rainforest on the Gold Coast of Queensland boasting a remarkably high degree of biodiversity – and a chequered history of logging and intrusive agriculture. It is that new world conflict that powers White Beech’s story: one of invasive species – botanical, animal and human. After all, its author has declared it her intention never to call Australia home until Aboriginal sovereignty is recognised. Indeed, Greer’s first act, having bought Cave Creek, is to try to find its traditional owners – the Aboriginal people whose deep-time culture cuts through Western occupation. And yet Greer’s own bloody-minded, can-do attitude, it seems to me, is an essentially Australian characteristic. The rest of this wonderfully idiosyncratic book is taken up with the documentation of Greer’s “Cave Creek Rainforest Rehabilitation Scheme”, designated by plastic signs around the property instructing all comers that anyone taking anything out of it will be subject to prosecution (or, worse still, the vocal ire of its owner).

More here.

The Older Mind May Just Be a Fuller Mind

Benedict Carey in The New York Times:

MIND-articleInlinePeople of a certain age (and we know who we are) don’t spend much leisure time reviewing the research into cognitive performance and aging. The story is grim, for one thing: Memory’s speed and accuracy begin to slip around age 25 and keep on slipping. The story is familiar, too, for anyone who is over 50 and, having finally learned to live fully in the moment, discovers it’s a senior moment. The finding that the brain slows with age is one of the strongest in all of psychology.

Over the years, some scientists have questioned this dotage curve. But these challenges have had an ornery-old-person slant: that the tests were biased toward the young, for example. Or that older people have learned not to care about clearly trivial things, like memory tests. Or that an older mind must organize information differently from one attached to some 22-year-old who records his every Ultimate Frisbee move on Instagram. Now comes a new kind of challenge to the evidence of a cognitive decline, from a decidedly digital quarter: data mining, based on theories of information processing. In a paper published in Topics in Cognitive Science, a team of linguistic researchers from the University of Tübingen in Germany used advanced learning models to search enormous databases of words and phrases. Since educated older people generally know more words than younger people, simply by virtue of having been around longer, the experiment simulates what an older brain has to do to retrieve a word. And when the researchers incorporated that difference into the models, the aging “deficits” largely disappeared. “What shocked me, to be honest, is that for the first half of the time we were doing this project, I totally bought into the idea of age-related cognitive decline in healthy adults,” the lead author, Michael Ramscar, said by email. But the simulations, he added, “fit so well to human data that it slowly forced me to entertain this idea that I didn’t need to invoke decline at all.”

More here.

Dan Dennett tutors Sam Harris on Free Will

A review of Sam Harris's Free Will by Daniel C. Dennett at

13259270[Sam Harris] is not alone among scientists in coming to the conclusion that the ancient idea of free will is not just confused but also a major obstacle to social reform. His brief essay is, however, the most sustained attempt to develop this theme, which can also be found in remarks and essays by such heavyweight scientists as the 2 neuroscientists Wolf Singer and Chris Frith, the psychologists Steven Pinker and
Paul Bloom, the physicists Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein, and the evolutionary biologists Jerry Coyne and (when he’s not thinking carefully) Richard Dawkins.

The book is, thus, valuable as a compact and compelling expression of an opinion widely shared by eminent scientists these days. It is also valuable, as I will show, as a veritable museum of mistakes, none of them new and all of them seductive—alluring enough to lull the critical faculties of this host of brilliant thinkers who do not make a profession of thinking about free will. And, to be sure, these mistakes have also been made, sometimes for centuries, by philosophers themselves. But I think we have made some progress in philosophy of late, and Harris and others need to do their homework if they want to engage with the best
thought on the topic.

More here.

Stephen Hawking: ‘There are no black holes’

Zeeya Merali in Nature:

ScreenHunter_473 Jan. 28 10.36Most physicists foolhardy enough to write a paper claiming that “there are no black holes” — at least not in the sense we usually imagine — would probably be dismissed as cranks. But when the call to redefine these cosmic crunchers comes from Stephen Hawking, it’s worth taking notice. In a paper posted online, the physicist, based at the University of Cambridge, UK, and one of the creators of modern black-hole theory, does away with the notion of an event horizon, the invisible boundary thought to shroud every black hole, beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape.

In its stead, Hawking’s radical proposal is a much more benign “apparent horizon”, which only temporarily holds matter and energy prisoner before eventually releasing them, albeit in a more garbled form.

“There is no escape from a black hole in classical theory,” Hawking told Nature. Quantum theory, however, “enables energy and information to escape from a black hole”. A full explanation of the process, the physicist admits, would require a theory that successfully merges gravity with the other fundamental forces of nature. But that is a goal that has eluded physicists for nearly a century. “The correct treatment,” Hawking says, “remains a mystery.”

Hawking posted his paper on the arXiv preprint server on 22 January1. He titled it, whimsically, 'Information preservation and weather forecasting for black holes', and it has yet to pass peer review. The paper was based on a talk he gave via Skype at a meeting at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, California, in August 2013 (watch video of the talk).

More here.

Dedh Ishqiya and Urdu in India Today

Shoaib Daniyal in NY NewsYaps:

Dedh-IshqiyaIn a riotously funny scene from recently released comic thriller Dedh Ishqiya, Jaan Mohammad (played by Vijay Raaz) aggressively threatens a very drunk Khalujaan (Naseeruddin Shah) to leave town so that he can win the hand of the beautiful Begum Para (Madhuri Dixit). In a twist typical of the film, fist fights and gun brandishing suddenly give way to poetry, as Khalujaan picks up the word “wādā” (promise) used by Jaan and starts taunting him using asher. A gangster by profession and somewhat removed from the world of poetry, Jaan retorts as best he can by racking his brains and coming up with the only sher he knows on “wādā. This change of playing field from violence to poetry, though, can only end badly for Jaan. His verse induces derisive laughter from Khalujaan who then points out that Jaan’s original sher spoke of “bādā” (wine) and not “wādā” at all. Jaan just confused the two rhyming words.

It is credit to the competence of director Abhishek Chaubey that the Bombay heater I was in found the wordplay funny and laughed along with Khalu, in spite of the fact that very few would have been able to point out Jaan’s mistake themselves. Anupama Chopra, movie critic for the Hindustan Times, though, might have empathised more with Jaan and his struggles with High Urdu. While generally praising the film, she did end her review with one small regret: “I also struggled with the Urdu,” she said.“It was melodious but I wish I understood more of it.”

This frank admission, and the fact that Dedh Ishqiya is the only Bollywood film I’ve ever seen with English subtitles, contains within it some stark irony for an industry which, it could be said, was born into Urdu.

More here.

Pakistan’s War – Part II

by Ahmed Humayun

(This is the second post on Pakistan's struggle against militancy. Part I is here).

Drone11111111-133298-133842-640x480To prevail against an insurrection, a state must fight on many fronts. It must construct a comprehensive military and political strategy, strengthen its institutional capacity to fight an internal war, and mobilize public support for a protracted struggle. Above all, an insurgency is a contest between the state and its challengers over legitimacy and credibility. In this clash of narratives, the state must persuade the population that its actions are those of a representative, duly constituted government attempting to restore its control even as the rebels repudiate the fundamental legitimacy of the state.

So far in Pakistan the militant groups are winning the war of narrative. As I wrote last time, the Pakistani Taliban is by no means a monolith but its different factions do come together around a clear strategic story. Insurgent propaganda states that the rebellion's goal is to replace an illegitimate, un-Islamic government subservient to Washington with an Islamic state. Their war is defensive—for Islam and against America. The state, on the other hand, speaks in contradictory voices. Some say that the state must fight until the rebels lay down their arms, forswear the use of violence, and respect the rule of law, while others insist on immediate, unconditional negotiations. The truth is that ending the turmoil within Pakistan requires some adroit combination of fighting and talking—but only if they are aspects of an integrated strategy that has as its aim the restoration of state control and that realistically accounts for the ambitions of the rebels, which are revolutionary, and which they have pursued from the mountains in the tribal areas to major urban centers across the heartland.

Yet advocates of negotiation —including leading politicians, retired generals, and influential pundits—blame the state and its alliance with Washington rather than the militants for fomenting the violence. As a result it is widely believed in Pakistan that the war against militancy has been foisted on the country by the United States; that insurgent violence is merely retaliation for Pakistani military aggression and American drone strikes in the tribal areas; and that conflict will cease when these operations end. The result is that formula recited by many: ‘This is not our war.' This dominant narrative has had a negative effect on the legitimacy of the state in the eyes of the public, created demoralization in the country's army and police forces, and emboldened the insurgents.

Read more »

Monday Poem

What God Says

I place before you a bowl of evidence
but will never make you eat

Chance is what you’re up against,
and the only is of me you’ll meet

You can pray until your tongue expires
and never know my heart’s desire

I roll the future out mysteriously,
you trace my trail of crumbs through mires

You profusely write of who I am
as if I were like you a man

You cannot know the I of me
unless you crack the I of thee

In the light and in the gloom
I beat a drum and hum your tune

by Jim Culleny

Kelvin, Rutherford, and the Age of the Earth: I, The Myth

by Paul Braterman

File:Lord Kelvin photograph.jpg

Lord Kelvin (Smithsoinian Instituion Libraries collection)

Kelvin calculated that the Earth was probably around 24 million years old, from how fast it is cooling. Rutherford believed that Kelvin’s calculation was wrong because of the heat generated by radioactivity. Kelvin was wrong, but so was Rutherford. The Earth is indeed many times older than Kelvin had calculated, but for completely different reasons, and the heat generated by radioactive decay has nothing to do with it.

Disclosure: in my introduction to the Scientific American Classic, Determining the Age of the Earth, and elsewhere, I have like many other authors repeated Rutherford’s argument with approval, without paying attention to Rutherford’s own warning that qualitative is but poor quantitative, and without bothering to check whether the amount of heat generated by radioactivity is enough to do the job. He thought it was but we now know it isn’t. It was only when chatting online (about one of the few claims in the creationist literature that is even worth discussing) that I discovered the error of my ways.

On the face of it, things could not be plainer. Kelvin had calculated the age of the Earth from how fast heat was flowing through its surface layers. An initially red hot body would have started losing heat very quickly, but over geological time the process would have slowed, as a relatively cool outer crust formed. His latest and most confident answer, reached in 1897 after more than 50 years of study, was in the range of around 24 million years.[1]

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Pleasure of Fragments/Pleasure of Wholes

by Mara Jebsen

3450_635f83216353f8eRodin was famous for his fragments, and, in his era, hotly defended the choice to sculpt just a hand, or a torso, or a foot melting back into its original rock. The character Bernard, in Virginia Woolf's experimental “The Waves” seems to have revealed something about Woolf's thoughts on the unfinished, as he goes about talking, story-spinning, and worrying about the way life seems to accumulate more than culminate, so that all we get is phrases, bits. While coherence–in story, in body–provides a comforting pleasure for the audience, artists who know how to make wholes sometimes get weary of the falseness that an orderly whole brings with it–and take a pleasure in the fragment, the seemingly unfinished, strangely perfect, part.

I know, from my work as a writing teacher, that almost any student can produce a promising fragment, but very few can manage a coherent whole–in terms of idea, or story– without a great deal of coaxing, insistance, and endless re-writing. The work of a beginner is to complete the fragment. But perhaps the work of a master is to let the fragment be.

As a beginning storyteller myself, I find that whole tales are elusive, and the images arrive like little shards of a broken mirror. What to make of them–that's the hard part. What follows is the first piece of a tiny “novel” that is all pieces, inspired by a Sufi tale I heard three years ago, and subsequently garbled in my mind. In it, a man is visited by three different messengers, all strangers, each of whom require that he leap violently away from the life he is leading, and begin again. In the third phase of the man's life, he begins to show signs of spiritual enlightenment, and he ends as a mystic. The story, for some reason, made dozens of images–partial ones stuck in angled mirror-shards–arrive in my head for two years. In my version, the eventual mystic is a girl. She is young, wealthy, blank.

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Gold-plated heels
On heart-shaped leaves
Calf-highs below
Slim band of flesh
Flirty pleats creased
Above naked knees
Ruby clutch releases
Jangling of keys
Wanton cornrows unbraided
In last night's storm

In last night's storm
Wanton cornrows unbraided
Jangling of Keys
Ruby Clutch releases
Above naked knees
Flirty Pleats creased
Slim band of flesh
Below calf-highs
On heart-shaped leaves
Gold-plated heels

By Rafiq Kathwari