Public Shaming and the Disposable Society (子曰、君子不器)

Bui huu hung

by Leanne Ogasawara

“When I was an undergraduate, on my way to first day of quantum mechanics class, I was riding up in the elevator with the professor and several (male) students. The professor kindly informed us that this would be the class that “separated the men from the boys.”

Astronomy is really making the news these days. Except it's not for the reasons one would hope or expect; for the headlines keep rolling in one after the other about “astronomy's snowballing cases of sexual harassment.”


As a woman, obviously, I think matters like this should never be covered up and that process must be put in place in universities to deal with transgressions. In fact, I go a step further and believe that as “exemplars,” anyone who is in a teaching profession should be held up to the very highest moral standards.

Like most women, this is also not something that I am unfamiliar with either.

As an undergraduate at Berkeley in philosophy, I was one of the few women in the program, and I think philosophy has similar kinds of issues as we are seeing in astronomy. Even as an undergraduate it often felt like a kind of “boys club.” In Japan, too, in my twenties, I worked at Hitachi, ostensibly as a translator and interpreter; but in fact, as the only “girl” in the department, I spent all my time answering the phones and serving tea and stapling papers and tidying up.

I didn't stay long…

In many ways, “not staying long” is what has characterized my life.

Read more »

From Andrew Jackson to Donald Trump: Chasing the White Working Class

March 15by Akim Reinhardt

Progressives, moderates, and even many conservatives are aghast at Donald Trump's populist appeal. As this cantankerous oaf flashes ever brighter in the political pan, they fret that his demagoguery might land him the Republican presidential nomination, and perhaps even carry him all the to White House.

I'm not worried about the prospect of a Hail to the Trump scenario and never have been. As far back as August, I opined on this very website that he has virtually no chance of becoming president. I still believe that. He lost to Ted Cruz in Iowa, just like I said he would. And I'm sticking with my prediction that he'll be done by the Ides of March. Should Trump actually make it to the Oval Office, I'll buy you all plane tickets to Canada, as promised.

That being said, it's certainly worth investigating the Trump phenomenon. After all, how are we to explain the dramatic success of this heinous cretin? How could this man, who is not just a walking punch line, but also thoroughly repulsive in almost every way, be so popular, not just on a silly reality TV show with a dumb catch phrase, but also in the supposedly serious world of presidential politics?

Read more »

Three Moments in America’s Conversation on Race

by Bill Benzon

D1ff4cd9-79d8-4c11-86fc-22bfd2f71d98In Playing in the Dark, a set of essays on race in American literature, Toni Morrison is led “to wonder whether the major and championed characteristics of our national literature . . . are not in fact responses to a dark, abiding, signing Africanist presence. . . . Through significant and underscored omissions, startling contradictions, heavily nuanced conflicts, through the way writers peopled their work with the signs and bodies of this presence–one can see that a real or fabricated Africanist presense was crucial to their sense of Americanness.” That is to say, the sense of American identity embodied in our literature is at least partially achieved through reference to African Americans.

Let’s consider three imaginative works where race is an issue. First we have Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It is not American, of course, but English. The character of Caliban, who may not even be human, marks the imaginative space the English used for understanding Africans. The play was written and performed at about the same time as Jamestown, Virginia, as first settled.

Then we move forward two and a half centuries to late 19th Century. America has established itself as an independent nation and fought its bloodiest war, the Civil War, over the status of the American sons and daughters of Caliban. We find Huck Finn fleeing his abusive father by rafting down the Mississippi with a runaway slave. Jim sure isn’t Shakespeare’s Caliban nor is Huck a Prospero. I conclude with a counter narrative from the early 20th Century, an African-American “toast”, as they’re called, about the sinking of the Titanic. Think of such oral narratives as antecedents of rap and hip-hop.

Read more »

Leadership lessons from The Walking Dead – (Donald Trump, take note!)

by Sarah Firisen

Anyone can be in charge. Being in charge isn’t the same as being a leader. Twd

We've all known great leaders. People that we’d walk through fire for, but what makes them such great leaders? As the Presidential primary season gets under way, perhaps it’s worth considering what leadership really is. Because despite the inevitable primary bickering over whether a businessman, senator or a governor makes a more effective President, what we’re really looking for is leadership.

Are great leaders born or can these traits be developed? Or is it a combination of the two? People are born with certain natural abilities , but per Malcolm Gladwell’s, Outliers hour rule, it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery (this of course probably goes for most things). So does this mean that with enough conscious effort, anyone can be a great leader? I do think that motivation has a part to play. The key word here is “great”. Someone who wants to lead for reasons outside of personal aggrandizement, outside of pure power for power’s sake. Maybe, a person with those core attributes can work towards achieving mastery.

Read more »

Expressing the Inexpressible: The Craft of the Ghazal

by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

IMG_1075My first encounter with the ghazal had to have happened at home where my parents played ghazal LPs on their Phillips record player, along with Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Harry Belafonte and Edith Piaf. The ghazal entered my consciousness first as music, accessible only to the extent that Edith Piaf was accessible; through melody, beat, rhyme, refrain. Later, listening to ghazals on the radio and television, I developed the sense of awe that surrounds the Urdu ghazal in Pakistan. It is distinguished as the most elevated of poetic forms and considered to be the litmus test of a true poet. When I began to write poetry, this awe for the ghazal turned into intimidation and I experienced a paralyzing fear of writing a miserable flop. I tried my hand at villanelles, sonnets, and pantoums, but it took me a long time to attempt my first ghazal. When I did write my first ghazal, at Warren Wilson, I was exhilarated. What followed was an exploration of the form as adapted in English poetry, an even more exhilarating experience, one that continues to pose more questions than provide answers. The thoughts in this essay are a distillation of my experiences of hearing and reading Urdu ghazals, reading contemporary American ghazals, and writing ghazals in English.

Read more »

Strained Analogies Between Recently Released Films and Current Events: Kung Fu Panda 3 and Primary Endorsements

by Matt McKenna

Panda_a_0The worst part about seeing a kids’ movie in theatres–even a decent one like Kung Fu Panda 3–is sitting through the trailers that play before the feature. For every trailer decent enough to respectably fill its two minutes of running time, there are slew of others starring flatulent anthropomorphic animals who defecate or urinate at inappropriate times, ostensibly because it’s funny (e.g. see the trailers for current and upcoming films such as The Road Chip, The Secret Life of Pets, and The Angry Birds Movie). You can’t blame the kids in the theatre for laughing at these jokes because they may not be aware that they’ll be subjected to the same fart joke in nearly every film they see between now and the time they grow out of children’s movies. And if they ever become parents, they’ll have to suffer these jokes all over again. Fortunately, Kung Fu Panda 3 is not only fart joke free but also educates our nation’s children on the presidential primary election process.

Read more »

A Long Way from Primo Levi

Tim Parks in the New York Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_1672 Feb. 07 19.33Perhaps inevitably when reading translations, from time to time one comes across a strange word: “ankylosed,” for example. “Nor was it easy to understand how he had survived in Auschwitz,” we read in Ann Goldstein’s new translation of Primo Levi’s The Truce, “since he had an ankylosed arm.” If we turn back to Stuart Woolf’s 1965 translation of what was Levi’s second book, we get the same word with a different spelling, “anchylosed.”

This strange word is, of course, the English cognate of Levi’s original: anchilosato. But the two words are hardly equivalent in effect. If we type “an ankylosed arm” into the Google search engine of the entire English language Internet, we get just five hits, three of them from surgical texts published a century ago; the remaining two are The Complete Works of Primo Levi, in which Goldstein’s translation appears, and a long online discussion of King Philip II of Macedonia’s ankylosis, “a stiffness of a joint due to abnormal adhesion and rigidity of the bones of the joint.”

On the other hand, if we ask Google to search “un braccio anchilosato” we get 477 results (and we remember that Italian, being less widely spoken than English, usually has far fewer hits for equivalent phrases—“concentration camp,” 7.5 million, “campo di concentramento,” 581,000). This time the results are mainly from journalism and popular fiction, including one of Emilio Salgari’s famous novels for young adults.

More here.

Butterflies Forty Million Years Before Butterflies

Ed Yong in Not Exactly Rocket Science:

Kalligrammatid-660x300There’s a group of fossils insects that look really quite a lot like butterflies. They had broad wings with scales and pigmented eyespots. Their mouthparts were long probing straws. They likely fed from plants and pollinated them in return. They’re as butterfly-esque as it’s possible to be.

Except these creatures were flying around between 40 and 85 million years before the first butterflies existed.

They were kalligrammatid lacewings, and they were doing butterflies before butterflies even were a thing. Their resemblance is a coincidence, an extraordinary example of convergent evolution, the process two groups turn up to life’s party accidentally wearing the same outfits.

The kalligrammatids appeared around 165 million years ago, during the Jurassic period, and died out 45 million years later. During their reign, they were among the largest and most conspicuous insects around. Time has since been unkind to them: many became fossilised but most have been badly preserved. Scientists have commented on their similarities to butterflies for more than a century, but no one has been able to thoroughly study their anatomy—that is, until Conrad Labandeira and Dong Ren from Capital Normal University in Beijing got their hands on some beautifully preserved specimens from northeastern China.

More here.

The Loss of the Circumflex

Justin E. H. Smith in his blog:

ScreenHunter_1671 Feb. 07 19.13An official reform of French spelling was recently announced, causing no small uproar on the Internet, and presumably in real life too (I don't really talk to people), as to whether this is good or bad.

There were three broad sorts of change. The first are changes to the spelling of words in order to better reflect their pronunciation. The most common example cited has been the replacement ofoignon by ognon. I confess I had always thought the first syllable of this word was supposed to be pronounced as in oie ('goose'), that is, roughly as in the first syllable of the English water. I noticed people around me were pronouncing it as ognon, but took this for a regionalism or a sort of laziness. I can't say I care so much about this change, but ognon looks awfully strange to me, too much like a variation on some proto-Slavic root for fire, as in the Russian огонь ('ogon''), whose genitive is огня ('ognya') and whose Sanskrit cousin is the goddess अग्नि (Agni): in all of which cases the g is pronounced before the n, rather than indicating a softening in the termination of the n and providing a faint iotation to the vowel that follows. I expect I will be practicing orthographic disobedience whenever I write that word in the future, not out of firm principle, but only out of soft preference.

The second sort of reform has mostly to do with hyphens, e.g., transforming that most French of words (at least since Godard), week-end, into weekend. This seems to follow a broad trend that is much further along in English (a hundred years ago it was common to see dog-house, out-fit, and so on), and I find I really could not care less.

More here.

Sunday poem

Ghazal for White Hen Pantry

beverly be the only south side you don’t fit in
everybody in your neighborhood color of white hen

brown bag tupperware lunch don’t fill you
after school cross the street, count quarters with white friends

you love 25¢ zebra cakes mom would never let you eat
you learn to white lie through white teeth at white hen

oreos in your palm, perm in your hair
everyone’s irish in beverly, you just missin’ the white skin

pray they don’t notice your burnt toast, unwondered bread
you be the brownest egg ever born from the white hen

pantry in your chest where you stuff all the Black in
distract from the syllables in your name with a white grin

keep your consonants crisp, coffee milked, hands visible
never touch the holiday-painted windows of white hen

you made that mistake, scratched your initials in the paint
an unmarked crown victoria pulled up, full of white men

they grabbed your wrist & wouldn’t show you a badge
the manager clucked behind the counter, thick as a white hen

they told your friends to run home, but called the principal on you
& you learned Black sins cost much more than white ones

by Jamila Woods
from Poetry Magazine
December 2015