Reading Dostoyevsky For Thanksgiving

Laurie Sheck in

A Few Facts

Vasily_Perov_-_Портрет_Ф_М_Достоевского_-_Google_Art_Project-1280x7201. He wore 5-pound shackles on his ankles every day for four years.

2. This was in the prison camp in Omsk where he was serving out a sentence of hard labor after being convicted of sedition for being part of a revolutionary cell dedicated to the liberation of the serfs and freedom of the press.

3. For the seven months following his arrest, he’d been kept in solitary confinement in the Peter and Paul Fortress on the Neva, his cell window smeared with an oily paste to prevent any daylight from seeping through.

4. One morning he was suddenly taken to Semyonov Square, where he was given a white death-shirt to put on and allowed to kiss the cross. He was sixth in line for execution, with only minutes left to live, when the announcement came that the Czar had decided to spare the prisoners’ lives. Apparently this had been planned all along.

5. On the way to the prison camp, they stopped for the night in Tobolsk where a town bell had been sent into exile, convicted of ringing for seditious purposes. Its sentence was eternal silence.

6. In Tobolsk, he met a man who was chained to the wall. He had been chained there for eight years. The chain was 7 feet long and extended from his sleeping pallet to the opposite wall. The man spent every day walking from the pallet to the wall and back. He said he didn’t mind. He showed where the chain attached to his underclothes, and the most comfortable way to lie down on the sleeping pallet. When he spoke, his voice was mild with a slight lisp. He said he had once been a government official.

7. It was in Omsk that the epileptic seizures began. They came mostly once or twice a month. Sometimes, though rarely, twice a day. They could lie dormant for as long as four months. After each seizure something in him grieved. Words blackened or grew muffled for days, sometimes a week, their distant contours alien and heavy. He tried but couldn’t lift them.

8. He wasn’t allowed a single book for almost four years. Except the Bible.

9. “Awkward, immobile, silent … his pale, thin, earthen-colored face covered in dark red spots,”a young prison guard described him years later.

10. “I look at their pale faces, at their poor beds, at all of this impassable nakedness and poverty — I peer in — and it is as if I want to make sure that it is not the continuation of a disfigured dream, but actual truth. But it is truth: I hear someone’s groan, someone throws out his hands heavily and clangs his chains,” he would remember in The House of the Dead.

…Dostoyevsky experienced more than one hundred major seizures, walked in chains and prison garb, wasn’t permitted to hold a pen or pencil for nearly four years or read any book but one. He watched two children die and wrote several times of a man’s inner life in the minutes and seconds before execution. He had Myshkin think about a donkey’s goodness and importance, and led him to the room where he would stroke and soothe Rogozhin. His books offer the words to feel into pursued to their radical end, embodied. To feel into — which doesn’t mean to understand, or analyze, or interpret, or heal. Doesn’t mean to solve, define, make steady, claim knowledge of, but has something to do with drawing close, with how there’s a radiance more mysterious, more unspeakable than horror; more private in its wounds, more lasting.

More here.


Dan Chiasson in The New Yorker:

ScreenHunter_2398 Nov. 26 17.49The Jamaican-born poet Ishion Hutchinson’s second book, “House of Lords and Commons,” is a study of place and memory rendered in what used to be called “the grand style”: the timeless, high-literary idiom that nearly anyone who has ever learned the language would identify as “poetry,” based on its sound alone, and that nonplussed readers of contemporary poetry sometimes say they miss. Of course, the irony is that timelessness itself can seem dated; modernism emerged in part to change the acoustics within which lines of poetry were heard. Our ears changed, and fewer and fewer poets of note wanted to make those old sounds. There are analogues in nearly every art: modes and vocabularies that we accept in the work of the past but which seem, in new work, like period reënactment or, if the seams are exposed, like postmodern bricolage.

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Advanced Nuclear Energy and the Battle Against Climate Change

Josh Freed at the Brookings Institution:

ScreenHunter_2397 Nov. 26 17.42So what, after a 30-year drought, is drawing smart young people back to the nuclear industry? The answer is climate change. Nuclear energy currently provides about 20 percent of the electric power in the United States, and it does so without emitting any greenhouse gases. Compare that to the amount of electricity produced by the other main non-emitting sources of power, the so-called “renewables”—hydroelectric (6.8 percent), wind (4.2 percent) and solar (about one quarter of a percent). Not only are nuclear plants the most important of the non-emitting sources, but they provide baseload—“always there”—power, while most renewables can produce electricity only intermittently, when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-based organization that is the leading international body for the assessment of climate risk, issued a desperate call for more non-emitting power sources. According to the IPCC, in order to mitigate climate change and meet growing energy demands, the world must aggressively expand its sources of renewable energy, and it must also build more than 400 new nuclear reactors in the next 20 years—a near-doubling of today’s global fleet of 435 reactors. However, in the wake of the tsunami that struck Japan’s Fukushima Daichi plant in 2011, some countries are newly fearful about the safety of light water reactors. Germany, for example, vowed to shutter its entire nuclear fleet.

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Artist Uses Calligraphy Brushes to Create Breathtaking Watercolor Paintings of Birds

ScreenHunter_2396 Nov. 26 17.23

Alice Yoo in My Modern Met:

“In painting and calligraphy, the first stroke is the most important. It comes from nothing and manifests something.” San Francisco-born artist Karl Martens creates beautiful paintings of birds using materials not often paired together – Japanese and Chinese calligraphy brushes with watercolor. What's most fascinating is that he paints all of his works by memory, without reference to any guide. What you'll notice first are the sweeping brushstrokes and then you'll see all the fine details. While he uses large Japanese and Chinese calligraphy brushes to create the general shape and posture of the birds, the intricate markings of them are done using charcoal pencil and smaller calligraphy brushes. Martens studied birds for so long that he knows how to paint both the large and subtle differences including the birds' beaks.

Martens is inspired by Shih-t’ao (1642-1707), one of the most famous Chinese painters in the early Qing dynasty. He was considered revolutionary during that time because he didn't believe in imitating old masters, while he respected them, he forged his own path. He valued innovation, and as such, he used bold, impressionistic brushstrokes and he left white space to suggest distance. Above all, Shih-t’ao believed that the artist must trust his or her own ability. He coined the term Holistic Brushstroke, which means that one could create something out of nothing. As Martens describes it, “Optimally, it contains no planned thought. It emanates from 'emptiness.'”

More here. [Thanks to Frans de Waal.]

Fidel Castro, Cuban Revolutionary Who Defied U.S., Dies at 90

Anthony DePalma in the New York Times:

Fidel-Castro-obituary-slide-P9CB-superJumbo-v6Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader, bedeviling 11 American presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war, died Friday. He was 90.

His death was announced by Cuban state television.

In declining health for several years, Mr. Castro had orchestrated what he hoped would be the continuation of his Communist revolution, stepping aside in 2006 when he was felled by a serious illness. He provisionally ceded much of his power to his younger brother Raúl, now 85, and two years later formally resigned as president. Raúl Castro, who had fought alongside Fidel Castro from the earliest days of the insurrection and remained minister of defense and his brother’s closest confidant, has ruled Cuba since then, although he has told the Cuban people he intends to resign in 2018.

Fidel Castro had held on to power longer than any other living national leader except Queen Elizabeth II. He became a towering international figure whose importance in the 20th century far exceeded what might have been expected from the head of state of a Caribbean island nation of 11 million people.

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Winged insights

H. Charles J. Godfray in Nature:

WingedCombining a personal memoir with serious discussion of a scientific subject is a difficult literary trick. The Finnish biologist Ilkka Hanski succeeded with aplomb in his last book, Messages from Islands, in which each chapter begins with insights from an island that moulded his thinking about ecology, evolution and conservation. Hanski, one of the foremost ecologists of his generation, died in May (A.-L. Laine Nature 534, 180; 2016). Finland is a land of lakes and islands, so perhaps it is not surprising that Finnish ecologists are drawn to investigating how populations and communities persist in fragmented habitats. Hanski is most celebrated for developing the ecological concept of a metapopulation — a population of populations connected by dispersal — and its applications to conservation. There are several types, but a classical metapopulation is sometimes likened to a collection of “blinking lights”, with individual short-lived populations winking in and out of existence while the whole ensemble persists.

Hanski explored the concept through his 25-year, and ongoing, study of the Glanville fritillary (Melitaea cinxia) in the Åland Archipelago between Finland and Sweden. This checkerspot butterfly has exacting habitat requirements: it occupies a fluctuating number of the small woodland meadows that constitute a habitat archipelago within the geographical archipelago. The meadows are so tiny that they support only a small butterfly population; each has a high risk of extinction every year. Hanski, his colleagues and an ever-changing army of students surveyed all 4,000 or so meadows, which support 400–800 populations each year. Through this and many experiments, such as quantifying rates of dispersal between patches, they constructed a model of the butterfly's metapopulation — the most detailed and satisfying description of such a population structure currently available, by some distance.

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‘Odessa Stories’ By Isaac Babel

PushkinOdessaStories-219x300Robert Minto at Open Letters Monthly:

The Odessa stories are less well known than Babel’s Red Cavalry stories, a collection of reports from the front of the Polish-Soviet War that secured his reputation as one of the greatest 20th century Russian writers, and they have their own quite different atmosphere. Pushkin Press has published them together in a short volume, retranslated by Boris Dralyuk, to highlight the unity of the set. The book is broken into parts which show Odessa in its romantic heyday, run by the gangsters, and then in its Soviet decline, as it is ruthlessly standardized, normalized, and drained of color. Babel’s autobiographical notes and essays about Odessa are tacked onto the end, to make the book a complete testament to his vision of the city.

That vision is complex and tragic. Odessa in pre-Soviet days may have been a region of mythic heroes, who share something of the amoral vigor of the bandits and warriors of folklore, but it also hosted a plundered populace. A city run by bandits is a paradise for no one but the strong. Still, compared to the regime that pacified the city, old Odessa may not have been so bad after all. The Soviet government rooted out corruption and crime, but it also cracked down on religion and innocent customs, reorganizing here as everywhere according to the blunt dictates of unnuanced rationality.

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Billionaires vs. the Press

Emily Bazelon in The New York Times:

NewsIn 2005, Tim O’Brien, then a financial reporter at The New York Times, published the book “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald.” O'Brien talked to sources with an up-close view of Donald J. Trump’s finances, who concluded that the real-estate developer’s net worth was $150 million to $250 million, rather than the $2 billion to $5 billion Trump had variously claimed. Trump, who had courted O’Brien by taking him for rides in his Ferrari and private jet, sued O’Brien for libel in New Jersey in 2006. Trump called O’Brien a “wack job” on the “Today” show — while, O’Brien says, continuing to curry favor with him privately. O’Brien’s publisher, Warner Books, was also named in the suit and hired top lawyers who put Trump through an unsparing two-day deposition. Asked about his finances, Trump was caught lying or exaggerating 30 times. “He thought he’d get a friendly judge, and we would roll over,” says O’Brien, who is now the executive editor of Bloomberg View. “We didn’t.” The case went through four judges and was dismissed in 2009. Trump’s suit against O’Brien is one of seven forays President-elect Trump and his companies have made as libel plaintiffs. He won only once, when a defendant failed to appear. But the standard measure — defending his reputation and achieving victory in court — isn’t how Trump says he thinks about his investment. “I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees, and they spent a whole lot more,” he told The Washington Post in March about the hefty sum he spent on the case against O’Brien. “I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about.”

Trump was wrong: Warner Books spent less than he did, and O’Brien paid nothing. But that doesn’t make Trump’s central idea any less jarring: that libel law can be a tool of revenge. It’s disconcerting for a superrich (if maybe not as rich as he says) plaintiff to treat the legal system as a weapon to be deployed against critics. Once installed in the White House, Trump will have a wider array of tools at his disposal, and his record suggests that, more than his predecessors, he will try to use the press — and also control and subdue it. As a candidate, Trump blustered vaguely that he wanted to “open up our libel laws.” I asked his spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, by email what he meant by that, but she didn’t answer the question (or others I posed). It’s not within the president’s direct powers to change the rules for libel suits. But our legal safeguards for writers and publishers aren’t foolproof. In the last few years, Trump has been joined by at least two billionaires who are determined to exploit cracks in the wall of defense around the press. The members of this club are innovators. They have sued or funded suits to defend reputations or protect privacy. But an underlying aim appears to be to punish critics like O’Brien or even destroy entire media outlets.

More here.

‘Eternity’s Sunrise: The Imaginative World of William Blake’, by Leo Damrosch

51QRtiFZJtL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_James Ward at The Dublin Review of Books:

William Blake sets out his vision of the universe in the volumes known as his prophetic books. Botched creation, cruelty and liberation are the obsessive themes of his cosmogony, focused through filters of sexuality and gender difference. Famously described by Northrop Frye as being “in proportion to its merits the least read body of poetry” in English, these books still go largely unread. But they were not really designed to be read according to conventional practice of deriving meaning from lines and blocks of text. Instead, on every page, serpentine lines writhe, coil and contort across fields of spectacular colour to form bodies and letters which combine to remind us that to “illustrate” means to make words lustrous. Much as “watching” falsely imputes careful monitorship to our consumption of television, “reading” hardly seems an adequate name for what goes on when we look at these works. Even though comics and graphic novels have made the pleasure a familiar one, there is still no good word in English for the simultaneous comprehension of words and pictures, which underlines the exceptional originality of what Blake was doing back at the turn of the eighteenth century. Hand-inscribed, chemically etched and mechanically printed, Blake’s visual-verbal poems represent a heroic but thankless effort to divert the historic course of book technology and propel the illuminated manuscript into the age of print. They could in theory have sold by the thousand but the intensity of labour involved in their production, the obtuse incomprehension of contemporaries and the indifference of the public meant that few copies were produced, and fewer bought, in his lifetime.

Even after his acceptance as a major poet (which came as late as the 1950s), reading Blake in anthologies or paperback classics feels wrong because the images are either entirely omitted or confined to a few grainy reproductions, with the unified whole inaccessible until very recently to those lacking privileged access to scholarly archives or expensive facsimile editions.

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This Francis Picabia Retrospective Is a Call to Mutiny

18-francis-picabia-002.nocrop.w529.h565Jerry Saltz at New York Magazine:

Who was Picabia? On some level it is astonishing that anyone would have to ask. Born wealthy in Paris in 1879, Picabia is a crucial co-inventor of five of the most far-reaching movements of the 20th century — Cubism, Dada (which he broke with), Surrealism (which he renounced), abstraction, and postmodernism. Provocative from start, he claimed to have made perfect copies of the art in his parent's home, selling the originals and replacing them with his own work. Picabia was smash success by the age of 26, called “a master” for his stiff Impressionism. The next year, he was showing internationally; the year after that brought the first monograph on his work. Revolutionary until the day he died, a bon vivant and ladies' man who often had overlapping wives or mistresses all living and traveling together, he said the “phallus should have eyes” to see “love up close.” (Put eyes inside the vagina as well and who could not love him!)

It’s not easy to generalize about what his work looks like since what really characterized his life was his overwhelming aesthetic restlessness. Picabia is the least know of the great modern masters. His animalistic unwillingness to be caged into any style or ism, his “can't step in the same river twice” insistence on constant artistic flux makes Picabia the Heraclitus-like God of Change of Modern Art. He said “the only movement is perpetual movement”; called isms “absurd traffic”; espoused a continuous “revolution in taste”; asserted that anything not modern has “no reason to exist.” Importantly, he refused to see art as a career, calling painting movements and isms the “paintocracy.”

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Amartya Sen: India is the only country trying to become a global economic power with an uneducated and unhealthy labour force

Sonali Campion and Taryana Odayar at the website of the London School of Economics:

SC: You have said that looking at the end point of a debate is not an ideal way of understanding the wider discussion. This seems relevant in relation to economic policy today, where developing countries aspire to high and continuous growth. What’s your view on the current Indian government’s manner of pursuing growth?

Amartya_Sen_NIHAS: Let me make a clarification first. The point about the end point not being the only issue asks what were the counter arguments that were considered? What were the different points of view that may or may have not have been aired, even if the end point is correct? That only becomes relevant when you agree with the end point. In the case of the policy as it stands now, that is not the case. I think the end point is wrong. The argumentation process is wrong as well, but there are two distinct issues here.

India is the only country in the world which is trying to become a global economic power with an uneducated and unhealthy labour force. It’s never been done before, and never will be done in the future either. There is a reason why Europe went for universal education, and so did America. Japan, after the Meiji restoration in 1868, wanted to get full literate in 40 years and they did. So did South Korea after the war, and Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and China.

The whole idea that you could somehow separate out the process of economic growth from the quality of the labour force is a mistake against which Adam Smith warned in 1776. It’s an ancient danger, and he might have been right to think that the British government at the time did not pay sufficient interest in basic education for all. Unfortunately that applies today to government of India as well. It doesn’t acknowledge the relevance of the quality of human labour.

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‘Millennium’ is full of gratitude for the staggering advances of 1,000 years

Steven Donoghue in The Christian Science Monitor:

BookPause for a moment from your rapt attention to this review of Ian Mortimer's terrific new book Millennium and look up. Look around you. Try to see the layers of time that blanket every feature of your world. It's a gambit that Mortimer employs often throughout his study of “how civilization has changed over a thousand years,” and it's unfailingly instructive. You're able to read this at all, in the first place, whereas for most of the previous thousand years, you probably wouldn't have been able to, unless you were a member of the clerical or landed elite. You're reading it in English, which no national publication would have used in the 11th century or for a good deal of time afterwards. The review is about a book, which scarcely anybody would have owned. Likewise the review assumes a common readership, which would have been forbidden – sometimes by fire or the rack – for more than half of the centuries under Mortimer's consideration. And if you're reading this on some kind of electronic device, we suddenly exclude all of history right up until the last twenty years. But it's more than that. One of the most bracing aspects of “Millennium” is the breadth of factors it covers, from food production to sanitation conditions to the Christian Church Militant to the development of firearms to radical changes in transportation of both people and products. If you employ a similar wide angle, the sheer scope of the changes Mortimer analyzes becomes staggering.

…The four core changes he identifies in his book, the “four primary sources underlying change over the last millennium,” are a) the weather in terms of how it affected food supply, the need for security, the fear of sickness, and the “desire for personal enrichment.” And the method Mortimer uses to track the fluctuating fortunes of these four core items (and plenty more) is at once thought-provoking and self-evidently artificial: He looks at each of the last 10 centuries as discreet, watertight eras and tries to assess the predominant changes each century saw that the others didn't see, prefacing the whole exercise with a smile-inducing bit of understatement: “Many of the important developments in Western culture do not fit neatly within the borders of a single century.”

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Fuck work


James Livingston in Aeon:

Work means everything to us Americans. For centuries – since, say, 1650 – we’ve believed that it builds character (punctuality, initiative, honesty, self-discipline, and so forth). We’ve also believed that the market in labour, where we go to find work, has been relatively efficient in allocating opportunities and incomes. And we’ve believed that, even if it sucks, a job gives meaning, purpose and structure to our everyday lives – at any rate, we’re pretty sure that it gets us out of bed, pays the bills, makes us feel responsible, and keeps us away from daytime TV.

These beliefs are no longer plausible. In fact, they’ve become ridiculous, because there’s not enough work to go around, and what there is of it won’t pay the bills – unless of course you’ve landed a job as a drug dealer or a Wall Street banker, becoming a gangster either way.

These days, everybody from Left to Right – from the economist Dean Baker to the social scientist Arthur C Brooks, from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump – addresses this breakdown of the labour market by advocating ‘full employment’, as if having a job is self-evidently a good thing, no matter how dangerous, demanding or demeaning it is. But ‘full employment’ is not the way to restore our faith in hard work, or in playing by the rules, or in whatever else sounds good. The official unemployment rate in the United States is already below 6 per cent, which is pretty close to what economists used to call ‘full employment’, but income inequality hasn’t changed a bit. Shitty jobs for everyone won’t solve any social problems we now face.

Don’t take my word for it, look at the numbers. Already a fourth of the adults actually employed in the US are paid wages lower than would lift them above the official poverty line – and so a fifth of American children live in poverty. Almost half of employed adults in this country are eligible for food stamps (most of those who are eligible don’t apply). The market in labour has broken down, along with most others.

Those jobs that disappeared in the Great Recession just aren’t coming back, regardless of what the unemployment rate tells you – the net gain in jobs since 2000 still stands at zero – and if they do return from the dead, they’ll be zombies, those contingent, part-time or minimum-wage jobs where the bosses shuffle your shift from week to week: welcome to Wal-Mart, where food stamps are a benefit.

More here.

Making a Man of the Mad Monk


Boris Dralyuk in the LARB:

For all the talk of seduction, depravity, and treason, Rasputin’s greatest crime was, it seems, to have been born a peasant with ambitions. The speed with which he had clambered up the social ladder, all the way into the throne room, left the country baffled. How did this happen? It had to have been his sexual prowess, or the work of “dark forces.” His growing philosemitism didn’t help matters. Here is another — and far profounder — irony in Rasputin’s story: superstition and mystical thinking, which had secured him the royal couple’s confidence, also fueled the frenzied reaction to his rise. The crumbling Russian Empire that emerges in Smith’s pages is distinctly pre-secular. It is also — in the parlance of today’s political analysts — distinctly post-factual.

From about 1908 until his death, Rasputin was the subject of near-constant surveillance. His code name in the Okhrana (secret police) files was first “The Russian,” then “The Dark One.” An agent’s report from 1912 reads: “‘The Russian’ […], when he is walking alone, particularly in the evening, talks to himself, waves his arms around, and slaps himself about the torso, which attracts the attention of passers-by.” Smith comments:

If these details are indeed accurate it should not be too surprising, for the pressure on Rasputin continued to mount and the scandals continued to grow […]. Throughout it all the press and the police had never left him alone. Rasputin was being hunted like an animal.

The countless investigations into Rasputin’s behavior were indeed witch hunts; so-called “reports” were biased allegations, either trumped-up or pulled out of thin air.

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How to win arguments in the post-truth era


Bruno Diaz in 3:AM Magazine:

“I only know what I believe.” Tony Blair, Labour Party Conference Speech, 2004.
According to the likes of Faisal Islam, Ralph Keyes, and The New York Times we’ve entered the post-truth era. If they’re right, it’ll be a time when, like Tony Blair, we will eschew the achievements of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and base what we know not on what we prove through intellectual enquiry, but on what we believe as articles of faith. In this new world, as both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have shown, facts and experts will be pushed aside in favour of populism and emotion. Public opinion and government policy will be moulded by those whose words provoke the most hysteria. It’ll be a place where controversial opinion pieces, and the polemicists who write them, will be in great demand.
So with a cry of “The White House Here We Come!” these are some tips on how to get your opinions sounding like cast iron “facts” straight from the columns of Peter Hitchens, Owen Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos.

1. Be Perfectly Reasonable

Whatever or whoever you’re criticising, start out by saying that you think they’re great.
If it’s a person or an institution you’re targeting, follow Tory MEP Daniel Hannan’s example in his critique of Guardian journalist Zoe Williams: “Williams is a great writer – original, clever and with a fine turn of phrase.”

If you’ve got a whole industry such as banks in your sights, take time to praise certain aspects of the financial sector, or to point out that you’re not talking about all banks, just a few bad apples. Whether or not you believe what you’re saying doesn’t matter – the point is to come across as someone filled with well-mannered common sense who would only be critical if it was absolutely necessary. Once the reader thinks of you in this way, it’ll seem perfectly reasonable, and believable, when you tar the Co-Op and Nationwide with the same brush as Bear Sterns, Lehmans and Deutsche.

As French playwright Jean Giraudoux put it: “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.”

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CxKvZUmVIAEgHU2Forrest Gander at Literary Hub:

I’m not going to foretell the poems that I can’t read out loud without tearing up. But it might be fun to consider a single poem, the oddest in the collection, the one that gave the Spanish-language editors fits. A typed version of this poem, dated June 1968, was found in a filing cabinet with some conference papers. Subsequently, a handwritten version turned up.

It begins: “Roa Lynn and Patrick Morgan / were moored in these waters.” In the next lines, Lynn and Morgan sail off “to sea or to hell” while the dark river bearing “grief and blubbering” and all the particulars of our tumultuous world rushes toward us carrying—what else is it carrying? Something remarkable, we gather from the last lines. For the editors of the Spanish edition, this is an apocalyptical poem and the names Roa Lynn and Patrick Morgan refer to two of the ships’ figureheads that Neruda collected and fondly nicknamed Jenny Lind and Captain Morgan. How Jenny Lind became Roa Lynn and why the famous pirate Captain (Henry) Morgan changed his name to Patrick remain unexplained. But to make matters a little less clear, the editors add a series of curious etymological details, starting with the information that “roa,” in some language, may be a nautical term for the prow of a ship.

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the things they burned

Imgres-1Jennifer Percy at The New Republic:

Specialist Nicolas Plantiko burned dogs. Sergeant Thomas J. Brennan burned lithium ion batteries, flame-resistant FROG suits, and MK-19 rounds. He burned plastic chemical drums, nylon, tires, wires, and tarps. He burned shit and piss.Sergeant Bill Moody’s unit burned a Porta-John, dried-up MREs, and 500 loaves of moldy bread. Staff Sergeant Louis Levesque burned bunk beds. Private Johnnie Stevenson burned plastic bottles because he loved the way they hissed. Airborne infantryman Dennis St. Pierre burned radio batteries and chemlights. Sergeant Carlos Castro joked about burning another soldier for talking too much. Captain Matthew Frye burned a packet of Tabasco sauce that exploded and nearly took out the JTAC’s eye. Staff Sergeant Tim Wymore burned 25 loads of DEET-soaked tents and walked around with the taste of smoke in his mouth. Sergeant Zachary Bell burned batteries because the Taliban used the carbon rods for IED triggers. Specialist Dante Sowell burned burlap bags so he wouldn’t have to fill them up with sand. Captain Adrian Bonenberger watched a Christmas tree go into a burn pit. Private George Snyder burned Private Stuart Decker’s one confirmed kill. Sergeant Casey Rohrich burned a human toe. They burned magazines, movies, junk food, college brochures, and pamphlets for the GI Bill. They burned amputated body parts and Humvee parts. They burned human waste and plastic meal trays. They burned the blood and clothes of the wounded.

Everything—all the trash of the war—was thrown in a burn pit, soaked with jet fuel, and torched. There were hundreds of open-air garbage dumps, spread out across Afghanistan and Iraq, right next to encampments where American soldiers lived and worked, ate and slept. The pits burned day and night, many of them around the clock, seven days a week. There were backyard-size pits lit by patrols of a few dozen men, and massive, industrial-size pits designed to incinerate the endless stream of waste produced by U.S. military bases.

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Friday Poem

Robert Harrington 1558

Get you, with your almain rivetts (latest
fad from Germany), and your corselet,
and your two coats of plate! How much harness

does a man need? None, when he’s in his grave.
Your sons may have it, together with your
damask and satin gowns to show off in;

while you go to lie down in Witham church,
and the most armour I’ve seen in a will
rusts or turns ridiculous in this world.

by Fleur Adcock
from Glass Wings
publisher: Bloodaxe, Newcastle, 2013