Reading Yeats in the Age of Trump

Stephen Burt in The Boston Review:

Like many of you, I have spent the days since the election in a combination of frantic distraction; intermittent, flailing activism; attempts to focus on my private and professional life; and fear. The more I read from experts in relevant fields, the more I envision the next four, or eight, or ten years not so much as a Republican administration—enacting policies that will hurt immigrants, people of color, and the poor—but rather as a kleptocratic, potentially authoritarian, generation-long takeover, one that could extend outward and downward from Capitol Hill and Pennsylvania Avenue into the federal judiciary, the civil service, and the national security state.

…So instead I have been rereading W. B. Yeats—for example, “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing” (1913):

YeatssligoNow all the truth is out,

Be secret and take defeat

From any brazen throat,

For how can you compete,

Being honor bred, with one

Who were it proved he lies

Were neither shamed in his own

Nor in his neighbours’ eyes. . . .

No other poet has captured so well the feeling of noble failure—of having lost an unfair fight—along with the feeling of conflict between serving a very flawed nation and serving the ideals embodied in art.

More here.

Beyond CRISPR: A guide to the many other ways to edit a genome

Heidi Ledford in Nature:

CasThe CRISPR–Cas9 tool enables scientists to alter genomes practically at will. Hailed as dramatically easier, cheaper and more versatile than previous technologies, it has blazed through labs around the world, finding new applications in medicine and basic research. But for all the devotion, CRISPR–Cas9 has its limitations. It is excellent at going to a particular location on the genome and cutting there, says bioengineer Prashant Mali at the University of California, San Diego. “But sometimes your application of interest demands a bit more.” The zeal with which researchers jumped on a possible new gene-editing system called NgAgo earlier this year reveals an undercurrent of frustration with CRISPR–Cas9 — and a drive to find alternatives. “It’s a reminder of how fragile every new technology is,” says George Church, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. NgAgo is just one of a growing library of gene-editing tools. Some are variations on the CRISPR theme; others offer new ways to edit genomes.

CRISPR–Cas9 may one day be used to rewrite the genes responsible for genetic diseases. But the components of the system — an enzyme called Cas9 and a strand of RNA to direct the enzyme to the desired sequence — are too large to stuff into the genome of the virus most commonly used in gene therapy to shuttle foreign genetic material into human cells. A solution comes in the form of a mini-Cas9, which was plucked from the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus1. It’s small enough to squeeze into the virus used in one of the gene therapies currently on the market. Last December, two groups used the mini-me Cas9 in mice to correct the gene responsible for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

More here.

Friday Poem

The Reading Room

had at its center an enormous globe that showed the way the
world was. It turned as easily about its expensive spindle as the world itself
and I spun it slowly, exploring place after place, each country with a color
defining “I amness.” How much blue the sea took to get its proper share.

Sometimes I would sit in the room and read my books for awhile
before roller skating home on the street that had the smoothest sidewalks
so the wheels clamped to my shoes with a key would not catch on a tree-
root-propped slab, tear loose, and send me tumbling to another scraped
knee. Sometimes I’d finish my book and return it before setting off from the
friendly silence.

The room was high-ceilinged, tall windowed, square, with a
square of leather-cushioned chairs surrounding the globe. This is how I want
to live, I felt rather than said, in a solid, permanent, somewhat dustily elegant place,
with the round certainty of the way things are before me.

This was sixty years ago or more. Only the blue of the sea has
stayed itself. Now the whole old globe with its intricate, pattern of forgotten
countries rests, a curiosity, in the back room of the antique shop of the
world. Maybe the library still stands, though most of the books I read have
long ago disintegrated or disappeared.

by Nils Peterson
from A Walk to the Center of Things
Ceasura Editions

The privatization of Youngstown’s public schools

HarpersWeb-Postcard-Belfast-220Simon David-Cohen at Harper's Magazine:

The story of the takeover of the elected school board starts in September 2014, when, as one local newspaper reported, John Kasich started “to talk with business leaders and develop recommendations for improving the [failing] district.” Later that month, Kasich told freshman legislators in a closed-door orientation meeting in a back room at the state capitol that the Youngstown “school system is in such a mess, I want to just shut it down and put one great big charter school in there,” according to Youngstown state representative Michele Lepore-Hagan. “Everyone,” Lepore-Hagan told me over the phone, “kind of just stopped and looked at him,” in disbelief. (When asked for a comment, a governor spokesperson pointed me to an article that denied the statement: “When [Kasich] talked to Lepore-Hagan,” it read, “he wasn’t suggesting that a transformation was imminent.”) The plan was set in motion the following month, when the regional chamber of commerce convened a secretive “Youngstown City Schools Business Cabinet.” Eight months later, on June 23, 2015, the governor’s office began reaching out to legislators and lobbyists. “We have kept this low key,” Kasich’s Director of Legislative Affairs wrote that day in an email subpoenaed by a state court to a lobbyist, “but it will be intro’d [as an amendment] to [House Bill] 70. . . . Creates charter accelerator.” Twenty-four hours later, the takeover mechanism was passed into law. In May of 2016, the state-controlled Youngstown City Schools Academic Distress Commission appointed the CEO, who, thanks to HB 70, enjoys unilateral authority to cancel teacher and employee union contracts, hire and fire at will, close schools, convert them into charters, and shape curriculum.

more here.

A New Reading of Richard Pousette-Dart

62915_POUSETTE_DART_WebPhong Bui at The Brooklyn Rail:

What I have essentially discovered in my recent observations of Pousette-Dart’s work is that they appear to have been made for future generations of artists. Pousette-Dart’s maturity ripened early in part through his friendship with John Graham. One suspects that Graham’s theory of abstract painting—a potential synthesis of his obsessions with the occult, esoteric philosophies, Freud, Jung, “primitive” art and European modernism, revealed and defined in his book System and Dialectics of Art (pub. 1937)—appealed to the young Pousette-Dart’s sensibilities. What was so impressive was how he materialized those diverse references so confidently in his work. Take, for example, Symphony No. 1, The Transcendental (1941 – 42) which was painted when he was barely twenty-five years old. I should also note that he was the first of the New York School to make a mural-size painting (it measures 7.5 × 10 feet), and that his personal style owes nothing to the athletic gesture that is often identified with certain works by Pollock, de Kooning and Kline, or the subtle applications of the hard-edge geometry of Reinhardt, or the fields of suffused and unbroken color in Rothko and Newman. Yet unlike Graham, who by the ’50s began to reject Cubism, Surrealism, and abstraction in favor of figurative art, Pousette-Dart stayed on course with his commitment to abstraction until the very end. Whichever way his broad interests manifest in a complex and diverse repertoire of images, each painting, as Roberta Smith wrote in her New York Times review, “exemplifies the exultation of material that courses through much American painting.”1 This is the brilliant and indispensable truth about Pousette-Dart’s art. He used dense layering of paint, pigment, and form to create complex light infused compositions, a hallmark of his work that remained constant throughout his career. Whether one can detect similar palimpsests of vertical ghostlike auras in Blue Image (1950), Presence(1956), and Ossi #2 (1958), the paint applications in each differ vastly. It’s also important to understand that these are singular paintings that represent larger series and it is the protean as well as prolific nature of his sensibility that allowed these investigations to evolve in parallel while perpetually cross-pollinating. In the first, a transparent and uneven blue wash pours over occasional spots of yellow and red, and light pencil marks hover around a skeleton of unmediated black lines made by his usual method of squeezing paint directly out of the tube. The second was painted with a minimal palette of dark gold, light brown, and white, over a crusty, thick, and irregular yet fine stucco-like texture. The third has a heavy, coarse texture, formed predominantly from white over black and tempered with a gray wash.

more here

The Alt-Right’s Jewish Godfather

Paul-gottfriedJacob Siegel at Tablet Magazine:

The night America elected Donald J. Trump president, 38-year-old Richard B. Spencer, who fancies himself the “Karl Marx of the alt-right” and envisions a “white homeland,” crowed, “we’re the establishment now.” If so, then the architect of the new establishment is Spencer’s former mentor, Paul Gottfried, a retired Jewish academic who lives, not quite contently, in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, on the east bank of the Susquehanna River. It’s the kind of town that reporters visit in an election season to divine the political faith of “real Americans.” A division of candy company Mars Inc. makes its home there, along with a Masonic retirement community, and the college where Gottfried taught before a school official encouraged his early exit.

Gottfried settled in Elizabethtown after his first wife died, when he decided to put family concerns ahead of professional ambitions and then set out to wage a low-level civil war against the Republican establishment. The so-called alt-right—identified variously with anti-globalist and anti-immigrant stances, cartoon frogs, white nationalists, pick-up artists, anti-Semites, and a rising tide of right-wing populism—is partly Gottfried’s creation; he invented the term in 2008, with his protégé Spencer.

more here.

Two Immigrants Debate Immigration

Shikha Dalmia & George J. Borjas in Reason:

12-16immigrationEven as the mighty Statue of Liberty beckons the world's “poor and huddled masses” to America's shores, Americans themselves have been ambivalent, to put it mildly, about how many newcomers ought to be welcomed and from where. To the extent that a pro-immigration consensus has existed, it was always an uneasy one. But Donald Trump's meteoric political rise after embracing an extreme restrictionist agenda has shattered that fragile status quo, dividing pundits and public, academics and analysts throughout the 2016 election season. There's an absence of good polling data to shine a light on how immigrants themselves feel about this issue, but it's clear that even they don't all agree.

George J. Borjas is a celebrated Harvard University economist who emigrated from Cuba to the United States with his mother at the age of 12, three years after Fidel Castro's regime took over the country and confiscated his father's garment factory. He has made vital contributions to many fields of economics, especially immigration, and has a new book, We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative, out this month. In it, he challenges the notion that immigration is “universally beneficial.”

Shikha Dalmia is a Reason Foundation analyst and a native of New Delhi, India, who came to America 31 years ago as an idealistic student looking to escape the corruption of a socialistic mixed economy. She writes extensively about immigration and firmly believes America shuts the door on outsiders at its economic and spiritual peril.

What follows is a spirited exchange between the two on the empirical claims and proposed policy prescriptions in We Wanted Workers.

More here. [Thanks to Terrance Tomkow and Tunku Varadarajan.]

Richard Feynman’s Poignant Letter to His Departed Wife Arline: Watch Actor Oscar Isaac Read It Live Onstage

From Open Culture:

ScreenHunter_2414 Dec. 01 20.06October 17, 1946


I adore you, sweetheart.

I know how much you like to hear that — but I don’t only write it because you like it — I write it because it makes me warm all over inside to write it to you.

It is such a terribly long time since I last wrote to you — almost two years but I know you’ll excuse me because you understand how I am, stubborn and realistic; and I thought there was no sense to writing.

But now I know my darling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and that I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you. I want to love you. I always will love you.

I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead — but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you. I never thought until just now that we can do that. What should we do. We started to learn to make clothes together — or learn Chinese — or getting a movie projector. Can’t I do something now? No. I am alone without you and you were the “idea-woman” and general instigator of all our wild adventures.

More here. [Thanks to Jennifer Oullette.]

 Martha Nussbaum’s new book about the dangers of anger tells us more about the limits of the liberal mindset than the actual world of politics

Amia Srinivasan in The Nation:

ScreenHunter_2413 Dec. 01 19.48The 2016 presidential election was, it seems, decided by angry white men in the Rust Belt: angry that their fellow Americans increasingly do not look or sound like them; angry that black lives matter and that a black man is in the White House; angry that the movements of capital are indifferent to their needs and that movements of people have increased; angry that a woman thought herself fit to run the country.

One might well think that anger itself was the problem. Many have been calling for a return to a more civil and reasonable form of political discourse. But some go even further: Perhaps what we need is the total eradication of anger from our politics. If so, then those of us on the left should respond to Trump’s election not with our own anger but with something altogether cooler and calmer.

In her latest book, Anger and Forgiveness, the philosopher Martha Nussbaum argues for just this. Even “great injustice,” she says, is no “excuse for childish and undisciplined behavior.” For not only is anger bad because of its consequences—alienating political opponents, breeding revenge and violence, inhibiting progress—it is also a bad thing in itself, an immoral and incoherent way of responding to the world.

More here.

The incredible Fulk

Alexandra Suich in The Economist:

Fulk“This is going to become the best club in the city,” Ken Fulk says confidently. We are 49 storeys high, looking down at the Bay Bridge from a new high-rise, the Harrison, packed with multi-million-dollar condominiums that are all for sale. Fulk was hired to glam up the skyscraper’s interior, and thought the top floor should be a swanky members’ lounge and wine bar, where residents could mingle for drinks and host private events while gazing at the glistening bay. The space is both modern and retro. A fire roars in the centre of the room, light fixtures in the shape of pagodas hang from the ceiling and there is a bar covered in crocodile skin. Luxurious amenities are part of the Harrison’s allure, but so is Fulk himself. San Francisco is having its Manhattan moment. Buildings are stretching skyward, and people are moving here in swarms to seek their fortunes. Fulk is helping reimagine the city’s interiors. He came to prominence in 2013 with the opening of The Battery, a private club, which quickly became an after-hours destination for techies, who linger in banquettes beneath the main lounge’s exposed-brick walls.

But most of Fulk’s business is designing private houses for the city’s wealthy technorati. His clients include Mark Pincus of the gaming company Zynga; Kevin Systrom of the photo-sharing app Instagram; Jeremy Stoppelman of Yelp, the online review site; and Michael and Xochi Birch, who sold their social network, Bebo, for $850m in 2008 and now own The Battery. While minimalist interiors are in vogue, Fulk’s signature style is bold, eclectic and gleefully maximalist. “With contemporary design, you feel like you walked into a hotel room,” says Systrom.

More here.