Sunday Poem

The Poet with His Face in His Hands

You want to cry aloud for your
mistakes. But to tell the truth the world
doesn’t need anymore of that sound.

So if you’re going to do it and can’t
stop yourself, if your pretty mouth can’t
hold it in, at least go by yourself across

the forty fields and the forty dark inclines
of rocks and water to the place where
the falls are flinging out their white sheets

like crazy, and there is a cave behind all that
jubilation and water fun and you can
stand there, under it, and roar all you

want and nothing will be disturbed; you can
drip with despair all afternoon and still,
on a green branch, its wings just lightly touched

by the passing foil of the water, the thrush,
puffing out its spotted breast, will sing
of the perfect, stone-hard beauty of everything.

by Mary Oliver
from The New Yorker

The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu

5107William Dalrymple at The Guardian:

For African historians, the realisation during the late 1990s of the full scale of Timbuktu’s intellectual heritage was the equivalent of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls for scholars of Judaism in the 1950s. When the African American academic Henry Louis Gates Jr visited Timbuktu in 1997 he actually burst into tears at the discovery of the extraordinary literary riches. He had always taught his Harvard students that “there was no written history in Africa, that it was all oral. Now that he had seen these manuscripts, everything had changed.”

Yet with the coming of al-Qaida, there was now a widespread fear that this huge treasure trove, the study of which had only just begun, could go the way of the Baghdad, Kabul or Palmyra museums, or the Bamiyan Buddhas. Before long, efforts began to smuggle the most important of the manuscripts out of Timbuktu and to somehow get them to safety in Bamako, the capital of Mali. The story of how this was done forms the narrative backbone of The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu, which consequently reads like a sort of Schindler’s list for medieval African manuscripts, “a modern day folk tale that proved irresistible, with such resonant, universal themes of good versus evil, books versus guns, fanatics versus moderates”.

more here.

David Lagercrantz dreams of writing the perfect literary novel

Andy Martin in The Independent:

ScreenHunter_2740 Jul. 01 20.26It’s top secret and hush hush and is strictly embargoed until 7 September when it’s published. But I was privileged to see some of the fifth volume of the Millennium trilogy even as it was being written. I promise not to give too much away, but consider this a sneak preview, or trailer for The Girl Who Takes An Eye For An Eye.

If you want to know what happens to ace Swedish ass-kicker and hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander and heroic journalist Mikael Blomkvist, you’re in the right place. It’s written by David Lagercrantz, who took over the reins from Stieg Larsson for the last one, The Girl In the Spider’s Web.

You may recall that Larsson, having written all three of the trilogy, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, and had them accepted for publication, promptly dropped dead. Late for a meeting, he ran up a few flights of stairs when the lift broke down, and collapsed with a heart attack, aged 50. The poignant back-story helped the books sell millions worldwide, but the death of the author meant it was inevitable that someone would have to pick up the baton and carry on. The job went to Lagercrantz, a Swedish writer then best known for ghosting the quasi-autobiography of the Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, I Am Zlatan.

More here.

Dark Matter Theory Triumphs In Sweeping New Study

Ethan Siegel in Forbes:

1-skwt3fHW8eyz75KwcjYSLgWhen you look out at the Universe, all you see is matter and light. The stars, galaxies, plasmas, and unusual astrophysical objects all emit radiation from across the electromagnetic spectrum; the dust, gas, and neutral atoms absorb it. Yet what we infer from viewing them, particularly on the largest scales, tells us that there's much more than what we presently perceive. In addition to matter and light, there's got to be dark energy, a form of energy inherent to the fabric of space itself that causes the expanding Universe to accelerate, and a significant amount of dark matter: massive, clustering particles that are invisible to light. Dark matter can do many things, but one prediction it's always struggled with is exactly reproducing how galaxies are observed to rotate. It's been a problem for decades, from the 1970s until 2017. But as of June 23rd, a new paper claims to have finally solved the problem of galactic rotation at long last.

Since 1970, it's been known that galaxies don't just rotate, but they rotate with speeds too quick, particularly at the outskirts, for what normal matter alone can account for. Nearly half a century of studies have shown that if dark matter exists, it should form diffuse, massive halos that extend much farther than the visible disks and elliptical swarms do, with the gravity of both dark and normal matter affecting the galaxies' motion.

More here.

Can Jonathan Haidt Calm the Culture Wars?

Evan R. Goldstein in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Photo_82439_cover_320x426On a February morning in Washington, a hotel ballroom is packed with people eager to hear Jonathan Haidt explain what’s wrong with higher education. His talk is part of the International Students for Liberty Conference, which has attracted 1,700 attendees, mostly young libertarians, to a weekend of sessions with titles like "Stereotyped 101," "Advancing Liberty Around the World," and "Beer Is Freedom." Before he’s introduced, Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business, stands at the front of the room, tall and thin, dressed in a dark suit and white shirt. As people gather around, a brown-haired woman in a gray skirt chats him up before rushing off. "Oh, my God," she says to a friend, "I just shook Jonathan Haidt’s hand!"

Haidt’s renown is driven by bold declarations like those in a 2015 cover story in The Atlantic titled "The Coddling of the American Mind." Written with Greg Lukianoff, president and chief executive of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the article took the rise of microaggressions, trigger warnings, and safe spaces as evidence that colleges are nurturing a hypersensitive mind-set among students that "will damage their careers and friendships, along with their mental health." The article, which has been viewed by nearly six million people, catapulted Haidt, already a prominent scholar and best-selling author, into a new role: gadfly of the campus culture wars.

More here.

the twin peaks phenomenon

P19_Andrew-605x454Andrew Irwin at the TLS:

Reviving a series twenty-six years after its last episode aired is always going to be a dangerous game. Twin Peaks, much loved and firmly entrenched in popular culture, with a healthy body of academic literature surrounding it, seems particularly risky: mainly because much of it wasn’t very good. Although David Lynch and Mark Frost’s surrealist melodrama created a number of extraordinary images, and greatly influenced the television that came after, it notoriously suffered from problems of pacing in its second series, with its central mystery resolved too soon (at the network’s behest and against Lynch’s wishes). The plot lines that replaced it were ad hoc and irritating; with plummeting ratings, Twin Peaks was cancelled after its second season, and was then followed by a number of books and a prequel film, Fire Walk with Me, to flesh out the story. The chances seemed high that this revival, set twenty-five years later and featuring many from the original cast, would simply repeat the mistakes of the second series, lose the atmosphere that was integral to the success of the first, and tarnish a legacy.

Set in a scenic rural town in Washington State, the original series begins as the body of a popular blonde high school student named Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) washes up on the shore, wrapped in plastic; the discovery of her body triggers great spasms of anguish in the small logging community. Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), wearing the anonymous black suit of the FBI and expert in his investigations, but filled with boyish wonder, is called into town to investigate the case and is at once smitten with the wholesome values, the air, the trees and the coffee-and-cherry-pie version of 1950s Americana, transplanted inexplicably into the 90s.

more here.

Where a doctor saw a treatable cancer, a patient saw an evil spirit

Bob Tedeschi in StatNews:

CancerThe woman, who was in her 50s, had thyroid cancer, and scans suggested it had spread to her lungs. But her doctor, Michael Fratkin, knew there were options. “It’s like, well, what a bummer you have metastatic cancer, but we have a sort of magic missile for that kind of cancer, and it can be controlled,” he thought to himself. “All you have to do is swallow three iodine capsules.” The woman, a Hmong immigrant, spoke little, if any, English. Through an experienced interpreter, Fratkin explained the protocol and told her she would need a lung biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. After the procedure, he told her he felt confident the protocol he had described would cure her. The woman, though, was incensed. “Something about how we explained what we were doing didn’t match her way of thinking about things,” Fratkin recalled. “She thought we gave her cancer in the chest.” Thousands of Hmong emigrated from Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War, when the CIA recruited them to fight or spy on the United States’s behalf, only to face harsh repercussions after U.S. forces withdrew.

Many Hmong understand physical illness in mystical terms1: an evil spirit, or “dab,” can enter the body if a person is badly startled, for instance, or if a baby’s placenta is not properly buried. A dab might depart only if a person takes specific actions, like drinking an herbal remedy while also leaving a cup of the remedy for the dab to drink. The Hmong’s beliefs about medicine and illness, combined with hard-earned suspicions about American institutions, can mix poorly. Even from the start, she was cool toward him, and inscrutable. “Never ever did I get a glimpse of something I recognized,” said Fratkin, who has practiced in Northern California for two decades. Still, he persuaded her to accept the cancer treatments. Then, at the last minute, she refused — for reasons Fratkin could not understand, even with his interpreter’s help. He contacted a social worker with experience with the Hmong community, and helped pay for the social worker’s visit.

His patient agreed to try. Again, she backed away at the last minute.

More here.

By 2100, Refugees Would Be the Most Populous Country on Earth

Vijay Prashad in AlterNet:

BoatThe UN Refugee Agency has announced the new figures for the world’s displaced: 65.9 million. That means that 65.9 million human beings live as refugees, asylum seekers or as internally displaced people. If the refugees formed a country, it would be the 21st largest state in the world, just after Thailand (68.2 million) and just ahead of the United Kingdom (65.5 million). But unlike these other states, refugees have few political rights and no real representation in the institutions of the world. The head of the UN Refugee Agency, Filippo Grandi, recently said that most of the displacement comes as a result of war. "The world seems to have become unable to make peace," Grandi said. "So you see old conflicts that continue to linger, and new conflicts erupting, and both produce displacement. Forced displacement is a symbol of wars that never end." Few continents are immune from the harsh reality of war. But the epicenter of war and displacement is along the axis of the Western-driven global war on terror and resource wars. The line of displacement runs from Afghanistan to South Sudan with Syria in between. Eyes are on Syria, where the war remains hot and the tensions over escalation intensify daily. But there is as deadly a civil war in South Sudan, driven in large part by a ferocious desire to control the country’s oil. Last year, 340,000 people fled South Sudan for refugee camps in neighboring Uganda. This is a larger displacement than from Syria.

Poverty is a major driver of displacement. It is what moves hundreds of thousands of people to try and cross the Sahara Desert and then the Mediterranean Sea for European pastures. But most who try this journey meet a deadly fate. Both the Sahara and the Mediterranean are dangerous. This week, the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Niger rescued 600 migrants from the Sahara, although 52 did not survive. A 22-year-old woman from Nigeria was among those rescued. She was on a pick-up truck with 50 people. They left Agadez for Libya. ‘We were in the desert for ten days,’ she says. "After five days, the driver abandoned us. He left us with all of our belongings, saying he was going to pick us up in a couple of hours. But he never did." Forty-four of the migrants died. The six who remained struggled to safety. ‘We had to drink our own pee to survive,’ she said.

More here.


Fever-dream-schweblinSarah Coolidge at The Quarterly Conversation:

Through short stories, Schweblin established herself as a writer of the strange and eerie. While Granta featured her in its list of “The Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” alongside Carlos Labbé, Alejandro Zambra, Andrés Neuman, and Carlos Yoshimito, her style is more closely attuned to that of Edgar Allan Poe, or perhaps more close to home, Julio Cortázar. Like them she is fascinated by the oftentimes disturbing and inexplicable forces at work in the world. In the titular story of Pájaros en la boca, parents discover, and proceed to agonize over, their daughter’s inexplicable urge to eat her pet birds—which she thrusts whole into her mouth and chews bloodily.

At the core of many of Schweblin’s stories is a morbid, hysterical portrayal of motherhood. In one, a couple struggling with fertility spends the night “hunting” some unnamed entity, and Schweblin’s refusal to give the thing a name, paired with the couple’s desperation, produces an unsettling aura. In another story a pregnant woman dreading her nearing delivery date goes to see a doctor who prescribes her pills that, month by month, reverse her pregnancy as her family looks on horrified.

Schweblin’s stories demonstrate her ability to make the reader feel viscerally manipulated, if not morally violated. And yet, while their brevity may at times intensify their effect, there is something fleeting about them. They disturb and manipulate the reader but they don’t haunt or linger in the mind like a nightmare.

more here.

Saturday Poem

Sonnet 94: They that have power to hurt and will do none
They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow:
They rightly do inherit heaven's graces
And husband nature's riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer's flower is to the summer sweet
Though to itself it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
….. For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
….. Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

William Shakespeare