Love and Grapes

by Max Sirak

Last fall, after a day spent hiking around the neighborhood, I ended up back on my porch with my buddy, Chef Mike. We were drinking beers and chatting about life.

We covered a lot of ground. Both in our walks and our talks that day. Mike was getting ready to move. He’d been in Colorado for five years and knew it wasn’t his “forever” home. As his name implies, he works in restaurants. One nice thing about that line of work is if you’re good, then you can peddle your wares anywhere. Oregon was his next stop.

At one point, when our conversation hit a lull, as conversations are wont to do, he turned to me and said…

*Chef Mike apologizes. It turns out he missed a word in this recording…

I was a pile of laughs before he even finished. “Dude?! What the hell?! What was that?!,” I managed to spurt out between giggles.

“It’s a Chinese tongue twister.”

To fully appreciate my response it might help to know a thing or two about Chef Mike. I was hoping to post a picture, those being worth the words they are, but he said he’d rather I didn’t. Instead he sent me his personal logo (featured above).

Mike’s in his thirties. He’s a good ol’ Italian boy from Chicago who’s built like a bear. Burly. 230 lbs. Six feet tall. Bearded. And, to the best of my knowledge in the course of our two-year friendship, Mike knew no Chinese. Read more »

Where I Come From: Part 2

by Christopher Bacas

The William Penn High School Marching band was a juggernaut, the coolest team in school. Its director, Holman F James, strode the football field, unzipped windbreaker, cigarette dangling, the Greatest Generation’s bandmaster. A sterling musician, he played trumpet and piano, wrote or arranged all the music and choreographed our field shows. He was also a solider, avid outdoorsman and master craftsman, everything Hugh Hefner should have been.

I got the band music months before our first rehearsals and trained myself to look away from the page as I played. At the first summer music rehearsal, more than two-hundred teens packed the band room. Mr James ran our opener. Sixty-odd woodwinds repeatedly muffed their way through his rapid figurations.

“Whoa. Whoa. Can I hear each of you on that?”

Everyone had a chance to show him our homework. I came prepared. Mr James used me to call out upperclassmen. He wouldn’t accept adolescent sloppiness. Anyone could receive a dressing-down: drum major, soloist or just a rank and file band member with dirty white shoes. Each week, we had uniform inspections and rehearsals on the field. Talking back was unthinkable. Particularly after a kid who cursed him felt Mr James’ dress shoe in his ass. We all watched tears drip from the kid’s eyes as he continued to stand at attention. Read more »

Poem by Rafiq Kathwari

Capitals: Game Farouk Plays To Keep Mother’s Mind Active

Moscow! Mother says
when Farouk asks,
Capital of Russia?

Japan? Tokyo!
She gazes at the sun

mirrored in a pane
across the courtyard.

“You were born
a week after Nagasaki,”

she says to Farouk
who arches his eyebrows

leans forward in his chair
gently rubs her gnarled fingers,

but keeps on playing.
Germany? Munich!

No. Berlin, he says,
& you, standing at the footboard,

think to what purpose
reprising history

of human madness
in the 20 th Century.

So many hardy women — here
Hebrew Home for Aged

The Bronx
lived through so many horrors

the horror of nuking humans
of Partitions

horror of Holocausts
of Ku Klux Klan

of a Cold War in Europe
horror of hot wars in Asia —

so many strong women like Mother
paragraphs of pyrrhic pride

writ on furrowed faces,
declining on soft beds—

yes, declining not reclining —
who now play along

with prosperous sons
in posh pavilions

named for patrons
who would annex

planets beyond the moon
if they could.

What’s the capital of Israel? Farouk asks.
“A trick question,” Mother says,
chuckling, “Falasteen.”

Google, Godwin, & the Philosopher’s Stone

Sam Rowe in Full Stop:

In the early 1790s, the London intellectual scene was convulsed with the fervor of the ongoing French Revolution. Sympathizers and counter-revolutionaries engaged in a ferocious pamphlet war, initiated by the Unitarian minister Richard Price, rejoined by Edmund Burke in his masterpiece of reactionary rhetoric, Reflections on the Revolution in France, and rejoined again by such writers as Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine. Political organizations arguing for electoral reform, including the London Corresponding Society and the Society for Constitutional Information, flourished. The resulting conservative backlash culminated in government suspension of habeas corpus and suppression of the free press and free assembly. The decade following the revolution was, all told, a time of tremendous political creativity and turbulence in the Anglophone world.

Among the most influential contributions to these debates was a complex philosophical tome titled Enquiry Concerning Political Justice by a former dissenting minister named William Godwin. Godwin was as radical as Wollstonecraft (his future wife) and Paine, but less political and confrontational, and his response to the revolution therefore took a decidedly intellectualized cast. The book’s final section, “Of Property,” was particularly influential in its strict egalitarianism: It provided inspiration to the utopian socialist and Chartist movements in the early nineteenth century and was being reprinted by radicals as late as 1890. Godwin’s arguments for equality of property, however, provoked a strange set of reflections on the perfectibility of other aspects of human life, leading in the book’s final pages to a notorious conjecture: “Why may not man one day be immortal?”

Godwin’s conviction of the possibility of immortality, which only a few years ago might have seemed quixotic and a bit embarrassing, has come back into fashion.

More here.

Meet the carousing, harmonica-playing texan who just won a nobel for his cancer breakthrough: Jim Allison

Charles Graeber in Wired:

JAMES ALLISON LOOKS like a cross between Jerry Garcia and Ben Franklin, and he’s a bit of both, an iconoclastic scientist and musician known for good times and great achievements. He also doesn’t always answer his phone, especially when the call arrives at 5 am, from an unfamiliar number.

So when the Nobel Prize committee tried to reach Allison a few weeks ago to inform him he’d been awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in medicine, Allison ignored the call. Finally, at 5:30 am, Allison’s son dialed in on a familiar number to deliver the news. The calls have not stopped since.

Allison’s breakthrough was the discovery of a sort of secret handshake that cancer uses to evade the immune system, and a means to block that handshake—what the Nobel committee hailed as “a landmark in our fight against cancer,” which has “revolutionized cancer treatment, fundamentally changing the way we view how cancer can be managed.” (Allison’s co-recipient was Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University.) Advances in cancer typically come in 50-year increments; the science that Allison and Honjo helped advance, cancer immunotherapy, has made a generational leap seemingly overnight.

More here.

Scott Atran: Does Society Need Religion?

Scott Atran in Psychology Today:

When French President Emmanuel Macron declared during a visit to the Vatican this past summer that, “We have, anthropologically, ontologically, metaphysically, need of religion” (Nous avons, anthropologiquement, ontologiquement, métaphysiquement, besoin de la religion), there was little critical analysis in the press, much less by philosophers and scientists, of the moral, historical, or evidentiary basis of such a sweeping claim by the leaderof one of the world’s first and most revolutionary secular regimes. What follows is an attempt to make sense of President Macron’s claim in the current European and global socio-political context, in part with the aid of recent research in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East from our teamat Artis International and the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at Oxford.

The values of liberal and open democracy appear to be losing ground worldwide to xenophobic ethno-nationalisms and radical religiousideologies. The “creative destruction” associated with global markets has transformed people from the planet’s farthest reaches into competitive players seeking progress and fulfillment through material accumulation and its symbols, but without a sense of community and common moral purpose. The forced gamble of globalization especially fails when societies lack enough time to adapt to unceasing innovation and change.

More here.  And part 2 of this article is here.

UNDP data on poverty shows gains are in line with Modi’s slogan, not a product of it

Sanjay G. Reddy in The Print:

In recent years, a debate has raged in India on what is the level of poverty in the country and whether it has changed, either to reflect the arrival of a new India or the persistence of an old one. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government stopped producing official estimates of poverty when it abolished the storied 65-year-old Planning Commission.

This has, however, only cemented the impression that the debate on poverty estimates has become something of a free-for-all.

The official estimates on poverty, and most of the debate, both in recent years and much earlier, have focused on the total quantity of the goods, including food, clothing and other essentials of life, consumed by ordinary Indians. But it has long been understood that this is only a part of the picture of poverty in a country. The well-being of a person is shaped by multiple factors, including whether she is healthy, educated, has access to clean water and surroundings, and has social acceptance.

The current government, like previous ones, has recognised this through various initiatives (for example, through the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or more recently, the Ayushman Bharat). These may be a case of well-packaged more than well-thought out, but they are at least nominally aimed to deliver social services and to improve the conditions of life. It is, therefore, of interest and importance to ask whether well-being in these various aspects has improved over substantial lengths of time, especially for the most deprived.

It is this issue that has been addressed by the newly released “multidimensional” poverty estimates for India by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

More here.

What arguments for a more humane approach to war conceal

Samuel Moyn in The New Republic:

The killing of other human beings in war makes graphic an abiding moral dilemma: You might try to make an evil less outrageous, or you might try to get rid of it altogether—but it is not clear that it is possible to do both at the same time. In one of her Twenty-One Love Poems, Adrienne Rich imagines imposing controls on the use of force until it all but disappears: “Such hands might carry out an unavoidable violence / with such restraint,” she writes, “with such a grasp / of the range and limits of violence / that violence ever after would be obsolete.” Yet the lines contradict themselves: If violence is inevitable, however contained or humane, it is not gone.

Nick McDonell’s striking new book about America’s forever war, The Bodies in Person, is a call to contain or minimize one kind of outrageous violence: the killing of civilians in America’s contemporary wars, fought since 9/11 across an astonishing span of the earth. At a moment when Donald Trump has relaxed controls on American killing abroad even beyond what McDonell chronicles and our long-term proxy war in Yemen has broken into gross atrocities—like the Saudi air strike that killedscores of civilians in early August this year—it is a pressing theme.

More here.

Trump, Populists and the Rise of Right-Wing Globalization

Quinn Slobodian in the New York Times:

In a recent speech at the United Nations, President Trump railed against “the ideology of globalism” and “unelected, unaccountable global bureaucracy.”

For those of us who came of age in the 1990s, there was an eerie sense of déjà vu. Then, too, there were protests against global institutions insulated from democratic decision-making. In the most iconic confrontation, my college classmates helped scupper the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999.

The movement called for “alter-globalization” — a different kind of globalization more attentive to labor and minority rights, the environment and economic equality. Two decades later, traces of that movement are hard to find. But something surprising has happened in the meantime. A new version of alter-globalization has won — from the right.

We often hear that world politics is divided between open versus closed societies, between globalists and nationalists. But these analyses obscure the real challenge to the status quo.

More here.

Testing paternity: Colm Tóibín on the fathers that shaped Wilde, Joyce and Yeats

Fintan O’Toole in New Statesman:

All women become like their mothers,” says Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest. “That is their tragedy. No man does, and that is his.” Left hanging there, of course, is the implication that the son’s tragedy is that he becomes like his father instead. In Oscar Wilde’s own case, that might not have been such a terrible thing, at least for his creative productivity. Colm Tóibín’s sparkling little book on Sir William Wilde, WB Yeats’s father John and James Joyce’s father John Stanislaus, seems originally to have been called “Prodigal Fathers” – the phantom title appears on the inside flap of the cover. It may have been dropped because of Sir William, for whom the word – with its implications of wasted talent – is a poor fit. But it certainly works for John Butler Yeats and John Stanislaus Joyce. And yet the joy of Tóibín’s erudite, subtle, witty and often deeply moving biographical essays is that one generation’s paternal prodigality can become the next generation’s powerhouse of neurotic energy.

The Oedipal force is at least as strong in Irish male writing as it is in Star Wars. It is not, of course, uniquely so. Oedipus, so far as we know, did not come from Dublin and nor did Turgenev, Edmund Gosse or Edward St Aubyn. But if parricide is an imported taste, it is, like tea-drinking, one that appealed greatly to the native palate. In the quintessential Irish play, John Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, Christy Mahon kills his father twice and, at least the first time, is idolised for his boldness. Bernard Shaw had such contempt for his father that he dropped his own given name George because it was a paternal inheritance. “I don’t want to be a father,” says the Dauphin in Saint Joan, “And I don’t want to be a son.” Shaw spent the insurance money from poor George Shaw’s death on a new Jaeger suit and a packet of condoms. George Moore, in Confessions of a Young Man, expresses a similar sense of liberation on his father’s death. Indeed, one of the many things that makes Samuel Beckett stand out from his peers among the Irish modernist immortals, is that he loved his father and might, at least at times and at least in his imagination, happily have killed his mother.

More here.

Can technology soothe our nerves?

Jonathan Beckman in 1843 Magazine:

This year’s broiling summer made us Brits climate-change enthusiasts and environmental doom-mongers in quick succession. First came delight at the disappearance of the traditional rhythms of the English summer. Barbecues no longer sputtered out with the advent of a tensely awaited shower. Sogginess, the traditional texture of the British family trying to enjoy itself outdoors, dried out. Tedium followed, as the parks, which at the start of the season had seemed so welcoming, began to resemble a desolate dustbowl from “The Grapes of Wrath”. And then came despair. It wasn’t the days that were so bad. Most offices have serviceable air-conditioning. But the nights were stagnant, breezeless hellscapes as British homes, whose cavity walls had been obediently filled with mineral fibre and formaldehyde foam to retain every last whisper of heat during the winter, turned into bakeries. Sleep evaporated along with everything else and the simplest tasks became cryptic. I stood in front of my front door flummoxed when faced with two locks that need opening with different keys. Anxiety levels rose and tempers frayed.

In short, it was the perfect time to try out kit designed to reduce stress. Pip is a stress-management device that responds to the electric conductivity of the skin. Egg-shaped, with two gold-plated sensors, it looks like the kind of magic totem that would see a posse of hobbits turn up on your doorstep with a thieving glint in their eyes. Part of Pip’s usefulness is measuring stress as you pinch the device for a couple of minutes between the thumb and forefinger. In a brief span of time, I managed to experience 40 “relaxing events” and 24 “stress events”, which makes my life sound far more enjoyable and eventful than it actually is. There were also 21 “steady events”. I’m not really sure what these can have been beyond a flurry of micro-naps so brief they entirely passed me by.

More here.

Sunday Poem

Judicial Temperament

Thurgood whispers in Sonia’s ears

             You know they said the same things about me?
Master two languages, graduate at the top
They still sneer and drawl
about how ‘qualified’ you are.”

Si, asi siempre es. she sighs.

The only quality the senators want is a mirror on the bench.

I await the sounds of Sotomayor
Rolling her Rs through oral arguments
Putting the Latin tenses in all the right places
Ruffling the feathers of the old birds
who learned their pronunciation second hand.

Inter rusticos
In forma pauperis
In flagrante delicto.

by Dan Vera
from Split This Rock


Thurgood Marshall: first black US Supreme Court justice
Sonia Sotomayer: first Hispanic US Supreme Court Justice

Why the novel matters in the age of anger

Elif Shafak in the New Statesman:

I was an only child raised by a divorced, working, well-educated, secularist, Westernised mother and an uneducated, spiritual, Eastern grandmother. Born in France, I moved to Turkey with my mother when my parents’ marriage came to an end. Although I was small when I left Strasbourg, I often think about our little flat and remember it as a place full of French, Italian, Turkish, Algerian, Lebanese leftist students who passionately discussed the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, read poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky and collectively dreamt about the Revolution. From there I was zoomed to my Grandma’s neighbourhood in Ankara – a very patriarchal and very conservative-Muslim environment. Back then, in the late 1970s, there was increasing political violence and turmoil in Turkey. Every day a bomb exploded somewhere, people got killed on the streets, there were shootings on university campuses. But inside Grandma’s house what prevailed were superstitions, evil eye beads, coffee cup readings and the oral culture of the Middle East. In all my novels there has been a continuous interest in both: the world of stories, magic and mysticism inside the house, and the world of politics, conflict, inequality and discrimination outside the window.

More here.

Mohammed Hanif’s exuberant third novel also bites with satire

Malcolm Forbes in The National:

Mohammed Hanif’s critically acclaimed, Booker Prize-longlisted debut novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes managed to be both a riotous thriller and a merciless political satire. Running like a red thread through its cat’s-cradle makeup of plot arcs and narrative tangents, key exploits and attendant conspiracy theories, was one main strand concerning the mysterious plane crash that killed Pakistan’s military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq.

Ten years after that brilliantly exuberant first novel – and seven years on from Hanif’s admirable but messy second, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti – comes a third, Red Birds, which again takes shape from a crashed plane.

General Zia did not walk from the wreckage of his Hercules C130, but at the start of Hanif’s new book, Major Ellie emerges unscathed from what remains of his F15 Strike Eagle. What’s more, the American pilot finds sanctuary and acquires a whole new perspective in the place he was ordered to blow up, and among the people he was instructed to kill.

More here.

A neuroscientist explains the limits and possibilities of using technology to read our thoughts

Angela Chen in The Verge:

In 2007, The New York Times published an op-ed titled “This is Your Brain on Politics.” The authors imaged the brains of swing voters and, using that information, interpreted what the voters were feeling about presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

“As I read this piece,” writes Russell Poldrack, “my blood began to boil.” Poldrack is a neuroscientist at Stanford University and the author of The New Mind Readers: What Neuroimaging Can and Cannot Reveal about Our Thoughts (out now from Princeton University Press). His research focuses on what we can learn from brain imagining techniques such as fMRI, which measures blood activity in the brain as a proxy for brain activity. And one of the clearest conclusions, he writes, is that activity in a particular brain region doesn’t actually tell us what the person is experiencing.

The Verge spoke to Poldrack about the limits and possibilities of fMRI, the fallacies that people commit in interpreting its results, and the limits of its widespread use. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

More here.