beverly hills, baby


Anthony Hernandez is known for his lush images of urban landscapes such as the L.A. River. He began photographing in black-and-white in the early ’70s, mostly people downtown, and when he experimented with color in Beverly Hills in the ’80s, things did not go so well at first. “Finally, at the beginning of ’84,” he says, “I made my first picture that worked. I’d go to Rodeo Drive at least four or five days a week in the middle of the day and spend a few hours. I was working in a very particular way, photographing as I passed people on the street — very quickly, very intuitively making a picture just at that moment. I used what is called zone focus. Basically, you don’t have time to focus your camera so you pre-set focus to 6 or 8 feet, framing people the way you want to frame them, and quickly bringing the camera to your eye. Not until you get your film back do you know if the subjects were in the zone of focus. It’s like a dance, in the sense of passing through this very animated landscape of people and cars and buildings. Everything is very fluid, the way I’m moving and making the picture.

more from the LA Weekly here.

Johnny Cash: Very like St Paul

Ian Sansom in the London Review of Books:

In his thorough and entertaining authorised biography of Cash, Steve Turner establishes a suitably saintly tone on the first page. ‘It was doubtful,’ he writes of his subject, ‘whether he had a bodily organ that hadn’t been operated on, an area of skin that hadn’t been gashed, or a significant bone that hadn’t been cracked.’ This sounds like an entry from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and Turner – the author also of Amazing Grace: The Story of America’s Most Beloved Song and a biography of Cliff Richard – can’t be unaware of the implied contrast with the Paschal lamb of Exodus 12.46 and the fulfilment of the Scripture in the Gospel of John, chapter 19 (‘Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs . . . For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken’). As with the saints of old, Cash’s afflictions and repulses – his brokenness of body and of spirit – are seen as spiritual tests and trials, and he is venerated for his sufferings. ‘As Cash’s eyes and legs grew weaker, his faith appeared to grow stronger,’ Turner writes of Cash’s last illness. ‘In his final years, as Cash was gradually stripped of everything – his sight, his mobility, his strength, his looks and, at the end, his wife – he became more confident than ever in the object of his faith.’ Tried and tested, Cash comes forth as gold.

More here.

Click, download, publish

The Internet is allowing unsigned authors to publish books affordably, while keeping old titles alive, writes Victor Keegan.

From The Guardian:

BooksEveryone thought Amazon would kill off the second hand book trade. As it happens, bookshops around the world have found a new lease of life through the admirable, which links them together enabling readers to find a forgotten book gathering dust in a shop half way round the earth.

Now the internet is in the throes of giving another huge boost to books through a combination of self-publishing web sites, which are sprouting up all over the place, and the explosive potential of print-on-demand (POD).

Self-publishing enables anyone to upload a book in digital form to a website, which then formats it complete with a cover. It costs anything from £4.50 (single proof of one book) to more than £500 for full personalised involvement of the publishing house at all stages, from starting up to getting a link to Amazon.

More here.

Transforming German Orthography

In Deutsche Welle, another attempt at reforming German orthography:

The original spelling reform of 1996, which was meant to harmonize the spelling rules across the German-speaking countries, turned out to be a major embarrassment if not outright failure.

After six years of teaching the new spelling rules, two German states which make up over one-third of Germany’s population — Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia — decided to throw out both the baby and the bath water and not make the new spelling compulsory.

One of Germany’s major newspapers, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and several other press groups turned their back on the 1996 rules, preferring the traditional spelling rules. German Nobel prize winner Günter Grass stood up against the reforms, and the country found a new national pastime: trashing the writing reform. Organizations such as the German Language Research Group or the Teachers Against the Spelling Reform launched their impassioned campaigns with the result that in 2004, 77 percent of Germans still considered the spelling reform not sensible.

It is truly mind-boggling to an outsider that in a country with an unemployment rate of over five million, spelling rules should stir up so much passion. It is even more mind-boggling that spelling seems like a more controversial topic than equal access to education, integration policies and German education underachievement in the EU context. Yet it is beyond any doubt that failed reforms, partial reforms and reforms of the reforms can only undermine public trust in their cultural and political institutions.

An Anti-Islamist Manifesto

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Chahla Chafiq, Caroline Fourest, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Irshad Manji, Mehdi Mozaffari, Maryam Namazie, Taslima Nasreen, Salman Rushdie, Antoine Sfeir, Philippe Val and Ibn Warraq give us a manifesto against Islamism, in Jyllands-Posten. (Via Amitava Kumar.)

Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations. The hate preachers bet on these feelings in order to form battalions destined to impose a liberticidal and unegalitarian world. But we clearly and firmly state: nothing, not even despair, justifies the choice of obscurantism, totalitarianism and hatred. Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man’s domination of woman, the Islamists’ domination of all the others. To counter this, we must assure universal rights to oppressed or discriminated people.

We reject « cultural relativism », which consists in accepting that men and women of Muslim culture should be deprived of the right to equality, freedom and secular values in the name of respect for cultures and traditions. We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of “Islamophobia”, an unfortunate concept which confuses criticism of Islam as a religion with stigmatisation of its believers.

More on Economic Inequality and Voting Patterns

Yesterday, I posted on a working paper by James Galbraith and Travis Hale on income inequality and voting patterns. Andrew Gelman suggests that Galbraith and Hale have fallen prey to the ecological fallacy, in which one infers atributes about individuals from information about statistical aggregates about the group to which s/he belongs. (Thanks Abbas.)

But then they write:

We [Galbraith and Hale] can, however, infer that the Democratic Party has engaged in campaigns that have resonated with both the elite rich and the comparatively poor.

Well, no, you can’t infer that from aggregate results! To state it in two steps:

1. Just because state-level inequality is correlated with statewide vote for the Democrats, this does not imply that individual rich and poor voters are supporting the Democrats more than the Republicans. To make this claim is to make the ecological fallacy.

2. The Democrats do much better than the Republicans among poor voters, and much worse among the rich voters. (There’s lots of poll data on this; for example, see here.) So, not only are Galbraith and Hale making a logically false inference, they are also reaching a false conclusion.

Galbraith and Hale have revised their paper (see p. 12 and footnotes 19 and 20) in light of Gelman’s critique.

Why we have sex: It’s cleansing


Scientists have long wondered why organisms bother with sexual reproduction. It makes a whole lot more sense to just have a bunch of females that can clone themselves, which is how asexual reproduction works. Turns out sex might have evolved as a way to concentrate lots of harmful mutations into individual organisms so they could be easily weeded out by natural selection, a new computer model suggests.

It provides a way for organisms to swap and shuffle genes and to create offspring with new gene combinations that might survive if the environment suddenly changes.

More here.

Studies Show Chimps to Be Collaborative and Altruistic

From Scientific American:Chimp_1

In the wild, chimpanzees have been known to hunt together, particularly when conditions dictate that a solo hunter will not be successful. Yet this does not prove that our nearest living relatives understand cooperation the same way that we do: such group hunts may simply be the product of independent and simultaneous actions by many individuals with little comprehension of the need for coordinated action to ensure success. A new study, however, shows for the first time that chimpanzees understand when cooperation is needed and how to go about securing it effectively. And another study shows they might even be willing to cooperate without hope of reward.

More here.

Practitioners of the ‘dismal science’ should stop sneering at their academic cousins in the social sciences—and start learning from them

Moisés Naím in Foreign Policy:

In 1849, the Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle labeled economics the “dismal science.” Two centuries later, contemporary practitioners still study dismal choices: Higher prices or fewer jobs? Spend or save? They have also become a smug lot.

Economists take pride in the sophisticated statistical techniques on which they rely to analyze phenomena such as growth, inflation, unemployment, trade, and even the long-term effects of abortion on crime rates. Many are convinced that their methods are more rigorous than those of all other social sciences and dismiss research that does not rest on quantitative methods as little more than “storytelling” or, worse, “glorified journalism.” Anthropologists, some economists jest, believe that the plural of anecdote is “data.”

A survey published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives found that 77 percent of the doctoral candidates in the leading departments in the United States believe that “economics is the most scientific of the social sciences.” It turns out, however, that this certitude does not stem from how well they regard their own discipline but rather from their contempt for the other social sciences. Although they were nearly unanimous about the relative superiority of their profession, only 9 percent of the respondents were convinced that economists agree on fundamental issues.

More here.  [Thanks to Pablo Policzer.]

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Bush, India, and the Future of the Non-Proliferation Treaty

In, Fred Kaplan on Bush’s nuclear deal with India.

It began last July, when Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a joint statement pledging to “transform” their two countries’ relations—for many decades hostile, even now ambivalent—into a “global partnership.” This was a shrewd geopolitical maneuver. A grand alliance with India—the world’s largest democracy, one of the fastest-growing economies, a natural partner in the war on terrorism, a vast market already oriented toward American goods and services, a counterweight against the prospect of an emergent China—would serve U.S. interests in every way and help regain our standing on a continent where our influence has waned.

But there was a catch, or at least a knot that would have to be untangled. What India wanted out of this deal, above all else, was access to materials for nuclear energy. India faces staggering energy demands over the coming decade, yet it lacks the resources to meet them. The Nonproliferation Treaty obliges the existing nuclear-armed powers—including the United States—to supply such resources to the treaty’s signatories, under specific terms of inspection, as a reward for forgoing nuclear weaponry. However, India already has an arsenal of A-bombs, and it never signed the NPT.

Bush and Singh dealt with this dilemma last summer by simply ignoring it. India, their joint statement declared, would be treated “as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology” and should therefore be allowed to “acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such states.”

Reflections on Innumeracy

Abbas and I often complain of the all too common problem of innumeracy in our society. Jennifer Ouellette over at Cocktail Party Physics reflects on innumeracy, the TV show Numb3rs and the pedagogy of math.

For a science writer who specializes in physics topics, I’m still surprisingly phobic about math. Chalk it up to my English major roots, but the sight of even a simple algebraic equation still elicits an involuntary shudder of trepidation. This isn’t necessarily due to a lack of aptitude. I might not be gifted in the subject, or have that mysteriously intuitive grasp of abstract numerical concepts that distinguish most talented mathematicians and physicists from the rest of the population, but I always did very well in my high school algebra classes. So why did I fear it so much?

Human beings tend to fear the unfamiliar and unknown. We might have been formally — nay, forcibly — introduced as part of the required US educational curriculum, but math and I, we were never close. Our relationship was doomed from the start. For one thing, we never learned how to communicate. Our conversations were strictly monologues, with no room for give and take. I might have gotten “As” in my algebra classes, but I was merely doing what I was told: memorizing the “rules”, plugging in the parameters, and dutifully crunching out answers by rote, with no real grasp of the significance of what I was doing, or its usefulness in solving real-world problems. The lack of a contextual framework meant that no genuine dialogue could take place, and without that dialogue, there could be no real understanding.

What Do Bolivia and the Ukraine Tell Us about Revolutions?

In Eurozine, Tatiana Zhurzhenko compares the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia and the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine.

The people had come from all over Bolivia to the capital La Paz. Playing music and dancing in the streets, their smiling faces full of hope and enthusiasm, they were celebrating the victory of the leftwing Aymara Indian presidential candidate, Evo Morales. Bolivia’s first ever indigenous and working class president has promised a new start for a country drowning in poverty and corruption: “We have won and a new page in Bolivia’s history has been turned”, he told the jubilant masses.

As a Ukrainian, I had a feeling of déjà vu watching these television images from Bolivia. Just over a year ago the same joy and enthusiasm was witnessed on the streets of Kiev. People had risen up against fraudulent elections and a corrupt political elite. They took to the streets to insist on their choice, stayed there in the cold for days and nights on end – and won. Like the Bolivians, they also believed that they had finally elected a “people’s president”, one who was truly Ukrainian.

I will not touch upon the painful question of what remains of these hopes today. Rather, my considerations emerge from another kind of discomfort, one that has to do with the power of the dominant discourse and the authority of the political expertise that puts labels such as “authoritarian regime”, “democratic opposition”, and “peaceful revolution” on contemporary politics in order to sell it to the public. Compare events in Ukraine and Bolivia and you will understand what I mean.

On Post-Post-Communist Moscow

In Sign and Sight (a translation of) a piece on the poet Olga Martynova’s first visit to Moscow in 15 years (originally in Neue Zürcher Zeitung).

As a Petersburger, I am often asked about the antagonism between Moscow and Leningrad/Petersburg. “Oh no,” I answer, “even in Moscow, a good poet is born once every fifty years.” That’s small talk. But in the 1960s, Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Andrey Voznesensky were made models of Soviet cultural politics while the future Nobel Prize Winner Joseph Brodsky was condemned as a freeloader in Leningrad. In St. Petersburg, some poets still live from the legendary underground jobs: night guards, guards, firemen. In Moscow, people help each other willingly (and expect a return favour). In the 19th century, there was talk of St. Petersburg practicality and Moscow idealism. Since 1918, it’s exactly the opposite. A capital city offers more possibilities to be commercial. But without Soviet power, the Moscow proficiency is much more pleasant.

There’s a Moscow gesture, inviting, somewhat indifferent which (unlike St. Petersburg’s cool selectivity) leads to the creation of a warm, easy-going community. We accept this gesture and join a group of roughly 20, after the opening event. The initiator of the noctural march is the 28 year old author Danila Davydov. We walk to the monument for Venedikt Erofeev, which doesn’t represent him, the legendary author of the Moscow boozing saga “Moskva – Petushki” (“Moscow to the end of the Line”), but rather his hero Venichka and his beloved. Whenever Venichka wants to go to Red Square, he finds himself back at Kursk Train Station and takes the train to Petushki, where his beloved lives.

Economic Inequality and Voting Patterns

A while ago, I posted on Andrew Gelman and his colleagues’ findings challenging the apparent red-state blue paradox, which claims that higher-income states vote Democrat and lower-income states vote Republican. They showed that, while that is true, higher-income individuals vote Republican and lower-income individuals vote Democrat. In this working paper, James Galbraith and Travis Hale suggest that something other than wealth may be at play, state level inequality.

In this paper we use a previously neglected, high-quality data source to generate consistent annual measures of income inequality by state, for the fifty United States and the District of Columbia from 1969 to 2004. We use the estimates in a model of presidential election turnout and outcomes at the state level from 1992 to 2004. In recent elections, we find that high state inequality is negatively correlated with turnout and a positively correlated with the Democratic vote share, after controlling for race and other factors…

A one standard deviation increase in the state inequality variable is associated with a 2% decrease in voter participation…A 2% increase in inequality is associated with a 1.5% increase in the Democratic percentage of the two-party vote over the 1992–2004 period. The significance of the inequality variable does not necessarily mean that individuals think about income inequality when they cast a vote for Democratic Presidential candidates. Platforms, personalities, policies, Election Day weather, the presence of enough voting machines and many other factors certainly contribute to the outcome of a presidential contest in a given state. We can, however, infer that the Democratic Party has engaged in campaigns that have resonated with both the elite rich and the comparatively poor. Meanwhile, it is the Republicans who are winning the hearts and minds of Middle America – both geographically and economically.

An Interview with Adam Przeworski

An interview with Adam Przeworski, one of the smarter scholars on democracy, authoritarianism, electoral socialism, and inequality:

Q: How did you first get interested in studying politics? What impact did growing up in Poland have on your view of politics?

A: Given that I was born in May of 1940, nine months after the Germans had invaded and occupied Poland, any political event, even a minor one, was immediately interpreted in terms of its consequences for one’s private life. All the news was about the war. I remember my familylistening to clandestine radio broadcasts from the BBC when I was three or four years old. After the war, there was a period of uncertainty, and then the Soviet Union basically took over. Again, any rumbling in the Soviet Union, any conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States, was immediately seen in terms of its consequences for our life. It was like this for me until I first left for the US in 1961, right after the Berlin Wall went up. One’s everyday life was permeated with international, macro-political events. Everything was political.

But I never thought of studying politics. For one thing, in Europe at that time there really was no political science. What we had was a German and Central European tradition that was called, translating from German, “theory of the state and law.” This included Carl Schmitt and Hans Kelsen, the kind of stuff that was taught normally at law schools. That was as much political science as there was. It was not a distinct academic discipline in Poland. So I never thought of studying politics per se.

Journey in self-reliance

From The Hindu:

Poor WE ARE POOR BUT SO MANY — The Story of Self-Employed Women in India: Ela R. Bhatt; Oxford University Press: This is a poignant but a powerful first-person account of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). Ela R. Bhatt or Elabehn, as she is popularly addressed, the founder of SEWA, traces the trajectory of the growth of the organisation since its inception in April 1972. SEWA’s engagement is with the poorest of the poor. This, in turn, means that it is dealing with women who necessarily are engaged in multiple types of work since income from any one type of work is usually not enough to make ends meet; it also means that their work hours are not defined.

“When someone asks me what the most difficult part of SEWA’s journey has been, I can answer without hesitation: removing conceptual blocks…Definitions are part of the battle. The Registrar of Trade Unions would not consider us `workers’; hence we could not register as a `trade union’. The hard working chindi workers, embroiderers, cart pullers, rag pickers, midwives, and forest-produce gatherers can contribute to the nation’s gross domestic product, but heaven forbid that they be acknowledged as workers! Without an employer you cannot be classified as a worker, and since you are not a worker, you cannot form a trade union. Our struggle to be recognized as a national trade union continues.”

More here.

Typhoid May Have Caused Fall of Athens

From The National Geographic:Athens

An ancient medical mystery—the cause of a plague that wracked Athens from 426 to 430 B.C. and eventually led to the city’s fall—has been solved by DNA analysis, researchers say. The ancient Athenians died from typhoid fever, according to a new study. Scientists from the University of Athens drew this conclusion after studying dental pulp extracted from the teeth of three people found in a mass grave in Athens’ Kerameikos cemetery.

Researchers believe the plague may have been the result of a military strategy devised by the Athenians’ leader, Pericles. To counter an offensive by the Spartans, Pericles evacuated parts of the Athenian territory and sheltered its citizens behind Athens’ fortifications. Gathering tens of thousands of people in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions created the perfect atmosphere in which infectious disease could spread, researchers say.

More here.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

duran . . . duran


What makes me remember Roberto Duran? They called him “Manos de Piedra” (hands of stone) because legend has it that at fifteen he knocked a mule out with his fist. Why is another question. That legend was surpassed by another during his last fight with Sugar Ray Leonard, when he turned away from the fight saying, “¡No más!” and got labelled as a quitter. But anyone who ever saw Duran fight knows otherwise. What didn’t get wide attention was that he had stomach problems that caused him such distress that he had to quit. I loved Roberto Duran and I hated Roberto Duran. I was always torn in those fights he had with Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns, just like I was torn between Hearns and Sugar Ray. Duran had a face like an axe, a sharp axe. Around this face he grew a bristly, black beard and moustache that made him seem even more dangerous.

more from Brik here.

jutta koether


FEW PEOPLE IN COLOGNE in the ’80s and early ’90s knew quite what to make of Jutta Koether’s paintings. Koether was admired for her astute theoretical essays on art and music, which appeared in the legendary German culture magazine Spex and elsewhere, but these writings seemed nearly irreconcilable with her deliberately clumsy, apparently crude pictures. How was one to understand a work like, say, Portrait Robert Johnson? Painted entirely in Koether’s then-signature blackish red pigments, this 1990 diptych—for the record, one of my favorite paintings—features on one panel a flatly rendered face, its large eyes rimmed by exaggerated lashes, emerging from a field of amorphous forms and undulating lines. For some viewers the color and ostentatious use of smeared paint invoked a kind of “female essence,” leading them to assert that Koether made “women’s art”—a reading that was as reductive as it was sexist, of course, but perhaps the ultimate opprobrium in the male-dominated milieu of Cologne’s art world. (Other canvases—such as Nasse Grenze [Wet Border], 1991, in which a bikini-clad female figure almost disappears in a garish thicket of brushstrokes—only seemed to bolster their case.)

more from Artforum here.