Reasonable Panic

James Surowiecki in The New Yorker:

070312_r16015_p233After last Tuesday’s stock-market rout, which sent the Dow Jones average down more than four hundred points and erased more than half a trillion dollars of market value, Wall Street analysts and reporters quickly found a culprit: China. The Shanghai stock market had plummeted almost nine per cent before the U.S. market opened, supposedly raising concerns about the health of the Chinese economy and spooking U.S. investors. Other explanations were floated as well. Alan Greenspan had given a speech the day before warning of the possibility of recession. The government reported a sharp decline in durable-goods orders, suggesting that U.S. manufacturing was slowing down, and there were discouraging numbers from the housing market. All in all, it was a day with its fair share of bad news. At first glance, however, it didn’t seem like bad news that was worth half a trillion dollars. So was the whole thing just a temporary fit of hypochondria? Did investors sniffle a few times and then all decide they were coming down with avian flu?

More here.

The Lebensborn Children

Steve Rosenberg at the BBC:

Screenhunter_13_mar_11_1614In his tiny flat on the edge of Oslo, Paul Hansen shows me his family album. It doesn’t take long. He only has three photos.

One picture shows Paul as a toddler, the other two – the mother who abandoned him – and the father he never knew.

Paul was the product of a brief encounter between a Norwegian woman and a German soldier: a family history which was to make his life a living hell.

“At the end of World War II, I was locked away in a mental home,” Paul tells me.

“Later I found out it was because I was the son of a German soldier. They called me a ‘Nazi brat’. But it wasn’t my fault I was born this way. Hitler, the war, none of it is my fault. I was just a child.”

It was Adolf Hitler’s henchman, Heinrich Himmler, who had encouraged liaisons between German troops and Norwegian women: part of his plan to breed an Aryan master race of blonde-haired, blue-eyed babies for the 1,000-year Reich.

They were known as the Lebensborn (Fountain of Life) children and – after the war – they became targets for revenge.

More here.  [Thanks to Ruchira Paul.]

When oil and paint mix…

Having already pumped oil riches into golf courses and hotels, Abu Dhabi is now building space-age monuments to culture while Dubai is eyeing the Western art market. Our critic flew to the first Dubai international art fair and found Arab gold and Western irony intriguingly at odds.

Peter Conrad in The Observer:

Dancingtowers5bzA while ago, lolling on a beach beside the Persian Gulf, the Mayfair gallery-owner John Martin experienced a revelation. ‘What Dubai needs,’ he declared to his fellow sunbathers, ‘is an international art fair.’ I’d say there were other things Dubai needed first: roads perhaps, or traffic regulations for its marauding jeeps. Even a bookshop might be a good idea. But this week Dubai – best known for its golf courses, its opulent hotels and its lack of taxes – acquired an art fair, which, a little presumptuously, is intended to establish this sand-blown outpost as ‘the most important centre in Asia, likely to rival London and New York within a decade’.

Dubai’s neighbour, Abu Dhabi, has more oil, which it is shrewdly trading for culture. An island off the coast is to house a tumbling pile of boxes that will be Frank Gehry’s latest Guggenheim, a pinioned performance centre by Zaha Hadid, a mollusc-shaped Maritime Museum by Tadao Ando, and a hovering disc by Jean Nouvel filled with loans from the Louvre. President Chirac charged Abu Dhabi $1 billion for access to the Louvre brand; the United Arab Emirates further ingratiated by spending $10bn on French armaments. French critics complain that the nation’s heritage is being bartered for petrodollars. What antiquated idealism! We used to think that art enshrined values that were universal. Now all we ask is that it should be global, as instantly convertible as all other currencies.

More here.  [Illustration shows Zaha Hadid’s design for “Dancing Towers” in Dubai.]


A polyglot public letter writer in Ho Chi Minh City bridges different worlds — connecting people across the planet with his fountain pen. His profession may be dying, but in his 60 years on the job, he has created many marriages.

Fiona Ehlers in Spiegel:

NgoDuong Van Ngo, a wiry 77-year-old man, parks his bicycle in the shadow of the sycamore trees, whose trunks are painted white as if they were wearing gaiters. He greets the post card vendors and shuffles through the archway with the station clock. It’s eight o’clock on a muggy February morning, the start of his workday.

Ngo sits down at the end of a long wooden table underneath a mural of Ho Chi Minh. He produces two dictionaries and a directory of French postal codes from his briefcase. Then he slips a red armband over his left sleeve to make sure he’s recognized immediately. He sets up his sign: “Information and Writing Assistance.”

The first person to come to his stand is a man from the Mekong Delta. He’s got a letter with him, addressed to a businessman from Europe. He’s his chauffeur, and he’s been driving him to business meals and meetings for a year. He asks in writing if the man can get him health insurance and asks for a $200 advance. Ngo translates the letter into English. “Dear Sir,” he writes with his fountain pen, “might I politely request, sincerely yours.” Or would it better to say “affectionately”? No, that’s too intimate. The man hands him a bill. Ngo slips it between the pages of his dictionary without ever looking at it.

Ngo is a mediator between worlds — a professional letter writer of the sort that used to exist in the old days. He chooses each word carefully, formulates cautiously, polishes the style of the letter. He knows how important words are and what harm they can do. Ngo doesn’t just translate. He bridges the distance between people, advises and comforts them, discreetly and with perfect attention to form.

More here.

The long way round

V. S. Naipaul in The Guardian:

NaipaulvsI was born in 1932 on the other side of the Atlantic in the British colony of Trinidad, an outcrop of Venezuela and South America. It was a small island, essentially agricultural when I was born (like Venezuela, it had oil, which was beginning to be developed). It had a racially mixed population of perhaps half a million, with my own immigrant Asian Indian community (finely divided by religion, education, money, caste background) of about 150,000.

I had no great love for the place, no love for its colonial smallness. I saw myself as a castaway from the world’s old civilisations, and I wished to be part of that bigger world as soon as possible. An academic scholarship in 1950, when I was 18, enabled me to leave. I went to England to do a university course with the ambition afterwards of being a writer. I never in any real sense went back.

So my world as a writer was full of flight and unfinished experience, full of the odds and ends of cultures and migrations, from India to the New World in 1880-1900, from the New World to Europe in 1950, things that didn’t make a whole. There was nothing like the stability of the rooted societies that had produced the great fictions of the 19th century, in which, for example, even a paragraph of a fairytale or parable by Tolstoy could suggest a whole real world. And soon I saw myself at the end of the scattered island material I carried with me.

More here.

New York City (also Gotham, Sodom, Gomorrah, The Big Apple, Satan’s Condom)

In New York magazine, Sam Anderson offers his own entry for Conservapedia (the conservative response to the liberal and anti-Christian wikipedia). The entry is on New York City.

New York City (also Gotham, Sodom, Gomorrah, The Big Apple, Satan’s Condom) is the headquarters of the elitist East Coast liberal empire [1] and the world’s largest sustained experiment in secular humanism.

The city’s population is often reported by the mainstream media to be as high as 8 million — but a rigorous count of actual Americans, using the methods of Adjusted Freedom Demography pioneered by Smorgensen in the Patriot Census of 2005 (i.e., excluding immigrants, Jews, ivory-tower communists, and nonrepresentational artists, and counting only three-fifths of descendants of African slaves, as originally intended by the Framers), reveals that New York City’s population of legitimate Americans is actually only 312. (Smorgensen found Cheyenne, Wyo., to be the most populous city in America, with almost ten times as many pure Americans as New York.)

Speech Crimes

Patricia T. O’Conner in the New York Times Book Review:

Ocon190Get a few language types together, and before long someone will bring up the great divide between the preservers and the observers of English, the “prescriptivists” and the “descriptivists” — those who’d rap your knuckles for using “snuck” versus those who might cite Anglo-Saxon cognates in its defense.

The truth is that the divide isn’t nearly as great as it’s made out to be. Most grammarians, lexicographers, usage experts and linguists are somewhere in between: English is always changing, but that doesn’t mean anything goes.

Ben Yagoda, the author of “When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It,” is with the right-thinking folks in the middle. His book, an ode to the parts of speech, isn’t about the rights or wrongs of English. It’s about the wonder of it all: the beauty, the joy, the fun of a language enriched by poets like Lily Tomlin, Fats Waller and Dizzy Dean (to whom we owe “slud,” as in “Rizzuto slud into second”).

More here.

American Schemers

From The Washington Post:Jamestown

All memory is selective, for nations as for individuals. The year 1620 is etched into Plymouth Rock and the minds of most Americans as the birth date of this country. We hallow austere Pilgrims with a day of national gluttony. The Mayflower is iconic — the name of a moving company, a luxury Washington hotel and a recent best-seller.

But can you name the three ships that landed English colonists 13 years before the Pilgrims? Identify one person aboard, other than John Smith? Explain why they came and what happened to them? Jamestown’s 400th birthday arrives this year with a fleet of books to stir Americans from their historical amnesia. This awakening should be a snap. The saga of early Virginia has knights, knaves, shipwrecks, naked Indian dancers (cooing to sex-starved Englishmen, “Love you not me?”), and plenty of smoking and drinking. It’s pulp fiction compared to the family-friendly tale of pious Pilgrims dining with gentle Indians.

More here.

Breadth Versus Depth

From Science:Peterfiske2006_160_jpg

When my father was very young, he got a choice piece of career advice from his father: Pick something to do, and be the best in the world at it. My grandfather was a caterer who specialized in elaborate ice cream statues that were the highlight of the finest catered events in Baltimore, Maryland, from the late 1920s through the 1960s. Taking his advice, my father went on to become a leading volcanologist with a specialization in the eruptions and deposits of undersea volcanoes. My grandfather’s advice served my dad very well in his scientific career.

Our scientific community values and esteems expertise. Being the “world’s expert” on something holds a unique cachet, even if that something is extremely narrow. In graduate school, we are encouraged to plunge deep into a subject, to become the world’s expert, and, using that expertise, to advance the progress of science. A colleague once joked that obsessive-compulsive disorder is the hallmark of a good academic.

The drive to make young scientists “specialists” is motivated by an earnest and genuine concern for their success.

More here.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Jeffrey Rosen in the New York Times Magazine:

11neuro600…the influence of what some call neurolaw is clearly growing. Neuroscientific evidence has persuaded jurors to sentence defendants to life imprisonment rather than to death; courts have also admitted brain-imaging evidence during criminal trials to support claims that defendants like John W. Hinckley Jr., who tried to assassinate President Reagan, are insane. Carter Snead, a law professor at Notre Dame, drafted a staff working paper on the impact of neuroscientific evidence in criminal law for President Bush’s Council on Bioethics. The report concludes that neuroimaging evidence is of mixed reliability but “the large number of cases in which such evidence is presented is striking.” That number will no doubt increase substantially. Proponents of neurolaw say that neuroscientific evidence will have a large impact not only on questions of guilt and punishment but also on the detection of lies and hidden bias, and on the prediction of future criminal behavior. At the same time, skeptics fear that the use of brain-scanning technology as a kind of super mind-reading device will threaten our privacy and mental freedom, leading some to call for the legal system to respond with a new concept of “cognitive liberty.”

More here.

The game is not over


THERE IS NO REASON for an artist to write about a philosopher, just as there is no reason for a philosopher to write about an artist. As an artist, I do not need philosophy, because I do not use philosophy to make my work—I need philosophy as a man, as a human being.

When, not too long ago, the young inhabitants of the banlieues of Paris and of other large cities in France set cars on fire in front of their homes at night, they set off alarms, burning signals of distress. The young inhabitants of the banlieues in France relit the fires of equality—the fires of equality that had been extinguished or that had died out on their own, without anyone noticing. These fires are set at home—that means there’s a big problem at home! On the outskirts of Paris, a movement of urgent anger reignited the flame of equality and gave it universal visibility. Liberty, equality, fraternity. Liberty—or death! Equality—or death! Fraternity—or death!

more from artforum here.

curious, rational, sceptical, proud, powerful, and so on


In several senses of the word, DH Lawrence is a difficult writer – difficult to follow at times, difficult to like at others. There must be many who agree with the young Samuel Beckett, who read Lawrence’s novella St Mawr in 1930, and afterwards wrote in a journal: “lovely things as usual and plenty of rubbish”. Lawrence’s religious language can sound merely religiose, and his attempts to describe the indescribable can lapse into ponderous, melodramatic floridity, as people wince through their wombs, swoon into helplessness, and feel flames of nausea in their bellies.

more from The Guardian here.

the home job


The history of American poetry, like the history of America itself, is a story of ingenuity, sacrifice, hard work and sticking it to people when they least expect it. Whether it’s Ezra Pound dismissing his benefactor Amy Lowell as a “hippopoetess” or Yvor Winters accusing his friend Hart Crane of possessing flaws akin to a “public catastrophe,” you can count on the occasional bushwhacking in the land of what Horace called “the touchy tribe.”

The most recent such assault — and the most surprising in years — took the form of a 6,500-word article in The New Yorker last month by the poet Dana Goodyear, who is also a New Yorker editor. Goodyear’s subject was the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation, which received an unexpected (to put it mildly) bequest of roughly $200 million from Ruth Lilly in 2001. The article focuses on the Poetry Foundation’s president, John Barr, but Goodyear also takes on Poetry magazine, its founder Harriet Monroe, the Poetry Foundation Web site, legal proceedings relating to Lilly’s bequest, Ruth Lilly herself, the various objects collected by Ruth Lilly’s father (toy soldiers, gold coins), the price of real estate in Chicago and the stuff rich people wear at parties (a “crisp white shirt” or “coral lipstick,” apparently). It is a very long article.

more from the NY Times Book Review here.

An extraordinary marriage

John Sidgwik at Culturekiosque:

Book review:

The Short Life & Long Times of Mrs.Beeton. Kathryn Hughes, Knopf.

Beeton It was only after World War 2 that there began the large-scale publication of cookery books. A small brook at first, this output has become a relentless river and few are the households today which do not contain a large assortment of recipe books containing instructions for the preparation of dishes from all over the world. Prior to the war, housewives depended almost entirely on the recipes included by Mrs. Isabella Beeton in her celebrated Beeton’s Book of Household Management .

As its title suggests, the book is not confined to the preparation of food. Mrs. Beeton looked upon the housewife as the general administrator of the family enterprise. The husband earned, his wife made sure that his income was put to the best possible use for the good of family, children, servants, friends and the deserving public. Meals formed only a part of this. Isabella turned her attention to almost every aspect of the household, including the need to supervise the building’s drainage systems. 

The future Mrs. Beeton was born Isabella Mayson in 1836 and was brought up first in the north of England and subsequently at Epsom, the home of horse-racing. She enjoyed the education of a conventional Victorian young woman and acquired linguistic skills at home and in Germany. She also became an accomplished pianist, well above the average of the conventional daughter of the house. At the age of twenty, she married a successful publisher, Sam Beeton, some five years her senior. Beeton had made his fortune by securing the rights in England of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The pair prospered and the Book of Household Management which they conjured up together appeared first in serial form. Isabella Beeton died at the age of twenty-eight, a few days after giving birth to her one viable child. All the others died in infancy or were still-born.

More here.

About the BBC TV drama: “The Secret Life of Mrs.Beeton” here.

2007 Women in Science Award

Maggie Wittlin in Seed:

Dresselhaus_new MIT physicist Mildred Dresselhaus, the once-dubbed “Queen of Carbon,” was awarded the 2007 L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science prize for “her research on solid state materials, including conceptualizing the creation of carbon nanotubes.” Dresselhaus is one of five female laureates, each from a different continent, to receive a $100,000 “no strings attached” grant in honor of her scientific achievement.

Dresselhaus said this is the first time she’s received a “women in science” award.

“In the early days, I was active in trying to level the playing field at my own institution,” Dresselhaus said, noting that she has mentored female students and postdocs throughout her career. When she was president of the American Physical Society, she worked to improve opportunities for women in physics nationwide. “Winning this award, this gave me a signal that maybe it’s time to be thinking worldwide.”

Dresselhaus herself grew up in an era when American women faced concrete obstacles along the path to becoming a scientist. When she was at all-female Hunter College as an undergraduate, Dresselhaus said, she was studying to be a schoolteacher; she had been told in high school that, as a woman, her career options were limited to teacher, secretary, or nurse. But her physics professor, Rosalyn Yalow, redirected her path. Yalow was teaching physics because she couldn’t get a better job, Dresselhaus said.

More here and here.

A Jeff Wall retrospective


Jeff Wall (Canadian, b. 1946) is widely recognized as one of the most adventurous and inventive artists of his generation. This retrospective surveys his career from the late 1970s to the present through some forty works. The exhibition features his major lightbox photographs and trace the evolution of his principal themes and pictorial strategies. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, with an essay by Peter Galassi and an interview with Jeff Wall conducted by James Rondeau, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Art Institute of Chicago. To coincide with the exhibition, MoMA is publishing a book of Jeff Wall’s collected writings and interviews.


A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai), 1993. Transparency.

More here.

guarding the genome with a tan

Theresa Herbert & Rob Levy in the Dana Farber Cancer Institute  Newsletter:

“Guardian of the genome” protein found to underlie skin tanning”

May also influence human fondness for sunshine.

A protein known as the “master watchman of the genome” for its ability to guard against cancer-causing DNA damage has been found to provide an entirely different level of cancer protection: By prompting the skin to tan in response to ultraviolet light from the sun, it deters the development of melanoma skin cancer, the fastest-increasing form of cancer in the world.

Skinandp53 In a study in the March 9 issue of the journal Cell, researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute report that the protein, p53, is not only linked to skin tanning, but also may play a role in people’s seemingly universal desire to be in the sun — an activity that, by promoting tanning, can reduce one’s risk of melanoma.

“The number one risk factor for melanoma is an inability to tan; people who tan easily or have dark pigmentation are far less likely to develop the disease,” says the study’s senior author, David E. Fisher, MD, PhD, director of the Melanoma Program at Dana-Farber and a professor in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Boston. “This study suggests that p53, one of the best-known tumor-suppressor proteins in our body, has a powerful role in protecting us against sun damage in the skin.”

In a study published last year, Fisher and his colleagues found that ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun causes skin cells called keratinocytes to make and secrete a hormone called α-MSH, which attaches to nearby skin cells called melanocytes and spurs them to produce skin-darkening pigment called melanin. The chain of events within keratinocytes that leads to α-MSH production, however, was a mystery.

More here.

New Glass Bends Rule, but Doesn’t Break It

From Science:Glass

Glass that bends? It sounds impossible. But in today’s issue of Science, researchers report that they’ve come up with a new type of metallic glass that flexes and bows like a copper wire. The advance could potentially usher in a new family of wonder materials.

Ultrathin metallic glasses have been around for decades. They became a rage about 10 years ago, when researchers discovered a way to grow them as thick slabs. That opened the door to using these extremely hard and strong materials as everything from novel structural supports in buildings to golf club heads. Unfortunately, bulk metallic glasses also have an Achilles heel: They’re as brittle as your average windowpane.

The problem is that the same properties that give metallic glasses their strength also contribute to their propensity to fracture.

More here.

September Song

From The New York Times:Sontag_1

Writing to Hannah Arendt in December 1967, Mary McCarthy reported Susan Sontag’s arrest in an antiwar demonstration, and then abruptly asked: “And what about her? When I last watched her with you at the Lowells, it was clear that she was going to seek to conquer you. Or that she had fallen in love with you — the same thing. Anyway, did she?”

Arendt’s response is not known. But it is not hard to see why the young Sontag chose the German-Jewish philosopher as one of her “models of the serious.” As a precocious reader in Arizona and California, Sontag grew up on the high idea of European literature and thought upheld by The Partisan Review, the primary magazine of New York liberal intellectuals in the 1940s and ’50s. After moving to New York in the early 1960s, Sontag decided that the liberal imagination needed to loosen up a bit. Joining in the emerging counterculture, she called for an “erotics of art” and celebrated the “defiantly pluralistic” new sensibility “dedicated both to an excruciating seriousness and to fun and wit and nostalgia.” She argued for an understanding of the “revolutionary implications of sexuality in contemporary society.”

In later years she would come to refine and even abandon some of these views.

More here.