“Islam versus the West” and the Political Thought of AbdolKarim Soroush

Hassan Abbas in al-Nakhlah (The Fletcher School Online Journal for issues related to Southwest Asia and Islamic Civilization):

Book20event20cspanInteraction between Islam and the West,at various levels and in different forms,is a centuries- old phenomenon.In the post-September 11 context, however,the discourse is increasingly framed in terms of “us versus them,” an “Islam versus the West ” issue.Terrorist attacks in Spain and United Kingdom in the last two years and the recent cartoon controversy have further exacerbated this confrontational discourse.Within the Muslim world today,the conservative elements largely understand interactions with the West as “Muslims versus Christians,” including an element of Jewish conspiracy as well.Most Muslims see America ’s military campaign in Afghanistan in October 2001; its so-called “preemptive attack ” on Iraq in early 2003 and its bloody aftermath;and media disclosures about U.S.police profiling of Muslims as reflective of an American war on Islam rather than as components of a war on terror.Many westerners also view ordinary Muslims as potential terrorists and as adherents of a religion that is orthodox in its approach and violent in its worldview,an excessively sweeping and profoundly incorrect assessment.Tragically,these perceptions have generated a gulf of estrangement between Islam and the West.

This paper represents an effort to understand these trends and shifts in perception and approach of both Muslims and the West (primarily the United States)in the light of how AbdolKarim Soroush,a leading and influential Muslim scholar from Iran,analyzes this matter.

More here.  [Thanks to Samad Khan.]

The Syntax of Whale Song

The syntax of the songs of humpback whales unlocked:

The songs of the humpback whale are among the most complex in the animal kingdom. Researchers have now mathematically confirmed that whales have their own syntax that uses sound units to build phrases that can be combined to form songs that last for hours.

Until now, only humans have demonstrated the ability to use such a hierarchical structure of communication. The research, published online in the March 2006 issue of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, offers a new approach to studying animal communication, although the authors do not claim that humpback whale songs meet the linguistic rigor necessary for a true language.

“Humpback songs are not like human language, but elements of language are seen in their songs,” said Ryuji Suzuki, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) predoctoral fellow in neuroscience at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and first author of the paper.

The Controversy over the Marketing of Brokeback Mountain

The marketing strategy behind Brokeback Mountain has been subject to some criticism. James Schamus, producer of Brokeback Mountain, responds to Daniel Mendelsohn’s in The New York Review of Books.

Daniel Mendelsohn, in his finely observed review of Brokeback Mountain [“An Affair to Remember,” NYR, February 23], sets up a false dichotomy between the essentially “gay” nature of the film and the erasure of this gay identity through the marketing and reception of the film as a “universal” love story. As one of the film’s producers, I am grateful for his understanding of the unapologetic and unvarnished treatment of the specifically gay story we set out to tell; but as the co-president of Focus Features, the studio that is marketing and distributing the film, I take umbrage at some of the rhetorical shortcuts Mendelsohn takes in his depiction of our work.

Mendelsohn is rightly nervous about what happens when a gay text is so widely and enthusiastically embraced by mainstream hetero-dominated culture; and it is true that many reviewers contextualize their investment in the gay aspects of the romance by claiming that the characters’ homosexuality is incidental to the film’s achievements. Many reviewers indeed have gone out of their way to denounce the “gay cowboy movie” label (although, to be fair, they are mainly objecting to the fact that the label was used as a derogatory joke, a point I wish Mendelsohn had more fully considered).

Edward Said’s posthumous book on “lateness,” in art and criticism

Paul Griffiths in Bookforum:

Griffiths1_037542105x_1In considering here how the work of writers and composers comes to change as their lives near an end, Edward Said has little to say about the abandoned fragment—the achievement cut off by death, as Mozart’s Requiem was. Yet that is precisely the condition of the present book, which, as the author’s widow, Mariam Said, explains in the foreword, was left far from complete when Said died, in 2003. While incorporating material written long before (as Said seems to have intended), this volume comes to us as a last work, drafted by one who knew his time was limited. It therefore exemplifies its own subject matter, manifesting some of the qualities Said discerns in “late style,” including penetration and breadth of reference, and yet, inevitably, leaving much in outline or unstated.

Said’s reflection starts out from the notion of timeliness in human doings, and so of how certain things become possible, or available, in later years. One of time’s gifts is widely held to be wisdom, but Said is attracted much more by lateness “as intransigence, difficulty, and unresolved contradiction.” The wise elders—Shakespeare, Verdi, Rembrandt, Matisse, Bach, Wagner—are saluted, then dismissed. Kept for later and longer scrutiny are those who, like ancient trees, grew ever more gnarled.

More here.  [Thanks to Andrew N. Rubin.]

Charles Tilly Remembers Barrington Moore

The great sociologist Barrington Moore Jr.’s death last October passed largely unnoticed, to the shame of the era. Charles Tilly remembers Moore in the Canadian Journal of Sociology Online, via Political Theory Daily Review.

Moore graduated from Williams, went on to a Yale Ph.D. and service in the wartime Office of Strategic Services, then taught at Chicago for two years before taking up a post as research associate at Harvard’s Russian Research Center. At Harvard, Moore was reluctant to take on the routine administration and petty politics of university departments; only late in his career did he move from lecturer to professor. Meanwhile he spent most of most summers on his yacht, sailing out of Bar Harbor, and significant parts of his winters skiing near his lodge in Alta, Utah.

Despite this life of relative ease, Moore maintained a fierce commitment to democracy, a contempt for intolerance and injustice, a hatred for tyrannies of all persuasions, and a conviction that changing material conditions shape human political action. His closest friends (and most frequent guests on his yacht) were typically intellectual radicals such as Herbert Marcuse and Robert Paul Wolff. When Moore worked, he went at it with ferocious energy, never publishing until he had gotten the argument more or less right. For his students, he became a model of intellectual commitment and rigor.

A discussion about Science in the Age of Certainty with JOHN BROCKMAN, DANIEL C. DENNETT AND OTHERS

From Edge:

Dennett_4 On Wednesday, April 12th Harvard Book Store and Seed Magazine will cosponsor a discussion on Science in the Age of Certainty with John Brockman, Daniel C. Dennett, Daniel Gilbert, Marc D. Hauser, Elizabeth Spelke and Seth Lloyd. This event coincides with the publication of the new book What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty, edited by Mr. Brockman.

Brockman_1 Eminent cultural impresario, editor, and publisher of Edge (www.edge.org), John Brockman asked a group of leading scientists and thinkers to answer the question: What do you believe to be true even though you cannot prove it? This book brings together the very best answers from the most distinguished contributors. This collection of bite-size thought-experiments is a fascinating insight into the instinctive beliefs of some of the most brilliant minds today.

More here.

High-Speed Surprise for Lying Eyes

From Science:

Eyes_1 The next time you drive in the fog, check your speedometer. You may be speeding and not know it. That’s because–when the visual landscape lacks contrast–people perceive objects moving much slower than they actually are. A new study debuts the first convincing, quantitative explanation for this potentially dangerous visual mistake.

In 1982, psychologist Peter Thompson of York University, United Kingdom, first noticed that when two objects of different contrast are moving at the same speed, people always say the higher contrast object is moving faster. Researchers brushed off this misperception, dubbed “the Thompson effect,” as a kink in an otherwise precisely tuned visual machine. But a few years ago, Eero Simoncelli, a computational neuroscientist at New York University in New York City, and his colleagues wondered if they could explain this phenomenon using basic principles of human vision.

More here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Fight Over California’s Textbooks and Their Representation of India

Also in Samar, a look at the battle over the discussion of India in California’s 6th grade social science textbooks.

A months-long struggle over the California sixth-grade history and social science textbook content on India, Indian history, and Hinduism culminated at a contentious public hearing in California’s state capitol, Sacramento, on February 27, 2006. A special committee to the State Board of Education (SBE) voted on whether to recommend approved edits and corrections, the content of which had resulted in various opposing mobilizations in the diasporic Indian community in the Bay Area and across the United States.

I had become deeply concerned when I heard in November of 2005 that two Hindu Nationalist Indian American groups, the Vedic Foundation (VF) and Hindu Education Foundation (HEF), backed by the Hindu American Foundation, had marshaled to intervene in the editing process of these sections. (See History Hungama: The California Textbook Debate for in-depth elaborations on the significance of these relationships.) Through their lobbying and unsubstantiated claims of representing the largest population of Hindus, they succeeded in pushing through 131 of their 153 proposed revisions between September-December 2005. These adoptions were met with great opposition and resulted in the investigation of the special committee that decided to overturn the 2005 edits. But the claims that these revisions were necessary because they perpetuate misrepresentations about India and Hinduism and proliferate discriminatory stereotypes need to be challenged.

The Illegal Immigration Control Act

My sister, Linta Varghese, on the Sensenbrenner bill, in Samar Magazine:

LintaUnder current US law, being in the country without status is a civil violation. HR 4437 proposes to change this to a criminal act through the creation of a new federal crime: unlawful presence. This in effect will criminalize the entire undocumented population of the United States, and would permanently bar them from re-entry. HR 4437 not only proposes to criminalize undocumented immigrants, but through a preposterously expanded definition of alien smuggling it also criminalizes organizations and individuals that work with this population. Under the new definition, alien smuggling includes helping someone that is known to be undocumented. Thus, organizations that provide services, refugee groups, churches, legal service providers and other charitable organizations are on par with criminal organizations that exploit desperate people and smuggle them into the United States.

In keeping with the expansion of criminality, the bill changes minor crimes into aggravated felonies which are grounds for deportation. Under this, newly considered aggravated felonies include driving under the influence, being undocumented, assisting someone who is undocumented, and minor roles in other people’s criminal activity. This provision would apply to both undocumented immigrants and documented immigrants who have lived here for decades.

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani wants gays killed in “most severe way”

From The Advocate (via One Good Move):

Sistani2In the midst of sectarian violence that threatens to drag Iraq into civil war, the country’s influential Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has issued a violent death order against gays and lesbians on his Web site, according to London-based LGBT human rights groups OutRage.

Written in Arabic, the fatwa comes from a press conference with the powerful religious cleric, where he was asked about the judgment on sodomy and lesbianism. “Forbidden,” Sistani answered, according to OutRage, “Punished, in fact, killed. The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.”

More here.

end of history?

Francis_fukuyama
(drawing by Nicola Jennings)

On February 10, 2004, the columnist Charles Krauthammer gave the annual Irving Kristol address at the American Enterprise Institute, in Washington. The lecture was called “Democratic Realism: An American Foreign Policy for a Unipolar World.” It defended the Bush Administration’s policies of unilateralism and preëmption, and proposed that their application be defined by means of a doctrine: “We will support democracy everywhere, but we will commit blood and treasure only in places where there is a strategic necessity—meaning, places central to the larger war against the existential enemy, the enemy that poses a global mortal threat to freedom.” The new “existential enemy,” Krauthammer said, is “Arab-Islamic totalitarianism,” and he compared the war that the United States should fight against this entity to the war against Fascist Germany and Japan—a war committed to the eradication of a deadly and evil culture.

Francis Fukuyama was in the audience, and he could not believe the approval with which Krauthammer’s speech was greeted. It seemed to Fukuyama that by the winter of 2004 the policies of unilateralism and preëmption might have been ripe for some reconsideration—they clearly had not performed well in Iraq—but, all around him, people were applauding enthusiastically.

more from Louis Menand at The New Yorker here.

dead cities

Sowell07

In some contexts, the good, decent humanist approach seems more callous than sheer bloody-mindedness. Here’s how A.C. Grayling, a professor of philosophy at the University of London and nothing if not a good, decent humanist, defines his objective in Among the Dead Cities: “[D]id the Allies commit a moral crime in their area bombing of German and Japanese cities? This is the question I seek to answer definitively in this book.” He thereby declares himself inadequate to the task. The question of what is permissible to defeat a barbarous enemy is one that resists moral definitiveness; it requires a capacity for ambiguity, uncertainty, irony.

more from the NY Observer here.

contemporary african photography

Camhi_1

A land mass 10 times the size of Europe, divided into 52 countries, inhabited by people speaking over 800 languages and with innumerable ethnic, religious, and political differences, “Africa,” the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah wrote, “is a ‘multiple existence.’ ” So it’s fitting that “Snap Judgments” is a wildly diverse, cacophonous affair. This sprawling show presents the work of 35 photographers, from locales as varied as Egypt, Uganda, Mozambique, and South Africa, and whose approaches to the medium range from the austerely documentary to the resolutely fabulist.

more from the Village Voice here.

The Beauty Academy of Kabul

The Beauty Academy of Kabul, a documentary made by the very talented and insightful Liz Mermin (also co-director of the intelligent and moving documentary, On Hostile Ground) opens at the Angelika Film Center (New York) on March 24th. (Here’s the trailer.) There will be a filmmaker Q&A after the 7:00 screenings on March 24 and March 25. On March 29 Amnesty International will lead a post-screening discussion with the director.

Slide1_10

What happens when a group of hairdressers from America travel to Kabul with the intention of telling Afghan women how to do hair and makeup? This engaging, optimistic documentary tracks a unique development project: a shiny new beauty school, funded in part by beauty-industry mainstays, which sets out to teach the latest cutting, coloring, and perming techniques to practicing and aspiring Afghan hairdressers and beauticians. The American teachers, all volunteers, include three Afghan-Americans returning home for the first time in over twenty years. The Beauty Academy of Kabul offers a rare glimpse into Afghan women’s lives, and documents the poignant and often humorous process through which women with very different experiences of life come to learn about one another.

Here is a BBC Four interview with Liz about The Beauty Academy of Kabul from a while ago.

BBC Four: Was it the fact that it was New Yorkers going over to Kabul that attracted you, or the beauty school project itself?

LM: I read a story about the project in the New York Times. The reason it jumped out at me was that at that point, 2002, the news was all so dire from that part of the world. This was such a bizarre human interest story and it seemed like such naive idealism. The idea of a group of well-intentioned Americans popping into Kabul and teaching woman about hair styles seemed irresistible. But when I started talking to them I saw the other side of it, the business development angle, and it seemed like less of a joke.

Life’s diversity ‘being depleted’

From BBC News:

Panda Forests continue to be lost at a rate of six million hectares a year – that’s about four times the size of the English county of Yorkshire – and similar trends are noted for marine and coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs, kelp beds and mangrove forests. The abundance and variety of species continue to fall across the planet, according to an index measuring the percentage of species with good prospects for survival; bird variety is on the decline in every ecosystem type from the oceans to the forests. Less complete indications are available for other groups of animals and plants, but it is feared they would show a similar picture.

More here.

Heads up: the dinosaur with the longest neck

From Nature:

Dino_1 Talk about sticking your neck out: palaeontologists working in Mongolia have discovered a dinosaur that was far ahead of its peers. The creature had one of the longest necks of all time, measuring a staggering eight metres. Relative to body size, the creature is a contender for the most impressive neck ever, say its discoverers. Although smaller overall than the famous Diplodocus, the new dinosaur is even more outlandishly proportioned – more than a third of its body length was in front of its shoulders. Fossil-hunters dug up bones from the new species, called Erketu ellisoni, at Bor Guvé in the Gobi Desert in 2002. The haul consisted of several leg bones, part of a breastbone, and six vertebrae, each twice the size of a loaf of bread.

More here.

The literary dark horse

Meghan O’Rourke in Slate:

060317_hb_vqrcover2006l01Over the past two days, New York media gossip turned away from its usual concerns—like Graydon Carter’s latest hairdo—to consider an improbable question: What is the Virginia Quarterly Review? On March 15, the nominations for the annual National Magazine Awards—the Oscars, if you will, of the magazine world—were announced. To the astonishment of glossy magazine types everywhere, a small journal in Virginia garnered not one nomination, as is sometimes politely handed down to such journals, but six. This made the Virginia Quarterly Review the second-most-nominated magazine, behind the Atlantic, which received eight, and ahead of The New Yorker, Harper’s, New York, and National Geographic, all of which received five. It was as if a scrappy farm team had demolished the Yankees in an exhibition game.

More here.  Some of you may remember that 3 Quarks Daily editor Morgan Meis published an essay about his adventures in Vietnam last year, in the last issue of VQR, so we at 3QD were already well aware of the quality of this journal! See Morgan’s essay in VQR here. Still, we congratulate them!

Confessions of a Darwinist

Niles Eldredge in the Virginia Quarterly Review:

5644_eldredge_nilesI came to evolution in a roundabout way. Sure, as a kid I had seen the dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History—and had heard a bit about evolution in high school. But I was intent on studying Latin and maybe going to law school.

But evolution got in the way. I was dating my now wife, and through her getting to know members of the Columbia anthropology faculty. At the time (early 1960s), anthropology to me meant Louis Leakey and his adventures collecting human fossils at Olduvai Gorge—rather than, say, Margaret Mead and her adventures studying cultures of the South Pacific. A summer spent asking embarrassing personal questions in my halting Portuguese in a small village in northeastern Brazil ended my quest to study evolution through anthropology. I was far more taken with the Pleistocene fossils embedded in the sandstone that formed the protective cove for the fishing boats. By summer’s end I was determined to become a paleontologist.

Little did I know that paleontologists (with a few exceptions) had had virtually nothing to do with the development of evolutionary biology since Darwin’s day. Vertebrate paleontologists, to be sure, tended to be trained in zoology departments and to have at least a passing interest in evolution. But the undergraduate courses in paleontology at Columbia were in the Geology Department. I took my undergraduate degree in geology at Columbia, staying on for a PhD and writing my dissertation on the evolutionary career of the Devonian trilobite Phacops rana.

More here.

Why Poor Countries Are Poor

Tim Harford in Reason Online:

Economists used to think wealth came from a combination of man-made resources (roads, factories, telephone systems), human resources (hard work and education), and technological resources (technical know-how, or simply high-tech machinery). Obviously, poor countries grew into rich countries by investing money in physical resources and by improving human and technological resources with education and technology transfer programs.

Nothing is wrong with this picture as far as it goes. Education, factories, infrastructure, and technical know-how are indeed abundant in rich countries and lacking in poor ones. But the picture is incomplete, a puzzle with the most important piece missing.

The first clue that something is amiss with the traditional story is its implication that poor countries should have been catching up with rich ones for the last century or so—and that the farther behind they are, the faster the catch-up should be. In a country that has very little in the way of infrastructure or education, new investments have the biggest rewards.

More here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Lunar Refractions: A Wife is Better than a Dog Anyhow

Yes, you’ve read correctly. This won’t be appearing on the front page of the Times, or even amid the increasingly unfortunate and obviously marketing-driven Newsweek covers, though it would likely turn more heads than that recent headline about sex and the single baby-boomer. You’d probably only expect to see it in the “Shouts and Murmurs” column of the New Yorker, where you might safely dismiss it as mere jest. Then again, I’m sure many of my dear readers have had similar, or indeed contrary, thoughts of their own. Yet this reflection was noted by one of the world’s most esteemed scientists, back in July of 1838. While I don’t think that Jcamerondarwin2_1Charles Darwin intended this statement as an evolutionary judgment, it is certainly the point that most stuck with me after looking at a rich collection of his musings.

Upon visiting the American Museum of Natural History’s current exhibition on Darwin last week, I found one piece—nay, hypothesis—by far the most interesting. The show is filled with skeletons; pinned-down, and long-dead, beetles; some unenviable live specimens of species he worked with, displayed at deathlike rest in glass menageries; the requisite, and dare I say relatively passive, interactive computer screen displays; resplendent orchids; manuscripts; and facsimilies of his doodled diagrams. I came across his idea that a wife is “better than a dog anyhow” while reading through his methodical listing of pros and cons regarding the esteemed institution of marriage. This curious sentiment was set quite literally between the lines, with a carat indicating he’d added it afterwards between two other items. The list, neatly folded down the middle and not-so-neatly scrawled in pencil on paper, read as follows, with the heading centered on the page, “Marry” on the left, and “Not Marry” on the right [click on manuscript photo to enlarge]:

Thisisthequestion2_1This is the Question

Marry

Children (if it Please God)
Constant companion (and friend in old age) who will feel interested in one
Object to be beloved and played with. Better than a dog anyhow
Home, & someone to take care of house
Charms of music and female chit-chat
These things good for one’s health—but terrible loss of time
My God, it is intolerable to think of spending one’s whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, and nothing after all—No, no, won’t do
Imagine living all one’s day solitary in smoky dirty London House
Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire and books and music perhaps
Compare this vision with the dingy reality of Great Marlboro Street, London

Not Marry

Freedom to go where one liked
Choice of Society and little of it
Conversation of clever men at clubs
Not forced to visit relatives and bend in every trifle
Expense and anxiety of children
Perhaps quarrelling
Loss of Time
Cannot read in the evenings
Fatness and idleness
Anxiety and responsibility
Less money for books etc.
If many children forced to gain one’s bread (But then it is very bad for one’s health to work too much)
Perhaps my wife won’t like London; then the sentence is banishment and degradation into indolent, idle fool

Marry, Marry, Marry Q.E.D.

Darwin was twenty-nine when he wrote this, and had been living, presumably in grand bachelor style, in London for almost two years. His five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle was done, and both his age and status brought marriage to mind. Clearly he was torn with the same problem many of my friends (though I must say only the females actually talk about it) are now facing—namely, settle down with one partner and start a family, or pursue career without such compromise. Of course others are facing the dilemma of perhaps passing up on those pros in favor of the cons, after a few (or not so few) years of putting up with such “terrible loss of time.” I’ll not focus on salient, perhaps salacious, details like the fact that Darwin married his first cousin (what would reproductive rules governing gene diversification have to say about that?), and will instead discuss the reverberations his list has in our current society.

Emmadarwinbridgeman2Darwin was set with a “generous living allowance” and flourishing scientific career when he married Emma Wedgwood after a three-month engagement. She was more religiously devout than he, not having put her faith to the rigorous tests inspired by scientific skepticism that he had. Many differences separated the two, yet those were overcome by the presence of the two children and that now most rare of traits, utter devotion and commitment. Clearly he got over most of the cons listed above soon after tying the knot with her. What most interests me, though, is the sentiment that inspired this list and some of Darwin’s letters, and how I see it recurring among my friends and acquaintances 168 years later.

Chascatherinedarwin2_1In a letter to his fiancée written during their engagement in 1839, Darwin explicitly states his hopes and expectations: “I think you will humanize me, & soon teach me there is greater happiness than building theories, & accumulating facts in silence & solitude.” A dear friend of mine, who is an accomplished writer and journalist, has finally decided, after a marriage and two children, followed by an affair or two or three, that, were he to have a choice, working with facts in silence and solitude would rank higher than any sort of companionship. All of his experiences with women up until now had perhaps at one point humanized him, but they have either canceled each other out or just proven to be a bit too much for someone who just wants a “choice of Society and little of it.”

Perhaps this character is similar in its nature to the sort that would prompt another prominent journalist to publish a book entitled Are Men Necessary? While I’ve not yet gotten round to reading Maureen Dowd’s latest book, the many reviews and arguments against or in favor of men’s necessity or superfluity have been impossible to miss. A forty-six-year-old friend of mine has chosen to raise her now six-year-old daughter on her own. After becoming pregnant in the course of a brief affair, she decided that both she and her daughter could get along just fine without a man. I will be curious to see how this develops, especially when the girl hits her teens. Thus far I’ve noted some very interesting forces at work. While I took her on a walk to give my friend a little rest, before letting go of my hand and running up to the swing set as we came to the local playground, she turned to me and asked, “Alta, why don’t you have a little girl?” While offering up my rather vacuous reasons, it occurred to me that, in her eyes, it’s normal that every woman would have a little girl, and therefore strange that I wouldn’t. Just like she has a doll, and her mother has her, I should have a little girl. Her father is present, lives in a neighboring town, and sees her several times a week, but he’s by no means a key figure in her life. This is just one of several emerging models of family that is visible all over the animal world, but seen as new, and by many as a threat, to the contemporary human societal structure.

Darwin shared a lot of his work with his wife; his father had advised him not to recount his religious doubts, noting that some women “suffered miserably” at the idea that their husbands weren’t destined for heaven after death. While they don’t directly relate to the situation between Darwin and his wife, the increasingly “religious” politics of faith, devotion, commitment, and exclusion of unions that aren’t strictly male-female—and hence focused on the propagation of the species (though proponents of such politics seem to forget that this will occur with or without such lofty pretence, especially if abortion is no longer an option)—has become a major issue in the past few years. I don’t really feel like writing about all that, as it makes me rather ill. While evident in this list and in discussions I overhear on a daily basis, the idea that one must choose between companionship or career, and the view that they are mutually exclusive, or at least call for serious compromise, although recorded on Darwin’s list, proved insignificant in the end.

The generation of women who began their careers in the sixties and seventies, and whose stay-at-home mothers almost universally spoke of career only when speaking of their husband’s work, forged new titles for themselves. It was common to hear one woman say of another that she was in college just to get her so-called MRS degree—something that did, and for many people still does, carry more weight than an MFA, MBA, MD, or PhD. That generation quickly came to learn that the academic and professional titles previously inaccessible to them would prove both more difficult and more worthwhile in the long run. The generation of women beginning their careers now, while it might have an inkling of what was and what is to come, cannot relate to this at all, at least not yet.

Partnership of whatever sort seems to bring balance, desired battle, and a reason for being to people that might otherwise be without. The idea of a “better half,” however, has always perturbed me. Perhaps this is only because of its judgmental nature. I recently read an article in which the author related a dialogue, and one of the voices was recorded as her “better half,” which I misinterpreted as the better part of her character. Only when I remembered the definition of “better half” as “spouse” did the article begin making sense (in a non-schizophrenic way). My grandmother would never have had such a misunderstanding.

While I think each item on Darwin’s scientifically rigorous list deserves greater attention—especially the priceless idea of a “nice soft wife on a sofa”—I will close with a nod to recent articles on one of my preferred poets. I recently reread Auden’s “In Sickness and in Health,” many years older and a few experiences richer than when I first read it, when I understood very little. This poem, written for a couple Auden knew, also came to mind as I contemplated Darwin’s list. Many lines acerbically reference marriage as an institution (cf. “Nature by nature in unnature ends”). I especially like the penultimate stanza: “That this round O of faithfulness we swear / May never wither to an empty naught / Nor petrify into a square, / Mere habits of affection freeze our thought / In their inert society, lest we / Mock virtue with its pious parody / And take our love for granted, Love, permit / Temptations always to endanger it.”