Frames of mind

From The Guardian:

Why does the waitress look sad? Who is the lady with a parasol? What are the women talking about? Writers reflect on the stories behind their favourite works in the Courtauld Gallery.

Baratthe460 Philip Pullman on Édouard Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882)

Few paintings are so full of ambiguity. Ambiguity, or mystery, or uncertainty, though there is no uncertainty about the title, and the painting seems to show us precisely that: a bar at the theatre, or music hall (there isn't an exact English equivalent), known as the Folies-Bergère. And the Folies-Bergère is a place of pleasure, where everything necessary for a good time is to be had. Laid out for us to inspect on the marble counter are bottles of champagne, of beer, of various liqueurs; there is a dish of oranges with the light gleaming on their waxy skin; and there is a barmaid waiting patiently to serve us with whatever we desire – including, perhaps, herself.

But look only a few inches behind her, and the mysteries begin. The greater part of the picture surface depicts a mirror, whose gold frame we can see behind the barmaid's wrist. Most of what we see is a reflection of . . . well, what?

More here.

Small change

Abid Shah in The National:

Bilde In the early 1990s in Pakistan, qawalli was one of those entertainments that one watched on television just because there was only one channel. A repetitious musical form that involved a bunch of men sitting cross legged, clapping and singing Sufi songs, qawalli never gripped young Pakistanis or the Westward-looking upper middle class.

Then Peter Gabriel jammed with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. A beautiful voice in an unfashionable art, Nusrat was a heavyset, obscure qawalli singer until a round of introductions put him onstage with the British pop star and world music maven. Suddenly, Nusrat was big. Young Pakistani men in ties started attending his concerts. Then young Pakistani men in ties started dancing at his concerts.

And so, after the age of Nusrat, it became fashionable to listen to qawalli – a whole art form made hip by the touch of the West.

Ten years later, I can’t stop thinking about Nusrat and qawalli as Pakistan’s art community is gripped by talk of the “contemporary miniature art movement”. The movement, which has reinvented the ancient courtly art of Mughal manuscript illustration as a modern form, has become Pakistan’s calling card in the art world. Its artists have exhibited in Manchester, Tokyo, Dhaka, Dubai, San Francisco and New York, and at auctions the artists have started fetching $40,000 (Dh 147,000) or more for their work. The effect on the psyche and style of Pakistani art has been tremendous.

With a growing list of shows abroad, the names of a few major miniaturists have become famous. There is Shazia Sikander, who became, in 1997, one of the first citizens of an Asian country to exhibit at the Whitney Biennial in New York, with a show that launched the contemporary interest in miniatures.

More here.

Targeting Tolerance in Mumbai

Sadia Shepard in Forward:

ScreenHunter_08 Dec. 06 10.16 When my Indian Jewish grandmother married my Indian Muslim grandfather in the 1930s, their marriage was unusual in some ways. But in others it was commonplace. Theirs was a romance of pre-Partition India, and their courtship and early marriage, like so many in Mumbai, unfolded in the grand and intimate spaces of the Taj Hotel — its restaurants, ballrooms and long, grand hallways.

Now, photographs of these same rooms show walls and floors streaked with blood and littered with glass. Nearly 200 people died in the attacks on Mumbai, most of them Indians — Hindus and Muslims alike. The terrorists also targeted foreign tourists, international business people and Jews, killing six at the city’s Chabad center — the first time that Jews have been singled out and massacred on Indian soil.

More here.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders

A short story by Daniyal Moeenuddin in The New Yorker:

Husna Husna needed a job. She stole up the long drive to the Lahore house of the retired civil servant and landlord K. K. Harouni, bearing in her lacquered fingers a letter of introduction from, of all people, his estranged wife. The butler, knowing that Husna served the old Begum Harouni in an indefinite capacity, somewhere between maidservant and companion, did not seat her in the living room. Instead, he put her in the office of the secretary, Shah Sahib, who every afternoon took down in shorthand a few pages of Mr. Harouni’s memoirs, cautiously titled “Perhaps This Happened.”

Ushered into the living room by the secretary after a quarter of an hour, Husna gazed around her, as petitioners do, more tense than curious, taking in the worn gold brocade on the sofa, a large Chinese painting of horsemen over the rosewood mantel. Her attention was drawn to ranks of black-and-white photographs in silver frames—hunters in shooting caps, posing with strings of birds or piles of game; women in saris, their hair piled high in the style of the fifties, one in riding breeches, with an oversized dedication in looping script. To one side stood a photo of a youthful Harouni in a receiving line shaking the hand of Jawaharlal Nehru.

More here. (Thanks to Hasan Usmani).

Remembering Respectful Contempt

The occassional debates about religion that pop up in the comment pages of 3QD always remind me of a section in Putnam's Reason, Truth and History on the character of his disagreement with Robert Nozick. For Putnam, fundamental disagreement does not preclude mutual respect, but it may be respect of a peculiar kind. It was something I wanted to note in the wake some of our recent discussions. (There's also been a new interesting comment by Patrick Lee Miller on the underlying post at Immanent Frame that started our own discussions, for those who may be interested.) Anal Philospher has posted an excerpt from Putnam:

Perhaps the analogy I have (occasionally) drawn between philosophical discussion and political discussion may be of help. One of my colleagues [the late Robert Nozick] is a well-known advocate of the view that all government spending on 'welfare' is morally impermissible. On his view, even the public school system is morally wrong. If the public school system were abolished, along with the compulsory education law (which, I believe, he also regards as an impermissible government interference with individual liberty), then the poorer families could not afford to send their children to school and would opt for letting the children grow up illiterate; but this, on his view, is a problem to be solved by private charity. If people would not be charitable enough to prevent mass illiteracy (or mass starvation of old people, etc.) that is very bad, but it does not legitimize government action.

In my view, his fundamental premisses—the absoluteness of the right to property, for example—are counterintuitive and not supported by sufficient argument. On his view I am in the grip of a 'paternalistic' philosophy which he regards as insensitive to individual rights. This is an extreme disagreement, and it is a disagreement in 'political philosophy' rather than merely a 'political disagreement'. But much political disagreement involves disagreements in political philosophy, although they are rarely as stark as this.

What happens in such disagreements? When they are intelligently conducted on both sides, sometimes all that can happen is that one sensitively diagnoses and delineates the source of the disagreement. Often, when the disagreement is less fundamental than the one I described, both sides may modify their view to a larger or smaller extent. If actual agreement does not result, perhaps possible compromises may be classed as more or less acceptable to one or another of the parties.

Such intelligent political discussion between people of different outlooks is, unfortunately, rare nowadays; but it is all the more enjoyable when it does happen. And one's attitude toward one's co-disputant in such a discussion is interestingly mixed. On the one hand, one recognizes and appreciates certain intellectual virtues of the highest importance: open-mindedness, willingness to consider reasons and arguments, the capacity to accept good criticisms, etc. But what of the fundamentals on which one cannot agree? It would be quite dishonest to pretend that one thinks there are no better and worse reasons and views here. I don't think it is just a matter of taste whether one thinks that the obligation of the community to treat its members with compassion takes precedence over property rights; nor does my co-disputant. Each of us regards the other as lacking, at this level, a certain kind of sensitivity and perception. To be perfectly honest, there is in each of us something akin to contempt, not for the other's mind—for we each have the highest regard for each other's minds—nor for the other as a person—, for I have more respect for my colleague's honesty, integrity, kindness, etc., than I do for that of many people who agree with my 'liberal' political views—but for a certain complex of emotions and judgments in the other.

But am I not being less than honest here? I say I respect Bob Nozick's mind, and I certainly do. I say I respect his character, and I certainly do. But, if I feel contempt (or something in that ballpark) for a certain complex of emotions and judgments in him, is that not contempt (or something like it) for him?

More here.

Is the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ The New Opiate of the Subcontinental Masses?

Vijay Prashad in The Immanent Frame:

After the destruction of a sixteenth century mosque in Ayodhya in 1992, riots broke out across northern India. In Bombay, the forces of the Hindu Right led the riots; its armies killed a thousand Muslims. Two hundred thousand other Muslims fled the city. This was a form of ethnic cleansing that had a profound psychological impact on the city’s residents. A retaliatory attack led by a former Bombay gangster killed 257 people. Since then, attacks have come with remarkable frequency, almost one a year. Blame for these attacks often rests at the gates of either ex-Afghan Jihad veterans whose organizations are banned in Pakistan (such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba) or the foot-soldiers of the family of organizations that gather around the BJP. Violence is their tactic and their strategy; they have little else.

Mirror images of each other, the Hindu Right and the Islamic Right offer nothing for the future, but boil the resentments of selected parts of the population, to artificially hasten their hope for change with promises of martyrdom and paradise. These are the alchemists of resentment, who use bombs and swords, guns and axes to do their magic for them. There is no development of the protracted struggle to change the conditions of the present, only the irrational commitment to fleeting acts of terrible violence. Terror in saffron robes or draped in green flags has absolute contempt for the desperate needs of people who are increasingly abandoned by the policies that bring homelessness and hunger to hundreds of millions.

Friday, December 5, 2008

it’s schadenfreude time


Only months ago, ordering that $1,950 bottle of 2003 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon at Craft restaurant or the $26-per-ounce Wagyu beef at Nobu, or sliding into Masa for the $600 prix fixe dinner (not including tax, tip, or drinks), was a way of life for many Wall Street investment bankers. “The culture was that if you didn’t spend extravagantly you’d be ridiculed at work,” says a former Lehmanite. But that was when there were investment banks. Now many bankers, along with discovering $15 bottles of wine, are finding other ways to cut back—if not out of necessity, then from collective guilt and fear: the fitness trainer from three times a week to once a week; the haircut and highlights every eight weeks instead of every five. One prominent “hedgie” recently flew to China for business—but not on a private plane, as before. “Why should I pay $250,000 for a private plane,” he said to a friend, “when I can pay $20,000 to fly commercial first class?” The new thriftiness takes a bit of getting used to. “I was at the Food Emporium in Bedford [in Westchester County] yesterday, using my Food Emporium discount card,” recounts one Greenwich woman. “The well-dressed wife of a Wall Street guy was standing behind me. She asked me how to get one. Then she said, ‘Have you ever used coupons?’ I said, ‘Sure, maybe not lately, but sure.’ She said, ‘It’s all the rage now—where do you get them?’”

more from Vanity Fair here. via Felix Salmon.

behold! the elbowed squid


In a brief video from the dive recently obtained by National Geographic News, one of the rarely seen squid loiters above the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico on November 11, 2007. The clip—from a Shell oil company ROV (remotely operated vehicle)—arrived after a long, circuitous trip through oil-industry in-boxes and other email accounts. “Perdido ROV Visitor, What Is It?” the email’s subject line read—Perdido being the name of a Shell-owned drilling site. Located about 200 miles (320 kilometers) off Houston, Texas (Gulf of Mexico map), Perdido is one of the world’s deepest oil and gas developments.

more from National Geographic here.

Friday Poem

…..It's so easy to fall in love
..(it seems so easy)
…..It seems so easy, so doggone easy
……………………………..–Buddy Holly

The Buddy Holly Poem
Maurice Kilwein Guevara

It's so easy
when you realize
that all the squirrels
on the shingled rooftops
of Milwaukee
are Buddha
that all trees shake green
in the wind
that the moon is you

that the whole of every note
is individual and one
that love is free
every day
on the blue earth

Listen to me


From Edge:

Facebook_smiles520 Happiness is a fundamental object of human existence. To the extent that it is synonymous with pleasure, it could even be said to be one of the “two sovereign masters” that, Jeremy Bentham argued, govern our lives. The other master, lest we forget, is pain. Our happiness is determined by a complex set of voluntary and involuntary factors, ranging from our genes to our health to our wealth. Alas, one determinant of our own happiness that has not received the attention it deserves is the happiness of others. Yet we know that emotions can spread over short periods of time from person to person, in a process known as “emotional contagion.” If someone smiles at you, it is instinctive to smile back. If your partner or roommate is depressed, it is common for you to become depressed.

But might emotions spread more widely than this in social networks—from person to person to person, and beyond? Might an individual's location within a social network influence their future happiness? And might social network processes—by a diverse set of mechanisms—influence happiness not just fleetingly, but also over longer periods of time?

More here.

A-Z of English words with surprising origins

From The Telegraph:

Words When I set out to write a study of the history of words, I thought I had a decent grasp of where even the most curious English ones originate. Those with the prefix al- – as in alchemy and alcohol – often have Arabic roots, and many seafaring terms – skipper, schooner, land-lubber – are Dutch. But there were plenty of surprises. Who knew that marmalade, for instance, while eternally associated in my mind with Paddington Bear, is in fact Portuguese? So here is an A-to-Z of some of my favourite English words that have been absorbed from and inspired by other languages.

A is for…

Avocado, which comes from Nahuatl, a language spoken by the Aztecs. Their name for it, ahuacatl, also meant ''testicle”.

B is for…

Bonsai. Although we think the tree-cultivating art is Japanese, it originated in China.

C is for…

Coleslaw. Supposedly eaten in ancient Rome, it comes from the Dutch kool-salade (''cabbage salad”).

More here.

Policing Afghanistan

Graeme Wood in The New Yorker:

ScreenHunter_07 Dec. 05 12.24 In late 2007, in Pashmul, a tiny cluster of villages in southern Afghanistan, Muhammad Khan began his tenure as the police commander by torching all the hemp in a farmer’s field. Farmers in the area had grown plants up to seven feet tall, and, being teetotallers, like many Afghans, they smoked hashish constantly. Afghan soldiers and policemen in the area also smoked, to the exasperation of the NATO troops who were training them. But Khan wasn’t from Pashmul and he didn’t smoke. He ordered his men to set the harvest ablaze, moved upwind, then turned his back and left, with an expression of indifference.

Khan and his police officers are members of Afghanistan’s Hazara minority, identifiable among Afghans because of their Asiatic features; the population they patrol is Pashtun. Hazaras are mostly Shia, with a history of ties to Iran, whereas most Pashtuns are Sunni and have turned to Pakistan for support. Over the past century, the two peoples have fought periodically, and the Hazaras, who are thought to make up between nine and nineteen per cent of Afghanistan’s population—the Pashtuns make up nearly half—have usually lost. On the border between the Hazara heartland, in the country’s mountainous and impoverished center, and the Pashtun plains in the south and east, conflicts over grazing land are common. But, working alongside NATO soldiers, Hazara police units are now operating far to the south of these traditional battlegrounds and deep into Pashtun territory.

More here.

What to Do

Paul Krugman in the New York Review of Books:

Krugmanthecontraryindicator What the world needs right now is a rescue operation. The global credit system is in a state of paralysis, and a global slump is building momentum as I write this. Reform of the weaknesses that made this crisis possible is essential, but it can wait a little while. First, we need to deal with the clear and present danger. To do this, policymakers around the world need to do two things: get credit flowing again and prop up spending.

The first task is the harder of the two, but it must be done, and soon. Hardly a day goes by without news of some further disaster wreaked by the freezing up of credit. As I was writing this, for example, reports were coming in of the collapse of letters of credit, the key financing method for world trade. Suddenly, buyers of imports, especially in developing countries, can't carry through on their deals, and ships are standing idle: the Baltic Dry Index, a widely used measure of shipping costs, has fallen 89 percent this year.

What lies behind the credit squeeze is the combination of reduced trust in and decimated capital at financial institutions. People and institutions, including the financial institutions, don't want to deal with anyone unless they have substantial capital to back up their promises, yet the crisis has depleted capital across the board.

The obvious solution is to put in more capital. In fact, that's a standard response in financial crises.

More here.

Harvard Team Unlocks Clues to Genes that Control Longevity

Casey Kazan in The Daily Galaxy:

ScreenHunter_06 Dec. 05 11.48 Harvard Medical School Researchers have used a single compound to increase the lifespan of obese mice, and found that the drug reversed nearly all of the changes in gene expression patterns found in mice on high calorie diets–some of which are associated with diabetes, heart disease, and other significant diseases related to obesity.

The research, led by investigators at Harvard Medical School and the National Institute on Aging, is the first time that the small molecule resveratrol has been shown to offer survival benefits in a mammal.

“Mice are much closer evolutionarily to humans than any previous model organism treated by this molecule, which offers hope that similar impacts might be seen in humans without negative side-effects,” says co-senior author David Sinclair, HMS associate professor of pathology, and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Labs for the Biological Mechanisms of Aging.

“After six months, resveratrol essentially prevented most of the negative effects of the high calorie diet in mice,” said Rafael de Cabo, Ph.D., the study's other co-senior investigator from the National Institute on Aging's Laboratory of Experimental Gerontology, Aging, Metabolism, and Nutrition Unit. “There is a lot of work ahead that will help us better understand resveratrol's roles and the best applications for it.”

Resveratrol is found in red wines and produced by a variety of plants when put under stress.

More here.

Hitmen charge $100 a victim as Basra honour killings rise

Afif Sarhan in The Guardian:

Leila_honor_killing_mother Authorities in the southern Iraqi city of Basra have admitted they are powerless to prevent 'honour killings' in the city following a 70 per cent increase in religious murders during the past year.

There has been no improvement in conviction rates for these killings. So far this year, 81 women in the city have been murdered for allegedly bringing shame on their families. Only five people have been convicted.

During 2007 the Basra security committee recorded 47 'honour killings' and three convictions. One lawyer in the city described how police were actively protecting perpetrators and said that a woman in Basra could now be murdered by hired hitmen for as little as $100 (£65).

The figures come despite international outrage which followed The Observer's coverage of the death of 17-year-old Rand Abdel-Qader, who was murdered by her father last April in an 'honour killing' after falling in love with a British soldier in Basra. The 4,000 British troops stationed in the city since the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 withdrew to the airport last September.

Rand Abdel-Qader was killed after her family discovered that she had formed a friendship with a 22-year-old infantryman whom she knew as Paul. She was suffocated by her father then hacked at with a knife. Abdel-Qader Ali was subsequently arrested and released without charge.

Rand's mother, Leila Hussein, who divorced her husband after the killing, went into hiding but was tracked down weeks later and assassinated by an unknown gunman. Her husband had told The Observer that police had congratulated him for killing his daughter. [Photo shows Leila Hussein.]

More here.