Sitting Up Mud Lies Down

“God made mud. God got lonesome. So God said to some of the mud, “Sit up!”…And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around. Lucky me, lucky mud…I got so much, and most mud got so little. Thank you for the honor! Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep. What memories for mud to have! What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met! I loved everything I saw! Good night.”
–The Last Rites of the Bokononist faith (Written by Kurt Vonnegut, jr. – RIP)

Kirsten Anderberg:

KilgoreIt is with sadness I eulogize Kurt Vonnegut, jr. today. He was an impressive sitting up mud! I used to cut classes in high school, to go sit under a tree and become engrossed in Vonnegut’s wonderful novel, “Cat’s Cradle.” I have used lines from “Cat’s Cradle” and “Breakfast of Champions” as life references since the 1970’s. Terms such as “karass,” “sitting up mud,” “bad chemicals,” and “Bokononism” have become commonplace in my life, due to my exposure to Vonnegut at an early age. My father gave me “Cat’s Cradle” to read, and I handed it to my teenaged son to read as well. I normally do not enjoy fiction, but Vonnegut was an exception for me. I delighted in his plots and twists, all heavily laden with sarcasm and political angst. “Cat’s Cradle” is a fictional story about what scientists and their families did the day America dropped the A-Bomb on Japan. I love the dark humor throughout “Cat’s Cradle.” And the child’s game “cat’s cradle” has never seemed the same after reading that book! In the book, the father who rarely speaks to his children, walks up to his son and leans into the kid, in a frightening manner, and holding a cat’s cradle made of strings in his fingers, says, “See the cat? See the cradle?!” Yes, that in a nutshell, is the madness and beauty of Vonnegut’s writing style.

More here.

What a writer. And what a man.

I can’t believe Kurt Vonnegut is dead. I don’t want to believe it. I cannot remember being this saddened by the death of a man that I did not know personally. I wish I had met him. I wish I had just seen him once. Beajerry has said something lovely in a comment to Robin’s post below: “Kurt’s death is a stroke to the world’s imaginitive mind. We shall now all limp.” Indeed. And also in the comments to that post, Storey brings to our attention this nice video tribute:

I expect we’ll have much more to say about Kurt Vonnegut in the coming days. Do take a look at the video of an interview with John Stewart that Robin has linked to below. At the end of the documentary about Muhammad Ali, When We Were Kings, George Plimpton simply says: “What a fighter. And what a man.” That’s where I got the title for this post. I’m off to dig up my copy of The Sirens of Titan for my wife, who has never read it. I envy her: what a delicious feast of savory ideas and beautiful language awaits her!

Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007

Very sad news: Kurt Vonnegut is dead. In the NYT:


Kurt Vonnegut, whose dark comic talent and urgent moral vision in novels like “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “Cat’s Cradle” and “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater” caught the temper of his times and the imagination of a generation, died last night in Manhattan. He was 84 and had homes in Manhattan and in Sagaponack on Long Island.

Mr. Vonnegut suffered irreversible brain injuries as a result of a fall several weeks ago, according to his wife, Jill Krementz.

Mr. Vonnegut wrote plays, essays and short fiction. But it was his novels that became classics of the American counterculture, making him a literary idol, particularly to students in the 1960s and ’70s. Dog-eared paperback copies of his books could be found in the back pockets of blue jeans and in dorm rooms on campuses throughout the United States.

Like Mark Twain, Mr. Vonnegut used humor to tackle the basic questions of human existence: Why are we in this world? Is there a presiding figure to make sense of all this, a god who in the end, despite making people suffer, wishes them well?

John Stewart said in the introduction to his Daily Show interview of Vonnegut, “As an adolescent, he made my life bearable.” I’d add that he continued to deliver insights to adults as well.

Fish pollutants’ link to diabetes

From BBC News:Fish

An international team found high levels of persistent organic pesticides (POPs) in the blood correlated to insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. POPs are stored in fatty tissues – the study suggested this may be why obese people are more vulnerable to diabetes. However, experts have said that the study published in Diabetes Care is far from conclusive.

Patients resistant to the hormone insulin are unable to remove excess glucose from their blood, and this is normally an important step in the onset of type two diabetes. The new research therefore suggests that POPs act critically at a very early stage in the development of diabetes. In 2005 researchers in Sweden found people exposed to high levels of POPs were more at risk of developing type two diabetes. They found higher levels of POP residues were present blood samples of men and women who had diabetes than in those who did not. The authors of the current research, based at Kyungpook National University and the University of Minnesota, also previously found blood concentrations of POPs were linked to the prevalence of diabetes.

Obese patients with low POP levels had an unexpectedly low incidence of diabetes.

More here.

How to stop cancer from spreading

From Nature:Mice

Breast cancer has been prevented from spreading in mice with a simple cocktail of drugs, some of which are already approved for human use. The spread, or metastasis, of cancer is the most dreaded aspect of the disease: tumours formed this way are responsible for 90% of cancer deaths. But the process has been difficult to fathom — two tumours may by all appearances be identical, yet one will spread and one will not. And a tumour may shed hundreds or thousands of cells into the bloodstream every day, of which only a tiny fraction will successfully lodge in a new site and start to proliferate into a new cancer.

In 2005, Joan Massagué at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York identified a roster of genes that seem to help breast cancer cells to metastasize to the lung. Now Massagué’s team has shown how four of these genes specifically work in concert to fuel metastasis. Addressing these four genes with drugs, they show in mice, has a dramatic effect.

Massagué hopes that this approach will work better than existing treatments, because it is targeted against genes now proven to fuel tumour growth and metastasis. And, he notes, two of the drugs are already in clinical use, which should speed clinical trials. “You couldn’t have it better,” he says. Other researchers say they would like to see data from human patients before getting too excited.

More here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Against National Poetry Month As Such

Charles Bernstein at the University of Chicago Press website:

And they say
If I would just sing lighter songs
Better for me would it be,
But not is this truthful;
For sense remote
Adduces worth and gives it
Even if ignorant reading impairs it;
But it’s my creed
That these songs yield
No value at the commencing
Only later, when one earns it.
      —translated from Giraut de Bornelh (12th century)

Bernstein_charlesApril is the cruelest month for poetry.

As part of the spring ritual of National Poetry Month, poets are symbolically dragged into the public square in order to be humiliated with the claim that their product has not achieved sufficient market penetration and must be revived by the Artificial Resuscitation Foundation (ARF) lest the art form collapse from its own incompetence, irrelevance, and as a result of the general disinterest among the broad masses of the American People.

The motto of ARF’s National Poetry Month is: “Poetry’s not so bad, really.”

More here.

The Mystery of Easter Island

New findings rekindle old debates about when the first people arrived and why their civilization collapsed.

Whitney Dangerfield in Smithsonian Magazine:

Easter2statuesHundreds of years ago, a small group of Polynesians rowed their wooden outrigger canoes across vast stretches of open sea, navigating by the evening stars and the day’s ocean swells. When and why these people left their native land remains a mystery. But what is clear is that they made a small, uninhabited island with rolling hills and a lush carpet of palm trees their new home, eventually naming their 63 square miles of paradise Rapa Nui—now popularly known as Easter Island.

On this outpost nearly 2,300 miles west of South America and 1,100 miles from the nearest island, the newcomers chiseled away at volcanic stone, carving moai, monolithic statues built to honor their ancestors. They moved the mammoth blocks of stone—on average 13 feet tall and 14 tons—to different ceremonial structures around the island, a feat that required several days and many men.

More here.

High-risk air routes for invasive species revealed

Catherine Brahic in New Scientist:

Dn115741_842A new study of how the global airline network connects far-flung regions with similar climates may help pinpoint flights most at risk of unwittingly importing invasive species.

Andrew Tatem at the University of Oxford in the UK and Simon Haye at the Centre for Geographic Medicine in Nairobi, Kenya, mapped the routes of all 3.2 million flights scheduled between 1 May 2005 and 30 April 2006.

They looked at temperature, humidity and rainfall at the flights’ origins and destinations to gain an idea of how similar the climates were at each end of a plane journey.

“Species that are very sensitive to climate, such as mosquitoes and midges, will stand a better chance of being successful invaders if the climate at their new location is as similar as possible to the climate in their native habitat,” Tatem explains.

More here.

Culture Flows Through English Channels, but Not for Long

Momus (Nick Currie) in Wired:

1035f1997eAt UNESCO’s glamorous Cold War spy-thriller headquarters in Paris, Koïchiro Matsuura, the Japanese diplomat running the organization, is pushing to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions.

Yep, he’s trying to keep English from muting out every other language, and that’s certainly nothing new. But unlike others, Matsuura comes off like an airline executive talking about routes, planes, hubs, spokes and flow. That’s because culture flows.

There are two basic route models in the aviation business. Airlines either fly point to point or hub and spoke. Point-to-point flights move from one city to another, while hub-and-spoke transit goes through connections via the airline’s base city. Now, let’s contemplate that in relation to cultural flows. With books, films and the internet, which kind of world do we live in, point to point or hub and spoke? If culture were an airline model, in other words, would Poles be able to fly to Tokyo without having to transfer at LAX?

More here.

The Countless Achievements of a Math Master

David Brown in the Washington Post:

You should approach Joyce’s “Ulysses” as the illiterate Baptist preacher approaches the Old Testament: with faith.

William Faulkner

Screenhunter_01_apr_11_1414Let’s approach Leonhard Euler and his work the same way. It will make things a whole lot easier.

If one is not a mathematician (and except for a few of you out there, who is?), it’s going to be impossible to actually understand why Euler was such a great man. Other people will have to tell us, and we should probably believe them.

In 1988, the journal Mathematical Intelligencer asked its readers to list the most beautiful equations in mathematics. Of the top five, Euler, who was born in Basel, Switzerland, 300 years ago next Sunday, discovered three of them, including No. 1:

ei(pi) + 1 = 0.

(The other two were from Euclid, who worked in the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C.)

More here.

Jeff Wall acknowledges the meaningless truth . . . what a relief


There is nothing unique or even special about the phenomenon of artists who write with distinction about art generally and their own practices in particular. History provides numerous examples—Leonardo’s great notebooks, Reynolds’s Discourses, Vasari’s Lives, and Delacroix’s journals and letters among them. The twentieth century, with its enthusiasm for manifestos and credos, proves almost embarrassingly rich in this regard, from Gleizes and Metzinger to Peter Halley. But the publication of Jeff Wall’s Selected Essays and Interviews by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, on the occasion of the artist’s retrospective there, is an especially valuable contribution to this literature, even a singular one. For while the postwar neo-avant-gardes have been extraordinarily prolific in terms of literate and rhetorically persuasive artist-writers—Allan Kaprow, Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Robert Smithson, Marcel Broodthaers, Art & Language, Martha Rosler, Barbara Kruger, and Mike Kelley, to name but a passel—Wall’s art-critical writing (and his concomitant interviews) bear the stamp of his formal art-historical training. He spent several years in the 1970s pursuing a postgraduate degree in the field at London’s Courtauld Institute, and this background left an indelible mark on his art production proper, as well as on its critical reception.

more from Bookforum here.

a war-weary Pentagon master seeking refuge to wring the blood from his hands?


The Selimiye Mosque, in Edirne, a city in northwest Turkey, is a magnificent stone edifice, with four minarets and an austere, octagonal-shaped body supporting a large dome. Built for Sultan Selim II in the sixteenth century, it has withstood numerous earthquakes and can accommodate more than five thousand kneeling worshippers. One evening at the end of January, I visited the mosque with Paul Wolfowitz, the president of the World Bank, and a half dozen of his aides and colleagues. Two years have passed since President Bush nominated Wolfowitz, the former Deputy Secretary of Defense and one of the architects of the war in Iraq, to head the sprawling multinational lending institution that has as its official goal “a world without poverty.”

more from The New Yorker here.

To Apollo: His Music, His Missiles, His Muses


There he was, surrounded by urban noise and crowds, patiently inscribing grey stone. “To the unknown Roman girl”, said the brand new epitaph. I had come to 30 St Mary Axe in the City of London – the Gherkin – to see a poem that is written on benches around Norman Foster’s tower, by the Scottish conceptual artist Ian Hamilton Finlay. And here was another man, carving a memorial to a Roman skeleton to be reburied here this week. It was an encounter with the ancient world as unexpected as the one I’d just had in an exhibition of neon wall texts.

more from The Guardian here.



Hawking_hmed_5p_2 World-famous cosmologist Stephen Hawking was in the Seattle spotlight Monday night to explain the big questions: Why does time seem to move always forward but never backward? Why does he think running time backwards the only way to solve the universe’s biggest mystery? But the small questions can be just as intriguing: For example, how does Hawking “autograph” a book? When he composes a sentence on his gesture-controlled computer, does he blink or does he sneer?

Here are some insights into those questions, great and small, gleaned during a close encounter with Cambridge University’s frail genius: The title of Hawking’s advertised talk was “The History of the Universe Backwards,” but he actually delivered two lectures – one looking back at his own career in physics, and another focusing on his latest theories about a “top-down” approach to cosmology.

More here.

Respect for Wordsworth 200 years on with daffodil rap

From Guardian:Daffodils1

Two hundred years after wandering through drifts of spring flowers in the Lake District, William Wordsworth has been given a pop video and rap version of his famous poem on daffodils. Read by a zany red squirrel in a series of dramatic mountain and lakeside locations, the hip take on the 24 lines of verse aims to lure more young people to the national park this summer.

Bouncing past tearooms and hotel discos, as well as the bay on Ullswater where the poem was inspired, the rapping rodent – a local busker in red fur – marks the bicentenary of the poem’s publication. “Wordsworth’s Daffodils poem has remained unchanged for 200 years,” said a spokeswoman for Cumbria tourist board. “To keep it alive for another two centuries we want to engage the YouTube generation who go for modern music and amusing video footage on the web.”

More here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

blackburn on baudrillard


French postmodernism may be passing, but it had a point. Even if engagement with the world is the cure, the respite it gives may be short-lived. No sooner has the real moment gone than the work of memory begins, once more selecting, massaging, suppressing and spinning. That moment is like a glimpse of the naked king, or the politician’s one-day dash into the war zone: it may be a glimpse of truth, but even if we are honest enough to see anything we do not want to see, that in turn may just reinvigorate the work of disguise. That can’t have been the real Louis XIV, or the real Iraq. And heaven forfend that people see them like that—otherwise it might really destroy our legacy, or at any rate the bit that counts: its representation in self-image, story and picture.

more from Prospect Magazine here.

art should be a form of energy made visible


The paintings of Jacopo Tintoretto come as a revelation. According to standard opinion Michelangelo, Titian, and Raphael were the supreme artists of the sixteenth century; yet often during the last four hundred years, viewers have gazed in awe and surprise at works by Tintoretto, and wondered if he might be the greatest painter of all. Thus John Ruskin during his first visit to Venice wrote:

I never was so utterly crushed to the earth before any human intellect as I was today before Tintoret. Just be so good as to take my list of painters, and put him in the school of Art at the top, top, top of everything, with a great big black line to stop him off from everybody…. As for painting, I think I didn’t know what it meant till today.

more from the NYRB here.

The Beginning of Mugabe’s End?

Zimbabwean human rights activist Mary Ndlovu in Pambazuka:

The past weeks have indeed brought a qualitative change to Zimbabwe, with a significant shift in the balance of power between the forces which keep Mugabe in power and those which wish to remove him. Ultimately a government’s endurance rests on its success in maintaining a productive and healthy economy which delivers at least subsistence to the population. Mugabe has failed spectacularly in this sphere, with the economy in a state of contraction for the past seven years, and in free fall for the past year.

This collapse has effects which undermine his political support. Firstly, it makes it more difficult for him to dispense the largesse necessary to buy the continuing loyalty of the political and security elite, and to keep the lower ranks of the forces in line. Second, it makes the population, which has remained largely quiescent and submissive in the face of oppression, restive and prepared to risk more in confronting a hugely unpopular government which has destroyed their lives. And thirdly it has spill-over consequences in the region which are beginning to annoy and frustrate neighbouring governments.

Perceiving a weakening in Mugabe’s power base, opposition leaders in political parties, civil society organisations, student movements and churches, have taken their cue and demonstrated greater determination and willingness to come together to push him out.

On the Robert Moses Exhibits

In n+1:

Last season’s series of museum exhibitions (the Queens Museum’s “Road to Recreation,” the Museum of the City of New York’s “Remaking the Metropolis,” and the Wallach Gallery’s “Slum Clearance and the Superblock Solution”), seeking, quite openly, to recover Robert Moses’s reputation and legacy, did not emphasize this particular antagonism, between many of Moses’s built structures and the current spatial ambitions of the city’s real estate interests. The Moses of the exhibits, which were unusual both for the artfulness of their display and for the openly opinionated quality of their explanatory plaques, was not the Moses whose expressways and housing projects are currently preventing New York City from gentrifying as thoroughly as, say, central London or Paris. Instead, it was the “middle-class” Moses—the builder of middle-income housing complexes like Morningside Gardens and Washington Square Village, of Lincoln Center and the United Nations, of soaring suspension bridges leading to suburban parkways, of Jones Beach, the Astoria Pool, and two world’s fairs.

Such a Moses, of course, did actually exist. Moreover, this particular Moses, this mighty champion of middle-class values, has more often been the source of commentators’ collective condemnation than he has of their esteem. Jane Jacobs was already criticizing this Moses, in her 1961 classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, for importing suburban spatial norms into her city of sidewalks, stoops, and corner shops. By this time, Lewis Mumford, an admirer of Moses during the 1930s and 40s, and usually an adversary of Jacobs’s, was attacking Moses on similar grounds. He found infuriating the “car culture” Moses built for so exclusively, and, along with many other city-planning advocates of the time, Mumford derided the great bureaucrat for neglecting mass transit.

Iraq and Ambivalence

There are parts of this piece by Tish Durkin I disagree with, but the following I have seen at times, and it does leave a bad taste. I hoped my predictions of disaster were wrong from the get go, and that my sporadic predictions that things would work out for Iraq would be right. Shadenfreude over this is, well, not just a broken joy but a deformed one. (via normblog)

[W]hat depresses me, and makes me despise so much war criticism even when I agree with it, is that so many of those positing it seem so happy about what’s gone wrong. They seem to relish the probability that Iraq will get worse and worse so that they can be righter and righter.

This isn’t new.

I remember an anti-war activist who was staying in our hotel in Baghdad, who had not come to Karbala for that first ashura. A good person trying to do good things, she had stayed behind to prepare a media alert on the horrors of the occupation — which, especially at a time when the coverage out of Iraq was largely very upbeat, was a very worthy thing to be doing. Still, one thing really bothered me about her. When, upon everyone’s return from Karbala, the activist heard that the day had actually been free of violence, and full of jubilation, she looked as if she had tasted a bad olive, and spit out her response: “Oh, fuck.”

How she must be gloating now. Reality has made sages of the most dire prophets. It’s perfect: Iraq really has gone to hell, and the demon neocons are the ones that sent it.

Like liberals – and thinking conservatives, and sentient beings — everywhere, I gravely doubt that the troop surge – so little so late — will do anything to save Iraq. But for the sake of the Iraqi people, I sure hope it does – even if that helps the Republicans.

But I’m not sure how widespread it is. While a few I’ve met do seem to feel glee at Iraq’s slide into the abyss (in an echo of the crisis mongering of old Commies, who thought a protracted depression would save the world!), most don’t. The opening of Paul Krugman’s April 11th 2003 NYT column seems me to be representative on this front:

Credit where credit is due: the hawks were right to say that a whiff of precision-guided grapeshot would lead to the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime. But even skeptics about this war expected a military victory. (”Of course we’ll win on the battlefield, probably with ease” was the opening line of my start-of-the-war column.) Instead, we worried — and continue to worry — about what would follow. As another skeptic, Michael Kinsley of Slate, wrote yesterday: ”I do hope to be proven wrong. But it hasn’t happened yet.”

Why worry? I won’t pretend to have any insights into what is going on in the minds of the Iraqi people. But there is a pattern to the Bush administration’s way of doing business that does not bode well for the future — a pattern of conquest followed by malign neglect.