Exhibition Revives Memory of Malcolm X

Christine Hauser in the New York Times:

Malcolmbatch1His voice was silenced 40 years ago when he was shot and killed during a rally in New York City.

But today, the words of Malcolm X were heard and seen once again by hundreds of people at the opening of an exhibition of his recorded speeches, letters, photographs and personal items at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

The 250-item exhibition, “Malcolm X: A Search for the Truth,” coincides with the 80th anniversary of his birth in Omaha.

It displays, for the first time, items that his family and organizers of the exhibition say will enable scholars to take a fresh look at the thinking and life of one of the most important black figures of the 20th century.

Rest of the article, plus a slide show here.  And here is the official Malcolm X website.

The Trouble with Postmortality

From The Threepenny Review:

What good is a dead narrator? Well, by virtue of their recently dramatically changed circumstances the newly dead could possess that marvel-ous narratorial quality: they could be curious. Dante’s Dante, finally ascending to heaven, suffers from such urgent curiosity about God—in his words, “longing and questioning”—he has to be repeatedly lectured on decorum by Beatrice. In his passion to understand, Dante voices problems so metaphysically recondite that Beatrice, no flatterer, seems to admire their toughness (“You need not wonder if your fingers are unable to undo that knot: no one has tried, and so that knot is tightened, taut!”). Over longing and questioning, the new literary dead favor wariness and skepticism; postmortal fiction partakes of the weariness of a classroom in which questions are seriously unhip. As a result, postmortal narrators seem reassuringly unscathed by death, and maybe the almost offhand deconstruction of death, removing it from consideration, not simply as a trauma capable of inspiring terror, but even as a puzzling or strange transition, is one ambition these works have in common. Death once deconstructed, there’s no more dying then?

More here.

On the Triumph of the Pornographic Imagination

Rochelle Gurstein in The New Republic:

“Younger women today are growing more comfortable with their sexuality,” she said, “and it makes perfect sense that they’d want to create a hip corner of the pornographic universe where they can express themselves.”

A hip corner of the pornographic universe where younger women, who are more comfortable with their sexuality, can express themselves. … So it has come to this, I thought. Pornography, which only a generation ago had been assailed by feminists as the ultimate act of objectification, subordination, and dehumanization of women in a capitalist, patriarchal society was now being offered as an entertaining tidbit in the “Sunday Styles” section of the [New York] Times, surrounded on the same page by ads for Prada luxury goods and followed by photographs of the social elite at their charity functions on the next. As is so often the case these days, the world appeared upside down to me and I almost felt like laughing, so absurd was the spectacle of naïvete being paraded around as the last word in sophistication.

But, before I knew it, I was feeling something more like nausea…

More here.

Celebrating Einstein: a gorgeous, cheap and nasty, and fabulous, Ballet

Valerie Jamieson interviews Mark Baldwin, choreographer at the Rambert Dance Company in London, and Ray Rivers, professor of theoretical physics at Imperial College London, about a ballet they are collaborating on to celebrate Einstein, in New Scientist:

What do you think of art-science collaborations in general?

MB: Dreary and boring.

RR: Some of them anyway. They don’t have a good history. I’m not saying they aren’t a good idea. They are often done with good intentions, but it’s just the way some of them have been realised. I remember once seeing people dressed in yellow as quarks. Once in a while, I drive past the hall where I saw them and my heart sinks every time.

MB: There has been a piece of theatre recently aimed at children about tearing holes in space and getting lost in them. I didn’t want to go there. I’m not Dr Who.

How is Constant Speed, your new dance for Rambert, different?

MB: Constant Speed isn’t worthy. It is gorgeous, cheap and nasty, and fabulous.

RR: Right from the beginning we were dead against giving a physics lesson.

More here.

Planets with Two Suns Likely Common

Michael Schirber in Space.com:

Amakon…more than half of the stars in our galaxy have a stellar companion. And yet, of the 130 or so currently known exoplanets (none of which are Earth-like), only about 20 of them are around so-called binaries. The percentage may grow higher. The current ratio is affected by an observational bias: planet hunters tend to avoid binaries because the star-star interactions can hide the planet signatures. Scientists discussed the issue earlier this month at a gathering of exoplanet hunters at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

More here.

Alan Dershowitz vs Norman Finkelstein

Steven Zeitchik in Publishers Weekly:

For years, Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz and DePaul professor Norman Finkelstein have been feuding brutally and publicly. Now the fight is spilling over into publishing.

It’s a duel already responsible, at least indirectly, for one publisher pulling out from publishing Finkelstein’s book and for the author’s new house, the University of California Press, pushing it back several months.

The book, Beyond Chutzpah, is a point-by-point rebuttal of Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel. It also continues allegations that Finkelstein has long made that the Harvard professor invented facts in, plagiarized parts of and in fact may even have not written his 2003 book The Case for Israel.

More here.

Diane F. Halpern, Alison Gopnik, David Haig on “Pinker vs. Spelke”

If you missed the Pinker vs. Spelke debate, look at it here first. Now there are responses. This is Diane F. Halpern, at Edge.org:

Halpern100Approximately 50% of medical school graduates and 75% of veterinary school graduates are women. Forty-four percent of all PhDs in biology and life sciences are being awarded to women, so women obviously have the innate ability (the term used by Lawrence Summers) to succeed in science. Women are underrepresented in the number of PhDs awarded in mathematics (29%), engineering (17%), and computer/ information science (22%), and overrepresented in the percentage of PhDs in psychology (68%), and health sciences (63%) to give a few other examples. Yet, no one has asked if men have the innate ability to succeed in those academic disciplines where they are underrepresented…

More here.

Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature

DenisDenis Dutton reviews Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature by Joseph Carrol:

Joseph Carroll is a literary theorist who has applied his probing mind over the last decade to the origins, nature, and functions of literary experience. His new collection of essays and reviews, Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature (Routledge, $85.00 boards, $23.95 paper) looks at literature and literary theory through the lens of evolutionary psychology. At the same time, Carroll’s eye is that of an extremely perceptive literary critic. In fact, I would judge him to be one of the most acutJoecarrolle and knowledgeable readers of fiction I’ve ever encountered. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that he is sometimes dubious, or even scathing, about evolutionary explanations of literature that have been offered up by writers whose grasp of psychology exceeds, in his opinion, their command of high literature. His complaints, however, are not about the fundamental notion that evolution by natural and sexual selection have made human beings into the story-loving animals they have become: his adjustments are intended to increase the accuracy and usefulness of Darwin’s revolution. However critical he is of evolutionary psychologists, Carroll remains a Darwinian through and through.

More here.

2005 AIA Honor Awards

From the Architectural Record:

05_arch01_smEvery spring, RECORD provides editorial coverage of the winners of the AIA Honor Awards, which represents the highest recognition of excellence in architecture, interior architecture, and urban design. Projects were selected from more than 630 submissions, with 35 recipients to be honored later this month at the AIA National Convention and Expo in Las Vegas. In addition, in this issue we feature the Gold Medalist, the Firm of the Year, and the 25 Year Award winners…

Santiago Calatrava, FAIA, the brilliant architect-engineer, received the 61st AIA Gold Medal. In recognition of his legacy to architecture, his name will be engraved in a granite wall in the lobby of AIA headquarters in Washington, D.C. The Yale Center for British Art, designed by Louis I. Kahn, FAIA, received the 25 Year Award. The jury noted, “[This building] is one of the quietest expressions of a great building ever seen—so rewarding and exhilarating when you step inside.” And lastly, the Chicago firm of Murphy/Jahn received the Firm Award, the highest honor the AIA bestows on an architecture firm, for their consistently forward-looking vision.

More here.

May 18, 2005

PostSecret

This comes by way of Andrew Sullivan.  PostSecret is an interesting project.

You are invited to anonymously contribute your secrets to PostSecret. Each secret can be a regret, hope, funny experience, unseen kindness, fantasy, belief, fear, betrayal, erotic desire, feeling, confession, or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything – as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before.

Create your own 4-inch by 6-inch postcards out of any mailable material. But please only put one secret on a card. If you want to share two or more secrets, use multiple postcards.

Please put your complete secret and image on one side of the postcard.

Many have taken up the invitation.  The string of unique postcards, with secrets that range from the whimsical to the terrifying, creates an odd set of aesthetic and emotional sensations.

Moniza Alvi’s workshop

From The Guardian:Moniza1

Born in Pakistan and raised in Hertfordshire and now a tutor for the Open College of the Arts, the first of Moniza Alvi’s five poetry collections, The Country at My Shoulder, was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize and the Whitbread Poetry Award, and led to her being named as one of the 1994 Next Generation Poets. Her third collection, Carrying My Wife, received a Poetry Book Society recommendation, and in 2002 she was presented with a Cholmondeley Award for her poetry. Her latest collection, How the Stone Found its Voice – inspired by creation myths – was published by Bloodaxe in March. 

Take a look at her exercise, ‘Close to the Skin’

Poetry has always been drawn to the subject of dress and undress. In the 17th century, for instance, Robert Herrick revelled in Julia’s attire in ‘Upon Julia’s Clothes’: “Whenas in silks my Julia goes,/ Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows/ the liquefaction of her clothes.” More recently, in his Selected Poems, Charles Simic wrote of his shoes (“Shoes, secret face of my inner life:/ Two gaping toothless mouths,/ Two partly decomposed animal skins/ smelling of mice nests”), and Carol Ann Duffy edited an anthology, Out of Fashion, on this rich theme.

Clothes, which simultaneously reveal and conceal, tell us much about ourselves and our cultures. They can provide a strong focus – or starting point – for a poem.

More here.

Stem-cell niches: It’s the ecology, stupid!

From Nature:

Stemcells Linheng Li is learning to think like an ecologist. His study subjects put down roots near sources of nourishment and depend on other living things in their environment to thrive. But Li doesn’t have mud on his boots. The ‘species’ he studies are stem cells and the ‘ecosystem’ is bone marrow. Within the anatomical forest of the marrow, Li’s stem cells occupy specific niches — a term borrowed from ecology. An organism’s ecological niche is a definition of where it lives, what it does, and how it interacts with its environment. Alter that environment, and the consequences for the organism can be dire. Conversely, if you take an organism and deposit it in an alien ecosystem, all hell can break loose.

At the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Missouri, Li thinks in a similar way about stem cells. For example, in aplastic anaemia, stem cells are unable to produce sufficient blood cells, even though they look normal. Something about the cells’ microenvironment in the bone marrow may be awry, argues Li. “It’s like the soil being damaged,” he says. Similarly, just as an introduced species can run amok in its new environment, stem cells placed in the wrong tissue in the body might conceivably form a malignant tumour.

Clearly, you can’t hope to understand a woodland flower’s niche in the forest by examining a specimen grown in a pot. And biologists are realizing that they are missing an important part of the picture by studying stem cells in Petri dishes. “Thinking of stem cells in isolation can be productive,” says David Scadden, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Boston. “But it falsely simplifies what is a single component of a much larger, more complex system.”

More here.

DEPT. OF INSPIRATION: WRITERS AT WORK

Ben McGrath in The New Yorker:

Novelsldiedone_1_1A room of one’s own, in which to write: it’s an old and chronically romanticized idea—the solitary space, with an ashtray, an Olivetti, the morning light just so. Each writer has his own preferences and fetishes, of course. For Proust, it was walls insulated with cork, to keep sound out. For Bellow, a tilted drafting table, so that he could write standing up. Cheever looked out a window facing the woods; Hawthorne turned his back on one. Joseph Heller worked atop a shag carpet. The ideal persists, in a wireless age. Amy Tan surrounds herself with furniture from Imperial China.

In Queens, recently, an artists’ collective called Flux Factory commissioned architects to design three writers’ “habitats”—human terrariums, essentially, into which writers would move for a month’s time, as part of a “living installation” called “novel.” Three subjects relocated to the boxlike spaces about a week ago, and on June 4th they are expected to emerge with finished books…

Morgan2The week before the writers moved in, Flux’s president, Morgan Meis, gave a tour of the unfinished boxes. “This one is pretty much a hobbit hole,” he said of the first box, which was constructed mostly from found materials, bounty from a month’s worth of “dumpster diving” by its designer, Ian Montgomery. Meis sat down and made a serious face, impersonating a writer. “So you sit here and concentrate, and you look out,” he said, gesturing toward a dirt trough, where fast-growing grasses were to be planted, “to mark the passage of time.”

More here.  And there are related links here and here.

The Mega-Church Thing

Jeff Sharlet has posted the first half of his Harper’s piece on America’s largest mega-church online at his great site The Revealer. An excerpt:

‘They are drawn as if by magnetic forces; they speak of Colorado Springs, home to the greatest concentration of fundamentalist Christian activist groups in American history, both as a last stand and as a kind of utopia in the making. They say it is new and unique and precious, embattled by enemies, and also that it is “traditional,” a blueprint for what everybody wants, and envied by enemies.’

Here’s the rest of the first half.

That Barnes & Noble Dream

From Slate:

1776 This month marks the publication of 1776, David McCullough’s rousing, feel-good tale of how George Washington led a ragtag crew of continental soldiers into their fateful battle for independence. It’s safe to predict that 1776—the latest in a series of heavily hyped history blockbusters—will vault to the top of the best-seller lists, beguiling readers with its reverent portrait of Washington’s heroism and the dulcet cadences of McCullough’s finely wrought prose.

It will also drive many academic historians up the wall.

More here.

One Longsome Argument

From The Skeptical Inquirer:Tree

Charles Darwin liked to describe the origin of species as “one long argument,” but his extensive treatise in support of biological evolution now seems painfully brief compared to the argument that has followed in its wake. Indeed, never in the history of science has a more prolonged and passionate debate dogged the heels of a theory so thoroughly researched and repeatedly validated. And the end is nowhere in sight. Despite all evidence to the contrary, a large portion of the world’s population continues to cling to the belief that human beings are fundamentally different from all other life forms and that our origins are unique. It’s a lovely sentiment to be sure, but how is it that so many people continue to be drawn to this thoroughly discredited notion?

More here.

On literary scandals real and trumped up

Theodore Dalrymple in The New Criterion:

If a prisoner walks into my consulting room in the prison with a stick, he’s a sex offender; if he has gold front teeth, he’s a drug dealer; and if he’s reading Wittgenstein, he’s in for fraud: for it is virtually a law of our penal establishments that fraud and philosophy are what literary theorists like to call metonymic.

When you work in a prison as I do, white-collar criminals come as something of a light relief. At last someone with whom you can have a disinterested, abstract intellectual conversation! No more talk about alcoholic mothers, brutal stepfathers, and terrible childhoods as the fons et origo of car theft: it’s straight to the meaning of life, the social contract and the metaphysical foundation of morality (they always say that there isn’t any). It’s almost like being a student again, up till three in the morning, trying to work out what no man has ever worked out before.

The fact is that people who commit fraud, at least on a large scale, have lively, intelligent minds…

More here.

The Logic of Female Orgasm

Dinitia Smith in the New York Times:

Evolutionary scientists have never had difficulty explaining the male orgasm, closely tied as it is to reproduction.

But the Darwinian logic behind the female orgasm has remained elusive. Women can have sexual intercourse and even become pregnant – doing their part for the perpetuation of the species – without experiencing orgasm. So what is its evolutionary purpose?

Over the last four decades, scientists have come up with a variety of theories, arguing, for example, that orgasm encourages women to have sex and, therefore, reproduce or that it leads women to favor stronger and healthier men, maximizing their offspring’s chances of survival.

But in a new book, Dr. Elisabeth A. Lloyd, a philosopher of science and professor of biology at Indiana University, takes on 20 leading theories and finds them wanting. The female orgasm, she argues in the book, “The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution,” has no evolutionary function at all.

More here.

Super Water

Skip Kaltenheuser in Wired:

GlasswaterA California company has figured out how to use two simple materials — water and salt — to create a solution that wipes out single-celled organisms, and which appears to speed healing of burns, wounds and diabetic ulcers.

The solution looks, smells and tastes like water, but carries an ion imbalance that makes short work of bacteria, viruses and even hard-to-kill spores.

Developed by Oculus Innovative Sciences in Petaluma, the super-oxygenated water is claimed to be as effective a disinfectant as chlorine bleach, but is harmless to people, animals and plants. If accidentally ingested by a child, the likely impact is a bad case of clean teeth.

More here.

May 17, 2005

Why H.I.V. rates are rising among gay men

Michael Specter in The New Yorker:

The first thing people on methamphetamine lose is their common sense; suddenly, anything goes, including unprotected anal sex with many different partners in a single night—which is among the most efficient ways to spread H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases. In recent surveys, more than ten per cent of gay men in San Francisco and Los Angeles report having used the drug in the past six months; in New York, the figure is even higher.

After years of living in constant fear of aids, many gay men have chosen to resume sexual practices that are almost guaranteed to make them sick. In New York City, the rate of syphilis has increased by more than four hundred per cent in the past five years. Gay men account for virtually the entire rise. Between 1998 and 2000, fifteen per cent of the syphilis cases in Chicago could be attributed to gay men. Since 2001, that number has grown to sixty per cent. Look at the statistics closely and you will almost certainly find the drug.

More here.