an enigmatic portrait of that old enigma, Thomas Hardy


Let’s get the obvious question out of the way: do we need another biography of Thomas Hardy? Yes, we do. First of all, because Hardy is one of the most mysterious writers in English literature; and second of all, because this one is by Claire Tomalin, who always brings an acute and original intelligence to bear. Here she ranges herself with the calmer Hardy scholars, Michael Millgate in particular: no evidence for an affair with his cousin Tryphena, for example, or for a family model for Tess. She mops our brows, too, about Hardy’s famous response to seeing a woman hanged. Did he find her still an attractive woman at the point of death? ‘Only too likely, surely, but hardly culpable’; merely expressing the painful truth that she was young and beautiful, and at the same time dead.

more from Literary Review here.

one muslim, one jew


Jeffrey Goldberg’s wonderful new book, Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide, opens with a scene worthy of Graham Greene. “On the morning of the fine spring day, full of sunshine, that ended with my arrest in Gaza, I woke early from an uneven sleep, dressed, and pushed back to its proper place the desk meant to barricade the door of my hotel room,” he writes. It was six months into the second Intifada, and Mr. Goldberg (no relation) was on assignment for The New Yorker. After breakfast with an “unhappy terrorist” with a penchant for Russian literature and a visit to the freshly bombed base of Yasir Arafat’s personal bodyguard unit, he repaired to a café. There, he was seized by gunmen from one of Gaza’s security services—he couldn’t determine which one—and accused of being an Israeli spy.

more from The NY Observer here.

the universe is one gigantic swirling vortex of vomit


That the work of H.P. Lovecraft has been selected for the Library of America would have surprised Edmund Wilson, whose idea the Library was. In a 1945 review he dismissed Lovecraft’s stories as “hackwork,” with a sneer at the magazines for which they were written, Weird Talesand Amazing Stories, “where…they ought to have been left.”[1] Lovecraft had been dead for eight years by then, and although his memory was kept alive by a cult— there is no other word—that established a publishing house for the express purpose of collecting his work, his reputation was strictly marginal and did not seem likely to expand.

Since then, though, for a writer who depended entirely on the meager sustenance of the pulps and whose brief career brought him sometimes to the brink of actual starvation, whose work did not appear in book form during his lifetime (apart from two slender volumes, each of a single story, published by fans) and did not attract the attention of serious critics before his death in 1937, Lovecraft has had quite an afterlife. His influence has been far-reaching and, in the last thirty or forty years, continually on the increase, if often in extraliterary ways.

more from the NY Review of Books here.

The Mathematized Natural World, Women and the Sciences

In the New York Times, Margaret Wertheim, author of Pythagoras’ Trousers, on math and physics in Western culture and its implications for women in the sciences.

Pythagoras introduced numbers into this mix and put them on the male side of the ledger. In the Pythagorean system, thinking about numbers, or doing mathematics, was an inherently masculine task. Mathematics was associated with the gods, and with transcendence from the material world; women, by their nature, were supposedly rooted in this latter, baser realm…

The Pythagorean association of mathematics with transcendence was easily imported into a Christian context, giving rise to the idea of the Judeo-Christian god as a mathematical creator. When Stephen Hawking links a theory of everything to the mind of god today, he is reiterating an essentially Pythagorean view. But this godly-mathematical connection also sat easily with the Catholic tradition of a male-only priesthood. Thus, from the start, women were excluded from this academic field and its associated sciences…

Many women who have gone into science since the 1970’s continue to be stunned at how slow change has been. Gail G. Hanson, distinguished professor of physics at the University of California, Riverside, and the only woman to have won the W. K. H. Panofsky Prize in experimental particle physics, said by phone: “At this point there seems to be an acceptance of women in science at relatively junior levels. But once we get to more senior levels, a kind of antagonism sets in.”

As a postdoctoral fellow at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Dr. Hanson discovered quark jets, the work for which she would later be awarded the Panofsky Prize. Yet throughout her research career, she said, she has continued to be treated like a junior colleague, not like a leading researcher.

Amnesty Appeals for the Lives of Seven Iranian Women

Via Lindsay Beyerstein, Amnesty urgently appeals to its members and concerned people to write to the Iranian government in regard to this impending stoning of seven women in Iran.

Amnesty International has issued an urgent appeal calling on its members to write letters to the Republic of Iran asking them not to stone seven women.

Nearly all of the women have been sentenced to die by stoning for adultery. Officially Iran had placed a moratorium on the cruel and painful practise in 2002, but Amnesty claims sentencing continues. The group has received credible reports that two people were stoned to death in May.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has ruled that treating adultery and fornication as criminal offences does not comply with international human rights standards.

“The sentence of execution by stoning for adultery breaches Iran’s commitment under article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that death sentences will be imposed ‘only for the most serious crimes’,” Amnesty wrote in its appeal.

Under Shari’a law, a prisoner is buried up to her breast, her hands restrained. Rules also specify the size of the stones which can be thrown so that death is painful and not imminent. Both men and women can be sentenced to die by stoning.

Ali Eteraz has some suggestions for action and a template letter to Iran’s Minister of Justice.

Executive Unbound

And in Reason Online, more on the Military Commission Act.

The new trial procedures, though problematic in some ways, are a clear improvement over the Bush administration’s original rules, which the Supreme Court overturned because they were not authorized by Congress. But these protections are available only to the detainees the government decides to try. The rest, including the vast majority of current detainees, can be imprisoned indefinitely based on the findings of Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which perfunctorily confirm the government’s detention decisions.

The Military Commissions Act does not seem to require even this pro forma review. It says an “unlawful enemy combatant” is a person who is not part of a country’s uniformed armed forces but “who has engaged in hostilities or has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.” It does not say who makes that determination or what evidence, if any, is required.

Alternatively, an unlawful enemy combatant is anyone so labeled by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, which can apply its own definition. The act apparently would permit a tribunal to decide a detainee must be an unlawful enemy combatant because he’s named Muhammad or because he has a beard.

The law bars detainees who are not U.S. citizens from challenging their detention in federal court, so they have no legal recourse outside the executive branch. The government can arrest “aliens,” including legal visitors and residents, and hold them indefinitely, based on nothing more than the president’s unilateral determination that they qualify as unlawful enemy combatants.

To recognize the danger of giving the executive branch this kind of unreviewable power, you need look no further than the men sent to Guantanamo Bay because they were falsely identified as Al Qaeda or Taliban hangers-on by Afghan warlords hungry for bounty money.

The Consequences of the Military Commission Act

Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights in The Nation:

Twice in the past five years the Supreme Court has insisted that habeas corpus applies to these prisoners and ruled that the Bush Administration must apply the law. Yet last week Congress buckled in the face of election-year rhetoric about “terrorism” from the White House and passed new legislation denying our clients the right to challenge their detentions, or even to see the evidence against them. While I’m convinced that this law will not stand in court, we are still facing at least a year of challenges before it is declared unconstitutional.

ut it is not only our clients who are in jeopardy under this new legislation. Americans need to remember the sweeps and mass detentions after September 11, 2001, when thousands of noncitizens were rounded up and treated as terrorists–which none of them turned out to be. Habeas corpus was their remedy; they could go to court and force the Administration to justify their detentions. Now noncitizens can be rounded up, detained forever and never get their case into a court.

And yet, even more sadly, the tossing aside of habeas corpus was only one of the draconian features of the Military Commission Act.

Another nasty piece of the legislation authorizes the President, on his own authority, to detain anyone, citizen or noncitizen, anywhere in the world, whom he deems to be an “unlawful enemy combatant.” The definition of that term is broadly worded and would allow the President to imprison almost anyone.

If you are unlucky enough to be a noncitizen and the President detains you as an unlawful enemy combatant, you can never test the legality of your detention in court because habeas corpus has been abolished. You are there forever… or until the President changes his mind. If you are lucky enough to be a citizen, your habeas rights will not get you out quickly: The President can now detain any citizen he chooses, without charges, simply by declaring that the prisoner is an enemy combatant.

Talk Talk

From The Atlantic Monthly:

Boyle The battle between the sexes continues unabated in T. C. Boyle’s latest novel. Decked out as a thriller — complete with a heroine thirsting for justice, a wily villain scrambling to stay one step ahead, cross-country chases, and close escapes — it is also another T. C. Boyle story of relationships gone awry, of strong women and the slightly awestruck men who orbit them. (The eternal mystery of Woman has always fascinated Boyle; most of his novels exalt females as somehow more-than-human presences who dwell among lesser, mortal males.)

The strong woman in question this time around is a deaf English teacher with a brittle personality, a chip on her shoulder, and a formidable will. Unlike most Boyle heroines, she’s not very likable, but she does elicit a certain grudging respect. (Her sidekick/boyfriend, an affable nonentity, serves mainly as a foil.) The real star is her nemesis, a slick crook building a career as an identity thief. By turns conciliatory and vengeful, doting and irresponsible, debonair and crude, he steals her identity and your sympathy; when their paths finally cross, you’re rooting for them both.

More here.

Chemotherapy Prompts Lingering Intellectual Deficit

From Scientific American:

Chemo More people survive cancer than ever before. With early detection, for example, women stricken with breast cancer are often successfully treated and go on to live long lives. But concomitant with this cheering rise in cancer survival is a worrying increase in complaints about cognitive impairment as life goes on. Some cancer survivors have trouble with concentration or fatigue. New research shows this is not just in their minds but, in fact, in their brains.

Daniel H. Silverman of the University of California, Los Angeles and a cross-disciplinary group of doctors, including UCLA oncologist Patricia Ganz, used scans to try to identify the brain basis for this intellectual deficit. Using positron emission tomography (PET) the researchers tracked both blood flow in the brain as well as the presence of a glucose analogue to examine brain metabolism. The researchers examined 40 regions of the brain as the women performed a word-pairing memory task six times to see how the woman–and their brains–differed. The chemotherapy patients showed a significant jump in blood flow to the frontal cortex and cerebellum compared with the controls. “They had to work harder to carry out the same cognitive tasks”.

More here.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006



It is a shame that Tod Papageorge’s black-and-white photographs are not better known. While many lesser figures have enjoyed sold-out shows during the ongoing boom, Papageorge has been absent from New York galleries for more than 20 years (though his work can be found in numerous surveys and histories of contemporary American photography). A pivotal figure in making a street-savvy, elegant, hyperkinetic, 35 mm style the dominant aesthetic among a generation of American artists during the ’70s, Papageorge at the same time established himself as an articulate and occasionally biting critic of others’ work. Later, as professor at the Yale School of Art, where he has directed the graduate program in photography since 1979, he became a force in the lives of countless students, many of whom have gone on to become eminent artists and teachers themselves, among them Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Abelardo Morell, Gregory Crewdson, An-My L�, Anna Gaskell, and Katy Grannan.

more from Bomb here.

panter’s playhouse


The last time the art of Gary Panter was featured in Los Angeles was less than a year ago, when his virtuosic and groundbreaking Jimbo — the postapocalyptic Tintin-on-nitrous-and-steroids slacker whose adventures were originally a staple of the L.A. punk-era zine Slash — was included in MOCA’s half of the “Masters of American Comics” exhibit, a show that garnered considerable positive press and inched forward the general acceptance of comics as a legitimate artistic medium (whatever that means). Panter’s inclusion, while absolutely unimpeachable on aesthetic or historical grounds, was never a foregone conclusion — the show’s brief roster had numerous glaring omissions, and Panter’s work still provokes flurries of disapproval from anal geeks for his deliberately scraggy line and his complex and fragmented literary voice.

more from the LA Weekly here.

Secrets of the Cave Paintings

William H. McNeill in the New York Review of Books:

250pxlascauxIn 1879 a Spanish landowner named Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola was searching for prehistoric artifacts on the floor of a cave on his family property in northern Spain when his young daughter interrupted, calling out “Look, Papa, oxen” as she looked up at the cave’s ceiling and “saw vivid yet delicate paintings of bison, almost fully life-sized, that appear to be tumbling across the sky.” Her discovery swiftly brought ancient cave paintings to widespread public attention, and set off a complex history of dispute about their origin and meaning. Since then, thousands of similar paintings have been discovered in more than two hundred caves scattered through southwestern France and northeastern Spain on either side of the Pyrenees. Argument still rages about them and the contrasting viewpoints of the two books under review carry the controversy forward.

A century of study widened the initial focus on the Altamira cave, where Sautuola’s daughter made her discovery, but all the additional images and reliable radiocarbon dating of bits of charcoal used to make black paint for many of the drawings have not diminished disagreement about the nature and purpose of the sometimes masterful, sometimes enigmatic, yet often hasty, or even clumsy, cave art of Europe.

More here.

Muslim clerics spreading myth that polio vaccine is a conspiracy to sterilize Muslims

Aravind Adiga in Time:

India_polio0929Poliomyelitis, a contagious viral disease that once crippled and killed thousands of children annually, has been eliminated in most of the Western world thanks to a vaccine invented by Jonas Salk in the 1950s, but it still survives in some of the world’s poorest countries. India seemed to be on the verge of eliminating polio last year, when it reported just 66 cases of the disease, down from 1600 in 2002. This year, however, things have gone horribly wrong with India’s polio elimination campaign; 325 cases have been reported already, and at least 23 of them have been fatal. What’s caught people’s attention is that 70% of those infected with polio this year are Muslim, even though Muslims account for only 13% of India’s population. What’s even stranger, and frightening, is the reason: some Muslims believe that the polio drops are part of a conspiracy to sterilize their children, and are refusing to let them be vaccinated.

More here.

The challenges of writing Palestinian history

Rashid Khalidi in the Boston Globe:

Idcard_1As I write, with rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah unable to agree on the fundamental basis for a new coalition government, and with the devastating effects of the Israeli and international boycott provoked by Hamas’s victory in last January’s elections, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip appears to be tottering. Whether it survives or not, the prospect of the independent state that the Palestinians have never had, and that many expected to emerge from this Authority, seems as distant as ever.

The United Nations resolution of 1947 that led to the establishment of Israel called for such a state. In the years before that, Palestinians similarly failed to win independence from the British, who held a League of Nations mandate over Palestine, in part because of internal rivalries, but also because of the constellation of forces arrayed against them.

Why did the Palestinians fail to establish an independent state before 1948, and what was the impact of that failure in the years that followed, down to the present? These questions are important, first, because Palestinian history must be properly understood if we are to comprehend the present, and because this history has significance in its own right.

More here.


From CNN:

A Japanese mental health counselor recited pi to 100,000 decimal places from memory on Wednesday, setting what he claims to be a new world record.

Akira Haraguchi, 60, needed more than 16 hours to recite the number to 100,000 decimal places, breaking his personal best of 83,431 digits set in 1995, his office said Wednesday. He made the attempt at a public hall in Kisarazu, just east of Tokyo.

Pi is a physical constant defined as the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.

More here.

Debating What to Do About Darfur

In openDemocracy, a back and forth between Gérard Prunier and Alex de Waal, who is also advising the negotiations in Abuja, on peace and intervention in Darfur.

[de Waal] The criterion of “quick success” immediately rules out the pundits’ favourite proposals for intervention in Darfur. The central question for an intervention force is what to do about the janjaweed militia. The various militia groups that have been labeled janjaweed have over the last few years been responsible for horrendous atrocities. They have also been engaged in some fierce fighting against the combat-hardened guerrillas of the Darfur rebel movements. A Nato force able to protect civilians and disarm the janjaweed is the option favoured by many activists.

Then Prunier:

[Prunier] It is relevant that Alex de Waal was a principal advisor to the negotiating teams in Abuja, and had vigorously defended the provisions of the DPA as a “historic opportunity” which should not be missed – since not signing this text would open the door to renewed violence in the province.

Ten weeks on, the ruins of the agreement are everywhere apparent. A host of reports and testimonies confirm that the violence has got worse as the offensive military operations of the Sudanese government have escalated. The scale of atrocities is comparable with those perpetrated during the massacres of late 2003 and early 2004. It cannot be believed that this is due only to the fact that the DPA’s implementation “is stalling”.

And again:

[de Waal] The people of Darfur face some grim options. UN troops, even if they can be agreed as a replacement for African Union forces after the latter’s now extended mandate until the end of 2006, would be a stopgap measure at best. A mediated political settlement will not be easy. It is harder now than it was in May, as positions have polarised and distrust has deepened over the last few months. Without it, any elections in 2009 will be meaningless, and the achievements of the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement will unravel.

Or, as Prunier seems to propose, the international community could take sides, perhaps as the French did in Chad or Rwanda. Or, as he also seems to suggest, we could wait until “political-military control and positioning on the ground have been redefined by the combatants themselves” – a recipe that sounds rather like allowing the war to continue unchecked. How that could lead to a “true negotiation” in which the dominant Khartoum elites yield power to a new federation is a puzzle to me.

Software to Monitor Political Opinions

And how hard would it be to turn this inward. In the New York Times:

A consortium of major universities, using Homeland Security Department money, is developing software that would let the government monitor negative opinions of the United States or its leaders in newspapers and other publications overseas.

Such a “sentiment analysis” is intended to identify potential threats to the nation, security officials said…

American officials have long relied on newspapers and other news sources to track events and opinions here and abroad, a goal that has included the routine translation of articles from many foreign publications and news services.

The new software would allow much more rapid and comprehensive monitoring of the global news media, as the Homeland Security Department and, perhaps, intelligence agencies look “to identify common patterns from numerous sources of information which might be indicative of potential threats to the nation,” a statement by the department said…

Even the basic research has raised concern among journalism advocates and privacy groups, as well as representatives of the foreign news media.

“It is just creepy and Orwellian,” said Lucy Dalglish, a lawyer and former editor who is executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

What are Mark Foley’s Follies?

In Counterpunch, Gary Leupp has a different take on the Mark Foley affair.

Foley–if he were to openly acknowledge his sexuality–might declare that he just happens to like (just barely legal if legal-aged) boys, and has engaged them in mutually enjoyable private conversations over the net which are simply nobody else’s business. (No one has yet charged to my knowledge that he has had illegal physical intercourse with underage youths. That may come, but I haven’t read that yet.) But most seem convinced already that he’s guilty of the attempted seduction or at least efforts to corrupt “children.” The Republican leadership in Congress, dismayed at how the Democrats are using this, and frightened by the media spin on the story (“may well threaten Republican control over Congress”) has decided to throw the book at its formerly esteemed colleague. Hastert, Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, and Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri now accuse Foley of “an obscene breach of trust,” and declare “[Foley’s] immediate resignation must now be followed by the full weight of the criminal justice system.” Obviously they want to seem, like the hypocritical French policeman in the film Casablanca, “Shocked shocked!” by the news.

But what, specifically, shocks here? Congressional pages must by current rules be at least 16 years old, the minimum age having been raised from 14 during the last big Congressional page-related sex scandal (in 1983, in which Hastert’s Illinois Republican colleague Rep. Daniel B. Crane was involved). In many states, 16 is the age of consent for males, and in some of these, homosexual relations are not illegal. These include Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. In Hawai’i, consent age is 14. In Washington DC, it is also 16 and there is no law on homosexuality. (In Louisiana, the age is 17 and gay sex is technically still illegal.)

Roger D. Kornberg Wins Chemistry Nobel

In the New York Times:

American Roger D. Kornberg, whose father won a Nobel Prize a half-century ago, was awarded the prize in chemistry Wednesday for his studies of how cells take information from genes to produce proteins.

The work is important for medicine, because disturbances in that process are involved in illnesses like cancer, heart disease and various kinds of inflammation. And learning more about the process is key to using stem cells to treat disease.

Kornberg, 59, a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, said medical benefits from his research have taken root.

”There are … already many therapies, many drugs that are in development in trials or already available and there will be many more,” he said. ”Significant benefits to human health are already forthcoming. I think there will be many many more.”

Apocalypse Now

From The Washington Post:City

In Cormac McCarthy’s new novel, The Road, the bloodbath is finally complete. The violence that animated his great Western novels has been superseded by a flash of nuclear annihilation, which also blasts away some of what we expect from the reclusive author’s work. With this apocalyptic tale, McCarthy has moved into the allegorical realm of Samuel Beckett and José Saramago — and, weirdly, George Romero.

The novel opens on a world that seems to have been demolished by the psychopaths of McCarthy’s earlier fiction, as though the Judge from Blood Meridian had graduated from shotguns to atomic bombs and vented his spleen upon the entire planet. It’s a shift that transforms not only the physical landscape, reduced now to barren plains of ash, but the moral landscape as well. The fear of dying, so prevalent in McCarthy’s previous novels, is balanced here by the fear of surviving: “Creedless shells of men tottering down the causeways like migrants in a feverland. The frailty of everything revealed at last. Old and troubling issues resolved into nothingness and night.”

More here.