Recognized as a brilliant political analyst, beginning with his work in the nineteen-sixties for Reuters and then for the New York Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor, and, finally, as a Time correspondent for eleven years, Pham Xuan An seemed to do his best work swapping stories with colleagues in Givral’s café, on the old Rue Catinat. Here he presided every afternoon as the best news source in Saigon. He was called “Dean of the Vietnamese Press Corps” and “Voice of Radio Catinat”—the rumor mill. With self-deprecating humor, he preferred other titles for himself, such as “docteur de sexologie,” “professeur coup d’état,” “Commander of Military Dog Training” (a reference to the German shepherd that always accompanied him), “Ph.D. in revolutions,” or, simply, General Givral.
We now know that this is only half the work An did as a reporter, and not the better half. An sent the North Vietnamese a steady stream of secret military documents and messages written in invisible ink, but it was his typed dispatches, now locked in Vietnam’s intelligence archives and known to us only through secondhand reports, which will undoubtedly rank as his chef d’oeuvre. Using a Hermes typewriter bought specially for him by the North Vietnamese intelligence service, An wrote his dispatches, some as long as a hundred pages, at night. Photographed and transported as undeveloped rolls of film, An’s reports were run by courier out to the Cu Chi tunnel network that served as the Communists’ underground headquarters.
more form the amazing story in The New Yorker from last year here.
ABC bio, obit here.
Imagine that five American nurses and a British doctor have been detained and tortured in a Libyan prison since 1999, and that a Libyan prosecutor called at the end of August for their execution by firing squad on trumped-up charges of deliberately contaminating more than 400 children with HIV in 1998. Meanwhile, the international community and its leaders sit by, spectators of a farce of a trial, leaving a handful of dedicated volunteer humanitarian lawyers and scientists to try to secure their release.
Implausible? That scenario, with the medics enduring prison conditions reminiscent of the film Midnight Express, is currently playing out in a Tripoli court, except that the nationalities of the medics are different. The nurses are from Bulgaria and the doctor is Palestinian.
For back ground on the case, see here.
Mukhtar Mai writes a blog for women’s justice in Pakistan (in Urdu). From the BBC, some excerpts in English:
1 July 2006
I came back to my village, Mirwala, (after a trip to Poland) and was devastated to hear what had happened in a nearby village, Wadowala.
A nine-year-old girl, Naseem Bibi, had been abused. Not just that, but another girl had been promised to be handed over to settle the dispute arising over the incident.
I was devastated to hear this.
Here I was talking about women’s rights abroad but what about my own neighbourhood?
I was really disappointed and worried. How long will this continue?
But then I thought, oppression of women has to end. Instead of losing heart, I need to keep fighting.
(Here, you can find the blog in Urdu.)
In Counterpunch, our Justin Smith on ending the death penalty.
What is it we are doing when we execute someone? One bit of insight into the true nature of capital punishment may be discerned by considering the odd practice of keeping death-row prisoners on suicide watch. Why bother if the plan is to execute them anyway? Part of the answer seems to be that the aim of capital punishment is not simply to bring it about that the prisoners are dead, but to bring it about that they are killed. In this respect, even if we do not eat their remains, their deaths resemble the ritual slaughter of animals more than we might like to think. There is moreover an important conceptual difference worth pausing on for a moment between slaughter and extermination: nobody would object if a vermin exterminator found a method of getting pigeons or raccoons or rats to commit suicide, while a cow that killed itself would no doubt be deemed inedible. Capital punishment, then, is not the practice of reducing the number of living murderers in the world. It is an ancient and savage spectacle that can be traced back to pagan sacrifice of both humans and animals, but cleaned up and made palatable through modern institutional procedures, through the legitimizing apparatus of euphemism- filled paperwork, lengthy delays and somber expressions conveying the impression that, when, the moment finally comes, it has to be that way.
Abolitionism, as opposed to reformism, would refuse to accept the somber tone of the judges and sheriffs and governors, by replying: no, it does not have to be that way. The balance of justice can be maintained without periodic sacrifices. Abolitionism would advertise the moral taint these public figures invite through their involvement in the affair, and it would show why the reformist arguments by themselves, while useful for saving the lives of individual Death Row inmates, fail to take seriously the fundamental incompatibility of capital punishment with other basic principles of morality and justice that our society claims to accept.
The Economist on the upcoming elections:
[T]he Gallup poll found specific evidence that Mr Bush’s strategy of vowing again and again to catch or kill terrorists is helping his party. Gallup discovered that among registered voters who think terrorism is the most important issue, far more think Republicans would do a better job than Democrats in fighting it (68%-17%). Among those who said the war in Iraq was their top issue, it was the other way around: 60% thought Democrats would handle Iraq better, while only 23% said Republicans would. So if the Republicans can maximise the number of people thinking about terror on election day, maybe they can hang on to both arms of Congress.
Some news helps them: for example, the alleged British plot to blow up transatlantic airliners. And advertisements put out by pro-Republican pressure groups add unsubtle mood music. One from the Centre for Security Policy urges Americans to “Vote as if your life depends on it. Because it does.” Another, from a group called Progress for America, states simply that “These people want to kill us.”
Violating the Human Rights of Kashmiris seems to be another thing that India and Pakistan have in common. From Human Rights Watch:
In Azad Kashmir, a region largely closed to international scrutiny until a devastating earthquake hit last year, the Pakistani government represses democratic freedoms, muzzles the press and practices routine torture, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
Based on research in Azad Kashmir (which means “free Kashmir”) and Pakistan, the 71-page report, “‘With Friends Like These …’: Human Rights Violations in Azad Kashmir,” uncovers abuses by the Pakistani military, intelligence services and militant organizations.
“Although ‘azad’ means ‘free,’ the residents of Azad Kashmir are anything but,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Pakistani authorities govern Azad Kashmir with strict controls on basic freedoms.”
Before a massive earthquake struck in October, Azad Kashmir was one of the most closed territories in the world. Tight controls on freedom of expression have been a hallmark of government policy in Azad Kashmir. Pakistan has prevented the creation of independent media in the territory through bureaucratic restrictions and coercion. Publications and literature favoring independence is banned. While militant organizations promoting the incorporation of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir state into Pakistan have had free rein to propagate their views, groups promoting an independent Kashmir find their speech sharply, sometimes violently curtailed.
[Hat tip: Lucy Mair.]
The Royal Academy is filled with bodies: pliable bodies, sexy bodies, fused bodies, suffering bodies, languorous bodies and pleasuring bodies. Among them are martyrs, lovers, the great, the good and the damned. Iconic bodies that kiss and think; others standing still and walking. Bodies dancing, crouching, wanking, exposing themselves to our gaze; bodies that seem to look back and turn away as we circle them. What all these bodies are doing, most of all, is being. And being with them, in these tremendously animated and peopled rooms, where the Royal Academy’s Rodin exhibition opens on Saturday, is itself a complex pleasure. We, too, are bodies among these bronze, plaster, marble and terracotta others. Walking among these entire and fragmentary beings, I think about what it is to be flesh and blood.
more from The Guardian here.
I appreciate Thomas Nagel’s careful exposition of the themes of my book Public Philosophy, a collection of essays on the role of moral argument in politics [“Progressive but Not Liberal,” NYR, May 25]. Although he is an ardent defender of Kantian/Rawlsian liberalism, precisely the view my work challenges, he fairly presents the question at stake: Can the principles of justice that define our basic rights and liberties be neutral with respect to substantive moral and religious controversies (as Rawls and Nagel claim), or does reasoning about justice sometimes require us to engage directly with such controversies (as I claim)?
Oddly, Nagel’s review takes on a nasty edge when he rises to the defense of Rawls. Nagel claims that I “ridicule” and “deride” Rawls’s view, and casts my disagreement with Rawlsian liberalism as a failure to understand it. I leave it to readers of Public Philosophy to judge for themselves whether anything I say about Rawls remotely approaches ridicule or derision. But I would like to show why Nagel is wrong to insist that my critique of liberal neutrality is based on a misunderstanding of the liberal position.
more from the NY Review of Books here.
Ric Burns’s four-hour documentary on Andy Warhol’s career, which aired on PBS’s American Masters Series and is now showing at New York’s Film Forum, opens with a priceless piece of footage. Andy, in sunglasses, is being interviewed in front of a few of his Brillo boxes by an earnest someone, while an insider in a business suit looks on, smirking.
“Andy,” she asks, “the Canadian government spokesman said that your art could not be described as original sculpture. Would you agree with that?” Warhol answers, “Yes.” “Why do you agree?” “Well, because it’s not original.” “You have just then copied a common item?” “Yes.” The interviewer gets exasperated. “Why have you bothered to do that? Why not create something new?” “Because it’s easier to do.” “Well, isn’t this sort of a joke then that you’re playing on the public?” “No. It gives me something to do.”
more from Arthur Danto on Warhol at The Nation here.
IT IS almost a century since Einstein did his finest work; more than 30 years since theoretical physicists developed the standard model that describes the basic building blocks of nature. Not a lot has happened since, despite the best efforts of thousands of theorists and the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars. Two new books blame string theory.
String theory is an attempt to unify two fundamental ideas in physics—quantum theory and general relativity—by building everything in the universe from tiny strings and membranes existing in 10 or 11 dimensions. The theory has been the dominant area of research in theoretical physics for the past 20 years. Unfortunately its promise remains unfulfilled. As yet, string theory has made no predictions that could prove it to be wrong. Since being falsifiable is one of the tests of what constitutes a science, Lee Smolin and Peter Woit have come to the conclusion that string theory is unscientific; not only that, they regard it as mere conjecture and unworthy of being called a theory at all.
more from The Economist here.
From The National Geographic:
The 3.3-million-year-old fossilized toddler was uncovered in north Ethiopia’s badlands along the Great Rift Valley. The skeleton, belonging to the primitive human species Australopithecus afarensis, is remarkable for its age and completeness, even for a region spectacularly rich in fossils of our ancient ancestors, experts say. The new find may even trump the superstar fossil of the same species: “Lucy,” a 3.2-million-year-old adult female discovered nearby in 1974 that reshaped theories of human evolution.
Some experts have taken to calling the baby skeleton “Lucy’s baby” because of the proximity of the discoveries, despite the fact that the baby is tens of thousands of years older.
The child was probably female and about three years old when she died, according to the researchers. Found in sandstone in the Dikika area, the remains include a remarkably well preserved skull, milk teeth, tiny fingers, a torso, a foot, and a kneecap no bigger than a dried pea. Archaeologists hope that the baby skeleton, because of its completeness, can provide a wealth of details that Lucy and similar fossils couldn’t.
I really couldn’t be more pleased or proud that my longtime friend and fellow Pakistani New Yorker, Shahzia Sikander, has won a $500,000 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship. She is being characteristically humble about it, and seems more concerned about the class she is teaching this semester than celebrating. All of us here at 3QD send her our heartiest congratulations!
This is from the MacArthur Fellowship website:
New York, New York
Shahzia Sikander is an artist whose visually striking, resonant works merge the traditional South Asian art of miniature painting with contemporary forms and styles. Her art ranges from intimate watercolors to mural-scale wall paintings and multi-layered paper installations, from intricate photographs to bold juxtapositions of painting and digital animation. Trained as a miniaturist at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan, Sikander recasts the conventions of this centuries-old tradition and challenges notions about the division of art and craft. While traversing cultural, geographic, and psychological boundaries and combining seemingly disparate formal elements, she skillfully expresses a respect for the distinctiveness of the cultures she explores. The results are painstakingly detailed drawings and vibrantly hued paintings that reveal themselves over time and reflect profoundly on the relationship between the present and the past and the richness of multicultural identities. In other projects, Sikander experiments with digital media to uproot the unity of her own miniatures and reposition their fragments with graceful movements of camera-work. This artist’s constant rethinking of media and visual sources makes her work a fluid, elaborately rendered commentary on diasporic experiences and our ever-changing world.
More here. My sister Sughra had posted a painting by Shahzia here some time ago. Other past posts at 3QD about Shahzia are here, here, here, and here. Here’s a work by Shahzia:
from the porfolio NO PARKING ANYTIME, 2001
Medium: Color photogravure with sugar lift aquatint
Paper size: 18-1/4 x 14-1/2″
Image size: 10 x 7-1/2″
Paper: Somerset Satin Soft White
And here is Shahzia’s official website. The other 2006 MacArthur Fellows can be seen here.
Via Jessica at Feministing, some of the new HP digital camera’s come with a “slimming” effect.
My arrival in Kampala coincided with the opening of the government’s media centre. As marabou storks wheeled in languid circles in the sky and his soldiers paced outside, President Museveni slouched grim-faced in his chair, showing no sign of the legendary charm as his staff introduced themselves.
Then he began to talk, and an extraordinary thing happened. His eyes boggled, his hands flew, his face came alive. He cracked jokes in Luganda and dropped the odd proverb. Lecturing “my children, my young friends” on the need to develop “ideological understanding”, he talked about how larvae became butterflies, said Africa was undergoing a similar metamorphosis, and cited the 500 years it took Europe to move from feudalism to modernity.
more from The New Statesman here.