mindy shapero


Shapero’s present-day epic is a self-invented version of the classic fairy tale that bespeaks and relieves anxiety. It is also about fear of monstrosity and our own potential to engender it. Her narrative starts out with a cute little patch of fur that has always been around, sitting “like anthrax does in the middle of a place seldom traveled by humans or animals,” when suddenly it becomes activated. Driven by a yearning to be loved, it steals the eyes of everyone in a village, and, discovering that “these eyes could advance its progression and growth,” engulfs even more eyes. Learning to see with eyes that it has stolen enables it to steal even more eyes. Growing to the size of a large sack, it becomes like King Ubu, the fantastical character imagined by French teenager Alfred Jarry more than a century ago who would later become a fixation in Surrealist practice. Although Shapero’s sack threatens to engulf everything in the world, ceding to the economy of fairy tales its very growth is ultimately turned against it. Once it becomes visible and threatening, people protect themselves.

more from X-TRA here.

Book of signs

From The Guardian:

Koran642 The earliest copies of the Qur’an were written in a script called Kufic Arabic, which had no vowel signs. It was not until the rule of the Umayyad Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik (685-705) that the first written version of the Qur’an with diacritics was produced. Seven different ways of reciting the Qur’an were also fixed, but that occurred still later, ca 934 CE. The same seven forms of Qur’an recitation have remained a canonical standard ever since.

Revelations are sorted out into chapters and verses, and the causes of each revelation provide context for its content. The number of revelations exceeds 200. They came to the Prophet Muhammad via a divine mediary (the Archangel Gabriel) between 610 and 632 CE. They are now arranged in 114 chapters. All but one begin by invoking God’s Name, then qualify the Name as at once Compassion and Compassionate: “In the Name of God, Full of Compassion, Ever Compassionate”. Different people close to the Prophet Muhammad heard these revelations as he uttered them. They remembered the words and repeated them orally. A few wrote them down. In all they total at least 6,219 verses. The contents of the surahs (chapters) and ayat (verses) are informed by the causes of revelation – that is, by events and circumstances that marked the Prophet’s life and the early Muslim community.

More here.

Genome Human

From The New York Times:

Crick_2 Francis Crick has never before been the subject of a significant biography. His personality, however, is the subject of one of the best-known lines in science literature. “I have never seen Francis Crick in a modest mood,” James Watson declared in the first sentence of “The Double Helix” (1968), his celebrated account of how he and Crick came to identify the structure of DNA in 1953. Thus the popular image of Watson’s scientific partner: a brash and boastful figure who shared responsibility for a singular breakthrough.

Now, two years after Crick’s death at age 88, the science writer Matt Ridley is attempting to revise the historical record. Ridley’s short biography examines the paired strands of Crick’s life and work, but gives the work a further twist: in his account, the heart of Crick’s career merely began in 1953, and lasted until the mid-1960’s, during which time Crick, having deduced DNA’s form, led the scientific charge to understand how it functions. Ridley claims this effort was “in many ways a greater scientific achievement than the double helix,” and his own effort to explain it should deepen his audience’s understanding of both Crick and DNA itself.

More here.

Friday, July 28, 2006

sean penn anti-ode


Must Sean Penn always look like he’s squeezing
the last drops out of a sponge and the sponge
is his face? Even the back of his head grimaces.
Just the pressure in his little finger alone
could kill a gorilla. Remember that kid
whose whole trick was forcing blood into his head
until he looked like the universe’s own cherry bomb
so he’d get the first whack at the piñata?
He’s grown up to straighten us all out
about weapons of mass destruction
but whatever you do, don’t ding his car door with yours.
Don’t ask about his girlfriend’s cat.

the rest of Dean Young’s poem at Poetry Magazine here.

fernando bryce


Since the late 1990s Fernando Bryce has been producing series of A4 and A3 ink drawings on cream paper that revisit historical periods and events by meticulously reproducing the print media that they left in their wake. Revolución (Revolution, 2004), a series of 219 drawings, for instance, is a panoramic visual account of 1960s’ revolutionary politics. In a similar vein Atlas Peru (2001) forms a kind of illustrated mosaic composed of 495 drawings on the history of Peru since the 1930s. These and other works are a combination of a sort of documentary archaeology, cultural critique and visual investigation into chequered histories and history-making. Bryce’s preferred source materials include political pamphlets, posters, flyers, newspaper articles and images, magazines and periodicals, tourist publications and official or business correspondence. Often he favours relatively obscure, ‘minor’ or forgotten records.

more from Frieze here.

Escort at The Tribeca Grand Hotel (Not What it Sounds Like)

Last night I made it to the first Escort gig. Escort is a giant disco ensemble band started by my friends Dan Balis, Eugene Cho, and Darius Maghen. (You can listen to their single “Starlight” here; click on the record if you want it from iTunes.) Of it, Stylus says:

Forget Metro Area’s arty recontextualization of digital disco, ‘80s R&B, and techno, the nine members of Brooklyn’s Escort unashamedly calls themselves “a modern disco and boogie ensemble,” and deliver one of the most convincing and satisfying throwbacks to the heydays of Prelude & West End Records that I’ve heard in awhile. “Starlight” is great nearly to the point of suspicion, melding together the tight disco-funk of Chic with the exquisite production of an Environ record (Darshan Jesrani of Metro Area is on hand for a dub on the flipside, naturally,) and doing it so well that you not only wonder why it hasn’t been done before, but how you lived without it. Augmented by violins, airy female vocals, and a bubbly synth hook, you’d be forgiven for choosing this to be the summer jam for both 1983 and 2006. Recommended, and then some.

Also read the odd but positive review of the performance at riffmarket (28 July 2006 “I Don’t Miss Broadway”.) They’ll have more shows in the city and you should go.

Deriving an “Ought” from the Neuroscience “Is” While Taking Down Moral Realism

Via Political Theory Daily Review, Joshua Greene looks at what neuroscience means for the ethics, in Nature Reviews:

The big meta-ethical question, then, might be posed as follows: are the moral truths to which we subscribe really full-blown truths, mind-independent facts about the nature of moral reality, or are they, like sexiness, in the mind of the beholder? One way to try to answer this question is to examine what is in the minds of the relevant beholders. Understanding how we make moral judgements might help us to determine whether our judgements are perceptions of external truths or projections of internal attitudes. More specifically, we might ask whether the appearance of moral truth can be explained in a way that does not require the reality of moral truth.

As noted above, recent evidence from neuroscience and neighbouring disciplines indicates that moral judgement is often an intuitive, emotional matter. Although many moral judgements are difficult, much moral judgement is accomplished in an intuitive, effortless way. An interesting feature of many intuitive, effortless cognitive processes is that they are accompanied by a perceptual phenomenology. For example, humans can effortlessly determine whether a given face is male or female without any knowledge of how such judgements are made. When you look at someone, you have no experience of working out whether that person is male or female. You just see that person’s maleness or femaleness. By contrast, you do not look at a star in the sky and see that it is receding. One can imagine creatures that automatically process spectroscopic redshifts, but as humans we do not. All of this makes sense from an evolutionary point of view.

Walzer and Elshtain on Iraq and Just War

In Dissent, Michael Walzer and Jean Bethke Elshtain debate just war and Iraq. Walzer:

So Iraq was not similar to the German or Japanese or the (hypothetical) Rwandan case: the war was not a response to aggression or a humanitarian intervention. Its cause was not (as in 1991) an actual Iraqi attack on a neighboring state or even an imminent threat of attack; nor was it an actual, ongoing massacre. The cause was regime change, directly—which means that the U.S. government was arguing for a significant expansion of the doctrine of jus ad bellum. The existence of an aggressive and murderous regime, it claimed, was a legitimate occasion for war, even if the regime was not actually engaged in aggression or mass murder. In more familiar terms, this was an argument for preventive war, but the reason for the preventive attack wasn’t the standard perception of a dangerous shift in the balance of power that would soon leave “us” helpless against “them.” It was a radically new perception of an evil regime.

No one who has experienced, or reflected on, the politics of the twentieth century can doubt that there are evil regimes. Nor can there be any doubt that we need to design a political/military response to such regimes that recognizes their true character. Even so, I do not believe that regime change, by itself, can be a just cause of war.

Elif Shafak on Fear and the Charge of “Insulting Turkishness”

First it was Orhan Pamuk. Now Elif Shafak is being tried for “insulting Turkishness”. In openDemocracy:

“Can you go out? Can you walk on the streets without fear of assassination or an assault from Turkish nationalists?” asked the Belgian journalist at the end of the line as he was conducting a phone interview with me over the weekend. “Are you safe in Turkey?”

Am I safe in Turkey…? I wanted to ask him back: Tell me please, are you safe in Belgium? And I wanted to keep asking: Are we safe on this planet…?

Each and every one of us, wherever we might have put down our roots, can we effortlessly and assertively answer that question affirmatively and claim that yes indeed, we are safe and sound, and so are our children? I don’t think so. In the post 9/11 world, in a world where the number of those who believe in a “clash of civilizations” increases day by day, no one is safe anymore.

Anger at the filming of Brick Lane echoes earlier clashes between art and religion

From The Guardian:Ali128

This week Monica Ali was behind the blue shutters of her Portuguese second home, relaxing with her family, as discontent among a vocal minority in the Bangladeshi community boiled over into an explicit threat to block filming of her successful first novel, Brick Lane.

The film-makers have taken the threat seriously enough to abandon filming further scenes in Brick Lane itself, the narrow east London street which has been one of the most diverse in the capital for centuries – a sanctuary to successive waves of immigrants, including Huguenot silk weavers and Jewish refugees, where a Christian church became a synagogue and then a mosque, now lined with the curry houses, sweetshops and silk warehouses which have become tourist attractions.

More here.

Velvet Worm Creeps Back up Evolutionary Tree

From Science:

Worm Crawling about like a silky crimson caterpillar and capturing prey by spitting goo, the velvet worm hardly seems like an evolutionary milestone. But for decades, many scientists have pegged it as such, claiming it as the only surviving example of a group of invertebrates that gave rise to the majority of today’s animal species. Now, a new analysis of the velvet worm’s brain suggests this “living fossil” may not be so ancient after all.

DNA evidence suggests velvet worms are closely related to crabs and spiders, possibly as a very early member of the group that gave rise to both. But fossil analysis seems to push the worm’s origins much farther back, relating it to a look-alike in 540-million-year-old rocks.

More here.

The Foreign Policy the US Needs

Stanley Hoffmann on America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy by Francis Fukuyama, Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy by Stephen M. Walt, and Diplomacy Lessons: Realism for an Unloved Superpower by John Brady Kiesling, in the New York Review of Books:

Bush_georgew20020228_2The US is back to debating what to do next but the setting of this debate is quite different from that of the past. In addition to the familiar world of interstate conflicts, some of the most horrible wars of recent years have been internal; and some of the most spectac-ular acts of violence have been committed by private groups of terrorists not allied to any state. More than a few of the members of the UN—Zimbabwe, Somalia, Uzbekistan—are “failed” or murderous states, whose inhabitants live in a nightmare of chaos and violence. The “realists,” i.e., those who believe national interests are fundamental—must now take into account the UN, which for all its flaws serves to certify legitimacy, as the current administration discovered when it defied the predominant opinion of the Security Council in attacking Iraq.

It is also a world in which globalization—partly under American leadership—erodes effective sovereignty of states (although least for the US) and creates a world economy that offers a very complex combination of permanent competition—especially for oil— and incentives to cooperate, not only for states but for private interests. There is now a transnational society that includes multinational corporations, nongovernmental organizations, criminals, and terrorists. This global economy, with its unprecedented combination of private and state capitalisms, can be immensely destructive, as when it eliminated millions of jobs in developed countries. It deepens inequality—at home and abroad.

More here.

What A Waste of Quicktime

Carl Zimmer in his blog, The Loom:

The Washington Post has an article today called And the Evolutionary Beat Goes On . . .. It is based on some interviews with scientists who are documenting evidence of natural selection in humans. I won’t be surprised if it gets emailed hither and yon, but not for the text, which is based on stuff that’s been out for some months now. No, it’s got a slick animation with the following caption: “A morphing demonstration of human evolution shows the transformation from a small lemur, up the evolutionary ladder into a human: seen here as legendary evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould.”

The article goes into all sorts of contortions to accommodate this movie. In the lead, it reads,

Stephen Jay Gould would have been pleased.

No, not about his mug shot at the endpoint of evolution in the illustration above, but about the growing evidence that evolution is not just real but is actually happening to human beings right now.

But the article ends on an entirely different note…

Come to think of it, the late Stephen Jay Gould might have been upset with the above illustration. Contrary to the popular imagination, evolution is not a linear process that culminates in the triumphal ascent of humans at the top of the genetic heap. The process is analogous to a bush, where twigs and leaves push out in every direction.

So…the paper is showing something that further promotes a popular misconception about evolution–the evolutionary ladder. Nice job, folks.

In fact, of course, the movie is even more misleading…

More here.  [Be sure to click the link Carl provides above to see the silly morph.]

A Visual Exploration of Complex Networks

From Seed Magazine:

Complexity is everywhere. It’s a structural and organizational principle that reaches almost every field imaginable, from genetics and social networks to food webs and stock markets. Contemporary scientific and technological accomplishments—including mapping the human genome, decoding neural networks and opening up the ocean to exploration—have seen our ability to generate and acquire information outpace our ability to make sense of it. With a surfeit of facts and few ways to synthesize them, “meaningful information” quickly becomes an oxymoron.

As our cultural artifacts are increasingly measured in gigabytes and terabytes, organizing, sorting and displaying information in an efficient way is crucial to advancing knowledge. From the incredibly vast (the history of science) to the very small (protein complexes), science’s visual dialect renders it both more dynamic and more innovative.

Collected here are a few of the many intriguing, and often beautiful, images that illustrate how the whole is more than the sum of its parts.


This network maps protein function by connecting proteins that share sequence similarity. Each of the 30,727 vertices represents a protein, and each of the 1,206,654 connections represents a similarity in amino acid sequence.

“Since proteins with more sequence similarity are more likely to have related function, the network is a reasonable map of protein function,” said designer Alex Adai. “Different areas of the network tend to emphasize different functional classifications. As a result, one can infer a protein’s function by the coordinate of the protein in the network.”

More here.

Can Wikipedia conquer expertise?

Stacy Schiff in The New Yorker:

Screenhunter_2_6Because there are no physical limits on its size, Wikipedia can aspire to be all-inclusive. It is also perfectly configured to be current: there are detailed entries for each of the twelve finalists on this season’s “American Idol,” and the article on the “2006 Israel-Lebanon Conflict” has been edited more than four thousand times since it was created, on July 12th, six hours after Hezbollah militants ignited the hostilities by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers. Wikipedia, which was launched in 2001, is now the seventeenth-most-popular site on the Internet, generating more traffic daily than MSNBC.com and the online versions of the Times and the Wall Street Journal combined. The number of visitors has been doubling every four months; the site receives as many as fourteen thousand hits per second.

More here.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

elias khoury on lebanon

I do not exonerate the Lebanese from responsibility for the horrors that are taking place. Building a democratic country is the duty of all Lebanese. The different religious groups have to find a way to unite in a political project. Factionalism and fear will make it impossible to confront the weapons that are destroying a country that has risen from the rubble only to find itself once again buried in rubble.

Before me I see the same images of death that I witnessed 24 years ago. The pictures themselves, the noise of invading aircraft in the skies of Beirut and all over Lebanon, are the same. Do I see or do I remember? When you are incapable of distinguishing between what is in front of you and what you remember, it becomes clear that history teaches nothing – and clear too that what the Israelis call war is not war but merely the first skirmishes of a war that has not yet begun. Woe to anyone who believes that this massacre is war. Since 1973, the Arab world has fought only on the sidelines.

The Israelis should take care not to deceive themselves and believe that they have achieved victory, because the nature of such non-wars is that they can be repeated over and over again.

more from the London Review of Books here.

China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy

Cosma Shalizi reviews The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy by Kenneth Pomeranz:

Spk_pomeranz_founders06One of the central questions in world history is, to put it a bit leadingly, “Why Europe, of all places?” That is, why did the Industrial Revolution begin there, leading Europe to a level of power, wealth, and global domination quite without precedent in human experience? This is inevitably a comparative question: why nineteenth century Europe, rather than one of the other centers of civilization? Why not Song-dynasty China? And also: why anyplace at all?

Pomeranz’s book is one of the most interesting, and in large measure convincing, attempts to answer this question, by focusing very specifically on north-west Europe, especially Great Britain, and comparing it intensively and symmetrically with other, comparably-developed parts of the Old World. The key claim, and perhaps the most controversial, is that it is very hard indeed to identify any internal, socio-economic causes of or dispositions towards exponential growth in the Britain, the Dutch Republic, etc. of 1750, or even 1800, which did not equally apply to comparably-sized and -developed parts of China (like the Yangzi Delta) or Japan; India, he thinks, really was further behind.

More here.  [Photo shows Kenneth Pomeranz.]

skepticism on canvas


“Fucking Painters,” reads the headline in a typically acerbic oil-on-canvas in Steve Hurd’s new solo show at Rosamund Felsen Gallery. Or rather, “sretniaP gnikcuF,” as the entire lengthy text — a blogger’s review of a San Francisco Rachel Lachowicz opening — is reproduced backward, thus rendered illegible to all but the most diligent (or mirror equipped). The chatty text goes on to flatteringly characterize Lachowicz as “a seriously smart sculptor/painter who is best known for her elegant and hilarious send-ups of art by famous male artists” while name-dropping ’90s-L.A.-art-world where-are-they-now candidates Keith Boadwee, Kim Dingle and Kim Light.

more from the LA Weekly here.

They write better by writing shorter

Jack Shafer in Slate:

If you want to write better, an old mentor of mine once said, write tighter. Pick the fewest possible words, he said, and rely on compression to make your ideas explode off the page. He wasn’t thinking about the film capsules in the New York Times daily TV listings when he shared this wisdom with me, but he could have been. Outside the Times classified pages, nobody does more with the English language with less space in the paper.

The capsules spend 20 words—and usually fewer—to pass informed judgment on movies. Even if you never intend to watch any of the films, the capsules make for good morning reading. Consider this taut kiss-off of The Matrix Revolutions: “Ferocious machine assault on a battered Zion. Stop frowning, Neo; it’s finally over.” Appreciate, if you will, the efficient setup and slam of the 2 Fast 2 Furious capsule: “Ex-cop and ex-con help sexy customs agent indict money launderer. Two fine performances, both by cars.” And for compression, it’s hard to better the clip for the Julie Davis feature Amy’s Orgasm. It warns potential viewers away with just four syllables: “Change the station.”

More here.

Charles Simic on Dada

From the New York Review of Books:

Already while living in Berlin in 1915, Ball and Hennings had organized a series of antiwar literary evenings with the intention, they said, to provoke, perturb, bewilder, tease, tickle to death, and confuse the audience. In Zurich, Janco made cardboard masks reminiscent of the ones used in African rituals and Japanese theater, but also strikingly original. As Ball wrote in his journal, “The masks simply demanded that their wearers start to move in a tragic-absurd dance.” Patrons of the cabaret who came expecting to hear selections from the works of Voltaire and Turgenev or another balalaika orchestra were subjected instead to skits enacted by masked figures dressed in colorful costumes made from cardboard and poster paint who accompanied themselves with drums, pot covers, and frying pans as they recited poems that sounded like this:

Gadji beri bimba
Glandridi lauli lonni cadori
Gadjama bim beri glassala
Glandridi glassala tuffm Izimbrabim
Blassa galassasa tuffm Izimbrabim.

The noise from the stage was deafening. There was bedlam in the audience too. The performers behaved like new recruits simulating mental illness before a medical commission. In less than a month the cabaret, which at first had welcomed all modern tendencies in the arts and hoped to entertain and educate the customer, had turned into a theater of the absurd. That was the intention. “What we are celebrating,” Ball wrote in his diary, “is both buffoonery and a requiem mass.” The scandal spread.Lenin, who played chess with Tzara, wanted to know what Dada was all about.

More here.