the Büchel debacle


AT FIRST, IT LOOKED LIKE a terrific match. Swiss installation artist Christoph Büchel and Joseph Thompson, director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, had planned great things for Mass MoCA’s vast Building 5, one of the world’s largest exhibition spaces for contemporary art. Büchel had conceived an artwork whose physical scale was in keeping with its imposing subject—loosely speaking, ideological warfare. Thompson was to deliver the tons (approximately 150) of material necessary to realize Büchel’s vision, which included an entire disused cinema, a dive bar, a two-story Cape Cod home, and a reconstruction of one of the mock villages used by the US military to train troops destined for Iraq. Titled Training Ground for Democracy, the installation was first scheduled to open to the public in December 2006.

more from artforum here.

everybody loves keiko


You like her. Or rather, it’s hard to dislike Keiko Sofía Fujimori Higuchi, so you make an effort. Try it. Think about her father. Alberto Fujimori, the ex-president of Peru, currently standing trial, accused of corruption, of ordering extrajudicial assassinations, widely thought to have constructed during his ten year rule a country built to his sinister specifications: a docile, easily manipulated media, a system of widespread espionage, a venal and corrupt political system whose lifeblood was bribery. There are no statistics on this, of course, but generally speaking, dictators do not tend to be remembered affectionately—and their families are hardly remembered at all. Most fade with each passing year, and you can forget them. But not in this case: Keiko stood alongside her father throughout his government, taking on a prominent and highly visible role. Then, after his fall, in a decision that borders on masochism, she chose to continue in politics. Just as you might detest her father—though certainly not everyone in Peru does—by extension, you would have to hate her. But it’s not easy. Keiko is likeable, and perhaps it is this likeability that defines her.

more from n+1 here.

Mad Scientist

Ron Charles in The Washington Post:

BookThe Invention of Everything Else: A Novel by Samantha Hunt

Samantha Hunt’s magical new novel is a love letter to one of the world’s most remarkable inventors. You may never have heard of Nikola Tesla, but he briefly outshone Edison and Westinghouse, and from the moment you wake up in the morning, you depend on devices made possible by his revolutionary work with electricity. Tesla was born in Serbia in 1856, and his life followed a rags-to-riches-to-rags trajectory that would sound melodramatic if it weren’t so tragic and true — or told with such surprising charm in The Invention of Everything Else.

This melancholy romance begins on the first day of 1943, in the New Yorker hotel, once the tallest building in the city. It rises up in these pages in all its mysterious grandeur, a lighter version of the surreal hotel in Steven Millhauser’s Martin Dressler (1996). Impoverished by a series of disastrous financial dealings, Tesla has been holed up here with his notes and unpaid bills for 10 years. He’s talking to himself or to his beloved pigeon. His reputation has been eclipsed by other inventors (some of them thieves) and derided by the popular press. (Superman battles a mad scientist named Tesla.) There are rumors that he believes he’s receiving messages from Mars, that he’s building a death ray, that he’s working on a time machine.

Indeed, the novel is something of a time machine itself, and not just because of its lyrical recreation of New York in the first half of the 20th century. The story is a Rube Goldberg contraption of history, slapstick, biography and science fiction: a narrative bricolage that looks too precarious to work but is too alluring to resist.

More here.


Charles Tomlinson

……..for Yoshikazu Uehata

Your camera
has caught it all, the lit
angle where ceiling and wall
create their corner, the flame
in the grate, the light
down the window frame
and along the hair
of the girl seated there, her face
not quite in focus —that
is as it should be too,
for, once seen, Eden
is in flight from you, and yet
you have it down complete
with the asymmetries
of journal, cushion, cup
all we might have missed
in the gone moment when
we were living it.


“Methuselah” Mutation Linked to Longer Life

From Scientific American:

Age A type of gene mutation long known to extend the lives of worms, flies and mice also turns up in long-lived humans. Researchers found that among Ashkenazi Jews, those who survived past age 95 were much more likely than their peers to possess one of two similar mutations in the gene for insulinlike growth factor 1 receptor (IGF1R). The mutations seem to make cells less responsive than normal to insulinlike growth factor 1 (IGF 1), a key growth hormone secreted by the liver. In past studies, IGF1 disruption increased the life span of mice by 30 to 40 percent and delayed the onset of age-related diseases in the animals.

The finding suggests that the IGF1R mutations confer added “susceptibility” to longevity, perhaps in concert with other genetic variants, the research team reports in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. “This is the tip of an iceberg of potential genetic alterations or mutations that are associated with longevity,” says study co-author Pinchas Cohen, a professor and chief of endocrinology at Mattel Children’s Hospital at U.C.L.A. (University of California, Los Angeles).

More here.

Are our brains wired for math?

Jim Holt in The New Yorker:


Dehaene has spent most of his career plotting the contours of our number sense and puzzling over which aspects of our mathematical ability are innate and which are learned, and how the two systems overlap and affect each other. He has approached the problem from every imaginable angle. Working with colleagues both in France and in the United States, he has carried out experiments that probe the way numbers are coded in our minds. He has studied the numerical abilities of animals, of Amazon tribespeople, of top French mathematics students. He has used brain-scanning technology to investigate precisely where in the folds and crevices of the cerebral cortex our numerical faculties are nestled. And he has weighed the extent to which some languages make numbers more difficult than others. His work raises crucial issues about the way mathematics is taught. In Dehaene’s view, we are all born with an evolutionarily ancient mathematical instinct. To become numerate, children must capitalize on this instinct, but they must also unlearn certain tendencies that were helpful to our primate ancestors but that clash with skills needed today. And some societies are evidently better than others at getting kids to do this. In both France and the United States, mathematics education is often felt to be in a state of crisis. The math skills of American children fare poorly in comparison with those of their peers in countries like Singapore, South Korea, and Japan. Fixing this state of affairs means grappling with the question that has taken up much of Dehaene’s career: What is it about the brain that makes numbers sometimes so easy and sometimes so hard?

More here.

The Fate of Nabokov’s Laura, Part II

Ron Rosenbaum in Slate:

Screenhunter_03_mar_05_1017The latest chapter in the intrigue surrounding The Original of Laura, the elusive, unfinished, unpublished final work of Vladimir Nabokov—a chapter that has unfolded since I last wrote about Laura in Slate—turns out to be a kind of ghost story.   

It involves what might be called the spectral appearance of Nabokov himself to his son, Dmitri, the 73-year-old sole heir who holds Laura’s fate in his hands. This otherworldly manifestation came on the heels of an intense period of worldwide debate among readers and literary figures—debate stirred up by my disclosure that Dmitri was once again inclined to follow his father’s deathbed wish and burn the manuscript, now awaiting its fate in a Swiss bank vault.

Burn it,” cried playwright Tom Stoppard in the London Times. “Save it,” countered novelist John Banville. Slate readers were passionately divided.

More here.

Can’t Touch This

Juliet Lapidos in Slate:

080304_exp_monatnItaly’s highest appeals court ruled that a 42-year-old workman broke the law by “ostentatiously touching his genitals through his clothing” and must pay a 200 euro fine, the Telegraph reported Friday. The U.K. paper also noted that crotch-grabbing is a common habit among superstitious Italian males, who believe the gesture wards off bad luck. What does the crotch have to do with luck?

It’s the seat of fertility. The crotch grab goes back at least to the pre-Christian Roman era and is closely associated with another superstition called the “evil eye“—the belief that a covetous person can harm you, your children, or your possessions by gazing at you. Cultural anthropologists conjecture that men would try to block such pernicious beams by shielding their genitals, thus protecting their most valued asset: the future fruit of their loins. Over the centuries, the practice shifted. Men covered their generative organs not only to defend against direct malevolence but also in the presence of anything ominous, like a funeral procession.

More here.

A Talk with Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald

From Edge:

Screenhunter_01_mar_05_0914_2BANAJI: What is remarkable about this test, which is called the Implicit Association Test—the IAT—is that it allows you to be a subject in your own experiment. Most scientists do not have the remarkable experience of being the object of study in their own research.

GREENWALD: The IAT provides a useful window into some otherwise difficult-to-detect contents of our minds. In some cases, we find things we did not know were there. It may be “an inconvenient truth” that what’s there is not what we thought was there or want to be there. But I think it is generally something we can come to grips with.

[Click here to take the “PRESIDENTIAL CANDITATES IAT]

Much more here.  [Tell us the results of your IAT in the comments section.]

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Bluetooth and the Burqa

BluetoothburqaMy friend Fred was recently in Gaza doing his human rights do-goodery work.  He reported (to us, not the human rights organization) that the pickup scene in cafes is digital.  Youth on the prowl use cell phone bluetooths with handles like “toosexyforyou” to flirt and hook up.  (The woman in question apparently proved too sexy for Fred.) Der Spiegel reports that a Berlin-based artist has made this mating dance even easier (via Sci Tech Daily).

A burqa may not be the flirtiest garment ever invented for women. The highly modest head-to-toe robe even shrouds the eyes, so for centuries it’s been difficult for women wearing them to send suggestive signals to men.

But now a German designer has debuted a digitally-enabled burqa that can broadcast a photo of the wearer to nearby mobile phones. Markus Kison calls it the “CharmingBurka,” and says it isn’t forbidden by Islamic law.

A model demonstrated a prototype of Kison’s garment at the Seamless 2008 design and fashion show in Boston, a high-tech fashion event run with support from the Masschusetts Institute of Technology.

Kison says the burqa has a “digital layer” that incorporates a Bluetooth antenna, which lets women “decide for themselves where they want to position themselves virtually.” Nearby mobile phones that also use Bluetooth will light up with any small file a woman chooses to broadcast as her identity — a photo, a cartoon, a text file or even a sound clip.


My Aunts

Adam Zagajewski

Always caught up in what they called
the practical side of life
(theory was for Plato),
up to their elbows in furniture, in bedding,
in cupboards and kitchen gardens,
they never neglected the lavender sachets

that turned a linen closet to a meadow

The practical side of life,
like the Moon’s unlighted face,
didn’t lack for mysteries;
when Christmastime drew near,
life became pure praxis
and resided temporarily in hallways,
took refuge in suitcases and satchels.

And when somebody died–it happened
even in our family, alas–
my aunts, preoccupied
with death’s practical side,
forgot at last about the lavender,
whose frantic scent bloomed selflessly
beneath a heavy snow of sheets.
Don’t just do something, sit there.
And so I have, so I have,   
………………the seasons curling around me like smoke,
Gone to the end of the earth and back without sound.

Translated by Clare Cavanaugh


the road


I drove a car across the country once. It took three weeks and was financed by a rock magazine. Two years after the trip, a handful of people from California with exceptionally comfortable office chairs considered making a movie out of my experience. It was a very confusing process. Enthusiastic strangers with German eyeglasses kept asking me how I imagined this film would look, which I found difficult to elucidate; I assumed it would look like the video for Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is a Highway,” partially because of the lyrical content but mostly because I (sort of) looked Canadian before I grew a beard. That was not the answer they were anticipating. I was given a strong impression they were hoping I would say it would be a lot like Trainspotting, although maybe they were just trying to figure out if I could put them in contact with local drug dealers. They also wanted me to sign a 780-page contract that would give time control over my “life rights,” which meant they would have been able to make me an ancillary character in You, Me and Dupree.

I assume the hypothetical Road Movie I was not involved with would have been built on the most elementary of Road Movie clichés: where you’re going doesn’t matter as much as how you get there. But that philosophy raises at least three questions, some of which are equally cliché but all of which are hard to answer: What is a Road Movie, really? Why do so many directors (from so many different eras) long to make them? And what makes movement any more inherently interesting than—or even all that different from—staying in one place?

more from The Believer here.

in defense of concrete


We have a special prejudice about materials. The Japanese have Zen words to describe the beautiful way in which stone, wood and other natural materials age and patinate, acquiring charm and character as they deteriorate. We lack that. No one has yet coined a term, at least not a favourable one, to describe the way man-made materials grow old. There are no haikus about plastic. There is not much Zen in an old Ford Mondeo. There is even less Zen in an old housing estate.

This is specially so if it is made of concrete, the fashionable hate material of today. The only words that concrete attracts are ‘grimy’, ‘stained’ and the ones they tag with aerosol paint. Right now culture minister Margaret Hodge has taken very badly against concrete. The particular object of her vengeful, twin-set loathing is Robin Hood Gardens, a failing social housing megastructure near the north end of London’s Blackwall Tunnel that was completed in 1972. Mrs Hodge does not have council household taste. She wants it demolished. It does rather remind us that nothing dates quite so quickly as visions of the future.

more from The Observer Review here.

doig’s ghost world


Peter Doig painted Echo Lake in 1998. A man stands on the far side of a stretch of dark water. He is quite a way off, but you can see that he wears a white shirt and a dark tie. His hands are raised to his face. Is it to keep the light out of his eyes as he looks at you? Or is it to project his voice as he shouts? A police car, lights on, is parked behind him. Beyond the car the black-green of a band of trees is broken by a few bright spots; they could be streetlights or house lights half-obscured by foliage. It must be night time. Are they crime-scene floodlights that shine across the lake, on the man, grass, rocks and car?

Although the scenes shown in this painting and others by Peter Doig (the retrospective of his work runs until 27 April) seem to imply that curious things have gone before, and that others will follow, there is no reason to think you will ever know what the pictures signify. Like ghost stories, they draw on the potency of matters unresolved; it hangs about them like an unearthed static charge.

more from the LRB here.

The Most Wanted List: International Terrorism

Noam Chomsky in AlterNet:

Noam_chomsky_human_rights_2 On February 13, Imad Moughniyeh, a senior commander of Hizbollah, was assassinated in Damascus. “The world is a better place without this man in it,” State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said: “one way or the other he was brought to justice.” Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell added that Moughniyeh has been “responsible for more deaths of Americans and Israelis than any other terrorist with the exception of Osama bin Laden.”

Joy was unconstrained in Israel too, as “one of the U.S. and Israel’s most wanted men” was brought to justice, the London Financial Times reported. Under the heading, “A militant wanted the world over,” an accompanying story reported that he was “superseded on the most-wanted list by Osama bin Laden” after 9/11 and so ranked only second among “the most wanted militants in the world.”

The terminology is accurate enough, according to the rules of Anglo-American discourse, which defines “the world” as the political class in Washington and London (and whoever happens to agree with them on specific matters). It is common, for example, to read that “the world” fully supported George Bush when he ordered the bombing of Afghanistan. That may be true of “the world,” but hardly of the world, as revealed in an international Gallup Poll after the bombing was announced. Global support was slight.

More here. (Note: Thanks to Sughra Raza and Nargis Raza).