Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Ken Roth from Human Rights Watch and Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr discuss whether digital privacy is a human right when law enforcers have the potential to use personal data to save lives?
Video length: 52:32
Jürgen Habermas: I have been entrusted with the honour of saying a few introductory words about the subject of our conversation between our distinguished guest Emmanuel Macron and Sigmar Gabriel, our foreign minister who recently rose like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes. Both names are associated with courageous reactions to challenging situations. Emmanuel Macron has dared to cross a red line hitherto untouched since 1789. He has broken apart the entrenched configuration of the two political camps of right and left. Given that it is impossible in a democracy for any individual to stand above the parties, we are curious to see how the political spectrum will be reconfigured if, as expected, he is victorious in the French election.
In Germany we can observe a similar impulse, albeit under different auspices. Here too, Sigmar Gabriel has chosen his friend Martin Schulz for an unorthodox role. Schulz has been welcomed by the public as a largely independent candidate for the chanchellorship and is expected to lead his party in a new direction. Although the political, economic and social situations in our two countries are very different, the fundamental mentality of citizens seems to me to reflect a similar feeling of irritation– irritation about the inertia of governments that, despite the palpably increasing pressure of the problems we face continue to muddle along without any prospect of restructuring. We feel that the lack of political will to act is paralysing, particularly given the problems that can only be resolved collectively, on a European level.
Carrington later documented the decline of her mental health in Down Below, an extraordinary account of her life in a sanatorium in Madrid, to which she was committed after suffering paranoid delusions on her way to Portugal. Insanity, for her, took the form of a powerful “identification with the external world”, which somehow involved the hypnotic control of Europe by a Dutchman called Van Ghent (who was also “my father, my enemy, and the enemy of mankind”). In her introduction, Marina Warner notes that Carrington “had realised one of the most desirable ambitions of surrealism, the voyage down into madness”; yet, stripped of the playful intellectualism of the art movement, the “absolute disorientation” that Breton idealised is difficult to experience as a reader with much pleasure.
Carrington regained her freedom after reacquainting herself with Renato Leduc, who offered to marry her to facilitate her escape to New York: travel was easy for him because he was an embassy employee. In Lisbon, her mind slowly recovered and she prepared for a new life in the US. But, in that hub of the Western universe, it was hard to leave the past behind. One day, she glanced across a market and saw Max Ernst, who had been released by the French at last.
It was not just the suddenness of his death that made it hard to realize Louis Kahn was gone. Something about the way he disappeared from the world—irregularly, mysteriously, with that strange two-day gap when nobody he knew could find him—left many people unable to take in the facts of his death.
For the California relatives, who learned about Lou’s death through a series of relayed phone calls, there was a persistent confusion about where and how he had died. Decades later, Kahn’s niece, nephew, grandnephew, and two grandnieces all thought he had suffered a heart attack on the way back from Bangladesh; their memories, that is, selected his much-celebrated Dhaka project over the rarely discussed Ahmedabad campus. They knew he had died in a train station, but at least two of them remembered it as Grand Central—again, a more appropriately monumental choice. (These erroneous details proved to be so persuasive that they even entered the historical record, for in a 1993 Toledo Blade article listing the highlights of Louis Kahn’s life, the Ohio newspaper included the line: “1974 – Dies of heart attack in Grand Central Station, New York City, en route from Bangladesh to Philadelphia.”) The West Coast Kahns believed, moreover, that Lou’s body, with its characteristically messy hair and rumpled clothing, had been taken for that of a transient for two days, until somebody finally realized who it was. Part of their distress had to do with this idea of unrecognizability: they could hardly credit that someone as famous as Louis I. Kahn could go unidentified for two days.
India Stoughton in The Economist:
The boxy red-brick buildings of Cairo’s Manshiyat Naser district are uniform in colour but slightly different in size and shape. Tightly packed together with a ramshackle appearance, they stand along narrow alleyways, where green and white sacks stuffed with rubbish lie in malodorous heaps. More bulging bags spill over balcony rails or pile up on rooftops beside dusty satellite dishes. One of Cairo’s poorest neighbourhoods and home to the city’s rubbish collectors, Manshiyat Naser is the unlikely canvas on which French-Tunisian artist eL Seed chose to paint “Perception”, a sprawling mural spanning more than 50 buildings. Odd corners and asymmetrical patches of brickwork have been daubed with blue, orange and white paint, startlingly bright amid the adhesive dust and dirt. On a flat, earth-covered rooftop on which a herd of sheep mills calmly several storeys above the ground, two segments of the low wall have been whitewashed and covered with uneven orange triangles fringed with black. They seem abstract and random. But stand in the cafeteria on top of Mokattam, a nearby hill, and all these mismatched patches of paint suddenly come together, forming a single phrase written in Arabic calligraphy and thus transforming a collection of ugly buildings into a poem that celebrates the neighbourhood’s history and culture.
Manshiyat Naser is home to the Zaraeeb, a Coptic Christian community known to the people of Cairo as zabaleen – “rubbish people”. “I thought these people were living in the garbage, when actually they were living from the garbage,” says eL Seed. “I got this switch of perception and realised that I was wrong…Sometimes when you want to see someone’s real face you just have to change the angle.” The phrase eL Seed chose is an aphorism attributed to St Athanasius of Alexandria, a third-century Coptic bishop: “He who wants to see the light of the sun must first wipe his eyes.” To the artist, it means that “if you want to judge anybody, you must first wipe away the dirt from your eyes, all the misconceptions that you have about somebody, or about a community. For me, the sunlight is the idea of truth.”
Barbara Fraser in Nature:
Torrential rains pummelled Peru’s northern coastal desert in February and March, triggering floods that killed at least 113 people and destroyed some 40,000 homes. As families grapple with their losses and government officials tally the cost of repair and reconstruction, scientists are gearing up for an unusual opportunity to study ecosystems that go decades without much rain. The rains were spurred by an unusual ‘coastal’ El Niño climate pattern, in which warm water pooled off the coast of southern Ecuador and northern Peru — more so than during the much larger 2015–16 El Niño. Rains fell in both countries, but the human toll was highest in Peru’s normally parched northern desert.
In the now-greening land, plants are growing, bird populations are shifting and rivers are moving sediments and pollution in ways they haven’t done for two decades. What scientists learn as they descend on the region could aid conservation efforts and help people and government officials to prepare for severe weather events. “Except for the impacts on the people,” says biologist Juan Torres of La Molina National Agrarian University in Lima, “this is a meteorologically enchanting moment.” Once roads are passable, Torres will visit field sites that he studied after the powerful 1997–98 El Niño, which also soaked the region. At that time, Torres found wild relatives of domesticated crops — including tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and squash — that had sprouted from dormant seeds. This year, he will again catalogue wild plants, along with the crops that farmers choose to grow on lands made fertile by the flooding. Part of the northern desert is irrigated farmland, but there are also patches of a dry forest that has been devastated in recent years by industrial agriculture, urban sprawl and the charcoal trade. Oliver Whaley at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London, has studied Peru’s dry forests for 25 years, and hopes that the rain will bring respite to the ecosystem.
What Have I Learned
What have I learned but
the proper use for several tools?
between hard pleasant tasks
To sit silent, drink wine,
and think my own kind
of dry crusty thoughts.
—the first Calochortus flowers
and in all the land,
I point them out:
the yellow petals, the golden hairs,
Seeing in silence:
never the same twice,
but when you get it right,
you pass it on.
by Gary Snyder
from No Nature
Pantheon Books, 1992
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Chloe Farand in The Independent:
Peter Temin says the world's’ largest economy has roads and bridges that look more like those in Thailand and Venezuela than those in parts of Europe.
In his new book, “The Vanishing Middle Class", reviewed by the Institute for New Economic Thinking, Mr Temin says the fracture of US society is leading the middle class to disappear.
The economist describes a two-track economy with on the one hand 20 per cent of the population that is educated and enjoys good jobs and supportive social networks.
On the other hand, the remaining 80 per cent, he said, are part of the US’ low-wage sector, where the world of possibility has shrunk and people are burdened with debts and anxious about job security.
Mr Temin used a model, which was created by Nobel Prize winner Arthur Lewis and designed to understand developing nations, to describe how far inequalities have progressed in the US.
When applied to the US, Mr Temin said that “the Lewis model actually works”.
Tim Urban in Wait But Why:
Okay maybe that’s not exactly how it happened, and maybe those weren’t his exact words. But after learning about the new company Elon Musk was starting, I’ve come to realize that that’s exactly what he’s trying to do.
When I wrote about Tesla and SpaceX, I learned that you can only fully wrap your head around certain companies by zooming both way, way in and way, way out. In, on the technical challenges facing the engineers, out on the existential challenges facing our species. In on a snapshot of the world right now, out on the big story of how we got to this moment and what our far future could look like.
Not only is Elon’s new venture—Neuralink—the same type of deal, but six weeks after first learning about the company, I’m convinced that it somehow manages to eclipse Tesla and SpaceX in both the boldness of its engineering undertaking and the grandeur of its mission. The other two companies aim to redefine what future humans will do—Neuralink wants to redefine what future humans will be.
The mind-bending bigness of Neuralink’s mission, combined with the labyrinth of impossible complexity that is the human brain, made this the hardest set of concepts yet to fully wrap my head around—but it also made it the most exhilarating when, with enough time spent zoomed on both ends, it all finally clicked. I feel like I took a time machine to the future, and I’m here to tell you that it’s even weirder than we expect.
John A. Byrne in Poets & Quants:
From the very beginning, the Harvard Business School treated Duff McDonald as a barbarian at the gate. A veteran journalist and author, McDonald first approached the school about cooperating with him on a book in late February of 2013. But the guardians of HBS’ history, myths and truths quickly slammed the door shut, preventing access to all administrators, staff and faculty, even the school’s own historical archives.
The school, says McDonald, rebuffed at least a half dozen requests for cooperation, though the author was able to visit the Harvard Business School campus on four occasions. Now, more than three years later, McDonald’s The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, the Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite will be published by Harper Business on April 25. As the lengthy title suggests, HBS stakeholders aren’t likely to enjoy what they will read in the book’s formidable 672 pages.
McDonald’s conclusion is that the Harvard Business School has abysmally failed the goal of its founders who sought “the multiplication of men who will handle their current business problems in socially constructive ways.” While HBS graduates tend to be very good at whatever they do, McDonald claims, that is rarely the doing of good.
More here. [Thanks to Andreas Ramos.]
Video length: 1:28:41
For seven years now I have lived in Albania. I have seen ambassadors and foreign representatives come and go. And they all, so they say, share this same ideal: to make Albania a better place. Or rather, to make Albania more like wherever they came from: the West. Their presence would change Albania, would stabilize Albania.
The government of Edi Rama has gladly and smartly catered to the feelings of self-importance of these foreign dignitaries, who, more often than not, were not exactly the brightest of their class. After all, whose career as foreign diplomat would be well served with a post in a relatively unimportant European country?
But Rama adopted their language and made them feel as if he were one of them. He would create a state, he would invite the IMF and World Bank back into the country, he would reform the police, the justice system, and so on and so forth. He clothed himself in the drapes of European enlightenment – cosmopolitan culture, contemporary art, good taste.
But looking back it seems that Albania has changed hardly at all. What has changed, however, is the West, and in particular the EU. In a relatively short period it has developed (once again) the nationalist and populist discourses that twenty years ago would have been unthinkable in the liberal, affluent, multicultural societies from which they sprang up. The EU has even experienced its first secession, a phenomenon that in the 1990s was strictly reserved to the Balkans.
THE DECLINE OF THE SOCIALIST PARTY has been accompanied in tandem by the efflorescence of the far right. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s impressive showing in 2002 came as a brutal shock to mainstream opinion in France; his daughter’s first-round success 2017 is widely perceived to be inevitable. Beginning with the 2012 election, in which Marine Le Pen won the highest ever score for a FN candidate in a presidential race, the party has gone from success to success: in both the European elections of 2014 and departmental elections the year after the FN won the largest share of first-round votes, in each case about a quarter of the electorate. Although the Front’s isolation has largely prevented it from converting this support into political power, as alliances between the other parties traditionally result in FN candidates being defeated in runoffs, mounting signs indicate that this “glass ceiling” may be fragile.
Founded in 1972 out of a hodge-podge of far-right and neo-fascist groups seeking a parliamentary road to power, the FN first tasted electoral success in 1983, when the party won the mayoralty of Dreux, to the west of Paris, and saw ten municipal councilors elected. Its real breakthrough came three years later, in the wake of a law introducing a measure of proportionality in legislative elections; in 1986, thirty-five MPs and six regional presidents were elected on FN lists, with almost 10 percent of the vote in legislative and regional elections held on the same day.
he best way to approach “Inventing Downtown” is to follow the curator’s lead and see it not as an exhibition of works or even of artists, but of places—or rather, of a unique kind of place: those exhibition venues that sometimes move from place to place but always reflect a confluence of artists who elected to exhibit their work together. Some of the best-known among them, including the Tanager Gallery, Brata Gallery, and Hansa Gallery, were structured as cooperatives; the artists shared the expenses of the gallery as well as the decision-making and some of the labor. Others were simply the studios or living spaces of artists who invited colleagues to show their work. For instance, the City Gallery was part of Red Grooms’s loft on Sixth Avenue, and 112 Chambers Street was Yoko Ono’s studio. Other groups used donated spaces, like the Judson Gallery, which Marcus Ratliff (later a prominent graphic designer) started with Jim Dine and Tom Wesselmann at the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square. T
The finale of “Inventing Downtown” is devoted to the Green Gallery, a commercial gallery on 57th Street whose founder, Richard Bellamy, had been the hired director of the cooperative Hansa (which itself had moved uptown during the course of its seven-year existence). Bellamy became a key figure in the New York art world and was known as “one of the remarkable, eccentric personalities of the city.” A recent biography, Judith E. Stein’s Eye of the Sixties: Richard Bellamy and the Transformation of Modern Art, offers a sympathetic portrait of an unconventional figure more adept at understanding art and artists than at the business of running a gallery.
Steve Chawkins in LA Times:
In the nearly five years it took Robert Pirsig to sell “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” 121 publishers rejected the rambling novel. The 122nd gently warned Pirsig, a former rhetoric professor who had a job writing technical manuals, not to expect more than his $3,000 advance. “The book is not, as I think you now realize from your correspondence with other publishers, a marketing man’s dream,” the editor at William Morrow wrote in a congratulatory note before its 1974 publication. He was wrong. “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values” sold 50,000 copies in three months and more than 5 million in the decades since. The dense tome has been translated into at least 27 languages. A reviewer for the New Yorker likened its author to Herman Melville. Its popularity made Pirsig “probably the most widely read philosopher alive,” a British journalist wrote in 2006.
Pirsig, a perfectionist who published only one major work after “Zen” but inspired college classes, academic conferences and a legion of “Pirsig pilgrims” who retrace the anguished, cross-country motorcycle trip at the heart of his novel, died Monday at his home in South Berwick, Maine, the Associated Press confirmed. He was 88 and had been in failing health. “Zen” and Pirsig’s less successful 1991 novel, “Lila,” are not easy reads. In both, he develops what he calls the “Metaphysics of Quality,” a philosophy that attempts to unite and transcend the mysticism of the East and the reason of the West. “Zen” is the account of a 1968 motorcycle trip that Pirsig, his 11-year-old son Chris and two friends made from Minneapolis through the West. A fifth traveler was sensed but unseen: Phaedrus, Pirsig’s alter ego, brilliant, uncompromising and obsessed with the search for truth. Like the real-life Pirsig, the ghost-like Phaedrus had an IQ of 170, entered a university at 15 and, as a young man, was committed to mental hospitals where he underwent electroconvulsive therapy.
“He was dead,” Pirsig’s narrator writes in “Zen.” “Destroyed by order of the court, enforced by the transmission of high-voltage alternating current through the lobes of his brain.”
Nick Wingfield in The New York Times:
Zoran Popović knows a thing or two about video games. A computer science professor at the University of Washington, Dr. Popović has worked on software algorithms that make computer-controlled characters move realistically in games like the science-fiction shooter “Destiny.” But while those games are entertainment designed to grab players by their adrenal glands, Dr. Popović’s latest creation asks players to trace lines over fuzzy images with a computer mouse. It has a slow pace with dreamy music that sounds like the ambient soundtrack inside a New Age bookstore.
The point? To advance neuroscience.
Since November, thousands of people have played the game, “Mozak,” which uses common tricks of the medium — points, leveling up and leader boards that publicly rank the performance of players — to crowdsource the creation of three-dimensional models of neurons. The Center for Game Science, a group at the University of Washington that Dr. Popović oversees, developed the game in collaboration with the Allen Institute for Brain Science, a nonprofit research organization founded by Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, that is seeking a better understanding of the brain. Dr. Popović had previously received wide attention in the scientific community for a puzzle game called “Foldit,” released nearly a decade ago, that harnesses the skills of players to solve riddles about the structure of proteins. The Allen Institute’s goal of cataloging the structure of neurons, the cells that transmit information throughout the nervous system, could one day help researchers understand the roots of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and their treatment. Neurons come in devilishly complex shapes and staggering quantities — about 100 million and 87 billion in mouse and human brains, both of which players can work on in Mozak.
Monday, April 24, 2017
by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse
Disagreement is a pervasive feature of our ordinary lives. We disagree with family members over what would make for a good Tuesday night dinner, with colleagues over how to solve some thorny problem, and with neighbors over whether the new highway off-ramp is a good or bad thing for the neighborhood. News stories are often about disagreements, and their online comments sections are sites where the disagreements may continue to be aired.
In some cases of disagreement, we may know more about the issue than the other person. And in some cases, the other person may know more. Call these asymmetric disagreements, and a regular thought is that in these cases, the less knowledgeable person ought to defer to the more. However, it's possible for there to be symmetric disagreements, where both sides are roughly as knowledgeable of and capable with the evidence on the issue. The individuals in these instances, then, are peers, at least epistemically.
In these symmetric cases, how should these peers view their own and their disagreeing interlocutors' commitments? By hypothesis, the two opposing views are based on the same evidence, so it's not that one can view one side as better informed or less knowledgeable than the other. And it seems dogmatic, or at least unfounded, to say that one just knows (without more evidence) that one's view is better off than one's opposition.
A background question to this matter is whether it's possible for a set of evidence to justify more than one view about an issue. One take on the question is that, given a set of evidence, there is only one attitude a person may take about it – one may accept a proposition as justified, one may reject it and hold its denial as justified by the evidence, or one may be justified only in suspending judgment on the matter. Of these three options, only one of them would be rationally responsible. Call this view the Uniqueness Thesis – that there is only one attitude that any set of evidence justifies.
by Jonathan Kujawa
Approximately 1900 years ago Theon of Smyrna authored On Mathematics Useful for the Understanding of Plato. In it, Theon wrote:
For Eratosthenes says in his writing he Platonicus that when the god pronounced to the Delians in the matter of deliverance from a plague that they construct an alter the double of the one that existed, much bewilderment fell upon the builders who sought how one was to make a solid double of a solid. Then there arrived men to inquire of this from Plato. But he said to them that not for want of a double altar did the god prophecy this to the Delians, but to accuse and reproach them the Greeks for neglecting mathematics and making little of geometry.
Thus the problem of doubling the cube was born. If we are given a cube of a certain volume, can we construct a cube whose volume is exactly double? We might as well start with the cube as a practice problem and worry about the more complicated shape of an altar once we've got the cube sorted out. Also, up to changing our choice of units, we can safely assume the cube has volume exactly 1. We've now got a simple geometry problem: given a cube with volume 1, how to construct a cube with volume 2? Like many of the best questions, this seemingly innocuous problem opens a Pandora's box of interesting things to ponder.
Plato warns us not to neglect our mathematics. As mathematically minded folks we know we should first decide on ground rules. If we don't bother to first agree on clear, unambiguous definitions and axioms, then we'll just end up talking past each other. This might play on cable tv, but it's not mathematics. Besides, like writing a sonnet or a haiku, half the fun in math is in the constraints. Like Robert Frost said, "I'd sooner write free verse as play tennis with the net down".
In the case of the doubled cube, the Greeks allow us to use a straightedge (that is, an unmarked ruler which allows us to make any straight line we like) and a compass (those devices from elementary school with a point on one end and a pencil on the other which allows us to make any circle we like). Nowadays you can instead play the addictive free game Euclidea.
Since a cube is completely determined by its side length and the volume is just the side length cubed, doubling the cube comes down to the problem of using a straightedge, compass and a line segment of length 1 and, by hook or by crook, construct a line segment whose length is the cubed root of 2.
After fiddling with your straightedge and compass for a millennium or two you might start to suspect that the god was putting one over on the Delians (after all the Greek gods weren't known for playing fair). But how in the world could you ever know for certain that it wasn't possible? After all, tomorrow you might find That One Weird Trick Which Doubles the Cube!
Math is nearly unique in that you can show things are never, ever possible. I was blown away when I first saw the proof that the real numbers cannot be put into an order list numbered by the counting numbers and that the square root of two cannot be written as a fraction of two counting numbers. In retrospect, it was the proofs of impossibility which first converted me to math.
The Free Exercise of
At its center is a tree
which wraps the garden
in its entirety
The roots of it run deep—
some say to a molten core
while some insist they exit the other side
to suck juices from a Southern Cross
and that its sweet and sour blooms
on this respiring side of dust
reach and blossom
beyond the north pole star
and meet the ends of far
in parts we'll never know
until we wake or break
to give or take
right here and now
in time and space
the bait of love
by Brooks Riley
This is not about Trump himself, the ‘dingo' here, whose many inadequacies, fallacies and prevarications are scrutinized, dissected, biopsied, and finally lampooned 24/7 in every corner of the fourth estate, reaching every corner of the globe.
This is not about the man who's determined to crush the zeitgeist Obama left behind and replace it with a deceptively quaint, unworkable fantasy from the mid-20th century when employment was analog, energy was black and endless, skies were ripe for pollution, white men called the shots, and inequality was just fine if you were white, even as America was nevertheless still basking in the glow of its victories in World War 2. Just what ‘great'' is he talking about?
This is not about the First Narcissist, whose new Presidential Face must have been rehearsed in front of the mirror for weeks before the inauguration, the grimaces and goofy smirks now replaced by a parody of grim determination and implied gravitas that ends up projecting ‘grumpy old man', with an emphasis on ‘old' that was probably not intended.
This is not about all the progress that this man wants to disassemble--revoking Obamacare, denying climate change, disabling the EPA, eliminating the Clean Water Rule, defunding Planned Parenthood, endangering workers in critical professions, slamming shut the doors to the American dream, undermining an economy that needs to function way beyond its shores.
This is not about the pathology of a vengeful egotist whose priorities verge on the absurd, for whom a chocolate cake, or the performance of Schwarzenegger on his former show, or a department store that drops his daughter's label, all matter more to him than the names of countries to which he launches missiles, or of leaders he shakes his fist at.
by Jalees Rehman
On 5 November 2015, an iron ore tailings dam burst in Bento Rodrigues near the Brazilian city of Mariana, releasing 60 million cubic meters of a reddish-brown mud-flood. This toxic flood buried neighboring villages and flowed into the Rio Doce, contaminating the river with several hazardous metals including mercury, arsenic and chromium as well as potentially harmful bacteria. The devastating and perhaps irreparable damage to the ecosystem and human health caused by this incident are the reason why it is seen as one of the biggest environmental disasters in the history of Brazil. The German sociologist Stephan Lessenich uses this catastrophe as a starting point to introduce the concept of the Externalisierungsgesellschaft(externalization society) in his book Neben uns die Sintflut: Die Externalisierungsgesellschaft und ihr Preis ("Around us, the deluge: The externalization society and its cost").
What is the externalization society? Lessenich uses this expression to describe how developed countries such as the United States, Japan and Germany transfer or externalize risks and burdens to developing countries in South America, Africa and Asia. The Bento Rodrigues disaster is an example of the environmental risk that is externalized. Extracting metals that are predominantly used by technology-hungry consumers in developed countries invariably generates toxic waste which poses a great risk for the indigenous population of many developing countries. The externalized environmental risks are not limited to those associated with mining raw materials. The developed world is increasingly exporting its trash into the third world.
by Brooks Riley
by Dwight Furrow
Beauty is not solely in the eye of the beholder so I argued last month. This month I can't resist taking on the other platitude that harms our understanding of beauty—that beauty is only skin deep.
The word "beauty" has fallen on hard times in the art world despite occasional signs of a revival. Yet, in everyday conversation the word "beauty" is so ubiquitous it has fallen into cliché. Perhaps these two phenomena are related. It is routine to say a flower is beautiful; and almost all flowers would seem to qualify regardless of how ordinary. But that just reduces the concept of "beauty" to meaninglessness. I want to rescue the term by arguing that to grasp the nature of beauty we need an aesthetics of depth, not of surfaces, which is to say that beauty is not skin deep.
There is, it would seem, an obvious counter example to my thesis. I suspect the word "beauty" is most often applied to women largely because throughout history most people who publicly wrote about or depicted beauty were men. And this seems to apply to physical features especially in the way the beauty industry uses the term. But this is not because beauty is superficial; it is because beauty is an object of longing, especially the kind of "ideal", unattainable beauty portrayed by the beauty industry. It's the depth of something out of reach, illusive, a consummate idealization, of satisfaction infinitely deferred that is at work in this form of allure. The whole process of cosmetics is to make something desirable and is thus no longer only about appearances but rather something more subterranean.
The idea that beauty is about superficial qualities readily apparent in our experience is an assumption adopted by much of modern aesthetics since Kant and Hume. Aesthetic experience is made possible by a bundle of qualities and if the qualities are alluring enough we call the object beautiful. Yet to report that a painting is red, rectangular, depicting figures of a certain shape, and suitable for hanging tells us nothing about its aesthetic appeal.
by Tamuira Reid
1. Theresa killed a man with her car. It wasn't her fault but still.
It was dark. The road was long. Oldies played on the radio. The kind of music people dance to when they think no one is watching and there is still that chance of something good happening.
He hit her, not the other way around.
Thought it was a deer, she told the police. Same kind of thud, thick and heavy. It was raining but not too hard. The impact dented the hood, busted the window, the glass splintered and folded in on itself.
The paper runs his photo with details for a memorial service at the Y on Harrisburg Street. He was nineteen, worked weekends at a Ford dealership. Best damn worker bee we had, his boss would tell reporters when they turned up at his store, on the hunt for details.
Theresa folds the story into a square and hides it under her mattress. Sometimes she feels him breathing but doesn't tell anyone.
2. A television crackles from a corner of the room where his two little sisters sleep, arms and legs locking. They always do this; try to wait up for their brother. Sometimes he brings home candy or soda or other deliciously bad things their mother will not let them have. Junior, I wish you'd stop bringing that crap into my house, she will say to his back as he opens the fridge and sighs.
Her first born. Her son. How secretly proud she is of the man he's becoming. The man his own father turned out not to be.
3. The last thing he saw was the glare of headlights. Like rays of sun coming straight towards him.
4. The silk blouse and the gray slacks from Macy's with the pleats down the front. They go into the washer with extra Woolite. Theresa studies the water for signs of death but it's all over at this point. She lets the lid down slowly, disappears into the kitchen for another cigarette.
People call and she tells them. Didn't see him coming. Out of nowhere. I held his hand. Sometimes the people who call are friends. Sometimes the people who call are strangers. Fucking drunk bitch, they'll say and then hang up.
5. She was sober when she hit him. Ninety five days without anything, she'd tell the police. But no one would believe her, even when the blood tests showed she was telling the truth.
by Claire Chambers
In the late 1990s, the BBC comedy team Goodness Gracious Me produced a radio sketch entitled 'Authentic Artefacts'. In it, an artefact buyer for a chain of London stores visits an Indian village. She expects its rustic denizens to be 'connected with the flow of the seasons, the pull of the earth, the soft breathing of the ripening crops'. Despite her naïve fears that these apparently simple people will 'never sell [their] heritage', they are attracted by the buyer's evident wealth. They take a pragmatic approach, selling her a rusty pail as a birthing bucket − 'three generations of downtrodden dung-handlers have squatted over its rim' − a deck-chair ('my maternal uncle's prayer seat'); a formica coffee table with a leg missing, which is presented as a 200-year-old bullock slide; and a can-opener as 'an authentic turban winder'. The villagers' constant refrain is that these modern-looking items are 'authentic', and the Western woman is easily duped out of two thousand pounds.
Authenticity is a term that often comes up in postcolonialism and especially my own subdiscipline of Muslim literary studies. But what does it mean to be authentic, and is the quest for authenticity a productive or stifling one? As the Goodness Gracious Me example suggests, a fetishization of authenticity can trap apparently 'authentic' cultures in picturesque poverty and a pastoral past that never existed, ignoring their plural present.