September 30, 2006
Recalling Nazira Zayn al-Din's Unveiling and Veiling
Also in the Asia Times, a look at censorship, blasphemy, and another moment in the history of Islam.
Seventy years ago, in April 1928, a 20-year-old girl named Nazira Zayn al-Din wrote a book called Unveiling and Veiling, saying she had read, understood and interpreted the Holy Koran. Therefore, she said, she had the authority and analytical skills to challenge the teachings of Islam's clerics, men who were far older and wiser than she. Her interpretation of Islam, she boldly said, was that the veil was un-Islamic. If a woman was forced to wear the veil by her father, husband or brother, Zayn al-Din argued, then she should take him to court. Other ideas presented by her were that men and woman should mix socially because this develops moral progress, and that both sexes should be educated in the same classrooms. Men and women, she said, should equally be able to hold public office and vote in government elections.
They must be free to study the Koran themselves, and it should not be dictated on them by an oppressive older generation of clerics, she said. Finally, Zayn al-Din compared the "veiled" Muslim world to the "unveiled" one, saying the unveiled one was better because reason reigned, rather than religion.
Her book caused a thunderstorm in Syria and Lebanon. It was the most outrageous assault on traditional Islam, coming from Zayn al-Din, who was a Druze. The book went into a second edition within two months, and was translated into several languages. Great men from Islam, including the muftis of Beirut and Damascus, wrote against her, arguing that she did not have the authority to speak on Islam and dismiss the veil as un-Islamic. Nobody, however, accused her of treason or blasphemy. They accused her of bad vision resulting from bad Islamic education.
Some clerics banned her book. Some, however, such as the Syrian scholar Mohammad Kurd Ali, actually embraced it, buying 20 copies for the Arab Language Assembly and writing a favorable review.
But despite the uproar, which lasted for two years, the Syrians and the Muslim establishments did not let the issue get out of hand. They did not lead street demonstrations for weeks, as if the Muslim world had no other concern than Nazira Zayn al-Din. Zayn al-Din was still free to roam the streets of Syria and Lebanon, without being harassed or killed by those who hated her views.
This past week's international versions of Newsweek all had covers that said "Losing Afghanistan", whereas the US edition had a cover of Annie Liebowitz. In the Asia Times, a critical and pessimistic look at the war against the Taliban.
[T]here is a fundamental issue of the legitimacy of state power that remains unresolved in Afghanistan. At a minimum, in these past five years there should have been an intra-Afghan dialogue that included the Taliban. This initiative could have been under UN auspices on a parallel track
The inability to earn respect and command authority plus the heavy visible dependence on day-to-day US support have rendered the Kabul setup ineffective. Alongside this, the Afghan malaise of nepotism, tribal affiliations and corruption has also led to bad governance. It is in this combination of circumstances that the Taliban have succeeded in staging a comeback.
What lies ahead is, therefore, becoming extremely difficult to predict. Even with 2,500 additional troops it is highly doubtful whether NATO can succeed in defeating the Taliban. For one thing, the Taliban enjoy grassroots support within Afghanistan. There is no denying this ground reality.
Second, the Taliban are becoming synonymous with Afghan resistance. The mindless violations of the Afghan code of honor by the coalition forces during their search-and-destroy missions and the excessive use of force during military operations leading to loss of innocent lives have provoked widespread revulsion among Afghan people.
Karzai's inability to do anything about the coalition forces' arbitrary behavior is only adding to his image of a weak leader and is deepening his overall loss of authority in the perceptions of the Afghan people, apart from strengthening the raison d'etre of the Afghan resistance.
Third, it is a matter of time, if the threshold of the Taliban resurgence goes unchecked, before the non-Pashtun groups in the eastern, northern and western regions also begin to organize themselves. There are disturbing signs pointing in this direction already. If that were to happen, NATO forces might well find themselves in the unenviable situation of getting caught in the crossfire between various warring ethnic groups.
Has Physics Turned Keatsian with String Theory?
In the New Yorker, Jim Holt looks at two new books assailing string theory, Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory and Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law.
In their books against string theory, Smolin and Woit view the anthropic approach as a betrayal of science. Both agree with Karl Popper’s dictum that if a theory is to be scientific it must be open to falsification. But string theory, Woit points out, is like Alice’s Restaurant, where, as Arlo Guthrie’s song had it, “you can get anything you want.” It comes in so many versions that it predicts anything and everything. In that sense, string theory is, in the words of Woit’s title, “not even wrong.” Supporters of the anthropic principle, for their part, rail against the “Popperazzi” and insist that it would be silly for physicists to reject string theory because of what some philosopher said that science should be. Steven Weinberg, who has a good claim to be the father of the standard model of particle physics, has argued that anthropic reasoning may open a new epoch. “Most advances in the history of science have been marked by discoveries about nature,” he recently observed, “but at certain turning points we have made discoveries about science itself.”
Is physics, then, going postmodern? (A Harvard, as Smolin notes, the string-theor seminar was for a time actually called “Postmodern Physics.”) The modern era o particle physics was empirical; theor developed in concert with experiment. Th standard model may be ugly, but it works, s presumably it is at least an approximation of th truth. In the postmodern era, we are told aesthetics must take over where experimen leaves off. Since string theory does not deign t be tested directly, its beauty must be th warrant of its truth.
Feynman's Lectures on Quantum Electrodynamics
Via DeLong, here are videos of the lectures by Richard Feynman that became QED.
Feynman gives us not just a lesson in basic physics but also a deep insight into the scientific mind of a 20th century genius analyzing the approach of the 17th century genius Newton.
For the young scientist, brought up in this age of hi-tech PC / Power Point-based presentations, we also get an object lesson in how to give a lecture with nothing other than a piece of chalk and a blackboard. Furthermore we are shown how to respond with wit and panache to the technical mishaps that are part-and-parcel of the lecturer's life.
New Woodward Book Says Bush Ignored Urgent Warning on Iraq
The White House ignored an urgent warning in September 2003 from a top Iraq adviser who said that thousands of additional American troops were desperately needed to quell the insurgency there, according to a new book by Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporter and author. The book describes a White House riven by dysfunction and division over the war.
The warning is described in “State of Denial,” scheduled for publication on Monday by Simon & Schuster. The book says President Bush’s top advisers were often at odds among themselves, and sometimes were barely on speaking terms, but shared a tendency to dismiss as too pessimistic assessments from American commanders and others about the situation in Iraq.
As late as November 2003, Mr. Bush is quoted as saying of the situation in Iraq: “I don’t want anyone in the cabinet to say it is an insurgency. I don’t think we are there yet.”
Genomic Evolution: Building the Body from Genes
Our organs tell stories. A pathologist, for example, can look at a lung and recognize a lifetime of toiling in a mine. Our genes tell stories, too. By comparing the genomic sequences of an ever-increasing number of organisms, we are now uncovering how our bodies came to be the way they are. Evolution, it seems, is a tale of détente: The need to adapt to changing environments is in a tug of war with the demand for precisely functioning biological machinery. The stories presented in the special section emphasize different facets of this complex saga. They are not just historical lessons; they have implications for understanding disease mechanisms as well as basic physiology.
When it comes to the story of the human brain, we are still stuck on the preface, Pennisi explains in a News story. Researchers are turning to comparative genomics to identify the main genetic characters that helped differentiate our brain from those of our primate cousins. They are finding evidence of positive selection for genes that are key to the size and complexity of the cortex, as well as provocative changes in gene copy number and expression.
September 29, 2006
The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History
From The Christian Science Monitor:
Reading Jonathan Franzen always reminds me of the day in sixth-grade math when Miss Worrell explained binary systems to us: twofold worlds alternating between on and off. Franzen's new book, The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History, a collection of essays about his life, offers the same kind of whipsaw reading experience. It's hilarious and it's painful. It's sharply insightful and it's also frustratingly obtuse. No human being should have to experience the self-loathing that Franzen appears to feel for his youthful self. But then again neither should anyone be so exhaustingly and blindly self-involved. And yet Franzen is, and somehow manages to convey that to us in equal measures of humor and painful acuity. The six essays (at least half of which were previously published in The New Yorker magazine) begin with Franzen as an adult arriving in suburban St. Louis to sell his mother's house.
For readers of The Corrections this is familiar territory. The house, in which "each windowsill and each tabletop was an eddy in which inexpensively framed photographs had accumulated" and in the kitchen of which a brisket has lain in the deep freeze for nine years, is immediately recognizable -- as is the psychic pain that surrounds it. ("Need I add that it didn't last?" Franzen writes of the brief happiness he experienced there as a child.) The essays then jump back to Franzen's childhood and adolescence, on through some high school pranks, and then to college lit classes (Franzen's parents fret as he renounces calculus for a German major but he mostly obsesses about women) and finish with the collapse of his marriage even as he embraces bird-watching.
Immune response vital in cancer fight
How can you tell how bad a cancer is, and how likely the patient is to survive? New evidence suggests that the best way may sometimes be to look at how well the immune system has attacked tumours, rather than focussing on how far the tumours have spread. It has long been known that the immune system can home in on cancerous cells and that immune cells can take up residence within tumours. But it hasn't been clear whether such cells have much of an impact on the progress of the disease.
A study by Jérôme Galon, Franck Pagés, and a team of researchers at INSERM in Paris, France, has brought the significance of these immune-system invaders to light. "We found that there is an importance of natural anti-tumour immunity against human cancer," says Galon. Whether a cancer recurs or not after treatment, he adds, may have more to do with the immune system than with the tumour itself. Even patients with small tumours that have not spread, says Galon, will have a bad prognosis if they have a weak immune response to the cancer.
September 28, 2006
Our Revolution Was Not A Movie
About the two giant billboards in Times Square, from the Hungarian Cultural Center (reimaginefreedom.org):
This October 23rd commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The Hungarian Cultural Center in New York celebrates this event with a billboard campaign in the heart of Times Square. Displayed from September to November 2006, two billboards with photographs by professional photographer Erich Lessing and amateur Hungarian photographer Jenő Kiss, display the phrase “Our Revolution Was Not A Movie”. They deliver a message that the revolution in Hungary had global significance and that the country is still proud of this historic event. The billboard presents history-as-advertisement, presenting provocative images in a commercial format that both tries to sell history as sexy and relevant while critiquing its own agenda. But perhaps most importantly, these poignant photos and the message they portray the notions of courage and democratic freedom.
What is the relevancy of revolutionary ideas in 2006? Can mass movements lead to positive social change anymore? This past June President Bush traveled to Hungary to speak about ’56; his visit touched on what the role of the West can or should be in popular uprisings in other nations and the different ways the concept of ‘freedom’ is viewed. Although the ’56 Revolution took place in Hungary, the repercussions transcended time and place. It is often viewed in the context of the Cold War, which in some aspects confines the realities of the Revolution. However, the intention of the billboard and the surrounding programming is to bring this historical event—its ideas and feelings, and the philosophical investigation of revolution—to the doorstep of the American public.
Much more information here. [Thanks to Stefany Ann Golberg.]
The State of Violence Against Abortion Providers
It may no longer be in the headlines and the trend may be moving downward, but attacks against abortion providers and clinics continue. A new study suggests that laws don't seem to affect the incidence of violence.(Via EurekaAlert.)
During a wave of anti-abortion violence in the early 1990s, several states enacted legislation protecting abortion clinics, staff and patients. Some experts predicted that these laws would provide a deterrent effect, resulting in fewer anti-abortion crimes. Others predicted a backlash from radical members of the anti-abortion movement, leading to more crimes in states with protective legislation.
"We tested these competing hypotheses and found no support for either one," Pridemore [associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Indiana University Bloomington and co-author of a new study] said. "In other words, states with laws protecting abortion clinics and reproductive rights are no more or less likely than other states to have higher or lower levels of victimization against abortion clinics, staff or patients."
He pointed out that there are still valid reasons to have such laws. "For example, state laws protecting abortion clinics and reproductive rights provide constitutional support for a woman's right to choose and retributive justice for those who employ violence or intimidation to discourage the exercise of this right," he said.
A New Genetic Database
A vast database showing how human genes react to drugs and diseases could be used in a scheme to find new therapies. A pilot project has now proved that such a project could work and has already revealed potential drugs to fight cancer and other diseases.
To build the pilot database, Todd Golub of the Broad Institute mdash a collaboration involving the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts — and his colleagues threw 164 different drugs or other chemical compounds onto human cancer cells, particularly breast cancers. They used DNA microarrays — small chips that expose in one swoop the activity of every known human gene in a particular tissue — to record which genes were boosted or repressed by each drug.
The team entered the results of these microarrays into a database. They could then search it for patterns in gene expression caused by other diseases or drugs (or the opposites of these patterns), in a similar way to forensic fingerprint matching.
Enemy of the State, Actually of All of Them
In the Moscow Times,a review of Mark Leier's new biography of Bakunin:
In his new biography of Bakunin, Mark Leier concentrates less on the anarchist's mesmerizing personality "or his appetites for tobacco, food, and alcohol, inevitably described as voluminous" and more on his ideas and the context in which they developed. This approach, featuring an in-depth analysis of Bakunin's writings in chronological order, as well as a detailed examination of Bakunin's relationship with Karl Marx, is less entertaining than Carr's biography. But Leier hopes it is more enlightening, for he is critical of most earlier presentations of Bakunin, including that by the playwright Tom Stoppard in his recent trilogy "The Coast of Utopia," due to be performed in Moscow next year. Leier directs the Centre for Labour Studies at Canada's Simon Fraser University and has written books on labor history. He views Bakunin favorably as one who was sympathetic to working men and women and critical of capitalism, which Leier also often criticizes with such terminology as "the particularly brutal capitalism we face today." He believes that Bakunin's writings still offer valuable insights and advice for modern-day rebels against capitalism, and his biography is filled with references to contemporary subjects, mainly American ones. For example, after referring to Tsar Nicholas I as "the leader of reaction and destroyer of nationalities," he adds, "roughly analogous, some argue, to George W. Bush at the beginning of the twenty-first century."
Declassified Sections of the NIE's Report on Terrorism
The NIE has one odd conclusion, that anti-globalization and anti-US leftists, inspire by jihadists, may turn to terrorism, as Lindsay notes. Declassified sections of the National Intelligence Estimate report, “"Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States”".
• The jihadists’ greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution—an ultra-conservative interpretation of shari’a-based governance spanning the Muslim world—is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims. Exposing the religious and political straitjacket that is implied by the jihadists’ propaganda would help to divide them from the audiences they seek to persuade.
• Recent condemnations of violence and extremist religious interpretations by a few notable Muslim clerics signal a trend that could facilitate the growth of a constructive alternative to jihadist ideology: peaceful political activism. This also could lead to the consistent and dynamic participation of broader Muslim communities in rejecting violence, reducing the ability of radicals to capitalize on passive community support. In this way, the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror.
• Countering the spread of the jihadist movement will require coordinated multilateral efforts that go well beyond operations to capture or kill terrorist leaders.
Islamism, Secularism, and Beer in Palestine
With Hamas in power, everyone seems to be taken with the story of a brewery in Palestine. In Der Spiegel:
Taybeh the beer is crisp, clean and very drinkable. It comes in light and dark versions, with a label that proudly reads "The Finest in the Middle East." Its makers seem to have tapped an unlikely region for venturing into the beer business.
"Everybody thought I was nuts to build a brewery in a Muslim region," said Nadim Khoury, the company's master brewer, regarding the glaringly obvious problem that the Quran forbids the consumption of alcohol.
Yet Palestinian Christians, who make up just under 2 percent of the total population of the Occupied Territories, aren't the only ones drinking Taybeh beer. "We produce 600,000 liters a year," said Khoury. "Of that, 30 percent sells to Israel and the remaining 70 percent within Palestine." Sales of Taybeh, he added, account for only 15 to 20 percent of total beer sales in the West Bank.
"I don't want to say exactly that the Muslims enjoy the beer more than the Christians -- but they do," said Sayib Nasser, a member of the Fatah Party and deputy governor of the local council in nearby Ramallah.
Is Terrorism Morally Distinct?
In the Journal of Politcal Philosophy, Samuel Scheffler argues that terrorism is morally distinct from other kinds of violence directed against civillians and noncombatants.
[I]t does seem that terrorism is morally distinctive, at least insofar as it conforms to the pattern of what I have been calling “the standard cases.” In these cases, at least, it differs from other kinds of violence directed against civilians and noncombatants. By this I do not mean that it is worse, but rather that it has a different moral anatomy. By analogy: humiliation is morally distinctive, and so too are torture, slavery, political oppression and genocide. One can investigate the moral anatomy of any of these evils without taking a position on where it stands in an overall ranking of evils. Many people are pluralists about the good. We can be pluralists about the bad as well.
In the “standard cases,” some people are killed or injured (the primary victims), in order to create fear in a larger number of people (the secondary victims), with the aim of destabilizing or degrading the existing social order for everyone. The initial act of violence sets off a kind of moral cascade: death or injury to some, anxiety and fear for many more, the degradation or destabilization of the social order for all. Nor is this simply a cascade of harms. It is, instead, a chain of intentional abuse, for those who employ terrorist tactics do not merely produce these harms, they intentionally aim to produce them. The primary victims are used—their deaths and injuries are used—to terrify others, and those others are used—their fear and terror are used—to degrade and destabilize the social order.
Women and Electronic gaming
[A]t an NSF-sponsored conference called “Girls ’N’ Games,” feminist academics, game designers and die-hard “grrl gamers” convened to discuss why women and girls cannot afford to ignore electronic games. Electronic gaming, they say—which includes computer games as well as video or “console” games—has become a huge cultural force. Studies show that 50 percent of Americans and 80 percent of American children play video games, and the heaviest gamers—8- to 10-year-olds—average over an hour a day in front of a console.
The rise in gaming has provoked debates over whether games are good or bad for us, but these tend to focus on whether the violence found in many games leads to real-life aggression. Less discussed is race and gender stereotyping: People of color are largely absent from video games, and when they do appear it’s as criminals or “bad guys.” Women are rarely protagonists, and instead serve as “prizes.” Almost without exception, women in electronic games are thin and large-breasted.
Despite the current state of girls ’n’ games, Harvey Mudd computer-science professor Elizabeth “Z” Sweedyk, a conference participant, envisions gaming as a medium for broad social critique in which women can participate. Students in her classes create alternative games that slyly call attention to racist and sexist tropes, as in one adventure game that follows an 11-year-old girl as she repeatedly saves her bumbling brother from doom—only to watch him get all of the credit.
When Bad Things Happen to Good Girlfriends
From The Village Voice:
I once dated a 31-year-old who was also (simultaneously) dating a 19-year-old I used to babysit when she played with my little sister. I once dated a guy who decided he didn't like me after I had traveled four hours by bus to see him and expressed this by ignoring me for the weekend that I was visiting. I dated another guy who tried to convince me to have an open relationship—because, as he put it, "dating other people is fun!" I dated a guy who loved to take me to the best restaurants in Manhattan but tended to forget his wallet; later I learned of his running mental log of money he had spent on me. And how could I overlook the guy who confided in me that he had been diagnosed as a nonviolent antisocial sociopath. He's the same guy who became enraged when he learned I investigated nonviolent antisocial sociopathic behavior, only to discover it didn't exist.
I am Rosie the Riveter of comatose love.
Was Mona Lisa pregnant when she posed?
Maybe they should call it the “Mama Lisa.” Researchers studying 3-D images of the “Mona Lisa” say she was probably either pregnant or had just given birth when she sat for Leonardo da Vinci’s 16th-century masterpiece. The clue was something she wore.Scans turned up evidence of a fine, gauzy veil around Mona Lisa’s shoulders — a garment women of the Italian Renaissance wore when they were expecting, a leading French museum researcher, Michel Menu, told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday.
Tradition holds that the “Mona Lisa” is a painting of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocondo, and that Leonardo started painting it in 1503. In France, the painting, on display at the Louvre Museum, is referred to as La Joconde — the French version of her married name. The name Mona Lisa is the equivalent of “Madam Lisa.” The veil “would confirm art historians’ hypothesis that Giocondo asked for a painting of his wife to celebrate the birth of his second son,” said Menu, chief of the research department at the French Museums’ Center for Research and Restoration, which has its offices in the Louvre.
From the Energy Bulletin:
What is Peak Oil?
Peak Oil is the simplest label for the problem of energy resource depletion, or more specifically, the peak in global oil production. Oil is a finite, non-renewable resource, one that has powered phenomenal economic and population growth over the last century and a half. The rate of oil 'production,' meaning extraction and refining (currently about 84 million barrels/day), has grown in most years over the last century, but once we go through the halfway point of all reserves, production becomes ever more likely to decline, hence 'peak'. Peak Oil means not 'running out of oil', but 'running out of cheap oil'. For societies leveraged on ever increasing amounts of cheap oil, the consequences may be dire. Without significant successful cultural reform, economic and social decline seems inevitable.
Why does oil peak? Why doesn't it suddenly run out?
Oil companies have, naturally enough, extracted the easier-to-reach, cheap oil first. The oil pumped first was on land, near the surface, under pressure, light and 'sweet' (meaning low sulfur content) and therefore easy to refine into gasoline. The remaining oil, sometimes off shore, far from markets, in smaller fields, or of lesser quality, takes ever more money and energy to extract and refine. Under these conditions, the rate of extraction inevitably drops. Furthermore, all oil fields eventually reach a point where they become economically, and energetically, no longer viable. If it takes the energy of a barrel of oil to extract a barrel of oil, then further extraction is pointless.
September 27, 2006
6 Debates at the Frontier of Science
In Scientific American:
Is String Theory Unraveling? ....Some string theorists, taking their cue from Leonard Susskind of Stanford University, argue that these manifold universes of string theory may coexist, evolving from one to another in a way that happens to leave universes like ours as a likely outcome...Skeptics see the landscape as an abandonment of centuries-old scientific practice, in which a successful theory is one that ultimately describes only one universe--the one we see around us
Is Global Warming Raising a Tempest?...[Kerry] Emanuel developed a measure, or metric, of the power released by a storm over its lifetime. As he played with the data he discovered a surprisingly tight match between the surface temperature of the Atlantic Ocean and the intensity of storms that had brewed atop it...What is more, according to his measure, storms in the Atlantic and western North Pacific were 40 to 50 percent more powerful in the last 20 years compared to the previous 20.
How Does A Planet Grow?...One puzzling detail is why Jupiter seems to have a relatively light core of no more than 10 Earth-masses, given that the core accretion model suggests a likely value of 20 to 30 Earth-masses. A decade ago, stimulated by this discrepancy and the discoveries of the first extrasolar planets, astronomer Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution resurrected an alternative idea.
Should Epidemiologists Swear Off Diet Trials?...The past couple of years have witnessed a string of disappointing results from long-term studies looking for the benefits of certain diets against chronic disease. First, fruits and vegetables showed no sign of protecting against cancer in general. Then high-fiber eaters found themselves as cancer-prone as the rest. To cap it off, a low-fat diet did nothing to ward off heart disease and colorectal cancer.
Does Sprouting New Brain Cells Cure Depression?...In recent years, researchers have discovered tantalizing evidence that antidepressants combat depression by promoting neurogenesis, the growth of new neurons in the brain. The evidence derives from several striking observations...[M]ost depression treatments, from drugs such as Prozac to a type of powerful magnetic stimulation, increase new neuron growth by up to 75 percent in rodents.
Was the Hobbit Just a Sick Modern Human?...Other researchers are not convinced, countering that the Hobbit was more likely a Homo sapiens with a broad pathological condition called microcephaly, in which the brain is abnormally small. Inbreeding could have made such individuals common...
On the Deutsche Oper's Cancellation of Idomeneo
Signandsight translates Harald Jähner on the Deutsche Oper's cancellation of Mozart's "Idomeneo" in the Berliner Zeitung.
The Deutsche Oper demonstrates very nicely how little courage the de-sensitised public can summon for such scandals: none, to be precise. As soon as there's even a vague notion that an audience that could respond differently, that it might take offence to the action on stage, the performance gets struck from the programme. In response to the assessment by Berlin's Criminal Investigation Office that the three-year-old Neuenfels production might offend pious Muslims and could lead to reprisals, the director of the opera house, Kirsten Harms, censored herself and cancelled the performance.
This is dangerous and misguided for many reasons. First, the anticipatory obedience of the opera house director will make potential terrorists aware of what was to be seen in her house since its premiere in March of 2003: Idomeneo presenting, alongside those of Poseidon, Jesus and Buddha, the hacked-off head of Muhammad. The audience and staff of the Deutsche Oper will be far more endangered by this sudden pronouncement than they would have been by the piece itself, which thus far had not raised the ire of a single Muslim...
The sensitivity of many Muslims with respect to the Prophet and insults against him has unsettled our understanding of artistic freedom. There's an upside to that: the unsettledness has lead to a heightening. The debate on the Muhammad caricatures didn't only frighten Western artists, it also made them more aware of the effectiveness of art than they had been for a long time. What unholy fury art can release in societies that have yet to dissociate art from seriousness! For this and other reasons, cultural respect of religious feelings has grown markedly. In the midst of modern society, art accrues religion - Christianity included - as a kind of forgotten relative, viewing it with scepticism, new-found respect or animosity. [Director Hans] Neuenfels' four-fold critique of religion must be understood in this context.
Mouse Brain Map Completed
Biologists trying to understand the brain typically spend thousands of hours determining what genes are active in specific neural regions. Now they can save themselves the trouble, thanks to the completion of a Web-based brain atlas announced here today. Experts say the map will accelerate the search for drugs to treat psychiatric illnesses and help address fundamental questions about the development and function of different brain structures.
Funded by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen, the brain atlas project took 3 years and $40 million to complete. Researchers at the Allen Institute of Brain Science in Seattle, Washington, analyzed over 250,000 slices of mouse brain to determine which of the 21,000 or so known mouse genes are turned on in the brain, as well as where and to what extent.
The map shows that 80% of genes in the mouse genome are expressed in the brain--higher than the 70% figure that researchers previously thought. And roughly 25% of those genes occur only in specific parts of the brain, says Allen Jones, chief scientific officer for the project. Among the things that the dataset will allow researchers to do, he says, is figure out which cells tend to express the genes in similar ways. That could reveal new structures in the brain.
Hitchen v. Corn on Iraq and Niger's Uranium
[Corn:] Hitchens bases his entire Niger case essentially on one fact: that in 1999, Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq's ambassador to the Vatican, paid a call on the prime minister of Niger. The rest of his argument is supposition, and his chief deduction is that there was only one matter that could have prompted Zahawie's trip to Niger: Saddam's desire to stock up on the single major export of that African country—yellowcake uranium.
For what it's worth, Zahawie says he has a simple explanation for the trip: He'd traveled to four African nations—not just Niger—hoping to convince the leaders of these countries to visit Saddam in Iraq to end the Iraqi dictator's diplomatic isolation. Hitchens does not buy this. Not because he has evidence to the contrary, but because years earlier Zahawie was an Iraqi envoy for nuclear matters. Ipso facto, Hitchens charges, Iraq was, beyond any doubt, surreptitiously seeking uranium in Niger in 1999. End of story. All else is rubbish.
[Hitchens:] I have other reasons, which have been well-enough exposed in Slate and elsewhere, to think that Saddam Hussein's name may indeed be uttered in the same breath as the ambition to recover WMD. Corn seems to believe that the dictator who not only acquired and concealed them, but who actually used them, must be granted the benefit of the doubt. I differ, and yes I do think that post-invasion Iraq was unusually "clean." Even Hans Blix and Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröeder thought that some weaponry would be found, and the list of stocks that Iraq last handed to the United Nations has never been accounted for. Other evidence—such as the centrifuge buried by Saddam Hussein's chief scientist and the Baathist negotiations to buy missiles off the shelf from North Korea—was uncovered only by the invasion itself. So, this is not an induction from no evidence to evidence, but the result of a long experience with a regime highly skilled in concealment and deception. Were it not for his defeat in 1991, and the resulting UNSCOM discoveries, we would not have known the extent of Saddam Hussein's previous nuclear capacities, either. So, even if it is true that he had been wholly or partially disarmed before 2003, that outcome was only the result of sternly refusing to take his word for it, and of the application of a policy of sanctions-plus-force that was opposed by David Corn's magazine at every single step.
And David Corn's response to Hitchens' can be found here.
Cape fear: the many incarnations of Little Red Riding Hood
'You probably think you know the story," says the sardonic voiceover at the start of Hoodwinked, as we see a leather-bound volume of classic fairy tales lying open at the legend of Little Red Riding Hood. The movie then dresses up this old granny of a fable in the vulpine comedy of post-Shrek, multilayered family entertainment, tailored to an audience fully aware that the word "hood" denotes not only a type of head-covering but also urban territory disputed by gangs.
The French fabulist Charles Perrault was the first to commit the story to ink, publishing it in 1697 as Le Petit Chaperon Rouge. Most of the details that have become familiar enough to be satirised three centuries later are in this initial telling: a young girl's visit to a sick grandmother ending in death as a result of flirting with a wolf (in fact, a werewolf) in the woods. The colour of the head-covering could be taken to symbolise either sin or the blood of female fertility.
Adolescent girls of the time didn't have to wait for Freud to discern the message in the story of the dangerous, hairy protruberance that may lie behind unthreatening clothes. "Seeing the wolf" even reportedly entered French slang as a euphemism for losing one's virginity. Perrault directed his allegory at girls wandering off the track and chatting to chaps, although in earlier European oral versions the heroine is more reminiscent of the Red character in Hoodwinked, who outwits the wolf to survive.
Allergy-free pets surprisingly simple
This week witnessed an event that will have some animal lovers cheering: the arrival on the market of long-promised 'allergy-free' pet cats. But you might be surprised at how low-tech these cute kitties are — especially considering the almost US$4,000 price tag. The cats are being sold by Allerca, a company based in San Diego, California. It is currently taking orders for deliveries next year.
Founder Simon Brodie says he started by trying to genetically engineer a low-allergy cat, but during the early testing stages the team accidentally stumbled on animals that seemed to be naturally sniffle-free. "Maybe you could say we got lucky," he says, with the "totally naturally occurring cat."
That has allowed the company to be first on the scene in what is predicted to be a very lucrative market, overtaking companies attempting to create hypoallergenic cats by transgenic methods.
September 26, 2006
Administration Blocks Report Connecting Hurricanes and Global Warming
Via Crooked Timber, in Yahoo! News:
For those with access to Nature, the piece can be found here.
The Bush administration has blocked release of a report that suggests global warming is contributing to the frequency and strength of hurricanes, the journal Nature reported Tuesday.
The possibility that warming conditions may cause storms to become stronger has generated debate among climate and weather experts, particularly in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
In the new case, Nature said weather experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration part of the Commerce Department in February set up a seven-member panel to prepare a consensus report on the views of agency scientists about global warming and hurricanes.
The Europeans Outdo the US in the Commercialization of Public Research
The UNU-MERIT survey shows that Europe performs better than the United States on two of the three indicators for the actual commercial use of public research (licenses executed and start-ups) and comes a close second on a third indicator (licence revenue as a share of research expenditure). In 2004, per million dollars in research expenditures, European public research institutes executed 20% more licenses, established 40% more start-up firms, and earned only 10% less license revenue than American universities.
There are problems of comparability between the US and European data, and part of the European success on license revenue is due to very good performance of government research institutes. Furthermore, "none of these indicators measure successful commercialisation of the results of public research", say UNU-MERIT's researchers Anthony Arundel and Catalina Bordoy. "A start-up can fail, a license may not lead to anything of value and even license revenue can be earned without the firm bringing an invention to the market or making a profit from it. Nevertheless, the results are intriguing and show that European academics might be far more 'entrepreneurial' than commonly thought."
To improve indicators on the commercialization of publicly funded research, the UNU-MERIT researchers propose several steps that should be taken to improve the existing questionnaires from different countries in order to make the results fully comparable. They note that this should not be particularly difficult.
MacPherson's Biography of I.F. Stone
Steve Weinberg reviews Myra MacPherson's “All Governments Lie”: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone, in In These Times.
MacPherson’s book is remarkable for its hybrid nature. It is a biography, sure, meant both as an examination of his life and as a document to defend Stone from what MacPherson calls “posthumous lies perpetuated by today’s right-wing media.” But it offers an unusually rich context that provides, in MacPherson’s words, “a historical treatise on the press” and “Stone’s running commentary on twentieth-century America.”
Stone got his start as a newspaper reporter and editorialist in the ’20s, a teenaged prodigy. MacPherson quotes Stone at age 14, observing debates about evolution at the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee: “There still seem to be many worthy gentlemen … who wish to anchor the world in a sea of narrow minds (including their own) and hold it there, lest it move forward. … They are utterly out of place in this age of rationalism.”
MacPherson explores the factors leading to Stone’s indifference to being branded a troublemaking outcast, including his frail build, impaired eyesight and homely looks, as well as his good fortune in finding a patron who helped launch his journalism career at age 13. That unconcern yielded powerful enemies: Stone’s FBI file was at least 5,000 pages thick, in part because the journalist never stopped opening the curtain on J. Edgar Hoover, who he considered a “glorified Dick Tracy” and a “sacred cow” within government. While undeniably true, few journalists dared to publish such characterizations while Hoover lived.
Once Again, Islam in Europe
In the New York Review of Books, Timothy Garton Ash reviews two new books--Ian Buruma's Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance and Ayaan Hirsi Ali The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam--and add his two centimes on the issue of Islam in Europe.
Buruma rightly emphasizes the cultural diversity of Muslim immigrants: Berbers from the Rif mountains are not quite like Moroccans from the lowlands; Turks have different patterns of adaptation from Somalians, let alone Pakistanis in Britain. In the nineteenth century, European imperialists studied the ethnography of their colonies. In the twenty-first century, we need a new ethnography of our own cities. Since European countries tend to have concentrations of immigrants from their former colonies, the new ethnography can even draw on the old. At the same time, the British, French, Dutch, and German ways of integration—or nonintegration—vary enormously, with contrasting strengths and weaknesses. What works for, say, Pakistani Kashmiris in Bradford may not work for Berber Moroccans in Amsterdam, and vice versa.
We have to decide what is essential in our European way of life and what is negotiable. For example, I regard it as both morally indefensible and politically foolish for the French state to insist that grown women may not wear the hijab in any official institution—a source of additional grievance to French Muslims, as I heard repeatedly from women in the housing projects near Saint-Denis. It seems to me as objectionable that the French Republic forbids adult women to wear the hijab as it is that the Islamic Republic of Iran compels them to wear the hijab, and on the same principle: in a free and modern society, grown men and women should be able to wear what they want. More practically, France surely has enough difficulties in its relations with its Muslim population without creating this additional one for itself.
On the other hand, freedom of expression is essential. It is now threatened by people like Mohammed Bouyeri, whose message to people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali is "if you say that, I will kill you." Indeed, Buruma tells us that Bouyeri explained to the court that divine law did not permit him "to live in this country or in any country where free speech is allowed." (In which case, why not go back to Morocco?) But free speech is also threatened by the appeasement policies of frightened European governments, which attempt to introduce censorship in the name of intercommunal harmony.
An Appeal Concerning The Plight of Dalits in Punjab
This interesting blog covers the struggle of Dalits ("untouchables") in Punjab. Among other things, it covers the story of Bant Singh, a Dalit activist and leader of the Mazdoor Mukti Morchat (a part of the All India Agricultural Labourers' association) who was brutally attacked early this year.
(There is also an appeal for his legal and medical needs.)
Two hands and a leg amputated. The remaining limb yet to heal, has turned gangrenous and may also have to be removed. His kidneys have been damaged due to excessive bleeding and he can hardly eat and digest any food.
And yet defiance still sparkles in the eyes of Bant Singh, a Dalit agricultural labour activist, as he lies in the trauma ward of a state-run hospital in Chandigarh where doctors are battling to save his only remaining leg and even his life.
It is precisely for this defiance, coming from a ‘lower caste’ Dalit, that Bant Singh from Jhabhar village of Mansa district in Punjab was beaten to pulp and left for dead by armed upper caste men around a fortnight ago.
(Hat tip: Linta Varghese.)
An Interview with Hugo Chavez
Tavis Smiley interviews Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on "his oil-for-poor program, U.S. foreign relations policy, his controversial anti-Bush comments and criticism of the United Nations."
(Hat tip: Katie Langrock)
Values and Voting
Over at Phronesisaical, Helmut discusses values and voting.
"Value voters" and their prophets (James Dobson, etc.) maintain, however, that they are in the exclusive possession of a sense of social value. This is, of course, flatly false. The old idea of liberal procedural and structural neutrality has come under theoretical assault even by liberals. It's extremely difficult or impossible to articulate a fair-because-neutral set of political procedures without importing in some other set of values about, for example, what broad objectives ought to be sought through politics, what goods ought to be distributed, what those "goods" are in the first place, etc. But that's really not what is in play in the "value voters" discussion.
What is in play is what I mentioned above: an ignorance about social and non-social values, combined with one group's particular beliefs posing as universals, combined with a stupid media that has no capacity to make any of these distinctions and thus who run with the expression "values voters." The continued propagation of that misnomer simply builds an accidental political power into what is essentially a rightwing view on socio-cultural politics.
Yet, at the same time, the left and progressives haven't been terribly adept of late at spelling out in clearer terms just what kinds of social and non-social values they reasonably think ought to be at the core of the broader political discussion. As such, they've found themselves defending particular policies but not providing terribly compelling reasons to accept those policies over others. The religious right provides such a substantive explanation to its constituents, even if, in my own view, its wrong, exclusionary, and even punitive.
'America paid us to hand over al-Qaeda suspects'
From The London Times:
PRESIDENT Musharraf of Pakistan says that the CIA has secretly paid his government millions of dollars for handing over hundreds of al-Qaeda suspects to America. The US government has strict rules banning such reward payments to foreign powers involved in the war on terror. General Musharraf does not say how much the CIA gave in return for the 369 al-Qaeda figures that he ordered should be passed to the US.
The US Department of Justice said: “We didn’t know about this. It should not happen. These bounty payments are for private individuals who help to trace terrorists on the FBI’s most wanted list, not foreign governments.” The revelation comes from General Musharraf’s memoir, In the Line of Fire, which begins serialisation in The Times today and will further embarrass the White House at a time when relations between the US and Pakistan are already strained.
General Musharraf claimed last week that the Bush Administration threatened to bomb Pakistan “back to the Stone Age” if did not co-operate with the US after the 9/11 attacks.
Is Hysteria Real? Brain Images Say Yes
From The New York Times:
Hysteria is a 4,000-year-old diagnosis that has been applied to no mean parade of witches, saints and, of course, Anna O. But over the last 50 years, the word has been spoken less and less. The disappearance of hysteria has been heralded at least since the 1960’s. What had been a Victorian catch-all splintered into many different diagnoses. Hysteria seemed to be a vanished 19th-century extravagance useful for literary analysis but surely out of place in the serious reaches of contemporary science.
Functional neuroimaging technologies like single photon emission computerized tomography, or SPECT, and positron emission tomography, or PET, now enable scientists to monitor changes in brain activity. And although the brain mechanisms behind hysterical illness are still not fully understood, new studies have started to bring the mind back into the body, by identifying the physical evidence of one of the most elusive, controversial and enduring illnesses. Despite its period of invisibility, hysteria never vanished — or at least that is what many doctors say.
September 25, 2006
A Case of the Mondays: Kingdom Coming is Optimistic
Crossposted to Abstract Nonsense
The account of Dominionism given in Kingdom Coming, featuring a massive umbrella of Christian fundamentalist organizations united in their drive to establish a theocracy in the United States and by extension the world, sounds like a very depressing story. This is at least what every review I've found says: the reviewers who agree with Michelle Goldberg call her vision chilling, and the few who do not say she is excessively alarmist.
The truly chilling thing about Kingdom Coming is that it's actually fairly mild and optimistic. Goldberg pauses every few pages to say that no, the United States will probably not become theocratic, because of the strength of its laws and Constitution and legal system. And she concentrates only on local fundamentalism, without talking about its mutually-reinforcing connections to warmongering and state surveillance, both staples of totalitarianism. She suggests that the gradual discrediting of American neoconservatism will lead to a resurgence of a more populist brand of fundamentalism, complete with Populist-style anti-Semitism. However, apart from that she says nothing about the intersection of neoconservatism and fundamentalism, except for one remark toward the end about a war between Christianity and Islam.
In fact, the most worrying future trends are the ones the book spends little to no time on. The formation of the Dominionist front is crucial to expose, and so is the stealth network of would-be theocrats: Rushdoony and Christian Reconstructionism, Ralph Reed's comment about painting his face and operating under cover of darkness, the wink to the religious right inherent in Bush's “compassionate conservative” comment. The book's greatest success is in documenting that network without lapsing into conspiracy theories.
But at the same time, it is just as important to explore the analogy between Dominionism and other totalitarian ideologies further, and quoting Hannah Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism is not enough. The United States has a democratic tradition, but it also has a tradition of ignoring civil liberties whenever it's at war; now that the view of anti-terrorism as a protracted war has taken root among most of its people, liberal democracy is in especial danger. And while Goldberg is right that most Americans may not want a Christian Taliban, most Germans never wanted the Holocaust, either—most never even voted for the Nazis in free elections.
To look at the prospects of a totalitarian ideology, it's good to look at the factors that raise one to power, and, separately, the factors that keep one afloat. Economic depression certainly helps extremists come to power, especially if liberal democracy is seen as the source of the problem. The most plausible depression scenario in the United States revolves around defaulting on the debt; this will likely be viewed as the fault of excessive government spending, but the popular solution will likely be gutting social spending rather than raising taxes or curtailing military spending. Alone such a scenario would favor corporatists rather than fundamentalists, but not only are the two groups mutually reinforcing, but also the poverty that will ensue will be a breeding ground for religious evangelism masquerading as charity. Religious charities use poverty to their advantage everywhere in the world; that's how Hamas and Hezbollah are not right-wing fringe parties in their respective nations.
Goldberg does in fact mention this scenario in passing, although she takes it in a somewhat different direction: she posits a more domestically-minded fundamentalism building on economic populism. This is plausible, but is not how totalitarian governments came to power in countries with strong ties between corporations and conservatives: Germany, Italy, Spain. Her scenario fits a grassroots communist-like movement better, and one of the most important things to realize about American Dominionism is that it's anything but grassroots.
The other issue, war and its effect on civil liberties, is even more important to any discussion about Christian fundamentalism. Right now, the United States only tortures or imprisons without trial people who it thinks might possibly look like Islamist terrorists. Under an explicitly Dominionist government, this national security apparatus can easily expand to disenfranchise and imprison people of the wrong sexual orientation or active in the wrong political movement.
But when I say Kingdom Coming is optimistic, the single most critical point I'm thinking of is not Goldberg's neglect of some of the broader angles concerning conservative fundamentalism. Rather, it's the repeated assertion that no, it cannot be that bad, because the Constitution will still protect freedom. Ironically, the book itself contains ample of evidence why it won't, documenting the rise of the “Christian nation” myth. And yet, it doesn't make the requisite conclusion that just like Hitler never abolished the Weimar Constitution, which remained in effect until the end of World War Two with few Nazi amendments, so can American theocrats rise to power without repealing a single word of the Bill of Rights.
In one of the articles I once read about Christian nationalism, I saw a reference to a quote that went roughly, “We can pass unconstitutional laws faster than the courts can overturn them.” Unfortunately, I don't remember who said it and in what context. But from Kingdom Coming and other articles, I can tell the American right's sentiments are rarely that explicit; in most cases, it will claim to defend the Constitution, even while it pushes to abolish its self-enforcement mechanisms, especially judicial review. And so far, it has been doing a fairly successful job at that, considering that separation of church and state remains a sham, and the federal courts are still not protecting homosexuals from discrimination.
Indefinite totalitarianism requires three things: a motive, or a suitably totalitarian ideology; a means, or a modern state apparatus able to surveil and thereby oppress its citizens; and an opportunity, or a crisis of democracy abetted by lackluster opposition. Pessimistically, the United States has Dominionism, the national security state, and the Democratic Party. Kingdom Coming understandably focuses on the motive, which is why it's so detached from the means and the related issue of warmongering. Its greatest naïve optimism then lies in understating the degree to which the Dominionist movement has the opportunity to advance.
The internationalist note the book finishes on begins with an excerpt from an interview with Iranian secularist Marjane Satrapi, in which she says, “The secular people, we have no country. We the people—all the secular people who are looking for freedom—we have to keep together. We are international, as they are international.” While an international coalition can easily backfire—in Europe, even one-superstate liberalism is ailing, let alone one-world liberalism—an intranational one can be robust.
A good optimistic note to end any discussion of American religious fundamentalism on is this: if it continues advancing, it will reach a tipping point, so that it will be easy for secularists to use its fascism as a wedge issue. The Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, and the rest of the Dominionist organizations in the US are strong, but they can't achieve anything without allies. The smart anti-fascist will deprive them of these allies by using such historical examples as Nazi Germany to drive wedges into the heart of the conservative coalition. The motive and means of totalitarianism will remain, but this active opposition can greatly diminish its opportunity.
Back to School Report 2006
The United States spends 15% of its public monies on education. Yet more of its gross domestic product is spent on providing and consuming private education. It is, in all, a tidy sum. The overall results, though, are not very consoling. A new report issued this week by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and funded by the Ford Foundation, Pew Trusts, and Atlantic Philanthropies shows that educational progress is stagnating. Here are some of their findings: The report concludes that the United States no longer leads the world in access to and attainment in higher education. The nation’s overall performance, in a word, is average. Why? Clearly poor primary and secondary education is a cause. As the report notes, a big chunk of young U.S. adults is effectively eliminated because they drop out of high school or have inadequate skills. Given that many other countries have higher high school and college graduation rates, American youth are not hitting some God-given limits on their educational potential, but are rather under-achieving for reasons of local circumstance. What are they? Financial need, for one. Another report, this time issued jointly by the Congress and the U.S. Education Department this past Friday, September 22, reports that between 1.4 million and 2.4 million young adults will not earn college degrees in the next decade for lack of funds. These young adults, qualified by the study as academically prepared for college, come almost exclusively from low-income families. Doing a little seat of the pants math, if they went to college, they would increase their generation’s college participation by between 10% and 15%. Income differences really count. Richard Kahlenberg in the March 10, 2006 issue of Chronicle of Higher Education reports research showing that 1 in 2 students from families making $90,000 a year or more went to college, while only 1 in 17 students from families making $35,000 or less went to school. As low income in the U.S. is often related to race, many of these potential students are no doubt African-American and Latino. The gap between minority student and white student attendance in four-year colleges suggests this is likely. Consider that 2001 U.S. Education numbers reveal that 37% of eligible white students attend college, in contrast to 26% of African-American and 15% of Latino students. As bad as the figures are for white students, minority students trail much further behind. Something is going wrong at the colleges too. The proportion of four-year college students who graduate within five years of entry has slid from 55% in 1988 to 51% in 2001. Private schools are holding up this rather dismal percentage, for the graduation rate in public colleges and universities is much worse and has declined noticeably more. In 1988, 48% of public students graduated within 5 years; in 2001, the figure had slipped to 42%. These figures were reported by the American College Testing Service in 2002. Colleges are expensive, and their costs have risen relentlessly since the seventies, as I reported in "Forget the Pigskin and Follow the Money," an earlier column here at 3QD. It now costs $11,000 a year for tuition, room, and board at public colleges, and over $25,000 a year at private schools. To be sure, colleges, universities, the federal government, and banks, provide scholarships and loans in apparent abundance. But resources are being out-run by rising costs and student inability to pay the rest of a very large bill. Federal Pell grants that provide actual money instead of loans for students coming from low and moderate income families, cover about 15% of the annual student bill, down from 40% in earlier years. As colleges have ginned up their little competitiveness race, they have diverted more of their resources into so-called "merit" scholarships. They now put over $7 billion into winning students away from other competitors, up five-fold between 1994 and 2004. Schools still award an enormity of aid based upon financial need – some $39 billion in 2004. Once more, however, Kahlenberg in the Chronicle notes that a Congressional advisory committee estimates that when expenses are balanced against the total financial aid package, a low-income student still faces an annual $3,800 shortfall that must be made up by her efforts or by those of her family. When family income is below $35,000, that can be just enough to discourage college entry. The final economic clincher is that even as education costs rise, incomes for 2/3 of American workers have not grown since 1973. Here then, in higher education, is another place where the fundamental deficiencies of American economic life are being felt. There is no gainsaying that the income advantage for the possessors of a college degree continue to grow. The Census Bureau reports that national median earnings for college degree holders was $44,000. College degree holders now make 72% more than persons with high school degrees, up from 68% in 1997. Certainly it pays to go to college, if you can pay for it. This year’s report card shows that: Let’s learn from these tough lessons.
The United States spends 15% of its public monies on education. Yet more of its gross domestic product is spent on providing and consuming private education. It is, in all, a tidy sum.
The overall results, though, are not very consoling. A new report issued this week by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and funded by the Ford Foundation, Pew Trusts, and Atlantic Philanthropies shows that educational progress is stagnating. Here are some of their findings:
The report concludes that the United States no longer leads the world in access to and attainment in higher education. The nation’s overall performance, in a word, is average.
Why? Clearly poor primary and secondary education is a cause. As the report notes, a big chunk of young U.S. adults is effectively eliminated because they drop out of high school or have inadequate skills. Given that many other countries have higher high school and college graduation rates, American youth are not hitting some God-given limits on their educational potential, but are rather under-achieving for reasons of local circumstance.
What are they? Financial need, for one. Another report, this time issued jointly by the Congress and the U.S. Education Department this past Friday, September 22, reports that between 1.4 million and 2.4 million young adults will not earn college degrees in the next decade for lack of funds. These young adults, qualified by the study as academically prepared for college, come almost exclusively from low-income families. Doing a little seat of the pants math, if they went to college, they would increase their generation’s college participation by between 10% and 15%.
Income differences really count. Richard Kahlenberg in the March 10, 2006 issue of Chronicle of Higher Education reports research showing that 1 in 2 students from families making $90,000 a year or more went to college, while only 1 in 17 students from families making $35,000 or less went to school.
As low income in the U.S. is often related to race, many of these potential students are no doubt African-American and Latino. The gap between minority student and white student attendance in four-year colleges suggests this is likely. Consider that 2001 U.S. Education numbers reveal that 37% of eligible white students attend college, in contrast to 26% of African-American and 15% of Latino students. As bad as the figures are for white students, minority students trail much further behind.
Something is going wrong at the colleges too. The proportion of four-year college students who graduate within five years of entry has slid from 55% in 1988 to 51% in 2001. Private schools are holding up this rather dismal percentage, for the graduation rate in public colleges and universities is much worse and has declined noticeably more. In 1988, 48% of public students graduated within 5 years; in 2001, the figure had slipped to 42%. These figures were reported by the American College Testing Service in 2002.
Colleges are expensive, and their costs have risen relentlessly since the seventies, as I reported in "Forget the Pigskin and Follow the Money," an earlier column here at 3QD. It now costs $11,000 a year for tuition, room, and board at public colleges, and over $25,000 a year at private schools. To be sure, colleges, universities, the federal government, and banks, provide scholarships and loans in apparent abundance. But resources are being out-run by rising costs and student inability to pay the rest of a very large bill. Federal Pell grants that provide actual money instead of loans for students coming from low and moderate income families, cover about 15% of the annual student bill, down from 40% in earlier years.
As colleges have ginned up their little competitiveness race, they have diverted more of their resources into so-called "merit" scholarships. They now put over $7 billion into winning students away from other competitors, up five-fold between 1994 and 2004. Schools still award an enormity of aid based upon financial need – some $39 billion in 2004. Once more, however, Kahlenberg in the Chronicle notes that a Congressional advisory committee estimates that when expenses are balanced against the total financial aid package, a low-income student still faces an annual $3,800 shortfall that must be made up by her efforts or by those of her family. When family income is below $35,000, that can be just enough to discourage college entry.
The final economic clincher is that even as education costs rise, incomes for 2/3 of American workers have not grown since 1973. Here then, in higher education, is another place where the fundamental deficiencies of American economic life are being felt.
There is no gainsaying that the income advantage for the possessors of a college degree continue to grow. The Census Bureau reports that national median earnings for college degree holders was $44,000. College degree holders now make 72% more than persons with high school degrees, up from 68% in 1997. Certainly it pays to go to college, if you can pay for it.
This year’s report card shows that:
Let’s learn from these tough lessons.
PERCEPTIONS: unbearable lightness
Frank Dituri. Full of bliss, Italy, 1996.
Poetry of Lists
Aranda, Arrernte, Bundjalung, Dharug, Gindavul, Galmahra, Githavul, Gunditjmara, Kukatja, Lardil, Malyangapa, Ngangiwumirri, Ngunawal, Noonucal, Nyulnyul, Pintupi, Pitjantjatjara, Thungutti, Walmajarri, Weerluval, Wiradjuri, Yankunyttjatjara, Yindjibarndi, Yorta Yorta, Yugambeh
Australian place names
Anglers Paradise, Boggabri, Bullamakanka, Burra Burri, Burrinjuck, Cape Tribulation, Coober Pedy, Dirk Hartog Island, Emu Plains, Glasshouse Mountains, Goondiwindi, Great Barrier Reef, Groote Eylandt, Gulargambone, Kurri Kurri, Mount Kosciuszko, Nurioopta, Orpheus Island, Puckapunyal, Surfers Paradise, Tin Can Bay, Tumbarumba, Wollongong, Yarongobilly Caves
Amberley Margaret River Chimney Brush Chardonnay, d’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz, Brokenwood Cricket Pitch, Chain of Ponds Corkscrew Chardonnay, Journey’s End McLaren Vale Arrival Shiraz, Milkwood Yarra Valley Chardonnay, Mount Langhi Ghiran Billi Billi Shiraz, Mount Mary Quintet Cabernet, Punters Corner Spartacus Reserve Shiraz, Tin Shed Melting Pot, West End Eternity Botrytis Semillon, Wirra Wirra Church Block
Bands and singers performing in Sydney
Arctic Monkeys, Death Cab For Cutie, Endless Summer Beach Party, Happy Hate Me Nots, Hooray For Everything, Honduras Milk Shake, Howling Bells, I Killed The Prom Queen, Kamikaze Supermodel, Kisschasy, Lime Spiders, Love Outside Andromeda, Midnight Juggernaut, Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, Psychedlic Furs, Shy Impostors, Soma For Kinda, The Fiery Furnaces, Zombie Ghost Train
American Power Conversion, Apollo Group, Auto Nation, Bed Bath & Beyond, Brilliance China, Cavalier Corporation, Commander Communications, Integrated Workforce, Intuitive Surgical, Marathon Oil, Monster Worldwide, Nippon Meat Packers, Oracle, PETsMART, Prudential, Spotless Group, Torchmark, Urban Outfitters
Paint charts colour names
Aged Driftwood, Autumn Bushland, Bare Bracken, Blue Antarctic, Charcoal Dust, Fireclay, Frosted Breath, Last Chance, Light Latte, Maritime Harmony, Mulberry Desire, Papaya Cream, Pale Vellum, Pearl Pink, Persian Plum, Powder Doeskin, Pure Milk, Rock Oyster, Soft Spice, Swansdown, Tanbark, Tea Biscuit, Teal Hedge, Texas Dust, Venetian Sea, Weathered Copper
Poetry magazines and ezines
Angel Exhaust, Barfing Frog, Bohemian Ink, Collage Bricolages, Deluxe Rubber Chicken, Entropy Garden, Freebase Accordion, God Particle, Horror Wood, Ice-Floe, Jumping Cat, Lilies and Cannonballs, Many Moving Mountains, Nerve Cowboy, Otis Rush, Part-time Post-Modern, Quiet Feather, Red Chain, Scissorkicks, Tickled By Thunder, Unpleasant Schedule, Van Gogh’s Ear, Well Nourished Moon, Xconnects, Yankee Pot Roast, Zafusy
Random Walks: Less Than Zero
The much-anticipated film version of The Devil Wears Prada sparked numerous heated debates (and the occasional bloggorific rant) about its underlying themes and the potentially damaging subconscious "messages" it might be conveying to impressionable young girls. But the scene that caused the most howls of outrage was an exchange between Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) and Nigel, the deliciously fey fashion editor of the fictional Runway magazine:
Andy: Doesn't anybody eat around here?
Nigel: Not since [size] two is the new four and zero is the new two.
Andy: Well, I'm a six...
Nigel: Aha! The new fourteen!
This could hardly be welcome news to the average American woman, who generally wears a size 12 or 14 on the unadjusted scale. For many viewers, that scene encapsulated the frustrating disconnect between the fantasy worlds of the glitterrati in fashion and filmdom, and the stark realities of everyday people. But for me, it also answered a nagging question that had been gnawing at the back of my brain for awhile now: why is it so damned difficult to figure out what size I'm supposed to be when buying clothes? I've long suspected the fashion industry of practicing a "sliding scale," shifting their sizing charts downward to accommodate America's expanding waistlines -- and, more importantly, to make women feel better about themselves ("Hey! Suddenly I'm one size smaller!") so that they buy more clothes.
Apparently, it's true: women's clothing sizes in the US are being progressively "down-sized," so that what was a size 8 in 1990 is now a size 6, and so on. One assumes the strategy works -- unless you happen to work in the fashion industry and are hip to the Big Lie. However, I doubt there's a broad master conspiracy afoot in fashion circles, with a secret cabal of sadistic, fat-loathing-yet-greedy designers reaching a consensus on what the new sizes will be and then foisting them on an unsuspecting public. I think it's far more complicated than that.
For one thing, there is clearly no consensus. Even in the fashion world, sizing is inconsistent. My closet contains items ranging from extra small to large, and from size 4 to 8. Further complicating matters, I have one of those inverted triangle body types. So I generally wear size 4 jeans (the new 6!), but given the breadth of my back and shoulders, I've never worn less than a size 8 on top -- which makes buying dresses a bit of challenge, especially since I'm also short-waisted. (Needless to say, I have learned to love the drop waist.) Short of custom tailoring, there is no good way to address this. But it would make things so much easier if the US fashion industry would just agree on a universal sizing standard and stick to it. Then I'd at least have a consistent framework in which to make the necessary adjustments my body type requires.
No doubt some larger people out there read "size 4 jeans" and immediately thought, "Shut up, skinny bitch! Stop complaining! What do you know about our pain?" I deliberately mentioned my specific sizes to elicit just such a reaction, in order to make my next point: I do feel that same kind of pain. The deeper, underlying issue at work here is our society's unrealistic expectations regarding what a woman's body "should" look like. Very few of us have the perfectly proportioned "hourglass figure" touted by clothing designers, regardless of what size we wear. Ergo, no woman is free of body image issues and the pressure to be thin, whether said woman is as full-figured as Camryn Mannheim or the same size as uber-waifs Kate Moss and Calista Flockhart -- or, like me, somewhere in between.
So it's something that adversely affects women of all shapes and sizes. The fashion industry's admittedly ingenious marketing strategy shamelessly exploits the female insecurity and obsession with weight and clothing size: counting calories and minutes on the Stairmaster, measuring inches, assessing body fat percentage, and ruthlessly comparing all those "numbers" to all the other women in one's social circle. We agonize over the slightest extra ounce or inch. We beat up ourselves, and each other, about it on almost a daily basis.
At least a solution to the practical issues concerning clothing sizes might be within reach, with the emergence of 3D full-body scanners that can take very precise body measurements. These are then converted into patterns from which garments are cut, hopefully one day making custom tailoring affordable and accessible to the general populace, not just to the fabulously wealthy. It's already available to the well-heeled clientele of Brooks Brothers, which has been using a 3D scanner in its stores for the past three years. Lane Bryant stores in malls across the country began featuring body scanners in April 2005, and Levi's, the Gap, and American Eagle Outfitters are also experimenting with the technology.
As cool as this is on the nifty gadgetry front, and as wonderful as it would be to be able to order custom-fit clothing in the future, the research application of the body scanner technology revealed far more interesting conclusions. Apparel product development specialist Lenda Jo Connell of Auburn University is part of a collaboration that uses 3D body scanners to study the shapes of American women. (The research is sponsored in part by JC Penney, Target and Jockey.) Over the last two years, she has scanned more than 6000 women, and found that only 8.4% of them had the standard hourglass shape. In fact, it's the shape women are least likely to have. We are far more likely to have bodies in the shape of a rectangle, spoon, or inverted triangle (yours truly). It's hardly shocking to be told that the fashion industry is out of touch with what "real" woman look like, but now we have some solid scientific data to back us up.
The fact that so many mass-market clothing manufacturers (as opposed to high-end designers) are interested in scanning technology -- and are willing to put their money on the line by providing funding -- indicates that their primary concern is not on foisting unrealistic standards onto American women, but on bringing the clothing they offer more in line with the fit customers might actually desire. After all, they're in business to sell clothes and make money, not to start a cultural revolution. So where do the unrealistic expectations come from? Many people like to blame Hollywood and women's magazines for concealing or air-brushing away the slightest imperfection in the women being portrayed, leading the rest of us to conclude that we, too, should look like that.
It's hardly the entire story, but I think there's some truth to that. That's why I will be eternally grateful to actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who several years ago (at age 43) allowed herself to be photographed both dolled up for the camera in the typical actress-y glam shots, and au naturel. "It's such a fraud, and I'm the one perpetuating it," she said at the time of her own perceived perfection, with refreshing candor. She still looked beautiful (I thought) in the natural shots, but she also looked real: uneven skin tone, slim and healthy but not perfectly shaped and toned, etc. Since then, she's become equally outspoken about Hollywood's obsession with cosmetic surgery, making a conscious choice to stop fighting the visible effects of her advancing years and allow herself to age gracefully. (The tragedy is that she also chose to retire from the big screen, depriving filmdom of her considerable talent.)
Curtis' courage in standing up to the horrendous pressures of her industry came to mind this past week with the news that the organizers of fashion week in Madrid, Spain, had banned too-thin models from their runways, based on the height-to-weight ratios used by the World Health Organization. Essentially, any model weighing less than 125 pounds would not meet the new Madrid criteria. The decision caused a media firestorm, and this time the nayersayers weren't lmited to the usual suspects (women's health groups, feminist organizations, and the like), but included industry insiders. "What becomes alarming is when you see bones and start counting ribs," Allure editor Linda Wells told the New York Times, adding later in the article, "Some of the models really are too thin, but that is such a tricky thing to say." It shouldn't be a tricky thing to say, which is why the Madrid decision is so significant. Concerns have been raised before about this, most recently with the "heroin chic" look popularized by Kate Moss in the 1990s. But it's highly unusual for anyone to take the extraordinary steps of the Madrid organizers and address the issue outright.
Whether other fashion show organizers will follow suit, and whether these and other efforts will be sufficient to stem the tide of malnourished underweight models, remains to be seen. But it's bitterly ironic that an industry whose main focus lies in promoting images of health and beauty is simultaneously fostering all manner of eating disorders and associated health problems behind the scenes. It's nothing new or surprising, mind you -- but it's still bitterly ironic. And now everyone is scrambling, once again, to cast blame: Is it "Society"? The designers? The fashion magazines? There are a mind-boggling number of variables contributing to the problem; it's impossible to isolate any single one as the primary cause.
And to what extent can we lay partial blame on the models themselves, who willingly sacrifice their own long-term health as they strive to reach the industry ideal of a size 0? Yes, these girls literally aspire to be nothing, while many of their petite counterparts in Hollywood are striving to be less than zero. (Paula Abdul is reportedly a size 00, and the frighteningly emaciated Nicole Ritchie should disappear entirely any day now.) Some fashion industry insiders have defended the models being held up as exhibits for the prosecution as being "naturally slender," but give us a break: no woman is "naturally" so thin that her ribs, hip bones, and shoulder blades jut out. Some of these ultra-thin models have so little body fat or muscle mass, they could be medically described as "wasting." Small wonder the New York Times article quotes former model turned actress and fashion designer Milla Jovovich that the industry needs more rules and regulations when it comes to ensuring the health of its models.
It's easy to blame the fashion and entertainment industries, but we must also take some responsibility for propagating negative attitudes toward food and weight ourselves. We buy into the message, day after day, whether we're directly involved in those industries or not. Andy Sach's colleague at Runway magazine in The Devil Wears Prada, Emily, isn't a model, yet she is perpetually on a diet, and at one point confesses her secret to stayng ultra-thin: "I don't eat anything, and then when I feel I'm about to faint, I eat a cube of cheese." Later she exults, "I'm one stomach flu away from reaching my goal weight!" What's sad is that the intended satire is dangerously close to the truth: how many of us have heard women express envy that a friend's illness has caused her to lose weight: "I wish I could have a tapeworm (or cancer), too, just for a week or so to get rid of those nagging extra 10 pounds!"
New technologies like the body scanner can help with our difficulties in finding our proper size and fit. And as Katie Couric recently discovered, we can still lie to ourselves and ensure flattering photos with some creative photo-shopping, or via the new "slimcam" digital camera from Hewlett-Packard, which can take away an entire dress size with the flick of a switch. But technology can't save us from ourselves. So long as we continue to buy into the notion that "one size should fit all," and punish ourselves accordingly for our failure to measure up to impossible beauty ideals, we will never be able to accept ourselves as we are, and see the beauty inherent in women (and men!) of all shapes and sizes.
When not taking random walks at 3 Quarks Daily, Jennifer Ouellette writes about science and culture on her own blog, Cocktail Party Physics.
September 24, 2006
Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Wizard of the Crow
In the Los Angeles Times, a review of Ngugi wa Thiong'o's new novel, Wizard of the Crow.
NGUGI wa Thiong'o inhabits a world of subtle yet ever-present incongruity. In the mellow light of an early September afternoon, seated in the comfortable living room of his house on the campus of the University of California, Irvine, Kenya's most widely lauded writer and his wife, Njeeri wa Ngugi, calmly discussed what it was like to be held at gunpoint by thugs, awaiting death. "We narrowly escaped," Njeeri said.
Outside in the driveway, there was a pile of bikes belonging to their kids. Inside, before Ngugi began to discuss his new epic novel of the African postcolonial experience, "Wizard of the Crow," his first in 10 years, the couple recounted their ordeal. It happened when they returned to Kenya in 2004, after more than two decades of self-imposed exile — an absence prompted by a personal grudge harbored against the writer by longtime President Daniel Arap Moi.
Ngugi and Njeeri were staying in a high-security apartment complex in Nairobi. Around midnight, four armed gunmen broke in (the children, luckily, were away for the night). "Humiliation was their goal," said Ngugi, a 68-year-old giant of African literature who has been mentioned as a Nobel Prize contender. "Robbery is a capital offense in Kenya, but these robbers did not wear masks. That suggested that we were not meant to be around later to bear witness against their crimes."
"We believe we were meant to be eliminated," Njeeri added. Then she showed the scar in her forearm from the knife wound she received in the attack, during which she was also sexually assaulted and Nugugi was burned with cigarettes. It sounds horrific, but it was motivated by vicious boredom. "They needed something to do while they waited for something else," Ngugi said. That something else, according to the couple, was murder. The robbers were merely detaining Ngugi and Njeeri until the death squad arrived.
The Rights of the Intersexed
In The New York Times Magazine, what, if anything, should be done with intersexed (or hemaphroditic) children.
At the heart of the controversy is the question of whether intersex children should have surgery to make their genitals look more normal. Chase has talked to thousands of doctors and others in the medical profession, making the case that being born intersex should not be treated as shameful and require early surgery. In doing so, she has assembled an impressive intellectual arsenal, drawing on everything from the Nuremberg Code and its prohibition against experimental medical procedures without patient consent to the concept of “monster ethics” — the idea that we perform questionable medical procedures on certain patients, like intersex people and conjoined twins, when we consider those patients to be less than human. Reports on the frequency of intersex births vary widely: Chase claims 1 in 2,000; more conservative estimates from experts put it at 1 in 4,500. Whatever the case, intersex is roughly as common as cystic fibrosis, and while the outcome of the debate Chase has stirred is directly pertinent to a limited number of families, her arguments force all of us to confront some basic issues about sexual identity, birth anomalies and what rights parents have in physically shaping their kids. Will a child grow up to enjoy a better life if he or she is saved from the trials of maturing in a funny-looking body? Or will that child be better off if he or she is loved and accepted, at least at home, exactly as he or she is?
Mira Nair's Namesake blends two worlds
For Mira Nair, life in exile-voluntary or imposed-is always good material for cinema. In her next film, The Namesake, filmed in Calcutta and New York, she doesn't stop at examining the theme of emigration, loss and a longing for home, but also explores the emergent dynamics within the Indian immigrant community in the United States.
It was during one of those long flights across the Atlantic that Nair picked up The Namesake for a quick read. When she finished the debut novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning Jhumpa Lahiri, she was seized by a strong creative urge that made her change a few things in her life. "For one, I immediately put two of my other films on the backburner and decided to first make The Namesake. It was an urgent feeling and I dropped everything in my life to get down to making this film," says Nair. "I liked the book because I identified with it so much. It so rightly catches the modern pulse of the South Asian culture in New York. The city's South Asian scene is really pulsating."
With The Namesake, Nair picks up a theme that tries a synthesis of the new world (the adopted country) with the old world (the native home) instead of either patronizing the world of nostalgia of older immigrants or portraying the cultural confusion of the younger generation. Set in 1970s Calcutta and 1990s New York, The Namesake tells the story of an immigrant Bengali family-the Gangulys-which tries to "blend the new world with their old culture."
Born Without Fingerprints: Scientists Solve Mystery of Rare Disorder
Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia report that defects in the protein keratin 14 may be responsible for both diseases, known as Naegeli syndrome and dermatopathia pigmentosa reticularis (DPR). The lack of fingerprints can cause vexing social problems, which are magnified because few people have heard of the condition. Cheryl Maynard of Fairfax, Virginia, is part of the fifth generation of her family to have inherited DPR from her mother's side. "My father was in the military and he had top-secret clearances," she recalled. "We moved a lot, and everywhere we went they'd say, What do you mean your wife doesn't have fingerprints? What do you mean that you have kids without fingerprints?"
Maynard has personally experienced many fingerprint-related snafus, often related to employment. She works as a flight attendant and noted that a standard background check by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which took about 2 weeks for most of her peers, took 14 weeks in her case.
September 23, 2006
braff is shit
I don't normally indulge in such piss takes but the hateful Zach Braff needs a smack down.
If Garden State is any indication, Braff's weaknesses as a director go beyond narcissism. In the film, he piles on quirky details—a disembodied red gas pump hanging from a car, a guy in a suit of armor, a framed diploma on the ceiling—to keep viewers from scrutinizing his shallow characters and clichéd cultural observations. This is the kind of movie the Zuckers would have made if they used gags in the service of drama rather than screwball comedy. Braff also uses pop songs as a cheat, an easy way to heighten the emotional impact of otherwise unremarkable moments. The music in Garden State is so load-bearing that the movie becomes ridiculous if you swap in different tunes—if you don't believe me, check this out.
more from slate.com here.
muscles, erections, testis, and buttocks
Tom of Finland invites an intimate, comedic gaze. If there were two keys words for his work, they would be “freedom” and “narrative,” rather than “hot” and “hunky” as some might hazard. True, the topics of a Finland portrait are very sexual, but as the artist’s choice to adopt the pseudonym “Tom of Finland” in late 1956 (the name accompanied his artwork submission to Physique Pictorial, which wowed the editor and earned “Tom of Finland” the magazine’s Spring 1957 cover) suggests, Touko Laaksonen understood that his work expressed an abandon that was not sanctioned by the homophobic, prudent regimes of his time.
more from artcritical here.
what's the good of criticism?
In 1846, Charles Baudelaire wrote a little essay called “What is the Good of Criticism?” This is a question that virtually every critic asks herself at some point, and that some have answered with hopelessness, despair, even self-loathing. Baudelaire didn’t think that criticism would save the world, but he didn’t think it was a worthless pursuit, either. For Baudelaire, criticism was the synthesis of thought and feeling: in criticism, Baudelaire wrote, “passion . . . raises reason to new heights.” A few years later, he would explain that through criticism he sought “to transform my pleasure into knowledge” a pithy, excellent description of critical practice. Baudelaire’s American contemporary Margaret Fuller held a similar view; as she put it, the critic teaches us “to love wisely what we before loved well.”
By “pleasure” and “love” Baudelaire and Fuller didn’t mean that critics should write only about things that make them happy or that they can praise. What they meant is that a critic’s emotional connection to an artist, or to a work of art, is the sine qua non of criticism, and it usually, therefore, determines the critic’s choice of subject. Who can doubt that Edmund Wilson loved literature—and that, to him, it simply mattered more than most other things in life?
more from Boston Review here.
rosenbaum, Mendelsohn, death
Sometimes we think we know something, but we know it only in the most abstract way, which means we may not know it at all.
I can’t say it better than one of Daniel Mendelsohn’s travelling companions does toward the end of this powerful work of investigative empathy: “The Holocaust is so big, the scale of it is so gigantic, so enormous, that it becomes easy to think of it as something mechanical. Anonymous. But everything that happened, happened because someone made a decision. To pull a trigger, to flip a switch, to close a cattle car door, to hide, to betray.”
Others have grappled with this problem: how do you tell the story of the Holocaust in a way that encompasses both its vast geopolitical and its intimately personal dimensions? On the one hand, for instance, there is “The Destruction of the European Jews,” Raul Hilberg’s portrait of the continentwide project of genocide, which includes everything from railway schedulers to Zyklon B gas manufacturers. And there is “The War Against the Jews,” Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s invaluable account of the origins of the extermination in the perpetrators’ ideology. On the other hand there are the memoirs of survivors like Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel, along with numerous less well-known but no less affecting personal accounts. There is also an entire “second generation” literature, both memoirs and novels by children of victims who testify to the enduring questions the Holocaust has left behind, questions about the nature of human nature and the perplexities of theodicy — the relationship of God to the evil visited upon the innocent. There are novels about attempting a new life in the aftermath, like Isaac Bashevis Singer’s icy masterpiece, “Shadows on the Hudson,” and jarring, unconventional works like Art Spiegelman’s “Maus.”
more from the NY Times here.
Woman aviation cadet makes PAF history
From the Daily Times of Pakistan:
The coveted Sword of Honour for best all-round performance was claimed by Aviation Cadet Saira Amin, who made history by being the first woman pilot to have won the Sword of Honour in any defence academy of Pakistan.
The passing out parade of the 117th GD (P) course, which includes the second batch of three women pilots, was held at the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Academy, Risalpur Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed, PAF chief of air staff, was the chief guest. The trophy for best performance in general service training and the Chief of Air Staff Trophy for best performance in flying were lifted by Aviation Cadet Squadron Under Officer Nadir Ali. The Asghar Hussain Trophy for best performance in academics was achieved by Aviation Cadet Saira Amin. Squadron No 3 received the Quaid-e-Azam Banner for being the champion squadron.
Easing the Human Costs of Markets
Also in Boston Review, Michael J. Piore and Andrew Schrank on how a labor inspection system can ease dislocations and other human costs of free markets.
The operation of the labor market affects workers concretely and immediately, and hence is a flashpoint for clashes between social forces and economic exigencies. While many of the policies promoted by the Washington Consensus are only now beginning to encounter determined resistance, Polanyi’s second movement has been underway for some time in the labor market—and labor-law reform therefore constitutes something of a Waterloo for the forces of neo-liberalism. In fact, the labor-law reforms anticipated by proponents of the Washington Consensus have not only been “limited to a few countries,” according to Eduardo Lora and Ugo Panizza of the Inter-American Development Bank, but have arguably been more likely to expand than to curtail the scope of worker protection. For example, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic have rededicated themselves to labor-law enforcement in recent years. And potentially more fundamental reforms are underway from Argentina, where they are motivated by domestic party politics, to Central America, where they are a product of transnational pressures emanating from the campaign for a U.S.–Central America Free Trade Agreement.
The results are neither trivial nor cosmetic. In the 1990s the Chileans hired new inspectors and thereby doubled the size of their enforcement division. And the Dominicans not only tripled the size of their own enforcement division but simultaneously adopted new hiring criteria—including legal credentials and competitive examinations—as well as wage and employment guarantees. By the early 21st century, therefore, one of the Dominican Republic’s least reputable regulatory agencies had been transformed into a model of administrative reform, and the island nation’s inspectors were fanning out across the region to impart their lessons to their neighbors.
Netroots and Democracy
In the Boston Review, Henry Farrell on what "netroots" can mean for American democracy.
The “netroots”—an Internet grass roots that has set out to change the Democratic Party—are often maligned. These progressive bloggers and their readers, who emerged as an influential group during Howard Dean’s presidential campaign, are increasingly depicted as a sinister movement under the dictatorial control of Markos “Kos” Moulitsas Zúniga, the founder of the prominent political blog Daily Kos. The New York Times columnist David Brooks writes that Kos “fires up his Web site . . . and commands his followers, who come across like squadrons of rabid lambs, to unleash their venom on those who stand in the way.” The New Republic senior editor Lee Siegel (now suspended) warns portentously of the dangers of “blogofascism,” a movement bearing worrying similarities to the Fascist forces that transformed post–World War I Europe into a “madhouse of deracinated ambition.” When the netroots aren’t Nazis, they’re proto-Stalinists: Jonathan Chait sees them as heirs of the “McGovernite New Left,” possessed of the same “paranoid, Manichean worldview” and “humorless rage” as extreme-left radicalism.
These claims are hysterical to the point of near-incoherence. They’re also wrong. The netroots are becoming a power in the Democratic Party, but they aren’t under the control of any one person or clique. And while many netroots bloggers describe themselves as progressive, they are generally not leftists in the conventional sense. Certainly they aren’t committed to any program of fundamental political and economic reform. As Benjamin Wallace-Wells and Bill McKibben have both documented, the netroots aren’t complaining that the Democratic Party isn’t radical enough; they’re complaining that it’s losing elections. Netroots bloggers don’t share a common ideology. If they are united by anything, it is their harsh criticism of the Republican Party, their shared anger at the Democratic Party’s failures, and their rough analysis of how it could do better.