Monday, June 02, 2014
by Leanne Ogasawara
A city of heavenly gates, Jerusalem is also a city of ill-fated walls.
There are the multiple lives of the glorious city walls, finally re-built by the Sultan of Magnificence in the 16th century; and there is the wailing wall (in my opinion the most beautiful wall on earth) where the Jews go to pray and to remember; and of course there is the new wall, or barrier, built to separate the state from the West Bank. A 26 feet tall concrete monstrosity, it has been attacked by artists and opposed by many international organizations dedicated to conflict resolution, from the Red Cross and the UN to Amnesty International and the World Council of Churches.
When we were in Jerusalem, friends said, "you must visit Bethlehem." Of course, we wanted to go. To get there from Jerusalem, we boarded Bus #24 from the "Arab Bus Station" outside Damascus Gate. We were told to bring our passports--though this bus drops you within the checkpoint, a bit outside of the town. The ugly Wall dominated the drive into Bethlehem, and I found myself thinking a lot about something I read in book about the history of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that the Church could in many ways serve as a great model for conflict resolution in the region.
This is very funny, of course, to anyone who knows anything about the contentious history of the church! For the history of the church reads more like comedy or sometimes even melodrama than anything else.... Contributing to the tensions leading up to the Crimean war, down to today all rights of use and maintainance are divided between the main players: the Orthodox, the Armenians, the Roman Catholics and the Copts; with the Ethiopians having been pushed up on to the roof, where they still remain languishing (Chart here). Part of the War's conclusion saw the Status Quo Agreement put into effect whereby not one inch of the church can be changed without the agreement of all parties--and this is why, there has remained a ladder on the roof for well over a hundred years.It takes an awful lot to get all the sides to sit down together to talk, much less to agree to anything!
So bad was it that during the Ottoman times, the keys to the church were entrusted to two prominent Muslim families--whose descendents continue to open and shut the doors of the church each day.
Like always, fact is stranger than fiction. And yet, despite the fact that history has seen the religious groups come to blows again and again over the centuries (with vivid scenes of monks pulling out crucifixes and candletsicks to attack and murder each other right next to the Empty Tomb!); still, being there, I had to admit, I'd take the chaotic and crazy AD-HOC style of conflict resolution and mutual existence to that ugly wall anyday! I kind of saw the writer's point, is what I am saying. Indeed, people said again and again that it is in the Old City, where peoples have lived on top of each other for centuries--bickering nastily, but for the most people in mutual existence--that things were better.
It is, as the saying goes, the walls that divide. Even if it is effective in the short-term, over the long haul, all dialogue ends and relations sour when people are divided. Monologue being a symptom of the colonial imagination, I've never really been a fan of short-term performance/ stop-gap measures...
by Sarah Firisen
Privacy; Do we have it? If we don’t, should we care? With the news today that the NSA is now collection millions of faces from web images and using face recognition software on them, I think the answer to the first question is clearly, no. But of course, the NSA, at least in this instance, is only making use of digital images of ourselves that we’ve allowed to proliferate on the web. For the all the ballyhoo about government spying, most of us are our own worst enemies. Most people in the Western world, me included, have huge digital footprints. Probably bigger than we even realize. I remember the early days of admitting that I regularly Google myself and the titters as if that was a vaguely dirty thing to do. But honestly, anyone who doesn’t regularly check to see what is out there about them is foolish.
And I don’t just mean Google your name, Google your photos and your phone number. It’s amazing how many people discount those last two. I do a fair amount of online dating these days and I usually do some preliminary searches on men that I’m considering meeting – I honestly consider this a very basic safety precaution. And it’s amazing what I can find in about 20 seconds. People tend to use the same photos for multiple purposes, so the photo that cute guy has used on Match.com is often also the same photo he uses on his LinkedIn and Facebook profiles. And what do you know, when I Google that photo and find his Facebook page, I see what a charming couple he and his wife Susan make and how thrilled they are to be celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary.
People are quick to give their phone numbers away, but many seem not to realize that if they’ve ever posted that number somewhere, on a bulletin board, on EBay, on Twitter, that number is going to link right back to who they are. It never ceases to astound me how easy it is to get some pretty identifying information on people very quickly and easily. It particularly amazes me when these people are clearly trying to cheat on a spouse or are lying about some other aspect of their lives. I cannot tell you how many men contact me online who are using photos of Bollywood actors as their profile photos and passing them off as their own. Yes, Bollywood actors seem to be the fake photos of choice, not sure why. I’m guessing that it’s because they’re usually good looking guys who aren’t well known in the west so men think they’ll get away with the lie. My one exception to this was the “gentleman” of a certain age who used a photo of John Gotti! And if you say that you’re Peter from New York who works in sales and I Google your photo and find it on the online bio of a neurology researcher who lives in California, I’m probably going to get suspicious and decline that friendly glass of wine you’ve offered.
by Eric Byrd
Have you ever seen Sherman? It is necessary to see him in order to realize the Norse make-up of the man – the hauteur, noble, yet democratic: a hauteur I have always hoped I, too, might possess. (Whitman)
Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman are the conspicuous figures in the revolutionary re-founding of the United States. The victory of which they were the grand strategists and the most acclaimed media actors seemed to decide some of the fundamental questions the Founders had left to ambiguous laws and a faith in future compromise; a victory that eased, though it did not resolve, the existentially divisive “Negro Question” James Madison noted at the Constitutional Convention of 1787: “the States were divided into different interests not by their difference of size, but principally from their having or not having slaves. [Difference] did not lie between the large and small States: it lay between the Northern and Southern.”
In his essential orations – the Gettysburg Address, the Second Inaugural Address – Lincoln is a civic priest or poet, rhetorical guardian, keeper of ideals whose phrasemaking points to a transcendental order. He promised Americans that though their republic had collapsed in an orgy of violence, their ideals were imperishable, and waited be reborn from the bloody struggle. Grant, ancestor of all our taciturn gunslingers and laconic detectives, is the heroic everyman, the homely knight, the General-in-Chief who wore a private’s blouse in the field and appeared apolitical, ambitious of nothing beyond speedy victory, and so able to allay Americans’ traditional republican fear that a powerful general is a potential dictator.
Sherman is the scourge, the eccentric terror. The harsh style of his widely reprinted reports and official letters provided the public with a “vocabulary of the drastic,” wrote Charles Royster, and ensured that to many Unionists “his public character embodied the severity needed for the crushing of the rebellion.” He embodies that severity still, reduced to a now nearly anonymous aphorism (“War is Hell”), to the cinematic image of Atlanta in flames, and to the famous Matthew Brady portrait that made Evan S. Connell think of a “vulture with scrofula.” Of course Sherman, like Lincoln and Grant, is far more than his image, and a deeper study of the man is essential for the student of America’s consolidation and expansion. Sherman is one member of the late nineteenth century power elite who will tell you how the sausages were made, and in prose of nervous vehemence, half despairing, half gloating, with that note of philosophic detachment that creeps into discussions of the inevitable. He could also wax lyrical; the Mississippi River was to him a national Tree of Life, and he reminded a New Orleans correspondent that the city was
the root of a tree whose branches reach the beautiful fields of western New York, and the majestic cañons of the Yellowstone, and that with every draught of water you take the outflow of the pure lakes of Minnesota and the dripping dews of of the Alleghany and Rocky Mountains.
He was subject to bouts of depression and reread Shakespeare constantly; he ends his memoirs with lines from Jaques’ melancholic soliloquy. He was prominent in the ruin of the rebellious slaveholders and the destruction of the nomadic tribes that hunted on the Great Plains; and for someone perched on the usually euphemistic heights of American power, he was villainously candid about the requisite violence and terror, and he was full of personal paradoxes.
by Brooks Riley
by Bill Benzon
Over the past few years I’ve spent a great deal of time photographing graffiti in Jersey City, which is on the West bank of the Hudson River across from lower Manhattan. Most of that time I’ve photographed a handful of sites, over and over again, week after week, month after month. What I’ve seen is that things change. Of course the graffiti is eroded by the weather; in some cases it may also be “buffed” (eradicated) by the authorities. More likely, though, is that it will become over-written by other graffiti writers – that’s what they call themselves, by the way, writers, for their art is grounded in letters.
Even this piece, which looks like a green triceratops, is a name: "Joe", shortened from "Japan Joe", the nom de guerre of the writer:
It’s large; about 18 feet wide and seven feet high. Here you see a train going by:
Think of Japan Joe in that spot, working for several hours, surrounded by greenery, but also the large freight trains rumbling by. The trains and the greenery travel into his mind where they fuse into the image of a large green animal, the triceratops.
That’s the spirit of the place.
And, in time, Japan Joe’s triceratops had been degraded by the weather to the point that Kemos and Jnub could go over it without insulting Joe:
Life goes on.
Thus I have come to understand the graffiti site as more than a physical place. It IS that, but the physical place is to be understood, perhaps, provisionally, as a resource accessed by the graffiti, and thus by the graffiti writer. The site is a confluence of physical, social, and aesthetic energy.
by Sue Hubbard
It was a cold wet Bank Holiday Monday as I climbed the steps of St Paul's Cathedral and made my way down the right hand aisle to the four screens of Bill Viola's recently installed video, Martyrs, hoping, in the dank greyness, for a little spiritual nurture. I expected the screens to be bigger, more like those of his famous Nantes Triptych where the viewer is engulfed by the processes of birth and death being enacted out in front of them. Originally conceived to be shown in a 17th century chapel in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Nantes in 1992, it employs the triptych form, traditionally used in Western art for religious paintings, to represent through the medium of video, Viola's contemporary spiritual iconography. But the individual videos in St. Paul's, each based on the four fundamental elements and encased side by side in a simple metal frame like a modern altar screen, are much smaller, closer to the size of traditional paintings.
Encountering Bill Viola's images within this bulwark of Anglicanism implies a certain ecumenicalism, as though the church no longer minds much whether art works are ‘traditionally' Christian, so long as they are broadly ‘spiritual'. The canon chancellor of St. Paul's, the Reverend Mark Oakley, describes the piece as "not explicitly Christian… but a Christian looking at it will find resonances". A crucified man hangs upside down by his feet, as water pours over him, in the far right screen. St. Peter was crucified in this way and lived by water. The scene also suggests full baptismal immersion and subsequent redemption as the hanging figure ascends feet-first, arms outstretched like an angel's wings. For non-Christians the image might elicit darker thoughts of water-boarding and torture. It's a work open to interpretation by those of faith and those of no faith, and asks the prescient question: what is worth dying for?
Viola is one of the artists who must be credited with moving video into the mainstream. Three of this year's Turner prize nominees use the form as their chosen medium. But he has his detractors as well as supporters. One critic savagely described The Passions, shown at The National Gallery in London, as "a master of the overblown…tear-jerking hocus-pocus and religiosity" and, it's true, that he does walk a fragile line between the ineffable and the naffly bathetic. Yet the Nantes Triptych, which simultaneously features a woman in labour, a man submerged in water and an image of the artist's dying mother has rarely been bettered as a visual expression of the cycle of life and death, while in Tiny Deaths, made in 1993 and again on show at Tate Modern, ghostly figures emerge in a darkened space, where light and sound bring about potent moments of drama.
by Matt McKenna
Much has been made of whether this summer's Godzilla movie is a pro-environmentalist film or an anti-environmentalist film. While both readings are plausible on a surface level, neither addresses the dominant public policy critique embedded within the biggest monster flick since last year's Pacific Rim. While the lack of an environmental focus in Godzilla will surely rankle those who watch the film in the hopes of affirming their respective worldviews (whatever those may be), less politically motivated moviegoers will be pleased to discover that the film grapples with the more interesting problem of establishing a culture of open, data-driven public policy.
Godzilla begins by showing glimpses of the monster within the jittering frames of 1950s archival footage. We soon learn that those atomic bomb tests performed during the Cold War weren't tests at all--they were attempts to kill a mysterious giant creature known as Godzilla. Flash forward to 1999 when Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) notices strange seismic activity while working at a nuclear power plant in Japan. When the seismic activity increases and the power plant collapses, a multinational governmental organization called Monarch quarantines the area and establishes a cover story about the plant being destroyed by an earthquake. Brody, skeptical of the official report, secretly researches the disaster and finds evidence for an enormous spider-like monster lurking about. Flash-forward once more to the present day where Brody finally has the opportunity to present his research to Monarch only to be interrupted a giant spider monster hatching from its giant spider monster egg. This creature subsequently spends its screen time and the film's budget destroying various American cities in search of the nuclear energy it needs to sustain its rampage. Conveniently for humans, however, Godzilla wakes up, rises from the depths of the ocean, and hunts the enormous spider for what appears to be sport.
With a plot like that, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that the Godzilla has aligned itself with environmentalists--mess with the environment and giant spiders will exterminate your species, it seems to say. At the same time, this message is undercut by the fact that a deus ex machina in the form of Godzilla appears and saves the day with no act of contrition required by humans. Why is Godzilla's environment-related message so muddled? Because there isn't one. When the first half of the film is taken into account, it becomes clear that Godzilla's primary message is actually a plea for policy makers to be less reactionary and more data-oriented.
by Karen Engelmann
Memoir can be a dangerous choice for a writer; they reveal a slice of themselves that must cut deep in the extraction, but in the best examples, the genre is healing for both author and reader. Maria Chaudhuri's "Beloved Strangers" (Bloomsbury, 2014) is one such healing memoir. The story creates a circle from birth to rebirth, with Miss Chaudhuri's long and arduous journey into adulthood detailed in elegant and, at times, dreamlike prose.
Born to devout Muslin parents in Bangladesh — a newly formed nation still in turmoil from its own difficult birth — Miss Chaudhuri's prologue begins, literally, in the womb. In three brief, powerful passages set in different stages of her young life, the author introduces the theme of separation — a condition that is her greatest challenge and serves as the book's central query. The first passage is a poetic exploration of her own birth in Dhaka, the initial departure from the safety of the mother. The second examines a child's wish to run away, fueled by the wishes of the mother to be alone and free of the burdens of children. The third is a self-imposed displacement to a foreign land — the northeastern U.S and ultimately New York — the author describes as "rancid." And yet a return to what was home in Bangladesh literally causes a kind of asphyxiation; the prodigal daughter cannot breath the air of her native city. In these first six pages, we enter a world where the author feels estranged from all that she is supposed to hold dear. Chaudhuri addresses this estrangement fearlessly, tackling topics like religion, familial dysfunction, gender roles, sex, depression and obsession with painful candor and surprising lyricism.
The author's questions regarding belonging begin with the family's strong religious traditions. Chaudhuri's innocent inquiries about God are rebuked and punished. She is taught to pray in Arabic — a foreign language that was only memorized and never learned or even translated. The pir sahib, a holy man who makes an annual visit to the family, tells the young Maria that he named her after a beautiful Christian slave that was a gift to the Prophet from the Byzantine Emperor. The pir's explanation is accompanied by a lecherous sexual tension that hints of intended pedophilia, arrested only by the arrival of her parents. Beauty, promiscuity, danger and desire are often connected in the work, a source of confusion and shame. When crowds of the devout arrive at the house to pray with the pir in the evening, the young Chaudhuri runs to the roof of the house to stare at the sky:
My grandmother said it was in the moment between twilight and darkness that all heavenly creatures left their earthly sojourns to fly back up to the heavens. The pink streaks in the sky were Heaven's doorway, flung open for the return of its inhabitants. I was always hunted down before the multi-colored easel of a sky had coagulated into a deep charcoal. (pg. 15)
Escape as a solution to life's problems is a method Chaudhuri dreams about often, inspired (and simultaneously terrified) by her mother's clearly expressed desire to escape the drudgery of home and family to pursue her own thwarted artistic dreams as a singer.
Sunday, June 01, 2014
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
On the day the London Review of Books published a widely circulated article by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh exonerating the Syrian regime for last year’s chemical attack, 118 Syrians, including 19 children, died in aerial bombing and artillery fire. Only the regime has planes and heavy ordnance.
Since last November, Aleppo has been targeted by helicopters dropping explosives-filled barrels from high altitudes. Between last November and the end of March, Human Rights Watch recorded 2,321 civilian deaths by this indiscriminate weapon. Only the regime has helicopters.
For many months after the chemical massacre, the targeted neighborhoods and the Yarmouk refugee camp were kept under a starvation siege. Aid agencies were denied entry. Only the regime controls access.
The regime’s ruthlessness has never been in doubt. Reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry, and myriad journalists and on-the-ground witnesses have repeatedly confirmed it. The regime has demonstrated the intent and capability to inflict mass violence. The repression is ongoing.
So when an attack occurred last August, employing a weapon that the regime was known to possess, using a delivery mechanism peculiar to its arsenal, in a place the regime was known to target, and against people the regime was known to loathe, it was not unreasonable to assume regime responsibility. This conclusion was corroborated by first responders, UN investigators, human rights organizations, and independent analysts.
When a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and a respectable literary publication undertake to challenge this consensus, one reasonably expects due diligence.
Andrew Mayersohn in Boston Review:
Few Americans claim to follow “very closely” stories that are not above-the-fold headlines, even ones with a strong partisan valence and widespread coverage such as the Keystone XL pipeline (16 percent of Americans as of March, per Gallup) or last year’s IRS scandal (20 percent as of May 2013). That small population of news junkies likely overlaps the minority of Americans who are devotees of Fox News or MSNBC, further diminishing the number of citizens engaging in actual political dialogue. For better or worse, our politics are already fragmented.
The extent of the gap between the politically engaged and disengaged is what makes Anthony Fowler’s findings troubling. He and his coauthors report that get-out-the-vote operations “increase representational inequality” by bringing “more rich, white, educated, churchgoing citizens to the polls.” Knowing that their efforts are more likely to affect some than others, campaigns assign “propensity scores” to prospective voters in order to zero in on those who just need a nudge to vote.
This is where big data is most valuable. The Obama campaign’s major analytical accomplishment was to improve propensity scores by combining traditional voter rolls with consumer data and huge numbers of voter contacts, but even before Obama’s 2012 campaign, political operatives were getting much better at honing in on the best prospects among potential voters. For example, political scientist David Nickerson, who served as Director of Experiments for the Obama re-election campaign, has demonstrated that voter contact in Ohio was vastly more concentrated among high-propensity voters in 2008 and 2012 than in 2004—a triumph of intelligence-gathering from a campaign’s perspective, but one that reinforces political inequality. The better campaigns get at concentrating resources on prospective voters, the more they can focus on turning out their base and the less they need to worry about broad mobilization. Senate Democrats have apparently already adopted this strategy to some extent, according to Sasha Issenberg, who says that candidates’ strategy for this November is to “mobilize their way into contention, then persuade their way across the finish line.” In short, even if big data doesn’t inaugurate an era of personalized campaign messaging, it’s already fragmenting our democracy in another way by widening the gap between the engaged and the disengaged.
Mary Beard in NY Review of Books (Facundo Arrizabalaga/epa/Corbis):
The UK Independence Party, it seems, has drawn its support from across the political spectrum. It attracts—in addition to the xenophobic—the socially conservative (against same-sex marriage and in favor of “traditional British values”), and those who are deeply suspicious of the European Union (“Why be run by Brussels?”). Certainly it includes among its supporters and party candidates some people of extreme right-wing inclinations. But most of all, UKIP appeals to those who feel distanced from modern politics and politicians. They hate the sense of a political class, which consists of those who have never worked in anything other than professional politics, who speak only in carefully controlled, on-message sound bites, and never really engage with “us voters.”
This explains the extraordinary popularity of the party leader, Nigel Farage—a privately-educated, ex-city financial trader who left the Tory party in 1992 to set up UKIP, and who since 1999 has been a Member of the European Parliament, an institution which he is committed to undermining. Farage appears to speak his mind without concern for political correctness (and it is, of course, largely appearance). He relishes nothing more than being photographed outside a pub, with a pint of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. There’s hardly another British politician who would be seen dead in public within ten yards of a packet of Marlboro Lights, whatever their secret smoking habits. This looks like a breath of fresh air.
And Farage is not averse to offering his German wife as a defense against the suggestion that there is any personal hatred of “foreigners” in the UKIP campaign – whether on his own part or that of his followers. The party’s official message (and it is, I have no doubt, sincerely believed by some members) is that they are personally a pretty tolerant bunch; they simply want to end the dominance of the EU over British politics, and they want to stop the inflow of EU migrants, particularly from Eastern Europe, who are taking British jobs.
This is troubling enough. But the real danger of UKIP’s success is not its own policies, but the reaction it draws from politicians and supporters of the other parties.
David P Barash in Aeon (Photo by Lisi Niesner/Reuters):
I like zoos. Really I do. I applaud today’s zoological parks for their increasing emphasis on naturalistic exhibits, their breeding programmes for endangered species, and their efforts to educate the public about wildlife conservation. But the truth is, I mainly like zoos for the same reason that other people do: because I love watching animals.
Animals in captivity might satisfy our desire to cross the existential barrier that separates us from other creatures. Yet the sad reality is that, for the most part, zoo animals have become, as the art critic John Berger put it in 1977, ‘a living monument to their own disappearance’. The greatest pleasure of animal-watching still comes from observing free-living creatures in their natural environment. With enough disposable income, you can go to India, South America or Antarctica on animal-watching trips, ‘bag’ a view of the African ‘Big Five’ (elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, and buffalo), or take a boat to admire great whales exhaling geysers of salty breath.
The wild animals of the world have long inhabited the depths of the human imagination no less than they have occupied the natural habitats of our shared planet. There isn’t a human society on Earth, however primitive or high-tech, that doesn’t concern itself with animal imagery, whether the critters are domesticated or free-living. Indeed, the human fascination with animals is so ancient and so widespread that it seems to be a cross-cultural human universal.
John Gray in The New Statesman:
The editor of Mao’s Little Red Book writes in the preface that this is “the first scholarly effort to understand Quotations from Chairman Mao as a global historical phenomenon”. It is an accurate description, but the collection has the shortcomings that are to be expected in a book of essays by academic authors. The prose style is mostly stodgy and convoluted, and the contributors seem anxious to avoid anything that might smack of a negative attitude towards the ideas and events they describe. “As a group,” the editor continues, “we are diverse with respect to age, gender, ethnicity and political sympathies.” He is right that, judged by prevailing standards, it is a well-balanced group. All of the relevant disciplines are represented – history, area studies, literature, political science and sociology – and although ten of the 13 contributors teach in the US, the collection is representative of the range of views of China that you will find in universities in much of the world. However, the fact that it reflects the present state of academic opinion is also the book’s most important limitation.
Reading the essays brought together here, you would hardly realise that Mao was responsible for one of the biggest human catastrophes in recorded history. Launched by him in 1958, the Great Leap Forward cost upwards of 45 million human lives. “When there is not enough to eat, people starve to death,” Mao observed laconically. “It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.” He did not specify how those condemned to perish would be made to accept their fate. Ensuing events provided the answer: mass executions and torture, beatings and sexual violence against women were an integral part of a politically induced famine that reduced sections of the population to eating roots, mud and insects, and others to cannibalism. When Mao ordered an end to the horrific experiment in 1961, it was in order to launch another. The Cultural Revolution was nothing like as costly in fatalities, but it left a trail of broken lives and cultural devastation, the memory of which is one of the chief sources of the post-Mao regime’s legitimacy.
The first love of my life never saw me naked.
There was always a parent coming home in a half hour,
always a little brother in the next room, always too much
body and not enough time for me to show him.
Instead, I gave him a shoulder, an elbow, the bend
of my knee. I lent him my corners, my edges:
the parts of me I could afford to offer, the parts of me
I had long since given up trying to hide.
He never asked for more. He gave me back his eyelashes,
the back of his neck, his palms. We held each piece we were given
like it was a nectarine—might bruise if we weren’t careful—
we collected them like we were trying to build an orchard.
And the spaces that he never saw: the ones my parents
had labeled “Private Parts” when I was still small enough
to fit all of my self and worries inside a bathtub,
I made up for them by handing over all the private parts of me.
There was no secret I did not tell him,
there was no moment we did not share.
We did not grow up, we grew in: like ivy wrapping,
molding each other into perfect yings and yangs.
We kissed with mouths open, breathing his exhale
into my inhale and back. We could have survived
underwater or in outer space, living only off the breath
we traded. We spelled “love” G-I-V-E.
I never wanted to hide my body from him.
If I could have, I am sure I would have given it all away
with the rest of me. I did not know it was possible
to keep some things for myself.
Some nights, I wake up knowing he is anxious.
He is across the world in another woman’s arms
and the years have spread us like dandelion seeds,
sanding down the edges of our jigsaw parts that used to only fit each other.
He drinks from the pitcher on the night stand, checks
the digital clock, it is five AM. He tosses in sheets and
tries to settle. I wait for him to sleep, before tucking myself
into elbows and knees; reaching for things I have long since given away.
by Sarah Kay
Natalie Hope McDonald in PhillyMag:
Gay Pride month may be the perfect time to buy a copy of Joan Rivers’ latest book – I Hate Everyone… Starting With Me. Not only is she one of our favorite comedians, but she provides a hilarious summer read for anyone who may be hitting the beach or enjoying a mental health day after a jam-packed Philly Pride weekend.
Don’t believe us? Here are some of our favorite lines:
On growing up:
“My earliest childhood memory was watching my parents loosen the wheels on my stoller.”
On celebrities and their babies:
“Everyone thinks Angelina Jolie was the first celebrity baby hoarder, but she wasn’t. Before Angelina there was Mia Farrow. Mia had an entire farm full of children. I think she got them at Costco.”
On gay and lesbian parents:
“I love gay and lesbian parents. But I think we need a law that says lesbians and gay men have to raise their children together. This way, the kids would not only know how to build bookshelves, but they’d also instinctively know how to decorate them.”
On Tom Cruise:
“I hate Tom Cruise… In TV interviews Tom laughs inappropriately and much too vociferously at non-humorous declarative statements, which is ironic because in real life he can’t take a f – - – ing joke at all. All you have to do is make one simple, little, harmless, innocuous aside like, ‘The Scientology spaceship was late today; it had to stop by Fire Island to pick up Tom Cruise,” and he has a pack of lawyers at your door faster than Katie Holmes can say, ‘No, really, he loves me in that way, I swear.’”
Ira Berlin in The Washington Post:
In 1856, as the matter of African American enslavement heated to a boil in the cauldron of American politics, Abraham Lincoln freely admitted that “if all the earthly powers were given to me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution.” Here Honest Abe fudged a bit of the truth. He, like most Republicans, had devised a solution to end slavery peaceably over time. James Oakes, a professor of history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, who recently received the Abraham Lincoln prize for his book “Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States,” argues that Lincoln and other Republicans not only had a plan but had even given it a name: the Scorpion’s Sting. In his new book of the same name, Oakes places the history of this powerful image in the context of antislavery politics.
The Scorpion’s Sting refers to the fearsome arthropod that, when in mortal danger — for example, “surrounded by fire” — stings itself to death. Republican politicos believed that this striking image showed how Southern slavery would eventually self-destruct. Southern leaders took note. Sen. Robert Toombs, a leading secessionist, characterized the Republican strategy as “to pen up slavery within its present limits — surround it with a border of free States, and like the scorpion surrounded by fire, they will make it sting itself to death.”
Saturday, May 31, 2014
Michael Kimmelman in the New York Review of Books:
As he had lived, Cornelius Gurlitt died at eighty-one early in May, in thrall to a trove of inherited art he kept hidden for decades mostly at a modest apartment in Munich. The announcement last year of the collection’s discovery by German authorities yanked the reclusive Gurlitt from the shadows. Stories about him busied the front pages of newspapers for weeks.
He seemed a figure out of Sebald or Kafka. He had never held a job, kept no bank accounts, was not listed in the Munich phone book. Aside from sporadic visits to a sister, who lived in Würzburg and died two years ago, he had had little contact with anyone for half a century. Der Spiegel reported that he had not watched television since 1963 or seen a movie since 1967, and that he had never been in love, except with his collection.
The art, nearly 1,300 works, some of which belatedly turned up in a second home in Salzburg, was mostly nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century European pictures, a good deal of it what the Nazis called Entartete Kunst, or degenerate art, who knows how much of it seized from museums and Jews. Cornelius’s father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, accumulated the collection.
Carl Zimmer in his excellent blog, The Loom:
Worldwide, women suffer an estimated 2.65 million stillbirths each year. Despite those huge numbers, we only understand some of the factors that are responsible. In low- and middle-income countries (where most of the world’s stillbirths occur), diseases like malaria can put pregnant women at risk of stillbirths. In wealthier countries, the biggest risks include smoking and obesity. But these factors only go partway to explaining why some women have stillbirths, leaving many cases unaccounted for. The benefits that would come from that knowledge could be enormous.
One way to learn about reproductive health is to observe how our primate cousins have babies. And a new study on marmosets offers some hints about the causes of stillbirth. It suggests that a mother’s health during pregnant may not be the whole story. In fact, some of the risk factors may arise before mothers are even born.
The first thing that one notices about the white-tufted ear marmoset (Callithrix jacchus) is its wildly adorable face–a tiny visage framed by shocks of white fur. Marmosets are interesting to scientists not because they’re cute, but because of theirintriguing way of having kids. While most primate females have a single offspring at a time, marmoset typically have twins. Some marmoset mothers even have triplets.
This is a tricky strategy for passing on marmoset genes. Marmoset babies can weigh between a fifth and a quarter of their mother’s weight. Imagine a 135-pound woman giving birth to two 16 pound babies–and then nursing them.
Anthony Bourdain in Medium:
A frequent comment on food websites is that I should avoid discussion of politics or social conditions and concentrate on the food. My host, serving me a humble but tasty Lao style laarb could be missing three out of four of his limbs but God forbid I ask the question: “Hey there, fella…what happened to your arm and legs?” The answer might intrude on someone’s vicarious eating experience.
In the Congo, the bucket of water used to boil my pounded cassava might well have been transported the 2 miles from the nearest river on top of a small child’s head. Some very unpleasant militias have been known to interrupt such journeys. This, it would seem, is also worth mentioning.
There is, of course, nothing more political than food. Food itself. Who’s got it, who doesn’t. “What’s” cooking is usually the end of a long, often violent story. That can be a bummer for some—who’d rather be fondling themselves while perusing recipes for bundt cake than thinking about what Burroughs called the “frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.”
Sepoy in Chapati Mystery:
The early books of famed Urdu satirist Mustaq Ahmed Yousufi (b. 1922), Chiragh Talay (1961) and Khakam-e Badhan (1969), functioned in the college space for us in Lahore as cigarettes function in a prison camp – a currency, a momentary respite, a surge, and a day dream. We used to crack jokes from his oeuvre claiming them as they were uttered. He was not very well liked by my elders, however. They found him a poor replacement for the other satirists at play, Pitras Bukhari or Mustanssar Hussain Tarad or often Ibn-e Insha. Yet he was beloved by us near-adults as a rock star. Now a new translation from Urdu of Yousufi’s Aab-e Gum is coming out (by end May). Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad, the co-translators, have excerpted their translation earlier in Caravan India and Asymptote. They were both recipients of the 2012 PEN Translation grant for this project. At the occasion of this publication, I asked a few questions from Reeck & Ahmad. Enjoy:
Q. Who was Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi?
Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi is a humor and satire writer and a resident of Karachi, where he has lived since immigrating to Pakistan soon after Partition. How he will be remembered is still up for debate: while he was the top official at many major Pakistani banks, he is also one of the greatest living Pakistani writers. With more publicity for his works, he may last in the collective memory of literary audiences in South Asia and abroad for this latter skill—that of a writer.
Q. Why is it important to translate him into English?
His work is good. It deserves to be read by more people. That’s the simple answer. The more complicated answer involves how world literature operates, and how its restrictive canon needs to admit more writers from unrepresented areas and literatures, like Pakistan and Urdu, respectively. For inclusion in world literature canons, texts must be available in English, or another major European language, for these are the languages of arbitration in these canon formation processes.
Hanif Kureishi in The Guardian:
The immigrant has become a contemporary passion in Europe, the vacant point around which ideals clash. Easily available as a token, existing everywhere and nowhere, he is talked about constantly. But in the current public conversation, this figure has not only migrated from one country to another, he has migrated from reality to the collective imagination where he has been transformed into a terrible fiction. Whether he or she – and I will call the immigrant he, while being aware that he is stripped of colour, gender and character – the immigrant has been made into something resembling an alien. He is an example of the undead, who will invade, colonise and contaminate, a figure we can never quite digest or vomit. If the 20th century was replete with uncanny, semi-fictional figures who invaded the lives of the decent, upright and hard-working – the pure – this character is rehaunting us in the guise of the immigrant. He is both a familiar, insidious figure, and a new edition of an old idea expressed with refreshed and forceful rhetoric.
Unlike other monsters, the foreign body of the immigrant is unslayable. Resembling a zombie in a video game, he is impossible to kill or finally eliminate not only because he is already silent and dead, but also because there are waves of other similar immigrants just over the border coming right at you. Forgetting that it is unworkable notions of the "normal" – the fascist normal – which make the usual seem weird, we like to believe that there was a better time when the world didn't shift so much and everything appeared more permanent. We were all alike and comprehensible to one another, and these spectres didn't forever seethe at the windows.
Martin Filler in the New York Review of Books:
Rarely do architecture writers convey a sense of place with the observational acuity, physical immediacy, and (on occasion) moral outrage of the British journalist Rowan Moore. Since the turn of the millennium, Moore—a Cambridge University—trained architect and younger brother of Charles Moore, the newspaper and Spectator editor and Margaret Thatcher’s authorized biographer—has been the architecture correspondent for The Evening Standard, then the director of the London-based Architecture Foundation, and is now the architecture critic of The Observer. Michael Sorkin burned up the pages of New York’s Village Voice in the 1980s with his tirades against Philip Johnson, Paul Goldberger, and other voices of the architecture establishment. Since then no other newspaper architecture critic has been as sharp an assessor of the built environment as Moore and as rueful an evaluator of the ever-increasing commercialism and pointless exhibitionism that dominate contemporary construction.
Moore begins his lively, wide-ranging, and thought-provoking new book, Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture, with a devastatingly funny if deeply disturbing set piece that finds him in a helicopter hovering over the architectural theme park that is Dubai, the oil-poor Arab emirate determined to use flamboyant urban development to “brand” itself as a desirable destination for investors and tourists, and thereby to become a global economic powerhouse on the order of Singapore. Although Moore invokes Francis Ford Coppola’s famous “Ride of the Valkyries” sequence fromApocalypse Now, his eye for the grotesque detail reminds me more of the opening of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, in which a statue of Christ suspended from a chopper hovers over the Vatican, with arms outstretched in seeming benediction.