Sunday, September 28, 2014
Paul Krugman reviews 'Seven Bad Ideas,' by Jeff Madrick, in the NYT's Sunday Book Review (picture by Michael Lionstar):
In “Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World,” Jeff Madrick — a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine and a frequent writer on matters economic — argues that the professional failures since 2008 didn’t come out of the blue but were rooted in decades of intellectual malfeasance.
As a practicing and, I’d claim, mainstream economist myself, I’m tempted to quibble. How “mainstream,” really, are the bad ideas he attacks? How much of the problem is bad economic ideas per se as opposed to economists who have proved all too ready to drop their own models — in effect, reject their own ideas — when their models conflict with their political leanings? And was it the ideas of economists or the prejudices of politicians that led to so much bad policy?
I’ll return to those quibbles later, but Madrick’s basic theme is surely right. His bad ideas are definitely out there, have been expressed by plenty of economists, and have indeed done a lot of harm.
So what are the seven bad ideas? Actually, they aren’t all that distinct. In particular, bad idea No. 1 — the Invisible Hand — is pretty hard to distinguish from bad idea No. 3, Milton Friedman’s case against government intervention, and segues fairly seamlessly into bad idea No. 7, globalization as something that is always good. As an aside, this sometimes makes Madrick’s argument more disjointed than I’d like, with key propositions spread across nonconsecutive chapters. But there is an important point here, and Madrick has clarified my own thinking on the subject.
Charles Green in Inside Higher Ed (image from Wikimedia Commons):
Rebecca Schuman...has a Ph.D. in German studies and a forthcoming book on Kafka, Wittgenstein, and Modernism. Despite those impressive credentials, she left academe and the crumbling job prospects of German studies in 2013, so she’s well-positioned to comment on the real crises in higher education. She even professes, in one essay, “I’m a higher-ed expert.”
While I sometimes agree with her, I think she crafts fundamentally anti-academic arguments, anti-academic in that they rely heavily on unsourced and unsupported generality clothed in hyperbole. While she frames her essays with her expertise and experience, she presents a funhouse image of the academic world as the norm and recreates fabulist stereotypes of the ivory tower gone mad. Ultimately, her writing most often fails to offer substantive critique of academe’s problems and instead offers empty amusement that misleads readers about the world she claims to analyze with expertise.
Her July 15, 2014 essay, “Revise and Resubmit,” exemplifies her anti-academic methods. Most prominently in that essay, Schuman revels in psychologizing straw men, scarecrows who lack not brains but hearts: “Think of your meanest high school mean girl,” she writes, “at her most gleefully, underminingly vicious. Now give her a doctorate in your discipline, and a modicum of power over your future. That’s peer review.” The peer reviewer is a type with easily decipherable, easily dismissed motives.
Yes, Schuman’s being amusingly hyperbolic — I see Regina George and the Plastics of Mean Girls with their burn book, telling lesser academics “Stop trying to make ‘synecdochic heteronormativity’ happen. It’s not going to happen. It’s problematic.” If Schuman’s writing then moved to a more complex, realistic, or data-driven exploration of peer review, I might accept one hyperbolic stereotype — but the psychological profile of straw men predominates her argument.
He even goes so far as to perform what appears to be a rhetorical exegesis of “Revise and Resubmit,” a roast of the humanities peer-review process done in my usual style, which is a mixture of dark humor, open hyperbole, and cutting truth — and which quotes, yes, a small sample of hilarious tweets about peer-review experiences from my readers, which I culled for their sharpness from a much larger “data set” of about 100.
But yes, the piece exaggerated. Every op-ed I write does. Every sentence I say at home does! My voice has, for better or worse, basically been what it is since my first turn as a columnist at the age of 17 (I appeared bi-weekly in Eugene, Oregon’s paper of record from 1993 to 1994 — kind of a big deal, I know). But it was sharpened in graduate school in a particular vein, as I fell in love with the crotchety Austrians who would come to define my research: Robert Musil, whose over-the-top satire of a bunch of rich drifters also belies harsh truths about the decline and fall of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy; the playwright Johann Nepomunk Nestroy, whose untranslatable humor involves saying something that is a massive exaggeration and an unfortunate truth at the same time; Karl Kraus, the patron saint of pithy bile and my personal hero.
Is Green correct that my 1,500-word op-eds (the appropriatelength for such a medium, ahem) are not researched with the same rigor as my academic book, which took seven years to write, and for which I am receiving the standard advance of zero dollars? He is.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in The National (via Hussein Ibish):
Only one thing can stop a suicidal youth who is ready to die for ISIL: a stronger ideology that guides him onto the right path and convinces him that God created us to improve our world, not to destroy it. Credit is due to our neighbours in Saudi Arabia in this field for their successes in de-radicalising many young people through counselling centres and programmes. In this battle of minds, it is thinkers and scientists of spiritual and intellectual stature among Muslims who are best placed to lead the charge.
The second component is support for governments’ efforts to create stable institutions that can deliver real services to their people. It should be clear to everyone that the rapid growth of ISIL was fuelled by two governments’ failings: the first one made war on its own people, and the second one promoted sectarian division. When governments fail to address instability, legitimate grievances and persistent serious challenges, they create an ideal environment for hateful ideologies to incubate – and for terrorist organisations to fill the vacuum of legitimacy.
The final component is to address urgently the black holes in human development that afflict many areas of the Middle East. This is not only an Arab responsibility, but also an international responsibility, because providing grassroots opportunity and a better quality of life for the people of this region is guaranteed to ameliorate our shared problems of instability and conflict. We have a critical need for long-term projects and initiatives to eliminate poverty, improve education and health, build infrastructure, and create economic opportunities. Sustainable development is the most sustainable answer to terrorism.
Our region is home to more than 200 million young people. We have the opportunity to inspire them with hope and to direct their energies toward improving their lives and the lives of those around them. If we fail, we will abandon them to emptiness, unemployment and the malicious ideologies of terrorism.
Every day that we take a step towards delivering economic development, creating jobs, and raising standards of living, we undermine the ideologies of fear and hate that feed on hopelessness. We starve terrorist organisations of their reason to exist.
The house with the nick- and snigger-name Snort and Grunt .
Shunned trailer-house, (pocked) scorn-brunt. Side-indented,
thorn-bined, boondocked in a hollow.
In a green-holler clamber-mire of itch-moss and bramble.
Tremblescent ditch-jellies, globberous spawn-floss. Drupes of
(dapple-clinkling) bottle-glass in trees.
Strangs them old oaks of his with NEHI and liquor-pints. Magnesia!
Yard-splayed magnolia-blooms, carved of tractor-tire. Milk-
painted (fangle-plaited) barbwire-scapes and -vines.
And -fronds. A palm-shape gold with birds at the end of the yard.
Elaborated branches, branching. What is fixing to be a rose-bush
caning and twining. Is leaves.
by Atsuro Riley
from Romey's Order
University of Chicago Press, 2010
Dave Marsh in Counterpunch:
“…all unorganized violence is like a blind man with a pistol.” ~ Chester Himes
In his autobiography, Really the Blues, Mezz Mezzrow, locked up in a New York City jail on a drug charge, convinces the warden that he has a black mother and therefore must be placed in the Negro section of the prison – his life depends on it. Mezz Mezzrow, a pot proselytizer and dealer as well as a pretty good trumpet player, was white, or at least he came from an all-white family. His is one of the few real-life stories in American history in which a white man passes for black and gets away with it. Whether John Howard Griffin, author of Black Like Me, in which a middle-class white writer blackens his skin in order to research what the too-much-melanin blues are like, got away with it is open to debate. He did not die, as has been widely reported, from cancer caused by Oxsoralen, the chemical he used to darken his skin, but the fact that the idea persists thirty years after his death suggests what grim desires his project may have inspired. Griffin is not by any means the only mortal casualty of the American obsession with melanin.
Give or take Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, a reasonably fine novel, and Norman Mailer’s essay, “The White Negro,” which is a complete crock, that’s about the end of the literary aspect of passing for black. In Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison’s nameless protagonist, unquestionably a black citizen, has retreated to a clandestine life in a cellar in a whites-only building somewhere in New York. This man is invisible because other people refuse to see him. And throughout the story, whenever he is seen, disaster of one degree of another ensues. Somewhere among these fantasies lies a truth about George Zimmerman, who, by his own account, accidentally on purpose murdered Trayvon Martin. Somewhere in there is an authentic human being, like Mezzrow, who imagined himself a superhero. Mezz sold reefer to the stars; Louis Armstrong was his best customer. George Zimmerman stalked the streets of a podunk Florida condo community with a gun by his side, a Batman vigilante.
Gesche Wurfel in lensculture:
"Basement Sanctuaries" explores how apartment building superintendents decorate the basements of their buildings in Northern Manhattan, NYC. These intimate photos attempt to illuminate the process of how migrants adapt to their new homes.
The basements occupy a strange space in every apartment building. On the one hand, they feel like special sanctuaries for the supers and their families, since the supers often live in the basement. The spaces are mostly hidden from the public and from visitors, thus giving them a sense of privacy. However, the basement is also a space of work for supers and the environment is on display for the residents of the building. Under these circumstances, the supers’ decorations function as a territorial claim over the basement’s semi-public/private space. Most of the supers in Northern Manhattan are migrants from Latin America or the Caribbean, and images from their home countries might connect their new home to a past they have left behind. This can be especially important given the grueling nature of their work and the difficulty of establishing themselves in NYC.
Saturday, September 27, 2014
John Palattella in The Nation:
The highway leading from the airport to town is new, or at least has been recently upgraded: four lanes of smooth blacktop running north-south and bordered by broad sidewalks empty under the blistering summer sun. The surrounding area is sparsely populated scrubland, but new businesses hug the edge of the road. There are car dealerships for Citroën, Fiat and Renault, and their big-box showrooms are adorned with logos that gleam as brightly as the latest models in their oversize lots. Gas stations outfitted with enough pumps to fuel a fleet of taxis are scattered along the route; several double as parking lots for idle backhoes and bulldozers. Like the airport, an elegant and airy structure where just two of the eighteen check-in windows are in use, the road is a sign of growth and a promise of more.
The scene could have been from any number of French New Wave films smitten with the sparkling stuff of urbanization they satirized. But the road is in the countryside of southeastern Turkey, not the suburbs of postwar Paris, and the path it takes from the new airport in Kiziltepe to Mardin, about twenty kilometers to the north, is evidence of an older, modernized Turkey—Citroën, Fiat and Renault have been manufacturing cars in the country for decades—as well as a more recent one. The road rises from the plains and snakes up the mountains to Mardin, and as the city’s skyline comes into view, one sees the tower cranes and residential construction projects that have become the signature of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s ambitious and controversial recent prime minster and newly elected president. In Mardin, the developments form an escarpment that spreads beyond the city limits into desolate valleys where unfinished apartment towers seem to waver in the heat.
Michael Lewis at Bloomberg:
That may very well change today, for today -- Friday, Sept. 26 --- the radio program "This American Life" will air a jaw-dropping story about Wall Street regulation, and the public will have no trouble at all understanding it.
The reporter, Jake Bernstein, has obtained 46 hours of tape recordings, made secretly by a Federal Reserve employee, of conversations within the Fed, and between the Fed and Goldman Sachs. The Ray Rice video for the financial sector has arrived.
Steven Pinker in the Wall Street Journal:
The most popular explanation is that opaque prose is a deliberate choice. Bureaucrats insist on gibberish to cover their anatomy. Plaid-clad tech writers get their revenge on the jocks who kicked sand in their faces and the girls who turned them down for dates. Pseudo-intellectuals spout obscure verbiage to hide the fact that they have nothing to say, hoping to bamboozle their audiences with highfalutin gobbledygook.
But the bamboozlement theory makes it too easy to demonize other people while letting ourselves off the hook. In explaining any human shortcoming, the first tool I reach for is Hanlon's Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. The kind of stupidity I have in mind has nothing to do with ignorance or low IQ; in fact, it's often the brightest and best informed who suffer the most from it.
I once attended a lecture on biology addressed to a large general audience at a conference on technology, entertainment and design. The lecture was also being filmed for distribution over the Internet to millions of other laypeople. The speaker was an eminent biologist who had been invited to explain his recent breakthrough in the structure of DNA. He launched into a jargon-packed technical presentation that was geared to his fellow molecular biologists, and it was immediately apparent to everyone in the room that none of them understood a word and he was wasting their time. Apparent to everyone, that is, except the eminent biologist. When the host interrupted and asked him to explain the work more clearly, he seemed genuinely surprised and not a little annoyed. This is the kind of stupidity I am talking about.
Call it the Curse of Knowledge: a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know.
Thomas Wells in The Philosopher's Beard:
The Scots have made their choice. The British Union will continue. I can understand their hesitancy, their decision to opt for security and an assured place in something that more or less works, rather than to seize their freedom. Especially under the onslaught of love bombing and scaremongering that characterised the last weeks of the No campaign. Under the circumstances, declining independence was a reasonable choice to make. It was moreover the sovereign act of a nation that firmly establishes its right to revisit that choice in future.
As an Englisher though, my interest in the Scottish referendum goes beyond the perspective of the Scots. I was concerned with how Scottish independence might affect Britain as a whole. Not that much it seemed at first. 5 million people and a couple of large cities leaving is not an existential challenge. Losing the labour MPs from Scotland would have meant another decade or more of Tory governments, which would have been unpleasant but not intolerable.
The really significant consequences of Scottish independence, I came to realise, concerned political psychology. I was assisted to this realisation by the histrionic rhetoric of The Economist in defence of the Union.
The Economist's editors were particularly concerned with Britain's international stature: "The rump of Britain would be diminished in every international forum: why should anyone heed a country whose own people shun it?"
Why indeed. I agree with The Economist that Scottish independence would have taken the Great out of Britain. But I think that would have been a good thing!
And if that didn't make you cry, try this:
Karen Armstrong in The Guardian:
The ferocious cruelty of these jihadist fighters, quoting the Qur’an as they behead their hapless victims, raises another distinctly modern concern: the connection between religion and violence. The atrocities of Isis would seem to prove that Sam Harris, one of the loudest voices of the “New Atheism”, was right to claim that “most Muslims are utterly deranged by their religious faith”, and to conclude that “religion itself produces a perverse solidarity that we must find some way to undercut”. Many will agree with Richard Dawkins, who wrote in The God Delusion that “only religious faith is a strong enough force to motivate such utter madness in otherwise sane and decent people”. Even those who find these statements too extreme may still believe, instinctively, that there is a violent essence inherent in religion, which inevitably radicalises any conflict – because once combatants are convinced that God is on their side, compromise becomes impossible and cruelty knows no bounds...
But perhaps we should ask, instead, how it came about that we in the west developed our view of religion as a purely private pursuit, essentially separate from all other human activities, and especially distinct from politics. After all, warfare and violence have always been a feature of political life, and yet we alone drew the conclusion that separating the church from the state was a prerequisite for peace. Secularism has become so natural to us that we assume it emerged organically, as a necessary condition of any society’s progress into modernity. Yet it was in fact a distinct creation, which arose as a result of a peculiar concatenation of historical circumstances; we may be mistaken to assume that it would evolve in the same fashion in every culture in every part of the world.
We now take the secular state so much for granted that it is hard for us to appreciate its novelty, since before the modern period, there were no “secular” institutions and no “secular” states in our sense of the word. Their creation required the development of an entirely different understanding of religion, one that was unique to the modern west. No other culture has had anything remotely like it, and before the 18th century, it would have been incomprehensible even to European Catholics. The words in other languages that we translate as “religion” invariably refer to something vaguer, larger and more inclusive. The Arabic worddin signifies an entire way of life, and the Sanskrit dharma covers law, politics, and social institutions as well as piety. The Hebrew Bible has no abstract concept of “religion”; and the Talmudic rabbis would have found it impossible to define faith in a single word or formula, because the Talmud was expressly designed to bring the whole of human life into the ambit of the sacred. The Oxford Classical Dictionary firmly states: “No word in either Greek or Latin corresponds to the English ‘religion’ or ‘religious’.” In fact, the only tradition that satisfies the modern western criterion of religion as a purely private pursuit is Protestant Christianity, which, like our western view of “religion”, was also a creation of the early modern period.
Traditional spirituality did not urge people to retreat from political activity. The prophets of Israel had harsh words for those who assiduously observed the temple rituals but neglected the plight of the poor and oppressed. Jesus’s famous maxim to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” was not a plea for the separation of religion and politics. Nearly all the uprisings against Rome in first-century Palestine were inspired by the conviction that the Land of Israel and its produce belonged to God, so that there was, therefore, precious little to “give back” to Caesar. When Jesus overturned the money-changers’ tables in the temple, he was not demanding a more spiritualised religion. For 500 years, the temple had been an instrument of imperial control and the tribute for Rome was stored there. Hence for Jesus it was a “den of thieves”. The bedrock message of the Qur’an is that it is wrong to build a private fortune but good to share your wealth in order to create a just, egalitarian and decent society. Gandhi would have agreed that these were matters of sacred import: “Those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.”
Read more here.
Harmon Leon in AlterNet:
The Christian Wrestling Federation bodyslams for Jesus—literally. On the surface, the CWF looks like a normal WWE wrestling event, with costumed characters jumping from the ropes and wrestlers being hit in the back of the head with chairs. Sometimes there’s blood. Sometimes there’s an elbow to the thorax. Except, these violent wrestling moves are all done for the love of Jesus Christ and to save souls. Welcome to the world of the Christian Wrestling Federation. Like a “sleeper hold” from above, for the past 14 years, the Dallas-based religious grappling group has performed more than 600 events, in 34 states, and has seen over 25,000 people giving their lives to Christ, while simultaneously enjoying the benefits and thrills of professional wrestling.
...In the non-ironic words of the Christian Wrestling Federation, their goal is, “To be a Christian outreach ministry that shares the love of Jesus Christ, through wrestling events around the world.” Sure, giving someone the Guillotine Maneuver or Sleeper Hold in front of a crowd of screaming fans doesn’t seem very Christ-centric, but the CWD can explain. According to their website, “The Bible says we are to use unique and different ways to reach people for Christ. This is what the CWF is all about… reaching people in a unique way. With wrestling’s popularity at an all-time high, many people can be reached, and in turn, our goal is to convert them to Christ’s love. The focus of the CWF is to win souls for Christ. Our passion is seeing the lost become saved. The CWF is committed to anything we can do to honor Christ and the local church.” “There were men in the Bible who dressed up in loincloths and ran through the marketplace all in the name of Christ, ‘Look at me! Look at me! I look crazy, I look freaky,’” explains Rob Adonis, a Christian wrestler who runs events in Georgia. “But now you’re listening to me so I’m going to give you some Jesus. Our philosophy is to get them in here. Do whatever you got to do and give them the truth. Give them the truth and the truth will set them free, you know, that’s our goal.”
Jess Row in The New York Times:
Among people who routinely deal with violence, pain, cruelty and injustice — domestic violence counselors, aid workers, paramedics, public defenders, immigrant advocates — there’s a phenomenon known as secondary trauma. It’s also sometimes called vicarious trauma, or empathic strain. In her book, “Trauma Stewardship,” Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, a former social worker, defines it as being unable to live with the knowledge that, despite our best efforts, most of the world’s suffering goes “unnoticed and unattended.” “Still,” she writes, “people who are working to help those who suffer . . . must somehow reconcile their own joy — the authentic wonder and delight in life — with the irrefutable fact of suffering in the world.” Though Lipsky probably wouldn’t embrace the comparison, I want to take the risk of offense and say that this sentence applies almost equally well to many contemporary Pakistani novelists. Pakistan is a country where the fact of suffering is indeed irrefutable, whether we’re speaking of the horrific treatment of women and religious minorities, the use of terrorism — both insurgent and state-sponsored — as a tool of political strategy or simply the persistence of the most extreme poverty in a country that wastes billions on a state of perpetual war. From novelists in such a climate you might expect a response of escapism, or simply escape, but consider, for example, Mohsin Hamid, Mohammed Hanif, Nadeem Aslam, Kamila Shamsie: What unites these very different writers is a stubborn insistence on, in Lipsky’s words, the reconciliation of joy and suffering in the texture of everyday life.
Bilal Tanweer is another such stubborn Pakistani writer, and in “The Scatter Here Is Too Great” he takes the question of reconciliation head-on, as subject and as method. This is a collection of fragments — not quite short stories, not quite chapters — that assemble into a partial, and highly idiosyncratic, portrait of a bombing at a railway station in Karachi, told from the perspective of witnesses, victims, family members, friends, associates, lovers. The exact target and intent of the bombing, and the identity of the perpetrators, are not given, and although there are a few graphic descriptions of the horror of the event — “A man tears away from another burning car with a large scrap of metal sunk into the back of his shoulder. He’s screaming but his screams barely reach you” — the focus again and again shifts away from the scene of death to the daily struggles, fantasies and resentments of the living. Immersed in the story of a young boy whose older sister’s illicit boyfriend is a victim of the bombing — that is, three degrees removed from the actual event — we forget, temporarily, about the chaos and clamor and horror of Karachi and grieve instead for the three baby chicks given to the boy as presents, which he kills, unwittingly, and buries in a flowerpot.
When I leave you I turn to stone
and when I come back I turn to stone
I name you Medusa
I name you the older sister of Sodom and Gomorrah
you the baptismal basin that burned Rome
The murdered hum their poems on the hills
and the rebels reproach the tellers of their stories
while I leave the sea behind and come back
to you, come back
by this small river that flows in your despair
I hear the reciters of the Quran and the shrouders of corpses
I hear the dust of the condolers
I am not yet thirty, but you buried me, time and again
and each time, for your sake
I emerge from the earth
So let those who sing your praises go to hell
those who sell souvenirs of your pain
all those who are standing with me, now, in the picture
I name you Medusa
I name you the older sister of Sodom and Gomorrah
you the baptismal basin that still burns
When I leave you I turn to stone
When I come back I turn to stone
by Najwan Darwish
translation: Kareem James Abu-Zeid
from Poetry International Web
Friday, September 26, 2014
Simon Waxman in the Boston Review:
This is the anniversary of “the day the world almost died.” On September 26, 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov was bunkered near Moscow, monitoring readings from the Soviet nuclear early warning satellite Oko, when he received an alert of impending U.S. nuclear attack. But he judged the warning a false alarm and chose not to notify his superiors, who, operating under the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, may have been compelled to respond in kind. Petrov was right; the United States had made no attack. The system had malfunctioned, but catastrophe was averted.
Last year, on the thirtieth anniversary, the United Nations held high-level disarmament talks. Now the body has declared September 26 the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.
But while many share this aspiration, nuclear weapons have remained a stubborn feature of our lives. Though Barack Obama made arms reduction an early centerpiece of his presidency, and won a Nobel Peace Prize partially on the strength of his “vision of a world free from nuclear arms,” the United States is plowing money into upgrades of the nuclear arsenal. Annual spending on nuclear weapons is now greater than at any time during the Cold War.
But nuclear weapons haven’t been used since 1945. Is the persistence of the arsenal really a problem?
Philosopher and Boston Review contributor Elaine Scarry believes it is. Earlier this year she published Thermonuclear Monarchy, a book that continues her arguments about the corrupting effects of unaccountable executive power, particularly in the realm of national security. Scarry contends that because nuclear weapons make citizen control of military force impossible, maintaining a nuclear arsenal is fundamentally anti-democratic. To be a nuclear-armed state is to invest the executive with dictatorial powers over immeasurable destructive capacity.
Inside the agency's headquarters is a museum filled with relics from half a century of cloak-and-dagger exploits.
David Wise in Smithsonian Magazine:
A chill wind whipped off the Warnow as a retired railroad worker shuffled through the streets of the port city of Rostock one winter night in 1956. He wore the drab clothes typical of East German residents. But when a second man appeared from the shadows, the elderly German revealed that he was wearing a pair of distinctive gold cuff links embossed with the helmet of the Greek goddess Athena and a small sword.
The second man wore an identical pair. Wordlessly, he handed the German a package of documents and retreated back into the shadows. The German caught a train for East Berlin, where he handed the package and the cuff links to a CIA courier. The courier smuggled them to the agency’s base in West Berlin—to George Kisevalter, who was on his way to becoming a legendary CIA case officer.
The man who retreated back into the shadows was Lt. Col. Pyotr Semyonovich Popov, an officer of the GRU, the Soviet military intelligence agency. Three years earlier, Popov had dropped a note into an American diplomat’s car in Vienna saying, “I am a Soviet officer. I wish to meet with an American officer with the object of offering certain services.” He was the CIA’s first Soviet mole, and Kisevalter was his handler. Popov became one of the CIA’s most important sources through the 1950s, turning over a trove of Soviet military secrets that included biographical details on 258 of his fellow GRU officers.
It was Kisevalter who had decided on the cuff links as a recognition signal. He gave them to Popov before Moscow recalled the GRU officer in 1955, along with instructions: If Popov ever made it out of the USSR again and renewed contact with the CIA, whoever the agency sent to meet him would wear a matching set to establish his bona fides.
Jabeen Akhtar in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
I once took a guy I was dating to lunch at an Indian restaurant. I was trying to get him to go vegan, and there is no bigger hedonistic ritual for vegans than the weekend Indian lunch buffet, a guaranteed plethora of plant-based dishes that have been feeding Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists for centuries. We feast on curry, rice, naan, and sometimes that sketchy cubed melon, and sink into the stuffed plastic benches with heavy Bacchus bellies, hiccupping fiery chutney back into our throats (it hurts!) and forcing ourselves into Round 2 and 3 to get our money’s worth.
My date and I got in line, and his colorfully tatted arm handed me a warm plate. We stood behind a flock of sorority girls, patiently waddling toward the buffet items, passing over the meat but hovering above the vegetables. Even here, I was primed to ignore the standard korma dish, knowing it was heavy on dairy, and the spinach and paneer cheese. But as I scanned the steaming metal tins twice over, I grabbed my date’s plate away.
“Wait,” I said. “Nothing here’s vegan. This isn’t normal.”
“Well, maybe it is, and you just don’t know it, cause you’re from Pakistan,” he winked.
If I wasn’t so hungry and annoyed by the lack of buffet options, I might have thought my Caucasian date’s attempt at demonstrating he could distinguish between India and Pakistan was cute, even admirable. Instead, I started counting. Out of the 18 dishes offered, only one, the eggplant, was vegan.
“Angkor’s Children” is a story of hope and determination in the face of horror, the horror of war and of the ‘Khmer Rouge time’ in Cambodia. Along with the numberless lives lost, there was a very real possibility that a centuries-old culture (and culture is what makes people, individuals, into a People) would die with them, that a nation would no longer know itself. “Angkor’s Children” tells how and why it hasn’t been allowed to die, and how traditional arts can revive, come to terms with modern life, and thrive. It’s a heartening example of the irrepressible will to live. I recommend it. — Sam Waterston, Actor
Peter Oborne in The Telegraph:
As British politicians take the decision whether to bomb Iraq yet again, Patrick Cockburn has produced the first history of the rise of the Islamic State or Isil. No one is better equipped for this task. Cockburn, one of our greatest war correspondents, has charted the Iraqi insurrection and the Syrian civil war. His book makes compelling reading. He traces the roots of the Islamic State to the Western invasion of Iraq 11 years ago, when Saddam’s army was disbanded by its American conquerors. With nowhere else to go, some joined forces with al-Qaeda in a brutal rebellion against what they saw as a foreign occupation. AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) was defeated by General Petraeus’s “surge” of 2008, but this partial victory was not consolidated. When the Americans left Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki led a Shia administration that made no serious attempt to bring the Sunnis into government. The marginalisation of the Sunni tribes might have had limited consequences but for the Syrian insurrection, which started in the summer of 2011. This insurgency was backed by the West, but militants soon took over the fighting, controlling tracts of eastern Syria and western Iraq. National borders were effectively abolished.
In this powerful book, Cockburn shows how a series of errors by the United States and its Western allies created the conditions for the rise of Isil. First, the 2003 invasion of Iraq left behind a disenfranchised and embittered Sunni minority. Second, Western sponsorship of the Syrian insurrection created the perfect playground for Baghdadi’s bloodthirsty warriors. Cockburn shows that Western intelligence agencies were heavily involved at every level. However they appear to have been clueless about what was really happening.
Purdue University researchers have developed a chip capable of simulating a tumor’s “microenvironment” to test the effectiveness of nanoparticles and drugs that target cancer. The new tumor-microenvironment-on-chip (T-MOC) will allow researchers to study the complex environment surrounding tumors and the barriers that prevent targeted delivery of therapeutic agents, said Bumsoo Han, a Purdue associate professor of mechanical engineering. Researchers are trying to perfect “targeted delivery” methods using various agents, including an assortment of tiny nanometer-size structures, to selectively attack tumor tissue. The endothelial cells that make up healthy blood vessels are well organized and have small pores in the tight junctions between them. So one approach is to design nanoparticles that are small enough to pass through pores in the blood vessels surrounding tumors but too large to pass though the pores of vessels in healthy tissue. The problem: the endothelial cells in blood vessels around tumors are irregular and misshapen, with larger pores in the gaps between the cells. “It was thought that if nanoparticles were designed to be the right size they could selectively move toward only the tumor,” Han said. But the pressure of “interstitial fluid” inside tumors is greater than that of surrounding healthy tissue. This greater pressure pushes out most drug-delivery and imaging agents, with only a small percentage of them reaching the target tumor.
Now, new research findings suggest that the T-MOC system is capable of simulating the complex environment around tumors and providing detailed information about how nanoparticles move through this environment. Such information could aid efforts to perfect targeted delivery methods. The findings are detailed in a research paper appearing online this month and will be published in a print edition of the Journal of Controlled Release in November. The T-MOC chip is about 4.5 centimeters (1.8 inches) square and contains “microfluidic” channels where tumor cells and endothelial cells are cultured. The chip also incorporates extracellular matrix – a spongy, scaffold-like material made of collagen found between cells in living tissue.
‘Zhivago’, in the pre-revolutionary genitive case, means ‘the living one’. On the novel’s first page a hearse is being followed to the grave. ‘Whom are you burying?’ the mourners are asked. ‘Zhivago’ is the reply, punningly suggesting ‘him who is living’. After his first reading of the draft early chapters, at the British Embassy in Moscow in 1945, Berlin felt that he had seen a flare sent up from the survivor of a cataclysm. Swept away by the novel’s defiant personal claim for the indomitable Russian soul, he was sure that Bolshevism’s systematic programme of turning Russia away from Western civilisation couldn’t be completed as long as such writing existed. Before leaving his diplomatic post, he turned in a long memorandum – what he called, misleadingly, a ‘rambling discourse on the Russian writers’ – containing extended resumés of his meetings with Pasternak, Akhmatova, Chukovsky and others. It was a founding text of the Kulturkampf, as important in its way as George Kennan’s Long Telegram (also written in 1946) was to the shaping of the political Cold War. In a letter accompanying the report, Berlin requested that it be treated as ‘confidential’ because of ‘the well-known consequences to the possible sources of the information contained in it, should its existence ever become known to “them”’.
We’ll call this next chapter in the novel of the novel ‘The Alphabet Men’. It’s the bit where the CIA, MI6 and their little helpers at the FO, IRD, BBC, IOD, SRD, CCF, RFE, RL, VOA and BVD process the purloined microfilm of the Russian text into ‘combat material’ for the Cold War.
I am lived. I am died.
I was two-leafed three times, and grazed,
but then I was stemmed and multiplied,
sharp-thorned and caned, nested and raised,
earth-salt by sun-sugar. I was innerly sung
by thrushes who need fear no eyed skin thing.
Finched, ant-run, flowered, I am given the years
in now fewer berries, now more of sling
out over directions of luscious dung.
Of water crankshaft, of gases the gears
my shape is cattle-pruned to a crown spread sprung
above the starve-gut instinct to make prairies
of everywhere. My thorns are stuck with caries
of mice and rank lizards by the butcher bird.
Inches in, baby seed-screamers get supplied.
I am lived and died in, vine woven, multiplied.
by Les Murray
Contemporary cultural studies likes the concept of "borderlands" because it seems to fit our complex, interrelated and dynamic world and provides an alternative to the homogenizing logic of nationalism and the related ideal of mono-ethnicity. In recent decades, borderlands have been re-construed as contact zones, as systems of communication and as social networks. As geopolitically amorphous zones "in between", they generate hybrid identities and create political, economic and cultural practices that combine different, often mutually exclusive values. Moreover, borderlands are associated with multiculturalism, cultural authenticity and cosmopolitanism. Yet from the nation-building perspective, their ambiguity is nothing to be celebrated. Mixed and overlapping identities and multiple loyalties pose a challenge to the nationalizing agenda and potentially threaten the integrity of a nation-state.
These two approaches clashed over eastern Ukraine, a former Soviet heartland and since 1991 a new borderland. From the perspective of some Kyiv and Lviv intellectuals the Russian speaking population of eastern Ukraine – which voted for the Communists and for oligarchic parties and was indifferent and even hostile to the national idea – were post-Soviet "creoles" lacking Ukrainian identity.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
In his fascinating new book the developmental biologist Lewis Wolpert argues that there is actually hard science behind many of our stereotypical gender roles.
Lewis Wolpert in The Telegraph:
In My Fair Lady Professor Higgins sings a song about the difference between the sexes, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” It comes from an amusingly, ludicrously biased male point of view, but I have used it as the title for my new book on the subject to remind us that the differences between men and women remain a major issue.
I am a developmental biologist who has studied how embryos develop from the fertilised egg. Genes control the development of the embryo by providing the codes for making proteins, which largely determine how cells behave.
The cells in the human embryo give rise to the structure and function of our brains and bodies. These cells determine whether we are male or female, and I want to understand the extent to which important differences in the behaviour of men and women are controlled by their genes during development and by the action of hormones both in the womb and in later life.
Exactly how different men and women are is, of course, a controversial subject. The view that there are inborn differences between the minds of men and women is being challenged by others who call this the pseudoscience of “neurosexism”, and are raising concerns about its implications. They emphasise instead social influences, such as stereotyping, in determining the differences in the behaviour of the sexes.