Thursday, June 23, 2016
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Friday, July 01, 2016
Daniel E. Ho and Becky Elias examined whether peer review for public servants can make the law more consistent in Boston Review:
Like many good arguments, this one started over a stiff drink. An Earl Grey MarTEAni, to be precise.
In January 2010, Nathalie Louissaint, a New York City health inspector, visited Pegu Club, an upscale cocktail bar. She watched as the bartender mixed the signature tea-infused drink. Borrowing a technique from the nineteenth century, the bartender added raw egg whites, which give the drink a silky body and an alluring layer of foam. Louissaint decided that the raw egg warning on the menu was insufficient and cited the bar for a health code violation.
The citation outraged many. Paul Clarke, a Seattle-based food writer, was perplexed by the department’s rigid position on raw eggs, writing on the website Serious Eats, “Does this mean the health department will begin targeting restaurants that serve raw eggs in a Caesar salad?” Others decried the health department’s seeming mandate to use pasteurized eggs, but those, said Pegu Club owner Audrey Sanders, “impart this really funky wet-diaper nose.” One bartender, who insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisal, told the New York Times, “If they make it illegal to serve egg-white drinks, that would be Hurricane Katrina for us.” In response to the uproar, the health department overruled the inspector.
This confusion is no outlier. Nationwide, implementation of health codes varies dramatically across inspectors and health departments. In Seattle, two inspectors observed Caesar salad dressing prepared with raw (unpasteurized) eggs in the same restaurant, but disagreed about whether to cite a violation. Contrary to New York City health department guidelines, New York State’s website doesn’t mention menu warnings, instead admonishing, “Consider using commercially pasteurized eggs in recipes that use eggs or consider removing the item from your menu.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) document that 80 percent of restaurants nonetheless use unpasteurized eggs.
When it comes down to it, the marTEAni fight is not so much about eggs as it is an endemic challenge across government. From airport security checkpoints and routine traffic stops to home construction permits, citizens and government interact frequently through individual officials. At times, the decisions of these frontline government officials can seem disturbingly arbitrary.
Carol Oja in the TLS:
In the two months since Lemonade’s release, it has provoked an extraordinary cultural critique, with articles ranging from besotted fandom to probing essays about its racial and feminist politics. In fact, the visual album is simultaneously clear-as-a-bell and obscure, even at times surreal. In the “Denial” section, for example, Beyoncé falls off a very tall building, then is submerged under water. She floats like a ghost over a bed, ultimately striding forth from a building that suggests a seat of power, and she does so amid yet another surge of water. The omnipresence of water conjures up the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which later moves to the foreground in “Formation”. The narrative ostensibly has an autobiographical thread, albeit with a celebrity tinge, with many critics claiming that it exposes Jay Z’s infidelity.
At a deeper level, Lemonade decries the history of oppression of African American women. “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman”, intones the sampled voice of Malcolm X after “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, the third song in the album.
Lemonade, then, is many things all at once: an extended feminist anthem with a Civil Rights inflection, performance art with an experimental edge, a revenue-generating media spectacle with high-flying aims. It juxtaposes the deep past with the vivid present, still photography with moving images, black-and-white with colour, African and Native American imagery with that of the American South, vandalism with tenderness. A startling twist is that Lemonade was released through Tidal, a streaming service owned by Jay Z and Beyoncé – the same Jay Z whom the work ostensibly exposes as an adulterer. As of mid-May,Lemonade had attracted 1.2 million new subscribers to Tidal.
Lemonade’s political intentions have been questioned: can ideological integrity coexist with big profits? Beyoncé “positively exploits images of black female bodies – placing them at the center, making them the norm”, asserts bell hooks, the African American feminist and social theorist. Yet, she concludes, “Ultimately Lemonade glamorizes a world of gendered cultural paradox and contradiction. It does not resolve”. “Glamour” certainly describes Lemonade, with Beyoncé singing, rapping, and dancing in magnificent gowns and artfully flowing hair. The women around her are also exquisitely turned out. “I’m so reckless when I rock my Givenchy dress (stylin’)”, Beyoncé intones in “Formation”, which has frequently been called a “Black Power Anthem” in the press. She flips the bird there, with perfectly manicured nails and wrists laden with expensive silver jewelry.
Hillary Chute reviews Bart Beaty new book in Critical Inquiry:
The cultural legitimization of comics; it is a topic that I, a scholar of contemporary literature and visual culture who has focused on comics, find singularly boring. It can feel backwards looking, instead of forward thinking. I certainly note this issue constantly, a natural impulse, as I track the public discourse around anything that compels me, but I have found that today the question of how and if comics is legitimated is often the least interesting avenue of inquiry one could consider about the form. I am, however, fascinated by the question of what constitutes art, as a practice and as material iteration—and how the form of comics has presented a productive challenge, particularly in the post WWII period, to conceptions of art and literature, and how and where they meet. Bart Beaty’s Comics versus Art, with its polemical title and 1978 Gary Panter illustration of a cape and beret-sporting superhero on the cover, appears a welcome and exciting contribution; finally someone, I thought, will wade right into these murky waters for the length of entire monograph, unfolding connections and possibilities; the title must just be a hook. Beaty, an English professor at Toronto who published the excellent studies Frederic Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture (2005) and Unpopular Culture: Transforming the European Comic Book in the 1990s(2007), among others, has also translated some of the most sophisticated French scholarship on comics by Thierry Groensteen and Thierry Smolderen.
But the simplicity of the title is the real critical framework here. Beaty “interrogates the specific historical and social processes that have led to the devaluation of comics as a cultural form and takes note of the recent rise to art world prominence of (certain kinds of) comics. . . . In an increasingly postmodern world in which the distinction between high and low culture is often assumed to have been eroded, outmoded biases continue to persist” (p. 7). Beaty argues throughout, predictably, that the art world hasn’t accepted comics on its own terms, yet. Specifically, Beaty is interested in analyzing comics from a sociological perspective as its own “distinct art world” and network. Inspired by Howard Saul Becker’s 1982 Art Worlds (along with Pierre Bourdieu and a smattering of Friedrich Nietzsche’s theory ofressentiment), he disputes what he suggests are formalist definitions of comics that ignore the “comics world” and its relation to cultural value.
Central to what is known as the “paradox of the ugly” is that ugliness does not just repel but also invites fascination and (prima facie at least) aesthetic appreciation. Thus the blobfish, the no doubt proud recipient of the ugliest animal award, the goblin shark and the naked mole rat hold – and in an as yet unexplained sense, reward – our attention. Deformity and injury – for all the moral problems that swirl around our reactions – excite a morbid fascination. And, of course, countless artworks and traditions have long enlisted negative responses to the revolting, disgusting, horrific and abject in pursuit of their positive goals.
Three strategies can go some way to sidestepping the sense of paradox. First, we may say that the paradox arises because of a failure to distinguish between the aesthetically and the artistically valuable. The ugly may be put to beautiful artistic purpose. But in such cases it could be that the aesthetically bad may be artistically good. For example, it would be intelligible to say of Francis Bacon’s “Screaming Pope” that the painting is insufficiently ugly. The ugly may be beautifully represented by the artist.
Second, we may say that the ugly is the vehicle for the appreciation of certain thoughts and feelings that could not otherwise be expressed. It might be the vehicle for cognitive value, for instance, in the traditional artistic duty of holding up a mirror to its audience. Third, we may say that the delight we take in the ugly is a parasitic response to the norm.
Setting out in his Fiat 1100 from the Ligurian coast in June of 1959, Pier Paolo Pasolini spent the next couple months wending his way around Italy’s seemingly endless shoreline, arriving—at summer’s end—in the northeastern seaport of Trieste, not far from the Slovenian border. Commissioned by the magazine Successo, Pasolini’s spirited travelogue appeared in successive issues, illustrated with shots by the photographer Paolo di Paolo of chaises longues and beachside cafés, the holiday jet-set and throngs of teenagers clad in swimwear. Expertly translated by Stephen Sartarelli (whose renderings of Pasolini’s poetry came out from University of Chicago Press in 2014), this handsome English-language edition of Pasolini’s features photographs by Philippe Séclier, who retraced Pasolini’s journey, taking images that provide striking counterpoints to the text and update di Paolo’s repertoire in a more personal, intimate vernacular.
A notoriously heretical Marxist and sworn enemy of modernity, Pasolini calls to mind anything but the bourgeois trappings of “success.” His verse, cinema, journalism, and theater waged, in fact, tireless opposition against Italy’s neo-capitalist transformation, in nearly every medium imaginable. Yet here, just as the country’s post-war “economic miracle” picks up steam, we find Pasolini waxing enthusiastic about its future, reveling in those countless pockets of dialect and regional culture that still marked the peninsula’s coast, from sprawling resort towns to tiny fishing villages.
The point Mason reiterates again and again is that in the struggle between postcapitalism and its alleged neoliberal enemies, ‘everything is pervaded by a fight between network and hierarchy.’ This is perhaps the issue on which he differs most from Srnicek and Williams. The first part of Inventing the Future mounts a critique of local, self-organised, non-hierarchical politics. Srnicek and Williams prefer to call it ‘folk politics’, though it seems as deeply enmeshed in the internet and its social networks as the futurism they advocate; more so, in fact. The participants in folk politics, like Mason’s young networked individuals, prefer ‘the everyday over the structural … feeling over thinking’. Their exponents can be found in Occupy, 15M in Spain, the Zapatistas and most forms of politics predicated on direct action: immediacy is all. In folk politics, ‘the importance of tactics and process is placed above strategic objectives,’ so that the mode of communication – whether the face-to-face deliberations in a protest camp or the use of social media to organise – becomes a fetish, and political content secondary. So far as Srnicek and Williams are concerned, the idea of being the change you want to see in the world practically guarantees that change won’t take place.
Why does folk politics apparently thrive in the networked world of contemporary protest? Because, they claim, it creates a warm glow, a sense that you are indeed ‘doing something’, reinforced when a minor battle is actually won: ‘Small successes – useful, no doubt, for instilling a sense of hope – nevertheless wither in the face of overwhelming losses.’ The ‘key challenge facing the left today,’ they write, ‘is to reckon with the disappointments and failures of the most recent cycle of struggles.’
Stephen Robinson in The Telegraph:
This is a journalist’s account of the ordeal of spending time with Donald Trump, and it is often very funny indeed, for it turns out that Trump’s elaborately sculpted hairweave is by no means the weirdest thing about him. Like any true narcissist and mountebank, Trump often talks of himself in the third person, and like some very rich men, he views women as commodities to be traded when marital sentiment turns bearish. When Singer asks him if he confides in anyone during moments of tribulation, he replies: “Nobody, it’s just not my thing.” So then what, Singer asks, is Trump’s notion of ideal company – well, comes the reply, “a total piece of ass”. Now on the campaign trail, he demands a high wall be built along the southern border with Mexico, and showily suggests that Muslims be banned from the United States until he has got the Islamist terror thing sorted out. Despite the hand-wringing of the Republican establishment, these are not “gaffes”, for they do not reveal a concealed truth; nor are they evidence of a blunt political outsider speaking truth to Washington elites. They are just cynical little morsels tossed into the crowd of angry American men (mostly) who are fed up with stagnant wages and immigrants. Trump lies so brazenly and routinely that one former New York political figure declared he would not trust a word he said even “if his tongue were notarised”. The man who presents himself as a self-made tycoon in fact inherited a multi-million-dollar New York real estate fortune from his father. The self-styled tough guy was not drafted for the Vietnam war because of a “heel spur”, although this did not give Trump pause when he questioned the valour of Senator John McCain, who was held prisoner for five years by the North Vietnamese.
...There is a type of liberal, conventional American who will tell you how it is “real scary” that Trump could one day be president. That will not happen, of course, as they know perfectly well: the Trump campaign is already showing signs of unravelling, and it is not impossible that the party elders will strike to kill him off at the convention in Cleveland next month. But anyway, it isn't feasible to run for the White House against American women, Hispanics, Muslims and gays. As a Republican presidential contender you can afford one or two useful enemies, but not the whole gamut, because then the numbers simply don’t work. Trump’s campaign is now failing because, as Singer notes, he has “no core beliefs, no describable political philosophy, and not an iota of curiosity about the practicalities of policy or governance”. Ultimately, you almost feel sorry for the man, with his “suspicion that an interior life was an intolerable burden” and his germophobe’s terror of shaking hands with the great unwashed he claims to represent.
John Rousseau in KurzweilAI:
...There is a clear risk that the types of behaviors we notice now — being “in your phone” rather than in the world — will be exacerbated by mixed reality. Future digital experiences need to counter this tendency and improve our ability to be present for ourselves and others, and help users balance complex streams of information, notifications, and stimuli within a holistic experience. There is an opportunity to counter the addictive aspects of technology (FOMO — fear of missing out) that impair our ability to focus, lead to increasingly short attention spans, and lessen human productivity and potential.
A Color of the Sky
Windy today and I feel less than brilliant,
driving over the hills from work.
There are the dark parts on the road
when you pass through clumps of wood
and the bright spots where you have a view of the ocean,
but that doesn’t make the road an allegory.
I should call Marie and apologize
for being so boring at dinner last night,
but can I really promise not to be that way again?
And anyway, I’d rather watch the trees, tossing
in what certainly looks like sexual arousal.
Otherwise it’s spring, and everything looks frail;
the sky is baby blue, and the just-unfurling leaves
are full of infant chlorophyll,
the very tint of inexperience.
Last summer’s song is making a comeback on the radio,
and on the highway overpass,
the only metaphysical vandal in America has written
MEMORY LOVES TIME
in big black spraypaint letters,
which makes us wonder if Time loves Memory back.
Last night I dreamed of X again.
She’s like a stain on my subconscious sheets.
Years ago she penetrated me
but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,
I never got her out,
but now I’m glad.
What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.
What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.
What I thought was an injustice
turned out to be a color of the sky.
Outside the youth center, between the liquor store
and the police station,
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;
overflowing with blossomfoam,
like a sudsy mug of beer;
like a bride ripping off her clothes,
dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,
so Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.
It’s been doing that all week:
and throwing it away,
and making more.
by Tony Hoagland
from What Narcissism Means to Me
Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota
Thursday, June 30, 2016
Mary L. Dudziak in Dissent:
As the Obama administration announced plans to step up its military campaign against ISIS this spring, a twenty-eight-year-old army officer, Captain Nathan Michael Smith, took President Barack Obama to court. He argued that the war against ISIS is illegal because Congress has not authorized it. Smith’s action highlights persistent problems with the legal basis for the military campaign, and has generated interest and support from leading legal scholars. And so President Obama, a law professor turned president who pledged to bring in the rule of law to restrain presidents’ use of force, finds himself the target of a lawsuit arguing that his own military initiative is unlawful.
Captain Smith is stationed in Kuwait, as part of the American military effort to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. His claimed injury is that fighting an illegal war requires him to violate his oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” His lawsuit challenges the fractured logic of the legal basis for the military campaign, including the idea that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against those who perpetrated the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and their supporters somehow extends to an organization that did not exist at the time.
But something more fundamental underlies this dispute. The reason the president has been unable to get Congress to pass a new war authorization isn’t because Congress opposes military action against ISIS, and it isn’t a simple matter of partisan stalemate. It is because there is no real political constituency for military matters. Faraway conflicts upend lives on the battlefield. As long as someone else’s family does the fighting, U.S. military operations have little impact on Americans at home. Most Americans are protected from the costs of armed conflict. There is no required military service since Congress eliminated the draft in 1973. Other changes in the way the country wages war—relying on contractors to reduce the number of troops, and on technologies that make war appear more precise and less destructive—contribute to a buffer between American civilians and the wars their country is fighting. Without voters paying attention, neither the president nor Congress is held accountable.
Roslyn Fuller and Andrew Sullivan in the LA Review of Books:
ANDREW SULLIVAN’S RECENT New York magazine essay,Democracies End When They Are Too Democratic, rattled many a reader and provoked a heated debate that spilled over to the pages of The New York Times, among other publications (seehere). Sullivan’s provocative thesis is that the United States, in this election year of the Trump candidacy, may be perilously close to a collapse into tyranny precisely because it is too democratic — drawing on Plato’s critique of the instability of a “government by the people.” To the exact contrary is the view of LARB contributor Roslyn Fuller, whose recent book Beasts and Gods: How Democracy Changed Its Meaning and Lost Its Purpose takes the American system to task for modeling itself on the Roman Republic instead of the Athenian democracy; that is, for not being democratic enough. We invited Roslyn Fuller to offer a riposte to Sullivan’s views, and gave Andrew Sullivan an opportunity to reply — which he embraced. What follows is Fuller’s all-out attack on the notion that we may be suffering from a surfeit of democracy and Sullivan’s reply.
— Don Franzen, Los Angeles Review of Books‘s Law Editor
America Needs More Democracy, Not Less
by Roslyn Fuller
It is said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and nowhere was this more apparent to me than when reading Andrew Sullivan’s recent article inNew York magazine. In it, Sullivan uses a smattering of knowledge about ancient Greece to declare that the United States is falling apart because it has too much democracy. In Sullivan’s view, just like the ancient Greeks, we have become a permissive and disorganized society, incapable of passing any judgment on ourselves and decaying from within. The final proof: Donald Trump.
It would be a much more convincing argument if ancient Greek democracy had decayed from within or if it had looked anything like what passes for democracy in the United States of America. But while Sullivan complains about others’ lack of judgment, he falls into the opposite category — judging in ignorance.
Judith Butler: The radical theorist who spawned a gender-queer nation — and became a pop celebrity in the process
Molly Fischer in New York Magazine:
Butler laughs when I tell her about the Teen Vogueverdict on Jaden Smith. “I think there aren’t very many of us who could have foreseen it,” Butler says, considering the blossoming mainstream interest in gender issues. We are speaking shortly after President Obama publicly voiced his support for transgender rights in the fight against North Carolina’s bathroom law, and gender — as something in need of definition, as something potentially ambiguous or complex — is at the center of national debate. “Such an utterance coming out of a U.S. president would be impossible in the 1990s,” Butler says.
Gender Trouble, published in 1990, made Butler a star: It introduced “performativity,” the idea that gender isn’t something we are but something we continually do, opening the door for “cultural configurations of sex and gender [to] proliferate,” as she put it in the book’s conclusion, “confounding the very binarism of sex, and exposing its fundamental unnaturalness.” If not for Butler’s work, “you wouldn’t have the version of genderqueer-ness that we now have,” says Jack Halberstam, a gender-studies professor at Columbia.
Mark Vanhoenacker in Aeon:
I like how different the language of the sky is from everyday English – indeed, we might give it its own name, Aeroese (though it’s also sometimes, and less aspirationally, called Aviation English). Above all, I love how Aeroese can somehow manage, in its technical, obscuring precision, to capture the high romance of flight – an aspect of my job, no matter how much I love it, that in the cockpit we rarely have reason to consider directly.
A prominent feature of Aeroese is its deep nautical roots. Think portand starboard, forward and aft; deck; log; captain and first officer;bulkhead, hold and galley; rudder and tiller; wake; knot; even waves, as in mountain waves, an atmospheric disturbance that can produce turbulence. And of course the word aeronautical itself.
In a profession that, for all its joys, often seems to lack deep traditions, I like that aviation has borrowed much of its language (and its uniforms) from the older world of the sea. This heritage is something I went out of my way to capture in the title of my book, Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot(2015). Seafaring is a word I’ve always loved – it makes me think of icy masts, and charts held in place by oil lamps, and of Herman Melville’sMoby-Dick (1851), written a mile or so from my childhood home in western Massachusetts, which so carefully chronicles and sanctifies the language of the sea. Skyfaring, then, I convinced my editors; a word I thought I’d coined, until I found it was the title of a poem by William Watsonpublished in the late 19th century, some years before the Wright Brothers got airborne.
Ali spent twenty-one years as a fighter, between 1960 and 1981, and the best fight images from that time work as counterpoint. His brashly promised defeat of Sonny Liston in 1964 made him champion, and their rematch a year later provided his most iconographic fight image, a violent pietà: Ali looming over Liston, who buckled in the first round, demanding furiously of him: “Get up and fight, sucker!” The complement to this moment comes with Ali’s first defeat, in the “Fight of the Century” against Joe Frazier (1971), in the echo of Frazier’s left hook: Ali tilting backward, his legs crooked and useless, his face wearing a cancelled look. Other images, other moments, connect this way: Liston staring from his stool (1964), mentally zapped, ignoring the bell for the seventh round, inaugurating Ali’s wild career as champion, countered by Ali slouched on his own stool in the fight against Larry Holmes (1980), a fight widely dreaded (Ali, thirty-eight, was already showing signs of damage in his slurred speech). Ali looks so bruised and zombie-like in this photo, it seems doctored. He would fight once more after this, but against Holmes the door was basically shut.
Photographs of Ali’s fights are innumerable, many of them hypnotic, but the images of him in more common circumstances are what both humanized and beatified him: meditative at training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania, or clowning on a Louisville sidewalk, or talking easily with a gaggle of children in his front yard in Miami.
Angela Merkel has emerged the loser from the refugee crisis. And, alongside her, the Kantian imperative, a philosophy deeply entrenched in German culture, has lost as well. This is true despite 70 percent of Germans professing a moral obligation to help refugees and people in need. Derived from the Golden Rule, this obligation has even entered the German language in idiomatic form: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” To Kant, for whom religion was mostly a reservoir for moral rules of action, it also suited the universal approach to ethics in the Enlightenment era. His moral imperative remains a cornerstone of German ethics. But despite the high approval ratings, this past year Germany has witnessed the rise of a massive right-wing populist movement strongly opposed to Kant’s dictum.
Citizens in other European countries express less of a moral obligation towards refugees. For example, the English have struggled to understand the actions of the German government: “The Germans have gone crazy,” they say. Or, in the English parliament: “Angela Merkel has become impertinent.” Something about the English has become clear: defined by David Hume’s utilitarianism, they could not be further from Kant, who looked at a thing by its very nature (“a thing in itself”) rather than at its overall usefulness.
“I’ve kind of made peace with the fact that we are where we are,” he says, “and I can’t really do anything to change that. Often trying to change that big picture actually makes it worse. I’m just going to do what I can do in my small life. Work this land, do my writing, see where that goes. If you’re really convinced that we’re living the wrong way, then you have to make some attempt to live the right way, don’t you? Even though you are part of the same culture, you can’t ever be a paragon of anything or an example to anybody. But it’s like Rilke said, ‘You must change your life.’”
He explains: “What that means to me is that you must change your opinions and write different things but you must do some stuff. Build a compost toilet and plant some trees and work the land – and that kind of knocks the hard edges off your ideologies as well, when you do that.”
If those hard edges were the result of his upbringing, he doesn’t make that connection. His father died nearly a decade ago but they made peace, he tells me, after his first two books were published: this was the kind of success that his father could recognise.
Erica Klarreich in Quanta:
In 2010, a startling rumor filtered through the number theory community and reached Jared Weinstein. Apparently, some graduate student at the University of Bonn in Germany had written a paper that redid “Harris-Taylor” — a 288-page book dedicated to a single impenetrable proof in number theory — in only 37 pages. The 22-year-old student, Peter Scholze, had found a way to sidestep one of the most complicated parts of the proof, which deals with a sweeping connection between number theory and geometry.
“It was just so stunning for someone so young to have done something so revolutionary,” said Weinstein, a 34-year-old number theorist now at Boston University. “It was extremely humbling.”
Mathematicians at the University of Bonn, who made Scholze a full professor just two years later, were already aware of his extraordinary mathematical mind. After he posted his Harris-Taylor paper, experts in number theory and geometry started to notice Scholze too.
Since that time, Scholze, now 28, has risen to eminence in the broader mathematics community. Prize citations have called him “already one of the most influential mathematicians in the world” and “a rare talent which only emerges every few decades.” He is spoken of as a heavy favorite for the Fields Medal, one of the highest honors in mathematics.
Late in his life, Freud asked the famous question “Was will das Weib?”, “What does a woman want?”, admitting his perplexity when faced with the enigma of the feminine sexuality. A similar perplexity arouses today, apropos the Brexit referendum: what does Europe want?
The true stakes of this referendum become clear if we locate it into its larger historical context. In Western and Eastern Europe, there are signs of a long-term re-arrangement of the political space. Till recently, the political space was dominated by two main parties which addressed the entire electoral body, a Right-of-centre party (Christian-Democrat, liberal-conservative, people’s…) and a Left-of-centre party (socialist, social-democratic…), with smaller parties addressing a narrow electorate (ecologists, neo-Fascists, etc.). Now, there is progressively emerging a one party which stands for global capitalism as such, usually with relative tolerance towards abortion, gay rights, religious and ethnic minorities, etc.; opposing this party is a stronger and stronger anti-immigrant populist party which, on its fringes, is accompanied by directly racist neo-Fascist groups. The exemplary case is here Poland: after the disappearance of the ex-Communists, the main parties are the “anti-ideological” centrist liberal party of the ex-prime-minister Donald Tusk and the conservative Christian party of Kaczynski brothers. The stakes of Radical Center today are: which of the two main parties, conservatives or liberals, will succeed in presenting itself as embodying the post-ideological non-politics against the other party dismissed as “still caught in old ideological specters”? In the early 90s, conservatives were better at it; later, it was liberal Leftists who seemed to be gaining the upper hand, and now, it’s again the conservatives.
Thomas Mallon in The New Yorker:
Jean Edward Smith’s biography of George W. Bush goes on sale a day before the former President’s seventieth birthday, and it’s safe to say that no one will be bringing it as a present to the ranch outside Crawford. Smith, a well-regarded practitioner of military history and Presidential-life writing, comes straight to the point in the first sentence of his preface: “Rarely in the history of the United States has the nation been so ill-served as during the presidency of George W. Bush.” By the book’s last sentence, Smith is predicting a long debate over whether Bush “was the worst president in American history,” and while the biographer doesn’t vote on the question himself, the unhappy shade of James Buchanan will feel strongly encouraged by his more than six hundred pages.
...Smith points out that Bush attended no meetings of the National Security Council in the seven months prior to September 11, 2001. In her reports on these gatherings, Condoleezza Rice—Bush’s national-security adviser, workout partner, and something of an alter ego—tended to synthesize disagreements among the participants, leaving Bush with a false feeling of consensus. The President’s own focus was chiefly on matters like stem-cell-research regulation and the sort of educational reforms he had pushed through a Democratic legislature as governor of Texas. On the morning of 9/11, Laura Bush was in Ted Kennedy’s Senate office, having come to testify for the No Child Left Behind Act; the White House she returned to later that day was a wholly different place, a domestic cruise ship that had become an aircraft carrier. In Smith’s view, the military and moral calamities began right then. If he is moderately critical of the President for being “asleep at the switch” in the period before the terrorist attacks—Bush felt no particular alarm when an August 6th C.I.A. briefing indicated that Osama bin Laden was up to at least something—the biographer is simply aghast once Bush seizes the controls. Within three days of September 11th, he says, the President had acquired a “boundless” confidence that put the country on a “permanent war footing” and the White House into a “hothouse climate of the President’s certitude.”
Ewen Callaway in Nature:
Walker and Ritchie were part of a project at the Roslin Institute and spin-off PPL Therapeutics, aiming to make precise genetic changes to farm animals. The scientific team, led by Roslin embryologist Ian Wilmut, reasoned that the best way to make these changes would be to tweak the genome of a cell in culture and then transfer the nucleus to a new cell.
Ritchie: The simple way of describing nuclear transfer is that you take an oocyte, an unfertilized egg, and you remove the chromosomes. You then take a complete cell which contains both male and female chromosomes — all of our cells do, apart from the gonads. You take that cell and fuse it to the enucleated egg, activate it — which starts it growing — and transfer it to a surrogate mother. Hopefully, with your fingers crossed, you will get a cloned offspring, a copy of the animal you've taken that cell from.
Walker: Tedious is absolutely the word. You're sitting, looking down a microscope and you've got both hands on the micromanipulators. It's kind of like the joysticks kids use nowadays on games. If your elbow slipped, you could wipe the whole dish out.
A year earlier, the team had produced twin sheep, named Megan and Morag, by cloning cultured embryonic cells in an effort spearheaded by Roslin developmental biologist Keith Campbell. But on this day in February 1996, problems with the fetal cell lines they had planned to use meant that they would need another nuclear donor.
Walker: My memory is of flapping like a chicken, thinking, 'What are we going to put in?' because the cells we were going to use aren't there. The last thing you want to do is waste those oocytes you've got. We wanted to try something, at least.
Angela Scott, cell-culture technician, PPL: I received word from Karen to say that the cells they were expecting had been contaminated. They asked me if I had any cells that they could use. The cells I had were ovine mammary epithelial cells: we were looking to increase expression of proteins in milk. These were adult cells.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Laila Lalami in The Nation:
“I’m here to give a reading.” I had come to Palestine with a group of poets and writers for a literary festival, with scheduled stops in Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nablus, and Haifa.
The officer glanced at the line behind me. “How many are in your group?”
“I don’t know.”
“How many US passports?”
“I don’t know.”
He raised a suspicious eyebrow. “Everything is ‘I don’t know’ ?”
But I really didn’t know. I had met the other writers at a hotel in Jordan the night before, and it hadn’t occurred to me to count their number while we were on the bus from Amman to the Allenby border crossing, nor to ask how many were American. He swiped my blue passport in the machine, then looked up at me with surprise. “You were born in Morocco?”
Here we go, I thought. It had taken me 20 hours to travel from California to Palestine. I dreaded being deported by Israeli immigration, as had happened to some of my Arab friends. “Yes, that’s right.”
Alison Hawkes in Bay Nature:
Every year, as summer turns to fall, the mouse population on the South Farallon Islands explodes to plague-like densities, numbering 490 mice per acre, among the highest found on any island in the world. The scientists who live and work there describe the assault of the invasive house mouse as a kind of purgatory in the otherwise stunning, windswept smattering of rocky islets and sea stacks 30 miles outside the Golden Gate.
“At night they would be everywhere,” says Peter Pyle, a wildlife biologist who spent more than 20 fall seasons living at the research station on Southeast Farallon Island. “I had them crawling on top of me at night and in my hair. I tried to mouse-proof the house but we’d catch 50 mice in the night.”
Besides making scientific research on the Farallones a harrowing experience, the common house mouse, Mus musculus, has substantially disrupted the island ecosystem — spreading the seeds of invasive plants, eating the endemic Farallon camel cricket as well as a species of daisy called maritime goldfields that provides critical nesting material for birds, and indirectly causing the demise of the island’s breeding population of ashy storm- petrels, a California bird of special concern.
It’s a familiar story on islands all over the world where rodents — prolific feeders and breeders — are a leading cause of extinctions. Massive efforts have been undertaken to kill invasive rodents and usually involve broadcasting rodenticide; other options, like trapping mice or releasing biological controls in the form of snakes or cats, have been ineffective.
Daniel E. Pritchard in Drunken Boat:
In “Six Further Studies,” which lies near the midpoint of Keith Waldrop’sSelected Poems (Omnidawn, 2016), the poet writes of a sundial that “does not, in the modern sense, ‘keep’ time, but celebrates its flight, its recurrence, its brightness.” It’s an apt metaphor for Waldrop’s own poetry, which over the course of half a century has not so much attempted to capture and communicate experience as to examine many modes of experience, the cyclical movement of being, awareness itself, and the experience of being aware of one’s own awareness, which cannot itself be fully explained or revealed, only constantly re-imagined.
Waldrop’s exceptional erudition is evident from the very first pages, not only from the innumerable allusions nested in his verse but also, far more clearly, from the interplay of ideas. The poems have been selected and arranged by the author and his wife, the equally accomplished poet Rosemary Waldrop. Together, the two have directed Burning Deck Press, an essential publisher of experimental poetry, for more than four decades. They approach the daunting editorial task of culling five decades of verse into a single, manageable volume each with a lifetime of experience, and it shows. The poems are grouped by the collection in which they first appeared, but they aren’t sequenced in strict chronological order, as is so often the case. Instead, the groups are arranged in an almost argumentative structure. The sequence builds and diverts, connecting common styles and themes, in a fashion not unlike a playlist.