Nicholas Thompson in Legal Affairs (via Arts and Letters Daily):
MALAYSIA AND INDONESIA COULDN’T BE CALLED TWINS, but they might be called siblings. The adjacent Southeast Asian nations possess similar natural resources and their citizens speak similar languages and follow similar strains of Islam. But Malaysia’s economy is prospering while Indonesia’s is floundering. Malaysia’s stock market is far more vibrant than its neighbor’s, and its average resident is three times richer.
Economists might explain these divergent paths by pointing to the countries’ different responses to the Asian financial crisis of the mid-1990s. Sociologists might find a cultural explanation in the close-knit community of Chinese immigrants who are the most powerful force in Malaysia’s business community. Historians might point out that Malaysia’s struggle for independence was much less bloody than Indonesia’s.
Another explanation lies in the countries’ legal systems, however. Malaysia was a British colony and its legal system is based on the common law: the set of rules, norms, and procedures that has guided the legal system of England and the British Empire for about nine centuries. Indonesia was a Dutch colony and its legal system derives from French civil law, a set of statutes and principles written under Napoleon in the early 19th century and imposed upon the lands he conquered, including the Netherlands.
According to research published by a group of scholars beginning in 1998, countries that come from a French civil law tradition struggle to create effective financial markets, while countries with a British common law tradition succeed far more frequently.
The author of 2001: A Space Odyssey is Sri Lanka’s most famous guest-resident:
British-born science fiction author Arthur C Clarke who has made Sri Lanka his adopted home lost his diving school with the deadly tsunami eerily echoing a plotline from his first book on the island…
“Curiously enough, in my first book on Sri Lanka, I had written about another tidal wave reaching the Galle harbour,” he said.
“That happened in August 1883, following the eruption of Krakatoa in roughly the same part of the Indian Ocean.”
He was referring to the submarine earthquake in the Indian Ocean off Indonesia that triggered the tsunami which devastated coastlines of seven Asian nations, with Sri Lanka one of the hardest hit.
More here, and also see this.
Jed Perl in The New Republic:
There is a heart-stopping intimacy about Duccio’s Madonna and Child, a new acquisition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The little panel, less than a foot high, dates from around 1300, when a few Italian artists were beginning to take an interest in the visual possibilities of raw, unfettered emotion–emotion that was not ritualized or abstracted. Duccio gives the interactions of a mother and a child a pungency and a delicacy that’s startlingly–disarmingly–familiar.
The massive earthquake that devastated parts of Asia permanently moved the tectonic plates beneath the Indian Ocean as much as 98 feet (30 meters), slightly shifting islands near Sumatra an unknown distance, U.S. scientists said on Tuesday.
A tsunami spawned by the 9.0-magnitude quake off the northern tip of Sumatra killed an estimated 60,000 on Sunday in Indonesia, Thailand, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and East Africa.
More here. It is recommended that one donate cash rather than supplies:
• American Red Cross
Contributions should be sent to International Response Fund, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. For more information about donating, call 800-435-7669.
For information about friends or relatives who may have been affected, call 866-438-4636.
I spent an evening in Susan Sontag’s apartment once. She wasn’t there; I was visiting a friend who was housesitting for her. As might be expected, the apartment was filled, wall-to-wall, with books. I looked through a few, and noticed that she had the interesting habit of cutting out reviews of a book from several sources, then folding and placing them in the book itself before shelving it. I tried to emulate her habit, with very little success. She was inimitable in many ways.
Susan Sontag, the author, activist and self-defined “zealot of seriousness” whose voracious mind and provocative prose made her a leading intellectual of the past half century, died Tuesday. She was 71.
Sontag died Tuesday morning, officials at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center said. She had been treated for breast cancer in the 1970s.
Sontag called herself a “besotted aesthete,” an “obsessed moralist” and a “zealot of seriousness.”
She wrote a best-selling historical novel, “The Volcano Lover,” and in 2000 won the National Book Award for the historical novel “In America.” But her greatest literary impact was as an essayist.
The 1964 piece “Notes on Camp,” which established her as a major new writer, popularized the “so bad it’s good” attitude toward popular culture, applicable to everything from “Swan Lake” to feather boas. In “Against Interpretation,” this most analytical of writers worried that critical analysis interfered with art’s “incantatory, magical” power.
More here, and “Notes on Camp” can be read here.
Gary Stix in Scientific American:
The National Security Agency or one of the Federal Reserve banks can now buy a quantum-cryptographic system from two small companies–and more products are on the way. This new method of encryption represents the first major commercial implementation for what has become known as quantum information science, which blends quantum mechanics and information theory. The ultimate technology to emerge from the field may be a quantum computer so powerful that the only way to protect against its prodigious code-breaking capability may be to deploy quantum-cryptographic techniques.
Full article here.
The erudite classicist, Daniel Mendelsohn, examines Oliver Stone’s Alexander in the New York Review of Books:
…at the end of the three-hour-long movie, four of the twelve people in the audience had left.
This was, obviously, not the reaction Stone was hoping for —nor indeed the reaction that Alexander’s life and career deserve, whether you think he was an enlightened Greek gentleman carrying the torch of Hellenism to the East or a savage, paranoid tyrant who left rivers of blood in his wake. The controversy about his personality derives from the fact that our sources are famously inadequate, all eyewitness accounts having perished: what remains is, at best, secondhand (one history, for instance, is based largely on the now-lost memoirs of Alexander’s general and alleged half-brother, Ptolemy, who went on to become the founder of the Egyptian dynasty that ended with Cleopatra), and at worst highly unreliable. A rather florid account by the first-century-AD Roman rhetorician Quintus Curtius often reflects its author’s professional interests —his Alexander is given to extended bursts of eloquence even when gravely wounded—far more than it does the known facts. But Alexander’s story, even stripped of romanticizing or rhetorical elaboration, still has the power to amaze.
Continue reading here.
Malcolm Gladwell reviews Diamond’s book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, in The New Yorker:
In “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” Diamond looked at environmental and structural factors to explain why Western societies came to dominate the world. In “Collapse,” he continues that approach, only this time he looks at history’s losers—like the Easter Islanders, the Anasazi of the American Southwest, the Mayans, and the modern-day Rwandans. We live in an era preoccupied with the way that ideology and culture and politics and economics help shape the course of history. But Diamond isn’t particularly interested in any of those things—or, at least, he’s interested in them only insofar as they bear on what to him is the far more important question, which is a society’s relationship to its climate and geography and resources and neighbors. “Collapse” is a book about the most prosaic elements of the earth’s ecosystem—soil, trees, and water—because societies fail, in Diamond’s view, when they mismanage those environmental factors.
Read more here.
Kent Sepkowitz, M.D., in the New York Times:
As a profession, I think we do tend to run on the dry side, though till recently the reason had eluded me. Then, last month, my wife and I bumped into an acquaintance of hers while walking along the street. The person, unbeknownst to my wife, is a patient of mine, someone whom I treat for a chronic infection. After the patient and I shared a moment of mutual panic, we three chatted amicably and moved on.
Except, that evening, my wife kept asking me why I was being so quiet and, well, boring. And I suddenly saw the problem: doctors are waterlogged with secrets, hundreds of them, thousands of them.
Each day brings a new batch: patients’ admissions about drug use or sexual indiscretion, a hidden family, a long-held dream, an ancient heartache, undisclosed H.I.V. infection.
John Schwartz in the New York Times:
For vivid reporting from the enormous zone of tsunami disaster, it was hard to beat the blogs.
The so-called blogosphere, with its personal journals published on the Web, has become best known as a forum for bruising political discussion and media criticism. But the technology proved a ready medium for instant news of the tsunami disaster and for collaboration over ways to help.
There was the simple photo of a startlingly blue boat smashed against a beachside palm in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, at www.thiswayplease .com/extra.html. “Every house and fishing boat has been smashed, the entire length of the east coast,” wrote Fred Robart, who posted the photo. “People who know and respect the sea well now talk of it in shock, dismay and fear.”
At sumankumar.com, Nanda Kishore, a contributor, offered photos and commentary from Chennai, India: “Some drenched till their hips, some till their chest, some all over and some of them were so drenched that they had already stopped breathing. Men and women, old and young, all were running for lives. It was a horrible site to see. The relief workers could not attend to all the dead and all the alive. The dead were dropped and the half alive were carried to safety.”
In early November of this year, as my wife and I took a dawn swim at one of the loveliest beaches in the world, Unawatuna (rated the 7th most beautiful beach on Earth by Conde Nast this year!), near Galle, in Sri Lanka, we could hardly have imagined that many of the lovely people we met there would be dead less than two months later; the beautiful old hotel we stayed in, as well as Auntie Moharram’s lovely seaside restaurant (where she showed off the new bar she was planning to put in) swept away. A friend of one of my closest friends, Ramani, has had her parents, husband, and both children killed. Five percent of the population of Sri Lanka is affected (homeless, injured, dead). As it happens, my wife and I had Christmas dinner two nights ago with a high-ranking offical of the Sri Lankan government, with whom we fondly shared many memories of our time there. And then the next morning, this wave of incomprehensible destruction. And as we are all too aware, it is not just Sri Lanka. We mourn also the thousands of victims in India, Thailand, and Indonesia. The New York Times has a list of ways to help here. I will update this post as I get more information on how to help most effectively.
The first picture shows me and Auntie Moharram in her restaurant, the second is where we were staying; both no longer exist. The third is a more recent picture of the area.
The human cost of the recent earthquake and tsunami is difficult to fathom.
For some, it probably brings to mind the terrible Lisbon earthquake that so shook the confidence of European Humanism at the time. One wonders if there will be similar repercussions on human thought from this event.
From the scientific side, there is some good info and useful links here and here.
This about my teacher and friend, Sidney Morgenbesser, by James Ryerson in the New York Times:
To Bertrand Russell, he was one of the cleverest young men in the United States. To Noam Chomsky, he was one of the most profound minds of the modern era. But to anyone who visits a library to gauge his influence, Sidney Morgenbesser, who taught philosophy at Columbia University from 1955 to 1999, is practically a nonentity: the author of a small stack of seldom-cited papers, the editor of a few anthologies. Not since Socrates has a philosopher gained such a reputation for greatness while publishing so little of note. Certainly no one else shaped so many seminal thinkers while leaving behind almost nothing in the way of major doctrines or ideas. ”Moses published one book,” Morgenbesser pleaded in his own defense. ”What did he do after that?”
”Let me see if I understand your thesis,” he once said to the psychologist B. F. Skinner. ”You think we shouldn’t anthropomorphize people?”
More here. And see earlier posts at 3QD here and here.
Jared Diamond in Seed Magazine:
What became of Norse Greenland and the other societies that have been famous victims of full-fledged collapse? How could even one of these societies, once so mighty, end up collapsing? Lurking behind this mystery is a nagging thought: Might such a fate eventually befall our own wealthy societies? Will tourists someday stare mystified at the rusting hulks of New York City’s skyscrapers, much as we stare today at the jungle-overgrown ruins of Mayan cities?
It has long been suspected that many of those mysterious abandonments were at least partly triggered by ecological problems: people inadvertently destroying the environmental resources on which their societies depended. In recent decades, scientists have confirmed this suspicion of unintended ecological suicide–ecocide.
From Scientific American:
When word got around that Hans Moravec had founded an honest-to-goodness robotics firm, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Wasn’t this the same Carnegie Mellon University scientist who had predicted that we would someday routinely download our minds into robots? And that exponential advances in computing power would cause the human race to invent itself out of a job as robots supplanted us as the planet’s most adept and adaptive species? Somehow, creating a company seemed … uncharacteristically pragmatic.
But Moravec doesn’t see it that way. He says he didn’t start Seegrid Corporation because he was backing off his predictions. He founded the company because he was planning to help fulfill them.
Tom Wolfe defends himself after winning the “Bad Sex” award. (See my earlier post here.) Dan Glaister writes in The Guardian:
It has often been said that Americans have no sense of irony. Now the American author Tom Wolfe has turned the tables, saying that the British literary judges who awarded him a prize for the year’s worst sex in fiction simply did not understand that his description of a first encounter was meant to be ironic.
“There’s an old saying – ‘You can lead a whore to culture but you can’t make her sing’,” he told Reuters. “In this case, you can lead an English literary wannabe to irony but you can’t make him get it.”
Wolfe, 74, best-known for his novel Bonfire of the Vanities and for his eccentric dress – he normally wears a white suit and carries a cane – was awarded the Bad Sex award by the Literary Review last month for his novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, the story of a naïve, country girl who attends an Ivy League college. To research the novel, Wolfe, a former journalist, spent a lot of time interviewing students and observing campus life.