company of moths


Writers are part of that even larger company of readers, and in the second poem of the collection Palmer suggests that he is at that point in his career where he can address even his own poetry as if it were another’s (though this has probably been true since the beginning), reusing the phrase “Dearest Reader” (“Dearest Reader from the future-past”), which both appeared in and served as title for the first poem of First Figure (1984). While there is nothing new under the sun or after Sun (1988), there is still this projected reader to address and somehow please by variations. In a poem called “Night Gardening” late in the book, the poet makes a bad-faith promise to this reader both to be new and to be no longer the same:

A reader writes to complain
that there are no cellphones in my poems,
so here is one,

its body chrome,
its face a metallic blue.
It’s neither transmitting nor receiving.

A woman from Duluth requests
that I cease sending secret messages
to her in my poems.

This I will do forthwith.

And the blackbird at evening.

She says, you have misrepresented the
there where it turns

by the holm oak and the bed
of winter hyacinths.

This I will correct.

more from Geoffrey O’Brien on Michael Palmer at the Boston Review here.



Thomas Hirschhorn’s latest exhibition is a walk-in manifesto, a book of the dead about the psychic place where mysticism, modernism, mayhem, and terror collapse into one another. Many will find this show revolting. Not because it’s bad or resembles a parade float from perdition, or weakens on repeated visits, but because of Hirschhorn’s use of violent imagery and his supposed aestheticizing of it. One critic has already lambasted the show as an “adolescent crapfest” that evinces “a puerile addiction to the macabre and the scatological.” This reaction is too easy. It’s also fishy, considering that horrific images–from lynching pictures to gangland murders–have been seen and produced in America for more than a century.

more form the Village Voice here.

Baby rhino makes debut at California zoo


Rhino Lali, which means “darling girl” in Hindi, is one of about 2,550 Indian rhinos in the world, 150 of which are in parks and zoos. The species is considered critically endangered because of human encroachment on its native habitats in India and Nepal and because the rhinos have been poached for their horns, which some believe have medicinal value.

Indian rhinos, which have one horn and large folds of skin that look like armor, are also slow to multiply because of their long, 16-month gestation period. Lali, who was born Dec. 3, weighs 180 pounds but could grow to about 5,000 pounds, Galindo said. Lali is the 16th Indian rhino at the San Diego park.

More here.

Virus Used to Track Elusive Cougars

From The National Geographic:Cougar

To follow the movements of cougars in remote areas of western North America, a team of biologists has found a different kind of tracking device: a virus. Borrowing a method used to study human demographics, biologist Roman Biek and his colleagues took samples from 352 cougars in the Rocky Mountain region of the United States and Canada.

The researchers analyzed the samples for strains of feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), which is common in big cats and does not appear to affect them. The analysis identified eight major FIV strains carried by cougars in Montana, Wyoming, British Columbia, and Alberta. These unique strains allowed the scientists to track where the cats had been and at approximately what time. One strain spread over a distance of 620 miles (1,000 kilometers), while others remained relatively isolated. Results of the team’s research appear in the current issue of the journal Science.

More here.

A hit man repents

“John Perkins didn’t wield a gun – he wasn’t even a paid-up CIA agent – but he did have nefarious ways of making countries around the world bend to the will of the US. Until, he tells Gary Younge, his conscience got the better of him and he looked for other ways to change the world.”

From The Guardian:

On November 24 2002, Lucio Gutierrez swept to power in Ecuador’s presidential election. It was a momentous victory for the populist, leftwing leader who had pledged support for the poor indigenous Indians in a country where 60% live in poverty.

The way John Perkins tells it, within a week Gutierrez had a visitor. “An economic hit man walked into his office and said, ‘Congratulations, Mr President, I just want you to know that over here I’ve got a couple of hundred million dollars for you and your family if you cooperate with your Uncle Sam and our oil companies. And over here I have a man with a gun in his hand and a bullet with your name on it.'”

Within two months of his election, Gutierrez had apparently made his choice. Implementing a swingeing austerity programme that attacked the very livelihoods of the people who elected him, he raised fuel prices by more than 35% and froze public sector workers’ salaries for a year.

More here.

The next generation of nuclear power?

“South Africa and China are moving forward with nuclear energy based on what scientists believe is a safer design.”

Charlie Schmidt in Environmental Science & Technology:

Cs_nuclearpowerClimate change is just one of the problems linked to carbon-based fuels that have sparked a renewed interest in nuclear power. While stakeholders debate the merits of this approach, the nuclear industry and its supporters are exploring next-generation reactors that might be safer and less expensive than the ones used today. The pebble bed modular reactor (PBMR), which is based on a decades-old German design, ranks among the top contenders.

PBMR’s supporters describe the technology as inherently safe and appropriate not just for rich, industrialized countries but also for developing nations. “The beauty of the pebble bed reactor is that you don’t need an MIT Ph.D. to run it,” muses Andrew Kadak, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s department of nuclear science and engineering. “That means you can use it even in countries that don’t have the degree of history or background in nuclear technology that we have in Western Europe or here.”

PBMR proponents point to another advantage: Each reactor module generates about 170 megawatts of electrical power (MWe), far less than the 1000 MWe produced by a standard light water reactor. PBMR can thus be scaled according to need…

More here.

Christopher Marlowe: Poet and Spy

Michael Feingold reviews the book by Park Honan, in the New York Times:

Fein450People who complain that we have so few biographical facts about Shakespeare, and use that lack of data as an excuse for indulging in fantasies about who “really” wrote his plays, should ponder the case of Christopher Marlowe (at one time a favorite candidate for that ghostwriter role), about whom even less is known. He flashed across the Tudor literary scene for a stunningly brief period, raising the standards of poetic achievement and transforming Elizabethan theater. Few pre-Shakespearean English plays still hold the stage; they include at least four of Marlowe’s. In recent decades, “Tamburlaine the Great” (its two parts usually condensed into one evening), “The Jew of Malta,” “Doctor Faustus” and “Edward II” have had regular revivals.

This is all the more remarkable because Marlowe (1564-93), unlike Shakespeare, is not the writer to comfort an audience with a jolly evening in the theater. A contrarian of epic stature, he’s most often celebrated as an embodiment of rebellion in every form: a cynic about all received ideas of society and religion; almost certainly a homosexual; most likely a government spy; probably an atheist; possibly even a dabbler in the occult; and, to round off the list, a glorifier of violence who died in a tavern brawl.

More here.

The Hamas Victory, a View from Gaza

Journalist and blogger, Laila el-Haddad, on the Palestinian elections and Hamas’ victory in The Gaurdian’s news blog.

The latest events can only be described as a political earthquake, both locally and regionally. Not only are these the first truly democratic and hotly contested elections in the Arab Middle East, but also the first time an Islamic party has come to power through the system and the popular will of the people.

To say we are entering a new stage is an understatement. Everyone knew Hamas would do well in these elections and that they would constitute a significant challenge to the ruling party. But this well?

Voters in Gaza were shocked.

“I cast a sympathy vote for Hamas but truthfully I did not expect them to win at all. It was a surprise to everyone; no one expected this to happen,” a young college student said.

Even Hamas members and supporters were surprised.

“We thought we’d get at most 50% of the votes,” one Hamas insider told me.

“We didn’t expect the security forces and the upper classes to vote for us, but it seems they might have tipped the balance. I guess we’re more popular than we realised.”

How the new government will take shape and whether western positions towards it will evolve have all yet to answered. It’s likely that Hamas will form a kind of national unity government, or a coalition of some sort, with a mixture of other parties. The burden of the sudden and overwhelming responsibility for running a state and answering to their constituents’ long and varied list of demands may be more than they can deal with alone at the moment.

The Economics of a Ph.D.

Gary North on the economics of a Ph.D. (via Political Theory Daily Review).

Ph.D. students are a lot like gamblers. They expect to beat the odds. The gambler personifies odds-beating as Lady Luck. The Ph.D. student instead looks within. “I am really smart. These other people in the program aren’t as smart as I am. I will get that tenure-track job. I will make the cut. I will be a beneficiary of the system.”

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. Also, if ego were marketable, all Ph.D. graduates would get tenure…

At $20,000 or more per year in tuition and living expenses, plus the $35,000+ not earned in the job market, trying to earn a Ph.D. is a losing proposition.

In some departments, the years invested are horrendous. Breneman’s dissertation went into the grim details, department by department. Anyone seeking a degree in philosophy was almost doomed to failure, yet the Ph.D. degree took on average over a decade beyond the B.A. to earn. There were almost no college teaching jobs when they finished. That was before the glut.

Earning a Ph.D. may pay off if your goal is status, although I don’t understand why anyone regards a Ph.D. as a status symbol that is worth giving up five to ten years of your earning power in your youth, when every dime saved can multiply because of compounding. If the public understood the economics of earning a Ph.D., people would think “naïve economic loser” whenever they hear “Ph.D.”

A word to the wise is sufficient.

Revisiting the Cold War

In The Guardian, James Buchan reviews two new books on the Cold War, The Cold War by John Lewis Gaddis and The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times by Odd Arne Westad.

Gaddis is glad the cold war was fought as it was fought and won by the side that won it. Like some primary-school teacher, he hands out prizes for effort to pretty well everyone: Eisenhower, Nixon, Walesa, Reagan, Thatcher, Pope John Paul, Deng Xiaoping and, above all, Gorbachev, who managed to defuse the whole contraption without it blowing up in his face.

Odd Arne Westad, the Norwegian-born scholar who heads the Cold War Studies Centre at the London School of Economics and has hitherto concentrated on China and the Far East, is less sanguine. He believes that the cold war, far from being a conflict necessary to clear the ideological air, was a continuation, under new management, of the old European colonial enterprise. Westad, too, gives out prizes but only to the tragic failures: Lumumba, Cabral, Guevara, Gorbachev.

Each approach has its charm. It is pleasant, on reading Gaddis, to see the public events of one’s childhood or youth gathered into a lucid and elegant narrative and, as it were, put away out of sight. Westad offers a philosophy of history that, though not wholly free of leftese, better accommodates 9/11 and the US occupation of Iraq. There is no wasteful overlap. Westad ignores Berlin 1948, Gaddis has nothing on Katanga 1964.

Why do men have nipples?

From The London Times:Nipples_1

Because we are mammals and blessed with body hair, three middle ear bones, and the ability to nourish our young with milk that females produce in modified sweat glands called mammary glands. Although females have the mammary glands, we all start out in a similar way in the embryo. During development, the embryo follows a female template until about six weeks, when the male sex chromosome kicks in for a male embryo. The embryo then begins to develop all of its male characteristics. Men are thus left with nipples and also with some breast tissue.

Men can even get breast cancer and there are some medical conditions that can cause male breasts to enlarge. Abnormal enlargement of the breasts in a male is known a gynecomastia. Gynecomastia can be caused by using anabolic steroids. So, if your favourite athlete suddenly develops man boobs and starts winning gold medals, you know the reason why.

More here.

Mars Attack!

From Nature:Mars

Scientists have had a smashing idea that could help them explore beneath Mars’s dusty surface. Slamming a hefty chunk of copper into the planet should excavate enough material to reveal water ice or carbon-based chemicals lurking underground, according to a proposed NASA mission. The idea follows the success of Deep Impact, a mission that fired a copper ‘impactor’ into comet Tempel 1, while its delivery craft recorded the whole show with an array of sensors. The new mission takes exactly the same approach to Mars. Called THOR (Tracing Habitability, Organics and Resources), it would be the second of NASA’s Mars scout missions, low-cost probes that are designed and built in just a few years. The first scout, Phoenix, is due to launch in August 2007.

THOR has been proposed by Phil Christensen, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University, Tempe, and David Spencer of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Christensen estimates that the impactor should be about 100 kilograms or so, and hit the planet at more than 15,000 kilometres per hour. It is hoped this would make a crater roughly 50 metres in diameter, and up to 25 metres deep. Meanwhile, its mother ship would look for ice, minerals and organic compounds thrown out by the crash.

More here.

Why Not Build a Bomb?

James Traub in the New York Times Magazine:

29wwlnThe problem with the N.P.T. is that it legitimates the wrong thing – not just the peaceful use of nuclear energy but the “inalienable right” to produce your own nuclear fuel. The solution, then, is to eliminate, or at least circumscribe, that right. And this is what Washington has spurned. Last year, Kofi Annan’s “high-level panel” on U.N. reform endorsed the Proliferation Security Initiative and suggested that more nations join. It also proposed that the International Atomic Energy Agency would act as “guarantor for the supply of fissile material to civilian nuclear users.” Nations would no longer be able to argue, as Iran now does, that they need to produce their own enriched fuel in order to ensure a steady supply for peaceful purposes. The proposal wouldn’t have stopped the rogue states, but it would have delegitimated them.

The Bush administration apparently accepts the idea; it just doesn’t want to see an international agency empowered to execute it. The White House has proposed that the countries that currently produce nuclear fuel – led, presumably, by the U.S. – band together to guarantee a steady and low-cost supply of uranium enriched for civilian purposes. Neither the Iranians nor other recipients are likely to accept such an arrangement. But maybe there’s something halfway, or a quarter of the way, between the two systems. So far, however, the administration won’t even try.

More here.

Diary – Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins in The New Statesman (via One Good Move):

RicharddawkinsIt’s been a week of handling fallout from The Root of All Evil?, my TV documentary about religion. Of course religion is not the root of all evil. No single thing is the root of all anything. The question mark was supposed to turn an indefensible title into a debatable topic. Gratifyingly, title notwithstanding, the e-mails, letters and telephone calls to Channel 4 have been running two to one in favour. The pros mostly praise Channel 4’s courage in finally saying what many people have been thinking for years. The antis complain that I failed to do justice to “both sides”, and that I interviewed fundamentalist extremists rather than the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The balance is (over-) provided by Thought for the Day, Prayer for the Day, Songs of Praise, the Daily Service, Faith to Faith, Choral Evensong, Sunday Half-Hour, The Story of God, Belief, Beyond Belief, and others. Mine was a brief opportunity to put the other side. As for my “extremist” interviews, would that Pastor Ted Haggard were extreme. In neo-con America, he is mainstream. President of the 30 million-strong National Association of Evangelicals, he has a weekly phone conversation with Bush. My other “extremist”, Yousef al-Khattab (Joseph Cohen) of Jerusalem, was supposed, as an American Jew turned Israeli settler turned Muslim, to see both sides and give a balanced perspective. Wrong!

More here.

A Lot of Nerve

Susan Lanzoni reviews Nerve Endings: The Discovery of the Synapse by Richard Rapport, and The War of the Soups and the Sparks: The Discovery of Neurotransmitters and the Dispute over How Nerves Communicate by Eliot Valenstein, in American Scientist:

Fullimage_2005122152023_646Scientific style and personality loom large in Nerve Endings and The War of the Soups and the Sparks, two new books documenting discoveries about the neuron’s anatomical structure and its modes of transmitting nerve impulses. These volumes tell a story that begins in the late 19th century and is still being written today. Both accounts meld individual biographies of scientists with descriptions of experimental procedures and raise questions about the ways in which styles of research, creativity and intuition have contributed to the practice of experimental neuroscience.

In Nerve Endings, Richard Rapport, a neurosurgeon by training, focuses on the life and work of the Spanish artist and scientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal and to a lesser extent on Cajal’s Italian rival, Camillo Golgi. Cajal’s late 19th-century conception of a discrete nervous cell, separated from other cells by a gap (later called a synapse), came to replace the older reticular theory, which postulated that nervous tissue comprised a seamless, continuous web—an unbroken network, or reticulum—through which nerve impulses could travel in any direction. Golgi’s adamant advocacy of the reticular theory was the source of his conflict with Cajal.

More here.

Scientists discover world’s smallest fish

Bradley S. Klapper of the AP, in

Fish_1Mature females of the Paedocypris progenetica, a member of the carp family, only grow to 7.9 millimeters (0.31 inches) and the males have enlarged pelvic fins and exceptionally large muscles that may be used to grasp the females during copulation, researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, published Wednesday by the Royal Society in London.

“This is one of the strangest fish that I’ve seen in my whole career,’ said Ralf Britz, zoologist at the Natural History Museum in London, who helped analyze the fish’s skeleton. “It’s tiny, it lives in acid and it has these bizarre grasping fins. I hope we’ll have time to find out more about them before their habitat disappears completely.”

The previous record for small size, according to the Natural History Museum in London, was held by an 8-millimeter species of Indo-Pacific goby.

More here.

Men Are From Vengeance

William Saletan in Slate:

Do men enjoy punishing evildoers? A study published last week in Nature suggests we do. Scientists planted actors among volunteers playing a game. Some actors played fairly; others played unfairly. Then the researchers delivered electric shocks to the actors while monitoring the brains of volunteers who looked on.

Men, like women, showed “empathy-related activation in pain-related brain areas” when shocks were administered to actors who had played fairly. But when shocks were delivered instead to actors who had played unfairly, empathetic responses in men, unlike women, “were significantly reduced.” In fact, men showed “increased activation in reward-related areas, correlated with an expressed desire for revenge.” Apparently, judgment controls men’s feelings more than women’s. It determines who gets our empathy and who gets our schadenfreude—the joy of watching the suffering of someone you dislike.

The study’s authors say we need more evidence before asserting differences in empathy and schadenfreude between men and women. But we already have such evidence, in the form of polls about crime, war, and torture. All you have to do is look for gender differences, or lack thereof, on questions that touch various dimensions of the psychology of punishment.

More here.

Cronyism and Kickbacks

Ed Harriman on the economics of reconstruction in Iraq, in the London Review of Books:

4_6_05_usaid2_001The sums are simple. Reconstruction will cost considerably more than originally imagined. The American administration has committed most of its funds. The Iraqis have neither the money nor the expertise to run the projects that have been completed. There’s little transparency or accountability. To judge from the audits published so far, at least $12 billion spent by the Americans and by the Iraqi interim and transitional governments has not been properly accounted for. Almost three years after the fall of Saddam, the GAO reports, ‘it is unclear how US efforts are helping the Iraqi people obtain clean water, reliable electricity or competent healthcare.’ The Bush administration has decided to provide no more reconstruction funds.

The auditors who have discovered Iraq’s deepening financial crisis have been ignored. They asked the US ambassador and the US military commander in Iraq for their views. Neither replied. The US State Department was to submit estimates of how much it will cost to complete all American-funded projects in Iraq to the White House Office of Management and Budget. The Office won’t discuss the matter. Earlier this month, Brigadier-General William McCoy told reporters: ‘The US never intended to completely rebuild Iraq . . . This was just supposed to be a jump-start.’

More here.