figuring out bob dylan


Because for all his modernity, for all his cubist narratives and symbolist imagery, Mr. Dylan has never had any time for the 20th century’s cult of the id. Whatever else he may be doing as an artist, he’s adamant that he isn’t expressing himself. “The songs are the star of the show,” the Los Angeles Times’ Robert Hilburn quotes him as saying, “not me.” Yes, but he wrote them didn’t he? Not necessarily. “It’s like a ghost is writing a song,” he said of what is probably still his most iconic work, “Like a Rolling Stone.” “It gives you the song and it goes away. You don’t know what it means.” Only at the level of craftsmanship is he willing to discuss writing: “I’m not thinking about what I want to say,” he told Mr. Hilburn. “I’m just thinking ‘Is this OK for the meter?’“ Little wonder Mr. Dylan admits to loving “Don’t Fence Me In” and what he calls Cole Porter’s “fearless” rhyming.

more from The NY Observer here.

Mai-Thu Perret


THAT THE ART WORLD has something of a schoolgirl’s crush on utopia is yesterday’s news—but the infatuation shows no sign of waning. Aesthetics, we keep being told, are either complicit or relational, never somewhere in-between, a formulation that makes reconciling contemporary art and its oft-presumed preoccupation with social change very hard work. For Mai-Thu Perret, a Swiss-born artist (she now divides her time between New York and Geneva) who wants to distance herself from ideological absolutes without falling prey to empty relativism, this “gap between what art can do and what we wish it would do” is what “makes it interesting.” Utopia, for her, is best imagined when it intersects with the real, which is to say, when it fails.

more from Artforum here.

A Clip From the Chomsky-Foucault Debate

As the Chomsky wars continue over at Crooked Timber and Delong’s blog, Dan Balis sends me this clip. In the early 1970s Fons Elders hosted a series of debates on issues in philosophy for Dutch television. The most famous of these debates was one between Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky. (Rumor has it that Foucault was paid in marijuana.) The transcripts of all the debates are available (the others are interesting too, but it’s been a decade since I read the book) in Fons Elders ed., Reflexive Water: The Basic Concerns of Mankind (1974). Foucault vs. Chomsky on Justice and Power.

UPDATE: The second part of the clip can be found here. (Or click on the images.)

Rencontres d’Arles 2006 Photo Festival: Politics and Society

From Lens Culture:

Politics The International photography festival in Arles, France, now in its 37th year, is an abundant visual and social celebration. It brings together hundreds of photographers, publishers, curators and galleries, and thousands of photography lovers for a summer-long festival. The first week, July 4-10, is the most intense, with the opening of 67 exhibits, special live programs, projection screenings, book-signings, and award ceremonies. Masterclass workshops are conducted all summer long, and the exhibitions are open throughout the summer until September 17.

This year, the guest curator is Raymond Depardon — renowned photographer, film-maker, and writer. He has helped to craft an international festival from a decidedly French perspective. His selections include (in rather loosely defined categories): influences, companions and fellow travelers, and emerging talents intent on photographing politics and society. Several other exhibitions are curated by others, and add very contemporary points of view to the mix.

More here.

Coral Face Death From Above

From Science:Coral_1

As worried as many researchers are about carbon dioxide’s effects on global climate change, a cadre of oceanographers and marine biologists are most concerned about what the greenhouse gas is doing to the oceans. Since the industrial revolution, the oceans have absorbed 142 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, enough to increase the water’s acidity by 30% and to threaten coral and other organisms that depend on dissolved carbonate to build their skeletons, according to a U.S. government report released today.

Analyses of ice cores have shown that the ocean’s chemistry has been stable for about 650,000 years. But in the past 150 years, excess carbon dioxide dissolving into the water has caused the average ocean pH to drop from 8.2 to 7.9. This change has decreased the concentration of carbonate ions, which corals, planktonic marine snails called pteropods, and other marine organisms need to make calcium carbonate shells and skeletons. Laboratory studies have shown that the fewer the number of carbonate ions, the slower these organisms grow. And if the pH gets too low, these shells may start to dissolve, says Joan Kleypas a marine ecologist from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, and a co-author of the report. Eventually, reefs could shrink, and pteropods–a key food for juvenile salmon and other fish–could disappear, she warns.

More here.

the peer production era has arrived

Chris Anderson in Wired:

First, steam power replaced muscle power and launched the Industrial Revolution. Then Henry Ford’s assembly line, along with advances in steel and plastic, ushered in the Second Industrial Revolution. Next came silicon and the Information Age. Each era was fueled by a faster, cheaper, and more widely available method of production that kicked efficiency to the next level and transformed the world.

Crowd_2Now we have armies of amateurs, happy to work for free. Call it the Age of Peer Production. From to MySpace to craigslist, the most successful Web companies are building business models based on user-generated content. This is perhaps the most dramatic manifestation of the second-generation Web. The tools of production, from blogging to video-sharing, are fully democratized, and the engine for growth is the spare cycles, talent, and capacity of regular folks, who are, in aggregate, creating a distributed labor force of unprecedented scale.

The evidence is all around us. There are standard-bearers like Wikipedia and Yahoo’s Flickr photo-sharing service. There are entire realms that Second Life users are creating from scratch. And there is the enormous audience that YouTube has conjured with its idiotproof video-sharing technology.

More here.

The Return of Nuclear Fusion?

The world’s biggest ever nuclear fusion reactor is about to begin construction in the hills of Provence. But with persistent doubts over fusion’s capacity to generate energy efficiently and a raft of engineering conundrums, is this really money well spent?”

Fred Pearce in Prospect Magazine:

They call themselves “fusion gypsies”—scientists who have travelled the world, moving from one nuclear reactor to the next, living the dream that some day, somewhere, they can re-create the reactions that take place in the heart of the stars to generate huge amounts of cheap, clean electricity for the world.

Their goal is nuclear power, but not as we know it. This is fusion and not fission. Fission involves mining, processing and irradiating vast amounts of uranium, and leaving behind an even larger legacy of radioactive waste with half-lives stretching into the next ice age. Whereas, say the fusion gypsies, a small vanload of fuel supplied to a fusion power station could supply the electricity needs of a city of 1m people for a year, and leave behind only paltry amounts of radioactive waste that will decay to nothing within a century.

More here.

bioethics now

Consider what are sometimes cited as seminal events in the early history of bioethics: the Doctors’ Trial at Nuremberg, the Shana Alexander article in Life magazine ‘Who Should Decide?’ or the publication of the first edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves [by the Boston Women’s Health Collective]. The first of these in particular is a historical contingency: we are lucky that the Allies won the war and the trial occurred, but it could have been otherwise. Bioethics has roots in the sort of historical contingencies that philosophy abhors. The other two are examples of the type of publications that even today keep the audience for bioethics considerably more egalitarian than just academics. Just as the public declared that ‘Ethics Committees’ should not play God and decide who lives and who dies, and women proclaimed that male gynecologists should not be allowed to make decisions for women concerning their own bodies, bioethics became a field of its own when it was removed from the academic realm of philosophers and joined the practical world of medicine, law, and public policy.

more from Philosophy Now here.

Richard serra interview


Rail: One of the most challenging aspects about your work is its independence of the pictorial concern or pictorial language. Particularly in your site-specific works, they reveal no single, immediately perceivable image. They are anti-optical while insisting upon the fundamental adherences to structural process in relation to the effective treatment of materials, phenomenological reception through the bodily senses, which has to do with apperceptions of weight and mass, scale and plane, and most importantly site and context where spatial response is matter-of-fact.

Serra: There are certain conditions that are a given and that you can rely on. In sculpture gravity is undeniable. Sculptural form must necessarily confront gravity. I am interested in process and matter, in construction, in how to open up the field. The problem for me is to address within a work circulation or movement that is outside of all representation; that is to make movement itself the subject which generates or constitutes the work. My development has been up to this point fairly logical and sequential. But it’s crucial for me to pay attention to how the work develops and maintain a critical and fresh dialogue with what it is that I’m doing and what I’m intending to do, and then try, if I can, to make the most radical breaks each time out, however, it doesn’t always happen that way.

more from The Brooklyn Rail here.

bissell destroys robert kaplan


3quarks pal Tom Bissell tears Robert Kaplan a new one at the Virginia quarterly Review.

Kaplan is worse than a bad writer or thinker. He is a dangerous writer made ever more dangerous by the fact that he is taken seriously. Even his most hostile reviews have treated him as though his arguments are still within the pale. His worldview is, in many ways, that of the current administration, and shared by many Americans. These are people for whom the wider world means only acrimony to be dismissed and obstacles to be knocked over. People who care not for “exquisite subtleties” when it comes to matters of force and occupation. People who do not think in human terms, except insofar as those terms reflect their own beliefs, which are supremely correct. People, in short, who had no use for people, except as cannon fodder—lives whose passing they dutifully mourn on their side and gleefully celebrate on the others. “Kaplan is America’s Kipling,” reads one of Imperial Grunts’s blurbs. This is to slander Kipling, who nevertheless did write one Kaplanesque sentence: “All the people like us are We, / And every one else is They.”

more here.

Cult of impersonality

From The Boston Globe:Beckett_2

FAME IS FLEETING, but to Samuel Beckett’s taste, not fleeting enough. If most writers feel themselves condemned to obscurity, for Beckett the opposite was the case. He was, in his own words, “damned to fame.” Indeed, the durability of his fame is on striking display these days. In celebration of Beckett’s centennial, his plays are being produced in hundreds of theaters around the world; conferences and colloquia are taking place everywhere from Dublin to Oxford, Paris to Tokyo, Ankara to Odense; and a splendid new edition of his works, edited by Paul Auster (and with introductions by Colm Toibin, Salman Rushdie, Edward Albee, and J.M. Coetzee), has just been published by Grove Press.

Beckett, who died in 1989, lived to see the full flowering of his fame, and the retiring Irishman was forced into a spotlight he had no desire to stand in. But what were the chances that this spotlight would shine on him in the first place? He was an obscure writer writing in a foreign language about obscure figures living in a very foreign world. When one considers the strangeness of the works that sealed his fame, the plays “Waiting for Godot” and “Endgame,” both written in the 1950s, not only is it remarkable that they were successes, it is remarkable that they were produced-and that the first audiences were patient enough to await their seemingly endless endings. But wait they did. And to his limitless consternation, Samuel Beckett became an international literary celebrity.

More here.

Battle in the bedroom

From The Guardian:

Pumpkine372_1 Fellini’s great friend, the screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, once said: “Cinema is a collaboration where everyone tries to erase everyone else’s work.” Certainly the popular convention is to insist that films are made principally by directors; some directors certainly appear to think so. And a second axiom, peddled by the lost generation at Time Out magazine, is that British cinema is weak because it is overly dependent on British theatre.

Both propositions seem to me faulty. A good script is, if not the sine qua non of a good film, at least its most heartening omen. The first gift a playwright has is to write for actors. The better the playwright, the better the roles. This is as true of film as it is of theatre. Harold Pinter regularly offers actors what will become the opportunities of a lifetime: to Meryl Streep, obviously, in The French Lieutenant’s Woman; to Peter Finch and Anne Bancroft in one of the most overlooked of all British films, The Pumpkin Eater; and, unforgettably, to Dirk Bogarde, both in Accident and The Servant. Pinter offers the stuff actors want and with which they can do magic – surface vitality, of course, but also an undertow of narrative and implied feeling which deepens the simplest remark. In the spare, complicated screenwriting of Pinter, “yes”, “no” and “maybe” become words which do a hundred jobs.

More here.

Are Human Rights Human?

Paola Cavalieri in Logos:

Cavalieri400x305pxThe history of what we call moral progress can for the most part be seen as the history of the substitution of hierarchical visions with presumptions in favor of equality. The recent irruption into the social scene of the animal question is part of this ongoing process–a process that is usually characterized by a direct challenge to the cultural status quo. In fact, in the last few decades, nonhuman animals have been the center of a lively philosophical debate, and many voices have been raised against our current treatment of the members of species other than our own. We routinely use nonhuman animals as mere commodities–we kill them for food, we use them in work and entertainment, we employ them as tools for research of all kinds. In short, we treat them in ways in which we would deem it profoundly unethical to treat human beings. Is this position morally defensible? And, if so, on which grounds? Since behind the present divergence in standards lies a deep-rooted philosophical tradition aiming at the exclusion of nonhuman beings from the protected sphere of ethics, it may be worth considering briefly how we got where we are.

More here.

It’s coming. It’ll be great. You’ll hate it.

Paul Boutin in Slate:

060701_tech_youosexFor a sneak peek at the future of computing, go to YouOS and click “Try a Demo.” Your browser window turns into a desktop of its own, with sub-windows for e-mail, chat, and Web browsing. There are also links on the YouOS desktop for a sticky-notes program and a rich-text editor. But these programs aren’t on your hard drive—they’re running somewhere in the vast unknown Internet.

YouOS is the fledgling startup of four recent college grads with a bit of angel funding. Its simplicity makes it a great demo. Anyone who logs on can instantly spot the big idea: You don’t need Windows! You don’t even need a PC! You can login and work from anywhere using any gadget with a screen and a keyboard.

More here.

Lighting the key to energy saving

Richard Black at the BBC:

_41575458_bulb_bbc_203lA global switch to efficient lighting systems would trim the world’s electricity bill by nearly one-tenth.

That is the conclusion of a study from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which it says is the first global survey of lighting uses and costs.

The carbon dioxide emissions saved by such a switch would, it concludes, dwarf cuts so far achieved by adopting wind and solar power.

More here.


Robert Andrews in Wired News:

MacleanandwardSome DJs spin vinyl or twiddle fader knobs. Others write subroutines in C++.

A new brand of music maestro is turning programming into performance, eschewing turntables for a compiler and a mind for syntax structure. “Livecoding” practitioners improvise using Perl or homemade programming architectures to build compositions from the ground up, replacing instruments and samples with raw code authoring before a live audience.

Alex Maclean, a U.K. livecoder and art student, said he traded in his guitar when he found he could be more creative with code than with strings. He touch-types using Perl at raves and dance clubs, creating a unique visual and musical experience. Sessions with drummers, MCs and other livecoders can be reminiscent of traditional free-jazz improvisation.

More here.

Sense of superiority

Marek Kohn reviews Broken Genius: the rise and fall of William Shockley, creator of the electronic age by Joel N Shurkin, in the New Statesman:

William20shockleyWilliam Shockley left two extraordinary legacies to posterity. One is the transistor, which is to the electronic world what cells are to the living one. The other is an archive based on the principle that nothing may be thrown away and everything must be filed. In the course of his investigations – which involved the cracking of two safes – Joel Shurkin found a note to General Foods about a Jello recipe, a wooden splinter that had destroyed one of the boy Shockley’s dimples, and a suicide note. He did not, however, find any redeeming features. We can now be confident that William Shockley really was as detestable as he always appeared.

Shockley snatched opprobrium from the jaws of glory. In 1956 he shared the Nobel Prize for Physics for his role in the development of the transistor; in subsequent decades he became notorious for promoting the idea that black people were innately less intelligent than whites. He attempted to capitalise on his scientific success by launching an electronics company, but alienated his senior staff to the extent that they mutinied, dispersing to find fortunes under other banners. Although he thus has a claim to be the founder of Silicon Valley, it’s a legacy that mocks him.

More here.

Stem cells bring hope for brain disorder

From Nature:Mice_4

A company set to begin clinical trials of a stem-cell treatment for a fatal brain disease has announced that the treatment boosts survival in a mouse model. The company, StemCells of Palo Alto, California, received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration in October 2005 to use human neural stem cells to treat infants with neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis, or Batten disease. Infants with this hereditary disorder lack enzymes to break down a chemical called lipofuscin. In those affected, the chemical kills brain cells, and eventually proves fatal.

StemCells plans to give newborns neural stem cells that make enzymes to break down lipofuscin. The neural stem cells, made from cells harvested from human fetuses, are more developed than embryonic stem cells, which can give rise to all the cell types of the body, but more flexible than adult brain cells. On 1 July, Nobuko Uchida, a scientist with StemCells, presented data on tests in mice at the meeting of International Society for Stem Cell Research in Toronto, Canada.

More here.

The path of Khan

From The Observer:

Imran It is not easy to get to Imran Khan. I meet his political agent at the 1970s government buildings in Islamabad where he has an airless basement office. We hail a cab and point it in the direction of the hills outside the city, the lowest foothills of the distant Himalayas. The tarmac soon ends and the gradient gets much steeper. There is a bridge over a dried-up gorge, where the river has been dammed further upstream. Young men and boys are laying water pipes beside the rough dirt road in the hundred-degree late afternoon heat. The road gets more precipitous still and our driver gets out to pour a bottle of mineral water over his engine. Eventually at the ridge of a hill with a view across the city with its minarets and half-finished housing projects we reach a set of unlikely electronic gates.

Imran bought these 35 acres four years ago and has built his house in the middle of them. The original plan was to move in here with his family – wife Jemima and their two boys – but as it has turned out he lives up here alone. He waves me through a cool courtyard and into a simply furnished sitting room, with big wooden doors open to the hills. He then sits on a sofa, wearing his sunglasses, and sends texts on three mobile phones, struggling for a signal. He does not speak for five or 10 minutes.

More here. (Thanks to Bibi).

russian anne frank


When this diary was published in Russia two years ago, it was immediately, and inevitably, compared with the diary of Anne Frank. It is a very articulate record by an adolescent girl, living in an ever more threatening totalitarian environment, of her fears and frustrations, and it mingles the emotional pains of a girl going through puberty with the anguish of a trapped animal feeling the hunters getting nearer. For a girl of thirteen years old, in a society where there was no information but official propaganda and market rumour, Nina was remarkably well informed and perspicacious: she reports the famine and cannibalism that took the lives of millions of peasants in 1933, when not just the Moscow press but Moscow’s inhabitants were genuinely unaware of the disaster happening five hundred miles to the south. Andrew Bromfield speculates that she may have had access to underground Menshevik or Social Revolutionary literature, but this seems unlikely in the 1930s when all dissidence had been suppressed. Nina’s perspicacity is one of the most mysterious elements in her diary.

more from Literary Review here.