‘Lab-made sperm’ fertility hope

From BBC News:

Mice_5 Scientists have proved for the first time that sperm grown from embryonic stem cells can be used to produce offspring. The discovery in mice could ultimately help couples affected by male fertility problems to conceive. And by understanding embryo developmental processes better, a host of other diseases might be treated using stem cells, they say. The study is published in the journal Developmental Cell. The experiment was carried out using mice and produced seven babies, six of which lived to adulthood. However, the mice showed abnormal patterns of growth, and other problems, such as difficulty breathing.

Stem cells are special because they have the potential to develop into any tissue in the body. Professor Karim Nayernia and colleagues at the Georg-August University in Göttingen, Germany, took stem cells from a mouse embryo that was only a few days old and grew these cells in the laboratory. Using a specialised sorting instrument they were able to isolate some stem cells that had begun to develop as sperm.

More here.

New letters shed light on Einstein’s love life


Einstein_5 Albert Einstein had half a dozen girlfriends and told his wife they showered him with “unwanted” affection, according to letters released on Monday that shed light on his extramarital affairs. The wild-haired Jewish-German scientist, renowned for his theory of relativity, spent little time at home. He lectured in Europe and in the United States, where he died in 1955 at age 76. But Einstein wrote hundreds of letters to his family. Previously released letters suggested his marriage in 1903 to his first wife Mileva Maric, mother of his two sons, was miserable. They divorced in 1919, and he soon married his cousin, Elsa. He cheated on her with his secretary, Betty Neumann.

In the new volume of letters released on Monday by Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Einstein described about six women with whom he spent time and from whom he received gifts while being married to Elsa.

More here.

More on the Zidane controversy from Kottke

From Jason Kottke:

The Daily Mail, with corroboration from the Times, has some information on what Marco Materazzi said to Zinedine Zidane to provoke the latter’s career ending headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final (more info on that here). They both hired lip readers to decipher Materazzi’s dialogue before the incident and this is allegedly what he said (translated from the Italian):

Hold on, wait, that one’s not for a nigger like you.

We all know you are the son of a terrorist whore.

So just fuck off.

So it might be fair to say that Materazzi got what he deserved, as did Zidane when he got sent off.

More here.

3QD’s World Cup Analyst Alex Cooley: The Final, Or Veni, Vidi, Vici Under the Brandenburg Gate

[Alex writes] Greetings All –

After having left the country for the semis, it was obviously my fault that the hosts faltered in the final minutes and were bounced by the Italians. So, my final weekend in Berlin wasn’t quite the scenario I would have liked, but it still provided some unbelievable scenes that truly crowned my month in Germany.

Who would have dreamt that an entire country would be cheering hysterically at the conclusion of the usually token Third Place match, but that’s exactly what happened on Saturday after Germany beat Portugal to claim 3rd place. Our local bar Schmidt’s was as packed as it was for the “meanigful” games and an entire nation celebrated as it they had won the whole tournament. In a sense, they did.

I can’t emphasize how positive this World Cup has been for the Germans. The Germans have been magnificent hosts – welcoming, curious and basking in their newly found cosmopolitanism – I think its a role that suits them and one that the rest of us should encourage. An entire nation has been rejuvenated and given a lesson in positive thinking by a group of underrated footballers and their 41-flamboyant coach with his imported training methods and sports psychologists. Every time Germany scored Klinsmann jumped up and down like a little kid at Xmas, infecting every German fan with his raw enthusiasm – he proved so cuddly that even Chancellor Angela Merkel bear-hugged him and pleaded that he stick around. Now, of course, this new love affair threatens to be cut short as Klinsi seriously contemplates leaving the Germany position to accept the US Soccer Federation’s offer to take over the helm of his adopted country (and only have a 30 minute drive to work as opposed to a 14-hour plane ride), thereby further exacerbating transatlantic tensions.

For the final itself there was only place I could be – well, um, two but I was not about to shell out 1,500 Euro for a Finals ticket on Berlin Craig’s List – at least not this time. However, I was determined to do the next best thing and watch the final at the Brandenburg Gate, preferably in the very first row of the mile-long, million-person capacity “Fan Fest.”

6 hours before kick-off I claimed my spot at the front row right in front of the gigantic screen. Now granted that this might seem a ridiculous amount of time to just to hang around, but I hadn’t come here for the month just to waste the final day at some Irish pub. I passed the time talking to fans from all around the world – I heard post-mortems about a certain overpaid Swede from the English, traded Italian diving stories with Aussies and engaged in some friendly rivalry joshing with Mexico fans (Dos-Zero, mi amigo!). And there were loads of French and Italian supporters, many who had actually just completed massive train journeys just to be in Berlin for the final; they were mixing it up amiably and taking pictures of one another draped in flags and those multi-colored wigs and top hats. Other entertainment was also provided – football jugglers, German cheerleaders and a cheesy rock and roll cover band that played all sorts of glorious trash (“Video killed the Radio Star”..at a World Cup Final??!!). But the highlight of the live entertainment was a surprise visit on the stage by former President Bill Clinton who was greeted with resounding approval as he charmingly delivered some nevertheless incoherent babble about “soccer helping the plight of African children.”

Most of you watched the game so I won’t bore you with a long recap. The French were awarded a soft penalty at the opening as ZZ bounced in the spotkick off the bar – that riled the Italians into action as they equalized on a Marco Materazzi header from one of Andrea Pirlo’s probing corners and then threatened to run-over the French for the rest of the first half. Les Bleus recovered in the second half and by extra time were firmly in control of the match, with Ribery and Zindane coming close to grabbing extra-time goals. Having gone 120 minutes against the Germans in the semis Italy seemed completely spent as they defended in numbers and clung on for penalties. As we have observed, penalty shootouts are cruel but not unfair. The Italians struck 5 superb penalties under the most extreme pressure imaginable while the French missed one – such is the margin of victory at the highest level. The final kick fell to the left-back Fabio Grosso, who added to his own cup legend that includes a last minute semi-final winner and a last-minute penalty-winning dive against Australia, sending all Italian fans into pure ecstasy and decisively erasing 24 years of Azzurri hurt.

Of course, aside from the drama of the penalty shootout the story of the match was Zidane who completely lost the plot and head-butted Materazzi 10 minutes from the end of extra time (rumor seems to be that Materazzi provoked him by calling him a “terrorist” or something). Out of character? Not really..Zidane has always had a dark side – while everyone remembers him orchestrating France’s 1998 triumph against Brazil, they forget that ZZ had been suspended in the group stages of that tournament for a similar red card when he was provoked by the Saudi Arabian team. Thus ends the career and legend of the best footballer of his generation..

Other circles closed last night. 16 years after the Germans had claimed their 3rd trophy on Italian soil, the Italians returned the favor to the hosts. David Trezeguet was the lone unsuccessful penalty taker, balancing out the euphoric Golden Goal that he scored in 2000 to break Italian hearts in the Euro final. The Italians, for the first time, won a World Cup penalty shootout, having suffered defeat in PKs in the 1990 semis at home, the 1994 final against Brazil and in 1998 against France. And just as in 1982 when Italian football was mired in scandal, the Azzurri victory came during a time in which 4 top Italian football clubs (of which 13 national squad members are members) are facing fines and relegation for match-fixing. Let’s hope that this World Cup triumph finally forces Italian officials to take real steps to clean up the insidious filth that is currently Italian domestic football.

But none of this mattered under a Berlin starry night as one million people started the final mega-party of the month with the symbol of German unification glowing in the background. Fireworks and confetti exploded over us, some Azzurri fans next to me proudly waved their replica trophies and I spent about 10 minutes making silly faces on the large screen as green, white and red lasers emanated from the stage. As I walked to meet up with some friends who were stuck further back, I made my way through waves of jubilating Italians and utterly despondent Frenchmen. Les Bleus were valiant runners-up and proved to all detractors who had dared to write them off (including me) that they, in fact, should be considered the dominant national team in world football of the last decade. As we left the laser shows and pulsating party at the fan zone we walked along the river to the illuminated beach bar by the recently finished main train station. Some parts of Berlin at night are just breathtaking and this area is one of them- a few Italians were so delighted that they threw themselves from various bridges, obviously unaware that the water in the Spree River is as about as dirty as a Juventus referee. After a couple of beers, I said a heart-felt good-bye to my wonderful German friends and made my way back one last time through the madness of the bars of OranienburgerStrasse.

With the end of the cup its now time for me to leave this 180 sq. meter flat in Berlin and go back to my comparative hut in New York city where I’ll try and do some work for a change. Another World Cup is history and we all should accept the triumph of the Azzurri with grace and congratulate the Italians – they are world champions and I will not tolerate any “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts.” They defended at a superior level and conquered all opponents; they comfortably strolled through one of the two “groups of death” in the first round, defeated the hosts in a tension-packed semi and kept their bottle when it counted in front of 1.5 billion worldwide viewers.

I want to thank all of you on 3QD for your emails and comments. Somehow, we’ll all have to manage to live for another four years without World Cup football, although – strictly-speaking, World Cup qualifying starts in just 24 months. In the meantime I’m going to dig out those Pavorotti CDs while getting ready in the morning, picture the look on Fabio Grosso’s face as he buried his penalty and finally appreciate the meaning of those last three words of Nessun Dorma:

“Vincero [I shall triumph], VIN-cero!..VIN-CEE-ROOO!”

Monday Musing: Zidane and Racism

Asad Raza has written an excellent commentary here at 3QD today on the Zidane headbutt incident at the World Cup final, and I just want to add my two cents now. We still don’t know exactly what Marco Materazzi said (and did) to Zidane to make him lose his trademark cool, but out of the cloud of rife speculation two candidates materialize repeatedly: that either Materazzi must have hurled racist slurs at Zidane, or that Materazzi insulted Zidane’s family. Before I examine these two possibilities, let me say something about what I do not believe happened.

It is not possible, in my opinion, that Zidane deliberately chose a moment when the referee was busy elsewhere to headbutt Materazzi, believing that the attack would not be noticed. It is absolutely obvious to me from having repeatedly watched the video that Zidane’s actions were the result of sudden rage, which, as I can well remember from my own hot-tempered youth, always takes a few seconds to swell after the moment of provocation. Zidane could not possibly have looked around to make sure all the officials were busy, and if he were calculating so clearly, he would have known that a stadium full of people (not to mention the billion plus around the world) were watching, and he would have remembered what was at stake. No, that was clearly a moment of uncontrollable anger, the kind when the blood rushes to your head, you feel a kind of heat, your face turns red and throbs, and then you lash out. There is nothing you can do about that kind of mental storm. It is a moment of temporary insanity, not something subject to choice. And it is clear, at least to me, from the video that Zidane tried to trot away as the anger rose, but lost control and turned around…

As for Materazzi insulting Zidane’s mother (and all the possible variations on this theme), it is very unlikely that something like that could or would inflame Zidane. The reasons are twofold: first, these kinds of insults have become so common in everyday discourse that they have lost all their teeth. It is now possible to address a close friend as “Yo, Mofo…” But second, and more important, for an insult to really injure its victim there must be an asymmetry preventing the person from just yelling the insult back. It is then, when the person insulted feels he cannot reply, that he replies physically. And this is exactly what racist insults do. If a white man yells the N-word at a black man, there is no equivalent word that the black man can yell back. By using this word, the white man is essentially taunting the black man by reminding him of the abuse that he, his ancestors, his whole race have have to endure at the white man’s hand, and how he is impotent to stop it. It is like someone taunting you that he raped your mother, and you knowing that it’s true! History denies the black man the opportunity of responding in kind, and the only choice left may seem to be to demonstrate that one is not so impotent after all, that one can hit back. This, that it relies on a history of oppression and injury, and on asymmetrical relations of power, is what is so insidious about racial insult, and why we are so careful to avoid its double-injustice in decent society.

Racism is prevalent in Europe. England has its Paky-bashers and the Germans their hateful skinheads. The Italians are routinely prejudiced against their own darker southern citizens. And Spaniards, to their shame, have recently brought racism explicitly to football. This is from Wikipedia:

Luis Aragonés became Spain’s coach in 2004. During a training session with the national team, a Spanish TV crew caught Aragonés motivating Henry’s Arsenal teammate José Antonio Reyes in a strange way (“Give him the ball, and then show that black little shit that you are better than him.”) The incident caused an uproar in the British media with calls for Aragonés to be sacked. When Spain played England in a friendly match at the Bernabéu later that year, the crowd was hostile. Whenever black English players touched the ball, large segments of the Spanish crowd began to make “monkey chants.” The Spanish football federation — the RFEF — eventually fined the coach €3,000.

When I visited France about ten years ago, the helpful guidebook to Paris I had bought pointed out that “If you look like you might be an Arab, expect some hostility on the streets of Paris.” Naturally, this made me a little nervous, and in a ludicrous attempt at not looking Arab (which I am not, but I am brown and Muslim), I went around everywhere wearing a necktie! I can only try to imagine what a lifetime of dealing with racial insults and very real prejudice must do to a person’s spirit. Given the history of what France did in Algeria, is it so shocking that a person of Algerian descent would be sensitive to racial taunting?

As I write this, some reports are already filtering in that indeed Materazzi racially assaulted Zidane. Frankly, nothing else makes sense. If Materazzi had insulted Zidane’s family, Zidane could have replied in kind; but if he attacked Zidane racially, then Materazzi got what he deserved, and should be punished further. Am I excusing Zidane? If he was racially insulted, yes I am. Zidane could not help himself under the circumstances. I would excuse Zidane for the same reason that a prosecutor will, under certain circumstances, decline to bring charges against a man who comes home to find his wife in bed with her lover and, in a moment of temporary insanity, kills him. In this, there is an acknowledgment that there is not always a right and wrong in everything. Sometimes, a man loses rationality. That is just human nature. Deal with it. (Or hate all men.)

And as Western nations continue to dominate and oppress the third world by economic as well as military means and the cynical manipulation of governments, as they continue to wreak havoc on the environment, as the injustices of extreme inequality in the distributions of wealth continue to grow, it is to be expected that some will be driven to irrational anger, and will break the rules. And hit back. You can’t just show everyone a red card.

Lindsay Beyerstein has a great critical response to my argument here.

Have a good week!  My other Monday Musing columns can be seen here.

Dispatches: Zidane and Contempt

Shocking, unthinkable, infamous, ignominious: these are the words instinctively grasped for in trying to make sense of the act that irrupted into the World Cup final last night.  Rarely does an athlete, playing atop so high a mountain of adulation, so utterly confound and defy the hopeful symbolism that has been placed upon him.  It was a heavy blow, certainly, to the preformulated narrative about the exploits of multiracial soccer teams repairing the social fabric of European nations.  If Zidane was always a reluctant poster boy for that story, he has now supplied the reason: temperamental unsuitability to turning the other cheek.  The incident, amplified by taking place in the most watched sports event of the year, nevertheless brutally transcended the game in which it occurred.  It will be publicly understood, digested, for days to come.  It will lose force, be neutralized, but not without having revealed much.

What did Materazzi say?  Could it have been so unfamiliarly offensive that it incited a frenzy?  Or was it merely a petty final straw near the end of a long match, a long career, of being insulted for Zidane?  Insulting a player to incite is common enough that there’s a word for it: sledging, from cricket, where it’s apparently done with the greatest skill by the Australians.  Let’s be blunt: racial insults are the most reliable way to sledge. And Zidane, sadly, gets them not only from Europeans, but in 2001, from Algerians, who stigmatized him as a traitor.  Maybe Zidane correctly surmised that no referees were looking, only to got caught by the replay; maybe he was discouraged by Buffon’s save of his last header, and by his injured arm, and went out with some payback.

Zidane, known for violent outbursts, in a 2004 interview:  “It’s hard to explain but I have a need to play intensely every day, to fight every match hard.  And this desire never to stop fighting is something else I learnt in the place where I grew up. And, for me, the most important thing is that I still know who I am. Every day I think about where I come from and I am still proud to be who I am: first, a Kabyle from La Castellane, then an Algerian from Marseille, and then a Frenchman.”

Will that complex and precarious genealogy now be read as a liability?  Does the constant need to “know who I am” make one vulnerable to sledging?  Even the attack itself was curiously controlled, unleashed swiftly but with the choice of target (the chest, the heart, even) demonstrating an intent not to injure.  Certainly French rightists, already on record against the team’s composition, will want to link Zidane’s hyphenated identity with his unrecuperable failure yesterday as France’s captain and leader.  Those defenders of French multiculturalism wishing to argue back will try and explain the matter by a simpler biography: he has a terrible temper.  Already, many defenses of Zidane seek to sweep away the raw, disruptive moment last night.  This event might, then, fade away into the background, stalemated by insinuations and shamefaced silence in the face of them.

That would mark an occlusion of the dark side revealed by this World Cup, with its surface of friendly national stereotypes amounting to not much more than German efficiency, Brazilian rhythm, English bulldoggedness, and so forth.  The sport itself cannot be fully enclosed within the advertisers’ wholesome branding of it: it is deceptively brutal, whatever your opinions on the intentionality of Rooney.  Top players being sent off in important matches is the rule rather than the exception.  Behind national fervor, for many, lies hatred.  And worst of all, of course, is the endemic racism.  From my perspective, it’s shocking that Spanish fans are given to making monkey noises at black players, that certain players, after scoring, give Nazi salutes to the skinheads in the crowd, that a widespread opinion holds France doesn’t “deserve to win” because of all the “Africans” on their team.  I’m not being sanctimonious; this kind of outright racial prejudice is unutterable in U.S. public discourse, however widely it might be held.

Zidane’s act was also an act of contempt for soccer.  It may have clarified his priority for pride and honor over winning.  This is equally unfamiliar in the U.S., where sports are so heavily corporate that there is little tolerance for figures who do not, like Michael Jordan, always place the game above all else.  Clearly, in European soccer, such divisions cannot be maintained: explosive mixtures of nationalism and race invade the soccer pitch in a more direct way.  The celebratory rhetoric of soccer as the global, multicultural sport masks a great deal of ugly nationalist fantaticism, into which the players are necessarily, and unevenly, co-opted. 

With what disconsolate combination of ambivalence and contempt must the man who gave his name to an entire generation of French youth have left the field of play?  Finally, spare a thought for Thierry Henry, Zidane’s most sublime teammate and the player who leads soccer’s anti-racism campaign.  The bravery with which Henry returned from being knocked woozy in the match’s beginning was a sports moment of a kind we are much more familiar with than the astonishing events of the match’s end.  After all, it’s only a game, right?

Abbas has some additional thoughts on Zidane and Racism.

See some other Dispatches.

Lunar Refractions: Viva i caciaroni!

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Unable to make my way home across the city after Italy’s World Cup victory last night, I was delightfully left with no option but to take to the streets of Rome along with everyone else. By midnight everyone else included: cars full of face-painted celebrants; moped drivers and passengers wearing the tricolor flag as a cape; immigrants as proud, joyous, and decorated as native Romans; a young man with his leg in a cast and a broad smile on his face dexterously moving through the crowd on crutches; a bikini-clad babe standing on the back of her man’s moped, waving the flag and her fine figure to the cheers of everyone nearby; babies in car seats, sound asleep despite the constant horn-blowing and clamor of noise-makers of all sorts; and groups of teenagers on the corner, gesticulating and affectionately yelling phrases full of celebratory expletives at anyone who wasn’t contributing to the beautiful chaos.

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For the first time in twenty-four years Italy was able to explode in full World Cup celebration. For some it was, in a way, a matter of life and death—driving around Porta San Giovanni I saw several signs done in the style of the obituary announcement posters that appear around towns following someone’s death, this time mourning the French soccer team’s loss: mors tua vita mea. What is a family to do when Italy triumphs? Get everyone into the car—preferably more people than could or should normally fit into it, hence forcing windows, sunroofs, and doors open—and set the kids on the roof while cruising round the neighborhood, of course. Captured out of context, some areas almost looked like war zones, filled as they were by the smoke and flares of sparklers, sweat-covered bodies, and screams. Two days from now the taxi drivers will begin their official strike, following an angry week of unauthorized strikes and protests about deregulation of the trade, but that didn’t stop them from packing their friends and families into the now infamously inaccessible white, SPQR-labeled vehicles for one last joyride. Much like New York, yet in a very different spirit, Rome is a city where I am acutely aware of life’s overwhelming gorgeousness, and of my own deep foreignness. Yet last night any- and everyone who was out on the street was embraced as part of the champions’ extended family.

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Previous Lunar Refractions can be read here.

Pourquoi, Zidane, pourquoi???

For the few of you who missed it, here is video of the moment that will forever live in World Cup infamy:

Some people are claiming that Materazzi pinched Zidane’s nipple and then said something racist to him, and that made him lose his usual cool. It’s hard to tell what happened, exactly. No doubt Zidane will explain himself over the next days. In any case, this moment should not be allowed to overshadow his glorious career. I remain in shock, though.

UPDATE: There is slightly clearer video of the actual headbutt here.

UPDATE 2: This is from a profile in The Observer from April of this year:

One of the theories about Zidane as a player is that he is driven by an inner rage. His football is elegant and masterful, charged with technique and vision. But he can still erupt into shocking violence that is as sudden as it is inexplicable. The most famous examples of this include head butting Jochen Kientz of Hamburg during a Champions League match, when he was at Juventus in 2000 (an action that cost him a five match suspension) and his stomping on the hapless Faoud Amin of Saudi Arabia during the 1998 World Cup finals (this latter action was, strangely enough, widely applauded in the Berber community as Zidane’s revenge on hated Arab ‘extremists’).

Zidane’s first coaches at AS Cannes noticed quickly that he was raw and sensitive, eager to attack spectators who insulted his race or family. The priority of his first coach, Jean Varraud, was to get him to channel his anger and focus more on his game. According to Varraud, Zidane’s first weeks at Cannes were spent mainly on cleaning duty as a punishment for punching an opponent who had mocked his ghetto origins.

By the time he arrived at Juventus, in 1996, he had become known for his self-control and discipline, both on and off the pitch.

More here.

UPDATE 3: French fans praise Zidane despite red card

UPDATE 4: Zidane wins top award

UPDATE 5: Zidane and Contempt (Asad Raza in 3QD)

UPDATE 6: Zidane and Racism (Abbas Raza in 3QD)

UPDATE 7: Zidane apparently called “dirty terrorist”

Les Bleus Contra Le Pen

Also related to the World Cup: as in 1998, the French team has become a symbol against the National Front and racism in Europe, in Counterpunch.

Thuram went on to say, “When we take to the field, we do so as Frenchmen. All of us. When people were celebrating our win, they were celebrating us as Frenchmen, not black men or white men. It doesn’t matter if we’re black or not, because we’re French. I’ve just got one thing to say to Jean Marie Le Pen. The French team are all very, very proud to be French. If he’s got a problem with us, that’s down to him but we are proud to represent this country. So Vive la France, but the true France. Not the France that he wants.” In addition, the immensely talented Henry has started an antiracist campaign called Stand Up Speak Up. Henry pushed his sponsor Nike to produce black and white intertwined armbands that demonstrate a commitment against racism. So far, they have sold more than five million. “That’s important in making the very real point that racism is a problem for everyone, a collective ailment,” Henry said to Time Magazine. “It shows that people of all colors, even adversaries on the pitch, are banding together in this, because we’re all suffering from it together.”

Henry’s campaign has resonance because Le Pen does not have the market cornered on racism in the sport. So-called fans, throwing banana peels and peanuts at star players of African descent, have plagued European soccer this past season. For much of the World Cup, such assaults did not occur. But before the June 27th game against Spain, the French coach, Raymond Domenech, said Spanish fans were “making monkey chants” as the French team left their bus. The incident evoked memories of an outrageous racist diatribe against Thierry Henry delivered by Spanish coach Luis Aragones to “inspire” his team before a match against France a couple years ago. When Franch defeated Spain last week, it was more just desserts for Aragones and another bitter pill for Le Pen.

Bill Buford’s Adventures in Italian Cuisine

In the Guardian, Adam Mars-Jones reviews Bill Buford’s Heat, on his adventures in Italian cuisine and Mario Batali’s kitchen.

Those of us who had dealings with Buford in his earlier incarnation as an editor didn’t find him short on testosterone but in his new context, he seems benign, virtually eunuchoid. Of the various culinary masters he meets in the book, only one has no temperament (the mentor of Tuscan butchery known as Il Maestro), and only one – that kitchen kamikaze, Marco Pierre White – has a genuine one, as opposed to the vice of using his moods to manipulate others…

[Batali’s] Babbo in New York continues to trade on the authenticity of that apprenticeship in Italy. What goes on in a restaurant is supposed to be the essence of cooking. It can seem more like the opposite of cooking. Buford isn’t writing an exposé, along the lines of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, but he might as well be. Something that starts out as a formal version of what an Italian grandmother might serve her family turns into an orgy of extravagance, hucksterism and dodgy hygienic practice.

Batali would play Bob Marley songs on the sound system, knowing the New York Times restaurant critic was a fan. He would berate staff who failed to recognise celebrities, who must be served first and given special treatment. To make a humble fish soup called cioppino, he would rummage through bins and chopping boards, collecting left overs (tomato pulp, carrot tops, onion skins), then price the dish at $29 and tell the waiters to sell the hell out of it or be fired. Short ribs prepared in advance, wrapped so tightly in plastic wrap and foil that they wouldn’t spurt sauce if stepped on, would keep in the walk-in fridge for up to a week.

The Return of the Serialized Novel

We’ve noticed some of the individual pieces, but is there a growing trend? are serialzied novels making a come back?

[S]ince last September The New York Times Magazine has been publishing weekly episodes of genre fiction by Elmore Leonard, Patricia Cornwell, and now, Scott Turow, with Michael Chabon on deck. London’s The Observer has been publishing short fiction and a serial novel by Ronan Bennett titled Zugzwang, and Slate has started running installments of The Unbinding, a novel by Walter Kirn.

Gerald Marzorati, editor of the Times magazine, originated the so-called Funny Pages department to be a modern, 21st-century evocation of the Sunday supplements published in the Hearst papers at the turn of the last century. “The news is dark,” says Marzorati, “and the Funny Pages aren’t all that funny, but they are a distraction, a foil, a different flavor.”

The section comprises a comic, for many weeks drawn by Chris Ware and now by Jaime Hernandez, blandly funny essays, and excerpts from new novels by bestselling genre authors. (“This is not a vibrant time for short literary fiction,” asserts Marzorati.) At Risk, a Cornwell procedural starring a police detective with a “body that looks sculpted of creamy stone” ordered to investigate a 20-year-old murder at the behest of a svelte and ambitious district attorney, concluded disappointingly in the April 16 issue with a revelation lifted from stale Martha Stewart headlines. It is worth noting that the magazine waits for completed manuscripts before agreeing to publish, a precaution not taken in Victorian times of the serial novel, when the ink was still wet on the page on the new installments as they were being typeset. “That’s not the way to get the best writing,” Marzorati argues. “Today’s writers’ schedules are more frantic than Trollope’s was.”

Zidane in New York?

Some rumor mongering before today’s final:

Zidane, France’s 34-year-old midfielder, has had a renaissance of sorts during the monthlong tournament in Germany. He had long said he would retire after the World Cup.

But there is a possibility he could soon join his compatriot Youri Djorkaeff in the midfield for the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer, according to several people involved in soccer in the New York area who were granted anonymity because of their unofficial relationship to the club.

Zidane’s contract with Real Madrid has expired, so he would not cost MLS a transfer fee. By contrast, Ronaldo, a Brazilian striker who was Zidane’s teammate in Spain, was reportedly offered a 10-year, $120 million deal by the Red Bulls and could command a transfer fee of more than $50 million.

Science and the Theft of Humanity

From American Scientist:Futurists

Aspects of the question of autonomy are being taken up not just by philosophers but by investigators in cognitive science, genomics, biochemistry and the technology of bioinformatics. In all these fields, the presumed autonomy of the free human subject is being interrogated and complicated. The presumption of singularity that informs history is also being pressed hard by those working in computational science, animal intelligence, genetic engineering and evolutionary biology, all of which are making it harder to speak in traditional ways about the splendid self-sufficiency of the human species.

And creativity—the most splendid of all properties of human being, according to the humanities—is now being itself redefined by linguistics, cognitive science, neuroscience and even software development, which are assigning new meanings to this term, meanings that do not necessarily funnel back to the individual human being in a state of inspired frenzy.

More here.

Reason to Believe

Faith Here we are, briefly, under the sun, one species among millions on a gorgeous planet in the remote provinces of the universe, our very existence a riddle. Of all the words we use to mask our ignorance, none has been more abused, none has given rise to more strife, none has rolled from the tongues of more charlatans than the name of God. Nor has any word been more often invoked as the inspiration for creativity, charity or love.

So what are we talking about when we talk about God? The geneticist Francis S. Collins bravely sets out to answer this question in light of his scientific knowledge and his Christian faith. Having found for himself “a richly satisfying harmony between the scientific and spiritual worldviews,” he seeks to persuade others that “belief in God can be an entirely rational choice, and that the principles of faith are, in fact, complementary with the principles of science.”

More here.

New Thoughts About the Destruction of the Aztecs

A new, possible explanation of the destruction of the Aztec Empire–don’t know if it will stand up. In Discover:

There seemed little reason to debate the nature of the plague: Even the Spanish admitted that European smallpox was the disease that devastated the conquered Aztec empire. Case closed.

Then, four centuries later, Acuña-Soto improbably decided to reopen the investigation. Some key pieces of information—details that had been sitting, ignored, in the archives—just didn’t add up. His studies of ancient documents revealed that the Aztecs were familiar with smallpox, perhaps even before Cortés arrived. They called it zahuatl. Spanish colonists wrote at the time that outbreaks of zahuatl occurred in 1520 and 1531 and, typical of smallpox, lasted about a year. As many as 8 million people died from those outbreaks. But the epidemic that appeared in 1545, followed by another in 1576, seemed to be another disease altogether. The Aztecs called those outbreaks by a separate name, cocolitzli. “For them, cocolitzli was something completely different and far more virulent,” Acuña-Soto says. “Cocolitzli brought incomparable devastation that passed readily from one region to the next and killed quickly.”

After 12 years of research, Acuña-Soto has come to agree with the Aztecs: The cocolitzli plagues of the mid-16th century probably had nothing to do with smallpox. In fact, they probably had little to do with the Spanish invasion. But they probably did have an origin that is worth knowing about in 2006.

Chicago Museum, Iran Fight U.S. Court

Nasser Karimi in The Guardian:

The University of Chicago and the government of Iran have come together in a rare alliance against a U.S. court ruling that aims to compensate victims of a 1997 Jerusalem bombing by auctioning off a rare collection of Persian tablets.

A U.S. court previously found Iran responsible for supporting Hamas, which claimed responsibility for the 1997 bombing that killed five people and wounded 192 others, and ordered Tehran to pay the victims $423.5 million.

The only Iranian asset that U.S. authorities could get their hands on was a collection of ancient Persian tablets inscribed with one of the world’s oldest alphabets, dating to between 553 B.C. and 330 B.C. The clay artifacts have been housed at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute museum since the 1930s.

A federal judge ruled last month that the school must auction off the tablets, the proceeds of which would go to compensate the bombing victims. But the university said it would appeal.

In a letter to Iranian cultural authorities, the museum’s director called the tablets “an irreplaceable scholarly data set” that should not be subject to political battles.

More here.

The myths that masked Modigliani

“A ravishing new show demonstrates why the Italian romantic deserves to be plucked from his bohemian backwater, says Sarah Crompton.”

From The Daily Telegraph:

Modigliani1_1Amedeo Modigliani doesn’t get a mention in the National Gallery’s recently opened Rebels and Martyrs show – but, in terms of proving a point, he could have had a whole room to himself. For the Italian-born artist was the paradigm of the romantic bohemian, the outsider painter who pursued his own vision amid a swirl of drugs, alcohol and dissolution in the Paris of the early 20th century.

He died in penury and squalor in January 1920 at the age of 35, discovered by a neighbour in the final throes of tubercular meningitis, his bed strewn with bottles of alcohol and cans of sardines, his mistress Jeanne Hébuterne nursing him. She hadn’t thought to call a doctor, but her devotion to her lover was so great that, two days after his death, she threw herself backwards from a fifth-floor window. She was nine months pregnant with their second child.

More here, including a slide show.

Fair Distribution and the Internationalization of the Economy

Amartya Sen on global justice and globalization, in the Little Magazine.

The achievements of globalisation are visibly impressive in many parts of the world. We can hardly fail to see that the global economy has brought prosperity to quite a few different areas on the globe. Pervasive poverty and ‘nasty, brutish and short’ lives dominated the world a few centuries ago, with only a few pockets of rare affluence. In overcoming that penury, extensive economic interrelations as well as the deployment of modern technology have been extremely influential and productive.

It is also not difficult to see that the economic predicament of the poor across the world cannot be reversed by withholding from them the great advantages of contemporary technology, the well-established efficiency of international trade and exchange, and the social as well as economic merits of living in open rather than closed societies. People from very deprived countries clamour for the fruits of modern technology (such as the use of newly invented medicines, for example for treating AIDS); they seek greater access to the markets in the richer countries for a wide variety of commodities, from sugar to textiles; and they want more voice and attention from the rest of the world. If there is scepticism of the results of globalisation, it is not because suffering humanity wants to withdraw into its shell.

In fact, the pre-eminent practical issues include the possibility of making good use of the remarkable benefits of economic connections, technological progress and political opportunity in a way that pays adequate attention to the interests of the deprived and the underdog.[1] That is, I would argue, the constructive question that emerges from the anti-globalisation movements. It is, ultimately, not a question of rubbishing global economic relations, but of making the benefits of globalisation more fairly distributed.

On the Possibility of Peace on the Korean Peninsula

In Harvard International Magazine, Korea’s Foreign Minister and candidate for the next Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon:

Korea, as a matter of course, has been both a product and a proponent of multilateralism. Indeed, ever since its participation in the 1994 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as Asian Partner for Cooperation, the Republic of Korea (ROK) has been consistently striving to recreate the CSCE and its successor OSCE experience on the Korean peninsula. Late last year, while attending the OSCE Ministerial Council in Ljubljana, Slovenia, I emphasized the importance of strengthening consultation and cooperation with the OSCE. In recognizing the value of multilateralism, the ROK hopes to create a more stable and just peace with a long-standing outcome will be in accordance with international norms.

In addition to learning lessons from the OSCE model, greater attention should be given to the contribution that the United Nations, the global forum for multilateralism, can make toward promoting peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula. From its birth under the auspices of the United Nations, the Republic of Korea has been a prime beneficiary and proponent of multilateralism. Founded in the same year as the United Nations, the Republic of Korea saw the inauguration of its first government following UN-sponsored elections. During the Korean War that lasted from 1950 to 1953, the United Nations lived up to the first test of its commitment to collective security by mobilizing the freedom-loving countries of the world to fight alongside ROK forces. The post-war reconstruction and the ensuing decades of rapid economic development of the country were also generously assisted by the UN system and other multilateral bodies. On a similar note, the ideals of human rights and democracy that the United Nations promotes were instrumental in sustaining and inspiring the Korean people during their struggle for democratization under successive authoritarian regimes.