30 Second Spot

Here’s the idea:

30second_spotTelevision is a one-to-many technology, where one entity controls the flow of content out to many individuals. Companies use the 30 second spot, or short television commercial, to entice consumers to the products or services they offer for sale. “30 second spot” takes this icon of controlled corporate communication and flips it on its head.

In this ART(inter)ACTION version, artists, especially those who have little access or few outlets for the distribution of their work, are invited to talk about an artwork and why it is of value.

“30 second spot” acknowledges the current explosion of media channels, where audiences are splintering off in dozens of directions, watching TV shows on iPods, watching movies on videogame players and listening to radio on the Internet. In this case, the local art gallery becomes an additional media channel, advertising artworks in an open and eclectic format.

More here.  [Thanks to Zeina Assaf.]

The Bottom Billion

Niall Ferguson favorably reviews Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (while taking swipes at Jeffrey Sachs in the process). In the NYT:

Now comes another white man, ready to shoulder the burden of saving Africa: Paul Collier, the director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University. A former World Bank economist like Easterly, Collier shares his onetime colleague’s aversion to what he calls the “headless heart” syndrome — meaning the tendency of people in rich countries to approach Africa’s problems with more emotion than empirical evidence. It was Collier who pointed out that nearly two-fifths of Africa’s private wealth is held abroad, much of it in Swiss bank accounts. It was he who exposed the British charity Christian Aid for commissioning dubious Marxist research on free trade. And it was he who pioneered a new and unsentimental approach to the study of civil wars, demonstrating that most rebels in sub-Saharan Africa are not heroic freedom fighters but self-interested brigands.

Collier is certainly much closer to Easterly on the question of aid. (He cites a recent survey that tracked money released by the Chad Ministry of Finance to help rural health clinics. Less than 1 percent reached the clinics.) Yet “The Bottom Billion” proves to be a far more constructive work than “The White Man’s Burden.” Like Sachs, Collier believes rich countries really can do something for Africa. But it involves more — much more — than handouts.

Dani Rodrik notes, ‘Ferguson himself has long been a proponent of benign imperialism, so it is not difficult to see why he likes this particular prescription. [Rodrik cites Fergueson, “Reflecting on the tendency of postconflict countries to lapse back into civil war, he [Collier] argues trenchantly for occasional foreign interventions in failed states. “] But it is hard not to keep in mind “the ruins of Operation Iraqi Freedom” when thinking about the efficacy and desirability of this option.’

On American Hindu Studies

In Outlook India, Aditi Banerjee discusses her book (Krishnan Ramaswamyand Antonio de Nicolas co-editors), Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America:

Shortly before I began practicing law, my guru advised me to begin wearing a bindi every day–not the stick-on kind but actual kumkum mixed with water… However, I then came across Prof. David Gordon White’s book, Kiss of the Yogini: Tantric Sex in its South Asian Context, in which he remarks that the bindi a Hindu woman wears represents a drop of menstrual blood.

I grew apprehensive about wearing the bindi to work–would others mistakenly see it as some primitive, (literally) bloodthirsty rite? Still, I have followed my guru’s instruction and wear the bindi every day, and I have never regretted it. I do wonder sometimes, though, when catching the surreptitious curious stares of others, what exactly they think when they see the red oval between my eyebrows, and whether that perception has been shaped by the speculation of ‘renowned’ scholars such as White.

Because I have faced this Hinduphobia, which often shows itself in the subtlest of ways, because I have seen my friends and peers suffer from similar experiences, and because we have never had the voice or the ammunition with which to fire back–with which to say that this is wrong, not because it is offensive or politically incorrect, but because it is baseless and untruthful–because of all this, I could not say ‘no’ when the opportunity arose to become involved with this book. For, what starts in American universities does not remain there–it spreads globally, percolates through to mainstream culture, to primary and secondary schools, and to the way ordinary citizens interact with and react to each other.

Gordon Brown: intellectual

John Lloyd in Prospect:

Gordonbrown12 In an essay in The Red Paper on Scotland, a 1975 collection that he edited, Gordon Brown revealed a youthful admiration for Antonio Gramsci, the Italian communist leader of the 1920s. Such an admiration was common among leftist intellectuals at the time, including those who, like Brown, always stayed on the democratic side of socialism. Gramsci was seen as a forerunner of the acceptable, even pluralist, face of communism then being promoted by the Italian and Spanish communist parties, which offered a bridge between the so-called revolutionary and the revisionist socialists—the former still strong in the Scots labour movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Much of Brown’s admiration for Gramsci has passed away—as has that for James Maxton, who inspired Brown’s only proper book (based on his PhD) and whose career in “Red Clydeside” agitation in the early 20th century was also suspended between the revolutionary and democratic strains of socialism. But in one respect, Gramsci still provides a kind of motto for Brown’s thought and practice. In The Modern Prince, he wrote that, “man can affect his own development and that of his surroundings only so far as he has a clear view of what the possibilities of action open to him are. To do this he has to understand the historical situation in which he finds himself: and once he does this, then he can play an active part in modifying that situation. The man of action is the true philosopher: and the philosopher must of necessity be a man of action.”

More here.

Bringing India’s castes to book

From The Age:

Hindu_caste AS A child growing up in south India, S. Anand knew only the rigidly orthodox world of Tamil Brahmins (known as “Tam Bams”).

His grandmother imposed strict caste rules: non-Brahmins were not allowed in the kitchen or at the dining table and they could not to use the same dishes as the family.

“I was like a frog in a well. I knew nothing outside my community. I did not mix with other castes. My grandmother wanted me to take my own plate to the dining hall at university because non-Brahmin meat eaters might have eaten off the same plate!” he says, in his office in Saket, a Delhi suburb.

Later, as a journalist, Mr Anand, 33, was struck by media indifference towards the massacres of low caste Indians — known as “dalits”, formerly called “untouchables”.

His fellow journalists, on hearing about dalit women being paraded naked through villages before being raped and burnt — would merely shrug as though to say “what’s new?” If reported at all, the killings usually ended up as news in brief.

Now, Mr Anand is India’s only publisher devoted exclusively to books on caste. His company, Navayana, won the British Council’s international young publisher of the year award in April for his pioneering work.

More here.

how to edit a magazine succesfully: Carter & Brown style

From The Dubliner:

Tina_brownOne is English, the other is Canadian. Both have edited edited Vanity Fair, the pre-eminent glossy magazine. Tina Brown and Graydon Carter are global superstars of magazine journalism. So what’s their secret? How do they judge an article? And how do they fish for new readers?

In a recent profile of Tina Brown, the Observer quotes the Queen of Buzz – a woman who was once described as “Joseph Stalin with high heels with blonde hair from England” – on the battle to seduce new readers:

“Will a racy cover line encourage a reader to read a serious and challenging 10,000 word piece? If it does, hooray. That’s what it’s about. . Marketing. I won’t be satisfied with an issue until everything has been done to make it more exciting and more appealing. I’m completely obsessed with the need to seduce readers all the time. I feel that we’re in a fight. In a war.”

Carter_0409_wideweb__430x225_2Graydon Carter has an alternative view on the process; or rather, a subtler justification. In 2004 he told the same newspaper how decisions to put stars on cover of a magazine are “unfortunately” a function of public prurience:

“In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have celebrities on the cover of Vanity Fair. But we have to sell 400,000 to 600,000 magazines off newsstands every month and, unfortunately, attractive people sell better than unattractive people. And there are more attractive people in the movie business than in, say, the magazine business.”

More here.

Storm, a poem


The storm had golden hair flecked with black
and moaned in a monotone, like a simple woman
giving birth to a future soldier, or a tyrant.

Vast clouds, multi-storied ships
surrounded us, and lightning’s scarlet strands
scattered nervously.

The highway became the Red Sea.
We moved through the storm like a sheer valley.
You drove; I looked at you with love.

Adam Zagajewski’s poem is at TNR here.

Otis Redding as Purveyor of Celestial Music


Music has soul. We operate as though it does. In fact, music is one of the few areas of human endeavor where the word soul, even among secular types, is liable to go unchallenged. All kinds of music are occasionally imputed to have soul. Even music that doesn’t have anything but volume or a tiresome double-kick drum sound. Ray Coniff, to a listener somewhere, has soul. Who am I to say otherwise? Soul in these cases perhaps indicates earnestness, rhetorical force, and/or vocal polyps. Nevertheless, there are persuasive indications that the word soul does indeed manifest itself in music, and so maybe it’s useful here at the outset to point to a recording that demonstrates why music belongs in any discussion about heaven. So, along these lines, I’m going to describe briefly the mechanics of one example of soul music, namely, a live recording by Otis Redding entitled “Try a Little Tenderness.”

more from Rick Moody at Salmagundi here.

Her subjects were the forsaken


History, sadly, is on Anna Politkovskaya’s side. Last Oct. 7, Politkovskaya, a reporter for Novaya Gazeta, one of Moscow’s smallest but most daring newspapers, was murdered. A 48-year-old who was about to become a grandmother, she had gained fame in the West, and infamy at home, for her writings on the war in Chechnya. Politkovskaya fell in an all-too-common post-Soviet fashion: three bullets to the chest, one “control shot” to the head. Within days, Vladimir Putin reassured the West that Politkovskaya, the 13th journalist killed during his reign, had “minimal” influence. She was, he said, “known among journalists and in human rights circles and in the West, but I repeat that she had no influence on political life. Her murder causes much more harm than her publications did.”

Putin was callous, but right.

more from the NY Times Book Review here.

Mysterious clouds spray sky with light


Cloud A new NASA satellite has recorded the first detailed images from space of a mysterious type of cloud called “night-shining” or “noctilucent.” The clouds are on the move, brightening and creeping out of polar regions, and researchers don’t know why.

“It is clear that these clouds are changing, a sign that a part of our atmosphere is changing and we do not understand how, why or what it means,” said atmospheric scientists James Russell III of Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. “These observations suggest a connection with global change in the lower atmosphere and could represent an early warning that our Earth environment is being changed.”

More here.

Madame Secretary

From The New York Times:

Rice_2 TWICE AS GOOD: Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power by Marcus Mabry.

“Twice as Good,” by Marcus Mabry, the chief of correspondents for Newsweek, works hard to solve the Rice puzzle. It digs deep into the story of her family, including her slave ancestors, and the hugely influential figure of her father, the Rev. John Rice. We follow the family’s journey from segregation in Alabama to educational opportunity in Colorado and finally to California. We learn much — with a detail uncommon in a political biography — of her almost frighteningly intense childhood.

An only child, Rice was groomed for greatness from birth. Initially home-schooled, the 4-year-old Condi would, Mabry reports, “put on her coat, leave her front door, walk to the end of the walk and then turn around and come back inside the house.” When she wasn’t studying, she would practice the piano for hours on end: she could read music before she could read. She didn’t fidget; she didn’t seem to need to go to the bathroom like other children. Her mother would let her play with the children across the street only if their doors were open and she could see her daughter at all times. Mrs. Rice once told a friend she would have no other children because she couldn’t take “this love” from Condoleezza.

More here.

The New Maoism in India

Ramachandra Guha in The Nation:

In recent years the Maoists have mounted a series of bold attacks on symbols of the Indian state. In November 2005 they stormed the district town of Jehanabad in Bihar, firebombing offices and freeing several hundred prisoners from the jail. Then, this past March, they attacked a police camp in Chattisgarh, killing fifty-five policemen and making off with a huge cache of weapons. At other times, they have bombed and set fire to railway stations and transmission towers.

The Indian Maoists are referred to by friend and foe alike as Naxalites, after the village of Naxalbari in north Bengal, where their movement began in 1967. Through the 1970s and ’80s, the Naxalites were episodically active in the Indian countryside. They were strongest in the states of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, where they organized low-caste sharecroppers and laborers to demand better terms from their upper-caste landlords. Naxalite activities were open, as when conducted through labor unions, or illegal, as when they assassinated a particularly recalcitrant landlord or made a daring seizure of arms from a police camp.

Until the 1990s the Naxalites were a marginal presence in Indian politics. But in that decade they began working more closely with the tribal communities of the Indian heartland. About 80 million Indians are officially recognized as “tribal”; of these, some 15 million live in the northeast, in regions untouched by Hindu influence. It is among the 65 million tribals of the heartland that the Maoists have found a most receptive audience.

Turning One Species Into Another

Philip Ball in news@nature.com:

By transplanting their genomes, US scientists have converted one species into another.

John Glass and his co-workers at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, have taken DNA from a bacterium called Mycoplasma mycoides and inserted it into cells of the closely related species Mycoplasma capricolum.

They find that the recipient cells with the new genome behave like those of the donor species, making protein molecules characteristic of the donor. It’s like re-booting a cell with a new operating system, says Glass.

“The method is very impressive,” says biomedical engineer Jim Collins of Boston University. “It’s surprising that they could get such a large piece of DNA into the bugs, and even more surprising that they could get the new genome jump-started.”

To swap the genomes, the researchers encased M. mycoides cells in a gel and used enzymes to break them apart and destroy their proteins, leaving only their naked DNA.

Is There Anything People Won’t Do With World of Warcraft?

Ryan Olson in Red Herring:

Corporate software maker Seriosity on Thursday released a lengthy report detailing some of the ways in which people who play massively multiplayer online role-playing games are developing skills vital to business success. And the company believes these types of games are shaping the next generation of corporate leaders.

While the idea isn’t new, the study provides a detailed look at some of the ways in which gamers are learning to collaborate, stay organized, and take risks. For dedicated players, it could prove that the hours they spend each week managing their fellow warriors, mages, and priests might actually help them conquer the corporate world as well…

The Palo Alto, California-based company, which teamed up with IBM and researchers from Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the study, found that logic and visualization skills, as well as creative thinking and collaborative abilities, are widely applicable in both domains.

You can find the report here.

July 13th, Mark the Date: When Sunset Aligns with the Grid of the Streets of Manhattan

From 2001, Neil deGrasse Tyson over at the Hayden Planetarium:


What will future civilizations think of Manhattan Island when they dig it up and find a carefully laid out network of streets and avenues? Surely the grid would be presumed to have astronomical significance, just as we have found for the pre-historic circle of large vertical rocks known as Stonehenge, in the Salisbury Plain of England. For Stonehenge, the special day is the summer solstice, when the Sun rose in perfect alignment with several of the stones, signaling the change of season.

For Manhattan, a place where evening matters more than morning, that special day comes on May 30th this year, one of only two occasions when the Sun sets in exact alignment with the Manhattan grid, fully illuminating every single cross-street for the last fifteen minutes of daylight. The other day is July 13th.

Had Manhattan’s grid been perfectly aligned with the geographic north-south line, then our special days would be the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, the only two days on the calendar when the Sun rises due east and sets due west. But Manhattan is rotated 30 degrees east from geographic north, shifting the days of alignment elsewhere into the calendar.

[H/t Linta Varghese]

still trying to figure out the damn skull


There are lots of things you can’t criticise Hirst for. You can’t complain about the fact that he doesn’t make his work by himself—neither did Rembrandt or Rubens or Warhol. You can’t complain that he’s made too many similar works—Pissaro, Magritte, Dalí and many others churned out substandard stuff on demand. The real difficulty with coming to a judgement on Hirst is that contemporary art theory does not permit one to assess whether an artist’s work is superficial or deep, because it’s virtually impossible to tell the difference between a banal work of art and one that takes banality as its theme, or between a simple work of art and a simplistic one. A critic could spend hours trying to decide if something is superficially superficial or deeply superficial—and never come up with an answer.

The contemporary theory of the icon is also relevant. Icons were originally images of Christ and the saints. Warhol revived the icon, by making images of celebrities who were already icons in the media. Nowadays, an iconic work of art is something even simpler. If a series of works of art are acquired by a sufficient number of collectors, or achieve such a media presence that they are instantly recognisable, then they become, de facto, iconic. That’s why the world’s best historians of modern art, Rosalind Krauss and Benjamin Buchloh of October magazine, have remarked contemptuously that, in the art of Hirst, the aura of artistic inspiration has been replaced by the auras of media celebrity and of luxury commodity.

more from Prospect Magazine here.

that disquieting moment when you see that what you laughed at


“Playful” is probably the last adjective one would think to use for the oeuvre of the Primo Levi who wrote Survival in Auschwitz, describing the ordeal he lived through but never left behind. And yet, on reading the latest collection of his stories to be translated into English, A Tranquil Star, on the anniversary of his death twenty years ago, one cannot avoid the impression of playfulness in these small stories written between 1949 and 1986, each of which seems to be an offspring of the question “What if…?”

What if a kangaroo were to go to a dinner party? What if the weekend’s entertainment were a gladiatorial battle between men and automobiles? What if there were a magic paint that brought good fortune to anyone covered with it? What if all the characters invented by novelists were to live in a theme park together?

more from the NYRB here.

the act of “making special”


In a hushed, darkened side gallery in a university exhibition space in Orange County, a series of simple glass display cases hold an array of intricately fashioned reliquaries — ornate housings for sacred objects such as slivers off the Bodhi Tree or a bone from the big toe of Mary Magdalene. The more than four dozen works on view display the gilded ornamental woodwork and oddly architectural forms that are the hallmarks of this rarely considered art-historical side stream, and they have a glow of musty intimacy and antiquarian mystery about them.

Until you look a bit closer. Then you start to see what exactly it is that’s been enshrined here: the broken neck and cap from a bottle of Orange Crush, a Jägermeister shot glass, a Morticia Addams bubblegum card, a red carpenter’s pencil, a pair of well-used black boxer shorts, a depleted can of Paul Mitchell Extra-Body Sculpting Mousse, various bits of dry wall and stucco, and a wide assortment of mass-produced touristy knickknacks and commercial premiums. What kind of religion is this, anyway?

more from the LA Weekly here.

A Scholar in the House

From Harvard Magazine:

Faust Tradition and the twenty-first century were tangled together in Barker Center’s Thompson Room on the afternoon of February 11, when Drew Gilpin Faust conducted her first news conference as Harvard’s president-elect. Faust sketched

elements of her childhood “in a privileged family in the rural Shenandoah Valley” of Virginia in “Living History,” an essay published in this magazine in 2003. “I was the only daughter in a family of four children,” she wrote, and subject to her community’s prevailing expectations for girls. As she noted in the bracing preface to her widely acclaimed 1996 book, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War:

“When I was growing up in Virginia in the 1950s and 1960s, my mother taught me that the term “woman” was disrespectful, if not insulting. Adult females—at least white ones—should be considered and addressed as “ladies.” I responded to this instruction by refusing to wear dresses and by joining the 4-H club, not to sew and can like all the other girls, but to raise sheep and cattle with the boys. My mother still insisted on the occasional dress but, to her credit, said not a negative word about my enthusiasm for animal husbandry.

Looking back, I am sure that the origins of this book lie somewhere in that youthful experience and in the continued confrontations with my mother—until the very eve of her death when I was 19—about the requirements of what she usually called “femininity.” “It’s a man’s world, sweetie, and the sooner you learn that the better off you’ll be,” she warned. I have been luckier than she in that I have lived in a time when my society and culture have supported me in proving that statement wrong”.

More here