Out of the desert, on to the sofa

From Nature:

Cat Domestic cats have been worshiped as gods, reviled as devils and cherished as companions. News@nature.com looks at the feline family tree to find out when and where humans began to welcome cats into their homes. According to a new genetic analysis, modern-day housecats are descended from a population of domesticated wildcats that prowled the Middle East more than 100,000 years ago. Carlos Driscoll, a zoologist working at Oxford University and the US National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland, and his colleagues surveyed 979 cats from around the globe, including wildcats, feral cats, various domesticated breeds, sand cats and Chinese desert cats.

By comparing genome sequences, the researchers worked out the relationships between the different animals. DNA shows that domestic cats are most similar to wildcats currently living in the deserts of Israel, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The results are published this week in Science. “We found five distinct lineages dating back 100,000 years prior to any archaeological record of cat domestication,” says David Macdonald, a zoologist at Oxford University and a co-author on the study. “These appear to come from at least five female cats from the Near East whose descendants have been transported across the world by humans.”

More here. (For Abbas, the cat-lover)

Craig Mello




Save the Casbah

In Algiers, preservationists race to rescue the storied quarter. But is it too late?

Joshua Hammer in Smithsonian Magazine:

Screenhunter_26_jun_28_1606Spilling down precipitous hills overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, this mazelike quarter of Algiers, the capital of Algeria, has long conjured up both Arab exoticism and political turbulence. Dating back to Phoenician times but rebuilt by the Ottomans in the late 1700s, the Casbah has served over the centuries as a refuge for pirates, freedom fighters, Islamic militants and petty thieves, all of whom found easy anonymity in its alleys and houses sequestered behind imposing stone walls.

But the often violent history of the Casbah has obscured an appreciation of the quarter’s architectural and cultural riches. Preservationists consider it one of the most beautiful examples of late Ottoman style. Its once-whitewashed structures, facing onto narrow passages and constructed around enclosed courtyards, contain a wealth of hidden treasures—marble floors, fountains, carved lintels, intricate mosaics. For generations, writers and artists have celebrated the mystery, tragedy and rhythms of life in the Casbah in literature and painting. “Oh my Casbah,” wrote Himoud Brahimi, the poet laureate of the quarter, in 1966, four years after the Algerian resistance defeated the French occupiers. “Cradle of my birth, where I came to know loyalty and love. How can I forget the battles in your alleys, that still bear the burdens of war?”

More here.

Pragmatist Hope

Casey Nelson Blake in Dissent:

Rorty has in recent years stepped back from his early atheist pronouncements, describing his current position as “anti-clerical,” and he has begun to explore, with increasing sympathy and insight, the social Christianity that his grandfather Walter Rauschenbusch championed a century ago. In an exchange with philosopher Gianni Vattimo, Rorty movingly evokes an ideal of holiness that Rauschenbusch might himself have offered, in roughly the same words. “My sense of the holy, insofar as I have one, is bound up with the hope that someday, any millennium now, my remote descendants will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law. In such a society, communication would be domination-free, class and caste would be unknown, hierarchy would be a matter of temporary pragmatic convenience, and power would be entirely at the disposal of the free agreement of a literate and well-educated electorate.” Rorty admits he has “no idea of how such a society could come about. It is, one might say, a mystery. This mystery, like that of the Incarnation, concerns the coming into existence of a love that is kind, patient, and endures all things.”

To which I—and everyone else indebted to Rorty for reminding us of this country’s most generous intellectual and political traditions—can only say, amen.

More here.

Dystopia in Kentucky

George Packer in The New Yorker:

Adam_eveA few miles west of Cincinnati, near the northern Kentucky town of Petersburg, there’s a gleaming new monument to Christianist ideology called the Creation Museum. It was built by an Australian Biblical literalist named Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, at a cost of twenty-seven million dollars, raised mostly in small donations. It opened over Memorial Day weekend with a blast of media attention (Edward Rothstein wrote two pieces about it for the New York Times), and since then ten thousand people a week have been flocking to its exhibits. Last Sunday, on a visit to my in-laws in Lexington, I joined them.

The sixty-thousand-square-foot museum mimics the language, layout, and technical effects of state-of-the-art science museums: mastodon fossils and mineral crystals, soaring dioramas of life-size animatronic dinosaurs, several movie theatres, conference rooms, cafés, even a planetarium, and an echoing soundtrack of bird calls. But, as you pay your $19.95 and walk through the entry hall, there are clues that this is all a sophisticated sham.

The simulation serves a primitive ideology known as “young-earth creationism,” which promote the idea that the earth is just over six thousand years old and that the fossil record appeared after the Flood, around 4300 B.C.

More here.

David Adjaye, the next ‘starchitect’


Adjaye and his family moved to London when he was nine years old, and he later studied architecture at the Royal College of Art, but deep-rooted memories of Africa remain with him, as well as a continuing fascination. Currently Adjaye is working on a book documenting every major African capital and he has already visited a dozen or so.

These fascinations feed every piece of work, from Denver to Tottenham.

“My roots are on that continent, so my aesthetics are also shaped by Africa, as well as being shaped by my education in Britain and my global education. It’s all a matter of choices.

“An architect like Tadao Ando might say that he looks at Shinto temples or someone else might say they look at Italian hill towns. I am deeply interested in the continent of Africa, as a project that will occupy my life.”

more from The Telegraph here.

One More Martyr in a Dirty War


Brad Will always turned up where things were happening. Even to write that in the past tense seems strange, almost laughable, and nobody would laugh about it more than he would, with his conspiratorial raised-eyebrow chuckle, a laugh that let you in on a secret joke. To write it in the past tense negates the immortality that we often felt around each other. But he’s dead now, and so I have to write it that way, because it seems the only way to believe it enough so as to set some part of his story down. I still half-expect him to come rolling around the corner on his bike, dirty from traveling, eating a dumpster-dived bagel while gesticulating theatrically, recounting his latest adventures in Brazil or the South Bronx.

more from 3QD pal Matt Power at VQR here.

So I got involved with fine arts for the pettiest reason: [to say] screw you


A few years ago, Chelsea looked like a teenager going through its goth phase. Some weeks, the galleries resembled the set of a cheesy horror movie—all fangs and skulls and black makeup, with show titles like “Scream” and “Flesh and Blood.” Sue de Beer was showing videos of goth Girl Scouts, and David Altmejd was building installations around dead werewolves. And Banks Violette’s glossy black sculptures and high-contrast drawings, inspired by murder-suicides and Scandinavian black metal, were among the highest profile of them all. The 34-year-old from Ithaca played up his gloom-and-doom image, too. The guy has a giant spiderweb tattoo on his neck that, as his Adam’s apple bobs as he talks, appears to be choking him. Vanity Fair photographed him lighting a Marlboro with a blowtorch, and when a British journalist asked him if he worshipped Satan, he responded with a long-winded affirmation, citing Hegel.

more from New York Magazine here.

The Palestine follies

Jeffrey D. Sachs in The Jordan Times:

SachsAmerican foreign policy in the Middle East experienced yet another major setback this month, when Hamas, whose Palestinian government the United States had tried to isolate, routed the rival Fateh movement in Gaza. In response, Israel sealed Gaza’s borders, making life even more unbearable in a place wracked by violence, poverty and despair.

It is important that we recognise the source of America’s failure, because it keeps recurring, making peace between Israel and Palestine more difficult. The roots of failure lie in the US and Israeli governments’ belief that military force and financial repression can lead to peace on their terms, rather than accepting a compromise on terms that the Middle East, the rest of the world and, crucially, most Israelis and Palestinians, accepted long ago.

For 40 years, since the Six-Day War of 1967, there has been one realistic possibility for peace: Israel’s return to its pre-1967 borders, combined with viable economic conditions for a Palestinian state, including access to trade routes, water supplies and other essential needs.

More here.

A Glorious Beginning: How the last invasion of England set the stage for American liberty

From The Washington Post:Hix

OUR FIRST REVOLUTION: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America’s Founding Fathers By Michael Barone

Voltaire dismissed the Holy Roman Empire as not holy, Roman or an empire. Historians have long given a similar back of the hand to England’s Glorious Revolution of the 1680s. It was glorious, they asserted, mostly in avoiding mass bloodshed, and compared to later revolutions in France, Russia and China, it wasn’t much of a revolution.

Michael Barone disagrees. The change in English government as a result of the events of 1688-89 was not simply astonishing on its own terms, he argues, but pregnant with consequences for the English-speaking world. Barone is a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report, a longtime coauthor of the Almanac of American Politics and an occasional historian of recent American public life. In his current book he digs three centuries into the English past to unearth the roots of contemporary political practice on the Western side of the Atlantic — the “Our” of his title refers to us Americans.

More here.

Bye, Bye, Miss American Empire

From Orion Magazine:


In the wake of George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004, frustrated liberals talked secession back to within hailing distance of the margins of national debate—a place it had not occupied since 1861. With their praise of self-rule and the devolution of power, they sounded not unlike many conservatives had in the days before Bush & Cheney & Limbaugh wedded the American Right to the American Empire. While certain proponents of the renascent secessionism were motivated by spite or pixilated by whimsy or driven by the simple-minded belief that the United States can be divided into blue and red—as though our lovely land can be painted in only two hues!—others argued with cogency and passion for a disunionist position that bordered on the, well, seditious. Emphasizing both culture (“Now that slavery is taken care of, I’m for letting the South form its own nation,” said Democratic operative Bob Beckel) and economics (Democratic pundit Lawrence O’Donnell noted that “ninety percent of the red states are welfare clients of the federal government”), writing in forums of neoliberalism (Slate) and paleoliberalism (The Nation), liberals helped to disinter a body of thought that had been buried at Appomattox. And—surprise!—three years later, the corpse has legs.

More here.

The greatest letters ever written?

When the Swiss lawyer Albin Schram died in 2005, he left behind an extraordinary collection of letters by some of Western civilisation’s greatest minds. They will soon go under the hammer – but here are the highlights of the collection…

From The Independent:

Napoleon Bonaparte to Josephine de Beauharnais, following a row during the preparations for their marriage on 9 March 1796. Translated from the French.

“So you thought that I did not love you for yourself! For what, then? Oh Madame, did you really think this? Could such an unworthy feeling have been conceived by such a pure spirit? I am still astonished at it, but less however than at the feeling which on my awakening brings me back to your feet, without resentment and without willpower. It is certainly impossible to be weaker or further abased. What then is your strange power, incomparable Josephine? One of your thoughts poisons my life, tears my soul apart… but a stronger feeling, a less sensitive mood, takes hold of me, draws me back and rules me again as if I were guilty. I truly feel that if we quarrel I should close my heart… And you mio dolce amor – Have you spared me even two thoughts?!!! I kiss you three times, once on your heart, once on your lips and once on your eyes.”

Albert Einstein to his childhood friend Paul Habicht, written in Connecticut, 5 July, 1935. The reference in the first sentence is to Habicht’s ill-health.

“I heard recently that the Devil – the only one who is never without work these days – has had his claws firmly in you. He will let you go again sooner or later, as in the long period of our separation has already happened to me twice, although he seemed to have me firmly in his paws. Do you still remember when we were young, and we were working together on those nice little electrostatic machines? Do you also remember our conversation about the politics of Germany, which you were still defending during the war, while I had already got to know at first hand the consequent dangers? I weighed anchor just at the right moment from there, so that I at least didn’t get to feel the claws of the clean-cut heroes in my back. I have now set up home in this curious new world and am still brooding like an old hen on the same old scientific eggs, even if the bodily warmth which one needs for brooding has rather diminished over the years. What is so nice in this country is that the people don’t sit so much on top of one another and, as a result, feel more comfortable with each other. So I sit here the whole summer in a quiet bay and sail in a little sailing boat as much as I want to. And one becomes some sort of Indian in this sun.”

More here.

Virtual reality and participatory exploration

Jeff Foust in The Space Review:

Screenhunter_22_jun_27_2209NASA is currently experimenting with some ways to get the public more involved with future exploration of the Moon and other destinations, particularly through the use of virtual reality tools; the agency is hosting a “Participatory Exploration Summit” this week at the Ames Research Center on this subject. But, by doing so, does NASA run the risk of blurring the lines between hard physical reality and its computer-generated counterpart and, in the long run, make it harder to support human exploration of the solar system?

NASA’s best-known foray into this area has been its presence in Second Life, an “online digital world” in the words of its developer, Linden Lab. Second Life is one of a number of online multiplayer games that have become popular in recent years, but unlike other such games, there are no specific adventures to undertake, battles to fight, or worlds to conquer. Instead, it’s more of an unstructured environment where people can explore, interact with others, build (and buy and sell) all sorts of items, and… whatever else one might do in ordinary life, and then some. NASA’s Collaborative Space Exploration Laboratory (CoLab) has its own presence, or “island”, in Second Life, that’s used to host meetings and as a technology testbed of sorts.

More here.

Sir Salman in the sea of blasphemy

Irfan Husain in OpenDemocracy:

Screenhunter_21_jun_27_1428The decision to knight Salman Rushdie, announced in Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday honours list on 15 June 2007 has provoked a vigorous reaction in Pakistan. As protests continue, they are descending from the genuine to the self-serving. While there no more public demonstrations, politicians are jumping on the bandwagon in an attempt to out-fatwa each other.

Arbab Rahim, the Sindh chief minister, was at least original when he announced he was surrendering the British awards given to his grandfather in 1937, and to his uncle in 1945. Considering that these worthies are no longer with us to voice an opinion, this was gesture of dubious value. In fact, I doubt very much that Tony Blair is greatly troubled by this post-facto, post-mortem rejection of two minor medals the colonial government handed out by the cartload to minor tribal chiefs and feudal landowners. Rahim also urged Benazir Bhutto to similarly renounce the knighthood conferred upon Shahnawaz Bhutto, her grandfather, accusing her of not being sufficiently angered by this “insult to all Muslims”.

At the same time, a group of Islamabad traders decided to increase the stakes by announcing a 10-million rupee (around 80,000 pounds) reward for Rushdie’s decapitation. The leader of this association, Ajmal Baluch, also called for a boycott of British goods. A ban on bootlegged Scotch would certainly hit Pakistan’s elite very hard.

More here.

Apartheid Comes to New Jersey

Saifedean Ammous in the Columbia Spectator:

SettlementIt was a cold Sunday morning in Teaneck, N.J. Some two-hundred-odd Jewish-Americans were entering the Orthodox synagogue Congregation B’nai Yeshurun where they were to hear a sales pitch by the Amana Settlement Movement aimed at convincing them to buy homes in illegal Israeli settlements.

America, the land that gave the world the separation of church and state, is hosting an auction where only members of one religious group can buy property.

And here I am, a Palestinian who grew up hundreds of meters away from some of these very settlements. I cannot buy any of these houses and am not admitted into the auction room. Literally and figuratively left out in the cold, I light a cigarette and get over it immediately; being denied entry is not an entirely novel experience for a Palestinian.

More here.

slovenia and the hollowed-out generation


The street is still named Marshall Tito. It is not any street but the main street of the capital, perforating the torso of a broken city that is only slowly growing back together again. It is also the witness to an unusual event in Sarajevo – a crowd at a bookshop. Even from outside, it can be seen that something is wrong. In the bookshops of the countries that emerged on the territory of the now departed Yugoslavia, writing supplies, reams of paper for copy machines, souvenirs, and even toys have proliferated like termites, invading the display windows and almost entirely pushing out the product advertised in the signs – Knjigarna, Knjizara: namely, books. They’ve been on the defensive since 1992. Since the Dayton peace agreement was signed, I have come every year or two to this bookshop, and this is the first time that there has been anyone else in the place besides me and the salesgirl. I had anticipated that, like always, I would see her seated in her solitary corner, her gaze penetrating the emptiness, gray fingers, a long-ashed cigarette between them, hovering over an ashtray that rests on a stack of dusty classics. And now this crowd all of a sudden; the salesgirl unrecognizably busy. Right now, she is serving a lady whose faced is covered by a feredza. I steal a glance at what kind of a book the woman holds with her left hand as she counts out convertible marks with her right. Would you think I was exaggerating if I wrote that the book she is holding is the same book that is lying on the nightstand of my hotel room? It would be a mistake if you didn’t. Because the lady with the veil is purchasing a Bosnian cookbook that is not at this moment lying on the nightstand of my hotel room. As she does not have enough convertible marks, she puts down the cookbook on top of another book stacked on the sales counter among the other best sellers. And, behold, this time it is the same book that is lying on the nightstand in my hotel room and is now covered by a book about the art of Bosnian cuisine in the same way that we might cover ourselves with a blanket in an ice-cold bedroom.

more from Eurozine here.

basking in bakhtin


For the past three decades, Mikhail Bakhtin has been more of an industry than an individual. Not only an industry, in fact, but a flourishing transnational corporation, complete with jet-setting chief executives, global conventions and its own in-house journal. In the field of cultural theory, this victim of Stalinism is now big business. Most of the mouth-filling terms he coined – dialogism, double-voicedness, chronotope, heteroglossia, multi-accentuality – have passed into the lexicon of contemporary criticism. A cosmopolitan coterie of scholars, some of whom have devoted a lifetime to his texts, have long since struggled to appropriate him for their own agendas. Is he a Marxist, neo-Kantian, religious humanist, discourse theorist, literary critic, cultural sociologist, ethical thinker, philosophical anthropologist, or all these things together?

more from Terry Eagleton at the LRB here.

a boswell for borges


Adolfo Bioy Casares had his first conversation with Jorge Luis Borges in 1931 or 1932, when Bioy was about eighteen and Borges was thirty-two. From then on they enjoyed an extraordinarily intense literary friendship which lasted until Borges’s death in 1986. In 1947 Bioy started to write a diary, in which he recorded the often daily conversations that make up this gargantuan book. The diary clearly covered many other topics, and they are tantalizingly referred to by Daniel Martino, the editor of Borges, in a short, unilluminating preface. Martino says that “Bioy’s diaries open up a vast universe where his notes on his conversations with Borges coexist with his writings on everyday life and his frequent examinations of matters of conduct”. Martino seems to have had exclusive access to this material, but he does not tell us where the rest of it is, which is a pity because Bioy is a considerable writer in his own right, even if many critics still see him first and foremost as Borges’s friend, and collaborator in numerous stories and satires which they jointly wrote under the pseudonyms of H. Bustos Domecq and B. Suárez Lynch.

more from the TLS here.

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