it’s OK, i’m attractive


My face is symmetrical. Therefore, the situation is completely resolved. My voice is melodious and, when not utterly aloof, slightly flirtatious. My posture, walk, and way of slowly shifting my weight from one hip to the other while twirling my hair absentmindedly as I gaze off into an untroubled haze are all compelling as hell to ruminate upon, in silent contemplation, while the rest of the world pauses. I even smell great. You’re in for a rare treat, sensory-input-wise, being around me. Go ahead. Soak it in. Feast your eyes. This is one of those moments. For you. So you see, we have no cause for distress anymore, in terms of whatever that may have been that was temporarily impeding the immediate gratification of my every wish.

more from The Onion here.

plouffe’s world


If he were less shy and had a funny accent, David Plouffe would be every bit the household name that James Carville is—perhaps even going on Oprah and taking cameo roles in Hollywood movies. Plouffe is, after all, “the unsung hero” of the “best political campaign in the history of the United States of America”—which is how Barack Obama described him before a global television audience, in the mother of all shout-outs, on the night he was elected Leader of the Free World. At 41, Plouffe (rhymes with “no fluff”) will probably never top his historic achievement of managing the campaign that gave this nation its first African-American commander in chief. The juggernaut Plouffe led, which grew to a payroll of 5,000 before Election Day, raised record amounts of cash from millions of small donors, defeated the once-invincible Hillary Clinton machine, and crushed the flailing Republican nominee, John McCain. Obama’s success was so overwhelming that it’s hard to remember those early days when the freshman senator from Illinois was the longest of long-shots and the darkest of dark horses in a country still troubled by issues of race.

more from Portfolio here.

Justice Porn

Greg Beato in Reason:

Marilyn4hs Five years ago, there were seven fake judges giving us our day (and occasional evening hour) in court. Now there are nearly twice that many, with three new shows (Judge Karen, Judge Jeanine Pirro, and Family Court With Judge Penny) debuting in September 2008 alone. At least one other, Street Judge, is on the way. They're there because in the ever-shrinking world of television syndication, where competition from cable and the Internet has made Oprah-sized hits as rare as silk ascots on The Jerry Springer Show, the new dream is a steady 1.5 Nielsen rating on a weekly budget of no more than $500,000. Justice porn, it turns out, is a fairly reliable way to achieve that end: Find a sassy real-life jurist with an itch for the big time, throw some penny-ante miscreants at her mercy, and let the premature adjudication begin.

Explicitly moral, obscenely didactic, showcasing a perversely distorted view of the American legal system, justice porn is a potent, ubiquitous presence in our lives, and at least as influential as the cartoon mayhem of Saints Row 2 or Young Jeezy's latest ode to thug life. And yet has the Federal Communications Commission's airwave fresheners ever knitted their vigilant brows over Judge Judy's contempt for the petitioners who enter her chambers seeking some facsimile of fairness? Will Hillary Clinton ever make alarmist speeches about the way these shows desensitize viewers to due process while glorifying judicial misconduct? When will the obsessive-compulsive filth inspectors at the Parents Television Council record every act of gratuitous gavel banging that occurs on these shows over a two-week period? Don't they know that grown-ups—naive and malleable grown-ups with a natural curiosity about civil litigation—are watching?

More here.

Let’s End Drug Prohibition

Ethan A. Nadelmann in the Wall Street Journal:

ScreenHunter_08 Dec. 14 08.42 Today is the 75th anniversary of that blessed day in 1933 when Utah became the 36th and deciding state to ratify the 21st amendment, thereby repealing the 18th amendment. This ended the nation's disastrous experiment with alcohol prohibition.

It's already shaping up as a day of celebration, with parties planned, bars prepping for recession-defying rounds of drinks, and newspapers set to publish cocktail recipes concocted especially for the day.

But let's hope it also serves as a day of reflection. We should consider why our forebears rejoiced at the relegalization of a powerful drug long associated with bountiful pleasure and pain, and consider too the lessons for our time.

The Americans who voted in 1933 to repeal prohibition differed greatly in their reasons for overturning the system. But almost all agreed that the evils of failed suppression far outweighed the evils of alcohol consumption.

The change from just 15 years earlier, when most Americans saw alcohol as the root of the problem and voted to ban it, was dramatic. Prohibition's failure to create an Alcohol Free Society sank in quickly. Booze flowed as readily as before, but now it was illicit, filling criminal coffers at taxpayer expense.

More here.

memory collecting


The twentieth century left deep and unhealed wounds in the memory of almost all the nations of eastern and central Europe, with its revolutions, uprisings, two World Wars, the Nazi occupation, the inconceivable horror of the Holocaust. Then there was the huge number of local wars and conflicts, most of which had a pronounced national flavour: tin he Baltic States, Poland, western Ukraine and the Balkans. We witnessed a string of dictatorships of different ilk, each unceremoniously depriving people of their civic and political liberty, foisting upon them instead a standard system of values binding on all. National independence was in succession gained and lost, and gained again, with this for the most part being seen within the framework of ethnic self-identification. And each time, this or that community felt insulted and humiliated. This is our shared history. Yet each national group remembers and perceives it’s own history in its own way. National memory refashions and interprets this shared history in its own way. For this reason, each national group has its own twentieth century.

more from Eurozine here.

immortal diamond


In 1868, at the age of 23, Gerard Manley Hopkins decided to burn the poetry he’d written up to that time: “Slaughter of the Innocents,” he noted in his journal. Recognizing that poetry depended on deep and perhaps dangerous feeling — and given what he would later concede was a disturbing affinity with Walt Whitman (“a very great scoundrel”) — Hopkins decided it was incompatible with his calling to the Jesuit priesthood. In that capacity Hopkins would persevere amid ghastly privations, though he could not entirely escape his destiny as one of the most influential poets of the 20th century (a century he would not live to see). As Paul Mariani points out in “Gerard Manley Hopkins,” his generous new biography, the “unpromising beginnings” of Hopkins’s prosodic revolution were in a Jesuit classroom in London, where as a teacher of rhetoric he tried to impart something of his enthusiasm for the later rhythms of Milton and the alliterative effects of the Anglo-Saxons.

more from the NY Times here.

yates wooded


In April, 1951, Richard Yates sailed from New York to Paris. He had been there twice before, as a child and, later, as a soldier, but for him, as for so many American writers, it was less a place than a laurelled idea—the silvery and careless city of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Careless, but a literary workshop, too: Yates said that he was determined to produce short stories there “at the rate of about one a month.” Then twenty-five years old, he was beginning an indenture that would last until his death, in 1992. Around the compulsion of writing he shaped everything else. There were two other compulsions, smoking and drinking, but they only killed him, while writing plainly kept him alive. (He was an alcoholic, but he rarely wrote while drunk.) He lived in New York, in Iowa, in Los Angeles, in Boston, and, finally, in Alabama, yet his homes were identical in their shabby discipline of neglect. In each there was a table for writing, a circle of crushed cockroaches around the desk chair, curtains made colorless by cigarette smoke, a few books, and nothing much in the kitchen but coffee, bourbon, and beer. Friends and colleagues found these accommodations appallingly bleak; for Yates they were accommodations for writing.

more from The New Yorker here.

Thinly Veiled

LORRAINE ADAMS reviews The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones in The New York Times:

Medina Sherry Jones, a Montana and Idaho correspondent for the Bureau of National Affairs, a specialty news service covering legislative and regulatory issues, has written a novel from the point of view of Muhammad’s third and youngest wife, A’isha. Most accounts agree that she was 6 at their engagement, 9 at their wedding and 14 when publicly accused of adultery. The novel’s story line coincides with a pivotal time in Islamic history — the 10 years beginning with Muhammad’s flight from Mecca to Medina in A.D. 622 and ending with his death at age 62. His actions during that period have also been seized upon by Western commentators and poets as proof of Muhammad’s unmanageable sexual appetite and self-serving declaration of divine revelation. Among the most contested criticisms of Muhammad are his taking of many more than the four wives he decreed as the limit for other men and his edict, supposedly inspired by Allah, requiring his wives to be placed behind a curtain, the basis for the veiling of Muslim women. Both matters are fictionalized in Jones’s novel, which was scheduled to be published by the Random House imprint Ballantine until controversy intervened.

The most authoritative contemporary English-language account of A’isha — “Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of A’isha Bint Abi Bakr” — is not listed as one of Jones’s sources. But its author, Denise Spellberg, played a role in Random House’s decision to abandon the book.

More here.

The monster in the mirror

Arundhati Roy in The Guardian:

Arundhati_roy_narrowweb__300x424,2 We've forfeited the rights to our own tragedies. As the carnage in Mumbai raged on, day after horrible day, our 24-hour news channels informed us that we were watching “India's 9/11”. Like actors in a Bollywood rip-off of an old Hollywood film, we're expected to play our parts and say our lines, even though we know it's all been said and done before. As tension in the region builds, US Senator John McCain has warned Pakistan that if it didn't act fast to arrest the “Bad Guys” he had personal information that India would launch air strikes on “terrorist camps” in Pakistan and that Washington could do nothing because Mumbai was India's 9/11. But November isn't September, 2008 isn't 2001, Pakistan isn't Afghanistan and India isn't America. So perhaps we should reclaim our tragedy and pick through the debris with our own brains and our own broken hearts so that we can arrive at our own conclusions.

It's odd how in the last week of November thousands of people in Kashmir supervised by thousands of Indian troops lined up to cast their vote, while the richest quarters of India's richest city ended up looking like war-torn Kupwara – one of Kashmir's most ravaged districts. The Mumbai attacks are only the most recent of a spate of terrorist attacks on Indian towns and cities this year. Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Guwahati, Jaipur and Malegaon have all seen serial bomb blasts in which hundreds of ordinary people have been killed and wounded. If the police are right about the people they have arrested as suspects, both Hindu and Muslim, all Indian nationals, it obviously indicates that something's going very badly wrong in this country.

More here.

National Geographic Traveler Photo Award Winners

ScreenHunter_07 Dec. 13 13.06

Merit Award: Majed Sultan Ali, Kuwait City, Kuwait
Nikon Coolpix Digital Camera and a Bogen National Geographic Prize Package

Majed Sultan Ali, a computer engineer, photographed a wild cat in Kuwait's Subah reserve. Noticing flying ants in the area, he waited for one to enter the frame before shooting. (Nikon D300 camera, Nikkor 200-400 mm Vr lens at 400 mm, exposure at 1/640 second, f/5.6, ISO 320)

Again this year, Traveler partnered with Photo District News on the ultimate travel-photo contest. More than 4,000 amateur shutterbugs entered 14,647 images in our World in Focus competition.

More here. [Thanks to Marilyn Terrell.]

Peace is a question of will

Martti Ahtisaari's Nobel Peace Prize Lecture:

ScreenHunter_05 Dec. 13 12.40 Peace is a question of will. All conflicts can be settled, and there are no excuses for allowing them to become eternal. It is simply intolerable that violent conflicts defy resolution for decades causing immeasurable human suffering, and preventing economic and social development. The passivity and impotence of the international community make it more difficult for us to place our faith in jointly built security structures. Despite the many challenges, even the most intractable conflicts can be resolved if the parties involved and the international community join forces and work together for a common aim. The United Nations provides the right framework for international peace efforts and solutions to global problems. However, we are all aware of the constraints of the United Nations and of the tendency of the member states to give it demanding assignments without providing adequate resources and political support. It is important that the UN member states work resolutely to strengthen the world organization. We cannot afford to lose the UN.

In a conflict, one party can always claim victory, but building peace must involve everybody: the weak and the powerful, the victors and the vanquished, men and women, young and old. However, peace negotiations are often conducted by a small elite. In the future we must be better able to achieve a broader participation in peace processes. Particularly, there is a need to ensure the engagement of women in all stages of a peace process.

Peace processes and the agreements resulting from them end the violence. But the real work only starts after a peace agreement has been concluded. The agreements reached have to be implemented. Social and political change does not happen overnight, and the reconstruction and establishment of democracy demand patience. That requires a comprehensive approach to peacebuilding, and support for civil society.

More here.

Consider the Philosopher

James Ryerson in the New York Times Magazine:

David Foster Wallace With the death of David Foster Wallace, the author of “Infinite Jest,” who took his own life on Sept. 12, the world of contemporary American fiction lost its most intellectually ambitious writer. Like his peers Richard Powers and William T. Vollmann, Wallace wrote big, brainy novels that were encyclopedically packed with information and animated by arcane ideas. In nonfiction essays, he tackled a daunting range of highbrow topics, including lexicography, poststructuralist literary theory and the science, ethics and epistemology of lobster pain. He wrote a book on the history and philosophy of the mathematics of infinity. Even his signature stylistic device — the extensive use of footnotes and endnotes — was a kind of scholarly homage.

But Wallace was also wary of ideas. He was perpetually on guard against the ways in which abstract thinking (especially thinking about your own thinking) can draw you away from something more genuine and real. To read his acutely self-conscious, dialectically fevered writing was often to witness the agony of cognition: how the twists and turns of thought can both hold out the promise of true understanding and become a danger to it. Wallace was especially concerned that certain theoretical paradigms — the cerebral aestheticism of modernism, the clever trickery of postmodernism — too casually dispense with what he once called “the very old traditional human verities that have to do with spirituality and emotion and community.” He called for a more forthright, engaged treatment of these basic truths. Yet he himself attended to them with his own fractured, often-esoteric methods. It was a defining tension: the very conceptual tools with which he pursued life’s most desperate questions threatened to keep him forever at a distance from the connections he struggled to make.

More here. [Thanks to Alex Star.]

The Mumbai Massacres And Pakistan’s Nightmare To Come

An interview with Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy conducted by Cristina Otten and originally published in German in Focus Magazin:

Tensions between Pakistan and India have been growing after the Mumbai attacks. Are we close to a military escalation?

ScreenHunter_04 Dec. 13 12.00 In spite of vociferous demands by the Indian public, Manmohan Singh’s government has withstood the pressure to conduct crossborder strikes into Pakistan. Correspondingly, in spite of the bitter criticism by Islamic parties, Pakistan’s government has taken some action against the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), the jihadist organization that is quite probably behind the attacks. For now, the tension has eased somewhat but another attack could push India over the fence.

What makes the LeT so different from other militant groups? Is Pakistan really moving against it?

LeT, one of the largest militant groups in Pakistan, was established over 15 years ago. It had the full support of the Pakistani military and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) for over a decade because it focussed upon fighting Indian rule in Muslim Kashmir. Today it is one of the very few extremist groups left that does not attack the Pakistani army and state; in contrast almost all others have turned into mortal enemies. We now hear that a few members of LeT, who were named by India, have been arrested. Time will tell whether this was a serious move, or if this was a ruse to ease the enormous pressure against Pakistan. If serious, then the Army and ISI will have earned the bitter enmity of yet another former ally. They are afraid of a repeat of their experience with Jaish-e-Muhammad, a formerly supported Islamic militant group that now is responsible for extreme brutalities, including torture and decapitations, of Pakistani soldiers captured in FATA. It’s a nightmarish situation for the Pakistan Army.

Read more »

the great bettie page (1923-2008)


So, you might reasonably ask, what is it about Bettie Page? Why does her image still capture the imagination, while legions of her cohorts in the nudie modeling trade could barely sell a publicity still to save their pasties? Bettie’s fans tend to answer that question with the naughty-but-nice paradox. For Karen Essex and James L. Swanson, Bettie Page “embodied the stereotypical wholesomeness of the Fifties and the hidden sexuality straining beneath the surface…. Her fresh-faced beauty was the perfect camouflage for what lurked beneath her veneer–the exotic, whip-snapping dark angel. In Bettie Page, forbidden longings were made safe by an ideal American girl.” For Steve Sullivan, the author of a methodically researched history of the pin-up called Va Va Voom!, there’s a “fascinating duality” in Bettie’s photographs, “which run the gamut from sunny innocence to sinister darkness.” Truth is, though, that’s a gamut run rather often in pornography. The appeal of the sweet-faced girl with the bod for sin is as old as the oldest dirty postcard, and as common as guilt…Still, it can’t entirely explain her popularity, particularly today. To account for it, we have to go further afield–into the realm of nostalgia and the yearning for a vanished sense of the illicit, a sense of the illicit that was the other side of a sense of the innocent. We could do worse, though, than to start with her smile.

more from a 1997 TNR piece here. youtube bettie page here.

venetian lives


Although Venetian is routinely referred to as a “dialetto” in Italy, this has become misleading in that it is now widely and unthinkingly interpreted as implying that Venetian is a dialect of Italian. In fact Venetian predates Italian by hundreds of years. It grew naturally and autonomously out of the late Latin spoken in the north-east of the peninsula. Italian, on the other hand, was an artifically created language, based primarily on vernacular Tuscan and the works of Tuscan writers, notably Petrarch, Dante and Boccaccio, and forged by scholars and humanists of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries in an attempt to found a national language, written and spoken, for the entire population of the yet to be unified country. More or less universal knowledge of Italian was only achieved in the second half of the twentieth century. The robustness of Venetian in the face of the exclusive use of Italian in the media, education system, bureaucracy and the Church, and in a country where other “dialects” are in more rapid decline, is remarkable.

more from the TLS here.

Capitalist Fools

Behind the debate over remaking U.S. financial policy will be a debate over who’s to blame. It’s crucial to get the history right, writes a Nobel-laureate economist, identifying five key mistakes—under Reagan, Clinton, and Bush II—and one national delusion.

Joseph E. Stiglitz in Vanity Fair:

ScreenHunter_03 Dec. 12 15.24 There will come a moment when the most urgent threats posed by the credit crisis have eased and the larger task before us will be to chart a direction for the economic steps ahead. This will be a dangerous moment. Behind the debates over future policy is a debate over history—a debate over the causes of our current situation. The battle for the past will determine the battle for the present. So it’s crucial to get the history straight.

What were the critical decisions that led to the crisis? Mistakes were made at every fork in the road—we had what engineers call a “system failure,” when not a single decision but a cascade of decisions produce a tragic result. Let’s look at five key moments.

No. 1: Firing the Chairman

In 1987 the Reagan administration decided to remove Paul Volcker as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and appoint Alan Greenspan in his place. Volcker had done what central bankers are supposed to do. On his watch, inflation had been brought down from more than 11 percent to under 4 percent. In the world of central banking, that should have earned him a grade of A+++ and assured his re-appointment. But Volcker also understood that financial markets need to be regulated. Reagan wanted someone who did not believe any such thing, and he found him in a devotee of the objectivist philosopher and free-market zealot Ayn Rand.

Greenspan played a double role. The Fed controls the money spigot, and in the early years of this decade, he turned it on full force. But the Fed is also a regulator. If you appoint an anti-regulator as your enforcer, you know what kind of enforcement you’ll get. A flood of liquidity combined with the failed levees of regulation proved disastrous.

More here.