How Can Obama Speak to Two Audiences at Once in Egypt?

Shadi Hamid in Patheos:

ScreenHunter_03 Jun. 03 09.12 President Obama has correctly put his finger on torture abuses, the Iraq war, Guantanamo Bay, and the festering Arab-Israeli conflict as sources of anti-Americanism. But before Iraq and Guantanamo, and at the peak of Oslo peace process, the U.S. was still viewed by many in the region with weariness, if not, at times, outright suspicion and hatred.

The sources of grievance are deeper and more pronounced than we like to think. America has been seen as a destructive force and an obstacle to Arab progress, in large part due to our remarkably consistent support of repressive Arab autocrats, over not years but decades. It has been an unfortunate, costly bargain – regimes support our strategic interests in the region. In return, we turn a blind eye to the crushing of domestic opposition. This wager was justified by policymakers as a necessary evil during the Cold War. However, it did not end then, and our economic and military support for some of the region's most egregious actors continues.

More here.

Billion-Pixel Pictures Allow Ultra-Zooming for Science

Brian Handwerk in National Geographic News:

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what's a thousand-megapixel picture worth?

Great Temple Excavation at Petra, Jordan

Such “gigapixel” pictures allow viewers to zoom in from say, a panoramic view of President Obama's inauguration to the solemn expression on his face—as in one of the new technology's most famous applications.

For scientists—many of whom gathered in Pittsburgh last week for training in new gigapixel technology—these ultra-zoomable images are becoming tools to improve the study of archaeology, geology, biology, and more.

Developed by GigaPan systems, a for-profit company, the new GigaPan system allows users to create these superhigh-resolution panoramas with ordinary digital cameras.

With camera attached, a robotic GigaPan tripod systematically photographs a scene with thousands of close-up images, which are later stitched together with proprietary software.

More here.

A failed demiurge?


My hypothesis: Artaud is part of a European and specifically French intellectual lineage obsessed with the rigors of truth-telling. (“We are born, we live,” he said, speaking to a tradition of paradoxical truths, “we die in an environment of lies.”) Artaud aspires to be a magus of truth, a sorcerer of truth, and he is willing to die for it, or to be driven insane by his perceptions: “I believe that our present social state is iniquitous and should be destroyed. If this is a fact for the theater to be preoccupied with, it is even more a matter for machine guns.” Does he believe what he’s saying exactly as he’s saying it, or does he simply believe that the truth is in the avowal, which avowal changes its utterer, makes it nearly impossible for him to bring the message back to the place where it most needs to be brought—the place of mendacity? “Should I be writing like Artaud? I am incapable of it,” Derrida says, “and besides, anyone who would try to write like him, under the pretext of writing toward him, would be even surer of missing him, would lose the slightest chance ever of meeting him in the ridiculous attempt of this mimetic distortion.” Sontag argues that he’s a gnostic (“Artaud wandered in the labyrinth of a specific type of religious sensibility, the Gnostic one”), meaning, I suppose, that he believed in a secret, unimpeded route to the divine, that he could have personal access, without requiring the apparatus of the church and its intercessions. Or: gnostic meaning that the divine with which he consorts is a malignancy?

more from Rick Moody at The Believer here.

kunkel online


As for the internet as a broadcast rather than point-to-point technology, everyone knows that it supplies a lot of information. Culturally, it has the charms and limitations of a variety show. For example, during the short-lived Diet-Coke-and-Mentos craze of a few years ago (it seems the substances combine like nitrogen and glycerin), I was cheered by going on YouTube to see Americans harmlessly blowing things up in disused weekend parking lots: it is not often that the American fantasies of pure destructiveness and pure innocence are so beguilingly combined. And the infamous clip of Miss South Carolina 2006 trying to answer a question about geography stands as a more concentrated indictment of the US in the Bush years than just about anything a documentary filmmaker has produced. The internet is a funny place. And then curiosity and amusement sometimes turn to wonder: a friend tells me how moving it was to watch footage of a kangaroo giving birth. The nature of the internet is such that all of these examples will seem out-of-date; but they have their this year’s equivalents, and will next year too.

more from Benjamin Kunkel at n+1 here.

feats of juggling, false apparitions, impostures, and illusions


Anxiety about deception runs deep in the philosophical and religious traditions of Europe, and new techniques for mastering this fear mark episodes in the history of the modern world. Over the course of the nineteenth century, both the playfulness and the peril of deceit came to be distanced from the sphere of rational inquiry: the sciences ceased to have much use for legerdemain; metaphysicians lost interest in the theater. But it was not always so, as the conversation below with Anthony Grafton suggests. Grafton is the Henry Putnam University Professor of History at Princeton University and the author of a shelf of major works on the­ Renaissance, classical scholarship, and the history of science, including Forgers and Critics: Creativity and Duplicity in Western Scholarship (Princeton University Press, 1990).­ ­D. Graham Burnett, editor at Cabinet and also professor of history at Princeton, sat down with Grafton to discuss his work on deception and forgery­.

more from Cabinet here.

The End of the Affair

The fate of Detroit isn’t a matter of economics. It’s a tragic romance, whose magic was killed by bureaucrats, bad taste and busybodies. P.J. O’Rourke on why Americans fell out of love with the automobile.

From the Wall Street Journal:

OB-DT894_cars05_D_20090529195808 The phrase “bankrupt General Motors,” which we expect to hear uttered on Monday, leaves Americans my age in economic shock. The words are as melodramatic as “Mom’s nude photos.” And, indeed, if we want to understand what doomed the American automobile, we should give up on economics and turn to melodrama.

Politicians, journalists, financial analysts and other purveyors of banality have been looking at cars as if a convertible were a business. Fire the MBAs and hire a poet. The fate of Detroit isn’t a matter of financial crisis, foreign competition, corporate greed, union intransigence, energy costs or measuring the shoe size of the footprints in the carbon. It’s a tragic romance—unleashed passions, titanic clashes, lost love and wild horses.

Foremost are the horses. Cars can’t be comprehended without them. A hundred and some years ago Rudyard Kipling wrote “The Ballad of the King’s Jest,” in which an Afghan tribesman avers: Four things greater than all things are,—Women and Horses and Power and War.

More here.

Would You Slap Your Father? If So, You’re a Liberal

Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_07 Jun. 02 14.27 Some evolutionary psychologists believe that disgust emerged as a protective mechanism against health risks, like feces, spoiled food or corpses. Later, many societies came to apply the same emotion to social “threats.” Humans appear to be the only species that registers disgust, which is why a dog will wag its tail in puzzlement when its horrified owner yanks it back from eating excrement.

Psychologists have developed a “disgust scale” based on how queasy people would be in 27 situations, such as stepping barefoot on an earthworm or smelling urine in a tunnel. Conservatives systematically register more disgust than liberals. (To see how you weigh factors in moral decisions, take the tests at

It appears that we start with moral intuitions that our brains then find evidence to support. For example, one experiment involved hypnotizing subjects to expect a flash of disgust at the word “take.” They were then told about Dan, a student council president who “tries to take topics that appeal to both professors and students.”

The research subjects felt disgust but couldn’t find any good reason for it. So, in some cases, they concocted their own reasons, such as: “Dan is a popularity-seeking snob.”

More here. [Take the tests, they are interesting.]

Tuesday Poem

Lives of Great Men (Selected)
Inuo Taguchi


Lenin is relieved
that the bronze statue of himself was taken down.
In fact for half-a-century
he has wanted to lie down in Red Square
and listen to the Beach Boys,
on some fine Sunday afternoon, for instance,
with his family and close friends, of course.
But he could not confess this sort of thing to anyone,
so he has kept standing as a bronze statue.
Imagine yourself a bronze statue.
Just standing watching history
would wear on him.


Under an apple tree
Newton encountered the Law of Universal Gravitation
and instantly fell in love with her.

Ah, she was indeed his eternal lover –
the universal love and the universality which was love.
That night he applied all his skill
to the writing of a love letter
'On the Law of Universal Gravitation and Her Passionate Function.'

The Law of Universal Gravitation, however,
didn't give a damn about Newton,
because she was crazy about the quadrille
which was popular at that time.


Superman is strolling the garden
in his wheelchair.
Life is cruelty itself,
though sunlight falling down at this moment
is grace itself.

When I was flying the sky
I was still very young.
I was flying, surely,
but I still didn't yet know
what it meant
to be flying the sky.

But now it's different.
To fly the sky is,
as it were,
to move your little finger,
and even at that no more than half-an-inch.

Life is like a sublime joke.
But it's funny,
isn't it? You have to get a wheelchair
and then you can become superman.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Data-Entry Supervisor

From The Boston Globe:

Ideascenterinside__1243688142_1501 Without quite grasping the extent of our debt, we rely on writers to help explain the world to us. It's they who give us a feel for what it's like to fall in love, who give us words for describing the landscape around us, and who help us interpret the dynamics of our families. Such is their power that we can name whole slices of experience with adjectives built of their names. We speak of encountering, sometimes in the most unlikely settings, dynamics most succinctly described as “Proustian,” “Austenesque,” and “Kafkan.” Writers are our map-makers.

However, many contemporary writers are notably silent about a key area of our lives: our work. If a proverbial alien landed on earth and tried to figure out what human beings did with their time simply on the evidence of the literature sections of a typical bookstore, he or she would come away thinking that we devote ourselves almost exclusively to leading complex relationships, squabbling with our parents, and occasionally murdering people. What is too often missing is what we really get up to outside of catching up on sleep, which is going to work at the office, store, or factory.

More here.

In That Tucked Tail, Real Pangs of Regret?

John Tierney in The New York Times:

Chimp If you own a dog, especially a dog that has anointed your favorite rug, you know that an animal is capable of apologizing. He can whimper and slouch and tuck his tail and look positively mortified — “I don’t know what possessed me.” But is he really feeling sorry? Could any animal feel true pangs of regret? Scientists once scorned this notion as silly anthropomorphism, and I used to side with the skeptics who dismissed these displays of contrition as variations of crocodile tears. Animals seemed too in-the-moment, too busy chasing the next meal, to indulge in much self-recrimination. If old animals had a song, it would be “My Way.”

Yet as new reports keep appearing — moping coyotes, rueful monkeys, tigers that cover their eyes in remorse, chimpanzees that second-guess their choices — the more I wonder if animals do indulge in a little paw-wringing. Your dog may not share Hamlet’s dithering melancholia, but he might have something in common with Woody Allen. The latest data comes from brain scans of monkeys trying to win a large prize of juice by guessing where it was hidden. When the monkeys picked wrongly and were shown the location of the prize, the neurons in their brain clearly registered what might have been, according to the Duke University neurobiologists who recently reported the experiment in Science.

More here.

World Brain Teasers: Handicapping H. G. Wells

H g wells H. G. Wells lobbied widely in the 1920's and 30's for something he called a “World Brain,” a continuously updated Global Encyclopedia containing the sum total of human knowledge. He described it with terms we might call “cybernetic” now, although Norbert Wiener wouldn't write a book with that name for more than a decade. Did Wells really predict the Internet? Not really. The enabling technology would have been unimaginable for him. But he was on the right track.

Wells was already a pretty damned good forecaster by that point. It's easy enough to check out his predictions for the 20th Century in an uncopyrighted (at least in the 1902 book called Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought For road travel, for example, he predicted use of the “motor truck,” the “motor carriage,” and the “motor omnibus.”

That's “tractor trailer,” “car,” and “bus” to you. From that he extrapolated a new kind of road that “will be very different from macadamized roads; they will be used only by soft-tired conveyances; the battering horseshoes, the perpetual filth of horse traffic, and the clumsy wheels of laden carts will never wear them.” And from that he was able to predict that the United States would become the home of suburban sprawl.

He even saw coming … well, almost … together with a continued need for shopping centers. He wrote: “(F)or all such “shopping” as one cannot do by telephone or postcard (okay, okay – I said almost!), it will still be natural for the shops to be gathered together in some central place.” He went on:

“And so, though the centre will probably still remain the centre … it will be essentially a bazaar, a great gallery of shops and places of concourse and rendezvous, a pedestrian place, its pathways reinforced by lifts and moving platforms, and shielded from the weather, and altogether a very spacious, brilliant, and entertaining agglomeration.”

Did you catch that? The guy predicted shopping malls, for crying out loud. In 1902! It wouldn't have been surprising if he had foreseen the Yogurt Hut and Urban Outfitters while he was at it. He didn't do as well at global issues. He predicted a disastrous conflict that would eliminate the ruling oligarchies of the 20th Century, replacing them with the more enlightened intellectual meritocracy of a “New Republic.”

So he got a Big Question wrong. But how about those shopping malls? And he predicted dishwashing liquids, too. (I'm not making that up.)

Read more »

The Humanists: Ming-liang Tsai’s What Time is it There? (2001)


by Colin Marshall

It's a bit of a tic among cinephiles to label filmmakers “auteurs of x“, where x is whatever theme, mood or sensibility of which said auteur has made a habit. Ming-liang Tsai is a common target. With his spare casts of isolated characters spending so much of their time in the frame alone and longing, is he “the auteur of urban alienation”? Is he “the auteur of the moment”, focusing with the utmost patience and stillness on the subtlest human actions? Is he more of an auteur of base bodily functions, throwing around scenes of masturbation, urination and awkward sex with grimy abandon?

This no doubt conjures a bizarre mental image in the mind of the reader without experience of Tsai's films, but do rest assured that they're not quite that weird. Puzzlement, however, is far from an unheard-of a reaction. 2001's What Time is it There? appears to have provoked the same questions as its predecessors — “Why are the characters doing that?”, “Why do things look that way?”, “What's going on?” — but it does so with expertise honed over nearly a decade of cinematic experience. It's the pinnacle of a loose quadrilogy, also comprising 1992's Rebels of a Neon God, 1994's Vive l'Amour, 1997's The River and 1998's The Hole, wherein Tsai employs a stable core of actors, places them in many of the same Taipei locations and expresses their attempts, usually ill-faited, at connection.

At the heart of the movies is Kang-sheng Lee, a nonprofessional actor Tsai happened upon while casting his first feature. Never has the director's enthusiasm for mixing the trained and the untrained been more profitable than when Lee's self-styled mannerisms and methods of reaction interact with his castmates'. “In his own world” would be a tired description; “on his own plane of existence” is more apt. Words fail to describe exactly what's different about his acting style — perhaps it's more of a “being style” — but it becomes immediately clear after viewing any of his scenes why Tsai would want to repeatedly cast the fellow in such central roles. He's got something, and that something definitely didn't come from a workshop.

Here, Lee takes his recurrent Tsai character name, Hsiao-kang. Whether he's the same Hsiao-kang that appears in The River, The Hole and Vive l'Amour remains a matter of open debate, though his father is played by the usual fellow as well. Not for long, though; just a few shots in, Dad's already dead and cremated, his ashes gripped by Hsiao-kang, who urges his father's spirit to keep on flying alongside his car as it passes through a tunnel. Wearing the deceased man's watch, Hsiao-kang resumes his daily existence supported by timepieces sold out of a suitcase on a skybridge. He manages to close a sale with Shiang-chyi, a student on her way to Paris, but does so only reluctantly; it's his father's watch she wants, capable as it is of displaying two times at once. One for Taiwan, she figures, one for France.

Read more »

Extreme Cases: An Interview with Affinity Konar


Elatia Harris

Earlier this year, Affinity Konar, a former 3 Quarks Daily blogger, published her first novel, The Illustrated Version of Things (Fiction Collective Two, April 2009.) One of the very few 3QD columnists to post short fiction, her pieces were received in a way that suggests the form has a future here. Her novel, too, has been greeted with excitement – and read hungrily by me, among others.

Illustrated-version-things-affinity-konar-paperback-cover-art In a bookstore, one might find The Illustrated Version of Things shelved under coming-of-age fiction. From time to time while reading it, I spared a thought for some classics of the genre – one in which growing up usually does a young protagonist a bittersweet bit of good. Less usually, a bleak childhood will be seen as a lost paradise by a narrator who has crossed over — if only he’d known. Whatever happens, poignant is the watchword. If to have that note sounded is why you would read about kids, then this is probably not the book for you. Sam Lipsyte has a word for the experience of reading it: “singular.” Ben Marcus, a phrase: “the far limits of sorrow and isolation.” I don’t disagree, but it’s worth adding that it’s also a very funny book.

Affinity and I exchanged emails over 10 days as she and her family prepared to move from Virginia to California, where she grew up. They’re all on the road as I write, headed west.

Elatia Harris: Though the brother and sister in the novel are extreme cases, I got an uncanny sense as I read of how provisional every childhood is. That it's kind of amazing that any of us makes it through — assuming adulthood is the point. A children's advocate I know says that adulthood is not really the point, only the result of childhood.

Affinity Konar: I see it as provisional as well, and have always been tempted to view individuals who surface from horrific childhoods—not only intact, but functional beyond all understanding–as unusually talented people. It’s as if they have an extra muscle in their bodies, or a passport that allows travel between worlds with disparate laws of maturity and justice.

EH: Do those laws bind fictional characters? The brother and sister in your novel?

AK: I’d hoped that the brother character would dilute the notion that their childhood experiences were solely responsible for the narrator’s failures. Her language and perspective were the more pressing issues to me, and I’m still unsettled as to whether or not she’s actually interested in making her life livable.

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