Can an Enemy Be a Child’s Friend?

From The New York Times:

Child In sixth grade they were unlikely friends, the good kid and the bad one, the girl who studied and the one who smoked in the alley. They hung out; they met for lunch. They even walked home from school together, one watching, awestruck, while the other ducked into drugstores to shoplift lip gloss, cigarettes, candy. It couldn’t last. One morning in seventh grade, a nasty note appeared on the tough girl’s locker — and someone told her the writer was her cautious friend. “I would never, ever have done that,” said the friend, Bonnie Shapiro, 45, now a mother of two in Evanston, Ill., who works as a recruiter for a design agency. “But it didn’t matter.” Brushing aside Bonnie’s denials, the tough girl told her she was in for it. Sure enough, after school “she and her friends were outside waiting for me, and I had no one, no gang, no one there to support me,” Ms. Shapiro recalled. “I remember it all clearly — I remember what I was wearing: a yellow slicker, with a pink lining.” Admiration turned quickly to fear. “She became that person for me,” Ms. Shapiro said, “and you just don’t forget.”

Almost everyone picks up a tormentor or two while growing up, and until lately psychological researchers have ignored such relationships — assuming them to be little more than the opposite of friendship. Yet new research suggests that as threatening as they may feel, antagonistic relationships can often enhance social and emotional development more than they impede it.

More here.

Grilling grasshoppers, communicating non-verbally and creating cinematic spaces: Colin Marshall talks to So Yong Kim, director of Treeless Mountain

So Yong Kim is the director of the feature films In Between Days and Treeless Mountain. The former, a portrait of the alienation of a teenage Korean girl newly relocated to Toronto, won a Special Jury Prize for Independent Vision at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. The latter, the story of a pair of very young sisters sent away from their home in Seoul to live with their remote, alcoholic Aunt and then with their grandparents in the countryside, won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the 2009 Berlin International Film Festival, the Muhr Award at the 2008 Dubai International Film Festival and the Netpac Award at the 2008 Pusan International Film Festival. Colin Marshall originally conducted this conversation on the public radio program and podcast The Marketplace of Ideas. [MP3] [iTunes link]

Kim1 Because the film has its, to an American, foreign setting — I talk to a lot of Americans about it, and they do get caught up in the fact that it is in Seoul and Heunghae, the foreignness of certain elements of it. — how much did you want to make a story rooted in its geographic location, rooted in place, and how much did you want to make one in themes that are more universal: childhood, sisterhood?

Ideally, what I always dreamed of, making this film — I wanted to set it in my hometown, which is Heunghae, Korea. When I first started writing the story in 2003 or so, certain events were based on my memory of the location when I grew up there in the seventies. It's quite a while back, so I wasn't really sure how much the country had changed or how much my hometown had changed. I just started from very basic elements in the story that I wanted to focus on, which were the journey these two sisters take, and the emotional journey they go through. In that sense, that's much more universal than the story being just a Korean story

I believe I read in a previous interview with you that the seed of the story that became Treeless Mountain was actually something you wrote in a creative writing class. How much did you start off with? What was the very beginning of just the idea of the story itself, before even combining it with details of your memory of Hunghae?

I've always felt that I'm not a very strong writer. I was taking this creative writing class and our teacher gave us an assignment. She said to write about something you remember in your childhood, something like that. The story I wrote was about these two sisters who were catching grasshoppers and grilling them. They weren't selling them in that short story, but they were grilling them and tasting it — how they ate the grashoppers and stuff, those details were in that story. That was Treeless Mountain; I drew this picture in a sketchbook and wrote “Treeless Mountain” back then. The title of the film stayed as that to the very end.

The treeless mountain was, then, an image you had, more than anything?

Yeah, it was a very quick drawing in my sketchbook of this hill and these two stick figures. They were holding a little branch, and I wrote, next to it, “Treeless Mountain”.

With the grilling of the grasshoppers — this is something I had to ask you — was that actually a pursuit you had as a kid?

Yeah, yeah! In the fall, the grasshopper season peaks. That's when the harvest happens; that's when they age and mature. That's when we used to run around, back in the old days in the country.

Is that a common thing there? The grasshopper-eating is something viewers get so hung up on. I do wonder: were they good?

They were good. You just have to make sure you grill it all the way through. It's a little nutty. To get our two young actors to eat them on set for the scenes, we had to have all the grown-ups around them eat one, to show them that, “Oh, it's really delicious.”

That is funny, because one of the things that kept coming up in my mind, watching this movie, is how often directors will say, “I'm never going to work with kids. I'll never work with kids. It's so hard.” I was reading about the task you had just working with these two, who sounded like they were more cooperative than most young actors. Then you actually have to get them to eat bugs. That's got to be harder than anything.

No, you know, you'd be surprised. I think it was harder to convince the grown-ups to eat the grasshoppers than the kids.

You convinced your whole crew to eat grasshoppers? That's the last thing I'll ask about the grasshoppers, I promise.

Everybody. All the producers. Everybody on set had to eat one.
Read more »

The Opposition Paradigm (Together Again for the First Time)

figure i : he stands opposite his rivals

Clegg, Cameron, Brown : Brown's Last Prime Minister's Questions

You are the only one who can never see yourself apart from your image. In the reflection of a mirror, or the pigment of the photograph you entertain yourself. Every gaze you cast is mediated by a looking apparatus, by an image you must stand alongside. The gaze welcomes itself as a guest. The eye orders you to sit at its table, to share in the feast of one’s own image. The image stands beside the real, all the while eating at its table, stealing morsels from the feast it enables. The image is not reality, but the image is the only gesture you have in the direction of reality.

From the Greek pará-noos, he who suffers from paranoia has a mind beside itself. He is convinced that his partner conspires against him: a belief in turn organised by a conspiring mentality. I am confident that you are reading my mind: a position founded by my supposed reading of yours. The paranoid stand beside themselves; a part beside itself as part, conspiring against the whole. Paranoia is a kind of paradox, from the Greek pará-doxon, it stands beside the orthodox.

Read more »


By Maniza Naqvi

BBenazir-bhuttoibi did you know? Were you just trying to go home? Were you tired of the wilderness and the roaming? Were you fatigued of that long journey ahead? Were you afraid that memories would erase and that history would fade your name from its page? And so, instead, did you court and embrace a martyr’s death? Did you? Were you pumped, and primed and prepped, to play that part? Bibi, the people were out on the streets, yes. They were out in the streets but not calling out for you. You knew, that, didn’t you? You no longer were the lead act for just being you. Benazir will return– Live Benazir, this rallying call, was no longer the main attraction, perhaps even in danger of slipping from their attention? It was now all about restoring the constitution. Could you see it in the rank and file? In their tone and in their eyes that they had outgrown you? That they might even feel they could go it alone without you? Could you sense that something was missing? Were you afraid to be left out in the cold—in that yawning gulf—left out of it all, left shopping in an over air conditioned Mall. Or watching it all, on television over a bowl of ice cream. The children grown and leaving the nest. The husband, let’s just say no longer in jail. So, what was next? Diets and self help books and surfing the internet? Safe bet, that boredom loomed large—the relegation to the irrelevance of a self exile. That sad and silent passing away in the Diaspora. The one hit movie– one time star? Were you afraid of that more than of anything else? An assassin’s bullet welcome to such a terrible end –such a mess? Would you have thought yourself condemned to a fate worse than death if you had not been killed instead? So then Bibi, if this were true, –you obliged them—and they did you.

If this were true. But it isn't. You were murdered.

Read more »

On Reading One Hundred Years of Solitude

We believe in the ascension.
Remember Remedios the Beauty
Who rose before us
And flew on to heaven?
Everyone stood gaping.

We believe in second comings,
And the raising of the dead.
Remember Melquiades
Who passed on so long ago?
All our sons have spoken with him.

Miracles, mere miracles.

Nature has always embraced
our deepest desires.
Remember Mauricio Babilonia
And her yellow butterflies?
They were all over the house.

And remember when it rained tiny
So that the whole town had to shovel
them away?
More miracles made to spare us
The prosaic and mundane.

So hush!

Speak not of banana companies,
Nor of electrified chicken yards,
And soldiers armed with machine guns
Enforcing Martial Law.
Those things do not happen here.


Heed not Arcadio Segundo
And his dangerous babbling
About massacres,
And babies corpses being loaded onto
And two hundred freight cars
Carrying three thousand dead.

Ours has always been a peaceful and
happy village.

by Rick Lybeck
from Sheepshead Review; Fall 2003

Terrorism Studies: Social scientists do counterinsurgency

Nicholas Lemann in The New Yorker:

ScreenHunter_04 May. 16 11.51 Today, few consider the global war on terror to have been a success, either as a conceptual framing device or as an operation. President Obama has pointedly avoided stringing those fateful words together in public. His foreign-policy speech in Cairo, last June, makes an apt bookend with Bush’s war-on-terror speech in Washington, on September 20, 2001. Obama not only didn’t talk about a war; he carefully avoided using the word “terrorism,” preferring “violent extremism.”

But if “global war” isn’t the right approach to terror what is? Experts on terrorism have produced shelves’ worth of new works on this question. For outsiders, reading this material can be a jarring experience. In the world of terrorism studies, the rhetoric of righteousness gives way to equilibrium equations. Nobody is good and nobody is evil. Terrorists, even suicide bombers, are not psychotics or fanatics; they’re rational actors—that is, what they do is explicable in terms of their beliefs and desires—who respond to the set of incentives that they find before them. The tools of analysis are realism, rational choice, game theory, decision theory: clinical and bloodless modes of thinking.

That approach, along with these scholars’ long immersion in the subject, can produce some surprising observations. In “A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq” (Yale; $30), Mark Moyar, who holds the Kim T. Adamson Chair of Insurgency and Terrorism at the Marine Corps University, tells us that, in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s pay scale (financed by the protection payments demanded from opium farmers) is calibrated to be a generous multiple of the pay received by military and police personnel (financed by U.S. aid); no wonder official Afghan forces are no match for the insurgents.

More here.

Surprising new research about the act of remembering

Greg Miller in Smithsonian Magazine:

ScreenHunter_03 May. 16 11.44 Like millions of people, Nader has vivid and emotional memories of the September 11, 2001, attacks and their aftermath. But as an expert on memory, and, in particular, on the malleability of memory, he knows better than to fully trust his recollections.

Most people have so-called flashbulb memories of where they were and what they were doing when something momentous happened: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, say, or the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. (Unfortunately, staggeringly terrible news seems to come out of the blue more often than staggeringly good news.) But as clear and detailed as these memories feel, psychologists find they are surprisingly inaccurate.

Nader, now a neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal, says his memory of the World Trade Center attack has played a few tricks on him. He recalled seeing television footage on September 11 of the first plane hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center. But he was surprised to learn that such footage aired for the first time the following day. Apparently he wasn’t alone: a 2003 study of 569 college students found that 73 percent shared this misperception.

Nader believes he may have an explanation for such quirks of memory.

More here.

Why Dubai’s Islamic austerity is a sham – sex is for sale in every bar

Couples who publicly kiss are jailed, yet the state turns a blind eye to 30,000 imported prostitutes.

William Butler in The Observer:

ScreenHunter_02 May. 16 11.03 This was not Amsterdam's red-light district or the Reeperbahn in Hamburg or a bar on Shanghai's Bund. This was in the city centre of Dubai, the Gulf emirate where western women get a month in prison for a peck on the cheek; the Islamic city on Muhammad's peninsula where the muezzin's call rings out five times a day drawing believers to prayer; where public consumption of alcohol prompts immediate arrest; where adultery is an imprisonable offence; and where mall shoppers are advised against “overt displays of affection”, such as kissing.

Ayman Najafi and Charlotte Adams, the couple recently banged up in Al Awir desert prison for a brief public snog, must have been very unlucky indeed, because in reality Dubai is a heaving maelstrom of sexual activity that would make the hair stand up on even the most worldly westerner's head. It is known by some residents as “Sodom-sur-Mer”.

Beach life, cafe society, glamorous lifestyles, fast cars and deep tans are all things associated with “romance” in the fog-chilled minds of Europeans and North Americans. And there is a fair amount of legitimate “romance” in Dubai. Western girls fall for handsome, flash Lebanese men; male visitors go for the dusky charms of women from virtually anywhere. Office and beach affairs are common.

But most of the “romance” in Dubai is paid-for sex, accepted by expatriates as the norm, and to which a blind eye is turned – at the very least – by the authorities.

More here.

Middle East Plan B

Sasha Polakow-Suransky in The Boston Globe:

Israel__1273862716_1030 “I think this is a very big deal,” President Clinton declared to a group of American Jews and Arabs after the legions of photographers left the White House grounds on Sept. 13, 1993. However, Clinton warned, it would take commitment and hard work to guarantee that the historic Israeli-Palestinian Accord signed that day would “truly be a turning point.” It has been almost 17 years since Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands in the White House Rose Garden, setting in motion a process that was supposed to end the conflict for good. The agreement Clinton envisioned was relatively simple: Two states for two peoples. Israel would largely withdraw from the territories it has occupied since 1967, while retaining a few large settlement blocs within the West Bank and compensating the Palestinians with a similar amount of land from Israel proper. This two-state solution respects the fundamental tenets of Zionism — by allowing Israel to remain a Jewish-majority state — and satisfies moderate Palestinians’ nationalist ambitions by creating a national home for 4 million stateless Palestinians. It has guided western policy ever since.

But the two-state solution has not worked, and there is a growing fear that it never will, despite the resumption last week of indirect talks. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 only to see the Islamic fundamentalist party Hamas take control of it, sending rockets into Israeli cities across the border. Meanwhile, Israel has continued to expand settlements in the West Bank, making the possibility of a territorially contiguous Palestine seem more remote than ever. With over 300,000 settlers in the West Bank today — compared to just over 100,000 in 1993 — many analysts on both sides believe that the settlements have become too entrenched and inextricably tied to Israel proper for the government to realistically evacuate all or most of its citizens, even if Israeli forces withdraw. Still, because negotiators on both sides and officials in Washington are so well-versed in two-state diplomacy and have been working for years to bring such a solution about, it remains the default option even as logistics conspire to make it impossible.

More here.

Metric Mania

John Allen Paulos in The New York Times:

Paulos In the realm of public policy, we live in an age of numbers. To hold teachers accountable, we examine their students’ test scores. To improve medical care, we quantify the effectiveness of different treatments. There is much to be said for such efforts, which are often backed by cutting-edge reformers. But do wehold an outsize belief in our ability to gauge complex phenomena, measure outcomes and come up with compelling numerical evidence? A well-known quotation usually attributed to Einstein is “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” I’d amend it to a less eloquent, more prosaic statement: Unless we know how things are counted, we don’t know if it’s wise to count on the numbers.

The problem isn’t with statistical tests themselves but with what we do before and after we run them. First, we count if we can, but counting depends a great deal on previous assumptions about categorization. Consider, for example, the number of homeless people in Philadelphia, or the number of battered women in Atlanta, or the number of suicides in Denver. Is someone homeless if he’s unemployed and living with his brother’s family temporarily? Do we require that a women self-identify as battered to count her as such? If a person starts drinking day in and day out after a cancer diagnosis and dies from acute cirrhosis, did he kill himself? The answers to such questions significantly affect the count.

More here.

Not So Natural Selection

Lewontin_1-052710_jpg_230x466_q85 Richard C. Lewontin reviews Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini's What Darwin Got Wrong, in the NYRB:

e appearance of Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini’s book at this time and the rhetoric and structure of its argument are guaranteed to provoke as strong a negative reaction in the community of evolutionary biologists as they have among philosophers of biology. To a degree never before experienced by the current generation of students of evolution, evolutionary theory is under attack by powerful forces of religious fundamentalism using the ambiguity of the word “theory” to suggest that evolution as a natural process is “only a theory.” While What Darwin Got Wrong may have been designed pour épater les bourgeois and to forcibly get the attention of evolutionists, when two accomplished intellectuals make the statement “Darwin’s theory of selection is empty,” they generate an anger that makes it almost impossible for biologists to give serious consideration to their argument.

Conscious that Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini may have overdone it, they have circulated an essay that assures evolutionary biologists that they are not challenging the basic mechanism of evolution as a natural process described by the four principles of variation, heredity, differential reproduction, and mutation. In particular, they reject any notion that natural selection is some sort of “force” with laws like gravitation. For them, natural selection is simply a name for the differential reproduction of different kinds in a population. Not to be misunderstood, perhaps biologists should stop referring to “natural selection,” and instead talk about differential rates of survival and reproduction.

The other source of anxiety and anger is that the argument made by Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini strikes at the way in which evolutionary biologists provide adaptive natural historical explanations for a vast array of phenomena, as well as the use by a wider scholarly community of the metaphor of natural selection to provide theories of history, social structure, human psychological phenomena, and culture. If you make a living by inventing scenarios of how natural selection produced, say, xenophobia and racism or the love of music, you will not take kindly to the book.

Even biologists who have made fundamental contributions to our understanding of what the actual genetic changes are in the evolution of species cannot resist the temptation to defend evolution against its know-nothing enemies by appealing to the fact that biologists are always able to provide plausible scenarios for evolution by natural selection. But plausibility is not science. True and sufficient explanations of particular examples of evolution are extremely hard to arrive at because we do not have world enough and time.

Emmy Noether’s First Theorem


S.C. Kavassalis over at The Language of Bad Physics:

Ada Lovelace Day celebrates the life and achievements of women in science and technology through blogging in the name of Ada Byron – Countess of Lovelace, daughter of the romantic poet Lord Byron, analyst, metaphysician, the founder of scientific computing, and The Enchantress of Numbers.

In honour of Ada Lovelace Day, I’ll briefly profile the life of one of the most important women in the history of science and mathematics, born March 23rd, Emmy Noether, her brilliant (first) theorem, and how, perhaps surprisingly, there is still room for debate and discussion on it’s applicability today.

Emmy Noether (March 23rd, 1882 – April 14th, 1935)

“My methods are really methods of working and thinking; this is why they have crept in everywhere anonymously.”

Amalie Emmy Noether was a German born, Jewish mathematician who is known for her fundamental contributions to the study of algebraic structures and considered by many to be the most important woman in the history of mathematics.

Born in Erlangen, the daughter of the noted mathematician Max Noether, Emmy studied mathematics at the University of Erlangen, completing her dissertation in 1907 with Paul Albert Gordan at the Mathematical Institute of Erlangen. In 1915, David Hilbert and Felix Klein invited her to join the mathematics department at the University of Göttingen despite the objections of the philosophical faculty there. Her seven years at the Mathematical Institute of Erlangen were spent unpaid and she had to spend four years lecturing at the University of Göttingen under Hilbert’s name. Despite this, her Habilitation process was approved in 1919 allowing her to obtain the rank of Privatdozent. She remained in Göttingen until 1933 as a leading member of the mathematical community, where her students were sometimes known as the “Noether boys”. Noether’s First Theorem

First proved in 1915 and published in 1918, Emmy Noether’s First Theorem gives a profound connection between continuous symmetries and conservation laws for certain classes of theories. The familiar consequences of Noether’s Theorem are that space translational symmetry gives us conservation of momentum, rotational symmetry gives us conservation of angular momentum, time translational symmetry gives us conservation of energy, etc.

The Return of Martin Amis

Martinamis100517_250 Sam Anderson in New York Magazine:

Martin Amis’s new novel, The Pregnant Widow, is—nakedly, brazenly, devotedly—about sex. This makes it almost unique in the Amis canon. It’s not a Gulag novel that turns out to be about sex, or a nuclear-war novel that turns out to be about sex, or a Holocaust novel that turns out to be about sex. It’s a sex novel about sex. That directness is strangely liberating, both for the reader and, it seems, for Amis. The frankness makes him look, paradoxically, a little less pervy: He’s not trying to sneak sex in under the guise of high-minded geopolitical hand-wringing—apocalyptic dread as sublimated desire for the forbidden pleasures of anal sex. He’s just being flat-out dirty. He can finally revel openly, without smoke screens, in the richest comic material the human race has yet to discover: breasts, penises, fluids, orifices, costumes, positions, body types, hand jobs, teasing, ogling—the whole titillating tragicomedy of carnal desire. It’s like a master-class for all the young male novelists (Eggers, Kunkel, Chabon) that Katie Roiphe accused, in a recent Times Book Review essay, of being squeamish about sex. The result is Amis’s best book in fifteen years and (at least for 75 percent of it) a nearly perfect comic novel.

This resurgence comes at a very good time, just as some Amis fans (if you’ll allow me to get autobiographical) were beginning to give up hope. Amis’s career has been in a well-publicized gentle decline since 1995, when he published The Information. Since then, his novels—Night Train, Yellow Dog, House of Meetings—have been sparse and middling; his critics have been many and mean. Amis’s work—like his elder Don DeLillo’s—is so dependent on the energy of his prose that, when that energy weakens even slightly, his faults become unbearable. It’s hard to know what caused the drop-off—whether it was age (he’s now 60), the critical sniping, or the nonfictional lure of world events (his recent jousting over “Islamofascism” has sometimes seemed like a full-time career). But whatever he was doing in the five-plus years he spent agonizing over The Pregnant Widow, it worked. This reads like the work of young Amis. I picked it up reluctantly but soon found myself raving about it to everyone I know. It has me fantasizing about a Roth-like late-career creativity burst.

Retro Styles And Gender Play: Beyoncé’s ‘Why Don’t You Love Me’

Latoya Peterson over at Jezebel on the new Beyoncé video, “Why Don't You Love Me”:

Beyoncé's new video for “Why Don't You Love Me” debuted last week, with a nod to 1950s homemaker style — and interesting commentary on ideas of womanhood, past and present.

Over at Feministing, Ann cast an appraising eye over Beyoncé and Sade's retro styling in recent videos. However, Ann's observations confused me a bit:

But given that these are two women of color are playing roles commonly associated with upper-middle-class white women (Betty Draper being the most recent reference point), I wondered: What makes me call this “retro”? I know there were certainly upper-middle-class women of color in the '50s and '60s, but this image of the happy-but-secretly-unhappy housewife is stereotypically white. By virtue of race, Beyonce and Sade are twisting that stereotype. (Granted, Beyonce is a more pin-up than straightforward homemaker — but hey, that's transgressive, too, as pin-up girls were almost all white.)

It is occasions like this that remind me how complete and total segregation was, and how white washed history can be. If these images are associated solely with whiteness, it's because the history of women of color has been systematically erased, deemed unworthy of inclusion in the general framework of “the way we were.” There were upper middle class black women in the 50s and 60s, even entire enclaves like Striver's Row in Harlem. However, one did not have to be upper class, or even upper middle class, to be a housewife. (Just as one did not have to be black to work as a domestic for a wealthier family.)

The archives of Jet magazine tell this story better than I can. In addition to its news and entertainment reporting, Jet published an entire Modern Living section, which was more or less dedicated to housewives in search of the latest and greatest fashions and appliances.

[H/t: Amanda Marcotte]