My Rayannes

From The Independent:

Mysocalledlife_BLOG All teenage girls are at least half-lesbian, always admiring their friends’ still-shifting bodies, their superior wardrobes, their make-up application expertise, their better luck with the opposite sex. Teenage girls curl up together like newborn puppies, painting one another’s toes as if they were licking one another’s ears. If you sit long enough in any Starbucks, or loiter outside any high school, you will see girls climbing onto one another’s laps, kissing on the lips. They aren’t hitting on each other, not precisely, though they are in a constant state of arousal that borders on the insane. No other love is like the love of a teenage girl, all passion and fire and endless devotion—at least for a week.

There are many painful, moving stories about female friendship out there—Amy Hempel’s In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried, Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty, Thelma and Louise—but even the most beautiful stories about teenage girls fail to capture the obsessive, all-encompassing infatuations I remember. That is, all except one: My So-Called Life. It began on the air in August 1994, the summer before my freshman year of high school, and it was as if someone had placed a mirror inside my bedroom and broadcast it on television. I was Angela Chase, more so than everyone else who was sure that they were Angela Chase. I was a freshman in high school and deeply in love with every doe-eyed boy at my school. I parted my hair in the middle and wore a choker made of string. I got pimples, cried for no reason, and (once Angela introduced them to me, I will admit) danced around my room to the Violent Femmes. And like Angela, I had my Rayannes. Because, of course, Jordan Catalano was not the most intoxicating character to roam the halls of Liberty High, no matter how prettily formed his mouth and eyebrows. That distinct honor belonged squarely to Rayanne Graff, Angela’s new best friend and erstwhile corrupter.

More here.

Friday Poem

In My Mother's House

in the dismantled house
stripped forever of your breath
I hear your voice one last time
in the herebefore:

“Remco, what are you doing in my house?”

Since I was born
that question’s never left my side –
what was I doing in my mother’s house?

Roaming around your death
I see the sunny travel brochure
still lying in your emptied room
and the boat gliding
through a veil of mist
that we once sailed in together
over the long deep waters of Lake Garda
to see for instance
if in the curiosity cabinet of D’Annunzio’s house
Eleonora Duse had her niche
or whether in some lives
actresses were not doomed for ever
to play the secondary roles
while before the footlights
the man parades
his prompted sorrow
to the applauding claque

but all that’s for later
first there’s the journey
to find something I don’t yet know
with the joyful shouts of children in the schoolyard
always on my mind

seek what you love best
the thing that moves you

by Remco Campert
translation by Donald Gardner, 2007
from I Dreamed in the Cities at Night
Arc Publications, Todmorden, 2007

Read more »

Jerusalem: The Biography

From The Telegraph:

Jerusalem_main_1807562f Sebag Montefiore refers throughout his book to the excruciating effects of the Jerusalem syndrome, “a madness of anticipation, disappointment and delusion” that sees up to a hundred sufferers confined every year to the city’s asylum – but which over the centuries has affected empires and kingdoms no less than pilgrims. Shimmering impalpably over the rock and dust of the physical Jerusalem, there blazes a second, celestial city. This is the Zion for which the biblical prophets yearned; the new Jerusalem seen by St John descending from heaven; the city to which all Muslims will come on pilgrimage at the end of time. Defining the dimension of the supernatural is beyond the power of even the most gifted historian, and yet Jerusalem is hardly to be understood without it. Here, then, was yet a further challenge for Sebag Montefiore to surmount; and it is perhaps the ultimate measure of his book’s value that he has met it with such aplomb.

Studied empathy with the yearnings of his various subjects is combined with a no less studied show of neutrality. The beliefs of Jews, Christians and Muslims are treated throughout the book as being equally true – or perhaps, depending on the perspective of the reader, as equally bogus. That Sebag Montefiore himself is Jewish is hardly something he would have wished to veil: Sir Moses Montefiore, a key 19th-century sponsor of Jerusalem, is a major presence in the narrative, and there is even room in a proud footnote for a Sebag Montefiore.

More here.

Robert Fisk: Egypt’s day of reckoning

From The Independent:

27egypt-chameleon-custom8 A day of prayer or a day of rage? All Egypt was waiting for the Muslim Sabbath today – not to mention Egypt's fearful allies – as the country's ageing President clings to power after nights of violence that have shaken America's faith in the stability of the Mubarak regime.

Five men have so far been killed and almost 1,000 others have been imprisoned, police have beaten women and for the first time an office of the ruling National Democratic Party was set on fire. Rumours are as dangerous as tear gas here. A Cairo daily has been claiming that one of President Hosni Mubarak's top advisers has fled to London with 97 suitcases of cash, but other reports speak of an enraged President shouting at senior police officers for not dealing more harshly with demonstrators.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the opposition leader and Nobel prize-winning former UN official, flew back to Egypt last night but no one believes – except perhaps the Americans – that he can become a focus for the protest movements that have sprung up across the country.

More here.

Egypt’s battle is on

Alaa Al Aswany in The Guardian:

27egypt-chameleon-custom1 Already the authorities are finding their tactics cannot stop the protests. Demonstrations have been organised through Facebook as a reliable, independent source of information; when the state tried to block it, the people proved more clever, and bloggers passed on ways to bypass the controls. And the violence of the security services is a risk for both sides: in Suez people have risen up against police who shot demonstrators. History shows that at some point ordinary policemen will refuse to carry out orders to kill fellow citizens.

More ordinary citizens are now defying the police. A young demonstrator told me that, when running from the police on Tuesday, he entered a building and rang an apartment bell at random. It was 4am. A 60-year-old man opened the door, fear obvious on his face. The demonstrator asked the man to hide him from the police. The man asked to see his identity card and invited him in, waking one of his three daughters to prepare some food for the young man. They ate and drank tea together and chatted like lifelong friends.

In the morning, when the danger of arrest had receded, the man accompanied the young protester into the street, stopped a taxi for him and offered him some money. The young man refused and thanked them. As they embraced the older man said: “It is I who should be thanking you for defending me, my daughters and all Egyptians.”

That is how the Egyptian spring began. Tomorrow, we will see a real battle.

More here.

Interview: Bilal Tanweer

Ollie Brock in Granta:

1296131743126 Bilal Tanweer is our latest New Voice, with his story ‘After That, We Are Ignorant’, published yesterday. Here, Bilal tells Ollie Brock about about his book of connected stories, of which ‘After That, We Are Ignorant’ is one, and the importance of voice in his fiction.

OB: You’re both a writer and a translator. Which came first? Do they exercise completely different parts of your brain, or is it similar work?

BT: Fiction writing came first, although it came very late – during the sophomore year of my undergraduate studies. I started translating even later, when I wanted to win a translation competition during my MFA at Columbia. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed it immensely and have been translating ever since. It also anchors me, keeps me thinking about words, writing and language.

For me, translating is very much like writing itself; and like every other translator, I also feel that literary translation is underrated and underappreciated (and underpaid) for the amount of imaginative and technical labour it requires. One has to make a lot of choices that are similar to writing fiction, and many that are specific to translation itself. On the whole, it could be as imaginative an enterprise as any other creative endeavour. William Weaver once used the metaphor of a performance for translation: you must act out the text in a different language. Ultimately, I feel every good translator is a writer first. Yes, translating can be tedious and oppressive if you don’t find some kind of personal affinity with the work you’re translating, or if you don’t believe in it. If you love the work, it’s like travelling to a new country with the person you love.

More here.

the skinny part of maryland


Some people live in Frostburg, the college town on the cold ridge that has a Main Street, an old movie theater, a coffee shop for professors and poets. Some live in the hard George’s Creek towns where the Scottish and German coal miners settled 150 years ago. They live in Ellerslie and Mount Savage and Midland and Lonaconing, where their last names are Sloan, Kitzmiller, Snyder, DeHaven. They live on the other side of Dan’s Mountain, in the big Potomac valley, in LaVale and Pinto and Bel Air, where we lived, in Cresaptown, where we lived for a little longer, and in Rawlings, where Mom and Dad built a house for us. A few live out east of Cumberland, on the edges of the great rolling forest there, in Flintstone and Little Orleans. Even fewer live in Oldtown, which used to have its own high school, the one that graduated a class of four the year I left for the big city. Some people live on the sides of those old hills, on Will’s Mountain, Irons Mountain, Dan’s Mountain, Polish Mountain, hillsides where the wind just goes and goes, where winter hangs on through Easter, through the start of baseball season, until you’re ready to scream, and where, when summer does come, it comes in easy and cool like a kiss on the cheek from your grandmother.

more from Seth Sawyers at The Morning News here.

The new neurosexism


Wandering wombs, an anatomically conferred destiny of penis envy and masochism, smaller brains, smaller frontal lobes, larger frontal lobes, right-hemisphere dominance, cross-hemisphere interaction, too much oestrogen, not enough testosterone – all have been invoked to explain why women are intellectually inferior to men, more emotional, less logical, better at asking for directions, worse at map reading, hopeless at maths and science, and ever so much better suited to jobs involving finger dexterity, nappies and dishes. Today we look back with amusement at the efforts of nineteenth-century scientists to weigh, cut, split or dissect brains in their pursuit of finding the precise anatomical reason for female inferiority. How much more scientific and unbiased we are today, we think, with our PET scans and fMRIs and sophisticated measurements of hormone levels. Today’s scientists would never commit such a methodological faux pas as failing to have a control group or knowing the sex of the brain they are dissecting – would they? Brain scans don’t lie – do they? Well, yes, they would and they do. As Cordelia Fine documents in Delusions of Gender, researchers change their focus, technology marches on, but sexism is eternal. Its latest incarnation is what she calls “neurosexism”, sexist bias disguised in the “neuroscientific finery” of claims about neurons, brains, hormones. Fine was spurred to write her critique, she says, when she found her son’s kindergarten teacher reading a book that claimed a young boy’s brain was incapable of forging the connection between emotion and language.

more from Carol Tavris at the TLS here.

‘Hosni Mubarak, the plane is waiting’

Cairo-jan_jpg_470x235_q85 Yasmine El Rashidi in the NYRB:

Egyptians have many grievances, with sectarian strife, police brutality, inflation and skyrocketing prices, and the vicious clampdowns by the government on any dissent topping that list. In the lead-up to last November’s parliamentary elections, press freedoms were curbed and dozens of opposition members were jailed. The elections themselves were widely seen as a sham, yielding a sweeping victory for president Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party. Then, on the eve of the New Year, a suicide bombing outside a church in Alexandria left twenty-two people dead and eighty injured.

The activists’ plan for January 25 was to send tens of thousands of Egyptians into the streets, and to have them stay there until Mubarak gave in to demands: justice, freedom, citizen rights, and an end to his thirty-year rule. The organizers—comprised, largely, of public university graduates in their twenties—had called on Cairenes to gather at several locations across the city, prepared for nights in the streets and armed with cameras—to document any police brutality, which has come to be expected at any public protest here.

To lobby support, the activists used Twitter and Facebook, targeting above all the 60 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people who are under the age of 25. A rap song was made and circulated, a video plea by the mother of the slain activist Khaled Said recorded, and Facebook groups formed to encourage people to join the protest.

On the 25th, I had made a plan with a journalist friend to head out early and stop by several of the designated protest locations—the Supreme Court, Cairo University, the popular Mustafa Mahmoud Mosque, and Shubra—before deciding where to go. Admittedly, we were skeptical. Just weeks before, in a similar call for demonstrations in Egypt in solidarity with the Tunisian uprising, I had arrived at a downtown square to find it barricaded by 200 shielded riot police. Inside were only nine protesters holding up three small banners.

But this time was different.

‘Mubarak, Your Plane is Waiting’

418px-Hosni_Mubarak_-_World_Economic_Forum_on_the_Middle_East_2008_edit1 Adam Shatz in the LRB blog:

Mahmoud, my driver in Cairo when I reported from Egypt last year, didn’t talk much about politics, and – an understandable precaution – kept his views to himself unless he was asked a direct question. But when he dropped me off at the airport, he launched into a sharp attack on the Mubarak regime. ‘The Egyptians are a very patient people by nature, but their patience is running out,’ he said. ‘They could explode.’ (Once his calm returned, he begged me not to mention his name, which isn’t in fact Mahmoud.)

I thought Mahmoud’s warning was the sort of crystal-ball punditry you hear from taxi drivers throughout the developing world, where life continues to grind on as usual even though autocratic governance, corruption and poverty give people every reason to revolt. Leftist militants, reformist politicians, Muslim Brothers and human rights activists had been telling me for the previous two weeks that, for the moment, the regime had been reasonably successful in neutralising dissent, that Egyptians were too caught up in everyday worries to mobilise politically, and that the hopes raised by the Kifaya protests of 2005 had collapsed.

But that was before the murder of Khaled Said, a 28-year-old Alexandrian beaten to death last June by plainclothes officers for asking whether they had a warrant when they searched him. That was before the flagrant rigging of the parliamentary elections in December, which left the Muslim Brotherhood – the country’s largest opposition movement – without a single seat. That was before the New Year’s Day bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria, in which 23 died, followed by the usual official claims that there are no sectarian tensions in Egypt. And that was before the popular uprising against the regime of Zine Ben-Ali in Tunisia.

Yesterday, tens of thousands of demonstrators – men and women, young and old, working and middle-class, religious and secular – took to the streets in a ‘Day of Rage’ protest against Mubarak, who has ruled the country since 1981. The protests weren’t restricted to Cairo: there were demonstrations in Alexandria, Suez and the Nile Delta village of Mahalla, a centre of labour insurgency in recent years.

Nabokov Theory on Butterfly Evolution Is Vindicated

Carl Zimmer in the New York Times:

01butterfly1-articleLarge He was the curator of lepidoptera at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, and collected the insects across the United States. He published detailed descriptions of hundreds of species. And in a speculative moment in 1945, he came up with a sweeping hypothesis for the evolution of the butterflies he studied, a group known as the Polyommatus blues. He envisioned them coming to the New World from Asia over millions of years in a series of waves.

Few professional lepidopterists took these ideas seriously during Nabokov’s lifetime. But in the years since his death in 1977, his scientific reputation has grown. And over the past 10 years, a team of scientists has been applying gene-sequencing technology to his hypothesis about how Polyommatus blues evolved. On Tuesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, they reported that Nabokov was absolutely right.

More here.

The Vilambit and the Drut

Anjum Altaf in The South Asian Idea:

Faiz_Ahmed_Faiz For many years, I sat with a teacher of Hindustani classical music, not learning myself, but watching him explain the complexities of the art to others. When guiding a student through the vilambit phase of a raga, the teacher instructed him to envision a child asleep: the singer should aspire to pouring honey into the child’s ear, to give it the sweetest possible dreams without waking it up. (Translating this instruction into English deprives it of much of its charm, unfortunately.) Once the student began the drut phase, the instructions underwent a dramatic change. In the drut, the listener must be kept awake and engaged, unable to turn away for the music. Instead of vilambit-style vistaars, the singer was told to use sargams and taans, to be like a firecracker. The two parts of the raga are completely different, as are the pleasures they offer the listener.

I belong to a group that exchanges thoughts on Urdu literature, and one topic of discussion has been the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the difficulties of translating his work, and its place in the canon.

More here.

New Voices: announcing Bilal Tanweer

From Granta:

Granta is delighted to announce the next instalment in its New Voices series, which showcases short fiction from emerging writers exclusively on the website. The first New Voice of 2011 is Bilal Tanweer, with ‘After That, We Are Ignorant’. We chose the story for its captivating atmosphere and highly convincing voice, both of which are sustained with a rare confidence.

After That, We Are Ignorant

Bus So guess what that guy said when the Comrade said, ‘I am Comrade Sukhansaz?’ He was some smartass – he returned a dumb expression, and asked: ‘Sukhansaz, that’s the word for poet … But what’s your name? And what’s Comrade … Is that a Muslim name?’

Hahaha! Whatshisname, Comrade, he turned red, even though technically that wasn’t possible because he was so dark, but oh, you should have seen his face – imagine a dry, savage brown flashing with colour! At first Comrade Sukhansaz didn’t reply, just turned his face and stared at the back of the seat. After a few moments, he began bumbling in a low voice. ‘In this country, everything is either Muslim or non-Muslim, everything, everything. Is your shoe Muslim? This cap, does it go to the mosque with you? Does your spoon and knife say their prayers on time? Everything, bloody everything is Muslim or non-Muslim! Is this colour a Muslim colour? And then no one can talk about religion … Names, now names are Muslims and non-Muslims!’

More here.

Apologies Fail to Live Up to Our Expectations

From Scientific American:

Apologies-fail-to-live-up_1 Bank chiefs, oil company executives and louche politicians seem as allergic to admitting guilt as the public is eager to extract contritions from them. If sometimes we seem to scrutinize people more for their failure to say, “I'm sorry,” than for the transgressions themselves, it is partly due to the cultural wisdom that an apology is the first step in mending a broken relationship. But how far does an apology really go in smoothing things over? Not as far as people think, suggests new research published in the January issue of Psychological Science.

“The expectations for an apology to make us feel better and even forget about the bad things that have happened are overestimated,” says study co-author David De Cremer of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. After having a wrong committed against them people who imagined receiving an apology were more satisfied than people who actually got one, the study found.

More here.

Vivek Menezes



Vivek Menezes is a widely published writer and photographer. He was born in Bombay, went to high school in New York, and holds degrees from Wesleyan University and the London School of Economics. Previous career highlights include driving the safari train at the Bronx Zoo, serving as Jacques Cousteau’s personal economic advisor, and building Sachin Tendulkar’s first official website. He lives in Goa with his wife and three sons.

Email: vmingoa [at]

List of writings at 3QD, in reverse chronological order:

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Edward B. Rackley



Trained as an academic philosopher, Ed works in conflict and post conflict countries, mostly in Africa. His work involves setting up emergency aid programs, running them, or evaluating them. He keeps a blog on issues related to whatever country he happens to be working in, called ‘Across the Divide: Analysis and Anecdote from Africa’.


List of writings at 3QD, in reverse chronological order:

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  • Blah