Two old lovers
near the sea of love
in a cove off a bay
no storm can reach,
lean into each other
not for past passion,
not listening for a poet’s speech
just listing, leaning each into each
by Jim Culleny
Two old lovers
near the sea of love
in a cove off a bay
no storm can reach,
lean into each other
not for past passion,
not listening for a poet’s speech
just listing, leaning each into each
by Jim Culleny
For nearly a year now, I've been writing here about poverty in America and what it's like to be in my brother's shoes: Like millions of Americans, Mark is a man who has worked hard for most of his life but is now unable to support himself. For a variety of reasons, today's column will be my last for 3QuarksDaily, and I thought I'd use it to sum up what I've learned over the past year.
1. Poor people are just like everyone else. This should be obvious, but for many, it's not: Most poor people want to be productive members of society. They have dreams and aspirations and to the extent that they are able, they are working to achieve them.
2. Poor people are not just like everyone else. This is the less-obvious corollary. Nearly every poor person has suffered enough misfortune to render him or her incapable of earning enough to cover even the basic necessities of life; nearly everyone else has not. In Mark's case, his body simply wasn't suited to the hard, physical jobs he was able to find. Eventually his body gave out, and he was forced to give up his long-established independent lifestyle and ask for help from the government, friends, and family.
3. Poor people are not like other poor people. Some poor people are lazy, some are not. Some poor people are uneducated, some are not. For every stereotype about poor people, there are thousands—millions—of poor people who do not fit that stereotype. But that doesn't mean there aren't some aspects of being poor that impact nearly all poor people. For example,
4. Trouble disproportionately impacts the poor. For most people, an unexpected setback like a car breakdown or an illness is an annoyance, but for the poor, it can unleash a catastrophic cascade of events. If your car breaks down and you have only $200, which you were planning on spending for the electric bill, you may face a choice between living without power or living without a job: If you can't pay to get the car fixed, you can't get to work. Many poor people have no sick leave: Get so sick that you can't work, and you get fired.
5. Getting government aid is hard, dehumanizing work. When Mark finally realized he could no longer support himself, it took years for him to be officially deemed “disabled” and therefore eligible for Federal assistance. Worse, the process almost requires that a person abandon hope: “You have to convince yourself you're disabled,” Mark said at the time. “Your whole life you've been thinking about taking care of yourself [and suddenly] you're no good anymore and you need help.”
The process of justifying your aid doesn't stop once you are place on Social Security Disability. You still need to prove, twice a year, that you need medical coverage, food stamps, and continually demonstrate that you are disabled and unable to work.
I could go on, but one thing I've learned about poor people over the past year is that cataloging their problems doesn't help much.
By Namit Arora
Homer’s Iliad is the story of an epic war between the Greeks and the Trojans. The apparent cause of the war was the ‘abduction’ of Helen by Paris—Helen was the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta; Paris was the son of Priam, king of Troy. Menelaus, his pride wounded, called on other Greek kings bound to him by an oath. Joining forces, they set sail and laid siege to the coastal city of Troy in Asia Minor. Mostly an account of the last days of the war, the Iliad teems with intrigue, character, and incident.
Herodotus, the 5th century BCE historian regarded as the father of history, lived more than three hundred years after the Iliad was written. He is justly famous for preferring rational—rather than mythical and supernatural—explanations for human events; to understand his past he looked to the actions, character, and motivations of men. Among the more charming passages of Histories is his take on the Trojan War. In his day and age, the Iliad was considered a true account of Greek ancestry and it was obligatory for every Greek schoolboy to read it. Cultivated Greek gents were expected to recite colorful stretches from it.
From the start, Herodotus had trouble with the Iliad. He found it odd that the Trojans, ‘when the Greeks ran off with their women, never troubled themselves about the matter; but the Greeks, for the sake of a single [Spartan] girl, collected a vast armament, invaded Asia, and destroyed the kingdom of Priam’. He doubted that Helen could have been taken from Sparta against her wishes, and even if she was, wasn’t that deed the work of a rogue, unworthy of such a large mobilization by the Greeks? What also didn’t sit well with his sense of human nature was the response of the otherwise reasonable Trojans to the Greek invasion, for ‘surely neither Priam nor his family could have been so infatuated as to endanger their own persons, their children and their city, merely that Paris might possess Helen.’
by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash
If you're interested in the future, or if you're a sci-fi freak, or a geek, or a lover of science, or a transhumanist, or a singularity nut, or a fan of Bladerunner or 2001: A Space Odyssey, or all of these (like me), this book is for you.
Author Dr. Michio Kaku gives us three futures to contemplate in his comprehensive overview of everything science is doing to take us into a future that is unimaginably different, weird and wonderful:
a) where we will be in the near term (present to 2030)
b) in midcentury (2030 to 2070)
c) in the far future (2070 to 2100).
Dr. Kaku's predictions are not only informed by the fact that he's a supersmart scientist himself (with the rare ability to explain abstruse science to ignorant amateurs like me), but that he has personally visited with more than 300 of the relevant scientists and hung out at their laboratories where our future is being designed right now.
Here's a brief list of some of his more startling predictions:
1. We will be operating internet computers that are lodged in contact lenses by blinking our eyes and making hand movements Theremin-style in the empty air.
2. We will have the ability to bring back the woolly mammoth and Neanderthal man, although Dr. Kaku is not so sure that we'll be able to bring back any dinosaurs.
3. Many diseases will be gone as dangerous genes are clipped out of humanity's DNA. Nanobots will be cruising our bloodstreams to zap rogue cancer cells long before they can take us down. We will beat most diseases except virus-caused stuff like the common cold or AIDS, because their viruses can mutate faster than we can learn to zap them.
4. Robots will only become smart once we are able to imbue them with emotions. Why? Because you can't make decisions without emotions. For example, people with brain injuries, which disconnect their logical centers in their cerebral cortex from the emotional center deep inside the brain, are paralyzed when making decisions. They cannot tell what is important or not. When shopping, they cannot make any decisions. That's why emotions are the next frontier in artifcial intelligence.
5. We will definitely be able to increase our lifespans (perhaps even live forever). Dr. Kaku quotes Richard Feynman as saying: “There is nothing in biology yet found that indicates the inevitability of death. This suggests to me that it is not at all inevitable and that it is only a matter of time before biologists discover what it is that is causing us the trouble and that this terrible universal disease or temporariness of the human's body will be cured.”
The following interview with Dr. Kaku was conducted by email, and gave me a chance to ask some basic questions to give you an overview of his mind-blowing book.
I was eating a slice at one of my neighborhood pizzerias the other day. Well actually it was two slices and a drink: either a plastic bottle of corn syrup, or a large styrofoam cup with ice and corn syrup, your choice. That’s their lunch special for five and change. I went with the plastic bottle of corn syrup.
So anyway, there I was, having at it, and all the while the 1970s station on their satellite radio was being piped in as usual. For the most part, it’s a pleasant enough way to pass the fifteen minutes or so that it takes for me to get my food, plop into a hard booth, and then wolf it down. Mostly what wafts down from the overhead speakers are harmless tunes you’ve heard a thousand times before, hits from that fabled decade when viable music could be found on both AM and FM radio stations.
For someone like me, born in 1967 and raised on radio, it’s almost impossible to find a song that I haven’t heard before on a station like this. The whole thing is a predictable corporate endeavor that minimizes risk and targets demographically derived profits by tightly cleaving to an established catalog with which I am intimately familiar. It’s the usual fare of black music (Disco, R&B, Funk) and white music (Rock and Pop) from the era: Billboard hits that were once ubiquitous and now run the gamut from standards to novelties. At best, every now and then they might surprise you with a tune you haven’t heard in a while, unearthing a pleasant memory and triggering the release of some wistful endorphins in your brain.
But not last Friday.
by Kevin S. Baldwin
Anniversaries be they of marriages or births, are generally a time to celebrate (another lap around the sun, yeah!). They can also be a time of darker speculation: “What if I had stayed single, gotten married, married someone else, hadn’t been so career-focused, or hadn’t been born?” These “what if” scenarios are the subject of many novels and films (e.g., A Christmas Carol, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Family Man, and It's a Wonderful Life), because they link regret, acceptance, and possibility.
Anniversaries also focus our attention on particular dates or years. Two years ago, there was much celebration of the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth (1809) and the sesquicentennial of his publication of his On the Origin of Species (1859). In 1859, John Stuart Mill published On Liberty and Edwin Drake discovered oil in western Pennsylvania. The competitive pursuit of liberty through the consumption of oil has characterized much of the late 19th and all of the 20th Century. With regard to the recent sesquicentennial of 1859, my purpose is not so much to ask “what if?” (as in the stories and films cited earlier) as it is to ask “what now?” The result is that I hope to offer a way to incorporate the full implications of Darwin, Drake, and Mill’s work to get us to the next big anniversary in 2059.
How did we get to 1859? To understand Darwin, we need to recall Malthus whose 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population established the idea that food production increased arithmetically (or linearly) while populations increased geometrically (or exponentially), thus growing populations would rapidly outstrip their food supply. Malthus' insights informed both Darwin's and Alfred Russel Wallace's formulations of natural selection and they acknowledged him explicitly in their writings.
Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859 is most remembered for the principle of natural selection and its popularization into phrases like Herbert Spencer's (1864) “Survival of the fittest” and Alfred Tennyson's (1849) “Nature, red in tooth and claw.” Even today, a reference to The Origin evokes the idea that life is hard and competitive. In a word: Darwinian.
The second great contribution of 1859 was Edwin Drake's discovery of oil near Titusville, Pennsylvania, which launched the American petroleum industry. Oil is an astonishingly energy dense material. A single 42 gallon barrel of oil may contain the energy-equivalent of about 25,000 hours of human labor. Oil also provides the chemical feed-stock for many items that we consider to be essential (e.g., chemicals including plastics and pharmaceuticals). Cheap, readily available oil has given us lots of energy to do many things and make lots of stuff.
The third great contribution of 1859 was John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, which advocated for the moral and economic freedom of individuals from government and other citizens. Mention Mill today and terms like utilitarianism, libertarianism (both upper and lower case), and individual freedom come to mind immediately. On Liberty is perhaps best known for the phrase: “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”
Combined with the seemingly inexaustible supply of cheap energy in the form of oil, competition and individuality became the defining metaphors for the development of western civilization in the late 19th and 20th centuries. A selective reading of the lessons of 1859 would be that life, including the human condition, is a struggle, energy is cheap and abundant, and the pursuit of individuality and freedom are paramount. Does this not sound like America in the first decade of the 21st Century?
by Joy Icayan
I was recently in one of those hole-in-the-wall drinking places with friends from the human rights community. It was a rather decrepit place, just a bunch of plastic tables and monobloc chairs and a small booth that served dirt cheap beer and street food. In the mornings it was transformed into a canteen. The toilets in the restroom didn’t flush. Vendors peddling nuts, eggs and apples came in and out. We went there at least once a week to talk of politics and personal lives and take advantage of the cheap beer. That night, we had brought a friend—a French volunteer. She was in her sixties, spending her retirement visiting the world and talking to people. It was her first time in my country, and since she seemed game for everything, including travelling alone to mining-affected indigenous communities six hours from the city, we decided to bring her to our little hidden place.
Now this place had a videoke machine in one corner and a television forever tuned to a horse racing channel in another. The videoke machine had one of those preprogrammed reels of scantily clad women, mostly Caucasian women in bikinis running along a beach, or pole dancing or walking or fixing their hair, or pouting at the camera. It was a constant barrage of cleavage and thighs and it went on whatever song you chose; eventually the clips repeated themselves, or the same women repeated themselves in different ‘storylines’. We were used to it; there were other reels you could choose, reels of marine life or cartoon characters, but most machines played the clips of the women. That night, someone from another table had requested to turn the machine on, and started a bad rendition of a love song.
Our French visitor stared at the video going on, it was just the camera doing a quick close up scan of a pretty woman’s body. We had been talking about mining. “Stop me,” she said “before I smash that screen.”
It had been something of a joke, of course, but until that moment none of us had seriously thought about what was wrong with the clips. Annoying and silly, yes, but that was it. It was everywhere–in the cheap bars, in rural clubs, even in some homes. And there was something rather ironic to that; that we would often meet there to discuss activism and the rights of vulnerable people, that at that time one of the most controversial bills in the Congress was something on reproductive health, a bill that proposed access to information and methods of reproductive health, and we couldn’t quite understand how people, a sizable portion of the population could oppose that.
“I really am going to smash that screen,” she said, and we knew her enough at that point, respected her guts, that we thought we had better leave.
by Gautam Pemmaraju
A distinct advantage to my small rental in the once ‘leafy suburb’ of Bandra in western Bombay is its garden. Actually, not quite a ‘garden’ in the sense that it is arranged with great care or acuity, tended to diligently, or bedecked with decorative flowers and plants, it is rather, for the most part, an unkempt, somewhat derelict yard with several planted trees and a wide range of wild ferns, creepers, fruit, herb, and vegetable plants. The diversity of botanical life is pretty fascinating, not to mention the many song birds, from the White-Throated Fan Tail, the Oriental Magpie Robin to the Asian Koel, and lest I forget, the many worms, slugs, bees, butterflies, garden lizards, frogs, squirrels, snails that are to be found in residence – occasionally at my doorstep. Itinerant cats, the odd fatigued kite, noisy crows, sparrows and pigeons, barn owls, and bandicoots pass through, and I have often imagined an irascible rodent knocking at my door demanding a change of music.
The space around me is a wild urban garden.
Encircled by tall apartment blocks, the low-rise character of the structure allows for immediate contact with what is outside. Boundary walls enclose this very modest plot of land that supports an impressive range of plant life. When in season, there are guavas that may be picked from outside my window; some ripe ones, half eaten by parakeets, fall to ground and release a squishy, heady aroma. Two types of bananas – a large beveled plantain (possibly from Kerala) which can be used raw (in cooking) or eaten when ripe, and the small, squat and delicious local elchi (butter plantain). Cultivated coconut, including one variety brought from Singapore, and seasonal mangoes are in abundance. The lone lime tree, verdant and generously fertile at one time, which used to catch the fancy of telephone linesmen, postmen and other civic workers entering the premises, is in need of some help. Recently, the jackfruit tree bore fruit for the first time. Several others though – custard apple, tamarind, Java Plum or Jambul, fig, locally known as umber – are yet to be as productive as the others.
From the Nobel winners' site:
When I first encountered the name of the city of Stockholm, I little thought that I would ever visit it, never mind end up being welcomed to it as a guest of the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Foundation. At the time I am thinking of, such an outcome was not just beyond expectation: it was simply beyond conception. In the nineteen forties, when I was the eldest child of an ever-growing family in rural Co. Derry, we crowded together in the three rooms of a traditional thatched farmstead and lived a kind of den-life which was more or less emotionally and intellectually proofed against the outside world. It was an intimate, physical, creaturely existence in which the night sounds of the horse in the stable beyond one bedroom wall mingled with the sounds of adult conversation from the kitchen beyond the other. We took in everything that was going on, of course – rain in the trees, mice on the ceiling, a steam train rumbling along the railway line one field back from the house – but we took it in as if we were in the doze of hibernation. Ahistorical, pre-sexual, in suspension between the archaic and the modern, we were as susceptible and impressionable as the drinking water that stood in a bucket in our scullery: every time a passing train made the earth shake, the surface of that water used to ripple delicately, concentrically, and in utter silence.
But it was not only the earth that shook for us: the air around and above us was alive and signalling too. When a wind stirred in the beeches, it also stirred an aerial wire attached to the topmost branch of the chestnut tree. Down it swept, in through a hole bored in the corner of the kitchen window, right on into the innards of our wireless set where a little pandemonium of burbles and squeaks would suddenly give way to the voice of a BBC newsreader speaking out of the unexpected like a deus ex machina. And that voice too we could hear in our bedroom, transmitting from beyond and behind the voices of the adults in the kitchen; just as we could often hear, behind and beyond every voice, the frantic, piercing signalling of morse code.
From Columbia University Press:
Question: Let’s talk about the structure of the book. Among the first things that come to mind looking at the table of contents is the balance among the two parts, four chapters, and twelve sections. Also, although all sections are the same length, chapters 2 and 4 contain many more notes than the other two chapters. Why is this?
GV: The last systematic book I wrote was Il soggetto e la maschera [The Subject and the Mask] (1974). There are various reasons why I stopped taking so much care in explicating my thesis though balanced order and style: perhaps for the same reasons as Derrida, Rorty, and so many other postmetaphysical philosophers, that is, the end of grand narratives, truth, and ideology? I’m glad Santiago persuaded me to follow this structure because it certainly helps the reader, who, in this case, we hope will be not only philosophical but also political.
SV: Those chapters contain many more notes because we needed to justify with documents, articles, and other information some of our theses, for example, how Obama has increased military spending or Chávez has forced the oil industry to finance free health care for the poorest citizens of Venezuela. But if these chapters had to have more notes it’s also because they are the “ontic” sections of the book; that is, while chapters 1 and 3 are philosophical or ontological, chapters 2 and 4 are ontic or political. I’m not saying they could be read independently, but they correspond to each other. While part 1, “Framed Democracy,” is really a deconstruction of the “winners’ history,” that is, of the conservative realist positions of John Searle, Robert Kagan, and Francis Fukuyama, part 2, “Hermeneutic Communism,” outlines (through the work of Jacques Derrida, Richard Rorty, and others) how the “anarchic vein of hermeneutics” points toward a weakened communism.
Eli Lake in The Daily Beast:
While publicly pressuring Israel to make deeper concessions to the Palestinians, President Obama has secretly authorized significant new aid to the Israeli military that includes the sale of 55 deep-penetrating bombs known as bunker busters, Newsweek has learned.
In an exclusive story to be published Monday on growing military cooperation between the two allies, U.S. and Israeli officials tell Newsweek that the GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrators—potentially useful in any future military strike against Iranian nuclear sites—were delivered to Israel in 2009, just several months after Obama took office.
The military sale was arranged behind the scenes as Obama’s demands for Israel to stop building settlements in disputed territories were fraying political relations between the two countries in public.
The Israelis first requested the bunker busters in 2005, only to be rebuffed by the Bush administration. At the time, the Pentagon had frozen almost all U.S.-Israeli joint defense projects out of concern that Israel was transferring advanced military technology to China.
I thought I saw my mother
in the lesbian bar,
with a salt gray crew cut, a nose stud
and a tattoo of a parrot on her arm.
She was sitting at a corner table,
leaning forward to ignite, on someone’s match,
one of those low-tar things she used to smoke,
and she looked happy to be alive again
after her long marriage
to other people’s needs,
her twenty-year stint as Sisyphus,
struggling to push
a blue Ford station wagon full of screaming kids
up a mountainside of groceries.
My friend Debra had brought me there
to educate me on the issue
of my own unnecessariness,
and I stood against the wall, trying to look
and nonchalant, watching couples
slowdance in the female dark,
but feeling speechless, really,
as the first horse to meet the first
horseless carriage on a cobbled street.
That’s when I noticed Mom,
whispering into the delicate
seashell ear of a brunette,
running a fingertip along
the shoreline of a tank top,
as if death had taught her finally
not to question what she wanted
and not to hesitate
in reaching out and taking it.
I want to figure out everything
right now, before I die,
but I admit that in the dark
(where a whole life can be mistaken) cavern of that bar
it took me one, maybe two big minutes
to find my footing
and to aim my antiquated glance
over the shoulder of that woman
pretending not to be my mother,
as if I were looking for someone else.
by Tony Hoagland
from What Narcissism Means To Me
Graywolf Press, 2003
Simon Jenkins in The Telegraph:
I have come to regard England as the most remarkable country in European history. While its relations with its neighbours, especially Celtic ones, have often been appalling, its ability to assimilate newcomers, reform its politics, care for its citizens and be a liberal beacon to the world, is astonishing. Its “game-changing” individuals – Elizabeth, Cromwell, Walpole, Gladstone, Lloyd George, Churchill, Thatcher – far outnumber its villains. The trouble with most history books is that they are either aimed at children and too naive, or at other historians and are too long. As a journalist, I have set out to tell England’s story as a brisk narrative to be read in an afternoon. It is intended to supply a context for the bromides of politicians and commentators, and a setting for the fragmentary histories offered in films and television series. It is a background, sometimes I hope a corrective, to the wisdom peddled by lawyers, economists, diplomats and generals.
I cannot trust any political argument, from left or right, that is bereft of historical evidence. As we repeat the mistakes of the past – in Afghanistan, in relations with Europe, in banking policy – we should wince. Surely we are not going back to the Afghan wars, or to the Entente Cordiale, or to the South Sea Bubble? Or at least if we are going back to the bubble, let us recall that, after it burst, the First Minister dropped dead in parliament, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was sent to the Tower, and the mob demanded bankers be “tied up in sacks filled with snakes and tipped into the murky Thames”.
One of the very pillars of physics and Einstein's theory of relativity – that nothing can go faster than the speed of light – was rocked Thursday by new findings from one of the world's foremost laboratories.
European researchers said they clocked an oddball type of subatomic particle called a neutrino going faster than the 186,282 miles per second that has long been considered the cosmic speed limit. The claim was met with skepticism, with one outside physicist calling it the equivalent of saying you have a flying carpet. In fact, the researchers themselves are not ready to proclaim a discovery and are asking other physicists to independently try to verify their findings. “The feeling that most people have is this can't be right, this can't be real,” said James Gillies, a spokesman for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, which provided the particle accelerator that sent neutrinos on their breakneck 454-mile trip underground from Geneva to Italy. Going faster than light is something that is just not supposed to happen according to Einstein's 1905 special theory of relativity – the one made famous by the equation E equals mc2. But no one is rushing out to rewrite the science books just yet. It is “a revolutionary discovery if confirmed,” said Indiana University theoretical physicist Alan Kostelecky, who has worked on this concept for a quarter of a century. Stephen Parke, who is head theoretician at the Fermilab near Chicago and was not part of the research, said: “It's a shock. It's going to cause us problems, no doubt about that – if it's true.”
CERN reported that a neutrino beam fired from a particle accelerator near Geneva to a lab 454 miles (730 kilometers) away in Italy traveled 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light. Scientists calculated the margin of error at just 10 nanoseconds. (A nanosecond is one-billionth of a second.)
More here. (Note: Do watch the video)
Michael Dirda in The Paris Review:
Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (1859–1930), wasn’t knighted in 1902 for creating its protagonist, Sherlock Holmes, though many readers feel he should have been. The literary journalist Christopher Morley, founder of the Baker Street Irregulars, declared that he actually should have been sainted. In fact, Arthur Conan Doyle only reluctantly added Sir to his name—for his services and writings during the Boer Wars—because his beloved mother talked him into it. On his books he austerely remained A. Conan Doyle “without,” as he said, “any trimmings.” Such modesty is characteristic of this altogether remarkable man, one who gave his own stolid John Bull appearance, down to the military mustache, not to his Great Detective, but to the loyal Dr. Watson. Appropriately, Conan Doyle once named “unaffectedness” as his own favorite virtue, then listed “manliness” as his favorite virtue in another man; “work” as his favorite occupation; “time well filled” as his ideal of happiness; “men who do their duty” as his favorite heroes in real life; and “affectation and conceit” as his pet aversions. It should thus come as no surprise that Conan Doyle’s books are all fairly transparent endorsements of chivalric ideals of honor, duty, courage, and greatness of heart.
In Javier Marías’s charming volume of essays called Written Lives, the Spanish novelist retells a well-known story about the writer and his family. Sir Arthur was traveling by train through South Africa and “one of his grown-up sons commented on the ugliness of a woman who happened to walk down the corridor. He had barely had time to finish this sentence when he received a slap and saw, very close to his, the flushed face of his old father, who said very mildly: ‘Just remember that no woman is ugly.’ ” While no man is on oath for lapidary inscriptions, nearly every student of Conan Doyle agrees that as man, writer, and citizen he strove to live up to the knightly words etched on his tombstone: “Steel true, blade straight.”