Becoming Condoleezza Rice

From USA Today:

Condix-largePALO ALTO, Calif. — This can't be the right place.You would expect the home of Condoleezza Rice— the most successful African-American woman in the history of the executive branch — to be festooned with mementos from her tenure under two Bush presidencies, which culminated in her role as secretary of State.Perhaps some photos with world leaders. Ornate gifts from political counterparts. Lavish furnishings.Nope. Instead, the decidedly generic condo reserved for Stanford University faculty is filled with antiques that belonged to Rice's parents, sports memorabilia and a prominent photograph of her with … cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The only sign of George W. Bush is found on a hockey-puck-size Lucite disc, which is inscribed with a 9/11-era quote from the 43rd president.But make no mistake: There is no distancing going on. Rice is as proud of her record as ever.”I look back on those eight years fondly,” she says, dressed in black, sitting in a small den decorated with NFL helmets and framed shots of her with golfers Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson.”I'm glad I got to serve in a time of tremendous consequence,” says Rice, 55. “We did some things well. Some things not so well. But I'm a big believer that history has a long arc. We'll have final determination on things we did long after I'm gone. And that's fine.”A change in direction Rice set out to dissect her political life in a book, but that was put on hold when she opted to first pay tribute to the people who truly shaped her, Birmingham, Ala., educators John and Angelena Rice. The result is Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family.

More here. (Note: In honor of African American History Month, we will be linking to at least one related post throughout February. The 2012 theme is Black Women in American Culture and History).

There’s More to Nothing Than We Knew

Dennis Overbye in The New York Times:

CosmosWhy is there something, rather than nothing at all?

It is, perhaps, the mystery of last resort. Scientists may be at least theoretically able to trace every last galaxy back to a bump in the Big Bang, to complete the entire quantum roll call of particles and forces. But the question of why there was a Big Bang or any quantum particles at all was presumed to lie safely out of scientific bounds, in the realms of philosophy or religion. Now even that assumption is no longer safe, as exemplified by a new book by the cosmologist Lawrence M. Krauss. In it he joins a chorus of physicists and cosmologists who have been pushing into sacred ground, proclaiming more and more loudly in the last few years that science can explain how something — namely our star-spangled cosmos — could be born from, if not nothing, something very close to it. God, they argue, is not part of the equation. The book, “A Universe From Nothing,” is a best seller and follows recent popular tomes like “God Is Not Great,” by the late Christopher Hitchens; “The God Delusion,” by Richard Dawkins; and “The Grand Design,” by the British cosmologist Stephen Hawking (with Leonard Mlodinow), which generated headlines two years ago with its assertion that physicists do not need God to account for the universe.

More here.

as always, Hartley gets the short end of the stick

Samuel Taylor Coleridge170x145

Hartley Coleridge began life with limitless promise—“all my child might be”—and ended it universally viewed as a failure. He is remembered not for his poems or his essays, though he wrote some fine ones, but for two things and two things only: he was the son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and he was a disappointment. He has been called a misfit, a dreamer, a sinner, a castaway, a wayward child, a hobgoblin, a flibbertigibbet, a waif, a weird, a pariah, a prodigal, a picturesque ruin, a sensitive plant, an exquisite machine with insufficient steam, the oddest of God’s creatures, and, most frequently—by his father, his mother, his brother, and his sister; by William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Thomas Carlyle; and by countless others over the years—“Poor Hartley.” I will not call him Poor Hartley. Relieved of the adjective that has followed him around like a cringing cur for nearly two centuries, he will be, simply, Hartley. (Although the “David” referred to in his father’s letter—an homage to David Hartley, the eighteenth-century metaphysical philosopher—faded away before baptism, Hartley was still stuck with one great man for his first name and another for his last.) And that raises the question of what I should call his father, he of the abscessed buttocks and the great poems. “Coleridge” not only grants him sole proprietorship of a last name that belongs just as rightfully to his son but also makes the father sound like an adult and the son—forever—like a child. For the sake of parity, I should call him “Samuel.” However, he detested that name, considering it “the worst combination of which vowels and consonants are susceptible.” He signed his poems with a variety of pseudonyms, from Aphilos to Zagri. His most celebrated alias was Silas Tomkyn Comberbache, the name under which he enlisted in the dragoons and with whom he shared a set of initials: STC. Since that is how he referred to himself in his notebooks, sometimes in Greek, I will call our ill-starred pair Hartley and STC—with the rueful realization that, as always, Hartley gets the short end of the stick.

more from Anne Fadiman at Lapham’s Quarterly here.

breaking the drouth


Early in my childhood, when the adult world and sometimes my own experience easily assumed the bright timelessness of myth, I overheard my father’s friend Charlie Hardy telling about the drouth of 1908. I liked hearing the grownups talk, and when I wanted to I could be quiet. By being more or less unnoticeable, I heard a lot. Some of the adult conversations I listened to ended with a question: “How long have you been here, Andy?” Charlie Hardy, anyhow, grew up on a rough little farm on Bird’s Branch. Charlie, as he said, “came up hard,” though that phrase, by now, has lost much of the meaning it still would have had in the early 1940s. At the time of Charlie’s boyhood, except for the railroad and the little packets that still carried passengers and freight up and down the river, there were no machines in the country around Port William, no electricity, no “modern conveniences” or not many. Now, when electricity, indoor plumbing, and many personal machines have become normal, people generally assume that a hundred years ago life was “hard” for almost everybody, though few still have the experience needed for a just comparison. It is perhaps impossible for a person living unhappily with a flush toilet to imagine a person living happily without one.

more from Wendell Berry at Threepenny Review here.

the problem with pennies


Pennies, nickels, and dimes can barely be described as money anymore. Legally they are, sure, but they don’t exactly circulate. A store of value? Practically nil. Medium of exchange? Only if you have a boatload of them, which won’t exactly endear you to whomever you’re transacting with. A unit of account? Technically, but I don’t know anyone who uses the hundredths place in his mental accounting. Marketing types will be quick to tell you that consumers treat $2.99 differently from $3.00, but that’s because of the hypnotic power of the left digit. No one cares about the right one anymore. It’s no wonder then that people so willingly pay the usurious 8.9 percent fee to use one of Coinstar’s 20,000 kiosks to convert unwieldy jarfuls of metal into paper money. In the United States, the question of killing at least the penny and nickel surfaces whenever the price of metals spikes. A few years ago, the cost of making a penny peaked at 1.8 cents per cent, and nine cents for a nickel. The penny has since come down; nickels are still at about six cents apiece, while each of the new dollar coins costs an impressive thirty-four cents. “The current situation is unprecedented,” the director of the U.S. Mint told Congress in the summer of 2010. “Compared to their face values, never before in our nation’s history has the government spent as much money to mint and issue coins.” Never before has the United States faced such “spiraling” costs to issued coinage—more, in fact, than the coins’ legal tender value. “This problem is needlessly wasting hundreds of millions of dollars.”

more from David Wolman at The Awl here.

Half Human

Joseph_roth_013112_620pxAdam Kirsch in Tablet Magazine:

The rediscovery of Joseph Roth has been one of the happiest literary developments of the last 10 years—perhaps the first time that the word “happy” could be used in the same sentence as Roth’s name. Roth, born in the town of Brody in Austrian Galicia in 1894, was one of the best-known journalists in 1920s Germany, a master of the impressionistic personal essay known as the feuilleton. With the 1932 publication of The Radetzky March, his novel about the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he joined the first rank of fiction writers as well.

Within a year, however, the Nazis took power in Germany, making it impossible for Roth, or any German Jewish writer, to live and work in the country. Roth spent the next five years living hand-to-mouth in France, cranking out short novels at a terrific pace in an increasingly hopeless attempt to support himself. He died in 1939, a victim of alcoholism and of history, at the age of just 45—though to judge by photographs of his booze-ravaged face, he already looked like an elderly man. As it turned out, this premature death came just in time, for if Roth had still been living in France after the German conquest in 1940, he would surely have been sent to a concentration camp.

Several of Roth’s books were published in the United States in the 1920s and ’30s, but after his death his reputation nearly vanished here.

Bridging the Analytic-Continental Divide

0219Stone-blog480Gary Gutting in the NYT's Opinionator:

Many philosophers at leading American departments are specialists in metaphysics: the study of the most general aspects of reality such as being and time. The major work of one of the most prominent philosophers of the 20th century, Martin Heidegger, is “Being and Time,” a profound study of these two topics. Nonetheless, hardly any of these American metaphysicians have paid serious attention to Heidegger’s book.

The standard explanation for this oddity is that the metaphysicians are analytic philosophers, whereas Heidegger is a continental philosopher. Although the two sorts of philosophers seldom read one another’s work, when they do, the results can be ugly. A famous debate between Jacques Derrida (continental) and John Searle (analytic) ended with Searle denouncing Derrida’s “obscurantism” and Derrida mocking Searle’s “superficiality.”

The distinction between analytic and continental philosophers seems odd, first of all, because it contrasts a geographical characterization (philosophy done on the European continent, particularly Germany and France) with a methodological one (philosophy done by analyzing concepts). It’s like, as Bernard Williams pointed out, dividing cars into four-wheel-drive and made-in-Japan. It becomes even odder when we realize that some of the founders of analytic philosophy (like Frege and Carnap) were Europeans, that many of the leading centers of “continental” philosophy are at American universities, and that many “analytic” philosophers have no interest in analyzing concepts.

Eric Schliesser over at New APPS has a response [h/t: Ben Wolfson]:

Gary Gutting is one of the most important and interesting intermediaries between continental philosophy and mainstream analytic philosophy. So, he is always worth taking seriously, but I am afraid that his recent New York Times Opinionator is marred by some self-serving rhetoric that prevents illumination on some very important philosophic issues. Against standard blog-rhetoric (where we normally land heaviest punches first), my criticism below will increase in severity and philosophic significance.

First, Gutting writes: “There is…a continuing demand for analytic expositions of major continental figures. It’s obvious why there is no corresponding market for, say, expositions of Quine, Rawls or Kripke in the idioms of Heidegger, Derrida or Deleuze.” In context, Gutting implies that the obvious answer is that Quine, Rawls, and Kripke write so clearly that no such exposition would be needed–they are accessible without intermediation. Now, after a recent reading group on Word & Object (with Dutch folk who are very good philosophers of science, but who had not been exposed to a standard Anglo undergraduate curriculum), I know for a fact this is not true of Quine, who — while being a beautiful and humorous stylist — is extremely opaque writer to people not steeped in his dialectic with Carnap (and lack of knowledge of set-theory). [Is there anybody that really thinks the argument of Two Dogmas is clear?]

Gish Jen to Judge 3rd Annual 3QD Arts & Literature Prize

UPDATE 3/19/12: The winners have been announced here.

UPDATE 3/8/12: The finalists have been announced here.

UPDATE 3/7/12: The semifinalists have been announced here.

UPDATE 2/29/12: Voting round now open. Click here to see full list of nominees and vote.

Dear Readers, Writers, Bloggers,

Gish-JenWe are very honored and pleased to announce that Gish Jen has agreed to be the final judge for our 3rd annual prize for the best blog and online writing in the category of arts and literature. (Details of the inaugural prize, judged by Robert Pinsky, can be found here, and more about last year's prize, judged by Laila Lalami can be found here.)

Gish Jen is a novelist. Her first novel, Typical American, was a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle award, and her second novel, Mona in the Promised Land, was listed as one of the ten best books of the year by the Los Angeles Times. Her latest novel, World and Town, won the 2011 Massachusetts Book Prize and has been nominated for the 2012 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her short work has appeared in numerous periodicals including The New Yorker, the Atlantic, the Paris Review, Daedalus, the New Republic, and The New York Times. She has also been included in dozens of textbooks and anthologies, including several Best American Short Stories collections, including The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. The recipient of grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and the National Endowment for the Arts, she also received a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction in 1999, and a $250,000 Strauss Living Award from The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2003.

Jen has been featured in a PBS American Masters program on the American Novel and was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009. She is slated to deliver the Massey Lectures in American Civilization at Harvard University in the spring of 2012. Her website is

As usual, this is the way it will work: the nominating period is now open, and will end at 11:59 pm EST on February 28, 2012. There will then be a round of voting by our readers which will narrow down the entries to the top twenty semi-finalists. After this, we will take these top twenty voted-for nominees, and the four main editors of 3 Quarks Daily (Abbas Raza, Robin Varghese, Morgan Meis, and Azra Raza) will select six finalists from these, plus they may also add up to three wildcard entries of their own choosing. The three winners will be chosen from these by Gish Jen.

The first place award, called the “Top Quark,” will include a cash prize of one thousand dollars; the second place prize, the “Strange Quark,” will include a cash prize of three hundred dollars; and the third place winner will get the honor of winning the “Charm Quark,” along with a two hundred dollar prize.

(Welcome to those coming here for the first time. Learn more about who we are and what we do here, and do check out the full site here. Bookmark us and come back regularly, or sign up for the RSS feed.)


PrizeArtsAnnounce2012The winners of this prize will be announced on March 19, 2012. Here's the schedule:

February 20, 2012:

  • The nominations are opened. Please nominate your favorite blog entry by placing the URL for the blog post (the permalink) in the comments section of this post. You may also add a brief comment describing the entry and saying why you think it should win. (Do NOT nominate a whole blog, just one individual blog post.)
  • We will accept poems and fiction, as well as book or art reviews, criticism, and other types of writing about arts or literature.
  • Blog posts longer than 4,000 words are strongly discouraged, but we might make an exception if there is something truly extraordinary.
  • Each person can only nominate one blog post.
  • Entries must be in English.
  • The editors of 3QD reserve the right to reject entries that we feel are not appropriate.
  • The blog entry may not be more than a year old. In other words, it must have been written after February 19, 2011.
  • You may also nominate your own entry from your own or a group blog (and we encourage you to).
  • Guest columnists at 3 Quarks Daily are also eligible to be nominated, and may also nominate themselves if they wish.
  • Nominations are limited to the first 200 entries.
  • Prize money must be claimed within a month of the announcement of winners.

February 28, 2012

  • The nominating process will end at 11:59 PM (NYC time) of this date.
  • The public voting will be opened soon afterwards.

March 6, 2012

  • Public voting ends at 11:59 PM (NYC time).

March 19, 2012

  • The winners are announced.

One Final and Important Request

If you have a blog or website, please help us spread the word about our prizes by linking to this post. Otherwise, post a link on your Facebook profile, Tweet it, or just email your friends and tell them about it! I really look forward to reading some very good material, and think this should be a lot of fun for all of us.

Best of luck and thanks for your attention!



That’s not music – that’s just noise!

by Dave Maier

Masonna2Noise music – if that's even what you want to call it – is pretty hard to defend in polite company. Most of the guys who make it are demonstrably weird if not downright insane, and of course it sounds like the cat got its tail caught in a blender. Who wants to listen to that? All it's good for, seemingly, is to piss people off, and/or to show how edgy and cool you are. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that in defending noise music, critics point to just these things. But are they right to do so?

Here's one way this defense might go. One critic, Nick Smith, appeals to Theodor Adorno’s views here, which looks funny at first, as Adorno is famously all about the high art, as pointedly opposed to anti-artistic hipster trendiness. But let's let Smith explain this paradox to us, and then see what we think.

Adorno[Deep breath.] According to Adorno, language, art, and philosophy are all manifestations of underlying sociocultural phenomena. Everything Adorno deplores – the economic inequality and social oppression which he sees as the inevitable result of capitalist economies based on the principle of abstract exchange-value – can thus be diagnosed in the analogous ills afflicting the corresponding spheres of culture, including philosophy itself. The engine of capitalist culture is instrumental rationality, which abstracts from individual things and persons for the purposes of economic and social efficiency. To preserve the principle of exchange-value, thought denies individual uniqueness, and at the same time, defines knowledge according to the concepts which thus deny it, allowing knowledge to be put to work for socioeconomic purposes. This self-deluded “identity thinking,” put into the service of instrumental rationality by the very structure of our thought, prevents philosophy from self-reflectively diagnosing its own illness. In pursuing rationality and “objectivity” for its own sake, it simply repeats its mistake in the process of attempting to correct it, if it even gets as far as the attempt.

That sounds bad; but it gets worse.

Read more »

Tax Justice: The Next Great American Movement

by Jeff Strabone


Brown v. Board of Education. The Voting Rights Act. Miranda v. Arizona. Roe v. Wade. Texas v. Johnson. The Americans with Disabilities Act. Same-sex marriage. Looked at one way, the past several decades in the United States have been an almost uninterrupted series of victories for the American left and its activist model of advancing civil right and civil liberties through litigation and legislation.

Looked at another way—in terms of tax justice, financial regulation, and income disparity—the economic right wing has dominated American politics for the past thirty-plus years. In the face of little popular resistance and with assistance from both major political parties, the richest Americans and the most powerful corporations have had a free hand to rewrite the tax code and the banking laws to enrich themselves, endanger the world economy, and deprive government of the revenues it would need to, as the Constitution puts it, ‘promote the general welfare’.

As income inequality in the States approaches banana-republic levels, Americans are finally having a long-overdue national conversation about taxes, banking laws, and economic justice, but why were we not having this conversation all along? The singular focus on civil rights without a comparable commitment to tax justice may also be the greatest failure of the American left. While it is inarguably a great achievement that any child, regardless of color, can now swim in a public pool, that opportunity means little if tax revenues shrink to the point where cities can no longer afford to open the pools, let alone build new ones.

Read more »

Monday Poem

“When the rich get too rich and the poor
get too poor, there is a way.”
…………….. —Pearle Buck, The Good Earth

when the rich get too rich
the sky falls
when the poor get too poor

there is a way:

see what breaks
over a fault when plate
pushes plate

even stacked bullion falls

it’s a grim scene
when all work meets
at an edge
when what’s raw
surges volcanic through
stone pipes stifled hope
singes the landscape,
plows plantations
under, sinks
mistaken dreams,
exhaults valleys, scours peaks
so they’re buzz-cut
as a military head —when
even air burns
all suck equally
from a bountiful
karmic void

when the rich get too rich
day leaves
when the poor get too poor

wide night comes

by Jim Culleny 2/9/12

Smells (and the people who write about them)

by Rishidev Chaudhuri

ScreenHunter_08 Feb. 20 12.38Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez's “Perfumes” is an intriguing (and rather wonderful) collection of reviews of various scents. It is hard to write about smell while avoiding cliches: smell is almost always seen as a primitive, noble-savage sort of sense, pre-verbal and inextricably linked to sex and memory. They, on the other hand, start with the assumption that smell should be taken seriously as an artistic medium, and that viewing perfume simply as bottled memory or barely sublimated sexual enticement is misleading. Perfume is not simply mimetic, not simply trying to smell like the natural world, and we should take olfactory abstraction as seriously as we do visual abstraction. This makes for an often odd collection of perfume reviews. After all, what does one make of reviews like these:

“The result was the powderiest, rootiest, most sinister iris imaginable, a huge gray ostrich-feather boa to wear with purple devore velvet at a poet's funeral”

“The surprise effect of Le Feu d'Issey is total. Smelling it is like pressing the play button on a frantic video clip of unconnected objects that fly past one's nose at warp speed: fresh baguette, lime peel, clean wet linen, shower soap, hot stone, salty skin, even a fleeting touch of vitamin B, and no doubt a few other UFOs that this reviewer failed to catch the first few times.”

“Maurice Roucel has a knack for putting together perfumes that feel haunted by the ghostly presence of a woman: Lyra was a compact, husky-voiced Parisienne, Tocade a tanned, free-as-air Amazon…. However it did constrain the woman inside Envy to be at once seraphic and sub-urban, complete with the sort of suppressed anger that such a creature would feel at being reincarnated as a florist in Eastern New Jersey.”

Read more »

What does it sound like?

by Jen Paton


I remember material history seemed boring to me as an undergraduate. I could care less about some colonial lady’s crockery or her misshapen stony bead games. The only objects of interest were those allegedly imbued with “cultural import” – religious icons, certain paintings, particular grand spaces that made me wonder what it must have been like to be there. I was suffering, badly, from an over-reliance on words and pictures.

We see history through such words and pictures, sometimes video, often through blockbuster films or Ken Burns-effected photographs on television documentaries – the latter an effect that lends a sense of importance to an image that you can’t quite pinpoint nor fully buy into (especially now that you can do it yourself with iPhoto). But we live life with five senses, after all. People of the past felt, smelled, and heard things too. Perhaps this is why, where it seems one might get away with it, you can always catch people of today trying to touch the buffed Greek statuary or glowering Egyptian gods at the British Museum.

At the Met’s new, enveloping, Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia, surrounded by astounding and challenging visual beauty, I couldn’t touch much of the past, but there is a nice moment where I could hear a bit of it, when I scuttled across a large gallery full of rugs to stumble into the Damascus room from 1707. With the splashes of a fountain, you can imagine a bit of what someone’s life of the senses was like, here, then.

Read more »

Please Read Responsibly

by Hasan Altaf
One of the main differences between fiction and nonfiction might be, to use the phrase of writing workshops, between showing and telling: Fiction shows us other lives, what those other lives are like, how it might feel to be living those lives; the other tells us, laying out the context, the backstory, the rules of the game. Both forms are important, but fiction seems to me the more powerful, as stories speak to us at a more visceral level than do facts – to our emotions, rather than our intellect. There is overlap between the two genres, however, and while fiction can succeed without giving us the information of nonfiction, the strongest journalism is usually that which adopts the techniques of fiction to give us both story and background – some of Arundhati Roy's essays, for example, or Joan Didion's – that journalism which gives us both narrative and analysis, the question and some semblance of an answer.

It is easy, when reading Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, to forget that one is reading nonfiction at all; the book feels more like a novel, and it is in fact tempting to read it as one. The careful, in-depth reporting and the meticulous research of an excellent journalist are there, but far more striking are the attributes of a novelist – the empathy and the insight that Boo brings to her writing. The style is also deliberate: Boo excludes herself almost entirely, writing instead from the perspective of her characters, letting them show us the story of their lives and their community. These people aren't case studies, side-barred in a study; they're individuals, every one of them sympathetic and understandable. The result is an incredibly rich portrait of unique, fascinating, frustrating people, doing their best to get by in a particular community and particular landscape.

Read more »


by Kevin S. Baldwin

Sometime early in my grad school studies I went vacationing in Hawaii with some family. Their idea of fun was shopping. Mine was snorkeling and hiking. One of my hikes was down into the crater of Haleakala, the volcanic peak on Maui. After my ascent out of the crater, I noticed that there were a number of observatories near the summit. The high elevation and relative isolation of the mountain meant that atmospheric disturbance and light pollution would be low and visibility would be high. I vowed to return that night to see for myself why the observatories were there. Stars

After dark I drove our rental car back up to the summit, parked, shut off the lights and waited inside the car in a sleeping bag (the air temperature was around freezing, the wind was pretty ferocious, and I had not packed winter clothes for a trip to Hawaii). As my eyes adjusted, the night sky unfurled before me. I had not spent all my life in the big city, where only the moon, a couple planets, and the brightest stars can be seen regularly. I had enjoyed a fair amount of time camping in the Mojave Desert, where the Milky Way stretches across the night sky, but I was not prepared for this. The number of stars I could see was two orders of magnitude higher than what I had ever seen in the desert. The Milky Way, instead of being a wash of white, was composed of many individual points of different colors. Clusters of stars took on a fractal quality with clusters embedded within clusters within clusters. I was awestruck. So many stars! How many had planetary systems? Which ones no longer existed? How insignificant was I in the grand scheme of things? It was profoundly humbling and simultaneously liberating. As awesome as the snorkeling on Maui was, that night of staring at the sky is likely one of the experiences that I will take to the grave.

On another occasion in the early 1990's I was camping on Pine Mountain in northern Ventura County, California. The sun had set, the stars were beginning to shine and it was exceptionally clear. Suddenly I noticed a satellite gliding across the sky in a polar orbit. I guessed it was a spy satellite based on the size of its reflection and its speed and direction. It was one of those bittersweet moments: Techno-triumphalism crossed with McKibben-esque “End of Nature” angst. It was hard not to take a certain amount of pride in our ability as a nation and species to launch a school bus sized object into orbit that could discriminate license plates from hundreds of miles away. On the other hand, having my view of the night sky altered by this rapidly moving point of light that commanded my attention was disturbing. Was there place no left that had not been altered by our hand? My ambivalence faded a bit when the technology used to build and launch spy satellites was turned away from the earth in the form of the Hubble Space Telescope and photos like the Pillars of Creation and the Hubble Deep Field and Ultra-Deep Field began to filter into our collective consciousness. Who could not be profoundly affected by contemplating these images?

Read more »

Learning Urdu

by Hannah Green

Everything starts to look like Urdu if you spend enough time staring at Urdu words trying to get them into your head. The script is fluid. Some letters can squiggle tightly or stretch long, sometimes letters stack on top of one another and sometimes they go side by side. It is this fluidity that makes Urdu so enthralling to look at, but also very difficult to learn to read. I’ll find myself squinting at a word in one of the more artistic fonts, wondering if a dot should attach to the loop on its right or the notch on its left.

Of course, the reason that I have these difficulties is that, for me, the language learning process is backward. Someone whose mother tongue is Urdu would have learned the vocabulary before trying to learn to read it, so they’ll know which interpretation of a dot makes a real word and which makes one that doesn’t exist or doesn’t make sense. Urdu writing also only includes about half of vowel sounds, and I ache for the native speaker’s instinct to know what these missing sounds are just by looking at the text.

At the same time, Urdu’s capacity for multiple interpretations, visually as well as semantically, makes it all the more compelling to me. I sometimes wonder at my motivation for learning this language. I had been interested in Urdu since I started to learn about the history of Islam in South Asia, and I also started to learn Hindi while studying abroad in India. (In everyday speech, Hindi and Urdu are nearly the same. The main difference is the script.) However, I don’t think I picked up an Urdu textbook until I saw the movie Dil Se and heard the following lines in a song. I would try to translate them, but I couldn’t do it succinctly and keep the ambiguity that they contain about an unidentified beloved.

Yaar hai jo khushbu ki taruh
Jis kii zubaan Urdu ki taruh
Meri shaamraat, meri kaynaat
Voh yaar hai mera sayyaa sayyaa

The song is Chaiyyaa Chaiyyaa, with lyrics by Gulzar and music by A.R. Rahman. It was a career maker for both artists, and is one of the most popular songs ever written, although I didn’t know this when I first saw the video. The video is a dance sequence shot on top of a real moving train in Tamil Nadu, India. The rhythm of the train gives a soulfulness to the dancers’ movements like nothing I’d ever seen. I still love this song and associate it with Urdu, but I sometimes think that I’m over-romanticizing the language.

Read more »

The Capacity-Output Cross, Part I

by Melanie Friedrichs

Saving-money-tips-stacks-of-dollars-cashNearly every economist who has written about money, from David Hume to Milton Friedman, has disagreed about its role in the economy and its influence on real economic growth. Underlying each argument is the same question, asked but never answered: is money causal? Today it seems like everyone’s got a different idea about what money is and where it’s going. The bond sharks fear deflation and depression, the gold bugs fear hyperinflation, and governments fear excess in either direction but disagree about how to keep the economy under control. Yet most college freshman learn that money is “long- term neutral” in economics 101. If money doesn’t matter, why are we worrying? Perhaps because despite the theory that argues otherwise, we know that the glass condos built in Baltimore and houses standing empty post-mortgage market slump are very real and were built because of money. In this post I propose a different way to conceptualize the money’s causal role, derived not from data, but from a comparison and reconciliation of the views of classical theorists.

A Short History of the Theory of Money

The first economists writing in the late 18th century used a thought problem to conclude that money has a causal effect on prices, but no causal effect on output. If suddenly the supply of money in a nation doubled, prices would double as well, and but would produce only a nominal change; real output would remain the same in the long run. However, David Hume also observed that silver arriving from the new world seemed to stimulate industry as European merchants and craftsman scrambled to produce for Spain’s new wealth. Adam Smith lauded the introduction of fractional reserve banking in Glasgow as a significant reason behind the city’s economic development. Both positions seem to suggest that money causes more than a nominal change. Indeed, outside of the academic economics, popular history nearly always paints finance as causal, with increasing bullion facilitating trade in markets near and far, fledgling banks financing the first factories of the industrial revolution, and the Bank of England’s gold standard leading to a century of prosperity and peace. This dichotomy between the received wisdom and the popular legend remained intact into the 20th Century, until the collapse of the gold standard and the deflation of the Great Depression prompted new thought on the role of money.

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Anthony Shadid: House of Stone

Anthony Shadid was a New York Times correspondent in the Middle East who died last week. This essay is adapted from his forthcoming memoir, “House of Stone.”

Anthony Shadid in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_07 Feb. 19 21.56The America that drew my family was 7,000 miles from where they started, in old Marjayoun, in what is now Lebanon.

My aunts and uncles, grandparents and great-grandparents, were part of a century-long wave of migration that occurred as the Ottoman Empire crumbled, then fell, around the time of World War I. In the hinterland of what was then part of Greater Syria, the war marked years of violent anarchy that made bloodshed casual. Disease was rife. So was famine. Hundreds of thousands starved in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and beyond. My family’s region was not spared. A survey of 182 villages in the area showed that a fourth of the homes withered into wartime ruin, and more than a third of the people who had inhabited them had died.

This horrific decade and its aftermath provoked villagers — including my family — to abandon their homes for locations ranging from South America to West Africa to Australia, as well as a few neighborhoods in Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kan.

More here.