In order to lie better to others, we must first fool ourselves

Robert Trivers in New Statesman:

ScreenHunter_06 Feb. 19 14.44Deception is a very deep feature of life. Viruses practise it, as do bacteria, plants, insects and a wide range of other animals. It is everywhere. Even within our genomes, deception flourishes as selfish genetic elements use deceptive molecular techniques to over-reproduce at the expense of other genes. Deception infects all the fundamental relationships in life: parasite and host, predator and prey, plant and animal, male and female, neighbour and neighbour, parent and offspring.

Viruses and bacteria often actively deceive to gain entry into their hosts: for instance, by mimicking body parts so as not to be recognised as foreign. Or, as in HIV, by changing coat proteins so often as to make mounting an enduring defence almost impossible. Predators gain from being invisible to their prey or resembling items attractive to them – a fish that dangles a part of itself like a worm to attract other fish, which it eats – while prey gain from being invisible to their predators or mimicking items noxious to the predator.

Deception within species is expected in almost all relationships, and deception possesses special powers. It always takes the lead in life, while detection of deception plays catch-up. As has been said regarding rumours, the lie is halfway around the world before the truth puts its boots on.

But here I want to talk about self-deception.

More here.

Nazis on the Moon

Michael Kaminer in Forward:

ScreenHunter_05 Feb. 19 14.38“Nazis on the moon” sounds like a punchline. But it’s actually the premise of the most talked-about feature at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. The plot of Finnish entry “Iron Sky” revolves around “a group of Nazis who escape to the moon at the end of World War II to plan a new assault,” according to BBC News. “Added to the farce is a US President with more than a passing resemblance to former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, and a navy cruiser called the USS George W Bush.”

The most expensive film in Finnish history, “Iron Sky” has, according to BBCNews, “been hailed by some members of the international press as a sign that Germans are now at peace with their Nazi past.” But some Germans felt less comfortable. “Although I heard that audiences were laughing out loud, in my screening… it wasn’t like that,” Kerstin Sopke of the Associated Press told the BBC.

The film’s director, Timo Vuorensola, doesn’t see it that way either. “No, I absolutely think that’s not what’s it about,” he told [Forward] in an email.

More here.

Public Uses of History: Expectations and Ambiguities

Jacques Revel in Transformations of the Public Sphere:

ScreenHunter_04 Feb. 19 14.25In 1876, the first issue of the Revue historique was published in Paris. The birth of the journal is commonly seen as a founding moment. History was now defined as a professional discipline, with explicit scientific and more precise methodological requirements, with specific and codified forms of training and a strong sense of academic community. There is nothing here that is specific to France: actually, the German model of historical erudition had inspired a number of national communities in Europe and outside Europe. On the occasion of the first issue of the new Revue, one of the directors, Gabriel Monod, a leading figure of the time, addressed future contributors. In his editorial, he recommended “avoiding contemporary controversies, addressing the subjects of their studies with the methodological rigor and absence of bias required by science, and not seeking arguments for or against any theory involved indirectly only.” Monod then explained the insufficient progress of the discipline in France as resulting from “political and religious passions” which, “in the absence of scientific tradition” had not been curbed. Hence the utmost restraint was called for. A new time was open to science, method and objectivity after decades of tense, dense, and exhausting ideological conflicts on the French Revolution, the absolute monarchy and the conflicting relations between Church and State over centuries. Historians would better choose to cool their objects of study down and avoid contemporary topics. Distancing the past now was a pressing requirement.

More here.

Sunday Poem

River Bend Subdivision

Before all these houses and their shrubs,
at the end of the stretch of hardwoods,
there was a stand of white pines
edging the big bottom field by the river.
I would save going there,
wait until the morning had warmed a little,
until the sun had worked all the way to the forest floor,
until the frost-latch on the dead leaves,
those brown oak leaves still clinging,
had released and the ones that were going to fall that day
had fallen.
Then I’d walk to the chapel of the pines,
carpeted with years of the blonde needles
that silenced my walking.
Their trunks were grey, green, blue, lichen-pocked,
or maybe it was a moss.
There were long white tear streaks of resin
from the knot holes.
At the base of a few trunks were swirled nests
that looked like something had slept there.
I would stand silent in that vestibule
to the flat, corn-growing bottom land,
the workland of corn planting and corn cutting,
that earning, feeding land
outside the shade of the quiet, quiet trees
in the river’s bend.

by Michael Chitwood
from Drafthorse, Winter 2012

Billie Holiday: About the Singer

From PBS:

Holiday_introConsidered by many to be the greatest jazz vocalist of all time, Billie Holiday lived a tempestuous and difficult life. Her singing expressed an incredible depth of emotion that spoke of hard times and injustice as well as triumph. Though her career was relatively short and often erratic, she left behind a body of work as great as any vocalist before or since. Born Eleanora Fagan in 1915, Billie Holiday spent much of her young life in Baltimore, Maryland. Raised primarily by her mother, Holiday had only a tenuous connection with her father, who was a jazz guitarist in Fletcher Henderson’s band. Living in extreme poverty, Holiday dropped out of school in the fifth grade and found a job running errands in a brothel. When she was twelve, Holiday moved with her mother to Harlem, where she was eventually arrested for prostitution. Desperate for money, Holiday looked for work as a dancer at a Harlem speakeasy. When there wasn’t an opening for a dancer, she auditioned as a singer. Long interested in both jazz and blues, Holiday wowed the owner and found herself singing at the popular Pod and Jerry’s Log Cabin. This led to a number of other jobs in Harlem jazz clubs, and by 1933 she had her first major breakthrough.

…It was not, however, until 1939, with her song “Strange Fruit,” that Holiday found her real audience. A deeply powerful song about lynching, “Strange Fruit” was a revelation in its disturbing and emotional condemnation of racism. Holiday’s voice could be both quiet and strong at the same time.

…In 1959, after the death of her good friend Lester Young and with almost nothing to her name, Billie Holiday died at the age of forty-four. During her lifetime she had fought racism and sexism, and in the face of great personal difficulties triumphed through a deep artistic spirit. It is a tragedy that only after her death could a society, who had so often held her down, realize that in her voice could be heard the true voice of the times.

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).

Woody Allen: “My wife thinks that I have no friends – and maybe she’s right”

Johannes Bonke in Out of Order:

ScreenHunter_03 Feb. 19 10.53Mr. Allen, would you say that a man can love two women at the same time?

More than two. (Laughs) I think you can. I think all those possibilities are true. That’s why romance is a very difficult and painful, very hard thing, very complicated thing. You can. You can be with your wife, very happily married, and then you meet some woman and you love her. But you love your wife, too. And you also love that one. If she’s met some man and she loves the man and she loves you. And then you meet somebody else and now there are three of you. (Laughs) So why only one person? I think it’s important to control yourself because life gets too complicated if you don’t, but the impulse is often there for people.

So society should be more open?

I don’t know, I don’t think that works either. I think it’s a lose-lose situation. If you pursue the other woman, it’s a losing situation and it’s not good for your relationship or your marriage. If your marriage is open and you’re allowed to, that’s no good either. There’s no way, really in the end, to be happy unless you get very lucky.

In the same way as you can love two women, can you love two or more cities? At least you are shooting in very different ones lately…

Yeah, cities, it’s easier. One city doesn’t get annoyed that you love another city, you know. Whereas with people…

More here.

Sanctions Don’t Promote Democratic Change

Natasha Bahrami and Trita Parsi in the Boston Review:

Parsi_37.1_hammerCome July, Iran’s oil will no longer flow to Europe, thanks to an EU embargo announced on January 23. That same day the United States approved sanctions on the country’s third largest bank, Bank Tejarat, which the Treasury Department says “has directly facilitated Iran’s illicit nuclear efforts.” Twenty-two other Iranian banks face U.S. sanctions.

The official objective of the sanctions is to compel Iran to negotiate with the West toward the implementation of existing UN Security Council resolutions calling for Iran to suspend its nuclear enrichment program. Unofficially, there are hints that the sanctions are aimed at collapsing the Iranian regime and bringing about democratic change.

Supporters of the policy assume that there is a positive relationship between broad economic sanctions and democratization. The policymakers responsible for these measures either are ignorant of or are simply ignoring the empirical evidence: broad sanctions—total financial and trade embargoes—do not have a good track record of changing target countries’ policies or of pushing them toward democracy.

More here.

Franzen, Wallace and the Question of Realism

Jon Baskin in The Point:

ScreenHunter_02 Feb. 18 16.26Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace, the two most important American writers of their era, both grew up in the Midwest. Franzen describes his childhood in Webster Groves, Missouri as having unfolded “in the middle of the middle [where] there was nothing but family and house and neighborhood and church and school and work.” Wallace, whose parents were both professors, spent his youth in Philo, Illinois, a “tiny collection of corn silos and war-era Levittown homes whose native residents did little but sell crop insurance and nitrogen fertilizer and herbicide and collect property taxes from the young academics at nearby Champagne-Urbana’s university.” Both fall in a tradition of authors (Dreiser, Hemingway, Brodkey) whose provincial, middle-American backgrounds seemingly failed to prepare them for the shock of modern life—or, perhaps, prepared them to meet that shock with precisely the sideways sensitivity of artists. Separated by less than three years in age, they wrote about similar subjects and dealt with related issues of technology, audience and the ambiguous literary heritage of postmodernism. They were united in believing that responsible fiction ought still to speak to the “desperate questions” of existence, and that the novel, if it did so, could remain vibrant and even vital in the age of mass entertainment and McDonald’s.

Yet they were radically different writers, in many ways as profoundly unalike as two contemporaries treating similar subject matter could be. Most often, their difference has been accounted for in terms of style, or with reference to their divergent attitudes toward “realism.”

More here.

How to win a fight against twenty children

Chris Bucholz in Cracked:

ScreenHunter_01 Feb. 18 16.03Use an appropriate technique. Modern mixed martial arts are geared almost exclusively towards one on one combat, and are not designed to take on multiple tiny aggressors. As a grown adult, you could be fairly assured of absolutely destroying a 7 year old if you took him to the floor for a ground and pound. But by doing so you'd expose your back and head to his peers. Your best bet is to stay on your feet and use striking techniques. Karate is one good choice – it was originally designed in the 1600's for use by unarmed Japanese day care workers.

Be aware of the terrain. By default, you're going to have a height advantage against twenty children, but be sure you don't cede it. Avoid fighting around picnic tables, monkey bars, or anything with which a particularly daring child could launch an aerial attack. The ideal situation is fighting children who are trapped in a ditch below you.

Stay mobile. Unless you're extremely lucky and find yourself fighting twenty infants, you're going to be at a mobility disadvantage when fighting a large group of children. You must avoid becoming surrounded at all costs. Keep moving, and always trying to position the bulk of children on one side of you. Circle, sidestep, and use tactical retreats to try and engage a single child at a time, where your reach and decades of muscular development should prove an advantage.

More here.

Saturday Poem

Season of Fire

It was from those barren
that the cloth is woven
of a black suit
of death.

The weaving is not the
of a single night or day
but of that thin season
where no fire
lights the darkness.

It is not a season of prayer,
a dry time
when the sap
is not in ebb
but has left.

The death of the loved one
is rehearsed
a thousand times
by lovers
who prepare their black
of the heart
in awful anticipation.

That black is sewn
from a thousand times
of rejection
when the turn of the body
of the loved one
is not read
as the sign of light
in darkness.

The season of prayer
is the time of life
and love,
of look and touch.

And, when the time comes,
it is those moments
that inform the great pain
of a hole in the heart.

The magic of the healing
does not come from
of the weaving of the black
but from an intimacy
of look and touch
in the season of fire.

by Michael D. Higgins
from The Season of Fire
Publisher: Brandon, Dingle, 1993

Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Her Passion for Justice


LynchIda B. Wells-Barnett was a fearless anti-lynching crusader, suffragist, women's rights advocate, journalist, and speaker. She stands as one of our nation's most uncompromising leaders and most ardent defenders of democracy. She was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862 and died in Chicago, Illinois 1931 at the age of sixty-nine. Although enslaved prior to the Civil War, her parents were able to support their seven children because her mother was a “famous” cook and her father was a skilled carpenter. When Ida was only fourteen, a tragic epidemic of Yellow Fever swept through Holly Springs and killed her parents and youngest sibling. Emblematic of the righteousness, responsibility, and fortitude that characterized her life, she kept the family together by securing a job teaching. She managed to continue her education by attending near-by Rust College. She eventually moved to Memphis to live with her aunt and help raise her youngest sisters. It was in Memphis where she first began to fight (literally) for racial and gender justice. In 1884 she was asked by the conductor of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company to give up her seat on the train to a white man and ordered her into the smoking or “Jim Crow” car, which was already crowded with other passengers. Despite the 1875 Civil Rights Act banning discrimination on the basis of race, creed, or color, in theaters, hotels, transports, and other public accommodations, several railroad companies defied this congressional mandate and racially segregated its passengers. It is important to realize that her defiant act was before Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the U.S. Supreme Court decision that established the fallacious doctrine of “separate but equal,” which constitutionalized racial segregation. Wells wrote in her autobiography:

I refused, saying that the forward car [closest to the locomotive] was a smoker, and as I was in the ladies' car, I proposed to stay. . . [The conductor] tried to drag me out of the seat, but the moment he caught hold of my arm I fastened my teeth in the back of his hand. I had braced my feet against the seat in front and was holding to the back, and as he had already been badly bitten he didn't try it again by himself. He went forward and got the baggageman and another man to help him and of course they succeeded in dragging me out.

Wells was forcefully removed from the train and the other passengers–all whites–applauded. When Wells returned to Memphis, she immediately hired an attorney to sue the railroad. She won her case in the local circuit courts, but the railroad company appealed to the Supreme Court of Tennessee, and it reversed the lower court's ruling. This was the first of many struggles Wells engaged, and from that moment forward, she worked tirelessly and fearlessly to overturn injustices against women and people of color.

…In 1892 three of her friends were lynched. Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Henry Stewart. These three men were owners of People's Grocery Company, and their small grocery had taken away customers from competing white businesses. A group of angry white men thought they would “eliminate” the competition so they attacked People's grocery, but the owners fought back, shooting one of the attackers. The owners of People's Grocery were arrested, but a lynch-mob broke into the jail, dragged them away from town, and brutally murdered all three. Again, this atrocity galvanized her mettle. She wrote in The Free Speech:

The city of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival. There is nothing we can do about the lynching now, as we are out-numbered and without arms. The white mob could help itself to ammunition without pay, but the order is rigidly enforced against the selling of guns to Negroes. There is therefore only one thing left to do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.

Many people took the advice Wells penned in her paper and left town; other members of the Black community organized a boycott of white owned business to try to stem the terror of lynchings. Her newspaper office was destroyed as a result of the muckraking and investigative journalism she pursued after the killing of her three friends. She could not return to Memphis, so she moved to Chicago. She however continued her blistering journalistic attacks on Southern injustices, being especially active in investigating and exposing the fraudulent “reasons” given to lynch Black men, which by now had become a common occurrence.

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).

Spring Awakening: How an Egyptian Revolution Began on Facebook

Jose Antonio Vargas in The New York Times:

GhonimIn the embryonic, ever evolving era of social media — when milestones come by the day, if not by the second — June 8, 2010, has secured a rightful place in history. That was the day Wael Ghonim, a 29-year-old Google marketing executive, was browsing Facebook in his home in Dubai and found a startling image: a photo­graph of a bloodied and disfigured face, its jaw broken, a young life taken away. That life, he soon learned, had belonged to Khaled Mohamed Said, a 28-year-old from Alexandria who had been beaten to death by the Egyptian police. At once angered and animated, the Egyptian-­born Ghonim went online and created a Facebook page. “Today they killed Khaled,” he wrote. “If I don’t act for his sake, tomorrow they will kill me.” It took a few moments for Ghonim to settle on a name for the page, one that would fit the character of an increasingly personalized and politically galvanizing Internet. He finally decided on “Kullena Khaled Said” — “We Are All Khaled Said.”

“Khaled Said was a young man just like me, and what happened to him could have happened to me,” Ghonim writes in “Revolution 2.0,” his fast-paced and engrossing new memoir of political awakening. “All young Egyptians had long been oppressed, enjoying no rights in our own homeland.” Ghonim’s memoir is a welcome and cleareyed addition to a growing list of volumes that have aimed (but often failed) to meaningfully analyze social media’s impact. It’s a book about social media for people who don’t think they care about social media. It will also serve as a touchstone for future testimonials about a strengthening borderless digital movement that is set to continually disrupt powerful institutions, be they corporate enterprises or political regimes.

More here.

the Worst Recession in Modern History?

Screen Shot 2012-02-15 at 11.35.00 AM

The Greek economy shrank nearly 7% in 2011, the fifth straight year the country has been in a recession. GDP has shriveled by a sixth since 2006, and unemployment has tripled over that period to 20%. With new rounds of austerity just announced, and a default yet to come, the nightmare isn’t even close to being over. Will Greece be the deepest recession of the last 30 years? It’s getting there. Argentina’s output plummeted 20 percent peak-to-trough when it defaulted in 2001, and Latvia’s economy has shrunk by a fifth since 2008. Uri Dadush, an economist with the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, told Reuters that “on the current path, which is not sustainable in my view, we may very well see Greek GDP go down 25-30 percent, which would be historically unprecedented. It’s a disastrous crisis for them.” (Russia’s GDP fell a spectacular 44% in the 1990s, but the dissolution of the Soviet Union is categorically different from a recession within a single country, so some analysts exclude it.)

more from Derek Thompson at The Atlantic here.

Matzo ball memories


It was when my friend Sid took a razor to the smoked salmon sandwich that I realised being a 14-year-old Jew in London was more complicated than I’d assumed. He did a good job on it, too, slashing it to greasy ribbons in an adolescent frenzy of red-faced fury, impressive when the weapon was just a pencil sharpener blade. Once I’d got over the shock of the assault on Cohen’s finest Scottish hand-sliced, I tried to grab it back. The blade skidded across the palm of my right hand, opening a 3in wound below the fingers. I howled while dripping blood on to the rye with caraway but, many stitches later, I swaggered back, cocky with cred, to bestow magnanimous forgiveness on the glumly penitent Sid. Frankly, I blamed my mum. Smoked salmon sandwiches for lunch every day: how was that going to square me with the gentiles? There were days when I envied the goyim their mince, and their frogspawn tapioca; and hungered for the dark and dirty freedom from kosher. But the awful truth is that until the sandwich pogrom, it had never occurred to me that a daily smoked salmon lunch, worse, complaining about having to eat it all the time, might get up the nose of boys doomed to Shippams shrimp paste, or the steak’n’gristle glop served by Doris in the hairnet, and that they might think, as Sid did, just for that one moment, and never again so far as I knew, Christ, bloody Jews.

more from Simon Schama at the FT here.