Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich


If HHhH nonetheless doesn’t feel like a postmodern novel, it is because Binet does not revel in the freedom and indeterminacy of fiction. On the contrary, because he is writing about real historical events, whose gravity he himself feels very deeply, Binet is always trying to close the gap between invention and truth. This is clear from the very first sentence of the book: “Gabcik—that’s his name—really did exist.” Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, we learn soon enough, were the secret agents parachuted into Czechoslovakia by the British to carry out the assassination of Heydrich. The whole motive for writing HHhH, Binet explains, is to honor these men, their courage and sacrifice: “So, Gabcik existed. … His story is as true as it is extraordinary. He and his comrades are, in my eyes, the authors of one of the greatest acts of resistance in human history, and without doubt the greatest of the Second World War. For a long time I have wanted to pay tribute to him.” The inspiration of HHhH is not ironic, then, but deeply earnest. And in this context, the novelist’s power to shape and invent feels less like a privilege than a curse. For every time Binet makes something up, it is a reminder that he doesn’t know all the facts. “My story has as many holes in it as a novel,” he writes, “but in an ordinary novel, it is the novelist who decides where these holes should occur.”

more from Adam Kirsch at Tablet here.

norman manea and “the terror which rules our moral situation”


For most of the writers we love and admire, it is possible to say something comprehensive. One reader says of Saul Bellow that “throughout his life” he searched “for some ultimate and invisible spiritual reality,” and we think, yes, that is true, that is one good way of conferring upon a life like Bellow’s a sort of splendid coherence. Or we agree that the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard sought, in everything he wrote, to “be misunderstood,” reviled, alienated, the better to exempt himself from the judgment he directed at a world he considered stupid and meaningless. But what comprehensive statement will we dare to make about Norman Manea? For one thing, we who know his writing only in English translation, and thus have not read many of the titles included in the collected Romanian edition of his work, are somewhat reluctant to sum him up as if we were fully equipped to do so. And yet we have more than enough to proceed, to begin at least. Consulting what is already out there we find, inevitably, that the established line on this writer is at once useful and misleading. Ought we to think of him as a writer defined by the exercise of “conscience”? That is one of those misleading suggestions you can read even on the dust jackets of his books. Is he, in the end, one of the many gifted contributors to what is called “the literature of totalitarianism”? Or is he, as has been said, one of “the great poets of catastrophe” and thus fit to stand alongside predecessors like Kafka or Bruno Schulz, or even Paul Celan?

more from Robert Boyers at Threepenny Review here.



Calgary looks ever forward and often moves as fast as a prairie storm; its official motto, adopted in 1884, is a single propulsive word: “Onward.” It can seem, at a glance, like a place with no past at all. By world standards, and even by Canadian ones, this isn’t much of an overstatement. To say that it is a young city is accurate demographically — its median age, 35.8, is the lowest in Canada, and its population has grown faster than any other in the country since 2001, as legions of young job seekers poured in by the tens of thousands from Regina and Mississauga and St. John’s — but it is equally true on a historical scale. In 1882, the year Sir John A. Macdonald founded the Albany Club in Toronto, Calgary was a collection of tents and shacks in the shadow of a North West Mounted Police outpost, still waiting on the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Montreal built its first skyscraper, the New York Life Building, fifteen years before Calgary got its first telephone. At the end of World War I, Winnipeg was a booming industrial city of 165,000; Calgary would not reach that benchmark until ten years after World War II ended.

more from Chris Turner at The Walrus here.

Sean Carroll to Judge 4th Annual 3QD Science Prize

UPDATE 6/25/12: The winners have been announced here.

UPDATE 6/18/12: The finalists have been announced here.

UPDATE 6/17/12: The semifinalists have been announced here.

UPDATE 6/11/12: Voting round is now open. Click here to see full list of nominees and vote.

Dear Readers, Writers, Bloggers,

SeanWe are very honored and pleased to announce that Sean M. Carroll has agreed to be the final judge for our 4th annual prize for the best blog and online writing in the category of science. (Details of the previous science prizes can be seen by clicking on the names of their respective judges here: Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, and Lisa Randall).

I have to admit that I was especially and extraordinarily pleased when Sean agreed to judge this prize for a number of reasons:

  1. Sean is a practicing scientist at the forefront of his field, which is physics.
  2. Sean is also one of the foremost science communicators of our time (I extremely highly recommend his last book From Eternity to Here) and he was one of the early science bloggers with Preposterous Universe and has continued with the ever excellent Cosmic Variance.
  3. Sean was an early supporter of 3QD and drove much traffic to us in our early days when we were basically unknown. Thanks again, Sean! 🙂
  4. I am honored and happy to count Sean and his very distinguished (and former 3QD columnist) science-writer wife, Jennifer Oullette, as friends.
  5. Sean is a past winner of a 3QD prize himself.

Sean, as many of you may already know, is a physicist at the California Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. in 1993 from Harvard University. His research focuses on theoretical physics and cosmology, especially the origin and constituents of the universe, and he has contributed to models of interactions between dark matter, dark energy, and ordinary matter; alternative theories of gravity; and violations of fundamental symmetries. Sean is the author of “From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time,” “Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity,” and the upcoming “The Particle at the End of the Universe.” He blogs at Cosmic Variance, hosted by Discover magazine, and has been featured on television shows such as The Colbert Report and Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. You may follow him on Twitter here.

As usual, this is the way it will work: the nominating period is now open, and will end at 11:59 pm EST on June 9, 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 Sean Carroll.

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.)


PrizeScienceAnnounceSeanThe winners of this prize will be announced on June 25, 2012. Here's the schedule:

May 30, 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.)
  • 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 May 29, 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.

June 9, 2012

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

June 16, 2012

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

June 25, 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!



A Bookforum Conversation with Tom Bissell

Book3With Morten Høi Jensen in Bookforum:

We’re fortunate to live in a time where a handful of enormously gifted writers are revitalizing the essay form. One example is Tom Bissell, whose new collection, Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation, adds up to a kind of narrative of contemporary culture, weighing in on video games, underground literary movements, bad movies and the fates of great writers. Before his recent reading with his friend and fellow writer Gideon Lewis-Kraus at KGB Bar in New York, I spent an hour with Tom Bissell at his cousin’s apartment in Manhattan, where he and his girlfriend were staying while they were in town. Looking out on an unseasonably hot midtown afternoon, we drank scotch and chatted about the publishing industry, the resurgence of the essay form, and our mutual love for the Australian writer Clive James.

Bookforum: Do you miss New York?

Tom Bissell: Desperately. When I’ve lived in Portland and California and I wake up, Pacific Time just seems like the wrong time to me. Events in America happen on Eastern Standard Time, and knowing when you wake up at 9 in the morning—or, if you’re a writer, 9:30—that it’s already after lunch in the heartbeat of America—it’s just something I’ve never gotten used to.

BF: How long did you live in New York?

Tom Bissell: I lived here from 1997 to 2006.

BF: I enjoyed reading in Magic Hours about your experience here as an editorial assistant. You called it a “thankless but intensely interesting job.” I was wondering if it influenced your early work as a journalist in any way.

TB: I think what it did for me was make me much less hostile to the editorial apparatus once I became a writer. I’ve always been way more willing to empathize with editors than my other writer friends who didn’t have that experience. Without the editorial experience, I would have never have had so many myths about book publishing shattered before I even wrote a word. And I think the most insidious myth among writers is that publishers just get books lined up before them, pick the ones they want to sell, and then push them out the door. Now, in some sense of course they do that, but the really important thing that writers seem to forget is that just because publishers pick books that they want expend resources on doesn’t guarantee that the books will succeed. Good publishers are the ones who, when something’s not working, are capable of redirecting their focus onto the stuff that is working, and choose to support the stuff they maybe initially thought didn’t have a good shot. Bad publishers are the ones who just double down on a bad choice and throw good money out the window. I’ve been lucky enough to work with good, smart publishers, and though I don’t claim to know how exactly publishing works, I do often get the heebie jeebies when I hear my writer friends talk about book publishers in a needlessly hostile tone.

BF: That was the strength of your essay about the Underground Literary Alliance. You took them to task for that hostility—and not just them, because I think that hostility is actually quite common—and for not understanding that the majority of the people who work in the publishing industry hold literature just as sacred as they do. But that doesn’t automatically give them the resources or the privilege to publish everything.

TB: Right. And the other thing is that the publishing industry is much smaller than it was in, say, 1999, when I was a young editor, so I think the representative spectrum of taste is much smaller. It’s just so much harder to be a young writer right now, especially if you’re a fiction writer. I wouldn’t wish being a fiction writer right now on my worst enemy. I wouldn’t wish that on Osama Bin Laden’s children.

Tuesday Poem

More Than Enough
The first lily of June opens its red mouth.
All over the sand road where we walk
multiflora rose climbs trees cascading
white or pink blossoms, simple, intense
the scene drifting like colored mist.

The arrowhead is spreading its creamy
clumps of flower and the blackberries
are blooming in the thickets. Season of
joy for the bee. The green will never
again be so green, so purely and lushly

new, grass lifting its wheaty seedheads
into the wind. Rich fresh wine
of June, we stagger into you smeared
with pollen, overcome as the turtle
laying her eggs in roadside sand.

by Marge Piercy
from Colors Passing Through Us
publisher Knopf, 2003

The Music’s Over

20120526_bkp502Prospero's obituary for Donna Summer and Robin Gibb, in The Economist:

AS A genre, disco gets a rotten press. It tends to conjure up images of hairy chests and medallions, and the worst kind of dad-dancing: a roll of the hands and a finger thrust from the floor to the sky. It was, said Bethann Hardison, a black runway model in the 1970s, “created so that white people could dance”.

Such a caricature does it no justice. The beat might be the simplest 4/4, but the origins are more complex. To understand where disco came from, and why it should be considered culturally important, one must first place oneself in dysfunctional, dangerous 1970s New York. If punk rock, born of a similar time and place, and hip-hop, a little younger, are the musical styles that define that city’s disaffected youth, then they have a sibling in disco. “Disco was born, maggot like, from the rotten remains of the Big Apple”, wrote Peter Shapiro in “Turn the Beat Around” a history of the genre.

The release it gave was different though. While punk was like a child throwing a tantrum and hip hop was about fierce rhetoric, disco meant escaping reality. The outrageous clothes and ostentatious dance moves took the mind off of the gang violence and unemployment. For the city’s gays, who were still striving for acceptance, it was particularly liberating.

The disco beat quickly spread around the world. By the time that Donna Summer released “I Feel Love” in 1977, it was mainstream. Everyone was at it. Even the Rolling Stones released a lamentable disco attempt, “Hot Stuff”, in 1976. Nonetheless, “I Feel Love” was one of the most influential records of the decade. Produced by Giorgio Moroder, it layered Moog synthesiser tracks (until then the preserve of avant garde electronica bands such as Kraftwerk) to create one of the most compelling dance tunes ever released. It is also the exact moment that disco sprouted the branch that evolved into house music.

Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution

TreesoflifeMaria Popova in Brain Pickings:

Since the dawn of recorded history, humanity has been turning to the visual realm as a sensemaking tool for the world and our place in it, mapping and visualizing everything from the body to the brain to the universe toinformation itself. Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution (public library) catalogs 230 tree-like branching diagrams, culled from 450 years of mankind’s visual curiosity about the living world and our quest to understand the complex ecosystem we share with other organisms, from bacteria to birds, microbes to mammals.

Though the use of a tree as a metaphor for understanding the relationships between organisms is often attributed to Darwin, who articulated it in his Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859, the concept, most recently appropriated in mapping systems and knowledge networks, is actually much older, predating the theory of evolution itself. The collection is thus at once a visual record of the evolution of science and of its opposite — the earliest examples, dating as far back as the sixteenth century, portray the mythic order in which God created Earth, and the diagrams’ development over the centuries is as much a progression of science as it is of culture, society, and paradigm.

How Markets Crowd Out Morals

Ndf_37.3_quarterA Boston Review forum on the arguments made by Michael Sandel in What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, with responses from Richard Sennett; Matt Welch; Anita L. Allen; Debra Satz; Herbert Gintis; Lew Daly; Samuel Bowles; Elizabeth Anderson; and John Tomasi. From Michael Sandel's lead piece:

We live in a time when almost anything can be bought and sold. Markets have come to govern our lives as never before. But are there some things that money should not be able to buy? Most people would say yes.

Consider friendship. Suppose you want more friends than you have. Would you try to buy some? Not likely. A moment’s reflection would lead you to realize that it wouldn’t work. A hired friend is not the same as a real one. You could hire people to do some of the things that friends typically do—picking up your mail when you’re out of town, looking after your children in a pinch, or, in the case of a therapist, listening to your woes and offering sympathetic advice. Until recently, you could even bolster your online popularity by hiring some good-looking “friends” for your Facebook page—for $0.99 per friend per month. (The phony-friend Web site was shut down after it emerged that the photos being used, mostly of models, were unauthorized.) Although all of these services can be bought, you can’t actually buy a friend. Somehow, the money that buys the friendship dissolves it, or turns it into something else.

This fairly obvious example offers a clue to the more challenging question that concerns us: Are there some things that money can buy but shouldn’t? Consider a good that can be bought but whose buying and selling is morally controversial—a human kidney, for example. Some people defend markets in organs for transplantation; others find such markets morally objectionable. If it’s wrong to buy a kidney, the problem is not that the money dissolves the good. The kidney will work (assuming a good match) regardless of the monetary payment. So to determine whether kidneys should or shouldn’t be up for sale, we have to engage in a moral inquiry. We have to examine the arguments for and against organ sales and determine which are more persuasive.

So it seems, at first glance, that there is a sharp distinction between two kinds of goods: the things (like friends) that money can’t buy, and the things (like kidneys) that money can buy but arguably shouldn’t. But this distinction is less clear than it first appears.

The Faster-Than-Light Telegraph That Wasn’t

Mistakes-faster-than-light-telegraph-that-wasnt_2David Kaiser in Scientific American:

Physicists had long known that the two flavors of polarization—plane or circular—were intimately related. Plane-polarized light could be used to create circularly polarized light, and vice versa. For example, a beam of H-polarized light consisted of equal parts R– and L-polarized light, in a particular combination, just as a beam of R-polarized light could be broken down into equal parts H and V. Likewise for individual photons: a photon in state R, for example, could be represented as a special combination of states H and V. If one prepared a photon in state R but chose to measure plane rather than circular polarization, one would have an equal probability of finding H or V: a single-particle version of Schrödinger’s cat.

In Herbert's imagined set-up, one physicist, Alice (“Detector A” in the illustration), could choose to measure either plane or circular polarization of the photon headed her way [1]. If she chose to measure plane polarization, she would measure H and Voutcomes with equal probability. If she chose to measure circular polarization, she would find R and L outcomes with equal probability.

In addition, Alice knows that because of the nature of the source of photons, each photon she measures has an entangled twin moving toward her partner, Bob. Quantum entanglement means that the two photons behave like two sides of a coin: if one is measured to be in state R, then the other must be in state L; or if one is measured in state H, the other must be in state V. The kicker, according to Bell's theorem, is that Alice's choice of which type of polarization to measure (plane or circular) should instantly affect the other photon, streaming toward Bob [2]. If she chose to measure plane polarization and happened to get the result H, then the entangled photon heading toward Bob would enter the state V instantaneously. If she had chosen instead to measure circular polarization and found the result R, then the entangled photon instantly would have entered the state L.

Next came Herbert's special twist.

How Bad Is It?

Jasper-johnsGeorge Scialabba in New Inquiry:

Pretty bad. Here is a sample of factlets from surveys and studies conducted in the past twenty years. Seventy percent of Americans believe in the existence of angels. Fifty percent believe that the earth has been visited by UFOs; in another poll, 70 percent believed that the U.S. government is covering up the presence of space aliens on earth. Forty percent did not know whom the U.S. fought in World War II. Forty percent could not locate Japan on a world map. Fifteen percent could not locate the United States on a world map. Sixty percent of Americans have not read a book since leaving school. Only 6 percent now read even one book a year. According to a very familiar statistic that nonetheless cannot be repeated too often, the average American’s day includes six minutes playing sports, five minutes reading books, one minute making music, 30 seconds attending a play or concert, 25 seconds making or viewing art, and four hours watching television.

Among high-school seniors surveyed in the late 1990s, 50 percent had not heard of the Cold War. Sixty percent could not say how the United States came into existence. Fifty percent did not know in which century the Civil War occurred. Sixty percent could name each of the Three Stooges but not the three branches of the U.S. government. Sixty percent could not comprehend an editorial in a national or local newspaper.

Intellectual distinction isn’t everything, it’s true. But things are amiss in other areas as well: sociability and trust, for example. “During the last third of the twentieth century,” according to Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone, “all forms of social capital fell off precipitously.” Tens of thousands of community groups – church social and charitable groups, union halls, civic clubs, bridge clubs, and yes, bowling leagues — disappeared; by Putnam’s estimate, one-third of our social infrastructure vanished in these years. Frequency of having friends to dinner dropped by 45 percent; card parties declined 50 percent; Americans’ declared readiness to make new friends declined by 30 percent. Belief that most other people could be trusted dropped from 77 percent to 37 percent. Over a five-year period in the 1990s, reported incidents of aggressive driving rose by 50 percent — admittedly an odd, but probably not an insignificant, indicator of declining social capital.

Still, even if American education is spotty and the social fabric is fraying, the fact that the U.S. is the world’s richest nation must surely make a great difference to our quality of life?

Money and Morality

From The Guardian:

GetImageSomething curious happened when I tried to potty train my two-year-old recently. To begin with, he was very keen on the idea. I'd read that the trick was to reward him with a chocolate button every time he used the potty, and for the first day or two it went like a breeze – until he cottoned on that the buttons were basically a bribe, and began to smell a rat. By day three he refused point-blank to go anywhere near the potty, and invoking the chocolate button prize only seemed to make him all the more implacable. Even to a toddler's mind, the logic of the transaction was evidently clear – if he had to be bribed, then the potty couldn't be a good idea – and within a week he had grown so suspicious and upset that we had to abandon the whole enterprise. It's a pity I hadn't read What Money Can't Buy before embarking, because the folly of the chocolate button policy lies at the heart of Michael Sandel's new book. “We live at a time when almost everything can be bought and sold,” the Harvard philosopher writes. “We have drifted from having a market economy, to being a market society,” in which the solution to all manner of social and civic challenges is not a moral debate but the law of the market, on the assumption that cash incentives are always the appropriate mechanism by which good choices are made. Every application of human activity is priced and commodified, and all value judgments are replaced by the simple question: “How much?”

Sandel leads us through a dizzying array of examples, from schools paying children to read – $2 (£1.20) a book in Dallas – to commuters buying the right to drive solo in car pool lanes ($10 in many US cities), to lobbyists in Washington paying line-standers to hold their place in the queue for Congressional hearings; in effect, queue-jumping members of the public. Drug addicts in North Carolina can be paid $300 to be sterilised, immigrants can buy a green card for $500,000, best man's speeches are for sale on the internet, and even body parts are openly traded in a financial market for kidneys, blood and surrogate wombs. Even the space on your forehead can be up for sale. Air New Zealand has paid people to shave their heads and walk around wearing temporary tattoos advertising the airline.

More here.

‘What Is’ Meets ‘What if’: The Role of Speculation in Science

From The New York Times:

GuessWoody Allen once said that when you do comedy, you sit at the children’s table. The same might be said of speculation in science.

And yet speculation is an essential part of science. So how does it fit in? Two recent publications about the misty depths of canine and human history suggest some answers. In one, an international team of scientists concludes that we really don’t know when and where dogs were domesticated. Greger Larson of the University of Durham, in England, the first of 20 authors of that report, said of dog DNA, “It’s a mess.” In the other, Pat Shipman, an independent scientist and writer, suggests that dogs may have helped modern humans push the Neanderthals out of existence and might even have helped shape human evolution. Is one right and the other wrong? Are both efforts science — one a data-heavy reality check and the other freewheeling speculation? The research reported by Dr. Larson and his colleagues in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is solid science — easily judged by peers, at any rate. The essay by Dr. Shipman is not meant to come to any conclusion but to prompt thought and more research. It, too, will be judged by other scientists, and read by many nonscientists. But how is one to judge the value of speculation? The questions readers ought to ask when confronting a “what-if” as opposed to “what-is” article are: Does the writer make it clear what is known, what is probable, and what is merely possible?

More here.

Are Millennials Less Green Than Their Parents?

by Evan Selinger, Thomas Seager, and Jathan Sadowski Slacktivism

A highly publicized Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study depicts Millennials as more egoistic than Baby Boomers and Generation Xers. The research is flawed. The psychologists fail to see that kids today face new problems that previously weren’t imaginable and are responding to them in ways that older generations misunderstand.

The psychological study seems persuasive largely because the conclusions are supported by massive data. Investigators examined two nationally representative databases (Monitoring the Future and American Freshman surveys) containing information provided by 9.2 million high school and college students between 1966 and 2009. Such far-reaching longitudinal analysis seems to offer a perfect snapshot of generational attitudes on core civic issues.

Comparison makes Millennials look bad. According to the study, they aren’t just primed to consume more electricity and pass on community leadership. Overall, they’re ethically deficient: concerned less with the environment and keeping up with political affairs, while driven more by extrinsic values (money, fame, image) than intrinsic ones (self-acceptance, community, and group affiliation). The media couldn’t wait to spin these characterizations into headlines, running pieces like “Millenial Generation’s Non-Negotiables: Money, Fame, and Image” and “Young People Not So ‘Green’ After All”.

Jean Twenge, the study’s lead author, seems entitled to sit back with a told you so look on her face. For some time, she’s contested portrayals of Millennials as “Generation We.” The new study updates her anti-entitlement manifesto, Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–And More Miserable than Ever Before, and she presents more damning information in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article accusing Millennials of declining empathy.

Read more »

postcards from srinagar

by Vivek Menezes

Nigeen Lake 27/05/2012

I am writing this lakeside in Srinagar, at the end of a month-long stay in this amazing, ancient city, along with my wife and three young sons (12, 8, 4). This is high season in Kashmir – the authorities expect as many as two million tourists by the time winter sets in. But with the exception of Dal Lake – certainly one of the great marvels of the subcontinent – we’ve found ourselves just about the only “outsiders” almost everywhere we’ve gone. It has been quite a strange phenomenon, I think largely explained by the reluctance of most travel agents and tour operators to venture off a narrow beaten track that takes in Dal, the (vastly over-rated) Mughal Gardens, and day trips to trample snow in Gulmarg, etc. There needs to be more and better information about Srinagar made available for travellers, and over some time I hope to contribute some.

But right now, because connectivity is deeply intermittent here, I am going to quickly post a few images, and scribble comments postcard-style



Our first few days in Kashmir couldn’t have been more eye-opening. This is because we became immediately immersed in the fourth annual festival hosted by the Dara-e-Shikoh Centre. The initiative of Jyotsna Singh, grand-daughter of the last monarch of Jammu and Kashmir, the event was mostly held outdoors, and had a terrifically positive energy. There were art, writing and puppetry workshops, training sessions for teachers and counsellors, and terrific interactions between the overwhelmingly young audience and visiting resource people, most notably Gopal Gandhi – grandson of the Mahatma, senior bureaucrat and diplomat, and author of several books, including a play about Dara, the Sufi Prince. It was a remarkably inclusive event, with every possible viewpoint freely exchanged with an unusual spirit of acceptance. Here at the Dara Shikoh Centre, I realized that this is actually a bedrock Kashmiri virtue. This was particularly underlined during a spellbinding performance by one of the last surviving Bhand Pather (folk entertainers) groups of Kashmir, directed by M. K. Raina. It turned out that most of the almost entirely Kashmiri audience had never seen such a performance – big-shots, students, security guards, drivers, all screamed with delight together all through the show. No translations needed for my kids either, they laughed along with everyone else.

Read more »

When the Fruit Ripens Seed Scatters: Notes towards a History of Motility

by Liam Heneghan

Quum fructus maturus semina dispergat. Linnæus, Philosophia Botanica, 1751

1. In The Beginning Was the Verb

Male-SpermIn the beginning was the Verb, and the Verb was with God, and the Verb set all things in motion. More than just any Word (Latin verbum, word) the God who is, was, and shall be a Verb commuted motion of an Absolute form to Relative Motion. In the universe created of the Verb everything moves; absolutes have no meaning.

And some things rose and other things fell. Those which rose remained in constant motion until impeded and of those which fell some acquired spontaneous motion. These self-moved movers, called motile, include some cells, spores, the quadrupeds, and the bipeds. The Philosopher studied the motile keenly, since the prime mover and all that had risen remained less accessible to knowledge. Since the self-moved require the unmoving for motion they must themselves be, he concluded, comprised of a series of both fixed and moving parts at the seat of which is an unmoved mover – the animal soul. In this way the motile mimic the first mover.

Living things move and they share this characteristic with every other thing; stasis, that is, there can only ever be relative stasis. Movement differs from motility in as much as the latter, in its most fully expressed form, is movement where a purpose that goads, a desire that compels, and a body that advances, converge.

Read more »

Only Philosophers Go to Hell

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

HellThe Problem of Hell is familiar enough to many traditional theists. Roughly, it is this: How could a loving and just god create a place of endless misery? The Problem of Hell is a special version of the Problem of Evil, which is the general challenge that a just and loving God would not intentionally create a world with excessive misery, and yet we see the excesses all around us. Hell, on its face, seems like it is actually part of God’s plan, and moreover, the misery there far exceeds misery here. At least the misery here is finite; it ends when one dies. But in Hell, death is just the beginning. Those in Hell suffer for eternity. Hell, so described, seems less the product of a just and loving entity than a vicious and spiteful one. That’s a problem.

There are two standard lines in defense of Hell. The first is the retributivist line, and the second is the libertarian line. We think that if either succeeds, only philosophers could go to Hell. This is because only someone who understands exactly what she is doing in sinning or rejecting God could deserve such a fate as Hell, and only a philosophical education could provide that kind of understanding. So, it follows, only philosophers can go to Hell.

Retributivism with regard to Hell runs as follows: Those in Hell are sinners, and sin demands punishment. Therefore, Hell is necessary; it is the place where that punishment is delivered. This seems reasonable as far as it goes, and it does work as a nice counterpoint to the regular complaint that sometimes the wicked prosper in this life – they will suffer appropriately in the next. But retributivism about Hell ultimately seems problematic. Grant that sinners deserve punishment. Nonetheless, the amount of punishment being visited upon those in Hell is objectionable. Sinners can’t do infinite harm, no matter how bad they are. But they get an eternity of torment. Punishment is just only when it is proportionate to the wrongs committed by the guilty. So even if Hell’s express purpose is to enact retribution on those who are guilty of sin, and even if the guilty do get what’s coming to them in Hell, making that punishment eternal is moral overkill. Again, disproportionate punishment is morally wrong, and Hell is guaranteed to be exactly that for everyone there.

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Monday Poem

Boy in an Apple Tree Grappling
with Happiness

sun through leaves shadows
on his face
as on a dappled stallion

time was a tick, a heartbeat
drawn out
long as the orbit of Uranus

84 to 1 of our years
heartbeat that sustains us

in a capsule with companions
in a memory
in a moment that contains us

thread of something through the raptures
of the changes of dominions that remains us

in our sky nearby a star affirms
holds feet to fire
a blistering gold medallion

by Jim Culleny