The Ancient Egyptian invention that made everything else possible

John Gaudet in Salon:

SphinxThe history of Egypt boggles the mind. By any standard the scale of achievement was enormous, but through it all, it seems clear that the economy remained rooted in agriculture. It was the everyday business of the ancient Egyptians to produce food. This they did using a system that was the envy of all. Sandra Postel, Director of the Global Water Policy Project, said that overall, Egypt’s system of basin irrigation proved inherently more stable from an ecological, political, social, and institutional perspective than that of any other irrigation-based society in human history, including the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia where a fallow year had to be interposed to rest the land between harvests on land that was also subject to salinization, something that did not happen along the Nile. “Fundamentally … the system sustained an advanced civilization through numerous political upheavals and other destabilizing events over some 5,000 years. No other place on Earth has been in continuous cultivation for so long.”

According to Dr. Butzer, during late Paleolithic times the great bulk of early settlements were concentrated in the floodplains on the levees and the immediate riverbanks of the Nile. From 5000 BC, well before the first wooden boats, it probably occurred to most Egyptians that travel by water was a must. Today from satellite images, arable land in the Nile Valley is seen as a long green swath running the length of Egypt, with a bright blue river running down its center reminding everyone that if they intended to travel from one end of the country to the other, the message was clear: use a boat. Since boats made of wood were costly, everyday vessels—the thousands, even millions of small craft that were the work boats of ordinary souls—had to be made of cheap, reliable stuff. And that was as true in prehistoric times as it is in the 21st century. Today it is plastic and fiberglass. Then, it was papyrus.

More here.

Still Exerting a Hold on Science: Defying Gravity

George Johnson in The New York Times:

GravityNot long after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while the world was reckoning with the specter of nuclear energy, a businessman named Roger Babson was worrying about another of nature’s forces: gravity. It had been 55 years since his sister Edith drowned in the Annisquam River, in Gloucester, Mass., when gravity, as Babson later described it, “came up and seized her like a dragon and brought her to the bottom.” Later on, the dragon took his grandson, too, as he tried to save a friend during a boating mishap. Something had to be done. “It seems as if there must be discovered some partial insulator of gravity which could be used to save millions of lives and prevent accidents,” Babson wrote in a manifesto, “Gravity — Our Enemy Number One.” In 1949, drawing on his considerable wealth, he started the Gravity Research Foundation and began awarding annual cash prizes for the best new ideas for furthering his cause. It turned out to be a hopeless one. By the time the 2014 awards were announced last month, the foundation was no longer hoping to counteract gravity — it forms the very architecture of space-time — but to better understand it. What began as a crank endeavor has become mainstream. Over the years, winners of the prizes have included the likes of Stephen Hawking, Freeman Dyson, Roger Penrose and Martin Rees.

With his theory of general relativity, Einstein described gravity with an elegance that has not been surpassed. A mass like the sun makes the universe bend, causing smaller masses like planets to move toward it. The problem is that nature’s other three forces are described in an entirely different way, by quantum mechanics. In this system forces are conveyed by particles. Photons, the most familiar example, are the carriers of light. For many scientists, the ultimate prize would be proof that gravity is carried by gravitons, allowing it to mesh neatly with the rest of the machine.

More here.


Article_ellisLee Ellis at The Believer:

Since 1996, Californians with the right doctors’ notes have had legal clearance to grow and possess pot. That year, Proposition 215, a voter initiative granting limited immunity from prosecution to “seriously ill” residents whose health conditions might be improved by the use of the drug, passed on a statewide ballot. In 2003, Senate Bill 420 upheld the law, and added a handy medical marijuana ID card program (to date, nearly seventy-two thousand cards have been issued). Neither the proposition nor the senate bill superseded federal law, however; as such, raids on growers and dispensaries carried out by federal agents were frequent from 1996 until March 2009, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced that marijuana grows and storefronts complying with state law would not be a priority for the Obama administration.

In the wake of the proposition, twenty states and the District of Columbia passed medical marijuana legislation. Colorado and Washington recently went a step further by permitting recreational use. While traditionally conservative states have been slow to relax harsh punishments for possession (in Kansas, holding any amount of marijuana—even a single gram—can earn the offender up to a year in prison), it’s clear that blue America is trending toward legalization.

more here.

How profit trumped passion in the beautiful game

71177424Shougat Dasgupta at Caravan:

Being a football fan used to be about being local, about sublimated parochialism, about pride in your team and, synecdochically, your neighbourhood, your city, your country. Supporting a football team was an expression of solidarity, an assertion of community. Football culture was by its nature insular, and this was as true in India as, say, in Britain. Take Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow, Al Ahly and Zamalek in Cairo, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in Kolkata: all local rivalries with attendant histories of identity, immigration, belonging, class, even food; rivalries made piquant by proximity. It was a culture built on shared experience, on being at the stadium with your people, on active partisan support. There is no need to gloss over the violence such insularity can breed—the deaths of sixteen fans in Kolkata in 1980, for instance, when a derby unravelled into a riot—to acknowledge how intrinsic football once was to fans’ understanding of their place in the world.

Early in Dev Dutta Roy’s An Incredible Tale from the Beautiful Game—an awful novel made endearing by the author’s affection and enthusiasm for Kolkata football—is a throwaway sentence that encapsulates what it once meant to be a football fan. “It was a Sunday morning of September,” he writes. “All the newspapers of Calcutta, of which Dadu used to buy three—Anandabazar and Juganter in Bengali and The Statesman in English—were talking about a great match that was going to be played four fifteen that afternoon … I and Kakka never missed such a big match. We were morally bound to be there.”

Morally bound to be there.

more here.

Dr. Zhivago’s CIA Connection and the Pope

Kirsch61214620Adam Kirsch at Tablet:

The Zhivago Affair, by Peter Finn and Petra Couvee, is a detailed reconstruction of one of the most fascinating of the Cold War’s cultural skirmishes. Today the novel Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak, sits placidly on the shelves of Russian classics, alongside War and Peaceand Crime and Punishment. Most people, if they know the story at all, probably know it from David Lean’s widescreen film epic, starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie and the balalaika-heavy “Lara’s Theme.” But when it was published in 1957, Doctor Zhivago touched off a worldwide controversy, as the Soviet Union tried ineffectually to stop the book from appearing and then reacted with outrage when Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize. No book except The Gulag Archipelago, which Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would publish some 15 years later, caused more anguish to the Soviets during the whole Cold War.

What made Doctor Zhivago such a bitter pill for Khrushchev’s regime to swallow? Unlike Solzhenitsyn’s book, which was a head-on indictment of Soviet crimes, Pasternak’s novel was a poetic and abstract work, most of whose literary energy goes into miraculously vivid descriptions of weather and nature. Indeed, Doctor Zhivago was Pasternak’s first and only novel; before he started writing it, in 1945, he had been famous as a lyric poet and translator of Shakespeare. It was partly Pasternak’s great stature as a poet—he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times on the strength of his verse alone—that made it difficult for the Soviet leadership to deal with him. If even Stalin, in his massacre of Soviet writers, had taken care to spare Pasternak, how could Khrushchev—who was supposed to be presiding over a “thaw” in Soviet cultural life—dare to silence or jail him?

more here.

How stress can clog your arteries

Sarah C.P. Williams in Scientific American:

BloodStudying the effect of stressful intensive care unit (ICU) shifts on medical residents, biologist Matthias Nahrendorf of Harvard Medical School in Boston recently found that blood samples taken when the doctors were most stressed out had the highest levels of neutrophils and monocytes. To probe whether these white blood cells, or leukocytes, are the missing link between stress and atherosclerosis, he and his colleagues turned to experiments on mice. Nahrendorf’s team exposed mice for up to 6 weeks to stressful situations, including tilting their cages, rapidly alternating light with darkness, or regularly switching the mice between isolation and crowded quarters. Compared with control mice, the stressed mice—like stressed doctors—had increased levels of neutrophils and monocytes in their blood. The researchers then homed in on an explanation for the higher levels of immune cells. They already knew that chronic stress increases blood concentrations of the hormone noradrenaline; noradrenaline, Nahrendorf discovered, binds to a cell surface receptor protein called β3 on stem cells in the bone marrow. In turn, the chemical environment of the bone marrow changes and there’s an increase in the activity of the white blood cells produced by the stem cells. “It makes sense that stress wakes up these immune cells because an enlarged production of leukocytes prepares you for danger, such as in a fight, where you might be injured,” Nahrendorf says. “But chronic stress is a different story—there’s no wound to heal and no infection.”

In mice living with chronic stress, Nahrendorf’s team reported today in Nature Medicine, atherosclerotic plaques more closely resemble plaques known to be most at risk of rupturing and causing a heart attack or stroke. When the scientists blocked the β3 receptor, though, stressed mice not only had fewer of these dangerous plaques, but also had reduced levels of the active immune cells in their plaques, pinpointing β3 as a key link between stress and atheroscelerosis. The finding could lead to new drugs to help prevent cardiovascular disease, suggests biologist Lynn Hedrick of the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in San Diego, California. “I think this gives us a really direct hint that the β3 receptor is important in regulating the stress-induced response by the bone marrow,” Hedrick says. “If we can develop a drug that targets the receptor, this may be very clinically relevant.”

More here.

Tuesday Poem

My little bastard, impious offspring
in case it must be said to you again
here it is said again what should
be said again and again: negotiation
for a non-negotiable end, negotiate
all that’s non-negotiable. Cut
this slogan into your flesh, score
it on your forehead with a record needle
put your boots back on and go back
to the burning star you came from.

by Martín Gambarotta
from Para un plan primavera
publisher: Libros del Perro Negro, Santiago, 2013

Dulce cabroncito, impío vástago
por si debe sértelo dicho otra vez
acá queda dicho otra vez lo que debe
serte dicho una y otra vez: negociación
para un fin no negociable, negociar
todo por lo innegociable. Inflígete
esta consigna en la carne, grábatela
en la frente con una púa de tocadiscos
cálzate otra vez las botas y regresa
a la estrella cáustica de la que viniste.


Sean Carroll: Physicists Should Stop Saying Silly Things about Philosophy

Sean Carroll in Preposterous Universe:

ScreenHunter_708 Jun. 24 11.24The last few years have seen a number of prominent scientists step up to microphones and belittle the value of philosophy. Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, and Neil deGrasse Tyson are well-known examples. To redress the balance a bit, philosopher of physics Wayne Myrvold has asked some physicists to explain why talking to philosophers has actually been useful to them. I was one of the respondents, and you can read my entry at the Rotman Institute blog. I was going to cross-post my response here, but instead let me try to say the same thing in different words.

Roughly speaking, physicists tend to have three different kinds of lazy critiques of philosophy: one that is totally dopey, one that is frustratingly annoying, and one that is deeply depressing.

    • “Philosophy tries to understand the universe by pure thought, without collecting experimental data.”

This is the totally dopey criticism. Yes, most philosophers do not actually go out and collect data (although there are exceptions). But it makes no sense to jump right from there to the accusation that philosophy completely ignores the empirical information we have collected about the world. When science (or common-sense observation) reveals something interesting and important about the world, philosophers obviously take it into account. (Aside: of course there are bad philosophers, who do all sorts of stupid things, just as there are bad practitioners of every field. Let’s concentrate on the good ones, of whom there are plenty.)

More here.

Why Did Borges Hate Soccer?

Shaj Mathew in The New Republic:

“Soccer is popular,” Jorge Luis Borges observed, “because stupidity is popular.”

At first glance, the Argentine writer’s animus toward “the beautiful game” seems to reflect the attitude of today’s typical soccer hater, whose lazy gibes have almost become a refrain by now: Soccer is boring. There are too many tie scores. I can’t stand the fake injuries.

ScreenHunter_707 Jun. 24 11.18And it’s true: Borges did call soccer “aesthetically ugly.” He did say, “Soccer is one of England’s biggest crimes.” And apparently, he even scheduled one of his lectures so that it would intentionally conflict with Argentina’s first game of the 1978 World Cup. But Borges’ distaste for the sport stemmed from something far more troubling than aesthetics. His problem was with soccer fan culture, which he linked to the kind of blind popular support that propped up the leaders of the twentieth century’s most horrifying political movements. In his lifetime, he saw elements of fascism, Peronism, and even anti-Semitism emerge in the Argentinean political sphere, so his intense suspicion of popular political movements and mass culture—the apogee of which, in Argentina, is soccer—makes a lot of sense. (“There is an idea of supremacy, of power, [in soccer] that seems horrible to me,” he oncewrote.) Borges opposed dogmatism in any shape or form, so he was naturally suspicious of his countrymen’s unqualified devotion to any doctrine or religion—even to their dear albiceleste.

Soccer is inextricably tied to nationalism, another one of Borges’ objections to the sport. “Nationalism only allows for affirmations, and every doctrine that discards doubt, negation, is a form of fanaticism and stupidity,” he said.

More here.

The Drone Philosopher

Marco Roth in n + 1:

RothArt-DOWFrom the thumbnail headshot accompanying his essay in the Times, “the drone philosopher,” as I’ve begun to think of him, appears to be in his late twenties, or a boyish 30. In an oddly confessional-style first paragraph, he recalls what it was like to watch the second Iraq War from his college dorm television. He has clean-shaven Ken-doll looks and a prominent squarish jaw, recalling the former Republican vice-presidential candidate and representative from Wisconsin’s First Congressional District, Paul Ryan. I doubt the drone philosopher would be flattered by the comparison. The tone of his article makes him out to be a thoughtful liberal, more interested in weighing complexities than in easy solutions, simultaneously attracted by and wary of power, not unlike the commander in chief he hopes will one day read his papers.

I can make out a bit of wide-striped collegiate tie, a white collar, and the padded shoulders of a suit jacket in the photograph. I know I’m being unfair, but I don’t trust his looks. Since Republicans have become so successful at branding themselves the party of white men, I now suspect that any white guy in a suit may harbor right-wing nationalist tendencies, much as the CIA’s rules governing drone strikes have determined that groups of “military age” men in certain regions of Pakistan and Yemen may be profiled as terrorists.

More here.

The Winners of the 3QD Arts & Literature Prize 2014

Arts & lit 2014 Hamid Top WinnerArts2014 Winner-2014-charm-Quark2

Mohsin Hamid has picked the three winners from the nine finalists:

  1. Top Quark, $500: Ali Eteraz, The Death of the Urdu Script
  2. Strange Quark, $200: Olga Tokarczuk, Everywhere and Nowhere
  3. Charm Quark, $100: Matthew Jakubowski, Honest work: an experimental review of an experimental translation

Here is what Mohsin had to say about them:

It was a great collection of pieces — a real pleasure to read during a hot summer week in Lahore. Here are the winners.

1. Ali Eteraz, “The Death of the Urdu Script” (Medium). Typography, a “murder” mystery, geopolitics, history, D.E.I.T.Y., Apple vs Microsoft vs Twitter, a third way between Arabization and the West, penmanship — this piece had it all. Succinctly far-ranging and wonderfully poignant, I hope it's widely read and helps save the script it champions.

2. Olga Tokarczuk, “Everywhere and Nowhere” (n + 1). For the traveler in each of us. A lovely flow, supple musings. Fabulous. “Fluidity, mobility, illusoriness–these are precisely the qualities that make us civilized. Barbarians don't travel. They simply go to destinations or conduct raids.”

3. Matthew Jakubowski, “Honest work: an experimental review of an experimental translation” (3:AM Magazine). A brief flickering of something that brings to mind “Pale Fire,” this text about a text about a text about a text is magical and wise. It shimmers.

Congratulations also from 3QD to the winners (remember, you must claim the money within one month from today–just send me an email). And feel free, in fact we encourage you, to leave your acceptance speech as a comment here! And thanks to everyone who participated. Many thanks also, of course, to Mohsin Hamid for doing the final judging.

The three prize logos at the top of this post were designed by Sughra Raza, me, and Carla Goller. I hope the winners will display them with pride on their own blogs!

Details about the prize here.

Math: the extension of common sense by other means

by Jonathan Kujawa

On “How Not to be Wrong” by Jordan Ellenberg.

I have to admit something. When I travel I cringe on the inside when the person sitting next to me asks what I do for a living. The arc of the conversation invariably follows one of a few paths. On the very rare occasion I am pleasantly surprised to find myself talking to someone with a genuine interest and curiosity in mathematics. Far more commonly we immediately head into “I hate math” or “I was never good at math”. Their general feeling is some mixture of fear, dislike, and bewilderment. I've learned that decades of bad experiences with math won't be overcome by our brief conversation. I must confess that I usually dive out the side door of the still moving conversation in a tuck-and-roll position and hope to tumble my way into sports, religion, Middle East politics, or some other more pleasant topic.

Math has a PR problem and it's mostly self inflicted. Most math curriculum is tedious, dull, confusing, and disconnected from everyday life. And any hope of turning things around is sabotaged by teachers and parents who themselves have unpleasant feelings about math. When asked, most people will say that math is important and useful but in ways which were never made clear despite years of math classes. They certainly won't say it's fun, thought provoking, or moving. And the “applications” they remember are those awful word problems involving circular ponds in square gardens, five workers making ten widgets every two hours, and other obviously fictional nonsense.


Jordan Ellenberg [1]

Fortunately there are folks making the effort to show the beautiful, exciting, engaging, and useful sides of math. One of those is Jordan Ellenberg. He is a well-regarded mathematician at the University of Wisconsin. Before turning to fulltime math, Ellenberg earned a master’s degree in fiction writing and wrote a novel (“The Grasshopper King”). Nowadays he has a blog on “Math, Madison, food, the Orioles, books, my kids”, and he writes occasional articles on math for Slate, the New York Times, and other media. As you can tell, he's the perfect guy to write a popular book about math. And he has! His book, “How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking” has just come out and deserves to be on everyone's summer reading list. The title of this post is from Ellenberg's book and captures its spirit perfectly.

Read more »

Turning Points

by Tamuira Reid

I. Theresa

He hit her, not the other way around.

Thought it was a deer, she told the police. Same kind of thud, thick and heavy. It was raining but not too hard. The impact dented the hood, busted the window, the glass splintered and folded in on itself.

Killed a man with her car. It wasn't her fault but still.

It was dark. The road was long. Oldies played on the radio. The kind of music people dance to when they think no one is watching and there is still that chance of something good happening.

The paper runs his photo with details for a memorial service at the Y on Harrisburg Street. He was nineteen, worked weekends at a Ford dealership.

She folds the story into a square and hides it under her mattress. Sometimes she feels him breathing but doesn't tell anyone.

A television crackles from a corner of the room where his two little sisters sleep, arms and legs locking. Waiting. The last thing he saw was the glare of headlights.

Silk blouse and Penny's slacks with the pleats down the front. They go into the washer with extra Woolite and she studies the water for signs of death but it's all over at this point. She lets the lid down slowly, disappears into the kitchen for another cigarette.

II. Luna

The day Luna went mad her mother thought, finally. The signs had been there, hanging around at the dinner table, in the bathroom where she ironed her hair.

It had waited patiently in the corner of a room, under a chair, in the oven with the bread. Now they wouldn't need to wonder when it would all fall apart because it just had.

The day Luna went mad she was wearing pink lipstick. Her legs were waxed and smoothed down with cocoa butter because she was religious about that kind of thing. Never know who you're gonna see, she'd say, sliding a gold hoop through each ear.

It happened slowly and over a period of time. Shop closed. Her mind just closed-up on her. Went out of business.

Read more »

A Far-Reaching Liquidation

by Misha Lepetic

For the last twenty years neither matter
nor space nor time has been what it was
~ Paul Valéry, 1931

Wu-tang_boxEver since Napster tore through the music industry like an Ebola outbreak, there has followed a ceaseless hand-wringing about the ever-decreasing “value” of music. Chart-busting hits have been replaced by body blows to an industry that was once fat and happy. From Napster's peer-to-peer networking model to the current ascendancy of streaming services, the big labels have seen their fortunes scrambled and re-scrambled by the onrushing and ever-changing technological landscape. This is further complicated by the fact that young people are its most desired demographic, but are also the most ardent adopters of said inconvenient technologies. It's easy to say that there is no going back – and there isn't – but how can artists respond to this seemingly unstoppable race to the bottom, now that the link between a work of music, and the physical artifact that is its vehicle, has been permanently sundered?

Earlier this spring, we received a candidate answer from the venerable hip hop outfit Wu-Tang Clan. The Wu-Tang have been secretly recording a new double album for several years, an event that would commonly be greeted with much rejoicing by their legions of fans. However, the zinger is that only one copy of the album will be made, destined to be sold to the highest bidder. Even more interesting is the fact that, prior to the auction, the record will tour “festivals, museums, exhibition spaces and galleries for the public as a one off [sic] experience.” (Imagine the stringency of the security that will be required to keep this particular cat in its bag; I am already anticipating the Twittersphere lighting up in outrage as museum staff shine flashlights into people's ear canals, conduct full body cavity searches, and generally out-TSA the TSA.)

Of course, such acts of conceptual brazenness are usually (and usually regrettably) accompanied by a manifesto, and Wu-Tang does not disappoint…

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The Tears of Things

by Madhu Kaza

These are the tears of things, and our mortality cuts to the heart.

–Virgil, The Aeneid

A few weeks ago I spent an afternoon at a friend's apartment while she held a moving sale. I went primarily to keep her company, and I spent hours in the room where she had neatly arrayed books, jewelry, film and camera equipment, exercise machines, clothes, pottery and various knick-knacks. Every sale was accompanied by the story of the object – how she had acquired it, what it meant to her, and what a great deal the customer was getting. The longer I stayed the more I could feel a tinge of sadness in the room, but her friends and neighbors lapped the stuff up, seemingly unaware of the melancholy. When one of my friend's neighbors invited me to visit her apartment upstairs, I left the sale for a while and walked into a large, bright, cluttered apartment. I sat at a dining room table strewn with books, wires, a computer, cookie cutters, takeout containers and piles of papers and thought, what a relief to be in the middle of things. What I meant was: what a relief not to be at the beginning or the end. The room was a mess but the objects carried no self-consciousness. They were at home and settled into the ongoing-ness of days.

I wrote previously about things, but I hadn't really touched upon their sadness, which is to say our sadness towards them. Recently, though, I've been thinking about the Japanese idea of “mono no aware” or “the pathos of things.” The sensitivity to impermanence at the heart of mono no aware is exemplified in this extract from the poet Kenko's 14th century “Essays in Idleness”:

When I sit down in quiet meditation, the one emotion hardest to fight against is a longing in all things for the past. After the others have gone to bed, I pass the time on a long autumn's night by putting in order whatever belongings are at hand. As I tear up scraps of old correspondence I should prefer not to leave behind, I sometimes find among them samples of the calligraphy of a friend who has died, or pictures he drew for his own amusement, and I feel exactly as I did at the time. Even with letters written by friends who are still alive I try, when it has been long since we met, to remember the circumstances, the year. What a moving experience that is! It is sad to think that a man's familiar possessions, indifferent to his death, should remain unaltered long after he is gone.

Because we invest our belongings with memories they inhabit time with us in peculiar ways. They become our companions through life and when we lose them or give them away we feel bereft not merely of the object, but of some span in our own lives that they marked.

Read more »

Why the Philosophy of Food is Important

by Dwight Furrow

Philosophers club

Photo by Todd Lapin Creative Commons License

There are lots of hard problems that require our thoughtful attention—poverty, climate change, quantum entanglement, or how to make a living, just for starters. But food? Worthy of thought? Most philosophers have ignored food as a proper topic of philosophical inquiry.

On the surface, it seems there are only three questions about food worth considering: Do you have enough? Is it nutritious? And does it taste good? If you have the wherewithal to read this you probably have enough food. Questions of nutrition can be answered by consulting your doctor or favorite nutritionist. And surely it doesn't take thought to figure out what tastes good.

But when we look more deeply at food we find some important issues lurking beneath the surface about which philosophy has traditionally been concerned. How we farm, what we eat, and how we cook have important social, political, and ethical ramifications—ramifications so important that we cannot think of these issues as purely private matters any longer. Some of the aforementioned “hard problems” have a lot to do with food. Our food distribution networks are anything but fair leaving many people without enough to eat; and our food production and consumption patterns cause substantial environmental harm in part because of their impact on climate change. Our resource- intensive way of life, supported by an economic system that requires constant growth, is unsustainable especially because the rest of the world would like to emulate it. For example, it is estimated that if everyone in the world consumed our meat-heavy diet, we would need two planet earths to supply sufficient land, feed, and water.

We must learn to live differently, and that means, fundamentally, learning to desire differently—and to desire food differently.

Read more »


by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

Photo (1)There is nothing more exciting to me as a writer than catching a new place at daybreak— the moment that marks the beginning of a city's unique rhythms, when a traveler may somnambulate into its most secret, subtle self, its still-dreaming, unspoken quintessence. In this sliver between night and day, before the wearing of masks, arranging of words in functional frames, there is treasure to be collected.

I hunt for stray, untamable truths.

I love breakfast made by others, and relish the morning scene as it unravels; some of it predictable (the clatter of dishes, the smell of eggs, steam rising from cups, waiters stumbling about in a half-awake state), some of it appealing for its novelty value (rice porridge with chicken in Singapore, fresh figs with boiled eggs in Istanbul, sweet-bean pastry in Hong Kong) and some of it serendipitous or unforgettable such as keeping the company of pastry and insomnia and Andalusi ghosts in Granada, where my room was a whisper away from the Nasrid graveyard (which led to the opening piece in my book Baker of Tarifa), or watching a Chinese student copy the calligraphy on Alhmara's walls beautifully in his sketchbook, not knowing about how the Arabic letters work, or beholding sunrays as they hit olive trees in Florence— seeing the sky transform, through a window just as it was being washed by a groggy boy.

At the time of sunrise, history is on equal footing with the present. Ancient ruins, imperial buildings, places of worship, modern shops, parks, all bask in a brief romantic glow; everything is equally vulnerable. I've found this to be as true in Rome as it is in Bangkok, Lahore, Delphi.

At dawn, wherever I am, I like to bring a cup of tea, and find a spot —a ledge, a stair, a bench, a rock— ready to become part of a unique panorama that will last for not more than a few minutes but will likely transport and teach me: an otherwise elusive moment of clarity will, for a moment, unveil itself and nourish me.