Arundhati Roy: goddess of big ideas

Andrew Anthony in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_881 Nov. 26 13.11Like India and Walt Whitman, Arundhati Roy contains multitudes. She is, however, far from large. Small, delicately boned, a beguiling mixture of piercing dark eyes and bright easy smile, she is a warm presence. She turns 53 tomorrow and the grey tint to her curls lends depth to a still strikingly youthful face. Looking at her, it’s not hard to detect the author of the richly empathetic The God of Small Things, her debut, Booker-prize winning novel about family life in Kerala, that John Updike described as a “massive interlocking structure of fine, intensely felt details”.

That was 17 years ago and photos from that period show a captivating figure, at once shy and fiercely proud, wary and utterly self-possessed. The book was a huge international hit and the publishing world readied itself to cash in on a phenomenal new talent, galvanised by the fact that so photogenic an author would be a dream to market.

But the follow-up novel didn’t arrive. Instead Roy directed her considerable energies towards political activism, most especially in India where, despite her success, she has remained. It was a path that has led her to express solidarity with groups – such as Kashmiri separatists and Maoist guerrillas – that are seen by many Indians, with some reason, as terrorists. As a result Roy has become a controversial figure, an outspoken heroine in certain radical quarters, but loathed by large sections of Indian society, not least Hindu nationalists.

She has also become a prolific essayist and polemicist.

More here.

Our Cats, Ourselves

Razib Khan in The New York Times:

CatIT’S commonplace to call our cats “pets.” But anyone sharing a cat’s household can tell you that, much as we might like to choose when they eat in the morning, or when they come inside for the night, cats are only partly domesticated. The likely ancestors of the domestic dog date from more than 30,000 years ago. But domestic cats’ forebears join us in the skeletal record only about 9,500 years ago. This difference fits our intuition about their comparative degrees of domestication: Dogs want to be “man’s best friend”; cats, not so much. Fossils are handy snapshots of the past, but a genomic sequence is a time machine, enabling scientists to run evolutionary history backward. The initial sequence of the domestic cat was completed in 2007, but a recent study to which I contributed compared the genomes of the domestic cat and the wildcat (Felis silvestris) and sheds new light on the last 10,000 years of feline adaptations. Domestic cats are not just wildcats that tolerate humans in exchange for regular meals. They have smaller skulls in relation to their bodies compared with wildcats, and are known to congregate in colonies. But in comparison with dogs, cats have a narrower range of variation in size and form.

Wesley C. Warren, an author of the study, notes that domestic cats have excellent hunting skills, like their wild ancestors. This, too, supports the notion that cats are only semi-domesticated. Comparing the genomes of the wildcat and the domestic cat added much to what we had known. Michael J. Montague, the lead author, told me he’d anticipated that the two genomes would be very similar, but our study found a specific set of differences in genes involved in neuron development. This brain adaptation may explain why domestic cats are docile.

More here.

Geo-engineering: Climate fixes ‘could harm billions’

David Shukman in BBC:

ClimateSchemes to tackle climate change could prove disastrous for billions of people, but might be required for the good of the planet, scientists say. That is the conclusion of a new set of studies into what's become known as geo-engineering. This is the so far unproven science of intervening in the climate to bring down temperatures. These projects work by, for example, shading the Earth from the Sun or soaking up carbon dioxide. Ideas include aircraft spraying out sulphur particles at high altitude to mimic the cooling effect of volcanoes or using artificial “trees” to absorb CO2. Long regarded as the most bizarre of all solutions for global warming, ideas for geo-engineering have come in for more scrutiny in recent years as international efforts to limit carbon emissions have failed.

Now three combined research projects, led by teams from the universities of Leeds, Bristol and Oxford, have explored the implications in more detail. The central conclusion, according to Dr Matt Watson of Bristol University, is that the issues surrounding geo-engineering – how it might work, the effects it might have and the potential downsides – are “really really to doing nothing, to business-as-usual leading us to a world with a 4C rise.” The studies used computer models to simulate the possible implications of different technologies – with a major focus on ideas for making the deserts, seas and clouds more reflective so that incoming solar radiation does not reach the surface. One simulation imagined sea-going vessels spraying dense plumes of particles into the air to try to alter the clouds. But the model found that this would be far less effective than once thought. Another explored the option of injecting sulphate aerosols into the air above the Arctic in an effort to reverse the decline of sea-ice. A key finding was that none of the simulations managed to keep the world's temperature at the level experienced between 1986-2005 – suggesting that any effort would have to be maintained for years.

More here.

3QD Philosophy Prize Semifinalists 2014

The voting round of our philosophy prize (details here) is over. Thanks to the nominators and the voters for participating.

So here they are, the top 20, in descending order from the most voted-for:

  1. A Wondering Jew: The Sound of Silence
  2. Angela Roothaan: (Auto)biography and Derrida II (finished reading)
  3. Imperfect Cognitions: Epistemic Injustice and Illness
  4. Proof I Never Want To Be President (Of Anything): Work Friends
The editors of 3 Quarks Daily will now pick the top six entries from these, and after possibly adding up to three “wildcard” entries, will send that list of finalists to Huw Price for final judging. We will post the shortlist of finalists here on Monday, December 1st.

Wednesday Poem


Speaker 4

Eyes open in the womb. The struggle arrives to turn darkness into light.
Dangling on the wings of
the Phoenix. The creative process begins to turn ugly. Vandalizing and robbing
graves of
child prodigies turning into serious discussions of Mass Murder and the
therapeutic value of
saturday morning shopping sprees. The betrayal of genius is burning at the
stake. The spider
descends. The violence is always there. The web embraces us all. More
insidious than
drugs. More pleasurable than sex. Slightly entangled. Slightly confused. That
criminal element awakens you to the terror and lonliness of running into the
silent pain of
someone else looking to you for answers. Glamorous and well financed pools
of blood
profiling on neighborhood corners while smiling at and tempting the boldest
gangsta rap.

The wealth we squandered on poor excuse and starving lines of poetry
inspired by the
tenderness of your smile healed me, cleansed me of my indifference to the
Holy Scriptures
should have told us something about being chidren of God in all this Madness,
against all
these odds of too intense and too delicate to be real lovers in real times. The
wind, the water,
the waves so natural in our hands. Falling on notes and images forever
caressing the Full
Moon and laughter too strong to be forgotten on opening nights and wanting
to be a big hit.
Run… Run… Run… to the birth, to the growth, to the experience of harmony so
wise and
peaceful desires to go back to the beginning and try to be good to yourself and
others… are
searching too!

by Umar Bin Hassan
from Poetry International, 2006

The Best Science Books of 2014

Maria Popova in Brain Pickings:


“If we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from,” Carl Sagan wrote in his timeless meditation on science and religion, “we will have failed.” It’s a sentiment that dismisses in one fell Saganesque swoop both the blind dogmatism of religion and the vain certitude of science — a sentiment articulated by some of history’s greatest minds, from Einstein to Ada Lovelace to Isaac Asimov, all the way backGalileo. Yet centuries after Galileo and decades after Sagan, humanity remains profoundly uneasy about reconciling these conflicting frameworks for understanding the universe and our place in it.

That unanswerable question of where we came from is precisely what physicistAlan Lightman — one of the finest essayists writing today and the very first person to receive dual appointments in science and the humanities at MIT — explores from various angles in The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew (public library | IndieBound).

At the intersection of science and philosophy, the essays in the book explore the possible existence of multiple universes, multiple space-time continuums, more than three dimensions. Lightman writes:

Science does not reveal the meaning of our existence, but it does draw back some of the veils.


Theoretical physics is the deepest and purest branch of science. It is the outpost of science closest to philosophy, and religion.

More here.

From Watts to Ferguson


Rick Perlstein in In These Times (Scott Olsen/Getty Images):

In Ferguson, police racism is built in, institutionalized in the town’s business model of using revenue from fines to pay its bills (and in the process, turning some residents into unemployable criminals). The encounter with Ferguson’s fierce justice system, if you are black, works like this: You have an overwhelming chance of being cited or arrested by police, for doing little or nothing that is wrong. A report from the legal group ArchCity Defenders found that in 2013, “the Ferguson Municipal Court disposed 24,532 warrants and 12,018 cases, or about three warrants and 1.5 cases per household,” an incredibly high rate. Then you are likely to face a fine you cannot afford to pay—ArchCity Defenders calculates that the average fine is $275—or a summons to a court that is rigged against you showing up on time. “The bench routinely starts hearing cases 30 minutes before the appointed time and then locks the doors to the building as early as five minutes after the official hour, a practice that could easily lead a defendant arriving even slightly late to receive an additional charge for failure to appear,” reads the report. Thus, you might end up in jail—with a criminal record that frequently bars employment.

That Kafkaesque sense of futility explains some of the frustration that boiled over in Ferguson with the shooting of Michael Brown. But that’s only one half of it. The other part is political.

Ferguson’s six-person city council has only one black member. It’s been much discussed that the dearth of African-American political representation has been helped along by what has been described as the apathy of black voters there, only 1.78 percent of whom turned out from one of the city’s black townships in a recent municipal election. But reporters on the ground in Ferguson—and possibly the Justice Department—should be looking at whether the powers that be have been practicing the sort of dark arts of malapportionment that disenfranchised other municipalities with sizable black populations in the past. Boston, for example, was able to defy a 1963 state law demanding school integration for nearly a decade by electing its school board “at large,” instead of by district. And prior to its 1967 riot, Newark’s Mayor Hugh Addonizio practiced a form of “urban renewal” that had a political twist: By building high-rises downtown, he was able to break up geographic concentrations of blacks, to ensure they would have no political power base.

Black Fergusonians have shown that they will vote when they have something to vote for and know that their vote will count. Seventy-six percent of them turned out in November 2012, when Missouri was a key swing state for Barack Obama’s reelection. When it comes to local elections, they might just be making the rational decision that a hike to the polls is a waste of time. Even that one black council member, Dwayne James, has baffled observers by remaining mum in the face of the single issue now galvanizing his constituency, Michael Brown’s killing. He’s said only, “Our city charter provides that our mayor is the spokesperson for the city.”

More here.

The Invention of the Jewish Nose

Sara Lipton in the New York Review of Books:

Le_Juif_eternelIn 1940 the Nazis released a propaganda film called The Eternal Jew. The film claimed to show the Jews in their “original state,” “before they put on the mask of civilized Europeans.” Stagings of Jewish rituals were interspersed with scenes of yarmulke- and caftan-wearing Jews shuffling down crowded alleys, all meant to show the benighted nature of Jewish life. Above all, the filmmakers focused on Jewish faces. They trained their cameras in lingering close-up on their subjects’ eyes, noses, beards, and mouths, confident that the sight of certain stereotypical features would arouse responses of loathing and contempt.

The designer of the film’s poster evidently agreed, avoiding more obvious symbols of Jewish identity (skull-cap, sidecurls, Star of David) in favor of a single dark, hook-nosed, fleshy face. Indeed, the poster hardly needed the accompanying title. In Europe in 1940, this representation of Jewishness was widespread: similar depictions of Jews could be seen on posters and in pamphlets, newspapers, even children’s books.

This image of the Jew, however, was far from “eternal.” Though anti-Semitism is notoriously “the longest hatred,” until 1000 CE, there were no easily distinguishable Jews of any kind in Western imagery, let alone the stereotypical swarthy, hook-nosed Jew. Earlier monuments and manuscripts did depict Hebrew prophets, Israelite armies, and Judaic kings, but they were identifiable only by context, in no way singled out as different from other sages, soldiers, or kings. Even nefarious Jewish characters, such as the priests (pontifices) who urged Pilate to crucify Christ in the Egbert Codex (circa 980), were visually unremarkable; they required labels to identify them as Jewish.

More here.

The astonishing rise of Angela Merkel, the most powerful woman in the world

George Packer in The New Yorker:

ScreenHunter_880 Nov. 25 17.02A summer afternoon at the Reichstag. Soft Berlin light filters down through the great glass dome, past tourists ascending the spiral ramp, and into the main hall of parliament. Half the members’ seats are empty. At the lectern, a short, slightly hunched figure in a fuchsia jacket, black slacks, and a helmet of no-color hair is reading a speech from a binder. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany and the world’s most powerful woman, is making every effort not to be interesting.

“As the federal government, we have been carrying out a threefold policy since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis,” Merkel says, staring at the binder. Her delivery is toneless, as if she were trying to induce her audience into shifting its attention elsewhere. “Besides the first part of this triad, targeted support for Ukraine, is, second, the unceasing effort to find a diplomatic solution for the crisis in the dialogue with Russia.” For years, public speaking was visibly painful to Merkel, her hands a particular source of trouble; eventually, she learned to bring her fingertips together in a diamond shape over her stomach.

More here.

Karen Armstrong on Sam Harris and Bill Maher

Michael Schulson in Salon:

Harris_armstrong_maherHow do ritual and religion become entangled with this violence?

Well, because state-building was imbued with religious ideology. Every state ideology before the modern period was essentially religious. Trying to extract religion from political life would have been like trying to take the gin out of a cocktail. Things like road-building were regarded as a sort of sacred activity.

Politics was imbued with religious feeling. The prophets of Israel, for example, were deeply political people. They castigated their rulers for not looking after the poor; they cried out against the system of agrarian injustice. Jesus did the same, Mohammed and the Quran do the same. Sometimes, religion permeates the violence of the state, but it also offers the consistent critique of that structural and martial violence.

Is it possible to disentangle that critiquing role from the role of supporting state structures?

I think in the West we have peeled them apart. We’ve separated religion and politics, and this was a great innovation. But so deeply embedded in our consciousness is the desire to give our lives some meaning and significance that no sooner did we do this than we infused the new nation-state with a sort of quasi-religious fervor. If you regard the sacred as something for which we are willing to give our lives, in some senses the nation has replaced God, because it’s now not acceptable to die for religion, but it is admirable to die for your country.

Read the rest here.

Wendy S. Walters: Interview


Justin Allen in Mosaic:

JA: You write about these murders and the crisis caused by who is known as the Oakland County Child Killer. You also touch on how these murders contributed to racial tension in the area.

WSW: There were other abductions of younger women in towns around us, which were attributed to anonymous Black men. Increasing unemployment in the area gave way to a fear of violence bubbling over from the city.

At the same time, a lot of Black people associated with the automobile industry were moving into the suburbs. These were college-educated people who wanted their kids to be in excellent public school systems. This created another level of anxiety. Sometimes these people were more affluent than the neighbors they were moving in with, which didn’t make sense to those with more provincial ideas about race and class.


Look at them looking like they don’t know
how they look. Why don’t they just stay where they
stay? Or drag sideways across our fields, come
at us zigzag over the rows we cut.
We made a place they know they should not stay
for a reason. They were nothing back when
we started from nothing, or we could not
have worked so hard to be right. They never
do what they need to do to be right. Who
knows? Someone might kill one. We tell them this
if they don’t run. Come on, try us, we say.
A city grows over the rows we cut.
Then they come at us. We stay for reasons.
They don’t understand right the way we do.

More here.

Why It’s Impossible to Indict a Cop


Chase Madar in The Nation (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson):

How to police the police is a question as old as civilization, now given special urgency by a St. Louis County grand jury’s return of a “no bill” of indictment for Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson in his fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown. The result is shocking to many, depressingly predictable to more than a few.

Can the cops be controlled? It’s never been easy: according to one old sociological chestnut, the monopoly on the legitimate use of violence is what defines modern government, and this monopoly is jealously protected against the second-guessing of puny civilians. All over the country, the issue of restraining police power is framed around the retribution against individual cops, from Staten Island to Milwaukee to Los Angeles. But is this the best way to impose discipline on law enforcement and roll back what even Republican appellate court appointees are calling rampant criminalization?

First, the big picture. Last year, the FBI tallied 461 “justifiable homicides” committed by law enforcement—justifiable because the Bureau assumes so, and the nation’s courts have not found otherwise. This is the highest number in two decades, even as the nation’s overall homicide rate continues to drop. Homicides committed by on-duty law enforcement make up 3 percent of the 14,196 homicides committed in the United States in 2013. A USA Todayanalysis of the FBI database found an average of about ninety-six police homicides a year in which a white officer kills a black person.

The FBI’s police homicide stats are fuzzy, and they are surely an undercount, given that they come from voluntary reports to the FBI from police departments all over the country. That the federal government does not keep a strict national tally shows just how seriously it takes this problem. A crowdsourced database has sprung up to fill the gap, as has a wiki-tabulation.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about these police killings, many of them of unarmed victims, is that our courts find them perfectly legal.

More here.

Why Talk Feminism in World of Warcraft?


Angela Washko in Creative Time Reports:

When women and minorities who love games question why they are abused, poorly represented or made to feel out of place, self-identified gamers often respond with an age-old argument: “If you don’t like it, why don’t you make your own?” Those on the receiving end of this arrogant question are doing just that, reshaping the gaming landscape by independently designing their own critical games and writing their own cultural criticism. Organizations like Dames Making Games, game makers like Anna Anthropy, Molleindustria and Merritt Kopas and game writers like Leigh Alexander, Samantha Allen, Lana Polansky and others listed on The New Inquiry’s Gaming and Feminism Syllabus are becoming more and more visible and broadly distributed in opposition to an industry that cares much more about consumer sales data and profit than about cultural innovation, storytelling and diversity of voices.

What’s especially strange about the sexism present in WoW is that players not only come from diverse social, economic and racial backgrounds but are also, according to census data taken by the Daedalus Project, 28 years old on average. (“It’s just a bunch of 14-year-old boys trolling you” won’t cut it as a defense.) If #gamergate supporters need to respect this diversity, many non-gamers also need to accept that the dichotomy between the physical (real) and the virtual (fake) is dated; in game spaces, individuals perform their identities in ways that are governed by the same social relations that are operative in a classroom or park, though with fewer inhibitions. That’s why—instead of either continuing on quests to kill more baddies or declaring the game a trivial, reactionary space where sexists thrive and abandoning it—I embarked on a quest to facilitate conversations about discriminatory language in WoW’s public discussion channels. I realized that players’ geographic dispersion generates a population that is far more representative of American opinion than those of the art or academic circles that I frequent in New York and San Diego, making it a perfect Petri dish for conversations about women’s rights, feminism and gender expression with people who are uninhibited by IRL accountability.

More here.

War and Peace in the Bhagavad Gita


Wendy Doniger reviews Richard H. Davis's The Bhagavad Gita: A Biography, in the NYRB:

How did Indian tradition transform the Bhagavad Gita (the “Song of God”) into a bible for pacifism, when it began life, sometime between the third century BC and the third century CE, as an epic argument persuading a warrior to engage in a battle, indeed, a particularly brutal, lawless, internecine war? It has taken a true gift for magic—or, if you prefer, religion, particularly the sort of religion in the thrall of politics that has inspired Hindu nationalism from the time of the British Raj to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi today.

The Gita (as it is generally known to its friends) occupies eighteen chapters of book 6 of the Mahabharata, an immense (over 100,000 couplets) Sanskrit epic. The text is in the form of a conversation between the warrior Arjuna, who, on the eve of an apocalyptic battle, hesitates to kill his friends and family on the other side, and the incarnate god Krishna, who acts as Arjuna’s charioteer (a low-status job roughly equivalent to a bodyguard) and persuades him to do it.

In his masterful new biography of the Gita—part of an excellent Princeton series dedicated to the lives of great religious books—Richard Davis, a professor of religion at Bard College, shows us, in subtle and stunning detail, how the text of the Gita has been embedded in one political setting after another, changing its meaning again and again over the centuries. For what the Gita was in its many pasts is very different from what it is today: the best known of all the philosophical and religious texts of Hinduism.

The Gita incorporates into its seven hundred verses many different sorts of insights, which people use to argue many different, often contradictory, ideas. We might divide them into two broad groups: what I would call the warrior’s Gita, about engaging in the world, and the philosopher’s Gita, about disengaging. The Gita’s theology—the god’s transfiguration of the warrior’s life—binds the two points of view in an uneasy tension that has persisted through the centuries.

More here.

The earliest known Arabic short stories

Robert Irwin in The Independent:

AliThe Ottoman sultan Selim the Grim – having defeated the Mamluks in two major battles in Syria and Egypt – entered Cairo in 1517. He celebrated his victory by watching the crucifixion of the last Mamluk sultan at the Zuwayla Gate. Then he presided over the systematic looting of Cairo’s cultural treasures. Among that loot was the content of most of Cairo’s great libraries. Arabic manuscripts were shipped to Istanbul and distributed among the city’s mosques. This is probably how the manuscript of Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange ended up in the library of the great mosque of Ayasofya. There it lay unread and gathering dust, a ragged manuscript that no one even knew existed, until 1933 when Hellmut Ritter, a German orientalist, stumbled across it and translated it into his mother tongue. An Arabic edition was belatedly printed in 1956.

In the 1990s, when I was working on my book The Arabian Nights: A Companion, I came across references to this story collection and, since it sounded very like The Arabian Nights (or, to give it its correct title, The Thousand and One Nights), I thought I ought to have a look at it. The stories in Tales of the Marvellous were indeed as fantastic and exotic as those in the Nights, and I felt as other scholars might feel if they had come across a missing part of The Canterbury Tales or a lost play by Shakespeare. The stories are very old, more than 1,000 years old, yet most of them are quite new to us. Some years later, I suggested to Malcolm Lyons, the translator of a recent edition of the Nights, that having completed that mighty task, he might consider translating Tales of the Marvellous. He sounded unenthusiastic and I thought no more about it. Then, last summer, he emailed to let me know that he had completed the translation. Now it has been published, meaning these stories can be read in English for the first time.

More here.

Why Are So Few Blockbuster Drugs Invented Today?

Dan Hurley in The New York Times:

Mag-16insulin-t-articleLargeOn Sept. 25, 1990, James D. Watson, the Nobel Prize-winning co-discoverer of the double-helix structure of DNA, and at the time the director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, wrote a letter to this paper making a prediction: “The ability to sequence DNA quickly and cheaply will also provide the technological basis for a new era in drug development.”

…If you read them now, the claims made for genomics in the 1990s sound a bit like predictions made in the 1950s for flying cars and anti-gravity devices,” Jack Scannell, an industry analyst, told me. But rather than speeding drug development, genomics may have slowed it down. So far it has produced fewer returns on greater investments. Scannell and Brian Warrington, who worked for 40 years inventing drugs for pharmaceutical companies, published a grim paper in 2012 that showed the plummeting efficiency of the pharmaceutical industry. They found that for every billion dollars spent on research and development since 1950, the number of new drugs approved has fallen by half roughly every nine years, meaning a total decline by a factor of 80.

…“I’ve done an about-face,” said Swinney, who estimates that more than 80 percent of research funding is still spent on target-based approaches. “The target-based research made possible by genomics is cool and fascinating,” he went on. But, he conceded, “you know what? We almost never use this information before we discover a drug. . . . This whole idea is too simplistic for the overall complexity of biology.”

More here.

Saying what you mean

by Carl Pierer

Beautiful Grice

After dinner and upon noticing a stain, Abelard ejects: “Oh no, I look like a pig.”

Bertha: “Well, and you've spilled sauce down your tie!”

Often an utterance means something over and above of what it literally says. Is it in such cases always possible to return to the “literal” meaning? Is it possible to sincerely answer the question “Do you think I'm fat?” with “You have nice feet” and only mean that the questioner has nice feet?

To capture and analyse what is going on in these cases, H.P. Grice introduces the term “implicature”. Abelard's statement by itself is usually understood metaphorically; it is rather unlikely that he literally looks like a pig. More plausibly, he means that he looks messy – possibly because he spilled some sauce. This is an example of conventional implicature – an implicature associated with certain set phrases, where the implicature is not depended on the context in which the utterance is made. The second sentence, Bertha's utterance, also seems to carry a meaning above what she literally said. It seems that in this context Bertha suggests precisely the literal meaning of Abelard's sentence. This kind of implicature, which depends on the context, Grice calls conversational implicature.

On the face of it, Bertha's utterance is at best redundant or worse, it does not make sense. If Abelard is really implicating: “Oh no, I've spilled sauce down my tie”, Bertha's repetition of this very fact does not add anything to the conversation. Although this happens all too often, it seems reasonable to suppose that usually people try to contribute to the conversation. In a meaningful exchange (whatever that means), people try to be constructive. This idea is captured by Grice in what is called the Cooperative Principle. Wayne Davis concisely puts the cooperative principle thusly:

Cooperative Principle. Contribute what is required by the accepted purpose of the conversation.”

For instance, if asked where to have lunch, a person will usually name a place. Another perfectly common reply is: “I'd like to have some lasagne”. Yet, strictly speaking this does not answer the question. In fact, at first sight, it violates the cooperative principle: the purpose of this exchange is to figure out where to go for lunch, so saying what you want to have for lunch is not directly relevant. And still, it is a meaningful contribution, provided that we understand “I'd like to have some lasagne” as implicating “Somewhere where they serve lasagne”.

Read more »

Monday Poem



Today I troll for a poem of humus
dark and rich as the French Roast
which always starts my day
and always is a gift

In this four billion year terrapoem
fungi, woodlouse and eelworms
spend millennia decomposing
in concert with nematodes
actinomycetes and protozoa
doling water and, with bacteria,
fix nitrogen in a scheme
age old and symbiotic,
while on it men
women and other animals
troll and plow,
think and sweat
—animals who draw their own life from it,
who build their lives upon it,
from which come their bones
and to which their bones
and breath go (come and go)
in intervals of comets


in this rambling walkabout
with friends who’ve shed
conceits together, dropping them
as one sloughs old clothes:
into the low pressure system of our lungs
comes new atmosphere, November cool
and out
and in again
and out
in a rhythm old but not antique
for which we thank our
lobe-finned fish progenitors
who learned to suck sweet gas to reap its oxygen
and in return (until we’re absolutely through)
we essentially reply with gusts of CO2


Heraclitus said that all is flux
or, I’d say, fire

never still
the more we yearn
the more things move
they hotter burn


rivers fall by rules of space
obliged by banks that hem obedient livers in,
pulled, it seems, by tugging mass we acquiesce,
are dragged to bottom
— inclined to give, to toss
to push to swell and plunge
(by some dark scripts)
from Paradise to Sodom


by Jim Culleny