The Seven Broken Guardrails of Democracy

David Frum in The Atlantic:

ScreenHunter_1992 May. 31 19.49A long time ago, more than 20 years in fact, the Wall Street Journal published a powerful, eloquent editorial, simply headlined: “No Guardrails.”

In our time, the United States suffers every day of the week because there are now so many marginalized people among us who don't understand the rules, who don't think that rules of personal or civil conduct apply to them, who have no notion of self-control.

Twenty years later, that same newspaper is edging toward open advocacy in favor of Donald Trump, the least self-controlled major-party candidate for high office in the history of the republic. And as he forged his path to the nomination, he snapped through seven different guardrails, revealing how brittle the norms that safeguard the American republic had grown.

Here’s the part of the 2016 story that will be hardest to explain after it’s all over: Trump did not deceive anyone. Unlike, say, Sarah Palin in 2008, Trump appeared before the electorate in his own clothes, speaking his own words. When he issued a promise, he instantly contradicted it. If you chose to accept the promise anyway, you did so with abundant notice of its worthlessness. For all the times Trump said believe me and trust me in his salesman patter, he communicated constantly and in every medium that there was only thing you could believe and trust: If you voted for Donald Trump, you’d get Donald Trump, in all his Trumpery and Trumpiness.

The television networks that promoted Trump; the primary voters who elevated him; the politicians who eventually surrendered to him; the intellectuals who argued for him, and the donors who, however grudgingly, wrote checks to him—all of them knew, by the time they made their decisions, that Trump lied all the time, about everything.

More here.

After Tens of Thousands of Pigeons Vanish, One Comes Back

Robert Krulwich in National Geographic:

ScreenHunter_1991 May. 31 19.36At first the whole thing seemed preposterous. No way this could happen. Tom Roden, 66 at the time, was standing at the door of his home near Manchester, England. “I was just setting out on a walk with my dog when I saw him,” he told a reporter. “I recognized him straight away because of his white tail feathers.”

It was a pigeon. His pigeon. It had been missing for five years. Suddenly it was back. Why? And where were the tens of thousands of pigeons that vanished with him?

It had a name: Champion Whitetail. In 1997, Roden had sent Whitetail and a bunch of other racing birds to France, 430 miles south, to compete in the Royal Pigeon Association’s centenary cross-Channel competition, a major long-distance pigeon race with cash prizes that attracted 60,000 bird entries. The contestants, quietly cooing, were brought to a field near Nantes and released at 6:30 in the morning—that was the race’s motto: “At dawn we go.”

At the signal the birds took flight and, following a deep pigeon instinct, dashed at speeds as high as 50 miles an hour straight back toward their roosts, or “lofts,” all across England. This is something pigeons do. It’s called a homing instinct, and even though many of these animals had never been to France before, didn’t recognize the land below them, and had to cross a wide channel of ocean water before finding the house or roof or backyard from which they came, normally most of these racers would have find their way home.

Whitetail was expected to arrive early, because he was a champion. He’d already won 13 races in his lifetime, had flown across the English Channel 15 times, and had finished the Central Southern Classic from Lessay in northern France against a field of 3,026 birds with the winning time. He was a bird to watch.

More here.

How the Profound Changes in Economics Make Left Versus Right Debates Irrelevant

Eric Beinhocker in Evonomics:

ScreenHunter_1990 May. 31 19.22Economic ideas matter. The writings of Adam Smith over two centuries ago still influence how people in positions of power – in government, business, and the media – think about markets, regulation, the role of the state, and other economic issues today. The words written by Karl Marx in the middle of the 19th century inspired revolutions around the world and provided the ideological foundations for the cold war. The Chicago economists, led by Milton Friedman, set the stage for the Reagan/Thatcher era and now fill Tea Partiers with zeal. The debates of Keynes and Hayek in the 1930s are repeated daily in the op-ed pages and blogosphere today.

Economic thinking is changing. If that thesis is correct – and there are many reasons to believe it is – then historical experience suggests policy and politics will change as well. How significant that change will be remains to be seen. It is still early days and the impact thus far has been limited. Few politicians or policymakers are even dimly aware of the changes underway in economics; but these changes are deep and profound, and the implications for policy and politics are potentially transformative.

For almost 200 years the politics of the west, and more recently of much of the world, have been conducted in a framework of right versus left – of markets versus states, and of individual rights versus collective responsibilities. New economic thinking scrambles, breaks up and re-forms these old dividing lines and debates.

More here.

Tales of African-American History Found in DNA

Carl Zimmer in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_1989 May. 31 18.24The history of African-Americans has been shaped in part by two great journeys.

The first brought hundreds of thousands of Africans to the southern United States as slaves. The second, the Great Migration, began around 1910 and sent six million African-Americans from the South to New York, Chicago and other cities across the country.

In a study published on Friday, a team of geneticists sought evidence for this history in the DNA of living African-Americans. The findings, published in PLOS Genetics, provide a map of African-American genetic diversity, shedding light on both their history and their health.

Buried in DNA, the researchers found the marks of slavery’s cruelties, including further evidence that white slave owners routinely fathered children with women held as slaves.

And there are signs of the migration that led their descendants away from such oppression: Genetically related African-Americans are distributed closely along the routes they took to leave the South, the scientists discovered.

More here.

ENRIQUE VILA-MATAS talks about the future

Enrique-Vila-MatasEnrique Vila-Matas at Music and Literature:

I have come to talk to you about the future. The future of the novel, I suppose, though possibly just the future of this speech. I’m going to describe to you the future as for years I imagined it would be. Put yourselves in 1948, the year I was born, on the August afternoon when music stations in Maryland began to play the sounds of a strange, all but noiseless disc, soon spreading all along the East Coast, leaving a trail of perplexity in anyone who happened to hear them. What was it? Nothing of the kind had ever been heard before, so it still didn’t have a name, but it was—we now know—the first Rock n’ Roll song in history. Whoever heard it was suddenly pitched into the future. The music of that disc seemed to come from the ether and to literally float on the airwaves of Maryland. This, ladies and gentlemen, was the arrival of Rock n’ Roll, and it came with the deep unhurriedness of that which is truly unexpected. The song was called It’s Too Soon to Know, and it was the first recording by The Orioles, five musicians from Baltimore. It sounded strange—which isn’t so strange, bearing in mind that it was the first sign that something was changing.

What thoughts might have crossed the mind of the first person who, hearing Radio Maryland that morning, comprehended that it was the start of a new era? It’s so, went the song, in the halting whispered delivery of singer Sonny Til, it’s too soon, way too soon to know.

I have come to talk to you about the future, which was for years something I thought of as arriving in the same way that Rock music arrived in the year I was born, with the deep unhurriedness of that which is truly unexpected.

more here.

‘The Noise of Time’ by Julian Barnes

Julian-Barnes-The-Noise-of-Time-Cover-100x150Peter Craven at The Sydney Review of Books:

How strange the whirligigs of time are when it comes to literature. It’s only a few decades, a second in the eye of eternity, since Julian Barnes and his then friend and ally Martin Amis represented the new British writing. I remember Barnes saying to me back in the days when I published him in Scripsi and celebrated him when I could – or should – in the literary pages, ‘I think my work and Martin Amis’s both benefited from the fact that the dominant mode of British fiction ceased to be social realism with a comic twist.’

That was in the early nineties when Smarty Anus (as he has long been called) was looking like a behemoth of Dickensian novelistic invention. In books such as London Fields, sordor, sorrow, squalor and sex were all wrapped in the silk (sometimes the cellophane) of Amis’s prose. That prose appeared back then, more than any British prose before it, as something like a lassoing larrikin idiom, prose that could give the Americans at their wildest and most idiolectally inspired a run for their money.

But of course, there had always been another voice in the new British writing — Julian Barnes. It was clear then, and remains so now, that the unassailable masterpiece of the period was Barnes’ shortish novel Flaubert’s Parrot (1984). This strange story of obsession, which distilled the essence of the author ofMadame Bovary via Barnes’ transfiguration of Steegmuller translating the Master, is the work that stands in relation to Amis not only at his grandest but also his most loose and baggy the way Jeffrey Eugenides’ Virgin Suicideswould stand to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest a few years later.

more here.

how francis Bacon constructed his striking faces

C3a8bc308c11b89c305840869ac3394bCraig Raine at The New Statesman:

The Waste Land was one of Francis Bacon’s favourite poems. A phrase from section 2, “A Game of Chess”, exactly epitomises Study of the Human Body (1982): “And other withered stumps of time/Were told upon the walls”. This closing picture, one of 29 paintings on show at Tate Liverpool, depicts a body part, a gross truncation, bereft of torso and head. Topped by its bottom, it is a rump, a sturdy circumcised cock in a haze of pubic hair, and white-booted legs, advancing towards the viewer, clad in cricket pads. We are advised that David Gower, the England batsman, was an inspiration, but I wonder if Eliot’s word “stumps” didn’t also play its part, consciously or sub-consciously, as a verbal trigger.

The whole of Bacon’s masochistic homosexuality is encapsulated in this painting. Most of the indispensable parts are there – the penis, the buttocks, the anus – though the mouth is absent, presumably too tender for the ideal rough encounter. In fact, a mouth-part is there, displaced, but not the lips and tongue. You can see a row of teeth in the right cricket pad where, just below the knee, the white protective ridges have been summarily and severely pruned.

more here.

Triggering the protein that programs cancer cells to kill themselves

From KurzweilAI:

Programmed cell death (a.k.a. apoptosis) is a natural process that removes unwanted cells from the body. Failure of apoptosis can allow cancer cells to grow unchecked or immune cells to inappropriately attack the body. The protein known as Bak is central to apoptosis. In healthy cells, Bak sits in an inert state but when a cell receives a signal to die, Bak transforms into a killer protein that destroys the cell.Institute researchers Sweta Iyer, PhD, Ruth Kluck, PhD, and colleagues unexpectedly discovered that an antibody they had produced to study Bak actually bound to the Bak protein and triggered its activation. They hope to use this discovery to develop drugs that promote cell death.

The researchers used information about Bak’s three-dimensional structure to find out precisely how the antibody activated Bak. “It is well known that Bak can be activated by a class of proteins called ‘BH3-only proteins’ that bind to a groove on Bak. We were surprised to find that despite our antibody binding to a completely different site on Bak, it could still trigger activation,” Kluck said. “The advantage of our antibody is that it can’t be ‘mopped up’ and neutralized by pro-survival proteins in the cell, potentially reducing the chance of drug resistance occurring.”

More here.

Skepticism about skepticism

by Dave Maier

If you ever meet a guy who tells you that he is a skeptic, most likely he means that he doesn’t believe in angels or fairies or anything “metaphysical”. Maybe he is a member of CSICOP (the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, publishers of Skeptical Inquirer magazine). We should, he will tell you, examine the evidence carefully before committing to anything, and be neither gullible nor dogmatic. But of course he himself believes plenty of things, and one person’s skeptic is another’s denialist. What, after all, is “intelligent design” if not skepticism about the biological theory of evolution, and climate change “denialism” if not skepticism about climate science? In all such cases the objector accuses his opponents of epistemological dirty pool and demands that the matter be instead illuminated by the sweet light of reason, as manifested (naturally) in his own views and the ironclad evidence for same.

Such battles about which particular things to believe do not concern the philosopher, who has bigger, more theoretical fish to fry. But these fish can smell pretty fishy to those primarily concerned to beat back the dark forces of dogma and superstition (or “metaphysics”). Perhaps they should be left out for the cat.

Bill_nye_science_guy_2015Not long ago, for example, Bill Nye the Science Guy opined on the value of philosophy. He was not impressed. One of his gripes was that philosophers spill lots of ink on pointless questions such as whether there’s really a real world out there, or whether instead we might all be in the Matrix, maaaan [*bong hit*]. There is much indefensible stupidity and ignorance packed into Nye’s short remarks, and it is not our task today is to air it out, but I did want to say a few things about the very idea of philosophical skepticism.

As it is presented in popular works and (sometimes) in Phil 101, the skeptical question is indeed given in just this form: how do we know anything at all about what’s “out there”? Most of the time we think we know all kinds of things, but here comes the skeptic to burst our bubble, and put everything we thought we knew into question. Maybe we all (or just you) are simply dreaming! Maybe we don’t know anything at all! And yet of course we do, for that way madness lies; so the whole thing looks like a perverse, logic-chopping sideshow. Why should we care about such nonsense?

Read more »

Searching For America

by Michael Liss


Film still from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

It is time for navel-gazing here in the US.

We are about to have an election in which the two likely nominees have managed to alienate the electorate to an unprecedented degree. It has led to a surreal atmosphere. Hillary Clinton slogs on with a message that brings to mind the appeal of an appointment with a dental hygienist—it won’t be the highlight of your day, but it’s the healthy choice. Donald Trump has managed to do something quite brilliant—he has identified his target audience, taken disgust with dysfunction, mixed it with a shot of anger, and distilled it into one easily digestible slogan: “Make America Great Again.”

It is a genius-level move by a master salesman. With those few words, Trump seizes for himself and his supporters a core identity as the true heirs of a legacy of American preeminence. Like a classic old building, American greatness is still here—it’s just covered under layers of accumulated grime. With the right man in charge, someone of vigor and boldness, we can sandblast it all away and have a palace—even a cathedral—that celebrates. As we once were, so shall we be again.

But who were we? To what are we returning? That’s a fascinating question, because to own something, you need to be able to define it. And history lacks the clarity of a mathematical proof or a replicable scientific experiment. To paraphrase an interesting point Mary Beard makes in SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, the historian engages in a work of reconstruction which, by definition, is self-limiting. When the written word is absent or suspect, you learn about things by piecing together inference and fact, as if you were reassembling a broken amphora. You can scientifically analyze the contents, you can date the time it was fired, you can make assumptions about the economic and social standing of the owner and the community he lived in, but, in the end, what you have in front of you is likely the remains of an attractive, once useful, pot. A pot—not an unimpeachable set of facts about the nature of the people who used it.

Read more »

Monday Poem

Pakistan is digging trenches —graves for people who have not yet died
as the country prepares for another record-breaking heat wave. Scientists
place the blame for rising temperatures squarely on climate change.
…………………………………………………….IndiaTimes, May 23, 2016

Pakistan pregraves 03

Diggers Dig

...diggers dig.
spades trace dolorous arcs in dry air
making long scars for many corpses.

diggers dig.
sharp bell-like clangs of steel on stone
echo from the depths of this new scar.
the swoosh of pick-heads through air
end in thuds as their pikes take bites.

diggers dig.
men sling dry earth over shoulders.
they lean into their work.
they heave the earth upon itself
raising mountains of waist-high ranges
that parallel the long straight wound they carve.

these sweating ghosts-to-be
who may soon be thrown as well
into the coarse cut of their work,
a ditch that will soon be healed, forgotten, lost
when the undulating range piled by gravediggers
is thrown back in to bury hearts that break,
covering myriad sins: myopia,
misanthropy, masochism, mistake,

diggers dig
this ditch where now-breathing, sweating,

living, loving dead will go—

diggers dig.
we’re so good to ourselves, so profligate

we‘ll waste even our own last breath,
we'll make a place for it in a hewn slash,
bury it in our blue mother’s flesh,

the one we have not wisely loved
but sold for cash instead

by Jim Culleny


Memorial Day: The Heartbreaking Convergence of Freedom and Fear

by Humera Afridi

6a01bb08d6f655970d01b8d1ef6b5c970c-800wiMere steps from Castle Clinton in Battery Park, on the southern tip of Manhattan, stands a striking bronze sculpture titled, The Immigrants. Created in 1973 by the Spanish sculptor Luis Sanguino, it portrays a group of individuals who have undertaken an arduous voyage. Their gripping expressions and postures tell a story of endurance—borne with patience and prayer; kindled by hope for a life of dignity, free of fear, whose nimbus-like promise will surely unfurl in this new world where they have disembarked.

Amid the deep-green lawns, beds of blooming tulips, and the sunny melodies of street jazz, the bronze figures beckoned. I spotted them on my lunch break, a fortnight or so before Memorial Day. Their raw emotions and the naked display of the human spirit expressed in all its earnestness caught me by surprise. Here in plain sight was a visual testimony to the search for sanctuary—a struggle that is painfully alive in a world beset by wars, but also, immediate and close to home, visceral in the lives of many thousands of immigrants in America who having found refuge here, nevertheless, now tragically live in fear of being deported and separated from their families.

A figure kneels, bare-chested with head thrown back, arms spread wide, broken chain-links dangling from fingers; another clasps both hands in fervent prayer, gaze directed heavenward. Disconcertingly candid and telling is the stance of one at the front of the line, who crouches, with a hand outstretched—surely symbolic of the labor of immigrants, and former slaves, upon whose foundation this nation is built. In the middle of the group stands a robed male of dignified bearing, arm held across his breast in a gesture of allegiance? of self-determination?

Read more »

The Banality Of Neoliberalism (As Exemplified By The Clintons) And Why Americans Never Saw Its Evil (Until Occupy, Bernie Sanders And Donald Trump Alerted Us)

by Evert Cilliers aka Adam AshHillarybillflirt

If it hadn't been for the disaster that was George W. Bush, the worst president of our time would be that arch-neoliberal serial philanderer Bill Clinton.

Clinton was almost as crappy an a-hole as W.

George W killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi women and children in a monstrous war crime. Bill Clinton merely made the lives of millions of Americans utterly miserable.

1. How Bad Was Bill Clinton?

Breath in the stench from the pile of crap that Slick Willy stuffed up our nostrils.

He destroyed thousands of good American jobs by exporting them with NAFTA.

He created the 2008 Wall Street crash and the Great Recession when he signed the two laws that repealed Glass-Steagall and removed financial derivatives from all oversight — the two worst laws signed by any president ever.

Internationally, he refused to intervene in Rwanda, and allowed 800,000 Tutsis to be brutally genocided.

He exploded the size of our Black and Latino prison population with his harsh 1994 crime bill and the building of many privatized prisons.

He doubled the number of our poor with his welfare reforms (today 47 million Americans live in poverty, and over 20% of our kids are poor, a higher rate than any other developed nation).

Clinton's presidency left Americans jailed, poorer, and brutally screwed in every sensitive orifice. He forced many of us to eat an eternal shit sandwich, a record of destruction topped by George W. only because W committed the satanic war crime of the Iraq War.

Read more »

between mountains and the sea (山海间)

Christine and charles taylorby Leanne Ogasawara

I was recently reading a book by the dreadful Robert Kaplan on the topic of China and the South China Sea, in which the author suggested that Chinese culture exists in one of its purest forms in Malaysia. He argued that only in the overseas Chinese communities that have continuously existed scattered around the Pacific Rim has Chinese civilization survived, uninfected by the tumultuous events of the Communist Revolution. Similarly, I have a friend who is a political philosopher and expert in Chinese philosophy who believes that it is in Japan and Korea where one can most easily find the artifacts of the Chinese civilization–specifically Confucian philosophy. Japan is, after all, a place where a lot of cultural practices and material culture from China have been preserved. And not just China, for much Silk Road artifacts are preserved in Japan as well, for the country has long stood as a kind of terminus, lying at the end of the line in East Asia.

And speaking of Confucianism and the Communist Revolution, have you ever wondered why Confucian philosophy has such a bad name in the West? Largely unknown–except in its fortune-cookie format– if it is recognized at all, the tradition is rarely fully appreciated. This is partly because of its association with patriarchy and elitism– and this bad wrap is something that was invented by the Chinese communists, who strongly discouraged Confucian thinking as being counter-productive to the egalitarian ideals of the revolution. (They were especially worried by its patriarchal stance toward women).

Personally, I've always thought this to be a shame as Chinese philosophy happens to be one of the world's oldest existing philosophies; one which has arguably impacted more human lives than any other philosophy– past or present. It stands as one of the world's greatest philosophical traditions, and it is also my own personal belief that Chinese philosophy–in particular Confucian philosophy– that more than any other tradition is most compelling for what it tells us about the Good Life.

Read more »

Franz Wright’s Poetry of Remission

by Evan Edwards

ScreenHunter_1985 May. 30 10.47I have a copy of Franz Wright's Walking to Martha’s Vineyard on my bedside table. It has been there since my son was born last year. I’ve been trying to educate myself on contemporary poets for more than a year now. Wright was the one who happened to stick the most readily. I want my son to know about poetry; good, modern poetry that speaks to the vibrancy of the present. Of course, we’ll always read the classics, but I want him to also get an education in the words of those who aren’t yet dead, who are living and here and maybe coming to speak somewhere nearby at some point so that we can go together to hear a great poet speak in person and then walk out of the lecture hall feeling the brief surge of ecstasy you feel when you experience something extraordinary. Maybe it’s my obstinacy that drew me to him, or maybe it’s just the way that irony works, because of course Franz Wright is dead.

I first encountered Wright through the blog of a poet I met when I lived in Indianapolis. In the interview he gave, I remember feeling overwhelmed by the way he spoke about his recent economic troubles. The way he hadn’t been invited to speak or teach or fraternize (to be part of the brother/sisterhood of poets) since he’d made some admittedly snide and vicious remarks about MFA programs. How he was struggling with cancer. How he didn’t have the means to keep up the struggle for much longer. He was in remission, and had a tenuous relationship with hope. The cancer would, eventually, come back and then end his life in May of last year.

The word remission comes up one time in the interview, in the context of saying that he’s posted on Facebook saying that he is in the state of remission, and that he can give talks and readings, if anyone wants to get in touch with him. There was something very tender and heartbreaking in that statement. Here is one of the greatest living poets, recipient of a fucking Pulitzer Prize in poetry, Guggenheim fellow, son of poetry royalty, subtlest and most brutal portrayer of spiritual suffering, reaching out for work through his personal social media page. The desperation of that. It seemed hauntingly appropriate to speak of remission in that moment.

Read more »

The Prescriptivist’s Progress

by Ryan Ruby

PilgrimsprogressbookThis month, two minor controversies revived the specter of the “language wars” and reintroduced the literary internet to the distinction between prescriptivism and descriptivism. One began when Han Kang's novel The Vegetarian won the Man Booker Prize and readers took to their search engines en masse to look up the word “Kafkaesque,” which had been used by the book's publishers and reviewers to describe it. Remarking upon the trend, Merriam-Webster noted sourly: “some argue that ‘Kafkaesque' is so overused that it's begun to lose its meaning.” A few weeks before, Slate's Laura Miller had lodged a similar complaint about the abuse of the word “allegory.” “An entire literary tradition is being forgotten,” she warned, “because writers use the term allegory to mean, like, whatever they want.”

When it comes to semantics, prescriptivists insist that precise rules ought to govern linguistic usage. Without such rules there would be no criteria by which to judge whether a word was being used correctly or incorrectly, and thus no way to fix its meaning. Descriptivists, by contrast, argue that a quick glance at the history of any natural language will show that, whether we like it or not, words are vague and usage changes over time. The meaning of a word is whatever a community of language users understands it to mean at any given moment. In both of the above cases, Merriam-Webster and Miller were flying the flag of prescriptivism, protesting the kind of semantic drift that results from the indiscriminate, over-frequent usages of a word, a drift that has no doubt been exacerbated thanks to the internet itself, which has increased the recorded usages of words and accelerated their circulation.

Read more »

Grandpa, Proust, Ulysses and World War II

by Bill Benzon

ScreenHunter_1984 May. 30 10.34My paternal grandfather, Axel Benzon, was a Dane. He and his wife, Louise, immigrated to America early in the 20th Century. He was trained as an engineer, was educated in the classics, and took up photography and woodcarving. He ended his professional career as chief engineer of the main U.S. Post Office in Manhattan.

He kept a diary, the pages of which are generically entitled: “Leaves from my diary.” It’s not handwritten, kept in one of those blank books one can buy at a stationary store. It’s typed on ordinary 8.5 by 11 paper. I’ve got a photocopy of much or most of it, but, judging by his index, not all.

In commemoration of this Memorial Day, May 31, 2016, I would like to share some passages from his diary, passages written just before the United States was drawn into the war. As you read these passages keep in mind that you are reading the reflections of a well-educated middle-class European who had immigrated to the United States.

Read more »