Sunday Poem

I keep lighting candles on my stoop and watching the wind snuff them out

I keep thinking about Breonna Taylor asleep/ between fresh sheets/ I keep thinking/ about her skin cooling after a shower/ about her hair wrapped in a satin bonnet/ I think about what she may have dreamed that night/ keep thinking about her bedroom/ whether she had painted it recently/ argued with her partner about the undertones in that paint/ this one more blue/ this one more pink/ that she may have felt more at home now that she had chosen the color on her walls/ I keep thinking about how she could use her hands to keep blood moving through a human heart/ how she could use her hands to stanch the flow of blood until platelets arrived/ I wonder how many times she heard/ thank you for saving/ please save/ I wonder how many nights she could/ I keep thinking about her when I lie in bed at night/ when I wake up and look in the mirror/ when I walk to my front door/ I keep thinking about the life she wanted to build/ whether she had her eye on a ring and was dropping hints to the man who chose to protect her/ whether he was working on it/ whether it was in his sock drawer already as he waited for the right time/ I keep wondering why a black woman’s death alone can’t begin the revolution/ whether the sweet smoke rising to the heavens across this nation is offering enough/

by Amy M. Alvarez
Split This Rock

Did life on Earth come from space? Chummy microbes offer clues.

Eva Botkin-Kowacki in The Christian Science Monitor:

Most scientists say that Earth-life probably did originate on Earth. The standard thinking goes that somehow the conditions were ideal for just the right minerals to come together in a series of chemical reactions that yielded self-replicating molecules, that is, early life. But the particulars of that scenario have been tricky to pin down, leaving room for other possibilities. The concept of panspermia was kicked off, in part, by the humongous eruption of a volcano on the island of Krakatoa in 1883, says Dr. Melosh. The eruption completely sterilized the island, but just months later, life began to flourish anew. Naturalists explained that the miraculous regeneration came from seeds and insects floating on the winds or the tides from nearby islands, and that got some scientists thinking about the cosmos. Perhaps early Earth was like a barren island, too, they speculated, and the seeds of life or life itself drifted around space and alighted on our planet at just the right moment.

Since then, scientists have learned that the bombardment of cosmic radiation makes it extremely difficult for any kind of life as we know it to survive a journey through space. But for some scientists, the panspermia hypothesis still holds promise.

Dr. Melosh is one of those scientists, and some four decades ago, he proposed that, rather than drifting naked through space, microorganisms might survive that harsh environment in a protected place within rocks. According to this conjecture, life may have been present inside rocks on, say, Mars. And when an impact on the red planet ejected some of those rocks into space, one eventually wound up landing on Earth. Indeed, of 60,000 or so meteorites discovered on Earth so far, nearly 300 are thought to have originated on Mars.

More here.

Tom Stoppard: A Life

Stefan Collini at The Guardian:

How our experience in the theatre during one of his plays relates to our lives outside is a question that has nagged at discussions of Stoppard’s standing as a writer. His kind of quantum dramatics messes with our minds and our understanding of time and we love it, but when we get home we still have to set the alarm for work the next day. Does this mean that his plays are little more than a diverting display of verbal fireworks, clever but of no significance, or are deeper themes about our experience of life being addressed? At the very least, his work reveals a constant endeavour to decipher the puzzles of existence. As Hannah, a character in one of his best-loved plays, Arcadia, says: “It’s wanting to know that makes us matter. Otherwise we’re going out the way we came in.” She’s not just referring to the exit from the theatre.

more here.

Judith Butler on the culture wars, JK Rowling and living in “anti-intellectual times”

Alona Ferber in New Statesman:

Thirty years ago, the philosopher Judith Butler*, now 64, published a book that revolutionised popular attitudes on gender. Gender Trouble, the work she is perhaps best known for, introduced ideas of gender as performance. It asked how we define “the category of women” and, as a consequence, who it is that feminism purports to fight for. Today, it is a foundational text on any gender studies reading list, and its arguments have long crossed over from the academy to popular culture. In the three decades since Gender Trouble was published, the world has changed beyond recognition. In 2014, TIME declared a “Transgender Tipping Point”. Butler herself has moved on from that earlier work, writing widely on culture and politics. But disagreements over biological essentialism remain, as evidenced by the tensions over trans rights within the feminist movement. How does Butler, who is Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature at Berkeley, see this debate today? And does she see a way to break the impasse? Butler recently exchanged emails with the New Statesman about this issue. The exchange has been edited.


Alona Ferber: In Gender Trouble, you wrote that “contemporary feminist debates over the meanings of gender lead time and again to a certain sense of trouble, as if the indeterminacy of gender might eventually culminate in the failure of feminism”. How far do ideas you explored in that book 30 years ago help explain how the trans rights debate has moved into mainstream culture and politics?

Judith Butler: I want to first question whether trans-exclusionary feminists are really the same as mainstream feminists. If you are right to identify the one with the other, then a feminist position opposing transphobia is a marginal position. I think this may be wrong. My wager is that most feminists support trans rights and oppose all forms of transphobia.

More here.

The Haunting of Alma Fielding

Lucy Lethbridge at Literary Review:

In 1938, Alma Fielding, a 34-year-old housewife from the south London suburb of Thornton Heath, apparently became possessed by a violent spirit. It started one evening when Alma was in bed afflicted by kidney pain while her builder husband, Les, was suffering from tooth problems next to her. After seeing a six-finger handprint appear on the mirror, the couple were attacked by a flying eiderdown, felt a dank wind blowing and saw a glass spontaneously shatter. In the weeks and months that followed, the Fieldings, their teenage son, Don, and their lodger, George, were terrorised by what seemed wildly malevolent paranormal forces. Sunday Pictorial reporters sent to investigate were met with flying eggs, teacups breaking in midair and a brass fender thumping down a staircase.

more here.

Totalitarian Friendship: Carl Schmitt in Contemporary China

Jackson T. Reinhardt in Inquiries Journal:

For the past several years, the study of German jurist Carl Schmitt has exploded in . Floria Sapio remarks that Schmitt has enjoyed “enormous currency among mainland Chinese scholars since the 2000s.” Even though Schmitt has received a recent revitalization of interest of his thought among Western scholars, he is still known primarily for his aphoristic (and largely untranslated) texts on political theory and his infamous association with the Nazi Party. Yet, the reason that this esoteric and controversial thinker has garnered any consideration within Chinese academia is no mystery: Carl Schmitt was a political philosopher of illiberalism. He believed that liberalism had “a tendency to undermine a community’s political existence” because a state founded on such an ideology “will lack the  to protect [citizens] from external enemies.”

What is needed, Schmidt argued, is “a strong state… with the capacity to defend… ‘the unity of the state.’” While his argument in totum is more elaborate, it is Schmitt’s hostility to liberalism as embodied in Western political , and ideology that has spurred interest in his work in China, for “[the Chinese] now feel… [that] liberal thought… doesn’t help them understand the dynamics of Chinese life today or offer a model for the future.” In Mark Lillia’s conversations with Chinese scholars and students, there is a pervasive desire “across the political spectrum… that China needs a stronger state, not a weaker one.” Liberalism has not provided an answer.

More here.

Democratizing the Supreme Court

United States Supreme Court Building

Ryan Doerfler and Samuel Moyn make the case:

Progressives are taking Supreme Court reform seriously for the first time in almost a century. Owing to the rise of the political and academic left following the 2008 financial crisis and the hotly contested appointments of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, progressives increasingly view the Supreme Court as posing a serious challenge to the successful implementation of ambitious legislation like the “Green New Deal.”

Despite this once-in-a-generation energy around the idea of court reform, the popular and academic discussion of how to reform the Supreme Court has been unduly constrained and is now at risk of closing prematurely. This is the case with regard to its mechanism and its purpose alike. On the left, historical memory has limited debate almost entirely to “court packing.” Meanwhile the center has occupied itself with how to restore the Supreme Court’s legitimacy, rescuing the institution from its regrettable slide into partisanship. And now with the Court appearing to moderate to preempt legislative reform of the institution, the concern is that progressives will drop their demands for change, satisfied with a few modest judicial concessions.

This Article aims to keep the discussion of court reform alive and, just as importantly, to significantly expand its bounds. It does so, first, by urging progressives to reject the legitimacy frame of the issue, which treats the problem with the Supreme Court as one of politicization, in favor of an openly progressive frame in which the question is how to enable democracy within our constitutional scheme.

More here.

Did Xi Just Save the World?

(Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

Adam Tooze in Foreign Policy:

China will scale up its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions by adopting more vigorous policies and measures. We aim to have [carbon dioxide] emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.”

Xi Jinping’s speech via video link to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 22 was not widely trailed in advance. But with those two short sentences China’s leader may have redefined the future prospects for humanity.

That may sound like hyperbole, but in the world of climate politics it is hard to exaggerate China’s centrality. Thanks to the gigantic surge in economic growth since 2000 and its reliance on coal-fired electricity generation, China is now by far the largest emitter of carbon dioxide. At about 28 percent of the global total, the carbon dioxide produced in China (as opposed to that consumed in the form of Chinese exports) is about as much as that produced by the United States, European Union, and India combined. Per capita, its emissions are now greater than those of the EU if we count carbon dioxide emissions on a production rather than a consumption basis.

Global warming is produced not by the annual flows of carbon but by the stocks that have accumulated over time in the Earth’s atmosphere. Allowing an equal ration for every person on the planet, it remains the case that the historic responsibility for excessive carbon accumulation lies overwhelmingly with the United States and Europe. Still today China’s emissions per capita are less than half those of the United States. But as far as future emissions are concerned, everything hinges on China.

More here.

It’s Time for a Debt “Jubilee”

Richard Vague over at INET Economics:

We were drowning in debt before the COVID-19 crisis, and now we are deluged in it.

“Total debt” is the sum of public (government) and private-sector debt—and private-sector debt is comprised of business and household debt: for example, student loans, mortgages, auto loans, small business loans, and more. In 1951, total debt stood at 128 percent of our national GDP. By the end of 2019, total debt had doubled to 256 percent. (See Chart 1). Government debt has increased markedly and gets the most attention, but we should be more concerned about the rapid growth in private-sector debt. During this time span, government debt has gone from 74 percent to 106 percent of GDP, but private sector debt has grown even faster, tripling from 54 percent to 150 percent. This debt level burdens individuals and small businesses and stultifies economic growth.

Chart 1

As both the government and American households and businesses use debt to fight the economic collapse caused by the pandemic, these debt ratios continue to spike. From January through May of 2020, private sector debt, which was already far too high, grew from 150 percent to 160 percent of GDP, though it is now moderating—and government debt climbed from 106 percent to 135 percent. By the end of 2021, these numbers could easily rise to over 160 percent and 140 percent, respectively, for a total of 300 percent or more of GDP (see Table A).

More here.

Can There Be a Global Intellectual History of Caste?

Shuvatri Dasgupta over at the blog of the Journal of the History of Ideas:

The association of the category of “global” with an intellectual history of caste is still quite an anomaly. However, recent works like Isabel Wilkerson’s widely acclaimed book Caste: The Origin of our Discontent, establish the globality of caste by associating its histories of oppression in India with the histories of racial exclusion in America. Recently, Dr. Suraj Yengde and Dr. Cornel West have collaborated to create a transnational language of resistance against the violence and atrocities understood as racism and casteism in the present day. Anupama Rao in her review of Wilkerson’s work, applauds the author’s innovative approach, but at the same time cautions us against establishing theoretical equivalence between the history of race and caste, although their manifestations of violence and exclusion might be identical. Rao in her earlier work read lower caste resistances as models for emancipatory self-fashioning, in turn arguing that these political acts remain a crucial part of the many histories of democracy in South Asia.

Whilst these works provide very productive ways for engaging with caste, I argue that a global intellectual history methodology provides an even wider set of possibilities for writing a conceptual history of caste. In this essay I will address two central questions: First, how can a history of caste benefit from the methodologies of global intellectual history? Second, how can this global concept history of caste contribute to shaping the methodological debates on global intellectual history?

More here.

Trump as the Ultimate Triumph of Neoliberalism

Branko Milanovic in Global Policy:

Modern capitalism societies are built on a dichotomy: in the political space decisions are (to be) made on an equal basis with everybody having the same say and with the structure of power being flat; in the economic space the power is held by the owners of capital, the decisions are dictatorial, and the structure of power is hierarchical. The dichotomy was always a complex balancing act: at times, the political principles of nominal equality tended to intrude into the economic space and to limit the power of owners: trade unions, ability to sue  companies, regulations regarding discrimination, hiring and firing. At other times, it was the economic sphere that invaded the political: the wealthy were able to buy politicians and impose the laws they liked.
The entire history of capitalism can be readily understood as the struggle between these two principles: is the democratic principle “exported” from politics  to rule in economics too, or is the hierarchical principle of company organization to invade the political sphere. Social democracy was essentially the former; neoliberalism was the latter.
Neoliberalism justified and promoted the introduction of purely economic and hierarchical principles in the political life. While it maintained the pretense of equality (one-person one-vote), it eroded it through the ability of the rich to select, fund, and make elect the politicians friendly to their interests.

More here.

We should wish Trump well. But he’s been astoundingly irresponsible at every turn

Richard Wolffe in The Guardian:

A veil of solemnity descends upon the land at times like this, when elected officials or public figures get sick or die. We wish them speedy recovery, or extend sympathies, as we should. We ignore their faults and failings, as we would want our own ignored. These are the norms of politics and public life. Established norms, like behaving with dignity and self-restraint in a presidential debate, or condemning racist terrorists and murderers. For the record, we should all wish Donald and Melania Trump a full and speedy recovery. But that does not answer the fundamental question this president will leave behind when he leaves office. What norms survive a man who takes pleasure in destroying norms?

First, let’s place the current norms in context. Concern for a person’s health – or respect for their death – should not suppress an honest discussion about their own conduct. You can’t ignore a smoker’s choices as you lament their lung cancer. And we can’t ignore the president’s choices in a pandemic, even as we wish for his recovery from Covid-19. From the beginning, Trump has been wrong about almost everything to do with the coronavirus. Even as he knew about the pandemic’s dangers, his policy choices were recklessly, dumbfoundingly, disastrously wrong. At every turn.

The pandemic didn’t disappear like a miracle, or with the summer. It couldn’t be treated with an injection of disinfectant or bright light. It wasn’t halted by banning some air passengers (but not all) from China. Testing, tracing and mask-wearing has never been established on a national basis to stop the national spread of the disease. For months, Trump claimed that cases were only rising because testing was rising. So now he knows, as he has all along, that his own case exists regardless of testing. Which brings us to the most damaging impact of all, beyond the physical damage to the body of a 74-year-old man who makes mysterious trips to hospital. Trump’s infection with Covid-19 destroys what’s left of his credibility as someone who can lead a nation through the pandemic. If he can’t protect himself, how on earth can he protect American citizens?

More here.

Saturday Poem

Electric Elegy

Farewell, German radio with your green eye
and your bulky box,
together almost composing
a body and soul. (Your lamps glowed
with a pink, salmony light, like Bergson’s
deep self.)
……………. Through the thick fabric
of the speaker (my ear glued to you as
to the lattice of a confessional), Mussolini once whispered,
Hitler shouted, Stalin calmly explained,
Bierut hissed, Gomulka held endlessly forth.
But no one, radio, will accuse you of treason;
no, your only sin was obedience: absolute,
tender faithfulness to the megahertz;
whoever came was welcomed, whoever was sent
was received.
………………… Of course I know only
the songs of Schubert brought you the jade
of true joy. To Chopin’s waltzes
your electric heart throbbed delicately
and firmly and the cloth over the speaker
pulsated like the breasts of amorous girls
in old novels.
………………… Not with the news, though,
especially not Radio Free Europe or the BBC.
Then your eye would grow nervous,
the green pupil widen and shrink
as though its atropine dose had been altered.
Mad seagulls lived inside you, and Macbeth.
At night, forlorn signals found shelter
in your rooms, sailors cried for help,
the young comet cried, losing her head.
Your old age was announced by a cracked voice,
then rattles, coughing, and finally blindness
(your eye faded), and total silence.
Sleep peacefully, German radio,
dream Schumann and don’t waken
when the next dictator-rooster crows.

by Adam Zagajewsky
The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry
Vintage Books, 1996
Polish; trans. Renata Gorczynski,

Benjamin Ivry & C.K. Williams

Will Self: The English writer’s new drug memoir, ‘Will,’ dives from Hampstead Garden Suburb into an underworld

Mardean Isaac in Tablet:

Self’s overt commitment to the pursuit of self-derangement and the unchecked development of his independent sensibility mark him as one of the most unusual British writers of his time. His fiction, consisting mostly of satirical novels of the grotesque, is the product of deep-seated literary influences and intellectual orientations. The central reason that a broad perception of Self—who is known for writing books usually shunned as deliberately difficult, verbose, and unreadable—exists in Britain, is his public persona, mainly expressed on television panel shows. Through his great height (6’5”), confrontational visage, and a sepulchral voice that sounds like it has traveled a long way to reach us, he exudes a blend of gloom and antic joviality.

His new memoir, titled Will, told in the third person, represents an unprecedented foray into Self’s experience, even as it refers to some of the public aspects of his life as a writer.

More here.

Quantum entanglement realized between distant large objects

The Niels Bohr Institute at

A team of researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, have succeeded in entangling two very different quantum objects. The result has several potential applications in ultra-precise sensing and quantum communication and is now published in Nature Physics.

Entanglement is the basis for  and quantum sensing. It can be understood as a quantum link between two objects which makes them behave as a single quantum object.

Researchers succeeded in making entanglement between a mechanical oscillator—a vibrating dielectric membrane—and a cloud of atoms, each acting as a tiny magnet, or what physicists call “spin.” These very different entities were possible to entangle by connecting them with photons, particles of light. Atoms can be useful in processing quantum information and the membrane—or mechanical quantum systems in general—can be useful for storage of quantum information.

More here.

The Martyrdom of Soleimani in the Propaganda Art of Iran

Amir Ahmadi Arian in the New York Review of Books:

One spring morning, on a return visit to Iran in 2015, I was sitting in a taxi stuck in traffic in Tehran’s Towhid Square and scanning the image-plastered dashboard to kill time. I took in the familiar snapshots: Los Angeles singers like Dariush and Ebi, scantily clad Bollywood actresses, framed verses from Qur’an swinging underneath the rear mirror, and an amulet dangling from its little frame. But amid this collage, there was also a photo of someone I had never seen before: a severe but distinguished-looking uniformed man. I pointed to the picture, and spoke.

“Do you like Soleimani?” I asked the taxi driver.

“Oh, of course,” he said. “He’s my man.” Then, seeing the confusion on my face, he added, “I hate mullahs as much as anyone, believe me. But Hajj Qassem is different.”

It was after that encounter that I began to notice how ubiquitous the image of Soleimani, a man whose name few people had known just a few years earlier, had become. In the windows of corner stores, on top of car trunks and van doors—posters of him were everywhere. Just like my cab driver, ordinary people had begun to revere him despite his steadfast loyalty to the system so many of them despised.

More here.

Women Philosophers of Seventeenth-Century England

David Cunning at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

The selected correspondence between Masham and Locke is fascinating to say the least. One of the exchanges treats the topic of religious enthusiasm. In response to Locke’s dismissal of religious enthusiasm as having no epistemological value, Masham notes that Locke might be thinking too narrowly of enthusiasm and indeed that there appears to be a version of it that readies the mind for reflection — a “Divine Sagacitie which is onely Competible to Persons of Pure and Unspoted Minds and without which Reason is not successful in the Contemplation of the Highest matters” (133-34). In another exchange, Masham presses Locke on how an empiricist can account for the formation of an idea of eternity in a finite human mind. Masham argues that the content of that idea does not represent eternity, but merely finite time repeated; that wouldn’t be an idea of eternity at all (184). Here she is gesturing at her own (Cambridge) Platonism and hinting that there are other entities about which Locke thinks we can reason — for example God — but where Lockean empiricism does not allow us to have ideas of them. Masham argues that at the very least finite minds are pre-formed with dispositions and traces, without which many of our ideas would never take shape (183). A third topic that is prominent in the exchanges between Masham and Locke is the question of whether or not the ethical doctrine of Stoicism can be lived by embodied human beings. For example, Masham says that if Epictetus and others are correct, then “Reason Teaches me . . . to be Contended with the World as it tis, and to make the Best of everything in it” (159).

more here.