Women Qawwali Singers

In the comments to my posting yesterday of several qawwali videos, John left a comment asking “Where are the women? Are they barred from singing this kind of music? Who are the great women qawwali singers?” Srijith appropriately replied that, “Qawwali has been traditionally a male art form. I would say one of the most famous female exponents is Abida Parveen.” So here’s an Abida Parveen video:

And my friend Shabbir Kazmi responded by reminding us that many Indian and Pakistani movies of yesteryear used to stage qawwali competitions between male and female qawwali parties, and by sending this lovely video of a qawwali from the film Barsaat Ki Raat (do check it out, and wait a couple of minutes into the video for the women to come in):

Daphne’s unruly passions

From The Guardian:Daphne1

‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’, the opening of Rebecca, is Daphne du Maurier’s most quoted line. And from 10 May, the centenary of her birth, we should all be prepared to revisit Manderley repeatedly, as in a recurring dream. For du Maurier is about to be comprehensively celebrated. The BBC plans a double helping: a new drama, Daphne, by Amy Jenkins and a documentary by Rick Stein, The Road to Manderley. In Fowey, Cornwall, where she spent most of her writing life, there will be a Daphne du Maurier festival between 10 and 19 May that will include talks, concerts and guided walks. There will also be a literary conference in which her son, Kits Browning, will take part. Justine Picardie has chosen this moment to reconstitute du Maurier in fiction, as a detective in her thriller Daphne, and Virago is about to publish The Daphne du Maurier Companion.

Why is it that du Maurier still has such a hold? Why do so many women writers (with the exception of PD James, who voted Rebecca as ‘worst’ novel) want to write about her? After spending the past weeks submerged in the novels, I can volunteer one thing, and it is not an answer, more the beginning of a question. Du Maurier was mistress of calculated irresolution. She did not want to put her readers’ minds at rest. She wanted her riddles to persist. She wanted the novels to continue to haunt us beyond their endings. And several of them do.

According to her biographer, Margaret Forster, du Maurier used to make lists of what she hoped to achieve. ‘Number one was atmosphere.

More here. (For Sheherzad and Sara, two “Rebecca” fans I know).

Testing the Authenticity of Organic Foods

From Scientific American:Organic

There is a growing market for organic foods that are supposed to be free of pesticides, hormones and synthetic chemicals before they can be labeled as such. Consumers, eager for chemical-free products, plunk down close to $14 billion annually for organic fare, according to the Organic Trade Association, a North American organization dedicated to promoting organic farming. But how do they know that the food they’re getting—and paying a premium for—is really organic? British scientists have come up with a new test that determines the organic pedigree of products on store shelves by measuring the amount of nitrogen they hold.

To be considered organic, crops must be grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides on a farm that has passed a rigorous certification process.

More here.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

nussbaum interview


In your reflections on human capacities, you underline the importance of a correct and harmonic physical and psychical development and of the possibility for the individual to express his ideas and emotions in a free and open way. Well, if even in the rich West women suffer from restrictions of different kind, don’t you think that these rights are systematically denied to women in the Islamic world?

I think that there is no such thing as “the Islamic world,” and thus no such thing as “a way” to be a woman in it. There are many types of Muslims, and, like Christians and Jews, they find many different ways to be women within their traditions. My Muslim friends in India do not fit any single stereotype – and why should one expect them to? – any more than do my Buddhist or Hindu friends. I think that in all religions there are people who want to live a traditional life and people who want to be part of modernity, and we ought to make room for both and show both equal respect. When I go to the traditional Jewish neighborhood of Boston, called Brookline (as I have recently done, to buy Passover gifts), I see many women living a traditional Orthodox life (and that does not mean that they are not lawyers and doctors and so forth, more or less everyone in Brookline is a lawyer or a doctor!), but of course there are also people like me, whose version of Judaism is Enlightenment-based and modern. We can respect one another, and we do.

more from Reset DOC via (TPM) here.



Mrs. Garvey’s Sixth-Grade Class

If you ever desire to see a large group of dour young girls staring humorlessly at you, go to Mrs. Garvey’s sixth-grade class during sex ed and make a vagina joke. But don’t do the one about the very hungry caterpillar, because Mrs. Garvey will make you stop halfway through. Not that it matters, as these girls were entirely preoccupied with asking the most obvious questions about their biology. How badly do cramps hurt? How long does a period last? Should they have gotten theirs yet? Who the fuck cares, when surrounded by the hilarity of the reproductive system? When Mrs. Garvey, pressed for time, asked if they could “handle doing the male anatomy” tomorrow, no one even batted an eyelash, even with my prompt and loud guffaw. They seemed distant with me whenever I tried to liven up the afternoon by displaying my own knowledge of both the female anatomy and humor. I’d like to believe it was due to their age, but because Mrs. Garvey simply stared at me when I attempted to verbally illustrate to the girls why menstrual blood was nature’s Astroglide, I am sad to say that it is more universal than that. Like I said, women just aren’t funny.

more from McSweeney’s here.

Remembering Primo Levi

20 years ago last Wednesday, Primo Levi died. I went to a lovely memorial the week prior at the New York Public Library, which you can listen to by clicking the link “Listen to the Program” on the event page. Ruth Franklin, who spoke at the NYPL event, in Slate, on the new collection of Levi’s short stories:

It is a curse of those who write about the Holocaust that they are eternally identified with their horrific, unapproachable subject, even when they try to take their lives in other directions. Elie Wiesel has written numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, but he will always be thought of first as the author of Night. Twenty years after its publication, Paul Celan’s audiences were still pestering him to recite “Deathfugue,” his canonical poem about the camps (“Black milk of daybreak we drink you at evening …”).

Primo Levi, whose memoir Survival in Auschwitz (its American title) has become one of the defining testimonies of the Holocaust, has suffered a similar injustice. Returning from the camp in 1946 at age 25, Levi went on to have a successful career as an industrial chemist while simultaneously rising to prominence as one of postwar Italy’s most beloved writers. His memoir, first published in 1947, initially sank into obscurity, but his essays and short stories ran in some of the country’s best-known periodicals, and his fiction won numerous literary prizes. Yet in the English-speaking world, he has been defined solely through his works about the Holocaust, which also include The Periodic Table (1984), his autobiography through chemistry, and The Drowned and the Saved (published posthumously in 1988), his final and most brutal meditation on evil.

It is tempting to greet A Tranquil Star—a selection of 17 of Levi’s short stories appearing in English for the first time—as a source to be mined for additional clues about his experience at Auschwitz and its effects on his life afterward. But this impulse is misguided—not least because the stories in this book, the first significant work of Levi’s to be published in America in nearly two decades, offer very little in the way of such clues.

A man for all ages

From The Guardian:Shakes_2

According to many critics of his time, Shakespeare was vulgar, provincial and overrated. So how did he become the supreme deity of poetry, drama and high culture itself, asks Jonathan Bate, editor of the first Complete Works from the Folio for 300 years. In the spring of 1616, Francis Beaumont and William Shakespeare died within a few weeks of each other. Beaumont became the first dramatist to be honoured with burial in the national shrine of Westminster Abbey, beside the tombs of Geoffrey Chaucer and Edmund Spenser. Shakespeare was laid to rest in the provincial obscurity of his native Stratford-upon-Avon.

We now think of Shakespeare as a unique genius – the embodiment, indeed, of the very idea of artistic genius – but these two very different burial places are a reminder that in his own time, though widely admired, he was but one of a constellation of theatrical stars. How is it, then, that in the 18th and 19th centuries Shakespeare’s fame outstripped that of all his peers? Why was he the sole dramatist of the age who would eventually have a genuinely worldwide impact? There are two answers: availability and adaptability.

More here.

Mozart doesn’t make you clever

From Nature:

Motzart Passively listening to Mozart — or indeed any other music you enjoy — does not make you smarter. But more studies should be done to find out whether music lessons could raise your child’s IQ in the long term, concludes a report analysing all the scientific literature on music and intelligence, which was published last week by the German research ministry.The ministry commissioned the report — surprisingly the first to systematically review the literature on the purported intelligence effect of music — from a team of nine German neuroscientists, psychologists, educationalists and philosophers, all music experts. The ministry felt it had to tackle the subject because it had been inundated with requests for funding of studies on music and intelligence, which it didn’t know how to assess.

The interest in this scientific area was first sparked by the controversial 1993 Nature report in which psychologist Frances Rauscher and her colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, claimed that people perform better on spatial tasks — such as recognizing patterns, or folding paper — after listening to Mozart for 10 minutes.

More here.

Saturday Qawwali Special

After a conversation with my friend Husain Naqvi earlier tonight (at whose valima in Karachi I enjoyed one of the best live qawwalis of my life–and who touchingly actually shed tears in my presence upon learning of Nusrat‘s death!), I thought it would be a good thing to present here at 3QD what are probably the three most famous qawwali singers of all time for the nostalgic enjoyment of those of us who are dedicated to this beautiful genre of music (we listened to it on weekends, especially, in Pakistan), and also, of course, as an introduction to the form for the rest of you.

This first qawwali by master singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (the young boy who often matches Nusrat note-for-note here, but in a much higher key, is his brother Farrukh’s talented son Rahat Fateh Ali Khan) is dedicated to my friend Marko Ahtisaari who is a huge Nusrat fan, and himself, among so many other things, a supremely accomplished musician:

This second qawwali by Aziz Mian is dedicated to my dear friend Shabbir Kazmi, a New York City architect, and a great fan, like me, of Aziz Mian:

And last, but by no means least, the third qawwali is dedicated to my brother, Javed, who turned me on to, and shared his love of, the Sabri Brothers (and so much else!) when I lived with him in Kamra, Pakistan, so many eons ago:

Oh, and if you want some extra-credit, here is a bonus longish Nusrat video containing a couple of songs (the part between songs where Nusrat, Farrukh, Rahat, Nusrat’s fivish-year-old daughter, and even an unidentified infant, simply sing “aaaaeeaaaeeaaaaaa…” is really what you need to understand if you are going to get this music!), courtesy, once again, of Husain Naqvi. Notice the incredible grace and authority of Nusrat’s physical movements, especially his hands. Notice also the uncanny, inexplicable and really ultimately ineffable warmth of Nusrat’s voice. And once again, there is video here of Nusrat’s nephew Rahat (who’s father, Nusrat’s brother Farrukh, can almost always be seen sitting just next to Nusrat’s left hand, playing the harmonium and backing him up vocally) who succeeded Nusrat in leading the troop after Nusrat’s far too-early death. (I stood and sadly swayed next to Philip Glass at the last Rahat concert I went to in Manhattan.)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut

Verlyn Klinkenborg in the New York Times:

Screenhunter_04_apr_13_1644If you read Kurt Vonnegut when you were young — read all there was of him, book after book as fast as you could the way so many of us did — you probably set him aside long ago. That’s the way it goes with writers we love when we’re young. It’s almost as though their books absorbed some part of our DNA while we were reading them, and rereading them means revisiting a version of ourselves we may no longer remember or trust.

Not that Vonnegut is mainly for the young. I’m sure there are plenty of people who think he is entirely unsuitable for readers under the age of disillusionment. But the time to read Vonnegut is just when you begin to suspect that the world is not what it appears to be. He is the indispensable footnote to everything everyone is trying to teach you, the footnote that pulls the rug out from under the established truths being so firmly avowed in the body of the text.

He is not only entertaining, he is electrocuting. You read him with enormous pleasure because he makes your hair stand on end. He says not only what no one is saying, but also what — as a mild young person — you know it is forbidden to say. No one nourishes the skepticism of the young like Vonnegut. In his world, decency is likelier to be rooted in skepticism than it is in the ardor of faith.

More here.

China is Moved to Shift its Line on Darfur, by Mia Farrow and Steven Spielberg!

An interesting case of conflict resolution and non-state, ahem, actors, in the NYT.

For the past two years, China has protected the Sudanese government as the United States and Britain have pushed for United Nations Security Council sanctions against Sudan for the violence in Darfur.

But in the past week, strange things have happened. A senior Chinese official, Zhai Jun, traveled to Sudan to push the Sudanese government to accept a United Nations peacekeeping force. Mr. Zhai even went all the way to Darfur and toured three refugee camps, a rare event for a high-ranking official from China, which has extensive business and oil ties to Sudan and generally avoids telling other countries how to conduct their internal affairs.

So what gives? Credit goes to Hollywood — Mia Farrow and Steven Spielberg in particular. Just when it seemed safe to buy a plane ticket to Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games, nongovernmental organizations and other groups appear to have scored a surprising success in an effort to link the Olympics, which the Chinese government holds very dear, to the killings in Darfur, which, until recently, Beijing had not seemed too concerned about.

The Flow

Paul Myerscough in the London Review of Books:

‘One night in Miami,’ Raymond Williams wrote in 1973, ‘still dazed from a week on an Atlantic liner, I began watching a film and at first had some difficulty adjusting to a much greater frequency of commercial “breaks”.’ Things didn’t get any easier for him. Trailers for two other movies began to appear as inserts; the one he’d started with, about a crime in San Francisco, was interrupted not only by advertisements for cereal and deodorant, but by a romance set in Paris and then the roar of a prehistoric monster laying waste to New York. ‘I can still not be sure,’ Williams reflected, ‘what I took from that whole flow’ – aside, presumably, from a sharp urge to lie down.

‘Flow’ was the term Williams introduced in his column for the Listener at the turn of the 1970s to describe the rhetoric peculiar to television, the ceaseless rush of unrelated fragments that presents itself when we ‘watch TV’. ‘Flow’ always contained a tension, suggesting the smooth progression of something essentially discontinuous. But it has come to seem more, not less, appropriate as the years have passed. The increased speed, fragmentation and disconnectedness associated with the rise of MTV in the early 1980s is now the norm, and we have no trouble assimilating it: the discontinuity is so complete that the fragments flow like sand through your fingers.

More here.

More on Guest Workers in the Gulf Coast

DemocracyNow! also has a piece on guest workers across the Gulf Coast. It consists of interviews of Sabu Lal “one Indian guestworker who tried to commit suicide after he was fired”, Nestor Vallero a “Mexican guestworker who says his Louisiana employer confiscated his passport and subjected him to humiliating conditions and treatment”, and “Saket Soni, spokesman for the Alliance of Guest Workers for Dignity.” Oddly, instead of bringing democracy to the Middle East, the administration seems to have enabled the US to import immigrant labor practices from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

NESTOR VALLERO: [translated] They had told us that they promised $10 an hour, but it turned out when we got here they would only pay us $6.50 an hour. And they threatened us, and they said, “Well, if you don’t like it, you can go home.” And when we asked for our passports, they said, “Oh, you want your passport back? Well, I’m only going to give it to you if you’re going to go home.” After all of this, we were just forced to take whatever job they were offering us, because we didn’t have any money to go home or do anything else.

But that wasn’t all. They started to discount the cost of our housing from our wage. And we had to pay $1,200 a month for housing. And out of a $300 check that we received for two weeks work, they would take, discount almost $200 off that check. So, they’re really, you know, raking in the profits with our work. It’s really just a money-making scheme, this whole guestworkers program.

I think it’s time that we modify the laws. They need to be overhauled, because we’re not the only ones that are suffering from this. There are many, many people who are suffering this injustice. Here in New Orleans, many contractors are paying $13 or $10 an hour to do cleanup work from the Katrina disaster. However, the contractors have figured out that they can import people from other countries and pay them half that to do the cleanup work. So this is really a contradiction. And this is creating tensions, racial tensions between the African Americans who are local to New Orleans and the Latin Americans who are being imported to work here.

Venice and ‘Orientalism’

From The Art History Newsletter:

0300124309_01_mzzzzzzzIs it possible to publish 300+ pages on a theme such as “Venice and the Islamic World: 828-1797″ without once footnoting Edward Said’s 1978 book Orientalism? Is it even possible for scholars, post-Said, to speak of “the Islamic world: 828-1797″? (Imagine a show titled “Baghdad and the Christian World.”) Apparently it is. This exhibition catalogue was edited by Stefano Carboni; in his lead essay, he makes oblique reference to Said’s book and its adherents, writing that “the present exhibition and catalogue intend to emphasize [Venice’s] different and unique approach to, and understanding of, a world that has too often been described as ‘the other,’” later arguing that “it sounds incorrect or at least misleading to read about an ‘Orientalist’ curiosity towards the Ottomans on the part of the Venetians, at least in the 15th and 16th centuries, or to view the presence of well-observed Mamluk and Ottoman characters in the religious paintings and facade decorations for the Venetian scuole and scuolete as the inescapable representation of the fear-provoking Muslim enemy after the fall of Constantinople.” Are we witnessing a wave of anti-Orientalism sentiment? Recall last year’s publication of Robert Irwin’s 2006 book Dangerous Knowledge, Orientalism and Its Discontents (reviews available by Michael Dirda and Noel Malcolm).

More here.  [Thanks to Jon Lackman.]

The best usher I ever knew

Robert Duncan in News By Us:

KurtvonnegutNearly 18 years ago friends suggested we make the relatively short trip from Nampa, Idaho to the big capital of the state, Boise – the occasion being the yearly Hemingway Conference. Besides thinking of Hemingway in terms of my future move to Spain, in this case the event was especially attractive since the author Kurt Vonnegut was to be the main speaker.

As things would have it we arrived late after having lost our way in the big city. After dashing about like only hicks on a big-town-university campus can do, we reached a large auditorium – only to see that it was packed tight. If I remember correctly there were some heated words, when suddenly a gentleman in a tan corduroy jacket came up behind us and made some comments about how filled the place was. After a bit of banter to the respect, he told us to follow him.

He led us past the entire audience, then grabbed two chairs from off the stage, placed them firmly in the front row and told us to sit down … and then walked to the center of the stage and began to speak. It was only then I realized that it had been none other than Kurt Vonnegut who had been our usher.

More here.

Making barometric pressure the new black

Troy Patterson in Slate:

City_lightning_400pxwWonya Lucas, the head honcho at the Weather Channel, has declared it her goal “to expand the definition of weather by taking advantage of all its dimensions.” Part of the job is to make weather fun, feisty, glamorous—to make barometric pressure the new black. Thus does 100 Biggest Weather Moments (this Sunday through Thursday at 8 p.m. ET) apply the countdown-special formula to the elements.

The host, somehow aptly, is Harry Connick Jr. The guests are superstars, scientists, cult heroes, kitsch figures, celebrity weatherpersons, and fabulous cranks who file in to chat, as Connick says, about “the moments that inspired the human spirit, changed the way we think about our world, and, yes, even broke our hearts.” No, his producers aren’t shy about overreaching, which is only to be expected from a special whose bold logo and martial theme music are appropriate to a Super Bowl broadcast.

In fact, the countdown kicks off on the gridiron: At No. 100, football coach Don Shula laments his Dolphins’ 3-0 loss to the Patriots during a blizzard on Dec. 12, 1982.

More here.

H2B Guest Workers, A Closer Look

Lindsay Beyerstein and Larisa Alexandrovna report on some H2B guest workers in the Gulf Coast, in the Raw Story.

A month ago Monday, a group of guest workers from India placed a frantic 3:00 am phone call to Saket Soni, lead organizer for the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. The workers said that armed security guards were holding some workers prisoner in the TV room of the Signal International Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where the company’s 290 welders and pipe fitters live.

The men told Soni that Signal International – a sub-contractor for mammoth defense contractor Northrop Grumman – had staged a pre-dawn raid and that six Indian workers had been detained in the “TV room,” flanked by security guards, one of whom carried a gun. About 200 other Indian employees at Signal were standing outside the room.

Signal says they detained the guest workers at the advice of US immigration officials, in an attempt to forcibly deport them following a labor dispute. Though the workers were later released into the custody of community groups, the incident has shed light on a longstanding immigration problem – the vulnerability of guest workers who travel to the United States on H-2B visas, and their exploitation at the hands of so-called “recruiters” and the companies they work for.

Indian workers Joseph Jacob and Sabu Lal believe the Mar. 9 raid was initiated as Signal’s reaction to worker complaints, while the company says the workers were fired for performance-related issues.

But the bigger story is in the details: These 290 Indians paid upwards of $15,000 each to travel to America, lured by the promises of a Mississippi sheriff’s deputy.

Dred Scott reargued

From The Harvard Gazette:Dred3450

You don’t have to be a lawyer or historian to have that name conjure up feelings of horror and injustice. Scott was the American-born slave who lent his name to Dred Scott v. Sandford, the legal case leading to an infamous 1857 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, generally regarded as a legal and moral low point for American jurisprudence. Among other things, the decision held that no black American, slave or free, was a U.S. citizen, or had rights protected by the Constitution. Its harsh language about “that unfortunate race,” and its uncompromising stand in favor of slavery, drew the final battle lines for the Civil War, which erupted only four years later.

The Dred Scott decision has had legal and cultural reverberations in the 15 decades since, continuing a debate about the nature of citizenship that echoes today. So much so that Harvard Law School (HLS) marked the decision’s 150th anniversary with a conference April 6 and 7. “We are at once so far from, and so close to, that moment” in 1857, said Civil War historian Drew G. Faust, dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Lincoln Professor of History, and president-elect of Harvard University. In remarks opening the event, Faust called the Dred Scott decision “of central importance to the dissolution of the Union” as well as a vivid marker of “the burden of Southern history.”

Within dozens of pages of inflammatory language, the decision — penned by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney —held that neither Congress nor any territorial governments had the right to ban slavery in the territories. Moreover, Dred Scott — who had lived for long periods of time in the free state of Illinois and the free Wisconsin Territory — was still a slave, an object of property, and had no right to sue in a court of law.

More here.

Sperm made from human bone marrow

From Science:Sperm_cells203

Normally these stem cells from the bone marrow would develop into the different cell types in muscle tissue. But the researchers induced a small number of them to develop into what appeared to be spermatagonial cells – cells found in the testes which would normally develop into mature sperm cells. This is the first time human spermatagonial cells have been made artificially in this way. And lead researcher Professor Karim Nayernia, now at the North-east England Stem Cell Institute based at the Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne, said he hopes his investigations will mean he might one day be able to treat young men rendered infertile by chemotherapy.

He said: “We’re very excited about this discovery. “Our next goal is to see if we can get the spermatagonial cells to progress to mature sperm in the laboratory and this should take around three to five years of experiments.” He acknowledged that the law may be a stumbling block.

More here.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour?

Gene Weingarten in the Washington Post (via Annemone):

Leonard Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, was asked the same question. What did he think would occur, hypothetically, if one of the world’s great violinists had performed incognito before a traveling rush-hour audience of 1,000-odd people?

“Let’s assume,” Slatkin said, “that he is not recognized and just taken for granted as a street musician . . . Still, I don’t think that if he’s really good, he’s going to go unnoticed. He’d get a larger audience in Europe . . . but, okay, out of 1,000 people, my guess is there might be 35 or 40 who will recognize the quality for what it is. Maybe 75 to 100 will stop and spend some time listening.”

So, a crowd would gather?

“Oh, yes.”

And how much will he make?

“About $150.”

Thanks, Maestro. As it happens, this is not hypothetical. It really happened.

“How’d I do?”

We’ll tell you in a minute.

“Well, who was the musician?”

Joshua Bell.



A onetime child prodigy, at 39 Joshua Bell has arrived as an internationally acclaimed virtuoso. Three days before he appeared at the Metro station, Bell had filled the house at Boston’s stately Symphony Hall, where merely pretty good seats went for $100. Two weeks later, at the Music Center at Strathmore, in North Bethesda, he would play to a standing-room-only audience so respectful of his artistry that they stifled their coughs until the silence between movements. But on that Friday in January, Joshua Bell was just another mendicant, competing for the attention of busy people on their way to work.

More here (including great video of Bell’s performance).  [Thanks to Douglas Nerad.]