William Dalrymple, Ram Manikkalingam and Manan Ahmed discuss The Last Mughal

3 Quarks Daily’s own Ram Manikkalingam, and Manan Ahmed, joined William Dalrymple to discuss Dalrymple’s latest book The Last Mughal on the nationally syndicated NPR program Radio Open Source, with Christopher Lydon. This is Chris Lydon at the Radio Open Source website:

William Dalrymple, the Scots historian who’s “gone native” in Delhi and written brilliantly about Delhi, City of Djinns, and its English denizens in the Raj, White Mughals, has rewritten the story of the Sepoy Mutiny from the largely untapped Indian National Archive. It brings the perspective of innumerable private and individual tragedies to one of the critical upheavals of modern history. For American readers in 2007, Dalrymple’s fresh telling of 1857 finds a startling parallelism in the “clash of civilizations” thinking that paved our way into Iraq and the British attitudes that had hardened through the 19th Century in a toxic brew of racism, cultural contempt and Christian evangelicalism.

Although it had many causes and reflected many deeply held political and economic grievances – particularly the feeling that the heathen foreigners were interfering in the most intimate way with a part of the world to which they were entirely alien – the uprising was articulated as a war of religion, and especially as a defensive action against the rapid inroads that missionaries, Christian schools and Christian ideas were making in India, combined with a more generalised fight for freedom from occupation and western interference.

… as we have seen in our own time, nothing so easily radicalises a people against us, or undermines the moderate aspect of Islam, as aggressive western intrusion in the east: the histories of Islamic fundamentalism and western imperialism have often been closely, and dangerously, intertwined. In a curious but very concrete way, the extremists and fundamentalists of both faiths have needed each other to reinforce each other’s prejudices and hatreds. The venom of one provides the lifeblood of the other.

William Dalrymple, “The last Mughal and a clash of civilizations”, The New Statesman, 16 Oct 2006

There are clear lessons here, as Dalrymple says. I am at the half-way point in his book, racing through it with the encouragement of reviews and commentaries in, for example, the indispensable 3 Quarks Daily and The Guardian.

Read more and listen to the program here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Exxon’s Shame

Peter Rothberg in The Nation:

Tanker_350The reality is that after eighteen years and countless false promises, ExxonMobil has still not paid the billions of dollars in punitive damages that the courts have determined it owes the spill victims–this despite the fact that the company posted the most profitable year in 2006 of any corporation in history. In 1994, a federal court in Anchorage, Alaska, awarded $5 billion in punitive damages to fishermen, Native Alaskans, and other plaintiffs in a class action suit against the oil giant. But rather than accepting its obligations Exxon has been fighting the verdict, employing hundreds of lawyers, filing countless appeals and effectively buying science that supports its claims.

This has added injury to injury as more than 30,000 people whose lives and livelihood were disrupted by the spill have now been dragged through years of litigation. During this time, according to the advocacy group ExposeExxon whose excellent mailing prompted this column, 6,000 plaintiffs have died waiting for compensation.

More here.

Pakistan’s Silent Majority Is Not to Be Feared

Mohsin Hamid in the New York Times:

Hamid450I was one of the few Pakistanis who actually voted for Gen. Pervez Musharraf in the rigged referendum of 2002. I recall walking into a polling station in Islamabad and not seeing any other voter. When I took the time required to read the convoluted ballot, I was accosted by a man who had the overbearing attitude of a soldier although he was in civilian clothes. He insisted that I hurry, which I refused to do. He then hovered close by, watching my every action, in complete defiance of electoral rules.

Despite this intimidation, I still voted in favor of the proposition that General Musharraf, who had seized power in a coup in 1999, should continue as Pakistan’s president for five more years. I believed his rule had brought us much-needed stability, respite from the venal and self-serving elected politicians who had misgoverned Pakistan in the 1990s, and a more free and vibrant press than at any time in the country’s history.

More here.

Discarding a long-held evolutionary theory

Lindsay Borthwick in Seed Magazine:

Screenhunter_03_mar_28_1513Scattered throughout the human genome are thousands of mutations that biologists have treated mostly as footnotes. They’re hardly few in number—in coding regions of the genome, there are as many as 15,000—but biologists regard them as mutations that simply don’t change the way a cell functions. Both in name and effect, they have been accepted as “silent.” Now, however, new discoveries are showing that silent mutations appear to play an important role in dozens of human genetic diseases, a fact that is forcing biologists to discard a long-held evolutionary theory and to reexamine the very rules governing the transfer of information from DNA to proteins.

To understand the importance of this realization, it’s necessary to review how infrormation is transfered from genes to proteins…

More here.

Cracks in the House of Rove

Jonathan Raban reviews The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back by Andrew Sullivan, in the New York Review of Books:

Sullivan_andrew19960620048r_2Like so many parties that go on past their proper bedtime, Karl Rove’s Republican Party has lately begun to break out in fights, as neocon theorists, Goldwater-style libertarians, the corporations, and grassroots Christian fundamentalists come to the aggravating discovery that they’re more defined by their differences than by what they hold in common. On climate change, government spending, stem-cell research, reproductive rights, and the Iraq war, to name just a few of the triggering issues, self-styled conservatives find themselves at loggerheads with other self-styled conservatives, each claiming the mantle of true conservatism for himself. As both symptom and diagnosis of this interesting—one might say promising—development, Andrew Sullivan’s The Conservative Soul is as engaging as it is provocative.

Sullivan is an odd duck. Born in England in 1963 to an Irish immigrant family, he grew up in East Grinstead, a town long associated with a cho-leric, class-based brand of reactionary Toryism.

More here.

Very good food and some dog excrement

Greg Ross interviews Douglas Hofstadter in American Scientist:

There’s a popular idea currently that technology may be converging on some kind of culmination—some people refer to it as a singularity. It’s not clear what form it might take, but some have suggested an explosion of artificial intelligence. Do you have any thoughts about that?

Fullimage_200726134135_306Oh, yeah, I’ve organized several symposia about it; I’ve written a long article about it; I’ve participated in a couple of events with Ray Kurzweil, Hans Moravec and many of these singularitarians, as they refer to themselves. I have wallowed in this mud very much. However, if you’re asking for a clear judgment, I think it’s very murky.

The reason I have injected myself into that world, unsavory though I find it in many ways, is that I think that it’s a very confusing thing that they’re suggesting. If you read Ray Kurzweil’s books and Hans Moravec’s, what I find is that it’s a very bizarre mixture of ideas that are solid and good with ideas that are crazy. It’s as if you took a lot of very good food and some dog excrement and blended it all up so that you can’t possibly figure out what’s good or bad. It’s an intimate mixture of rubbish and good ideas, and it’s very hard to disentangle the two, because these are smart people; they’re not stupid.

Ray Kurzweil says 2029 is the year that a computer will pass the Turing test [converse well enough to pass as human], and he has a big bet on it for $1,000 with [Lotus Software founder Mitch Kapor], who says it won’t pass. Kurzweil is committed to this viewpoint, but that’s only the beginning. He says within 10 or 15 years after that, a thousand dollars will buy you computational power that will be equivalent to all of humanity. What does it mean to talk about $1,000 when humanity has been superseded and the whole idea of humans is already down the drain?

More here.

Spartans Overwhelmed at Thermopylae, Again

A technically exciting videogame of a film, 300 loses touch with a critical and moving event in Greek history.

Eugene N. Borza in Archaeology:

Screenhunter_01_mar_28_1428Herodotus, the “Father of History,” told many good stories, but there are few tales in his repertoire that surpass his narrative of the last-ditch stand of the Greeks against numerically superior forces at the pass of Thermopylae in August, 480 B.C. A huge military force led by Xerxes, the Persian King of Kings, crossed the Hellespont from Asia into Europe, intent on the subjugation of Greece. Whether Xerxes intended this invasion as revenge for the Athenian victory over the Persians at Marathon a decade earlier or whether his expedition had been planned all along as the natural extension of Persian rule into Europe is still a matter of debate among modern historians. The Greek city-states were aware of the movement of Asian land and naval forces through the areas north of them. Greek representatives met and attempted to plan a defense against an army that may have numbered hundreds of thousands (precision in numbers is impossible). A dispute among the Greeks regarding their best defense was resolved thus: the Peloponnesians, led by Sparta, would build a wall across the Isthmus of Corinth in order to protect the cities of southern Greece. Athens, which was vulnerable, would be evacuated, and the powerful Athenian fleet would be used to engage and destroy the Asian naval forces, thereby depriving Xerxes of necessary support. But time was short, and an attempt to delay the relentless advance of Xerxes’ army was necessary to enable the Athenians to abandon their city and the Peloponnesians to build their defensive wall.

More here.

A Neighborhood Is a Gallery, Its Brick Walls Canvases

From The New York Times:

Mural2 A COMMUNITY nonprofit organization tucked away in the vibrant Mission District is a living example of a museum interacting with its environment — a stated goal of the most prominent architects these days. The organization, the Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors Center, has a modest storefront on 24th Street where visitors can learn about making murals and buy art supplies and postcard pictures of some of the most famous murals in the city’s history. But the Precita Eyes experience stretches well beyond the confines of the tiny shop, and out into the bustling neighborhood that surrounds it.

Take Balmy Alley, a narrow street lined with 30 colorful and larger-than-life murals on garages, fences and buildings.

More here.

Mother courage

From The Guardian:Bhutto

In 1988 Benazir Bhutto became the only head of government ever to give birth while in office. Here, the former Pakistani prime minister tells the extraordinary story of her three pregnancies, of how a new mother took on a military dictatorship – and of her painful separation from her children

“I didn’t choose this life; it chose me. Born in Pakistan, my life mirrors its turbulence, its tragedies and its triumphs. Once again Pakistan is in the international spotlight. Terrorists who use the name of Islam threaten its stability. The democratic forces believe terrorism can be eliminated by promoting the principles of freedom. A military dictatorship plays a dangerous game of deception and intrigue. Fearful of losing power, it dithers, keeping the forces of modernisation at bay while the flames of terrorism flourish.

Pakistan is no ordinary country. And mine has been no ordinary life. My father and two brothers were killed. My mother, husband and I were all imprisoned. I have spent long years in exile”.

More here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Shakespeare and the Uses of Power

Stephen Greenblatt in the New York Review of Books:

BillclintonIn 1998, a friend of mine, Robert Pinsky, who at the time was serving as the poet laureate of the United States, invited me to a poetry evening at the Clinton White House, one of a series of black-tie events organized to mark the coming millennium. On this occasion the President gave an amusing introductory speech in which he recalled that his first encounter with poetry came in junior high school when his teacher made him memorize certain passages from Macbeth. This was, Clinton remarked wryly, not the most auspicious beginning for a life in politics.

After the speeches, I joined the line of people waiting to shake the President’s hand. When my turn came, a strange impulse came over me. This was a moment when rumors of the Lewinsky affair were circulating, but before the whole thing had blown up into the grotesque national circus that it soon became. “Mr. President,” I said, sticking out my hand, “don’t you think that Macbeth is a great play about an immensely ambitious man who feels compelled to do things that he knows are politically and morally disastrous?” Clinton looked at me for a moment, still holding my hand, and said, “I think Macbeth is a great play about someone whose immense ambition has an ethically inadequate object.”

I was astonished by the aptness, as well as the quickness, of this comment, so perceptively in touch with Macbeth’s anguished brooding about the impulses that are driving him to seize power by murdering Scotland’s legitimate ruler. When I recovered my equilibrium, I asked the President if he still remembered the lines he had memorized years before. Of course, he replied, and then, with the rest of the guests still patiently waiting to shake his hand, he began to recite one of Macbeth’s great soliloquies…

More here.

The Valiant Swabian

A new biography of Albert Einstein.

John Updike in The New Yorker:

AeWhen youthful and frisky, Albert Einstein would refer to himself as “the valiant Swabian,” quoting the poem by Ludwig Uhland: “But the valiant Swabian is not afraid.” Albert—the name Abraham had been considered by his unreligious parents but was rejected as “too Jewish”—was born in Ulm, in March of 1879, not long after Swabia joined the new German Reich; he was the first child and only son of a mathematics-minded but financially inept father and a strong-willed, musically gifted woman of some inherited means. A daughter, Maria, was born to the couple two and a half years later; when shown his infant sister, Albert took a look and said, “Yes, but where are the wheels?” Though this showed an investigative turn of mind, the boy was slow to talk, and the family maid dubbed him der Depperte—“the dopey one.”

More here.

Rejected Letters to the Editor

My friend Elke Zuern points me to this site, Rejected Letters to the Editor.

Our goal at Rejected Letters to the Editor (RLTE) is to responsibly expand the visible spectrum of ideas. To publish letters that will broaden public discussion beyond the boundaries set by the gatekeepers of our mental environment. We hold to the democratic conviction that public opinion must be educated by, and conversant with, the course of human events, and we will seek to publish letters that allow essential perspectives, presently unacknowledged by respected newspapers, to see the light of day.

Our purpose is not to provide a dumping ground for every letter sent to a “letters page,” but to publish letters that editors knowledgeable in a variety of fields believe will add to public under-standing of the pressing—and not so pressing—issues of our time. We are uninterested in contributing to the widespread notion of “information overload.” Through our editorial choices, we hope to add clarity and knowledge that is too often fugitive. Rather than adhering to the mind-numbing news cycle, we will be publishing fortnightly and maintaining an archive of all letters that appear in the publication.

Spectre Publics

Dan Quiles in PART:

December 8, 2006: the Democrats have new life—dubious comfort. At Storefront for Art and Architecture in SoHo, in connection with an exhibition of architectural “little magazines” from, as the exhibition puts it, “196x-197x,” October editors Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, and Hal Foster improvise short talks about their participation in the journals October and (in Bois’ case) Macula. I was there with what seemed to be every single person involved in art in New York who had not journeyed down to Art Basel Miami Beach. We crowded into the miniscule space standing up, as though at a rock concert, the proverbial “choir” in all its glory, the latest incarnation of a public or set of publics that first emerged during the exhibition’s ambiguous time frame. Krauss, clearly bemused by the turnout, spoke very briefly. She repeatedly noted that the editors at Artforum “all hated each other” prior to her and Annette Michelson’s departure from the glossy commercial magazine to form the iconoclastic October, and recalled the well-known fact that the warring was between the “social possibilities” of art criticism and history versus “formalism” (one which used poststructuralist theory to decipher aesthetic experience). Bois gave a very short history of his journal Macula as a site for translation of various texts, and offered the DIY encouragement that “if you’re going to start a journal, you don’t need money. You just need a printer who will agreed to be paid back after six months or so.”

Michael Bérubé on the Fights in the Left

For those who may have missed it, Michael Bérubé has returned to the blogosphere, recently joining Crooked Timber. Michael Bérubé on the debate on who really opposed the war and other internecine fights in the Left.

In the US, the Z/Counterpunch crew have a symbiotic relation to Berman, Hitchens, et al., just as in the UK the Galloway/Respect crowd have a symbiotic relation to the Eustonites. To this day, each needs the other. And it is in both camps’ interest to pretend that Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq were all part of the same enterprise: all three wars were wars of liberation for the Hawks, and all three were exercises in imperialism for the Sovereignty Left. The Hawks wound up agreeing, in whole or in part, with Bush’s premise that Iraq was the next logical front in the War on Terror. And the Sovereignty Left has never quite explained what American empire was established in the Balkans, and they’ve never quite explained why they opposed the Taliban from 1996 to 2001 but opposed the Taliban’s removal after al-Qaeda’s strikes against the US. But both groups share the common goal of aligning supporters of war in Kosovo and Afghanistan with supporters of war in Iraq.

It’s time to begin shaming China


Sitting at the computer in the office of his Northampton home last month, Eric Reeves pushed the “send” button, intending to spread an idea — a modest, but potentially powerful idea.

Reeves, a professor of literature at Smith College who has become one of the world’s foremost experts on the humanitarian disaster in Darfur, has concluded that only China, as Sudan’s biggest economic and diplomatic supporter and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, can stop the slaughter that President Bush has called genocide (as many as 400,000 people have been killed in the Darfur region of Sudan since 2003, and more than 3 million others may face a similar fate). And China, says Reeves, can only be pressured to act by appealing to its sense of national pride and honor — forcing Beijing to choose between its lucrative relationship with Khartoum and having its coveted games lumped in the collective consciousness with Nazi Germany’s hosting of the Berlin games in 1936.

more from Boston Globe Ideas here.

a nation’s split personality

‘Foreigners think we’re nuts coming back to a doomed city on a damned continent,’ Rian Malan once wrote about Johannesburg, ‘but there is something you don’t understand: it’s boring where you are.’ When I go to meet Malan, South Africa’s most controversial and charismatic writer, in his home city, I see the force of both halves of that statement.

Three stories are dominating the Jo’burg headlines. The first is the brutal murder of the ‘white Zulu’ David Rattray, friend of Prince Charles, who told the story of Rorke’s Drift from the African perspective. Rattray was shot in his bedroom by a local Zulu, a man he knew, in a botched robbery. The second story exercising the phone-in shows concerns an attempt by the First National Bank to draw attention to violent crime – murders are running at 50 per day – in an advert which talked of ‘mobilising the population’. The ANC government, jumpy about such language, had pressured the bank to withdraw the campaign. And the third story was about the extraordinary popularity of an Afrikaans song, ‘De la Rey’, a homage to a general who had fought the British with the Transvaal Bittereinders and helped forge the Afrikaans nation. The song called for the return of General De la Rey – ‘We are ready’ – and suggested that the Boer ‘nation will rise up again’.

more from The Guardian here.

In the Marmoset Family, Things Really Do Appear to Be All Relative

From The New York Times:Marmoset

Marmosets, small monkeys that live in South America, have long been a genetic enigma. Marmoset mothers almost always give birth to fraternal twins, which develop from two eggs and are thus genetically distinct. In 1962, scientists at Dartmouth Medical School discovered that almost all marmosets carry some blood-generating stem cells that began in their twin sibling.

Animals that carry cells from another individual are known as chimeras. Aside from marmosets, chimeras have been discovered in humans, cats and cows. But scientists have long thought that chimerism was a rare fluke.

Marmosets were different. Almost all of them had chimeric blood, and they were all healthy. It appears that they swap cells so often because of their peculiar development. In the womb, their placentas grow quickly and fuse, creating a network of blood vessels through which cells can travel from one twin to the other.

More here.

Semi-identical twins discovered

From BBC News:Twins

The journal Nature says the twins are identical on their mother’s side, but share only half their genes on their father’s side. They are the result of two sperm cells fertilising a single egg, which then divided to form two embryos – and each sperm contributed genes to each child. Each stage is unlikely, and scientists believe the twins are probably unique.

Normally, twins either develop from the same egg which later splits to form identical twins – who share all their genetic material, or from two separate eggs which are fertilised by two separate sperm. This creates non-identical (fraternal) twins – who share 50% of genetic material. Sometimes, two sperm can fertilise a single egg, but this is only thought to happen in about 1% of human conceptions. Most embryos created this way do not survive.

More here.