I read about amma and her saree, and I see the Ukrainian and Polish babuskas, the aunties and uncles of my childhood. And there are the low, fleece lined boots and apron from beneath another woman's sweater.
When amma came to New York City, she wore unfashionably cut salwar kurtas, mostly in beige, so as to blend in, her body a puzzle that was missing a piece – the many sarees she had left behind: that peacock blue Kanjeevaram, that nondescript nylon in which she had raised and survived me, the stiff chikan saree that had once held her up at work.
When amma came to New York City, an Indian friend who swore by black and leather, remarked in a stage whisper,
“This is New York, you know – not Madras. Does she realise?”
Ten years later, transiting through L.A. airport I find amma all over again in the uncles and aunties who shuffle past the Air India counter in their uneasily worn, unisex Bata sneakers, suddenly brown in a white space, louder than ever in their linguistic unease as they look for quarters and payphones. I catch the edge of amma’s saree sticking out like a malnourished fox’s tail from underneath some other woman’s sweater meant really for Madras’ gentle Decembers.
Time Travel News Network (TTNN): Thursday, November 24, 2011, 0200 hours EST
'Pepper Spray Cop' of UC Davis goes back in time to make things right (Norman Costa)
Scientists are hailing the 'first of its kind' opportunity to go back in time and undo a terrible mistake. Lt. John Pike, now known as the infamous 'Pepper Spray Cop of U.C. Davis,' went back in time to change the way he handled the breakup of a peaceful student protest. It was not something he planned on, but, a freak accident gave him the opportunity for a do-over, and be the first human to travel back in time.
Immediately after Pike was suspended, he fled to Europe to avoid the press and aggressive process servers. Quickly, he got a job as a security guard at a scientific research lab in Switzerland. The accident happened on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 at 1650 hours, GMT. He walked into an area where neutrino research was underway. Officer Pike thought he was going into a utility room for HVAC. He walked directly in front of a massively energized neutrino beam and vanished from sight.
Two days ago Lt. John Pike gave a press conference to explained what happened today. He said he was dazed for a short time before realizing he had traveled back in time to about 3 days before the pepper straying incident at UC Davis. He went to an airport, immediately, to fly back to Davis. After a complication regarding his frequent flier miles – he hadn't yet flown from California to Switzerland so his mileage had not been recorded – he was issued a ticket and flew home.
We at TTNN received a video tape, three days ago, of Pike's 're-do' of handling the protest. We were stunned when we saw it, and we concluded it was a some kind of hoax and threw it out, but not before transcribing the audio. With the benefit of hindsight – actually time travel – we changed our minds and will now read the transcript of the audio portion.
May I have your attention. I am Lt. John Pike, Supervising Officer of the Security Police at UC Davis. My officers and I are a legitimate law enforcement and peace keeping force under the Constitution of the State of California. We have the same powers of arrest, enforcement, and investigation that other police units have in California.
We respect and will protect your rights to protest and assembly. However, some of you are blocking a passage that is usually used for pedestrian traffic for members of the university and others. You can continue your peaceful demonstration 15 yards in that direction, and avoid blocking other people who are exercising their rights to come and go on this campus.
My superior in the University Administration directed me to clear the pedestrian traffic areas blocked by this demonstration. I am empowered to give you a lawful order to move out of the pedestrian traffic flow. Before I have to do that, I am asking you to move, of your own accord, 15 yards to your right. If you do not, then I have the legal authority to order you to disperse. If you do not obey a lawful order from the police, you are subject to physical removal by my officers, and being arrested.
I am now giving you a lawful order, for the third time, to disperse and clear the pedestrian traffic area. In a moment I will give my officers the order to clear you from the area. Before I do that, I want to tell you how it is going to work. First, there will be no use of tear gas, pepper spray, billy clubs or truncheons. You have not been violent, so there is no need for us to use that kind of force. The officers will separate you, one at a time, handcuff you, and take you to a staging area over there. You will be photographed, and then issued an appearance summons. That means you must appear before a judge and explain yourself. After a period of time you will be released from your handcuffs and you will be free to go.
If you do not release your arm locks with each other, my officers will have to use physical force to separate you. We do not wish to cause you harm, and I do not want any harm to come to my officers. However, my officers will have to pry your arms and fingers loose. We will not use any more force than is necessary. When my officers approach you they will tap you on the shoulder. That is your command to release your hold, stand up, and go with the officer to the staging area. If you do not respond to this command then the officers will pry you loose and take you forcefully.
If you struggle against my officers, or you attempt to use any force on them, they will subdue you on the spot, put you to the ground, cuff you, and you will be arrested and brought to jail. We do not want to do this. We appreciate that you have been peaceful in your protest. This is your last chance to remove yourself from the pedestrian traffic area.
Officers, clear the protesters from this area and take them into custody as planned.
So there you have it – two of the strangest confrontations of police and protesters in history, and in history. There was another complication in this matter, one that pleased the many arrested protesters. Yesterday was the first day of the scheduled hearings before a judge. The court was thrown into disarray and confusion for most of the session. The one-time protesters presented their appearance tickets, but there was nothing on the docket, and there were no records of the summonses being issued. A number of UC Davis police officers were called into court to verify the arrests. The surprised officers could not recall making any arrests on the day in question. This went on for several more days until all 87 arrested protesters presented themselves in court. The judge sent everyone home.
I once participated in a public debate with another scientist on issues surrounding science and religion. I was an atheist with sympathies for the sacred character of human experience and he was an atheist without such sympathies. At one point in the discussion I tried to convince him that inclinations to "spirituality" or a sense of "sacredness" (with or without an institutional religion) was a response to the essential mystery that came with being human. He paused for long moment and then replied.
"There is no mystery"
It took me a while to pick my jaw off the floor and find an appropriate response.
I had made it pretty clear that, being an atheist, I was not arguing for a "God" of the gaps. Neither was I arguing that limits to knowledge (if they exist) imply we should be worshiping before some choice of deity.
Instead I was simply pointing to that fundamental weirdness, that "stranger-in-a-strange land" quality of being human. I was pointing to that mystery because I think its best part of the whole trip.
We just find ourselves here. With our individual birth we just "wake-up" and discover ourselves in the midst of an extraordinary world of beauty and sorrow. All around us we see exquisite and exquisitely subtle orders played out effortlessly. From the lazy descent of fall leaves to the slow unfolding of cloudscapes in empty blue skies, it is all just here and we are just here to see it.
Day after day we wake again to find the world still here, waiting for us as we play out our own small dramas with their small triumphs and terrible heartbreaks. And then, remarkably, astonishingly, just here just ends.
For me that is the mystery. No amount of explanation, be it a "Theory of Everything" or a religious theology, will reduce the power of its experience. The primitive quality of feeling, the presence of life and its luminosity, is the mystery and I am damn thankful for it.
It is the essential and unalterable question mark saturating the verb "to be" that makes science worth pursuing and gives art its potency. It sets our loves and loss into a context that has no context and somehow makes it all bearable.
I will feel that mystery again as my family converges from across the state and across the continent to gather at the Thanksgiving table. I will feel it, knowing how deeply I love them all and how bound I am to lose them all. I will feel the mystery and be thankful to it, to them and to the world entire.
3 Quarks Daily has announced this year's annual Politics & Social Science Prize for best blog posts in this category. Steven M. Walt will judge the competition. If you have read something that is worthy of consideration, please nominate it. The details of the competition here. (Please remember that submissions have to be original blog posts and must have been written on or after November 20, 2010)
Gandhi's non-violent struggle against the British Empire takes the center stage in most popular narratives of the Indian independence movement, particularly outside India. But there was a parallel and contemporaneous movement espousing a violent overthrow of the colonial overlords by another Indian leader with substantial influence within the political arena of India's struggle for freedom. Subhas Chandra Bose the fiery leader of the latter effort was as much an idealist as Gandhi and similarly uncompromising in what he considered the correct path to achieving India's independence from two hundred years of foreign occupation. Bose's influence on younger and more radical minded Indian activists was considerable. To achieve his purpose, Bose sought out alliances with the enemies of the British during WWII, among them the murderous Nazi regime in Germany. For that he has been reviled by many historians. But his reputation in India remains that of a revered hero who was uncompromisingly faithful to his ideals and sought the help of the worst totalitarian regime of his time for the sake of India's freedom from the yoke of oppression under a different European empire.
Two recent books examine the seemingly contradictory aspects of Bose's life. The one by Roman Hayes takes the Indian leader to task for making a devil's pact with the Nazis and ascribes to Bose a similarly fascist and totalitarian mindset as Hitler and Mussolini. The second book by Bose's great nephew Sugata Bose explains that things were more complicated than a simplistic sinner or saint portrayal of the man. A comparative review of the two books by Sudip Bose (no relation) appeared in the Book Forum:
On a moonlit January night in 1941, Subhas Chandra Bose, a leader of India’s independence movement—as influential in his time as Gandhi and nearly as mythologized in his homeland today—embarked on a perilous, clandestine journey. Frail from a hunger strike begun during his eleventh stint in British prisons, Bose was sent home to recuperate—to get just well enough, that is, to be arrested once again. Seeking to take advantage of Britain’s involvement in World War II, he knew he could not languish any longer in prison. So he worked out a bold escape. Disguised as a North Indian Muslim, he left his family’s home on Calcutta’s Elgin Road and sneaked out of the city in the direction of Delhi, where he caught a train to Peshawar—journeying on, under the name Orlando Mazzotta, to Samarkand, Moscow, and Berlin. It was April 1941, and Bose arrived in Nazi Germany, ready to launch a revolution.
Bose had traveled extensively in Europe in the 1930s as a spokesman-diplomat advocating for India’s emancipation. This second European exile, however, was born out of greater urgency, even desperation. He went to Germany believing that Britain would lose the war and that an alliance with the Axis powers would give India a seat opposite Britain at the postwar negotiating table. But he intended to take a more active stance as well, hoping to persuade the thousands of soldiers of Britain’s Indian Army, captured in Germany and Italian prisoner-of-war camps, to form a legion, turn against their colonial masters, and liberate the subcontinent from without.
That Bose managed to set up residence in Berlin during the most heinous period of German history seems nothing short of astonishing. He lived in a luxurious villa with his wife, Emilie, an Austrian Catholic woman, in defiance of the Nazis’ racial laws. He established a Free India Center and worked with the German Foreign Office. He organized the military training of an elite force of Indian commandos. He began broadcasting to India on his Azad Hind (Free India) Radio, waging a propaganda battle against the British. He met with Mussolini and many senior German officials, including Heinrich Himmler, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and Hitler, as he pursued official recognition of India’s independence.
NYC Mayor Bloomberg Clears Out Wall Street Executives (Norman Costa)
Future News Network (FNN), December 5, 2011, 6:35 pm EST:
New York City Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, defended his decision to clear out the top executives of the finance, banking, insurance, and investment companies who have a presence in the Wall Street area of lower Manhattan.
At a press conference that ended only moments ago, Mayor Bloomberg justified the raids on corporate offices that began this morning at 10:00 am, EST.
Over 600 middle and upper level executives were expelled from their offices, with approximately 387 being arrested for a variety of charges including disorderly conduct, refusal to comply with a lawful order, and assaulting a police officer.
Twelve police officers and as many as 32 executives were taken to local hospitals for injuries related to the police operation, and at least one police officer is in serious condition after being struck in the face with an executive's Stueben Glass award statue that was on her desk.
One week ago Bloomberg released a statement apologizing for ordering the expulsion of peaceful OWS demonstrators from Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan in the early morning hours of November 15, 2011.
He said he had, "...and epiphanial moment, and personal spiritual awakening, after realizing that the demonstrators were the real victims, and that the perpetrators of suffering and loss for the entire country were unscrupulous, immoral, and greedy corporate executives."
The Mayor went on to say that, "...corporate America, as a whole, contributes greatly to our society and economy, but these leeches want all the blood they can get their hands on, even if they don't need it."
When questioned about the legality of ordering the raids on executive offices, Bloomberg said he was taking a moral stand against the kind of greed that inflicts suffering on so many people.
Mayor Bloomberg refused to comment about learning, two weeks ago, that four of his grand nieces and nephews were ruined by the financial collapse, and that one had committed suicide, leaving a widow and three orphans.
This would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago but Penn State University saw no way out other than to clean house, a house that had been made into a citadel of national repute and a cash cow by some of the same people who have been given the axe. Penn's head football coach Joe Paterno, one of the two people let go this evening by the university is a decent and likable man by all accounts. But focused stubbornly on the tree of football, he failed to see the unruly forest in the real world outside the athletic arena. He had knowledge of a crime committed by a grotesquely opportunist predator who was a valuable associate whereas his helpless victims were inconsequential to the business of college football. Coach Paterno decided to look the other way. I feel no great joy in seeing an eighty four year old man's hard work and successful career come to an inglorious end full of shame. But this is the fitting outcome when in the mistaken judgment of a powerful football fraternity and an administration in its awe, the bottom line, booster clubs and NCAA rules trumped the law of the land.
Since my arrival in the US I have always lived in "football country." So I know a little about football as religion. But as they say, when you live by the sword, you are most likely to die by one. The recent scandal surrounding Penn State's fabled football program is being treated in the media as a shocking development. I wonder why. When athletic programs in colleges and universities are treated with more reverence than academics (purportedly the primary reason why universities exist), it leads to hubris, closely guarded cliques, misplaced priorities and occasionally, criminal negligence. Many like me, are not surprised.
(I am linking to Maureen Dowd after ages. I believe a woman's voice here is apt and she doesn't mince her words.)
.... So I’ve got to wonder how the 84-year-old coach feels when he thinks about all the children who look up to him; innocent, football-crazy boys like the one he was told about in March 2002, a child then Anthony’s age who was sexually assaulted in a shower in the football building by Jerry Sandusky, Paterno’s former defensive guru, according to charges leveled by the Pennsylvania attorney general.
Paterno was told about it the day after it happened by Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant coach who testified that he went into the locker room one Friday night and heard rhythmic slapping noises. He looked into the showers and saw a naked boy about 10 years old “with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky,” according to the grand jury report.
It would appear to be the rare case of a pedophile caught in the act, and you’d think a graduate student would know enough to stop the rape and call the police. But McQueary, who was 28 years old at the time, was a serf in the powerfully paternal Paternoland. According to the report, he called his dad, went home and then the next day went to the coach’s house to tell him.
“I don’t even have words to talk about the betrayal that I feel,” the mother of one of Sandusky’s alleged victims told The Harrisburg Patriot-News, adding about McQueary: “He ran and called his daddy?”
Paterno, who has cast himself for 46 years as a moral compass teaching his “kids” values, testified that he did not call the police at the time either. The family man who had faced difficult moments at Brown University as a poor Italian with a Brooklyn accent must have decided that his reputation was more important than justice.
Pakistan’s greatest cricketing hero and second most successful philanthropist entered politics 15 years ago, promising a progressive, Islamic, modern, corruption-free Pakistan. His position as the most successful captain in Pakistan’s cricket history, the founder of Pakistan’s finest cancer hospital (providing free modern cancer care to thousands) provided him instant cachet, but for a long time he was unable to convert this personal popularity into votes in actual elections. With a political platform heavy on slogans (particularly against corruption) but short on specifics and without any obvious connection to already existing grass-roots politics, he remained little more than a fixture on the talk-show circuit for a very long time. Brief flirtation with Pervez Musharraf also set him back, as did a tendency to spout fables about Jirgas and hobnob with jihadi ideologues like Hamid Gul. But his biggest problem was his failure to create a team that could carry his party forward. The Pakistani Tehreek e Insaf was a one man show, with Imran Khan its only impressive asset. Even in parties dominated by one strong leader, there are other leaders in the wings and a semi-coherent ideology that delivers a section of the vote-bank on ideological grounds alone. Imran had no visible team and no clear ideology beyond a promise to “eradicate corruption”.
He did seem to genuinely believe in the formulaic slogans and historical framework of the 6th grade“ideology of Pakistan” he learned in Aitcheson college. He has some vague notion of “the two nation theory” (basically, “we are not Indians”) and an even vaguer “respect” for Quaid E Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the Allama Iqbal, twin icons of Pakistan’s history. But like his middle class fans, it is a superficial and shallow belief system, with little to show beyond a few empty slogans like “Pakistan first”, “Islamic welfare state” and “we are all Pakistanis now, so we are no longer Punjabis, Sindhis, Pakhtoons or Balochis”. Behind the automatic repetitions of such slogans there does lurk an odor of “one folk, one party, one leader” fascism (as it does behind all crude nationalisms) but this is not to imply that Imran Khan is consciously thinking of leading a fascist takeover of Pakistan. His commitment to some notion of democracy seems genuine enough, though his priority (and this is not unusual among middle class nationalists) is nationalism, not democracy; in a crisis, he can easily convince himself that we may have to kill democracy to save the country. In any case, lacking organization and experience and without a good grasp of actual grass-roots politics, he was easily brushed aside by older established political parties.
Things changed in 2008. International pressure and a worsening domestic political position forced Pervez Musharraf to accept elections and eventually to bring “failed politicians” back in power. Imran Khan boycotted those elections, but came back on TV chat shows to dog the new (and admittedly, corrupt and incompetent) civilian setup at every step. Meanwhile, GHQ managed to win back some of its tarnished reputation by staying away from public view, letting Zardari take all the blame for every disaster (even ones GHQ itself had birthed). The Zardari regime also managed to select an exceptionally bad team, from a clueless prime minister to one of the worst collections of cabinet ministers in Pakistan’s history. His opposite number in the PMLN did a marginally better job in the provincial government in Punjab, but not by much. Continuous infighting, breaking and remaking of coalitions, massive corruption at every level, and a terrorism problem that has kept the nation unsafe for international investment, all these drained the existing political parties of credibility and created an opening for an outsider. Meanwhile, the deep state continued its “good jihadi, bad jihadi” policy at home and its double game with the US abroad. With the Osama Bin Laden assassination, matters seem to have come to a head with the US. The Americans want GHQ to arrange for an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan and appear willing to pay Pakistan for help in achieving this, but they are not yet ready to hand the place back to the Taliban and the Haqqanis and their Jihadi friends. GHQ meanwhile is playing hardball and smells victory (also smells disasters to come after victory, but victory has its own momentum) and maybe feeling tempted to get rid of the present civilian setup , preferring a civilian regime that is more closely aligned with their own strategic vision. The Facebook generation and the deep state may thus both be ready to opt for Imran Khan. And Imran Khan, it seems, is ready to opt for them. He has sharpened his anti-American message (a message that appeals to both the jihadi and the left-liberal wings of the middle classes) and toned down criticism of the army. He is saying all the right things about drone attacks, peace with our Taliban brothers and an American defeat in Afghanistan. He has been well coached by Shireen Mazari and Hamid Gul and his party is using trained cadres from the Islami Jamiat e Tulaba as well as enthusiastic youngsters from the Facebook generation. The moment has produced the man.
Having produced the man, the next step was to launch him on to the political stage in suitable manner. That step was achieved in Lahore on the 30th of October. Whether the deep state helped out with the gathering or not, the crowd was impressive and enthusiastic. For most of the young people there, it was the first taste of a genuine mass event where everyone is pushing towards one goal with one voice. That this “goal” was being defined in the Paknationalist terms they have all been fed in school and in everyday propaganda was the icing on the cake. Grown men were seen to cry helplessly as carefully choreographed patriotic music blared and the crowd rose as one to sing the national anthem. Fed on a steady diet of news about corrupt, treacherous and unpatriotic politicians, the crowd was happy to anoint Imran Khan as the savior who will eradicate corruption and save the nation. A generation that never saw the much bigger gatherings of Benazir Bhutto and her father seems to have been swept off their feet by the event. And why not? In addition to pushing the Paknationalist buttons, the rally had something for everyone. A prayer break (with the great leader praying alone on stage during the event) was followed by Shahzad Roy and guitar music. Bearded boys with Al-Jihad headbands mingled good naturedly with middle class families and liberal students from LUMS and NUST. For one shining evening, it must have seemed like hope has been reborn.
But it is still difficult to see how all this will translate into electoral victory unless the deep state plans to manipulate elections in a big way. Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy and established parties, even when discredited, have a grass-roots organizational advantage. In addition, Imran Khan’s personal popularity is wide, but not deep. Very different groups are currently united under his wing, but when push comes to shove, ideological and political choices will have to be made. Right now, Imran Khan has liberal followers who coexist in the party with hardcore Islamists who made their bones in the Islami Jamiat e Tulaba. But as he gets closer to real power, choices will have to be made. Since his own understanding of politics and the future of Pakistan is fundamentally aligned with the Paknationalists of the Shireen Mazari and Ahmed Qureshi variety, I predict his choices will turn to out to match those of GHQ to an extent that may surprise a lot of his liberal fans. This is a prediction, and I realize it is an unpopular one in the liberal blogosphere. Pakistani liberals are also hungry for a savior and right now they prefer to latch on to whatever little bones Imran is throwing in their direction (guitar music right after Magrib prayers, women in visible positions, a modern look and feel) but I fear that Imran Khan is not just repeating his 6th grade Islamiyat and Pakistan studies slogans because repeating simplified propaganda is part and parcel of modern mass politics. He is repeating them because he genuinely believes all those fables about rightly guided caliphs, Jirga justice, Islamic social welfare, the vision of Allama Iqbal, the “leadership of the Quaid e Azam” and so on. But since these stories are not too closely aligned with reality, historic or contemporary, a sincere believer is likely to become a pawn in the hands of those with a clearer vision of what they want and a more realistic view of politics and power. The Leninist term “useful idiot” comes to mind, but in this case it is not Pakistan’s 37 Leninists but it’s much more determined deep state that are likely to take advantage of Khan sahib’s naiveté.
Of course, this may not be a done deal yet. Imran clearly has an idealistic bent and even GHQ may not find his crusading zeal easy to contain. And while everyone from Humayun Gohar to Ayaz Amir may be excited by this rally, reality has a way of setting in in Pakistan. The Paknationalist agenda is not new. Army men sitting in mess halls have been carping about unpatriotic politicians, bloody provincialists and separatists, uneducated Pakistani masses and massive foreign conspiracies for decades. But they have failed to wave a magic wand to fix these problems, not because they held back, but because no magic wand actually exists. Wanting to clean up Pakistan and run it like a tight ship (the current model is supposedly China, though a few inconvenient details come to mind: a 3000 year old civilization, a century of revolutions and wars, a genuine mass-based party and titanic achievements and failures, modern capitalism embraced like never before, and so much more) is all well and good, but you cannot create anything you want out of thin air; you have to work with what exists and the properties of what exists are not necessarily what the Paknationalists think they are. History and society may have features that make some choices possible and others nearly impossible. Paknationalism of the GHQ type does not have a sufficient overlap with history, political realities or the various cultures of Pakistan to allow the creation of the homogenous- Islamic-modern-military-mullah-netizen hybrid that is being desired. But it is possible that this vision has enough overlap with the common dreams of Pakistan’s middle class youth to let them have a go at it. One just hopes it evolves towards sanity and a softer nationalism instead of doubling down and going for broke by grasping “this sorry scheme of things entire; would we not shatter it to bits and then, remold it nearer to heart’s desire...
The Neurological Basis of Really, Really Bad Behavior (Norman Costa)
Anatomy Of A Psychopath : The Neurobiological Basis Of Evil
WRITTEN BY JONATHAN PARARAJASINGHAM SEPTEMBER 30, 2011,
Editor’s Note: This is the first part of “Mind’s Matter”, a new series of articles by Dr. Jonathan Pararajasingham, exploring the Neurobiological basis of behaviour.
“We serial killers are your sons, we are your husbands, we are everywhere.” – Ted Bundy One of the most controversial areas of research in neuroscience involves the search for biophysical causes of sadistic thought and behaviour. But there now seems to be enough complementary evidence to at least begin piecing together a coherent materialistic description of the psychopathic mind. A number of potential genetic and pathophysiological causes of violence and aggression have been investigated over recent years. These include things like the monoamine oxidase A gene, head trauma, serotonin deficiency, epilepsy, stress, and neuropeptides. But since the recent surge in quality of neuroimaging techniques, we are now finding exceptionally detailed anatomical correlates to certain types of behaviour, including antisocialism and criminality. Research now points to the discovery that impulsive aggression and violence arise as a consequence of faulty emotion regulation circuitry in the brain. In this paper I aim to outline the evidence and implications of this finding.
I am only now done with the October 17th New Yorker - I read the magazine at a leisurely pace and in its paper version. The two book reviews published in the issue caught my eye and elicited two completely disparate reactions. Adam Kirsch's commentary on David Lodge's novel A Man of Parts, a thinly disguised biography of H.G. Wells is delightful, both because the book in question describes the prolific literary and sexual exploits of Wells, as also the critic's wisdom of refraining from "explaining" things to the reader like an earnest school master. The other review, that of Allan Hollinghurst's new novel The Stranger's Child by James Wood is quite the opposite. The article is more than a book review, it is in reality Wood's paean to the author's supposedly rare and exceptional ability of "writing beautifully." In order to drive home the point that Hollingshurst's style is not mere "weak blond prose," Wood makes forays into couple of his other novels and drags us through a painstaking exegesis (with grammar lessons thrown in for good measure) of why the prose in question is indeed "beautiful" and not merely "blond." James Wood is considered the foremost literary critic and this is exactly why I never much liked him. The following is only the beginning:
Most of the prose writers acclaimed for “writing beautifully” do no such thing; such praise is issued comprehensively, like the rain on the just and the unjust. Mostly, what’s admired as beautiful is ordinary; or sometimes it’s too obviously beautiful, feebly fine—what Nabokov once called “weak blond prose.” The English novelist Alan Hollinghurst is one of the few contemporary writers who deserve the adverb. His prose has the power of re-description, whereby we are made to notice something hitherto neglected. Yet, unlike a good deal of modern writing, this re-description is not achieved only by inventing brilliant metaphors, or by flourishing some sparkling detail, or by laying down a line of clever commentary. Instead, Hollinghurst works quietly, like a poet, goading all the words in his sentences—nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs—into a stealthy equality. I mean something like this, from his novel “The Line of Beauty” (2004): “Above the trees and rooftops the dingy glare of the London sky faded upwards into weak violet heights.” We can suddenly see the twilit sky of a big city afresh, and the literary genius is obviously centered in the unexpected strength of the adjective “weak,” which brings alive the diminishing strata of the urban night sky, overpowered by the bright lights on the ground. The effect is paradoxical, because we usually associate heights not with weakness but with power or command. And the poetry lies not just in what the sentence paints but in how it sounds: there is something mysteriously lovely about the rhythm of “weak violet heights,” and the way the two adjectives turn into a plural noun that is really just another adjective; the sentence does indeed seem to drift away into the far distance.
From the National Academies: "A new data network that integrates emerging research on the molecular makeup of diseases with clinical data on individual patients could drive the development of a more accurate classification of disease and ultimately enhance diagnosis and treatment, says a new report from the National Research Council." (Courtesy of DocuTicker's DocuBase.)
Careful readers will note that the NA press release highlights the goal of a new taxonomy, while the report itself emphasizes the benefits to health care of layered data integration. Nor does the press release explicitly mention privacy or consent issues, alluding only to the report's recommendation of "gradually eliminating institutional, cultural, and regulatory barriers to widespread sharing of individuals' molecular profiles and health histories while still protecting patients' rights." The report itself is more forthcoming, particularly on pages 56-58 of chapter 4, "How Do We Get There?," where it addresses "the ethical and policy challenges" of an "Information Commons" populated with individuals' molecular data, medical histories, profiles of social and environmental environments, and medical outcomes.
Clearly, the authors are queasy about privacy concerns, in two competing respects. First, they view current rules for handling of patient information (fundamentally, HIPAA) as ineffective and obstructive of progress. The vision is for a "commons," after all, accessible not only to academic, but also commercial researchers. Second, even if participating researchers and practitioners can demonstrate trustworthiness, data security remains fraught with potential vulnerabilities. The cultural barrier, a euphemism for personal expectations of privacy, may very well become the challenge most easily adjusted to support the project.