This is a short post to share a surprising discovery today while reading a Bengali essay by a Belgian Catholic priest (he may be French - I am not wholly certain but definitely a French speaker who reads and writes fluent Bengali; things are getting mixed up already).
Haven't played a game of cards for a long time except the solitary ones on the computer. It used to be a favorite pastime during the long hot summer vacations. We used the Bengali, Hindi/Urdu and English names for the suits of cards depending on the game and the company. At home, where my mother was very often a participant, we almost always used Benglai. I had always wondered about the Bengali card names because unlike their counterparts in English and Hindi / Urdu, they do not mean anything. Now I know why. They are distortions of foreign words. Three of the four names of the suits of playing cards in Bengali derive from Dutch! Ruhiton, Haroton and Ishkapon (diamonds, hearts and spades respectively) in Bengali correspond to Ruiten, Harten and Schoppen in Dutch. The exception is the suit of clubs which is Chiraton in Bengali and Klaveren in Dutch for clover. Chiraton is related to the Hindi / Urdu name, Chiri meaning bird. It seems that Bengalis learnt to play the western (French origin) 52 card game from sailors of the Dutch East India Company.
Prior to that card games with 96 card decks were popular in India. The cards were called Ganjifa (or Ganjipha) and they had been imported to India by the Persians employed by the Mughal courts. Ganjifa cards had some similarity with the French system in assigning value to each card but were otherwise distinct. Gradually they assumed regional flavor in different parts of India, often supplanting Persian iconography with Hindu religious mythology, such as the ten Avatars of the god Vishnu and other folklore. The production of the handmade Ganjifa cards became an art form. From the distinct Persian form of the Mughal court in the north, different versions of the card game became popular in Maharashtra and Gujarat in western India and Bengal and Orissa in the east, giving rise in the process to new artistic renditions and games with local rules.
(Mughal Ganjifa deck) (Ganjifa cards depicting Hindu gods)
(The title of my post refers to a popular Bengali dance drama written and composed by Rabindranath Tagore. Perhaps Sujatha can provide some good links to the music. Thanks to my sister Mandira for educating me on the history of Ganjifa.)
I had a vague sense that the Aurora movie theater shooting last month became a much larger story than the Wisconsin gurudwara shooting last Sunday. Google trends thinks the same thing, going by search volumes for Aurora and Sikh over the past month. (I pasted the Google Trends volumes first for the US, then for India, then for the world)
1. Within the US, the peak interest in the Batman shooting was several times higher than that for the Wisconsin gurudwara shooting, and the interest was a lot slower to die away.
1.1 Aurora beat Sikh in every state, Wisconsin being the only one where Sikh came close.
1.2 There seems to be an English/Spanish difference - searches in Spanish were basically entirely uninterested in the Gurudwara case (changing the query to 'sij' changes nothing, except that no one on the English site was searching for it!).
2. In India, Sikh beat Aurora, though not by a very large amount, once you subtract out the high base rate of Sikh which has nothing to do with the Wisconsin attack.
2.1 Within India the pattern is as expected - Punjab, Haryana and Delhi were wildly less interested in Aurora (though I wasn't able to see the graphs for Indian states separately - maybe that difference comes in part from the base rate, and not from the shooting peak.)
2.2 The further south you go the more the relative interest in Aurora increases over Sikh and both Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were actually rather more interested in Aurora than in Sikh.
3. The worldwide trend tracked the US one, with Aurora beating Sikh in every country except India. Google doesn't think it has enough search volume to give results for Pakistan. The more Anglophone countries showed some degree of interest in Sikh. Many of the country level graphs just look like noise, so I suspect neither of these was a big story (or these weren't good keywords) in many countries.
Possibly pertinent thoughts:
A. Generically, people care more about those who're like them. Basically the queries are compatible with what seems intuitively evident - Indian Sikhs see themselves as having more in common with American Sikhs than American non-Sikhs do.
B. In principle one should normalize, since Aurora killed more people. I wouldn't know how, since in practice I doubt people have linear responses in search interest versus number of deaths.
C. The Aurora story had legs, since the guy was caught, then dyed his hair, went to court etc. And he booby-trapped his house. Plus he chose his site well, since everyone watching the Batman movie would find out about the story and get interested. Basically inasmuch as he was looking for attention, he did a good job. The Gurudwara guy instead killed himself like an idiot. Let this be a lesson to us all - suicide is never the answer.
D. The Aurora shooter is inscrutable since at least so far it's hard to figure out what he was thinking or what went wrong. Whether your particular hobby horse is mental health, or the anomie and isolation characteristic of technological life, or the fate of the losers of sexual revolution, or bullying, there's ample fodder for speculation. By contrast, the logic of the Gurudwara shooter was apparent from the start. What's inexplicable attracts more search queries.
Didn't Mitt Romney know that if he ran for the highest office of the nation, his personal taxes were going to be of some interest to voters and the media? Of course he did. But for some reason Romney has decided that it may do less harm to his candidacy if he were to brazen it out by not disclosing but a minuscule portion of his past tax returns than allow Americans to get a glimpse of his finances. His secretiveness has naturally given rise to much speculation as it deviates from the norm set by most past presidential candidates, including Romney's own father, of disclosing several years worth of tax documents. One thought is that the Romneys, despite their enormous wealth, may have paid very low taxes over the years compared to the average wage earner with far less income. It has also been suggested that there may have been some years when Romney paid no taxes.
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada dropped a bombshell recently by declaring publicly that he has learnt from a reliable source that indeed Romney paid zero taxes for ten years during a period from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. Romney challenged Reid to reveal his source ("put up or shut up") and some Republican congressmen have called the Democratic Senate Majority Leader a liar. But as of yesterday, Reid was sticking by his assertions, adding that his source is a Republican with inside knowledge of Bain Capital, Romney's company. Now there is speculation about the identity of Reid's "source." The Daily Kosis reporting that it may be one of the two Huntsmans - father & son, both Jon, both ex-governors of Utah and Junior a past rival of Romney for the GOP presidential ticket. (If true, this may turn out to be a high power Mormon conspiracy / grudge fest. Reid, the Huntsmans and Romney are all Mormons. The Huntsmans are said to be friendly with Democrat Reid but can't stand Romney, their own party's candidate)
Whatever we find out (or don't) about Romney's tax returns between now and November, may be up to how much pressure the media and the Obama campaign can bring to bear on the Romney camp and the latter's ability to withstand it. But for now, it doesn't look like Romney has made a coherent or convincing case as to why he should not make more of his tax returns public. Here is a report in the Washington Post.
The man who once said “corporations are people” apparently doesn’t believe the inverse.
Bloomberg asked Romney whether, if he was investing in a company, he would want to see more than two years of financial reports, likening that process to the American people electing a president. But Romney suggested the standards aren’t the same for people and businesses.
“I’m not a business,” he said. “We have a process in this country, which was established by law, which provides for the transparency which candidates are required to meet. I have met with that requirement with full financial disclosure of all my investments, but in addition have provided and will provide a full two years of tax returns.”
This is the candidate who, almost exactly one year ago, got into a somewhat-heated exchange with a heckler in Iowa in which Romney made that case that “corporations are people” — that is, what happens to corporations affects the people who work for them.
“Of course they are,” Romney said at the time. “Everything corporations earn also goes to people.”
So according to Romney, a person is not a business but a business is a person for tax purposes. Ah well. I guess that can be defined as opportunistic logic. I have been wondering about something else. During this time when hot words are being exchanged between Reid, Romney and some GOP politicians, one prominent Republican who may know more about this matter than anyone outside Bain Capital's accounting office, has maintained total silence. John McCain had vetted Romney as a possible running mate in 2008 at which time he examined twenty three years worth of Romney's tax returns. McCain has not said a word against Reid or in favor of Romney.
Sanjukta Paul on the exploitative business practice of classifying workers as independent contractors -over at the Frying Panblog. (This is part I of a three part article; part II and III will be added as they appear)
Since 9/11/2001, while Muslims have been subjected to official suspicion by governmental agencies, American Sikhs, more than any other group, have faced random violence unleashed by individual patriotic vigilantes. Yesterday's shooting at the Oak Creek Gurudwara near Milwaukee is being treated as domestic terrorism and a hate crime by the FBI. The killer is dead, shot by the police. So we may never know what motivated his rampage. The speculation is that it was a case of mistaken identity and that the gunman may have wished to kill Muslims but mistook the turbaned and bearded Sikh men as co-religionists of the now deceased Osama Bin Laden, the most notorious man with a turban and a beard that many Americans identify as their quintessential enemy. Sikhs of course, are not Muslims and it would still be a heinous hate crime if they were. But do such fine distinctions matter to a rage filled hater? Would he have killed anyway because Sikhs reminded him of Al Qaida and the Taliban and the physical symbols of otherness were enough for him to go berserk? See Amardeep Singh's thoughtful commentary on the matter.
In other news, Queen Elizabeth II became a Bond girl, Mr.Bean played ostinato in his inimitable style with the London Symphony Orchestra, Danny Boyle presented a fantastic spectacle of the transformation of Bucolic to Belligerent Industrial Britain, and highlighted the NHS that every Brit loves to complain about, but no one wants to lose.
Too bad, there are no official online replays of the whole Olympics opening ceremony to be found, it would have been nice to have a BBC version to compare against the dreadful and inane commentary of Bob Costas, Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera that US viewers were forced to endure, and pointless ad breaks.
(For those who missed it, here at least is a playful liveblog play-by-play of the event, with additional Brit-wit to delight the reader. I missed the bucolic baaing of the sheep, and started to watch only as the smokestacks went up.)
Matthew Yglesias at Slate makes the case that Romney should simply shrug and say offshoring is a Good Thing, instead of making silly claims about "retroactive retirement." He says basically that it is good for jobs to be located where it's most efficient, that in terms of wealth creation this is positive sum, that the problems it causes in the US are distributional, and that the preferred way of handling these is via taxation, welfare and job training. It's a good article (I'm not convinced it's good politics, another reason to support this :) ), in the 'lets infuriate the NAFTA-bashing portions of the electorate' genre. I do agree with most of what's said, but what provokes this post is the following:
A couple of hundred of years of catastrophic misgovernment and imperialist exploitation left billions of Asians languishing in dire poverty. When Asian governance started improving, Asian workers’ productive capacity and earnings potential skyrocketed. This has been a triumph for human welfare but a disaster for Americans whose skills have been radically devalued in the process.
The reason I like this is that captures a certain zero-sum logic, and I want to write about the ethics of that situation. Far too many on the American left act as if globalization and trade hurt everyone instead of just first-world workers as workers, and it is important (if rhetorically inconvenient) to mark the distinction. As I see it, anti-outsourcing rhetoric from the left is basically anti-humanitarian for reasons of patriotism. Patriotism here might well be acceptable - no doubt most Americans want their president to benefit fellow Americans, not the globe at large. What's not right is not even acknowledging, or thinking about the tradeoffs. Some examples of the unexamined patriotic view follow:
1. The patriotic argument against globalization is unthinkingly extended to a sort of amorphous first-world solidarity. I've had plenty of well-meaning American friends speak with casual dismay of Canadian or French or UK jobs going to China or India or Vietnam. Few have managed to explain (to their own satisfaction, forget mine) why jobs going from rich French people to poor Vietnamese should make Americans sad instead of happy, or why this isn't a huge increase in global utility. Mind you, none of these people actually believe whites/Christians/Westerners count more, it's just they've never really made themselves consider, you know, the rest of the globe in their thoughts about globalization. Most people I've made this argument to have managed to see the point that Americans should rejoice in Canadian or Australian jobs going to raise third world standards , reducing global inequality, even if they as Americans, they have a patriotic reason not to want American jobs to do the same. I am not quite sure if that argument works, but they've typically never even thought about it before.
2. Especially with the increased outsourcing of white-collar jobs (where it's hard to say believably that your customer service guy with a thick accent is being exploited) some of the rottenness that's always been at the heart of the anti-sweatshop movement is made clear: to a substantially under-acknowledged extent, anti-sweatshop is about labor protectionism, not humanitarian concern for the world's poor. Globalization and sweatshops have been basically good for China, not bad. And don't pretend to me that American labor unions are motivated principally about giving the Chinese good jobs, and not to 'keep American jobs American.' The recent media interest in Apple and Foxconn (never mind that the suicide rate at Foxconn is actually lower than even that for the US) similarly was carried out, for the most part, without mentioning that the Chinese benefit from their iJobs, and that "bringing the jobs back home" would help Americans workers and hurt the Chinese. Which is fine, if that's what you want, but remains a pretty sketchy thing to sell as humanitarian benevolence.
3. Even if it's defensible for a private American citizen (or company) to care more about Americans, it's not obviously ethically obligatory. It seems morally permissible to lack the patriotic jobs preference. To give an intuition jogger, few, even those who're very patriotic, would say Bill Gates is being wicked to spend his foundation money fighting malaria in Africa instead of trying to improve American high school education. The idea that firms moving jobs offshore are being immoral is actually rather harder to justify than the claim that they are merely not immoral not to. Indeed, leftist ideologies tend to value in-group preference less, which is to my mind as unambiguous a reason for preferring them as any.
Again, I don't really think trade-with-redistribution (or even trade-without-redistribution, it's just worse that what might be) is zero-sum. But it's useful to think about what kinds of moral arguments follow, at least if you're uncomfortable with explicitly parochial perspectives. Hell, considering the existence of absolute poverty, or even just the decreasing marginal utility of money, trade could be substantially negative sum and still be a net moral positive for humanity.
The right wing recklessly charges its opponents of harboring socialist / communist sympathies whenever there is a disagreement on taxes, spending or war. Democrats in congress as also Democratic presidents and presidential candidates since FDR have been targets of such scurrilous attacks. President Obama is no exception. But in his case, the additional suspicion of un-Americanness is repeatedly voiced. It may be meant as a dog whistle aimed at the conservative base but most of us understand that "un-American" here is but a thinly veiled reminder of Obama's skin color. Here is John Sununu, the mostly forgotten White House chief of the first President Bush taking Obama to task for not understanding American capitalism and values. In doing so, he brought up Obama's childhood in Hawaii, smoking pot as a young man and beginning his career in Chicago as sure indicators of alien roots. (Really? Hawaii, Chicago and pot smoking?) He forgot to mention Columbia, Harvard and a pair of white midwestern grandparents who played a major stabilizing role in Obama's upbringing. How soon we forget the brickbats thrown at us when we are hurling them at someone else. Sununu himself was born in a foreign country (Cuba, for heaven's sake!) to foreign born parents (both) and was suspected of having anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian sympathies by some American supporters of Israel.
Then there is the ever despicable Michele Bachmann whose McCarthyist tendencies have been on shameless display for a long time. She sees enemies of America under every table, behind every bush and among her ideological opponents, especially if there is a whiff of "foreignness" about them, be it their skin color or non-Christian religious background. In her latest outburst she accused Huma Abedin, a long time aide of Hillary Clinton of being a possible Muslim Brotherhood plant in the Obama administration. She was appropriately upbraided by Senator John McCain for her ignorant mean hearted campaign. I suspect Bachmann's disgraceful slander against Abedin is a back handed way of suggesting that since Obama is a secret Muslim, he has appointed a Muslim mole in his administration to undermine America's security. Never mind that Abedin became Hillary Clinton's trusted aide as a very young woman, before she was anywhere near Obama. Interestingly, Bachmann's own foreign connections recently came to light. She never considered disclosing the fact while she shrilly paraded as the All American patriot. But the omission is understandable; Switzerland after all, is not Pakistan.
Beatrice is a woman in her mid-thirties, and a smart, sharp attorney for a major law firm. She and three other women had been together in group therapy for two years. Each woman experienced severe childhood sexual abuse. In one very emotionally difficult session Bea put a question to her therapist. In tears, and with a voice of anger, pleading, and despair she asked, “What is the point of all this [experience of abuse]?” Her therapist, Francine, answered, “There is no point to it, except what you can give to it. And you have learned so much, and gained a compassion and a wisdom that few have. You can now tell the truth to people who need to know.”
I was extremely fortunate to observe this group for a significant period of time, with the permission of all involved. I was doing research of my own on child sexual abuse. During the time I was observing I had regular individual therapy sessions with Francine. This is an absolute necessity, in my opinion, for anyone doing research on abuse from first-person accounts.
Louis Breger, author of Psychotherapy, Lives Intersecting
While reading Louis Breger's new book, Psychotherapy: Lives Intersecting, I kept going back to that difficult session when Bea asked her question. Yes, her question moved me, deeply. Equally significant, for me, was Francine's response. Francine is a therapist that Breger describes as having 'the touch.' Others might refer to it as 'the gift.'
My experience with Bea's group and with Francine in individual sessions, gave me a perspective on this book. In a way, Louis Breger, PhD is the complement to a patient like Bea. As a therapist, teacher, researcher, husband, and father he has learned many things and gained much wisdom in a 50 year career. In this professional memoir, he is passing it on, and telling the truth to people who need to know.
Who needs to know?
Certainly, Psychotherapy: Lives Intersecting is a book for psychotherapists, counselors, and others in the helping professions in psychology, social work, and psychiatry. It is for students in mental health and related majors from upper-class students at the undergraduate level to Masters and Doctoral programs. Beyond the academic and training institutions, faculty, and students, this book belongs in the hands of all friends of psychotherapy, those considering therapy for themselves, and those who are trying to help family or friends make a decision about psychotherapy. Though a professional memoir covering professional subjects, it is still accessible to an educated and interested layperson.
If the reader can set aside preconceptions of the usual and obligatory book-jacket blurbs, they will discover that Psychotherapy: Lives Intersecting IS unique in its field. As a professional memoir he discusses substantive matters like the history of psychoanalysis, and varied schools of thought and theories of personality. Breger is as clear as he can be in his criticism of methods of psychotherapy based upon a dominating guru, inflexible dogma, and cult-like followers. He is equally clear about what is most important to a successful therapeutic outcome for the patient – Hint: It may be a surprise for many. What makes this book stand apart from others in his field are two things:
In a comment on my last post on the Higgs boson discovery, Dean asked why scientists are okay with cocktail party and other trivial analogies in describing scientific phenomena, but evoking God is an "allergen." The reason certainly is that most scientists are not in the business of explaining god although the temptation arises whenever a hugely significant finding that sheds light on the workings of the universe excites the scientific community. Take for example, the theories of evolution and relativity, nuclear fission / fusion, the structure of DNA. The enthusiasm to dress up a scientific discovery with a godly label is quickly curbed because scientists know from long experience the complications that arise by going down that path. Similarly it would be advisable for religion to steer clear of science because the results of mixing the two has so far been not just a bit ludicrous but quite dangerous. Here are two reports from Louisina whose ultra conservative religious governor Bobby Jindal has taken it upon himself with help from like minded legislators, to teach school children in private schools that a beguiling Scottish myth may explain the theory of evolution better than Darwin did. But introducing god and religion into science is always a messy enterprise because one never knows what other mythical beasts may demand equal time.
On an otherwise slow news day (CNN's Anderson Cooper is gay, the US apologized to Pakistan so the war in Afghanistan can go on, another high profile banker resigned) physicists at CERN confirmed the discovery of the elusive subatomic particle Higgs boson. Now, this was no ordinary scientific event. Decades of speculation, ambitious nomenclature (God Particle) and gigantic collisons inside the Large Hadron Collider came to an exciting climax with the acknowledgment of its existence. Yet they tell us that the discovery is not really a discovery.
Anyway, for us laypersons here is a video that may explain the whole phenomenon. (link via 3 Quarks Daily) Also, our own Prasad is at CERN. Perhaps he will describe to us what went on there during the days and hours leading up to the media splash. And to think all this could have happened in Texas! Happy Fourth of July.
"In fact, people are still expected to provide reasons not to have children, but no reasons are required to have them. It’s assumed that if individuals do not have children it is because they are infertile, too selfish or have just not yet gotten around to it. In any case, they owe their interlocutor an explanation. On the other hand, no one says to the proud parents of a newborn, Why did you choose to have that child? What are your reasons? The choice to procreate is not regarded as needing any thought or justification."
There is a "Peanuts" cartoon with Charley Brown at his school desk taking an exam. He doesn't know the answer to the essay question on the test. So he proceeds to write an answer, not to the test question, but to his own question for which he has a ready made answer.
So I am wondering as to what, or to whom, Christine Overall is directing her analysis. Who or what is asking a childless female to answer for her lack of progeny? Who or what enforces an expectation upon a woman without kids for an explanation, and one that better be good? If the answer is her mother who can't wait to have grandchildren, or nosy people at work, does this justify a NY Times Opinionator piece to expose such an outrage and biased imposition upon personal choice and freedom. Is this a reason to uncover the real crime that all those folks with babies get off Scot free and owe a very good explanation to the rest of us.
Could it be that the choice to procreate, or even the non-choice of an unintended pregnancy, goes without the slightest curiosity and querying from family, friends, partner, OBGYN, therapist, conselor, or spiritual advisor? Is it true that everyone else in the woman's life is completely incurious and silent as to "Why a baby?" or "Why a baby now?" or "Why a baby later?" or "Why not a baby?" or "Why not a baby now?" or "Why not a baby later?"
I suppose all women who want to have a child, or are thinking about having a child, or are with child NEVER engage in any serious heart to heart talk with anyone of the consequences about wanting, or thinking about wanting, or the fact that they are already pregnant with child. I would have to believe that these discussions and responses to the counsel of others do not actually take place. Such women never have to think about what they are doing, nor consider the counsel of those who care or are interested. They just want to have babies without the slightest thought about what they are doing, and nobody else cares to ask either.
Christine Overall: "The burden of proof — or at least the burden of justification — should therefore rest primarily on those who choose to have children, not on those who choose to be childless."
I really have to ask as to whom the proof is to be rendered, and by what authority the burden is required.
I wonder if Christine Overall is simply too sensitive or too anticipatory about unthinking words and intrusive inquiries from friends and family. Certainly, no organization or institution or government agency is asking, let alone requiring, a full and complete disclosure as to why not. Imposition, rudeness, careless questions, and thoughtlessness can cause anxiety, embarrassment, anger, or outrage at the violation of personal matters. This is understandable. What is not understandable, in my personal opinion, is why the matter transforms into the most grave of ethical questions and the entire burden of any explanation falls on THEM, not ME.
As I suggested at the beginning, she is answering her own question, not the actual question about what is really being deliberated by most people when it comes to having children.
Do watch. It is not silly, I promise. Can't say whether his will be a "rags" to riches story but the man is an inspirational speaker and exceptionally diligent. Hope his wife and mother are back. (via 3 Quarks Daily):
I finally got to read Katherine Boo's 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity" a few weeks ago. Praised to the high heavens as an authentic portrait of authentic people (as opposed to fake Slumdogs) in Annawadi, a dirty, sewage cesspool surrounded by assorted huts, inhabited largely by upwardly mobile garbage processors and resellers, Boo puts together a curiously clinical dissection of life in the slums.
From the New York Times on Katherine Boo's attempt to piece out the lives that she describes in her book:
"In her early visits to Annawadi, which began in 2007, Ms. Boo, who is small, blond and delicate looking and knew none of the half dozen or so languages spoken there, was anything but invisible. There are, or used to be, two main landmarks in the slum: a concrete wall with ads for Italian tiles (“Beautiful Forever”) that give the book its title, and a foul-smelling sewage lake: a junk-rimmed pool of excrement, monsoon runoff and petrochemicals. While videotaping one day, Ms. Boo fell in, and when she came out her feet were blue.
“At first it was a circus act,” she said in New York the other day. “It was, ‘Look at that crazy white woman!’ ” But she spent so much time in Annawadi, reporting almost daily for four- or five-month stints over a span of four years, that eventually she became a fixture and was taken for granted. “The people got bored with me,” she said, “and they started laughing when others thought I was interesting. I think some of them even felt sorry for me.”
In a sequel to her book, this New Yorker article had a short video of the denizens of Annawadi, showing a brief glimpse of some of the people whose lives she describes.
But as ever, she offends the sensibilities of the 'India Shining' crowd, one of whom has left a telling comment at the end:
"I requested to Katherine Boo your work as a report of sanitary Inspector of India I read and understand Now please just visit to ghetto of America and describe how poor people of U.S.living most penury condition,how horrible crimes occurred there.Let world know how most mighty and super rich America treated her poor people"
Which is exactly what she had been doing for years before turning those sharp eyes to India. From her Wikipedia page:
"In 2000, her series for the Post about group homes for mentally retarded people won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The Pulitzer judges noted that her work "disclosed wretched neglect and abuse in the city’s group homes for the mentally retarded, which forced officials to acknowledge the conditions and begin reforms."
In 2003, she joined the staff of The New Yorker, to which she had been contributing since 2001. One of her subsequent New Yorker articles, "The Marriage Cure," won the National Magazine Award for Feature Writing in 2004. The article chronicled state-sponsored efforts to teach poor people in an Oklahoma community about marriage in hopes that such classes would help their students avoid or escape poverty. Another of Boo's New Yorker articles, "After Welfare", won the 2002 Sidney Hillman Award, which honors articles that advance the cause of social justice."
But the comment did remind me of something else: the redoubtable Katherine Mayo and the polemics of her 'sanitory inspector' job of reporting on pre-Independence India. Much of that was truth, but when presented with a biased eye, raised considerable outrage, whereas Katherine Boo's willingness to slum it out with the Annawadians makes for a very different approach.
Boo offers no prescriptives, except when she is pressed, here in this interview by Bill Gates. On her being asked about why she eschews policy recommendations:
"As a documentary journalist, I don’t see my role as lecturing governments or international development people about what they should do. Rather, I’m trying to give an unsentimental, rigorously reported account of how government policy or market forces affect lives and prospects on the so-called ground—not least because I think that’s information conscientious policymakers and philanthropists long for, and often lack.
On the books in India, for instance, you’ll find internationally acclaimed laws intended to involve more Dalits and women in the governance of the country, as well as to bring child laborers and girls into the education system. But when I looked closer in Mumbai, I found that the reforms had been implemented so shoddily that their main effect was to circulate money and power among the political elite. (I’ve seen variations on that theme in American inner cities, too.) If such diversions of public funds and subversions of policy intent aren’t brought to light, we might assume that low-income or low-caste families have received more help than they’ve actually had. Worse, we might see their failure to thrive as a reflection on their capacities, when the essential failure has come at the level of the powerful.:
Another Katherine, another era, but a different kind of lens, unsparing but not judgmental.
I have been meaning to write a proper review of Leila Ahmed's autobiography A Border Passageever since I finished reading it a couple of months ago. But the inertia that has befallen any attempt at writing a substantive blog post once again prevents me from writing a well thought out review. I will leave you with the link to the Amazon page where the first three reviewers' opinions pretty much encapsulate what I may have said here. Somewhere down the thread, a couple of readers have commented that the book is not a typical autobiography (true) and that Ahmed has nothing interesting to say (not true).
A Border Passage is not about Ahmed's personal history but more a history of her family, that of the Egyptian society she grew up in and the changes she observed with the passage of time. In recounting them she gives her readers a brief tour of modern Egypt's evolution from the last part of the 19th century to the present, from being a part of the Ottoman Empire, a British colony and finally becoming an independent nation in the middle of the 20th century. The events chronicle the rise of Egyptian nationalism, the country's many attempts at shaking off the stranglehold of European colonialism and the dream of forging a liberal democratic system of government. Despite a vibrant political climate and a sizable secular western educated intelligentsia, democracy never did acquire a foothold in Egypt's political system. After the colonial rule was dismantled, it was replaced by successive homegrown military regimes. We are currently witnessing the struggles and aftermath of the so called Arab Spring in several middle eastern and north African Muslim countries. Egypt was one of the first nations to recently topple a totalitarian government by popular uprising. Whether democracy will finally arrive in Egypt is anybody's guess but the final outcome of the recent elections there may well have its roots in the Islamic nationalist movement set in motion in the 1930s and which the secular faction of Ahmed's parents' generation opposed vehemently.
I very much enjoyed A Border Passing. Ahmed's quiet and scholarly interpretation of Egyptian societal ethos, gender and class hierarchies, the stark divide between intellectual and cultural Islam and the many political upheavals that unfolded around her in Egypt, England and some parts of the middle east seem straightforward, thoughtful and sometimes surprising. The reader is not afforded much of an insight into the minutiae of the author's own personal conflicts, joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures, her moods or her love life. I think she intended it that way.
My cousin, Louis Defilippi, is a biochemist and lives in Chicago. When he is not tinkering with peptide chains he is the resident geneologist for the Costa family. On his Facebook page, Louis dedicated this Fathers Day to our great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather Honofrio La Mantia, born in Sicily around 1566, and named after the Greek Egyptian saint, "Onuphrius or Onoufrios (Greek: Ὀνούφριος, from Egyptian: Wnn-nfr meaning "he-who-is-continuingly-good")."
Louis included a link to an icon art piece of Saint Onoufrios (I prefer the Greek.) The Saint was revered in the Roman Catholic Church, and Eastern Othodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches. The icon depicts Onoufrios as he was known to live his life, as a revered desert hermit. His life is interesting and curious in the way most stories about 4th century desert hermits are interesting and curious to us who are removed by many centuries.
I found the icon, itself, fascinating. The resolution of the art work is sufficient to examine and enjoy the detailed work of the artist. The provenance and date of the icon are unknown. You can see it in full resolution HERE. It shows an old hermit dressed only in his long hair and a loincloth made of leaves. I did say he was a desert hermit. You can see an angel bringing him the Eucharist, the sacramental bread that becomes the Body of Christ.
A couple of things fascinate me about the painting, starting with color. I love the gold that is both deep and bright. Light shines with a white-out on his beard. The reds have a deep blood feel to them. The green of trees and loincloth leaves are like the German Schwarzwald. Most interesting, though, is the strange depiction of the body form. That is what brings me to the Grand Odalisque of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1814.) The oil on canvas is in the Louvre, in Paris.
As the high-end wine market confronts the problem of counterfeiting, a professional wine "detective" and sommelier explains how she identifies counterfeit wines:
fraud detection has nothing to do with the taste of a wine, Downey says. “If you’ve got something that’s been in a bottle for 40 or 50 or 100 years, there’s going to be bottle variation.” [...] nobody on the planet has so much experience with these incredibly rare wines that they can say with any degree of accuracy, ‘Oh yeah, this is correct Petrus from 1920.’ Bulls–t.” If taste told the tale, she points out, Kurniawan never would have pulled off the giant con he’s now charged with.
Downey’s approach when studying bottles and preparing authentication reports for clients is more about forensics than flavor. She takes into account paper stock, printing quality, and the oxidation rate of label paper...brings to bear historical knowledge about tin capsules and what colors of glass were used to bottle what brands when. “If you see a bottle where the label looks like hell but the capsule looks pristine, that’s like a 20-year-old’s body with a 90-year-old’s face,” she says. “They should have aged together. These are all errors that counterfeiters make.”
This sounds more like identifying cultured pearls than like identifying fake bike helmets or adulterated food. But if copying the taste of the great brands is possible for good forgers, one is left with a puzzle. iPads and Louis Vuitton bags can certainly be faked, and there are people who participate in that illegal activity, but they can also be knocked offlegally via products that are designed to look and behave basically the same, but don't try to mimic exactly or dupe the customer into paying the premium for a fake product. There should be if anything more of this in markets where taste is the only objective (as in non-prestige) quality of value. So where are the knock-off Chateau Lafite's and Famous Teas and civet coffees where they save money by using cats or goats or something? Brands that say "we are very similar to the famous brands, but cost about a tenth, and are good enough that only experts and 'detectives' can tell us apart from the real deal. For $large/10 you can experience what the aristocrats and billionaires and movie stars drink" Or do they exist?
Psychology's Quest for Scientific Respectability By
Norman Costa Ph.D.
(Note: This article was originally published in two-parts in January and February of 2012 under the titles "Psychological Science: Mathematical Argument and the Quest for Scientific Respectability - Part 1 and 2." The reason for combining the two was so that it could be submitted for the 3QuarksDaily prize in Science Writing.)
Part 1 - Mathematical Argument
We are reminded by Carl Sagan in his book, Cosmos, that the underpinning of modern science with mathematics goes back to Pythagoras. In the search for truths in nature, however, we no longer look for them in Pythagoras' mystical, even magical, power of numbers. Today, mathematics is indispensable for science as method, and science as content. We count, measure, perform basic operations (add, subtract, multiply, and divide,) compute values, solve equations, use visual display to communicate quantitative information, conduct statistical tests, and represent things and ideas with symbols and relationships.
The history of psychological science, even to the present day, has been a quest for scientific respectability. Few things have been as important to this quest as the development of mathematical argument for the science of psychology. Nothing has been more important, or as far reaching, for mathematical argument in psychology, than the development of the correlation coefficient. Because much of psychology (and the social sciences in general) has been the examination of individual differences, it was inevitable that tools be developed to express relationships and dependencies among different traits, capabilities, and just about anything that could be measured and recorded about people.
The rapid fire discoveries, in the 19th century, of fundamental laws of nature in physics, chemistry, and life sciences created an air of expectation, pride, and optimism. Some held the view that the final discovery of all laws of physical nature would be concluded in the early part of the new century. Psychology envisioned its own role in this great leap forward in knowledge and science. The development of mathematical argument was about to elevate psychology to a level that was on par with the more successful physical and life sciences – or so it was hoped.
It is difficult to appreciate, today, how exciting it was for scientific psychology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The development of the correlation coefficient became the Royal Road to scientific respectability, at least in the minds of the pioneers of psychological science. Statistical correlation formulas provided powerful tools that could be applied to a myriad of problems in the budding social and economic sciences. The correlation coefficient led to the development of other powerful tools like multiple correlation, canonical correlation, regression, and factor analysis. It gave impetus and support to the development of other tools for mathematical argument, particularly the concept of true score, and statistical tests.
The following is more of a set of musings than an argument, which musings I come by via this Slate article about giving men a choice in supporting children they didn't want in the first place. My interest in that question itself as an ethical issue is not great, though I do think there's something a bit off about giving a man no voice in whether a pregnancy is brought to term, but holding him equally responsible after birth, in the sense that this is a moral cost, not a moral benefit. My interest is in the existence of children who aren't wanted by their parents, not abortion or child support per se. But here's the baroque, not thought-out scheme I'm brought in mind of, more to stimulate talk than anything else.
The collection of ideas/presuppositions I'm working with is:
Single parent families are on balance bad for children, and impose fairly large costs upon society.
Abortion reduces the number of such unwanted babies and benefits society, via the Freakonomics type mechanism.
The woman's right to choose is morally valuable, and should not be legally restricted by other people's views.
Early abortion (till the development of a nervous system, for example) is morally neutral, and we shouldn't particularly care how many or few there are.
The chief existing constraints upon abortion come from people who want fewer abortions, not from those who want to encourage them.
What I'm thinking of, is the idea of giving men a legally recognized way of disclaiming all rights/responsibility toward their would-be baby in the early stages (say first couple of months?) of pregnancy. The legal right to abort or not would continue to reside solely with the woman, but if a man indicated through this mechanism his unwillingness to support the child, the woman (together with some state monetary support, see below) would bear sole legal responsibility for the child, with no expectation of any legal or financial support from the father from then on.
What would follow? The chief outcome of such a scheme, it seems to me, would be to reduce dramatically the number of births where both parents are not invested in the child being born. Currently a pregnant woman who doesn't on balance want a child can abort, so that children born are likely to be wanted at least by one parent (the mother). Under such a scheme the legally valid statement of a father to disown the child gives the mother extra incentive to abort in such situations, reducing the number of children born who aren't wanted by both parents.
Now I don't really want to actually deprive any father-unwanted child of financial support (though conceivably if the drop in the count of such children is sufficiently large that might be a cost worth incurring?). I want to say thus that the state should pay the tab in such situations. This leads to many further issues. The potentially tractable question is where-does-the-money-come-from. I really do think reducing the number of unwanted single-parent kids has such large social and economic benefits that it could be made to pay for itself and then some. A more tricky problem is that this gives men an incentive to disclaim interest in a child, as a way of attracting state support. To me the cleanest handle on this issue is that with the divorce rate at near 50%, there are difficulties with disclaiming interest in a child unless you mean it, e.g. for custody situations. The hardest objection might be: since the scheme is based on dissuading mothers from having children fathers don't want, providing state support merely exchanges a dissuasion with its removal. I have a vague sense that the "net pre-natal dissuasion" would continue to be strongly positive, that people don't emotionally regard the state as a complete substitute for their romantic partners. In other words, the strongest impact of the scheme is to have it be legally "out there" early in pregnancy that one person wants nothing do do with the child being born, and won't take interest in it thereafter.
I'd assume people of "tender hearted" dispositions want to have nothing to do with such schemes, but I've never been one of 'em. More concretely, what are the good/bad reasons in both directions here?