Saturday, April 26, 2014

Eating Well


Grasshoppers, Anyone?: Cooper writes: The point of the recipes in The Insect Cookbook is primarily to encourage an image of insect-eating very different from that of emaciated Africans stuffing live termites into their hungry mouths. While some of the recipes from Thailand, Mexico and elsewhere are exotic, those created by the Dutch chefs are variations on familiar Western dishes–insect burgers, 'Buglava' (baklava with mealworms), and wild mushroom risotto (with added grasshoppers). These dishes are designed for the conservative eater open to a bit of novelty.
Photo: © Corbis
Source: TLS

An article, by David E. Cooper, in The Times Literary Supplement looks at our changing eating habits, in particular what we eat and why; this comes about in light of what scientists say, and generally agree on, are agriculturally sustainable farming practices for the betterment of our planet's inhabitants.

Cooper, an emeritus professor of philosophy at Durham University, writes ("Entomophagism for all'; April 2014) about the shift in thinking, from the earth as man's domain to the earth as both earning and necessitating respect and protection from harm, as one would accord a good provider:
This consensus is sympathetically presented in The Politics of the Pantry, by Michael Mikulak, a young Canadian social scientist and small-scale farmer. While practices of animal husbandry are not his central concern, the book gives clear expression to what, for the “alternative food movement” that the author defends, these should be. His main concern is nothing less than “the survival of humanity”, which is at imminent risk, he maintains, under modern capitalism. A profit-driven “economic turn”, whereby nature is valued only as a resource, creates an “environmental crisis” – water shortages, falling crop yields, global warming – that no amount of “techno-utopian” fixing can resolve.
The solution, rather, is to abandon the current system of “industrial food” production in favour of an alternative food culture capable of “creating an exuberance and excess that feeds everyone”. Embraced in this alternative culture are Slow Food philosophy, the Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement in the United States, “locavorism”, farmers’ markets, kitchen gardening, practical education in “food skills”, and the eating of animals that have been “ethically raised”. “Utopian pastoral” as this culture may sound, it serves to inspire a radical “politics of the pantry” that engenders “trust, solidarity and pleasure” among those striving to create a “better world”.
Mikulak records that he was once a vegetarian but decided to “go beyond” this. For him, as for other enthusiasts of Slow Food and locavorism, dining on ethically raised pigs and chickens is not only a gastronomic treat, but a principled rejection of vegetarianism. Since they are discounted by the mass food industry, vegetarians allegedly have no influence on its methods of production. Indeed, by consuming processed food that has travelled long distances, they are complicit, Mikulak argues, in the very “agricultural-industrial complex” that he denounces. Moreover, with artificial fertilizers eschewed, animals destined for the table are essential to the whole “ecosystem” of the farm.
Certainly, these animals deserve “sympathy and respect”, but this is precisely what they get from followers of the alternative food movement. Unlike people who consume anonymous lumps of meat from the supermarket, Mikulak’s cohort “celebrate” the “animality” of a local pig or chicken, in all its “fleshly presence”, when cutting it up, wasting none of it, and sharing it with friends at the table. Vegetarians, it is hinted, are guilty of a surly refusal to accept both “the generosity of life” and the close communion with “earth, family and community” that – to judge from Mikulak’s “visceral experience” with goose sausages and pig’s jowl – only a sharing in the preparation and eating of meat can provide.
“How do we get from here to there?”, Mikulak asks more than once, alert to the problem of how the message of locavorism and Slow Food–perceived by some as an “elitist dinner club for lefties”–could be embraced on the demotic scale needed to transform the global food system. Doomsday scenarios of food running out have become too familiar to have an effect, as have nightmarish exposés of factory farms. This is one reason Mikulak emphasizes the alternative food movement’s credentials as an “alternative hedonism”. The carrot of convivial gastronomic pleasure is more persuasive than the stick of food scarcity.
I was not aware of the term "locavorism" until now; the idea that it is always preferable to buy locally. This idea, no doubt, has its merits if you live in a region like California, Florida, or central America, but it has its limitations in places like New York City, London or Toronto, where I reside, particularly if you like tropical fruits or vegetables. But I understand the sentiment behind locavorism, favouring the locally grown—the term local having differing meanings for different individuals.

As to what it, eating healthy food, means today, many persons are already part of the "alternative food movement" without consciously aware they are part of it. They are doing this without the need to politicize food and its production; many are buying from local markets, and are trying to buy the best-quality fruits, vegetables and meat they can afford. Many have small-scale organic gardens where they grow fruits and vegetables in accordance to restrictions like how much space they have, and how long is their growing season—this includes balcony-sized gardens.

For years, people have been duly informed on the dangers of consuming too many pesticides, too many antibiotics, too many GMos, and too many unknown and untested biological agents that have been introduced into our food supply, or food chain, as it is also called, chiefly because farmers consider it both productive and profitable. Most individuals and families can do only so much, since most of us live in urban areas; we thus depend greatly on farmers for most of our foods, and thus trust them to ensure that the food that we eat is at least safe, if not healthy and nutritious.

You can read more of this article at [TLS]

Thursday, April 24, 2014

America's Poor: A Growth Industry

Economic Inequalities

Make Room for Progress: The location is on Malcolm X Blvd between 124th and 125th St. The buildings were razed in 2006, shortly after the photo was taken, to make room for new commercial development. They appeared derelict because the tenants were removed. The area is actually the wealthiest area of Harlem; typical row houses nearby sell for $1-2M.
Photo Credit: Brendel Signature, 2006.
Source: Wikipedia

An article, by Joseph M. Schwartz in Dissent, says that the United States could eradicate poverty within its borders, if it made the necessary structural changes to its economic and social programs, but given the way the nation has tilted so far right politically, this is unlikely to happen.

Schwartz, a professor of political science at Temple University, writes what has been the central reason why poverty persists:
Politicians of both parties talk about ameliorating poverty. Yet few “opinion makers” argue that poverty could be radically curtailed, perhaps eliminated, if we had the political will to transform the American economy. Absent social movements militantly protesting growing inequality, our political elites are unlikely to shift budget and tax priorities so as to fund federal job creation programs and expand social rights such as truly universal health care, publicly funded child care, and parental leave.
The United States Census reported in September 2012 that 47.1 million people, or 15.1 percent of the population, now live in poverty—the highest number in fifty-two years, up from 11.7 percent of the population in 2000. Half of these individuals are children and nearly 60 percent of poor adults are women. Almost half of this group has family incomes below 50 percent of the official poverty level, or $22,113 for a family of four. That is only 30 percent of the average family income, while the 1962 poverty line was 50 percent of the average income. If we returned the poverty line to that 50 percent measure, or about $32,000, over 22 percent of families would today fall below the official poverty line—the same percentage of U.S. families who were poor when Michael Harrington wrote The Other America in 1962.
Well, the Other America has returned. That almost one in four persons residing in America lives in poverty ought to shock other more wealthy Americans, and deflate the idea, or at least give it more scrutiny, that "America is the greatest nation on earth." Really?  There are reams of numbers that show that there is not only continued rising inequalities, but that more and more Americans are poorer today than a decade ago.

The politicians and policy-makers have and know all this information, and respond according to their views, which is to generally blame the poor for their predicament. It is a simple and an amoral way of looking at and understanding a highly complex issue, which helps explain why the men and women in Washington are making things worse, chipping away at social programs and social cohesion, which gives great weight to the idea that there is a "war on the poor."

Well, like all wars, this one will only make matters worse.

You can read the rest of the article at [Dissent]

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Borges, Biblio-Mania & Book Trafficking

Dept of Missing Manuscripts

Jorge Luis Borges in 1963. The article notes: "Trafficking in cultural property, including rare
books and manuscripts, is a six-billion-dollar-a-year industry, second only to arms and drugs,
according to estimates often cited in international conferences. Interpol, which two decades ago
opened an office to deal with this kind of crime, says that estimate is impossible to confirm."
Photo: Alicia D'Amico

An article, by Graciela Mochkofsky, in The Paris Review shows to what lengths some will go to combine their love of books and their love of money. Or of owning something that few or nobody else has.

Mochkofsky writes in "The Missing Borges":
The world of rare books and manuscripts is full of intrigues, betrayals, and frauds. Alberto Casares has lived in this world for decades; as the president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of Buenos Aires, he’s an expert on the subject. He’s got the physique du rôl: a gray, messy beard; a soft body; an intense and wary look.
A few months ago, Casares was offered a seventeenth-century original edition of Don Quixote for one million euros. He recognized it as a well-known forgery from the nineteenth century, worth no more than €200,000. The seller took it away, determined to find a more unsuspecting client, and Casares was left alone with the melancholy of having lost something that was never his to own.
What would some people give to own it? Casares told me, “Bibliographers are willing to commit crimes to follow their mad desire to own things.” He was thinking of a former client, Daniel Pastore, a collector of rare books and first editions, heir to a pharmaceutical fortune and owner of Imago Mundi, Buenos Aires’s most elegant antiquarian bookshop, which closed a few years ago after a succession of international scandals involving Pastore.
Casares was annoyed and fascinated by Pastore, who was eighteen the first time he walked into Casare’s bookshop. He was handsome, rich, likeable, and learned—a good client. But he was also pedantic; he claimed to know more about rare books than Casares. Sometimes he did. But not when it came to Jorge Luis Borges.
 * * *
One morning in late 1999, Pastore brought in a copy of the first edition of Fervor de Buenos Aires, Borges’s first published book. For men like Casares and Pastore, it was a kind of grail—the most valuable first edition of Argentina’s greatest twentieth-century writer.
The first edition of Fervor was funded by Borges’s father when the author was twenty-three. “The book was actually printed in five days; the printing had to be rushed, because it was necessary for us to return to Europe,” Borges writes in his 1970 essay ”Autobiographical Notes.” “[It] was produced in a somewhat boyish spirit. No proofreading was done, no table of contents was provided, and the pages were unnumbered. My sister made a woodcut for the cover, and three hundred copies were printed … Most of them I just gave away.”
Borges had lived in Europe between 1914 and 1921, and the forty-six poems he gathered in Fervor de Buenos Aires reflect what he found upon returning to Argentina. “The city of his childhood had changed,” says Beatriz Sarlo, a leading expert on his works. “It had almost lost the most colorful marks of its criollo small town past … Borges returned, then, to a place he did not know.”
Fervor de Buenos Aires foreshadows everything I would do afterward,” wrote Borges. Every self-respecting collector of his works owns a copy from that first edition. Few copies remain—only 150, according to Casares, with no more than fifteen in circulation. But Pastore had that copy in his hands. Could Casares confirm that it was a legitimate first edition?
The answer is not so clear, as this article shows. In the buying of selling of rare books, which have both literary and commercial value, the truth or facts are often as elliptical as the myths contained in the pages of such writers' stories. It often becomes a matter of faith, of belief. And for some, this is sufficient. As to why individuals would buy stolen books, it is about obtaining something rare, Mochkofsky says in the article:
According to Travis McDade, a professor at the University of Illinois Law School, owning a unique symbol of universal culture makes some people feel just as unique. “Never underestimate people’s necessity to be considered intelligent,” he says.
As if intelligence can be gained through osmosis, or owned by purchase.

You can read more at [ParisReview]

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Enduring Love, Complex Love

Human Relationships

Endless Love: Ben-Zeev writes; "A complex psychological personality is more likely to generate profound romantic love in a partner, while even the most intense sexual desire can die away.
Sexual desire is boosted by change and novelty and diluted by familiarity. Romantic profundity
increases with familiarity if the other person, and the relationship itself, is multifaceted and

Photo CreditChris Stowers; Panos Pictures
Source: Aeon
An article, by Aaron Ben-Zeev,  in Aeon looks not only at love in general, but at love in particular, notably at couples who have had an enduring love for a decade or longer. In a mixture of science and literature, Ben-Zeev, a professor of philosophy at University of Haifa, looks at love through literary narratives like Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1856) and Amos Oz's My Michael (1958) and how, if at all, they influence our modern sensibilities.

Ben-Zeev starts off by writing about Oz's novel, based largely on a biblical myth:
Emma and Hannah appear to be victims of a myth, a dangerous romantic ideology still enshrined in our rituals and songs: love can overcome all obstacles (there is no mountain high enough); love is forever (till death us do part). This seductive romantic ideology assumes the uniqueness of the beloved along with a kind of fusion. Soul mates are meant only for each other; the lovers form a single entity; each of the partners is irreplaceable in all the world. (Millions of people go by, but they all disappear from view – because I only have eyes for you.) Ideal love is total, uncompromising, and unconditional. No matter what happens outside the circle of the relationship, true love endures.
Romantic ideology still has its allure, but the idea that passion can last a lifetime has lost credence in modern times. One argument against enduring intensity comes from thinking rooted in the work of the great 17th-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza: emotions occur when we perceive a significant change in our situation. Change cannot last forever. Ergo, passionate love must fade.
In line with that, many studies have consistently shown that sexual desire and intense romantic love decrease drastically over time. The findings show that the frequency of sexual activity with one’s partner declines steadily, occurring half as often after one year of marriage compared with the first month, and falling off more gradually thereafter, especially after the child-rearing years. This decline has been found in cohabiting, heterosexual couples and in gay and lesbian couples. Accordingly, many scholars have claimed that enduring intense love is uncommon, almost always evolving into companionate love which, as time goes by, is low in attraction and sexual desire. Love is a trade-off, the prevailing wisdom goes: we can either soar briefly to the highest heights or we can have contentment for many years. It is fruitless to despair like Emma and Hannah, because no one can have both.
Or can they? New research suggests that common wisdom might be wrong, and that a significant percentage of long-term couples remain deeply in love. In 2012, the psychologist Daniel O’Leary and his team at Stony Brook University in New York asked study participants this basic question: ‘How in love are you with your partner?’ Their national survey of 274 individuals married for more than a decade found that some 40 per cent said ‘very intensely in love’ (scoring seven on a seven-point scale). O’Leary’s team did a similar study of New Yorkers and found that 29 per cent of 322 long-married individuals gave the same answer. In another national study in 2011, the dating site found that 18 per cent of 5,200 individuals in the US reported feelings of romantic love lasting a decade or more.
Research in neuroscience identifies the possible mechanism behind these results. In a study published in 2012, Stony Brook psychologist Bianca Acevedo and colleagues reported on 10 women and seven men married an average of 21 years and claiming to be intensely in love. The researchers showed participants facial images of their partners while scanning their brains with fMRI. The scans revealed significant activation in key reward centres of the brain – much like the patterns found in people experiencing new love, but vastly different from those in companionate relationships.
This essay poses many questions and provides many insights, some that are contrary to modern psychological theory on what drives human emotion; it is worth reading, if only to consider what is important for those searching for love. It is my opinion that one does not search for love, or for a loving person, but for a person with whom one can make a harmonious life. A love that is enduring is a love based on meeting each other's changing needs. People are complex and thus often change with time, as does the kind of love each expects.

That some couples can have enduring and loving long-term relationships is not really surprising for couples who have them. That this will only apply to a small subset of all human relationships is also not surprising. This shows that individuals often marry for the wrong reasons, choose the wrong person to marry, or that some persons ought not marry at all.  Although this essay does not point this out, some individuals, perhaps not many, can be happy and content alone.

You can read the rest of this article at [Aeon]

Monday, April 21, 2014

Building The World's Biggest Telescope On Top Of Cerro Armazone, A 3,000-Metre Mountain In Chile


Artist's Impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). One of the
purposes for this telescope is to serach for exoplanets, says Simone Zaggia, of the Inaf Observatory
of Padua: "More importantly we want to find out if their atmospheres contain levels of oxygen or
carbon dioxide or methane or other substances that suggest there is life there. To do that, we need
a giant telescope like the E-ELT."
Source: The Guradian

An article, by Robin McVie, in The Guardian looks at what it will take to build the largest and most powerful telescope in the world atop Cerro Armazone, a 3,000-metre mountain in Chile; part of the construction of this telescope requires engineers to blast away 25-metres of this mountain's top. Blasting is scheduled to begin on June 16; and the telescope will take more than a decade to build, with a completion date sometime in 2025.

The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) will have a 39-metre mirror. McVie writes about this project, led by Gird Hudepohl, its engineer, who was in charge of a similar astronomical project atop another mountain in Chile.
Given the peak's remote, inhospitable location that might sound an improbable claim–except for the fact that Hudepohl has done this sort of thing before. He is one of the European Southern Observatory's most experienced engineers and was involved in the decapitation of another nearby mountain, Cerro Paranal, on which his team then erected one of the planet's most sophisticated observatories.
The Paranal complex has been in operation for more than a decade and includes four giant instruments with eight-metre-wide mirrors – known as the Very Large Telescopes or VLTs – as well as control rooms and a labyrinth of underground tunnels linking its instruments. More than 100 astronomers, engineers and support staff work and live there. A few dozen metres below the telescopes, they have a sports complex with a squash court, an indoor football pitch, and a luxurious 110-room residence that has a central swimming pool and a restaurant serving meals and drinks around the clock. Built overlooking one of the world's driest deserts, the place is an amazing oasis. (See box.)
Now the European Southern Observatory, of which Britain is a key member state, wants Hudepohl and his team to repeat this remarkable trick and take the top off Cerro Armazones, which is 20km distant. Though this time they will construct an instrument so huge it will dwarf all the telescopes on Paranal put together, and any other telescope on the planet.
When completed, the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) and its 39-metre mirror will allow astronomers to peer further into space and look further back into the history of the universe than any other astronomical device in existence. Its construction will push telescope-making to its limit, however. Its primary mirror will be made of almost 800 segments–each 1.4 metres in diameter but only a few centimetres thick–which will have to be aligned with microscopic precision.
A project of this complexity and longevity has all the potential for technical setbacks and delays in time. Even so, the $1.5-billion project is progressing. As to why this particular location was selected and why astronomers consider it ideal, there is indeed an excellent scientific explanation:
The answer is straightforward, says Cambridge University astronomer Professor Gerry Gilmore. It is all about water. "The atmosphere here is as dry as you can get and that is critically important. Water molecules obscure the view from telescopes on the ground. It is like trying to peer through mist – for mist is essentially a suspension of water molecules in the air, after all, and they obscure your vision. For a telescope based at sea level that is a major drawback.
The amount of money might seem large, but we ought to put this number in perspective; when compared to how much nations worldwide have spent on useless wars and military campaigns in the last decade alone (at least a thousand times more, or trillions of dollars), the money is insignificant and has a genuine benefit to science and, moreover, to increasing our knowledge of the universe.

You can read more at [The Guardian]

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Altered States Of Being

The Human Mind

Bicycle Day: John Horgan writes: Albert Hofmann first experienced LSD's full effects
while riding a bicycle in Basel, Switzerland, on April 19, 1943, as commemorated in this
blotter-acid art. Psychedelic enthusiasts now commemorate Hofmann’s discovery of LSD’s
effects every April 19, a.k.a. 'Bicycle Day.'”
Source: SciAmer

An article, by John Horgan, in Scientific American describes one person's experiment with psychedelic drugs while visiting the birthplace of LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamidein Basel, Switzerland.

Horgan writes:
Exactly 71 years ago, April 19, 1943, Albert Hofmann, a chemist for Sandoz, in Basel, Switzerland, ingested a minute amount—just 250 micrograms–of a compound derived from the ergot fungus. He soon felt so disoriented that he rode his bicycle home, where he experienced all the heavenly and hellish effects of lysergic acid diethylamide.
Albert Hofmann first experienced LSD's full effects while riding a bicycle in Basel, Switzerland, on April 19, 1943, as commemorated in this blotter-acid art.Psychedelic enthusiasts now commemorate Hofmann’s discovery of LSD’s effects every April 19, a.k.a. “Bicycle Day. ” To celebrate this Bicycle Day, I’d like to describe one of the strangest trips of my life, which took place in Basel and involved (sort of) Hofmann.
In 1999, while, researching a book on mysticism, I flew to Basel to attend “Worlds of Consciousness,” a leading forum for scientists studying altered states, especially drug-induced states. The meeting, held in a convention center within walking distance of my hotel, offered two divergent perspectives of hallucinogens. In the convention center’s lobby, vendors peddled visionary books, music and art, including drawings, by Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, of pouty-lipped, warhead-breasted, cybernetic vixens transmogrified by titanic psychic forces.
Beside this artistic evocation of psychedelic visions, a display of “scientific” posters—with titles like “Psychoneurophysiology of Personalized Regression and Experiential Imaginary Therapy”–seemed parodically dry. The meeting’s schizoid character was reflected in its speakers, too. One group sported hippy-ish threads and extolled altered states in subjective, even poetic language. The other wore jackets and ties and employed clinical, objective rhetoric.
The meeting’s guest of honor was a stooped, white-haired man with fierce, Churchillian mien: Albert Hofmann. His contributions to psychedelic chemistry extended beyond LSD. In the 1950s, he analyzed Psilocybe cubensis, a “magic mushroom” consumed by Indians in Mexico, and deduced that its primary active ingredient is psilocybin. Hofmann’s research inspired other scientists around the world to investigate LSD, psilocybin and similar compounds, which psychiatrist Humphry Osmond dubbed psychedelic, based on the Greek words for “mind-revealing.”
At 93, Hofmann still avidly followed the field he helped create. One day we spoke during the lunch break, and Hofmann, in halting, heavily accented English, vigorously defended LSD, which he called his “problem child.” He blamed Harvard-psychologist-turned-counterculture-guru Timothy Leary for giving LSD such a bad reputation.
“I had this discussion with him,” Hofmann told me. “I said, ‘Oh, you should not tell everybody, even the children, “Take LSD! Take LSD!”’” LSD “can hurt you, it can disturb you,” Hofmann said, “it can make you crazy.” But properly used, psychedelics stimulate the “inborn faculty of visionary experience” that we all possess as children but lose as we mature.
Hofmann recalled a psilocybin trip during which he ended up in a ghost town deep inside the earth. “Nobody was there. I had the feeling of absolute loneliness, absolute loneliness. A terrible feeling!” When he emerged from this nightmare and found himself with friends again, he felt ecstatic. “I had feeling of being reborn! To see now again! And see what wonderful life we have here!” The gruff old man stared above my head, his eyes gleaming, as if born again this very moment.
In his writings, Hofmann occasionally divulged misgivings about having brought LSD and psilocybin into the world. In a letter in 1961, he compared his discoveries to nuclear fission; just as fission threatens our fundamental physical integrity, he said, so do psychedelics “attack the spiritual center of the personality, the self.” Psychedelics, Hofmann fretted, might “represent a forbidden transgression of limits.”
The writer of this article then discusses his own trip, and the resulting altered states of seeing and thinking, by his ingesting Psilocybe semilanceata, a type of mild-altering mushroom. It is worth reading this writer's experience as a sort of cautionary, or exploratory, if you will, tale on the indiscriminate use of drugs.

This is not to suggest that further research should not continue; it should, in keeping with increasing scientific and medical knowledge. Psychedelic drugs might have some medical use, as I have written about in previous posts, notably for those suffering high levels of despair or as a means of relief from unbearable pain and suffering. Its use as a recreational drug, however, is debatable, as this first person-account shows.

Reality is often tough to accept and bear, but so is an uncontrolled, unknown and unreal state of being.

You can read more at [SciAmer]

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Remembering What You Must Not Forget

The Old Country

A Wedding Scene: Life went on, as depicted in this couple getting married under the chupah, or marriage canopy.
Credit: c; 1917
Source: General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

An article in Public Domain Review looks at the painter, Issachar Ber Ryback [1897–1935], whose art depicts shtetl life in the Ukraine following the First World War, where pogroms and revolution were normal part of daily living. Well, actually it was more like despair, destruction and death. These are not happy paintings, but what else can you expect when these were not happy, hopeful times.

The article says:
A selection from a set of 30 lithographs by the Russian artist Issachar Ber Ryback, dating mostly from 1917 and published in a book by the Berlin-based “Farlag Shveln”. The images depict scenes of Ryback’s home village in Ukraine before it was destroyed in the pogroms following World War I, a fate which seems ominously echoed in the torturous angles and distortions of form in which he represents the daily activities of village life. After graduating from art school in Kiev in 1916, Ryback played a key role in the Yiddish avant-garde of the Soviet Union following the Russian Revolution. After his father was murdered by Petliura’s soldiers in 1921, he fled to Germany, settling in Berlin where he became a member of the Novembergruppe and was involved in a number of important exhibitions. After a return trip to Russia, working on a set design for a Yiddish theatre and undertaking a prolonged journey through the Jewish “kolkhozes” of Ukraine and Crimea, he moved to Paris in 1926. Here he lived at the heart of the city’s vibrant artistic life – including solo exhibitions at the Galerie aux Quatre Chemins (1928) and Galerie L’Art Contemporain (1929) – until his death in 1935.
It is true that most of the figures look grotesque and unreal, which is the general impression of of life then, where it seemed that daily living was not ordered, but disordered and distorted, or out of order and lacking in justice—a general sentiment felt to various degrees across Europe after the First World War. The Jewish people, notably those steeped in religious thought and biblical history, waited for some just order to be restored, somehow, by someone; and while waiting with some kind of hopeful expectation, they somehow continued with their activities, such as marriage, religious ritual and commercial transactions. Somehow, and for some very personal reasons, these paintings resonate today.

To view more of Issachar Ber Ryback's paintings, go to [PubDomRev]

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Look Back: Márquez & Hemingway Meet in Paris


Gabriel García Márquez [1927-2014], in Cartagena, Colombia; February 20, 1991. Márquez
was the recipient of the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Photo CreditUlf Andersen; Getty
SourceNew Yorker

Gabriel Garcia Márquez died on Thursday at the age of 87; the Colombian writer who is known for his magic realism, notably his One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), was at one time a journalist, which is common to many writers who want to eat, including Ernest Hemingway. Both men met (briefly) near at a Paris bookstore many years ago (in 1957), and in this 1981 article (“Gabriel Garcia Marquez Meets Ernest Hemingway;” July 26, 1981) for the New York Times, Márquez recounts their brief meeting:

He writes:
I recognized him immediately, passing with his wife Mary Welsh on the Boulevard St. Michel in Paris one rainy spring day in 1957. He walked on the other side of the street, in the direction of the Luxembourg Gardens, wearing a very worn pair of cowboy pants, a plaid shirt and a ballplayer's cap. The only thing that didn't look as if it belonged to him was a pair of metal-rimmed glasses, tiny and round, which gave him a premature grandfatherly air. He had turned 59, and he was large and almost too visible,but he didn't give the impression of brutal strength that he undoubtedly wished to, because his hips were narrow and his legs looked a little emaciated above his coarse lumberjack shoes. He looked so alive amid the secondhand bookstalls and the youthful torrent from the Sorbonne that it was impossible to imagine he had but four years left to live.
For a fraction of a second, as always seemed to be the case, I found myself divided between my two competing roles. I didn't know whether to ask him for an interview or cross the avenue to express my unqualified admiration for him. But with either proposition, I faced the same great inconvenience. At the time, I spoke the same rudimentary English that I still speak now, and I wasn't very sure about his bullfighter's Spanish. And so I didn't do either of the things that could have spoiled that moment, but instead cupped both hands over my mouth and, like Tarzan in the jungle, yelled from one sidewalk to the other: ''Maaaeeestro!'' Ernest Hemingway understood that there could be no other master amid the multitude of students, and he turned, raised his hand and shouted to me in Castillian in a very childish voice, ''Adiooos, amigo!'' It was the only time I saw him.
At the time, I was a 28-year-old newspaperman with a published novel and a literary prize in Colombia, but I was adrift and without direction in Paris. My great masters were the two North American novelists who seemed to have the least in common. I had read everything they had published until then, but not as complementary reading - rather, just the opposite, as two distinct and almost mutually exclusive forms of conceiving of literature. One of them was William Faulkner, whom I had never laid eyes on and whom I could only imagine as the farmer in shirtsleeves scratching his arm beside two little white dogs in the celebrated portrait of him taken by Cartier-Bresson. The other was the ephemeral man who had just said goodbye to me from across the street, leaving me with the impression that something had happened in my life, and had happened for all time.
I don't know who said that novelists read the novels of others only to figure out how they are written. I believe it's true. We aren't satisfied with the secrets exposed on the surface of the page: we turn the book around to find the seams. In a way that's impossible to explain, we break the book down to its essential parts and then put it back together after we understand the mysteries of its personal clockwork.
That is the way with some writers, the great ones who take risks and have the courage of their convictions, who are odd fellows with a gift of explaining something of the world in such a manner as to grab the attention of readers. Such was the gift of Hemingway, and such was the way with Márquez, who used a different language to explain, yet we all understood. He will be missed, but not forgotten.

You can read the rest of the article at [NYT Books]

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

England's First Human Blood Transfusion (1667)

Human Health

Blood Transfusion: An Account of the Experiment of Transfusion, Practised upon a Man in London; 1667; Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, London. 
Source: PubDom
An article in the Public Domain Review looks at the first blood transfusion performed on a human n November 23, 1667; the transfusion was performed by Dr. Edmund King and Richard Lower, the person receiving the transfusion was Arthur Coga, a divinity student.

The article notes the following details:

An account by Dr Edmund King given to The Royal Society of the first ever blood transfusion involving a human in England. Six months after he successfully completed a blood transfusion between two dogs, the experimental physician Richard Lower, with the help of Dr King, administered 9oz of sheep’s blood into the body of Arthur Coga, a Divinity Student from Cambridge who subjected himself to the experiment in return for a Guinea. Lower describes Coga as “the subject of a harmless form of insanity”, the perfect candidate for the experiment as it was just such a tempestuous nature which Lower and his colleagues hoped to calm by the introduction of the blood of a gentle lamb–in addition to the fact that he was well educated and so able to talk about his experiences (indeed, Coga, produced, in Latin, an account of his own experiences of the trial). When Coga himself was asked why blood from a sheep was used he replied, in Latin, “Sanguis ovis symbolicam quandam facultatem habet cum sanguine Christi, quia Christus est agnus Dei” (Sheep’s blood has some symbolic power, like the blood of Christ, for Christ is the Lamb of God.) Despite a second transfusion and many attempts to show Coga had changed in character, it appeared that the experiment was a failure in this respect.
If the idea was that blood held the key to disposition, then the experiment was a failure; it would take much longer for medical science to realize the value of human-to-human transfusions. It would take almost 200 years before British obstetrician Dr. James Blundell would perform the first successful human transfusion in the early part of the 19th century; between  1825 and 1830, Wikipedia says, "Blundell performed 10 transfusions, five of which were beneficial, and published his results." Now, these are routinely performed.

A transcript of the Lower-King effort can be found at Wikisource; you can also see the original handwritten manuscript of the account here at Wellcome Images.) You can read more at [PubDom]

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Foreigner In China


Mark Kitto & Family: "I wanted China to be the place where I made a career and lived my life.
For the past 16 years it has been precisely that. But now I will be leaving.
I won’t be rushing back
either. I have fallen out of love, woken from my China Dream."
Photo Credit: Eric Leleu
Source: Prospect

An article  by Mark Kitto, in Prospect gives a first-person account of what it is like to live, to work and to operate a business in China as a non-Chinese foreigner. While Kitto's views might not apply to all cases, his views do provide some critical insights into a nation that has undergone great transition since Deng Xiaoping's modernization plan took capitalism as its economic system and grafted it to its prevailing Marxist ideology. What China has become, in addition to an economic powerhouse, is a nation that fears, or at least is uncomfortable with, outsiders—a trajectory common to many successful nations with a history of foreign invasion and control.

Kitto writes about how China has changed in the last 20 years:
If I had to choose one word to describe China in the mid-1980s it would be optimistic. A free market of sorts was in its early stages. With it came the first inflation China had experienced in 35 years. People were actually excited by that. It was a sign of progress, and a promise of more to come. Underscoring the optimism was a sense of social obligation for which communism was at least in part responsible, generating either the fantasy that one really could be a selfless socialist, or unity in the face of the reality that there was no such thing.
In 1949 Mao had declared from the top of Tiananmen gate in Beijing: “The Chinese people have stood up.” In the mid-1980s, at long last, they were learning to walk and talk.One night in January 1987 I watched them, chanting and singing as they marched along snow-covered streets from the university quarter towards Tiananmen Square. It was the first of many student demonstrations that would lead to the infamous “incident” in June 1989.
One man was largely responsible for the optimism of those heady days: Deng Xiaoping, rightly known as the architect of modern China. Deng made China what it is today. He also ordered the tanks into Beijing in 1989, of course, and there left a legacy that will haunt the Chinese Communist Party to its dying day. That “incident,” as the Chinese call it—when they have to, which is seldom since the Party has done such a thorough job of deleting it from public memory—coincided with my final exams. My classmates and I wondered if we had spent four years of our lives learning a language for nothing.
It did not take long for Deng to put his country back on the road he had chosen. He persuaded the world that it would be beneficial to forgive him for the Tiananmen “incident” and engage with China, rather than treating her like a pariah. He also came up with a plan to ensure nothing similar happened again, at least on his watch. The world obliged and the Chinese people took what he offered. Both have benefited financially.
When I returned to China in 1996, to begin the life and career I had long dreamed about, I found the familiar air of optimism, but there was a subtle difference: a distinct whiff of commerce in place of community. The excitement was more like the eager anticipation I felt once I had signed a deal (I began my China career as a metals trader), sure that I was going to bank a profit, rather than the thrill that something truly big was about to happen. A deal had been struck. Deng had promised the Chinese people material wealth they hadn’t known for centuries on the condition that they never again asked for political change. The Party said: “Trust us and everything will be all right.”
Twenty years later, everything is not all right.
I must stress that this indictment has nothing to do with the trajectory of my own China career, which went from metal trading to building a multi-million dollar magazine publishing business that was seized by the government in 2004, followed by retreat to this mountain hideaway of Moganshan where my Chinese wife and I have built a small business centred on a coffee shop and three guesthouses, which in turn has given me enough anecdotes and gossip to fill half a page of Prospect every month for several years. That our current business could suffer the same fate as my magazines if the local government decides not to renew our short-term leases (for which we have to beg every three years) does, however, contribute to my decision not to remain in China.
During the course of my magazine business, my state-owned competitor (enemy is more accurate) told me in private that they studied every issue I produced so they could learn from me. They appreciated my contribution to Chinese media. They proceeded to do everything in their power to destroy me. In Moganshan our local government masters send messages of private thanks for my contribution to the resurrection of the village as a tourist destination, but also clearly state that I am an exception to their unwritten rule that foreigners (who originally built the village in the early 1900s) are not welcome back to live in it, and are only allowed to stay for weekends.
But this article is not personal. I want to give you my opinion of the state of China, based on my time living here, in the three biggest cities and one tiny rural community, and explain why I am leaving it.
Well, of course, the article is personal, which does not mean or suggest in any way that it lacks validity, that it lacks veracity, that one person's experience while living as a foreigner in a nation undergoing great change is not authentic, not real, not factual.  Quite the contrary; it is very real, because he is a foreigner and as such Kitto can see and feel sense things that locals, fixed in their ideas and thoughts, cannot. Such is why I found this narrative both interesting and essential to read—especially if you have an interest and a curiosity of China, of its people and of where it, possibly, might be heading.

You can read more at [Prospect]

Monday, April 14, 2014

The American Theocrats

Religion & Politics

There is a holy mistaken zeal in politics as well as in religion.
By persuading others, we convince ourselves.”
Junius, London Public Advertiser, 19 December 1769, No. 35

Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law
if it acquires the political power to do so.” 
Robert A. Heinlein

There is nothing worse than a group who takes an old idea or belief and uses the well-oiled machinery of fear to advance its cause; such is the case of a cohort, chiefly found in the United States, who want to return to a type of thinking common to the 50s, the 1650s, that is. Let's focus the light of reason on the most loudly and arrogantly "Christian" of nations, America, and its bombastic group of American Theocrats, essentially composed of right-wing evangelical Christians who have a clear agenda of how Americans ought to live and think; for an idea, open your bibles and read. It won't take long to come to the simple but important conclusion: they reside in a climate of fear and paranoia of their own creation.

They have formed a political party in the U.S. and have named it the Tea Party, a cheap appeal to patriotism and history, and yet they are little more than the political voice of right-wing evangelical Christians who think the Republican Party is not serious enough about making "their America" a Christian theocracy. Thus I would call this political party by its proper name, the American Christian Party, which is what they are and where their interests lie.

The greatest irony, perhaps, is that for all their calls to patriotism and tradition, the theocrats have a pathological distrust of the government, and generally view it as "evil." They want to dismantle the public institutions of progress and democracy, and put in their place the instruments of theocracy, and show no hint of embarrassment in proclaiming such views. It is always easy to be loud and audacious when you can hide behind a veil of ignorance, and can count on others to follow suit.

Further irony can be found in that right-wing conservatives say they are fighting a vigilant battle against the threat of Islamic sharia law, which in their minds is undoubtedly true; while this is going on, the theocrats have waged a successful campaign of fear of the march of social and scientific progress, leaving the U.S. behind other nations in these two important areas. In such an estimation or calculation, any social progress is a threat to their way of life, which is true if you want to return to the 1650s (or even earlier, perhaps to First Century Palestine). The thinking is as ancient as the writings from which they hold to their bosoms, or at least the parts they know and like.

That they have formed a party flies in the face of what Christians ought to do, says no less an authority than C.S. Lewis, the noted apologist for Christianity, who writes in "Meditations on the Third Commandment (1941)."
Whatever it calls itself, it will represent, not Christendom, but a part of Christendom. The principle which divides it from its brethren and unites it to its political allies will not be theological. It will have no authority to speak for Christianity; it will have no more power than the political skill of its members gives it to control the behaviour of its unbelieving allies. But there will be a real, and most disastrous novelty. It will be not simply a part of Christendom, but a part claiming to be the whole. By the mere act of calling itself the Christian Party it implicitly accuses all Christians who do not join it of apostasy and betrayal.
It will be exposed, in an aggravated degree, to that temptation which the Devil spares none of us at any time --- the temptation of claiming for our favourite opinions that kind and degree of certainty and authority which really belongs only to our Faith. The danger of mistaking our merely natural, though perhaps legitimate, enthusiasms for holy zeal, is always great. Can any more fatal expedient be devised for increasing it than that of dubbing a small band of Fascists, Communists, or Democrats `the Christian Party'?
Such a party, devoted to theocracy, in the end only represents a thin minority of  Christians and even a smaller slice of Americans, and ought to be doomed to failure and quick extinction, for it has no real political platform and no real support from Americans. Yet it not only survives, but it persists and grows stronger, drawing its energy from the Puritans.

This new current outbreak of Puritanism, a strong virus, is resistant to both reason or human happiness. Its purpose, limited in all of its aspects, is best summed up by a thought that Bertrand Russell made in his Skeptical Essays (1928), in a section brilliantly and aptly titled, "The Recrudescence of Puritanism." Russell writes: "Next to enjoying ourselves, the next greatest pleasure consists in preventing others from enjoying themselves, or, more generally, in the acquisition of power."

Such describes perfectly the totalitarian mind of a theocrat.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Taiwan's Sunflower Protests: A Call For Transparency

Disagreement & Democracy

Politically Educated Students: Protesters against a Taiwanese trade pact with China cheer after
leaving the legislature in Taipei. 
Photo Credit: Chiang Ying-ying; Associated Press; April 10, 2014
Source: LA Times

An interview article, by Jeffrey Wasserstrom, in Dissent looks at some of the overarching issues behind Taiwan's Sunflower Protests, in which hundreds of students occupied the Taiwanese legislature in Taipei for 24 days; the students left the building peacefully and jubilantly on April 10, but this might not be the end of protests.

Although Prof. Wasserstrom draws some parallels with the protests in China 25 years ago this month, culminating in the deaths in and around Tiananmen Square, Taiwans's protests have reasons of their own, unique to its history and economy and to its trading relationship with China.

Wasserstrom writes:
Twenty-five years ago this month, a student-led mass movement began in Beijing that would capture the attention of the world and lend wide recognition to the name “Tiananmen Square,” the site of important Chinese government buildings, revolutionary shrines, and the struggle’s largest rallies. As the quarter-century anniversary of that protest—and the June 4 massacre that crushed it—drew near, it was student-led demonstrations across the Taiwan straits that made headlines. Their main gathering place was in Taipei, where activists occupied not a plaza near official buildings but a government complex itself.
To help explain the causes and meaning of the protests in Taiwan, and how they can best be compared, contrasted, and connected to the famous Chinese struggle of 1989, I’ve turned to Shelley Rigger of Davidson College, a political scientist, Taiwan expert, and author of Why Taiwan Matters: Small Island, Global Powerhouse (Rowman & Littlefield, 2011).
Jeffrey Wasserstrom: First off, can you give a quick run-down of what triggered the protests in Taipei? What is the main concern or grievance of those who took to the streets and then occupied the Legislative Yuan?
Shelley Rigger: The protesters have substantive grievances, but the catalyst for taking over the legislative chamber was a procedural problem, so let’s start there. The legislature was reviewing an agreement Taiwan had negotiated with Beijing to open trade in services between Taiwan and mainland China (they’re already huge trading partners, but service companies are limited in what they can do). The majority party—the KMT, which also controls the executive branch—had promised to subject the agreement to a line-by-line review. During that process the minority party—the Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP—used disruptive tactics to slow things down. On March 18 the KMT legislator in charge of the review lost patience and moved for a vote in the full legislature. That’s when the students stormed into the legislature and blocked the doors. They’ve been there ever since, though as I write this on April 7, there is word that, having secured concessions on some demands, they will be leaving later this week.
In short, the immediate cause of the crisis was the breakdown of the review process the KMT had promised. The students accuse the KMT of overriding the democratic process to ram through legislation. But obviously there’s more to it than that. We need to ask why this particular piece of legislation was so sensitive.
JW: Okay, why exactly did it hit a nerve?
SR: At the heart of the crisis—and given that the students, even if they leave on Thursday, will have spent over three weeks occupying Taiwan’s legislature, it surely qualifies as a crisis—is Taiwanese people’s deep anxiety about their relationship with the People’s Republic of China. The PRC’s position is that Taiwan is part of China, and that it needs to be unified with the PRC politically, one way or another, but no one in Taiwan is eager to see that happen. Taiwanese feel themselves to be a distinct society—many would even say nation—from the PRC, and they don’t want to change their political system or become subject to leadership from Beijing. So they are hypersensitive to moves that seem likely to bring that outcome closer, and trade agreements fall into that category.
JW: Is there more to it than this?
SR: There’s also a substantive critique to be made. The trade in services agreement is the latest in a series of trade pacts between the two sides. Most of them are pretty favorable to Taiwan, on balance, because Beijing is hoping to generate goodwill toward the mainland. Still, they’re like any other trade agreements: they have winners and losers, and the losers tend to be people who are already losing out economically. So while the net result may be positive for Taiwan’s GDP, if most of the benefits go to those who are already wealthy, while the losses accrue to the working class, it makes sense that a lot of Taiwanese would oppose the pacts. But it’s not an open and shut case—even the minority party is not opposed to the agreement, just certain parts of it.
The students occupying the legislature are motivated by all three of these concerns: worries about the KMT using its majority to enact legislation without due deliberation; fear that the PRC will use trade agreements as Trojan horses to influence Taiwan politically; and dissatisfaction with trade policies that hurt the middle and working class.
JW: Why has it come to be called the “Sunflower Movement,” and is that the only name for it?
SR: Taiwan has had a series of student movements since the beginning of its democratization process. In the early 1990s it was the Wild Lily movement. The Wild Lilies built a giant flower, like an Easter lily blossom, to emulate the Goddess of Democracy statue erected in Tiananmen Square in 1989. About ten years ago there was another student movement, the Wild Strawberries. That one was a really clever name: they were referencing the popular stereotype of Taiwanese youth as the “Strawberry Tribe”—nice to look at, but soft and quick to rot. This year’s group is following that same pattern—calling themselves Wild Sunflowers, with the idea that sunflowers represent transparency.
This piece of information gives me further reason to love sunflowers; not only are they tall and majestic, adorned as they are in all their yellowish beauty, but they are open and transparent. This is what liberal democracy ought to aim for, and not what it has become, a sham and a means for only the wealthy and influential to benefit. Dissent and disagreement are one of the fundamentals of democracy. Bravo to the students of Taiwan for taking a stand on such an important an issue. My hope is that you are successful.

You can read the rest of this interview at [Dissent]

Saturday, April 12, 2014

China's Hainan Gibbon Faces Extinction

China's Hainan Gibbon: This species faces possible extinction," the article in Nature says.
"Only 23 to 25 of the animals are thought to remain, clustered in less than 20 square kilometres
of forest in China’s Hainan Island. The species (Nomascus hainanus), which numbered more
than 2,000 in the late 1950s, has been devastated through the destruction of habitat from logging,
and by poaching."
Credit: Jessica Bryant
Source: Nature

An article, by Daniel Cressey, in Nature says that China's Hainan gibbon, the world's rarest primate, faces possible extinction.

Cressey writes:
Only 23 to 25 of the animals are thought to remain, clustered in less than 20 square kilometres of forest in China’s Hainan Island. The species (Nomascus hainanus), which numbered more than 2,000 in the late 1950s, has been devastated through the destruction of habitat from logging, and by poaching. Extinction would give the gibbon the unwelcome distinction of being the first ape to be wiped out because of human actions. To hammer out a plan to save it, international primate researchers convened an emergency summit in Hainan last month.
“With the right conservation management, it is still possible to conserve and recover the Hainan gibbon population,” says meeting co-chair Samuel Turvey, who studies animal extinctions at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). “But given the current highly perilous state of the species, we cannot afford to wait any longer before initiating a more proactive and coordinated recovery programme.” He adds that the meeting was a successful first step towards saving the animal and that a plan of action is being finalized.
The plan will be based in part on a ‘population viability analysis’ that models the potential size of the gibbon population in coming decades for a range of different scenarios. It is being drawn up by Kathy Traylor Holzer, a conservation planner at the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group in Apple Valley, Minnesota. “It’s one of the smallest populations I’ve ever worked with,” says Traylor Holzer. “That number — in one place — is extremely scary.”
Preliminary modelling, which considers factors such as breeding success, habitat changes and natural threats, suggests that the Hainan gibbon may be safe from extinction in the next couple of decades. But its restricted habitat means that a single catastrophic event, such as a typhoon or a disease outbreak, could wipe out the minuscule population. Furthermore, low genetic diversity in the remaining animals could result in unhealthy offspring because of inbreeding. To better understand the genetics of the animals, ZSL researchers are conducting DNA sequencing using collected faeces.
Another potential problem is that the gibbons originally lived mainly in lowland forest, but logging has driven them to a higher altitude. Some scientists think that their current home might not be optimal for their needs, for example because it does not provide an adequate year-round supply of the fleshy fruits they prefer to eat.
We have read this story before, countless times throughout the years and decades. The human appetite for destruction and deforestation, a by-product of excessive industrialization and poor planning of our planet's resources, does not only threaten the gibbon, but other primates, including homo sapiens, the most intelligent and the most stupid of creatures. The same minds that created human poverty are also the enemies of sustainability. Is it our nature to destroy the habitats of other creatures to meet our inflated needs? Or, rather, to be more precise, the "needs" of a small percentage of the planet, who consider our planet their personal domain?

You can read more at [Nature]

Friday, April 11, 2014

Bacteria, Bombs, Boston, Bridgegate & Burning In Hell

Human (Mis)Behaviour

There are in the human digestive tract alone more than a hundred trillion microbes and in the human body 100 quadrillion (a hundred thousand trillion) bacterial cells—many of them necessary for our survival. So, there reside in our bodies both good and bad bacteria—similar to the collection of human beings that reside on our planet. Prof, George Jochnowitz writes: "The Boston Marathon bombing was quite different from fighting bacteria and fighting a war. It was done by Chechen nationalists who wanted Chechnya to be independent. There is no conceivable way that the killing of three people and the crippling of, perhaps, 100, could have helped to achieve Chechen independence. The bombing served no purpose whatsoever. Then why did the Tsarnaev brothers do it? We can never know, but they were acting in the tradition of the 9/11 pilots who somehow felt that committing a massive and visible act of murder would help the cause of al-Qaeda."

by George Jochnowitz

Penicillin became available during World War II, and starting in 1945, it was used to treat bacterial infections. Further research led to the development of other antibiotics and a significant decrease in the danger of bacterial infections. Antibiotics were a major factor in the increasing life span of human beings.

But what about the poor bacteria? They have to make a living too. In order to save the life of just one human, millions—and perhaps billions—of bacteria in that human’s body are killed by antibiotics. Is this fair? Is it moral?

Yes, it is fair and moral. Human life matters more than the life of other species to us. It may even matter more in general, since we humans are intelligent, artistic, and creative. Nobody has ever argued that it is wrong to cure illness by killing bacteria.

When we get to war, the question is much more troubling. Soldiers in opposing armies kill each other. If you kill your enemy, then your enemy can’t kill you. Countries at war bomb each other’s cities. They do so to make their enemy country unable to function well enough to fight a war. Sometimes the bombings can persuade the enemy that war is not worth the cost. During World War II, the United States and its allies carpet-bombed Dresden and Hamburg. These bombings may well have shortened the war and saved American lives. The United States also atom-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The atom bombings were carried out to hasten Japan’s surrender. How much difference did they make? We can’t ever know, but those at war don’t stop to ask whether a bombing shouldn’t be carried out because its cost in enemy lives may be greater than the number of lives it saves on one’s own side.

The Boston Marathon bombing was quite different from fighting bacteria and fighting a war. It was done by Chechen nationalists who wanted Chechnya to be independent. There is no conceivable way that the killing of three people and the crippling of, perhaps, 100, could have helped to achieve Chechen independence. The bombing served no purpose whatsoever. Then why did the Tsarnaev brothers do it? We can never know, but they were acting in the tradition of the 9/11 pilots who somehow felt that committing a massive and visible act of murder would help the cause of al-Qaeda. Instead, their crime led to the end of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan that protected al-Qaeda and gave them a home.

The tradition may have begun with the three members of the Japanese Red Army who landed at Lod Airport in Israel and started shooting at anybody in sight. They killed 26 people, 11 of whom were Puerto Rican Christian pilgrims. Anti-Zionism seems to be what started this crazy tradition. Certainly the 9/11 pilots were anti-Zionist. In all likelihood, anti-Zionism was a major part of the thinking of the Tsarnaev brothers as well. Anti-Zionism, the child of anti-Semitism, is the most powerful political force on earth.

Unlike killing bacteria, which we can agree is not evil, and unlike bombing the Axis Powers in World War II, which despite its violence was self-defense, the Boston Marathon bombing was unambiguously evil. And like so many evil acts, it could not in any way have achieved the goals of the perpetrators. Serious evil is frequently pointless.

Bridgegate was certainly pointless. It was meant to be an act of revenge against the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, Mark Sokolich. Sokolich had not supported Chris Christie’s race for governor. Sokolich, not surprisingly, was not trapped in the traffic jams engineered by the Bridgegate perpetrators. Did anyone expect Sokolich to be blamed for the closed lanes? Did anyone think that Governor Christie and his staff would escape blame? Who suffered? New Jersey residents were the majority, in particular, residents of North Jersey, a majority of whom are Republicans. A majority of New Jersey residents had voted for Christie. It made no sense to trap them in tie-ups at the George Washington Bridge. Bridgegate was not only pointless but very stupid.

If Hell exists, it is more evil than anything else could possibly be. Nobody could deserve eternal torment, with the possible exception of a Hitler. In general, punishment exists to show people that they won’t get away with their offenses, to make a public statement against crime, or to confine or execute criminals so that they cannot repeat their acts. Hell does none of these. Those who are dead cannot commit any more crimes. Since we don’t know who has gone to Hell, their punishment doesn’t make a public statement. Worst of all, the rules about who is saved and who is damned are not made clearly evident. Why should faith have to be a criterion for salvation?Faith is not the same as knowledge. Those without faith don’t know the danger of damnation until they are already in Hell and it’s too late.

The ugly story of the rich man in Hell told in Luke 16:19-31 tells us precisely how pointless Hell is. The rich man asks that his brothers be informed so that they won’t be damned as he was. He is told “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Ridiculous! Jesus, who is the first voice to mention Hell in the New Testament (there is nothing about eternal damnation in the Hebrew Bible), tells us this parable with apparent approval. His lack of mercy is pointless.

George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937. He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY. His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects. As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at

Copyright ©2014. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This article originally appeared in Arutz Sheva (April 10, 2014). It is republished here with the permission of the author.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Thought Life of Plants, Worms & Jelly-Fish

Non-Human Senses

Plant Sensitivity: The article says: "The Large Flowering Sensitive Plant, whose ‘plant electricity,’ Oliver Sacks writes, ‘moves slowly…as one can see by watching the leaflets…closing one by one along a leaf that is touched.’ 
Credit: Illustration from Robert John Thornton’s The Temple of Flora (1799–1807); published in a new edition by Taschen.Source: NYRB
In a book review article in The New York Review of Books, Oliver Sacks discusses whether plants, worms and jelly-fish, among many other so-called lower forms, have some sort of mental life. Sacks, the well-known neurologist and writer, reviews a number of books that have examined the issue.

Sacks starts off with Darwin's last book on the earthworm, a lowly creature, and writes:
Charles Darwin’s last book, published in 1881, was a study of the humble earthworm. His main theme—expressed in the title, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms—was the immense power of worms, in vast numbers and over millions of years, to till the soil and change the face of the earth. But his opening chapters are devoted more simply to the “habits” of worms.
Worms can distinguish between light and dark, and they generally stay underground, safe from predators, during daylight hours. They have no ears, but if they are deaf to aerial vibration, they are exceedingly sensitive to vibrations conducted through the earth, as might be generated by the footsteps of approaching animals. All of these sensations, Darwin noted, are transmitted to collections of nerve cells (he called them “the cerebral ganglia”) in the worm’s head.
“When a worm is suddenly illuminated,” Darwin wrote, it “dashes like a rabbit into its burrow.” He noted that he was “at first led to look at the action as a reflex one,” but then observed that this behavior could be modified—for instance, when a worm was otherwise engaged, it showed no withdrawal with sudden exposure to light.
For Darwin, the ability to modulate responses indicated “the presence of a mind of some kind.” He also wrote of the “mental qualities” of worms in relation to their plugging up their burrows, noting that “if worms are able to judge…having drawn an object close to the mouths of their burrows, how best to drag it in, they must acquire some notion of its general shape.” This moved him to argue that worms “deserve to be called intelligent, for they then act in nearly the same manner as a man under similar circumstances.”
I have not read any of the other works cited in this essay,which I hope to soon rectify, but even so Sacks article has got me thinking about the nature of plants as we humans can understand them. I have a number of plants in our two-bedroom apartment, and all are doing well, having survived a couple of moves, including one to another city. Such shows their heartiness no doubt; I sense that plants can also tune in to whether they are liked and appreciated.

This might unnerve some scientifically minded individuals, but plants, I sense, do enjoy music and human communication. Plants thrive in positive environments, an argument that no one would find objectionable. They provide something important to humans, including visual beauty and inducing a sense of well-being or harmony.

But do plants think? Well, they do in their particular way, Sacks says:
Plants depend largely on calcium ion channels, which suit their relatively slow lives perfectly. As Daniel Chamovitz argues in his book What a Plant Knows (2012), plants are capable of registering what we would call sights, sounds, tactile signals, and much more. Plants know what to do, and they “remember.” But without neurons, plants do not learn in the same way that animals do; instead they rely on a vast arsenal of different chemicals and what Darwin termed “devices.” The blueprints for these must all be encoded in the plant’s genome, and indeed plant genomes are often larger than our own.
That some plants have a larger genome than humans is fascinating in itself; that plants can learn in ways that differ than humans is equally fascinating.

You can read more at [NYRB]

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mind Your Profanity


The use of profanity is widespread and is common across all cultures, among all classes of peoples, and it has a purpose—generally, as an effective means to express anger and displeasure with an action or view; while profane statements can be over-used and considered crude or vulgar, thus reducing their effectiveness, they do have a place in common culture. In this essay, Prof. George Jochnowitz cites many common expressions of derision and anger, including the use of profanity, and give some noteworthy linguistic background and explanation to their usage in English.

by George Jochnowitz

Chomsky's discussion of acceptability does not include a consideration of the possibility that a sentence may be acceptable but not grammatical (1965, 11-14); indeed, the very idea seems absurd. Yet there are familiar acceptable idiomatic expressions that resist grammatical analysis. Idioms, by definition, have meanings that are not determined by their grammatical and lexical structures. One group of idioms includes sentences that "have a perfectly reasonable meaning if understood as non-idiomatic" (Chomsky 1980, 150):

(1) Shake a leg.

Another group consists of fixed expressions which preserve grammatical forms that are no longer productive, such as the hortatory subjunctive.

(2) Far be it from me.

(3) God damn you.

Sentences like (3) alternate with shortened forms where an element is deleted:

(4) Damn you.

(4) is comprehensible because of the existence of (3), with which it is in free variation. Yet there are cases where there is no such variation.

(5) Blast you.

(5) is not frequently heard, but it is similar enough in form and meaning to (4) to permit the conclusion that (4) and (5) are struturally identical. Gregersen suggests that these are the realizations of an English construction of the form "verb you" (1977, 264).

Other idiomatic sentences are harder to parse. Consider the following:

(6) Fuck you.

(7) Screw you.

(4) and (5) differ from (6) and (7) in stress; the latter two examples are unusual in that the sentence stress falls on the object pronoun even when no contrast is implied. Moreover, (6) and (7) do not seem to be hortatory subjunctives since there is no way to recover the deleted subject noun phrase. In fact, there is no such noun phrase that can be used before (6) and (7) without sounding ludicrous. Nor can (6) and (7) be imperative sentences; if they were, reflexivization would have taken place, as in the following imperatives:

(8) Fuck yourself.

(9) Screw yourself.

Gregersen argues convincingly that the deleted subject in (6) was historically "the Devil" (1977, 265), but he is careful to add the following: "I do not claim that 'the Devil' still functions as subject; reanalysis has, I think, totally changed the construction" (266).

Thus, (6) and (7) have no apparent subject. Quang argues that (4) and (5) and (6) are not sentences but epithets, that epithets involve a lexical category of quasi-verbs, and that epithets are generated by the phrase-structure rule "Epithet - Quasi-verb NP" (1971, 7).

By dividing utterances into the two categories of sentences and eptithets, Quang is in effect stating that the grammar used to generate sentences does not work for epithets. In other words, epithets are not grammatical sentences but a separate category. Quang includes the following examples among the epithets:

(10) Shit on you.

(11) To hell with you.

Quang's distinction between "verb" and "quasi-verb" is quite useful in explaining the difference between (6) and (8); however, “quasi-verb” becomes too broad and vague a category when applied to (10) and (11). I believe that "shit" in (10) is a noun. (11) is part of a productive pattern that includes

(12) To the gallows with you.

(10) appears to be a shortened form of

(13) May there be shit on you.

Moreover, (10) and (11) are stressed like (4) and (5), not like (6) and (7). Although Quang's discussion is quite thorough, he does not mention (7), nor does he list mock euphemisms such as

(14) ?Copulate you.

(15) ?Intercourse you.

Native speakers who have never heard (14) or (15) nevertheless agree that they are stressed like (6) and (7). Quang admits that the stress of (6) is a problem he has not dealt with in his article (1971, 7). The existence of (7) and the marginal existence of (14) and (15) are evidence that the phrase-structure rule for epithets is too inclusive; it suggests unity where in fact there is diversity.

Dummy subjects exist in the deep structure of agentless passives, according to Chomsky (1965, 137). We might say that similar dummy subjects exist in the deep structure to the left of slang verbs meaning "to have sexual intercourse with" and that the dummy is deleted by a rule that shifts the sentence stress to the right. The inelegance of the preceding explanation suggests that it is false. Perhaps it is better to conclude that (6) and (7) are ungrammatical because they have no subject, dummy or otherwise. In other words, they do not exist at the deep-structure level.

"But," as Chomsky tells us, "idioms that appear only at the S-structure level are very rare; we can regard this possibility as excluded in principle, with such exceptions as should be expected in the case of idiomatic constructions" (1980, 152). If so, these "marginal exceptions" are acceptable but not grammatical. It is not surprising that these grammatically aberrant sentences exhibit aberrent stress as well.

Note: I am grateful to Franklin E. Horowitz, Thomas Wasow and William R. Leben for their suggestions and advice.

Chomsky, Noam. 1965. Aspects of the theory of syntax. MIT Press, Cambridge.
—.1980. Rules and Representations. Columbia University Press, New York.
Gregersen, Edgar A. 1977. “A Note on English Sexual Cursing,” Maledicta 1, 261-68.
Quang Phuc Dong [pseud.]. 1971. "English Sentences without Overt Grammatical Subject," Studies Out in Left Field: Defamatory Essays. Presented to James D. McCawley on the Occasion of his 33rd or 34th Birthday.
Arnold M Zwicky et al. (eds), 3-10. Linguistic Research, Inc. Edmonton and Champaign.

George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937. He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY. His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects. As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at
Copyright ©2014. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This article originally appeared in Maledicta, The International Journal of Verbal Aggression. Vol. IX, 1986-1987. This article was also published in California Linguistic Notes 23:1 (Fall-Winter 1991) It is republished here with the permission of the author.