30 setembro 2004

De La Hispaniola:

...en 1834 se produjo la toma de la ciudad de Scinde en la India, el último baluarte de la defensa hindú ante la conquista inglesa. Este hecho fue anunciado en Inglaterra por sir Charles Napier con un calambur de gran elegancia. Napier había sido acusado en la Cámara de los Comunes de diversos errores en la dirección de la guerra. Por eso, cuando finalmente consiguió tomar Scinde, Napier envió un mensaje tan lacónico que constaba de una sola palabra: "Peccavi!". Tras unos momentos de perplejidad general, los parlamentarios ingleses consiguieron descifrarlo. En latín peccavi significa "he pecado", lo que en inglés se formula "I have sinned", una frase casi homófona de "I have Scinde" (Ya tengo Scinde). La diferencia fonética es tan leve que todos comprendieron de repente que la ciudad de Scinde había caído en poder de aquel sutil general que se disculpaba así de sus posibles errores: ofreciéndoles la victoria.

Verbalia. Juegos de palabras y esfuerzos del ingenio literario, Màrius Serra
[there's barely enuff space in this blog for this guy and his ego but this paragraph ain't bad]

De Mar sin Orilla, de Andrés Trapiello, las diez palabras más bellas:

"1. . La palabra más bella.
2. Ultramarinos. Mi abuelo abrió después de la guerra un comercio de coloniales y ultramarinos en León, que pasó a mi padre, a imitación del abarrote que un pariente emigrado había abierto en México, durante la dictadura de Porfirio Díaz. De niño no alcancé nunca a saber qué significaba exactamente, pero me gustaba por lo que prometía de exótico y lejano. Para mí siempre orá unida a un chocolate de la marca El Indio, cuyas tabletas tenían un envoltorio de papel basto en el que aparecía estampada la cara de un indio motilón, naturalmente de color chocolate, empenachado de plumas sobre un fondo amarillo lleno de modernistas letras rojas. Si pienso en un azul ultramar imagino un azul, otra palabra mágica, más lejano que ninguno, un azul dios, un azul indiano, un azul niño, perdido, muerto muy lejos de su casa.
3. Rosa. Siempre distinta, eterna, 'pura contradicción, voluptuosidad de no ser el sueño de nadie bajo tantos párpados'.
4. Tranvía. Necesitamos de un tiempo pasado, no demasiado remoto, para que el nuestro se haga más soportable, ciudades cosmopolitas todavía sombrías y provincianas, en las que sólo se oigan los cascos de los caballos sobre los adoquines y los chasquidos eléctricos del trole en la red de los cables.
5. Arrayanes. El Sur, un surtidor, la huida.
6. Misericordia. Habla de lo mejor del hombre, pero en silencio.
7. Mar. Nace tan cerca del verbo amar, que casi son la misma palabra.
8. Mastina. Hace unos meses, durante una nevada, vimos a nuestra mastina echada en el olivar sobre la nieve. No se movía, mantenía erguida la cabeza con majestad, como una esfinge. Caían los copos sobre ella, se posaban en sus pestañas, pero ni siquiera parpadeaba. El corazón humano merecería haber sido creado con la misma materia.
9. Manantial. Nos hace pensar en algo profundo, limpio y fundamental.
10. Rocín. Es una palabra vieja y ya sin uso. En el Quijote aparece desde la tercera línea del primer capítulo hasta el final innúmeras veces, y sólo por eso sigue viva, al igual que otras que ya en tiempos de Cervantes resultaban demasiado arcaicas. Todas las palabras tienen un alma, incluso las muertas. Sólo hay que saber encontrársela o, en su defecto, dársela de nuevo".

[de Trapo]

hiru hana o
oikakete yuku
arashi kana

Va persiguiendo
pétalos de cerezo
la tempestad.


29 setembro 2004

blowkay [bloh'-kay] adj. of an attitude, typically exhibited by the electorate, that elected officials who have sexual relations outside of marriage while in office are less deserving of impeachment than officials whose decisions lead to the loss of human life. Folks say the new senator from Rhode Island is a skirt chaser, but as long as he doesn't send thousands of Americans off to die in a war on false pretenses he's blowkay with me.
Zzzunday [zuhn'-day] n.national holiday occurring once every 28 years, when a Leap Year coincides with a Sunday. Zzzunday is celebrated with 24 hours of uninterrupted sleep, in recognition of an entire generation accumulated sleep deficit. Secondary holidays have grown to immediately precede Zzzunday, including Sleepless Friday, and a Hibernation Saturday of block parties, children sleepovers, and retail promotional sales of bed linens, mattresses, and pillows. Traditionally, insomniacs mark Zzzunday by going out to a Chinese restaurant if they can find one open that day.

This book was conceived as a way to bring almost two hundred authors and artists together to promote progressive causes in the November 2004 election. The book is an imagining of what a dictionary might look like about thirty years hence, when all or most of the world's problems are solved and our current president is a distant memory. The book is by turns funny, outraged, utopian, and dyspeptic.

Every cent of the proceeds from this book will go to progressive organizations working on the 2004 election.

Over 150 writers contributed to this book, including: Stephen King, Robert Olen Butler, Glen David Gold, Richard Powers, Susan Straight, Sarah Vowell, Billy Collins, C.K. Williams, Colson Whitehead, Donald Antrim, Jonathan Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates, Paul Auster, Jim Shepard, Aimee Bender, Michael Chabon, Chris Ware, Jonathan Ames, Edward Hirsch, and Art Spiegelman.

The book also includes a CD, compiled by Barsuk Records, with new songs and rarities from David Byrne, R.E.M., Death Cab for Cutie, Sleater-Kinney, Flaming Lips, Tom Waits, Bright Eyes, They Might Be Giants, Elliott Smith, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and many others.

28 setembro 2004

From second-rate horror films to episodes of Scooby-Doo, ominous paintings whose staring eyes follow a character around the room, no matter where they go, have been used to spooky effect. But now a team of scientists believe they have solved the mystery of how they do it.
A group working on how our brains interpret images found that as long as a character in a painting is looking straight ahead, our brains will perceive they are staring at us, no matter the angle from which we view the painting. A striking example is The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals, the 17th century Dutch painter.
The explanation lies in how we interpret three-dimensional objects portrayed on a flat surface. Real three-dimensional objects look different depending on the angle because of the changing way light falls across them. But on the flat canvas, shading and light are fixed and the image looks the same from every angle.
James Todd of Ohio State University and co-author of the study said: "If a person in a painting is looking straight out, it will always appear that way, regardless of the angle at which it is viewed."
The scientists, writing in the journal Perception, took hundreds of measurements of 3D images displayed on a computer screen. They found that whatever angle the images were viewed from, they always looked the same.
Jonathan Jones, The Guardian's art critic, said: "It'd be wonderful if people gave art historians the kind of grants that scientists seem to get to research art."

Is that a Garden in your Roof?

Got a green thumb? Gardens are for amateurs; consider applying your talents with plants to your roof. A movement with, uh, roots in Germany is picking up steam in the United States that aims to ameliorate ecological problems from storm water runoff to urban greenhouse warming. A "green roof" or "ecoroof" replaces traditional roofing with a lightweight, living system of soil, compost and vegetation. It's not about looking pretty (although it does) but rather creating a thin, green skin atop your building that gives a little something back to the world—and your pocket book. Apart from local environmental benefits, preliminary evidence suggests green roofs reduce roof maintenance costs and energy use by insulating buildings from extreme temperatures.

More from Newsweek about the American case, we have this as well, up North, in foreign families' homes no doubt, and in a rather modest scale, but I can't find info on it :-( buaaaaaaaa.

A British Website about it:


Here's some info in Spanish about the subject: There's a PDF with techniques and drawings. ;-)

24 setembro 2004

An Interview with Julio Cortázar

Courtesy of The Center For Book Culture and excerpted from the book Cortázar por Cortázar.

There's a Spanish version available here ;-)
O Lápis Azul :-/

Jessamyn West is a 36-year-old librarian living in central Vermont. But she's not your stereotypical bespectacled research maven toiling behind a reference desk and offering expert advice on microfiche.
She's a "radical librarian" who has embraced the hacker credo that "information wants to be free." As a result, West and many of her colleagues are on the front lines in battling the USA Patriot Act, which a harried Congress passed a month after 9/11 even though most representatives hadn't even read the 300-page bill. It gave the government sweeping powers to pursue the "war on terror" but at a price: the loss of certain types of privacy we have long taken for granted.

What got many librarians' dander up was Section 215 of the law, which stipulates that government prosecutors and FBI agents can seek permission from a secret court created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to access personal records -- everything from medical histories to reading habits. They don't need a subpoena. In fact, they don't need to show that a crime has even been committed. And librarians, stymied by a gag order, are forbidden to tell anyone (except a lawyer).

Naturally, this hasn't sat well with West, a self-described anti-capitalist blogger who was invited to the Democratic National Convention, and who has posted a page with links and photos that might best be described as library soft-core porn.
She worries that a researcher could check out a book on Islam and suddenly end up on the no-fly list, forced to take the Greyhound with Teddy Kennedy for the rest of her life. Or an HIV-positive teen living in a conservative community could be outed after reading about the disease. If this sounds far-fetched, two years ago, in Punta Gorda, Florida, a British man was arrested in a public library after visiting websites that posted material on mineral supplements and the world's first chemical generator of electricity, the Baghdad Battery.

"In a democracy, citizens can access information they view as important," West said, "and traditionally we as librarians have kept it private. We are in favor of free speech and against censorship, and believe in the right to research material without the government looking over your shoulder."
While mainstream media have blandly stood by as the free flow of information is threatened, some librarians have been agitating. They have been collecting signatures -- close to a million of them -- to petition the government to amend portions of the Patriot Act. They have purged circulation records. They have pushed elected officials to propose legislation to exempt libraries from government snoops, and have worked with more than 300 cities across the country to adopt measures to weaken the most extreme aspects of the law.

West, for her part, has created a series of popular, quasi-legal signs to warn users. One -- "The FBI has not been here. (Watch closely for the removal of this sign)" -- was provided to every library in the state by the Vermont Library Association.

Others include:

• "We're sorry! Due to national security concerns we are unable to tell you if your internet surfing habits, passwords and e-mail content are being monitored by federal agents; please act appropriately."
• "Q. How can you tell when the FBI has been in your library? A. You can't."
• "The Patriot Act makes it illegal for us to tell you if our computers are monitored; be aware."

Still another lists organizations like the Red Cross, Boy Scouts, Rotary Club, United Way and FBI that have not stopped by this week, except FBI is crossed out.
After the American Library Association, or ALA, came out against the Patriot Act, Attorney General John Ashcroft called librarians' resistance "baseless hysteria." He ridiculed the organization, claiming that "some have convinced (it) ... that the FBI is not fighting terrorism; instead, agents are checking how far you've gotten in the latest Tom Clancy novel."

The ALA challenged Ashcroft to reveal the number of times law enforcement had requested library records. In response, the Department of Justice released a declassified memo that claimed the number was zero, which was contradicted by a University of Illinois Library Research Center study that found more than a dozen libraries had received visits and requests for information from law enforcement.

"That's the problem," West said. "The government wants us to trust them, but how can we without greater transparency?"
She believes that you have to be somewhat radical to become a librarian in the first place. In addition to a good education, you need to devote yourself to low-to-middle-paying jobs where even your friends make jokes about you, and fear that one day you will be replaced by a computer.

And she's not the only one trying to recast her profession's image. For instance, at the Modified Librarian, users relate stories of their tattoos and piercings. The Anarchist Librarians Web posts links to radical book fairs and information on anti-filtering software. At the Librarian Avengers, the battle cry is "Thwart not the Librarian." What does the irascible West say to people who tease her by asking if she has taken classes on holding her finger up to her lips and saying shush?

From Wired
3 Ways to Scan a Library
Books today are written on laptops, typeset on PCs, and pumped out on digital presses. But ironically, the most efficient way to create an electronic library is to scan the printed page. The technology has come a long way since the days of the Kurzweil machines - hulking, 1-ton scanner/optical character recognition combos that emerged in the early 1980s. Today, the biggest archiving projects use some combination of these three methods.

Tear Off the Spines
Using a paper guillotine (which looks just like its Bastille cousin), a book's pages are simply lopped off of the binding and sent through a scanner with an automatic page feeder. High-end machines cost $25,000 and churn through 90 black-and-white pages per minute, front and back. Rare books need not apply.

Ship It Overseas
Workers in India, China, and the Philippines earn about 40 cents an hour to manually turn pages that are zapped by $15,000 overhead scanners. Carnegie Mellon's Million Book Project alone employs more than 100 Indians for this activity. The Indian government views it as a boon to local employment.

Hire a Robot
Flipping pages is more complicated than meets the eye, but robots are getting the hang of it. Earlier this year, Kirtas Technologies introduced a bot that has both an overhead scanner and an automated page-turning arm. While a book sits open in a special cradle, the arm swoops down, grabs the top page with gentle suction, and turns it. The machine boasts a speed of 1,200 pages an hour, but justifying its six-figure price to frugal librarians is tough.

And why all this, prithee?

for The Great Library of Amazonia or the best way to sell books ever!!
We won't hear the last of it
I won't let us see the end of it :-

(since they spoilt Bruno Ganz for me, I'll settle for Thomas Kretschmann, poor me (he from The Pianist, anyone? plizzzz]

The Wall Street's OpinionJournal calls it A brilliant new film [that] shows the dictator's human side.

Sinner Take All

From the 1930s until long into the cold-war era, Graham Greene mapped a unique landscape of pain, human frailty, political drama, and moral bewilderment. His tortured sinners, doubting Catholics, furtive adulterers, cynical expatriates, burnt-out cases, and violent criminals constitute one of the most memorable, if disturbing, fictional worlds in modern literature. In Greeneland, the moral weather is perpetually gray. Fidelity and loyalty are impossible ideals; someone is forever betraying a lover, a friend, a creed, an ideology, a God, a country. Salvation is fleeting, while damnation is a permanent temptation, rarely resisted, if not actively courted. "I am damned already—I may as well go the whole length of my chain," Scobie, the colonial policeman in The Heart of the Matter (1948), concludes hopelessly before he kills himself after he has cheated on his wife and conspired to commit murder. He could be speaking on behalf of half a dozen of Greene's characters. "Sins have so much beauty," says the whiskey priest in The Power and the Glory (1940), luxuriating in his fallen state.

Much more from BookForum
The Achievement of the Cat

In the political history of nations it is no uncommon experience to find States and peoples which but a short time since were in bitter conflict and animosity with each other, settled down comfortably on terms of mutual goodwill and even alliance. The natural history of the social developments of species affords a similar instance in the coming-together of two once warring elements, now represented by civilised man and the domestic cat. The fiercely waged struggle which went on between humans and felines in those far-off days when sabre-toothed tiger and cave lion contended with primeval man, has long ago been decided in favour of the most fitly equipped combatant—the Thing with a Thumb—and the descendants of the dispossessed family are relegated today, for the most part, to the waste lands of jungle and veld, where an existence of self-effacement is the only alternative to extermination. But the felis catus, or whatever species was the ancestor of the modern domestic cat (a vexed question at present), by a master-stroke of adaptation avoided the ruin of its race, and ‘captured’ a place in the very keystone of the conqueror’s organization. For not as a bond-servant or dependent has this proudest of mammals entered the human fraternity; not as a slave like the beasts of burden, or a humble camp- follower like the dog. The cat is domestic only as far as suits its own ends; it will not be kennelled or harnessed nor suffer any dictation as to its goings out or comings in. Long contact with the human race has developed in it the art of diplomacy, and no Roman Cardinal of mediæval days knew better how to ingratiate himself with his surroundings than a cat with a saucer of cream on its mental horizon. But the social smoothness, the purring innocence, the softness of the velvet paw may be laid aside at a moment’s notice, and the sinuous feline may disappear, in deliberate aloofness, to a world of roofs and chimney-stacks, where the human element is distanced and disregarded. Or the innate savage spirit that helped its survival in the bygone days of tooth and claw may be summoned forth from beneath the sleek exterior, and the torture-instinct (common alone to human and feline) may find free play in the death-throes of some luckless bird or rodent. It is, indeed, no small triumph to have combined the untrammelled liberty of primeval savagery with the luxury which only a highly developed civilization can command; to be lapped in the soft stuffs that commerce has gathered from the far ends of the world, to bask in the warmth that labour and industry have dragged from the bowels of the earth; to banquet on the dainties that wealth has bespoken for its table, and withal to be a free son of nature, a mighty hunter, a spiller of life-blood. This is the victory of the cat. But besides the credit of success the cat has other qualities which compel recognition. The animal which the Egyptians worshipped as divine, which the Romans venerated as a symbol of liberty, which Europeans in the ignorant Middle Ages anathematised as an agent of demonology, has displayed to all ages two closely blended characteristics—courage and self-respect. No matter how unfavourable the circumstances, both qualities are always to the fore. Confront a child, a puppy, and a kitten with a sudden danger; the child will turn instinctively for assistance, the puppy will grovel in abject submission to the impending visitation, the kitten will brace its tiny body for a frantic resistance. And disassociate the luxury-loving cat from the atmosphere of social comfort in which it usually contrives to move, and observe it critically under the adverse conditions of civilisation— that civilisation which can impel a man to the degradation of clothing himself in tawdry ribald garments and capering mountebank dances in the streets for the earning of the few coins that keep him on the respectable, or non-criminal, side of society. The cat of the slums and alleys, starved, outcast, harried, still keeps amid the prowlings of its adversity the bold, free, panther-tread with which it paced of yore the temple courts of Thebes, still displays the self-reliant watchfulness which man has never taught it to lay aside. And when its shifts and clever managings have not sufficed to stave off inexorable fate, when its enemies have proved too strong or too many for its defensive powers, it dies fighting to the last, quivering with the choking rage or mastered resistance, and voicing in its death-yell that agony of bitter remonstrance which human animals, too, have flung at the powers that may be; the last protest against a destiny that might have made them happy—and has not.

catbellyfulls of Saki :-}

22 setembro 2004

Como no podía ser de otra manera, está claro...
E esta?

Faça você também Que génio louco é você? Uma criação de O Mundo Insano da Abyssinia

(em Português do Brasil :-)

Herr Flick!!!

A spectacular exhibition of contemporary art opened in Berlin yesterday, amid a picket by Jewish protesters, with its billionaire owner accused of exploiting art to redeem his family's Nazi past.

Christian Friedrich Flick, who inherited part of his grandfather's fortune, originally built on wartime slave labour in explosives factories, told journalists yesterday: "I neither want to whitewash the family name, nor can art or the collecting of art compensate for my grandfather's war crimes - but please at least view these works of art separate from politics or my family's history."
Jewish protesters say the vast collection is founded on "blood money".

The quality of the art is not in question: the opening exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof, a converted railway station seen as a key to regenerating a still rundown corner of the city, is only a fraction of the collection which will fill the gallery for the next seven years.
The bitter criticism of the Flick collection has spread to the city leaders and the German government - chancellor Gerhard Schröder formally opened the exhibition last night - for accepting Flick's offer to create the gallery, paying the costs of the building and lending his collection.

Yesterday Herr Flick, who mainly lives in Switzerland, said wryly that the exhibition fitted Berlin like a hand in a glove - "or like a fist in the eye".
The display has works by the biggest hitters in contemporary art, such as neon works by Bruce Naumann, an early conceptual piece by Marcel Duchamp, works by Alberto Giacometti and Gerhard Richter, and crowd pullers such as Jeff Koons's giant gold ceramic portrait of Michael Jackson.

The opening yesterday was picketed by protesters handing out leaflets demanding free entry for former slave workers. Two lorries have been hired to drive through the city with the same message.
The artist who designed the leaflets and billboards, Frieder Schnock, said: "If you come to a poor city like Berlin everyone welcomes you if you show the money. But if you inherit money, you inherit responsibility."
Michael Fuerst, a member of Germany's Central Council of Jews in Germany, wrote on the news website Netzeitung: "For a little bit of glamour in the impoverished parlour of the republic, Gerhard Schröder is opening the exhibit along with the collector ... under the motto: What do I care about all this blather from yesterday?"

But, opening the exhibition last night, Mr Schröder defended Flick. "He has accepted the responsibility that goes with bearing the name Flick," he said.
He welcomed the public debate over the collection. "It prevents what some critics fear most - that history may get forgotten. Nothing is getting suppressed or buried in history books - the attention that art brings with it is a guarantee that history does not get forgotten."

In the second world war Herr Flick's grandfather, Friedrich Flick, used 1,000 women slave labourers to carry out the most dangerous work in his vast explosives factory: hundreds died. Taking over confiscated Jewish firms also swelled his fortune. After the war he was sentenced at the Nuremberg trials to seven years in prison, but was released three years early.
He refused to compensate any of his surviving workers, or the relatives of the dead. He rebuilt his business empire, based in West Germany, and died in 1972 as one of the world's wealthiest men.
When the young Herr Flick - then a playboy instantly recognisable from the pages of Europe's gossip and society magazines - inherited he sold all his shares in the company.

His wealth is now based on his own investments. In the 1970s he sold his old masters collection and began buying contemporary art, and is now seen as having one of the most important private collections in the world.
He has refused, unlike his brother and sister, to pay into a special fund established by the government for Nazi-era forced labour survivors and their families. Instead he has insisted that the foundation he established in Potsdam, against racism and xenophobia, is evidence of his liberal credentials.

Klaus Dieter Lehmann, the president of the Prussian Culture Foundation, which has backed the gallery, said yesterday that active confrontation of the Flick family's past was always a condition for mounting the exhibition.
His foundation has commissioned a detailed study of the role in the Nazi era of both the Flick family and the Flick companies. As part of the exhibition the museum will host two major symposiums on Flick and how Germany has confronted its past.

"I have always tried to separate my family history from the collection, from the art and the artists - the collection should not be seen with ideological glasses," Herr Flick said yesterday. "I want to make it clear that I have never said I want to excuse the dark side of my family."
The exhibition is set to run for seven years, with displays changing each year. The controversy looks set to run as long.

Guide us to the Straight Way / The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not (the way) of those who have earned Your Anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians)
[Yellow lines coloured by me to stress what Saudi have added to their wahhabi version of Islam sacred text Qur'ân. This is why I'm always against relinquishing the power to teachers o translators]

THE UNITED STATES took the bold step last week of formally designating Saudi Arabia a "country of particular concern" for its lack of religious freedom. In the words of the State Department's 2004 report on religious freedom worldwide, "basic religious freedoms are denied to all [Saudi citizens] but those who adhere to the state-sanctioned version of Sunni Islam . . . commonly called Wahhabi." This incontrovertible statement of fact is a breakthrough in the diplomatic dance of many veils. It casts in a new and somewhat hopeful light certain forms of engagement the administration continues to pursue with the Saudi kingdom.

Thus, also last week, the State Department welcomed a group of professors of religion from Saudi Arabia on a three-week tour of the United States. The stated goal of the visit is to show the 15 guests how Americans handle various issues of public policy and civil society, including state and federal responsibilities in education, the accreditation, financing, and curriculum of public and private schools, the academic study of religions including Islam, religious diversity, and interfaith activities.

All this should indeed be strange and informative to visitors whose delegation is led by five professors from the Imam Mohammed Ibn-Saud Islamic University, a seminary for the training of clerics in Wahhabism. Familiarly known as the "terrorist factory," this institution was the alma mater of three of the 9/11 suicide hijackers. Abd al-Aziz Abd al-Rahman Al-Omari (who was on the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center) met and befriended several bin Ladenite clerics while studying at the Ibn-Saud campus in the city of Qaseem. Ahmed Abdullah Al-Nami (who was on the plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania) studied at the university's branch in the city of Abha. And Mohned Mohamed al-Shehri (who was on the plane that struck the South Tower) was recruited, according to Saudi dissident sources, to the bin Laden network directly from the university.

Not only that, but the same seminary ran the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America (IIASA) as an extension campus in Fairfax, Virginia, under the supervision of the Department of Religious Affairs of the Saudi Embassy in Washington. Early this year, the State Department expelled 24 Saudis associated with this network for abusing their diplomatic passports to interfere with American religious life.

The most obvious window into the theology taught at Ibn-Saud Islamic University is the Wahhabi Koran, an edition of the Islamic scripture, with commentary, printed in every major European, Asian, and African language in paperback editions that are distributed free or at low cost throughout the world (and are available on the web at www.kuran.gen.tr/html/english3). The fifteenth revised edition of this work was published as The Noble Qur'ân in the English Language by Darussalam Publishers and Distributors in Riyadh in 1996. The translators are Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali and Muhammad Muhsin Khan, both affiliated with another extremist institution, the Islamic University of Medina, two of whose faculty members are also among the educators being hosted by the State Department.

The Wahhabi Koran is notable in that, while Muslims believe that their sacred text was dictated by God and cannot be altered, the Saudi English version adds to the original so as to change its sense in a radical direction. For example, the opening chapter, or surah, is known as Fatiha, and is recited in Muslim daily prayer and (among non-Wahhabis) as a memorial to the dead. The four final lines of Fatiha read, in a normal rendition of the Arabic original (such as this translation by N.J. Dawood, published by Penguin Books): Guide us to the straight path, / The path of those whom You have favored, / Not of those who have incurred Your wrath, / Nor of those who have gone astray.

The Wahhabi Koran renders these lines: Guide us to the Straight Way. / The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not (the way) of those who have earned Your Anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians). The Wahhabi Koran prints this translation alongside the Arabic text, which contains no reference to either Jews or Christians.

There is nothing to indicate to the uninformed reader that these interpolations, printed in parentheses, are absent from the Arabic. The reader encountering Islam for the first time, as well as the Muslim already indoctrinated in Wahhabism, is led to believe that the Koran denounces all Jews and Christians, which it does not.

There are, of course, many individuals who are unprepared to read this translation with a critical eye. This is especially true wherever Wahhabis conduct the missionary outreach called dawa--above all in prisons in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. Indeed, it is to just such readers that this edition is directed. The Wahhabi Koran is also a mainstay of Muslim student groups on campuses throughout the West.

Distortions of the text stating or implying that God has condemned the Jews and Christians are scattered throughout the Wahhabi Koran. Notably, they invert the meaning of the several verses that express respect for the "People of the Book," the Jews and Christians. Thus, verse 2:62 in its authentic form states: Believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabaeans--whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does what is right--shall be rewarded by their Lord. (The Sabaeans were followers of an ancient religion impossible to identify clearly today.) In the Saudi English translation, this passage is footnoted to declare, No other religion except Islam will be accepted from anyone, although no such statement appears in the Arabic.

The standard translation of verse 3:113 reads: There are among the People of the Book some upright men who all night long recite the revelations of God and worship Him, who believe in God and the Last Day, who enjoin justice and forbid evil.

The Saudi translation again inserts verbiage hostile to non-Muslims. In the Wahhabi Koran, the upright Jews and Christians turn out to be those who convert to Islam: those enjoining Islamic Monotheism and following Prophet Muhammad and not opposing Prophet Muhammad. To repeat, where the Arabic text actually praises pious Jews and Christians, the Wahhabi English version praises only Jews and Christians who become Muslims.

The original verse 5:65 says of the Jews and Christians: If they observe the Torah and the Gospel and what is revealed to them from their Lord, they shall enjoy abundance.

The Wahhabi edition adds that, in addition to Jews' observing the Torah and Christians' the New Testament, both must accept the Koran--that is, become Muslims--which nowhere appears in the Arabic text and conflicts with traditional Islamic theology. Mainstream Islam treats the Torah, the New Testament, and the Koran as different books. Wahhabism, by contrast, treats the Jewish and Christian scriptures as primitive editions of the Islamic text.

And, inevitably, the Wahhabi Koran adds language aggravating Muslim-Jewish controversies. Verse 17:1 refers to the night journey, an out-of-body experience in which the Prophet Muhammad was taken on a magical steed to a site called in the standard text the farther Temple. The Wahhabi translation alters this to stake the Islamic claim to Jerusalem. It refers to Muhammad's journey by night from Al-Masjid-al-Haram (at Makkah) to the farthest mosque (in Jerusalem).

Contempt for non-Muslims suffuses Saudi translations of the Islamic holy book. It is a matter of some urgency, then, that federal and state correctional institutions stop allowing the use of the Wahhabi Koran in Islamic teaching. Every prison warden in America should examine his library and replace this volume with an accurate translation.

The same bigotry is integral to the creed taught at the Imam Mohammed Ibn-Saud Islamic University and spread around the world by preachers and missionaries funded by the Saudi royal family. The spotlight the administration has now fixed on Riyadh's policy of religious intolerance may have embarrassed our Saudi visitors this week. If so, their discomfort is only fitting, as long as their universities and their government continue to promote the extremist cult in which terrorism breeds.

Gulag Art

Nikolai Getman, who produced a unique record of life in Stalin's forced-labor camps, died last month at his home in Orel, Russia.

Born in 1917, he was by profession a painter, though his studies at the Kharkov Art College were cut short when he was drafted into the Red Army. After serving in World War II, he was arrested in 1946 and spent nearly eight years in the Gulag, much of it in one of the worst zones--Kolyma. Following his release in 1953, he was eventually reintegrated into Soviet artistic circles, becoming a member of the Artists' Union. But alongside his official duties he secretly painted--and much later succeeded in sending to the West--a number of paintings, mainly oil on canvas, based on his deep-set, unforgettable camp memories. His collection is now housed by the Jamestown Foundation in Washington (www.jamestown.org).

There is, of course, an enormous amount of first-hand testimony, of fiction, even of poetry, deriving from the Gulag experience. In the first years of glasnost there were many striking illustrations of some of the worst of Stalinist killings and torture. But as a full expression of the plastic arts, Mr. Getman is virtually unique. His work is strongly based on that of Ilya Repin (1844-1930), the Russian master of historical and genre scenes, and this is particularly suited to his subjects. He is able to bring home the whole perspective of the Gulag in a series of depictions of a particular level of human experience, seen in chosen faces and contexts.

Many even of his hidden pictures from the period are not directly connected with the Gulag itself. There are vast arctic landscapes in which the camps are just visible; there are views of columns of Japanese prisoners of war; there are sympathetic pictures of the local Chukchi tribesmen. Nor is every view autobiographical. We see the notorious women's camps, the harbors that held the penal ships of the Okhotsk Sea. But there is only one picture not associated with the lethal Far Eastern Arctic--a portrayal of a prisoner being led to execution in a metropolitan underground passage--probably based on the fate of Mr. Getman's elder brother Aleksandr.

From direct experience there are starving convicts put to hard labor in and above the gold mines, and the more central message comes to us in the faces and bodies of the prisoners: inside their compounds, trying to get fair shares of the inadequate rations, trying not to eat too fast, lined up in fives awaiting execution.

And, dreadful as the Gulag was, it was of course surpassed in horror by the torture chambers of the secret police--now seen in the immense documentation of interrogation reports that have emerged. In the Gulag prisoners were beaten up, shot by the thousands, but there were many survivors. "Lucky" ones like Mr. Getman--who had served seven years for being present while another artist had drawn a cartoon of Stalin on some cigarette paper.

Knowledge of the Gulag has a different record in Russia than in the West. In the 1930s, it is true, a major attempt was made to inculcate the official Soviet distortion both at home and abroad. The first really large-scale Gulag operation, the Baltic-White Sea Canal, was made the subject of a Soviet book sponsored by leading Moscow creative writers, including Maxim Gorky. It reported the claimed results, in antisocial cases, of human "corrective labor." The book appeared in English too, in New York and London--but had to be withdrawn after a few years when some of the writers had been shot, together with its main hero, Camp Chief Firin. Copies can still be found in our libraries.

This particular deception was not again practiced, but the Gulag remained mythologized in the U.S.S.R. itself until the publication by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" in 1962--after which, as the great Russian singer Galina Vyshnevskaya tells us in her memoirs, "The Soviet government had let the genie out of the bottle, and however hard they tried later, they couldn't put it back." Still, they did try, and the full story took almost another generation to emerge.

The West had meanwhile, for over half a century, seen myriads of firsthand accounts, and many scholarly analyses. But there was, in some circles, reluctance to face such realities. We may feel, paradoxically, there was a good deal of Gulag denial, or at least compulsive Gulag ignorance, until quite recently--perhaps not yet fully abated.

Mr. Getman's death comes soon after that of Czeslaw Milosz, with whom I had warm, though not close, relations. He too, though stressing that his own experiences in Communist Poland were not at the Kolyma level, was very concerned that the Westerners he encountered should understand, should really understand, the extreme negativity of the Communist phenomenon. The implication was that the Western vision was still blurred. Mr. Getman has added what one would hope to be a final touch to our understanding. But of course, to the last, Mr. Getman was more concerned with his own country. He feared that "Russia is still looking for another way today"; and he dedicated his collection "to the memory of those who survived the Gulag and to those who did not. Light a candle in memory. The living are in need of it more than the dead. Bow your heads."

More about Getman and his paintings in Art Ukraine
En un momento la cantidad del depósito superior de la ampolleta se hizo mucho menor de lo que antes era, los granos minúsculos se precipitaban velozmente hacia la abertura, cada uno queriendo salir más deprisa que los compañeros, el tiempo es igualito que las personas, hay ocasiones en que le cuesta arrastrar las piernas, pero otras veces corre como un gamo y salta como un cabrito, lo que, si nos fijamos bien, no es decir mucho, ya que la onza, o guepardo, es el más veloz de los animales y a nadie se le ha pasado jamás por la cabeza decir de otra persona Corre y salta como una onza, tal vez porque la primera comparación venga de los tiempos prestigiosos de la baja edad media, cuando los caballeros iban de montería y todavía no habían visto correr a un guepardo ni tenían noticia de su existencia. Los lenguajes son conservadores, van siempre con los archivos a cuestas y detestan las actualizaciones.

José Saramago. Ensayo sobre la lucidez.

21 setembro 2004

Throughout his career, Philip Roth has imagined alternate fates for characters very much like himself: bright, sensitive boys who grow up to become self-conscious, conflicted men, torn between duty and desire, a longing to belong and a rage to rebel - artists or academics, estranged from their lower-middle-class Jewish roots and beset, at worst, by narcissistic worries, literary disappointments and problems with women.

In his provocative but lumpy new novel, "The Plot Against America," Mr. Roth tries to imagine an alternate fate for the United States with the highest possible stakes. What if, he asks, the flying ace Charles A. Lindbergh had defeated Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 election, and what if Lindbergh (who in real life articulated anti-Semitic sentiments and isolationist politics) had instituted a pro-Nazi agenda?

Of course, this brand of historical fiction (or "counterfactual" history) is hardly new. In "It Can't Happen Here," Sinclair Lewis created a portrait of the United States as a fascist dictatorship under the rule of a New England demagogue. In "The Man in the High Castle," Philip K. Dick conjured up a Japanese- and-Nazi-occupied America in which slavery was legal again and Jews hid behind assumed names. In "SS-GB," Len Deighton imagined a Nazi-occupied Britain in which Churchill had been executed. And in "Fatherland," Robert Harris postulated a world in which the Nazis had won World War II and covered up the Holocaust.

What sets Mr. Roth's historical nightmare apart is that it is narrated by a boy named Philip Roth and that it describes the day-by-day fallout of an anti-Semitic administration on members of an ordinary American family who happen to be Jews. But while the portions of the book depicting the fictional Roth family of Newark do an understated - and at times, deeply affecting - job of showing how violently public events can intrude upon the private realm of family and dent the shiny daydreams of a young boy, Mr. Roth never, even momentarily, persuades the reader to set aside the knowledge that Roosevelt won a third term in 1940 and that Nazism did not triumph in the United States. This failure stems, in large measure, from the fact that the novel is based not on a war going one way instead of another, but on a nation's social machinery producing a very different result than it actually did, and Mr. Roth's reluctance to spend a lot of energy on imagining exactly how and why that might have happened.

While the author tries, as he did in his "American Trilogy" novels ("American Pastoral," "I Married a Communist" and "The Human Stain"), to turn a wide-angled camera lens on the United States by creating a parable about the loss of innocence and the costs of "the indigenous American berserk," "The Plot Against America" hurries toward a preposterous (albeit clever) ending and takes place in a political landscape that remains cartoony in the extreme - a sort of high-concept, comic-book landscape that might work in a big-screen extravaganza or satiric potboiler but that feels oddly flimsy here, especially when foregrounded with characters as realistic and psychologically vivid as members of the Roth family.

"The Plot Against America" is a novel that can be read, in the current Bush era, as either a warning about the dangers of isolationism or a warning about the dangers of the Patriot Act and the threat to civil liberties. Yet it is also a novel that can be read as a not-altogether-successful attempt to mesh two incompatible genres: the political-historical thriller and the coming-of-age tale.

The language Mr. Roth employs in this novel is the allusive, decorous prose of "The Ghost Writer" and "Letting Go," not the manic, uproarious voice of "Portnoy," and the Roth family described in these pages is very much the same family that the author described in his 1988 book "The Facts" and his 1991 memoir "Patrimony": young Philip, a third grader, still "the good child, obedient both at home and at school - the willfulness largely inactive and the attack set to go off at a later date"; his brother, Sandy, several years older and already an accomplished artist; their doting, ever vigilant mother, Bess; and their feisty, tenacious father, Herman, a man his son once described as possessing "absolutely totalistic notions of what is good and what is right."In "The Facts," Mr. Roth wrote about his childhood idyll in Newark: though World War II was a booming, distant threat, it was faraway and vaguely abstract, and young Philip felt his world to be "as safe and peaceful a haven for me as his rural community would have been for an Indiana farm boy." The family, he grew up believing, "was an inviolate haven against every form of menace, from personal isolation to gentile hostility."In "The Plot Against America," all that has changed. With Lindbergh in the White House and anti-Semitic violence on the streets, Philip suddenly sees his parents scared, helpless and unable to protect him. He hears of friends and neighbors fleeing to Canada and sees others forced to move away under a government relocation program. He witnesses a violent fight between his idealistic father and a cynical cousin, and an equally bitter fight between his father and his aunt, who is married to a prominent rabbi who has become a Lindbergh collaborator.

"A new life began for me," Philip recalls. "I'd watched my father fall apart, and I would never return to the same childhood." He has seen, he says, "the unfolding of the unforeseen." Like so many Roth characters before him, Philip has been unmoored from his roots, but in this case not by any willful, rebellious act of his own, but by the convulsions of history, caroming through his family's life and that of the nation.

Scenes of the Roth family at home are intercut with long, newsreel-like accounts of Lindbergh's pro-Hitler presidency (wildly extrapolated from historically documented accounts of the real Lindbergh's anti-Semitic statements and involvement in the isolationist America First movement). We're told that Lindbergh has signed accords with Nazi Germany and imperial Japan, that the radio personality Walter Winchell has emerged as the president's most vociferous opponent and that anti-Semitic riots have erupted around the country.

The secret reason behind Lindbergh's actions is unceremoniously dropped on the reader, and the overall novel, too, is brought to an abrupt conclusion that only underscores the slapdash contrivance of Mr. Roth's historical projections. The real drama in this book does not concern the Lindbergh presidency or World War II, but rather the effect that these huge, clanging events have on the Roth family and on Philip's boyhood consciousness. The drama lies in him watching his frightened but resourceful mother try to keep her family safe in the face of events completely beyond her control, and in watching his furious but determined father try to reconcile his expectations of the world with a terrible new reality.

In the end, this novel tries to link the personal concerns of so much of Mr. Roth's early fiction with the sweeping, historical tableau of his American trilogy. If the telescope turned on America in this novel sorely lacks the verisimilitude and keen social observation found in "American Pastoral" and "The Human Stain," the microscope it turns on the Roths still provides an intimate glimpse of one family's harrowing encounter with history.

[from the NYT]

Fruitful, Consuming Paranoia: A Sci-Fi Master’s Madness

It’s difficult to imagine a writer who could have appreciated the adaptation of his works into a series of increasingly bad movies more than Philip K. Dick. The progression from Blade Runner through Total Recall to Paycheck has all the hallmarks of one of his stories—black irony, psychological degradation and the implication of a vast conspiracy organized to deceive and persecute one man. The young Dick would have written it as a dark comedy, the older as a bizarre Christian fable.

Dick’s journey from neurotic bohemian to full-blown religious psychotic is as fascinating a tale as anything he ever wrote. And it has fallen into capable hands in Emmanuel Carrère’s I Am Alive and You Are Dead. The title is drawn from one of Dick’s most horrifying novels, Ubik (1969), in which it appears as a message scrawled on a bathroom wall. Mr. Carrère, a French novelist, demonstrated his gift for capturing stranger-than-fiction truth in The Adversary (2001), his book on Jean-Claude Romand, who murdered his family when he could no longer maintain the fiction—as he had assiduously done for most of his adult life—that he was a high-ranking doctor in the World Health Organization. I Am Alive and You Are Dead is similar in approach to The Adversary: an attempt to depict the life of a pathological personality "from the inside," as Mr. Carrère says in his introduction. Dick, whose everyday activities seem positively dull when compared to his chaotic inner life, is a figure peculiarly suited to this sort of biographical treatment.

Dick’s biography is spare. He was born in Chicago in 1928. After his parents’ divorce, his mother Dorothy took him first to Washington, D.C., and then to Berkeley, Calif. Philip was a withdrawn and sensitive child, subjected to both Freudian and Jungian therapy by the time he was 15. His anxious, self-dramatizing mother lived, in Mr. Carrère’s phrase, in a state of excited "bovarysme." It’s not surprising, given these circumstances, that Dick turned toward literature, and particularly toward the fantastic and grotesque.

In his early 20’s, after an adolescence colored by his mother’s subtle domination and his fears of latent homosexuality, he published his first science-fiction story and decided he’d found his vocation. From his beginnings as an unknown and frustrated writer of science fiction, he became a theological guru and existential mascot to the burgeoning counterculture, a highly respected author in a small but explosively broadening field; he finished as a prematurely aged, functional-but-insane casualty of LSD and scores of other drugs, writing an interminable religious text called the Exegesis. He died in 1982, after achieving his first substantial material success with the sale of the movie rights to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the novel that would become Blade Runner. His reputation survived his rather sad end, and his cult of fans (of which I am a member) rivals or exceeds in size and devotion that of any other major contemporary science-fiction author, from Asimov to Zelazny.

Given the absence of globe-spanning travels (he spent his entire adult life in Northern California), brilliant conversation or any of the other staples of the typical literary biography, the fascination Mr. Carrère’s book exercises on the reader may seem puzzling. The biographer lavishes on his subject’s internal life great care and detail, and that’s the source of the book’s power. Dick, after all, attracted an astonishingly broad readership, from philosophically inclined hippies to jaded French journalists. The Man in the High Castle (1962), Dick’s 1963 Hugo-winning alternate history set in an America conquered by and divided between the Empire of Japan and Germany, has become a staple of high-school reading lists. The mind that produced his fiction, unsurprisingly, has a similarly unnerving and far-reaching appeal.

At least it does when elucidated by Mr. Carrère, who has seized on the fact that Dick’s books resulted, almost uniformly, from progressively more serious derangements of his psyche. As Mr. Carrère puts it: "[This book] is a trip into the brain of a man who regarded even his craziest books not as works of imagination but as factual reports …. Dick’s life was as much marked by the fictions he created as those fictions bear the mark of his lived experiences."

In a dreamily clinical prose, he proceeds to chronicle these derangements as carefully as if they were the factual bases of Dick’s "reports." When, in 1955, a series of visits by the F.B.I. touched off in Dick a long and involved paranoiac fantasy (the speculative process that ultimately led to his 1957 novel Eye in the Sky), Mr. Carrère follows in detail the convoluted internal argument Dick had with himself, covering nearly as many pages as he devoted to the first 24 years of Dick’s life. Dick’s hallucination that the C.I.A. had attempted to steal the manuscript of his novel Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (1974) is treated with similar seriousness. As Dick grew older, ingested various drugs in ever-larger quantities, and indulged his compulsive passion for catastrophic relationships with women, these fantasies grew ever more bizarre, and ever more insistent on the illusory and adversarial nature of reality. But Mr. Carrère never wavers: With his concise, fluent prose and eye for psychological detail, he succeeds in making Dick’s psychoses not only understandable but even convincing. By the time Dick, in the last decade of his life, came to the conclusion that reality as we know it is an illusion used by the Roman Empire to numb the minds of Christians, the animating idea of his unfinished Exegesis, the reader feels as simultaneously trapped and enlightened as Dick must have at the moment of his epiphany. Mr. Carrère, through a remorseless and clear-eyed accretion of detail, makes this last madness seem both plausible and inevitable.

Mr. Carrère’s book does not supplant Lawrence Sutin’s authoritative biography, Divine Invasions (1991). It’s not, one gets the sense, meant to. Rather, it serves as a complement to Mr. Sutin’s dense and heavily annotated book. Divine Invasions may be more comprehensive, but I Am Alive and You Are Dead is more intimate—as one reads it, one feels uncomfortably at home in Dick’s claustrophobic fantasies. In the end, it reads almost as if it had been written by its subject. And that is perhaps the highest possible testament to Emmanuel Carrère’s gift for telling stories "from the inside."

[from The New York Observer]

20 setembro 2004

You sit next to idiots, loathe office bonhomie and crave escape. You're half- crazy with boredom, pretend to work when you hear footsteps and kill time by taking newspapers into the washrooms. Your career is blocked, your job is at risk and the most ineffective people get promoted to where they can do least harm: management. You recoil at jargon, consider the expression 'business culture' an oxymoron and wish you had the guts to resign. If this is you, help is at hand.
10 commandments for the idle

No. 1 You are a modern day slave. There is no scope for personal fulfilment. You work for your pay-check at the end of the month, full stop.

No. 2 It's pointless to try to change the system. Opposing it simply makes it stronger.

No. 3 What you do is pointless. You can be replaced from one day to the next by any cretin sitting next to you. So work as little as possible and spend time (not too much, if you can help it) cultivating your personal network so that you're untouchable when the next restructuring comes around.

No. 4 You're not judged on merit, but on whether you look and sound the part. Speak lots of leaden jargon: people will suspect you have an inside track

No. 5 Never accept a position of responsibility for any reason. You'll only have to work harder for what amounts to peanuts.

No. 6 Make a beeline for the most useless positions, (research, strategy and business development), where it is impossible to assess your 'contribution to the wealth of the firm'. Avoid 'on the ground' operational roles like the plague.

No. 7 Once you've found one of these plum jobs, never move. It is only the most exposed who get fired.

No. 8 Learn to identify kindred spirits who, like you, believe the system is absurd through discreet signs (quirks in clothing, peculiar jokes, warm smiles).

No. 9 Be nice to people on short-term contracts. They are the only people who do any real work.

No. 10 Tell yourself that the absurd ideology underpinning this corporate bullshit cannot last for ever. It will go the same way as the dialectical materialism of the communist system. The problem is knowing when...

[From the NYT:]

Finally, instead of dissembling behind ambiguous notions of Gallic joie de vivre, someone in this leisurely land has declared outright that the French should eschew the Anglo-Saxon work ethic and openly embrace sloth.
Corinne Maier, the author of "Bonjour Paresse," a sort of slacker manifesto whose title translates as "Hello Laziness," has become a countercultural heroine almost overnight by encouraging the country's workers to adopt her strategy of "active disengagement" - calculated loafing - to escape the horrors of disinterested endeavor.

"Imitate me, midlevel executives, white-collar workers, neo-slaves, the damned of the tertiary sector," Ms. Maier calls in her slim volume, which is quickly becoming a national best seller. She argues that France's ossified corporate culture no longer offers rank-and-file employees the prospect of success, so, "Why not spread gangrene through the system from inside?"

The book is a counterpoint to efforts by the country's center-right government to repair the damage done to French work habits by decades of Socialist administration, which enacted a 35-hour workweek. It is gaining in popularity just as the International Monetary Fund is urging Europeans to work longer and harder to stiffen their soft economies.

The French already work less than people in most other developed countries - on average, nearly 300 fewer hours a year than Americans, according to one study.
In many ways, Ms. Maier is typical of France's intelligentsia, overeducated and underemployed. She studied economics and international relations at the country's elite National Foundation of Political Sciences, or Sciences-Po, before earning a doctorate in psychoanalysis.

But she works just 20 hours a week writing dry economic reports at the state electric utility, Électricité de France, for which she is paid about $2,000 a month. Sitting in the living room of her Left Bank apartment, decorated with colorful abstract art, huge stereo speakers and a bicycle, Ms. Maier, 40, insists that her polemic, though tongue in cheek, has a principled point. "Can we work in a corporation and contest the system," she asks, "or must we be blind and docile and adhere to everything that the corporation says?"

Part of the problem, according to Ms. Maier, is that French companies are frozen by strict social norms.
"Everything depends on what school you went to and what diploma you have," she said, arguing that advancement is slow and comes less from ambition than from endurance. "French corporations," she says, "are not meritocracies."

Workers remain at their jobs until retirement, stymieing the promotion of those below them, she argues, yet a system of patronage and stiff legal protections make it difficult for employers to fire anyone. Years of such stagnation in France's hierarchy-obsessed society have produced elaborate rituals to keep people busy.

"Work is organized a little like the court of Louis XIV, very complicated and very ritualized so that people feel they are working effectively when they are not," she said.
Her solution? Rather than keep up what she sees as an exhausting charade, people who dislike what they do should, as she puts it, discreetly disengage. If done correctly - and her book gives a few tips, such as looking busy by always carrying a stack of files - few co-workers will notice, and those who do will be too worried about rocking the boat to complain. Given the difficulty of firing employees, she says, frustrated superiors are more likely to move such subversive workers up than out.

The book's title is a play on "Bonjour Tristesse," the title of the 1954 best-selling novel by Françoise Sagan that recounted a worldly young woman's cynical approach to relationships and sex. Ms. Maier's book, subtitled "The Art and Necessity of Doing the Least Possible in a Corporation," is concerned with a more mundane malaise.

With chapters titled "The Morons Who Are Sitting Next To You" and "Beautiful Swindles," it declares that corporate culture is nothing more than the "crystallization of the stupidity of a group of people at a given moment."
Her employer of 12 years was not amused. Irritated that she identified herself as an Électricité de France employee on the back cover of her book, company officials wrote her a stern letter accusing her of inattention at meetings, leaving work early and "spreading gangrene from within," just as her book advocates. They demanded that she appear for a disciplinary hearing, though the original Aug. 17 date has been pushed back to September. That's because Ms. Maier is going on vacation.

"They want to make an example of me," Ms. Maier said.
When she received the letter from her employer, she did what any French worker would do: she took it to the company union and asked them to help in her defense. The union, already engaged in a bitter battle with management over a partial privatization scheme, took the case to the news media, where it received instant and widespread attention.

Without the company's maneuver, Ms. Maier's book would probably have quietly gone out of print. Instead, her publisher, Éditions Michalon, sold out the first printing of 4,000 copies and has ordered three successive reprints in the past three months: 15,000 copies have been printed so far and, having apparently struck a chord with the country's work force, demand only appears to be growing.

She said the reaction of co-workers has been mixed, with some outraged by her thankless attitude. "They think it scandalous," she said, "like I spit in my soup."

[Read (still) more about it here]
Create your own Picasso (the famous French, err, Catalan, err, Andalussian painter) head :

Mr. Picassohead

For us catless cat lovers:

Cando penso que te fuches
Negra sombra que me asombras
Ó pé dos meus cabezales
Tornas facéndome mofa
Cando máximo que es ida
No mesmo sol te me amostras
I eses a estrela que brila
I eres o vento que zoa
Si cantan, es ti que cantas
Si choran, es ti que choras
I es o marmurio do río
I es a noite i es aurora
En todo estás e ti es todo
Para min i en min mesma moras
Nin me deixarás ti nunca
Sombra que sempre me asombras.

(Carlos Nuñez y Luz Casal sobre
poema de Rosalía de Castro)
(De la banda sonora de Mar Adentro)
Es lunes (Segunda aunque primera en l'altre costat de la peninsula, ain't it). A despertar conciencias:

Kiriko Shirobayashi image, from Sublimation series
Jeremy Bernstein is an accomplished physicist and a talented writer. In the afterword to The Life It Brings, his 1987 account of his upbringing and career as a physicist, he commented that once he began to write professionally, his pieces "became a kind of running autobiography." The scientific and literary components of his life have complemented each other, resulting in informative and insightful scientific profiles enriched by autobiographical elements.

We learn from the preface to Oppenheimer: Portrait of an Enigma that Bernstein had wanted to write a profile of J. Robert Oppenheimer for The New Yorker in the 1960s but felt unable to do so, being in a sense too close to his subject. Bernstein explains that the space of four decades has now given him the distance he needs. This book, like the profiles he did write for that magazine, is a succinct, revealing and very readable account of a scientist's life and accomplishments; it is not meant, he says, to be a "definitive" biography.
The book has only about 200 pages of text, and more than a third of them are devoted to the 1954 "trial" that revoked Oppenheimer's security clearance. His family background and upbringing, his education at the Ethical Culture School, Harvard, Cambridge and Göttingen, and his postdoctoral fellowships with Paul Ehrenfest in Leyden and Wolfgang Pauli in Zurich are all concisely presented, and this material is enriched by insightful observations and new information. For example, Bernstein believes that Oppenheimer's proclivity for making acerbic remarks during seminars stemmed from his emulation of Pauli, who was famous for his sarcasm.

[read the full Oppenheimer: Portrait of an Enigma review in printer-friendly format at the American Scientist]

For the conspiration theorist out there in the bushes (ya know who ya are):

"You are unknown to me.
Your camera's memory card was in a taxi; I have it now.
I am going to post one of your pictures each day.
I will also narrate as if I were you.
Maybe you will come here and reclaim this piece of your life."

I Found some Of Your Life will post a photo a day and accompanying fictional narrative for the next 227 days using the photos found on a digital media card left in a cab. Is it pure genius or pure evil? Who cares? Just be thankful they're not your photos.

18 setembro 2004

Umberto Eco finds scientific method a suitable counterbalance to fundamentalism

Many readers probably don't know exactly what black holes are and, frankly, the best I can do is to imagine them like the pike in Yellow Submarine that devours everything around it until it finally swallows itself. But in order to understand the news item from which I am taking my cue, all you need to know about black holes is that they are one of the most controversial and absorbing problems in contemporary astrophysics.

Recently I read in the papers that the celebrated scientist Stephen Hawking has made a statement that is sensational, to say the least. He maintains that he made an error in his theory of black holes (published back in the 70s) and proposed the necessary corrections before an audience of fellow scientists.

For those involved in the sciences there is nothing exceptional about this, apart from Hawking's exceptional standing, but I feel that the episode should be brought to the attention of young people in every nonfundamentalist or nonconfessional school so that they may reflect upon the principles of modern science.

Science is frequently criticised by the mass media, which hold it responsible for the devilish pride that is leading humanity towards possible destruction. But in doing so they are evidently confusing science with technology.

It is not science that is responsible for atomic weapons, the hole in the ozone layer, global warming and so on: if anything, science is that branch of knowledge that is still capable of warning us of the risks we run when, even in applying its principles, we put our trust in irresponsible technologies.

The problem is that in many critiques of the ideology of progress (or the so-called spirit of the Enlightenment) the spirit of science is often identified with that of certain idealistic philosophies of the 19th century, according to which history is always moving on towards better things, or toward the triumphant realisation of itself, of the spirit or of some other driving force that is forever marching on towards optimal ends.

At bottom, however, many people (of my generation at least) were always left in doubt on reading idealist philosophy, from which it emerges that every thinker who came after had understood better (or "verified") what little had been discovered by those who came before (which is a bit like saying that Aristotle was more intelligent than Plato). And it is this concept of history that the Italian poet Leopardi challenged when he waxed ironic about "magnificent and progressive destinies".

But these days, in order to substitute a whole series of ideologies in crisis, some people are flirting more and more with a school of thought according to which the course of history is not leading us closer and closer to the truth.

According to these people, all that there is to understand has already been understood by long-vanished ancient civilisations and it is only by humbly returning to that traditional and immutable treasure that we may reconcile ourselves with ourselves and with our destiny.

In the most overtly occultist versions of this school of thought, the truth was cultivated by civilisations we have lost touch with: Atlantis engulfed by the ocean, the Hyperboreans, 100% pure Aryans who lived on an eternally temperate polar icecap, the sages of ancient India and other amusing yarns that, being indemonstrable, allow third-rate philosophers and writers of potboilers to keep on churning out warmed-over versions of the same old hermetic hogwash for the amusement of summer vacationers.

Modern science does not hold that what is new is always right. On the contrary, it is based on the principle of "fallibilism" (enunciated by the American philosopher Charles Peirce, elaborated upon by Popper and many other theorists, and put into practice by scientists themselves) according to which science progresses by continually correcting itself, falsifying its hypotheses by trial and error, admitting its own mistakes - and by considering that an experiment that doesn't work out is not a failure but is worth as much as a successful one because it proves that a certain line of research was mistaken and it is necessary either to change direction or even to start over from scratch.

And this is what was proposed centuries ago in Italy by an institute of learning known as the Accademia del Cimento, whose motto was " provando e riprovando ". This would normally translate into English as "to try and try again", but here there is a subtle distinction. Whereas in Italian " riprovare " normally means to try again, here it means to "reprove" or "reject" that which cannot be maintained in the light of reason and experience.

This way of thinking is opposed, as I said before, to all forms of fundamentalism, to all literal interpretations of holy writ - which are also open to continuous reinterpretation - and to all dogmatic certainty in one's own ideas. This is that good "philosophy," in the everyday and Socratic sense of the term, which ought to be taught in schools.

[from The Guardian]

Blushing in Literature

Bram Stoker's Dracula is a novel that oozes gore: "gouts of fresh blood" on Dracula's lips, "which trickle from the corners of his mouth", or blood that "wells and spurts up" around the stakes being hammered into the hearts of his undead victims. But for all these messy horrors, there are also moments when the body seems intent on keeping its blood to itself, as when Dr Seward notices "a quick blush" spreading over Mina Harker's face and goes on to explain: "The blush that rose to my own cheeks somehow set us both at ease, for it was a tacit answer to her own."

For Dr Seward, it is as if this silent exchange of blushes proves that both of them remain pure of heart, untainted by the vampire's corrupt appetites. (Dracula's cheeks are described as "ruby-red" only when he is bloated with fresh blood, like an enormous leech.) What he does not explain, though, is why glowing cheeks would necessarily signify innocence rather than guilt, or health rather than disease. If the blush is a piece of body language, how should it be read?

Dracula emerged at the end of a period that had seen several attempts to explain why we blush. In 1839, Thomas H Burgess's The Physiology or Mechanism of Blushing described the "eloquent blood sympathising with every mental emotion, rising and spreading over the cheek", and demonstrated the author's own sympathy by borrowing a phrase from Donne's "Second Anniversary": "her pure and eloquent blood / Spoke in her cheeks." In 1872, Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals argued that "Blushing is the most peculiar and the most human of all expressions." (The expression "It's enough to make a dog blush" makes sense because dogs cannot blush; like all animals, they are stoically unembarrassable.) By 1897, the year in which Dracula was published, Havelock Ellis was offering a list of the symptoms associated with blushing: "dizziness, tingling of toes and fingers, numbness, smarting of eyes, singing in ears, prickling sensations of face", and more.

But despite the best efforts of science, blushing remains a physiological mystery, as slippery as blood itself. Writers who make a character blush therefore provide us with a suggestive sketch of the difficulties we confront in attempting to understand each other. A red face is as hard to read as someone else's mind. It can indicate transparent purity or dirty secrets, which is why phrases such as "the blushing bride" are so awkwardly ambiguous (is she blushing because of what she knows or what she doesn't know?), and why Milton's Raphael glows "Celestial rosie red" when Adam and Eve ask him how the angels express their love for each other. It can suggest the genuine (unlike laughter or tears, a blush cannot be caused by physical stimulus or will-power alone), or the phoney ("rouge" or "blusher" has often been criticised for painting on a look of artlessness), which is why Shakespeare has Cleopatra tease Antony by saying "Thou blushest", because on the stage it is unlikely to be true; her line is part of the play's investigation into the flexible boundary between the real and the fake.

Shame, modesty, indignation, shyness: however rich the tangle of causes that can set off a blush, what many of them have in common is a sudden crisis of self-consciousness, or what Darwin described as "thinking what others think of us". Put another way, blushing is a sign of sociability, which is why we tend not to blush when we are alone, or asleep, or too young to recognise the different looks that can be trained in our direction. Even if we are always to some extent strangers to each other, blushing reminds us of how much we share.

Perhaps this is why writers are so sensitive to blushing. From Laurence Sterne, whose A Sentimental Journey has a good claim to being the most red-faced novel in English (it boasts the first recorded use of "embarrassed" in its modern sense of "bashful"), to Keats, who was praised by Henry James for his "magnificent rendering of flush and bloom" (even the sunset in his great ode "To Autumn" is like a huge blush being cast across the landscape), the way that individual writers tackle blushing does more than add bursts of local colour to their writing. Like the contagious blush in Dracula, such moments warn that each of us carries around a private world of hopes and fears that might not be intelligible to another person's eyes, even as they allow us briefly to entertain the fantasy of wearing our hearts on our faces.

17 setembro 2004

Der Untergang / The Downfall is all over the place.

It premiered yesterday in Germany and it's the first German movie ever to depict the Führer, played by Bruno Ganz.
The Guardian reviewer called it The Human Hitler, while the Frankfurter Allgemeine claims the movie «blends out the brilliant party leader and statesman and feeds on the legend of the mythical beast» but the screenwriter failed.
The movie is based on Joachim Fest's book, Inside Hitler's Bunker, an author who was once a teenage PoW and became Germany's first and finest analyst of the Third Reich. Brief interview on the Independent.

The official movie website, most appropriately, is German-only :-[
(para quem pode!)

(obrigada ao Marc :-)
Hidden Picasso goes on show

A "secret" painting by the young Pablo Picasso was unveiled at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao yesterday after experts found it hidden beneath layers of paint on another of his canvasses.
The 104-year-old painting was yesterday hailed as Picasso's first Paris picture, painted during a visit in 1900 when he was 19.
The painting, which was reconstructed using x-ray techniques, shows the inside of a turn-of-the-century nightclub, with cancan dancers and a crowd of laughing people, some wearing top hats, watching them.
It was painted over by Picasso, who used the canvass for a study of a man, woman and child walking down Rue de Montmartre.

Will Shank, former chief curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, obtained a black and white radiograph of the underlying painting, which revealed, among other things, the Spanish master's brushstrokes.
"It was not at all unusual for Picasso to reuse his canvasses ... but this was an extraordinary example of a virtually complete composition," he said yesterday.
After working out the colours on Picasso's palette as he painted the first of a series of pictures of Paris nightlife, Mr Shank made a "virtual" copy of the original. The copy, a backlit transparency, went on display for the first time yesterday.
Mr Shank said he thought Picasso abandoned the original because he decided to turn it into two pictures, one featuring the crowd and the other the dancers.
One of those paintings, Le Moulin de la Galette, was, until yesterday considered his first work from Paris.
"My theory is that he thought it was too small and tried to fit too much in," Mr Shank said.
Oxbridge made easier

State school pupils are increasingly willing to try for Oxford and Cambridge. A new book shows the way to get in.

First some good news. Comprehensive school children are increasingly willing to give Oxbridge a go. Thanks to open days, outreach visits and summer schools, old fears are breaking down and state schools that once would not have dreamed of entering the Oxbridge race are putting candidates forward.
George Stephenson High School, in a deprived part of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, is one. Last year it used everything it could to prepare four candidates for Oxbridge - and all got offers. "There are plenty of systems you can use now. It's a question of knowing which buttons to push," says the assistant head Helen Jackson.
But that also means bad news - and quite a lot of it. First, the growing number of applications - Oxford's were up six per cent last year - is making it ever more competitive. Debby Horsman, the Oxbridge co-ordinator for Wootton Upper School, a rural Bedfordshire comprehensive, says: "The biggest single difference now seems to be that people are no longer automatically granted an interview. We had one candidate this year who did not get one. I'd also say the universities are focusing more and more closely on academic ability."
The second is that this increased openness is not translating into more state school pupils at Oxbridge, or even much of a rise in overall numbers applying. Last year Oxford had a small increase in applicants from maintained schools, while Cambridge had a dip. More depressingly, their success rates were not encouraging. At Oxford, despite the rise in applicants, the proportion of state school students dropped from 54 to 52 per cent. Meanwhile, in Cambridge, only one in four comprehensive school applicants got an offer, compared to a third of all independent school pupil pupils.

What seems to be happening says Elfi Pallis, author of Oxbridge Entrance: the real rules (Tell Books, £10.99), is "a thinning of the soup". As more state schools put forward candidates, state schools which have been successful in the past are no longer doing so, or finding their pupils rejected. Meanwhile, the success rate of independent schools remains steady. Maybe access money, she observes tartly, might be better channelled to "projects which raise acceptance prospects, rather than aspirations. Perhaps a few seminars for admissions tutors on the way to communicate with inner-city kids would be a start."

Pallis, a sociologist and mother of an Oxford student, wrote the book after leading Saturday workshops for gifted and talented children and becoming frustrated by how few went on to Oxbridge. "It was when one of the fathers asked me, 'Oxbridge? Is that the same place as Cambridge?' that I realised how little people knew." She was also cross that people should feel embarrassed about not knowing. "I thought that if I just outlined how it was, all would be well. But when I started my research there were things that horrified me."
The result is a book which inches you through the admissions process, while also scrutinising how Oxbridge really works. There are accounts of sympathetic interviews, and accounts of horrendous ones ("Tim, a well-read candidate, was faced with an elderly interviewer who failed to greet him, settled into a distant window recess and after several minutes barked 'talk about your own subject'".) It offers tips on how to decide which college to apply for and how to prepare for an interview. In short, it gives the kind of mentoring that many independent school pupils - and a few lucky state school ones - take for granted.

No one wanted to publish it, so she did it herself last year, and it sold so well that a second, updated version has just come out. It has been used by schools to groom candidates, although she admits it is impossible to know if anyone has got an Oxbridge offer on the strength of it. "But immediately after it was published two or three interesting things happened," she says. The universities announced moves towards aptitude testing, they made more explicit the generous grants available to poor students, and "some colleges started to make offers of two Bs and an A, instead of three As, although they have kept it quiet because they don't want people to think they're making concessions."

Multiple factors drive such decisions, but it was clear that the book ruffled feathers. Some admissions tutors praised it, but Geoff Parks, the director of admissions for the Cambridge Colleges sent "a letter saying the university did not deal with people who seek to exploit their admissions procedure for commercial gain! This book took me two years to write and I haven't made a penny!"
Pallis acknowledges that both universities want the best candidates, wherever they come from, but argues that the interview system works against this. Her recipe for greater fairness is more emphasis on aptitude testing, a greater awareness of how good pupils from less privileged backgrounds have to be to get themselves to Oxbridge entry level, and an effort to build closer links with state school teachers rather than viewing them as "unreliable suppliers of goods".
Shivani Sedov, 21, went to study geography at St Catharine's, Cambridge from The Heathland School, a Hounslow comprehensive. Her mother, who is divorced, works for an import:export company. "If my school hadn't had an Oxbridge programme I'd never have thought of applying," she says. "I'd never have thought I was worthy. I would have thought it was all people from private schools who had spent their whole life preparing for it. Then when I went for my interview the girl before me was very posh and came out carrying her briefcase and I thought, 'Oh my God!'
"My first interview was a tough general one. The woman was very stern, and didn't smile, but in the subject interview I just started raving about geography and I think they could see I was passionate about my subject. What they're looking for is someone they would want to teach next year. Doing mock interviews at school helped because I learnt about body language, and to breathe and calm down, and having mentors at school helped me too.
"When you think about going to Oxbridge you tend to think it's full of all these super-clever people, but when you actually go there you can see that they're not all freaks and geeks, and that they're no more clever than you."

From the Independent