29 junho 2006

Strange Cartographies

And long live BiblioOdyssey, to be linked :)

The Horn of Plenty of Cornell University

Cats that look like Hitler :{

A Scanner Darkly

Who is Richard Linklater, really? In the last 15 years he's written and directed great, meandering films about disaffected types who don't do a whole lot of anything besides kicking back and philosophizing (Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Waking Life), but he's also made tightly plotted movies about equally disaffected types who band together to combat a repressive social order (The Newton Boys, Fast Food Nation, even The School of Rock, and Bad News Bears). It's as though the left and right hemispheres of Linklater's brain have been competing! Which is, of course, precisely the problem faced by narcotics agent Bob Arctor, the protagonist of Philip K. Dick's brilliant 1977 science-fiction novel A Scanner Darkly.

So, will Linklater's new, rotoscoped adaptation of A Scanner Darkly, starring Keanu Reeves as Arctor, reveal once and for all which side of Linklater's brain is the dominant one? That is, will Keanu and his drug buddies, played by Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, and Rory Cochrane (reprising his role in Dazed and Confused), get politicized and take action against their not-too-distant-future surveillance society? Or will these slackers stay glued to their couches, entertaining themselves with interminable Linklater-esque bull sessions?

The answer is: both. After all, in what sci-fi fans describe as the "phildickian" worldview, binary opposites—good/evil, real/unreal—are impossible ever to untangle. That's why Arctor has such a tough time deciding whether he's a narc posing as a doper or vice versa ... and that's before he's directed by his narc superiors to set up surveillance on a suspicious doper: himself. In Linklater's Scanner, that is to say, audiences may finally catch a glimpse—even if through a glass darkly—of the director's own paradoxical worldview, one in which slacking is not only a form of political activism but the only possible activism.

In order to get a firmer grasp on this chuckle-inducing notion, it's necessary to revisit the intellectual climate of the mid-1970s, when a middle-aged Dick was playing host to gun-toting drug dealers and their teenage clients, downing gruesome quantities of speed, and working fitfully on Scanner. In those years, socialism as a doctrine and a movement no longer seemed capable of arresting the progress of the insurgent political, economic, and cultural doctrine that during the market-worshiping 1980s would come to be called neoliberalism. Disappointed soixante-huitards everywhere sank into their couches and succumbed to irony and lifestyle radicalism. In France, however (where Dick's fiction was treated with the kind of respect formerly accorded only to Poe), thinkers like Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari offered up theories of how social control was now exercised not through class domination but increasingly subtle mechanisms.

In 1972, for example, Deleuze and Guattari claimed in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia that Westerners have been "oedipalized" (normalized, trained to desire their own repression) at home, at school, and at work. In '75, Foucault's Discipline and Punish concluded that the modern liberal state was a neototalitarian apparatus designed solely to optimize the economic utility of recalcitrant individuals. Giving up on the workingman, radical intellectuals cast about in unlikely places for a new revolutionary subject. Deleuze and Guattari praised the psychotic as someone incapable of being normalized and suggested that people be "schizophrenized." In Italy, Antonio ("Empire") Negri located the agent of social revolution among those marginalized from economic and political life: the criminal, the part-time worker, the unemployed. And, in a 1977 interview, Foucault said he was looking for "someone who, wherever he finds himself, will pose the question as to whether revolution is worth the trouble, and if so which revolution and what trouble." Lazy, shiftless, half-crazed revolutionaries? Call them: slackers.

By then, Dick had been writing for more than a decade about semi-employed, drug-using, near-schizophrenic schlemiels who through sheer stubbornness and perversity succeeded in their struggle against neototalitarianism and irreality where heroic types had failed. Forget, if you can, that previous Hollywood adaptations of Dick novels have starred the likes of Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Tom Cruise: "I know only one thing about my novels," Dick wrote in a 1970 letter addressing himself to critics who didn't like his unglamorous, anti-heroic protagonists. "In them again and again, this minor man asserts himself in all his hasty, sweaty strength." And in a 1972 speech, Dick stole a march on Foucault, et al., by praising the "laziness, short attention span, perversity, [and] criminal tendencies" of the lazy, shiftless, half-crazed American slacker. ("We can tell and tell him what to do, but when the time comes for him to perform, all the subliminal instruction, all the ideological briefing, all the tranquilizing drugs, all the psychotherapy are a waste," insisted Dick. "He just plain will not jump when the whip is cracked.")

It's tricky to portray the slacker's qualities as progressive ones, as Dick was all too aware. And here in our own repoliticized era, when even a Hollywood broadsheet like Variety complains that Linklater's Scanner "misses the boat by not linking its themes more explicitly to the political realities of the present, particularly when issues of unlawful surveillance have rarely been more relevant," convincing American audiences of the virtues of what we might call slacktivism—if we could rid the term of its pejorative connotations—appears impossible. But this is what Linklater has tried to do from the start. For would-be slackers who need pointers on dodging the exploitation of labor, he's directed The Newton Boys, the real-life story of a band of brothers who robbed banks in the 1920s, and The School of Rock, in which Jack Black never once ceases to scheme for ways to avoid holding down a job. And for those of us already convinced of the merits of unwork, he's made Slacker, in which Austin, Texas, is portrayed as a noncoercive utopia dedicated to jawboning; Waking Life, a walkabout in which Wiley Wiggins (Dazed and Confused) gets rotoscoped and enlightened; and other films.

Keanu Reeves may not be a particularly talented actor, but if anyone could make the figure of the slacktivist—part couch potato, part action hero—a compelling and sympathetic one, the star of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and The Matrix is doubtlessly the proper choice. All of which is not to predict that Scanner is going to be Linklater's best film yet, but it might be his most revealing one.

Wishlist: The Visionary State: A Journey Through California's Spiritual Landscape

Arriving in Marin County, (New York poet Elsa) Gidlow holed up in a derelict house in rural Fairfax. She was forty years old. Facing winter solstice alone and unsettled, she decided to perform what she later described as a "transforming ritual." As a storm raged outside the leaky house, she built up a roaring blaze of madrone logs. Slowly, Gidlow sensed the room fill with the spirits of all the mothers and grandmothers who have ever tended fire, all the way back to the Paleolithic. "I knew myself linked by chains of fire," she wrote, "to every woman who has kept a hearth." In the morning, Gidlow honored this rather neo-pagan vision by wrapping some of the cold coals in foil and red ribbon, and keeping them for next year's solstice fire.

In 1954, Gidlow brought one of these solstice charcoals to her new home, a junky five-acre patch of rural hillside on the edge of Muir Woods, lying at the end of a precarious road more clay than dirt. Shadowed by a looming wall of eucalyptus to the southwest, a few tumble-down frame houses and barns were already returning to earth, and there was no plumbing to speak of. Gidlow dubbed the place Druid Heights, and it would soon blaze into a hidden hearth of bohemian culture, a "beatnik" enclave years before the term was born or needed, and later a party spot for famous freaks. Scores of sculptors, sex rebels, stars and seekers lived or visited the spot over the decades, including Gary Snyder, Dizzy Gillespie, John Handy, Alan Watts, Neil Young, Tom Robbins, Catherine McKinnon and the colorful prostitute activist Margo St. James. Too anarchic and happenstance to count as a commune, Druid Heights became what Gidlow jokingly called "an unintentional community:" a vortex of social and artistic energy that bloomed out of nowhere, did its wild and sometimes destructive thing, and, for the most part, moved on.

28 junho 2006

Wine World Tour :*

The Nerve

Nenhuma estreia digna de nota

A equipa do Cinecartaz não considerou nenhum dos filmes que estreiam esta semana como merecedor de um destaque. Se quiser ir ao cinema esta semana sugerimos um dos filmes já em exibição. Mas também pode ir ao teatro, a uma exposição ou a um concerto.

27 junho 2006

Beware of Pity

In the 1920s and 1930s Stefan Zweig was an immensely popular writer, a man who had to barricade himself in his house in Salzburg in order to avoid the fans lurking around his property in the hope of waylaying him. According to his publisher, he was the most widely translated author in the world. Today, while he is still read in Germany and also in France, his name is barely known to the average Anglophone reader. In the last few decades, however, there has been an effort on the part of several publishers to get Zweig back into print in English. In my opinion, no book of his deserves reissue more than his one novel, Beware of Pity (Ungeduld des Herzens, 1938)

Zweig was a friend and admirer of Sigmund Freud, his fellow Viennese, and it was no doubt Freud's writings, together with the experience of two world wars, that persuaded him of the fundamental irrationalism of the human mind. Absolutely central to his fiction is the subject of obsession. And so it is with Beware of Pity. To my knowledge, this book is the first sustained fictional portrait of emotional blackmail based on guilt. Today, it is a commonplace that one person may enslave another by excessive love, laced with appeals to gratitude, compassion, and duty, and that the loved one may actually feel those sentiments—love, too, of a sort—while at the same time wanting nothing more than to be out the door. But even in the iconoclastic Thirties, gratitude, compassion, and duty were not yet widely seen as potential engines of tyranny. It was partly for his cold examination of those esteemed motives that Zweig admired Freud—"he enlarged the sincerity of the universe," Zweig wrote—and in Beware of Pity he carried the analysis forward.


Choosing our collective priorities in a world of limitless problems

The list of urgent challenges facing humanity is depressingly long. AIDS, hunger, armed conflict and global warming compete for attention alongside government failure, malaria and the latest natural disaster. While our compassion is great, our resources are limited. So who should be helped first?

To some, making such priorities seems obscene. But the UN and national governments spend billions of dollars each year trying to help those in need without explicitly considering whether they are achieving the most that they can.

The Western media focuses on a tsunami in the Indian ocean; donations flow freely. An earthquake that devastates Pakistan garners fewer headlines, so the developed world gives a lot less.

There is a better way. We could prioritize our spending to achieve the greatest benefit for our money. This month, I will ask UN ambassadors how they would spend US$50 billion to reduce suffering. They will repeat the same exercise that some of the world's best economists tackled in a 2004 project called the "Copenhagen Consensus" -- weighing up solutions to the great challenges facing the world and deciding what should be done first.

But the question shouldn't be left to politicians or Nobel laureates alone. We must all engage in the debate. One hopes that this task has been made slightly simpler by the publication of a book in which the Copenhagen Consensus economists boil down their insights.

Here's one fact to consider: the entire death toll from the South-east Asian tsunami is matched each month by the number of worldwide casualties of AIDS. A comprehensive prevention program providing free or cheap condoms and information about safe sex to the regions worst affected by AIDS would cost US$27 billion and save more than 28 million lives. This, say the economists who took part in the Copenhagen Consensus, makes it the single best investment that the world could possibly make. The social benefits would outweigh the costs by 40 to one.

Other options that the economists favored spending some of their US$50 billion include providing micro-nutrients to the world's hungry, establishing free trade and battling malaria with mosquito nets and medication. At the other end of the scale, responses to climate change like the Kyoto Protocol would cost more than they would achieve, so the economists crossed them off the list of things to do right now.

Regardless of whether we agree with the economists, everybody must admit that we cannot do everything at once. Discussing our priorities is crucial. Often, politicians avoid prioritization. Why? The glib answer is because it is hard. There are many interested parties. No group wants their solution to come last and no government wants its country's national challenges to be overlooked.

The UN conference won't be easy. But it shows that there is a will to put prioritization squarely at the center of attention. It will produce a "to do" list that will demonstrate how to achieve the most that we can for humanity, which could lead, in turn, to more transparent decision-making.

The principles of economics provide a sound basis on which to make rational choices. Now, the discussion needs to shift from the academic sphere to political life. It's time for all of us to consider and compare our own priority lists.

We must endeavor to shorten the list of challenges facing humanity. But that requires all of us to engage in a debate about what we need to do first.

Bjorn Lomborg is the organizer of Copenhagen Consensus, adjunct professor at Copenhagen Business School and editor of the new book How to spend $50 billion to make the world a better place.

22 junho 2006

I am the product...of endless books. There were books in the study, books in the drawing-room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents' interests, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not. Nothing was forbidden me.

C.S. Lewis

Destination: Ireland

The most serendipitous literary experience I have had was when I found myself, very many years ago, reading Henry James' "The Portrait of a Lady" for the first time while on holiday in Florence where some of the most significant action of the book takes place -- I use the word "action," of course, in the special, Jamesian sense. It is often said that one may only come truly to know a foreign city by falling in love there -- ah, San Francisco, mon amour -- but as Logan Pearsall Smith said of life, I prefer reading.

The first thing the visitor must understand about Ireland is that there are two Irelands: There is Dublin, and then there is all that is not Dublin. I make the distinction not out of the city dweller's usual prejudice against the provinces, or not entirely so, but sometimes it does seem that every Irish person aspires to the condition of Dubliner -- the country has a population of some 4 and a half million, of whom a million and a quarter live in the capital, a great many of them "from the country," as we say.

Before any guidebook, then, rough or smooth, the essential volume the first-time visitor must pack, whether in a Louis Vuitton valise or one of Mr. Kipling's exceedingly fine knapsacks, is James Joyce's "Dubliners." Late in life Joyce was visited in Paris by an old and somewhat naive acquaintance from "dear, dirty Dumpling" who gave it as his opinion that the author's first book was still his best, to which Joyce, after a moment's rueful reflection, replied, "Do you know, I think you might be right." True, the Dublin of the 1890s and early 1900s portrayed in the book seems very different from today's tigerish metropolis, but a closer look will show us the old place persisting behind the new, like the silver roots under the artfully highlighted hairstyle of one of our contemporary captains of industry. For all the vastness of his mature achievement, Joyce was never again to write with such freshness and cold precision as in these stories of spiritual paralysis -- Joyce's own term -- and quiet desperation in the life, and lives, of our capital city.

Difficult to find an equivalently quintessential portrait of provincial life. So much of Irish writing is in the pastoral mode, even when cast in an urban setting, that it is a task to set off the true countrymen against the rest. However, the three modern-day writers who best capture the meanness, the wry gaiety and the poetry of country living are Eugene McCabe, the late John McGahern and, of course, the much-loved William Trevor. McCabe's 2004 story collection, the ambiguously titled "Heaven Lies About Us," and McGahern's and Trevor's "Collected Stories," are each in their own way superb. How to choose one? Don't: Just take all three.

When it comes to choosing between the poets, that is where it gets hard. Among the living there are Seamus Heaney, Thomas Kinsella, Michael Longley, Eavan Boland, the four M's -- Derek Mahon, Medbh McGuckian, John Montague and Paul Muldoon -- and a squadron of younger aspirants, especially female, notably Vona Groarke. However, if it is the spirit of the indomitable Irishry that the traveler has come in search of, then Yeats is still our chief of poets. Of course, almost all the Yeatsian yodeling about us being "no petty people" and the rest of it -- in fact, in that instance he was speaking of the Anglo-Irish minority -- is simply that -- rhetoric -- but what rhetoric it is. What one hears in these poems, especially those contained in "The Tower" (1928), surely the greatest single volume of poetry ever published, is the true, harsh voice of the Irish, not the wair-brushed brogue of the tourist-board advertisements or the mendicant wheedling at Brussels budget summits, but the voice of tragic acceptance in the face of life's terrors and passing triumphs.

We do laugh a lot, even if our laughter is often bitterness disguised as gaiety. Flann O'Brien was both bitter and gay, like Yeats' Chinese sages in the great poem "Lapis Lazuli." While the celebrated "The Third Policeman" is probably the finer work artistically, "At Swim-Two-Birds" is funnier. O'Brien, real name Brian O'Nolan -- which, paradoxically, sounds, to an Irish ear, entirely made up -- was one of the oddest birds in the Irish aviary of literary oddities, a self-loathing product of an ultra-nationalist family whose humor was as black and twisted as a blackthorn stick. "At Swim-Two-Birds" -- that hilarious postmodernist-before-its-time fantasia, with Mad Sweeney in the trees and Wild West cowboys galloping through the streets of Dublin -- sank like a stone when it came out on the eve of war in 1939, and even lifelines from the likes of Graham Greene could not rescue it, but it remains a comic masterpiece, as galling as a bad draught of Guinness, and as Irish as rain.

John Banville

21 junho 2006

El trasplante de células embrionarias regenera parcialmente el sistema nervioso de ratas

La combinación de distintas terapias, incluido el injerto de células madre obtenidas de embriones de roedores, permite restaurar parcialmente el sistema nervioso de ratas paralíticas. Así lo asegura un nuevo estudio recibido por los especialistas con satisfacción pero con prudencia.

El trabajo, publicado en 'Annals of Neurology' y dirigido por Douglas Kerr, de la Facultad de Medicina de la Universidad Johns Hopkins (EEUU), es el primero que muestra que el trasplante de neuronas, obtenidas de células embrionarias, puede formar conexiones funcionales con el sistema nervioso de un mamífero adulto, según los investigadores.

En el estudio, ratas paralíticas tratadas con una combinación de varias terapias pudieron recuperar parcialmente el movimiento de sus patas traseras.

[leer más]

The astounding work of Norio Matsumoto

Dresden's Jubilee

20 junho 2006

You talkin' to me?

At the moment, we are asked to believe, the British are all the rage in America.

The Metropolitan Museum in New York is hosting AngloMania, an exhibition launched with a glamorous and much-discussed party. Alan Bennett's very English play The History Boys had terrific reviews on Broadway, and might conceivably become a hit. The Tony awards this year were dominated by English actors, some of whom might still win.

Some allowance has to be made for national pride in these matters, which naturally tends to inflate, when on home ground, any indication of foreign interest in our cultural products. Any French small-press production about Englishness with the word Rosbif in the title is guaranteed to be described here as "a bestseller" and its most insulting aperçus widely reported.

More than one American magazine, when running a "London groovy again" feature, has produced separate editions for the European and American markets, their indigenous productions retaining a more domestically appealing starlet on the cover. And, of course, some allowance should probably be made for the gap between the tastes of the American media elite, often Anglophile in tendency if not actually English by birth, and the mass of Americans.

All the same, America has become more interested in the outside world since September 2001. If their first, bewildered question was "Why do they hate us so much?" it has, in time, been followed up by questions about what life in the outside world is actually like.

There's an easy test to apply about how substantial this new interest is, or whether the outside world is actually being listened to. Can American writers reliably report the styles of speech of one of their nearest linguistic cousins?

From Cary Grant to Dick van Dyke to Woody Allen's inadvertently hilarious Match Point ("I was raised in Belgravia"), English audiences have been retching in the stalls at American film's idea of English speech.

Ever since Henry James, in The Portrait of a Lady, thought it advisable to explain old Touchett's line "I guess I will wait and see" with the comment "He had, in speaking, the American tone", American and English novelists have been trying to "do" characters from the opposite side of the Atlantic. It shouldn't, on the surface, be as hard as all that - but the results are rarely a pretty sight.

It's a challenge for even talented novelists with a good ear. F Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night at first shies away from the challenge, merely reporting three British nannies' conversation as "the tune of gossip as formalized as incantation" - the noise of a novelist superciliously announcing that he could do something hard, if he ever felt like it.

Fitzgerald was evidently nervous about the challenge, for good reasons. At a later point, as two characters talk, a window of the hotel is flung open "and an English voice spat distinctly 'Will you kaindly stop tucking?' " Tucking? That corresponds to no known English accent. It's much easier, for Fitzgerald, to attempt the bogus Anglicisms of a Gatsby, with his awful "old sport". In reality, that's as close as he can reliably get.

More extensive attempts to "do" the English voice start to reveal some conventions. In the title story of For Esme - With Love and Squalor, JD Salinger has a go at an upper-class English schoolgirl. If Esme sounds a little strange, it's because Salinger has fastened on one English habit, the intensifying adverb, and used it to the point of insanity: "Usually, I'm not terribly gregarious. I purely came over because I thought you looked extremely lonely. You have an extremely sensitive face… My aunt says I'm a terribly cold person. She's an extremely kind person."

There's something in what Salinger has noticed, and the English of this class do use "terribly", "extremely", "quite", as well as "awfully", "frightfully", "hardly" and so on, in ways striking to Americans. But he can't get it right: in that second sentence, read: "I came over purely because…"

And Esme, in this story, has another tendency quite unrecognisable as English speech. Repeatedly, her style is absurdly elaborate: "I'm quite communicative for my age… Do you think you'll be coming here again in the immediate future?… I'd be extremely flattered if you'd write a story exclusively for me sometime."

It isn't just that American "sometime" which is wrong, but the general elevation of vocabulary and tense. In reality, an upper-class English child would say: "Are you going to be coming back soon?" The characteristic English directness of speech has been lost in a general association between Englishness and "class", and an exclusively American notion of classiness in speech has been imposed.

Salinger is doing his best, but he can't get any further east than Katharine Hepburn, as though posh and English were on the same, uninterrupted linguistic continuum.

It's a curious fact that both Americans and English regard each other's style of talking as pompous. Americans often identify elaborate diction with class, and class with Englishness, and, against all evidence, conflate the lot.

Thomas Harris's Hannibal Lecter, identified with English speech habits and the whole European museum culture, is a bizarre example. As Martin Amis pointed out, he always talks of "purchasing" something, and says in shops that "I only require one". "I haven't felt such a frisson of sheer class," Amis wrote, "since I last heard room service say 'How may I assist you?' "

We shouldn't underestimate the subtle differences in meaning. As simple a word as "quite" means two quite different things in American and English speech. And what for us are quite ordinary words turn out to be exotic or embarrassing rarities elsewhere. I once made an American professor at a literary festival gasp in amazement by complaining that I'd been "hanging around gormlessly" all morning.

It was the word "gormless". "Well, I've seen it written down before," she explained, as if she were, to her surprise, meeting a medieval peasant. The characterising of English speech as more elaborate, or "classy", in its diction might be beloved of American novelists, but it bears no relation to reality.

In the lower ranks of popular literature, the tendency of the pompous-speaking Englishman runs rampant. There are a number of popular American genres that seem to require an English character. Sometimes, this is for rational reasons - despite what is often supposed, American novels about the Second World War or spy fiction about the Cold War usually find a place for an English character or two.

I think it was Christopher Hitchens who first pointed out that every American novel about political life in Washington is apparently required to include the British ambassador in its cast.

The habitually ineffectual or villainous role assigned to such figures has been noisily complained about over here, but one might complain more about their speech. The idea of English life in The Da Vinci Code is hilarious enough. "I was knighted," the villainous Sir Leigh Teabing explains as he prepares to skip customs and immigration on landing in Britain. "Membership [sic] has its privileges."

But it's his speech that really nails the ludicrousness. "Just because I am returning to the Queen's realm does not mean I intend to subject my palate to bangers and mash for the rest of my days. I'm planning to buy a splendid villa in Devon…"

Sometimes he sounds like an Egyptian waiter: "The good news, my friend, is that you are now in the position of power." Sometimes he sounds like an American president giving a funeral address: "The winner writes the history books - books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe." At no point, however, does he sound like an upper-class Englishman.

Regional accents seem almost impossibly difficult: when a young Scotsman in Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections says "Time to go, laddie", the line might have been written for a 1940s tourist guide. Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, mostly playing safe with Dick van Dyke versions of English speech - "Thinking about me Xmas shopping" - falls flat when attempting Welsh English in the character of Gwenhidwy.

Most Americans stick to what they think they know - upper-class English - with not much greater success. John Updike's ventures into English speech are reliably atrocious. In a Bech story, "Bech Swings", he can hear the music - "one of those British voices produced half-way down the throat, rather than obliquely off the sinuses, with alarming octave jumps" - but not the words: "Well, Henry, you must learn to replace ardour with art... I must say, you're a stinker to let this old fag monopolise me."

Another favourite crops up with: "Your hair is smashing. You're almost Santa Claus." "Smashing" has been amusing American novelists for decades now, with only the faintest justification.

Two good American novelists who have lived in London suggest that the problem is, perhaps, that the idiom is just too fascinating. Lionel Shriver's excellent We Need To Talk About Kevin has an American narrator, living in America, but English idioms creep weirdly into her talk. At first, it's passed off as a sort of hobby, as she draws attention to "codswallop" and, again, resorts to "smashing". But isn't it peculiar that she talks about "mobile phones"?

Douglas Kennedy's A Special Relationship comes close to getting things right, with its story of an Anglo-American marriage. The rhythms are generally right, and the observations of English life acute. But there is always a sense of the English characters acting out their nationality a little bit too colourfully, like Hugh Grant in a Hollywood film. A marriage proposal goes, rather too adorably: "Well, yes, I, uh, yes, I suppose I am."

There's no doubt, either, that English novelists have just as much difficulty in rendering American speech, and much the same false notes have a tendency to enter. Many have taken their cue from the absurd style Dickens foisted on his American characters in Martin Chuzzlewit: "Mr Co and me, sire, are disputating a piece. He ought to be slicked up pretty smart to disputate between the Old World and the New, I do expect?"

It wouldn't take much to poke holes in the American dialogue of Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One, and, even to an English ear, the American narrators of Martin Amis's Night Train and Zapp in David Lodge's Changing Places sound disconcertingly like old-style mid-Atlantic disc jockeys of the Radio 1 variety.

English writers can often "do" grossly caricatured versions of American speech, such as Kingsley Amis's renderings of "no more than averagely incredible" Southern society in his Memoirs: "Anyhow, he had them nigras in and he opened his desk drawer and he took out his six-shooter and he emptied it right on the spot and them nigras wasn't seen in Moore County no more."

English novelists are no more skilled in plausibly rendering American speech than vice versa. It's undoubtedly a delicate task: the virtuoso dialogue of the American characters in Zadie Smith's On Beauty was recognised even by most American critics. I found it utterly plausible, but even there, an American friend commented that she slips in having an American speaker say "I will do" - apparently a British usage.

Occasionally, a writer does get it absolutely right. Philip Roth is a writer of exceptional technical abilities, and a matchless ear. He had, too, the advantage of being married to an Englishwoman at one time, but even with these benefits the perfection of his English speech is astonishing.

The vision of the English mind in The Counterlife is hysterical, but there is no faulting the ear when Zuckerman, the hero, visits his appalling in-laws: "I'm sorry I haven't read your books. I don't read very much American literature. I find it very difficult to understand the people. I don't find them very attractive or very sympathetic, I'm afraid. I don't really like violence. There's so much violence in American books, I find. Of course not in Henry James, whom I do like very much. Though I suppose he hardly counts as an American. But I prefer him on television, I think, now."

The perfection of Roth's rendering is that he's caught that directness and plain, articulate speech that, next to his American characters, seems shockingly bald; he has noticed the floating qualifying clauses, particularly at the end of sentences - "I'm afraid", "I find", "I think"; and he hasn't just noticed the prevalent empty adverbs - really, hardly - but has noted exactly where they come, and how frequently. There isn't a "smashing" in sight.

It can, then, be done. But the near-uniqueness of Roth's little triumph suggests a point that goes far beyond the ability of two nations to listen to each other accurately. Normally, when we describe a novel as "virtuosic", what is suggested is a novel narrated by a stone, or told in the second person singular, or with six simultaneous unreliable narrators.

True virtuosity, in fact, lies in the simple ability to render a single line of speech in a way that sounds like a real person talking. There aren't many novelists, in reality, who can reliably do this even if the character shares their own nationality, class and position. The number of novelists who can bring off a character speaking the same language from a different country, no matter how apparently familiar the cadences and accent, can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Not so smashing, after all.

What do linguists do?

YOU KNOW, IT'S HARD out there for a linguist. ``People tend to say, `How many languages do you speak?' or `I'll have to be careful what I say around you,"' e-mails Geoff Pullum from Cambridge, where he's enjoying the waning weeks of a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute. The prescriptively minded may go further, he says, accusing linguists of an anything-goes indifference to the fate of our poor abused language.

Not true, any of it--but how to spread the word that linguists are not polyglots, language cops, or anarchists, but fact-seeking, fun-loving, rule-embracing folks? Three years ago, Pullum, a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and fellow linguist Mark Liberman, of the University of Pennsylvania, decided to use the Web as their pulpit; they started a ``little online magazine" called Language Log, languagelog.com, where they, and a dozen or so coconspirators, could chat about their field in (more or less) everyday language, letting curious readers see what linguists really get up to.

Language Log was a hit, and three years later, it has given birth to a book: ``Far From the Madding Gerund" (William, James & Co.) assembles many of Liberman and Pullum's posts, now grouped by topic, in an attractive paperback (already adorned with a blurb by this longtime Language Log fan). Yes, the collection sacrifices some of the virtues of its blog incarnation--completeness, clickability, timeliness, unbeatable price. But print, as any book lover will tell you, has compensating pleasures--and you can't tie a ribbon on a URL.

So what do linguists do? Well, in ``Madding Gerund," they don't trade worn-out witticisms about Americans parking in driveways and driving on parkways or the absurdity of English spelling. When they rant, they rant about more substantive issues.

Pullum, for instance, is annoyed that even now, 15 years after he dismantled the ``400-words-for-snow" legend in ``The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax," the media are still retailing nonsense about cultures and lexicons. When a ``60 Minutes" report claims that the Moken islanders off Thailand have ``no word for when," and hence ``no notion of time," he responds, ``I wish English had a word meaning `lazy journalist eagerly repeating hogwash about natural languages."'

Liberman, for his part, lambastes the SAT for forcing testees to guess its grammatical biases. Is ``The committee postponed their decision" an error-free sentence? Most authorities say yes: Committee, family, couple, and the like can be plural or singular nouns. But the SAT says no: Committee must be singular. Anyone who knows there are two correct answers to such questions ``deserves full credit," says Liberman. Instead, the best-informed test-takers must base their responses on ``a coin toss."

But linguists do more than just rant. Pullum proposes that dangling modifiers aren't, as a class, grammatical errors: Most of them ``slip by smoothly in context without anyone noticing them," so there's probably ``no rigid syntactic prohibition" of them built into English. That doesn't mean they can't be ludicrous and misleading, but that's a matter of sloppy, inconsiderate writing, he concludes--of ``manners, not grammar."

Liberman theorizes that overhearing cellphone chats is maddening not because of the noise, but because humans naturally try to divine other humans' mental states. When you hear half of a conversation, he says, ``you can't help yourself from trying to fill in the blanks. And after a few seconds of this, your paracingulate medial prefrontal cortex is throbbing like a stubbed toe."

Linguists also sleuth: In two guest posts, Ben Zimmer sets out to track the famous ``Churchill quotation" about the foolishness of tying sentences in knots to avoid ending them with prepositions--"nonsense up with which I will not put" and its many variations; he gets tantalizingly close to its source, unearthing a non-Churchillian version and several garbled variations before the current wording, with its Churchill attribution, appears in 1946.

In their capsule biographies, the authors reveal their youthful career detours: Liberman was kicked out of Harvard and sent to Vietnam, while Pullum, a high school dropout in England, worked as a rock musician. Linguistics saved them, they say, and ``linguistics can save you, too." Not, perhaps, from being sent to war or forced to live by your guitar pick; but linguistics, in this user-friendly form, really might help save you from boredom, complacency, and a multitude of misapprehensions about languages and linguists.

For all that ever was...

Over the sea and far away
She's waiting like an iceberg
Waiting to change,
But she's cold inside
She wants to be like
the water,

All the muscles tighten in her face
Buries her soul in one embrace
They're one and the same
Just like water

Then the fire fades away
But most of everyday
Is full of tired excuses
But it's too hard to say
I wish it were simple
But we give up easily
You're close enough to see that
You're.... the other side of the world
to me

On comes the panic light
Holding on with fingers
and feelings alike
But the time has come
To move along

Then the fire fades away
But most of everyday
Is full of tired excuses
But it's too hard to say
I wish it were simple
But we give up easily
You're close enough to see that
You're.... the other side of the world

Can you help me?
Can you let me go
And can you still love me
When you can't see me anymore

Then the fire fades away
most of everyday
Is full of tired excuses
But it's too hard to say
I wish it were simple
But we give up easily
You're close enough to see that
You're.... the other side of the world
Ohh.... the other side of the world
You're.... the other side of the world
To me.

KT Tunstall

A Lula e a Baleia (The Squid and The Whale)

Watched this a while ago and it's by far one of the best movies of the year. Yeah, I'm biased because its candid cover of Pink Floyd's Hey You and because I am partial to Laura Linney, what the heck... Hands down... (the exhibition is still there, btw, at the Natural History Museum in NY)

Official page here

Movie trailer here

PS: the title is way nicer in PT, has a liquid quality...
No, wait, playijng linguistic algebra then "Lula da Silva"
means "Squid of the jungle"?
No friggin' way...

19 junho 2006

Pastelarias, Here I Come!

Last year, Maxence and I went on a little week-end getaway to Lisbon. A blissful, dazzling few days of walks along the narrow little streets, funicular rides up and down the hills, stunning views of the city, and sunny drives along the beautiful coast.

But all of this wouldn't have been quite as magical without the stupendous Portuguese cuisine : seafood galore -- grilled marinated fried salted or otherwise smoked -- tasty little nibbles, scandalously underrated cheese, head-spinning port, the freshest fruit and, last but by no means least, out-of-this-world pastries.

In Lisbon, you cannot walk one block without hearing thousands of sweet little voices calling your name from pastelaria windows, teasing you with promises of puff pastry, custard fillings, orange flower water, almonds and nuts, fruits and chocolate, crispy crusts and spongy dough.

The interesting thing was that they didn't look all that appealing to me at first : they have a much more homely, unsophisticated look than French pastries, which admittedly tend to look like they're dressed to go to the prom. They also look a bit like they're all the same, to the untrained eye at least, cancelling each other out somewhat.

But I can tell you, all it takes is a few bites to turn you into an absolute, enraptured, die-hard convert to the Religion of Portuguese Pastelaria. And I, for one, belong without a doubt to the Church of Queijadas de Sintra.

I was recently discussing this serious matter with our friend Greg as we visited him and his family in Madrid. As luck would have it, Greg was to take a business trip to Portugal just a few days later, and he kindly offered to get me a book of recipes.

I received it in the mail the other day, a pretty little book, spiral-bound and full of recipes for pastelaria e sombremesas -- pastries and cakes. It's all in Portuguese of course, but that only heightens its appeal : what could possibly be more fun than making authentic Pastéis de Nata and Queijadinhas Vaqueiro, with no subtitles, rummaging your pantry for açúcar, queijo fresco and ovos, not to mention farinha and amêndoa? Nada, that's what.

Muito obrigado, Greg!

[Merci, Clotilde]

18 junho 2006

The lone tidier

My wife Nicola is saving the planet. The only problem is that most of it is in our house. Ethically, I can't argue with her - she works for an environmental campaign group and is co-author of the bestselling book Save Cash And Save The Planet. But our home has become a kind of new millennium rag-and-bone yard. Clearly, if people put perfectly useful things in bins and skips, then it is our duty to save them from going into landfill. Minimalists we are not.

In the library, we have new shelves made from plywood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, only these are obscured by an abandoned 6ft poster featuring a Matisse figure of a naked woman. Nicola saw it on a nearby street while cycling to work and ordered me to carry it home: "The girls could draw dots on it."

The library also serves as a bike repository, holding Nicola's bike, her luminous sash, spider clips, helmet, gloves and various sustainable hessian carrier bags full of work papers. These are placed on her late father's giant wooden fertility chair (yes, he was a bit of a hoarder, too).

She has started a course in conservation management, so now various sawn segments of indigenous hedgerow adorn the marble mantelpiece. They'll be useful for teaching the girls about different tree types, she reasons, which is also why we have various catkins and budding twigs around the house. And there's a basket of wood chips, personally chopped by Nicola, which she says will make good kindling for the fire we won't light until October.

The living room is overflowing, not just with children's toys but also with Jiffy bags. Our neighbour, who reviews and receives hundreds of books each week, gives these bags to Nicola, who's offered to take them in to work to recycle (eventually). While, for some reason (possibly aromatic, definitely not aesthetic), the entire lavender harvest from our garden is drying in the fireplace.

The kitchen has also succumbed. Next to the "bag bag" for plastic bags sent to an organic box scheme, and the council's brown container for kitchen waste, stands a mountain of malodorous flattened Tetra Paks. We can't throw them away because they contain aluminum and Nicola knows a factory address in Scotland where they will recycle them, just as long as we spend on postage sending them up there. Oh, and there's a pile of washed hummus and yogurt pots patiently waiting a sustainable end.

On the kitchen table sit numerous flowerpots full of sweet pea, basil and pumpkin seedlings, awaiting transference to the garden. We've just bought a new basil plant - not for us but for the free-range stick insects (they escaped from their tank last year) that now roam the kitchen. There's also a 4ft pile of paper, aka Nicola's in-tray, full of unopened letters and Natural Collection catalogues. Everything else is filed on the stairs.

It's not that I'm innocent of hoarding myself. Our shared office is another clutter mine. On top of the overflowing filing cabinets, football autobiographies and fanzines vie with several boxes of Nicola's that haven't been unpacked since we moved in two and a half years ago. Mainly they consist of files, paperclips, pens, hole punchers, staplers and a telephone directory from her VSO assignment in the Solomon Islands 15 years ago which she insists might prove useful.

I fear our attraction to refuse could be genetic. I've just washed the grimy coat belonging to my seven-year-old daughter, Lola, and found in the pocket a wax crayon (broken), a twig, 20p, a broken bit of bracelet, a Yum Yum wrapper, a hankie and the end of the TV lead.

And I'd wondered why there was a bag full of mysterious foliage dropping needles on the kitchen floor. Now we discover it's some rare plant our five-year-old, Nell, extricated from Kew Gardens, along with a copious collection of pine cones.

In our bedroom, Nicola has taken to putting orange peel on the boiler, "because if you dry it and put it on the fire, it smells nice". Both parental and kids' bedrooms are dominated by book mountains, stuffed wardrobes and laundry bags of baby clothes that might one day be recycled.

Even outside there is no relief. The garden is perhaps the biggest clutter magnet for the eco-minded family with Gerald Durrell sympathies. At one end of the garden we have a coop for our two chickens. The Wendy Hut is full of straw, corn and chicken pellets, and now stuff for guinea pigs because we're looking after a pair while their owner is away.

Then there are the logs turned into garden seats reclaimed from a passing tree surgeon, the scaffolding boards from skips for raised permaculture beds and one half of a set of french windows, now converted into a cold frame. The pond is populated by newts Nicola reclaimed from a soon-to-be infilled Hackney pond. Oh, and a friend just told us he rehoused a frog in our garden a few days ago. He didn't bother to ask us, and sadly I can understand why.

It's not that we lack space - it's just that our eco-clutter always expands to fill it. Somewhere Nicola forgot the first part of the "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra. We've tried to declutter. We joined freecycle, but ended up taking more than we gave; every item we give to the school fete is replaced by five essential bargains.

I like to think our home has character, a bit like Iris Murdoch's chaotic but academic-looking home in Iris. But I'm starting to believe it's more like Krook's abode in Dickens' Bleak House. Can preventing needless landfill compensate for appearing on Filthy Homes From Hell? I'd send for a skip - only we'd probably be the first people to raid it.

French Delight :-6*

I was really happy to get parsnips : they belong to what is sometimes referred to as "les légumes oubliés" (forgotten vegetables), those vegetables we used to eat a lot in the past, but which have been more or less abandonned : panais, rutabagas, salsifis, pâtissons, crosnes... I have read that most of these were what people had to live on during the second world war, so they were promptly pushed aside after the war, because of the bad memories they brought back. Nowadays these vegetables aren't very widely cultivated and can seldom be found at produce stands. Of course, I find the idea of forgetting a vegetable heart-breaking and cruel and terrible and saddening, it makes me want to save the vegetable and bring it back home and give it love and affection and decorate a little room for it with a little bed it can sleep in.

*lick your lips :-9 either way

17 junho 2006

What to Eat, with food guru Marion Nestle

Epicurious: Your book is called What to Eat, but it doesn't really tell us. Why the title?
Marion Nestle: Because as soon as people find out what I do, they ask me: What should I eat? Is canned tuna okay? Is organic food worth the money? I decided to write a book that would walk readers up and down the aisles of the supermarkets and tell them not what to eat, but how to make informed decisions about what they eat.

Epi: You're a Ph.D. and nutritionist. It must have been easy for you.
MN: Far from it. I was surprised to discover how much you need to know to make an informed choice. I always took a computer with me to figure out prices and labels. The average supermarket has something like 40,000 different items, and one I went to stocked more than 400 kinds of yogurt on its shelves. If you tried to figure out which one was cheapest and healthiest, you'd be there forever.

Epi: Then let's start with the question everyone asks you. What should we eat?
MN: You can describe a healthy diet in ten words: "Eat less, move more, eat lots of fruits and vegetables." If that's not enough, add "Go easy on junk foods." That's the whole secret. I've been saying the same thing for years. It's not rocket science: Everyone knows what you have to do. What makes it so difficult is that the whole system is set up to make it difficult. The system is stacked against you, sometimes deliberately.

Epi: What do you mean deliberately stacked against you?
MN: Take the layout of a typical supermarket. Why is the dairy case at the back of the store? Because the owner wants us to walk all the way down those long aisles where we'll be exposed to thousands of temptations on our way to buy the quart of milk on most shopping lists.

Or take pricing. You may not want to buy a gallon bottle of soda. But when you realize that eight ounces from a huge bottle works out to be much cheaper than eight ounces from a smaller bottle, it seems wasteful not to buy the supersized one.

Epi: But surely we don't have to drink it all.
MN:That's true, but stopping takes more self control than most of us have. I call it the Law of Portion Size: The more food is in front of us, the more we eat. There's a lot of research showing that cleaning your plate is a powerful determinant. It's probably the main reason why Americans have gained so much weight.

Epi: Let's talk about specific foods. It seems that eggs are good for us again. Is that true?
MN: No single food is good or bad: We're designed to eat a variety of things. Eggs have to be viewed in the context of the rest of your diet — if you eat them, you should cut back on other high-cholesterol foods.

Remember that all over the world people grow, flourish, and do well as long as they get enough calories and variety. Marketers want you to think you have to eat their product to be healthy, but that makes no sense from a biological standpoint. I've seen too many "miracle foods" to believe that I can't be healthy without blueberries or soy or pomegranate juice.

Epi: Not even yogurt?
MN: Yogurt is milk and has the nutrient value of milk. All those studies about people living to a great age because they eat yogurt are questionable. What's not questionable is that marketing people have managed to convince Americans that this too-often-oversweetened dairy dessert is actually a health food. Eating yogurt certainly won't hurt you, as long as you watch the calories.

Epi: How come you're a fan of frozen fruits and vegetables?
MN: They're not a bad compromise in winter when you can't get local produce. They're picked at the peak of their freshness and flavor, and retain most of their nutritional value. In January they even look a lot better than the stuff that has been trucked across the country or flown in from South America. Of course, fresh and local is best, but what do you do in midwinter in New England?

Epi: Why are you opposed to fortifying junk food with vitamins?
MN: I eat candy and think it has its place in everyone's life, but I don't like to see it advertised as a health food. If you want extra vitamins, take a pill. (Although the truth is that most Americans aren't vitamin deficient.) Now they're putting vitamins in soft drinks to make you think that the sugar water will give you a nutritional benefit. Forget about it. It's just a calorie distracter.

Epi: Okay, I get it that you're not going to tell me what to eat. But what about kids? What should they eat?
MN: Exactly what we do, only less of it, and with a little less salt and sugar. If you look at the Dietary Guidelines you'll see they're for everyone over the age of two. People are surprised when I tell them that, because advertising has convinced them that kids are supposed to eat foods made just for them. There's a gigantic and very profitable industry set up just to market directly to kids. Think about that the next time you see a toddler throwing a tantrum in the supermarket because his parents won't buy the box of cereal he wants.

Shop the periphery -- the most naturally nutritious, least processed foods are found in the outermost aisles. Think produce, fish, meats, poultry, dairy, eggs and whole grain bread. In the center aisles are the more processed foods and beverages (with a few exceptions like canned beans).

Don't buy junk food if you don't want kids to eat it. Nestle defines junk food as "soft drinks, candy and snack foods that are low in nutrients but high in calories, fats, sugars and non-caloric additives like salt and artificial flavors, colors and sweeteners."

Learn to read nutrition facts labels. This can be confusing, so focus on the ingredients list, and try to buy items with five or less ingredients, and nothing artificial.

Don't buy any foods with a cartoon or a health claim on the packaging. These are nothing more than marketing strategies to improve sales.

"You can't impact climate change and you can't do anything about the war in Iraq. But food ... you can do something about that."

Ah, os feriados...

How True >'.'<

Wishlist - What is this wonder?

For centuries elephants in Thailand have been revered as a nationalsymbol, worshiped as living gods and employed as beasts of burden in the nation's thriving timber industry. But when logging was banned in Thailand in 1990, these noble animals fell on hard times. Reduced to performing tricks for tourists by day and illegal heavy labor by night, Thailand's elephants were exhausted, malnourished, and dying in alarming numbers.

Hearing of their plight, a pair of unlikely heroes came to the rescue, Wildly eccentric Russian emigre artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid devised a brilliant scheme: to create the world's first quadruped occupational retraining program-a network of art schools for unemployed elephants. Taking a cue from elephant trainers in a number of American zoos, Komar and Melamid taught the animals to hold brushes in their trunks and apply paint to canvas. And the results were astonishing: Not only did the elephants' paintings closely resemble the expansive gestural work of such Abstract Expressionist artists as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kline, but the pachyderm painters also began to develop clearly distinct regional styles-lyrical and expressive in the northern Thai school, subtle and atmospheric in the east, dynamic and angst ridden in the central school.


Vamos, vamos, ao Monte Selvagem :)

16 junho 2006

Hawking to write children's book

Physicist Stephen Hawking and his daughter are to write a science book for children which will be "a bit like Harry Potter", but without the magic.

They aim to explain theoretical physics in an accessible way to youngsters.

Professor Hawking became famous for his bestseller A Brief History of Time, which attempted to simplify cosmology, the Big Bang and black holes.

His daughter Lucy said their forthcoming project would be aimed at people like her own eight-year-old son.

"It is a story for children, which explains the wonders of the universe," she said.

She did not provide any further details, nor a likely publication date.

Professor Hawking - a professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge - has sold more than 10 million copies of A Brief History of Time since it was first published in 1988.

Say it was so :D

Today is June 16. It is a rather innocuous day for most people. But not for Leopold Bloom.

Mr. Bloom is a literary character and as such, you'd imagine any day written about him would be a rather momentous one to warrant pen to paper. And June 16 certainly was. This was the day James Joyce carefully chronicled in what many consider the greatest novel of the 20th century: Ulysses.

The novel takes place over the course of a single day and was the original 24 long before Keifer Southerland was ever born*. It follows the course of Mr. Bloom as he wanders and weaves his way through Dublin, paralleling Ulysses' journey home as chronicled by Homer in The Odyssey.

And you can do the same.

Every year, Dublin celebrates Bloomsday in honor of this lost soul. There are readings of the book, a road race, and other festivities celebrating Joyce's masterpiece.

Fans of the novel, often adorned in period dress, start the day as Bloom did, with a kidney breakfast and then journey out to the Dublin streets and pubs featured in the book, stopping for Burgundy and a Gorgonzola cheese sandwich at Davy Byrne's Pub. Few, if any, properly replicate the entire journey which ends in the book at 2 a.m., but the fun is the attempt to do so.

A wonderful bonus for participants is that the more they drink, the easier it is to begin grasping this otherwise impenetrable novel. Somewhere between 12 beers and passing out, clear-sited epiphanies usually occur on the streets of Dublin and for one, brief moment, Joyce is finally understood.

* rotflol :D

Nepenthe's flower

blue: for links (the A tag)
red: for tables (TABLE, TR and TD tags)
green: for the DIV tag
violet: for images (the IMG tag)
yellow: for forms (FORM, INPUT, TEXTAREA, SELECT and OPTION tags)
orange: for linebreaks and blockquotes (BR, P, and BLOCKQUOTE tags)
black: the HTML tag, the root node
gray: all other tags

Unusual Hotels of the World... in Spain

15 junho 2006

Escritora Portuguesa

Descobrir uma/outra escritora portuguesa através de um site francês...
Campo de Sangue é Coeurs arrachés,
Os meus sentimentos é Les anges, Violeta :)
Dulce Maria Cardoso

14 junho 2006

Hilarious email I got today



At New York's Kennedy Airport today, an individual later discovered to be a NYC public school teacher was arrested trying to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, protractor, set square, slide rule and calculator. At a morning press conference, a White House spokesman said authorities believe the man is a member of the notorious Al-Gebra movement.

The man is being charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of maths instruction.

"Al-Gebra is a fearsome cult," the spokesman said. "They desire average solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in search of absolute value. They use secret code names like `x' and `y' and refer to themselves as `unknowns', but we have determined they belong to a common denominator of the axis of mediaeval, with co-ordinates in every country. As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, "thereare three sides to every triangle.

" When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, "If God had wanted us to have better weapons of maths instruction, he would have given us more fingers and toes."

Animal Testing - Two Philosophers' Debate

Richard Ryder was one of the pioneers of the philosophy of animal liberation. In 1970, he had an Archimedes moment in the bath and coined the term "speciesism", a prejudice against other species on the grounds of their species difference; akin to racism and sexism. The word is now in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Three decades later, defending any essential difference between humans and animals has become deeply unfashionable, but Kenan Malik has been unusually forthright in doing just that. In his book Man, Beast and Zombie he follows the great philosopher Immanuel Kant in arguing that animals are mere things that can be treated as means to an end.

When we brought Malik and Ryder together to debate the ethics of animal experimentation, we began by asking Ryder what he thought the strongest argument against vivisection was.

Richard Ryder: The strongest reason that I'm opposed to at least unnecessary testing on animals is that I don't really see that the species difference makes any moral difference, any more than differences in race, class or gender. Just as racism attaches a lot of moral importance to racial differences, so speciesism attaches a lot of moral importance to species differences. I think it's very hard to find a rational explanation of why this should be.

Kenan Malik: The analogy between speciesism and racism is invalid. Racists discriminate against people who are fundamentally the same. So-called speciesists assert something that is factually true: that there is a fundamental moral distinction between humans and other animals - which is that humans are what we would call subjects: rational, autonomous beings who are capable of being moral and creating moral systems. We recognise right and wrong, we recognise we're able to act upon such judgments, accept responsibility and apportion blame. Animals do not live in such a community and it would be cruel to treat them as if they did. Animals are objects in that sense; they do not posses self-consciousness and agency as we do.

[Read on]

13 junho 2006

Rapa das bestas - Galicia / Galiza


Que coisa mais fofa! :)

A brush with the art of Pi

This blog had a post about the Ilustrate Life of PI Competition last February, and here now go the news on the outcome:

EYES READ WORDS AND THE words become little paint brushes — the arms and legs of the “ks” and “ms” and “rs” like stray bristles — and these brushes are dipped in the paint pots of the eyes and then paint, on the blank canvas of the mind, bright and colourful pictures.

Other times it goes the other way: we see an arresting picture, and in the mind there is a rush of questions and interjections — What’s this? Look at that! — at any rate, the reaction in the mind is something verbal.

Words, processed, become images; images, processed, become words. A neat, essential balance, whose fulcrum is the versatile eye.

Such a good idea, then, to combine words and illustrations in a book. Comic strips and children’s books have been doing so for generations. Manga’s immense popularity in Japan has spread to the West. Bande dessinée, that Belgian speciality, is an institution in Europe.

But what happened to the adult illustrated book? It can’t just be economics that deprives us of the pleasures of the descendants of Gustave Doré, William Blake and company. After all, graphic novels, the avant-garde pleasure of a minority, are routinely published; you’ll find them in any good bookshop, and some of them are spectacular. Could it be that publishers just can’t be bothered? I’m delighted that Canongate, with its usual flair, decided to bring out an illustrated edition of my novel Life of Pi — and why should international competitions be the sole preserve of architecture? Let there be a competition stretching across oceans to find the illustrator.

The jousting of imaginations was impressive. There were hundreds of submissions. Getting down to a shortlist wasn’t easy, but the podium was capacious. We placed 15 finalists on it: Canadians, Australians and Britons were rounded out by an American, a Filipino, and a Croat.

Selecting the single winner in this no-silver, no-bronze contest proved hard. It was no longer a process of separating the best from the good.

The finalists were all excellent. Now it was a question of deciding what kind of book we wanted.

Bright, in-your-face manga? Charming, wistful linocuts? Witty, breezily-drawn watercolours? Clean and detailed pen-and-ink drawings? Lush and stylised impasto? High art, pop art? And beyond the style, what vision of the story did we want reflected in the illustrations? Something Pi-centric? Something harrowing? Something soothing? More gods than animals? More ocean than people? It was like being told to go through the National Gallery and select a single painting.

After much private mulling over, and a two-hour international conference call, we members of the jury made our choice: Tomislav Torjanac, from Croatia.

His palette of colours is bold and rich. His illustrations are exquisitely textured; the oil paints crest and swirl before the eyes. Concerning the details — the shape of the lifeboat, the curious ecology of the island, the ways of the Japanese — he is rigorously accurate, but this meticulousness is merely the starting point for a powerful and lyrical vision of the story that does not simply illustrate what the words say but interprets them. His narrative perspective is startling; we are truly with Pi for the whole voyage.

Overall, the effect is of great, beautiful art, highly personal and at the same time reaching out to everyone.

So this illustrated Life of Pi will be the same novel as before, the curious story of a religious boy who ends up in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, a story I thought no one would read, and yet now with a difference: every few pages the reader’s eyes will stop projecting images on to his or her mind materialised from my black markings and instead will take dictation based on the stunning illustrations of Tomislav Torjanac.

It is my hope that this deft alternation between words and images — both fore and aft of the eyes — will make readers see my novel in a new way, and will encourage other publishers to revive the adult tradition of the artful marriage of word and illustration.

The winner: Tomislav Torjanac:

12 junho 2006

Turner breaks record at auction

The Blue Rigi was sold to an anonymous telephone bidder after a 10-minute bidding battle at Christie's in London.

The work, which Christie's described as "the most important watercolour to appear at auction for over 50 years", had been expected to fetch about £2m.

It features Lake Lucerne and the Rigi Mountain, in Switzerland, at sunrise, and was painted in 1842.

The previous record for a Turner watercolour on paper was £2.04m, fetched by Heidelberg with a Rainbow in 2001.

The Blue Rigi was bought in 1842 by its first owner for 80 guineas.

It was one of four watercolours Turner produced on his return from a trip to Switzerland the same year.

The 19th Century art critic John Ruskin said of the work: "Turner had never made any drawings like this before and never made any like them again."

It was last sold in 1942 for 1,500 guineas to the family of the owner who sold it on Monday.