27 outubro 2011

Update on the Art of Yanko Tsvetkov - the Mapping Stereotypes Project

A little more than a year ago I posted here about this master cartographer, or rather, social analyst: The Geography of Prejudice indeed! Here's an update from Yanko's website.

Click and go!
And I want a t-shirt :-Þ

Now, Yanko did not do this one, nor do I know who created it, 
but here it goes, Europe according to the Portuguese:

Let's honor here those I find priceless :)

Madonnaland for Malawi?

20 outubro 2011

Why Read Moby Dick?

ven though I hadn’t read a word of it, I grew up hating Moby-Dick. My father was an English professor at the University of Pittsburgh with a specialty in American maritime literature, and that big, battle-scarred book came to represent everything I resented about his job: all the hours he spent in his attic study, relentlessly reading and writing, more often than not with Moby-Dick spread out before him.

Sometimes he even dared talk about the novel, inevitably in an excited, reverential tone that only exasperated me all the more. It wasn’t until my senior year in high school, when my English teacher made it clear that I had no choice in the matter, that I finally read Moby-Dick . I soon found myself in the worst position an adolescent male can ever know: having to admit that maybe, just maybe, his father had been right all along.
The voice of Ishmael, the novel’s narrator, caught me completely by surprise. I had expected to be bored to death, but Ishmael sounded like the best friend I had not yet managed to find. Thirty-seven years later, after reading Moby-Dick cover to cover at least a dozen times, I still count Ishmael as a beloved soulmate and spiritual adviser. Not only is he funny, wise, and bighearted, he is the consummate survivor, for it is he and he alone who lives to tell about Ahab’s encounter with the White Whale. For me, Moby-Dick is more than the greatest American novel ever written; it is a metaphysical survival manual—the best guidebook there is for a literate man or woman facing an impenetrable unknown: the future of civilization in this storm-tossed 21st century.
Much of this has to do, I think, with the extraordinary historical moment at which Herman Melville wrote his masterpiece. In the fall of 1850, when he moved his family from New York City to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, the United States was in the midst of pushing its way west. Railroads had begun to knit the interior of the nation into an iron tracery of ceaseless, smoke-belching movement. Steamboats ventured up once inaccessible rivers. With the winning of the Mexican War, in 1848, America’s future as a bi-coastal nation was sealed. When word reached the East Coast later that year that gold had been discovered in California, thousands upon thousands of prospectors quickly made that future an accomplished fact.
But there was a problem with this juggernaut: a lie festered at the ideological core of the then 30 states of America. Despite the fact that her founders had promised liberty and freedom for all, the southern half of the country was economically dependent on the slavery of Africans. And with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required that any escaped slaves be handed over to the authorities, slavery was no longer just a southern problem. Antagonisms that had lain dormant for decades could no longer be contained, and an eruption of terrible violence appeared inevitable.
Melville’s intense imaginative engagement with these forces of turmoil and change meant that the novel he wrote and re-wrote over the course of a year beginning in September 1850 would be about much more than a whaling voyage to the Pacific. Indeed, contained in the pages ofMoby-Dick is nothing less than the genetic code of America: all the promises, problems, conflicts, and ideals that had contributed to the outbreak of a revolution in 1775 and were about to precipitate a civil war in 1861, and that have continued to drive this country’s ever contentious march across 160 years, up through the current “war on terror.” This means that whenever a new crisis grips this country, Moby-Dick becomes newly important. It is why subsequent generations of readers have seen Ahab as Hitler during World War II or, closer to our own day, as a profit-mad, deep-drilling oil company in 2010, or as one of several power-crazed Middle Eastern dictators in 2011.
he irony is that when Moby-Dick was first published, in the fall of 1851, virtually no one, except for the author to whom the novel was dedicated, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and his wife, Sophia, seems to have taken much notice. By the time of Melville’s death, in 1891, Moby-Dick had sold a grand total of 3,715 copies—a third of the total that his first novel, Typee, had sold. It wasn’t until after World War I that what had begun as a few belated plaudits became a virtual tidal wave of praise. There were still some naysayers (Joseph Conrad ridiculed Moby-Dick for its romantic, overblown prose), but the vast majority of writers who first encountered the book were stunned and deeply influenced by how Melville conveyed the specifics of a past world even as he communicated an unmatched sense of what it is like, in any age, to be alive. What Moby-Dick had needed, it turned out, was space—the distance required for its themes and images to resonate, unfettered by the passions that had inspired them. Once free of its own time, the novel was on its way to becoming the seemingly timeless source of meaning that it is today.

Among the expatriates in Paris in the 1920s, Moby-Dick was what one writer described as “a sort of cunning test by which the genuineness of another man’s response to literature could be proved.” In 1927, William Faulkner, who would later hang a framed print of Rockwell Kent’s Captain Ahab in his living room in Oxford, Mississippi, claimed that Moby-Dick was the one novel by another author that he wished he had written. In 1949, Ernest Hemingway, upon entering his 50s, wrote his publisher that he considered Melville one of the handful of writers he was still trying to beat.
By 1951, when the centennial of the novel’s publication was celebrated, Melville’s masterpiece had succeeded in becoming more than a literary sensation; it had become an indispensable part of the popular culture. Even so, in our day, Moby-Dick is the most reluctantly read of the American classics. Not only is the book long; many of its 135 chapters appear to have nothing to do with the tale of Captain Ahab’s pursuit of the White Whale. But the novel, like all great works of art, grows on you. Instead of being a page-turner, Moby-Dick is a repository of American history and culture and the essentials of Western literature. The book is so encyclopedic that space aliens could use it to re-create the whale fishery as it once existed on the planet Earth in the midst of the 19th century.
In fact, we have become those space aliens, the inhabitants of a planet so altered by our profligate presence that we are living on a different Earth from the one Melville knew. And yet the more our world changes, the more relevant the novel seems to be.
elville’s years on a whaleship in the 1840s gave him a firsthand appreciation for the backbreaking reality of physical labor. Politicians of his day might have spoken patriotically about the nation’s founding principles, but it was repetitious, soul-crushing work—a form of bodily punishment to which most white Americans refused to submit—that was responsible for the country’s prosperity. Once a whale was killed, it took an entire day to process it, only to be repeated when another whale was sighted. “Oh! my friends, but this is man-killing!,” Ishmael laments. “Yet this is life.”

The crew of a typical whaleship was made up of men from all over the world. This demographic diversity was not typical of the United States in that era, when to be an American citizen was to be white and, if not already rich (few, proportionally, were well-off), certainly on the way to wealth as the nation proudly took its place as a global power. A century and a half later, we have a very different perspective on the role of other peoples in America’s rise, and Melville was one of the few authors of his time to have personal experience with where the future lay for America in a demographic sense. What’s more, his portrayal of working people is never stereotypical or condescending.
Melville’s time aboard a whaler also left him with an appreciation for the liberating power of democracy, what Ishmael calls the “democratic dignity” that distinguished America at the time—with the notable exceptions of the settlers’ treatment of Native Americans and the institution of slavery. In the dangerous work environment of the whale fishery it didn’t matter what your race or background was; what mattered was whether you could do your job. At one point thePequod’ s third mate, Flask, climbs onto the back of his towering black harpooneer, Daggoo, to get a better view of a pod of whales. “The sight of little Flask mounted upon gigantic Daggoo was yet more curious,” Ishmael observes, “for sustaining himself with a cool, indifferent, easy, unthought of, barbaric majesty, the noble negro to every roll of the sea harmoniously rolled his fine form. On his broad back, flaxen-haired Flask seemed a snow-flake. The bearer looked nobler than the rider.” In this single image, Melville has managed to illustrate what he calls elsewhere “the divine equality” of humanity even as he provides a scathing critique of slavery. Flask may out-rank Daggoo, but it is the African harpooneer who literally carries the third mate. Indeed, one might go a step further and contend that what Ishmael repeatedly refers to as the whale’s appalling demonic whiteness signals the author’s stand against his nation’s racist practices. Democracy in principle, Ishmael maintains, “radiates without end from God; Himself!”
n every age, there will be a threat to the principle of “divine equality,” and his name is Ahab. In Melville’s view, it doesn’t take much to become a demagogue as long as you learn a few simple tricks. Dictators such as Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Qaddafi are not geniuses; they are paranoid despots and expert manipulators of men. If you want to understand how these and other megalomaniacs pull it off, read the last third ofMoby-Dick and watch as Ahab tightens his stranglehold on the Pequod’ s crew in his increasingly horrifying quest for the White Whale.
But Melville also provides a description of the ideal leader. In the midst of a disorienting crisis, what is needed more than anything else, he suggests, is a calm, steadying dose of clarity, the kind of omniscient, all-seeing perspective symbolized by an eagle on the wing: “And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces.” This is the anti-Ahab, who instead of anger and pain relies on equanimity and judgment, who does his best to remain above the fray and who even in the darkest of possible moments resists the “woe that is madness.”
In this portrait of a person who resists the fiery, disorienting passions of the moment, who has the soul of a high-flying Catskill eagle, Melville, in his preternatural way, has hit upon a description of the political figure America desperately needed in 1851 but who would not appear on the national stage until a decade later, when Abraham Lincoln became president of the United States.
n one of his typical chapter-length asides (the book is truly proto-modernist, given its fractured structure, voluminous lists, idiosyncratic asides, and interior monologues), Melville tackles a prescient question, considering today’s extinction-prone Earth: “Whether Leviathan can long endure so wide a chase, and so remorseless a havoc; whether he must … like the last man, smoke his last pipe, and then himself evaporate in the final puff.” In the paragraphs that follow, Ishmael compares the whale to the buffalo in the American West and acknowledges that, taking into account what has happened to those “humped herds,” it might seem inevitable that “the hunted whale cannot now escape speedy extinction.”
But after examining the question from a variety of angles, he decides that this is not the case. Given the difficulty of pursuing whales across an ocean larger than all the earth’s landmasses combined, along with the whales’ ability to retreat to “their Polar citadels” in the icy North and South, where they can “bid defiance to all pursuit from man,” the whale is, Ishmael insists, “immortal in his species, however perishable in his individuality.”
For those who grew up in the aftermath of the industrialized slaughter of whales in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, when it looked like several species of cetaceans would indeed go the way of the buffalo, Ishmael might seem woefully naïve, especially in light of what has happened in recent years to the world’s ice sheet. On the other hand, the sperm-whale population is now on the rebound, even as evidence continues to mount that our addiction to what supplanted whale oil—petroleum—has contributed to global warming and sea-level rise. In the years to come, the combination of climate change and population growth could have a devastating effect on the planet and, needless to say, on humanity. Maybe Ishmael’s reference to “the last man” is more than a figure of speech. Instead of whales, maybe the endangered mega-fauna is us.
Melville ends this chapter with an image that has taken on a frightening immediacy due to the ravages of climate change and the aftermath of the tsunami that recently decimated Japan. “In Noah’s flood he [the whale] despised Noah’s Ark,” Ishmael reminds us, “and if ever the world is to be again flooded, like the Netherlands, to kill off its rats, then the eternal whale will still survive, and rearing upon the topmast crest of the equatorial flood, spout his frothed defiance to the skies.” There it is, Ishmael’s vision of the future: a drowned world devoid of land dwellers, a hell for people but a paradise for whales.
So how do we face a world in which yet another cataclysm, whether it be environmental, financial, or terrorist-devised, always seems to be just around the corner? I think it’s Ishmael who puts it best. Nearly halfway into the novel, after almost getting killed in pursuit of a whale, he says, “There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.” Elsewhere Ishmael advises, “Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye.” This redemptive mixture of skepticism and hope, this genial stoicism in the face of a short, ridiculous, and irrational life, is why I read Moby-Dick.

the How to Write Fiction series from The Guardian

12 outubro 2011

The Cruel Working World, by Infograph

Wishlist: Diamantes de Sangue

Na província angolana da Lunda­‑Norte, onde se concentram as principais áreas de exploração aluvial diamantífera, grande parte dos habitantes vive em regime de quase escravatura. São impedidos de manter actividades de auto­‑subsistência, roubados, torturados, assassinados. As forças armadas e as empresas privadas de segurança protagonizam os crimes com total impunidade. As autoridades e o governo ignoram esses crimes.
Jornalista de investigação, Rafael Marques é um dos principais responsáveis por denunciar e divulgar os esquemas de corrupção que envolvem as mais altas esferas do poder em Angola, bem como as empresas e entidades estrangeiras que com ele negoceiam.
«Diamantes de Sangue» é uma investigação sobre personalidades, instituições e empresas envolvidas no negócio dos diamantes e inclui o testemunho de centenas de vítimas.

Rafael Marques é jornalista de profissão. Nos últimos anos tem-se dedicado à pesquisa sobre a economia política angolana, em especial sobre o sistema de corrupção no país, e continua a monitorizar a situação dos direitos humanos na região diamantífera das Lundas. É formado em Jornalismo e Antropologia, pela Universidade de Londres, e é mestre em Estudos Africanos, pela Universidade de Oxford.
Como resultado do seu trabalho em defesa dos direitos humanos, o Northcote Parkinson Fund atribuiu­‑lhe, em 2006, o Civil Courage Prize.
É autor do site Maka Angola, no qual publica o resultado dos seus trabalhos de investigação e mantém actualizadas informações sobre a corrupção no seu país.

Edições Tinta-da-China

09 outubro 2011

Food Comparison

H.G. Wells on Metropolis, or Wishlist: (Lapham's Quarterly) Future

I have recently seen the silliest film. I do not believe it would be possible to make one sillier. It is called “Metropolis,” it comes from the great Ufa studios in Germany, and the public is given to understand that it has been produced at enormous cost. It gives in one eddying concentration almost every possible foolishness, cliché, platitude, and muddlement about mechanical progress and progress in general, served up with a sauce of sentimentality that is all its own.
It is a German film and there have been some amazingly good German films before they began to cultivate bad work under cover of a protective quota. And this film has been adapted to the Anglo-Saxon taste, and quite possibly it has suffered in the process, but even when every allowance has been made for that, there remains enough to convince an intelligent observer that most of its silliness must be fundamental.
Capek's Robots have been lifted without apology, and that soulless mechanical monster of Mary Shelley's, who has fathered so many German inventions, breeds once more in this confusion. Originality there is none. Independent thought, none; where nobody has imagined for them the authors have simply fallen back on contemporary things. The airplanes that wander about above the great city show no advance on contemporary types, though all that stuff could have been livened up immensely with a few helicopters and vertical and unexpected movements. The motor cars are 1926 models or earlier. I do not think there is a single new idea, a single instance of artistic creation, or even intelligent anticipation, from first to last in the whole pretentious stew. I may have missed some point of novelty, but I doubt it, and this, though it must bore the intelligent man in the audience, makes the film all the more convenient as a gauge of the circles of ideas, the mentality, from which it has proceeded.
The word “Metropolis,” says the advertisement in English, “is in itself symbolic of greatness”—which only shows us how wise it is to consult a dictionary before making assertions about the meaning of words. Probably it was the adapter who made that shot. The German “Neubabelsburg” was better, and could have been rendered “New Babel.” It is a city, we are told, of about one hundred years hence. It is represented as being enormously high, and all the air and happiness are above and the workers live down, down, down below.
Now thirty years ago it may have been excusable to symbolize social relations in this way, but a lot of thinking and some experience intervene. That vertical city of the future we know now is, to put it mildly, highly improbable. Even in New York and Chicago, where the pressure on the central sites is exceptionally great, it is only the central office and entertainment region that soars and excavates. And the same centripetal pressure that leads to the utmost exploitation of site values at the centre leads also to the driving out of industrialism and labour from the population center to cheaper areas, and of residential life to more open and airy surroundings. That was all discussed and written about before 1900. Somewhere about 1930 the geniuses of Ufa studios will come up to a book of anticipations which was written as recently as a quarter of a century ago. The British census returns of 1901 proved clearly that city populations were becoming centrifugal, and that every increase in horizontal traffic facilities produced a further distribution. This vertical social stratification is stale old stuff. So far from being a hundred years hence, “Metropolis,” in its forms and shapes, is already, as a possibility, a third of a century out of date.
But in its form is the least part of its staleness. This great city is supposed to be evoked by a single dominating personality. The English version calls him John Masterman, so that there may be no mistake about his quality. Very unwisely he has called his son Eric instead of sticking to good hard John, and so relaxed the strain. He works with an inventor, one Rotwang, and they make machines. There are a certain number of other rich people, and the sons of the rich are seen disporting themselves, with underclad ladies in a sort of joy conservatory rather like the Winter garden of an enterprising 1890 hotel during an orgy. The rest of the population is in a state of abject slavery, working in “shifts” of ten hours in some mysteriously divided twenty-four hours and with no money to spend or property or freedom. The machines make wealth. How is not stated. We are shown rows of motor cars all exactly alike, but the workers cannot own these, and no “sons of the rich” would. Even the middle classes nowadays want a car with personality. Probably Masterman makes these cars in endless series to amuse himself. One is asked to believe that these machines are engaged quite furiously in the mass production of nothing that is ever used, and that Masterman grows richer and richer in the process.
This is the essential nonsense of it all. Unless the mass of the population has the spending power there is no possibility of wealth in a mechanical civilization. A vast, penniless, slave population may be necessary for wealth where there are no mass production machines, but it is preposterous with mass production machines. You find such a real proletariat in China still—it existed in the great cities of the ancient world—but you do not find it in America, which has gone furthest in the direction of mechanical industry, and there is no grain of reason for supposing it will exist in the future. Masterman's watchword is efficiency, and you are given to understand it is a very dreadful word, and the contrivers of this idiotic spectacle are so hopelessly ignorant of all the work that has been done upon industrial efficiency that they represent him as working his machine-minders to the point of exhaustion, so that they faint and machines explode and people are scalded to death. You get machine-minders in torment turning levers in response to signals. Work that could be done far more effectively by automata. Much stress is laid on the fact that the workers are spiritless, hopeless drudges, working reluctantly and mechanically. But mechanical civilization has no use for mere drudges. The more efficient its machinery the less need there is for the quasi-mechanical minder. It is the inefficient factory that needs slaves, the ill-organized mine that kills men. The hopeless drudge stage of human labor lies behind us. With a sort of malignant stupidity this film contradicts these facts.
met.jpgRotwang, the inventor, is making a Robot, apparently without any license from Capek, the original patentee. It is to look and work like a human being, but it is to have no “soul,” it is to be a substitute for drudge labor. Masterman very properly suggests that it should never have a soul, and for the life of me I cannot see why it should. The whole aim of mechanical civilization is to eliminate the drudge and the drudge soul. But this is evidently regarded as very dreadful and impressive by the producers, who are all on the side of soul and love and such like. I am surprised they were not pinched for souls in the alarm clocks and runabouts. Masterman, still unwilling to leave bad alone, persuades Rotwang to make this Robot in the likeness of Mary, so that it may raise an insurrection among the workers to destroy the machines by which they live and so learn that it is necessary to work. Rather intricate that, but Masterman, you understand, is a rare devil of a man. Full of pride and efficiency and modernity and all those horrid things.
Then comes the crowning imbecility of the film—the conversion of the Robot into the likeness of Mary. Rotwang, you must understand, occupies a small old house embedded in the modern city richly adorned with pentagrams and other reminders of the antiquated German romances, out of which its owner has been taken. A faint smell of Mephistopheles is perceptible for a time. So even at Ufa, Germany can still be dear, old, magic-loving Germany. Perhaps the Germans will never get right away from the brocken. Walpurgis Night is the name day of the German poetic imagination, and the national fantasy capers securely forever with a broomstick between its legs. By some no doubt abominable means Rotwang has squeezed a vast and well-equipped modern laboratory into this little house. It is ever so much higher than the house, but no doubt he has fallen back on Einstein and other modern bewilderment. Mary has to be trapped, put into a machine like a translucent cocktail shaker and undergo all sorts of pyrotechnic treatment in order that her likeness may be transferred to the Robot. The possibility of Rotwang just simply making a Robot like her evidently never entered the gifted producer's head.
The Robot is enveloped in wavering haloes. The premises seem to be struck by lightning repeatedly, the contents of a number of flasks and carboys are violently agitated, there are minor explosions and discharges. Rotwang conducts the operations with a manifest lack of assurance, and finally, to his evident relief the likeness is taken and things calm down. The false Mary then winks darkly at the audience and sails off to raise the workers. And so forth and so on. There is some rather good swishing about in water after the best film traditions, some violent and unconvincing machine breaking and rioting and wreckage, and then rather confusedly one gathers that Masterman has learned his lesson and that the workers and employers are now to be reconciled by “love.”
Never for a moment does one believe any of this foolish story; never for a moment is there anything amusing or convincing in its dreary series of strained events. It is immensely and strangely dull. It is not even to be laughed at. There is not one good-looking nor sympathetic nor funny personality in the cast; there is, indeed, no scope at all for looking well or acting like a rational creature amid these mindless, imitative absurdities. The film's air of having something grave and wonderful to say is transparent pretence. It has nothing to do with any social or moral issue before the world, or with any that can even conceivably arise. It is bunkum and poor and thin even as bunkum. I am astonished at the toleration shown it by “a number of film critics on both sides of the Atlantic,” and it cost, says the London Times, 6,000,000 marks. How they spent all that upon it I cannot imagine. Most of the effects could have been got with models at no great expense.
wellsthumb.jpgThe pity of it is that this unimaginative, incoherent, sentimentalizing, and make-believe film, wastes some very fine possibilities. My belief in German enterprise has had a shock. I am dismayed by the intellectual laziness it betrays. I thought Germany, even at its worst, could toil. I thought they had resolved to be industriously modern. It is profoundly interesting to speculate on the present trend of mechanical invention and of the real reactions of invention upon labor conditions. Instead of plagiarizing from a book thirty years old and resuscitating the banal moralizing of the early Victorian period, it would have been almost as easy, no more costly and far more interesting to have taken some pains to gather opinions of a few bright young research students and ambitious modernizing architects and engineers about the trend of modern invention and develop these artistically. Any technical school would have been delighted to supply sketches and suggestions for the aviation and transport of 2027 A.D. There are now masses of literature upon the organization of labor for efficiency that could have been boiled down at a very small cost. The question of the development of industrial control, the relation of industrial to political direction, the way all that is going, is of the liveliest current interest. Apparently the Ufa people did not know of these things and did not want to know about them; they were too dense to see how these things could have been brought into touch with the life of today and made interesting to the man in the street. After the worst traditions of the cinema world, monstrously self-satisfied and self-sufficient, convinced of the power of loud advertisement to put things over with the public, and with no fear of searching criticism in their minds, no consciousness of thought and knowledge beyond their ken, they set to work in their huge studio to produce furlong after furlong of this ignorant, old-fashioned balderdash and ruin the market for any better film along these lines.
Six million marks! The waste of it! The theatre when I visited it was crowded. All but the highest-priced seats were full, and the gaps in places filled up reluctantly but completely before the great film was begun. I suppose every one had come to see what the city of a hundred years hence would be like. I suppose there are multitudes of people to be “drawn” by promising to show them what the city of a hundred years hence will be like. It was, I thought, an unresponsive audience and I heard no comments. I could not tell from their bearing whether they believed that “Metropolis” was really a possible forecast or not. I do not know whether they thought that the film was hopelessly silly or the future of mankind hopelessly silly. But it must have been one thing or the other.

2011 Fall

The Future


Voices in Time

Hopes & Fears