Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Pier Paolo Pasolini

In politics too, or better, in the social debate, Pasolini was able to create scandal and debate with some assertions that were as much unheard as, at the same time, true: during the disorders of 1969, when the autonomist university students were acting in a guerrilla-like fashion against the police in the streets of Rome, all the leftist forces declared their complete support for the students, and described the disorders as a civil fight of proletarians against the system. Pasolini, instead, alone among the communists, declared that he was with the police; or, more precisely, with the policemen, considering them true proletarians who were sent to fight against boys of their same age for a poor salary and reasons which they could not understand, because they had not had the fortune of being able to study. This ironic statement, however, didn't stop him from contributing to the autonomist Lotta continua movement.

Pasolini was also an ardent critic of consumismo, i.e. consumerism, which he felt had rapidly destroyed Italian society in the late 1960s/early 1970s, particularly the class of the subproletariat, to which he felt both sexually and artistically drawn. Pasolini observed that the kind of purity which he perceived in the members of that class (as portrayed e.g. in Acccattone) was rapidly vanishing, the animalistic joie de vivre of the boys being rapidly replaced with more bourgeois ambitions such as a house and a family. The coprophagia scenes in Salò were described by him as being a comment on the processed food industry.

Not only economical globalization but also the cultural domination of the North of Italy (around Milan) over other regions, especially the South, primarily through the power of TV, angered him. He opposed the gradual disappearance of Italian dialects by writing some of his poetry in Friulian, the dialect of the region where he spent his childhood.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Why I love WFMU

"Ken Freedman is the current General Manager of WFMU, a freeform radio station. He is also co-host of the radio show Seven Second Delay with Andy Breckman and hosts his own freeform radio show on Wednesdays. Ken began his radio career as DJ and later station manager of WCBN, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor's freeform radio station where he is still remembered for marking the election of Ronald Reagan by playing Leslie Gore's It's My Party (and I'll cry if I want to) for 18 hours straight. His brother, Samuel G. Freedman is a reporter, professor, and writer."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


“My general experience in life has been that most people can change only within a narrow range, if at all. Many people can acknowledge criticism and advice, but relatively few internalize it and alter their behavior in a significant way. Sometimes someone can change in one respect but not in another. I was involved in many discussions at Goldman over the years that centered on the question of whether a person who was highly capable professionally, but limited in some way, could grow to assume broader responsibilities. Often the limitations revolved around the ability to work effectively with colleagues and subordinates.”

Robert E. Rubin, In an Uncertain World, 2003, Random House, 2003, p. 83

"Men do change, and change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass."

John Steinbeck (1902-1968). American novelist, story writer, playwright, and essayist

Monday, May 22, 2006

An Ahistorical Language

Eventually Everett came up with a surprising explanation for the peculiarities of the Pirahã idiom. "The language is created by the culture," says the linguist. He explains the core of Pirahã culture with a simple formula: "Live here and now." The only thing of importance that is worth communicating to others is what is being experienced at that very moment. "All experience is anchored in the presence," says Everett, who believes this carpe-diem culture doesn't allow for abstract thought or complicated connections to the past -- limiting the language accordingly.

Living in the now also fits with the fact that the Pirahã don't appear to have a creation myth explaining existence. When asked, they simply reply: "Everything is the same, things always are." The mothers also don't tell their children fairy tales -- actually nobody tells any kind of stories. No one paints and there is no art.

Beautiful Word

palimpsest \PAL-imp-sest\, noun:

1. A manuscript, usually of papyrus or parchment, on which more than one text has been written with the earlier writing incompletely erased and still visible.
2. An object or place whose older layers or aspects are apparent beneath its surface.

The manuscript is a palimpsest consisting of vellum leaves from which the "fluent and assured script" of the original Archimedes text and 55 diagrams had been washed or scraped off so that the surface could be used for new writings.
-- Roger Highfield, "Eureka! Archimedes text is to be sold at auction", Daily Telegraph, October 3, 1998

Each is a palimpsest, one improvisation partly burying another but leaving hints of it behind.
-- Robert Hughes, "Delight for Its Own Sake", Time, January 22, 1996

It's a mysterious many-layered palimpsest of a metropolis where generations of natives and visitors have left their mark, from Boadicea and the Romans, through the Middle Ages and the Elizabethan era to the present.
-- Philip French, "Jack the knife", The Observer, February 10, 2002

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Daily Howler on 2008

GORE’S LEGACY: Why might Gore be reluctant to run? Not being the dumbest person in history, we can easily imagine, although we don’t know what he’s thinking.

At present, Gore’s legacy is honorable—and tragic. (Indeed, you saw it played out on Saturday Night Live.) He’s the guy who actually won the election, but was kept from office by an historical fluke. And oh yes—as time goes by, Gore will increasingly be seen the guy who was right all along on the major issues. Bush will be seen as history’s worst president—and Gore will be seen as the guy who was right. And to the extent that Gore is accepted as a visionary on global warming, this legacy will be advanced even further. By the way, even the press corps will largely grant him that role—so long as he doesn’t seek office.

But what if Gore runs again in 08? Simple. The corps will drag out its brain-dead old scripts—the ones we liberals still won’t discuss (more on that tomorrow). Gore will be trashed in the three thousand ways he has been trashed since March 99—and we liberals will be sweetly silent, too blindingly stupid to describe what is happening. (Many of our career liberal writers will be in the bag for this mainstream press process, just as they have been in the bag for this process since March 1999.) Who knows? Gore could get clobbered in the Dem primary (certainly, he could lose to Hillary Clinton, if each chose to run). And even if Gore got the Dem nomination, he would then face Saint John McCain. The two great scripts would come face to face. Which script do you think would prevail?

Why isn’t the following true? Gore will be cast as the Stiff One, Unhinged, the Dissembler, Fake-and-Phony. McCain will be cast as the Great Earthly Saint. Would you subject yourself to that—knowing how little support you would get? Knowing that, right to this day, liberals refuse to discuss the manner in which you got slimed during Campaign 2000 (and after)? Would you choose to go into battle again, saddled with perfect born losers like we are? “Fastened to a dying animal,” as Yeats so memorably said?

For ourselves, we’d love to see Gore decide he could run. But to help that along, isn’t it time we began to discuss the real shape of our American politics? Isn’t it time we began to discuss the childish ways the press portrays McCain? Isn’t it time we began to discuss the ways our White House elections get lost? Isn’t it time we began to discuss the scripts which make Democrats losers—the script which will send McCain to the White House in January 2009?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Pablo Casals

Words of gratitude pronouced by Pau Casals in front of the United Nations Assembly when he was awarded the Medal of Peace on the 24th of October of 1971:

"This is the greatest honour I have ever received in my life. Peace has always been my greatest concern. Yet in my childhood I learned to love it. My mother -an exceptional, brilliant woman- used to speak to me about it when I was still a child, because in those years there were also a lot of wars. Moreover, I am Catalan. Catalonia had the first democratic Parliament much before than England. And it was in my country where there was a beginning of united nations. At that time -the eleventh Century- they met in Toluges -today in France- to speak about peace, because the Catalonian people of that time were already against war. That is why, the United Nations, which work only for the ideal of peace, are in my hearth, because everything relating to peace goes directly there. I have not played the cello in front of an audience since long years but I think I must do it this time. I am going to play a melody from the Catalonian folklore: The singing of the Birds. Birds, when in the sky, go singing: Peace, peace, peace. And this is a melody that Bach, Beethoven and all great people would have admired and loved. And, in addition, it springs up from the soul of my country: Catalonia".

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Bomb

"The Israeli program is nearly as old as the state itself. Ben-Gurion authorized it in 1952...(Benjamin Netanyahu) told me that if the survival of the country was at stake, the Israelis would use it and worry about the consequences later...

"In the 1950s, with French assistance, the Israelis had begun to construct a large reactor in the Negev and a facility for processing the fuel rods needed to make plutonium. Then, in 1959, De Gaulle became president of France and said French assistance could continue only if Ben-Gurion gave public assurance that the reactor would be used solely for peaceful purposes. This he did, while knowing full well that the reactor was going to be used to make plutonium for nuclear weapons. The reactor was completed in 1963. During this time the Israelis and the Americans engaged in a kind of theater of the absurd. The Americans demanded inspections and the Israelis came up with one ingenious maneuver after another to avoid them. For example, the Americans were informed that the nuclear complex at Dimona was a textile factory...What brought an end to this farce was the testimony of an immigrant Moroccan Jew named Mordechai Vanunu.

"In 1977...Vanunu got a job as a manager in the graveyard shift at the nuclear plant...Vanunu's clearance gave him access to all levels of secure sites at the plant...He went to London with his story of Israel's nuclear program and photographs to back it up. These were published in the London Sunday Times and created a sensation. Vanunu was lured to Rome by a young woman, an Israeli agent, and kidnapped by the Mossad; he was taken back to Isael where he spent seventeen years in prison, partly in harsh solitary confinement. He is now living under tight security in Israel. It was clear from what he revealed...that Israel...has a very considerable and varied nuclear arsenal."

Jeremy Bernstein, "The Secrets of the Bomb", The New York Review of Books, May 25, 2006, pp. 42-3

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Real War

"Anything showing the grim realities of war is, in a sense, antiwar," said Sheila Nevins, president of HBO's documentary and family unit. "In that way, the film is a sort of Rorschach test. You see in it what you bring to it."

Dead Presidents

''As the academy becomes every more corporatized, as presidents are less academic leaders and colleagues and more CEOs, then faculty who retain the proud identity of an academic are going to be estranged,'' said Roger Bowen, president of the American Association of University Professors.

Feeling Unsafe

But General Hayden seems determined to stand up for the agency's conduct — and his own. In the press club speech, General Hayden recounted remarks he made to N.S.A. employees two days after the Sept. 11 attacks: "We are going to keep America free by making Americans feel safe again."

Maybe it's just me, but did anyone rationally feel unsafe after 11 September 2001?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Math is Fun!

"John Napier, a Scottish mathematician, physicist and astronomer, invented logarithms in 1614...logarithms-- that horror of high school algebra--were actually created to make our lives easier. So how did Napier's logarithms work?

"...using logs, multiplication simplifies into sums, division becomes subtraction, finding a square root turns into dividing by two, and figuring out a cube root becomes dividing by three. For example, to multiply 3.8 by 6.61, you look up the logarithms of those numbers in a table. There you will find 0.58 and 0.82. Add these together to get 1.4. Now go back to the table and find the number whose log is 1.4 to get a close approximation of the answer: 25.12. Begone ye slippery errors!

"Napier's invention revolutionized mathematics-- mathematicians adopted it immediately to speed their calculations. German astronomer Johannes Kepler used these modern logarithms to calculate the orbit of Mars at the start of the 17th century...but ready access to books of log tables was crucial to the procedure. So in 1620 mathematician Edmund Gunter of London marked a ruler with logarithms...(and) around 1622 William Oughtred, an Anglican minister in England, placed two sliding wooden logarithmic scales next to each other and created the first slide rule.

"...Napier went on to invent the decimal point...and to lay the groundwork for Isaac Newton's calculus."

Cliff Stoll, "When Slide Rules Ruled," Scientific American, May 2006, pp. 81-84

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Commodities Futures.

In today's excerpt, Oliver Wendell Holmes and the US Supreme Court decide the fate of commodity futures in the 1905 case Board of Trade v. Christie. The case was pivotal in the development of the radical notion that an idea is a legal entity in the same sense that a physical thing is--a development which has led to the huge, well established futures markets of contemporary finance. Farmers and commercial grain operators decried futures trading pits such as the one operated by Chicago Board of Trade and protested that...

"the man who managed or sold or owned the immense fields of wheat has not as much to say with regard to the price of wheat as some young fellow who stands howling around the Chicago wheat pit. (Charles) Pillsbury indicted futures trading--a new form of trade in commodities, such as 'September wheat,' which had not yet been grown when it was sold...Notably, in the trading 'pits'-- circumscribed spaces where buyers and sellers traded futures--commodities were exchanged without material things ever changing hands between buyer and seller...By 1890, futures trading had become the dominant mode of commodities exchange...

To critics, futures trading was 'unnatural,' 'deranged,' 'evil,' because it was detached from the 'selling of wheat actually in sight.' William F. Boyle of...the National Alliance of Farmers and Industrial Laborers said, 'Certainly no one can claim a right to sell that which he not only does not own, but never intends to acquire, and consequently never intends to deliver; for in that case he is selling that which nobody owns, and which, in the nature of things, has no real existence.'

...What made the court's tepid intervention noteworthy was that it distilled the fundamental conceptual problem of futures trading: were objects existing only in the minds of pit traders fictitious or as real as bushels of grain moving through the physical economy?

...It was, finally, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who decided the legitimacy of futures trading. In 1905, Holmes delivered the majority opinion...which declared futures trading not only legal but also desirable."

Jonathan Ira Levy, 'Contemplating Delivery: Futures Trading and the Problem of Commodity Exchange in the United States. 1875-1905,' The American Historical Review, April 2006, pp. 307-322

Two Termers

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

In NYC Today

In today's encore excerpt, we take a little extra space to note with great sadness the passing of Jane Jacobs, iconoclastic author of such works as the landmark Death and Life of Great American Cities and The Economy of Cities. Jacobs, in our view, was one of the great original thinkers of our age. who, according to architectural critic Inga Saffron 'almost single-handedly launched the movement to stop America's cities from being paved over by highways, housing towers and high-handed urban renewal projects. Written in 1961, Death and Life was a withering critique of the post-World War II planning establishment, which believed it could cure what ailed America's cities by replacing dense downtown neighborhoods with a monoculture of concrete public- housing towers. Mrs. Jacobs took the then-radical view that cities derived their richness from their natural, if sometimes scruffy, mix of people, buildings and commerce. Her observations were initially derided as the quaint musings of a simple housewife with no academic degree. It didn't help that she was a woman commenting on a largely male profession, or that she wore her hair in a childish page-boy with self-cut bangs and owlish glasses. But Mrs. Jacobs had her revenge. Her revolutionary ideas have been thoroughly absorbed into mainstream thinking, while her critics have been discredited with one public- housing implosion after another. A review in the New York Times grandly declared her book 'the most influential single work in the history of town planning' ':

"Great cities are not like towns, only larger. They are not like suburbs, only denser. They differ from towns and suburbs in basic ways, and one of these is that cities are, by definition, full of strangers. To any one person, strangers are far more common in big cities than acquaintances. More common not just in places of public assembly, but more common at a man’s own doorstep. Even residents who live near each other are strangers, and must be, because of the sheer number of people in small geographical compass...

So long as we are content to believe that city diversity (which equates with success) represents accident and chaos, of course its erratic generation appears to represent a mystery. However, the conditions that generate city diversity are quite easy to discover by observing places in which diversity flourishes and studying the economic reasons why it can flourish in these places...

To generate exuberant diversity in a a city’s streets and districts, four conditions are indispensable:

1. The district, and indeed as many of its internal parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two. These must insure the presence of people who go outdoors on different schedules and are in the place for different purposes, but who are able to use many facilities in common.

2. Most Blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.

3. The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones so that they vary in the economic yield they must produce. This mingling must be fairly close-grained.

4. There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purpose they maybe there. This includes dense concentration in the case of people who are there because of residence.

The purpose of explaining them (in this book) one at a time is purely for convenience of exposition, not because any one-or even any three- of these necessary conditions is valid alone. All four in combination are necessary to generate city diversity; the absence of any one of the four frustrates a district’s potential.

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Vintage Press, 1961, pp. 30, 150

Monday, May 01, 2006

Mission Accomplished