Saturday, February 28, 2009

Quotable

"I would like him to be in a solitary cell with a screen, and on that screen, for at least five years of his life, every day and every night there should be pictures of his victims, one after the other after the other, always saying 'Look, look what you have done to this poor lady, look what you have done to this child, look what you have done. Whatever is to hurt him, I think should be invented, because he deserves it"
--- Writer Elie Wiesel on swindler Bernard Madoff. From here.

What will you do?

One man's experience on meeting the man who coined phrases like 'known knowns and known unknowns': Don Rumsfield. Read full entry here.
On Thursday, February 26 I shared a bus stop with a major war criminal. Donald Rumsfeld was standing at my bus stop that morning as I waited to take my boy to school. I confronted him and couldn't control my anger. I had seen him once before walk by (his arm was in a sling then and he looked positively wizened, but this time he was hale and nattily dressed) but had been too flabbergasted to react. I wanted to be ready with something to say the next time, and had prepared myself, but couldn't stay on script past "You think you can show your face in public among decent people?". I became more vociferous and enraged the longer it went: mass murderer, traitor, torturer, rapist of children....In fact, from my first words, when I saw Rumsfeld don an impenetrable smirk I consciously took the tack of yelling and loudly indicating his presence to everyone else; I wanted to enlist their help (Aftewards it reminded me of the scene in "Marathon Man" where Olivier is accosted on the street). Dismayingly my gentle fellow citizens didn't intervene in any way, or were even outright hostile to me, although some people who witnessed the exchange from the bus comforted me afterwards, approvingly. Thankfully my kid was not overly disturbed, and seemed even cheerful after I explained that Rumsfeld is a wicked man who started a war, like Sauron or Saruman, but that he was not a danger to us. I'm frankly not positive about the latter assertion. Anyway, he did respond at a couple of points. One insidious tactic was to comment on my kid -- I don't remember his exact words, but it was something to the effect that he would be messed up by having such a crazy father (I believe he said, but am not sure, "That kid is going to have a rough life"), which bait I took and responded, "He has to learn the difference between good and evil."

An Iraqi man cries as he runs past a burning car destroyed during an air strike in Baghdad, March 26, 2003.  At least 15 burnt corpses lay in a popular residential area of Baghdad, apparently killed in a U.S.-led bombing or missile raid on the Iraqi capital on Wednesday, Reuters Television correspondents said.  An Iraqi Information Ministry official said a strike on a busy market area had caused "many, many casualties". Here

Fallout from the economic crisis

Another view from the economic fallout - this time from South east Asia:
While the crisis in the West centers on insolvent banks, home foreclosures and swelling unemployment, in Southeast Asia economists predict that one hallmark of the downturn will be the exodus of workers back to the family farm.
“It won’t take them long to lose their bellies,” said Samer Songserm, the 56-year-old wizened headman of this small village who has counted 10 unemployed workers returning from Bangkok over the past two months....
The crisis is still in its early stages in Southeast Asia. But as conditions worsen, as many economists and governments are forecasting, factory and construction workers, waiters in the fancy restaurants of Bangkok and the chambermaids in Jakarta’s hotels will have little choice but to return to their villages if they lose their jobs. Most countries in the region, including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Laos, do not have a national system of unemployment benefits...
Laid-off migrant workers in other parts of the world, notably in China, are also reportedly returning home. But one difference for workers in Southeast Asia is that they live in a very accommodating climate. “Somebody said to me the other day, ‘It’s better to be poor in a warm country than a cold country,’ ” said Jean-Pierre Verbiest, the country director of the Asian Development Bank in Thailand.

Taxing the rich - a viewpoint

Noticed on Andrew Sullivan's blog.
I came to this country and worked hard also.. and, like you, have been lucky enough to be successful.  This country is wonderful that way - if you work hard you have a good chance of being successful.  But many people work very, very hard and are not successful - and not because they are stupid, or lazy.  The difference between Obama and his predecessors is that he realizes that the people who work hard and don't make a lot of money, or work hard and don't have health insurance, or who worked hard all their lives and now - in their golden years- have little to show for it also deserve some minimum level of dignity. 
And yes, someone has to pay for it, and I'm happy for it to be me and people like me, because there for but for the grace of God.  It's not punishing the successful, it's realizing that hard work is only part of the equation and we as a society need to recognize our obligations to those people who have held up their part of the bargain but didn't end up on the winning side (and children get an automatic pass).

Power lines


Chronicles in clueless financial engineering

Mathematician David X. Li's 'Gaussian copula' function allowed financial engineers to model risks on securities and CDOs with faux ease and accuracy. A tale of clueless bankers and traders in financial firms following half baked math in their search for the lucre.

Li's copula function was used to price hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of CDOs filled with mortgages. And because the copula function used CDS prices to calculate correlation, it was forced to confine itself to looking at the period of time when those credit default swaps had been in existence: less than a decade, a period when house prices soared. Naturally, default correlations were very low in those years. But when the mortgage boom ended abruptly and home values started falling across the country, correlations soared. Bankers securitizing mortgages knew that their models were highly sensitive to house-price appreciation. If it ever turned negative on a national scale, a lot of bonds that had been rated triple-A, or risk-free, by copula-powered computer models would blow up. But no one was willing to stop the creation of CDOs, and the big investment banks happily kept on building more, drawing their correlation data from a period when real estate only went up.

Of course, one might ask - where is the good Dr. Li?

Li has been notably absent from the current debate over the causes of the crash. In fact, he is no longer even in the US. Last year, he moved to Beijing to head up the risk-management department of China International Capital Corporation.

Toon

From here.

Porn and political affiliations

Results from a new nationwide study of anonymised credit-card receipts from porn purchases online. It sure looks like hard core Republicans love their porn with the same tenacity with which they hold onto their Republican values...
- Eight of the top 10 pornography consuming states gave their electoral votes to John McCain in last year's presidential election – Florida and Hawaii were the exceptions. While six out of the lowest 10 favoured Barack Obama.
- Those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption, the study finds.
- Residents of 27 states that passed laws banning gay marriages boasted 11% more porn subscribers than states that don't explicitly restrict gay marriage.
- States where a majority of residents agreed with the statement "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage," bought 3.6 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed.
Full report here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Tribute

An illustrated eulogy to Lincoln...

Friday poem

Stages - A poem

When I was in my mother’s belly, they battered her stomach down
(they had wished for a boy and my mother said it was a girl)
When I was a toddler, they tried to kill me
(my father went into a rage the time I knocked over a vase)
When I was a child, they used a crude scissor at my clitoris
(it bled a lot, but the ceremony was successful)
When I turned a teenager, I was gang raped once
(I did complain, but the policeman did not believe me)
When I finally got married, I was raped again.
(this time at least it was within the confines of marriage)
When I had my first child - a girl, I was mildly tortured
(a year later, thank god; I was blessed with a son)
When I had grandchildren, my children would curse me
(my son bellowed about medical costs - thank god I was partly deaf)
Now I am have withered and wrinkled and am ready to go away
(thank you, lord - I am so ready).

Skies over Staten Island on a cold morning of 16 Feb 2009

The financial crisis and the public sector

As municipal revenues and state pension funds across the nation are slowly inching towards red, benefits offered to public sector employees may be threatened.

There are 22.5 million public-sector employees in the United States. The average state and local government employee now makes 46 percent more in combined salary and benefits than his private-sector counterpart does, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute—including 128 percent more on health care and 162 percent more on retirement benefits. Four out of five public-sector workers have lifetime pensions. Paying for such lavish treatment is difficult; in 2007, Credit Suisse estimated that state and local governments owed more than $1.5 trillion in unfunded health-care and non-pension benefits. Further, the market meltdown has erased $1 trillion from municipal pension funds, according to Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research.
New York City now spends an average of $107,000 for each of its 281,000 current employees—a whopping 63 percent increase since 2000. At the same time, its direct pension expenses each year have increased from $615 million to $5.6 billion. And New York isn’t alone. Forty states estimate that their liabilities for public-sector health-care and other benefits exceed $400 billion—more than their entire public debt, according to Standard and Poor’s. New Jersey has dug a particularly deep hole for itself. Its state pension fund lost half its value in 2008 but pays out $5.2 billion each year in benefits. “The state of New Jersey is insolvent,” writes bond analyst Mike Shedlock. “Bankrupt might be a better word.”

Stained glass artwork inside the 46th street Subway on the 7 line in Queens, New York City

Photo from Rocky

After a 150 years, The Rocky Mountain News closed today. I see this demise as a bellwether for the newspaper industry as a whole. The advent of the internet and more recently devices like the Kindle has changed the landscape around news collection and dissemination and casualties like this will only increase over the next decade. I especially fear for the New York Times and sincerely hope that they escape. Many people are of the opinion that even the Times may die a slow eventual death.

This Photo of Speer Boulevard, Denver CO in 1953 from
the Rocky Mountain News archives...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Toilet training

Now it looks like there is an environmental price to pay every time one uses toilet tissue. The Times reports that most Americans like super soft toilet tissue. We use an average of 23.6 rolls of toilet tissue per capita a year and only 2% of that is from recycled fibers. Although toilet tissue can be made at similar cost from recycled fibers, it is the fiber taken from standing trees that help give it that soft, silky feeling.

Although brands differ, 25 percent to 50 percent of the pulp used to make toilet paper in this country comes from tree farms in South America and the United States. The rest, environmental groups say, comes mostly from old, second-growth forests that serve as important absorbers of carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas linked to global warming. In addition, some of the pulp comes from the last virgin North American forests, which are an irreplaceable habitat for a variety of endangered species, environmental groups say. From here.
This is an option one might want to consider (I am sure there are many others...)

Soliloquy

Orwell describing the Chleuh people from his diary dated Jan 27, 1939.
The Chleuh seem to be rather remarkable people. The men are not greatly different in appearance from the Arabs, but the women are exceedingly striking. In general they are rather fair, sometimes fair enough to have red in their cheeks, with black hair and remarkable eyes. None are veiled, and all wear a cloth around their heads tied with blue or black cords, the dominant colours of their dress being red and blue. All the women have tattooing on their chins and sometimes down each cheek. Their manner is much less timid than that of most Arab women. Virtually the whole population is ragged and there is no evidence of any being richer than the others. The children for the most part have nothing on but a ragged blanket. Begging is almost universal, and the women have discovered that their jewellery (amber and rough silver, some of it exceedingly well worked) is liked by Europeans and will sell it for prices that cannot be much above the value of the silver. The children beg as soon as they can walk and will follow for miles over mountain tracks in hopes of a sou. Tobacco is greatly appreciated by those who do smoke, but I notice that a great many do not, and none of the women. Children beg for bread and are glad to get it. Nevertheless it is difficult to be certain about the real amount of poverty. Probably there is no actual destitution, at any rate no one is homeless or quite propertyless. I notice under the walnut trees quantities of nuts which have been left to rot, which does not suggest serious hunger. But evidently everyone’s life is at a low level. In some parts of the mountains carpets, leatherwork etc. are made. Near Taddert the chief trade apart from agriculture seems to be charcoal-burning. The people can of course get good wood (mostly oak) free, though possibly the Gov.t will interfere with this later, and they cook it in exceedingly primitive earth ovens and sell it at Frs. 12 for a large sack (about Frs. 35 in Marrakech.) Local physique is pretty good, though the people are not particularly large or very athletic in appearance. All walk well, and the women easily walk up steep hillsides carrying very large bundles of wood or a three-gallon stone jar of water. Apart from their own Berber dialect all speak Arabic, but few or none French. A few have reddish hair. There seems to be a Jew or two in most of the villages, not easily distinguishable from the rest of the population.
Graveyards not quite the same as the Arab ones, though the people are Mahomedans. The graveyard is generally a patch of good grass and the cattle browse among the graves. Owing to plentiful stone the graves are generally covered with a cairn, not a mere mound of earth, as here, but they have no names or other indications of individuals. Judging from a few that had fallen in, it seems usual to make the grave as a kind of cave with flat slabs of rock, and then cover this over, originally perhaps as a protection against wild animals. Some of the graves are immensely long, 8 or 10 feet. I saw one funeral. It was done in the usual way by a party of friends, one of whom kept up a rather perfunctory kind of wailing.
Place Jemâa el Fna in Marrakesh. Image from here.

Living off other people's taxes

The Governor of Louisiana Mr. Piyush Jindal gave some cockamamie talk about fiscal restraint a couple of days back in what was billed as a rebuttal of President Obama's speech to the Congress. However, he needs to keep the following in mind as he goes about his duties...
Louisiana has gotten $130 billion in post-Katrina aid. How is it that the stars of the Republican austerity movement come from the states that suck up the most federal money? Taxpayers in New York send way more to Washington than they get back so more can go to places like Alaska and Louisiana. Which is fine, as long as we don’t have to hear their governors bragging about how the folks who elected them want to keep their tax money to themselves. Of course they do! That’s because they’re living off ours. From here.
When other states live off our taxes, one might expect the governors of those states to at least filter the seemingly random thoughts that seem to float into their minds and finding an outlet through their mouths.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wednesday photo

Evening of September 21 08', Butterfly Park, NJ.

Nihilist conservatism

David Brooks on Piyush Jindal's rebuttal of Obama's speech last night.

I think Bobby Jindal is a very promising politician, and I opposed the stimulus package - I thought it was poorly drafted - but to come up at this moment in history with a stale, "government is the problem...we can't trust the government"...it's just a disaster for the Republican Party. The country is in a panic, now. They may not like the way the Congress passed the stimulus bill. The idea that government is going to have no role in this...in a moment where only the Federal government is big enough to do stuff...to just ignore all that and say government's the problem...corruption, earmarks, wasteful spending - it's just a form of nihilism. It's just not where the country is, it's not where the future of the country is. There's an intra-Republican debate: some people say the Republican party lost its way because it got too moderate, some people say they got too weird or too conservative. He thinks they got too moderate, and he's making that case. I think it's insane. I think it's a disaster for the party. I just think it's unfortunate right now. (via HuffPo)

So true...

From the March 2nd, 2009 issue of the New Yorker.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Comment on a recent incident of domestic abuse

Recently, a Muslim man committed a 'honor killing' in upstate New York. The method chosen to dispose of his victim, his wife, was death by beheading.
A prominent Muslim cleric Imam Shaykh Hamza Yusuf has spoken out against such killings (see video here) and is rightly shining a light on domestic abuse amongst minority groups across America. I am glad. However, it irks me that he nonchalantly refers and compares to incidents of domestic abuse in Jewish and Christians families in the following words while making the case that domestic abuse is prevalent across many religious denominations:

If a Christian beats his wife up, it's not Christian violence, if a Jew beats his wife up (from what the statistics show, it does not happen very often), but if they do then it is not Jewish violence - if a Muslim should do something to his wife, suddenly it has something to do with the religion of Islam.
Dear Mr. Hamza Yusuf, there definitely is a difference between beating and beheading. I really do not remember the last time we saw the words 'domestic abuse' and 'beheading' used in the same sentence and the latter being used as a vehicle to propagate the former. Yes, speaking out against domestic abuse is a good and a much needed thing, but comparing beating and beheading are poles apart...

Chart Porn

Chart compares bear markets from the Depression to now. Sourced from here.

Given the ferocity of decline above, I am not sure if the honorable Dr. Bernanke is sifting the tea leaves appropriately when he makes statement like this...
From here: “If actions taken by the administration, the Congress, and the Federal Reserve are successful in restoring some measure of financial stability -- and only if that is the case, in my view - - there is a reasonable prospect that the current recession will end in 2009 and that 2010 will be a year of recovery”.

Swat Sharia

A short documentary profiling an 11-year-old Pakistani girl on the last day before the Taliban close down her school in the Swat valley, once known as the "Switzerland of Pakistan".

It is poignant yet powerful. Made me feel helpless.

Now might be a good time for noneconomic policy changes

Someone recently said that moments of crisis present the best opportunities to foster fundamental shifts in national policy. Of course, with trillions of dollars down the hole for the stimulus and other associated bailouts it may not be the greatest time to think about policy changes that involve dollar bills. But, it might be a good time to think about non-economic policy changes.
Four ideas from here: Take tax simplification. Every president since John F. Kennedy promised to simplify the tax code, and the only one to do it even partially was Ronald Reagan, in 1986. Since Reagan, though, the code has gradually become at least as corrupt and illogical as it ever was. The main defenders of the ridiculous complexity of our tax code are lobbyists and the wealthy special interests that employ them. Yet in the current crisis, the need for efficient and fair tax collection that increases revenues and makes cheating much harder may simply become too powerful to ignore.
Or marijuana decriminalization. Putting nonviolent pot smokers behind bars at more than $30,000 a year, spending billions on law enforcement, drug interdiction and crop eradication, and missing out on billions in tax revenue make even less sense when the government, at the state and federal level, is essentially broke.
Or take even more obscure issues, like accurately defining poverty. For 40 years, the official poverty rate has gravely underestimated and mismeasured poverty. Yet no president has had the courage to order the bureaucracy to fix it, because it would mean the number of poor Americans would immediately double. What better time than now to accurately measure poverty, since the numbers of the impoverished may well double anyway?
And then there’s entitlement reform, the so-called third rail in American politics. George W. Bush made Social Security reform the top domestic priority of his second term and got nowhere. President Barack Obama should have better luck, in part because the mood in this crisis will shake up the established order.

Obama over-promising or taking care of business?

David Brooks thinks that the Obama administration may be taking on more than they can handle as they are trying to fix multiple problems all at once (bank bailouts, homeowner bailout, financial system bailout, bailing out a dropping DOW, education reform, universal health-care etc. etc)...
I fear that in trying to do everything at once, they will do nothing well. I fear that we have a group of people who haven’t even learned to use their new phone system trying to redesign half the U.S. economy. I fear they are going to try to undertake the biggest administrative challenge in American history while refusing to hire the people who can help the most: agency veterans who are registered lobbyists. I worry that we’re operating far beyond our economic knowledge. Every time the administration releases an initiative, I read 20 different economists with 20 different opinions. I worry that we lack the political structures to regain fiscal control. Deficits are exploding, and the president clearly wants to restrain them. But there’s no evidence that Democrats and Republicans in Congress have the courage or the mutual trust required to share the blame when taxes have to rise and benefits have to be cut. All in all, I can see why the markets are nervous and dropping. And it’s also clear that we’re on the cusp of the biggest political experiment of our lifetimes.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Three pictures



Caught the eye

As the movie Slumdog Millionaire made the rounds last night at the Oscars, labourers worked at a brick factory in an Indian village. Here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Are the Oscars relevant any more?

From here: The Academy Awards are generally perceived and promoted as an imprimatur of quality, the film industry's way of stamping their finest product Grade-A. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Oscars are in fact a popularity contest designed not to award good movies but movies that make the film industry look good. The mission is public relations, and it is as old as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences itself. The difference is that what was once an intentional directive has been absorbed into the subconscious of Academy voters and the culture at large. We're better people for making these movies, these awards say, and you'll be better for watching them.
...
Ultimately, Oscar means nothing more than what sort of statement voters want to make at the instant they fill out their ballots. Rather than a standard of eternal cinematic excellence, the awards are a snapshot of a cultural millisecond - a reflection, not a summation, of the pop moment. They say everything about how Hollywood sees the world and very little about the movies they're meant to honor.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Indian polity

Elections in the worlds largest democracy is just 100 days away and the mood is tepid... Is it because Indians are so used to a democratic transfer of power that it has become a rite of passage or does it herald a settled belief on the part of the voters that Indian political institutions have become dysfunctional?
From here: The most intriguing feature of the forthcoming general election, due barely 100 days from now, is the apparent absence of headiness. Yes, there is lobbying for tickets and countless strategy sessions in Lutyens' Delhi, the predictable sparring between party spokespersons, the endless alignments and re-alignments, and even the odd padyatras and public meetings. However, the contrived 'mass movements' and emotional pumping that preceded some recent elections are absent. This passivity doesn't stem from the lack of issues which excite voters but despite an overload of concerns. For now, the political class is conveying the impression that a general election is something that India has learnt to take in its stride, without getting too hyper about it. Whether this appearance of a phoney war signals the healthy evolution of democratic culture or is an indication of the growing disenchantment with politics and politicians, is best left to scholars to assess. What seems clear though is that future historians may not view the coming festival of democracy as a defining landmark - a time when Indians break the existing mould of political alignments. Regardless of the verdict or even the lack of one, the campaign seems set to be lacklustre, even a bit of a bore.

Silver linings in a recession

From here: Recessions and depressions are brutal beasts that stalk the stragglers, especially retirees and the poor. There is too much inherent suffering during a recession to ever welcome it. But times of economic stress, it appears, can also be times of cultural renewal. "One reasonable hypothesis," argues James Q. Wilson, "is that the Depression pulled families together, and this cohesion inhibited crime." Many Americans who struggled through the Depression adopted a set of moral and economic habits such as thrift, family commitment, savings and modest consumption that lasted through their lifetimes -- and that have decayed in our own. The Depression generation controlled the things it could control -- including its own consumption and character.
We see hints of this type of reaction to our current recession, which has such clearly moral causes -- the burst of a bubble inflated by irresponsible debt, consumerism and unaccountable risk-taking. During an economic crisis, Americans return to a language of morality. Perhaps excess and recklessness are vices that deserve social stigma. Perhaps frugality and prudence are personal virtues as well as practices that prevent economic collapse. Perhaps there is a distinction between securing our needs and being dominated by our wants.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Recent pictures




We need more of this...

"At a time when millions of Americans are losing their jobs, their homes and their health care, it is appalling that more than 50,000 of the wealthiest among us have actively sought to evade their civic and legal duty to pay taxes” (From here)
- John A. DiCicco, acting assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s tax division after the U.S. government sued UBS AG, Switzerland’s largest bank, to try to force disclosure of the identities of as many as 52,000 U.S. customers with secret Swiss accounts.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wednesday Poem

Someone
is heading home from a dreadful day
is not living the dream like his friends
needs a brain transplant. D-day: 9 days
is worried (going to be talking live on radio on Thursday!!!)
has a million better things to do
is back in the studio and is all alone
has an awesome new haircut!
knows too many wrong people
is contemplating the buds on her epiphyte with smug satisfaction
is overwhelmed by that story last night
is having crazy hot sex with a black girl
is thankful to the org
has no health insurance and just chipped my tooth
thinks death is a process of dis-assembly
is gonna eat her third mint chocolate chip ice cream
is tired of only being happy in her dreams
is waiting to leave for the bahamasssss.
just remembered why she loves the university
is sick and is not faking it this time
is at work and feels like a cyborg
is tired of pleasuring himself
refuses to get serious while she finally is
has a new shadow. The old one wasn't doing what I was!
is stuffed from the weekend
just got a secret new shiny toy
misses that young girl from the Hamptons
secretly tried a MAO inhibitor in combination with you know what
is planning to run away… far, far away
is finally broke but ordered a complete set of Harry Potter books
is planning on drugging The One
is questioning authority
is drinking Guinness and smoking a Bolivar
is in Thailand chugging away
is with all of her best friends for the weekendddddd!!!
is getting ready to go to work
is on her way to spainn!!!
is staring at expensive cuff links wondering…
is loving spring amidst the failing grades
is going to fuck, fuck, fuck all night long
got drunk with old people who farted occasionally
would like to take lessons in sewing
is looking forward to his new job in a new place
is going to miss his hometown and all his friends

Aiding inner ruthlessness

Results from a recent experiment that studied body language of students from various socio-economic strata interacting with one another. The students did not know each other before the experiment.
Students from a higher socio- economic background were more likely to be rude during the silence. They would doodle, fidget or start grooming themselves. Less-privileged students made far more effort to engage with the other person, making “I’m interested” signals such as laughing or raising eyebrows. In short, the richer people were a lot ruder, while the poor were a lot more polite. The richer you are, the less reliant you are on other people. It doesn’t matter much what others think of you, since you are unlikely to be asking them for a favor any time soon. And yet while the rich may be rude because they are wealthy, it is just as likely to be the other way around. Just as plausibly, they are wealthy because they are rude. Carnegie and other self-help writers have missed the point the last few decades. Getting ahead in life isn’t about making people like you. It is about getting them to serve your interests and success depends, more than anything, on an inner ruthlessness.
Read full paper here:

Factoid

  • Average pain rating, on a scale of 1 to 7, given by study participants to a shock they believed to be unintentional: 3.0
  • Average rating they assigned the same shock when they believed it to be intentional: 3.6
Source: Harpers Index

Quotable

"Indian Muslims are proud of being both Indian and Muslim, and the Mumbai terrorism was a war against both India and Islam. Terrorism has no place in Islamic doctrine. The Koranic term for the killing of innocents is 'fasad.' Terrorists are fasadis, not jihadis. In a beautiful verse, the Koran says that the killing of an innocent is akin to slaying the whole community. Since the ... terrorists were neither Indian nor true Muslims, they had no right to an Islamic burial in an Indian Muslim cemetery."
- M.J. Akbar, the Indian-Muslim editor of Covert, an Indian investigative journal. From here.

Photographer Margaret Bourke-White captures a caravan of Muslim Indians fleeing from east to west Punjab escaping Sikh mobs, slowly streaming past the dead of a previous caravan & the whitened bones of their buffaloes & bullocks, India, April 20, 1945. From Life archives here.

Stimulus rant

Noticed in 'letters to the editor' section of the Times today in response to the partisan passage of the stimulus package that President Obama signed into law yesterday. Most of the Republican lawmakers were against any form of stimulus in its current form.
What the country is experiencing right now is nothing short of an economic Katrina. The Republicans’ response has been eerily familiar: first, to pretend it wasn’t happening; then, to do nothing as homes and ways of life were lost; and finally, to congratulate themselves on having done a “heckuva job” in dealing with it. The Republican leaders currently clapping themselves on the back right now over their near unanimous opposition to the stimulus bill might want to think twice about it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Question

Why do some people resort to beheading as a preferred form of violence?
From here: Muzzammil Hassan, founder of a US based Muslim TV network beheaded his wife Aasiya Hassan after she had recently filed for divorce, alleging domestic violence. Ironically, Bridges TV was founded by him with an aim to countering stereotypes of Muslims.

Origins of Hatred

"I threw myself toward a leg. I would bite it to the bone, anything to stop these men hurting Mamma. But as I sank my teeth into the soft flesh, I felt a hand tighten around the back of my neck. I was dragged to my feet. The hand was so strong, so powerful. I couldn't move, couldn't hear. It felt as if a giant were swinging me through the air in his fingers. I wanted to breathe but my throat was too tight. I could not take in any air. Looking down, I felt a wet stain spread across the front of my shorts as darkness exploded in my eyes. Everything went black.
Looking back, I can see that the seed of hatred was sown inside me that day. Until then I hadn't understood what was happening around me - why the people called Arabs seemed to hate people like my family, why they were richer than us, why police beat men and women on the street, or why Mamma was so silent and sad most of the time. But the day an Arab raised his hand to my mother was the day that set me on a path to hatred. I was too young to give the feeling a name, but each time I thought of what the man and his kind had done, I felt my stomach twist and my heart beat faster."
From a book that recounts Emmanuel Jal's life-story as a seven year old boy in Sudan growing up amidst the civil war that claimed most of his family. Before succeeding as a rapper in the UK, he would fight as a child soldier in the Christian Sudanese Liberation Army. Review of the book in WaPo here.

Desert Arabs (1875). From the New York Public Library’s public photo collection.

Weekend pictures




Sunday, February 15, 2009

Death defying logic....

From an essay here:
How are we to cultivate the wisdom necessary to confront death? Montaigne trained for the end by keeping death “continually present, not merely in my imagination, but in my mouth.” Spinoza went to the contrary extreme, declaring, “A free man thinks least of all of death.” The idea that death is not such a bad thing may be liberating, but is it true? Ancient philosophers tended to think so, and Critchley (along with Hume) finds their attitude congenial. He writes, “The philosopher looks death in the face and has the strength to say that it is nothing.”
There are three classic arguments, all derived from Epicurus and his follower Lucretius, that it is irrational to fear death. If death is annihilation, the first one goes, then there are no nasty post-death experiences to worry about. As Epicurus put it, where death is, I am not; where I am, death is not. The second says it does not matter whether you die young or old, for in either case you’ll be dead for an eternity. The third points out that your nonexistence after your death is merely the mirror image of your nonexistence before your birth. Why should you be any more disturbed by the one than by the other?

Unfortunately, all three are pretty lousy. The American philosopher Thomas Nagel, in his 1970 essay “Death,” showed what was wrong with the first. Just because you don’t experience something as nasty, or indeed experience it at all, doesn’t mean it’s not bad for you. Suppose, Nagel says, an intelligent person has a brain injury that reduces him to the mental condition of a contented baby. Certainly this would be a grave misfortune for the person. Then is not the same true for death, where the loss is still more severe?
The second argument is just as poor. It implies that John Keats’s demise at 25 was no more unfortunate than Tolstoy’s at 82, since both will be dead for an eternity anyway. The odd thing about this argument, as the (dead) English philosopher Bernard Williams noticed, is that it contradicts the first one. True, the amount of time you’re around to enjoy the goods of life doesn’t mathematically reduce the eternity of your death. But the amount of time you’re dead matters only if there’s something undesirable about being dead.
The third argument, that your posthumous nonexistence is no more to be feared than your prenatal nonexistence, also fails. As Nagel observed, there is an important asymmetry between the two abysses that temporally flank your life. The time after you die is time of which your death deprives you. You might have lived longer. But you could not possibly have existed in the time before your birth. Had you been conceived earlier than you actually were, you would have had a different genetic identity. In other words, you would not be you.

Sex, lies and testimony at Gitmo...

The 'credit card swipe' and other forms of torture at Guantanamo. Full testimony of Army Private Brandon Neely as he recounts his days there.
So an escorting MP would pull the detainee's pants down and the doctor would instruct the detainee to lean over the table. Then, with a surgical glove on his hand, the doctor shoved his finger in the rectum of the detainee. Both times I witnessed this I never once saw any kind of lubrication used; they did not use the lube that was on the table to perform this. This exam was not done in any gentle manner whatsoever. It seemed to me that the doctor just reached back and shoved his finger as hard as he could in the rectum of the detainee. I witnessed this twice with my own eyes (at this time I was working blocks more). But I heard it talked about many times from other soldiers. Even when I was not witness to these exams, but was still within earshot of the tent they were performed in, I could hear the detainees scream and cry out during the exam. I even remember one detainee coming out of the tent after this looking like he was in tears. I know through talking with other people who witnessed this that the doctor would make little smart comments before he did the exam like "this won't hurt; it will only take a minute," in a very sarcastic manner. And that sometimes the doctor would even be laughing.

Also, each detainee was searched when he left his cage and when he returned to his cage. In the process of searching or patting-down the detainee we were taught a technique which we called the "credit card swipe". You would take your hand put all your fingers straight together and go straight up the backside of a person. If this was done the correct way just a quick swipe it really was no big deal, but some people took it to the extreme, and would do it so hard--in effect just hitting the detainee in the private area to cause pain.
Via Harpers

Chart porn

Percentage in various religious groups who agree that evolution is the best explanation for the origin of life on earth...

via Andrew Sullivan. Full article on religion/evolution here.

Art Talk

Looks like the recession is good for the artworld - quality finally seems to be gaining an upper hand over quantity (and mediocrity).
From here: It’s day-job time again in America, and that’s O.K. Artists have always had them — van Gogh the preacher, Pollock the busboy, Henry Darger the janitor — and will again. The trick is to try to make them an energy source, not a chore. At the same time, if the example of past crises holds true, artists can also take over the factory, make the art industry their own. Collectively and individually they can customize the machinery, alter the modes of distribution, adjust the rate of production to allow for organic growth, for shifts in purpose and direction. They can daydream and concentrate. They can make nothing for a while, or make something and make it wrong, and fail in peace, and start again.
Art schools can change too. The present goal of studio programs (and of ever more specialized art history programs) seems to be to narrow talent to a sharp point that can push its way aggressively into the competitive arena. But with markets uncertain, possibly nonexistent, why not relax this mode, open up education? Why not make studio training an interdisciplinary experience, crossing over into sociology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, poetry and theology? Why not build into your graduate program a work-study semester that takes students out of the art world entirely and places them in hospitals, schools and prisons, sometimes in-extremis environments, i.e. real life? My guess is that if you did, American art would look very different than it does today.
Such changes would require new ways of thinking and writing about art, so critics will need to go back to school, miss a few parties and hit the books and the Internet. Debate about a “crisis in criticism” gets batted around the art world periodically, suggesting nostalgia for old-style traffic-cop tastemakers like Clement Greenberg who invented movements and managed careers. But if there is a crisis, it is not a crisis of power; it’s a crisis of knowledge. Simply put, we don’t know enough, about the past or about any cultures other than our own.

Reading

James Howard Kunstler talking to Ben McGrath about our incipient flimsiness and unapologetic cosumerism..
"Look at those stupid mangy little shutters and those horrible windows, and the horrible steel railings and those ridiculous pilasters. Everything about it is just so cheap. And the thing that amazes me is that this is the stuff that we built in the most confident and flush period of our history, in the sixties, when you know, we were basically ruling the world!" Further along, we came across a faux-Georgian bank, which he said was "basically fabricated out of the cheapest shit you could possibly get, stuck onto a brick box. Except that it is not even a brick box. It's an aluminum-frame box with a brick veneer, meant to visually get across a cartoon idea that this is a plantation house, and therefore a dignified building - you know with a dignified activity, banking, going on". 

From his blog: The attempt to restart "consumerism" will be equally disappointing. It was a manifestation of the short peak energy decades of history, and now that we're past peak energy, it's over. That seventy percent of the economy is over, especially the part that allowed people to buy stuff with no money. From now on people will have to buy stuff with money they earn and save, and they will be buying a lot less stuff. For a while, a lot of stuff will circulate through the yard sales and Craigslist, and some resourceful people will get busy fixing broken stuff that still has value. But the other infrastructure of shopping is toast, especially the malls, the strip malls, the real estate investment trusts that own it all, many of the banks that lent money to the REITs, the chain-stores and chain eateries, of course, and, alas, the non-chain mom-and-pop boutiques in these highway-oriented venues.
Fritz Scholder, Purgatory, 1996, Acrylic, oil and collage on canvas, Collection of the estate of Fritz Scholder.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Viewpoint

An individuals fascination with American literature:
Why are we so fascinated with US literature? It can't just be that Americans are better at fiction than everyone else. After all, writing isn't swimming or professional basketball, is it?
The reasons, I suppose, are ones of personal taste and individual prejudice. The fact is, I prefer American English: I like the way it sounds; its rhythms and its cadences. Give me a diner over a café, a sidewalk over a pavement, a bar over a pub and definitely a gas station over a petrol forecourt. Take that "gas station", for example. Because of its sibilance, it's almost as though you can hear someone inflating their tyres. Not only that, but when I read those words, I have a very exact picture in my mind. Compare these two sentences:

Mary fills up at the gas station, then drives her Chevy Impala to Roy's Diner.

Mary fills up at the petrol station, then drives her Nissan Micra to Roy's Rolls.

The first could be the beginning of a heartbreaking tale of small-town American disappointment; the second a script instruction from Coronation Street. A petrol station is functional, a place to pick up charcoal briquettes and wilting cellophane-wrapped flowers; a gas station is a place to pick up a packet of smokes and a hitchhiker with a gun in his waistband.
American fiction fascinates because of the country it seeks to depict: its vastness, its extremes of landscape and temperatures, its hundreds of races, its gulfs between wealth and poverty. When permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy Horace Engdahl called American fiction "insular" he was right: when you've got so many stories to tell at home, why would you look abroad?
via the bookslut

Saturday Poem

A poem by Elizabeth I (1533 - 1603) from Lovers Laments in Slate

When I was fair and young then favour graced me.
Of many was I sought their mistress for to be.
But I did scorn them all, and answered them therefore:
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more.

How many weeping eyes I made to pine in woe,
How many sighing hearts I have no skill to show,
Yet I the prouder grew, and answered them therefore:
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more.

Then spake fair Venus' son, that proud victorious boy,
And said, you dainty dame, since that you be so coy,
I will so pluck your plumes that you shall say no more:
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more.

When he had spake these words such change grew in my breast
That neither night nor day I could take any rest.
Then, lo! I did repent, that I had said before
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more.

Finally!

From here: The stimulus package Congress passed last night imposes new limits on executive compensation that could significantly curb multimillion dollar pay packages on Wall Street and goes much further than restrictions proposed by the Obama administration last week.The bill, which President Obama is expected to sign into law next week, limits bonuses for executives at all financial institutions receiving government funds to no more than a third of their annual compensation. The bonuses must be paid in company stock that can be redeemed only when the government investment has been repaid. With the measure, lawmakers seek to address public outrage over extravagant Wall Street paydays even as taxpayers bail out the industry. Unlike the rules issued by the White House, the limits in the stimulus bill would apply to top executives and the highest-paid employees at all 359 banks that have already received government aid.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Waiter, there is a fly...

From a FDA booklet describing levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods that present no health hazards for humans (published by F.D.A.’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition).
From here: Tomato juice, for example, may average “10 or more fly eggs per 100 grams [the equivalent of a small juice glass] or five or more fly eggs and one or more maggots.” Tomato paste and other pizza sauces are allowed a denser infestation — 30 or more fly eggs per 100 grams or 15 or more fly eggs and one or more maggots per 100 grams.
Canned mushrooms may have “over 20 or more maggots of any size per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid” or “five or more maggots two millimeters or longer per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid” or an “average of 75 mites”
Curry powder is allowed 100 or more bug bits per 25 grams; ground thyme up to 925 insect fragments per 10 grams; ground pepper up to 475 insect parts per 50 grams. One small shaker of cinnamon could have more than 20 rodent hairs before being considered defective.
Here is the kicker:
You’re probably ingesting one to two pounds of flies, maggots and mites each year without knowing it...

Image: I took this picture of Andy falling into a Campbell soupcan at a recent exhibition on a visit to Chelsea.

Appropriation in the arts - the adventure continues

From here: Damien Hirst's work has been being 'ripped off' by a group of artists who want to make a point about the multimillionaire's stringent use of copyright law. Their action follows Hirst's decision to threaten to sue a 16-year-old designer who used an image of the skull in a collage to sell on the internet.

'For the Love of Disruptive Strategies and Utopian Visions in Contemporary Art and Culture No.2'. An exact copy of Cartrain's collage, painstakingly recreated and improved by James Cauty from random pixels found on the interweb. 30.5cm x 42cm giclee (inkjet) print on enhanced matt art paper. Numbered Edition of 13. Signed with a very poor imitation of Cartrain's signature in silver ink on the front and by the real artist on the back. To see all of the works offered for sale go here.

Also of note is the recent news of Shepard Fairey, a street artist famous for his red, white and blue "Hope" posters of President Obama being arrested last week on warrants accusing him of tagging property with graffiti.

A lot of my works involve appropriation from existing photographs to create paintings. It is interesting to see how the case against Shepard Fairey and the action taken by the artists against Damien Hirst will unravel.

The essay "The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism" by Jonathan Lethem is a classic in this realm as are works by Joy Garnett.

More on appropriation in the arts in this blog can be found here and here.

Digital work

A combination of decoupage, photography and digital trimming.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Chronicles in the lives of clueless investment bankers

I wish more senators felt like this towards the goons from Wall Street pontificating on the Hill yesterday.. That was House Representative Michael E. Capuano representing the 8th Congressional district of Massachusetts. Loved him!



I found this factoid on his webpage: Over the course of Bush's presidency, the public debt increased by $4.9 trillion or about $19,000 per second!

Inconvenient truths showing that Wall Street Journal lies!

The next time you read the excreta printed on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, try to keep this timely piece on obfuscation in mind. (via Andrew Sullivan).

Quotable

I thank God, I shall never again visit a slave country. To this day, if I hear a distant scream, it recalls with painful vividness my feelings, when passing a house near Pernambuco, Brazil, I heard the most pitiful screams, and could not suspect that some poor slave was being tortured.... Near Rio de Janeiro I lived opposite to an old lady, who kept screws to crush the fingers of her female slaves. I have stayed in a house where a young household mulatto, daily and hourly, was reviled, beaten and persecuted enough to break the spirit of the lowest animal .... I have seen a boy, six or seven years old, struck thrice with a horse whip (before I could interfere) on his naked head, for having handed me a glass of water not quite clean. It makes one’s blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty.
From Charles Darwin's journals here:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Junk sex and Junk Food - the connections

Mary Eberstadt's long but interesting argument that food IS the new sex (she also brings out some surprising similarities between Pornography (junk sex) and Junk Food...)
Pornography is the single most viewed subject online, by men anyway; it is increasingly a significant factor in divorce cases; and it is resulting in any number of cottage industries, from the fields of therapy to law to academia, as society’s leading cultural institutions strive to measure and cope with its impact. This junk sex shares all the defining features of junk food. It is produced and consumed by people who do not know one another. It is disdained by those who believe they have access to more authentic experience or “healthier” options. Internet pornography is further widely said — right now, in its relatively early years — to be harmless, much as few people thought little of the ills to come through convenient prepared food when it first appeared; and evidence is also beginning to emerge about compulsive pornography consumption, as it did slowly but surely in the case of compulsive packaged food consumption, that this laissez-faire judgment is wrong. This brings us to another similarity between junk sex and junk food: People are furtive about both, and many feel guilty about their pursuit and indulgence of each. And those who consume large amounts of both are also typically self-deceptive, too: i.e., they underestimate just how much they do it and deny its ill effects on the rest of their lives. In sum, to compare junk food to junk sex is to realize that they have become virtually interchangeable vices — even if many people who do not put “sex” in the category of vice will readily do so with food.

Image ripped from here.

The real picture

Slumdog Millionaire, has provoked some unusually strong criticism from the average Mumbaikar. They feel that the portrayal of India(n's) in the film is downright degrading and the storyline projects an India whose cup is half empty. Sadanand Dhume on OutlookIndia.com has a different perspective.
Notwithstanding the giant strides made over the past 18 years, Indian criticism of Slumdog also reveals the chasm between the country’s self-perception and projection and any reasonable measure of its achievements. India may boast homegrown programs in space exploration and nuclear power, but -- as a first time visitor to India immediately notices and as the film mercilessly reveals -- it also struggles to provide its people with electricity, sanitation and drinking water. About half of Indian women are illiterate, a higher percentage than in Laos, Cambodia or Myanmar. It is at number 122 -- between Nepal and Lesotho -- on the World Bank index that measures ease of doing business, and 85 on the global corruption index maintained by the anti-graft NGO Transparency International. To put it bluntly, the squalor of the slums depicted in Slumdog is closer to reality than an elaborately choreographed Bollywood dance sequence shot on location in Switzerland.

An individual seems to be taking a leisurly open air leak at one of the numerous communally sanctioned open air garbage dumping spots around the city of Bangalore. I took this picture during a recent visit to India.

Novel solution for sexual offenders

Especially for the ones that harm children. Cruel and dastardly solution, but effective. Of course, getting anything like this rule even remotely near the lawmakers is a non starter here in the United States. The Czechs have better checks on this account...
A doctor makes an incision in a man's scrotal sack and, deftly wielding his scalpel, quickly removes both testicles. In the Czech Republic that simple operation is the punishment for male sex offenders. But to the Council of Europe, the region's leading human rights body, the procedure is "invasive, irreversible and mutilating." In a report issued last week the Council called the punishment "degrading" and demanded it be scrapped immediately. Over the past decade, at least 94 prisoners have undergone the treatment in the Czech Republic, the only country in Europe to continue to surgically castrate sex offenders. The Czech government insists the procedure is a medical issue, permanently reducing testosterone levels to lower an offender's sexual urges. (More here)

Fallouts from a gilded age

An opinion on Bloomberg indicating that banker salaries will fall by 50%...
It is now obvious that a lot of the financial innovation of the last decade was a waste of everyone’s time and energy. We didn’t need all that complexity: It certainly didn’t make the world economy run any more smoothly. This past decade was the best time to be a banker. Yet the one thing we know for certain is that markets get back to normal over time. If oil is trading at $140 a barrel, it’s probably going to fall in price. If gold is trading at $200 an ounce, it will probably rise. And if bankers are paid 40 percent more than their long-term average, then -- well, you get the idea.
The era of light-touch regulation is over. State-run banks will be tightly controlled by their new shareholders. Even the banks that need no taxpayer bailout will find the authorities keeping an eye on them. We are only at the start of that process. In all likelihood, the regulations will get heavier and heavier, leaving little room for innovation because the last thing anyone wants right now is an elaborate piece of financial engineering. Yet if bankers are just doing dull familiar things in a dull familiar way, they can’t expect to be paid very well. Investment banking won’t disappear. But the compliance officer and the corporate social-responsibility executive are suddenly the most important people in the office. And that will make it a quieter, less dynamic and less profitable profession.
To get back to their sustainable long-term level, salaries will need to fall 40 percent. But, as any trader will tell you, markets always overshoot, both on the way up and the way down. So, in reality, a 50 percent drop seems more likely.

Pink undies as gifts

A group of Indian women named The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women are planning on sending a shipment of pink women’s underwear tomorrow (Valentine's day) in protest to the offices of Sri Ram Sena (a conservative Hindu group that advocates among other things, that women not frequent pubs as often). A conservative viewpoint on this otherwise novel protest. Link via Sandeep.

From here: The issue really isn’t one of culture and tradition, which are far too complex for those who look askance at responsible behaviour to comprehend, but the manner in which they view others who may refuse to embrace or applaud their lifestyle. It is also to do with perverse notions of ‘modernism’ and assertion of perverted ‘modernity’. For instance, The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women — this Facebook group also has men as its members — would consider women who don’t consume alcoholic beverages or smoke cigarettes, wear saris and are not necessarily long-suffering wives who spend their lives as home-makers but in building successful careers, as ‘backward’.
They would view working women who travel in over-crowded buses and commuter trains and return home in the evening too tired to contemplate a night out on the tiles, or those who contribute to the family kitty to keep the home fire burning and, therefore, cannot afford the luxury of scoffing exotic cocktails at pubs, as losers deserving of their pity. The women who scrub floors, wash clothes and clean dishes to eke out subsistence wages from which they save money to pay for their children’s school fees and books, and are regularly beaten black and blue by their husbands after they have had their fill of liquor at ‘pubs’ which cater to the underclass, simply do not matter and, hence, are not worthy of The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women’s attention.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Livni / Bibi faceoff today

Analysis on Israeli poll outcomes...
If Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu's Likud proves the polls right and emerges as the largest faction, heading a right-wing bloc with a Knesset majority, Peres, who will consult with the various party leaders once the official results are in, will be spared much deliberation and the man who lost power a decade ago will be given the presidential nod. Alternatively, if Tzipi Livni's Kadima maintains its final-days momentum, eases ahead of the Likud and, however improbably, Livni wins the prime ministerial recommendation of party leaders representing a Knesset majority, she will be given the president's authority to try to succeed where she failed just three months ago in building a governing coalition. Where Peres would have a certain dilemma is if the final tally shows Kadima as the largest party, but Netanyahu the favored prime minister of most of the new intake of MKs. Here, too, though Peres's decision should be relatively straightforward: Netanyahu would be given the first chance to build a government.

Some new digital work...








Too lazy to paint...

'If you meet Darwin on the road, kill him' chronicles

In an article that is sure to set creationists and evolutionists talking animatedly, Carl Safina (a SUNY professor) makes the argument that Darwinism and an ideological adherence to his ideas bred creationism and we should get away from a cultish following of Darwin’s ideas.
By propounding “Darwinism,” even scientists and science writers perpetuate an impression that evolution is about one man, one book, one “theory.” The ninth-century Buddhist master Lin Chi said, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” The point is that making a master teacher into a sacred fetish misses the essence of his teaching. So let us now kill Darwin. Science has marched on. But evolution can seem uniquely stuck on its founder. We don’t call astronomy Copernicism, nor gravity Newtonism. “Darwinism” implies an ideology adhering to one man’s dictates, like Marxism. And “isms” (capitalism, Catholicism, racism) are not science. “Darwinism” implies that biological scientists “believe in” Darwin’s “theory.” It’s as if, since 1860, scientists have just ditto-headed Darwin rather than challenging and testing his ideas, or adding vast new knowledge.

I am not quite saying Darwinism gave rise to creationism, though the “isms” imply equivalence. But the term “Darwinian” built a stage upon which “intelligent” could share the spotlight. Charles Darwin didn’t invent a belief system. He had an idea, not an ideology. The idea spawned a discipline, not disciples.


Pictures from a visit last year to Kate Clark's exhibition 'Perfect Strangers' at Claire Oliver.


Rhyming extracts from 'Stephen Jay Gould is my name' by Richard Milner

Oh! Stephen Jay Gould is my name
And fossils and shells are my game
Canadian shales
And Bahamian snails
Have brought me a measure of fame.

If Darwin is your cup of tea
But you don’t have a lot of time free
You don’t have to look
Through his wearisome book
You can learn evolution from me.

I can tell you a tale of a trial
Where Bryan and Darrow once tangled
A courtroom so laden with bile
That truth got distorted and mangled.
Fundamentalists shouted defiance,
“Darwinian textbooks must go,
The Bible contains all the science
A biology class needs to know!”