Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ronald Visits Pune

From today's edition of the Indian Express Pune Newsline. Photo: Pavan Khengre.

Pina Bausch, 1940-2009

Pina Bausch in "Café Müller." Photo: Jochen Viehoff

Ines Hilde, graphic designer and former contemporary dancer, via email:

Pina Bausch has died and I am devastated. I've been thinking a lot about Pina recently. I had been going over her oeuvre again and I realized how enormous her influence has been on me and other artists. I'm devastated because she was so much more than a "grand dame of dance." She transcended the art and her influence was felt well beyond dance. Today, it's not possible to talk about the shape of contemporary art without talking about Pina Bausch.

I'm devastated because I believe that no other artist will emerge in my lifetime with such influence on generations of our imaginations. I had the pleasure to discover her group at its birth and will never forget the first time that I saw them dance in Pina's "Café Müller" at Théâtre de la Ville in Paris. You could always feel her beauty and generosity.

Goodbye Madame Bausch. We humbly bow to you.
Photo: AP / Frank Augstein

Here is a link to a post I wrote a couple of years ago on Pina Bausch and contemporary dance.
Plus, a nice little essay in the NY Times on Pina.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Bagram abuse.
Israeli abuse.
Iranian abuse.
Burmese abuse.
Indonesian abuse.
Bangladeshi abuse.
Chinese abuse.
Indian abuse.
Brazilian abuse.
Congolese abuse.
British abuse.



Pruned finds the work of Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf at the Vienna Zoo.
According to the artists, these scenes of ecological nightmares are “experimental set-up[s]” in which “the viewer is forced to reconsider traditional modes of animal presentation and simultaneously to question the authenticity of concepts which are restaging 'natural' environments while they are increasingly endangered.”

Panamanian-Angolan-Ukrainian Pizza

There is a lady called Elena Montilla in a little town in the middle of Panama called Ocù. She’s one of the last panama hat makers since they are almost all made in Ecuador these days. But though Ocù’s hat industry may be dwindling, Angolan pizza manufacture is on the up there. The main square is home to Pizza Angola – a one man mission to bring pizza to Panama along with some fine African music while you wait. And how did this Angolan fellow end up in Ocù? Via the Ukraine obviously! Turns out he won a scholarship to the university in Kiev at the same time as a girl from Ocù. They met, got married and he moved to Panama and started a pizza joint.
At Benn Loxo.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Little Michael

Most of the epitaphs for Michael Jackson today - of those that actually discuss his music rather than solely his freakish adult life - focus on his massively influential 1980s records Off the Wall and Thriller. It's understandable. Those records made him a global pop god, an equal in the pantheon of Elvis, James Brown, and the Beatles. Fans aren't only crying in the US tonight.

If you really want to take another listen to just how talented the guy was, however, you have to go back further to the Jackson 5, especially five albums from 1969 to 1971 (Diana Ross Presents...; ABC; Third Album; Maybe Tomorrow; and Goin' Back to Indiana).

In my view, the album is ABC. I'm biased. It holds a special place for me as the first record I ever bought, a Taiwanese bootleg copy with typically thick vinyl in a flimsy paper and plastic sleeve. Liner notes in Chinese. Wish I still had it.

Listen to that 11-year-old energy on the title track and on "The Love You Save." It is instant. Whatever your musical tastes, you can't help but be a fan. Such confidence and talent and stardom in that powerful little voice.

My first reaction to news of his death was like a lot of people. What a sad life ultimately. A descent into a fantasized childhood he never had, having been beaten into music at the age of five and into an existence in the spotlights. As Jackson said, (cited in this LA Times piece), "I hate to admit it, but I feel strange around everyday people.... See, my whole life has been onstage, and the impression I get of people is applause, standing ovations and running after you. In a crowd, I'm afraid. Onstage, I feel safe. If I could, I would sleep on the stage. I'm serious."

The familiar and absolutely natural for him - because he didn't know anything else - was what thousands scramble after, claws out, teeth gnashing, dignity forgotten, in our hyper-commercial, disposable pop culture. Michael the psychologically and physically scarred Hyper-Freak was the shelf-life limit of a product that began as enormously talented little Michael Jackson.

But this initial reaction doesn't do Michael justice. Listen to ABC again. There really was no other life for him. The confidence in that young voice suggests that he knew this intuitively. I think we have to grant him that and let him rest in peace.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

US Soccer/Football Grows Up

I hope you all know (at least you Americans) that yesterday in the Confederations Cup the US earned perhaps its greatest victory in its soccer history. They defeated the number one team, Spain, which hadn't lost in 15 games and which is widely regarded as the current powerhouse, finally living up to its potential. Congratulations.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


It's nice but rare when commentators say something like this about science (from Massimiano Bucchi):
The challenge is not to inform everybody about everything but the way politics deals with the challenges of science and technology. It is clear that when it comes to science and technology issues, our system of electing people who afterwards decide for us, together with the experts, on nuclear energy for example, is not sufficient anymore. It leads to conflicts one day after another. The crucial challenge for European society is to invent a new form of democracy which can face the wealth, complexity and importance of science and technology issues in contemporary society.

Buddha on the Dashboard

This is a beautiful little site: Still Life in Moving Vehicles. Dale in Bangkok posts photographs of Thai taxi dashboards and their little Buddhist shrines. This is the kind of site that gives one new appreciation of the wonder of blogs,... and the little parts of human experience that only blogs seem able to record and share on the internet.

Recommended Listening

Another recommendation - the fuzzed-out psychic garage levitation Mexican madness of Pop Music Team's optimistically titled but unreleased album from 1969, Society Is a Shit. A very rare work released much later as an apparently limited edition and now very rare cd. One wonders why. Toss this on and clean the house or throw a party or destroy the furniture.

Ag Biotechnology and the Poor

An old friend of mine, Paul Thompson, discusses agricultural biotechnology and poverty here at Science Progress. This is an issue that's only going to grow in salience. Paul is one of the very best on the planet on this issue. You should go read. A snippet:
...skeptics of mainstream development and mainstream agricultural science have powerful reasons to believe that it is time to look at an alternative approach. They may not have a persuasive vision of the alternative, but the jaundiced view they take on the agricultural technologies of the 20th century means that they are unlikely to take claims of promised benefits by the boosters of agricultural biotechnology very seriously.

This skepticism has very little to do with the use of genetic engineering, concerns about “playing God” or “yuk factor” responses to GMOs. It does not even rely particularly strongly on risks that biotechnology poses for biodiversity. It is a mindset whose pivots are found in the way that agricultural science has abetted technology-driven processes that lead to more and more concentration of ownership. The fact that biotechnology has become embroiled in controversies over patents only heightens a concern about concentration and control that exists independently of intellectual property conventions or the idea of “owning life.”

Victory of Qeutzalcoatl

The labels say who painted this, but I can't read the name. I suppose it's a fairly straight rendering of an ancient Mayan pictograph or glyph. It's the color--particularly against the wall--which really does it for me. Opinions expressed herein mine and Mayan only.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Yeah, but is it really cricket?

Watching the final game of the T20 World Cup last night was both kind of fun (I’ve learned enough about cricket—from Joseph O’Neill’s beautiful recent novel Netherland to the group of kids who play it in the street in front of our place here in Pune—that I can follow it and even understand things like a bowler’s terrible frustration at the failure to call a clear lbw) and weirdly complex: it was, after all, Sri Lanka versus Pakistan. Wasn’t that just a few months ago that the Sri Lankan team was targeted in a terrorist attack in Lahore? Wasn’t Kumar Sangakkara, now Sri Lanka’s team captain, injured by shrapnel in that attack? Aren’t there major refugee crises in both countries? Why does this part of the world so love this game?

Mine is an admittedly American perspective, and, unfortunately, I’m used to sports coverage in which commentators prattle on about lots of stuff unrelated to sports. They can’t let anything go unremarked upon. So I guess I expected that throughout last night’s match. I expected to get sick of it, in fact. I thought: for three hours I’ll have to listen to these guys go on about how this is the same Sri Lankan team whose bus driver was killed in Lahore. I counted on the self-congratulatory posturing of the sports world, expecting to hear talk about how wonderful it was that international sports competition rises above all that nastiness at home, above the refugees, the insurgents and suicide bombers. I can’t say I missed all that—the commentary was actually, as far as I could tell, pretty much exactly what you want in sports commentary (I just wish I fully understood what a yorker were). But it felt weird not to hear
anything about it.

Perhaps it would have been impolite to call attention to any of this at all, or to the fact that Pakistan has threatened legal action against the International Cricket Council because that group—after the attack on the Sri Lanka team in March—rescheduled all fourteen of the Pakistan-hosted games in the 2011 World Cup. That alone is hard to process: an international team visiting your country gets shot up on the way to a game, and you demand that other international teams keep coming anyway? You threaten international legal action to get your games back?

Perhaps it would have been impolite to call attention to the wars and refugees and improbability of this final face-off, given the placid, the cool and sunny, the wealthy and secure environs of Lord’s in London. Maybe that was it: maybe it would be like pointing out that England is just fine, thanks. That wouldn’t really have been comfortable for anyone.

As for the Indian Team, the defending champions who did not fare so well this year, the logic here in India went something like this: this T20 tournament was right on the heels of the end of the India Premier [cricket] League season, so Indian players barely had time to get ready. Also, I was told: T20 isn’t “real cricket.” This is easier to believe. I don’t think real cricket has cheerleaders.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Iran and Neocons: All You Need to Know

...they are playing their usual card of blaming the uprising on foreign terrorists and the US. In this, the neoconservative call for Obama to join the uprising is exactly what Khamenei wants. But the Islamists may finally have an intelligent foe in Washington, rather than a clueless ideological one.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Where is Ebrahim Yazdi?

An e-mail from a close friend in Austin, this morning:
I received the following message this morning from Arif Noorbaksh, a friend of mine from UT days who lives in Austin. The events in Iran have struck especially close to home for him:
This morning, we got news that my grandfather, Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, was arrested. He was Foreign Minister under the post-revolution provisional government and is currently Secretary-General of the Freedom Movement of Iran (FMI). He was at a Tehran-area hospital being treated for dehydration due to a gastrointestinal ailment, and our news is that they arrested and took him from the hospital to an undisclosed location...He's a reformer...I need to publicize this...they are less likely to kill him if his name is all over the place.
The title of this post links to an interview with Yazdi in Reuters published on June 15. From that interview:
TEHRAN, June 15 (Reuters) - An opposition politician said on Monday that Iran's disputed presidential election had exposed deepening divisions in the establishment and the Islamic Republic faced its biggest crisis since the 1979 revolution.

Ebrahim Yazdi, leader of the banned Freedom Movement, also said seven of its members had been detained after last Friday's vote and warned of worsening "political suppression" in Iran.

"It is a turning point in the history of the Islamic Republic," he told Reuters in an interview in his Tehran home.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


This week

Some traveling and stuff this week. Light posting unless the other guys want to put up something.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Obama Effect in Iran?

Keep watching Juan Cole as the results arrive from today's vote in Iran. In the meantime...
Howard LaFranchi at CSM asks what the 'Obama Effect' will be on the Iranian revolution. Although it was not decisive, scientific polling in Lebanon suggests that Obama did have an effect in the defeat of the Hezbollah coalition, "March 8", in Lebanon, even if it was a slight one.
On the other hand... Fred Kaplan.

Also, see Iranian.com and Opium and Saffron for stories and photos.

Mohammed El-Gharani Goes Home

Andy Worthington:
The long ordeal of Mohammed El-Gharani, Guantánamo’s youngest prisoner, has finally come to an end. Reprieve, the legal action charity that represents him, reports today that he has been sent back to Chad. A Saudi resident and Chadian national, El-Gharani was just 14 years old when he was seized by Pakistani forces in a random raid on a mosque in Karachi, but was treated appallingly both by the Pakistanis who seized him, and by the US military.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Humanitarian Palau

Palau puts everyone to shame and accepts the 17 Uighur detainees from Guantanamo. I'd take Palau over Virginia, Utah, South Carolina, Georgia, and Connecticut any day. (Photos from here).

But... as Alex Trevi and BLDGBLOG point out, Palau is disappearing because of rising sea levels due to climate change. We'll be dealing with that refugee problem soon enough. Who knew the problems of detention policy and climate change were related?

Update: I was wrong about Palau taking all 17 Uighur detainees. Four of them have been accepted by Bermuda (and the British government is not happy), where they will be submitted to relentless assault by the pasty-white scourge:

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A question

Why is it that the most fervent nationalists tend to be the worst specimens from their respective nations?

Sunday, June 07, 2009


Poverty and human rights

Chris Blattman follows on a conversation by Bill Easterly over whether poverty is a human rights violation. Disagreeing with an Amnesty International report which Easterly says makes this link (though I don't think it's clear from the quote he cites), Easterly writes,
The only useful definition of human rights is one where a human rights crusader could identify WHOSE rights are being violated and WHO is the violator... Poverty does not fit this definition of rights. Who is depriving the poor of their right to an adequate income? There are many theories of poverty, but few of them lead to a clear identification of the Violator of this right. Moreover, human rights are a clear dichotomy – someone violates your rights or they do not. But the line between poor and not-poor is arbitrary – it is different in different countries, and on a global scale, many still argue what is the right dividing line that constitutes poverty. So calling poverty a “human rights violation” does not point to any concrete actions that the “violator” must stop in order to restore rights to the “violated.”
Blattman adds,
Unfortunately, I fear the rights-based approach to poverty is about as effective as its ideological predecessor (see central planning) and has even less intellectual content... I could wave aside the philosophical quarrels if I thought the rights approach to poverty worked in practice. Unfortunately, I fear it reinforces all of the mistakes of past aid: it ignores the agency and the incentives of the poor; it focuses less on creating opportunities and structuring incentives, and more on public works and handouts. As an advocacy and fundraising mechanism, however, the rights approach may be unmatched.
I wonder what "works in practice" means here. In a historical moment in which we've come to understand that "development" and "aid" have become controversial concepts themselves for myriad reasons (from ideological to practical), and in which there are multiple competing definitions of poverty (see this book for an overview) and human rights (see here, for example), the object of Easterly's and Blattman's claims is unclear.

It's an appealing idea to consider poverty as human rights violation. It likely actually is in a very general sense - to the extent that the wealthy participate in a global economy with rules favorable to them and unfavorable to the poor (who have had little say in writing the rulebook). But it may not be the greatest idea as an exclusive basis for development and humanitarian work. This runs to the philosophical nature of a right.

As philosophers generally see it, a "right" involves not only the protection of some set of negative and/or positive liberties for the rights-bearing agent but also concrete obligations and duties on the part of others to refrain from harm (in the negative case) or to provide effective assistance (in the positive case). Further, and this is a matter of dispute, a right is then only meaningful if there is some concrete way to carry out these obligations/duties in practice (this could be handouts - which would be an unimaginative approach - or it could be help in reconstructing the basic institutions of a society). This practical point just is part of the philosophical quarrel over rights, especially human rights, and Easterly's remarks hint at this basic idea.

It's a mistake in my view, however, to isolate the philosophical considerations from concrete policy, as suggested in the "if it worked in practice" claim. The "works in practice" criterion just is part of the question of rights already and a robust view of human rights by definition won't be divorced from its practical aspect. To suggest otherwise, as both Easterly and Blattman do, is to build a strawman.

A further consideration is that emphasizing "works in practice," while obviously important, also assumes the status quo as the appropriate default position. What "works" will indeed work easiest through existing institutions. But status quo institutions are usually also the source of the problem. So we also need to carve out better (i.e., more ideal) approaches that can be used as bases to critique currently existing practices. That's the role presumably of a human rights approach.

Whether we call them "rights" or not, don't we still usually seek to transform the rules or guidelines or patterns of current practice into better rules, etc. (which, by definition, are outlined in ideal form)? An approach emphasizing rights should remain in our toolbox, but it can't be the sole tool. That's the real issue. Making poverty an issue of human rights is functionally meaningless unless we have other tools at our disposal to work on the structural conditions of poverty so that we might be able to works in the direction of ideals that the rights discourse helps to articulate.

Phron Phun with Photos

Sullivan passes along a little internet device that simulates tilt-shift photography. You can upload your own photos and run a tilt-shift on them. It seems to work best on more complex scenes with a significant amount of foreground and background detail. Kind of fun. Here's one of my photos after using the device. This is a shot of a church in the medieval French town of Sarlat in the Périgord/Dordogne (more photos of this beautiful part of France here):

Obama's Parisian Dinner

The Obamas go out for dinner in Paris at the old bistro La Fontaine de Mars, on rue Saint-Dominique in the VII arrondissement. A waiter:

«La chose qui a été impressionnante, a rapporté un serveur, c'est qu'il y a quelqu'un qui goûte les plats. Donc pour les cuisiniers ce n'est pas très agréable au début, mais en fait c'est quelqu'un de très agréable et détendu, donc ça s'est très bien passé».

"What was impressive is that there is someone who tastes the food [a Secret Service "taster"]. So, for the cooks [the president's visit] wasn't very pleasant at first, but he is in fact a very likeable and relaxed person, so it all went very well."

You get along with people when you treat them like human beings. You get along with the French when you appreciate their cuisine. Please add these two notes to the guide to being a US president.

Update: I corrected the overlooked and most important part of this line. It changes the entire post. Pretty much screws up the point. Oh well. But thanks for the correction.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Smahila Love

This is an obscure, solid Nigerian highlife record from the mid to late 1970s posted at Global Groove. I agree with Moos that "All Star" is the real keeper track. It's highlife on the psych/trance side. A terrific song. But I mainly wanted the opportunity to share this wonderfully beat-up and beautiful album cover....

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Christian Soldiers, Muslim Terrorists

There's a discussion going around the internets over whether George Tiller's killer could be considered a terrorist (see here, for example, via Sullivan). There's much back and forth on the matter.

But has anyone noticed that the "Muslim convert" who shot two army recruiters yesterday has been charged with terrorist activity (15 counts)?

[Police Chief Stuart Thomas] said the gunman targeted the military but was not believed to be part of a broader scheme.

Interviews with police showed that Muhammad "probably had political and religious motives for the attack," the police chief said.

Thomas said Muhammad would be charged with first-degree murder, plus 15 counts of committing a terroristic act. He said those counts result from the gunfire occurring near other people.

I guess when it comes to defining "terrorist" the crucial distinction is whether you're Christian or Muslim.