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Archive for April, 2009

“On inauguration day, Tom Brokaw was moved to compare Barack Obama’s election to Czechoslovakia’s 1989 Velvet Revolution. At the eye of each storm, of course, was an icon who merged the political and the aesthetic–Václav Havel, the rock-star poet and prophet, and Barack Obama, the post-soul master of his own story. Both struck down eras of monocultural repression with their pens.

“Artists played a largely unheralded role in Obama’s victory. But they had been tugging the national unconscious forward for decades, from the multiculturalist avant-gardes of the 1970s and ’80s to the hip-hop rebels of the ’90s and 2000s, plying a fearless, sometimes even unruly kind of polyculturalism. By the final months of the election season, these artists had secured Obama as the waking image of change.

“Every moment of major social change requires a collective leap of imagination. Political transformation must be accompanied not just by spontaneous and organized expressions of unrest and risk but by an explosion of mass creativity. Little wonder that two of the most maligned jobs during the forty years after Richard Nixon’s 1968 election sealed the backlash of the ‘silent majority‘ were community organizer and artist.

“Obama was both. So why haven’t community organizers and artists been offered a greater role in the national recovery?” (cont’d @ The Nation)

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killingfieldHolocaust deniers aside, the world is not ignorant of the systematic Nazi slaughter of some six million Jews in World War II. People know of the gas chambers in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen; many have heard of the tens of thousands shot dead in the Ukrainian ravine of Babi Yar. But little has been known about the hundreds — perhaps thousands — of smaller killing fields across the former Soviet Union where some 1.5 million Jews met their deaths.

“That is now changing. Over the past few years, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and research center in Israel has been investigating those sites, comparing Soviet, German, local and Jewish accounts, cross-checking numbers and methods. The work, gathered under the title ‘The Untold Stories,’ is far from over. But to honor Holocaust Remembrance Day, which starts Monday evening, the research is being made public on the institution’s Web site.” (more @ NY Times)

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The presence of many lethal genetic diseases affecting the brain among Ashkenazi Jews may also increase their intelligence – so say Gregory Cochran (bottom), a physicist and genetics buff, and geneticist Henry Harpending (top), authors of the recently published, The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution.

From the Los Angeles Times:

“The biological basis for intelligence can be a thankless arena of inquiry. The authors of ‘The Bell Curve’ were vilified 15 years ago for suggesting genes played a role in IQ differences among racial groups.

“But Cochran, 55, and Harpending, 65, say there’s no question that as a whole, Ashkenazi Jews — those of European descent — have an abundance of brain power. (Neither man is Jewish.)

“Psychologists and educational researchers have pegged their average IQ at 107.5 to 115. That’s only modestly higher than the overall European average of 100, but the gap is large enough to produce a huge difference in the proportion of geniuses. When a group’s average IQ is 100, the percentage of people above 140 is 0.4%; when the average is 110, the genius rate is 2.3%.

“Though Jews make up less than 3% of the U.S. population, they have won more than 25% of the Nobel Prizes awarded to American scientists since 1950, account for 20% of this country’s chief executives and make up 22% of Ivy League students, the pair write.” (more @ LA Times)

RelatedAre Jews Smarter?

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baseball-lingoWhere would pols, pundits and morose mucky-mucks be without the language of baseball?

“Here’s the pitch: Despite distractions, you have to keep your eye on the ball. You have to be aware of something unexpected coming out of left field, and only if your ad-libbed response is not off base will your home team go to bat for you. You can’t be born on third base and think you hit a triple. Last year, candidate Obama took the sting out of criticism by the scribes for playing ball with a Chicago fixer by admitting, right off the bat, that his property purchase was boneheaded. Palin showed she had something on the ball, considered 2008 a warm-up in the bullpen and took a rain check for 2012, when she hopes to knock the ball out of the park, unless she gets thrown a curve by the rise of Romney, now in the catbird’s seat.” (more @ NY Times)

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rossetFrom NPR, a profile of publisher Barney Rosset, former owner of Grove Press and The Evergreen Review, in advance of the publication of his autobiography, The Subject Is Left Handed, which takes its name from his FBI file. The article includes a clip from Obscene,” a film biography (2007) of Rosset, in which Rosset discusses acquiring Samuel Beckett‘s Waiting for Godot.

“Independent publisher Barney Rosset was there for some of the most important — and controversial — developments in 20th century American literary history. The first to publish Samuel Beckett in the United States, Rosset has been honored by the National Book Foundation, the Association of American Publishers and the French Ministry of Culture.

“Born to a wealthy Chicago banker, Rosset served as a photographer in World War II and afterward tried his hand at filmmaking and writing before buying a small, nearly defunct publishing company named Grove Press in 1951. . . .

“Rosset knew nothing about the business of publishing, but one of the first books Grove put out in 1954 became one of its most important: Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett. . . .

“Over the years Grove did have a couple of best-sellers, including A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole and Games People Play, by Eric Bern. And Grove championed the avant garde and politically inflammatory. It published the work of noted 20th century playwrights like Eugene Ionesco, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard and David Mamet, as well as The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which had been dropped by Doubleday.

“In 1957 Grove Press got into magazine publishing; The Evergreen Review became one of the most important magazines of the counterculture . . . Two years after launching The Evergreen Review, Rosset stepped into the national headlines when he decided that Grove would publish Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which other American publishers had shunned because of its frank sexuality. After the postal service impounded more than a hundred copies of the book, Rosset went to court claiming it was protected under the First Amendment. He won, but that was only part of his strategy. His real goal, Rosset says, was to publish another banned book: Henry Miller’s 1934 autobiographical novel, Tropic of Cancer.” (more @ NPR)

Related

[INTERVIEWER: Didn’t you say somewhere, “I am for obscenity and against pornography”?

MILLER: Well, it’s very simple. The obscene would be the forthright, and pornography would be the roundabout. I believe in saying the truth, coming out with it cold, shocking if necessary, not disguising it. In other words, obscenity is a cleansing process, whereas pornography only adds to the murk.]

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nabokov“Penguin is to publish Vladimir Nabokov‘s unfinished final novel, The Original of Laura. Penguin Classics editor Alexis Kirschbaum bought the book, together with continuing rights to the Nabokov backlist, in a six-figure deal through Andrew Wylie. The Original of Laura will be published as a Penguin Classics hardback at £25 on 3rd November, and simultaneously by Knopf in the US.

“Nabokov left the novel unfinished when he died in 1977, asking for it to be destroyed. His son Dimitri Nabokov finally took the decision to publish, bearing in mind that his father once also intended to burn his best-known work, Lolita. . . .

“The novel is narrated by a man who, when young, fell obsessively in love with a young girl, but who is now unhappily married to a promiscuous wife with whom he is infatuated. Kirschbaum said the book was both dark and comic, and continued the theme of nostalgia for young love begun in Mary and continued in Lolita and Ada.” (more @ The Bookseller)

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andrew-sullivan“Andrew Sullivan’s story is inherently implausible. How did an HIV-positive gay Catholic conservative from the poky English town of East Grinstead end up as one of the most powerful writers in America?

“Today his blog, the Daily Dish, is regularly named as one of the most influential in America, and in November it reached 23m hits in the month. Politicians from Condoleezza Rice to Barack Obama himself have courted Sullivan in the hope of friendly posts. After he moved his blog to the website of the venerable Atlantic Monthly magazine, the traffic there rose by 30%.

“This is all the stranger since—unlike other big-name bloggers such as the liberal-Democratic Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos or the libertarian Republican Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit — he has no obvious political constituency. Sullivan is regarded by his critics as an attention-deficit bundle of contradictions. He is a conservative Christian who rages against the self-proclaimed forces of conservative Christianity. He is a pioneering crusader for gay marriage savaged by the gay left as ‘chief faggot’, herding homosexuals on behalf of The Patriarchy. He admits: ‘I’m very uncomfortable with audiences who agree with me… I’ve never really had a place where someone didn’t dispute my right to be there.’ So what is the glue that holds together the blogger-king?” (cont’d @ Intelligent Life)

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