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Poetry And Power All The Way

Jul 26 2014 @ 12:26pm

Room for Debate recently rounded up (NYT) writers’ thoughts on why poetry matters. Sandra Beasley’s response (NYT):

“Does poetry matter?” Yes. No one watching a competitive slam by students would doubt it. Every elegy drafted for President Lincoln “mattered,” even the trite or amateurish ones. Elegies by Walt Whitman, Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes and Stanley Kunitz mattered then, and have since endured.

What’s at question is poetry’s vaunted status above other artistic disciplines. “It’s poetry and power all the way!,” President Kennedy wrote to Robert Frost, after Frost spoke at his inauguration. He didn’t write “It’s ballet and power all the way!” and it’s probably for the same reason we do not have a Sculptor Laureate.

But Jonathan Farmer found some of the odes to poetics a tad overwrought:

David Biespel’s piece isn’t crappy. In fact, much of it is lovely. But he … gets a little carried away:

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That’s the call from the scientists at this year’s International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia:

According to new research — a series of seven studies recently published in the Lancet medical journal — scientists estimate that HIV infection rates among sex workers could be reduced by between 33 and 46 percent if the activity were not illegal. “Governments and policymakers can no longer ignore the evidence,” asserted Kate Shannon, an associate professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia and the lead author of the study. The research, conducted in Kenya, India, and Canada, found that high rates of violence against sex workers, police harassment, and poor working conditions — all circumstances exacerbated by sex work’s illegal status — combined with lack of access to HIV prevention and care significantly increased the risk of infection among sex workers. According to recent data from the World Health Organization, female sex workers are 14 times as likely to have HIV as other women, yet fear of arrest and stigma often prevents them from seeking medical care. (A Kenyan woman quoted in the study added that when doctors at the health center she visited realized she was a sex worker, she was denied treatment.)

In a report issued earlier this month on how to combat HIV transmission in high-risk populations, the World Health Organization said the same:

What unites these groups is that their activities are either illegal or heavily stigmatized in many parts of the world. That means that they are unlikely to seek out medical help or advice simply because they don’t want to be arrested for being gay or having sex for money. In the case of adolescents, many live in countries where they need parental permission to get birth control or medical care. So they, too, must hide their activities from doctors to avoid being “turned in” to their parents.

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The Name’s Bond. @JamesBond

Jul 26 2014 @ 8:43am

Have smartphones and Facebook ended the golden age of the spy novel? Charles Cumming worries that it “may be that technology strips the spy of mystique”:

Once upon a time, spies like [John le Carré's] Alec Leamas could move across borders with ease. Passports were not biometric, photographs were not sealed under laminate, and there were no retinal scanners at airports (which, incidentally, can’t be fooled by fitting a glass eye or wearing contact lenses manufactured by ‘Q’ branch). … Nowadays, travelling “under alias” has become all but impossible. If, for example, an MI6 officer goes to Moscow and tries to pass himself off as an advertising executive, he’d better make sure that his online banking and telephone records look authentic; that his Facebook page and Twitter feeds are up to date; and that colleagues from earlier periods in his phantom career can remember him when they are contacted out of the blue by an FSB analyst who has tracked them down via LinkedIn. The moment the officer falls under suspicion, his online history will be minutely scrutinised. If the contacts book on his Gmail account looks wrong, or his text messages are out of character, his entire false identity will start to fall apart.

“All of this has affected storytelling,” continues Cumming, who describes how he circumvented the issue as a novelist himself:

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Bibi’s Strategy, Ctd

Jul 25 2014 @ 7:52pm

Larison is unconvinced by Rich Lowry’s cheerleading for Israel in the Gaza war, which Lowry attributes entirely to Hamas’ “depraved indifference to the safety of Gazans”. If Lowry is right about Hamas’ aims, Larison argues, that actually illustrates why Israel going to war hurts its own interests in the long term:

The summary is misleading at best, but even if we accept all of it as true it doesn’t make Israel’s current military operation defensible. Hamas may want war and civilian casualties, and it is fully responsible for everything that it does, but that doesn’t justify Israel in giving them what they want. Nothing could better sum up the irrationality of defenders of the current operation than the argument Lowry is offering here. We’re supposed to accept that Israel’s government mustn’t be faulted for what it’s doing, because Israeli forces are inflicting death and destruction that predictably redounds to Hamas’ political benefit. According to this view, Hamas is the only one to be blamed for the consequences of the military overreaction that has stupidly given Hamas an unwelcome boost. This is little better than the foreign policy equivalent of saying “the devil made me do it,” as if it that made everything all right.

And Daniel Byman argues that Israel’s strategy of heavy-handed deterrence often ends up producing the opposite outcome:

Because Israel is arguably the most casualty-sensitive country in the world, deterrence is even harder. With nuclear weapons and carpet-bombing off the table, Israel needs to go in on the ground to achieve its objectives — but ground operations can lead to Israeli casualties that actually undermine its deterrence.

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Stone-Age Skepticism

Jul 25 2014 @ 7:14pm


Elizabeth Kolbert has her doubts about the paleo diet:

There are, of course, lots of ways to resist progress. People take up knitting or quilting or calligraphy. They bake their own bread or brew their own beer or sew their own clothes using felt they have fashioned out of wet wool and dish soap. But, both in the scale of its ambition and in the scope of its anachronism, paleo eating takes things to a whole new level. Our Stone Age ancestors left behind no menus or cookbooks. To figure out what they ate, we have to dig up their bones and study the wear patterns on their teeth. Or comb through their refuse and analyze their prehistoric poop.

And paleo eating is just the tip of the spear, so to speak. There are passionate advocates for paleo fitness, which starts with tossing out your sneakers. There’s a paleo sleep contingent, which recommends blackout curtains, amber-tinted glasses, and getting rid of your mattress; and there are champions of primal parenting, which may or may not include eating your baby’s placenta. There are even signs of a paleo hygiene movement: coat yourself with bacteria and say goodbye to soap and shampoo. …

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A UN official who claimed that ISIS had ordered genital mutilation for all women and girls in Mosul appears to have been the victim of a hoax:

The story quickly began to go viral, racking up hundreds of shares on social media. Soon thereafter, however, journalists with contacts in Iraq began reporting that the story didn’t hold up. “My contacts in #Mosul have NOT heard that ‘Islamic State’ ordered FGM for all females in their city,” Jenan Moussa, a reporter with Al Anan TV tweet out. “Iraqi contacts say #Mosul story is fake,” echoed freelance writer Shaista Aziz, adding: “Iraqi contact on #FGM story: “ISIS are responsible for many horrors, this story is fake and plays to western audience emotions.’”

NPR’s Cairo bureau chief also claimed that the story was false, tweeting “#UN statement that #ISIS issued fatwa calling 4 FGM 4 girls is false residents of Mosul say including a doctor, journalist and tribal leader.” Not long after a version of a document in Arabic, bearing the black logo that ISIS has adopted, began circulating on Twitter. The document, those who shared it said, is a hoax and the basis for the United Nations’ claim.

That wasn’t the only inaccurate story to come out of the Islamic State. David Kenner highlights some others:

Last week — as the jihadist group’s very real campaign to force Christians to pay a tax levied on non-Muslims, convert to Islam, or face death reached fever pitch — multiple news outlets reported that the Islamic State had burned down the St. Ephrem’s Cathedral. There was just one problem:

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Katy Waldman examines one subtle way people inadvertently signal their insecurities:

We know now that the linguistic expression of low confidence plays out in pronouns. Until recently, many experts believed that first-person singular referents were verbal playthings for the powerful and narcissistic, the me-me-me-me-me people who demand attention. But as James Pennebaker, a psychologist from the University of Texas at Austin, has written, the pronoun “I” often signals humility and subservience. A more confident person is more likely to be surveying her domain (and perhaps considering what “you” should be doing), rather than turning inward. …

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America’s Mixed Feelings On Gaza

Jul 25 2014 @ 5:13pm


Larison flags a new Gallup poll suggesting that US public opinion on the Gaza war is more complicated than our government’s response to it:

Gallup finds that Americans are split on the question of whether Israel’s actions in Gaza have been justified or not. Overall, 42% say that they are justified, 39% say they are not, and 20% have no opinion. These results are comparable to a Gallup poll taken during the second intifada twelve years ago, but there are slightly more on the ‘unjustified’ side than there were then. As we have seen in other polls on related matters, there is a significant gap between Republicans and everyone else[.]

It is striking how evenly divided the public is on this question when there is total uniformity among political leaders in the U.S. that Israel is justified in what it has been doing. There is always a significant gap between popular and elite views on foreign policy issues, but it is still fairly unusual for a view held by almost 40% of Americans to have virtually no representation in Congress.

Another poll from YouGov finds that more detailed questions yield more nuanced answers:

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What Ex-Prisoners Need Most

Jul 25 2014 @ 4:43pm

Christopher Moraff lauds the “housing first” approach:

Although education, employment, and treatment for drug and mental health issues all play a role in successful reintegration, these factors have little hope in the absence of stable housing.

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Quote For The Day

Jul 25 2014 @ 4:31pm

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza Border

“I still felt the same [way about Israel] in 1973, during the Yom Kippur War when Israel reeled before a devastating Egyptian and Syrian surprise attack. From amid the Israelis’ camp fires, as a correspondent I wrote expressing my admiration for the nation, for what it had created from a near-wasteland: ‘They are a very great people, who have come closer to destruction than blind Europe seems willing to recognise.’

The veteran journalist James Cameron, who had known Israel since its inception, wrote me a generous note after that piece was published, saying: ‘It is quite impossible to work in combat with the Israeli army without this response, if you have any sense of history and drama.’ But then he added reflectively: ‘I have sometimes wondered over the past few years whether this irresistible military mesmerism hasn’t clouded for us some of the political falsities.’

Some 40 years on, I have become sure that Jimmy Cameron was right. Too many of us allowed ourselves to become blinded by military success to the huge injustice done to the Palestinians. Israelis, confident that they can defeat any Arab military threat, bolstered by almost unqualified U.S. support, assume that they can persist indefinitely with the creeping annexation of the West Bank, and the subjection of Gaza …

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