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Vogue India

Lakshmi Menon’s editorial in Vogue India’s March 2009 issue inspires. Shot by one of my favorite contemporary photographers Prabuddha Das Gupta and styled by Edward Lalrempuia.

April 29th, 2009

The End of the University as We Know It

I'm really loving this Op-ed by Mark Taylor in yesterday's Times, here's a section:

2. Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs. These constantly evolving programs would have sunset clauses, and every seven years each one should be evaluated and either abolished, continued or significantly changed. It is possible to imagine a broad range of topics around which such zones of inquiry could be organized: Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water.

Consider, for example, a Water program. In the coming decades, water will become a more pressing problem than oil, and the quantity, quality and distribution of water will pose significant scientific, technological and ecological difficulties as well as serious political and economic challenges. These vexing practical problems cannot be adequately addressed without also considering important philosophical, religious and ethical issues. After all, beliefs shape practices as much as practices shape beliefs.

A Water program would bring together people in the humanities, arts, social and natural sciences with representatives from professional schools like medicine, law, business, engineering, social work, theology and architecture. Through the intersection of multiple perspectives and approaches, new theoretical insights will develop and unexpected practical solutions will emerge.

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April 28th, 2009

My Kindle

Interesting piece in the Times today on the Kindle

I miss the jacket art (note to Amazon: color images of book jackets on K3), but the K2 has definitely gotten me reading again. Not that I stopped, but reading on K2 feels like reading used to--fresh, exciting, immediate. 

I'm not sure where it's going, but I read two more books this week than I would have without my K2. And I read them voraciously. 

Anyone else have thoughts on the phenom?

 

April 27th, 2009

Empire

April 26th, 2009

Dr. Realist interview, from Newsweek

Excerpt from a nice, concise interview in Newsweek on the economy with the man who predicted the current state of affairs, Nouriel Roubinin:

What is going to fuel the next growth cycle?
That is a difficult question. The periods of high growth in the United States in the last 25 years have been characterized by an asset and credit bubble. Whatever the future growth is going to be, this time around it needs to be sustainable and not bubble-prone because we are running out of bubbles to create. We had the real-estate [bubble], tech bubble, housing bubble, hedge-fund bubble, private-equity bubble, commodities bubble, even the art bubble—and they are all bursting.

What makes you different from the other economists?
We think usually that crowds—on average—can be wiser than individuals. In this case, most people got it wrong because whenever we are in an irrational, exuberant bubble, people fail to think correctly.

Do you believe this is a bear-market rally or do you think it is the market anticipating an economic recovery?
As we reach newer lows, we may be closer to a level of the market that is fundamentally right. A year ago we were not as close to a true bottom. Today we are closer to it. As we become closer to the bottom of the economy, the stock market looks ahead and sees the light at the end of the tunnel and rallies. In spite of these caveats, I would argue that even the latest market rally is a bear-market rally.

Do you worry about China getting tired of holding our bonds?
In the short run, China has no option but to accumulate more reserves and dollar reserves. Why? Because if they stop doing that, their currency would appreciate sharply while their exports are plunging. So in the short run, they are going to keep on accumulating. But I have seen a huge number of new initiatives in the last month that suggest [the Chinese] are pushing for the yuan to become an international currency and a reserve currency. They are doing bilateral deals with countries like Argentina and half a dozen others in yuan, not in dollars.

They are moving away from the dollar?
Yes, slowly they will. First they have to establish their own currency as an international currency. That will take years, but already in a month they have done more than in the last 10 years.

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April 25th, 2009

Waking up to New York, From New York Magazine

I love these vignettes of well known artists writing about their first experiences in New York.

Waking Up to New York

Mary Boone
Arrived: 1970

I remember that the first exhibition I was part of was by Chuck Close, and that he sat in my office during the opening listening to the World Series. That was at Klaus Kertess’s gallery, the Bykert gallery. Lynda Benglis, who was my teacher at Hunter College, said, “Oh, if you need a job, my boyfriend owns a gallery.” Because I thought I was gonna come here and work at a museum, but I did that, and it really seemed so lifeless.

Klaus closed the gallery after ten years because it was getting to be too successful! He said it was too much of a business. It’s so different now. In the early days I remember Brice Marden had seven one-person shows and never sold a painting. Even when I showed Julian Schnabel, it took me two years to sell the first painting.

Julian was the first artist to leave my gallery, and I was heartbroken. It was like the spring of 1984, and I was sitting in my office, crying. In his explanation at the time—you know, it’s like anything, probably things change with the telling every time. But in those days, what he said was that he wanted to be separated. He said, “How many artists do you have in the Carnegie International?” And it was basically the whole gallery. And he said, “Well, if I go to Pace, I’m the only artist from that gallery in the Carnegie.” He wanted a kind of separateness from me, but also from his generation. He wanted to be seen as an individual. We’re still good friends; I think he’s a fantastic filmmaker. I also have a different perception of this, because I think that life is about shared experiences, and if you have an experience with an artist, you never lose that. It’s like if you’re married and you have a child with somebody, you’re never, ever really separated. And the child is the art. So anyway, I was sitting in my office crying, and Jean-Michel Basquiat comes in. And he was so sweet! He was so upset I was sitting there crying. He put his arms around me and he said, “Mary, don’t worry. I’m gonna be much more famous than Julian.” And then he walked out, and he came back in with a huge watermelon, which he plunked on my desk, and we ate.

Lauren Hutton, actress
Arrived: 1964

I came to New York for two things: to get to Africa and to find LSD. In those days it was legal. You could get it from this Swiss chemical company, and I met six guys who were very willing to give it to me. But I didn’t like any of them enough to take it, so it took me a few months. As for Africa, I was supposed to meet a friend in New York, and we were going to take a tramp steamer to Tangier. It was going to cost $140. Once I got there, my plan was to take a bus for ten cents to the outskirts of town and see elephants and rhinoceroses and giraffes. I was as ignorant as a telephone pole.

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April 23rd, 2009

Culture and Barbarism: Metaphysics in a Time of Terrorism

An excerpt from Culture and Barbarism: Metaphysics in a Time of Terrorism

By Terry Eagleton, in Commonweal

"The prevailing global system, then, today faces an unwelcome choice. Either it trusts its native pragmatism in the face of its enemy’s absolutism, or it falls back on metaphysical values of its own-values that are looking increasingly tarnished and implausible. Does the West need to go full-bloodedly metaphysical to save itself? And if it does, can it do so without inflicting too much damage on its liberal, secular values, thus ensuring there is still something worth protecting from its illiberal opponents?

If Marxism once held out a promise of reconciling culture and civilization, it is partly because its founder was both a Romantic humanist and an heir of Enlightenment rationalism. Marxism is about culture and civilization together-sensuous particularity and universality, worker and citizen of the world, local allegiances and international solidarity, the free self-realization of flesh-and-blood individuals and a global cooperative commonwealth of them. But Marxism has suffered in our time a staggering political rebuff; and one of the places to which those radical impulses have migrated is-of all things-theology. In theology nowadays, one can find some of the most informed and animated discussions of Deleuze and Badiou, Foucault and feminism, Marx and Heidegger. That is not entirely surprising, since theology, however implausible many of its truth claims, is one of the most ambitious theoretical arenas left in an increasingly specialized world-one whose subject is nothing less than the nature and transcendental destiny of humanity itself. These are not issues easily raised in analytic philosophy or political science. Theology’s remoteness from pragmatic questions is an advantage in this respect.

We find ourselves, then, in a most curious situation. In a world in which theology is increasingly part of the problem, it is also fostering the kind of critical reflection which might contribute to some of the answers. There are lessons that the secular Left can learn from religion, for all its atrocities and absurdities; and the Left is not so flush with ideas that it can afford to look such a gift horse in the mouth. But will either side listen to the other at present? Will Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins read this and experience an epiphany that puts the road to Damascus in the shade? To use two theological terms by way of response: not a hope in hell. Positions are too entrenched to permit such a dialogue. Mutual understanding cannot happen just anywhere, as some liberals tend to suppose. It requires its material conditions. And it seems unlikely these will emerge as long as the so-called war on terror continues to run its course.

The distinction between Hitchens or Dawkins and those like myself comes down in the end to one between liberal humanism and tragic humanism. There are those who hold that if we can only shake off a poisonous legacy of myth and superstition, we can be free. Such a hope in my own view is itself a myth, though a generous-spirited one. Tragic humanism shares liberal humanism’s vision of the free flourishing of humanity, but holds that attaining it is possible only by confronting the very worst. The only affirmation of humanity ultimately worth having is one that, like the disillusioned post-Restoration Milton, seriously wonders whether humanity is worth saving in the first place, and understands Swift’s king of Brobdingnag with his vision of the human species as an odious race of vermin. Tragic humanism, whether in its socialist, Christian, or psychoanalytic varieties, holds that only by a process of self-dispossession and radical remaking can humanity come into its own. There are no guarantees that such a transfigured future will ever be born. But it might arrive a little earlier if liberal dogmatists, doctrinaire flag-wavers for Progress, and Islamophobic intellectuals got out of its way."

Which is why, my friends, I ultimately believe more in Buddhism than liberal politics, but remain open to both.

 

April 23rd, 2009

Michael Pollan on food, the environment and the economy, from the Rumpus

I like this interview with Michael Pollan on the whether the Green Economy can save the planet. 

Rumpus: I don’t want to ask you about an article you haven’t read, but maybe the idea of “economy vs. environment” is provocative enough to address. Owen argues, in so many words, that economy has to be sacrificed to some extent to save the environment. How do you feel about that?

Pollan: Well, I mean, that’s a good question. There is a real effort to align economic growth with becoming green. It’s the Thomas Friedman school of things, this idea that you can unleash these powers that will drive certain change, that you can align economic interests and the environment. It would be wonderful if it’s true. But I think we need to make changes whether it’s true or not. The fact is that there are fundamental tensions between the biological reality of the planet right now and the economic reality. To some extent you can adapt the economy, create a new set of rules and incentives to send it down a better track, but finally people in the first world are going to have to consume a whole lot less. Green stuff or black stuff, whatever it is.

Rumpus: The idea of a “green economy” is really palatable, though.

Pollan: I think it’s very politically comfortable to suggest that you can have a non-zero-sum solution to both the global economic crisis and our environmental problems, but my guess is that the non-zero-sum solution is wishful thinking. We could have a greener economy, even a greener consumer economy by changing the rules—whether it’s by taxing carbon or trading carbon, I’m not sure what—but in the end there’s just a fundamental problem with the sheer amount we’re consuming. Fossil fuel is a very special thing. There is no other fossil fuel out there. Yes, there’s solar energy, but whether it can underwrite the kind of lifestyle we’ve had remains to be seen. So if you’re a politician it’s very useful to say that we can have economic growth and at the same time green the economy, but writers just have to face up to the fact, whether it sells or not, that there are some fundamental tensions between the economic order and the biological order.

Rumpus: I was re-reading some passages from Botany of Desire and a particular sentence grabbed me. You were talking about our Nature Narratives, and you said, “There’s the old heroic story, where Man is at war with Nature; the romantic version, where Man merges spiritually with Nature (usually with some help from the pathetic fallacy); and, more recently, the environmental morality tale, in which Nature pays man back for his transgressions, usually in the coin of disaster.” If someone told you that our current problems—the food crisis, the energy crisis, the health care crisis—somehow epitomized the environmental morality tale, how would you respond?

Pollan: I think that’s the narrative in which a lot of things fit. Look at industrial agriculture. You use too many antibiotics on your cattle to get cheap meat, and suddenly you have antibiotic-resistant staph infections popping up all over the Midwest. But that’s evolution. I mean, you could put a moral spin on it and say, oh, we got what we deserved. But it’s just the feedback loop inherent to evolution. You spray too much pesticide and a resistant bug emerges. Now if you have a moral cast of mind, you’ll say, well, oh, boy, Nature is paying us back, getting even with us for using all that pesticide. The situation certainly conforms to the environmental morality narrative. But that doesn’t make the narrative true.

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April 22nd, 2009

What Obama Spent His Day Doing

Releasing torture memos, reforming credit card companies, and expanding Americorp.
April 21st, 2009

Auntie

Today at the pool, about ten kids I didn't know called me "Auntie." Here in Hawaii it happens every day.

"Auntie! Watch me put my head underwater!"

"Auntie! My sister can jump, you want to see her?"

"Auntie! Will you help me get my towel?"

 "Auntie! Can you show me how to kick my legs while I hold onto the edge of the pool?"

I'm always taken aback by the fearlessness of the kids. They trust me immediately. I'm an Auntie--an elder-- and their sense is that I will take care of them. 

It reminds of something very old. And something very new. Something many of us have lost and are looking to regain. 

Innocence. Trust. Ease.

In Hawai'i it's called O'hana-- Family. 

Now each time a child calls me "Auntie" I feel so proud. That they've chosen me, that they trust me. They ask. I give. It's so easy. I haven't forgotten. 

 

April 16th, 2009