Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Peter Doig

"Although Doig was born in Edinburgh and has spent much time in England, he grew up in Canada and now lives in Trinidad. There are pictures here that echo other images that fill my narrow view of those last two places. Both his lake-and-canoe pictures like Swamped (1990, below) and tropical pictures like Grand Rivière (2001-2) share motifs with the watercolours Winslow Homer painted in the late 1800s and early 1900s while on Canadian fishing trips and on holiday in the Bahamas. In both Homer’s and Doig’s pictures, a feeling for place arises from the look of distant figures in a landscape, canoes on dark water, the ragged outlines of palm leaves and Prussian blue seas. The similarity brings no suggestion of influence; the impression is rather of tales from travellers who, unknown to each other, visited the same country."

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A reader's guide to the unwritten

"The realisation that, at best, writers could only hope to dress old words new and recreate what was already there led to a spate of literary eclipses. Hofmannstahl's Lord Chandos, who renounces literature because language cannot "penetrate the innermost core of things", epitomises this mute mutiny instigated (in real life) by Rimbaud. Wittgenstein would later insist that the most important part of his work was the one he had not written, presumably because it lay beyond his coda to the Tractatus: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Keeping shtoom and tuning in to the roar on the other side of silence was a soft option. Dostoevsky's Kirilov - who attempts to defeat God by desiring his own humanity and therefore his own mortality and death - heralded a wave of phantom scribes. Forced to recognise that divine ex nihilo creation was beyond their grasp, writers such as Marcel Schwob came to the conclusion that the urge to destroy was also a creative urge - and perhaps the only truly human one."

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

social justice learning

Brilliant article: Why we banned legos

"Children absorb political, social, and economic worldviews from an early age. Those worldviews show up in their play, which is the terrain that young children use to make meaning about their world and to test and solidify their understandings. We believe that educators have a responsibility to pay close attention to the themes, theories, and values that children use to anchor their play. Then we can interact with those worldviews, using play to instill the values of equality and democracy."

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Monday, February 18, 2008

racism on the catwalk

"Katharine Hamnett does not believe the cliché that black never goes out of fashion. In recent years, the designer has seen a resurgence of white on the catwalks. But it is not the colour of the clothes she has noticed, so much as the colour of the models.

'The catwalks are full of white dogs,' she says, with barely concealed irritation. 'Cosmetic companies don't like black models - the racist bitches. I have no idea why when it's obvious that black girls are just so genuinely much more beautiful than Caucasians, who have clearly got the short straw. Black girls have much better body shapes and it's such a shame. I just think there should be a bit more of a balance.'"

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Why the barrios still love hugo

"What lies behind the shrill anti- Chávez hysteria (much of it financed by the US government) isn't a crumbling economy or state repression, but the exclusion of the former ruling class and their allies in Washington from the levers of state power. While Venezuela retains many of the features of the pre-revolutionary era, including bureaucracy and corruption, independent surveys show that incomes for the working class and poor majority have risen by a staggering 130% in real terms.

But the changes in people's lives involve more than just improvements in material living standards. While on a visit to the town of Naiguata on the Caribbean coast, I happened upon one of the 2,000 new clinics which are providing top-quality healthcare to Venezuela's poor majority. Inside, I spoke to Antonio Brito, a 25-year-old Venezuelan doctor who had recently graduated from the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba. Doctor Brito told me that of the 94 students in his class, over one-third were from indigenous communities. Those who graduated with him are now serving in their tribal villages. I asked Brito how much a foreigner like me would be charged for treatment. "Here, medical treatment is completely free for everybody," he replied. "The only qualification is that you are a human being."

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Rooney and Foucault

"As the ones responsible for rule enforcement, the referees are physical manifestations of discipline and power, actors whose penalizing reinforces a larger sense of law and punishment for the rest of us. To better see how this might be so, it’s helpful to invoke the work of theorist Michel Foucault. In his book, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Foucault describes a shift in the popular conception of discipline from an external notion to a more internalized understanding."

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Eisenhower and Obama

"As we peer into society's future, we must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Anthropology and banking

"Two decades ago, before I became a journalist, I used to work as a social anthropologist in the Himalayas. It is undoubtedly an unusual background for a financial journalist.

Indeed, whenever I reveal my strange past today, bankers usually either react with horror (what does she know about finance?) or incredulity (why would anyone spend years studying Tajik goat-herders?)

But a decade later, my years in Tajikistan are suddenly starting to look a whole lot more useful. For one thing that anthropology imparts is a healthy respect for the importance of micro-level incentives and political structures. And right now these issues are becoming critically important for Wall Street and the City, as the credit crunch deepens by the day."

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The Ownership society

"It was always tempting to dismiss the ownership society as an empty slogan - "hokum", as Robert Reich, labour secretary during Bill Clinton's presidency, put it. But the ownership society was quite real. It was the answer to a roadblock long faced by politicians favouring policies to benefit the wealthy. The problem boiled down to this: people tend to vote according to their economic interests. Even in the wealthy United States, most people earn less than the average income. That means it is in the interest of the majority to vote for politicians promising to redistribute wealth from the top down.

So what to do? It was Margaret Thatcher who pioneered a solution. The effort centred on Britain's council estates, which were filled with diehard Labour party supporters. In a bold move, Thatcher offered strong incentives to residents to buy their council-estate flats at reduced rates (much as Bush did decades later by promoting sub-prime mortgages). Those who could afford it became homeowners while those who couldn't faced rents almost twice as high as before, leading to an explosion of homelessness.

As a political strategy, it worked: the renters continued to oppose Thatcher, but polls showed that more than half of the newly minted owners did indeed switch their party affiliation to the Tories. The key was a psychological shift: they now thought like owners, and owners tend to vote Tory. The ownership society as a political project was born."

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