Showing posts from 2011

Ernest Hemingway: war hero, big-game hunter, ‘gin-soaked abusive monster’

Sandra Spanier and Robert W. Trogdon, editors THE LETTERS OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY Volume One: 1907–1922 Paul Hendrickson HEMINGWAY’S BOAT Everything he loved in life, and lost, 1934–1961 "Gee I’m afraid I wont be good for anything after this war!”, Ernest Hemingway wrote to his parents in September 1918. He was recuperating at an Alpine hotel on Lake Maggiore, having been granted leave from the military hospital where he was undergoing “electrical treatments” on his severely wounded legs. “All I know now is war”, the nineteen-year-old continued. “Everything else seems like a dream.”... The prediction that war was all he knew was less reckless than it sounded at the time, however. Hemingway died fifty years ago, shooting himself in the head in the early morning of July 2, 1961, at the house he shared with his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, in Ketchum, Idaho. The last ten years of the marriage, which began in 1946, had been marked by insult, paranoia and violence. “It is more than a yea

Hitler's Assault on the Golden Rule : by Claudia Koontz

The Third George J. Wittenstein Lecture Hitler's Assault on the Golden Rule  by  Claudia Koontz To resist,” from the Latin resistere, means to stand fast, to uphold principles against pressure to abandon them. In her lecture, Claudia Koonz discusses the appeal of the Nazis’ mandate to “Love only the neighbor who is like thyself. ”   Using examples from visual and print media from the 1930s, Koonz explores the moral culture that normalized state-sanctioned persecution, theft, and murder. When we appreciate the force of this culture of impunity, we appreciate afresh the moral courage of the very few who resisted it. Claudia Koonz is professor of History and Women’s Studies at Duke University. Growing up in Wisconsin and attending UW Madison inspired her to ask how ordinary, decent people become mobilized for dangerous, even criminal, collective aims. In graduate school at Columbia University and Rutgers University, she chose Germany as a case study for this question

Egyptian army officer's diary of military life in a revolution

Despite the crucial role played by the military in Egypt's upheaval, little is ever heard from those at the heart of the armed forces: the ordinary, mid-ranking personnel whose loyalty to the military, or lack of it, could yet determine the outcome of the revolution. Now, one insider has penned a unique account of life in the Egyptian army. A reserve officer for several years, he was in active service throughout the anti-Mubarak uprising and worked through this year's unrest before completing his duty in late 2011. The officer's name and identity has been concealed; the text below has been edited for clarity and to preserve the writer's anonymity. "Officer training was intense. Our days started at 5am, and conditions were terrible. It was an attempt to 'break us' and transform us from civilians to military men. The hours were filled with pointless assemblies and formations where we'd stand for hours in the sun, the recital of army songs, singing t

Exotic creatures discovered living at deep-sea vent in Indian Ocean

British scientists have found a remarkable array of creatures, some of them new to science, in one of the most inhospitable regions of the deep sea. In the first ever expedition to explore and take samples from the "Dragon Vent" in the south-west Indian Ocean, remotely operated submarines spotted yeti crabs, sea cucumbers and snails living around the boiling column of mineral-rich water that spews out of the seafloor. Dr Jon Copley , a marine biologist at the University of Southampton who led the exploration of the Dragon Vent, said his team found animals that had not been seen in neighbouring parts of the oceans . "We found a new type of yeti crab.  Yeti crabs are known at vents in the eastern Pacific  and there are two species described so far, but they have very long, hairy arms – ours have short arms and their undersides are covered in bristles. They're quite different to the ones that are known from the Pacific," said Copley. "This is the first time a

Book review: 'Tolstoy: A Russian Life'

Tolstoy: A Russian Life Rosamund Bartlett Count Lev Tolstoy is one of those writers who was as fascinating and complex as his novels and stories. A man so awful and quarrelsome to those around him, especially his long-suffering wife, was nonetheless able to produce masterpieces of serene introspection and humane insights. How could Tolstoy, a loner, a quintessential outsider all his life, understand and evoke the glittering social whirl and intricacies of fashionable salons? How could someone so masculine through and through somehow plumb sympathetically in his fiction the female psyche, which seemed, in real life, to perplex him at times beyond endurance? In short, he is a dream subject for a literary biographer. But with such richness comes the inevitable difficulty of writing about a man whose life was so messy and destructive, so tormented and tormenting to those around him, and reconciling all this mayhem with the lapidary literary products of his head and heart. The good new

Outsider physicists and the oh-my-god particle

IN OCTOBER 1991, astrophysicists observed something incredible in the skies above  Dugway Proving Ground , a former weapons-testing facility in a remote corner of Utah. It was a cosmic ray with an enormous amount of energy - equivalent to the kinetic energy of a baseball travelling at 100 kilometres per hour, but compressed into a subatomic particle. It came to be known as the oh-my-god-particle, and though similar events have been recorded at least 15 times since, mainstream physicists remain baffled by them. To Jim Carter, a trailer-park owner in Enumclaw, Washington, ultra-high-energy cosmic rays pose no problem. They offer proof of a radical theory of the universe he has been developing for 50 years . In Carter's theory, these rays are photons left over from the earliest stage of cosmic evolution. He calls them "apocalyptic photons" and believes that one of them was responsible for the  Tunguska event  in 1908, in which a mysterious something from outer space flatten

Britain's imperial echoes have led it to a ruinous decade of wars

What do Britons "want" in the coming year? An ambassador to Washington was once asked the question on radio and replied, "That's very kind of you, a box of candied fruits would do." Such humble responses are now out of date. As the season of goodwill slithers into that of New Year's resolution, the urge to tell the world how to behave seems uncontrollable. We can suppress a yawn at  David Cameron's sermon on Christian values  and Ed Miliband claiming the Helmand army is making Britain " secure, peaceful and happy ". More troubling is the foreign secretary, William Hague 's, declaration on Facebook of a Christmas ambition to increase "international pressure on Syria … push Burma in the right direction … improve the situation in Somalia … and protect women's rights in the Middle East" among other uplifting goals. The phraseology may seem in place beneath portraits of Pitt and Palmerston, but how must it play with its intended r

Pakistan’s General Problem – By Mohammed Hanif

Two days before the Americans killed Osama bin Laden and took away his bullet-riddled body, General Kiyani addressed Army cadets at Kakul. After declaring a victory of sorts over the militants, he gave our nation a stark choice. And before the nation could even begin to weigh its pros and cons, he went ahead and decided for them: we shall never bargain our honour for prosperity. As things stand, most people in Pakistan have neither honour nor prosperity and will easily settle for their little world not blowing up every day.  The question people really want to ask General Kiyani is that if he and his Army officer colleagues can have both honour  and  prosperity, why can’t we the people have a tiny bit of both? How Pakistan’s Generals turned the country into an international jihadi tourist resort. What is the last thing you say to your best general when ordering him into a do-or-die mission? A prayer maybe, if you are religiously inclined. A short lecture, underlining the importance

America, Israel, Iran: a shifting risk

The many factors that are contributing to an increase of tension over Iran's nuclear ambitions were noted in the previous column in this  series . They include an explosion  at an Iranian missile-plant, the capture of a CIA surveillance-drone, the rhetoric of Republican politicians in the United States, and a hawkish speech by the diplomatic insider and Barack Obama's former adviser on middle-east issues, Dennis Ross (see " America, Israel, Iran: war in focus ", 15 December 2011). The column noted that - Ross's informed  views notwithstanding - the perception of many analysts is that the Obama administration does not anticipate a military confrontation with Iran. This judgment has been reinforced by the remark of the US defence secretary Leon Panetta that a war with Iran could have dangerous consequences. Amid these circumstances and signals, the column highlighted a longer-term strategic issue that might transcend more immediate concerns: the likelihood that Ira

Scientific misconduct

Scientific misconduct is not necessarily a sign of a decline of ethics among scientists today or of the increased competition for tenure and research funds. Accusations of scientific misconduct, sometimes well supported, pepper the history of science from the Greek natural philosophers onward . Ptolemy of Alexandria (90–168), the greatest astronomer of antiquity, has been accused of using without attribution observations of stars made by his predecessor Hipparchus of Rhodes (162–127 BCE), who himself had used much earlier Babylonian observations as if they were his own. Isaac Newton used “fudge factors” to better fit data to his theories. In his studies of hereditary characteristics, Gregor Mendel reported near perfect ratios, and therefore statistically very unlikely ratios, from his pea-plant crossings. When Mendel crossed hybrid plants, he predicted and found that exactly one-third were pure dominants and two-thirds were hybrids. The high unlikelihood of getting exact 1:3 ratios wa

Iraq: What Remains

The world has changed a great deal since the  US  invasion of Iraq in March 2003–thanks in part to that invasion and to the earlier invasion of Afghanistan. And yet, watching President Barack Obama  welcome home the troops  at Fort Bragg on December 14, and the media coverage of that event, it struck me that one thing has not changed. Despite the vast expenses incurred by news organizations following the occupation, and the considerable time that politicians in Washington spent debating its merits, many Americans continue to see in Iraq a reflection of their own country’s ideals and contradictions. They will remember Iraq as an American trauma. But it was, above all, an Iraqi trauma. The country that George W. Bush and Tony Blair have left behind is free of Saddam Hussein, but it is needy and volatile and may tip back into sectarian war . In addition to 4,500  US  soldiers, well over 100,000 civilians have lost their lives. Millions have  fled into exile  or have had to leave their ho

Do China’s Village Protests Help the Regime?

Over the past two weeks, the western press has focused on a striking story out of China: a riveting series of protests in Wukan, a fishing village in the country’s prosperous south. The story is depressingly familiar: Corrupt cadres sell off public land and villagers get nothing. Anger builds and protests erupt. Inept local officials negotiate and then turn to violence, in this case encircling the town with police in hopes of starving the population into submission. According to  interviews  with villagers, officials had been selling off communal land in Wukan since the early 1990s, with few locals seeing any of the proceeds. Resentment finally boiled over this autumn when the last large plot of land in the village was sold—at a time when rising inflation meant many villagers wanted the land to grow their own crops. They rioted, chased the party leaders out of town, and chose a dozen representatives to negotiate . Their demands were that the sales be investigated and officials removed

I don't believe in God, so why is it that I don't want to be labelled an atheist?

A couple of weeks ago, a nurse stood beside my hospital bed with a pen and a clipboard. After the questions about allergies and next of kin came the one about  religion . None, I said, when she asked which one. Her English was hesitant. "You are … what do you call it … an atheist, then? Shall I write that?" "Please just write 'none', or 'no religion'," I said. I don't know why I jibbed at the word atheist. It may have been Jonathan Miller's argument that non-belief in God is a narrow and entirely negative self-description that ignores all the other things you might either believe in or not, from homeopathy through necromancy to the Gaia theory. As a definition it belongs to the same dull category as "non-driver" or "ex-smoker" ; not driving or no longer smoking, just like not believing in God, is an inadequate guide to the self. There are so many richer and more positive ways, or so you hope, to summarise your behaviour a