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4 March 2010


Matins: In a discussion with with Christine Smallwood, at The Nation, philosopher Martha Nussbaum isolates the irrationality of disgust, and argues that it ought not to be allowed to influence the discussion of gay marriage.

Disgust, though, is different because it has this singular type of irrationality. It's not noncognitive; it has an idea. But the idea repudiates some aspect of ourselves. It embodies a kind of self-loathing. In the case of compassion, compassion can be uneven; it can target people in a partial way. Or anger can be wrong about the facts. But disgust always has this edgy irrationality about it. It's a way of fleeing from yourself. Whether it's useful in evolutionary terms, that I leave to evolutionary scientists. Probably it is. That doesn't mean that in the law we should rely on it. The imagination of humanity, of course, can be unreliable too. But all we're really asking is that people see the other people as people. And I think that's actually not so unreliable. What we see is that when people know that their children or their children's friends or some relative is gay or lesbian, they immediately change. Then they can't see them as slimy slugs. They're just people. They may not like those people, but they still see them as people.

Lauds: The obituary, in Gramophone, of Bernard Coutaz, founder of classical recording label Harmonia Mundi. Don't miss the video clip. (via Arts Journal)

Harmonia Mundi, under Coutaz’s leadership and with his former wife Eva heading the company’s A&R, maintained the philosophy of allowing artists to grow creatively and always over a number of recordings (no one was ever signed for a one-off project). And the loyalty that Harmonia Mundi showed its artists was returned with many long-term relationships – conductors Philippe Herreweghe and René Jacobs have recorded for the label for years, and both remain key to the company’s roster.

Prime: Don't blame Wall Street for the European debt mess. Blame Jacques Chirac. His politically-savvy victory in 1996 rendered debt regulation fairly toothless. (Wall Street Journal)

That's in part because of a compromise made in a 1996 European summit in Dublin that placed the decision whether to levy fines on errant governments with other EU governments. That was a victory for Jacques Chirac, then French president, over German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who wanted the fines to be automatic. Since then no country has been fined.

Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citigroup and a former member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England, described the 1996 agreement aimed at enforcing the debt and deficit rules as "a paper tiger."

"It is ineffective, because for a while it created the illusion that there were sticks and carrots capable of changing the fiscal behavior of the member states, when in reality there were neither," he wrote in a new research report.

Tierce: The earthquake in Chile may have shifted the planet's axis, and shortened the day by microseconds. (Sidney Morning Herald; via cityofsound)

"It's what we call the ice-skater effect," David Kerridge, head of Earth hazards and systems at the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, said in a telephone interview.

"As the ice skater [moves] when she's going around in a circle, and she pulls her arms in, she gets faster and faster. It's the same idea with the Earth going around if you change the distribution of mass, the rotation rate changes."

And, at The Infrastructurist, Melissa Lafsky discusses the "strong column, weak beam" technology that was instituted in Chile after the 1960 quake, and which may be credited with saving many lives.

Sext: The Rumpus interviews Web log pioneer Jason Kottke. We have always admired Mr Kottke's fundamental humanism.

Rumpus: I’ve read that you didn’t go to school for design or computer science. What did you go for?

Kottke: I went to college not knowing what the hell to major in — I was interested in everything and couldn’t decide — and popped out with a physics degree. My senior honors thesis was on the physical properties of rubidium and cesium borosilicate glasses. I had more fun tinkering with the layout of the thesis than doing the research, which eventually led me to reconsider my career path. However, the varied subject matter that makes up on a daily basis is attributable to the to the wide range of interests that I entered college with and the even wider range of subjects I was able to study in college.

Nones: So, does Chinese spokesman Zhao Qizheng mean that the US gets to pick the radio station? (BBC News)

"The responsibility for the current difficulty in China-US relations goes completely to the US side," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters on Tuesday.

"We hope the US side takes the Chinese position seriously."

"The Americans need to understand that the China-US relationship is like a car with two drivers," said Zhao Qizheng, a spokesman for the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a legislative advisory body.

"China also has control over the steering wheel, the accelerator and the brake. The two drivers must consult with each other to drive the car, otherwise it will only spin around," he said.

Reminds us of Lord Macartney's Embassy.

Vespers: At The Millions, fiction writer Victoria Patterson confesses that she can't write at home. But she knows how to make writing in public work for her.

I became known as “that woman who writes”—the patrons and employees showing me new tattoos, telling me about their breakups and fights and hangovers, and complaining about the “dickhead” who owned the coffeehouse.  One of my favorites, a purple-haired, eyeliner and mascara wearing boy of thirteen, asked me one afternoon if I would name a character after him, and I agreed: thus, the son in my story “Castaways” became Anthony.  Another time, two young women—regulars who had spoken with me a few times before—became enthralled with a sweaty man who entered the coffeehouse in an agitated state; he told them he’d just ran from the cops after stealing a car and leaving it abandoned at the side of the freeway.  He had a neck tattoo and spoke in a hushed tone.  As they began to leave the coffeehouse—the young women following behind him—one of the girls turned and shot me a wistful look, and I couldn’t help calling out, “Be careful!” to which I received a small sad smile from her and a full on glare from the man.

Compline: Why Tony Judt believes that “'Identity' is a dangerous word. It has no respectable contemporary uses." (NYRBlog)

This warm bath of identity was always alien to me. I grew up in England and English is the language in which I think and write. London—my birthplace—remains familiar to me for all the many changes that it has seen over the decades. I know the country well; I even share some of its prejudices and predilections. But when I think or speak of the English, I instinctively use the third person: I don’t identify with them.

In part this may be because I am Jewish: when I was growing up Jews were the only significant minority in Christian Britain and the object of mild but unmistakable cultural prejudice. On the other hand, my parents stood quite apart from the organized Jewish community. We celebrated no Jewish holidays (I always had a Christmas tree and Easter eggs), followed no rabbinical injunctions, and only identified with Judaism over Friday evening meals with grandparents. Thanks to an English schooling, I am more familiar with the Anglican liturgy than with many of the rites and practices of Judaism. So if I grew up Jewish, it was as a decidedly non-Jewish Jew.

Did this tangential relationship to Englishness derive from my father’s birthplace (Antwerp)? Possibly, but then he too lacked a conventional “identity”: he was not a Belgian citizen but the child of stateless migrants who had come to Antwerp from the tsarist empire. Today we would say his parents were born in what had not yet become Poland and Lithuania. However, neither of these newly formed countries would have given the time of day—much less citizenship—to a pair of Belgian Jews. And even though my mother (like me) was born in the East End of London, and was thus a genuine Cockney, her parents came from Russia and Romania: countries of which she knew nothing and whose languages she could not speak. Like hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants, they communicated in Yiddish, a language that was of no discernible service to their children.

I was thus neither English nor Jewish. And yet, I feel strongly that I am—in different ways and at different times—both.

We could not agree more whole-heartedly.

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