Magnetic suns and moth balls

Joaquin Phoenix and Vinessa Shaw in James Gray's <i>Two Lovers</i>
Joaquin Phoenix and Vinessa Shaw in James Gray's Two Lovers

Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) does not on the face of it seem like the kind of man who would end up with two attractive lovers at the same time. He is in his mid-thirties and lives with his parents. He works as a delivery man for his father’s antiquated dry cleaning business. He takes black and white photographs as a hobby, but shoots only buildings. He takes medication for a variety of bipolar disorder. And in the opening scene of the film, he attempts to commit suicide (not for the first time, his worried parents remind themselves) by jumping off a pier.

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Crime without punishment

A moment of great rejoicing for human rights activists and champions of the rule of law came at the beginning of this month as former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in jail for “crimes against humanity”, having authorized murders, kidnappings, and torture as part of a severe anti-terrorist campaign in the 1990s. Fujimori’s sentencing, one must hope, will send a powerful message to government leaders around the world that maintaining public security is an insufficient excuse for violating fundamental human rights, and that even presidents will be held to account for the crimes they commit in office.

But not in America.

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International Under-achievers

As in high school, so in the international arena, there are over-achievers and under-achievers. Stephen Walt draws ups a list  draws up a list of  countries that punch above their weight (Canada, Sweden, North Korea, Israel, Singapore) as well as global slackers (Japan, Germany, Russia, India, Brazil). Walt has some interesting speculations as to why some countries are small in size but cast huge shadows while others look at first glace like elephants but actually squeek like mice.

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Commentary on Genocide Prevention


African Union troops on patrol in Darfur.
African Union troops on patrol in Darfur.

Commentary has an interesting essay on international efforts to prevent genocide in Darfur and elsewhere.  The author, Tod Lindberg, does a persuasive job rebutting many of the conservative arguments against genocide prevention. It is refreshing to see a conservative endorse the concept of responsibility to protect (R2P).  As Lindberg notes, to date the idea has “mainly been the province of liberal internationalists and human-rights groups on the Left.” However, there are some leftists who have made the mistake of thinking that because the Iraq War was misguided, military intervention as such is always wrong. Such observers often view genocide prevention through the prism of colonialism. This approach has the sad outcome, intentional or not, of giving a do-nothing approach to genocide a progressive sheen. Here’s hoping a left-wing Lindberg emerges to rebut this view also.

J.G. Ballard: The Literature of Happiness


J.G. Ballard’s most famous novel: another happy tale?

The late J.G. Ballard had a reputation as a glum and depressingwriter, obsessed with apocalypse and disaster. And it’s true that the subjects of his books — car crashes, life in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, world-destroying  catastrophes — are rather on the sober side.

But Ballard saw himself as something different, as a writer of happiness. As Ballard told Charles Platt in 1979 interview (available in Platt’s book Dream Makers):

Most of my fiction, whatever its settings may be, is not pessimistic. It’s a fiction of psychological fulfillment. Most people think that I write a fiction of unhappy endings, but it’s not true. The hero of The Drowned World, who goes south toward the sun and self-oblivion, is choosing a sensible course of action that will result in absolute psychological fulfillment for himself. In a sense — he has — sort of — hit the jackpot! He has; he’s won the psychological sweepstakes. I mean, the book makes no sense, and the hero’s behaviour is meaningless, if you don’t see it that way. It’s the same thing in Crash [his traumatic novel of perversion, violence, and the automobile]. The whole dynamic of that book, I suppose, leads toward the ultimate car crash, which we all celebrate; something like that. All my fiction describes the merging of the self in the ultimate metaphor, the ultimate image, and that’s psychologically fulfilling. It seems to me to be the only recipe for happiness we know.

Talking Comics



Kent Worcester and I were interviewed about our new book A Comics Studies Reader by the radio show Inkstuds. You can listen to the program here.

It’s a fairly wide-ranging discussion, not just about our book but really about the state of comics. Among other topics touched on:

1. How reading Marxist cultural critic C.L.R. James influenced Kent’s comic criticism.

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A detail from Roland Petersen‘s “Picnic with 6 figures and flag” (2004). The San Francisco Bay Area painter recently turned 83; in World War II he served as a gunner on a destroyer, the USS Rooks, and bombarded Japanese positions on Iwo Jima. At Officer Candidate School, Petersen began to take art classes on the side, a hobby that led to an M.A. in art and eventually to a professorship at University of California, Davis, where he taught for 37 years.

I deal with color relationships, which I try to think of as a sequence of colors that have a kind of rhythm going, as in music. And I try to deal with changing that rhythm upside down, inside out and in any way that I can vary that. The kind of feeling that I am trying to achieve in my work is pretty much a kind of isolation of a person being alone in his own thoughts so to speak. And this kind of approach seemed to be a natural way of working. I have always admired the work of Seurat. And this kind of almost Egyptian-like stiffness or silence, which I like to see in art, is what I try to achieve. So this timeless kind of essence, I guess one might say, is what I’m trying to capture.

– Oral history interview with Roland C. Petersen, Sept. 17, 2002, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

"Picnic with 6 figures and flag", by Roland Petersen (2004)
"Picnic with 6 figures and flag", by Roland Petersen (2004)

We’re doin’ it for the kids

An Afghan woman and her daughter grieve after an air strike in Shindand district last summer. Photograph: Fraidoon Pooyaa/AP

A very interesting article appears today in the Independent, discussing some policy concessions proposed by representatives of the Taliban who have been quietly negotiating with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government. Among the proposals: a commitment to refrain from banning the education of girls, measuring the length of beards, or making the wearing of burqas compulsory.

This puts in a new context yesterday’s revelation that President Karzai recently signed a law that codifies the rights of Afghanistan’s Shi’as to be governed by family law based on traditional Shi’a jurisprudence, which (it is believed, since the law itself has not yet been publicly released) prevents women from refusing to have sex with their husbands or leaving the house without their husbands’ permission.

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