Friday, April 29, 2011

This Weekend: PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature

Continuing through Sunday, May 1, more than 100 writers from 40 nations convene in New York City to celebrate the power of the writer’s voice as a bold and vital element of public discourse. The PEN (Poets-Essayists-Novelists) organization challenges New Yorkers to "Dare to view the world from a fresh perspective at stages across the city, including the festival’s hubs—The Standard, New York and the High Line. The program features panel discussions, one-on-one conversations, readings, performances, and much more."

A variety of voices -- established and new-- are being featured in numerous venues around town, including Wole Soyinka, readings from David Foster Wallace's Pale King by Rick Moody, A Translation Slam,  Comics on Stage, wrtiers from Asia, conversations hosted by Salman Rushdie, as well as Laurie Anderson, Gioconda Belli, Harold Bloom, Deborah Eisenberg, Malcolm Gladwell, Hanif Kureishi, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Amélie Nothomb, Cynthia Ozick, Elif Shafak, Wallace Shawn, Edmund White, and Irvine Welsh -- there is quite a bit on tap.

I am looking forward to a staged reading of The Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin. I recently finished Mr. Sorokin's fascinating novel The Day of the Oprichnik (translation by Jamie Gambrell; published by Farrah Strauss Giroux) which is an extremely colorful, accessible, and disturbing vision of a future Russia (and world).

As a long time fan of Vladimir Voynovich's 1987 satire, "Moscow 2040," which is a novel about Glasnost written before the end of the Soviet Union, I was delighted to discover Mr. Sorokin's work, which is darker, more violent, with a satire more corrosive and a view of  the future --not just of Russia, but the world -- that is high flying and visionary. I am currently reading Mr. Sorokin's novel Ice Trilogy, which has a dramatically different theme but is an equally extreme and engaging read.  In a separate event, Mr. Sorokin also will be speaking in conversation at Cooper Union tomorrow with Keith Gessen of n+1. Details here

For more information regarding the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature visit here

Saturday, April 23, 2011

On the trail of the Higgs Boson -- finally found or premature rumors?

Has the Large Hadron Collider struck paydirt? Based on unofficial blogs and reports, rumors have it that that the physicists at CERN have located the elusive "God Particle" ? Scientific scuttlebut that slipped out before being subject to scientific scrutiny? Or  mass collider  malarkey? More to come.
Details here

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

CODA: Chancellor Walcott-- Grille or Be Grilled

Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn received a reply to the post below that "I never made waffles--I guess I wouldn't qualify as Chancellor. But I could order them if necessary."

DITHOB responded (incredulously): "You—never –made --waffles? How about pancakes? French toast? Corn muffins? Lol…..any of those – I bet you could swing a waiver."

Chancellor Walcott -- Grille or Be Grilled

I guess it is more fun to be behind the grille at PS 10 in Park Slope than being grilled by public officials in Albany and at the NY City Council, but Chancellor Dennis Walcott, for the moment, seems to make it all look easy.

At the end of the day, Chancellor Walcott is still the Mayor's appointee, so this honeymoon, which by definition usually can be expected to end before it even starts, will be a fleeting thing. But clearly, after nearly a decade of the hard charging Joel Klein, who, with all of his good intentions, sometimes came off like a combination of the "eminently practical" Thomas Gradgrind ("Figures!") and the cold, remote Mr. M'Choakumchild from Dickens' Hard Times, who was then quickly followed by the collapse of the brief Cathie Black administration (currently the subject of a continued spotlight as a result of the FOIL request by NY State Senator Ruben Diaz) , New Yorkers -- and their children -- are clearly Ready for A Change.

Mr. Walcott may have some rocky roads ahead, but as shown in the above photo from this morning, in some cases, the Mayor has learned that you can't buy publicity like this. (Or the beautiful photo op of Mr. Walcott walking his grandson Justin to school.) Yeah, this may be politics, the grand gesture, the Bella Figura, but one hopes that Mr. Walcott is as he seems -- a good guy, a real New Yorker, who, despite being a politician, really loves kids and is comfortable being with them and working with them, and is generally capable of making friends and influencing people.

Running with scissors may come later. But for now, this will work just fine.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tonight in Bay Ridge: NYC Comptroller John Liu

New York City Comptroller John Liu and former Congressman Michael McMahon will speak tonight at 7:30 PM at Good Shepherd Church, 7420 Fourth Avenue, (R train to 77th Street). Refreshments served.
All are welcome. Sponsored by the Bay Ridge Democrats; link here

About Comptroller John Liu (NYC's first Citywide elected Asian American Official) here

Website of the Office of the Comptroller here

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

CODA: Who Owns Facebook? The Plot Thickens

Well, despite the Federal court decision which effectively benched the Winklevoss's appeal, the tale of who was actually present at the birth of the landmark social networking site is not yet over.

For, lost in the mists of time, did Mark Zuckerberg in fact sign away half of to investor Paul Ceglia, as a lawsuit claims? Although one could easily imagine spurious claimants to the Facebook fortune coming out of the woodwork for years to come, investor Paul Ceglia has provided an email trail with  Mr. Zuckerberg claiming that they had an agreement. Henry Blodget's Business Insider website suggests that the evidence is "startling."  Mr. Ceglia's lawsuit has been filed by a major law firm.  Perhaps Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss and Eduardo Savarin should be happy that they reached prior settlements and can take the money and run.

The Business Insider offers the full story here

An interesting review of the previous Facebook saga, aside from Ben Mezrich's excellent Accidental Billionaires and the wonderful film "The Social Network" is offered here at the Wall Street CheatSheet

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

50th Anniversary of the First Human Spaceflight

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (Russian: Ю́рий Алексе́евич Гага́рин,Russian pronunciation; 9 March 1934 – 27 March 1968) was a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut. He was the first human being to journey into outer space, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961.

The NY Times recently published an excerpt in the the weekend "T" magazine of "Starman" a book by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, never before published in the US, about the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin. Link here to read an excerpt from this fascinating story.

More here

This was the event that sparked the "Space Race": a mid-to-late twentieth century competition between the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States (US) for supremacy in outer space exploration. Between 1957 and 1975, Cold War rivalry between the two nations focused on attaining firsts in space exploration, which were seen as necessary for national security and symbolic of technological and ideological superiority. The Space Race involved pioneering efforts to launch artificial satellites, sub-orbital and orbital human spaceflight around the Earth, and piloted voyages to the Moon. It effectively began with the Soviet launch of the Sputnik 1 artificial satellite on 4 October 1957, and concluded with the co-operative Apollo-Soyuz Test Project human spaceflight mission in July 1975. The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project came to symbolize détente, a partial easing of strained relations between the USSR and the US. The Space Race had its origins in the missile-based arms race that occurred just after the end of the World War II, when both the Soviet Union and the United States captured advanced German rocket technology and personnel.

The Space Race sparked unprecedented increases in spending on education and pure research, which accelerated scientific advancements and led to beneficial spin-off technologies. An unforeseen consequence was that the Space Race contributed to the birth of the environmental movement; the first color pictures of Earth taken from deep space were used as icons by the movement to show the planet as a fragile "blue marble" surrounded by the blackness of space.

Yuri Gargarin's journey, taken with incredible risk, sparked the effort that resulted in the US's first successful interplanetary journeys to the Moon, and the sending of unmanned automated ships to the other planets and the edge of the Solar System. May you live in interesting times.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Federal Bench Denies Winklevii Appeal

First off, as a Father of Twins (FoT), I learned early that it is bad form to refer to twins as "Twins", "The Twins", etc.

Therefore, the Breitbart website adds a little more pepper to the pot by referring to Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss as the "Winklevoss Twins" as it reported that a panel of Federal judges have denied their appeal to overturn their previous settlement with Facebook, which was pivotally captured in this year's film, "The Social Network" which was directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin based at least in part on Ben Mezrich's "The Accidental Billionaires."

The ruling by three Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judges stated: "The Winklevosses are not the first parties bested by a competitor who then seek to gain through litigation what they were unable to achieve in the marketplace." "At some point, litigation must come to an end," the judges continued. "That point has now been reached."


However, the Winklevosses inked a settlement two years ago that got them $20 million in cash and $45 million worth of stock valued at $36 per share. Breitbart reports that the value of that yet-to-be-issued stock has skyrocketed along with Facebook's estimated market value, which was placed at $50 billion early this year, the judges noted in their ruling.

"With the help of a team of lawyers and a financial advisor, they made a deal that appears quite favorable in light of recent market activity," the judges said.

Nevertheless, while the battle may have been a struggle comprised of equal parts of pride, fair play, competition and sour grapes on all parts, clearly the Winklevii did well enough to keep them in macons and cleavers for the foreseeable future. 
Row, boys, row.

Link here

Friday, April 8, 2011

Turning Point: NY Post's John Podhoretz on "Management Fetishism"

John Podhortez of the NY Post is a conservative writer who doesn't keep his counsel or suffer fools lightly. Therefore, of all of the ink spilled over the sudden "separation from service" of Cathleen P. Black as Chancellor and her replacement by Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, Mr. Podhoretz's article in today's NY Post seems to address most cogently the rise and fall of the Mayor's decision making process in this matter, which appears more uregent and to the point than that of the former Chancellor herself. Sadly, a squandered opportunity no doubt for Ms. Black, as the first woman to hold that post in NYC.

But the article seems to not only address the meaning of this folly in NYC, as much as a reassessment of the entire culture change that has evolved as an ideology of privatization, where public funds are funneled to the private sector, and that equates government as manageable in the same way as businesses. A few examples from his article:

"After three months of hell, Mayor Bloomberg finally put Cathie Black out of her misery as schools chancellor -- a fiendishly difficult and complicated job that he was foolish to have offered her and that she was foolish to have accepted.

The questions that arise from this fiasco are: Why did he offer it in the first place -- and why did she accept when she was so obviously unqualified?

The answer: managerial fetishism. ..

This is the idea that a good manager should be able to manage anything, from a lemonade stand to a publishing business to a $17 billion educational system. After all, or so the thinking goes, a good manager uses good management principles that apply to any and every task involving people, goods and services.

Good management is, of course, key to any successful business -- indeed, any successful enterprise. But there is a problem with the notion that you can be a brilliant manager when you know nothing about the task you are managing. That's what it means to make a fetish out of management. The problem is that it's a ridiculous notion.

Perhaps Bloomberg was right to think Black was a brilliant private-sector manager.... Where he was disastrously wrong was in believing that someone skilled at selling ad bundles to Madison Avenue for a national newspaper and consumer magazines could bring those skills to bear on raising third-grade reading scores in South Jamaica.

It's no wonder he'd get that wrong. After all, Bloomberg counted on managerial fetishism to win his elections for New York City mayor....
Businesses have to keep their books in balance, have to live within their means, have to provide good service to customers -- so shouldn't government? Shouldn't the school system?

In hiring Black, Bloomberg was indulging in the conceit, especially popular in times of dysfunction, that government can and should be run "like a business."

It sounds wonderful, and that's why people fall for it. But it's nonsense. Government can't be run like a business. Government is by definition a collective. It's run not to earn a profit or produce goods people want but rather to provide services with money it appropriates for the purpose.

The questions that government must address are: What services will it provide? How will it provide them? And at whose expense are they to be provided?

These are practical questions, yes, but they're also moral ones, because government has the power to take people's money, to order their children to attend failing schools and to imprison them if they fail to heed the government's mandate.

The people who run governments aren't merely supposed to be managers. They're supposed to be leaders who guide the body politic -- while at the very same time serving as the employees of the same body politic they're supposed to lead. It's a rather complicated role.... "

Mr. Podhoretz's full article here

Although the above author would likely not agree, but this same "managerial fetishism" seems the same conceit -- of power, ego and plutocracy-- that makes corporations and wealthy individuals complain about taxation but be more than happy to contribute money to a charter or other school which allows them to come in and throw their managerial and executive weight around, since it's their dime, and manage the school leadership (i.e., professional educators). A sense of nobless oblige that translates into "Only Business Management Knows Best." Well, given this battle between a flagging public sector and an hallucinatory corporate sector that can run the economy into the ground one minute and then seek to deny unemployment and other benefits to  those in need as a result of the privcate sector's own mad actions, what else can one say but -- G-d bless American business, but tax them and tax them hard.

With all of this still unfolding in NYC, coupled with the disasters of weak government regulation that played a role in the Japanese nuclear crisis, and the uncertainty resulting from the Tea Party/GOP/Democratic standoff in Washington,DC , whether this is a watershed moment is too soon to tell. But, clearly, the feeling is out there that a new corner may have been turned in New York City government.

--Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn

Thursday, April 7, 2011

NY1: Cathie Black Stepping Down. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott To Be Named Chancellor

NY1 Reports in a breaking story that Chancellor Cathleen Black will be resigning; replaced by Deputy Mayor for Education Dennis Walcott.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Zizek:Situation Catastrophic..but Not Serious

Philosopher, Social Critic and Theorist and Psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek
speaking at The Graduate Center of the City University of NY in Midtown last night
photo by Tony Napoli

Damn, Zizek! It's 9 PM, I haven't eaten today, I never got that pre-lecture Scotch I was thinking about earlier, and the remarkable Hegelian, Marxist, Lacanian circumlocutions of this curious Slovenian philosopher continue to spin out longer than Spiderman's Broadway webs. Even his colleagues who attempt to close the program with a Q & A with the audience are struggling-- once he begins to speak, from a prepared lecture document, it is still clearly impossible to keep SZ on track, with his humor, trenchant observations, and Slovenian lisp and tics and mannerisms. But what a thinker: Are we -- or the vast majority of us, anyway -- part of the proletariat, no matter how we view our status? Is organic food, or Starbucks coffee for that matter, merely a delusion that the developed world indulges in so that one can feel you are actually doing something more politically activist beyond simple capitalist consumption? Do we assume that democratic liberalism is a natural state that all societies will aspire to as part of the process of overturning state apparati about which they are less sanguine?

As one writer has observed "Žižek is a strange hybrid, particularly in American intellectual life: a celebrity-philosopher, a self-described Marxist and communist (with all appropriate qualifications) who ran for president of Slovenia as a liberal democrat, a prolific author of obscure texts, a Lacanian psychoanalyst who ransacks and gropes through everything from popular culture to philosophic esoterica, mapping human perversities and possibilities."

And, "Zizek is very much a thinker for our turbulent, high speed, information-led lives" Sophie Fiennes told The Guardian in a June 27 story about casting Žižek as the star of her 2006 documentary, The Pervert's Guide to Cinema. "Precisely because he insists on the freedom to stop and think hard about who you are as an individual in this fragmented society."

The lecture served to launch The Committee on Globalization and Social Change, an interdisciplinary working group composed of a core group of CUNY faculty interested in reflecting on globalization as an analytic category for understanding social change.

"The Situation Is Catastrophic, but Not Serious" according to Zizek was an alleged message of the Austrian military headquarters during WWI renders perfectly our attitude towards the ongoing crisis: we are aware of the looming (ecological, social) catastrophes, but we somehow don' t take them seriously. What ideology sustains such an attitude?

What is fascinating about Zizek, as he made clear in his lecture, is that he does not present himself as an Absolute Other, who has all of the answers to the meaning of life in these turbulent times, based on an ideology. Instead, using Marxism and psychoanalysis as critical tools, Zizek slips in and out of who he is and what interests him -- high and low art, films, philosophy, psychoanalysis, anthropology, religion, communism and Christianity. And, to this observer, this is all done in the service of continuing to challenge the world and its assumptions and suppositions (and suppositories). While we may never fully understand the world, or wisely manage its resources, or meaningfully improve it, only by continuing to bring a critical mind to the effort, challenging ourselves and the Other as presented by the State, by systems, institutions and private myths of individuals, can we bear to live in it as Human Beings.

Zizek wiki

Zizek on Catastrophes as Part of Daily Life here

--Tony Napoli

Current Reading

  • Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War- Tony Horwitz
  • A Sultan in Palermo - Tariq Ali
  • Hitch-22: A Memoir - Christopher Hitchens
  • Negropedia- Patrice Evans
  • Dead Funny: Humor in Nazi Germany - Rudolph Herzog
  • Exile on Main Street - Robert Greenfield
  • Among the Truthers - A Journey Among America's Growing Conspiracist Underworld - Jonathan Kay
  • Paradise Lost - John Milton
  • What Is Your Dangerous Idea? Thinking the Unthinkable - John Brockman
  • Notes from the Edge Times - Daniel Pinchbeck
  • Fringe-ology: How I Can't Explain Away the Unexplainable- Steve Volk
  • Un Juif pour l'exemple (translated as A Jew Must Die )- Jacques Cheesex
  • The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
  • Pale King - David Foster Wallce
  • David Bowie: Starman bio - Paul Trynka
  • Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat - Andrez Bergen
  • The Future of Nostalgia -Svetlana Boym
  • Living in the End Times - Slavoj ZIzek
  • FIrst as Tragedy Next as Farce - Slavoj Zizek
  • How to Survive a Robot Uprising - Daniel Wilson
  • Where is My Jet Pack? -Daniel Wilson
  • Day of the Oprichniks - Vladimir Sorokin
  • Ice Trilogy - Vladimir Sorokin
  • First Civilizations
  • Oscar Wilde -Andre Maurois
  • The Beats - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • SDS - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • The Unfinished Animal - Theodore Roszak
  • Friends of Eddy Coyle
  • Brooklands -Emily Barton
  • Abraham Lincoln - Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahme-Smith - Entertaining and historical
  • Dictionary of the Khazars - Pavic
  • Sloth-Gilbert Hernandez
  • War and Peace- Leo Tolstoy
  • Charles Addams: An Evilution
  • Life in Ancient Greece
  • Time - Eva Hoffmann
  • Violence - S. Zizek
  • Luba - a graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez
  • Life in Ancient Egypt
  • Great Apes - Will Self - riveting and disturbing
  • Lost Honor of Katherina Blum - Heinrich Boll - could not put it down
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed (author deserving of new wide readership)
  • Living in Ancient Mesopotomia
  • Landscape in Concrete - Jakov Lind - surreal
  • 'There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor's Baby'-Ludmilla Petrushevskaya - creepy stories - translation feels literarily "thin"
  • Mythologies - William Butler Yeats (re-read again & again)
  • How German Is It ? - Walter Abish
  • The Book of Genesis - illustrated by R. Crumb - visionary
  • "Flags" - an illustrated encyclopedia - wish I could remember all of these. Flag culture
  • Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Ubik - Philip K. Dick
  • Nobody's Fool - Richard Russo
  • Hitler's Empire - Mark Mazower
  • Nazi Culture - various authors
  • Master Plan: Himmler 's Scholars and the Holocaust - Heather Pringle
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem - Hannah Arendt
  • Living in Ancient Rome
  • Traveling with Herodotus -R. Kapuszynsky
  • Oblivion - David Foster Wallace - Some of his greatest work
  • Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace - still wrestling with this great book
  • Netherland - Joseph O'Neill - staggeringly great read
  • Renegade - The Obama Campaign - Richard Wolffe
  • Mount Analogue - Rene Daumal
  • John Brown
  • Anathem - Neal Stephenson - love Stephenson but tough slogging first few chapters
  • 7 Deadly Sins
  • ALEX COX - Alex Cox
  • FIASCO by Thomas Ricks
  • I, Fellini - Charlotte Chandler & Federico Fellini
  • Best of 20th century alternative history fiction
  • Judah P. Benjamin - Eli Evans - Confederacy's Secretary of State & source of the W.C. Field's exclamation
  • Moscow 2042 - Vladimir Voinovich - Pre-1989 curiosity & entertaining sci fi read; love his portrayal of Solzhenitsyn-like character
  • Gomorrah - Roberto Saviano - Mafia without the It-Am sugar coating. Brutal & disturbing
  • The Sack of Rome - Celebrity+Media+Money=Silvio Berlusconi - Alexander Stille
  • Reporting - David Remnick - terrific journalism
  • Fassbinder
  • Indignation - Philip Roth
  • Rome
  • Let's Go Italy! 2008
  • Italian Phrases for Dummies
  • How to Pack
  • Violence - Slavoj Zizek
  • Dali: Painting & Film
  • The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight - Jimmy Breslin
  • The Good Rat - Jimmy Breslin
  • Spook Country - William Gibson
  • A Blue Hand - The Beats in India - Deborah Baker
  • The Metaphysical Club - Louis Menard
  • Coast of Utopia - Tom Stoppard
  • Physics of the Impossible - Dr. Michio Kaku
  • Managing the Unexpected - Weick & Sutcliffe
  • Wait Til The Midnight Hour - Writings on Black Power
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed
  • Burning Down the Masters' House - Jayson Blair
  • Howl - Allen Ginsberg
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Palace Thief - Ethan Canin
  • John Adams - David McCullough
  • The Wooden Sea - Jonathan Carroll
  • American Gangster - Mark Jacobson
  • Return of the King - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Gawker Guide to Becoming King of All Media
  • Jews and Power - Ruth Wisse
  • Youth Without Youth - Mircea Eliade
  • A Team of Rivals - Doris Goodwin
  • Ghost Hunters -William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death - Deborah Blum
  • Dream -Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy - Stephen Duncombe
  • Love & Theft - Eric Lott
  • Exit Ghost - Philip Roth
  • Studio A - The Bob Dylan Reader

Current Listening

  • Alexi Murdoch Wait
  • Wilco Summer Teeth
  • Wilco The Album
  • Carmina Burana - Ray Manzarek (& Michael Riesmann)
  • Polyrock - Polyrock
  • 96 Tears - Garland Jeffries
  • Ghost of a Chance Garland Jeffries
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra
  • Mustang Sally Buddy Guy
  • John Lee Hooker
  • Black and White Years
  • Together Through Life - B. Dylan
  • 100 Days 100 Nites - Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
  • DYLAN: 3 disc Greatest...
  • Glassworks - Philip Glass
  • Wild Palms - Soundtrack -Ryuichi Sakamoto
  • Dinah Washington - Best of..
  • Commander Cody& His Lost Planet Airmen Live at Armadillo