Roving thoughts and provocations

Over the High-Tech Rainbow

Sue Halpern

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The day after the iPhone 4S was launched, Apple’s founder and resident seer, Steve Jobs, died. One of the most popular Jobs quotes circulating in the days after his death was one that he attributed to hockey great Wayne Gretzky: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” After three days of record iPhone 4S sales, there’s no better example of playing to where the puck is going to be than Siri. There are other “personal assistant” smart phone apps available. Indeed, before Apple removed it from its App Store, Siri was one of them. But who knew that consumers wanted Siri baked into their phone, and into Apple’s servers, which stores all previous “conversations,” so that Siri gets more and more familiar with its “boss” all the time? Steve Jobs, obviously.

Playing to where the puck is going to be is, of course, a proxy for anticipating and then apprehending the future. At a conference at the MIT Media Lab last week sponsored by Technology Review, engineers, scientists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, students, and corporate spokespeople were engaged in the journal’s annual attempt both to anticipate where the puck will land and, at the same time, push it there.

Why Mice?

Art Spiegelman

Art Spiegelman

Twenty-five years ago, Art Spiegelman published the first of his Maus books—a pair of graphic novels about the experiences of the author’s father during the Holocaust, with Jews drawn as wide-eyed mice and Nazis as menacing cats. Maus II was awarded the Pulitzer prize in 1991—the only graphic novel ever to win—and both books continue to move and provoke readers. In his new book MetaMaus, Spiegelman talks with Hillary Chute, a professor of English at the University of Chicago, about how the Maus books came into being. What follows is the first of two excerpts from their conversation.

From the West Bank: When Brutality Enters the Mainstream

David Shulman

Oren Ziv/Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity

There are tragic internal concomitants to the dramatic political failure at the top in Israel. That failure and the moral pathology that motivates it are more and more seeping down into the Israeli grass roots; or maybe they have been festering there for years, fed by the occupation and its cruelties. Ehud Barak used to say that when a truly moderate Palestinian leadership would arise, the demand to make peace would well up from below in Israel and force the government to act in this direction. Evidently, he was wrong. Consider what happened on the second day of Rosh Hashana, Friday, September 30, in the settlement known as Anatot, just north of Jerusalem.

Fiddling While Rome Burns

Ingrid D. Rowland

Gregorio Borgia/AP Images

On Thursday, my students and I walked along from the Colosseum to the Cathedral of Saint John Lateran in Rome. Two nights later, those same Roman streets became a battleground, as a group of about 1500 black-clad, hooded incognito street fighters succeeded in derailing one of the largest economic protests that has yet been staged in any western country. It had been planned as a huge non-violent demonstration by some 150,000 “Indignati”—outraged Italian citizens—to decry the Berlusconi government’s failure to face the global economic crisis, and it was meant to chime in with similar protests taking place in many other countries. But as the demonstration moved peacefully down toward the Roman Forum, the masked street fighters, both male and female, jumped into action, smashing shop windows, uprooting signs, burning cars, throwing bottles, cobblestones, fire extinguishers and petards, and brutally beating anyone in their way: journalists, peaceful demonstrators, and police.

From the West Bank: The Palestinians Are Ready

David Shulman

Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images

On the West Bank, the Palestinian September has come and gone in an eerie quiet. Abu Mazen returned from the UN to a hero’s welcome in Ramallah, and there were low-key celebrations in other cities as well; but the mass demonstrations that many predicted, and that the Israelis feared, have not materialized. The Palestinian security forces were given strict orders to keep demonstrators away from potential places of friction such as roadblocks, checkpoints, and of course Israeli settlements. Expecting the worst, the Israeli army invested considerable resources in the latest crowd-control technology, including the infamous “Skunk” spray, which disperses an unbearable malodorous mist, and which some of us have experienced in Bil’in and al-Nabi Saleh; but so far they haven’t needed these methods. In the meantime, has anything changed on the ground?

Massacre in Cairo

Yasmine El Rashidi

Khalil Hamra/AP Photo

On the morning of Sunday, October 9, members of Cairo’s large Coptic community went to the Abbasiya Cathedral, the papal headquarters of the Coptic Church. They prayed, as a Coptic youth leader told me, “for the day to begin and end peacefully, and for a million people to turn up” at the protest march to the State TV Building planned for that afternoon. But the day would be far from peaceful: by its end, more than two dozen civilians, many of them Copts, and several soldiers, would be dead; and in the days since, many Egyptians have come to regard the events surrounding the march as a dark turning point in the country’s bid to build an inclusive democratic society.

The Double World of Tomas Tranströmer

Robin Robertson

robertson_1-111011
Sophie Bassouls/Sygma/Corbis

The landscape of Tranströmer’s poetry has remained constant during his fifty-five-year career: the jagged coastland of his native Sweden, with its dark spruce and pine forests, sudden light and sudden storm, restless seas and endless winters, is mirrored by his direct, plain-speaking style and arresting, unforgettable images. Sometimes referred to as a “buzzard poet,” Tranströmer seems to hang over this landscape with a gimlet eye that sees the world with an almost mystical precision. A view that first appeared open and featureless now holds an anxiety of detail; the voice that first sounded spare and simple now seems subtle, shrewd, and thrillingly intimate. There is a profoundly spiritual element in Tranströmer’s vision, though not a conventionally religious one. He is interested in polarities and how we respond, as humans, to finding ourselves at pivotal points, at the fulcrum of a moment.

Take Care of Your Little Notebook

Charles Simic

Archives of American Art/Smithsonian Institution

Writing with a pen or pencil on a piece of paper is becoming an infrequent activity, even for those who were once taught the rigorous rules of penmanship in grade school and hardly saw a day go by without jotting down a telephone number or a list of food items to buy at the market on the way home, and for that purpose carried with them something to write with and something to write on. In an emergency, lacking pen or notebook, they might even approach a complete stranger to ask for assistance.

Four Weeks on Wall Street

Michael Greenberg

Henny Ray Abrams/AP Photo

At 7:30 PM, near the people’s library, the General Assembly convened. There were about five hundred of us and, as far as I could tell, we were all members for as long as we hung around. From their perch atop the wall on the northeast section of the park, two young women moderated the meeting. “Mike check!” one of the women cried, and with a unison roar the crowd repeated her words. This was “the people’s mike,” used in lieu of bullhorns, megaphones, or other amplification devices that were prohibited because the protesters had no permit. When the crowd has to repeat every word, it shows; for example, during a speech by the Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz, things slowed down. But in the large crowd the repetition created a kind of euphoria of camaraderie. It also put you in the oddly disturbing position at times of shouting at full voice something you neither agreed with nor would ever have thought on your own.