Adonis Diaries

Archive for October 2013

Have you ever Defaced textbooks and exam papers? How funny were your editing?

Our perpetual Narnian winter has come to an end, the sky is a funny blue color, and some of us are even a slightly redder shade of white.

The fact that spring has sprung is a good thing.

This rise in temperatures implies something that none of you need reminding of – it’s nearly exam season.

Robin Edds posted on Student this April 22, 2013

22 defaced textbooks & exam papers

But before you allow the fear to take control and start crying yourself to sleep, let yourself be cheered up by these rather amusing examples of people who had better things to do than answer silly exam questions…


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Lopsided U.S. Visa-Waiver?

There is this perception that naturalized United States citizens often have a greater appreciation of their adopted country than those born on American soil.

YOUSEF MUNAYYER published in the Opinion Pages of NYT this October 28, 2013:

As a naturalized U.S. citizen who has traveled extensively, particularly across borders where the very notion of citizenship can be a contentious political idea, I have a deep appreciation for my navy blue passport. (Maybe allied countries should agree on passport color to make it easier for crossing borders?)

As I made my way, after a recent trip, from the plane through passport control in Newark’s Liberty Airport, I found myself awestruck.

“Welcome back,” said the immigration official, after scanning my passport, briefly glancing at a computer screen and letting me pass — a process that took about 30 seconds.

“That’s it?” I found myself thinking. I had only been gone three weeks and had already managed to forget what it felt like to have my rights as a citizen respected.

I’d just come back from traveling through Israel and the Palestinian territory it occupies.

In that part of the world, one approaches immigration kiosks prepared for a lengthy wait, inspections and harassing questions (this is true even with Israeli citizenship, which I also hold). The very choice of which travel document to present is considered a political act. The languages I spoke (or didn’t speak), my religion and line of work were all variables that could extend the time I spent at the border crossing.

But back in the States, it didn’t matter to the man at the kiosk that I had a funny-sounding name. It didn’t matter what my religion or ethnicity was. It didn’t matter what my political opinions were.

In a nation where citizenship is valued and discrimination is shunned, the re-entry process took only seconds. I was reminded of the tremendous value of my U.S. citizenship and the navy blue booklet I held in my hand.

I just wish Barbara Boxer would appreciate the value of U.S. citizenship as well. The senator is spearheading legislation that would dangerously devalue it.

The U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, backed by the pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, was introduced by Ms. Boxer and has 53 co-sponsors in the Senate. It legislates, for the first time, the inclusion of Israel in the U.S. visa-waiver program.

This means that Israelis can enter the United States without a visa.

Israel has long sought this prized designation but has always faced resistance from the State Department because the program requires reciprocity.

Israel has been known to routinely deny entry to American citizens, often Arabs or Muslims or others sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, under the usually bogus pretext of “security concerns.”

This discriminatory treatment of U.S. citizens prompted several members of Congress to write to Israel’s ambassador expressing concern that Israeli border officials were “disproportionately singling out, detaining and denying entry to Arab and Muslim Americans,” and requesting all Americans be “treated equally at Israeli ports of entry.”

Sandra Tamari’s case is one example. The 42-year-old U.S. citizen of Palestinian descent traveled to Israel in May of 2012 for an interfaith conference. Upon entry, she was required to provide her Gmail password to Israeli interrogators, who insisted on searching her personal account. After refusing to comply with this and other intrusive requests, she was denied entry and deported.

Numerous similar cases of U.S. citizens being asked for their e-mail and Facebook passwords prior to deportation have been reported. The case of Nour Joudah is another example. She was teaching English in a West Bank high school on a valid, multiple-entry work visa issued by Israel. When she attempted to re-enter Israel after traveling to Jordan for Christmas break, she was denied entry and deported.

Senator Boxer’s legislation, versions of which might pass in both the House and Senate, would allow Israel an exemption to reciprocity. In other words, Israel would get to determine which American citizens it permits to enter.

As an Israeli citizen who is also a Palestinian, I know this problem all too well.

I’ve witnessed firsthand the way Israel discriminates against its own non-Jewish citizens. I am routinely held up for questioning and inspection while watching Jewish Israelis zip by.

As an American citizen, I’m outraged that Senator Boxer and her colleagues are trying to pass a law that allows Israel to discriminate against U.S. citizens. All elected officials took an oath to defend the Constitution.

By legalizing discrimination against U.S. citizens they will violate that oath in both word and spirit.

Even if the problematic language giving Israel an exception is removed from the bill, including Israel in the visa-waiver program at all means that Arab-and Muslim-Americans will have to rely on ill-equipped government agencies like the State Department to enforce reciprocity.

And unfortunately, the State Department has been able to offer little assistance to U.S. citizens of Arab or Muslim origin who are denied entry to Israel, despite what our passports say about allowing Americans to “pass without delay or hindrance.” Instead, the U.S. government has regularly yielded to Israeli demands when it comes to the discriminatory treatment of Americans.

This is likely to continue. That means American citizens will continue to get turned away by Israel because of their ethnic background while the United States opens its doors to all Israelis.

This unequal treatment should not be permitted. Under no circumstances should the United States extend visa-waiver privileges to Israel, or any other state, unless it is willing to guarantee and demand equal treatment of its citizens and their protection from discrimination based on religion, ethnicity or national origin.

Yousef Munayyer is executive director of the Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development, a Palestinian advocacy group in Washington.


Oxford biased against state students? Can hard evidence change behavior of an old Elite institution?

Do top universities favour privately educated students or state school applicants?

Each piece of information (set of data on a department) should be analysed individually and not lumped with other datasets.

Otherwise, statistics might be biased and impression of biased admission policies will wrongly surface.

Easier to get in when not applying for courses that are more competitive

It’s autumn, and a new batch of students are starting university. Some are walking through the ancient gates of an Oxbridge college.

Others are joining a redbrick university like Manchester or Bristol. A few may even be arriving in Warwick as I did (only to realize the University of Warwick is actually in Coventry).

Adam Kucharski posted in the Conversation this October 9, 2013,

Hard Evidence: is Oxford biased against state students

At this time of the year there is an oft-quoted debate, and Oxford and Cambridge Universities tend to be at the heart of it.

Do top universities favour privately educated students or state school applicants?

Beautiful, but is it biased?

Nobody disputes that private school pupils are more likely to apply to Oxford or Cambridge than state school pupils.

Many private schools are also prepped to face the Oxbridge admission process. This is a problem, but recently the Guardian suggested an even more worrying trend.

Looking at data on Oxford University admissions from 2010 to 2012, they compared the fates of independent and state school applicants who went on to achieve the highest possible school marks: 3 or more A* grades at A Level. Their results were as follows:

Independent school applicants with at least three A*s: 2,175 applied; 1,098 accepted.

State school applicants with at least three A*s: 3,196 applied; 1,474 accepted.

Over 50% of independent school applicants got in, but only 46% of state school hopefuls did.

The difference may not seem large at first glance, but it is actually substantial.

If we put both groups of applicants’ names in a hat and randomly picked out candidates until the 2,572 places were filled, there is a less than 0.1% chance we’d pick so many independent school students.

If we didn’t like Oxford or private schools, we might just finish our analysis there.

After all, there seems to be convincing evidence of a bias, and numbers can’t be wrong. Or can they?

The disappearing bias

During the autumn of 1973, the University of Berkeley gave postgraduate places to 44% of male applicants but only 35% of female ones. (And the remaining 20%?  Of what genders were they?)

It was a huge discrepancy, and the university was soon taken to court for discriminating against women.

Berkeley gathered a committee to examine the data. The team included Peter Bickel, a statistician at the university. Along with two colleagues, Bickel started by tallying up admissions for each department separately. Perhaps only a few faculties were to blame for the gap?

Once the team had excluded departments with fairly even acceptance rates, or ones that no women applied to, the six biggest departments (labelled A to F) remained:

The results were startling. Comparing male/female acceptance rates for each individual department, the committee couldn’t find any substantial bias in favour of men. If anything, there was a slight bias towards women. So what was going on?

It was clear from the data that some departments (such as A) were easier to get into than others (such as F). When the committee looked at which of these courses men and women tended to apply to, there was a big difference in preferences:

Most men had applied for the less competitive subjects, whereas a lot of the female applicants had to fight it out for places on the popular courses.

This explained why more men had got into Berkeley: they’d applied for courses that it was easier to get a place on. Although no individual subject favoured men over women, when all the subjects were bundled together it therefore looked like there was a bias towards male applicants.

The contradiction is known as “Simpson’s paradox”, after statistician Edward Simpson who first outlined the problem in 1951.

It can happen whenever we combine sets of data – like departmental admission rates – into a single statistic, when each piece of information should really be analysed individually.

Paradoxes and private schools

Could the recently alleged private school advantage in Oxford admissions be a case of Simpson’s paradox?

To investigate, The Conversation obtained department-level admissions data from Oxford University through a Freedom of Information request. The criteria was the same as in The Guardian article: the 2010-12 success rates of private and state school applicants who had achieved three or more A* grades at A Level.

First, let’s look at the overall acceptance rates:

Independent school applicants with at least three A*s: 2579 applied; 1208 accepted.

State school applicants with at least three A*s: 3247 applied; 1460 accepted.

These figures don’t quite match the ones given in The Guardian article. (The Guardian responded that it may be because of different dataset requests.)

But assuming the figures Oxford gave The Conversation are correct, 45.0% of state school applicants who went on to get 3 A*s were given places, and 46.8% of private school pupils. Unlike the large gap reported by the Guardian, this difference – a mere 1.8% – is not particularly unusual. It is plausible that such a result could have occurred just by chance.

Alternatively, it could have been down to the courses that students opted for. A closer look at the data shows a disproportionate number of private school pupils applied for less popular courses like Classics, and relatively more state school pupils went for competitive subjects like mathematics and medicine.

Across all subjects and both school types, 45.8% of applicants who got at least three A*s were accepted between 2010-12.

If we look at the least competitive courses (i.e. subjects that took more applicants than the average), we find that 46% of the independent school applicants went for these subjects whereas 42% of state school pupils did:

The pattern is reversed when we look at the most competitive group of courses (which took fewer applicants than average): more state school pupils apply for such subjects. This suggests Simpson’s Paradox is at play, and would explain why slightly more independent school applicants gained places overall.

Most of us agree that more needs to be done to make top-level education accessible to pupils from all backgrounds. However, there are wildly differing opinions about who is to blame and what needs to be done to fix the problem – opinions that often depend on people’s political and social views.

While it is important to debate how to improve the situation, and to support these arguments with relevant data, we must also watch out for quirks like Simpson’s paradox. If we don’t, there is a risk we will spend time and effort counteracting biases that don’t actually exist.

Hard Evidence is a series of articles in which academics use research evidence to tackle the trickiest public policy questions.

Malaise over Syria, again?

Sahar Mandour, columnist for Lebanon daily As-Safir and novelist, wrote this September 16, 2013:

Up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, we took a clear position against [imperialist preemptive] war and against all kinds of dictatorships: “No to war (la li-al-harb), No to dictators  (la li-al-dictatoriyat)”.

Today, no such simple slogan is possible. That slogan is old. We need new positions, new slogans. We need to find our way out of the confusion of today.

 Vijay Prashad posted this Sept. 21, 2013 on Jadaliyya
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[A Syrian child sits, in a neighbouring village to Kafr Nabuda, in the Idlib province countryside, Syria, 19 September 2013. Image via Associated Press]
A Syrian child sits, in a neighboring village to Kafr Nabuda, in the Idlib province countryside, Syria, 19 September 2013. (Image via Associated Press)

Death and displacement has begun to define Syria.

The numbers are suffocating. One cannot keep up with them. For the displaced, now near 7 million, relief cannot come fast enough–and in fact does not seem to come at all for many.

Of the dead, little can be said. The UN team now confirms the use of sarin gas in the rocket attacks on Ghouta, east of Damascus. It was not in the team’s mandate to say who fired the rockets. Whether it was the Assad regime itself or rogue elements, or (an unlikely scenario) the rebels, it is devastating. The number of dead in that attack is around one thousand, a sizable fraction of the hundred thousand dead so far in this seemingly unending war.

The rebellion, which began in Dar‘a as a peaceful demonstration against an autocratic regime, morphed largely due to the intransigence and the violence of the Assad system into a fissiparous brutality encaging the democratic core that remains and shrinks.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) crosses swords with Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) as much as it does against the regime.

Al-Nusra and ISIS fight each other, as both are fired upon by the Kurdish popular protection committees (the YPG).

Pockets of northern and eastern Syria are in the hands of al-Nusra and ISIS to the consternation of their local populations and of the less Islamist parts of the rebellion. In Eastern Ghouta, over the summer, on the other hand, sections of the Free Syrian Army united with a variety of groups including al-Farouq Omar Battalion, the Lions of Allah, the Islam Battalion, al-Bara‘ Battalion, Islam’s Monotheism Battalion–but most starkly Jabhat al-Nusra. Unity in some places, seemingly under the hegemony of the Islamists, but disunity elsewhere.

In other parts of Syria, the Free Syrian Army seems in charge, and yet in other parts matters remain in the hands of what Yasser Munif calls the “peaceful activists.”

During a 2-month trip to northern Syria, Munif went to Manbij, near Aleppo. What he saw there is that the people, under the leadership of the peaceful activists, fought off the attempt by the ISIS to take charge of the city. As he describes it:

Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra (which became the Islamic State later) entered the city and tried to control it. They tried to do so several times since then, but they failed. They try to intimidate the population by patrolling the city. They tried to take over the mills 3 times but failed. They were very much against the revolutionary court but were not able to close it.

The Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra also tried to close several newspapers but were not successful. They tried to take over mosques but the religious establishment in the city prevented them. Most recently, the revolutionary council sent a threatening message to the ISIS because they assassinated the imam of the grand mosque who did not want the ISIS to take over his mosque. The message was clear: either they (ISIS) leave the city or they will be expelled by force. They are almost not present in the city anymore.

Such reports are heartening, but not too common.

In Raqqa, Munif notes, the ISIS has established an emirate, although even here there are regular demonstrations against their rule. “Even in Jarablous where the entire revolutionary council was arrested and put in the ISIS prison,” Munif said, “a week ago there was an uprising in the city and people are becoming very critical of the practices of the the ISIS. They want them to leave the city.”

If what Munif reports were general across Syria, then the anxiety that one senses amongst friends would not be so grave.

The rebels are in disarray. The most recent thrust by the ISIS in northern Syria, given the name of “Expunging Filth,” has either expelled or absorbed the FSA units in Raqqa, with on-going fierce fighting in Tabqa.

The border town of A‘zaz is in ISIS hands, and the Turks have closed the border. The embers of the 2011 revolution seem to be smothered by the ISIS in large sections of northern Syria.

On the ground, Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab money and personnel have redefined the nature of the rebellion.

In the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) matters are not good.

Over 3 years, the SNC has been unable to draft a clear and patriotic program for Syria. Its absence is not a sign of lack of imagination, but of the subordination of the SNC to the petty fights amongst their Gulf Arab benefactors.

The SNC stumbled when it essentially allowed a palace coup to remove Mo‘az al-Khatib from his post. After much infighting, the SNC finally appointed Ahmad Saleh Touma as its prime minister. Ghassan Hitto resigned because he was seen to be too close to the tarnished star of Qatar. The marks of Gulf Arab infighting are all over the Coalition, much to its discredit.

The rebels are in disarray, and despite Gilbert Achcar’s effusions that they must alone overthrow Assad, do not seem capable of it. The rebels are not a homogeneous force, and amongst them are sections of those whose ideology terrifies others amongst them.

This disunity, as Munif notes, is real, and it has no objective basis for reversal. If it is the case that sections of the ISIS are from outside Syria, then there is not even the cord of Syrian nationalism to unite them against Assad.

One section wants a more democratic Syria, while the other wants an emirate of Syria: the lines that divide them, if we are to be honest with the facts, are deeper than any subjective hatred of Asad can bridge.

It is from a realization of this impasse that perhaps we see this conclusion: if the rebels are stuck, then the tonic that might work is a US military strike.

No one person amongst us likes this, but if we assume that it is the only thing that can break the stalemate, then it seems to be a terrible necessity.

Either the US strikes to help oxygenate the rebellion or the rebellion will linger on in a wounded state, with the ISIS taking the upper hand as its own sense of its inevitable victory overshadows the despondency of the “peaceful activists.” That is the framework that seems to lead many friends and comrades into a hopeless support for a US military intervention.

But the West has no intention of intervention in a fashion great enough to topple or wound Asad. Obama said he would strike the Asad regime with Tomahawk missiles, which the US military said would have “limited tactical effect.”

On 10 September 2013, Obama said, “I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force.

What the United States would provide is a face-saving moral strike, even after the conclusive UN report from 16 September that establishes that sarin was used in Ghouta. This will not assist the rebels. The West is not going to act in the way imagined.

To say that the rebels are in disarray, with little capability to overthrow the Asad regime alone, to say that the United States is not interested (for reasons that have to do with Tel Aviv as well) in overthrowing Asad–to say all that is not to end up with nothing. It is not to end up with the status quo, giving the Asad regime free reign to crush the rebels and to end the hopes of a new Syria. This is not the way forward.

Other paths are open, if we allow ourselves to push for them. Other social forces need to be brought to bear on the Syrian catatonia.

During 2012, an unlikely group of regional players—Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey—formed the Syria Contact Group in order to provide muscle for a defanged UN Envoy Kofi Annan.

Before they could get going, the United States and Russia decided to side-line them, and moved the discussion to Spain for bilateral talks on Syria. The message was that only the United States and Russia has the authority to set the agenda for Syria. Not even the Syrians.

The Syria Contact Group folded not long after, suffocated by this Cold War attitude and by the internecine problems amongst the members. But new regional potential are available:

1. Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, and Jordan are weighted down by the refugee crisis.

The creation of a  Regional Syrian Refugee Crisis Team would allow these countries to create a common platform to deal with the humanitarian relief problems that bedevil them all. Recognizing the need for coordination, the United Nations has appointed Nigel Fisher as the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator.

Now Fisher and the 4 regional countries need to create a modus vivendi to deal with the severe crisis for each of these countries. But Fisher’s ambit is largely going to be on relief.

A four-country conference would allow these countries to move from coordination around relief to a consideration of the political root of the refugee crisis.

2. Lebanon, Algeria, Egypt, and Iraq voted against the Gulf Arab proposal at the Arab League meeting to give backing to the US strike. These countries need to now push for a regional solution based on their refusal to allow an armed strike. Pressure needs to come on them to involve themselves as a bloc to push the Asad regime and the rebels to recognize that there is no path for either toward total victory.

Negotiation is the only way.

3. Iran has a new leadership, which has reached out to its immediate neighbors seeking a new foundation for relations. The new head of government Hasan Rouhani has said that Iran would welcome any elected Syrian leader. This can, of course, mean anything. After all Bashar al-Asad is technically an elected leader. But it indicates that there is a sense in Iran that the legitimacy of Asad is deeply compromised and that if there were another election he might not want to put himself forward for the sake of Syria.

This is a productive gesture, and it could mean an Iranian feint to save Syria from destruction. In the Obama-Rouhani letters, there is apparently a sentiment that Iran might be brought to the table to build confidence for Geneva 2. Iran might want to insist that that table include Saudi Arabia, and the immediate neighbors of Syria. Only such a table would be able to exert genuine pressure on all sides in this dispute.

Progressives in the region need to try and strengthen these social forces to enter the Syrian dialogue.

The road to salvation in Syria does not only go through the Pentagon. It might have to wind its way through Beirut, Baghdad, Ankara, Amman, Algiers, Cairo, and Tehran–a circuit that has concrete stakes in the germination of a political process in Syria. The West could live with perpetual war.

It would weaken Hizbollah (the same boring wished for mantra of the west and Saudi Arabia), Israel’s main threat and it would bring disorder to what the West fears, the illusion of Iranianism.

Syria cannot survive perpetual war. It needs the strength of the region to recover from the dark night of the Ba‘th and the dark dawn of ISIS and al-Nusra.

Diplomacy has not been exhausted. No regional approach has been permitted to get off the ground.

This has to be the focus of energy.

No need to believe your eyes: Just enjoy

 posted this Oct. 1, 2013:

Matthew Albanese is an artist fascinated with special effects and magic.

Matthew own a stunning artwork collection of photographs that will blow your mind with their realistic presence. On the left side in  gallery you can see the final image and on the right you will be able to see how image was created using his special effects.

Born in northern New Jersey in 1983, Albanese spent a peripatetic childhood moving between New Jersey and upstate New York. An only child, Albanese enjoyed imaginative, solitary play.

Scroll down and enjoy in today’s gallery with 15 beautiful artworks. 


Matthew Albanese 16 Dont Believe Your Eyes

Diorama for Box of Lightning… Backlit etching in plexiglass painted black.


lfXZ5uKh Dont Believe Your Eyes

Diorama made out of walnuts, poured and cast candle wax, wire, glitter, peanut shells, flock, plaster, wire, dyed starfish, compressed moss, jellybeans(anemones), sponges, wax coated seashells, toothpaste,
clay, figs, feathers, Q-tips, nonpareils.


fdPyPIyh Dont Believe Your Eyes

Diorama made using painted parchment paper, thread, hand dyed ostrich feathers, carved chocolate, wire, raffia, masking tape, coffee, synthetic potting moss and cotton.


raMJ9iRh Dont Believe Your Eyes

 Diorama made out of tile grout, cotton, phosphorous ink. This model volcano was illuminated from within and underneath by six 60 watt light bulbs. 


C49D04Ch Dont Believe Your Eyes

Making clouds out of drug store cotton balls. Diorama madre from cotton, salt, cooked sugar, tin foil, feathers & canvas.


lxaLKH0h Dont Believe Your Eyes

This model is simply made out of faux fur(fields), cotton (clouds) and sifted tile grout(mountains). The perspective is forced as in all of my images, and the lighting effect was created by simply shifting the white balance.


TRU5yXph Dont Believe Your Eyes

It took two months to store up enough fireplace ash to create this lunar landscape. The darker rocks are made of mixed tile grout, flag crumpled paper & wire. The Earth is a video still projected onto the wall.


y26IDm3h Dont Believe Your Eyes

Diorama made out of glass, plexiglass, tile grout, moss, twigs, salt, painted canvas & dry ice. The waterfall was created from a time exposure of falling table salt.


UnVOTBlh Dont Believe Your Eyes

Made out of 20 pounds of sugar, jello and corn syrup. The crystals were grown in my studio over the course of two months.


zWpkHslh Dont Believe Your Eyes

 Diorama made from wood, moss, yellow glitter, clear garbage bags, cooked sugar, scotch-brite pot scrubbers, bottle brushes, clipping from a bush in bloom (white flowers) clear thread, sand, tile grout (coloring), wire, paper and alternating yellow, red and orange party bulbs. 


tO17e9yh Dont Believe Your Eyes

25 pounds of sugar cooked at varying temperatures (hard crack & pulled sugar recipes) It’s basically made out of candy. salt, egg whites, corn syrup, cream of tartar, powdered sugar, blue food coloring, india ink & flour. Three days of cooking, and two weeks of building.


TyHI1hlh Dont Believe Your Eyes

Diorama made of steel wool, cotton, ground parsley and moss


iOMBXXFh Dont Believe Your Eyes

This one is a mixture of many different materials, tile grout, moss, bottle brushes (pine trees) Actual clippings from ground cover and was built on top of  standard outdoor patio table (water glass).  The sky is canvas painted blue. Coloring was again achieved by shifting white balance.


dTorsxHh Dont Believe Your Eyes

This one was made by photographing a beam of colored light against a black curtain to achieve the edge effect. The trees were composited from life ( so far the only real life element in any of these images) The stars are simply strobe light through holes in cork board.


PuyEOkVh Dont Believe Your Eyes

Paprika Mars. Made out of 12 pounds paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, chili powder and charcoal

Matthew Albanese’s fascination with film, special effects and movie magic—and the mechanics behind these illusions—began early.

He loved miniatures and created scenarios intricately set with household objects and his extensive collection of action figures. After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography at the State University of New York, Purchase, Albanese worked as a fashion photographer, training his lens on bags, designer shoes and accessories—this small-object specialization is known in the retail trade as “table top photography.”

Albanese’s creative eye soon turned to tabletop sets of a more wildly eclectic nature.

In 2008, a spilled canister of paprika inspired him to create his first mini Mars landscape. More minute dioramas—made of spices, food and found objects—followed. In 2011, Albanese was invited to show at the Museum of Art and Design of New York.

His work has also been exhibited at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, Winkleman Gallery, and Muba, Tourcoing France.

Matthew is represented  at Bonni Benrubi Gallery in New York


Updated “About” (Oct. 29/2013)

I started this blog on September 17, 2008.  The total number of articles published has reached 3,800 posts and the total number of hits is  over 290,000, and the daily hits have crossed the 400 mark.

You have choices among 42 categories to navigate around. Recently, on September 12, I added a new category “Daydream Projects“:  Just imagine this gigantic brainstorm networking sessions if a small fraction of mankind decides to publish their daydreaming projects with plenty of details. Wouldn’t daydreaming be considered a very productive endeavors?

I post on average of 10 new articles per week and I have been posting a list of articles published each week with the proper ready links for viewing.  I figured out that every new post generates 75 hits within a year, and keeps increasing fast.

You may enjoy the category poems (poems of mine, and translated ones from Arabic or French). I had posted my autobiography, two novels, short stories, and plenty of detailed book reviews.

Last year was the most glorious year in my life.

Penniless but publishing, and associated with the most abject financial condition I have experienced… I am graced of feeling the same zest in publishing almost everyday, kind of 2 posts per day, just not to overwhelm the reader with more reading.

I do read and write in three languages English, French, and Arabic.  I read books, small and large, old and current, classical and common, biased and “balanced”.  I read dailies and their editorials. I read magazines, serious ones and tabloids, the weekly French “Courrier International“, bi-weekly, and monthly issues, including  the French monthly “Le Monde Diplomatique“, “Science et Vie”

I uncover nuggets in almost all my readings and then report themes after elaboration, analysis, and exercising my individual reflection.

My posts are no cut and paste gimmicks, and they lack pictures, images and videos: I don’t have the tools for recommended visual inputs, and I have no patience for navigating the net. You may start accessing my Home page and then select one of the categories of your interest and navigate from there.  I added the category “Time for Outrage“.

I understand that the task of publishing carries responsibility to the general public and I have to do my due diligence in reading a lot, reflecting, and exposing various views and perspectives before extending my current convictions.

I have been writing for my own pleasure for years, such as short poems, diaries, and attempts to introspection in order to get in touch with my emotions and my models on life, universe, and a sustainable earth within my history growth context. made it easy to taking the drastic plunge into communicating with the public.

It is a daily communion that starts by receiving comments before offering opinions, and do reply to developed opinions and comments.  I am reminded that life exercises its cyclical rights and I wish your ebbing period would not last longer than necessary, and that it would not affect your optimism.

I wish that you have a support system to remind you that life is wonderful, it is beautiful, and it is exciting.  There is a tomorrow but surely not better than today, since you are still alive!

I realized that publishing electronically is not considered by many political institutions as serious matter, since many do not navigate fast communication mediums on a wide scale yet; as if people read hard copy manuscripts or dailies!  Well, I got a new life of publishing what I had  expressed in years of writing for myself.  I now have to consider my target audience of readers who patronize my blog:  There is a dividing line between writing and publishing, because responsibility to others comes in publishing.

If you are interested in reading biographies of people “Not famous” or “Not glamorous”, then you may also enjoy reading my auto-biography titled “Introspection of a confused man”.

Anyway, most of my categories that are not related to politics, history, religions, sciences, engineering, health, or book reviews are about myself.   It appears that my Book Reviews category is the most favored so far; closely trailed by sex/seduction categories, and religious topics.

I earned a PhD degree in Industrial/Human Factors/ system design engineering, over 20 years ago from the USA but I refused to practice until recently when I decided to teach in universities and had this lovely opportunity to write over 50 engineering articles published in the category “Professional articles“, “Human Factors in Engineering” and lately in the category “Engineering/research”.

I realized that I love best to read and disseminate what I wrote, and was the ideal platform to initiating people to publishing and expressing their opinions without any kinds of censorship.  I wish the publishers of articles and bloggers to keep in mind the dividing line between writing for comprehending and reflecting on their own positions and feelings, and just publishing.

I read and write daily, a lot, and hit libraries and follow up on news and editorials and feel serious on disseminating what I read.  I even summarize controversial books and offer my opinions ; yes, I love to be controversial, otherwise I might just rot.

A sample of a translated poem:

Your blue sea eyes

On the deck of your blue eyes is raining

Audible vibrating lights.

On the port of your blue eyes,

From a tiny open window,

A view of faraway birds swarming,

Searching for yet undiscovered islands.

On the deck of your blue eyes

Summer snow is falling.

I am a kid jumping over rocks

Deeply inhaling the sea wind

And then returns like a weary bird.

On the port of your blue eyes

I dream of oceans and navigation.

If I were a sea farer

If anyone lent me a boat

I would surely ease up my boat closer

To your blue sea eyes

Every sundown.

Note: This poem is an abridged free translation from Arabic of the famous late Syrian poet Nizar Kabbani.

Are TED talks lying to you?  And why did I hear all these predictable stories before?

The writer had a problem. Books he read and people he knew had been warning him that the nation and maybe mankind itself had wandered into a sort of creativity doldrums.

Economic growth was slackening. The Internet revolution was less awesome than we had anticipated, and the forward march of innovation, once a cultural constant, had slowed to a crawl.

Thomas Frank posted on Salon this OCT 13, 2013:

TED talks are lying to you

One of the few fields in which we generated lots of novelties — financial engineering — had come back to bite us.

And in other departments, we actually seemed to be going backward. You could no longer take a supersonic airliner across the Atlantic, for example, and sending astronauts to the moon had become either fiscally insupportable or just passé.

TED talks are lying to youEnlarge

Jessica Pare and Jon Hamm in “Mad Men” (Credit: AMC/Michael Yarish/amc)

And yet the troubled writer also knew that there had been, over these same years, fantastic growth in our creativity promoting sector. There were TED talks on how to be a creative person.

There were “Innovation Jams” at which IBM employees brainstormed collectively over a global hookup, and “Thinking Out of the Box” desktop sculptures for sale at Sam’s Club.

There were creativity consultants you could hire, and cities that had spent billions reworking neighborhoods into arts-friendly districts where rule-bending whimsicality was a thing to be celebrated. If you listened to certain people, creativity was the story of our time, from the halls of MIT to the incubators of Silicon Valley.

The literature on the subject was vast. Authors included management gurus, forever exhorting us to slay the conventional; urban theorists, with their celebrations of zesty togetherness; pop psychologists, giving the world step-by-step instructions on how to unleash the inner Miles Davis.

Most prominent, perhaps, were the science writers, with their endless tales of creative success and their dissection of the brains that made it all possible.

It was to one of these last that our puzzled correspondent now decided to turn.

He procured a copy of “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” the 2012 bestseller by the ex-wunderkind Jonah Lehrer, whose résumé includes a Rhodes scholarship, a tour of duty at The New Yorker and two previous books about neuroscience and decision-making. (There was also a scandal concerning some made-up quotes in “Imagine,” but our correspondent was determined to tiptoe around that.)

Settling into a hot bath — well known for its power to trigger outside-the-box thoughts — he opened his mind to the young master

Anecdote after heroic anecdote unfolded, many of them beginning with some variation on Lehrer’s very first phrase: “Procter and Gamble had a problem.” What followed, as creative minds did their nonlinear thing, were epiphanies and solutions.

Our correspondent read about the invention of the Swiffer. He learned how Bob Dylan achieved his great breakthrough and wrote that one song of his that they still play on the radio from time to time. He found out that there was a company called 3M that invented masking tape, the Post-it note and other useful items. He read about the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and about the glories of Pixar.

And that’s when it hit the correspondent: He had heard these things before.

Each story seemed to develop in an entirely predictable fashion. He suspected that in the Dylan section, Lehrer would talk about “Like a Rolling Stone,” and that’s exactly what happened. When it came to the 3M section, he waited for Lehrer to dwell on the invention of the Post-it note — and there it was.

Had our correspondent developed the gift of foresight? No.

He really had heard these stories before. Spend a few moments on Google and you will find that the tale of how Procter & Gamble developed the Swiffer is a staple of marketing literature. Bob Dylan is endlessly cited in discussions of innovation, and you can read about the struggles surrounding the release of “Like a Rolling Stone” in textbooks like “The Fundamentals of Marketing” (2007).

As for 3M, the decades-long standing ovation for the company’s creativity can be traced all the way back to “In Search of Excellence” (1982), one of the most influential business books of all time. In fact, 3M’s accidental invention of the Post-it note is such a business-school chestnut that the ignorance of those who don’t know the tale is a joke in the 1997 movie “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.”

These realizations took only a millisecond.

What our correspondent also understood, sitting there in his basement bathtub, was that the literature of creativity was a genre of surpassing banality. Every book he read seemed to boast the same shopworn anecdotes and the same canonical heroes.

If the authors are presenting themselves as experts on innovation, they will tell us about Einstein, Gandhi, Picasso, Dylan, Warhol, the Beatles.

If they are celebrating their own innovations, they will compare them to the oft-rejected masterpieces of Impressionism — that ultimate combination of rebellion and placid pastel bullshit that decorates the walls of hotel lobbies from Pittsburgh to Pyongyang.

Those who urge us to “think different,” in other words, almost never do so themselves.

Year after year, new installments in this unchanging genre are produced and consumed. Creativity, they all tell us, is too important to be left to the creative. Our prosperity depends on it. And by dint of careful study and the hardest science — by, say, sliding a jazz pianist’s head into an MRI machine — we can crack the code of creativity and unleash its moneymaking power.

That was the ultimate lesson. That’s where the music, the theology, the physics and the ethereal water lilies were meant to direct us.

Our correspondent could think of no books that tried to work the equation the other way around — holding up the invention of air conditioning or Velcro as a model for a jazz trumpeter trying to work out his solo.

And why was this worth noticing?

Well, for one thing, because we’re talking about the literature of creativity, for Pete’s sake. If there is a non-fiction genre from which you have a right to expect clever prose and uncanny insight, it should be this one. So why is it so utterly consumed by formula and repetition?

What our correspondent realized, in that flash of bathtub-generated insight, was that this literature isn’t about creativity in the first place. While it reiterates a handful of well-known tales — the favorite pop stars, the favorite artists, the favorite branding successes — it routinely ignores other creative milestones that loom large in the history of human civilization.

After all, some of the most consistent innovators of the modern era have also been among its biggest monsters. He thought back, in particular, to the diabolical creativity of Nazi Germany, which was the first country to use ballistic missiles, jet fighter planes, assault rifles and countless other weapons.

And yet nobody wanted to add Peenemünde, where the Germans developed the V-2 rocket during the 1940s, to the glorious list of creative hothouses that includes Periclean Athens, Renaissance Florence, Belle Époque Paris and latter-day Austin, Texas.

How much easier to tell us, one more time, how jazz bands work, how someone came up with the idea for the Slinky, or what shade of paint, when applied to the walls of your office, is most conducive to originality.

But as any creativity expert can tell you “no insight is an island entire of itself“.

New epiphanies build on previous epiphanies, and to understand the vision that washed over our writer in the present day, we must revisit an earlier flash of insight, one that takes us back about a decade, to the year 2002. This time our future correspondent was relaxing in a different bathtub, on Chicago’s South Side, where the trains passed by in an all-day din of clanks and squeaks. While he soaked, he was reading the latest book about creativity: Richard Florida’s “The Rise of the Creative Class.”

Creativity was now the most valuable quality of all, ran Florida’s argument, “the decisive source of competitive advantage.” This made creative people into society’s “dominant class” — and companies that wished to harness their power would need to follow them wherever they went.

Therefore cities and states were obliged to reconfigure themselves as havens for people of nonconformist tastes, who would then generate civic coolness via art zones, music scenes, and truckloads of authenticity. The author even invented a “Bohemian Index,” which, he claimed, revealed a strong correlation between the presence of artists and economic growth.

Every element of Florida’s argument infuriated our future correspondent. Was he suggesting planned bohemias? Built by governments? To attract businesses?

It all seemed like a comic exercise in human gullibility. As it happened, our correspondent in those days spent nearly all his time with the kinds of people who fit Richard Florida’s definition of the creative class: writers, musicians, and intellectuals. And Florida seemed to be suggesting that such people were valuable mainly for their contribution to a countercultural pantomime that lured or inspired business executives.

What was really sick-making, though, was Florida’s easy assumption that creativity was a thing our society valued. Our correspondent had been hearing this all his life, since his childhood in the creativity-worshipping 1970s. He had even believed it once, in the way other generations had believed in the beneficence of government or the blessings of Providence.

And yet Richard’s creative friends, when considered as a group, were obviously on their way down, not up. The institutions that made their lives possible — chiefly newspapers, magazines, universities and record labels — were then entering a period of disastrous decline. The creative world as he knew it was not flowering, but dying.

When he considered his creative friends as individuals, the literature of creativity began to seem even worse — more like a straight-up insult. Our writer-to-be was old enough to know that, for all its reverential talk about the rebel and the box breaker, society had no interest in new ideas at all unless they reinforced favorite theories or could be monetized in some obvious way.

The method of every triumphant intellectual movement had been to quash dissent and cordon off truly inventive voices. This was simply how debate was conducted. Authors rejoiced at the discrediting of their rivals (as poor Jonah Lehrer would find in 2012).

Academic professions excluded those who didn’t toe the party line. Leftist cliques excommunicated one another. Liberals ignored any suggestion that didn’t encourage or vindicate their move to the center. Conservatives seemed to be at war with the very idea of human intelligence. And business thinkers were the worst of all, with their perennial conviction that criticism of any kind would lead straight to slumps and stock market crashes.

Or so our literal-minded correspondent thought back in 2002.

Later on, after much trial and error, he would understand that there really had been something deeply insightful about Richard Florida’s book. This was the idea that creativity was the attribute of a class — which class Florida identified not only with intellectuals and artists but also with a broad swath of the professional-managerial stratum.

It would take years for our stumbling innovator to realize this. And then, he finally got it all at once. The reason these many optimistic books seemed to have so little to do with the downward-spiraling lives of actual creative workers is that they weren’t really about those people in the first place.

No. The literature of creativity was something completely different. Everything he had noticed so far was a clue: the banality, the familiar examples, the failure to appreciate what was actually happening to creative people in the present time.

This was not science, despite the technological gloss applied by writers like Jonah Lehrer. It was a literature of superstition, in which everything always worked out and the good guys always triumphed and the right inventions always came along in the nick of time.

In Steven Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From” (2010), the creative epiphany itself becomes a kind of heroic character, helping out clueless humanity wherever necessary:

Good ideas may not want to be free, but they do want to connect, fuse, recombine. They want to reinvent themselves by crossing conceptual borders. They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete.

And what was the true object of this superstitious stuff?

A final clue came from “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention” (1996), in which Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi acknowledges that, far from being an act of individual inspiration, what we call creativity is simply an expression of professional consensus. Using Vincent van Gogh as an example, the author declares that the artist’s “creativity came into being when a sufficient number of art experts felt that his paintings had something important to contribute to the domain of art.”

Innovation exists only when the correctly credentialed hive-mind agrees that it does. And “without such a response,” the author continues, “van Gogh would have remained what he was, a disturbed man who painted strange canvases.” What determines “creativity is the very faction it’s supposedly rebelling against: established expertise”.

Consider the narrative daisy chain that makes up the literature of creativity. It is the story of brilliant people, often in the arts or humanities, who are studied by other brilliant people, often in the sciences, finance, or marketing. The readership is made up of us — members of the professional-managerial class — each of whom harbors a powerful suspicion that he or she is pretty brilliant as well.

What your correspondent realized, relaxing there in his tub one day, was that the real subject of this literature was the professional-managerial audience itself, whose members hear clear, sweet reason when they listen to NPR and think they’re in the presence of something profound when they watch some billionaire give a TED talk.

And what this complacent literature purrs into their ears is that creativity is their property, their competitive advantage, their class virtue.

Creativity is what they bring to the national economic effort, these books reassure them — and it’s also the benevolent doctrine under which they rightly rule the world.

An edited version of this essay originally appeared in Harper’s magazine

Thomas Frank’s most recent book is “Pity the Billionaire.” He is also the author of “One Market Under God” and the founding editor of “The Baffler” magazine.

Beirut Syndrome, and all kinds of Trouts?

Note: Re-edit of “Beirut Syndrome, the Hermel Trout, northern Bekaa Valley October 29, 2013″

Hermel Trout, pink Ocean Steelhead Trout and white Rainbow trout…

An old friend is in town.

He used to live and work here for 23 years, but after an absence of more than 10 years, he is back in town, searching for something that he hasn’t figured out yet.

sietske-in-beiroet.blogspot. com posted

Lebanon can leave you with an experience that cannot be equaled by most places, especially the more organized ones. Somehow after Lebanon, life always remains a little diluted, it seems.

This feeling may be because living here requires you to use all your senses and resources, thus giving you the feeling of being truly alive.

I have written about the fact once, that “the pace of living and the average stimuli are well beyond the ordinary” and although you may not realize it, it does mark you.

First, you catch the trout (or have someone do it for you)

Life after Lebanon always seems a little dull.

Many may search for this dullness and quietness, but having lived here for a substantial amount of time, especially during the war, it leaves a mark that cannot be erased.

My friend is in this predicament.  He currently lives in a French town, on a boat on the seaside. Something most people would wish for. But it is not giving him what he had in Beirut.
He’s searching, but not quite sure what it is he is searching for.
It could be spiritually settled, a desire to leave oneself behind in order to find another.
You choose your fish. Pink trout has a ‘pinkish’ stripe along its belly
Another friend, who also spend a considerable amount of time living in this country, is also back. Just for a short visit, connecting with friends, and she is no longer searching for something; she’s figured out what it is about Beirut.
The energy of the town heightens and amplifies all emotions.
This is an excellent thing when you’re feeling good, because this town will make you feel even better.
A constant high is a good thing (I do disagree). And since she had a job here, and it always seemed summer, times were good. But as she can vouch for, “lows’are also amplified”.
And although she agrees that you somehow leave something of yourself here, and  that after Beirut, you can never fully feel as if you belong in your own country anymore.
Other places can still give you that satisfaction that will help you forget Beirut. Although, ‘forgetting Beirut’ completely is not possible.
The fish gets weighed with odd-looking weights. The contraption that looks like something that came out of an engine is the one that counter-balances the weight of the bucket on the other side of the scale.
I, on the other hand, had the dilemma of fish. I do not like fish.
Difficult when you are married to a man who – no longer though, due to my lack of enthusiasm – fishes as a hobby.
He used to go spear fishing, and come home with all kinds of exotic Mediterranean fish, which I then had to clean and cook, both with little gusto, and to top it all off, eat as well.
There is no pleasure for me in eating fish. The fish bones, the milky white flesh;  not my cup of tea.
He’ll clean the fish as well
However, some time ago, I was served in a fish from a Hermel farm that tasted like salmon. It was delicious.
And so we bought that fish (locally raised trout in the Orontes river, or Nahr el-Assi), took it home, and cooked it.
Unfortunately, the same scenario ensued; fish bones and milky white flesh, not at all what I had eaten.
It was obviously a ‘case of the incapable cook’ (me). I don’t know how to cook a fish. And so this weekend I had a mission; how do you cook the Hermel trout? We went to Hermel to find a cook who can cook the famous trout.
This one came with eggs; ‘kaviar, as he called it.
The first thing I found out is that there seem to be two kinds of trout: the white trout and the pink trout,
The white one is called the rainbow trout, the other one is called the Steelhead Trout, a variety of the rainbow trout . And although I had eaten the pink one, I had bought the white one.
It seems a little impossible, because steelhead trout are ocean versions of the rainbow trout, which is clearly impossible in Lebanon.
Some say the pink one isn’t really a different trout, but just one that has been fed on a diet that is mixed with a synthetic carotenoid pigment, but I do not agree with it.
It’s definitely a different meat structure, and the taste is different as well.
Ready for the grill
The second thing I learned is that it is all about the mixture of spices, a jealously guarded secret by most chefs.
However, the chef in the restaurant of that excellent fish, while pretending to throw away garbage, quickly passed by my car on the parking lot, just as I was getting in, and shoved me a bag of the magical substance in my hand. “Don’t tell anyone I have given you this,” he whispered.
And so while my friends ponder about the finer mysteries of this Beirut Syndrome, I’ve figured out how to cook a Hermel troutSuum cuique.
Note 1: The Oronto River gushes from Lebanon and crosses 500 km within Syria.
Note 2: When bored, my brother-in-law goes fishing. And he leaves the task of the cleaning and cooking of the fishes to my old 85-year-old mother who suffers acute arthritis in the fingers and arm joints.
Note 3: Before 1975, Beirut had a special charm and many international activities and could be selected among the 5 most pleasant cities to visit and live with
The hole in front of you, and the top of some trees, is the place where the Orontos River (Nahr el-Assi) begins. In the middle of a desert, the water comes gushing out of this rocky hill (on which I am standing here). The wonders of geology.

Girlfriend battle with cancer: Photographer Angelo Merendino photographed every stage…

Angelo and Jennifer’s story is tragic, but it’s in the face of a tragedy such as this that we rise above.

In Angelo’s case, he has started an organization to help women with their financial struggles during their trials with breast cancer.

American photographer Angelo Merendino photographed every stage his girlfriend went through in her battle with cancer










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You can get that and much more at Angelo’s





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