Wednesday, May 4, 2011

1-Year Visiting Position in Linguistic Anthropology at Vassar

Vassar College, an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer strongly and actively committed to diversity within its community, seeks a one-year, full time Visiting Assistant Professor (Visiting Instructor, if ABD) in Linguistic Anthropology.  We seek a visiting faculty member to teach five courses on language, culture, and society in 2011-12, including an introductory survey course addressing both formal linguistics and anthropology.  Geographic area open; PhD preferred, but ABDs will be considered.  Please send vita, letter describing research interests and teaching experience, and names of three references to David Tavárez and Martha Kaplan, Search Co-Chairs, Department of Anthropology, Box 701, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY 12604, or email or  Applications will be considered immediately and on a rolling basis until a candidate is chosen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Brunnhilde and Jimmy Levine

Courtesy of
For a few years now, the New York Times has tried to foreshadow James Levine's exit from the stage he has commanded with ingenious artistry and authority for the past four decades at the Metropolitan Opera House.  In the most recent iteration of these oracles, Daniel J. Walkin, suggests in his article "On Deck, The Met's Pinch-Hitter", that such proclamations of Levine's ostensible decline are blasphemous in a moment when the House is engaging in Jimmy-crazed 40th-Anniversay hagiography.  Walkin's article discusses Fabio Luisi's, the MET's principle guest conductor, position as heir apparent to Levine.  He speaks German, in addition to English and his native Italian.  And he's moving from Europe to the UWS.  So he must be prepping to take over, right? 

Let me engage in hagiography of my own.  If you take a look at my Facebook status, under my "Religious Views" I post: "The Met Opera is my temple".  My most recent pilgrimage to my place of worship,  was attending a performance of Wagner's Die Walkure on Easter Monday.  The opera is a new Lepage production, sung by Bryn Terfel (Wotan), Debra Voigt (Brunnhilde), Jonas Kaufmann (Siegmund), Eva-Maria Westbroek (Sieglinde), Stephanie Blythe (Fricka), and Hans-Peter Konig (Hunding).

In short, Levine deserves all the halos the gods and his worshipers bestow on him.  Despite recent set backs with his health, leading to a shortened schedule at the MET and an early termination of his contract as music director of the Boston Symphony, his conducting was as vigorous as Wagner's horns and as refined as the three harps that colored the leitmotivs throughout the performance.  The orchestra, as always, played masterfully moving deftly between the complex emotional and musical dynamics of the piece.  In addition to Saint Levine, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe stole the evening as Fricka.  Ms.Blythe sang with fierce emotion, technical agility, and subtle treatment of more subdued moments.  She rightfully received a rapturous applause during the Second Act's curtain call.  Also receiving applause, was Lepage's set.  While massive, it did not distract from the narrative force of Wagner's libretto.  Rather, the enormous moving planks were technical wizardry at the service of the transcendent nature of the Cycle and its material and ephemeral objects.  At once the planks were the roof to a home, a forest, flying horses, a mountain, as well as a rock enraptured by fire.

If you can, go make your own pilgrimage to the house or watch it in HD at your own local theater on May 14th.  You will be converted.  Let's not send Levine to the cross just yet ... let's keep the Valkyrie at bay.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Flan a la Saúl via Marily

Photo Courtesy of:
When my sister and I were in eighth grade my mother decided to make our teachers, Sr. Agnes and Sr. Grace, a flan. Now, my mother is an incredible cook. She can whip-up a delectable five-course meal in no time and serve it as if one were attending a State-dinner at Buckingham Palace. That said, Marily (not Marilyn) is not a baker.  Luckily, I've inherited her cooking gene--although my rice and beans will never resemble her Dominican-perfection.  Well it probably has little to do with genetics and more to do with the fact that she had me marinade and prep dinner before she came home from work since I was about nine-years old.

I digress ... so, when she baked her flan, my sister and I got dressed-up to deliver it at the convent at our local church in Amityville, New York.  As we left home I looked at the flan and forced a smile to validate my mother's efforts.  Unfortunately, somewhere along the line my mother must have miscalculated the egg-to-milk-to-sugar proportions. The flan had the hue of a dying corpse, rather than a rich caramel-laden cream. Plus the whole thing jiggled too much. 

 Who knows, maybe it was delicious. We walked up to the convent and although it was mid-morning on a Saturday, the sisters opened the door in their night gowns.  Said flan was delivered to the nuns in a beautiful silver platter.  They were delighted at my mother's gesture, but probably horrified to be caught by surprise in their nighties by their adolescent students.  Seeing them like that made them look more like grandma and less like the overbearing authority figures they were at school.  

My sister and I passed the flan away and walked back the car.  I was sure they'd think it would taste too eggy.  The next school day they returned the platter and thanked us profusely, making sure to note that the flan was delicious. I had my doubts having tasted my mother's previous attempts and the ashen color of her latest flan, which the nuns fell victims to.

For what ever reason, that experience marked me and since then I have spent the past 20 years adapting my mother's flan recipe. Because my adaptation is so devilishly simple, I hardly ever share it ... but here it is folks--feel free to adjust it and come up with your own variety! You will find many different types of flan recipes out there--some are savory, others are more on the custard side while some resemble a pudding. What you have below is a standard Dominican flan or what the Spaniards would call a "flan de huveo" (an egg flan as opposed to a vanilla flan, the latter is much more like a light pudding). Heck, you might even prefer the kind the Goya sells, in powdered form; all you do is add water and refrigerate and poof you've got a Jello flan.

1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 cans evaporated milk
5 eggs (whites and yolk)
Pure vanilla extract (to taste, 1 teaspoon should do it)
Pure almond extract (optional, to taste, half as much as the vanilla)
1-2 cups of granulated white sugar

1.  Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
2.  Make caramel mold (see below)
3.  Whisk ingredients in a large bowl
4.  Pour into a 9-inch round baking pan (glass seems to work best)
5.  Place pan in a baño maria (see below)
6.  Bake for 1:15 hr.
7.  Check with knife to see if it's done, if not, continue to bake and check in 15 minute intervals.  The mixture should look golden-brown and it should be firm.  This is the trick with flan, you don't want to over or undercook it.  But depending on your oven, the bain-marie and the type of pan you use, the baking can take anywhere from 1:15hr-2hrs.  Be patient.  Do not rush the process!
8.  Once it's done, cool it to room temperature on the stovetop or countertop
9.  Refrigerate over night.  If you serve it within a few hours of baking it will not be as rich.  Leave it in the fridge for a day or two, but at the very least 12hrs.
10.  When you're ready to serve it, take a knife around the edge of the pan and flip it onto a platter; serve like so or garnish with some fruit or whipped cream (If you added almond extract--my secret ingredient--it goes fabulously well with raspberries; for Dominican cred--serve it with pineapple)

Caramel mold

Put 1 cup of sugar (more if you want more caramel) into a sauce pan.  Add water just to cover the sugar. DO NOT MIX.  Place on stove-top at high heat.  WATCH IT CAREFULLY.  As it boils and reduces, the bubbles will get thicker then they will get smaller as they turn caramel colored.  If you want a light carmel, then take the sugar off the heat as soon as the entire mixture turns golden brown--it'll start turning brown at the edges of the saucepan.  If you're a traditionalist and like your caramel to be bitter to counterbalance the sweetness of the flan wait until the mixture begins to smoke.

BE CAREFUL, THERE'S NOTHING LIKE A CARAMEL BURN!!  As soon as you take the caramel off the stove-top, pour it immediately into the baking pan.  Carefully turn the baking-pan back and forth so that the caramel covers the bottom of the pan.  If you miss a spot or the caramel sets too quickly, just make some more and pour it on the missed spots.  

Make sure that the caramel hardens before you pour in the baking mixture.

Baño de maria/Bain-marie

This is a cooking-method that dates back to 12-century France.  Those of you that deal with chocolate and custards a lot will be familiar with this method.  For our purposes here, it is a quite simple procedure. Place the 9-inch baking dish in a larger roasting pan and add cold water to the roaster.  The water should be just below being level with the mixture inside the baking pan.  Once it's baking, check the oven every 30-minutes and add water to bring it to the same level as before.  You want the mixture to bake slowly and evenly and for the baking liquid not to boil.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mozart and the Autopsy

Last night, after a day with more ups than downs at New York Presbyterian Hospital visiting with my cousin, I arrived home and opened my email as I customarily do.  Amongst the usual ads, student emails, and Facebook updates, one subject heading grabbed me: “Your expert advice needed!”  As a young scholar, it’s not every day that my supposed expertise is hailed upon.  Entreaties are usually made on behalf of my egotistical imagination.  This still being the case, occasionally, I do receive captivating requests.  But this request had nothing to do with my academic training. 

The email was written by a colleague who asked my advice about Mozart.  A well-known Californian scientist passed and gifted his body to science.  His instructions were simple: Mozart was to be the soundtrack to the autopsy of his corpse.  The colleague asked me to suggest a playlist.  The scientist's name was not revealed to me, so I could not base my suggestions on biographical details.

As an avid listener and occasional practitioner, I suppose I carry more than a pedestrian knowledge of Mozart and his music. But what I know is adolescent when compared to the true expertise of a musicologist or professional musician.  My public engagement in music education usually goes no further than blasting music in my home and car with the windows left audaciously wide-open, daring to cite opera whenever possible in my lectures, as well as evangelizing Opera non-believers, pleading to their souls that indeed, there’s an opera out there that will save them—and it was likely penned by Wolfy.

All of this notwithstanding,  this request was enchantingly singular. 

The autopsy was to be performed in less than 24hrs upon the receipt of the email, leaving me little time to be suitably thoughtful.  I had no time to fully search my memory, recordings, or iTunes library.  Needless to say that after a flurry of activity to search for the perfect music, I became paralyzed.  In the end I decided to simply go by instinct and heart.

Below are the selections that I submitted and were played to prepare this man’s body for scientific inquiry.  I’m told the autopsy team was moved, and should you decide to follow the links below, I hope you are as well.

Many of the pieces are likely well known to you, others might not be; I did my best to stay away from the Requiem and chose instead music that I found personally uplifting and moving—regardless of its theme.  I also sought to include a range of music that encompassed the many modes that Mozart mastered.  Surely, I left out pieces that might have fit the bill more appropriately, but what came to mind instinctively was part of the magic of last night.

(photo from:

Quartet for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello in G-minor, 2nd Movement

Clarinet Concerto in A, 2nd Movement

Sonata in B-flat major

Symphony 41, 2nd Movement, Andante Cantabile

Vesper Confitebor, 2nd Movement

Ave Verum Corpus

Coronation Mass in C-major, K317, Agnus Dei

Laudate Dominum

Davidde Penitente, 1st Movement

Clemenza di Tito, S'altro che lagrime

Clemenza di Tito, Non piu di fiori

Marriage of Figaro, Sull'aria

Marriage of Figaro, Dove sono

Così fan tutte, Soave sia il vento

Così fan tutte, Per Pieta, Ben Mio, Perdona

Così fan tutte, E nel tuo, nel mio bicchiero

Monday, August 16, 2010

August 15, 2010, 5:30 pm

Reclaiming the Imagination

The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless.
Imagine being a slave in ancient Rome. Now remember being one. The second task, unlike the first, is crazy. If, as I’m guessing, you never were a slave in ancient Rome, it follows that you can’t remember being one — but you can still let your imagination rip. With a bit of effort one can even imagine the impossible, such as discovering that Dick Cheney and Madonna are really the same person. It sounds like a platitude that fiction is the realm of imagination, fact the realm of knowledge.

Why did humans evolve the capacity to imagine alternatives to reality? Was story-telling in prehistoric times like the peacock’s tail, of no direct practical use but a good way of attracting a mate? It kept Scheherazade alive through those one thousand and one nights — in the story.
We apply much of the same cognitive apparatus whether we are working online, with input from sense perception, or offline, with input from imagination.
On further reflection, imagining turns out to be much more reality-directed than the stereotype implies. If a child imagines the life of a slave in ancient Rome as mainly spent watching sports on TV, with occasional household chores, they are imagining it wrong. That is not what it was like to be a slave. The imagination is not just a random idea generator. The test is how close you can come to imagining the life of a slave as it really was, not how far you can deviate from reality.

A reality-directed faculty of imagination has clear survival value. By enabling you to imagine all sorts of scenarios, it alerts you to dangers and opportunities. You come across a cave. You imagine wintering there with a warm fire — opportunity. You imagine a bear waking up inside — danger. Having imagined possibilities, you can take account of them in contingency planning. If a bear is in the cave, how do you deal with it? If you winter there, what do you do for food and drink? Answering those questions involves more imagining, which must be reality-directed. Of course, you can imagine kissing the angry bear as it emerges from the cave so that it becomes your lifelong friend and brings you all the food and drink you need. Better not to rely on such fantasies. Instead, let your imaginings develop in ways more informed by your knowledge of how things really happen.

Constraining imagination by knowledge does not make it redundant. We rarely know an explicit formula that tells us what to do in a complex situation. We have to work out what to do by thinking through the possibilities in ways that are simultaneously imaginative and realistic, and not less imaginative when more realistic. Knowledge, far from limiting imagination, enables it to serve its central function.
To go further, we can borrow a distinction from the philosophy of science, between contexts of discovery and contexts of justification. In the context of discovery, we get ideas, no matter how — dreams or drugs will do. Then, in the context of justification, we assemble objective evidence to determine whether the ideas are correct. On this picture, standards of rationality apply only to the context of justification, not to the context of discovery. Those who downplay the cognitive role of the imagination restrict it to the context of discovery, excluding it from the context of justification. But they are wrong. Imagination plays a vital role in justifying ideas as well as generating them in the first place.
In science, the obvious role of imagination is in the context of discovery. Unimaginative scientists don’t produce radically new ideas.

Your belief that you will not be visible from inside the cave if you crouch behind that rock may be justified because you can imagine how things would look from inside. To change the example, what would happen if all NATO forces left Afghanistan by 2011? What will happen if they don’t? Justifying answers to those questions requires imaginatively working through various scenarios in ways deeply informed by knowledge of Afghanistan and its neighbors. Without imagination, one couldn’t get from knowledge of the past and present to justified expectations about the complex future. We also need it to answer questions about the past. Were the Rosenbergs innocent? Why did Neanderthals become extinct? We must develop the consequences of competing hypotheses with disciplined imagination in order to compare them with the available evidence. In drawing out a scenario’s implications, we apply much of the same cognitive apparatus whether we are working online, with input from sense perception, or offline, with input from imagination.

Even imagining things contrary to our knowledge contributes to the growth of knowledge, for example in learning from our mistakes. Surprised at the bad outcomes of our actions, we may learn how to do better by imagining what would have happened if we had acted differently from how we know only too well we did act.

In science, the obvious role of imagination is in the context of discovery. Unimaginative scientists don’t produce radically new ideas. But even in science imagination plays a role in justification too. Experiment and calculation cannot do all its work. When mathematical models are used to test a conjecture, choosing an appropriate model may itself involve imagining how things would go if the conjecture were true. Mathematicians typically justify their fundamental axioms, in particular those of set theory, by informal appeals to the imagination.

Sometimes the only honest response to a question is “I don’t know.” In recognizing that, one may rely just as much on imagination, because one needs it to determine that several competing hypotheses are equally compatible with one’s evidence.

The lesson is not that all intellectual inquiry deals in fictions. That is just to fall back on the crude stereotype of the imagination, from which it needs reclaiming. A better lesson is that imagination is not only about fiction: it is integral to our painful progress in separating fiction from fact. Although fiction is a playful use of imagination, not all uses of imagination are playful. Like a cat’s play with a mouse, fiction may both emerge as a by-product of un-playful uses and hone one’s skills for them.

Critics of contemporary philosophy sometimes complain that in using thought experiments it loses touch with reality. They complain less about Galileo and Einstein’s thought experiments, and those of earlier philosophers. Plato explored the nature of morality by asking how you would behave if you possessed the ring of Gyges, which makes the wearer invisible. Today, if someone claims that science is by nature a human activity, we can refute them by imaginatively appreciating the possibility of extra-terrestrial scientists. Once imagining is recognized as a normal means of learning, contemporary philosophers’ use of such techniques can be seen as just extraordinarily systematic and persistent applications of our ordinary cognitive apparatus. Much remains to be understood about how imagination works as a means to knowledge — but if it didn’t work, we wouldn’t be around now to ask the question.

Timothy Williamson is the Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford University, a Fellow of the British Academy and a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has been a visiting professor at M.I.T. and Princeton. His books include “Vagueness” (1994), “Knowledge and its Limits” (2000) and “The Philosophy of Philosophy” (2007).

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Bloomberg: Defending Religious Tolerance

Posted: August 3, 2010 04:11 PM

Defending Religious Tolerance: Remarks on the Mosque Near Ground Zero

The following are New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's remarks as delivered on Governors Island.
We have come here to Governors Island to stand where the earliest settlers first set foot in New Amsterdam, and where the seeds of religious tolerance were first planted. We've come here to see the inspiring symbol of liberty that, more than 250 years later, would greet millions of immigrants in the harbor, and we come here to state as strongly as ever - this is the freest City in the world. That's what makes New York special and different and strong.
Our doors are open to everyone - everyone with a dream and a willingness to work hard and play by the rules. New York City was built by immigrants, and it is sustained by immigrants - by people from more than a hundred different countries speaking more than two hundred different languages and professing every faith. And whether your parents were born here, or you came yesterday, you are a New Yorker.
We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That's life and it's part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11.
On that day, 3,000 people were killed because some murderous fanatics didn't want us to enjoy the freedom to profess our own faiths, to speak our own minds, to follow our own dreams and to live our own lives.
Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish. And it is a freedom that, even here in a City that is rooted in Dutch tolerance, was hard-won over many years. In the mid-1650s, the small Jewish community living in Lower Manhattan petitioned Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant for the right to build a synagogue - and they were turned down.
In 1657, when Stuyvesant also prohibited Quakers from holding meetings, a group of non-Quakers in Queens signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition in defense of the right of Quakers and others to freely practice their religion. It was perhaps the first formal, political petition for religious freedom in the American colonies - and the organizer was thrown in jail and then banished from New Amsterdam.
In the 1700s, even as religious freedom took hold in America, Catholics in New York were effectively prohibited from practicing their religion - and priests could be arrested. Largely as a result, the first Catholic parish in New York City was not established until the 1780's - St. Peter's on Barclay Street, which still stands just one block north of the World Trade Center site and one block south of the proposed mosque and community center.
This morning, the City's Landmark Preservation Commission unanimously voted not to extend landmark status to the building on Park Place where the mosque and community center are planned. The decision was based solely on the fact that there was little architectural significance to the building. But with or without landmark designation, there is nothing in the law that would prevent the owners from opening a mosque within the existing building. The simple fact is this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship.
The government has no right whatsoever to deny that right - and if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question - should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions, or favor one over another.
The World Trade Center Site will forever hold a special place in our City, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves - and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans - if we said 'no' to a mosque in Lower Manhattan.
Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11 and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values - and play into our enemies' hands - if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists - and we should not stand for that.
For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime - as important a test - and it is critically important that we get it right.
On September 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked 'What God do you pray to?' 'What beliefs do you hold?'
The attack was an act of war - and our first responders defended not only our City but also our country and our Constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very Constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights - and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.
Of course, it is fair to ask the organizers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation - and in fact, their plan envisions reaching beyond their walls and building an interfaith community. By doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our City even closer together and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any way consistent with Islam. Muslims are as much a part of our City and our country as the people of any faith and they are as welcome to worship in Lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshiping at the site for the better part of a year, as is their right.
The local community board in Lower Manhattan voted overwhelming to support the proposal and if it moves forward, I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire City.
Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure - and there is no neighborhood in this City that is off limits to God's love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us today can attest.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Am I more than a mom?

So, I've reached the tender age of thirty-something.  Everyone around me seems to be having babies, a socio-biological event that brings with it fundamental existential shifts worth ruminating.

Below is a reflection from one of the coolest moms I know, my cuz Melissa Fernandez-Lopez:

Since my oldest was born eleven years ago, I keep chanting to myself, "I’m more than just a mom, I’m more than just a mom."  But chanting doesn't always bring about miracles, sometimes I am just a mom.  Everything I do, every decision I make, just about every thought I have revolves around the fact that I’m the proud mama of two amazing boys that are my everything.  They shape who I am as much as I help mold them.

Still, what else am I?  Is there more to me than fruit loops or cocoa puffs? Football or baseball? Reminding the boys that yes, it's important to shower everyday.

How do I tease out Melissa the mom from Melissa the adult?

Recently, I went to a family function without my husband or children.  Along with feeling excited I was also full of self-doubt.  When my kids are around, I don’t really have to worry about engaging in adult conversations.  Being on my own without that safety was nerve racking!!  See, when you’re a mom, you forget how to talk to adults.  My vocabulary is usually limited to: stop that!, don’t hit him!, don’t touch that!, NO!

But I am more than just a mom.  I have feelings, thoughts, opinions that have nothing to do with children. Going alone to the wedding made me realize that I can engage in adult conversations and not feel nervous. All I needed was the nerve to distinguish between Melissa the mom and Melissa the woman.  All I need is the conviction to remind myself not to forgetting who I am from within and not to let her go, to keep her with me, and to let her out!

Remember her? She has a personality, she is funny, she is sexy, and she’s definitely smart.  Don’t loose her.  People like her, I love her, and in the end only she can help me be a better mom and a better person.