June 19, 2013
Why Steven Pinker Is Wrong
Stephen Corry makes the case in Truthout:
Let's start at the beginning for a perfect example of how Pinker leads us on. He takes only a single page of preamble before he tries to sell us his grisly thesis, which as far as I can understand it, is that everyone was once generally violent and horrible (tribal people still are, because apparently they are living relics of the past). Darwinian selection favored the most aggressive towards outsiders, and nicest to insiders. They had lots of children who went on to create states, which were generally nice, and imposed peace and "prosperity."(1)
Better Angels opens with a rhetorical question, "What is it about the ancients that they couldn't leave us an interesting corpse without resorting to foul play?"
Exhibit number one is the 5,200 year-old "Iceman," nicknamed "Ötzi." As Pinker breathes with Hitchcockian crescendo, "[Ötzi] had not fallen in a crevasse and frozen to death, as scientists had originally surmised; he had been murdered." Here is Pinker's very first "Murder Most Foul."
Introducing Ötzi with a list of his kit, "ax and backpack, a quiver of fletched arrows, a wood-handled dagger… ," Pinker's deduction seems straightforward. But, although scientists have come up with dozens of guesses about how Ötzi met his end, Pinker offers us just one "reconstruction:" He thinks Ötzi "belonged to a raiding party that clashed with a neighboring tribe."(2)
I will avoid bending the facts to fit a hypothesis, and cross-examine the evidence. The Iceman had three significant wounds: a cut hand; an arrowhead in his back, and a blow to his head. It was a violent death, but did it result from a clash between tribes?
Democracy, Solidarity And The European Crisis
Jurgen Habermas in Social Europe Journal:
The European Union owes its existence to the efforts of political elites who could count on the passive consent of their more or less indifferent populations as long as the peoples could regard the Union as also being in their economic interests, all things considered. The Union has legitimized itself in the eyes of the citizens primarily through its outcomes and not so much by the fact that it fulfilled the citizens’ political will. This state of affairs is explained not only by the history of its origins but also by the legal constitution of this unique formation. The European Central Bank, the Commission, and the European Court of Justice have intervened most profoundly in the everyday lives of European citizens over the decades, even though these institutions are the least subject to democratic controls. Moreover, the European Council, which has energetically taken the initiative during the current crisis, is made up of heads of government whose role in the eyes of their citizens is to represent their respective national interests in distant Brussels. Finally, at least the European Parliament was supposed to construct a bridge between the political conflict of opinions in the national arenas and the momentous decisions taken in Brussels – but this bridge is almost devoid of traffic.
Thus, to the present day, there remains a gulf at the European level between the citizens’ opinion and will formation, on the one hand, and the policies actually adopted to solve the pressing problems, on the other. This also explains why conceptions of the European Union and ideas of its future development have remained diffuse among the general population. Informed opinions and articulated positions are, for the most part, the monopoly of professional politicians, economic elites, and scholars with relevant interests; not even public intellectuals who generally participate in debates on burning issues have made this issue their own. What unites European citizens today is the Eurosceptic mindset that has become more pronounced in all of the member countries during the crisis, albeit in each country for different and rather polarizing reasons. This trend may be an important fact for the political elites to take into account; but the growing resistance is not really decisive for the actual course of European policy-making which is largely decoupled from the national arenas. The actual course of the crisis management is pushed and implemented in the first place by the large camp of pragmatic politicians who pursue an incrementalist agenda but lack a comprehensive perspective.
John Gray’s Godless Mysticism
Simon Critchley reviews John Gray's The Silence of Animals, in the LA Review of Books:
HUMAN BEINGS DO NOT just make killer apps. We are killer apes. We are nasty, aggressive, violent, rapacious hominids, what John Gray calls in his widely read 2002 book, Straw Dogs, homo rapiens. But wait, it gets worse. We are a killer species with a metaphysical longing, ceaselessly trying to find some meaning to life, which invariably drives us into the arms of religion. Today’s metaphysics is called “liberal humanism,” with a quasi-religious faith in progress, the power of reason and the perfectibility of humankind. The quintessential contemporary liberal humanists are those Obamaists, with their grotesque endless conversations about engagement in the world and their conviction that history has two sides, right and wrong, and they are naturally on the right side of it.
Gray’s most acute loathing is for the idea of progress, which has been his target in a number of books, and which is continued in the rather uneventful first 80 pages or so ofThe Silence of Animals. He allows that progress in the realm of science is a fact. (And also a good: as Thomas De Quincey remarked, a quarter of human misery results from toothache, so the discovery of anesthetic dentistry is a fine thing.) But faith in progress, Gray argues, is a superstition we should do without. He cites, among others, Conrad on colonialism in the Congo and Koestler on Soviet Communism (the Cold War continues to cast a long shadow over Gray’s writing) as evidence of the sheer perniciousness of a belief in progress. He contends, contra Descartes, that human irrationality is the thing most evenly shared in the world. To deny reality in order to sustain faith in a delusion is properly human. For Gray, the liberal humanist’s assurance in the reality of progress is a barely secularized version of the Christian belief in Providence.
With the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt in mind, Gray writes in Black Mass (2007): “Modern politics is a chapter in the history of religion.” Politics has become a hideous surrogate for religious salvation, and secularism is itself a religious myth. In The Silence of Animals,he writes, “Unbelief today should begin by questioning not religion but secular faith.” What most disturbs Gray are utopian political projects based on some faith that concerted human action in the world can allow for the realization of seemingly impossible political ends and bring about the perfection of humanity.
June 18, 2013
The polyp comes & goes, / I can’t breave frew my effing nose.
It is very strange that a poet whose key work lies in three rather short volumes should have caused such difficulties for his editors and such controversy among his readers. But the readers pay him the tribute of a sort of possessiveness and concern: they want their poet to look his best. And it’s hard for a poet to look good in his Collected Poems, if by “collected” we mean anything like “complete.” Most poets’ collected works will include things that would make the author cringe. Presented in untidied form, such gatherings remind me of nothing so much as those yard sales characteristic of recession America, in which families set out on their front lawns the contents of their closets and dens—the Frisbees, the old scooters, the clothes neither wanted nor needed, the dreadful joke presents—all in the hope of raising a little cash. Painters are known to curate their oeuvre by means of occasional bonfires of botched canvases, and experience has taught us that the better the painter, the better advised he is to stand over that bonfire and make quite sure that what he wants burnt does indeed go up in smoke, and is not squirreled away by his admirers and assistants, whether through misguided motives of preserving the legacy, or by the thought of providing for their old age.more from James Fenton at Threepenny Review here.
The Pleasures of Pluralism, the Pain of Offence
Kenan Malik in Pandaemonium:
Almost twenty years ago, in 1994, the Independent newspaper asked me to write an essay on Tom Paine, the eighteenth-century English revolutionary. It was the 200thanniversary of his masterpiece, The Age of Reason, a book of which Paine said that it was a ‘march through Christianity with an axe’. ‘All national institutions of churches’, wrote Paine, ‘whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to be no more than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolise power and profit.’
Few authors have so punctured the pretensions of organised religion or so savaged the claims of divine revelation as Paine. Fewer still have faced such ridicule and vilification for doing so. In England The Age of Reason was suppressed for decades and successive publishers imprisoned for blasphemy. Anyone who distributed, read or discussed the book faced prosecution. Some were arrested for simply displaying the portrait of the author. In America, where hitherto Paine had been feted as a hero for his unwavering support for independence, newspapers denounced him as a ‘lily-livered sinical [sic] rogue’ and ‘a demihuman archbeast’. The Age of Reason, as I observed in my Independent essay, became ‘The Satanic Verses of its day’. And, given that comparison, I thought it reasonable to open the essay with a quote from Salman Rushdie’s novel, satirising the divine origins of the Qur’an.
The Independent thought otherwise. There was consternation in the editorial offices when I filed my piece. Eventually one of the editors phoned me to say that I could not use the quote from The Satanic Verses because it was deemed too offensive. No amount of logic or reasoning could persuade her otherwise. The irony of having been commissioned to write an essay on Tom Paine, the greatest freethinker of his age, and then being banned from quoting from a freely available book, seemed to escape the Independent editors.
The Insanity VirusSchizophrenia has long been blamed on bad genes or even bad parents. Wrong, says a growing group of psychiatrists. The real culprit, they claim, is a virus that lives entwined in every person's DNA.
Douglas Fox in Discover:
Steven and David Elmore were born identical twins, but their first days in this world could not have been more different. David came home from the hospital after a week. Steven, born four minutes later, stayed behind in the ICU. For a month he hovered near death in an incubator, wracked with fever from what doctors called a dangerous viral infection. Even after Steven recovered, he lagged behind his twin. He lay awake but rarely cried. When his mother smiled at him, he stared back with blank eyes rather than mirroring her smiles as David did. And for several years after the boys began walking, it was Steven who often lost his balance, falling against tables or smashing his lip.
Those early differences might have faded into distant memory, but they gained new significance in light of the twins’ subsequent lives. By the time Steven entered grade school, it appeared that he had hit his stride. The twins seemed to have equalized into the genetic carbon copies that they were: They wore the same shoulder-length, sandy-blond hair. They were both B+ students. They played basketball with the same friends. Steven Elmore had seemingly overcome his rough start. But then, at the age of 17, he began hearing voices.
The History of Typography - Animated Short
Melik Kaylan in Forbes:
One can understand why self-appointed despots might move early and hard, even semi-democratic despots of the Russian or Iranian variety, against a small, peacable protest in a public place. They fear for their legitimacy. They distrust the populace. They’ve seen the spontaneous multiplier effect of social media. But why would a duly elected leader such as Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan resort to provocative brutality so gratuitously? That is, to the extent of calling his own legitimacy into doubt by hurtling the country toward full-blown strife in a very short time. The kind of instantly extreme anti-democratic measures he has deployed can only lead to retro-prosecution of his henchmen or he can kiss goodbye all sense of future public trust in the justice system. You would think that politicians globally have learned to respect the eventual backlash of citizens abused en masse in the present.
There can be no debating the extent of the abuse, the arrest of scores of lawyers who defend the rights of protesters, doctors who treat their wounds, clerics who grant haven to the wounded in their mosques, the nation perhaps irretrievably divided, the opposition smeared publicly as terrorists, police firing tear gas into private homes, and yes into hospitals and consulates and hotels – why would a legitimately elected leader repay his populace with devastation. After all, Turkey is not Syria. Yet Erdogan has put himself in the bitter position of having Assad repeat back to him the words “listen to your own people”.
The Art of Subtraction
From Harvard Magazine:
The royal palace of Hampton Court, built on the Thames nearly 12 miles upstream from London by Henry VIII in 1514, suffered a devastating fire on March 31, 1986. A bedside candle in the room of the elderly Lady Gale, a resident who perished in the flames, probably started the blaze. Grievously, the fire also consumed or seriously damaged some of the incomparable woodcarvings in the King’s Apartments, an addition that Christopher Wren built for William III near the end of the seventeenth century. These delicate depictions of botanical subjects in wood, hung on walls and surmounting doorways and mantelpieces, were the masterworks of the final period of Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721), the Dutch-born artist widely regarded as England’s finest woodcarver, a “golden codger, almost of the order of Samuel Johnson, Thomas Chippendale, Charles Dickens or William Morris,” as David Esterly ’66 puts it in his 2012 book, The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making.
Given the British reverence for historical (and royal) heritage and the carvings’ importance, there was no question that restoration would proceed after the fire. Miraculously, most of them had survived, despite damage, but one spectacular overdoor drop, a pendant of flowers and leaves, in the King’s Drawing Room, had been incinerated. The problem was that in the nearly three centuries since Gibbons’s time, such finely detailed, high-relief carvings in limewood (the British term for linden wood) had become a lost art. There had been “sorry attempts at Gibbons revivals in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: crude embarrassments, almost all of them,” Esterly writes. In 1986, a number of English carving conservators were working assiduously in limewood, but the artist to whom the British entrusted the restoration was a 42-year-old craftsman living outside Utica, New York, who had been carving limewood for about a decade: Esterly himself.
From The New York Times:
In her new book, “What Doctors Feel,” Dr. Danielle Ofri tells the unforgettable story of a pediatrician she interviewed, a woman she calls Eva. In taut, vivid prose, Dr. Ofri describes a tragic event that occurred during Eva’s residency. She helped deliver a baby doomed to asphyxiation within minutes of birth because of a severe lack of amniotic fluid in the womb. The traumatized parents knew the outcome in advance, and made it clear they did not want to see the baby. After the delivery, the room leaden with silence, Eva wrapped the baby in a blanket and wondered where to go. The hospital had no room set aside for this. So the young physician, consumed with sadness for a child who would never be held by anyone but her, took the dying newborn into a supply closet. There, knowing she would be reprimanded for not observing the precise moment at which the umbilical cord ceased pulsing, she gathered the baby in her arms. “In the cramped space Eva rocked back and forth,” Dr. Ofri writes. “ ‘I love you, baby,’ she whispered as the heart began its slow, cratering descent.”
In the hands of a less agile and intelligent writer, such a scene could easily grow maudlin. Indeed, calling attention to a physician’s emotional pain might be seen as distracting and self-indulgent. It is, after all, the physician’s role to ease the suffering of others. Yet as Dr. Ofri points out, how doctors feel matters. And while she does write of joy, pride and gratitude, her emphasis is on negative emotions — which exert the strongest influence on medical care, particularly when a case grows unexpectedly complicated, frustrating or unyielding. “This is where factors other than clinical competency come into play,” she writes. An unwell doctor is a bad doctor.
Syria: Inventing a Religious War
Toby Matthiesen makes the case in the NYRB blog:
Since late May, pictures of Hezbollah militants standing amid the ruins of al-Qusayr, the former Syrian rebel stronghold, have offered dramatic evidence of the extent to which foreign Shia fighters are shifting the course of the Syrian war. To many observers, the Lebanese militia’s entry into the conflict has shown definitively that it has been a sectarian war from the outset. According to this view, Syria’s Alawite sect, to which the Assad clan and its security forces belong, is “quasi Shiite,” a fact which accounts for the government’s alliances to Iran and Hezbollah; while Syrian rebel forces are overwhelmingly dominated by the country’s aggrieved Sunni majority, now backed by the Sunni governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, along with various foreign Sunni jihadis.
But Bashar al-Assad is head of an ostensibly secular Baathist regime and many Shia think that Alawites are heretics. Why exactly is Hezbollah getting involved, and is this conflict really rooted in religion? The answer to both these questions may lie in a suburb of Damascus called Sayyida Zainab, the site of an important Shia shrine and since the 1970s a haven for foreign Shia activists and migrants in Syria. Today, Hezbollah forces, along with Iraqi Shia fighters, defend the suburb. Though the story of Sayyida Zainab is little known in the West, it may help explain why what began as a peaceful uprising against secular authoritarian rule in 2011 has increasingly become a war between Shia and Sunni that has engulfed much of the surrounding region.
Political Ideology and the Avoidance of Dissonance-Arousing Situations
People often avoid information and situations that have the potential to contradict previously held beliefs and attitudes (i.e., situations that arouse cognitive dissonance). According to the motivated social cognition model of political ideology, conservatives tend to have stronger epistemic needs to attain certainty and closure than liberals. This implies that there may be differences in how liberals and conservatives respond to dissonance-arousing situations. In two experiments, we investigated the possibility that conservatives would be more strongly motivated to avoid dissonance-arousing tasks than liberals. Indeed, U.S. residents who preferred more conservative presidents (George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan) complied less than Americans who preferred more liberal presidents (Barack Obama and Bill Clinton) with the request to write a counter-attitudinal essay about who made a “better president.” This difference was not observed under circumstances of low perceived choice or when the topic of the counter-attitudinal essay was non-political (i.e., when it pertained to computer or beverage preferences). The results of these experiments provide initial evidence of ideological differences in dissonance avoidance. Future work would do well to determine whether such differences are specific to political issues or topics that are personally important. Implications for political behavior are discussed.
Quest for 'Genius Babies'?
Colleen Flaherty in Inside Higher Ed:
Jason Richwine swiftly resigned from the Heritage Foundation this month following revelations of his 2009 Harvard University dissertation on IQ and race, but the blogosphere continues to buzz with the story. In the aftermath, as Richwine continues to defend his research, some human biodiversity, or “HBD,” experts charge that a new generation of eugenicists may be coming of age. A recurring name is that of Stephen Hsu, the Michigan State University physicist and vice president for research and graduate studies who is researching intelligence and genetics at the world’s biggest genomics sequencing lab in Shenzhen, China.
“Richwine would probably also find a friend in Stephen Hsu, a theoretical physicist by training who is currently searching for an intelligence gene,” wrote Yong Chan, research director for the racial justice website ChangeLab. “Even though mainstream science has pretty much scrapped the notion that race has any kind of biological basis long ago, that hasn’t stopped [Hsu] from trying to link intelligence with race and getting a billion and a half dollars for research based in China.”
Michael Scroggins, a Ph.D. student at Teachers College of Columbia University, echoed Chan on Ethnography.com: “Suffice to say, [Richwine and Hsu] offer nothing new to debates over IQ, or poverty or immigration. Their innovation lies in the naked, unreflective application of a naïve sociobiology to policy debates over access to democratic institutions – citizenship and public education.”
Much of the controversy surrounding Hsu stems from a recent Vice article alleging Hsu's cognitive genomics project is ultimately helping China engineer “genius babies.”
“At BGI Shenzhen, scientists have collected DNA samples from 2,000 of the world’s smartest people and are sequencing their entire genomes in an attempt to identify the alleles which determine human intelligence,” the piece reads. “Apparently they’re not far from finding them, and when they do, embryo screening will allow parents to pick their brightest zygote and potentially bump up every generation's intelligence by five to 15 IQ points.”
June 17, 2013
by Rishidev Chaudhuri
Like some nervous Gnostic, I'm oppressed by matter, and I'm never as aware of it when I move. Then, more than ever, I seem to exist in a whirl of paper and clothes and small objects of no apparent purpose that all conspire to cloud my existence and subvert the clear paths of my reason. Every time I put something down I lose it. Every time I look away, matter accumulates in the interstices of my life, spills from behind me, wells up through the crevasses of my mind and wraps around my feet. Objects make me anxious. I need to consider each one carefully before I throw it away, in case I need it, and then I am relieved when it is gone. I devise organizational schemes and administrative techniques but matter is stubborn and slippery and in the absence of a neurosis-inducing constant vigilance it squirms away and will not be subdued. I think of this as I wade through all the matter that has accumulated in my life: all the stuff that I need to sort through, each object I need to sorrowfully consider and reject.
Thankfully, History is helping. I liked tapes and CDs, but I don't miss them and I'm relieved that they've vanished into pure Spirit (or whatever their ultimate end is). It was always hard to tell what music I owned and hard to find it and hard to decide what to take where, and I constantly found CDs in strange places and they have hard edges. I hated writing by hand. It was slow and painful and brought back unpleasant memories of frantically scratching away in a school book. I love the rapid erasure and recreating of digital writing; I love the ease of structuring information liberated from a particular physical correlate. And I especially like that I don't have to carry stacks of notes with me.
And yet, despite this progressive horror of the material, I seek out and accumulate books wherever I go, and I crave their presence. They follow me around, like expensive wallpaper that I need to feel settled in a place. They're the first thing I think of when I think of my room or what I need to move, and not having my books around me marks transience. At this point, most of what I need to pack seems to be books. I buy more books than I need or will read. I travel with books I've already read and probably won't read again. Deciding which books to take where is a weighty matter, like constructing an intellectual and emotional landscape that will determine my journey.
In theory, I find the idea of e-books somewhat compelling. They seem brisk and efficient and the idea that a single small object can contain hundreds of books is especially enticing as I contemplate moving a room full of bookshelves. And yet I never use them. I read fifty pages on an e-book reader once and it was pleasant, but I've never done it since. It doesn't strike me as an imaginative possibility; it just doesn't seem part of the possible configurations that my experience allows.
It's not that I like the smell of books, or their weight, or the memories lying in bed and reading brings back, though I do like all of these things. It's not just that I like walking into someone's home and seeing their mind laid out on their bookshelves or that I like the physical act of lending a book and returning a book. It seems somehow baser, something not just pre-cognitive but pre-emotional, like that their material presence has so shaped my way of interacting with the world that their absence troubles the unity of my experience. I imagine this is what it is to have your world determined by a certain technology in its particularity and to suddenly realize that that technology is slipping away. This seems like a common sentiment among the people I know (though it's often expressed as, and I think confused with, an aesthetic disagreement with e-books). Perhaps we're already part of an older generation that starts to find the world it's growing into dissonant. I recognize that at some point in my life I'll have to move to reading books electronically. I don't know how this moment will come or what sort of person I'll be then. I'm not even sure what I'll have left to put in my room.
Poetry in Translation
after Mohammed Iqbal
two stars approached
Each other, one said:
we could stay
Only could stop whirling,
the sky were kinder
We'd shine together."
this desire of two
Bears longing in itself.
are fated to revolve
In orbits ordained.
is a dream
Separation the law.
Translated, from the Urdu, by Rafiq Kathwari. More here.
Bus in Pakistan. Courtesy Yasser Haider, May 2013.
The Epistemology of Hatred: A Case Study of Irish Bogs
by Liam Heneghan
If I asked you to choose from among the several notable Irish William Kings who might possibly serve as first formulator of a hypothesis on the development of bog vegetation you might choose wrongly. The three candidates: William King soldier and politician, William King, geologist and natural scientist, and William King, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Justice…. I will give you a moment to reflect on your choices. Tick-tock.
William King, the soldier recorded nothing on bog matters. William King, geologist and naturalist, certainly had the credentials to make sage comment on the bogs and loughs of Ireland. This Mr King held the first chair of geology in Queens College, Galway (now University College Galway) and was later a professor of natural history, geology, and mineralogy. He established a place for geology in teaching across the curriculum in the arts, agriculture and the engineering faculty – an interdisciplinary teacher by any measure. He also lent his modest heft to Darwin, though apparently approving of a modified version of Darwin's thesis. An interesting and scholarly productive fellow; not uncontroversial either, having had to vacate his position at the Hancock Museum, in Newcastle. It appears that in addition to his curatorial duties, he was also a bustling private dealer in geological and biological specimens. The governing committee of the Hancock felt that this was inconsistent with his duties as a curator, and King resigned. As a 19th Century naturalist and geologist, who took a keen interest in matters beyond the confines of his own discipline, and had written on the geomorphology of the famed karsts-formation of the Burren, Co Clare, it would not have been surprising had he penned a note on the origins of a variety of topographic features, especially those whose origins were not clearly understood. Alas he is not our King for this William King (1809–1886) came two centuries too late to be a pioneer in the matter of bog speculation.
No, the William King that we are most concerned with was Church of Ireland Archbishop from 1703 till 1729. King was born 1650 in Antrim in Northern Ireland and studied at Trinity College Dublin getting his BA in 1671 and MA in 1673. At TCD he converted to Anglicanism and was ordained as a deacon in 1673 and priest in 1674. In 1679 he was appointed chancellor (and later Dean) of St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin, and rector of St Werburgh's Church, both iconic Dublin institutions. Like our previously discussed King, this King was also querulous, though on a grander political scale. During the Jacobite period from 1688 to 1691, King, then the senior Church of Ireland cleric in Ireland, declared his support for William of Orange. On suspicion of collusion he was jailed in Dublin Castle in July 1689 and incarcerated once again in 1690 as William’s forces marched towards Dublin. He was released shortly after the battle of the Boyne. The next year he was appointed Bishop of Derry. In 1703 he became Archbishop of Dublin.
June 16, 2013
Breath of Death: A Pakistani Thriller
Fatema Imani in Dawn:
The main story line of the novel [by Saad Shafqat--shown in photo on the right] is based in Pakistan’s hub Karachi, but a generous portion is also set in America. An anonymous and unknown medical illness claims several lives in Karachi. The ill-fated victims more or less find themselves in a fictional ‘Avicenna University Hospital’, where Asad Mirza, a neurosurgeon freshly returned from medical residency in America, and his protégée Nadia Khan are trying to figure out the complex disease.
Alongside the duo’s quest to crack the riddle runs a sub-plot hatched by a terrorist network, aimed at the United States of America. How do these two plots come together? You certainly don’t want me to tell you, so read the novel to find out...
[Fatema Imani]: How did you get started with writing Breath of Death?
[Saad Shafqat]: The idea of penning down a novel came to me because I have always liked writing. I have been doing cricket writing for a while and have also written social pieces for some publications. I enjoy telling stories to friends and family members and seeing their interest gave birth to the idea of writing a book.
I started looking for a genre and it seemed befitting to write a medical novel, considering I am a physician seeing patients all the time in a hospital and clinic where there is a great deal of human drama. Illnesses and deaths are rampant, which is very tragic, but there is happiness too and a lot of intensity in taking care of sick patients. I conjoined these elements with social pressure, terrorism and extremist thinking and out came the novel.
Inflation Is Still the Lesser Evil
Kenneth Rogoff in Project Syndicate:
The world’s major central banks continue to express concern about inflationary spillover from their recession-fighting efforts. That is a mistake. Weighed against the political, social, and economic risks of continued slow growth after a once-in-a-century financial crisis, a sustained burst of moderate inflation is not something to worry about. On the contrary, in most regions, it should be embraced.
Perhaps the case for moderate inflation (say, 4-6% annually) is not so compelling as it was at the outset of the crisis, when I first raised the issue. Back then, against a backdrop of government reluctance to force debt write-downs, along with massively over-valued real housing prices and excessive real wages in some sectors, moderate inflation would have been extremely helpful.
The consensus at the time, of course, was that a robust “V-shaped” recovery was around the corner, and it was foolish to embrace inflation heterodoxy. I thought otherwise, based on research underlying my 2009 book with Carmen M. Reinhart, This Time is Different. Examining previous deep financial crises, there was every reason to be concerned that the employment decline would be catastrophically deep and the recovery extraordinarily slow. A proper assessment of the medium-term risks would have helped to justify my conclusion in December 2008 that “It will take every tool in the box to fix today’s once-in-a-century financial crisis.”
Five years on, public, private, and external debt are at record levels in many countries. There is still a need for huge relative wage adjustments between Europe’s periphery and its core. But the world’s major central banks seem not to have noticed.
Soviet Philosophy and Then Some
Richard Marshall interviews David Bakhurst in 3:AM Magazine:
RM: What led you to develop a specific interest in Russian philosophy?
DB: Well, I was drawn to the philosophical intensity of Russian culture, which comes through so strikingly in its literature, poetry, and art, and in the impassioned writings of Russian political thinkers. Moreover, the Soviet Union was, in a sense, the living embodiment of a philosophical idea. At the same time, it was obvious that the Russian philosophical tradition was very unlike anything I was studying in philosophy at Keele. So I tried to find out more on the philosophical culture of the USSR, about which relatively little was known in the West. I was encouraged in this by the Professor of Russian at Keele, Eugene Lampert, who was a fascinating figure. He was an intellectual historian, who’d written a couple of marvelous books on 19th century Russian political thinkers, and he was highly literate in philosophy. He’d translated Berdyaev, for example.
Anyway, I soon found that the Western literature on Soviet Philosophy was for the most part dismal. The Russian literature, so far as I could understand it, was obviously subject to censorship, so it was difficult to know how to approach it from an outsider’s perspective. I concluded, therefore, that I should go to Russia and talk to philosophers. Keele gave me a small bursary to travel to Moscow in the summer of 1980. I signed up for a language course with the intention of using my spare time to investigate Russian philosophy. My efforts to meet philosophers through official channels proved unrewarding—unsurprisingly in those Cold War days. But just before I was due to leave Russia I had an amazing stroke of good fortune.
In the Progress Publishers bookstore I came across a copy of Felix Mikhailov’s The Riddle of the Self, newly translated into English. I was really impressed. It was quite unlike the doctrinaire tomes of dialectical and historical materialism I’d be trying to plough through. It was an intelligent, witty, and engagingly-written introduction to a range philosophical questions that were familiar to me—questions about the justification of knowledge, concept formation, self-consciousness, other minds, and so on.
Rachel Kushner’s Ambitious New Novel Scares Male Critics
Laura Miller in Salon:
Often the debate about bias against women writers — now regularly revived by the annual VIDA survey and its dismaying figures on the gender breakdown of book reviewers and authors reviewed in prominent literary publications — focuses on genre. Why are some themes (courtship, family life) or forms (the short story) typically regarded as less significant than others (war, adventure, the epic novel)? How is it that purportedly lightweight themes suddenly become momentous in critics’ eyes when the novelist who takes them up is a man (Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Eugenides)?
These are legitimate and essential challenges to the values embedded in Mailer’s concept of the Room. It’s also true that chipping away at the fantasy of a rigidly hierarchical aesthetic pecking order — a typological crutch for structure junkies — will open up the literary landscape to more writers and readers. It’s important to challenge both the Room and the supremacy of the kind of novel the Room tends to prize: long, wide-ranging, idea-driven, full of social commentary and concerned with the American dream of self-invention — “ambitious,” as critics often call it.
Given how fiercely American male writers have fought for the Great American Novel laurels, many women authors apparently decided it simply wasn’t worth wading into the fray. Furthermore, there’s a grandiose self-presentation, a swagger, that goes along with advancing your book as a Great American Novel that many women find impossible or silly. Besides, critics longing for a silverback alpha male to declare the leader of the pack are never going to glance at the distaff side. Who wants to play a game whose rules are so obviously rigged against you?
So we don’t have many novels of this type written by American women, even if the women who might have written them (Jennifer Egan, say, or Joyce Carol Oates, to name just two) have done equally impressive work in other rooms, such as composing prismatic explorations of style or exploding seemingly hidebound genres like the gothic. Still, it’s possible to point out that a novel needn’t be “ambitious” to be worthy of the highest acclaim and yet stop short of dismissing the “ambitious” genre entirely.
ways of seeing 2
Lives that seem perfect but aren’t
From New Statesman:
I first came to read James Salter 20 years ago, when I was in the US on a book tour. I was promoting a novel I’d written about a family who, from the outside, seem to have everything – beauty, leisure, endless summers and a house by a lake – but whose lives are freighted by a sadness that eventually pulls them down. After one of my readings, in Stanford, a young man came up to me and told me that I must read Light Years by Salter. “He’s interested in those things you’re interested in,” he said. “Lives that seem perfect but aren’t. He sees the cracks and broken pieces that were there all along.”
...All That Is, Salter’s latest novel, may be his last (he is 87), though he’s not saying that. “You have the brains,” he once remarked, “but it’s energy and desire that make you write a novel.” Still, there is about All That Is the sense that the author is telling us once and for all what he is about. Philip Bowman, his hero, is more clearly drawn – as the selfmade man who has fashioned himself from the lessons life has taught him and the instruction of others who have lived on the scale to which he aspires – than any of Salter’s other protagonists. There’s also the sound here of elegy, a grand farewell:
He had been weeding in the garden that afternoon and looked down to see, beneath his tennis shorts, a pair of legs that seemed to belong to an older man. He mustn’t . . . be going around the house in shorts like this . . . He had to be careful about such things.
Top 10 Matt cartoons for Father's Day
From The Telegraph:
From lying to your doctor about alcohol consumption, to going to parenting classes to avoid your children, Matt skewers the habits of our nation's fathers in Matt For Dads. A brilliant pocket-sized book from the Telegraph's award-winning cartoonist, it's the perfect present for Father's Day this Sunday.
This is hunger. An animal
all fangs and eyes.
It cannot be distracted or deceived.
It is not satisfied with one meal.
It is not content
with a lunch or dinner.
Always threatens blood.
Roars like a lion, squeezes like a boa,
thinks like a person.
The specimen before you
was captured in India (outskirts of Bombay)
but it exists in a more or less savage state
in many other places.
Please stand back.
by Nicolas Guillén
June 15, 2013
messages sent from the dawn of history
On March 30, 1900, during the excavation of the Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete, site of the legendary labyrinth from which Daedalus and Icarus took flight, workmen unearthed a clay tablet inscribed with an unknown script. Some of the characters of the script looked like the letters of an alien alphabet, others like alien hieroglyphics. In the following weeks and months workmen unearthed more tablets, several hundred of which had fallen from a floor above into a terra cotta bathtub. The tablets contained messages sent from the dawn of history, from before the time of Homer, but they were messages that could not be received. No one knew what language people spoke 30 centuries ago on Crete, and there was no Rosetta stone among the discoveries at Knossos. (There were, however, other enchanting wonders — elaborate lavatories, murals of griffins and dolphins.) For 50 years, the inscriptions seemed impossible to crack. The code’s ultimate decipherment would turn out to be one of the great scientific detective stories of the 20th century — The Mysterious Case of Linear B.more from Donovan Hohn at the NY Times here.
The Real War on Reality
Peter Ludlow in The NYT's The Stone:
To get some perspective on the manipulative role that private intelligence agencies play in our society, it is worth examining information that has been revealed by some significant hacks in the past few years of previously secret data.
Important insight into the world these companies came from a 2010 hack by a group best known as LulzSec (at the time the group was called Internet Feds), which targeted the private intelligence firm HBGary Federal. That hack yielded 75,000 e-mails. It revealed, for example, that Bank of America approached the Department of Justice over concerns about information that WikiLeaks had about it. The Department of Justice in turn referred Bank of America to the lobbying firm Hunton and Willliams, which in turn connected the bank with a group of information security firms collectively known as Team Themis.
Team Themis (a group that included HBGary and the private intelligence and security firms Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and Endgame Systems) was effectively brought in to find a way to undermine the credibility of WikiLeaks and the journalist Glenn Greenwald (who recently broke the story of Edward Snowden’s leak of the N.S.A.’s Prism program), because of Greenwald’s support for WikiLeaks. Specifically, the plan called for actions to “sabotage or discredit the opposing organization” including a plan to submit fake documents and then call out the error. As for Greenwald, it was argued that he would cave “if pushed” because he would “choose professional preservation over cause.” That evidently wasn’t the case.
Team Themis also developed a proposal for the Chamber of Commerce to undermine the credibility of one of its critics, a group called Chamber Watch. The proposal called for first creating a “false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information,” giving it to a progressive group opposing the Chamber, and then subsequently exposing the document as a fake to “prove that U.S. Chamber Watch cannot be trusted with information and/or tell the truth.”
criminals and the brain
Raine's key notion that, good or bad, we are the playthings of our brains – "free will is sadly an illusion" (the return of the lumbering robots) – raises the question of why we should stop at the brain in our search for causes. Given that it is a material object wired into the material world, "my brain made me do it" (kill my spouse, write a book on neurocriminology) should translate into "the Big Bang" (ultimately) made me do it. In fact, the brain is but one player in the complex game of life, not the beginning and end of our destiny. And Raine seems gradually to accept this. For all his headline-grabbing talk of "murderous minds", "broken brains" and "natural born killers" he ends with "the biosocial jigsaw puzzle", where "the social environment beats up the brain and reshapes gene expression". There is the bit where you say it and the bit where you take it back. He rows back from his initial "biology + genes + brain" thesis towards the kind of "environment (including junk food, toxic metals, maternal rejection, poverty, childhood abuse) + heredity + personal factors" truisms that the rest of us accept. Even so, he is determined to hold on to his brain-centred criminology: "Deprivation makes a big dent on the brain."more from Raymond Tallis at The Guardian here.
the italian paradox
Italy is now seriously threatened by its own ungovernability. The collapse of the so-called “Second Republic” dominated by Silvio Berlusconi and the end of Mario Monti’s 18 months in power have left a cobbled-together, right-left-centrist government under Enrico Letta with grim valleys of austerity to traverse and steep mountains of reform to climb. All the while, as rightwing and leftwing populisms grow, the European Union is being transformed, in many Italian minds, from a benign and generous zio (uncle) into a malignant matrigna (stepmother) wearing an Angela Merkel mask. Yet whatever its failings, Italy is a nation that arguably projects more soft power than any other in the world – think of its food, its fashion, its music, its cultural history, its natural beauty. Resolving contradictions, as three new books amply demonstrate, will always be part of the task of writing about this country.more from John Lloyd at the FT here.
What is ‘smart’ and how does it fit our consciousness?
Sandipan Deb in Outlook:
Which, of course, brings us to that common capitalist question: “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” There is something abhorrent about this query. Of course, Mukesh Ambani is super-smart, but so was Jagadish Chandra Bose, who invented wireless communication at least a couple of years before Guglielmo Marconi, who received the Nobel prize for the breakthrough (It is now established that Marconi met Bose in London when the Indian scientist was demonstrating his wireless devices there, and changed his research methods after that meeting). Bose also invented microwave transmission and the whole field of solid state physics, which forms the basis of micro-electronics. Bose’s contributions are all around us today, from almost every electronic device we have at home to the most powerful radio telescopes in the world. But he steadfastly refused to patent any of his inventions, or to license them to any specific company. Some 70 years after Bose’s death, the global apex body, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, officially acknowledged Bose to be the father of wireless communication.
In fact, that smug question about smart and rich is actually a stupid one. There is no natural correlation at all between smartness and wealth, or even career success. I doubt whether any great poet ever made much money. Van Gogh sold only one painting in his entire lifetime. How many great Indian authors are rolling—or ever rolled—in the dough? Instead, all of us can possibly name at least one truly talented writer/creator in our mother tongue who died in penury or committed lengthy frustrated alcoholic suicides. Ritwik Ghatak instantly comes to mind. Smartness and academic success? Of course, we have the Amartya Sens and the V.S. Ramachandrans, but one can draw no definite conclusions. Not by a long shot. Tagore couldn’t stand school and had less than a year of formal education.
‘What Do Women Want?’
Elaine Blair in The New York Times:
Bergner’s previous book, “The Other Side of Desire,” is a thoughtful study of unusual sexual inclinations — fetishism, sadism, attraction to children or amputees. In his new book, “What Do Women Want?,” which appears to have grown out of his earlier research, Bergner turns to what you might say is the largest group of sexual deviants: women, whose strange sexual parts and desires never seem quite as mainstream as men’s. Squeezed into these 200 pages are interviews with psychologists, psychiatrists and primatologists who have been “puzzling out the ways of eros in women”; a capsule history of ideas about female sexuality from biblical times to the present; the story of the so-far elusive hunt for a Viagra-type aphrodisiac for women; a discussion of the different types of female orgasm; and the personal accounts of a dozen or so ordinary women who talk about their sex lives and fantasies. The experiments and data Bergner writes about vary widely and don’t all point in the same direction, but he sets this tour of contemporary sex research against one particular shibboleth: the notion that women are naturally less libidinous than men, “hard-wired” to want babies and emotional connection but not necessarily sex itself. Bergner, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, blames evolutionary psychologists for spreading a contemporary version of this old idea. He assembles a group of scientists from different fields who talk about how earlier sexist bias has obscured the existence, strength and significance of female sex drive in animal reproduction.
God, who like nature abhors a vacuum,
one day slid Her hands under Her footstool,
scooped the dust bunnies of the earth into His mitts
and formed a likeness of Their self
S/He breathed life into it
It became full of vim and vigor
and was cool but self-destructive
An Outbreak of Reasonableness in Tehran: Top Ten Conclusions from Iran’s Early Election Returns
Juan Cole in Informed Comment:
Early election returns in Iran suggest that former National Security adviser and nuclear negotiator Hassan Rouhani may have won over 50% of the vote, in which case he will have won without needing to go to a second round. Too early to tell if that is so. While it is true that the president in Iran is more like the typical US vice president and is relatively powerless, he can nevertheless set a tone and initiate policies slightly different from those of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Iran is not yet a totalitarian dictatorship, and Khamenei himself has sometimes been forced to tack with the wind. Any change will be slow and at the margins, but it could nevertheless be significant in a very polarized world.
1. People are still willing to come out and vote for president in impressive numbers, despite the widespread feeling that the 2009 polls were tinkered with by the regime in favor of populist hard liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Even if the 75% turnout claimed by the Iranian press is exaggerated, turnout was impressive.
2. The poor showing of nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili is a slap in the face both of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and of outgoing president Ahmadinejad. The most hard line of the candidates got only 13% of the vote in early returns.
3. Those who believed that Khamenei would try to fix this election for Jalili as he is accused by the Green movement of doing four years ago were mistaken. Either the Leader feels that he has sufficient control of the country to risk a mildly reformist candidate like Hasan Rouhani winning, or the turmoil the country faced in 2009 chastened him and he decided to let the public blow off steam by giving him a president he isn’t entirely happy with.
The 30 Dimensions Of Lady N
Azra Raza in The MDS Beacon:
I experience a slightly different version of this dictum practically on a daily basis.
As a physician-scientist whose last three decades have been spent seeking novel treatment options for myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) patients, I develop new (in)sights through my patients’ eyes, and none could claim a vision more penetrating and acute than Lady N. I assign her this moniker because of her larger-than-life personality.
She had an uncanny habit of connecting seemingly unrelated things by combining common sense, extreme intelligence, and an inimitable sense of humor with pure and simple intuition.
Five years ago, she swept into my clinic at St. Vincent’s Comprehensive Cancer Center for her first visit with the announcement: “FYI, I have been extremely anemic for at least 25 to 30 years, if not longer. I also believe strongly that there is a genetic component to my MDS. As you know, my father’s sister’s first child was born with no marrow in his bones.”
Although she was anemic for a long time, her actual MDS was not diagnosed until relatively recently.
The first few years after her diagnosis were not too hard, as she had a del(5q) chromosomal abnormality and responded well first to Procrit (epoetin alfa) and then to Revlimid (lenalidomide). The anemia improved beyond expectation, and she had an excellent quality of life, caring for her many cats, taking long drives visiting her numerous best friends, shopping and dining with her 99-year-old mother, and generally enjoying life to the fullest.
Goodbye, Maxwell’s: On the Demise of Hoboken and Places Like It
Nick Moran in The Millions:
Both the Lipton Tea and the Maxwell House plants used to be situated at the north end of Hoboken’s Frank Sinatra Drive, a winding riverside road on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. Built to capitalize on the town’s proximity to Manhattan, and also the accommodating docks famously depicted in On the Waterfront, the two plants employed generations of workers from Hoboken and its surrounding area. In the mornings, the entire town smelled like tealeaves and roasted coffee.
During my lifetime, both buildings underwent a routine familiar to residents of “up-and-coming” neighborhoods across America: they were closed, sold, and replaced with luxury condominiums. Today Eli Manning owns a fully automated apartment in the Hudson Tea Building. A one-bedroom at Maxwell Place rents for $3,200 a month.
The rest of the town has undergone a similar transformation. Locally owned shops that used to line Washington Street — the main drag spanning the length of the Mile Square City — have in the past three decades been replaced by more and more cookie cutter storefronts from the likes of Baby Gap, Anthropologie, Panera Bread, and Chipotle. Real estate values have skyrocketed due to an influx of young, childless Wall Street workers who appreciate the PATH train’s easy access to the financial district.
Unfortunately this development has come at the expense of longtime residents, many of whom belong to the working classes. Last year Hoboken High School was ranked 298th out of 328 public schools in New Jersey. (Down from 187th the year prior.) The shrinking supply of rent-controlled apartments is always one referendum away from being diminished further. Local businesses evaporate and the town loses its identity. People who moved here for its flavor wake up one day and realize that flavor’s gone.
Real-Time Imaging of Quantum Entanglement
Via Brad DeLong:
June 14, 2013
The campaign began with the name itself — ZIP. It was a good name. ‘ZIP’ sounded a lot friendlier than Zone Improvement Plan, the Orwellian phrase for which ZIP was an acronym. At the same time, ZIP said speed. Mr. Zip — a hand-drawn, wide-eyed little postal guy — became the face of ZIP code promotional efforts, the embodiment of the harmless yet zippy quality of ZIP codes. (‘Mr. Zip’ was also a significant improvement on Mr. Zip’s original name “Mr. P.O. Zone”.) Mr. Zip was speedy and clever, like other American cartoon heroes: Bugs Bunny or Speedy Gonzalez or the Road Runner. After July 1, 1963 Mr. Zip was everywhere. Americans would turn on their radios or televisions or open a newspaper and there was Mr. Zip, banging the drum for ZIP codes. The ZIP code campaign was prolific and varied, appealing to Americans on every level possible. The word “revolution” in some campaigns appealed to the revolutionary spirit of the nation’s citizens. “This is Mr. Zip,” began one television Public Service Announcement. “He revolutionized the mail delivery system of the United States with his ZIP Code. The heart of the system is a number — a ZIP Code number.” One radio spot titled “Machine” played simultaneously to an American sense of duty and love of technological progress. It made ZIP codes sound like a method for shooting your letters right into outer space.more from Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set here.
Psychiatry’s mistaken manual
What have been the consequences of what Greenberg calls “a compendium of opinions masquerading as scientific truths?” Both he and Frances argue that medicine has ignored safer and longer-lasting methods of healing and addicted entire generations to pills that, in many cases, are no more effective than placebos but a lot more harmful. Worse, overreliance on the DSM and the rush to resort to drugs has led to “false epidemics” in autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, social anxiety disorder, and pediatric bipolar disorder, among others, and contributed to a public health crisis of widespread prescription drug abuse. As Frances reports, there are now more overdoses in the United States from prescription drugs than from illicit ones. I see this problem firsthand as a college professor: with so many students diagnosed with ADHD (about 30 percent, according to Frances) and taking stimulants like Adderall, we have sold a generation on the fiction that prescription drugs are safe to abuse. The truth, of course, is otherwise—stimulant abuse can lead to depression, anxiety, and even suicide. Ditto for powerfully addictive antianxiety drugs like Ativan, Xanax, and Klonopin, which, when combined with prescription painkillers or alcohol, often cause overdoses. The toll extends beyond the number of lives lost because of overdoses to the “massive but hidden costs” of treating complications caused by these drugs, be it obesity, diabetes, or heart disease.more from Alison Bass at The American Scholar here.
In the heart of Africa, in a swamp forest near Lake Tumba in the Congo, a frolicking species of ape called the bonobo has long upset the Frazetta picture of our past. These apes, who, along with chimpanzees, share up to 98 percent of our DNA, confounded the first primatologists who observed them. Over time, they have created a colony far different from that of their intensely competitive, often violent, chimpanzee cousins. Bonobo society is based on cooperation and empathy; the culture is a matriarchy where competition is redirected into a communitarian sexual appetite. Bonobos also shocked these earliest scientists because they possessed a cheerful sense of general promiscuity, weaving wanton sex into their society, and they boasted a sexual repertoire once thought to be the exclusive property of Homo sapiens—deep kissing, foreplay, oral sex, homosexuality, and polyamory. Which is why bonobos have gained a certain notoriety in the animal kingdom and are so often bracketed by a kind of ridicule whenever some story about them appears in the paper.more from Jack Hitt at Lapham's Quarterly here.
Extreme capitalism of the Muslim Brotherhood
Gilbert Achcar in Le Monde Diplomatique:
The Muslim Brothers’ economic credo of free enterprise unhampered by state interference is more closely consonant with neoliberal doctrine than was the form of capitalism dominant under Mubarak. This holds in particular for the version of that credo articulated by Khairat al-Shatir, the Brotherhood’s very capitalist number two after the murshid (guide), and a representative of its most conservative wing, or by Hassan Malek, an extremely wealthy, eminent member of the Brotherhood, who, after making his debut in the business world in a partnership with Al-Shatir, today manages, with his son, a constellation of enterprises in textiles, furniture and trade, employing more than 400 people.
The portrait of Malek painted by Bloomberg Businessweek could well have been titled The Brotherhood Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, so faithfully does it seem to paraphrase Weber’s classic: “[The Maleks] are part of a generation of religious conservatives ascendant in the Muslim world, whose devotion to God invigorates their determination to succeed in business and politics. As Malek says, ‘I have nothing else in my life but work and family.’ These Islamists pose a formidable challenge to secular governance in countries such as Egypt — not only because of their conservatism but because of their work ethic, single-minded focus, and apparent abstention from sloth and sin. They’re up for winning any contest. ... ‘The core of the economic vision of Brotherhood, if we are going to classify it in a classical way, is extreme capitalist,’ says Sameh Elbarqy, a former member of the Brotherhood”.
The former Muslim Brother interviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek asked the right question. What is in doubt is clearly not the Brotherhood’s allegiance to the neoliberal capitalism of the Mubarak era, but its capacity to shed its worst traits: “What remains to be seen is whether the crony capitalism that characterised the Mubarak regime will change with pro-business Brotherhood leaders such as Malek and El-Shater in charge. Although the Brotherhood has traditionally worked to alleviate the conditions of the poor, ‘the working people and farmers will suffer because of this new class of businessmen,’ Elbarqy says. ‘One of the big problems with the Muslim Brotherhood now — they have it in common with Mubarak’s old political party — is the marriage of power and capital’”
Einstein and Freud’s Little-Known Correspondence on Violence, Peace, and Human Nature
Maria Popova in Brain Pickings:
Despite his enormous contributions to science,Albert Einstein was no reclusive genius, his ever-eager conversations and correspondence engaging such diverse partners as the Indian philosopher Tagore and a young South African girl who wanted to be a scientist. In 1931, the Institute for Intellectual Cooperation invited the renowned physicist to a cross-disciplinary exchange of ideas about politics and peace with a thinker of his choosing. He selected Sigmund Freud, born on May 6, 1856, whom he had met briefly in 1927 and whose work, despite being skeptical of psychoanalysis, the legendary physicist had come to admire. A series of letters followed, discussing the abstract generalities of human nature and the potential concrete steps for reducing violence in the world. In a twist of irony, the correspondence was only published in 1933 — after Hitler, who would eventually banish both Einstein and Freud into exile, rose to power — in a slim limited-edition pamphlet titled Why War?. Only 2,000 copies of the English translation were printed, most of which were lost during the war. But the gist of the correspondence, which remains surprisingly little-known, is preserved in the 1960 volume Einstein on Peace(public library), featuring a foreword by none other than Bertrand Russell.
Here He Goes Again: Sam Harris’s Falsehoods
Scott Atran in This View of Life:
Sam Harris posted a recent blog about my views on Jihadis that is unbecoming of serious intellectual debate, if not ugly. He claims that I told him following a “preening and delusional lecture” that “no one [connected with suicide bombing] believes in paradise.” What I actually said to him (as I have to many others) was exactly what every leader of a jihadi group I interviewed told me, namely, that anyone seeking to become a martyr in order to obtain virgins in paradise would be rejected outright. I also said (and have written several articles and a book laying out the evidence) that although ideology is important, the best predictor (in the sense of a regression analysis) of willingness to commit an act of jihadi violence is if one belongs to an action-oriented social network, such as a neighborhood help group or even a sports team (see Atran, TALKING TO THE ENEMY, Penguin, 2010).
Harris’s views on religion ignore the considerable progress in cognitive studies on the subject over the last two decades, which show that core religious beliefs do not have fixed propositional content (Atran & Norenzayan, “Religion’s Evolutionary Landscape,” BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES, 2004). Indeed, religious beliefs, in being absurd (whether or not they are recognized as such), cannot even be processed as comprehensible because their semantic content is contradictory (for example, a bodiless but physically powerful and sentient being, a deity that is one in three, etc). It is precisely the ineffable nature of core religious beliefs that accounts, in part, for their social and political adaptability over time in helping to bond and sustain groups (Atran & Ginges, “Religious and Sacred Imperatives in Human Conflict,” SCIENCE, 2012). In fact, it is the ecstasy-provoking rituals that Harris describes as being associated with such beliefs which renders them immune to the logical and empirical scrutiny that ordinarily accompanies belief verification (see Atran & Henrich, “The Evolution of Religion,” BIOLOGICAL THEORY, 2010).
The island of long life
Andrew Anthony in The Guardian:
With its beautiful coves, rocky cliffs, steep valleys and broken canopy of scrub and olive groves, Ikaria looks similar to any number of other Greek islands. But there is one vital difference: people here live much longer than the population on other islands and on the mainland. In fact, people here live on average 10 years longer than those in the rest of Europe and America – around one in three Ikarians lives into their 90s. Not only that, but they also have much lower rates of cancer and heart disease, suffer significantly less depression and dementia, maintain a sex life into old age and remain physically active deep into their 90s. What is the secret of Ikaria? What do its inhabitants know that the rest of us don't?
It has also been the subject of a number of scientific studies. Aside from the demographic surveys that Buettner helped organise, there was also the University of Athens' Ikaria Study. One of its members, Dr Christina Chrysohoou, a cardiologist at the university's medical school, found that the Ikarian diet featured a lot of beans and not much meat or refined sugar. The locals also feast on locally grown and wild greens, some of which contain 10 times more antioxidants than are found in red wine, as well as potatoes and goat's milk. Chrysohoou thinks the food is distinct from that eaten on other Greek islands with lower life expectancy. "Ikarians' diet may have some differences from other islands' diets," she says. "The Ikarians drink a lot of herb tea and small quantities of coffee; daily calorie consumption is not high. Ikaria is still an isolated island, without tourists, which means that, especially in the villages in the north, where the highest longevity rates have been recorded, life is largely unaffected by the westernised way of living." But she also refers to research that suggests the Ikarian habit of taking afternoon naps may help extend life. One extensive study of Greek adults showed that regular napping reduced the risk of heart disease by almost 40%. What's more, Chrysohoou's preliminary studies revealed that 80% of Ikarian males between the ages of 65 and 100 were still having sex. And, of those, a quarter did so with "good duration" and "achievement". "We found that most males between 65 and 88 reported sexual activity, but after the age of 90, very few continued to have sex."
How Can You Live to 100?
From National Geographic:
Though most of us won't make it to 116, National Geographic Fellow and longevity expert Dan Buettner has discovered tips on reaching old age through his work on blue zones—pockets of longevity around the world. In his second edition of his book The Blue Zones, Buettner writes about a newly identified Blue Zone: the Greek island of Ikaria (map). National Geographic magazine Editor at Large Cathy Newman interviewed him in December about the art of living long and well. (Watch Buettner talk about how to live to a hundred.)
Q. You've written about Blue Zones in Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; Nicoa, Costa Rica; and Okinawa, Japan. How did you find your way to Ikaria?
A. Michel Poulain, a demographer on the project, and I are always on the lookout for new Blue Zones. This one popped up in 2008. We got a lead from a Greek foundation looking for biological markers in aging people. The census data showed clusters of villages there with a striking proportion of people 85 or older. (Also see blog: "Secrets of the Happiest Places on Earth.")
In the course of your quest you've been introduced to remarkable individuals like 100-year-old Marge Jetton of Loma Linda, California, who starts the day with a mile-long [0.6-kilometer] walk, 6 to 8 miles [10 to 13 kilometers] on a stationary bike, and weight lifting. Who is the most memorable Blue Zoner you've met?
Without question it's Stamatis Moraitis, who lives in Ikaria. I believe he's 102. He's famous for partying. He makes 400 liters [100 gallons] of wine from his vineyards each year, which he drinks with his friends. His house is the social hot spot of the island. (See "Longevity Genes Found; Predict Chances of Reaching 100.")
He's also the Ikarian who emigrated to the United States, was diagnosed with lung cancer in his 60s, given less then a year to live, and who returned to Ikaria to die. Instead, he recovered.
Yes, he never went through chemotherapy or treatment. He just moved back to Ikaria.
Did anyone figure out how he survived?
Nope. He told me he returned to the U.S. ten years after he left to see if the American doctors could explain it. I asked him what happened. "My doctors were all dead," he said.
Samantha Power and the Weaponization of Human Rights
Chase Madar in Counterpunch:
Daniel Larison also on Power over at The American Conservative.
The intellectual career of Samantha Power is a richly instructive example of the weaponization of human rights. She made her name in 2002 with A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. In this surprise global bestseller, she argues that when confronted with 20th-century genocides, the United States sat on the sidelines as the blood flowed. Look at Bosnia or Rwanda. “Why does the US stand so idly by?” she asks. Powers allows that overall America “has made modest progress in its responses to genocide.” That’s not good enough. We must be bolder in deploying our armed forces to prevent human-rights catastrophes—to engage in “humanitarian intervention” in the patois of our foreign-policy elite.
In nearly 600 pages of text, Power barely mentions those postwar genocides in which the U.S. government, far from sitting idle, took a robust role in the slaughter. Indonesia’s genocidal conquest of East Timor, for instance, expressly green-lighted by President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger, who met with Suharto the night before the invasion was launched and carried out with American-supplied weapons. Over the next quarter century, the Indonesian army saw U.S. military aid and training rise as it killed between 100,000 and 200,000 East Timorese. (The figures and the designation of “genocide” come from a UN-formed investigative body.) This whole bloody business gets exactly one sentence in Power’s book.
What about the genocide of Mayan peasants in Guatemala—another decades-long massacre carried out with American armaments by a military dictatorship with tacit U.S. backing, officer training at Fort Benning, and covert CIA support? A truth commission sponsored by the Catholic Church and the UN designated this programmatic slaughter genocide and set the death toll at approximately 200,000. But apparently this isn’t a problem from hell.
Purpose and the Universe: Sean Carroll at the 2013 AHA Conference
June 13, 2013
William Gaddis: A very fine shambles
In a late letter to Stanley Elkin, one of the colleagues he came to admire, Gaddis writes that “age 72 is daily more infringed by that blond pageboy off to boarding school age 5”. This is almost where we begin, with an account of school activities he sent his mother when he was just ten days past his eighth birthday. Edith Gaddis, whose husband had left well before this, was the recipient of most of the letters collected here from the next twenty years and more, years that took her son to Haiti, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Spain, Paris and North Africa, as well as the American West (and Harvard, briefly), as he pursued a life of varied adventure. He was also beginning to write. “I have been working very hard”, he sends word to his mother from Mexico City in April 1947. “Many days. On a novel.” By December – now in Panama, working in the Canal Zone, where he would quickly come to see his country as deserting its responsibilities (“America I have such pity for, fury at”) – he had “started the plans for another novel”, which would be partly a study of abdication, deception and self-deception, expressing pity for and fury at not just one nation but the whole human race: The Recognitions. More than a quarter of this volume of correspondence is devoted to the period when Gaddis was writing his first published novel, though his references to work are at first few, interspersed among travel plans, notes on what he has seen and done, and concerns expressed for his recipients.more from Paul Griffiths at the TLS here.
The Turkish emir Osman I, father of the Ottoman dynasty, had a dream. A tree sprang from his loins, and from its roots flowed the great rivers of the world, and its canopy spread from the Caucasus to the Atlas. In the branches nightingales and parrots cried out. Every leaf was a scimitar. A wind blew up that turned these blades toward the cities that lay beneath the tree; most turned toward Constantinople. That city became the emerald in a ring, and the emir slipped the ring on his finger, and awoke. The Byzantines had said that when, as at its founding in a.d. 330, they were again ruled by an emperor named Constantine, son of a Helena, Constantinople would fall, which in 1453 they were and it did. The Muslims foretold that a leader who bore the Prophet’s name would take Constantinople, and in 1453 he did and he did. When the Turks at last breached Constantinople’s walls it was because someone left the door open.more from Rafil Kroll-Zaidi at Harper's Magazine here.