Sunday, December 14, 2014
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Saturday, December 20, 2014
In a 1964 interview between The New Yorker’s Calvin Tomkins and Duchamp, the latter remarked, “The artist produces nothing until the onlooker has said, ‘You have produced something marvelous.’ The onlooker has the last word in it.”
This is also a tidy summary of Duchamp’s short lecture “The Creative Act,” given in Houston in 1957, in which he calls the artist a “mediumistic being,” one whose “decisions in the artistic execution of the work … cannot be translated into a self-analysis.” Analysis is the work of the spectator, who “brings the work in contact with the external world.” Posterity decides if an artist’s works are deserving enough of an extended solo show at the Whitney, or should be reprinted in every iteration of the Norton Anthology until the end of time. The “creative act” is a transaction between artist and onlooker, and in it, again, the onlooker has the last word.
This is literally true in Joe Milutis’s new conceptual project Marcel Duchamp’s The [Creative] Act, released last month via Gauss PDF. Milutis’s text is a free fourteen-page PDF file that takes Duchamp’s 1957 lecture and turns it into a sort-of Dadaist Mad Libs:
Millions of artists [verb]; only a few thousands are [passive verb] or [passive verb] by the [noun] and many less again are [passive verb] by [noun].
Alvin Powell in the Harvard Gazette:
Current models hold that the stuff we know about — ourselves, our cars, our houses, the solar system, interstellar dust, etc. — makes up just about 5 percent of the universe. A big chunk of the rest, 27 percent, is something called dark matter, whose gravitational effects astrophysicists see as they peer into the skies, but whose nature remains a mystery. The remainder — roughly 68 percent — is dark energy, about which scientists understand even less. (Chris Stubbs, the Samuel C. Moncher Professor of Physics and of Astronomy, is one of the number who are on the case, albeit at the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in Chile rather than the LHC.)
Other mysteries include how gravity is related to the other three main forces in the universe: electromagnetism and the strong and weak forces that operate in the atomic nucleus. Today they’re explained by separate theories. A theorized particle, the graviton, that might carry the gravitational force, has never been seen. There’s also the question of whether supersymmetry — thought to include a whole new family of particles — is real. And then there’s the possibility that the Higgs boson hasn’t been fully described.
William Smith in Raseef22:
But while people may publically express their aversion and opposition to Internet pornography, their private viewing habits suggest something quite different. Put simply, porn is BIG in the Arab world. According toGoogle AdWords, the 22 Arab states account for over 10% of the world’s searches for “sex”; A total of 55.4 million unique monthly Google “sex” searchers in the 22 (ignoring a further 24 million searches for “sex” transliterated into Arabic) that matches both the United States and India, two countries often cited as world leaders in porn consumption.
What is even more striking is that, when these numbers are adjusted to reflect people’s ready access to the Internet (which ranges from 85% of the population in the UAE to just 1.4% in Somalia) Arab Google searches for “sex” outweigh those from almost anywhere else worldwide. As per AdWords, for every 100 Arab Internet users, an average of 52 searches are made each month, compared to 21 in the United States, 36 in India, 45 in France and 47 in Pakistan.
It also seems to be the case that viewing porn in the region is not simply big in absolute terms, but also relatively to all other things people search. Data obtained from the Internet analytics company Alexa shows that adult-themed sites account for seven of the 100 most visited websites in the US, a figure that is trumped by at least six Arab states – Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen. Meanwhile, Google Trends, which shows how many searches for a particular keyword are made relative to all searches on Google, suggests that people in the region are more likely to search for “sex” than almost anywhere else in the world, with the exception of the Indian Sub-Continent.
Ali Minai in Brown Pundits:
"If you want to change the world, make your bed first thing in the morning." —Admiral William H. McRaven
To this philosophical skepticism about modernity, Calasso has contributed a bracing genealogy of ideas, which transcends many contemporary conceits about literature and philosophy: Proust becomes a Vedic seer, and Prajapati, the Vedic deity of procreation, emerges as the predecessor of Kafka’s K in his form-defying books. Their ostensible range of subjects — from Talleyrand and Tiepolo to Greek and Indian myths — disguises a continuity of themes and preoccupations: the power and sovereignty of the mind and its relationship to the world, the basis of political and social order and the inescapable role of violence. He also has a reputation for mining arcane texts, which will no doubt be enhanced by his deployment in “Ardor” of the Satapatha Brahmana, a notoriously dense eighth-century B.C.E. commentary on Vedic rites.
Calasso uses it to range broadly on the Veda, its “self-sufficient, self-segregated world,” and “the rigor of its formal structure.” The Vedic Indians did not build great empires or monuments. Rather they sought an intense “state of awareness” that “became the pivot around which turned thousands and thousands of meticulously codified ritual acts.” Calasso is aware that most of his readers would regard the ritual of sacrifice as barbarous. But he sees in this contemporary recoiling an uneasy confession: that “this world of today is detached from and, at the same time, dependent on all that has preceded it.” Sacrifice was the means to acknowledge and contain violence through religious ritual and practice.
This persistence of language in spite of its logic, in spite of itself, is not unique to Gass by any measure. In his essay on E. M. Cioran, “The Evil Demiurge,” Gass takes the aphorist to task for espousing a philosophy he considers nothing more than crude pessimism. For Gass, Cioran’s writings are “extraordinarily careless pieces of reasoning, travel[ing] from fallacy to fallacy with sovereign unconcern, deal[ing] almost wholly with borrowings.” But in his own fiction, Gass too falls prey to the same kind of indulgence in callousness and misanthropy: “You are a skull already—memento mori—the foreskin retracts from your teeth. Will your plastic gums last longer than your bones, and color their grinning? And is your twot still hazel-hairy, or are you bald as a ditch? . . . bitch . . . . . . bitch . . . . . . . . . bitch. I wanted to be famous, but you bring me age—my emptiness.” Gass’ rage against the world is made painfully obvious in his attempts to degrade it and its inhabitants. Like Cioran, his most venomous moments seem uncharacteristic and almost certainly gauche when measured against the care with which he’s chosen their language and pieced together its form. One can’t help but wonder to what degree they are self-conscious or even tongue-in-cheek, or if they’re simply unsophisticated spasms of dissonance, lapses into brute rage, stewing behind the veneer of otherwise masterful prose.
Gass does note that in spite of Cioran’s philosophical shortcomings, his poeticism manages to rise above, and this is why Cioran endures: “as Susan Sontag points out . . . there is nothing fresh about Cioran’s thought . . . except its formal fury. His book has all the beauty of pressed leaves, petals shut from their odors; yet what is retained has its own emotion, and here it is powerful and sustained.” It’s his style, the immediacy of his aphorisms and his language, not necessarily the logic behind them, that’s immortalized his work. Similarly Gass’ aesthetic trumps the adolescent angst that too often permeates his work and threatens to compromise its integrity.
…you will not expect any intimacy…
nor will you reproach me in any way…
She’s the physicist whose cabbage soup
And lint brush gave Einstein the time to solve
Time and also for Elsa and Miss S,
His stray eurekas in the dark, principles
He illuminated with apple-falling grasp
While she waited up with the clock like one
Of those observers on railroad platforms.
For her, the breakthrough came when he begged her
To meet him by train in the Alps before
They wed, overlooking her limp, her plain face,
His laughter fey in bed as his frizzy crown.
But now he pulled away and she preferred
The monotonous lecture of a child’s breathing
To his conception of where she stood
In his world, he an eponym for brilliance,
The new standard but also a barrier
Like the speed of light, what all things crawl
Relative to, she a dull lamp burning
Long into the night, proving him wrong
Again and again, though her discovery
Superfluous, the usual suffering.
by David Moolten
from 32 Poems, Fall/Winter 2013
Karen Armstrong in The New York Times:
At a time when religious faith is coming under intense scrutiny, “The Norton Anthology of World Religions” is presenting a documentary history of six major faiths with sufficient editorial explanation to make their major texts intelligible across the barriers of time and space. This second volume in the series is a textual overview of the three monotheisms — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — from the early scriptures to contemporary writings. It is presented as a journey of exploration, but any reader who hopes to emerge from this literary excursion with a clear-cut understanding of these religions will be disappointed — and that is the great strength of this book. First, the selected Jewish writings show that contrary to some popular assumptions, religion does not offer unsustainable certainty. The biblical story of the binding of Isaac leaves us with hard questions about Abraham’s God, and later, when Moses asks this baffling deity for his name, he simply answers: “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh”, which can be roughly translated: “Never mind who I am!” The Book of Job finds no answer to the problem of human suffering, and Ecclesiastes dismisses human life as “utter futility.” This bleak honesty finds its ultimate expression in Elie Wiesel’s proclamation of the death of God in Auschwitz.
At its best, religion helps people to live creatively and kindly with the inescapable sorrow and perplexity of human existence.
Pervez Hoodbhoy in Dawn:
THE gut-wrenching massacre in Peshawar’s Army Public School has left Pakistan aghast and sickened. All political leaders have called for unity against terrorism. But this is no watershed event that can bridge the deep divides within. In another few days this episode of 134 dead children will become one like any other. All tragedies provoke emotional exhortations. But nothing changed after Lakki Marwat when 105 spectators of a volleyball match were killed by a suicide bomber in a pickup truck. Or, when 96 Hazaras in a snooker club died in a double suicide attack. The 127 dead in the All Saints Church bombing in Peshawar, or the 90 Ahmadis killed while in prayer, are now dry statistics. In 2012, men in military uniforms stopped four buses bound from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, demanding that all 117 persons alight and show their national identification cards. Those with typical Shia names, like Abbas and Jafri, were separated. Minutes later corpses lay on the ground.
If Pakistan had a collective conscience, just one single fact could have woken it up: the murder of nearly 60 polio workers — women and men who work to save children from a crippling disease — at the hands of the fanatics. Hence the horrible inevitability: from time to time, Pakistan shall continue to witness more such catastrophes. No security measures can ever prevent attacks on soft targets. The only possible solution is to change mindsets. For this we must grapple with three hard facts. First, let’s openly admit that the killers are not outsiders or infidels.
Friday, December 19, 2014
I began learning the mathematical underpinnings of string theory during an intense period in the spring and summer of 1985. I wasn’t alone. Graduate students and seasoned faculty alike got swept up in the potential of string theory to be what some were calling the “final theory” or the “theory of everything.” In crowded seminar rooms and flyby corridor conversations, physicists anticipated the crowning of a new order.
But the simplest and most important question loomed large. Is string theory right? Does the math explain our universe? The description I’ve given suggests an experimental strategy. Examine particles and if you see little vibrating strings, you’re done. It’s a fine idea in principle, but string theory’s pioneers realized it was useless in practice. The math set the size of strings to be about a million billion times smaller than even the minute realms probed by the world’s most powerful accelerators. Save for building a collider the size of the galaxy, strings, if they’re real, would elude brute force detection.
Making the situation seemingly more dire, researchers had come upon a remarkable but puzzling mathematical fact. String theory’s equations require that the universe has extra dimensions beyond the three of everyday experience—left/right, back/forth and up/down. Taking the math to heart, researchers realized that their backs were to the wall. Make sense of extra dimensions—a prediction that’s grossly at odds with what we perceive—or discard the theory.
Every morning before breakfast, sketchpad in hand, Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) went for a walk to observe and absorb his surroundings. This lifelong practice began early, when the artist launched his career in Paris in the tumultuous fin-de-siècle period, long before he left the urban sidewalks for the greener paths of Vernon and Le Cannet.1 These daily walks were his way of immersing himself, both visually and bodily, in the life of the city and – along with the radical perspectives and bold linear patterns of Japanese ukiyo-e prints2 – inspired many of his early works. Bonnard produced over one hundred paintings and prints in the 1890s that capture the bustling pace and brisk energy of Paris. He later referred to this subject as “the theater of the everyday,”3 and it is his particular vision of this sidewalk theater, and the viewer’s involvement in it, that I will investigate here, with particular attention to how his engagement with new media mattered to developing this vision. In particular, Bonnard’s use of color and his plays with space and figure-ground relations take advantage of the limits and potentials of printmaking as a medium, a medium that was more immediate and accessible yet less flexible than the painting for which he would become known. Playing off the chromatic constraints of lithography, Bonnard shuttles the viewer between foreground and background, intimate proximity and distance. In so doing he explores the duality of the street as a disorienting amalgam of schematic backdrops and looming intrusions into our personal space, both seemingly captured at the limits of our visual field.
Finding Vivian Maier investigates the case of a provokingly secretive woman who took thousands of photographs but kept them locked away, never showing or selling them during her lifetime. The documentary features interviews with people who knew Maier, including those who employed her as a nanny or who as children were her charges. They construct a fascinating, contradictory, unsettling verbal portrait of the artist, complicating rather than simplifying our understanding of her. It seems she was conscious of being a puzzle, even gleefully so: one speaker quotes Maier calling herself “the mystery woman.”
Vivian Maier was a strange, difficult person, and those who knew her have spent a lot of time trying to understand her. But when people in the film say, “Why was a nanny taking all these photographs?” or “What’s the use of taking it if no one sees it?” they reveal less about Maier than about common assumptions of what art is for, and who artists are. Maier’s photographs, to which she devoted herself rigorously but for which she never sought recognition, illustrate the paradox of someone who wanted to stay hidden yet obsessively documented her existence, a solitary outsider who could form profound, fleeting connections with strangers.
Faisal Devji in The Hindu:
One of the peculiarities of Indian political debate is that everyone claims to be secular while accusing others of not being so. Secularism’s hegemony as an idea was made clear by L.K. Advani, when he coined the now famous term “pseudo-secular” to describe his political enemies. But if secularism is so dominant an idea, this is because it is and has always been deployed as a polemical category as much as a constitutional principle, and indeed its insertion into the Constitution by Indira Gandhi was itself a partisan act. In colonial times, for example, Congressmen identified secularism with nationalism, which was in turn held to be the real antonym of communalism. In other words it was the pluralism and popularity of the Congress, compared with the supposedly sectarian appeal of Hindu and Muslim parties, that was seen as defining its secular credentials, and this in a demographic rather than constitutional way.
Since Independence, however, secularism is increasingly opposed to communalism, with the nation no longer central to its definition. Is it therefore being separated from a strictly populist logic to assume a purely juridical character — and does this indicate the failure of the nation to demonstrate its plurality and therefore secularism, which must instead be sought in the pre-modern past? Even in the days of its alleged dominance under Nehru, secularism could hardly be said to possess its own history or even existential reality, given that its membership included both the religious and irreligious. Indeed, secularists had to lay claim to explicitly religious precedents, such as bhakti or Sufi forms of devotion, and the pluralistic festivals with which these were often associated. In other words, the condescending reference was invariably to the “folk” devotions that had never, in fact, been part of the “culture” of self-professed secularists.
And so both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continue to invoke a populist and indeed majoritarian logic to define the secular, but the changing nature of the Indian polity has given this rhetoric a quite different meaning. For the folk elements of its demographic logic have been replaced by varieties of ostensibly high-culture religiosity that no longer needs to display any pluralism, as long as it is assumed to be “tolerant”, a term that in the nationalist past had been used for another kind of high culture, that of royalty and aristocrats like Asoka or Akbar. Nehru himself preferred this form of the secular, which also served as a historical mask for the Congress’s quasi-colonial vision of itself. Before Independence, after all, its claims to hold the demographic middle ground between religious extremes had mirrored British attempts to constitute the colonial state as a neutral third party between Hindus and Muslims, itself a classically liberal position, despite the fact that it was deployed in an illiberal political system.
Read the full article here.
Sean Carroll in Preposterous Universe:
I got to know Charles “Chip” Sebens back in 2012, when he emailed to ask if he could spend the summer at Caltech. Chip is a graduate student in the philosophy department at the University of Michigan, and like many philosophers of physics, knows the technical background behind relativity and quantum mechanics very well. Chip had funding from NSF, and I like talking to philosophers, so I said why not?
We had an extremely productive summer, focusing on our different stances toward quantum mechanics. At the time I was a casual adherent of the Everett (many-worlds) formulation, but had never thought about it carefully. Chip was skeptical, in particular because he thought there were good reasons to believe that EQM should predict equal probabilities for being on any branch of the wave function, rather than the amplitude-squared probabilities of the real-world Born Rule. Fortunately, I won, although the reason I won was mostly because Chip figured out what was going on. We ended up writing a paper explaining why the Born Rule naturally emerges from EQM under some simple assumptions. Now I have graduated from being a casual adherent to a slightly more serious one.
But that doesn’t mean Everett is right, and it’s worth looking at other formulations. Chip was good enough to accept my request that he write a guest blog post about another approach that’s been in the news lately: a “Newtonian” or “Many-Interacting-Worlds” formulation of quantum mechanics, which he has helped to pioneer.
In the school auditorium,
the Theodore Roosevelt statue
for the Spanish-American war
each fist lonely for a saber,
or the reins of anguish-eyed horses,
or a podium to clatter with speeches
glorying in the malaria of conquest.
But now the Roosevelt school
is pronounced Hernandez.
Puerto Rico has invaded Roosevelt
with its army of Spanish-singing children
in the hallways,
brown children devouring
the stockpiles of the cafeteria,
children painting Taino ancestors
that leap naked across murals.
Roosevelt is surrounded
by all the faces
he ever shoved in eugenic spite
and cursed as mongrels, skin of one race,
hair and cheekbones of another.
Once Marines tramped
from the newsreel of his imagination;
now children plot to spray graffiti
in parrot-brilliant colors
across the Victorian mustache
by Martin Espada
from After Aztlan
publisher: David R. Godine, 1992
David Marquand in New Statesman:
For Burke, Bromwich tells us, the relationship between the people and the political elite was that of patient to doctor. Popular disorder was a symptom of a malady disturbing the body politic. The statesman’s task was to interpret it, as a physician’s task was to interpret a physical symptom. Repression was rarely the right medicine; therein lay the meaning of Burke’s vicious attacks on the British government’s inept handling of the disorders in the American colonies. But though wise doctors listen to their patients, they do so the better to understand the symptoms. At the last resort, it is their responsibility to rely on their professional judgement to decide how the disease should be treated. To do anything else is to betray their calling. In the same way, members of parliament must make up their own minds how to represent their constituents. They should listen – but they should also listen to other representatives of other constituents. They owe their electors their independent, un-coerced judgement of what is best for the country as a whole and not just for their constituency. That is what it means to be a representative: representatives are not delegates. This high view of the relationship between electors and elected, Bromwich argues, was shared by James Madison, the most intellectually fertile of the founding fathers of the American republic.
It is an arresting thought. Amartya Sen’s democracy – democracy as public reasoning – is impossible without social spaces in which reasoning can take place. With all the manifold failings of today’s American republic, the complex checks and balances that have been central to US federalism from the beginning offer a template for a system in which Sen-style democracy could flourish. I like to think that if Burke were to return from the grave, he would campaign for a British constitution based on the principle of devolved power. He was, after all, the great champion of what he called “the little platoons”, which he saw as the nurseries of public affection.
From Medical Xpress:
Why are older people at higher risk for developing cancer? Prevailing opinion holds that, over time, your body's cells accumulate DNA damage and that eventually this damage catches up with the body in a way that causes cancer. A University of Colorado Cancer Center study published today in the journal Aging shows that this prevailing opinion is incomplete. In addition to DNA damage, cancer depends on the slow degradation of tissue that surrounds cancer cells, something that naturally comes with aging.
"It's really all about natural selection and survival of the fittest," says James DeGregori, PhD, investigator at the CU Cancer Center, professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics at the CU School of Medicine, and the paper's senior author. "When you're young, healthy cells are optimized to the surrounding tissue - they're the 'fittest'," DeGregori says. "At that point, any mutation that affects function makes a cell less fit, so cells with mutations, even cancer-causing mutations, are out-competed by the young, fit, healthy cells. But when the tissue landscape changes with aging, healthy cells may no longer be optimized to their surroundings. In this aged landscape, mutations may actually make certain cells better, allowing them to out-compete the normal cells and form tumors. That's why older people get cancer."
Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Gregory F. Treverton in Foreign Affairs:
Even as protests spread across the Middle East in early 2011, the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria appeared immune from the upheaval. Assad had ruled comfortably for over a decade, having replaced his father, Hafez, who himself had held power for the previous three decades. Many pundits argued that Syria’s sturdy police state, which exercised tight control over the country’s people and economy, would survive the Arab Spring undisturbed. Compared with its neighbor Lebanon, Syria looked positively stable. Civil war had torn through Lebanon throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s, and the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 had plunged the country into yet more chaos.
But appearances were deceiving: today, Syria is in a shambles, with the regime fighting for its very survival, whereas Lebanon has withstood the influx of Syrian refugees and the other considerable pressures of the civil war next door. Surprising as it may seem, the per capita death rate from violence in Lebanon in 2013 was lower than that in Washington, D.C. That same year, the body count of the Syrian conflict surpassed 100,000.
Why has seemingly stable Syria turned out to be the fragile regime, whereas always-in-turmoil Lebanon has so far proved robust? The answer is that prior to its civil war, Syria was exhibiting only pseudo-stability, its calm façade concealing deep structural vulnerabilities. Lebanon’s chaos, paradoxically, signaled strength. Fifteen years of civil war had served to decentralize the state and bring about a more balanced sectarian power-sharing structure. Along with Lebanon’s small size as an administrative unit, these factors added to its durability. So did the country’s free-market economy. In Syria, the ruling Baath Party sought to control economic variability, replacing the lively chaos of the ancestral souk with the top-down, Soviet-style structure of the office building. This rigidity made Syria (and the other Baathist state, Iraq) much more vulnerable to disruption than Lebanon.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Heather Havrilesky in Bookforum:
THERE'S SOMETHING endearing about people who loudly proclaim their love of books. Forget the suspicions kicked up by trumpeting something as universal as “books” as one’s true love (also loves: baby animals, pizza, oxygen); forget the anachronism of loving physical objects in space and not some “long read” floating in the ether; forget the self-congratulatory tone that hints at a closetful of book-festival tote bags emblazoned with Shakespeare’s face. Proudly championing books still counts as a true act of courage, a way of raging against the dying of the page. In embracing the book as an object, a concept, a signifier, and a religion, though, one often forgets the texts that answer to the name of “book” these days. A perusal of the best-seller lists of the past two decades indicates that the most popular books might more accurately be described as billionaire-themed smut, extended blast of own-horn tooting, Sociology 101 textbook with sexy one-word title, unfocused partisan rant, 250-page-long stand-up routine, text version of Muppets Most Wanted with self-serious humans where the Muppets should be, folksy Christian sci-fi/fantasy, pseudohistorical rambling by non-historian, and simpleton wisdom trussed up in overpriced yoga pants.
And if we narrow our focus to the No. 1 spot on the New York Times’ hardcover-nonfiction best-seller list in the twenty years since Bookforumwas first published,we discover an increasingly shrill, two-decade-long cry for help from the American people. As I Want to Tell You by O. J. Simpson (1995) and The Royals by Kitty Kelley (1997) yield to Dude, Where’s My Country? by Michael Moore (2003) and Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward (2004), you can almost see the support beams of the American dream tumbling sideways, the illusions of endless peace and rapidly compounding prosperity crumbling along with it. The leisurely service-economy daydreams of the late ’90s left us plenty of time to spend Tuesdays with Morrie and muse about The Millionaire Next Door or get worked up about The Day Diana Died. But such luxe distractions gave way to The Age of Turbulence, as our smug belief in the good life was crushed under the weight of 9/11, the Great Recession, and several murky and seemingly endless wars. Suddenly the world looked Hot, Flat, and Crowded, with the aggressively nostalgic waging an all-out Assault on Reason. In such a Culture of Corruption, if you weren’t Going Rogue you inevitably found yourself Arguing with Idiots.
Sara Black McCulloch in The New Inquiry:
We “contract” disease, as if it were something we could sign for, sign up for. We “fight” disease, as if we were drafted in service of our country. We “fall sick,” as if in battle. Cancer patients who do not fall permanently are “survivors.” The sick can be ostracized, and the sick can be glorified, but in almost all cases, the sick cease to be civilians and become fighters either for or against us. In a climate of perpetual war, Eula Biss resists the metaphors, giving us instead a different way of looking at illness and disease. She speaks of “herd immunity,” i.e. the idea that if whoever can get vaccinated does get vaccinated, we can protect those most prone to disease (and those who can’t get vaccinated), like cancer patients and pregnant. She rephrases, saying it’s a “banking of immunity,” a trust fund: We know that immune individuals won’t carry infectious diseases, won’t diminish our value.
Language is said to be a virus, but anxiety is the virus that language only carries. “Only,” and yet a virus is nothing without a carrier. Old misconceptions thrive on and on in our words. “We are not being invaded,” Susan Sontag wrote inIllness as Metaphor, decades ago. “The body is not a battlefield. The ill are neither unavoidable casualties nor the enemy… About that metaphor, the military one, I would say, if I may paraphrase Lucretius: Give it back to the war-makers.” Yet in our words we are still more often war-makers than nurses, far from immune or safe, terrified often that our bodies won’t heal without a fight.
Sometimes our immune systems lie to us. Autoimmune disorders attack the nonthreatening self, destroying vital body tissue, as with rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and Graves’ disease. Like even the best intelligence agencies, our immune systems sometimes fail to recognize when the self becomes a threat, the body a double agent: the cancer is coming from inside the house, at least where the house is flesh, and the immune system doesn’t see its cells as foreign. Some of us get chicken pox again, and shingles. Many of us still have allergies. A simple answer is that the immune system isn’t a perfect system. Another answer is that the immune system is perfect, and we just don’t know it well enough yet.
Read the full article here.
Steve Snyder in Scientia Salon:
If there’s one thing that a lot of people are sure they know about Cynicism, it’s that it’s nothing other than a usually unwarranted, almost totally negative attitude about life in general, and most of its individual elements.
And, if they think they’re talking about Cynicism the philosophy, with a capital C, they’re dead wrong. With a lowercase spelling, cynicism as a psychological attitude may be just that. As one of the great philosophies of classical Greece, with roots in the pre-Alexandrine Hellenic era, older than Stoicism and perhaps with pre-Socratic connections, they’re dead wrong.
Even people with some interest in philosophy usually know little that is true about Cynicism: that its founder, Diogenes, told Alexander to get out of his light, and that he (Diogenes) was known for masturbating in public.
Those are (likely) true, but they are mere tidbits, and the second was trotted out more than 2,000 years ago, and from that time on, as a transparent attempt to denigrate Cynicism. A denigration which was helped, to be fair, by the fact that later Cynicism did at times — perhaps in part facing the stark nature of Roman might — become a bit more like its own caricature.
Beena Sarwar in the Huffington Post:
Although Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has termed the Peshawar attack a national tragedy, announced three days of national mourning and promised to eradicate the terrorists, real change won't occur unless Pakistan discards the "good Taliban, bad Taliban" narrative and moves to decisively uphold the rule of law.
The innocent lives lost in Peshawar are among a staggering 50,000 civilians killed by the Taliban and their aligned groups in Pakistan since 9/11. Such civilian attacks have intensified in the last five years.
The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said it carried out the Peshawar school attack in retaliation for the Pakistani army's ongoing military offensive against the Taliban. "This is a reaction to the killing of our children and dumping of bodies of our mujahideen [jihadis]," said a spokesman.
The attack on the Peshawar school is actually a measure of the success of the operation that was belatedly launched in June this year as it indicates the desperation of the Taliban, who had already been badly affected by America's drone strikes.
Many Pakistanis and allies in other countries like the U.S. have been demanding a decisive move against the Taliban and their aligned groups for years, but the army and government kept putting it off due to "lack of political consensus." Leaders like former cricket hero Imran Khan have added to the confusion. Khan will condemn the Taliban but then also justify their actions by saying that they are acting in response to drone strikes or American imperialism.
Nathaniel Comfort in The Point:
The notion that your genes are your essential self—genetic essentialism—is fairly recent. Although the idea that heredity contributes to our health and identity is ancient, the idea that for practical purposes it is all that matters dates only to the nineteenth century. The English statistician Francis Galton conceived of heredity as a subterranean stream of “germ plasm,” flowing down the generations, isolated and insulated from the environment’s buffeting of any individual body. In determining who we are, Galton wrote, nature was “far more important than nurture.”
That stream was increasingly polluted, Galton was convinced. Vexed by the fact that people paid more attention to breeding their cattle than themselves, in 1883 he proposed a scheme of hereditary improvement he called “eugenics,” meaning “well-born.” The stream of British germ plasm could be socially filtered, and even enriched, by persuading the “fittest” people (borrowing loosely from Darwin) to have more children; the “unfit,” fewer. A techno-optimist to the core, Galton believed that, given proper instruction, people would see the logic of this scheme and participate voluntarily. In this he was naïve—at least about the abstinence part. After 1900, eugenics became coercive, while the state’s trust in the population shriveled. Marriage restriction and sexual sterilization laws were keystones of state-run programs of hereditary improvement. When most people think of eugenics, they think of a scientifically rationalized program of racial purification, which it was. But eugenics always had a medical and public health dimension as well. The vast majority of forced sterilizations were carried out in a medical milieu—particularly in psychiatric hospitals. Eugenic sterilization was considered preventive medicine for incurable mental or other hereditary disease. This is the origin of medical genetics. Mainstream genetic medicine today isn’t eugenics, but it has a deep taproot in ideas of hereditary social control.