Sunday, July 05, 2015
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Tuesday, July 07, 2015
Louis Hughes in Nature:
Biologist Louise Hughes heads the bio-imaging unit at Oxford Brookes University in the UK. Also a multimedia artist, she makes labwork-inspired jewellery — including gold pieces based on structures such as the hepatitis virus. Here she talks electron microscopy, centrioles and chromosome earrings.
I have always considered microscopy images and data to be beautiful. During my master’s degree in biological electron microscopy, I learned how to take images using negative plates and film — the use of modern digital cameras in an electron microscope is relatively recent. I see electron microscopy as another form of photography, just using a rather complicated camera. Art and science are both ways of looking at the world. How we use images and produce the graphics that explain our interpretation of the information we receive differs between the two disciplines, but there is a process that is similar.
You make 3D objects based on microscopic images for research and outreach, and also as jewellery?
I use a combination of techniques, including microscopy, digital modelling and 3D printing, and make adjustments until I have created the item I want. For outreach I generally make large plastic printed models, as close a replica of the 3D data as I can manage. For jewellery, I print the model in wax using a 3D printer (for the ‘lost wax’ casting method), which ensures a high level of detail. At the moment my favourite metal to work with is bronze: I feel the colour and weight create really striking items. I use microscopic structures in jewellery because they are aesthetically satisfying, and also universally human: at the cellular/organelle level there is no difference in race, sexual orientation, religion, country, wealth. We all have the same cellular components. Viruses can infect any one of us. My personal favourites are centrioles and axonemes — micro-tube structures found in cells. These beautiful, fascinating, endlessly complex biological structures apply across a wide range of organisms and kingdoms. I am now expanding the range to incorporate structures such as organelles and macromolecules. My awe at this amazing miniature architecture is not going to diminish any time soon.
Thomas Piketty , Jeffrey Sachs , Heiner Flassbeck , Dani Rodrik and Simon Wren-Lewis in The Nation:
The never-ending austerity that Europe is force-feeding the Greek people is simply not working. Now Greece has loudly said no more.
As most of the world knew it would, the financial demands made by Europe have crushed the Greek economy, led to mass unemployment, a collapse of the banking system, made the external debt crisis far worse, with the debt problem escalating to an unpayable 175 percent of GDP. The economy now lies broken with tax receipts nose-diving, output and employment depressed, and businesses starved of capital.
The humanitarian impact has been colossal—40 percent of children now live in poverty, infant mortality is sky-rocketing and youth unemployment is close to 50 percent. Corruption, tax evasion and bad accounting by previous Greek governments helped create the debt problem. The Greeks have complied with much of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s call for austerity—cut salaries, cut government spending, slashed pensions, privatized and deregulated, and raised taxes. But in recent years the series of so-called adjustment programs inflicted on the likes of Greece has served only to make a Great Depression the likes of which have been unseen in Europe since 1929-1933. The medicine prescribed by the German Finance Ministry and Brussels has bled the patient, not cured the disease.
Together we urge Chancellor Merkel and the Troika to consider a course correction, to avoid further disaster and enable Greece to remain in the eurozone. Right now, the Greek government is being asked to put a gun to its head and pull the trigger. Sadly, the bullet will not only kill off Greece’s future in Europe. The collateral damage will kill the Eurozone as a beacon of hope, democracy and prosperity, and could lead to far-reaching economic consequences across the world.
Carrol Clarkson in Berfrois:
On 21 December, 2012, I had the privilege of introducing J.M. Coetzee to an expectant audience at the University of Cape Town; he was about to read from his new, as yet unpublished work, The Childhood of Jesus. The occasion marked Coetzee’s return to UCT in an official capacity for the first time since his leaving for Australia in 2002. But here was my dilemma: what would I call him? If mine was to be an “introduction” in the Oxford English Dictionary sense of “presentation of persons to each other, with communication of names”, how many different names there were by which various members of the audience knew our distinguished guest: “J.M. Coetzee”, author, Nobel Laureate, twice winner of the Booker Prize; “Coetzee”, the writer whose novels and critical essays constitute such a rich resource for students of literature; “John M. Coetzee”, the animal rights group patron; “Professor Coetzee”, a former staff member of the Department of English Language and Literature at UCT; and to many present on the evening of December the 21st, “John”—a colleague, a former fellow-student, a friend.
Further still, in more complicated ways, the person standing before us was also “known” to us through the “J.M. Coetzee” of John Kannemeyer’s biography, which had just been published; “known” to us through the “John” of Coetzee’s fictional autobiographies, Boyhood, Youth, andSummertime; through “J.C.” of Diary of a Bad Year (the protagonist shares the author’s initials, and, like him, has written a novel calledWaiting for the Barbarians and a collection of essays on censorship). The person before us was also “known” to us through Elizabeth Costello, who, it seems, is also the author of Slow Man.
In the novel that shares her name, Elizabeth Costello, the writer, stands before a gate and is expected to make a statement of her beliefs if she is to pass through. One of her responses subtends much of the discussion in this paper:
Her books certainly evince no faith in art. Now that it is over and done with, that life-time labour of writing, she is capable of casting a glance back over it that is cool enough, she believes, even cold enough, not to be deceived. Her books teach nothing, preach nothing; they merely spell out, as clearly as they can, how people lived in a certain time and place. More modestly put, they spell out how one person lived, one among billions: the person whom she, to herself, calls she, and whom others call Elizabeth Costello. If, in the end, she believes in her books themselves more than she believes in that person, it is belief only in the sense that a carpenter believes in a sturdy table or a cooper in a stout barrel. Her books are, she believes, better put together than she is. (Elizabeth Costello 207-8)
Novels, like those written by Elizabeth Costello or by J.M. Coetzee, may well “teach nothing, preach nothing” at the level of overt theme. But (as this paper suggests), an analysis of a formal literary device in narrative fiction may well be one way of thinking through questions more usually associated with moral philosophy.
Peter Singer starts with this initial piece at the Boston Review:
I met Matt Wage in 2009 when he took my Practical Ethics class at Princeton University. In the readings relating to global poverty and what we ought to be doing about it, he found an estimate of how much it costs to save the life of one of the millions of children who die each year from diseases that we can prevent or cure. This led him to calculate how many lives he could save, over his lifetime, assuming he earned an average income and donated 10 percent of it to a highly effective organization, such as one providing families with bed nets to prevent malaria, a major killer of children. He discovered that he could, with that level of donation, save about one hundred lives. He thought to himself, “Suppose you see a burning building, and you run through the flames and kick a door open, and let one hundred people out. That would be the greatest moment in your life. And I could do as much good as that!”
Two years later Wage graduated, receiving the Philosophy Department’s prize for the best senior thesis of the year. He was accepted by the University of Oxford for postgraduate study. Many students who major in philosophy dream of an opportunity like that—I know I did—but by then Wage had done a lot of thinking about what career would do the most good. Over many discussions with others, he came to a very different choice: he took a job on Wall Street, working for an arbitrage trading firm. On a higher income, he would be able to give much more, both as a percentage and in dollars, than 10 percent of a professor’s income. One year after graduating, Wage was donating a six-figure sum—roughly half his annual earnings—to highly effective charities. He was on the way to saving a hundred lives, not over his entire career but within the first year or two of his working life and every year thereafter.
Wage is part of an exciting new movement: effective altruism. At universities from Oxford to Harvard and the University of Washington, from Bayreuth in Germany to Brisbane in Australia, effective altruism organizations are forming. Effective altruists are engaging in lively discussions on social media and websites, and their ideas are being examined in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and even the Wall Street Journal. Philosophy, and more specifically practical ethics, has played an important role in effective altruism’s development, and effective altruism shows that philosophy is returning to its Socratic role of challenging our ideas about what it is to live an ethical life. In doing so, philosophy has demonstrated its ability to transform, sometimes quite dramatically, the lives of those who study it. Moreover, it is a transformation that, I believe, should be welcomed because it makes the world a better place.
From Jonathan David Kranz:
1. What’s the surprising inspiration behind one (your choice) of the articles or books you’ve published?
This year marks the centennial of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and I was asked to contribute a short story to an anthology that marks the occasion. While I cast around for an idea that would fit, the song “La Vie En Rose” played over and over in my head with annoying persistence. I couldn’t make it stop, so I finally stopped ignoring it and actually considered the lyrics. The instant I thought about life, seen through rose colored glasses, a vivid image flashed to mind: sunset over the Notre Dame, and two lovers separated by the Seine. Suddenly, I knew exactly what the story was going to be about — redshift and increasing distances.
2. If you could rescue one obscure book and make it more widely known to the world, which book would you choose and why?
The Dean’s Watch, by Elizabeth Goudge. Goudge is one of the last Victorian authors, and even though the undertones of faith in her books don’t always sit well with a modern audience, her writing has a lyrical beauty that is timeless. She has a flair for description, and picking just the right detail to zoom in on. She shows an incredible depth of understanding, and compassion, for each of her characters and her ability to completely inhabit their various perspectives is astounding. Her stories feel quiet and restful, there’s no high drama anywhere – yet they keep you engaged while you read them, and stay with you afterwards. I love most of her work, but The Dean’s Watch is up there at the top of my list, so that’s the one I would rescue from obscurity if I could.
Alex Bilmes in Esquire:
ESQ: Many of your songs are autobiographical. One of the reasons they resonate is people know what they're about: 'Let it Be', about your mum; 'Maybe I'm Amazed', about Linda. Are you thinking about those people when you play those songs? Isn't it painful?
PM: No, not always. I'm really doing them just because they're songs. I mean, when I do 'Let it Be' I'm not thinking about my mum. If there's one thing I know it's that everyone in that audience is thinking something different. And that's 50,000 different thoughts, depending on the capacity of the hall. Obviously, when I do 'Here Today' as I do, that is very personal. That is me talking to John. But as you sing them you review them. So I go, [sings] "What about the night we cried?" And I'm thinking, "Oh, yeah: Key West". We were all drunk. We'd delayed Jacksonville because of a hurricane. We got parked in Key West and we stayed up all night and we got drunk – "Let me tell you, man, you're fucking great" – so I know that's what I'm talking about. I know the night. I do think of that.
ESQ: So you don't find yourself moved, in the way the crowd is, by the emotional content of the songs?
PM: Not all the time. You wouldn't be able to sing. You'd just be crying. But yeah, there are moments. I think it was in South America. There was a very tall, statuesque man with a beard, very good-looking man. And he had his arm round what was apparently his daughter. Might not have been! No, it was, it was clearly his daughter. I'm singing 'Let it Be' and I look out there and I see him standing and she's looking up at him and he glances down at her and they share a moment, and I'm like, "Whoa!" [He shivers.] It really hit me. It's hard to sing through that.
Excellent talk by Namit Arora. Make the time to see it if you can.
In the popular imagination, the Nazi concentration camp now features mainly as a place where Jews were taken to be gassed. In a recent German opinion poll, most respondents associated the camps with the persecution and murder of Jews; under 10 percent mentioned other categories of camp prisoners, such as Communists, criminals, or homosexuals. The power of the “Holocaust” as a concept has all but obliterated other aspects of the crimes of the Nazis and the sufferings of their victims and driven the history of the camps from cultural memory. No crime in human history outdoes the genocidal extermination of six million European Jews on the orders of the leader of Germany’s self-styled “Third Reich.” Yet the majority of the Jewish victims of Nazi mass murder were not killed in the camps; they were shot, starved to death, or left to die of diseases that could easily have been prevented or treated but were not. The concentration camp was in no way synonymous with the Holocaust.
While facilities such as Treblinka or Auschwitz-Birkenau, constructed for no other purpose than mass murder, were first established during World War II, the history of the concentration camp, as Nikolaus Wachsmann reminds us in his impressive and authoritative new study, begins much earlier. The idea of concentrating a state’s enemies in a camp went back at least to the end of the nineteenth century, following the invention of barbed wire and the machine gun, in the Boer War and the Spanish-American War, and found expression in the Soviet system of labor camps and other products of twentieth-century dictatorships.
Look again at “On Self-Respect.” The whole essay is an act of gender-bending. Didion rejects the role of Cathy from Wuthering Heights, and of Francesca da Rimini. Instead, she compares herself to Raskolnikov and says she wants to be more like Rhett Butler. She puts Jordan Baker’s manhood up against Julian English’s: Jordan wins. And then there are the references to the Wild West, to Waterloo and the playing fields of Eton, and to Chinese Gordon holding Khartoum against the Mahdi.
(By the way, I had to look up Chinese Gordon and the Mahdi. I think that should go on the record if we’re going to make something out of me not knowing about crepe-de-Chinewrappers.)
Besides Didion’s subject matter (wildfires, John Wayne), Jessica zooms in on what she calls Didion’s “glacial emotional distance.” Coolness, hardness, distance: these are characteristics that show up regularly in writing about Didion’s writing. Here’s Roiphe:
There is in her delicate, urban, neurotic sensibility something of the hardy pioneer ancestors she describes, jettisoning rosewood chests in the crossing, burying the dead on the wagon trail, never looking back. At one point she quotes another child of California, Patty Hearst, saying, ‘Never examine your feelings — they’re no help at all.’
In the US, Arendt was rewarded handsomely for her intellect and tenacity, becoming a bestselling author published by the most prestigious trade presses as well as the first woman appointed to a professorship at Princeton. She also enjoyed a celebrity presence at the University of Chicago and the New School in New York, the stages on which she fashioned herself an eminence in the republic of letters. This is how she appears in Margarethe von Trotta’s 2012 biopic: a dowager queen of Riverside Drive, sparring with pundits such as Norman Podhoretz and Kurt Blumenfeld by day and entertaining authors such as Mary McCarthy and Philip Rahv by night. Add wine, cigarettes and scandal, and this Arendt becomes a kind of monument, the avatar for a bygone era when the literary feud was still a line in the sand, and the personal was not merely political, but ideological.
But there is more to Arendt’s unsettled legacy than glamour, controversy and a provocative set of historical and philosophical interpretations. Forty years after her death, perhaps the most enduring contribution of this decidedly 20th-century thinker is her thinking about a cosmopolitanism suited to the challenges of the 21st century she’d never see.
Note: Thanks to Dara Shaikh. Please take 5 minutes to watch this stunning video.
Monday, July 06, 2015
by Grace Boey
Kyle Patrick Alvarez's latest award-winning film, The Stanford Prison Experiment, depicts a real-life psychology study from 1971 that went horribly wrong. What implications do the findings have for moral philosophy?
This month, moviegoers will flock to cinemas to watch The Stanford Prison Experiment (or, if they don’t, the film has at least already won two awards at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival). Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, the drama depicts the infamous study of the same title conducted by Stanford Professor Philip Zimbardo in 1971. The experiment, which subjected its participants to a simulated prison environment, sparked intense debate at the time with the disturbing questions it raised about human nature. After being randomly assigned roles of either ‘prison guard’ or ‘prisoner’ in the simulation, participants became so engrossed in the experience that many guards turned abusive towards the prisoners, who themselves did little to protest the abuse. The experiment was meant to last two weeks, but Zimbardo pulled the plug after six days.
The Stanford Prison Experiment has since become required reading for college Psych 101 classes everywhere. The key takeaway from the study—other than the fact that it’s generally a good idea to terminate an experiment when subjects start denying each other access to basic sanitation—is the idea that seemingly ordinary people can be manipulated by their environment into committing very bad acts. Or, in other words: within everyone lies a ruthless tyrant, ready to reveal itself in the right situation.
At the time it was made, Zimbardo’s proposition was nothing new. Prior to the Stanford Prison Experiment, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram had found in 1961 that ordinary people would readily follow instructions by subjecting others to apparently dangerous levels of electric shocks, at the calm and cordial request of an authority figure. Later studies also showed similar findings that didn’t involve terrible atrocities: for example, researchers Mathews and Canon found in 1975 that when ambient noise was at normal levels, people were 5 times more likely to help an apparently injured man who had dropped his books than when a power lawnmower was running nearby. And—displaying just how arbitrary yet powerful such influencing factors can be—researchers Isen and Levin found in 1972 that people who had just found a dime were 22 times more likely to help a woman who had dropped some papers than people who had not.
by Carl Pierer
Braids are fairly simple to picture. A few interleaved strands of string, say, gives a complex and mesmerising object. They are aesthetically appealing, as their widespread use as ornament testifies. While most will be familiar with the standard braid used for braiding hair, there is basically no limit to complexity and beauty. Yet, braids are more than merely nice, artistic adornments for clothes and jewellery. The more and deeper you delve into braids and their complex interconnections, the more fascinating they become. Trying to look at them with a mathematical eye opens up pathways and connections to many deep and beautiful fields of pure mathematics.
Studied as mathematical objects, braids need to be defined rigorously. However, for present purposes it is enough to specify what we intuitively have in mind when thinking about braids. (Fig. 1) may well serve as an example. A braid consists of a certain number of strands n, say, together with a specification of how and where these strands cross each other. Furthermore, these strands (if they are not crossing) run parallel and we may adopt the convention that they are running from top to bottom. To avoid ambiguity, we require further that there are no two crossings at the same horizontal level. It is clear that for the braid to have any crossings at all, it must have at least two strands. If a braid does not have any crossings, it is called the trivial braid.
Braids also have a close connection to (mathematical) knots. Mathematical knots are simply everyday knots where the loose ends have been joined together. If you take an overhand (or trefoil) knot (Fig. 2) and join the loose ends, you have a mathematical knot. Imagine an extension cords where one end has been plugged into the other. One important feature is that there is no way of undoing this mathematical knot by pulling or stretching or any other deformation that does not break the connection. If you reconsider our
initial braid (Fig. 1), imagine that the ends have been joined up as in (Fig. 3). As all loose ends are now joined up, we can consider (Fig. 3) as a mathematical knot. Indeed, every mathematical knot can be expressed as a braid. Unfortunately, this is not a one to one correspondence. So, two different braids may end up as the same
knot. Or one and the same braid may give you two different knots. One problem is that there is no particular reason to join up ends of the braid as we did in (Fig. 3). If we have an even number of strands, we can equally well join up the endings that are next to each other (as in Fig. 4), which would give a very different beast altogether. Indeed, this is not a knot anymore but a so-called link, because it consists of 4 different components. A knot is a one component link. However, this connection between braids and knots is not the main concern here.
Sughra Raza. Catwalk Theater, Johannesburg, August 2014.
by Shadab Zeest Hashmi
The sun burnishes the walls every day for just over three quarters of an hour out of the fourteen I spend at my shop; the mannequin assumes a buttery glow then, her organza scarf liquefies in the golden light. The CD skips at mi amour every time but this hiccup is also golden and otherworldly. The sun lifts my surroundings, the merchandise, the credit card machine, the shelves, during this portion of time in a grandiose gesture; it’s our secret— the book I’ve been writing for years has a life somewhere and this is a furtive daily reminder. I’d rather not have customers at a moment so personal in a public place; I’m at a shopping mall, selling jewelry and shawls.
I’ve named my business “Moriama”— a variant of “Moraima” (or Mariam), the last empress of Al Andalus; my manuscript is a series of poems set in Al Andalus. No one knows or cares about this but I’m advised by friends to do away with the “World Gem Bazaar” part of the sign— too “middle-eastern” in 2003. The spectrum of emotions in response to the pressure to hide my identity for fear of hostility will permeate the poems describing the atmosphere of the inquisition as my book on Al Andalus progresses. Across from me is a mattress store. As I polish and arrange African garnets and checkerboard-cut citrines, nomad jewelry from Afghanistan and London Blue Topaz pendants, someone rolls and rolls dough next door, breathing in cinnamon powder and sugar I imagine, or mops spill after spill of coffee. We’re connected to each other by repetition, as if we were phrases of the same poem.
by Mathangi Krishnamurthy
The bell clangs loudly and I shuffle back into class trying to avoid the boys running in at dangerous speeds. I find my desk and sidle into place. I almost bump into Solomon. Solomon never studies, so the teachers always ask him to sit by me. All he does, though, is copy my notes. The afternoon sun sends bright rays into class and I inch away from him to find a cool spot on the tiny bench. The room smells of heat and dust, and I see particles floating. I feel temporarily dizzy.
I often daydream through classes. Things come easily to me, and I both know and doubt this. I am deeply suspicious that this will someday be found out, and exposed as fraud. So I am most always simultaneously attentive, and anxious at school. But daydreams come easily, because school is boring.
Solomon is gazing out of the window in his sleepy manner. Some day, I want to be Solomon, who is so cool, so uncaring, and hardly ever worried about the teachers. Mostly, it just seems to be that the world passes him by, and that he is on some other mission; something dangerous, and adult-like. I often see him hanging out by the school stile with the older boys. They all must know something about him that I don't, because there he looks happy, instead of sullen, and quiet. Solomon is really, really, dark and his white shirt often soiled. My blue pinafore, in contrast, is always immaculately pressed, its pleats like the lines of a ruler. Solomon's knees are scruffier than mine, and mine a little, only because I fell down the colony hillock last week. He never says anything in class, so I am not even sure what his voice sounds like. I imagine it to be deep. I often turn my eyes away when he looks at me. It's easy, because we sit side by side, parallel to each other, like the eyes of a cow. The only time he looks towards me is English class, where I cover my notes with my left arm, even as I can feel his eyes boring into my flesh.
Mrs. D walks in, brisk and monochromatic. She is wearing a beige sari today, and I stare up into her almost double chin. She is so tall and so pale. Her severe light brown hair is capped close to her head, but falls at her nape into a wispy ponytail. Her mouth is set in a straight line, but two front teeth escape and soften the severity. Her name is Roda, or at least, that is how I think it is spelled. I found it by accident, when Mrs.R called out to her in the teachers' room. She is pretty when she smiles. She might smile any moment, and she always smiles at me. The noise drowns as she commands us to settle down and hand in our homework.
by Brooks Riley
by Hari Balasubramanian
A selection of facts, research and personal impressions.
In February this year, I traveled to the small town of Angangueo in Central Mexico. A 4-hour bus trip from Mexico City, Angangueo is in a rural part of the state of Michoacan, in the mountainous trans-volcanic belt. Here, in a few select high elevation forests with oyamel (fir) and pine trees, millions of monarch butterflies from east of the Rocky Mountains congregate each year, after an astonishingly long journey – over 3500 km – from Canada and the northern reaches of the US.
The monarchs stay in Mexico from November to March. When the sun is shining, the butterflies – which otherwise huddle together in tightly packed and well camouflaged clusters on the branches and bark of oyamel trees – take to the air, like a beehive that has been stirred. If the sun stays up, as it did the day I visited, the monarchs quickly fill the sky and everything around you; you can even hear the faint flutter of their wings. I was in the very thick of things when this photograph was taken . Every speck in the picture below, however faint, is a butterfly.
Monarchs have fascinated me for years now. In Massachusetts, a few months prior to my Mexico visit, I'd seen the odd monarch or two flying unhurriedly, seemingly without a purpose. So languid was their flight – the classic flap, flap and glide – that there was no way to tell that each butterfly, following some mysterious signals – its reproductive system having been put on pause, allowing the organism to focus on the rigors of the coming journey – was leaving for a distant forest in Mexico.
It's worth reiterating this: each butterfly that migrates south starts the journey alone and has never made the journey before. When birds make long journeys, there are often older individuals that guide the young. In the case of monarchs there is no guide. The recent discovery that the thin, seemingly inconsequential antennae of monarchs house circadian clocks that help in orientation only deepens the wonder [ref. and figure]. Traveling by day and over land, a monarch, "with a mass 20% that of a penny" , covers thousands of kilometers in a two month period.
by Charlie Huenemann
How wonderful it would be to be a systematic thinker! One marvels at the Aristotles, the Aquinases, the Descarteses, the Kants, and the Hegels and the Marxes (well, the Karl Marxes anyway), the Freuds - those who know how to approach anything, how to incorporate any material into a systematic empire, those who can see the universe as fulfillments of their own plans. It may sound like I am satirizing them, but I really do admire them: I admire their imagination, their enthusiasm, and their persistence. Chiefly I admire their ability to take their own thought so seriously, since every time I have tried to construct a system, it turns into fits of giggles.
What causes such a mindset? Let us first see if we can discern its preconditions – those elements necessary for the possibility of system-building, as it were. One must first be convinced that reality, or human experience, is coherent – a big assumption, granted, but absolutely required for a system. And the coherence must be intelligible to a finite human mind, and specifically the specific mind of the specific system-builder. One must further believe that the coherent, intelligible world order has a kind of hierarchy that allows for some parts of it to be more basic, more foundational, or more universal than others. For the system builder is not so deluded as to believe that all of the facts can be fit within a single head: only the organizing principles need be grasped and kept forever in one’s mental field of vision.
That the world is a coherent, intelligible hierarchy – this much at least must be believed by any would-be builder of a system. But no one is going to leave it at that! To harbor that belief is to have the ambition to explain the hierarchy, and propound it to oneself and to the world. I’d say the belief and the ambition go hand in hand – but then again, if anyone has ever had the belief without the ambition, we probably would not have heard of them. Oh yes, a final thing: the system has to be new, if we are dealing with a genuine builder, and not a worker bee.
by Thomas R. Wells
The proponents of gun control in America are losing the argument and will continue to do so. Their complacency, typical of the left, that they are on the right side of history has blinded them to the fact that they have chosen to fight on the wrong ground. They keep harping on about guns killing people. As if guns were like cigarettes, and as if the numbers were big enough to matter.
I. The Public Health Argument Doesn't Work
Guns are indeed an excellent killing technology. They are really very good at transforming an intention to kill into its achievement. However, that doesn't mean that they are a particularly significant cause of death and it is rather ridiculous to imply that removing guns from citizens would change death rates much. America is not 42nd in the world for life-expectancy because of guns, but because of much more significant effects like the social gradient in health.
Let's go into this a little more.
We hear a lot about the large number of deaths caused by guns in America – now up to 33,000 per year. This seems like a big number. It is nearly as big as the rate of death from car accidents (another area in which America is an international outlier, by the way). But 2/3 of gun deaths are suicides. Most of those deaths would still occur if people didn't have access to guns. Many murders committed with guns would also go ahead without them, albeit with a smaller chance of success.
Mass killings by individual loonies get far more attention than they deserve. It feels like there are a lot of them, and perhaps they are even increasing – 133 between 2000 and 2014. But in a country with 320 million people and poor funding of mental health services there are always going to be murderous loonies making the national news somewhere. These atrocities make for wonderful news stories, full of pathos and inspiring great moral indignation. But they are statistically irrelevant to Americans' public health. They are not an argument for gun control.
The overarching assumption that murders are caused by weak gun control laws is weak. The decline of gun control began in the 1980s, but the murder rate in America has actually fallen by half since then (back to what it was in 1950). The reason is that rates of violence have a lot more to do with social conditions and inequality than with particular technologies. Most of America is nearly as safe as Western Europe, but some areas of concentrated hopelessness have the murder rates of Central America. The real causes of violence are something America is particularly bad at addressing, among rich countries, perhaps because the left in America spends most of its time campaigning for things that have little to do to with social justice.
Sunday, July 05, 2015
Jalees Rehman at the website of Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings:
The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) is also a front-runner in the pantheon of polymaths because of his interests in geology, paleontology and optics. During his lifetime, Goethe assembled one of the largest collections of rocks, minerals and fossils ever owned by an individual person, consisting of 18,000 specimens! Even though he is revered as the greatest poet of the German language, Goethe’s longest published work is his treatise on a theory of color, the Farbenlehre. He devoted two decades of his life to studying light and he thought that this 1000-page tome would be his most meaningful contribution to humankind. In the Farbenlehre, Goethe vehemently disagreed with Newton about the nature of light. According to Newton, white light was a heterogeneous composite of colors and darkness was the absence of light. Goethe, on the other hand, felt that white light was a homogenous entity and that darkness was the polar opposite of light and not just its absence. Goethe also ascribed aesthetic qualities to specific colors such as “beautiful” to red and “useful” to green.
Goethe’s theory of color is not a scientific theory in the conventional sense because it did not offer any clear scientific hypotheses that could be tested and falsified by experiments. This did not prevent Goethe from viciously attacking Newton and those who accepted the Newtonian theory of light and color.
Lisa Lucile Owens in the Boston Review:
There was a moment during the First Gulf War when ideologues argued that warfare technology had reached a tipping point. Gains in efficiency would reduce casualties and destruction; supremely accurate weapons would minimize unnecessary suffering without compromising military objectives. This inaugurated the age of target bombings and stealth missions enabled by precision technology. Now, we are at the threshold of yet another tipping point for war and technology. Software interference and cyber technologies threaten mass disruptionand destruction without a shot or bomb explosion. Physically waged wars—populated and won by armed bodies and manned weaponry—have given way to data and coding wars, creating vast, powerful, and yet not fully tapped, spaces and abilities.
Cyberwarfare acts are broadly understood as the use of cyber capabilities for spying or sabotage by one nation against another. However, the term “cyberaggression” can refer to everything from individual cyberbullying and harassment to sabotage that affects national interests. One example of the latter type is the infamous Stuxnet computer worm that targeted and invaded Iranian nuclear facilities in order to derail the Iranian nuclear program. The term ‘cyberaggression’ was also applied to the April 2015 breach of cybersecurity at the White House when sensitive details of the President’s schedule were obtained. It is therefore of little surprise that civilian and military resources to wage and contain cyberaggression are on the rise.Last January, there were reports that North Korea had doubled its military cyberwarfare units to over 6,000 troops.
To be sure, it is not clear when an act is merely an instance of cyberaggression as opposed an act of war. To complicate matters further, our conception of cyberwarfare and cyberaggression is taking shape against a background of increasing state domestic surveillance and other incursions to privacy, often defended on the basis of considerations of safety or convenience.
It is in this context that the Department of Defense (DoD) Cyber Strategy memorandum, published in April, needs to be analyzed.
Matthew Francis in Forbes:
It’s easy to forget that. No other prize in science has nearly as high a profile. Nobel laureates are in demand as book authors, university faculty, and speakers to both scientific and public groups. In addition to the prize money itself, they can command large fees for their activities: people pay lots of money to be associated with a Nobel Prize winner.
And like it or not, people listen to Nobel laureates when they speak, even when they are out of their areas of expertise. Sometimes the prize seems to go to the winners’ heads so much that they seem to lose it entirely. William Shockley, a co-discoverer of the transistor, and James Watson, who won the Nobel for discovering the structure of DNA, both used their reputations to promote very racist ideas. Most recently, Tim Hunt said some sexist and insulting things in front of a group of female Korean scientists — who had invited him to speak, no less.