Monday, January 26, 2015
by Ahmed Humayun
Is there a method to the madness of Islamist extremism? Yes, if a voluminous literature produced by militants in Arabic and other languages is to be believed. One example of the genre is the militant manual, the Management of Savagery, a text highly influential among Islamist radicals, and translated from Arabic into English by the combating terrorism center at West Point. It is a curious amalgamation of geopolitical analysis, religious propaganda, social psychology, and military tactics. The work has some literary pretensions but it is of uneven quality and gives the impression of being pasted together from disparate sources.
Yet it also outlines a clear, coherent worldview, a theory of geopolitical change, and, when it is not recycling superficial clichés about Western decadence, offers penetrating insight into how terrorist tactics can succeed, even when they appear to fail. It is a call to action that outlines a series of concrete, often diabolically clever steps that have been followed by a wide range of militant groups. There is a striking parallel between the prescriptions in the text and the actions of ISIS, the militant group that now controls a vast chunk of territory in the Arab heartland.
The fall of the Ottoman Caliphate, and the partition of the Middle East by European powers has long been a preoccupation of radicals in their diagnosis of the ills plaguing Arab societies. The text takes the same stance, rejecting not just the current governments that prevail in the Middle East, but the global order as a whole. It sees a world in which major powers in the center - the United States, above all - ally with tyrannies in the periphery, imposing through them a foreign, 'apostate' order in Muslim majority societies.
This historical moment is not unprecedented, it is argued. After the breakdown of political order such as that occurred in the early 20th century there is always a period of transition before a new settled order comes into being. Such a transitional state prevails in the Muslim world today. Militant groups should therefore seek to 'vex' and 'exhaust' the enemy- the regimes ruling their societies, or their Western allies. This will catalyze the breakout of chaos - the weakening of political authority across the land, creating opportunities for militants to 'manage the savagery' successfully, so that the ultimate goal, an Islamic state, may be realized.
$hip of $tate
I'm on a big boat
(which the nautically savvy call ship)
if this ship's a cocoon of light atmosphere
its steel will float, but it will tip
if its load’s unbalanced—
if its equilibrium is off
it will start to list,
if not corrected
it will end a sacrificial goat
sucked to bottom
as Neptune's universal laws
will have directed
by Jim Culleny
by Carol A. Westbrook
New Year's Eve, 2014. Time to ring in the New Year, to reminisce about good times, and remember old friends that have left our lives. No, I'm not referring to relatives who have passed, or ex's that have moved on, I'm talking about ... cars.
Now, I'm not a car person like my husband, who has cars like Imelda Marcos has shoes, one for every season, in both of our houses. I like to drive only one car at a time; I grow attached to my car, give it a name, and when necessity demands "out with the old, in with the new," I shed a silent tear on losing a good friend.
I've not yet taken a picture of a favorite car, though at times I wish I had, unlike my husband, Rick, who has photographed every car he has ever owned, and some he has rented. Rick's first car was a 1957 DeSoto HemiHead V8, shown here.
He has even photographed some cars that he has rented, such as the memorable black, 100 series BMW hatchback that we drove on the Autobahn in Germany, as you can see in the picture. We even drove this delightful car through the "autos verboten" square near the 500-year-old cathedral in Strasbourg on market day--quite by accident--after bad advice from our GPS.
I searched my photo archives to see if I could find pictures of my own favorite drives, but they exist only incidentally, at the periphery of a family photo, or near a landmark on a vacation trip. I don't need a picture, though, because I remember them all well, every car I ever called my own. I rarely remember the model and the year, but I remember its make and color, "like a girl," Rick would say.
Liliana Porter. Man with Axe, 2011.
by Maniza Naqvi
Flogging newspapers with hate drawn up as free speech is a cheap self serving marketing trick. Nothing new there. Hate sells war. It sells weapons. It sells newspapers. Hate sells.
Floggings and cartoons to caricature Muslims as the newest kid on the block to hate, well that's relatively new in the scheme of history and things. And who does that? The House Saud for one, which has condemned a citizen blogger to a thousand lashes in 20 batches of 50 lashes each for his speech. Public floggings, though this one has been postponed, are routine in the Kingdom of the House Saud. The House Hebdo flogs Muslims too. Both flog and lash Muslims. And neither of them protests or caricatures war. A funny thing happened while the wars were being waged in these last fourteen years—Mecca was transformed into a strip Mall by the House of Saud. Charlie Hebdo and the House of Saud have another thing in common they couldn't give two hoots about the Prophet. They both sneer at him. And both probably consider their own versions of caricatures in the name of the Prophet their most sustainable profit making enterprise.
And both are supported by the so called leaders of freedom of speech. Witness how free speech and freedom was caricatured as those great defenders of human rights and freedom of speech, the Saudi foreign minister, Netanyahu and the President of Gabon formed the frontline at the March in Paris on January 11, 2015. Witness the eulogizing of the chief financier of extremism this week in Riyadh by all these leaders of freedom of speech--sellers of weapons, guzzlers of oil.
But lashes, words and caricatures can be survived. You cannot survive bombs and bullets. The House Saud and stunts like the House Hebdo sell hate and ensure that bombs and bullets will continue to be produced and used without question. France is the largest seller of weapons to Saudi Arabia, followed by the UK and Germany and Sweden and the US. Germany has announced its decision yesterday to stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia. The majority of the Germans want Germany to stop all trade with Saudi Arabia. That is a good step.
by Brooks Riley
by Rishidev Chaudhuri
Fish stews occupy a wonderful middle ground between delicacy and robustness, suggesting sun and warmth and brine, and yet also being mouth-filling and meaty and deeply flavorful. They’re happy at simple weeknight dinners and at parties, and can be dressed up with more varied sets of ingredients (crabs, mussels and clams, shrimp/prawn). And they’re good for the imagination, encouraging the mind to wander through seaside towns and small fishing villages strung along the coasts (looping along the Atlantic, detouring through the Mediterranean, encircling Africa and heading up the Arabian Sea, along India, then getting briefly distracted by the thousands of south-east Asian islands before encountering the grand Pacific).
The basic route to making a fish stew is simple and similar to many other soups and stews: sauté aromatics (like garlic, onions, fennel, ginger) until translucent, add some herbs/spices and stock or wine or coconut milk, simmer for a while to let the flavors blend, and then add the seafood and cook till done. Two templates I use frequently are a vaguely Mediterranean seafood stew built around fennel, anchovies, olive oil and white wine, and an Indian Ocean mixture of ginger, chilli, coconut milk, fish sauce, and tamarind.
The recipes described below are neither of these (those templates are easily found elsewhere on the Internet), though they are closer to the second and reflect the flavors of South India. The two recipes are fun to contrast: both use very similar ingredients and derive from the same culinary vocabulary, but they employ two different strategies. The first is lightly flavored and clean, a simple mix of vegetables and fish simmered in a delicate white coconut milk broth, and lives at the same Indo-Western intersection that produces the spiced versions of European roasts and stews that dot the colonial and post-colonial South Asian landscape. The second is sharper, richer, and more aromatic, and is distinguished by its use and treatment of whole spices and by the browning of the aromatics.
Both recipes are for about 1 pound or 500 grams of seafood (a good size for 2 or 3 people), with the first described using fish, and the second with prawn/shrimp. But both go well with other seafood, and are excellent with a mixture of fish, prawns and mussels/clams. If you’re using a mixture, you could add the thicker fish pieces first and the thinner pieces and shellfish a little later, so as to make sure they don’t overcook.
My mother tells this story
about her childhood in Kashmir
years before she married my father.
“I remember our horse Burak,
hoofs scuffing snow, nostrils fuming,
hitched to an open cart. Relatives,
showering rice and rose petals
on Mohammed’s shrouded body—
the son my father always wanted
to whom I was betrothed—
wailed not for a soul departed
but sang of a bride waiting
for an intended groom
to the Mother Of All Chills.”
Four score and three years later
Mother rises from the bright
Ethan Allen tightback couch
at her son’s home in New Rochelle
to do what now she does best
—merging time past and time present—
whispers across Long Island Sound,
have they given you a transfusion
By Rafiq Kathwari, whose first book of poems is forthcoming in September 2015 from
Doire Press, Ireland. More work here.
This is the 3rd of a series of brief weekly pieces on the unfolding journey of a new incubator based in New Delhi: www.startuptunnel.com, @StTnL. Checkout earlier pieces in the series: Entering Startup Tunnel and What Makes an Incubator Tick?
Prashant and Ishita came to see me on Monday afternoon. We’re a bit uncertain at this point about our startup concept, Ishita began… Maybe you can tell that we don’t perfectly align on the idea anymore...? I could tell no such thing, so I just looked intently back at them as they continued. Basically, I would like to use the remainder of the incubation program to pursue another idea, said Prashant, having to do with music, which is what I’m really about. Ishita has several ideas up her sleeve that she’s considering, including the one we came in with.
And so it begins, I thought. We’d accepted eleven startups to the program. Ten got back to us saying they would join but then we realized with had a conflict between two of them who were both working in the social health space. We withdrew our offer to one of them, bringing the cohort down to nine teams. One cofounder bailed when he finally got around to reading the fine print of our contract, leaving us with eight. Or perhaps we’re back up to nine given that Prashant and Ishita now represent two startups? Or perhaps, more realistically speaking, we’re actually down to seven?
It’s really hard for me to tell you guys what to do, I finally said.
Sunday, January 25, 2015
Adam J Calhoun in Medium:
If you would like see things straight out of a a science fiction movie, you should visit a neuroscience laboratory. Technology and science has advanced so quickly that I am not sure the public understands how advanced we are. Depending on the species, creating new transgenic animals — where you slip new genetic material into an organism — starts at ‘pathetically easy.’ During my PhD, there were days I would create the DNA for five or ten new transgenics in one go; creating the animals themselves was hardly a challenge. Light can be used as a physical force to move things around (“optical tweezers”). Scientists routinely create custom-made viruses to go forth into a chosen animal and label a precise set of neural cells. We can rain light down onto an animal to replay — or delete — memories. The recent creation of the CRISPR system allows genetic engineering to occur at unprecedented levels.
And the technology is advancing — fast. Things that seemed impossible five years ago are being commercialized right now. But for all that the brain is still largely a black box that we can prod and poke without understanding what it is actually doing, or how it got there. It begs us to ask the question: what are the directions neuroscience is heading to make a sense of this neural hydra?
Elizabeth McAlister in The Immanent Frame:
This speech form is known as imprecatory prayer, from the Latin, imprecate, “invoking evil or divine vengeance; cursing.” The use of scripture as a form of imprecatory prayer has long been covertly practiced by both Christians and non-Christians. But the slogan to “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109.8” circulated openly on t-shirts and bumper stickers during the 2008 presidential race. Similarly, Reverend Wiley Drake, the second vice-president of the First Southern Baptist Church, issued in 2006 a statement claiming that his prayers for the death of a slain abortion provider George Tiller had been answered. These instances give us a rare display of imprecatory prayer in the US public sphere, and constitute prime examples of the use of negative prayer in American political life and beyond.
These bizarre cases caught my attention, since cursing and imprecation are usually associated in the popular imagination with my longtime area of research: the traditional Afro-Haitian religion called Vodou. The negative image of Vodou as sorcery is one that I and others have worked to dispel as part of a project of ethnographic redescription. We have worked to humanize Vodou and portray its full role in Haitian society, writing of elaborately developed prayers, liturgical rhythms, and songs, dances, and ritual that serve to mediate between life and death, to construct family, and to heal...
My research with Haitian spirit-workers reveals that instances of negative prayer are always concerned with a desire for justice or self-defense. For example, I once watched a Haitian spirit priestess in New York City offer her client a remedy for coping with sexual harassment in the workplace. “Pray Psalm 35, let destruction come upon him unawares,” she instructed, “and place a snakeskin in your shoe. You will tread soundlessly and slip away from him while he is destroyed by your guardian spirits.” In this instance, a new immigrant, vulnerable and perhaps undocumented, found in negative prayer a path of recourse against an insidious form of everyday injustice.
Read the full post here.
David Auerbach in Nautilus (René Descartes’ illustration of dualism.Wikimedia Commons):
Our approach to thinking, from the early days of the computer era, focused on the question of how to represent the knowledge about which thoughts are thought, and the rules that operate on that knowledge. So when advances in technology made artificial intelligence a viable field in the 1940s and 1950s, researchers turned to formal symbolic processes. After all, it seemed easy to represent “There’s a cat on the mat” in terms of symbols and logic:
Literally translated, this reads as “there exists variable x and variable y such that x is a cat, y is a mat, and x is sitting on y.” Which is no doubt part of the puzzle. But does this get us close to understanding what it is to think that there is a cat sitting on the mat? The answer has turned out be “no,” in part because of those constants in the equation. “Cat,” “mat,” and “sitting” aren’t as simple as they seem. Stripping them of their relationship to real-world objects, and all of the complexity that entails, dooms the project of making anything resembling a human thought.
This lack of context was also the Achilles heel of the final attempted moonshot of symbolic artificial intelligence. The Cyc Project was a decades-long effort, begun in 1984, that attempted to create a general-purpose “expert system” that understood everything about the world. A team of researchers under the direction of Douglas Lenat set about manually coding a comprehensive store of general knowledge. What it boiled down to was the formal representation of millions of rules, such as “Cats have four legs” and “Richard Nixon was the 37th President of the United States.” Using formal logic, the Cyc (from “encyclopedia”) knowledge base could then draw inferences. For example, it could conclude that the author of Ulysses was less than 8 feet tall:
(writtenBy Ulysses-Book ? SPEAKER)
(equals ?SPEAKER JamesJoyce))
(isa JamesJoyce IrishCitizen)
(isa JamesJoyce Human)
(isa ?SOMEONE Human)
(maximumHeightInFeet ?SOMEONE 8)
Unfortunately, not all facts are so clear-cut. Take the statement “Cats have four legs.” Some cats have three legs, and perhaps there is some mutant cat with five legs out there. (And Cat Stevens only has two legs.) So Cyc needed a more complicated rule, like “Most cats have four legs, but some cats can have fewer due to injuries, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a cat could have more than four legs.” Specifying both rules and their exceptions led to a snowballing programming burden.
Guy Patrick Cunningham in The LA Review of Books:
I TREASURE GREAT POLITICAL FICTION, in part because it’s so rare. Literature — fiction in particular — thrives with time, whereas the specifics of political struggles are notoriously transient. That makes it hard to write truly political work, as opposed to more abstract “novels of ideas” that might reflect on political themes only indirectly. Certainly George Orwell managed to write fiction that combined political ideas and literary technique — though even he grounded his most important work in science fiction (1984) or fable (Animal Farm). But the political novelist who makes the biggest impression on me is Victor Serge, the longtime political radical who took up literature after turning away from the Soviet Communist Party.
Serge’s biography often gets in the way of talking about his gifts as a writer. To be fair, he lived one of the most interesting lives of any 20th-century man of letters: stateless, a veteran of seemingly every radical movement of the early 20th century, from the anarchists to the Bolsheviks, he participated in the struggle against Franco in Spain, organized against Hitler in both Germany and later in France (where Serge worked with the French Resistance), and he was an early — and vocal — critic of Stalin in the USSR. Susan Sontag considered him a hero, and plenty of others have agreed with her. The fact that all of his novels deal explicitly with political movements in which he participated or historical events he experienced firsthand makes it even easier to get caught up in the drama of his life — especially since he wrote about it so well in his seminal Memoirs of a Revolutionary. But, for the contemporary reader, Serge’s literary gifts outweigh his value as a witness to a particular moment in history. Perhaps no political writer better combined a strict attention to history with a command of novelistic technique. As a result, looking at his work offers great insight into why some political fiction endures even after it has long passed.
The 1939 novel Midnight in the Century, brought back into print in December 2014 by NYRB Classics, exemplifies what makes Serge so compelling. The book mostly concerns itself with the life of several members of the USSR’s Left Opposition, internally exiled to Chernoe, a remote (fictional) town near the Chernaya (sometimes called the Black River). Rather than focus on one or two main characters, Serge focuses on the group itself, while occasionally looking out on Soviet society as a whole. In his Memoirs, Serge explains his disinterest in solitary heroes. “We never live only by our own efforts, we never live only for ourselves; our most intimate, our most personal thinking is connected by a thousand links with that of the world.”
Philippe Legrain in Foreign Policy:
Greece’s reckless borrowing was financed by equally reckless lenders. First in line were French and German banks that lent too much, too cheaply — foolishly treating the Greek government as if it were as creditworthy as Berlin and encouraged by Basel capital-adequacy rules and European Central Bank collateral-lending rules that treated sovereign bonds as risk-free.
By the time Greece was cut off from the markets in 2010, its soaring public debt of 130 percent of GDP was obviously unpayable in full. It should have been written down, as the IMF later acknowledged publicly. Austerity would then have been less extreme and the recession shorter and shallower. But to avoid losses for German and French banks, eurozone policymakers, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pretended that Greece was merely going through temporary funding difficulties. Breaching the EU treaties’ “no-bailout” rule, which bans eurozone governments from bailing out their peers, they lent European taxpayers’ money to the insolvent Greek government, ostensibly out of solidarity, but actually to bail out creditors. Poor Greeks were, in effect, consigned to a debtor’s prison.
While foreign banks that held on to their Greek bonds eventually took some losses in 2012, Greece’s EU creditors have bled the country dry. Thus eurozone banks share responsibility for Greece’s plight, while eurozone policymakers — as well as the Greek elites who did their bidding — are to blame for the extent of the misery that Greeks have endured. So whatever you think of Syriza’s left-wing politics, it is justified in demanding debt relief from the EU. It’s a pity more mainstream Greek voices aren’t doing so too.
Debt relief isn’t just a matter of justice. It’s an economic necessity. Contrary to the propaganda from the EU and Samaras’s government, Greece is not putting the crisis behind it. Yes, the economy is finally growing a little: by 1.9 percent in the year to the third quarter of 2014. Employment has edged up. The government has achieved a primary surplus — its revenues now cover its outgoings, excluding interest payments. And it managed to sell investors some longer-term bonds last year. Briefly, Samaras even thought that Greece could escape the EU’s clutches and fund itself freely from the markets when its EU loan ends in February.
Yet even at the height of the markets’ euphoria about the eurozone last summer, before Germany’s economy stalled, investors who were desperate for yield and increasingly blind to risk in markets awash with central-bank liquidity were unwilling to lend to the Greek government on terms on which it could finance itself sustainably. And the mood soured long before a Syriza government seemed imminent.
Belinda Jack in Times Higher Education:
The cynical account for the rise of the medical humanities – a newish interdisciplinary area that explores the social, historical and cultural dimensions of medicine – would be an economic one. At a time of retrenchment in some subjects at some universities, disciplines are under pressure to demonstrate their practical value. Recent research that claims to show that reading novels promotes empathy would be an example of literature’s utility, particularly for medical students. There’s money in medicine and not so much in the humanities. But how new is this field or set of fields? The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates claimed that “wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of Humanity”, suggesting both that medicine is an “art” and that there is a crucial association between medicine and the “human” dimension of the humanities.
In terms of literature, as soon as the novel rose to prominence in the 18th century a good many doctors more than dabbled in writing, often fiction. Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774) trained as a doctor and wrote the best-selling novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), and Keats (1795-1821) turned to poetry in part because of the trauma he suffered by the experience of physically restraining fully conscious patients in order to perform surgery without anaesthesia. Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805), German writer, poet, essayist, dramatist and friend of Goethe, was an army surgeon before achieving fame as a writer.
Paul Basken in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
It was my ritual for seven years. Every day, take two sets of pills—one labeled, the other a mystery. Every three months, take three sets of blood-pressure readings, twice a day for a week. Once a year, collect urine for 24 straight hours, lug it everywhere in an ice pack, then get it through airport security for a flight from Washington to Boston. For me and about 1,000 other participants in our medical trial, the payoff for such tedious detail came back last month: The combination of the two common types of blood-pressure drugs being tested didn’t make any significant difference in the progression of our inherited kidney disease. That was disappointing. But it didn’t necessarily mean that the trial was a failure, a waste of the time I spent on it, or a poor use of the $40-million in taxes that paid for it. The trial’s participants got top-notch medical attention for our polycystic kidney disease, and our records will almost certainly help others with PKD, now and in the future.
...All of that logistical structure can mean a huge financial cost. Randomized trials now account for about 20 percent of the $30-billion annual budget of the National Institutes of Health. Private drug companies spend more than $30-billion on them. Yet drug trials fail at a rate of about 90 percent. That level of failure has attracted serious attention now that U.S. medical research has entered a period of tighter budgets, accelerating technological advances, and extensive procedural reassessments. In that light, much about our trial’s design and execution illustrates a system of human experimentation that’s ripe for overhaul.
Saturday, January 24, 2015
Brian Turner in Vulture:
This isn’t the defining film of the Iraq War. After nearly a quarter century of war and occupation in Iraq, we still haven’t seen that film. I’m beginning to think we’re incapable as a nation of producing a film of that magnitude, one that would explore the civilian experience of war, one that might begin to approach so vast and profound a repository of knowledge. I’m more and more certain that, if such a film film ever arrives, it’ll be made by Iraqi filmmakers a decade or more from now, and it’ll be little known or viewed, if at all, on our shores. The children of Iraq have far more to teach me about the war I fought in than any film I’ve yet seen — and I hope some of those children have the courage and opportunity to share their lessons onscreen. If this film I can only vaguely imagine is ever made, it certainly won’t gross $100 million on its opening weekend.
The biggest problem I have with American Sniper is also a problem I have with myself. It’s a problem I sometimes find in my own work, and it’s an American problem: We don’t see, or even try to see, actual Iraqi people. We lack the empathy necessary to see them as fully human. In American Sniper, Iraqi men, women, and children are known and defined only in relation to combat and the potential threat they pose. Their bodies are the site and source of violence. In both the film and our collective imagination, their humanity is reduced in ways that, ultimately, define our own narrow humanity. In American Sniper, Iraqis are called “savages,” and the “streets are crawling” with them. Eastwood and his screenwriter Jason Hall give Iraqis no memorable lines. Their interior lives are a blank canvas, with no access points to let us in. I get why that is: If Iraqis are seen in any other light, if their humanity is recognized, then the construct of our imagination, the ride-off-into-the-sunset-on-a-white-horse story we tell ourselves to push forward, falls apart.
Part of a biographer’s job is to rescue forgotten figures, and in “Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary” Anita Anand has salvaged an extraordinary one. Sophia Duleep Singh was a Punjabi princess and Queen Victoria’s goddaughter, a bucktoothed “docile little thing” who went on to become a celebrated London fashion plate and then a steely suffragist.
Her father, Maharajah Duleep Singh, was 11 when the British seized his vast Sikh empire and 15 when he was sent into exile in England. Victoria doted on him, remarking that he “was beautifully dressed and covered with diamonds” (though not the famed Koh-i-Noor, now among her crown jewels), adding, “I always feel so much for these poor deposed Indian princes.” Graciously, she granted him a stipend, which he overspent remodeling an East Anglian pile into the fabulous “Mogul palace” where he installed his bride, the daughter of a German businessman and an Abyssinian slave.
Born in 1876, Sophia spent much of her early years in the English countryside playing with her brothers and sisters “amidst enclosures filled with ostriches, rare parrots and monkeys,” an idyll that ended when the maharajah pillaged the estate to pay his creditors.
Within the bosom of every old man, said the philosopher William James, there is a dead young poet. TS Eliot, as Robert Crawford suggests in his opening sentence, “was never young”. He’s the Benjamin Button of poets. His first mature work, “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”, was written when he was 22. It contains the couplet:
I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
A later poem, “Gerontion” (in Greek, “wizened old man”), opens:
Here I am, an old man in a dry month,
Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.
The author was barely 30 at the time but already “Old Possum”. Crawford’s endeavour, brilliantly achieved, is to disinter the dead young poet buried in the prematurely aged TS Eliot.
When Eliot died in January 1965 it was, for the literate classes, a passing of the same magnitude as Winston Churchill’s, three weeks later. One genuflected, humble in the face of literary greatness. But Eliot’s reputation, over the next half-century, was to become sadly chipped.
Hornby has written about other female protagonists: Annie in "Juliet, Naked," Katie Carr in "How to Be Good." There's something more expansive, though, in "Funny Girl," which is as sedate a work as he has produced. What I mean is that this is a book that takes the long view, that seeks to give us a broad sense of its characters' circumstances. In that regard, its 1960s setting serves a double purpose — first, to engage us in the energy of the era's burgeoning youth culture, and second, to remind us of the speed with which time eclipses all.
Sophie is an appropriate signifier: "Here was everything they wanted to bring to the screen," Hornby writes of the production team that discovers her, "in one neat and beautifully gift-wrapped package, handed to them by a ferocious and undiscovered talent who looked like a star. The class system, men and women and the relationships between them, snobbery, education, the North and the South, politics, the way that a new country seemed to be emerging from the dismal old one that they'd all grown up in."
The members of that team are the novel's other central players — Clive, the leading man who becomes Sophie's faithless fiancé; Dennis, the producer-director who loves her from a distance; the writers, Bill and Tony — one gay, the other married but (perhaps) closeted. It adds up to the portrait of a culture in transition, in which "[w]hat was once both pertinent and laudably impertinent became familiar and sometimes even a little polite."
Susan B. Glasser in Politico:
By Alec Ross, senior fellow at the Columbia University School of International & Public Affairs
Fifteen years from now, everybody reading this will live, on average, two years longer than their current life expectancy because of the commercialization of genomics. The price of mapping an individual’s genetic material has fallen from $2.7 billion to below $10,000, and it continues to fall.
Omniscience into the makeup and operation of the 3 billion base pairs of genetic code in each of our bodies will allow for tests to be developed that will find cancer cells at 1 percent of the size of what can be detected by an MRI today. It will allow for personalized prevention and treatment programs for nearly every illness, and will make today’s medical practices look medieval by comparison.
Of course, all of this will benefit the wealthy before it becomes affordable and available to everybody. That is the cruel reality of many of the innovations to come. They will make people live longer, healthier lives—but not everybody, and not all at once.
Steven Shapin in Boston Review:
Of course it can’t, some will be quick to say—no more than repairing cars or editing literary journals can. Why should we think that science has any special capacity for moral uplift, or that scientists—by virtue of the particular job they do, or what they know, or the way in which they know it—are morally superior to other sorts of people? It is an odd question, maybe even an illogical one. Everybody knows that the prescriptive world of ought—the moral or the good—belongs to a different domain than the descriptive world of is...
The ideas and feelings informing the tendency to separate science from morality do not go back forever. Underwriting it is a sensibility close to the heart of the modern cultural order, brought into being by some of the most powerful modernity-making forces. There was a time—not long ago, in historical terms—when a different “of course” prevailed: of course science can make you good. It should, and it does.
A detour through this past culture can give us a deeper appreciation of what is involved in the changing relationship between knowing about the world and knowing what is right. Much is at stake. Shifting attitudes toward this relationship between is and ought explain much of our age’s characteristic uncertainty about authority: about whom to trust and what to believe.
Read the rest here.