Sunday, March 29, 2015
Read the rest here.
Who walks alone in the streets at night? The sad, the mad, the bad. The lost, the lonely. The sleepless, the homeless. All the city’s internal exiles. The night has always been the time for daylight’s dispossessed – the dissident, the different. Walking alone at night in the city by both men and women has, since time immemorial, been interpreted as a sign of moral, social or spiritual dereliction...
If solitary men on the streets at night have exercised a right to the city denied to solitary women, then they too have often been identified or represented as pariahs. People who walk about at night with no obvious reason to do so, whether male or female, have attracted suspicion, opprobrium and legal recrimination from patriarchs, politicians, priests and others in authority, including the police, for thousands of years. In 1285, Edward I introduced a specific “nightwalker statute” in order to police the movement of plebeian people – especially migrants, vagrants and prostitutes – after the 9pm curfew. But long after this statute became impossible to implement, because of the rise of “nightlife”, the authorities continued to construe nightwalking as deviant.
Today, more than ever, solitary walking at night in the streets of the city does not necessarily mean deviant movement. It may well be perfectly legitimate, purposeful. Contemporary capitalist society requires what Jonathan Crary has identified as the despoliation of sleep in the interests of maximising the individual’s potential – both as a producer and a consumer – for generating profit. The political economy of the night, in this dispensation, means that plenty of people have to commute after dark, sometimes on foot, sometimes across considerable distances.
Simon Worrall in National Geographic:
He was hailed after his death as “The Uncrowned King,” a philosopher whose sound bites of wisdom became China’s handbook on government and its code of personal morality for thousands of years. But little is known about Confucius, and what is known is full of contradiction and myth. Speaking from Washington, D.C, during a break on his book tour, Michael Schuman, author of Confucius and the World He Created, teases out fact from fiction; explains why he had to take bowing lessons before his wedding; and tells us why the influence of a scholar who died nearly 3,000 years ago is still felt in the boardrooms, bedrooms, and classrooms of nearly a quarter of humanity.
...Let’s scroll back now to 551 B.C. What do we know about Confucius, the man?
What we know is in bits and pieces scattered across various historical records of somewhat suspect quality. What we think we know is that he was born to a family of low-level officials. His father died when he was quite young, and he was raised by a single mother. There’s some speculation among modern historians that he might have been illegitimate. But we know very little about his childhood. What we do know is that he turned himself into an expert on the literature and history and poetry of an earlier age in China, and with that he created his own doctrine. The purpose of the doctrine was to restore peace and order. The time in which he lived was a time of war and conflict in China between numerous feudal states, and he believed he had devised a doctrine of virtue that could bring prosperity back to China. In his own life, unfortunately, he failed in that vision, because he could not find the dukes and kings to adhere to his ideas. But where he did succeed was as a very successful teacher. He had very loyal students who became his disciples, and they carried on his mission and his teachings until Confucianism eventually became China’s dominant philosophy
Sam Knight in The New Yorker:
Early on a Tuesday morning last fall, Ronnie O’Sullivan was running through the woods near his home, in Chigwell, Essex, northeast of London. It was damp and muddy, England in November. O’Sullivan, who is thirty-nine, loves the anonymity of running. About ten years ago, he discovered that it was one thing that truly takes him out of himself—more than the drink and the drugs and the antidepressants—and suspends the otherwise unavoidable fact that he is the most talented snooker player of all time. At the age of eleven, O’Sullivan was making good money in the sport, and in the past three decades he has won five World Championships and set a number of records while enduring a bewildering odyssey of breakdowns, addictions, and redemptions, largely precipitated by the imprisonment of his father, whom he loves, for murder. O’Sullivan is frequently described as a genius. But he does not see how this can be so. Most days, he feels like a fraud. His game comes only in fits and starts. He wins because the others lose. He has wondered for a long time whether he would be happier doing something else. He has moved nine times in the past ten years. “I’m fucking, you know, searching,” he told me recently. “I kind of know who I am but I don’t like who I am, do you know what I mean? I wish I was a bit more fucking stable.”
Also, see this:
According to the inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands "a remarkable thing happens to the spirit immediately after its exodus from the body. ...the baloma (which is the main form of the dead man's spirit) goes to Tuma, a small island..." —from Bronislaw Malinowski's Magic, Science and Religion
I hope my turn to leave comes in July
and there's someone willing to launch the scuffed canoe
loon barking in alarm at the sudden shadow
cast over its territory, annoyed ducks
let it be at the moment
the lake's precisely balanced — the sun holding it
by one end the moon by the other, water thick, shiny
crepuscular cream insects slurp
with a terrible greed
for incense, juniper will do
sweetened with fermenting leaves, an aroma
that follows from the shore, lingers on the skin
like old memories, fades with each stroke
of the paddle
the island — a black pincushion
cormorant and heron nests up and down dried up spruce trees
reclining fledglings, sleek Buddhist monks
in calm contemplation of sticks they've plucked
from the floor, the wall
until the next fish is flown in
and then the jostling, the squawking, the island lifting
quivering, cries of triumph and self-pity such perfect
cacophony against the deepening
let it be that island
let it be an old spruce trunk, even a clump
of reeds nearby, I could do worse than spend eternity
in the company of birds
by Anna Mioduchowska
from In-Between Seasons
Rowan Books, 1998
Saturday, March 28, 2015
Ilyana Kuziemko, Michael Norton, Emmanuel Saez, and Stefanie Stantcheva over at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth:
There are several novel findings that emerge from our survey. When respondents are given the actual data on the growing income gap in the United States, their concern about the problem increases by a staggering 35 percent—an effect equal in size to roughly 36 percent of the liberal-conservative gap on this question. Moreover, viewing information about inequality also significantly influences attitudes toward two redistributive policies: the estate tax and the minimum wage (See Figure 2).
When respondents in the treatment group learn the small share of estates subject to the estate tax (roughly one in 1,000), they support increasing it at three times the rate of the control group—akin to cutting the political gap in half (See Figure 3). This finding is mirrored in a recent study by political scientist John Sides of George Washington University, who finds that accurate information on the small number of families subject to the estate tax substantially reduces support for repealing the tax.
Lee Billings in Scientific American:
Every once in a great while, something almost unspeakable happens to Earth. Some terrible force reaches out and tears the tree of life limb from limb. In a geological instant, countless creatures perish and entire lineages simply cease to exist.
The most famous of these mass extinctions happened about 66 million years ago, when the dinosaurs died out in the planet-wide environmental disruption that followed a mountain-sized space rock walloping Earth. We can still see the scar from the impact today as a nearly 200-kilometer-wide crater in the Yucatan Peninsula.
But this is only one of the “Big Five” cataclysmic mass extinctions recognized by paleontologists, and not even the worst. Some 252 million years ago, the Permian-Triassic mass extinction wiped out an estimated nine of every ten species on the planet—scientists call this one “the Great Dying.” In addition to the Big Five, evidence exists for dozens of other mass extinction events that were smaller and less severe. Not all of these are conclusively related to giant impacts; some are linked instead to enormous upticks in volcanic activity worldwide that caused dramatic, disruptive climate change and habitat loss. Researchers suspect that many—perhaps most—mass extinctions come about through the stresses caused by overlapping events, such as a giant impact paired with an erupting supervolcano. Maybe the worst mass extinctions are simply matters of poor timing, cases of planetary bad luck.
Tom Bartlett in The Chronicle:
Alice Dreger is feverish. On a wet, chilly Wednesday evening, in a high-ceilinged, beige ballroom at the Marriott in downtown Philadelphia, she is taking to task — eviscerating, really — the American Anthropological Association for its ham-fisted handling of allegations made in Darkness at El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon, a much-heralded but ultimately discredited book by Patrick Tierney, a journalist whose tales tended toward the fanciful. That controversy needn’t be chewed over again here, and besides, Dreger isn’t talking about just one misguided book or one feckless group of scholars. She is casting a wider net, diagnosing a disorder that she fears pervades too much of what passes for reasonable intellectual discourse. "Forms of scholarship that deny evidence, that deny truth, that deny the importance of facts, even when performed in the name of good, are dangerous, not only to science and to ethics but to democracy," she tells the Philadelphia crowd.
You’re not just hurting yourselves, people. You’re hurting America. That was in December 2009. I happened to be in the room that night, scribbling in a steno pad, pleased to have something interesting to cover. The rebuttal to her rousing remarks seemed sniffy and weirdly muted, embarrassed almost. Perhaps Dreger had violated the bylaws by saying precisely what she meant. Dreger writes about that skirmish, and many others, in her new book, Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science (Penguin Press), and reveals in passing that she was suffering from whooping cough that night and running entirely on adrenaline and a highly developed sense of outrage. The book is not about Galileo, except glancingly, and it’s not about anthropology, except in the section discussing the El Dorado debacle. Much of it is about gender and genitalia. There is a chapter on the motivations of rapists. There is an account of Dreger’s difficult, years-long and still-active campaign against a steroid sometimes given to pregnant woman, an effort that succeeded in "nearly crushing my reputation and my spirit."
There is swearing ("postmodernist horseshit") and drinking ("I ordered a gin and tonic for myself, and then another"). Insults are hurled. Enemies are made. Tears are shed.
Heidi Julavits once said that keeping a diary when she was young is what made her a writer. Julavits, the author of four novels, revisits that story in the opening pages of her latest work, “The Folded Clock.” She tells of returning to her childhood diaries after making that claim, looking for evidence of the writer she would become. “The actual diaries, however, fail to corroborate the myth I’d concocted for myself,” she admits. “They reveal me to possess the mind, not of a future writer, but of a future paranoid tax auditor. I exhibited no imagination, no trace of a style, no wit, no personality.” With “The Folded Clock,” she corrects the record. Keeping a diary may not have made her a writer, but becoming a writer has made it possible for her to produce, now, an exquisite diary.
This diary is a diary in the way that Thomas De Quincey’s “Confessions of an English Opium Eater” is a confession, or that Daniel Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year” is a journal, or that Sei Shonagon’s “Pillow Book” is a pillow book. Meaning it is, and it isn’t. “The Folded Clock” refuses one of the primary conventions of the diary: chronology. The entry for July 16 is followed by Oct. 18, which is followed by June 18. Time moves loosely forward, so that the final entries occur a year or two after the initial entries, but time loops and circles forward.
New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, was: why should I read this?
One might consider merit and credentials. For African writers and readers there are a clutch of big-ticket prizes, scholarships, and fellowships that are relevant (in order of increasing size of cash payout): The African Poetry Prize, The Commonwealth Short Story Prize, The Caine Prize (which The Guardian calls “the African Booker”), The Etisalat Prize, The Morland Scholarship. These endowments are, to coin a phrase, optimally relevant because they guarantee the authors (roughly in order of priority): international exposure (The New York Times recently hailed, as a trend, the “new wave of African writers with an internationalist bent,” some of whom are part of the Africa39, others who are friends or mentors to a number of the less well-known Africa39), Africa-wide recognition, reliable publishing opportunities, renowned mentors/editors, future awards, a sustainable life as a professional writer, and lots of travel. These award recipients are the authors who, in the decades of their ascendancy, will be read widely, will speak prodigiously, will be quoted and cited extensively, and whose names will come to characterize (if not define, and even represent) who African writers are and what African literature is on the world stage.
He wrote in exceptionally pure, cold Swedish without frills. His descriptions of nature were as sparse and alive as a Japanese painting. In fact, in later life, he attempted to write haiku in Swedish. Peter Englund, the secretary of the Swedish Academy, said: “One of the secrets of his success around the world is that he’s writing about everyday stuff. The economy of words that you can see in his poems is manifested in the economy of his output; you can get the core of his work in a pocket book of 220 pages. You can get through it in an evening.”
Björn Wiman, writing in the Stockholm paper Dagens Nyheter, praised him for his capacity to transform the everyday into astonishment. “His poem C Major is almost unique in the history of literature, since it both describes and summons up pure delight.”
The Guardian praised him when he won the prize as “unobtrusively unforgettable”, a writer “whose style is so simple as to make most words seem vain and superfluous. In translation, some of the slippery hard simplicities of his lyricism can melt like ice. But enough remains to show a poet who transforms the ordinary in apparently ordinary language. The world he sees is sometimes bleak or terrible, but it is always also full of promise no less real for being inexpressible: ‘The only thing I want to say glints out of reach, like silver in a pawnbroker’s’.”
But that's getting ahead of the story. Back on October 31, 1999, with the first news of the crash, it was hard to imagine any form of pilot error that could have condemned the airplane to such a sustained and precipitous dive. What switch could the crew have thrown, what lever? Nothing came to mind. And why had they perished so silently, without a single distress call on the radio? A total electrical failure was very unlikely, and would not explain the loss of control. A fire would have given them time to talk. One thing was certain: the pilots were either extremely busy or incapacitated from the start. Of course there was always the possibility of a terrorist attack—a simple if frightening solution. But otherwise something had gone terribly wrong with the airplane itself, and that could be just as bad. There are more than 800 Boeing 767s in the world's airline fleet, and they account for more transatlantic flights than all other airplanes combined. They are also very similar in design to the smaller and equally numerous Boeing 757s. So there was plenty of reason for alarm.Read the rest here.
One of the world's really important divides lies between nations that react well to accidents and nations that do not. This is as true for a confined and technical event like the crash of a single flight as it is for political or military disasters. The first requirement is a matter of national will, and never a sure thing: it is the intention to get the story right, wherever the blame may lie. The second requirement follows immediately upon the first, and is probably easier to achieve: it is the need for people in the aftermath to maintain even tempers and open minds. The path they follow may not be simple, but it can provide for at least the possibility of effective resolutions.
Michael White in Pacific Standard (Photo: epsos/Flickr):
The idea that our DNA, rather than being an immutable fact of our biology, is actually responsive to changes in our health and our environment is what makes people so enthusiastic about epigenetics. According to a popular metaphor, our genes themselves may be written in ink, but they're marked up in pencil—which can be erased and re-done. By developing drugs or treatments that modify these pencil marks, so the thinking goes, we can escape the limits imposed by our genes, which can't be changed. Cancer, for example, is caused by genetic mutations that can't be undone, but it is also characterized by abnormal epigenetic marks, which can potentially be reversed. Researchers have struggled for years, with little success, to fix our genetic print by repairing mutations with gene therapy. But in some cases we may not need to repair mutations if we can re-work the epigenetic pencil marks instead.
If this idea is right, the impact could be tremendous, because researchers have found epigenetic changes associated with almost everything. Distinct patterns of epigenetic marks are found not only in cancer, but most other common diseases as well, including psychiatric ones like depression and addiction. Differences in epigenetic marks are being linked with differences in socioeconomic status, and one study found epigenetic changes in suicide victims who had suffered childhood abuse. Even more worrying is the idea (still largely speculative) that epigenetic marks can be passed on from one generation to the next, meaning that parents may pass on the effects of their poor health choices, diet, or social environment to their children.
The potentially broad impact of epigenetics has drawn the attention of social scientists, who are not usually worried about the details of molecular biology. A team of bioethicists has called epigenetics one of the most "legally and ethically significant cutting-edge subjects of scientific discovery" because "a large range of environmental, dietary, behavioral, and medical experiences can significantly affect the future development and health of an individual and their offspring."
This sounds both liberating and terrifying at the same time: Our destinies are not fixed by our genes, and yet much of what we do and experience could have a profound effect on the biological make-up of ourselves and our children. But the hype has outrun the science.
Over at Radio Open Source:
In his latest book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, Lewis sounds worried. After that last great crash, finance has gone digital. The action has moved off the downtown trading floors and into black-box servers stationed in New Jersey. Wall Street’s work has become so automatic, algorithmic and obscure that ordinary buyers and sellers have less understanding than ever of what’s happening with their savings.
In Flash Boys Michael Lewis focused on the practice of ‘high-frequency trading’ — a game of arbitrage conducted in the course of microseconds, well handled on Radiolab. But in a new afterword he says HFT is just a symptom of a larger problem. The market’s big players have once again abdicated their “clear responsibility to protect investors… and to create a fair marketplace,” meaning that the game may be more dangerous than ever.
So we’re asking the $64,000 question: can we build a more crash-proof, less leveraged, more equitable financial system? Our guest Jeremy Allaire would argue that the technology known as Bitcoin can do just that: bring back transparency and a simple standard of honest exchange. But we’re reminded that the American dream runs on credit — and we may just be too dependent on the boom-and-bust market we’ve made.
Friday, March 27, 2015
Carl Zimmer in his excellent blog, The Loom:
Malaria is caused by single-celled parasites called Plasmodium. A female mosquito carries them in its gut as it flies around in search of a victim to bite. After the parasites mature, they push through the insect’s gut wall, eventually making their way into its salivary glands. When the mosquito lands on a person and drills into the skin, it pushes some of its Plasmodium-laden saliva into the wound.
The parasites now begin their long journey through the human body. They get pushed by the surges of the bloodstream to the liver, where they invade cells and multiply inside them. The infected liver cells erupt with the next stage of Plasmodium’s life cycle, called merozoites. The merozoites end up back into the bloodstream, where they now invade red blood cells. They multiply yet again, rupturing the blood cells and invading new ones. Eventually the parasites achieve the next stage in their life cycle, when they’re ready at last to get sucked up by a hungry mosquito in a meal of blood.
If Plasmodium can’t get into a mosquito, all of this multiplication is for naught. So anything that the parasite can do to increase the odds of a successful exit can potentially be favored by natural selection. Last year, for example, a team of researchers found that mosquitoes were attracted to mice infected with Plasmodium parasites–but only when they were ready to leave their rodent host. The scientists found evidence that the parasites engineer this attraction by changing the odor of the mice. Infected mice give off odor molecules that draw mosquitoes to them.
Simon Radford in HIPPO Reads:
It’s not often that a working paper published on an academic website creates a stir, but it seems ours has! As the Guardian Observer reports, our paper shows that for the number of big donors being nominated for positions in the UK’s House of Lords to be coincidental, it would be the equivalent of entering the National Lottery five times in a row and winning the jackpot each time. 1 in 22 Tory big donors, 1 in 14 Labour big donors, and 1 in 7 Lib Dem big donors, have been nominated for a peerage (a position in the House of Lords). Rumors have abounded in the vicinity of Westminster for some time that party leaders exchanged patronage for political financing, but denying that claim just got a whole lot harder. Calls for a wholly elected UK Second Chamber must now be deafening. However, while elections are less prone to corruption than a system of appointment, we can’t stop there. Developed democracies need to rethink the role of public financing in elections if they are going to eliminate private favors and serve the public good.
Critics might argue that a few shady characters shouldn’t be spun into a general lesson. However, by using a statistical analysis across time, across governments, and across different party leaders, we show that there is a structural problem—not a case of the corruption of a few individuals. This is the first time that academics have been able to show a direct link between donations and power over voting on specific laws, but, by adding to a literature that all points in the same direction, our work is also a window on a larger issue facing all developed democracies: inequality in economic power means that our political class responds to the wishes of the rich, not the average voter. This should worry voters in Los Angeles as much as in London, Brussels as much as in Bristol.
Of course, we’re not the first to tackle the subject: academics and activists have been doing their best to sound the alarm for the last few years.
The position once held by the European Left – that solidarity is to be valued above thehomo homini lupus, and that the concept of freedom doesn’t merely have a negative character – has been abandoned. The attitude which Mark Fisher defines as ‘capitalist realism’ appears to have engulfed most of the mainstream Left. Although the recent successes of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain seem timidly to hint at a possible revival of a radical Left, all the major democratic/labour parties in the West appear to converge towards a neoliberal and bleakly anti-humanist consensus. Only in Latin America does the Left still enjoy a comfortable hegemonic status, while also being able to present the future as a land of opportunities rather than a hostile wasteland. Although it is unlikely that Franciscus has read Berardi’s remarks on ‘the end of the future’ and on the consequences of its demise, he has grasped the immense political potential of reopening – and monopolising – the very concept of the time to come.
Consistently with these considerations, Franciscus has placed his pontificate under the bright red star of what was once considered a revolutionary Leftist worldview. In doing so he has been able at the same time to reinforce his presence in the Latin American countries – partly through a revival of the rhetoric and politics of Liberation Theology – and to present himself as the only credible candidate to occupy the gaping hole vacated on the left of the Western political spectrum. He has founded his attack on spectacularly populist tactics, made even more universally appealing by his repeated (yet slyly ambiguous) claim that many call him a Communist, but that he is no Communist – only a true Christian, faithful to the call of Love.
My European friends in China had largely been agreed in their envy of my departure to the ‘civilized’ world. When I’d expressed any apprehensions about the move they had rushed to assure me. Things would be so much easier than in China, they’d stressed. Everything worked. You flushed the toilet and watched the toilet paper disappear instead of the water rising ominously out of the bowl. You might pay more for food and clothes but what you purchased was of assured quality. People in Europe were ethical. None of that lying and cheating that went on in China with its get-rich-quick culture. The air was clean, the neighbourhoods green. People queued at bus stops and didn’t spit up foaming gobs of phlegm on the roads.
Efficiency, quality, honesty: these words echoed in my head as our plane prepared for landing in Brussels on a late April day in 2009. An hour or so later I was desperately knocking at the door of the airport police station, wild-eyed and begging for help, having been robbed of my handbag and laptop case while expertly distracted by the thief’s accomplice. ‘Is this arrivals or departures?’ the partner in crime had asked, and when I’d turned to answer, his friend had quietly made off with my belongings.
The British Security Service, better known as MI5, released its file on Eric Hobsbawm last autumn. Hobsbawm, who had long desired to see it, had died two years earlier, at the age of 95. In his memoir, Interesting Times, he warned against autobiographical ‘post-mortem inquests in which the corpse pretends to be the coroner’, but whatever self-justifications he might have entered as evidence, the reading of his file is hampered by his absence. It is an unwritten rule of MI5 that Personal Files (PFs) are only released after their subjects have died. Another unwritten rule, among so many, is that it only releases such material after fifty years, which explains why the Hobsbawm file deposited at the National Archives in Kew ends in the mid-1960s. The rest is withheld, and researchers who ask for more will fare no better in their feeble supplications to the state than Hobsbawm, one of the pre-eminent British historians of the 20th century.
To this deficit must be added the blanks in the file left by the declassifiers (a posh word for ‘censors’), the silent deceptions by which deception is itself concealed. Many names are redacted, and some pages have been removed in toto and replaced with a white sheet on which is stamped this grammatically unappealing message: ‘THE ORIGINAL DOCUMENT RETAINED IN DEPARTMENT UNDER SECTION 3(4) OF THE PUBLIC RECORDS ACT 1958.’ Section 3(4) allows for the retention of a record for a ‘special reason’, which does not have to be given. No reason is given, either, for the absence of an entire folder of the Hobsbawm file. Retained? Lost in transit? Destroyed? Also withheld, as standard practice, is MI5’s intelligence assessment, the casework on the material collected (through surveillance, informers, plants etc) in a file.
Novelist Akhil Sharma on why his first response to winning the 2015 Folio Prize was not joy but shame
Gaby Wood in Telegraph:
Akhil Sharma’s deadpan autobiographical novel, Family Life, ends with a kind of beginning. The narrator has taken his beautiful new girlfriend to a resort hotel. As they lounge by the pool and she leans against him, he feels happier and happier. “The happiness,” Sharma writes, “was almost heavy.” And then comes the last line: “That was when I knew I had a problem.” When I ask Sharma how he’s feeling, the morning after he has won the £40,000 Folio Prize, he responds with a brief smile, a shrug and a flat-toned explanation of his tendency to pan the world for disappointment. “My mind is like a police scanner,” he says, “wondering what’s wrong.” The first thing he felt when he heard he’d won, he says, was shame.
If that sounds melodramatic, or inappropriately comic, the book itself goes some way towards explaining the background. Sharma’s novel (his second) tells the story of an Indian family who move to New Jersey to begin what they hope will be a better life. Just after the elder brother is granted a place at a distinguished high school in New York, he dives into a swimming pool, hits his head and remains underwater for long enough to provoke a coma and lifelong brain damage. All of this happened to Sharma’s family, and the story is told from the point of view of the younger sibling - Sharma’s alter ego, Ajay - with all the naive hope and pointed perception of a child. “I wondered if he was dead,” Ajay thinks when his aunt says she has to go to the hospital. “This last was thrilling. If he was dead, I would get to be the only son.” Ajay lives through the wreckage of his parents’ aspirations: his mother’s misery, his father’s alcoholism, the daily burden of caring for his brother. “Daddy, I am so sad,” he says at one point. “You’re sad?” comes the furious response. “I want to hang myself every day.” The book is so funny you almost feel guilty for laughing – some sort of alchemical transfer, one presumes, of Sharma’s shame into fictional gold. When his mother asks for a hearing aid, Ajay’s father replies: “Why? If by mistake some good news does come for you, I’ll write it down.”