Thursday, May 09, 2013
An isolated population of Arctic foxes that dines only on marine animals seems to be slowly succumbing to mercury poisoning. The foxes on Mednyi Island — one of Russia’s Commander Islands in the Bering Sea — are a subspecies of Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) that may have remained isolated for thousands of years. They were once numerous enough to support a small yet thriving group of fur hunters. After humans abandoned the settlement in the 1970s, the fox population began to crash, falling from more than 1,000 animals to fewer than 100 individuals today. Researchers at Moscow State University wanted to find out if the population crash was caused by diseases introduced by the hunters and their dogs, so they teamed up with Alex Greenwood, head of the wildlife diseases department at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, as well as other colleagues in Germany and Iceland. They screened for four common canine pathogens in foxes captured on Mednyi Island and in the pelts of museum specimens of Commander Island foxes. All they found was a handful of cases of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which causes the disease toxoplasmosis, but that alone did not account for the population crash.
So the researchers looked at the foxes’ diet. Mednyi Island foxes subsist by hunting sea birds and scavenging seal carcasses. Because pollutants such as mercury are known to accumulate in marine animals, particularly in the Arctic, they tested the foxes for the heavy metal and found high levels of it. The foxes' hair had 10 milligrams of mercury per kilogram on average, with peaks of 30 mg kg–1. By comparison, inland foxes in Iceland had lower levels, of about 3.5 mg kg–1. Greenwood’s team also compared mercury levels in the Mednyi foxes to those in the population on the neighbouring Bering Island, and in coastal fox populations in Iceland. Levels of mercury were high there, too. But the Bering Island population and the coastal Icelandic foxes had not experienced the same population crash as their relatives on Mednyi. The difference, the researchers think, is that the Mednyi foxes have no other options for food. Bering Island is bigger than Mednyi, with small mammals such lemmings and voles, as well as a human population that creates rubbish that the foxes can eat. The Icelandic coastal foxes, likewise, have the option of moving inland to vary their diet. “It’s not so much what they are eating, as where they are eating,” says Greenwood. “The Mednyi foxes may be more susceptible to increasing global mercury levels.”
Peter Gordon in The New Republic:
There have been many biographies of Karl Marx, and most of them fit into the first category. This is understandable, because until recently most people saw Marx as the founding father in a drama of communism that was still unfolding across the globe. Celebrated or excoriated, Marx seemed very much our contemporary, a man whose explosive ideas and personality continued to fascinate. One of the earliest efforts waspublished in 1918 by Franz Mehring, a journalist who helped Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in founding the Spartacus League (soon renamed the German Communist Party). He was not what you would call an unbiased source. Mehring wished to portray Marx “in all his powerful and rugged greatness.” After summarizing the second and third (never-completed) volumes of Capital he assured the reader that their pages contain a “wealth of intellectual stimulation” for “enlightened workers.”
Less partisan was Karl Marx: His Life and Environment by Isaiah Berlin, which appeared in 1939. In many respects, Berlin was the ideal person for the job, since he understood the inner workings of Marx’s theory but remained sensitive to its complicated and catastrophic political consequences. He was not completely unsympathetic: like Marx, Berlin was a cosmopolitan of Jewish descent who fled persecution on the Continent and ended up in England. Unlike Marx, Berlin assimilated to British custom and made a career of defending liberal pluralism against totalitarian thinking right and left. But Berlin’s skepticism did not prevent him from comprehending Marx’s ideas. A good biographer needs critical distance, not ardent identification. His book, a perennial classic, has all the virtues of Berlin himself: charm, erudition, and (occasionally) grandiloquence.
Over the last century, a handful of previously unknown writings by Marx have come to light, and they have modified the way we understand his legacy. The most important of these were the “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts” of 1844, often known as the “Paris manuscripts,” dense and speculative texts that were discovered in the late 1920s and first published in 1932. They are significant because they give us a glimpse of the young Marx as a humanist and a metaphysician whose theory of alienation relied on the Hegelian themes that he absorbed while a student at the University of Berlin.
Zujaja Tauqeer in Jacobin:
[W]hat was supposed to be a rare feel-good moment for a beleaguered nation has in recent weeks acquired an additional perverse significance: with 100 people already killed, the 2013 elections will go down as the bloodiest in Pakistani history. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), more commonly known as the Pakistani Taliban, has for the last decade agitated against the previous two governments of Pakistan for their role, however tepid, in attacking militant havens in the country. The wrath of the TTP, previously reserved for government installations and security forces, has now descended upon the general public — the political candidates and voters participating in the 2013 elections, especially those belonging to the three main secular parties of Pakistan.
This particular crescendo of pre-election bloodshed is different from the usual sort of cannibalistic violence that commonly rages in the country, the kind which occurs when one segment of society feels justified in deeming another segment ‘wajib-ul-qatl’ — worthy of death — for believing in the wrong prophet or praying the wrong way. This election season has changed everything; even the right kind of Muslim is no longer safe from being targeted. Nor has the integrity of this pro-West citadel in Asia ever been so precarious or under assault. According to Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, the TTP is embarking on a concerted campaign to “end the democratic system” in Pakistan and bring errant political parties in line with Taliban demands, especially regarding Pakistan’s stand with the West in the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The secular parties of Pakistan, which at the start of elections were castigated as representing the status quo of corrupt, inefficient politics, have now recast themselves as heroic, pro-democracy forces, particularly the Awami National Party which is the last line of Pashtun resistance to Taliban control in the northwest. The parties and their supporters are hastening to give meaning to the senseless deaths, particularly of the numerous children that have died despite having nothing to do with the electoral process.
At times like these, when martyrs for democracy are being readily supplied in the fight against the Taliban, it is critical to examine the rhetoric around the survival of democracy in Pakistan which anti-Taliban forces have rallied around. Simply by virtue of taking place these elections will not signify the growth of true democracy to Pakistan or the end of the Taliban threat.
Afiya Shehrbano responds to Jemima Khan's piece on polygamy in Muslim communities, in South Asia Citizens Web:
In the post-9/11 period, conservatives in the west view Muslim women’s freedom exclusively through the act of unveiling, while ‘anti-imperialists’ fetishise it as a tool of passive revolution against racism, imperialism and Islamophobia. Neither wishes to discuss discrimination or material rights beyond wardrobe politics.
Then, there are some adventurous souls who overstretch their benevolent sympathy for the Muslim woman’s cause with a recklessness that only the very privileged can afford. Jemima Khan, enamoured by all that she has learnt about Muslim women’s exceptional rights during her time as Imran Khan’s wife, has recently ‘investigated’ British Muslim women’s partiality towards polygamous marriages as a socio-cultural refuge.
Mrs Khan herself renounced the traditional right of Muslim women to keep their maiden names after marriage but interestingly, chooses to retain her ex-husband’s identity even post-divorce. Social-celebrity affectation or not, that’s her personal choice. However, when she masquerades as a social scientist, then Mrs Khan may be well advised to read some of the prolific international scholarship by (Muslim) women on the historical intersections of polygamy with culture, religion and class and their assessment of its doubtful ‘benefits’.
Not to privilege science too much, even an anecdotal survey of some working class communities of Lahore, where Mrs Khan lived for several years, would have confirmed her thesis – albeit not with the same optimistic conclusions. Often, polygamous marriages have indeed provided some women a sanctuary...but not from poverty or abandonment, instead, from domestic violence. Once displaced, primary wives of polygamous arrangements sometimes (though not always) become lesser targets of spousal and in-law violence/discrimination. Technically, this could qualify polygamous arrangements as safer havens, I suppose.
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Jim Holt reviews Benoit B. Mandelbrot's The Fractalist: Memoir of a Scientific Maverick, in the NYRB:
Benoit Mandelbrot, the brilliant Polish-French-American mathematician who died in 2010, had a poet’s taste for complexity and strangeness. His genius for noticing deep links among far-flung phenomena led him to create a new branch of geometry, one that has deepened our understanding of both natural forms and patterns of human behavior. The key to it is a simple yet elusive idea, that of self-similarity.
To see what self-similarity means, consider a homely example: the cauliflower. Take a head of this vegetable and observe its form—the way it is composed of florets. Pull off one of those florets. What does it look like? It looks like a little head of cauliflower, with its own subflorets. Now pull off one of those subflorets. What does that look like? A still tinier cauliflower. If you continue this process—and you may soon need a magnifying glass—you’ll find that the smaller and smaller pieces all resemble the head you started with. The cauliflower is thus said to be self-similar. Each of its parts echoes the whole.
Other self-similar phenomena, each with its distinctive form, include clouds, coastlines, bolts of lightning, clusters of galaxies, the network of blood vessels in our bodies, and, quite possibly, the pattern of ups and downs in financial markets. The closer you look at a coastline, the more you find it is jagged, not smooth, and each jagged segment contains smaller, similarly jagged segments that can be described by Mandelbrot’s methods. Because of the essential roughness of self-similar forms, classical mathematics is ill-equipped to deal with them. Its methods, from the Greeks on down to the last century, have been better suited to smooth forms, like circles. (Note that a circle is not self-similar: if you cut it up into smaller and smaller segments, those segments become nearly straight.)
Only in the last few decades has a mathematics of roughness emerged, one that can get a grip on self-similarity and kindred matters like turbulence, noise, clustering, and chaos. And Mandelbrot was the prime mover behind it.
David Bromwich in the Huffington Post:
In Obama's case, too, as in Nixon's, the exorbitant love of secrecy springs from a desire not to be judged. It has its source in an almost antinomian assurance that there is no one in the world who knows enough to judge him. There is, however, a respect in which Obama has become a stranger president than Nixon. What after all are we to make of the bizarre alternation of the commands to kill and the journeys to comfort the killed? As this president has lengthened the shadow of American power in Arab lands and made it hard for someone like Farea Al-Muslimi to persuade his countrymen that the U.S. is not at war with Islam, he has made serial visits to comfort Americans mourning the dead after the mass murders in Tucson, in Aurora, in Newtown, and in Boston. None of these speeches has carried a hint of the perception that there could be a link between American violence at home and abroad. The role of this president -- a president of safety and protection rather than a president of liberty and the rule of law -- is dismaying in itself. But there is something actively morbid in the dramatic assumption of grief counseling as his major public function, even as he continues in secret his wars against people about whom he will not speak to Americans except in platitude.
Gary Gutting in the New York Times:
As any regular reader of news will know, popular media report “scientific results” nearly every day. They come delivered in news reports and opinion pieces, and are often used to make a variety of points concerning important matters like health, parenting, education, even spirituality and self-knowledge. How seriously should we take them?
For example, since at least 2004, we have been reading about studiesshowing that “vitamin D may prevent arthritis.” A 2010 Johns Hopkins Health Alert announced, “During the past decade, there’s been an explosion of research suggesting that vitamin D plays a significant role in joint health and that low levels may be a risk factor for rheumatologic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.” However, in February 2013, a more rigorous studycalled the previous studies into serious question. Similarly, despite many studies suggesting that taking niacin to increase “good cholesterol” would decrease heart attacks, a more rigorous studyshowed the niacin to have no effect.
Such reports have led many readers to question the reliability of science. And given the way the news is often reported, they seem to have a point. What use are scientific results if they are so frequently reversed? But the problem is typically not with the science but with the reporting.
It is difficult to ascertain what the cause is and what the result is here – but in parallel to the withering of interest in the quality of the common good (and, most importantly, of society itself), the demise and dismantling of traditional "factories of solidarity" can be observed, that is, of institutions that encouraged attitudes of solidarity. The "deregulation of the labour market" and the resultant fluidity of workplace communities characterized by a decreasing – less and less protected by law – stability strongly disfavours forming tighter bonds with "colleagues". The philosophy of management in its current form transfers the responsibility for financial results of a given company from the superiors to the subordinates, thus putting every employee in a situation of competing with everyone else. This philosophy demands that the utility of every employee is measured according to his or her personal contribution to the profitability of the company: he or she is forced to compete with the rest of the working team. In essence, forcing workers to fight for their chance to survive another round of dismissals, a move often disguised by such "politically correct" cryptonyms as "contracting out" or "outsourcing". In a clearly zero-sum game, joining and closing ranks will be of little use and will not help much in surviving – on the contrary, it is becoming dangerously close to a suicidal urge.more from Zygmunt Bauman at Eurozine here.
Ayyaz Mallick in Dawn:
Coming to election issues, what do you think, sitting afar and as an observer, are the basic issues that need to be handled by whoever is voted into power?
NC: Well, first of all, the internal issues. Pakistan is not a unified country. In large parts of the country, the state is regarded as a Punjabi state, not their (the people’s) state. In fact, I think the last serious effort to deal with this was probably in the 1970s, when during the Bhutto regime some sort of arrangement of federalism was instituted for devolving power so that people feel the government is responding to them and not just some special interests focused on a particular region and class. Now that’s a major problem.
Another problem is the confrontation with India. Pakistan just cannot survive if it continues to do so (continue this confrontation). Pakistan will never be able to match the Indian militarily and the effort to do so is taking an immense toll on the society. It’s also extremely dangerous with all the weapons development. The two countries have already come close to nuclear confrontation twice and this could get worse. So dealing with the relationship with India is extremely important.
And that of course focuses right away on Kashmir. Some kind of settlement in Kashmir is crucial for both countries. It’s also tearing India apart with horrible atrocities in the region which is controlled by Indian armed forces. This is feeding right back into society even in the domain of elementary civil rights. A good American friend of mine who has lived in India for many years, working as a journalist, was recently denied entry to the country because he wrote on Kashmir. This is a reflection of fractures within society. Pakistan, too, has to focus on the Lashkar [Lashkar-i-Taiba] and other similar groups and work towards some sort of sensible compromise on Kashmir.
And of course this goes beyond. There is Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan which will also be a very tricky issue in the coming years. Then there is a large part of Pakistan which is being torn apart from American drone attacks. The country is being invaded constantly by a terrorist superpower. Again, this is not a small problem.
The decision to translate Emmanuel Swedenborg’s Rules into shorthand was not a random choice. Isaac Pitman was a devout member of the controversial Swedenborgian New Church, and was fired from his teaching post because of it, two years after the publication of Phonography. The loss of his job and religious discrimination were the real impetus behind the establishment of Pitman’s independent publishing house and school. Emmanuel Swedenborg had a good career as an all-around, 18th-century scientist/philosopher/inventor. That is, until one Easter weekend in 1744, when he started having visions. Swedenborg wrote many books about this spiritual awakening. He wrote that the Church was in man and not outside of him. He wrote that if man lived in love and charity he would understand the Word — and not the other way around. He claimed that he spoke with demons and angels, that he spoke with spirits on other planets, that he had visited both heaven and hell. Emmanuel Swedenborg was a scientist-turned-mystic whose extraordinary accounts went on to fascinate many artists and intellectuals. Not just Isaac Pitman but Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Blake, Immanuel Kant, Carl Jung, August Strindberg, Jorge Luis Borges, George Inness, Honoré de Balzac, Helen Keller, Czesław Miłosz, August Strindberg, W. B. Yeats.more from Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set here.
Is it fair to describe the Occupy movement as anarchist? In “We Are Many,” Cindy Milstein, a longtime activist, stipulates that radicals in Zuccotti Park were outnumbered by liberals, including those she deprecates as “militant liberals.” But she argues that, even if the Occupiers weren’t all anarchists, they were nevertheless “doing anarchism.” In Zuccotti Park and elsewhere, “doing anarchism” often meant struggling not against bankers, directly, but against local government and local police. (In New York, one galvanizing figure was Anthony Bologna, a senior police officer who was disciplined after video surfaced showing him squirting protesters with pepper spray.) Perhaps this was a smart strategy: instead of arguing about economics and ideology, the Occupiers could affirm, instead, their unanimous commitment to freedom of assembly. Occupy may have begun with a grievance against Wall Street, but the process of occupation transformed the movement into a meta-movement, peopled by activists demanding the right to demand their rights.more from Kelefa Sanneh at The New Yorker here.
From The Guardian:
As you are reading this newspaper and not another, there is a good chance you may have wondered why some people you know, whose moral compasses seem otherwise to be functioning well, nevertheless vote for the Conservatives or their equivalent whenever offered the chance. This is the question Jonathan Haidt has set out to answer – and his conclusions may make unsettling reading for those of a liberal (American sense) persuasion.
Professor Haidt's premise is, as far as I can see, fairly easy to summarise: the reason republicans and conservatives persist in winning elections (if you discount Obama's last two victories, which I must say rather gum up the works of his argument) is because they appeal to a greater range of moral impulses than do more leftwing parties. Haidt claims that just as we have the taste receptors of salt, sweet, bitter, and so on, so we generally work on five basic moral receptors: those pertaining to caring, fairness, loyalty, authority and sanctity. (These terms vary: "purity" replaces "sanctity" on a website co-founded by Haidt, yourmorals.org, which, after a simple test, allows you to see how you scored in comparison with liberals or conservatives. It turns out that I am not as caring as I thought I was. Have a go – it's the foundation for the research that has gone into this book.) Liberals are very big on caring and fairness, but tend not to mind so much about "sanctity". Conservatives, however, care about all these things. The more rightwing they are, the less bothered they are about fairness, and the more bothered they are about "sanctity". So for liberals to appeal more to everyone, and to win more elections, what they should do is press the buttons pertaining to good order and individual responsibility towards the herd harder than they do.
A genetic survey concludes that all Europeans living today are related to the same set of ancestors who lived 1,000 years ago. And you wouldn't have to go back much further to find that everyone in the world is related to each other. "We find it remarkable because it's counterintuitive to us," Graham Coop, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California at Davis, told NBC News. "But it's not totally unexpected, based on genetic analysis."
Family researchers have long known that if you go back far enough, everyone with a European connection ends up being related to Charlemagne. The concept was laid out scientifically more than a decade ago. Now Coop and University of Southern California geneticist Peter Ralph have come up with the evidence. Their findings were published on Tuesday in the open-access journal PLOS Biology "Anyone alive 1,000 years ago who left any descendants will be an ancestor of every European," the researchers say in an FAQ file about their study. "While the world population is larger than the European population, the rate of growth of number of ancestors quickly dwarfs this difference, and so every human is likely related genealogically to every other human over only a slightly longer time period."
Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine:
State of the Union addresses are wearying rituals, in which stitched-together lists of never-gonna-happen goals are woven into idealistic catchphrases, analyzed as rhetoric by an unqualified panel of poetry-critic-for-a-night political reporters, quickly followed by a hapless opposition-party response, and then, in almost every case, forgotten. This year, plunked into the midst of the tedium was a gigantic revelation, almost surely the most momentous news of President Obama’s second term. “I will direct my Cabinet,” he announced, “to come up with executive actions we can take now and in the future to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”
Here was a genuine bombshell. It sounded a little vague, and the president did not explain precisely what he intended to do or how he would pull it off. But a handful of environmental wonks had a fairly strong grasp of the project he had committed himself to, and they understood that it was very, very real and very, very doable. If they were to have summarized the news, the headline would have been OBAMA TO SAVE PLANET.
Few outside the green community grasped the meaning of the revelation, and it sank beneath the surface with barely a ripple as bored reporters quickly turned to other matters. Several elements of the Obama agenda—immigration reform, gun control, the budget wars—have since churned busily away in plain view, while his climate pledge has generated no visible action. (Which, as we’ll see, may be just how the administration wants it.)
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
Alan A. Stone in the Boston Review:
Imagine a jealous and angry lover; his childlike girlfriend who is secretly a call girl; and her newest client, an 80-year-old retired professor. Like Someone in Love brings together this unlikely mix of characters. The film is set in Tokyo but was written and directed by the renowned Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, who is apparently in difficulty with the authorities in Tehran and now working outside the country. His previous film, Certified Copy (2010), was made in Italy.
Kiarostami’s most celebrated Iranian film, Taste of Cherry (1997), produced conflicting reactions among discerning critics. It was awarded the Palme D’Or, but the late Roger Ebert gave it a decided thumbs down. Like Someone in Love has generated a similar response. Ian Buruma, who as a young man studied and worked in Japanese film, has proclaimed it “the best film ever made by a non-Japanese in Japan.” Lest anyone think this stinting praise, he adds, “It is a great movie tout court.” Yet Stanley Kauffmann believes Like Someone in Love is a failure and a betrayal of the films “rooted in Iranian culture and a love of it” that made Kiarostami famous.
Kiarostami’s earliest films embraced what critics describe as “earnest realism.” I take the earnestness to be a result of Kiarostami’s on-location depictions of the human condition. The films that earned him this reputation adopted the perspective of children in the villages of northern Iran.
For a long time I regarded poems about photos as examples of ekphrasis, that “verbal representation of visual representation” genre theorized by scholars like W.J.T. Mitchell. As Mitchell sees it, the relationship between verbal and visual arts is contentious. Verbal texts like poems are time-based, while visual arts such as painting and sculpture are primarily spatial. Poetry, like music, is dynamic; its duration is essential to its effect. Painting and sculpture, on the other hand, are generally static. And so, ekphrastic writing often positions itself as a controlling voice that must speak for the silent art object. Keats’s Grecian urn, say, is beautiful, enigmatic, and mute; the poem masters, defines, and vivifies its stillness. In ekphrastic writing time and space confront each other, and the ways poets negotiate this contest gives the genre its energy. But I now think that photo-poems like Rilke’s “Portrait of My Father” are not really ekphrastic. Photographs don’t derive their essence from their spatial quality. They exist in space, of course. But a photograph, like a poem and unlike a painting, depends on time.more from V. Penelope Pelizzon at Poetry Magazine here.
Balloonophiles must nurse a particular affection for Wolverhampton, for it was from there that, on 5 September 1862, one of the most celebrated ascents began. The pilots were James Glaisher, secretary to the Royal Meteorological Society, and Henry Coxwell, whose claim to scientific knowledge derived from his former career as a dentist, but who was a seasoned balloonist and, as it transpired, a good man to have in a tight spot. The balloon left the ground at one o'clock in the afternoon, filled with buoyant coal gas from the Wolverhampton gasworks. It was a beautiful day and they climbed quickly: forty minutes later they were past 20,000 feet; just before an hour was done they were at 29,000 feet. Then they hit a snag. Coxwell realised that the rope working the release valve had got tangled up, so he struggled out of the basket to try to unravel it. Oxygen grows thin at such altitudes and at this point both men began to feel the lack of it.more from Seamus Perry at Literary Review here.
Sadakichi Hartmann arrived in America in 1882, at the age of twelve, disowned by his father in Hamburg and shipped off to live with a great-uncle in Philadelphia. The young man had only lived for one year or less in his native country. He spoke with a strong accent, later described by a newspaper as “half German, the other half not altogether definable.” He was thoroughly German in all that he did, sarcastic and serious, forever hunched under a small rain cloud. And yet he was hailed by friends and strangers as coming directly from the Orient. Self-taught and curious, he made his first contact with what would become an influential circle of acquaintances by knocking unannounced on the door of the poet who lived across the river in Camden, New Jersey: “I would like to see Walt Whitman.” The poet—with his long gray beard and open, flowing shirt, which revealed his naked chest—greeted him by sight. “That’s my name. And you are a Japanese boy, are you not?”more from Michelle Legro at The Believer here.
From The Independent:
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the author of The Leopard, one of the most poignant and enduringly popular novels of the 20th century, left only a few other pieces of fiction when he died in 1957 at the age of 60. A new book, published by Alma Classics in a new translation by Stephen Parkin, collects Lampedusa’s extant shorter fiction and provides a glimpse into the writer’s workshop and the background to the composition of his masterpiece. It also includes the previously unpublished fragment “The Turret”, which we reproduce here.
And then there was Torretta. As much as Santa Margherita was loved, Torretta was detested. It has always symbolized and accompanied illness and death, and for me continues to do so. Torretta is a village around 20 kilometres outside Palermo, inland from the coast and about 500 metres above sea level. Its lofty position gave it the reputation as a cool and healthy spot; in reality the place, hemmed in by a narrow valley, overlooked by steep and barren mountains on every side, and devoid of sewers, running water, a postal service and electricity, is one of the least healthy places on earth. Whenever any members of my family fell sick and were sent to Torretta to “recover”, they wasted away, grew melancholy and within three months died. The local population were sullen, dirty, uncouth, and lived like rats among those sordid alleyways. Our house was the “baronial residence” of the village, and as such was located on the main square – just as in Santa Margherita, but with a world of difference. There the square was spacious, tree -lined and sunny, and all the houses surrounding it were in at least decent condition; in Torretta it was narrow, dark and closed in, its cobblestones were always damp and adorned by the golden excrement deposited by the local mules. In the middle of it, there was an ugly baroque fountain with three wretchedly small spouts from which the only fresh water available in the village spewed forth; as a result it was surrounded day and night by a throng of women and boys holding their pitchers, or quartare, in their hands, who, with a typically Sicilian scorn for any kind of order or waiting in line, created all sorts of scenes by shouting, jostling, trampling and threatening each other.
More here. (Note: If you have not already done so, please read The Leopard immediately. Here is my favorite quote from it: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”)
Few researchers have tried harder than Robert Trivers to retract one of their own papers. In 2005, Trivers, an evolutionary biologist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, published an attention-grabbing finding: Jamaican teenagers with a high degree of body symmetry were more likely to be rated ‘good dancers’ by their peers than were those with less symmetrical bodies. The study, which suggested that dancing is a signal for sexual selection in humans, was featured on the cover of this journal (W. M. Brown et al. Nature 438, 1148–1150; 2005). But two years later, Trivers began to suspect that the study data had been faked by one of his co-authors, William Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at the time. In seeking a retraction, Trivers self-published The Anatomy of a Fraud, a small book detailing what he saw as evidence of data fabrication. Later, Trivers had a verbal altercation over the matter with a close colleague and was temporarily banned from campus. An investigation of the case, completed by Rutgers and released publicly last month, now seems to validate Trivers’ allegations. Brown disputes the university’s finding, but it could help to clear the controversy that has clouded Trivers’ reputation as the author of several pioneering papers in the 1970s. For example, Trivers advanced an influential theory of ‘reciprocal altruism’, in which people behave unselfishly and hope that they will later be rewarded for their good deeds. He also analysed human sexuality in terms of the investments that mothers and fathers each make in child-rearing.
Steven Pinker, a psychologist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, calls the dancing paper “a lark” and “journalist bait” that lacks a firm basis in theory. “It was cute rather than deep,” he says. But he describes Trivers’ earlier work as “monumental”, and says that it would be a travesty if Trivers became known for one controversial study rather than his wider contributions to evolutionary biology. “Trivers is one of the most important thinkers in the history of the biological and social sciences,” Pinker says.
I played the part of man, and more or less
it came to me quite well. I used deceptions,makeup,
mascara, base, a huge number
of words, for nearly everything is possible
with words, and everything was going well,
life from a suitcase, life on credit, nerves
before a trip, a house, a name and surname,
words, a whole host. I played the part of man,
and I was expert at it. Words like friendship,
father, woman, love, the word betrayal,
the word forgive. I could have forgotten myself,
I could have gotten lost in making words
my body, hands, and heart, little was missing.
Only the dog could tell. He bristled in his sleep.
by Tomaz Rozycki
published in The Hampden Sydney Poetry Review
translation, Mira Rosenthal
Christopher Shea in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
A long-simmering feud between the prominent evolutionary theorist Robert Trivers and a colleague at Rutgers University took a strange turn last month, when Mr. Trivers revealed that he had been banned from the New Brunswick campus for five months last year for violent and threatening behavior.
He says the accusations were trumped up, prompted by his efforts to bring an alleged academic fraud to light. Mr. Trivers says he was allowed back on the campus last fall, provided that he stay at least 20 feet from the office of a colleague he'd argued with.
In "Fraud at Rutgers," an angry post on his Web site last month, he explicitly contrasted his treatment with that of the men's basketball coach, Mike Rice, who—at first—received a mere three-game suspension when the university became aware of his beaning players with basketballs and shouting slurs at them. (Mr. Rice was subsequently fired, in April.)
"Rutgers turns a blind eye to real violence by its basketball coach but uses its antiviolence policy to harass a professor with no violent tendencies but who is acting as a whistle-blower," Mr. Trivers wrote.
Lee Cronk, the anthropology professor from whose office Mr. Trivers has been banned, says that when Mr. Trivers confronted him in March 2012, he felt genuinely disturbed. The university declined to comment on the subsequent investigation, which—according to documents provided by Mr. Trivers in which he responded to the charges—found a pattern of violent or threatening behavior by Mr. Trivers.
The professor's reference to whistle-blowing opens the door to a complex saga of academic infighting, one that involves both substantive and personal issues. Since 2008, Mr. Trivers has contended that one of his six co-authors on a 2005 paper, "Dance Reveals Symmetry Especially in Young Men," published in Nature, had doctored the data, leading to a bogus result.
Ulrika Carlsson in the NYT's The Stone:
Perhaps the most central theme in Soren Kierkegaard’s religious thought is the doctrine of original sin: the idea that we share in some essential human guilt simply by being born. But guilt is an important concept also in Kierkegaard’s secular writings. He thought that the modern era was defined by its concept of guilt. Kierkegaard’s 200th birthday gives us an occasion to assess the modern relevance of his legacy and the viability of his own view of modernity.
Kierkegaard thought of Socrates as the person who first discovered human autonomy — the fact that we are free to determine our own actions and therefore responsible for those actions. This insight undermined the ancient worldview, which found its perfect representation in tragic drama, where characters bring about their own ruin because they are fated to do so. In his 1843 essay “Ancient Tragedy’s Reflection in the Modern,” Kierkegaard grappled with this question partly through an analysis of the work of Sophocles. In the play “Oedipus the King,” the gods have cursed the tragic hero with a fate to commit two terrible crimes.
The curse is visited upon his children, too, including his daughter who in the follow-up play “Antigone” commits a crime of her own. Sophocles thus invites us to think of this curse as something like a hereditary disease, passed on from parents to children.