Friday, April 03, 2015
"Surround Audience" purports to examine "a world in which the effects of technology ... have been absorbed into our bodies and altered our vision of the world ... visual metaphors for the self and subjecthood." Before you bristle — Excuse me, all art does this — not only are there no keyboards, workstations, or websites here, and only one helmet (Daniel Steegmann Mangrané's fantastically alluring depiction of layered linear space), there are, thankfully, no darkened rooms with portentous videos that make you wonder if curators are human beings aware that they're spending fortunes while abusing the curiosity, patience, and humanity of their audience. That's a big leap for the art world. These curators understand, finally, that there's no such thing as "digital art" (certainly no variety that could be defined by the machines it’s made of and through), only art that might be inscribed with its ethos. And while the show includes a tad too much arty-adolescent apocalyptic dystopianism, there's, happily, no annoying, New Age–y, utopian-Zeitgeist babble.
More important, it is full of artists thinking past objects of the digital era and addressing the much weirder experience of actually living in it and recognizing, all the while, that this landscape is already authored by and is us anyway, that there's little distinction anymore between inside and outside, and that engaging with technologies doesn't have to involve a computer, mouse, or iPhone.
The human drive to zap one’s head with electricity goes back at least to antiquity, and was originally satisfied by means of electric fish. “Headache even if it is chronic and unbearable is taken away and remedied forever by a live torpedo placed under the spot that is in pain,” the first-century physician Scribonius Largus wrote. He also used the torpedo, a species of ray native to the Mediterranean, to treat hemorrhoids. In the eleventh century, the Islamic polymath Avicenna reportedly recommended the placement of an electric catfish on the brow to counteract epilepsy. As late as 1762, a Dutch colonist in Guyana wrote that “when a slave complains of a bad headache” he should put one hand on his head and another on a South American electric eel and “will be helped immediately, without exception.”
The invention, in 1745, of the Leyden jar—a device to store static electricity—enabled many new experiments in electrotherapy, not all of them deliberate. In 1783, Jan Ingenhousz, a Dutch scientist, accidentally picked up a charged Leyden jar, causing an explosion that made him temporarily lose his memory, judgment, and ability to read and write. Having found his way home with great difficulty, he went to sleep. He woke to find that his mental faculties had not only returned but had sharpened: “I saw much clearer the difficulties of every thing,” he wrote in a letter to Benjamin Franklin. “What did formerly seem to me difficult to comprehend, was now become of an easy solution.”
Katherine Harmon Courage in Scientific American:
Your gut is the site of constant turf wars. Hundreds of bacterial species—along with fungi, archaea and viruses—do battle daily, competing for resources. Some companies advocate for consuming more probiotics, live beneficial bacteria, to improve microbial communities in our gut, but more and more research supports the idea that the most powerful approach might be to better feed the good bacteria we already harbor. Their meal of choice? Fiber.
Fiber has long been linked to better health, but new research shows how the gut microbiota might play a role in this pattern. One investigation discovered that adding more fiber to the diet can trigger a shift from a microbial profile linked to obesity to one correlated with a leaner physique. Another recent study shows that when microbes are starved of fiber, they can start to feed on the protective mucus lining of the gut, possibly triggering inflammation and disease. "Diet is one of the most powerful tools we have for changing the microbiota," Justin Sonnenburg, a biologist at Stanford University, said earlier this month at a Keystone Symposia conference on the gut microbiome. "Dietary fiber and diversity of the microbiota complement each other for better health outcomes." In particular, beneficial microbes feast on fermentable fibers—which can come from various vegetables, whole grains and other foods—that resist digestion by human-made enzymes as they travel down the digestive tract. These fibers arrive in the large intestine relatively intact, ready to be devoured by our microbial multitudes. Microbes can extract the fiber's extra energy, nutrients, vitamins and other compounds for us. Short-chain fatty acids obtained from fiber are of particular interest, as they have been linked to improved immune function, decreased inflammation and protection against obesity. Today's Western diet, however, is exceedingly fiber-poor by historical standards. It contains roughly 15 grams of fiber daily, Sonnenburg noted. For most of our early history as hunter-gatherers, we were likely eating close to 10 times that amount of fiber each day. "Imagine the effect that has on our microbiota over the course of our evolution," he said.
Ariane Tabatabai in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:
After months of negotiations, Iran and six world powers have finally reached a framework agreement on limiting the country’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. The deal announced on Thursday is intended as the basis for a comprehensive agreement to be worked out by the end of June.
Getting to this agreement was a crucial step, as virtually all technical issues have now been addressed, but much work still remains to be done. The coming months will involve a great deal of legal and political wrangling. In the United States especially, due to anxious allies (Saudi Arabia and Israel) and some domestic opposition (especially among Republicans in Congress), negotiations will keep the White House busy.
Nonetheless, this is a good agreement for both sides, as indicated by some of its key components.
First, most of the public discussion about the negotiations has until now been focused on quantifiable elements, such as the number of centrifuges and amount of low-enriched uranium that Iran gets to keep, and the length of the deal’s implementation. But perhaps the most crucial aspect lies in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) access to Iranian facilities. In the framework deal, Tehran has said it will once again voluntarily implement the Additional Protocol to its existing IAEA safeguards agreement, granting the nuclear watchdog more inspections authority.
Valeriu Nicolae in Eurozine (Photo: Steve Evans. Source: Flickr):
For most politicians and bureaucrats, the social inclusion of Roma is a terrifying and complex issue impossible to solve during a typical five-year term in office. After a sporadic few years of small efforts here and there, and decades of very strong but mainly empty rhetoric, Roma remain the most discriminated-against ethnic group in Europe and the most underrepresented within decision-making structures. Due to a chronic lack of expertise among senior management at the level of national government and inter-governmental institutions, tackling the situation of Roma is seen as a professional quagmire. It is very difficult to envision how the incentives required for conventional political parties to tackle this issue – such as opportunities for fast, impressive results, or electoral gains – could become available.
Paying lip service, preserving the status quo and avoiding controversy are, from a pragmatic point of view, the best career moves for many of the decision-makers involved. For the past two decades, most of the new appointments in high positions dealing with Roma have led to long periods of inaction, sometimes followed by the reinvention, rediscovery and repetition of previous measures. It is not rare for catastrophic approaches disguised as positive practices in sycophantic reports to make their way back on to the table of the new Roma tsars. This points toward the existence of structural racism within those institutions and the very poor standards of professionalism required for occupying these positions.
Accountability for failures or lack of progress in addressing Roma social inclusion is exceptionally rare for many reasons. Whether due to disinterest, or professional inability on the part of member states and inter-governmental institutions, the kinds of systems that can hold people and institutions accountable simply do not exist. Those in charge develop instead the ability to shift or avoid responsibility. Poor civic and political involvement of Roma within European societies results in the inability of Roma to exert sufficient, or any, political or social pressure to make structures and people accountable.
Aaron Brady in New Inquiry:
If you didn’t see it on twitter on facebook a few days ago, you may have seen it somewhere like Buzzfeed: Chinua Achebe has died again. First in 2013, and then again in 2015. First as tragedy and then as farce.
These sorts of things happen, a bit like forest fires. You can track down the place where it started if you want—as the novelist Porochista Khakpour did here—but to understand and predict a forest fire, you need to pay attention to why there was so much dry flammable material waiting for a spark. That spark is eventually going to come, but the fire only goes “viral” if there’s something there to burn.
With Achebe, there was something there to burn. While Facebook and Twitter are excellent vectors for this kind of misinformation, Chinua Achebe is the sort of writer who would die twice. For one thing, he’s a hyper-canonized writer whose sainthood outstrips his actual literary currency: because he is more deeply revered than he is deeply read, one can fall easily into the orthodox reaction to news of his passing—gestures like #RIP—without the encumbrance of a personal relationship to the author himself getting in the way. To a great many people (particularly non-Nigerians), the ideaof Chinua Achebe means a lot more than does the actual writer himself. Their experience of him is socially mediated, and socially mandated: his books are praised, assigned, and mythologized. Sometimes they are also read, but not as often as you’d expect.
Over at Philosophy Bites:
We're all irrational some of the time. Yet many past philosophers have put a great emphasis on human rationality as what sets us apart, and even made it a condition of moral action. In this episode of Philosophy Bites Lisa Bortolotti (@lisabortolotti) explores some different types of irrationality and the implications for human agency.
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Thursday, April 02, 2015
Liza Batkin in n+1 (image via Badlands Unlimited):
EARLY IN CLAUDIA LA ROCCO’S NEW COLLECTION, in a poem entitled “Just go for it, go for it,” she writes: “Some things were accurate and some weren’t, he says. Yes, no, maybe, I dunno. You can’t always trust the people you interview. I mean, you never should.” These halting, doubtful lines introduce a voice far from the one most of La Rocco’s readers will be familiar with, the public voice of the New York Times’ longtime daily dance critic. Here instead is a voice that revises itself within a single chain of thought—yes, no, maybe; can’t always, never should—and tosses authority aside with a slangy “I dunno.”
While a dance critic at the Times, from 2005 until 2012, La Rocco reviewed performances at every dance venue in the city, from Lincoln Center, Dance Theater Workshop, the Kitchen, and Danspace, to the literal underground of subway cars. Her reputation among professional dancers and choreographers is made apparent by her involvement in a variety of collaborative performances, including one with Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener that she writes about in the collection. In 2012 she left her regular dance post and has since written primarily for the theater and book review sections of the Times. She has also continued to write about dance for the Brooklyn Rail and Artforum. The Best Most Useless Dress includes dance reviews and essays that previously appeared in all these publications.
Because it arrives two years after La Rocco’s resignation from the Times dance beat, the collection might seem a gesture of summation. But The Best Most Useless Dress is more than a compilation of old dance reviews; La Rocco has surrounded them with poems and punctuated the writings with photographs and scans of handwritten notes. The result is a strange hybrid of voices and media that provides a unique perspective onto a critic’s concerns.
To ask whether Francis is, or always has been, an advocate of liberation theology is to beg a host of questions, and to rake up the embers of numerous conflagrations in Argentina’s recent past. Ivereigh does indeed make the claim, though in a carefully qualified and calibrated way. In the course of doing so it becomes clear – though one needs to root around in the endnotes for confirmation – that his book is at least in part intended as a comprehensive refutation of an earlier biography by Paul Vallely, another British Catholic journalist, Pope Francis: Untying the knots (reviewed in the TLS, October 10, 2013). Vallely argued that there were, in effect, two different Bergoglios. The young provincial was a conservative, authoritarian figure, intent on imposing discipline and an outmoded style of pre-Vatican II spirituality on a fractious and progressive community of Argentinian Jesuits. Yet in the early 1990s, after a couple of years away from Buenos Aires in Córdoba (where he had been sent by the new provincial to prevent his interfering in the running of the order), Bergoglio underwent a dramatic change of attitudes and values. He returned to the capital as a model of humility, and a campaigning bishop of the poor.
Ivereigh regards this “conversion” narrative as a myth, one designed to allow liberal Catholics “to praise Pope Francis effusively while retaining the right to wag fingers over his supposedly dubious past”. The most serious bone of contention concerns Bergoglio’s conduct during Argentina’s so-called Dirty War, the campaign of secret abduction, torture and murder waged by the military dictatorship in power between 1976 and 1983.
That elements within the Church were, to varying degrees, complicit with the regime is beyond doubt, just as a number of priests and lay Catholics were among its victims; one courageous bishop, Enrique Angelelli, was murdered in a fake road accident.
July 15, 1961
The trouble had begun in the 1950s, when Mohammad Ali Bogra, the prime minister of Pakistan, fell in love with his secretary. No one begrudged the boss, balding and middle aged, his dalliance. He was, after all, a powerful man, adept at making the right impression. When he spoke, it was with just enough British vowels pinned to his Bengali consonants to announce his class, and with just enough stately reserve to proclaim his pedigree. When he put on his neatly tailored suits he added a carefully chosen tiepin or a curious boutonniere: the hint of nonconformity that would lend him an air of (utterly unthreatening) eccentricity.
It could have been predicted—even expected—that such a master of aesthetic arithmetic would wish to sample the best of what was available beyond amenities like cigars and wine. The secretary he romanced was not just any woman shuffling papers, but a white woman, an American, selected by the discerning Mr. Bogra while he served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States before he became prime minister.
Despite his savvy with suits, accent, and politics, in the matters of the heart Mohammad Ali Bogra made a miscalculation. In adding up the delights his new companion could offer, and in glibly remembering that he, as a Muslim and as prime minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, was allowed four such companions, he left out an essential digit.
GS: Could you perhaps take us back to the beginning of the concept of fanaticism and especially the significant conjunction between politics and religion? It has its origin in ancient religious cults, and then it re-emerges in the revolutionary Christian movements in the sixteenth century...
AT: It's a term that originates in ancient Rome to describe certain religious cults, linked to groups that had come to Rome from what we now would call the Middle East or Near Asia. The word fanatic comes from fanum, temple, the same root from which we get profanation, which is of course one of the things that fanatics are said to be particularly obsessed with. Recently one of the main things the Islamic State has been known for is destruction of temples, and the whole question of iconoclasm is also part of this. But fanaticism was originally intended to designate a kind of religion, a seemingly violent or uncontrolled religion of the other. There is an interesting story of false etymology as well; during the Enlightenment, a lot of thinkers presume or project into this idea of fanaticism that which has to do with fantasy, the fantastic and phantasms.
Within the Enlightenment itself, or at least within the eighteenth century's intellectual and philosophical movements that we can link to the Enlightenment, the concept of fanaticism had a whole set of contested and contradictory uses. Among these we identify a popular idea in the 2000s, formative of liberal political thought: the distinction or opposition between tolerance and fanaticism. This is of course the Enlightenment response to the menace of religious wars, and it is at the crux of Voltaire's Treatise on Tolerance, where the philosopher would be on the side of tolerance, and those who tried illegitimately to mix political action with religion would be on the side of fanaticism. Fanaticism is the source of the worst in a society: civil war.
Mike Powell in Grantland:
In November 2001, an unemployed Japanese travel agent named Takako Konishi was found dead outside Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. Nobody knew Konishi was a travel agent, or what she was doing in Detroit Lakes, only that she was young, pretty, and far from home.
About a week earlier, she had checked into a Holiday Inn in Bismarck, North Dakota. The morning after she arrived in Bismarck, a man had seen her wandering around a landfill and offered help. Konishi didn’t speak English, so the man took her to the police, where Konishi showed officers a crudely drawn map of a tree and a road and started repeating a word that soon everyone came to hear as “Fargo.”
Fargo: A city nearly 200 miles east of Bismarck on the border of North Dakota and Minnesota, best known for a 1996 Coen brothers movie in which a car salesman hires two men to kidnap his own wife for ransom. Things go wrong (things always go wrong in Coen brothers films) and one of the men ends up killing the other with an ax after an argument about a 1987 Cutlass Ciera, but not before the ax victim buries the ransom in a briefcase in the snow.
A story about Konishi emerged: Here was a woman who had traveled a very long way under the great misunderstanding that the movie Fargo was real. Only one of the officers at the Bismarck Police Department had seen the movie, which, incidentally, opens with a title card that reads: THIS IS A TRUE STORY.
Read the rest here.
Jacob Brogan in Slate:
When I teach courses on writing, I try to avoid arbitrary rules. Following the late style expert Joseph Williams, I hold that good writing is basically good storytelling. To tell a story well, we need to clearly identify our characters and then show the reader what those characters do. The passive voice makes storytelling more difficult because it hides the characters deep in the sentence—if it shows them at all. On Reddit, Kristin Sainani, an associate professor of health research and policy at Stanford University, took a similar position, arguing that the passive voice “obscures who is responsible for what.” The passive has its place (I used it to open the prior paragraph), but, more often than not, it disrupts the flow of a narrative, making it difficult for the reader to connect one idea to the next.
By contrast, Elliott argues that scientists should use the passive voice in order to highlight their results. She writes, “The main advantage of the passive voice, in my opinion, is that it allows the writer to put the important concepts, ideas, findings, principles, and conclusions first. ...” In other words, the passive voice allows us to discuss discoveries rather than the scientists who discovered them. In theory, it plays an important rhetorical function, because it insists on the factual truth of discoveries by minimizing the role that fallible human subjects play in the equation. Ultimately, however, scientists may be doing themselves a disservice by downplaying their place in the scientific process. Sainani holds that there’s something slightly untrustworthy about passive constructions, writing, “It’s more accurate and honest to say, ‘We found that …’ since this emphasizes the role that the experimenters played in designing, conducting, and interpreting the experiments.”
Heidi Ledford in Nature:
A tweak to a technique that edits DNA with pinpoint precision has boosted its ability to correct defective genes in people. Called CRISPR, the method is already used in the lab to insert and remove genome defects in animal embryos. But the genetic instructions for the machinery on which CRISPR relies — a gene-editing enzyme called Cas9 and RNA molecules that guide it to its target — are simply too large to be efficiently ferried into most of the human body’s cells. This week, researchers report a possible way around that obstacle: a Cas9 enzyme that is encoded by a gene about three-quarters the size of the one currently used.
...Gene-therapy researchers often harness a virus called AAV to shuttle foreign genes into mature human cells. However, most laboratories use a gene encoding the Cas9 protein that is too large to fit in the snug confines of the AAV genome alongside the extra sequences necessary for Cas9 function. Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his colleagues decided to raid bacterial genomes for a solution, because the CRISPR system is derived from a process that bacteria use to snip unwanted DNA sequences out of their genomes. Zhang’s team analysed genes encoding more than 600 Cas9 enzymes from hundreds of bacteria in search of a smaller version that could be packaged in AAV and delivered to mature cells. The gene encoding Cas9 in Staphylococcus aureus — a bacterium best known for causing skin infections and food poisoning — was more than 1,000 DNA letters smaller than the one for the commonly used Cas9. The researchers packed it into AAV along with RNAs that would target the enzyme to modify a cholesterol regulatory gene in the liver. Within a week of injecting mice with the modified virus, the team found that more than 40% of liver cells contained the modified gene.
Over at Rationally Speaking:
Atheists often take it as a given that the world would be better off without religion. But what does the evidence so far really say? In this episode, Massimo and Julia discuss a recent article in the Skeptical Inquirer presenting research that shows a moderate correlation between religiosity and prosocial traits like altruism. Should we doubt the research? And if not, are there other reasons to suspect that religion's net effect on the world is negative?
Neville Morley over at The Sphinx Blog:
The Melian Dialogue in Thucydides has been of interest to game theorists since the earliest development of the field; it was discussed on several occasions by John von Neumann, generally accepted founder of this approach, and it appears in the work of a leading game theorist like Thomas Schelling. It’s entirely understandable: the dialogue presents two sides in a high-stakes, zero-sum conflict, pursuing very different strategies with a limited number of possible outcomes, and – if you want to push the boundaries of game theory a bit further, it also offers interesting examples of how each side seeks to anticipate and influence the decision-making of the other, and raises some fundamental questions of rationality. I fully expect to find lots of other examples when I have time to pursue this theme in depth, but for today I want to focus on one case of a game theoretical discussion of the Dialogue, written by the current Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis (1997; revised version 2014: 262-83). It is in itself an interesting reading of the situation, in relation both to Thucydides and to the normal assumptions of game theory, but there are also some striking implications for the current negotiations between Greece and the EU, especially Germany, which I will consider in the final section.
1. Varoufakis on Thucydides
Varoufakis speaks of Thucydides with familiarity and confidence, and knows him well enough to offer his own translations rather than relying on a standard version. These are generally close to the conventional readings, though with occasional interesting variations. The passages quoted are as follows, in order of their mention:
5.89: On the one hand the principles of justice, encompassed in human reason, hinge on the equal capacity to compel, yet on the other hand, the strong actually do what is possible and the weak suffer what they must.
Varoufakis here echoes (if not follows) Crawley in seeing the weak as ‘suffering’ rather than simply ‘accepting’ what they have to; and is in the tradition of emphasising that the strong ‘do’ what they are able to do rather than, more narrowly, ‘exact’ what they are able to exact. His choice of the phrase ‘encompassed in human reason’ isn’t wholly clear; I feel uncertain whether he wants to emphasise the human element (the idea that, as other translations make clearer, discussions of justice in debased human terms rest on issues of strength and power whereas true, divine justice operates by different rules) or the rational element (which edges into the neo-realist assumption that Thucydides here describes presents lawless anarchy as the true and reasonable state of things, rather than as something to be deplored). Finally, Varoufakis is the only translator I can recall off-hand who seeks to contrast the two parts of the sentence – justice depends on equal power and yet the strong exact and the weak endure – rather than seeing these as consecutive – justice depends on equal power and so the strong exact and the weak endure (i.e. there is no equality and so no justice).
Ramachandra Guha in Caravan Magazine:
THERE IS A PARADOX at the heart of Indian public life today: that while the country has a right-wing party in power, right-wing intellectuals run thin on the ground. This makes India an exception among the world’s established democracies. The United States, the United Kingdom and Germany all have a long lineage of first-rate intellectuals on the right, who continue to provide ballast to parties such as the Republicans in America, the Conservatives in Britain, and the Christian Democrats in Germany. On the other hand, while the Bharatiya Janata Party enjoys political power in India, it can command the support of few well-known or widely published intellectuals.
The shortage became strikingly apparent last August, when Y Sudershan Rao was appointed the chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research. It has further manifested itself in the growing influence over school curricula of Dina Nath Batra. Rao’s publication list is meager—he wrote one little-noticed book 25 years ago, and has no publications in peer-reviewed journals. From the statements he has made since assuming office, it is clear he does not know the difference between fact and fiction, or between history and myth. Batra’s claims to scholarship are even more tenuous. He is of the view that when god made man, he placed the various strands of humanity in an oven—the strain taken out too early became the whites, the strain taken out too late became the blacks, the strain taken out at just the right time became the brown Indians, perfectly coloured and destined thereafter to rule the world.
Both Rao and Batra have long-standing connections with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Although the RSS describes itself as a cultural organisation, it is in fact intensely ideological and deeply political. Its ultimate goal is the construction of a Hindu rashtra, a state run by and for Hindus. The RSS has very close ties with the BJP—as it did with the party’s predecessor, the Jana Sangh—supplying it with cadres, ministers, and an unending stream of advice.
Rao and Batra’s influence over public policy is based not on their claims to scholarship but on the strength of their links to the RSS. Their statements and proposals have attracted a fair amount of criticism, largely merited, in the media. This could have been avoided if, instead of Rao and Batra, the new government had promoted and patronised scholars with political views congenial to the ruling dispensation and with a string of books and research papers to their name. That alternative, alas, was not available, since intellectuals who meet this twin desiderata do not exist.
Wednesday, April 01, 2015
Adam Shatz in the NYT (photo: Ferhat Bouda/Agence Vu, for The New York Times):
What impressed me about Daoud’s writing, both his journalism and his novel, was the fearlessness with which he defended the cause of individual liberty — a fearlessness that, it seemed to me, bordered on recklessness in a country where collectivist passions of nation and faith run high. I wondered whether his experience might provide clues as to the state of intellectual freedom in Algeria, a peculiar hybrid of electoral democracy and police state. Late last year, I had an answer of sorts. Daoud was no longer merely a writer. He was now someone you had to take a side on, in Algeria and in France.
His ordeal began on Dec. 13, during a book tour in France, where “Meursault” received rapturous reviews, sold more than 100,000 copies and came two votes shy of winning the Prix Goncourt, the nation’s most prestigious literary prize. He was on a popular late-night talk show called “On n’est pas Couché” (“We’re Not Asleep”), and he felt, he would tell me later, “as if I had all of Algeria on my shoulders.” He insisted to the French-Lebanese journalist Léa Salamé, one of the guests on the program, that he considered himself an Algerian, not an Arab — a view that’s not uncommon in Algeria, but that is opposed by Arab nationalists. He said that he spoke a distinct language called “Algerian,” not Arabic. He said that he preferred to meet with God on foot, by himself, rather than in an “organized trip” to a mosque, and that religious orthodoxy had become an obstacle to progress in the Muslim world. Daoud said nothing on the program that he hadn’t said in his columns or his novel. But saying it in France, the country that ruled Algeria from 1830 to 1962, got him noticed by people back home who tend to ignore the French-language press.
One of them was an obscure imam named Abdelfattah Hamadache, who had reportedly been an informer for the security services. Three days after Daoud’s appearance on French television, Hamadache wrote on his Facebook page that Daoud — an “apostate” and “Zionized criminal” — should be put on trial for insulting Islam and publicly executed. It was not quite a call for Daoud’s assassination: Hamadache was appealing to the state, not to freelance jihadists. But Algeria is a country in which more than 70 journalists were murdered by Islamist rebels during the civil war of the 1990s, the so-called Black Decade. Those murders were often preceded by anonymous threats in letters, leaflets or graffiti scrawled on the walls of mosques. Hamadache’s “Facebook fatwa,” as it became known, was something new, and uniquely brazen, for being signed in his own name.
William Logan in The New Criterion:
As he recalled it,
I got out of a train at, I think, La Concorde and in the jostle I saw a beautiful face, and then, turning suddenly, another and another, and then a beautiful child’s face, and then another beautiful face. All that day I tried to find words for what this made me feel. That night as I went home along the rue Raynouard I was still trying. I could get nothing but spots of colour. I remember thinking that if I had been a painter I might have started a wholly new school of painting. . . . Only the other night, wondering how I should tell the adventure, it struck me that in Japan, where a work of art is not estimated by its acreage and where sixteen syllables are counted enough for a poem if you arrange and punctuate them properly, one might make a very little poem which would be translated about as follows:—
“The apparition of these faces in the crowd :
Petals on a wet, black bough.”
—“How I Began,” T.P.’s Weekly, June 6, 1913
Early in March 1911, Ezra Pound arrived in Paris. By late May he had moved on. The specters in the Métro obviously haunted him. The lines were finished by fall the following year, when he sent Poetry a batch of poems that, he hoped, would “help to break the surface of convention.” When these “Contemporania” were published at the head of the April 1913 issue, the poem appeared in this fashion:
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd : Petals on a wet, black bough .
The first thing striking about the couplet is the subject—beauty discovered underground.
Emily Anthes in Nature:
In 2009, a major California hospital was looking for ways to cut costs. Stanford Hospital and Clinics was on track that year to purchase nearly US$6.8 million worth of blood for transfusions. But a growing body of evidence was suggesting that physicians could often forego the procedure. So, beginning in July 2010, whenever a clinician used the hospital's computerized ordering system to request blood, it would call up the patient's most recent lab results. If the numbers indicated that she or he should be healthy enough to get by without a transfusion, an alert would pop onto the screen gently reminding the doctor of the guidelines and requesting further justification for the order.
The results, detailed in two papers published in the past 18 months1, 2, were dramatic. The number of red-blood-cell transfusions dropped by 24% between 2009 and 2013, representing an annual savings of $1.6 million in purchasing costs alone. And as transfusion rates fell, so did mortality, average length of stay and the number patients who needed to be readmitted within 30 days of a transfusion. By simply asking doctors to think twice about transfusions, the hospital had not only reduced costs, but also improved patient outcomes. Transfusions are common procedures, at least in developed nations. In 2011, US doctors transfused 21 million units of blood and blood products; in the United Kingdom, the number was nearly 3 million. But although transfusions can be lifesaving, they are often unnecessary and are sometimes even harmful. “I think we were kind of brainwashed into thinking that blood saves lives, and the more you give the better,” says Steven Frank, an anaesthesiologist and director of the blood-management programme at the Johns Hopkins Health System in Baltimore, Maryland. “We've gone 180 degrees, and now we think that less is more.”
From Jam Tarts:
How has your experience as a professor of creative writing and literature influenced your personal tastes? How has what you've taught – and perhaps who you've taught – over the years challenged or even transformed your sense of what’s pleasing and what’s not?
RP: For years I've required the young poets in my MFA workshop to compile an anthology: 36 pages that show what you mean by the words “poem” or “poetry.” Ideally, typed up by hand. The students learn from the exercise – sometimes typing something they didn't realize they liked, sometimes beginning to type something they thought they liked, then abandoning it.
A kind of secret function of that exercise has been to develop and expand my taste. The student anthologies are scouts for me, keeping my taste limber, I think. Sometimes, there’s the plausible mediocrity that the young poets (or their teachers) are reading in a particular decade, or lustrum, or year. But sometimes I get some free education. Not only contemporary finds (it may have been in one of those anthologies that I first read a poem by Terrance Hayes or Katie Peterson) but poets translated from other languages. And re-discoveries: some very hip, rather experimental young poet types out “Lycidas” and I realize I’ve sort of underestimated it as a dusty, ornate perennial.
From The Scientist:
Growing old is a fact of life. And there’s no mistaking it, given the increased fatigue, weakened bones, and ill health that generally accompany aging. Indeed, age is the number one risk factor for myriad diseases, including Alzheimer’s, cancer, cataracts, and macular degeneration. And while researchers are making progress in understanding and treating each of these ailments, huge gaps remain in our understanding of the aging process itself.
“We age so completely and in so many different ways,” says stem cell biologist Derrick Rossi of Harvard University. “We are programmed to die.”
The aging process can be traced down to the level of cells, which themselves die or enter senescence as they age, and even to the genomic level. Accumulation of mutations and impairments in DNA repair processes are highly associated with symptoms of aging. In fact, disorders that cause premature aging are typically caused by mutations in genes involved in the maintenance of our DNA. And at the cellular level, decreases in stem cells’ proliferative abilities, impairments in mitochondrial function, and proneness to protein misfolding can all contribute to aging. As scientists continue to detail these various processes, says Paul Robbins of the Scripps Research Institute, “the big question is, ‘At what step along all these pathways is the best place to intervene to try to promote healthy aging?’”
While diverse strategies—from caloric restriction to genetic manipulation—have proven to extend life span in model organisms in the lab, these animals are not necessarily enjoying longer periods of health. (See “Quantity or Quality?”) In the end, researchers studying aging must learn not just how to extend life, but how to prevent age-related disease and physical decline.
Nicholas Fitz in Scientific American:
In a candid conversation with Frank Rich last fall, Chris Rock said, "Oh, people don’t even know. If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets." The findings of three studies, published over the last several years inPerspectives on Psychological Science, suggest that Rock is right. We have no idea how unequal our society has become.
In their 2011 paper, Michael Norton andDan Ariely analyzed beliefs about wealth inequality. They asked more than 5,000 Americans to guess the percentage of wealth (i.e., savings, property, stocks, etc., minus debts) owned by each fifth of the population. Next, they asked people to construct their ideal distributions. Imagine a pizza of all the wealth in the United States. What percentage of that pizza belongs to the top 20% of Americans? How big of a slice does the bottom 40% have? In an ideal world, how much should they have?