Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Umer Abrar in Physics-Astronomy:
Scientists have picked up an atypical photon emission in X-rays coming from space, and say it could be evidence for the existence of a particle of dark matter. The signal comes from a very rare event in the Universe: a photon emitted due to the destruction of a hypothetical particle, possibly a "sterile neutrino". If the discovery is confirmed, it will open up new avenues of research in particle physics. "It could usher in a new era in astronomy," says Oleg Ruchayskiy at Leiden University . "Confirmation of this discovery may lead to construction of new telescopes specially designed for studying the signals from dark matter particles. We will know where to look in order to trace dark structures in space and will be able to reconstruct how the Universe has formed."
The image is of the center of the galaxy taken by the Fermi space telescope, all known gamma-ray sources have been removed, revealing excess emissions that may arise from dark matter annihilations.
Could there finally be tangible evidence for the existence of dark matter in the Universe? After sifting through reams of X-ray data, scientists in EPFL's Laboratory of Particle Physics and Cosmology (LPPC) and Leiden University believe they could have identified the signal of a particle of dark matter.
William Dalrymple travels to the Deccan Plains of India to trace the romantic love affair between a British diplomat and a young Muslim princess
So, the first paradox is that those countries, which, after half-a-century of confinement, consider the greatest achievement of the 1989 revolutions to be freedom of movement, now refuse to apply that principle to non-Europeans. Whilst, for twenty years, they have been enthusiastic about globalization (the slogan for the Czech presidency of the EU in 2009 was "Europe without barriers"), today they are calling for a "Europe that protects" (the slogan of the French presidency in 2008). The second paradox is that, once upon a time, the pro-democracy uprisings in central and eastern Europe that were put down by Moscow gave rise to waves of refugees. More than 200,000 Hungarians fled from the Soviet tanks in 1956 and found a welcome in Austria and subsequently in the rest of Europe to which no one objected. The same occurred with the Czechs and Slovaks after the 1968 invasion and the Poles after 1981, when the repressive regime was bearing down on the Solidarnosc movement. But what now? Is this amnesia or is solidarity supposed to remain solely intra-European?
There are two factors that help us to better understand the situation as seen from the "Other Europe". Historically, the countries of central and eastern Europe have, since the end of the nineteenth century, been lands of emigration and not immigration. Since 1989, almost one million Poles, Slovaks and citizens of the Baltic States have arrived in the United Kingdom and northern Europe. Romania and Bulgaria have seen about fifteen per cent of their population leave for southern EU countries. But, most importantly, these nations were built on the ruins of multi-national empires (Hapsburg, Ottoman, Russian); they began as nation-states that were nothing of the kind.
Isaiah Berlin had no very high opinion of his contribution to human thought. Writing in 1978 to the psychoanalyst Anthony Storr, he confessed, ‘Every line I have ever written and every lecture I have ever delivered seems to me of very little or no value.’ Nor did Berlin attach any great importance to the publication of his ideas. Partly this indifference reflected an academic culture – now barely remembered – in which the ‘publish or perish’ imperative did not exist. In the Oxford Berlin knew as a student and as a young fellow at New College and All Souls, building up a large corpus of published work tended to be seen as testimony to careerism or vanity rather than commitment to scholarship. Something of this attitude lasted into the Seventies, and it was only in the Eighties and Nineties that a cult of productivity fully took hold. Today, with universities labouring under a regime in which research and publication are monitored continuously, it is doubtful whether someone like Berlin would be able to find and keep an academic position in Britain.
Henry Hardy became Berlin’s editor in 1974. There can be no doubt that, without Hardy’s stimulus and more than forty years of tireless dedication, few of the twenty-odd volumes of Berlin’s writings that are in print would ever have seen the light of day. Certainly Berlin’s letters would not have been published. That would have been a pity since, as Hardy and his coeditor, Mark Pottle, write in the preface to this fourth and final volume, Berlin’s correspondence is an ‘integral part of hisoeuvre’. Extending up to the days before his death, this collection shows Berlin responding to a succession of world events: the rise of Thatcher and Reagan, IRA terrorism, the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Falklands War, the formation of Solidarity in Poland, the emergence of Gorbachev and the fall of the Berlin Wall, among others.
In his varied career, Willem Dafoe has played Jesus Christ (inThe Last Temptation of Christ) and the Nosferatu actor Max Schreck (in Shadow of the Vampire). He brings elements of both to the title role of Pasolini. Dafoe is as close a physical fit to the Italian poet, writer and film-maker as is possible without recourse to CGI. The craggy face, noble yet reptilian, is lined with deep bedsheet creases; the cheekbones could double as bookshelves. He also wears Pier Paolo Pasolini’s actual glasses (thick frames, tinted lenses), which transform him into something part-mechanical. We can only nod in agreement when he delivers one of his gospels to a journalist: “There are no more human beings, only strange machines colliding towards each other.”
He is referring to consumerism, which has turned people into personifications of appetite. We have, he claims, become “sinister gladiators trained to have, possess and destroy”. Pasolini is rightly remembered for his films, which located spiritual salvation in lives that would otherwise be considered unremarkable, even coarse – the pimps and petty hoods of Accattone, the former prostitute trying to save her wayward son in Mamma Roma. Those who have never seen a frame of his work may still be familiar with the circumstances of his death: beaten savagely on a beach in Ostia by a 17-year-old rent boy and unidentified others, who proceeded to run him over with his own car.
Holly Black in theFword:
Hidden away from the Royal Geographical Society’s main gallery site, a modest exhibition depicting the fascinating history of India’s tawa’if is prefaced by gorgeous sound recordings made by Fred Gaisberg, one of the first North Americans to travel to India in the early 20th century and document its diverse musical cultures. As talented vocalists, dancers and usually multi-instrumentalists, tawa’ifs enjoyed unsurpassable fame, socio-economic standing and political leverage as members of a cultural elite reserved for the entertainment of the royal courts. Such a position allowed these women to elude normal patriarchal dominance, but fell victim to new moral constraints imposed by colonial rule which considered such practices to have dangerous, sexually charged motivations. Nowadays, the term tawa’if is more likely to be considered synonymous with prostitution.
The Royal Geographical Society seeks to present the rise and fall of these women over the course of 300 years, from the Mughal period to present day, which is an incredible ask for even the most comprehensive exhibition programme. This display is small, featuring a number of informative texts that attempt to present anecdote alongside complex explanations of various artistic styles and their provenance and evolution over several centuries. Although the content itself is fascinating, there appears to be no clear narrative overview, resulting in a frustrating and slightly incomprehensible patchwork that often leaves you darting from one wall text to another in the hope of unravelling this complex web of information.
Frans de Waal in The New York Times:
ATLANTA — WHEN I learned last week about the discovery of an early human relative deep in a cave in South Africa, I had many questions. Obviously, they had dug up a fellow primate, but of what kind? The fabulous find, named Homo naledi, has rightly been celebrated for both the number of fossils and their completeness. It has australopithecine-like hips and an ape-size brain, yet its feet and teeth are typical of the genus Homo.
The mixed features of these prehistoric remains upset the received human origin story, according to which bipedalism ushered in technology, dietary change and high intelligence. Part of the new species’ physique lags behind this scenario, while another part is ahead. It is aptly called a mosaic species. We like the new better than the old, though, and treat every fossil as if it must fit somewhere on a timeline leading to the crown of creation. Chris Stringer, a prominent British paleoanthropologist who was not involved in the study, told BBC News: “What we are seeing is more and more species of creatures that suggests that nature was experimenting with how to evolve humans, thus giving rise to several different types of humanlike creatures originating in parallel in different parts of Africa.” This represents a shockingly teleological view, as if natural selection is seeking certain outcomes, which it is not. It doesn’t do so any more than a river seeks to reach the ocean. News reports spoke of a “new ancestor,” even a “new human species,” assuming a ladder heading our way, whereas what we are actually facing when we investigate our ancestry is a tangle of branches. There is no good reason to put Homo naledi on the branch that produced us. Nor does this make the discovery any less interesting.
Browse the nominees in the list below and then go to the bottom of the post to vote.
Alphabetical list of nominated blog names followed by the blog post title:
(Please report any problems with links in the comments section below.)
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- 3 Quarks Daily: Artificially Flavored Intelligence
- 3 Quarks Daily: Fearing Artificial Intelligence
- 3 Quarks Daily: On Optimal Paths & Minimal Action
- 3 Quarks Daily: Randomness: the Ghost in the Machine?
- 3 Quarks Daily: The Monarch Butterflies
- Activist Teacher: Self-Image-Incongruence Theory of Individual Health
- Andrew Silver: Mo'orea Scavenger Hunt
- Bekka S. Brodie: How Blow Flies find Corpses
- Collide-a-Scape: No Love in Boulder for Colorado’s GMO Labeling Proposition
- Companion Animal Psychology: How Does a Dog's Brain Respond to the Smell of a Familiar Human?
- Curious Wavefunction: The fundamental philosophical dilemma of chemistry
- Earth Touch News: What Other Animals Have Taught Us About Human Uniqueness
- Empirical Zeal: How a 19th Century Math Genius Taught Us the Best Way to Hold a Pizza Slice
- European Geosciences Union: The Oldest Eurypterid
- Excursion Set: Destiny's Child
- ImaGeo: New NASA Visualization Shows Carbon Dioxide Emissions Swirling Around the World
- Invariance: 3 myths of physics, especially in textbooks
- IO9: Your Guide to Pluto: Everything We've Learned From New Horizons So Far
- Los Angeles Review of Books: Three Physicists Try Philosophy
- Nautilus: Intemperate Planet: How Natural Systems Magnify the Effects of Global Warming
- Nautilus: The Sound So Loud That It Circled the Earth Four Times
- Neurobabble: Masters of deception: how spiders trick ants
- No Place Like Home: When Hubble Stared at Nothing for 100 Hours
- Nova Next: From Discovery to Dust
- One Universe at a Time: Another Brick in the Wall
- Preposterous Universe: Why Is There Dark Matter?
- Psych Central: Feeling Bipolar Disorder In Your Gut
- PsySociety: Decoding Trump-Mania (scroll down after following link for parts 2 and 3)
- Roots of Unity: The Saddest Thing I Know about the Integers
- Rosin Cerate: Bezoars are gross bits of gunk that get stuck in your guts
- Scicurious: Serotonin and the science of sex
- Science: Ants have group-level personalities, study shows
- Science Friday: Sunshine Recorder
- Science Sushi: Four-Legged Snake Shakes Up Squamate Family Tree – Or Does It?
- Scientist Sees Squirrel: Two creatures named “merianae”
- Skulls in the Stars: Infinite hotels in swirling beams of light
- Social Pulses: The public subsidy of scientific publishing monopolies
- Space Age Archaeology: Shadows on the Moon: an ephemeral archaeology
- Starts With A Bang: CONFIRMED: The Last Great Prediction Of The Big Bang!
- Starts With A Bang: Is the Multiverse Science?
- The Loom: Editing Human Embryos: So This Happened
- Thinking of Things: All I Didn't Know About Cancer
- Thinking of Things: The Pain in the Brain Game
- Tycho's Nose: The Kilogram turns 125
- Tycho's Nose: The largest dinosaur ever found – and subsequently lost again
- Wait But Why: The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence
- Why Evolution Is True: A gynandromorph moth comes to the light – and tells a story about science
- Wired: Glowing Tampons Help Detect Sewage Leaks
- Wired: Tambora 1815: Just How Big Was The Eruption?
- Wired: When a Giant Asteroid Impact Created Its Own Magma
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Voting ends on September 18th at 11:59 pm NYC time.
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Monday, September 14, 2015
3 Quarks Daily asked a number of writers, artists, scientists, scholars, and public intellectuals to give us brief personal reflections on the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe and other places. The following have sent their thoughts and their responses are below in the order in which we received them:
- Feisal Hussain Naqvi
- Robert Pinsky
- Frans B. M. de Waal
- Mohsin Hamid
- Amitava Kumar
- Gerald Dworkin
- Simon During
- Pablo Policzer
- Ejaz Haider
- Huw Price
- Laila Lalami
- Kenan Malik
- Justin E. H. Smith
Feisal Hussain Naqvi
There, but for the grace of God...
In August 1947, my father’s family left behind all their belongings and fled to Pakistan, huddled on the top of a train. They were refugees.
In December 1947, my mother and her family were in what is now Slovenia. On the day after Christmas, they decided to make a run for Austria. Fortunately for them, the guards were too busy celebrating to notice my mother and her siblings creep across the border.
I am not just the child of two refugees. I am the child of two long lines of refugees.
My father’s family are Syeds, descendants of the Prophet. The family tree treasured by my father shows a path from Arabia to Iraq to Central Asia to Iran to India and then finally, to what is now Pakistan.
My mother’s father came from solid Germanic stock. But my mother’s mother came from a family which had converted from Judaism. While my father’s ancestors had been moving eastwards, my mother’s ancestors had headed westwards.
Given that anthropologists have fairly solid grounds for tracing humanity’s common roots back to the Olduvai Gorge in Kenya, it follows that everybody residing outside East Africa moved there at one point in time. In other words, at one time or another, we have all been refugees. If not us, then our parents. And if not them, then their parents. We would do well to remember that simple fact the next time we respond to the misery of others with anything other than compassion or empathy.
Feisal Hussain Naqvi studied Islamic history at Princeton before going on to study law at Yale. He is an advocate of the supreme court of Pakistan, as well as a columnist for various newspapers.
There's always a wagon or at least a wheelbarrow
full of treasures (a quilt, a silver cup,
the fading scent of home),
a car out of gas marooned in a ditch,
a horse (soon left behind), snow, a lot of snow,
too much snow, too much sun, too much rain,
and always that special slouch
as if leaning toward another, better planet,
with less ambitious generals,
less snow, less wind, fewer cannons,
less History (alas, there's no
such planet, just that slouch).
That phrase "less History" with its capital letter, and "less ambitious generals" . . .
Robert Pinsky is an American poet, essayist, literary critic, and translator. From 1997 to 2000, he served as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Pinsky is the author of nineteen books, most of which are collections of his poetry. He teaches at Boston University.
Frans B. M. de Waal
Social Darwinism may be dismissed as old hat, a leftover of the Victorian era, but it's still very much with us. A 2007 column by David Brooks in The New York Times ridiculed governmental support of the needy: "From the content of our genes, the nature of our neurons and the lessons of evolutionary biology, it has become clear that nature is filled with competition and conflicts of interest."1 Conservatives love to think this, but it is not always how nature works. Nature is full of cooperative species. Taking care of each other, including sometimes outsiders, is part of the equation.
The refugee crisis is a test of the role of empathy in public policy. Do we care enough about the lives of other humans to welcome those who flee brutal warfare? There is always more involved than empathy, however. Empathy is a well-developed trait in most humans, but one that is conditional. It is subject to calculations and filters. We cannot empathize with everyone and everything equally. So apart from the "humane" reaction (a term based on the assumption that we are the only empathic species, which my work shows is false, since I consider empathy a general mammalian characteristic), there is also the more practical question of how we are going to take care of so many people and if there are alternatives, such as removing the causes for their migration.
The whole political dance around the topic is part of a long tradition of empathy affecting public policy. Another good example is the abolition of slavery (Abraham Lincoln was rather explicit about this), and also the healthcare debate in the US is one of empathy, asking the question how much we care about the health of low income citizens. Empathy is a major but poorly appreciated voice in political decision-making, and the glue of any society, even though it is never the only consideration, and always mixed with more hard-nosed economic and political considerations. The European Union is right to listen to this voice, and to counter xenophobic tendencies, which unfortunately are also part of human nature.
1David Brooks "Human Nature Redux" (New York Times, 17 February, 2007).
Frans B. M. de Waal is the Charles Howard Candler professor of Primate Behavior in the Emory University psychology department in Atlanta, Georgia, and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center.
by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse
Hypocrite: A father advises his daughter not to smoke, since it is addictive and causes lung disease. However, the father himself is a heavy smoker. And the daughter cannot help but notice this and point out her father's hypocrisy. On this basis, she rejects her father's advice.
Waffler: A candidate for public office has spoken on some issue many times, but her articulated view has changed over that time. Years ago, she was a staunch critic of some policy, but now she has come to support it. Her opponent seizes on this and points out her waffling on the matter. He holds that her inconsistency indicates that she is unprincipled.
Tu Quoque arguments are ad hominem strategies of criticism wherein a speaker's conclusion is criticized on the basis of the fact that the speaker has a record of inconsistency with the conclusion. The tu quoque may take the form of charges of hypocrisy when someone affirms a practical proposal that she has regularly failed to follow. The tu quoque also can arise when a speaker has not consistently held or articulated the same view in the relevantly similar contexts; the charge of flip-flopping is hence a version of the tu quoque. Given that tu quoque arguments belong to the ad hominem family, it is commonly held that tu quoque arguments are intrinsically fallacious; they are thought to suffer from failures of relevance. The fact that someone is a hypocrite doesn't mean he's wrong, and that someone's views have changed doesn't mean she isn't well-informed or worth hearing.
We've discussed elsewhere (here and here) the ways in which relevance problems for certain versions of the tu quoque might be resolved. Sometimes, it is indeed relevant that someone is a hypocrite or has an inconsistent track record on an issue; those facts may show that the person is insincere or has ideas that are not practicable. However, there is yet a further form of tu quoque argument which, given the right circumstances, is not only relevant, but presents exactly the correct critical point.
the sheer brilliance of this game’s hook
it’s an homage to collision,
a demo derby of organs and bones,
of fans psyched to see some player’s
near-death experience, a feint game
of fine footwork leading to
victory through the skill to maim
all underlain with clever strategies
and agile trickers
backed by large men
and place kickers,
a mashup of history,
current events and premonition
played in ten yard lunges
down fields of broken bones,
bruised brains and
by Paul Braterman
Darrow: Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife?
Bryan: No, sir; I leave the agnostics to hunt for her.
Both sides, I will argue, were long-term loses in this exchange. But why were such matters being discussed in a Tennessee court of law in the first place?
The story so far: An extraordinary case indeed, where a school teacher, with the encouragement of his own superintendent, volunteers to go on trial in the State court for the crime of teaching from the State's approved textbook, and where that same superintendent will be the first witness called against him. And where a mere misdemeanour case, with a maximum penalty of $500, would attract the participation of William Jennings Bryan, former US Secretary of State, and Clarence Darrow, America’s most famous trial lawyer and agnostic.
In the run-up to the case, we even have the involvement of Billy Sunday, possibly the greatest of all pre-television evangelists, whose 18 day crusade in Memphis, Tennessee, was attended by some 200,000 people. Billy Sunday told his audiences that Darwin was an infidel: "To hell with the Modernists. Education today is chained to the devil's throne. Teach evolution? Teaching about pre-historic man? No such thing as prehistoric man." (Billy Sunday aimed at a wide public. He hosted a "Negro Night", which 15,000 attended. There was also a Klan Night.)
The facts were not in dispute. Scopes had of course taught evolution, although the law said he shouldn't. So it was really the law itself that was on trial. The ACLU was hoping to prove it unconstitutional because unreasonable, ambiguous, and an affront to freedom of conscience. Unreasonable because it opposed established science. Ambiguous because the Bible, to which it referred, was itself open to numerous interpretations. And an affront to freedom of conscience, because it imposed a preference for one religion (Christianity), and indeed one school of thought (the Fundamentalist) within that religion. These arguments were, according to the defence, fatal flaws in the prosecution indictment, which should therefore be quashed. The judge, however, was determined not to issue a ruling of that nature, and ordered the case to proceed. Now read on.
The defence case built on the above arguments. According to their interpretation of the statute, in order to be guilty Scopes would have had to do two separate things; (a) teach that humans were descended from lower animals, and (b) by that teaching, contradict the Bible. But the exact text of the Bible, how it should be understood, and even which books should be included in it were matters of controversy. The Bible was not a science textbook, and
[T]here is no more justification for imposing the conflicting views of the Bible on courses of biology than there would be for imposing the views of biologists on courses of comparative religion. We maintain that science and religion embrace two separate and distinct fields of thought and learning.
by Jonathan Kujawa
One hundred and fifty years ago atoms were mysterious things. They could only be studied indirectly. We knew about their interactions with each other as a gas, the frequencies of light they prefer to absorb and emit, and various other properties. Nowadays we can capture the image of a single hydrogen atom, but back then atoms could only be understood through the shadows they cast in the macro world.
At the time two explanations were in vogue. The atomists went with the ancient Greeks and viewed atoms as small billiard balls clacking against each other as they moved through empty space. This point of view worked great for explaining the behavior of gases, but didn't help much in explaining the intrinsic properties observed by chemists. On the other hand, the followers of the theory of Boscovich, an eighteenth century Jesuit, thought that atoms were points of force which alternately repelled and attracted each other depending on how close they were. This theory held promise for explaining the electromagnetic properties of atoms, but it also had its drawbacks.
On February 18, 1867 William Thomson (aka Lord Kelvin) read out his paper "Vortex Atoms" to the assembled members of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In it he suggested a novel alternative to these two theories.
As everyone knew at the time, the universe was permeated by the luminiferous ether. Light traveled as a wave even through "empty" space and, well, waves travel through something, so what was that something? Luminiferous ether! It was a beautiful idea, but eventually the evidence piled up against the ether. The Michaelson-Morley experiment put a stake through its heart in 1887.
But in 1867 the luminiferous ether was widely considered a standard feature of the physical world. Taking his inspiration from recent work in hydrodynamics and, presumably, a fine pipe of tobacco, Lord Kelvin realized that instead of viewing atoms and the ether as two separate things, we could instead think of atoms as vortices in the ether itself. Specifically, he thought of each atom as a knotted tubular shape:
His theory neatly explained a wide variety of atomic phenomena. The rich variety of possible knots justified the wide variety of atoms, the fact that the type of knot is unchanged under small perturbations (after all, you can't turn the knots in Lord Kelvin's table from one into another without applying real violence) explains the robust stability of atoms, and knots will clearly vibrate at different frequencies from one another and so will naturally prefer to absorb and emit light energy at differing levels. For example, Thomson thought the two linked circles in the lower left might be the sodium atom because of sodium's two spectral lines.
Martin Wehmer. Woman in Green. 2014.
by Jalees Rehman
Some years ago, I was enveloped by the desire to see our children grow up to be poets. I used to talk to them about poetic metaphors, rhymes and read to them excerpts from the biographies of famous poets. When the kids were learning about haikus at school, I took the opportunity to pontificate on the controversies surrounding the 5-7-5 syllable counts and the difficulties of imposing classic Japanese schemes on the English language, which abounds in diphthongs and long syllables.
The feedback from our children was quite mixed, ranging from polite questions such as "Do you know how long this will take?" to less polite snores. I had apparently not yet succeeded in my attempts to awaken their inner poet.
Our younger son was about eight years old, when we found out about a wonderful opportunity to inculcate the love of literature into our children: The Chicago Printers Row Literature Festival! I was especially excited by the fact that they would have a special "Lil' Lit" area, just for children. I convinced the whole family to go - promising to reward each kid with $5 if they accompanied us. I hoped that my poetry monologues had prepared the children for the poetic muses that they would encounter at the festival.
Even though it was early June, Chicago was experiencing one of its rare June Gloom weekends with cloudy, drizzly weather and frosty breezes. After exiting the parking garage, our kids tried to renegotiate the promised $5 reward in light of the unpleasant weather. I brushed off their whining and charged towards the long-awaited beacon of literary pleasure.
by Brooks Riley
(I began writing this article months ago, long before the refugee crisis.)
--Guten Morgen! (Good morning!)
--Morgen zusammen! (Morning, you two!)
--Morgen Ihr zwei! (Morning, you two!)
--Kalimera! (Morning, in Greek)
--Servus! (Hi or bye, in leftover Latin from upper Bavaria)
--Buenos Dias! (Morning, in Spanish)
--Tag! (Good day, in North German)
--Einen wunderschönen guten Morgen! (A beautiful good morning!)
This is how my day begins. R and I sit at one of two tables in front of the wee Greek café on a shady street in the Giesing neighborhood of Munich. Like the proverbial all-weather postman, we show up every day, sit outside, smoke cigarettes, share a Zimtschnecke (a kind of cinnamon bun), drink cappuccinos, and watch the world go by—quite literally.
Giesing, with its Obergiesing and Untergiesing, is a now a melting pot of Munich—a quiet oasis of multicultural harmony. It's always been a working-class neighborhood, not frequented by the grand, but also not ignored by the city fathers. Its 5-story balconied apartment complexes are spaciously nestled in lush green landscapes and along tree-lined streets. A vast elegant park provides meadows for dogs that need exercise and people who want a solitary walk or a picnic or a meditative sit on one of the many benches. Franz Beckenbauer, the second most famous German after Goethe, comes from Giesing, a paradise for families with limited means, born of functional, benign socialism, and a model of integration.
I've been sheltered all my life, isolated by acreage or a fine address. Even in New York, where I used to live, there was never a neighborhood feeling, even on the Upper West Side. New York is too big. The chances of seeing the same person on the street on consecutive days are slim. The chances of speaking to a stranger are nil. Los Angeles is worse--no one walks at all.
In Giesing, we know nearly everyone who passes by the café between 6:30 and 8 a.m. Even if they don't stop to chat, they nod or greet us warmly. They come in all shapes, ages and backgrounds—from Africa, South America, Turkey, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Germany.
by Dwight Furrow
Wine is useless. It bakes no bread, does no work, and solves no problem. The alcohol loosens tongues and serves as social lubricant, but wine is an inefficient delivery system for alcohol—there are faster, cheaper ways of getting drunk. No one needs wine. Wine does nothing but give pleasure.
Love of wine is thus a useless passion, an arena of pure play, but therein lies its peculiar power. It joins the realm of those objects that express rather than perform--objects like old musical instruments, ancient manuscripts, childhood toys, or Grandma's jewelry. Useless but precious because of the experiences they enable.
When we are consumed by a useless passion, we become more attuned to the allusive meanings and hidden dimensions of the object of love. The object acquires an aura of mystery when unmoored from practical function and can serve as a universal talisman to which all sorts of meanings can be attached. Those moments in which we experience a useless passion and grasp the intrinsic, non-instrumental value of things are not only moments of pleasure but moments in which we glimpse a world of the imagination yet one in which matter resists conceptualization, the hard surfaces of reality resist manipulation because they have their own capacities and developmental direction, and meaning expands beyond what can be calculated or measured.
Among objects of love, wine has its own peculiar attractions. Wine, when considered aesthetically, brings traces of the sacred to our lives that are otherwise thoroughly enmeshed in practical tasks. The demand to slow down and savor opens a time and space in which we can be receptive to multiple ways of understanding the interplay between nature and culture because wine partakes of both.
by Brooks Riley
I can't recall now where I originally found this, but several years ago I stumbled on an interesting Japanese translation for the words shalom and salaam.
1) 平和 (対国、対神、対人) ・・・和平、和解 Peace (no conflict; no fighting)
2) 平安 (個人的)・・・平穏、無事、安心、安全 Inner peace and calm; no inner trouble
3) 繁栄 (商業的) Flourishing (business)
4) 健康 (肉体的、精神的) ・・・健全、成熟 Physical health
5) 充足 (生命的) ・・・満足、生きる意欲 Satisfaction, fullness, sufficiency
6) 知恵 (学問的) ・・・悟り、霊的開眼 Enlightenment, wisdom
7) 救い (宗教的) ・・・暗闇から愛の支配へ To be saved (by Love)
8) 勝利 (究極的) ・・・罪と世に対する勝利 Triumph (over evil)
Does shalom and salaam really embody all that the Japanese translator was suggesting above? I have no idea, but the proposed translation really struck me, I felt it captured the wonderfully generous spirit of hospitality that I experienced in the Middle East.
Like the Pax in the Catholic liturgy
Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum (The peace of the Lord be with you always)
It is a sign of goodwill for the other. But it is also, I am told, a reminder that we cannot flourish in the eyes of God unless we recognize him in the people around us. This greeting dates to very early times in the Christian church and is an ancient practice informed by the hospitality codes that have such deep roots in the cultures of the Middle East (among other places).
And best of all, it is traditionally delivered with a kiss on the cheek.
Almost two years ago to the day, I wrote here in these pages about what I considered to be the delusional liberal response to the crisis in Syria.
It was at that time that I became utterly fascinated by Derrida and Levinas' "ethic of hospitality."
Derrida's work on this subject is rooted firmly in the work of the Lithuanian-born French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. But Levinas himself was responding to --who else?-- Heidegger.
(All roads lead to Heidegger).
Ah, herr Heidegger--he was so brilliant and yet how could a philosophical system that great have gone that awry? Levinas, who was Jewish, had a particularly strong complaint on this count.
Where did Heidegger go wrong? It is one of the great problems of modern Continental philosophy.
"For the people are all in all."
~ Herodotus III.80.
Last month I reviewed a small but representative selection of instances of Internet vigilantism. Whether we are talking about Cecil the Lion or Justine Sacco, the causes and the consequences may vary, but they share several characteristics, such as the speed with which events unfolded, and their very real-life consequences, such as ruined careers. But I elided the subtler mechanics of why these instances actually occur. Put another way, what gives rise to the mob in the first place? So, in a time-honored essayistic maneuver, I will revert to that quasi-mythical place Where All Things Began, aka ancient Greece.
The scene is ancient Persia, and our chronicler is the inimitable Herodotus. Having taken the throne in a coup, Darius debates the best form of government with the seven Persian nobles who were his co-conspirators. Considering how these things can go, it is a blessedly short discussion, with democracy, oligarchy and monarchy representing the three possibilities. The noble Otanes puts forward a lukewarm endorsement of democracy, but it's very much a straw man. He is more concerned with the shortcomings of monarchy than what might be the virtues of democracy. Another noble, Megabyzus, then speaks in support of oligarchy:
For there is nothing so void of understanding, nothing so full of wantonness, as the unwieldy rabble. It were folly not to be borne, for men, while seeking to escape the wantonness of a tyrant, to give themselves up to the wantonness of a rude unbridled mob. The tyrant, in all his doings, at least knows what is he about, but a mob is altogether devoid of knowledge; for how should there be any knowledge in a rabble, untaught, and with no natural sense of what is right and fit? It rushes wildly into state affairs with all the fury of a stream swollen in the winter, and confuses everything. Let the enemies of the Persians be ruled by democracies.
For his part, Darius acknowledges democracy and oligarchy, but it wouldn't be a spoiler to reveal that he ultimately settles on monarchy, with himself as the head of state. Thus Herodotus sets the stage for the war between the Greeks and the Persians. In a sense, the Histories can be viewed as a meandering meditation on the best form of government, whose merits are ultimately determined on the battlefield.
by Madhu Kaza
"That girl won't leave any fruit on the trees," a woman complains looking down from the roof of her home. In the orchard below the girl runs and --once she is in the clear -- skips home hiding a guava in her dress. She stashes the fruit under a bunch of bananas in a covered bowl on the veranda. Then she pours some water into a dish that she carries across the yard and places next to a large earthen vessel from which she plucks three white kittens. The opening scene of Satyajit Ray's film Pather Panchali is one of stealing and feeding, mischief and care.
An old woman squats over a bowl of rice on the floor of the veranda. Small clumps of the rice which she mixes and squeezes into balls have fallen on the floor. She eats with her right hand, her wrinkled left hand pressed to the floor for support. Her emaciated face is toothless and her profile dramatic –a hooked nose, sunken cheeks and a sharp, jutting chin. We know she is frail, but hunched over in her white widow's sari, the severity of her features makes her look at times, at medium distance, not unlike a vulture. She eats with absorption and licks her fingers when she is done. The girl, Durga, sits behind the old woman watching her eat. When the old woman turns around and sees Durga she says, "I forgot to save some for you." She uncovers the fruit bowl and reaches for a banana, discovering the guava that the girl has left for her. She examines the guava closely, beaming with delight.
A French filmmaker once walked out during a screening of Pather Panchali at Cannes and proclaimed, "I don't want to see a movie of peasants eating with their hands."
Sunday, September 13, 2015
Robert MacFarlane in the New Statesman:
In 1972, Gregory Bateson published Steps to an Ecology of Mind, a collection of his essays from the previous three decades. Bateson was a dazzlingly versatile thinker, whose work shaped the fields of anthropology, linguistics and cybernetics, as well as the movement we now call environmentalism. Near the end of the book, Bateson deplored the delusion of human separation from nature. “We are not,” he warned, “outside the ecology for which we plan.” His remedy for this separatism was the development of an “ecology of mind”. The steps towards such a mind were to be taken by means of literature, art, music, play, wonder and attention to nature – what he called “ecological aesthetics”.
Bateson, who died in 1980, would have been excited by what has happened in the culture of our islands over the past 15 years. An ecology of mind has emerged that is extraordinary in its energies and its diversity. In nurseries and universities, apiaries and allotments, transition towns and theatres, woodlands and festivals, charities and campaigns – and in photography, film, music, the visual and plastic arts and throughout literature – a remarkable turn has occurred towards Bateson’s ecological aesthetics. A 21st-century culture of nature has sprung up, born of anxiety and anger but passionate and progressive in its temperament, involving millions of people and spilling across forms, media and behaviours.
John Lanchester in the London Review of Books:
Some stories are so well known in outline that we don’t really know them at all. The headline news about the Wright brothers’ invention of powered flight is so familiar that it’s easy to think we know all about it. David McCullough’s excellent biography The Wright Brothers brings the story back to life with facts that the non-specialist either doesn’t know or has blotted out with a misplaced broad brush. Yeah yeah, we get it: the brothers were provincial tinkerers who first flew their invention at Kitty Hawk, then became world-famous. It turns out, though, that there is a lot of devil in the details.
The tinkering, for instance. The Wrights were pioneers in the cycling business who ran a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio. Wilbur was born in 1867 and Orville in 1871. They were an unusually close pair who all their lives lived together, worked together, ate together and shared a joint bank account. (McCullough is too respectful of their boundaries to say so, but it seems likely that they were both lifelong virgins.) One of the only things they didn’t do together was fly: that would have been too much of a risk to the irreplaceable knowledge they’d jointly accumulated. Their father, Milton, was a bishop in the United Brethren Church who accepted his sons’ lack of faith with equanimity, and was going on suffragettes’ marches with his only daughter, Katherine, in his eighties. Katherine, a teacher, was the only family member to go to university, and the only sibling to have consummated a relationship, marrying at the age of 52.
‘It isn’t true,’ Wilbur later wrote, ‘to say we had no special advantages … the greatest thing in our favour was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity.’ Wilbur’s interest in flight began in childhood; it turned into an obsession and then into a practical plan. Other pioneers of flight were focused on the question of power. The Wrights were fascinated by birds, and learned a lot from their study of them. One of Wilbur’s crucial insights was that flying, like cycling, was a question of balance. He saw that bird flight was all about equilibrium: about the bird’s keeping itself in the air with the maximum efficiency and minimum effort.
Dawn Field in Aeon:
In case you weren’t paying attention, a lot has been happening in the science of genomics over the past few years. It is, for example, now possible to read one human genome and correct all known errors. Perhaps this sounds terrifying, but genomic science has a track-record in making science fiction reality. ‘Everything that’s alive we want to rewrite,’ boasted Austen Heinz, the CEO of Cambrian Genomics, last year.
It was only in 2010 that Craig Venter’s team in Maryland led us into the era of synthetic genomics when they created Synthia, the first living organism to have a computer for a mother. A simple bacterium, she has a genome just over half a million letters of DNA long, but the potential for scaling up is vast; synthetic yeast and worm projects are underway.
Two years after the ‘birth’ of Synthia, sequencing was so powerful that it was used to extract the genome of a newly discovered, 80,000-year-old human species, the Denisovans, from a pinky bone found in a frozen cave in Siberia. In 2015, the United Kingdom became the first country to legalise the creation of ‘three-parent babies’ – that is, babies with a biological mother, father and a second woman who donates a healthy mitochondrial genome, the energy producer found in all human cells.
William Dalrymple in The Guardian:
For better or for worse, the British empire was the most important thing the British ever did. It altered the course of history across the globe and shaped the modern world. It also led to the huge enrichment of Britain, just as, conversely, it led to the impoverishment of much of the rest of the non-European world. India and China, which until then had dominated global manufacturing, were two of the biggest losers in this story, along with hundreds of thousands of enslaved sub-Saharan Africans sent off on the middle passage to work in the plantations.
Yet much of the story of the empire is still absent from our history curriculum. My children learned the Tudors and the Nazis over and over again in history class but never came across a whiff of Indian or Caribbean history. This means that they, like most people who go through the British education system, are wholly ill equipped to judge either the good or the bad in what we did to the rest of the world.
This matters. We see British diplomats, businessmen and politicians repeatedly wrongfooted as they constantly underestimate the degree to which we are distrusted across the breadth of the globe, and in a few places actively disliked. Because of the wrong-headedly positive spin we tend to put on our imperial past, we often misjudge how others see us, and habitually overplay our hand.
Last month a video went viral in India of the eloquent Congress politician and writer Shashi Tharoor arguing at the Oxford Union that Britain owed India immense reparations for the damage inflicted by the empire: at last count the YouTube video of his speech had around 3m views.