June 13, 2013
Thursday PoemMy Father Built England
‘Show me your hands.’ It was the only question
The foreman asked. They were your references
And your scholarship. That is why my father used
Piss to harden his schoolboy hands, as was custom
When blisters set fire to the skin, an ancient trick
Shown to him by a Meath man who died beneath
A truck, sober in Kilburn. In 1939, England needed
A solid Paddy full of gristle, to be counted on,
Semi-British for the duration. You supply your own
Sweat and wellies but could pick a white virgin
Shovel from the Gaffer and return it sharp, shined
By gravel. Only once was he broken, when black
Winds blew down the scaffolding; its tubular legs
Dancing across the unfinished airstrip. As he lay
Dead, a Geordie Tea-Boy nursed him well.
Wet Time was a bloody nightmare; always under
The Landlady’s feet and once he was thrown
Out of digs in a row about Rex’s favourite chair.
It was 1942 before he could pin fifty pounds to
The inside of his overcoat and take himself home.
Then, while German bombs fell on England,
My father built Ireland for Hogan and Son.
by Ron Carey
from Southward Journal
Bonjour Tristesse: The Economic and Political Decline of France
Mathieu von Rohr in Spiegel:
[T]he mood hanging over the country is depressed. France is in the midst of the biggest crisis of the Fifth Republic. It feels as if the French model had reached an end stage, not just in terms of the economy, but also in politics and society. A country that long dismissed its problems is going through a painful process of adjustment to reality and, as was the case last week, can now expect to be issued warnings by the European Commission and prompted to implement reforms.
France's plight was initially apparent in the economy, which has been stagnating for five years, because French state capitalism no longer works. But the crisis reaches deeper than that. At issue is a political class that more than three quarters of the population considers corrupt, and a president who, this early in his term, is already more unpopular than any of his predecessors. At issue is a society that is more irreconcilably divided into left and right than in almost any other part of Europe. And, finally, at issue is the identity crisis of a historically dominant nation that struggles with the fact that its neighbor, Germany, now sets the tone on the continent.
The French economy has been in gradual decline for years, without any president or administration having done anything decisive about it. But now, ignoring the problems is no longer an option. The economy hasn't grown in five years and will even contract slightly this year. A record 3.26 million Frenchmen are unemployed, youth unemployment is at 26.5 percent, consumer purchasing power has declined, and consumption, which drives the French economy, is beginning to slow down, as well.
There is a more positive side of the story, which sometimes pales in the face of all the bad news. France is the world's fifth-largest economy, and interest rates for government bonds have been at historic lows for months. The country is far from being on the verge of bankruptcy and cannot be compared with Italy or Spain, and certainly not with Greece. Nevertheless, France is ailing. And looking weak is something the French themselves hate more than anything else.
Margaret Wertheim in Aeon:
Theoretical physics is beset by a paradox that remains as mysterious today as it was a century ago: at the subatomic level things are simultaneously particles and waves. Like the duck-rabbit illusion first described in 1899 by the Polish-born American psychologist Joseph Jastrow, subatomic reality appears to us as two different categories of being.
But there is another paradox in play. Physics itself is riven by the competing frameworks of quantum theory and general relativity, whose differing descriptions of our world eerily mirror the wave-particle tension. When it comes to the very big and the extremely small, physical reality appears to be not one thing, but two. Where quantum theory describes the subatomic realm as a domain of individual quanta, all jitterbug and jumps, general relativity depicts happenings on the cosmological scale as a stately waltz of smooth flowing space-time. General relativity is like Strauss — deep, dignified and graceful. Quantum theory, like jazz, is disconnected, syncopated, and dazzlingly modern.
Physicists are deeply aware of the schizophrenic nature of their science and long to find a synthesis, or unification. Such is the goal of a so-called ‘theory of everything’. However, to non-physicists, these competing lines of thought, and the paradoxes they entrain, can seem not just bewildering but absurd. In my experience as a science writer, no other scientific discipline elicits such contradictory responses.
Why Efforts to Bring Extinct Species Back from the Dead Miss the Point
An editorial in Scientific American:
“We will get woolly mammoths back.” So vowed environmentalist Stewart Brand at the TED conference in Long Beach, Calif., in February in laying out his vision for reviving extinct species. The mammoth isn't the only vanished creature Brand and other proponents of “de-extinction” want to resurrect. The passenger pigeon, Caribbean monk seal and great auk are among the other candidates—all species that blinked out at least in part because of Homo sapiens. “Humans have made a huge hole in nature in the last 10,000 years,” Brand asserted. “We have the ability now—and maybe the moral obligation—to repair some of the damage.”
Just a few years ago such de-extinction was the purview of science fiction. Now it is so near at hand that in March, Brand's Long Now Foundation, along with TED and the National Geographic Society, convened an entire conference on the topic. Indeed, thanks to recent advances in cloning and the sequencing of ancient DNA, among other feats of biotechnology, researchers may soon be able to re-create any number of species once thought to be gone for good.
That does not mean that they should, however. The idea of bringing back extinct species holds obvious gee-whiz appeal and a respite from a steady stream of grim news. Yet with limited intellectual bandwidth and financial resources to go around, de-extinction threatens to divert attention from the modern biodiversity crisis.
June 12, 2013
Mark Blyth: A Google Talk on Austerity
i love this dirty town
Attraction and repulsion combined to create a sick fascination for Shillong’s street food when I was growing up in that city in the 1980s and 90s. Brightly-coloured ice lollies, whose flavour diminished as their oranges and yellows drained into one’s mouth, were sold out of ice-boxes slung around the necks of their itinerant vendors, and were nicknamed ‘nala-pani’ or drain water. The dubious provenance of the water that went into them made them something of a delicious taboo. It is impossible to separate the lure of aloo-muri from the unwashed hands of their makers The channa-wallahs, who rang little bells to attract customers to their none-too-clean but delectable wares, were itinerant too, unlike the aloo-muri men who always occupied strategic spots outside schools; they did their best business in the late afternoon when bored and hungry children poured out of classrooms. It is impossible to separate the lure of aloo-muri from the unwashed hands of their makers, the weathered, rusting tins that hold powdered masalas, the grated white papaya standing open to the elements, and the muddy looking tamarind water. This mix of puffed rice and boiled potatoes is Shillong’s signature street food; its overpowering spiciness, so strong that it actually kills all taste, and so remote from the milder and earthier flavours of the food native to the city, is a combination of the forbidden, the grubby and the exotic.more from Anjum Hasan at Granta here.
Today, Taksim Square is Istanbul’s chestnut tree. I’ve been living in Istanbul for sixty years, and I cannot imagine that there is a single inhabitant of this city who does not have at least one memory connected to Taksim Square. In the nineteen-thirties, the old artillery barracks, which the government now wants to convert into a shopping mall, contained a small football stadium that hosted official matches. The famous club Taksim Gazino, which was the center of Istanbul night life in the nineteen-forties and fifties, stood on a corner of Gezi Park. Later, buildings were demolished, trees were cut down, new trees were planted, and a row of shops and Istanbul’s most famous art gallery were set up along one side of the park. In the nineteen-sixties, I used to dream of becoming a painter and displaying my work at this gallery. In the seventies, the square was home to enthusiastic celebrations of Labor Day, led by leftist trade unions and N.G.O.s; for a time, I took part in these gatherings. (In 1977, forty-two people were killed in an outburst of provoked violence and the chaos that followed.) In my youth, I watched with curiosity and pleasure as all manner of political parties—right wing and left wing, nationalists, conservatives, socialists, and social democrats—held rallies in Taksim.more from Orhan Pamuk at The New Yorker here.
Interview with Jonathan Haidt on Happiness
From Five Books:
The Dhammapada is one of the greatest psychological works ever written, and certainly one of the greatest before 1900. It is masterful in its understanding of the nature of consciousness, and in particular the way we are always striving and never satisfied. You can turn to it – and people have turned to it throughout the ages – at times of trouble, at times of disappointment, at times of loss, and it takes you out of yourself. It shows you that your problems, your feelings, are just timeless manifestations of the human condition. It also gives specific recommendations for how to deal with those problems, which is to let go, to accept, and to work on yourself. So I think this is a kind of tonic that we ambitious Westerners often need to hear.
Is there a specific saying that you particularly like?
There are two big ideas that I found especially useful when I wrote The Happiness Hypothesis. One is an idea common to most great intellectual traditions. The quote is: ‘All that we are arises with our thoughts, with our thoughts we make the world.’ It’s not unique to Buddha, but it is one of the earliest statements of that idea, that we need to focus on changing our thoughts, rather than making the world conform to our wishes.
The other big idea is that the mind is like a rider on an elephant. Buddha uses this metaphor: ‘My own mind used to wander wherever pleasure or desire or lust led it, but now I have it tamed, I guide it, as the keeper guides the wild elephant.’More here.
Which philosophy is dead?
Santiago Zabala and Creston Davis in Al Jazeera:
At a recent Google Zeitgeist conference, Stephen Hawking boldly pronounced that "philosophy is dead".
It is dead, he thinks, because philosophy is passé. Hawking believes philosophy is like a guy who shows up at a cocktail party just after the guests have left. Why would one of the most intelligent humans alive say such a provocative thing? His reasons are obvious: "Philosophers," Hawking says, "have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics."
According to Hawking, the conversation about the truth of the world rests in the hands of elite physics professors funded by multinational corporations and national governments. Should we believe this pronouncement just because it comes from an eminence such as Hawking? Could it be that some categorical mistake has been committed by the likes of Hawking who, in our opinion, mistakes philosophy for theology?
The debate over the death of philosophy begun by Hawking not only rests on wrong premises, but also searches for an inadequate solution. First, philosophy is still taught in universities, and second, philosophers continue to write books that disagree on the meaning of our existential relation with the world. We submit that a more precise question needs to be addressed: Which philosophy is dead?
Simple theory may explain dark matter
This proposal, which endows dark matter particles with a rare form of electromagnetism, has been strengthened by a detailed analysis performed by a pair of theoretical physicists at Vanderbilt University: Professor Robert Scherrer and post-doctoral fellow Chiu Man Ho. An article about the research was published online last month by the journal Physics Letters B.
"There are a great many different theories about the nature of dark matter. What I like about this theory is its simplicity, uniqueness and the fact that it can be tested," said Scherrer.
In the article, titled "Anapole Dark Matter," the physicists propose that dark matter, an invisible form of matter that makes up 85 percent of the all the matter in the universe, may be made out of a type of basic particle called the Majorana fermion. The particle's existence was predicted in the 1930's but has stubbornly resisted detection.
A number of physicists have suggested that dark matter is made from Majorana particles, but Scherrer and Ho have performed detailed calculations that demonstrate that these particles are uniquely suited to possess a rare, donut-shaped type of electromagnetic field called an anapole. This field gives them properties that differ from those of particles that possess the more common fields possessing two poles (north and south, positive and negative) and explains why they are so difficult to detect.
Amazing cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" by Michael Henry & Justin Robinett
The end of the affair: Behind the Candelabra
From New Statesman:
Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra focuses on the ten years from 1977, when the pianist Liberace met Scott Thorson, who became his lover as well as chauffeuring him onstage in a cream Rolls-Royce for his Las Vegas performances. How best to explain Liberace? As a child in the 1970s, I was struck by his similarity to the most decadent item in our larder, the Mr Kipling French Fancy. It was even jazzier than the Viscount biscuit (imagine: a biscuit in a wrapper!) but it also made me slightly sick. That’s Liberace: imagine a French Fancy at a grand piano, decked out in jewellery that would make the average hip-hop performer look frugal, and you’re in the right ballroom. I mean, ballpark. No sooner have the posters come down for Side Effects, which Soderbergh announced would mark his farewell to cinema, than this new movie is upon us. To the casual observer, the director may seem like the child who has difficulty starting his sponsored silence (“I’m not talking from . . . now! No – from now”). However, Behind the Candelabra was made for television. Soderbergh had hoped to make it for cinema, only to be told by studio executives that it was too gay. Instead, he shot it for HBO, the pioneering US cable network responsible for almost every great TV series of the past 15 years. For Hollywood to reject something starring Matt Damon and Michael Douglas, the project would have to be as gay as a white, fox-fur coat with a 16-foot train, or a hunk in a diamante posing pouch, or a rhinestoneencrusted queen being pleasured in the back room of a Los Angeles porn shop. Behind the Candelabra features all these and more.
...The movie’s richness lies in its performances. Damon negotiates skilfully Scott’s descent from bliss to frazzled insecurity. Rob Lowe has a succulent cameo as a plastic surgeon whose rigid, feline pout reveals that he has been getting high on his own supply. Douglas, meanwhile, conveys sublimely a creosoted smarm that is rarely unsympathetic. He has captured the preening, liquid voice (he pronounces Scott’s name “Scaaaaart”) and he convinces us that Liberace’s declarations of intimacy were no less sincere for being reproduced verbatim onstage in front of thousands or in a hot tub with his latest squeeze.
More here. (Note: Brilliant performance by Michalel Douglas...see the film if you can.)
‘Master protocol’ aims to revamp cancer trials
In the push to match medical therapies to the genetic underpinnings of disease, lung-cancer treatments have been at the frontier. But the 1.6 million people diagnosed with this cancer every year will take scant comfort in knowing that of the past 20 late-stage trials of drugs to treat it, only two yielded positive results. And in only one of those 20 were patients chosen systematically by screening for biomarkers such as relevant blood proteins or DNA sequences.
Now, an ambitious project aims to improve those success rates and speed new treatments to market by matching companies with the patients whose tumours are most genetically relevant to the therapies they are trying to develop. The project is slated to launch next year and, if successful, could be expanded to other cancers. The project was spearheaded by the Friends of Cancer Research, a think tank and advocacy group in Washington DC, and has won the support of the US National Cancer Institute and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The idea is to streamline the drug-approval process by bringing pharmaceutical companies together to test multiple experimental drugs in late-stage clinical trials under a single, ‘master’ protocol. “The drive is to make the whole process of personalized medicine more efficient,” says Eric Rubin, vice-president of oncology clinical research at Merck, a pharmaceutical firm based in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey.
The Preface from James Scott's Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play
Over at Princeton University Press:
The arguments found here have been gestating for a long time, as I wrote about peasants, class conflict, resistance, development projects, and marginal peoples in the hills of Southeast Asia. Again and again over three decades, I found myself having said something in a seminar discussion or having written something and then catching myself thinking, “Now, that sounds like what an anarchist would argue.” In geometry, two points make a line; but when the third, fourth, and fifth points all fall on the same line, then the coincidence is hard to ignore. Struck by that coincidence, I decided it was time to read the anarchist classics and the histories of anarchist movements. To that end, I taught a large undergraduate lecture course on anarchism in an effort to educate myself and perhaps work out my relationship to anarchism. The result, having sat on the back burner for the better part of twenty years after the course ended, is assembled here.
My interest in the anarchist critique of the state was born of disillusionment and dashed hopes in revolutionary change. This was a common enough experience for those who came to political consciousness in the 1960s in North America. For me and many others, the 1960s were the high tide of what one might call a romance with peasant wars of national liberation. I was, for a time, fully swept up in this moment of utopian possibilities. I followed with some awe and, in retrospect, a great deal of naiveté the referendum for independence in Ahmed Sékou Touré’s Guinea, the pan-African initiatives of Ghana’s president, Kwame Nkrumah, the early elections in Indonesia, the independence and first elections in Burma, where I had spent a year, and, of course, the land reforms in revolutionary China and nationwide elections in India.
The disillusionment was propelled by two processes: historical inquiry and current events. It dawned on me, as it should have earlier, that virtually every major successful revolution ended by creating a state more powerful than the one it overthrew, a state that in turn was able to extract more resources from and exercise more control over the very populations it was designed to serve.
Little, Big: Two Ideas About Fighting Global Poverty
Pranab Bardhan reviews some recent books on development in The Boston Review:
The classical economists, from William Petty and Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill, were all development economists. They offered general theories of markets and growth and wrote about a particular developing country (typically Britain) going through a process of industrial transformation.
Then, for more than a century, development shifted from the economic and intellectual core to the periphery. Debates about development focused on controversies over Soviet industrialization and on the need for protectionist policies to defend infant industries in places—such as the United States, Germany, Eastern Europe, Australia, and India—trying to “catch up” with England.
After the Second World War, as a large number of countries became independent (or “liberated,” as in China), development economics blossomed but remained at the intellectual margins of the economics discipline. Underdevelopment was conventionally understood as the product of market and institutional failures. In the prevailing paradigm, such failures were regarded as exotic exceptions or as the remediable results of bad policies instituted by new governments.
The challenges of persistent poverty and underdevelopment eventually undercut this intellectual marginalization. In the last three decades of the 20th century, economists recognized that standard market-equilibrium models—with their smoothly functioning invisible hands—break down in the context of information failures and dysfunctional institutions in all economies. So economists started paying more attention to rumblings from the periphery. As Joseph Stiglitz put the problem in a 1989 essay:
A study of less developed countries is to economics what the study of pathology is to medicine; by understanding what happens when things do not work well, we gain insight into how they work when they do function as designed. The difference is that in economics, pathology is the rule: less than a quarter of mankind lives in the developed economies.
In the past decade, development economics has grown to extraordinary prominence, not just in academia but also in the public arena. This new development economics has moved in two strikingly different directions. The first focuses on micro-level policy interventions. It uses the tools of field experiments and randomized controlled trials (RCT) to evaluate focused strategies for alleviating persistent poverty. The second trend focuses on macro institutions: the structures of democracy, autocracy, centralized and diffused power, and legal protections of property and contracts that organize politics and markets. Drawing ideas from the burgeoning field of institutional economics, this second stream of work has addressed grand, old historical questions such as why some countries have succeeded in the march to prosperity while others have languished.
June 11, 2013
let us praise...
BEFORE THE FAMOUS BOOK, there was the essay, the thing Agee and Evans were sent to Alabama for in the first place. It never got published. Agee wrote it at least twenty thousand words longer than Fortune wanted; he turned it in late; the rubric under which it was supposed to run was done away with by editorial higher-ups, etc., etc. Anyone who’s written for magazines will recognize the thousand mystifying in-house obstacles that doom so many pieces. The very manuscript of this was considered lost, until Agee’s middle child and younger daughter, Andrea, found it a decade ago, and The Baffler excerpted it last year. Now, at the age of seventy-seven, it exists in full, published by Melville House with the title Cotton Tenants. It’s a very different creature from the book. More restrained. More disciplined, overall—perhaps it’s more correct to say, more confident. Cotton Tenants knows its form: the long, weird, quasi-essayistic, documentary-infused magazine piece, a form older than the novel, despite a heritable instinct in critics to continually be calling it New. Agee was pushing the form—that’s partly what makes it exciting to see and read this new book. He was pushing Luce, too, seeing what he could smuggle into Fortune, stylistically, in a Trojan-horse kind of way. Later, writing for himself and Evans, he was willing to go further.more from John Jeremiah Sullivan at Bookforum here.
The discovery and publication of Savage Coast is significant, not only because, as Rukeyser’s large body of work on Spain attests, the Spanish Civil War was an essential part of her poetic and political development, but also because it also provides us with new perspectives on the literature of the period. Written long before Orwell’s or Hemingway’s major texts on the Spanish Civil War—at one point she editorializes, “Hemingway doesn’t know beans about Spain”—Savage Coast is only one of a handful of novels by foreign women on the subject and gives us a more complex understanding of how women positioned themselves within historical and cultural processes, offering a unique view of the political, artistic, and intellectual networks that shaped early twentieth-century global solidarities. Rukeyser’s work on Spain likewise offers new methods for exploring the relationship between political radicalism and textual experimentation, as she grapples with issues of documentation and aesthetics, attempting to harness what Virginia Woolf called “granite and rainbow,” within a single text. Savage Coast is both a journalistic account of the first days of the Civil War as well as a fragmented and “visionary” lyric about the formation of Rukeyser’s own political, sexual, and artistic subjectivity inside its history. Her writings, then, give us new forms and vocabulary to work with: they change how we will read other works, seek out and represent suppressed histories; they “open out of the future,” to use Derrida’s phrase.more from Rowena Kennedy-Epstein at Paris Review here.
against secular faith
Gray’s most acute loathing is for the idea of progress, which has been his target in a number of books, and which is continued in the rather uneventful first 80 pages or so of The Silence of Animals. He allows that progress in the realm of science is a fact. (And also a good: as Thomas De Quincey remarked, a quarter of human misery results from toothache, so the discovery of anesthetic dentistry is a fine thing.) But faith in progress, Gray argues, is a superstition we should do without. He cites, among others, Conrad on colonialism in the Congo and Koestler on Soviet Communism (the Cold War continues to cast a long shadow over Gray’s writing) as evidence of the sheer perniciousness of a belief in progress. He contends, contra Descartes, that human irrationality is the thing most evenly shared in the world. To deny reality in order to sustain faith in a delusion is properly human. For Gray, the liberal humanist’s assurance in the reality of progress is a barely secularized version of the Christian belief in Providence. With the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt in mind, Gray writes in Black Mass (2007): “Modern politics is a chapter in the history of religion.” Politics has become a hideous surrogate for religious salvation, and secularism is itself a religious myth. In The Silence of Animals, he writes, “Unbelief today should begin by questioning not religion but secular faith.”more from Simon Critchley at the LA Review of Books here.
A Winter's Tale: Before Midnight
Amanda Shubert over at Critics at Large:
The warm breezes, poetic ruins and pure, sun-soaked hues of the southern Peloponnese at summer’s end is the setting for Before Midnight, the third in a series of films made by Richard Linklater and starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as the Franco-American lovers Jesse and Celine. (It opened in Toronto on Friday.) As far as I can tell, there are no fans of these movies, only devotees. Distinctly American in their frank, colloquial style, but inspired by the intimacy and spontaneous, kinetic realism of the French and Italian New Wave, Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) quietly invited their audience to listen in on an unfolding conversation between two lovers that explored the substance of romantic connection. They meet (in Before Sunrise) on a train and get off together in Vienna to fall in love during a sleepless night before Jesse has to catch his next train, and meet again (in Before Sunset) in Paris, where Celine lives, on the last leg of Jesse’s book tour for a novel about their one-night love affair, having lost track of each other for nine years. In Before Sunset, Jesse was married with a two year-old son, Hank, back in New York, but the implication at the end of the film, which was set in real time in the ninety minutes before Jesse had to catch his plane back to the States, was that having found one another again, Jesse and Celine would stay together.
Before Midnight, which like Before Sunset was co-written with Linklater by Hawke and Delpy, takes up the story another nine years later to explore the effects of married life on romantic illusions. Together since that day in Paris, Celine and Jesse now have two daughters, fey and golden-haired twins (played by Charlotte and Jennifer Prior and beautifully directed; they're like kinetic poetry). Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), now a teenager, visits them on holidays. After dropping Hank off at the airport at the end of a six-week vacation at the Grecian villa of a prominent writer (played by the cinematographer Walter Lassally) where Jesse has been invited for a summer artist’s residency, and a lavish dinner with their Greek host and friends by the ocean, Jesse and Celine take off to a hotel together for their last night in Greece, a gift from their friends that comes with babysitting for the twins. In the hours before midnight – the witching hour, the hour that, in fairy tales and fables, can both break the spell and redeem it – the lovers talk, explore, flirt, make love and, above all, fight, in an attempt to find their way back to the intimacy that brought them together as hopeful strangers eighteen years ago.
Science doesn’t know everything
Jerome Kagan in Salon:
Despite many victories, a number of important problems that are amenable to inquiry or reconceptualization are being ignored. First, scientists studying psychological phenomena should replace their habit of linking one cause to one outcome with an examination of the relations between patterns of causal conditions and patterns of outcomes. A single condition (whether a gene, a secure attachment, premature birth, abuse, harsh socialization, or bullying) that ignores the child’s gender, temperament, ethnicity, social class, and culture usually explains little of the variation in most psychological outcomes.
...Steven Pinker’s decision in “The Better Angels of Our Nature” to pool different types of violent actions by agents who varied in gender, age, ethnicity, and motive into a single category called violence is analogous to grouping the olfactory signals of ants, dances of bees, songs of birds, croaks of frogs, grimaces of monkeys, screams of infants, lullabies by mothers, lectures by professors, and spam messages over the Internet into an omnibus category called communication. The probability of a violent act is palpably higher for males compared with females across the life span. Males between seventeen and thirty years of age commit the vast majority of violent behaviors, in the past as well as today. Older men and children are unlikely to kill, rape, or torture anyone. Males between age seventeen and thirty represented a large proportion of the European population between 1200 and 1700 because more than 50 percent of children died before age five and more than 80 percent of adults died before age fifty. By contrast, males between seventeen and thirty make up less than 20 percent of today’s European population. Hence, a scientist who bases the prevalence of violence on the ratio of the number of homicides over the total population would be likely to discover that the rate of violence decreased across the interval from 1200 to 2000 because the proportion of the total population that was male and between age seventeen and thirty had declined precipitously over those eight hundred years.
I must be alone:
We must be together.
I think I love you
When I’m alone
More than I think of you
When we’re together.
I cannot think
Alone I love
To think of us together:
Together I think
I’d love to be alone. .
from Collected Poems
Publisher: The Gallery Press, Oldcastle, 2000
Neandertals Got Tumors, Too
Neandertals living 120,000 years ago in what is now Croatia were not exposed to industrial chemicals, and they ate a diet free from processed foods. Yet, that didn't spare them from our modern-day maladies. Scientists have discovered the first known case of a tumor in the rib of a Neandertal man that dates to more than 120,000 years ago. The oldest known human tumor is from less than 4000 years ago. "Relatively little is known about [tumor] prevalence in antiquity," says forensic anthropologist Douglas Ubelaker of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the new work. This result "is very useful for understanding the roots of this disease."
The bone—part of an upper left rib from an adult male Neandertal—was originally unearthed between 1899 and 1905 during the excavation of Krapina, a cave in northern Croatia which has yielded hundreds of ancient human remains. But the rib was misfiled and ignored for almost a century until, in 1999, it was briefly described in a list of specimens. More recently, anthropologist David Frayer of the University of Kansas, Lawrence, and colleagues began studying the pathologies of bones in the Krapina collections. It was immediately clear that the rib fragment—specimen 120.17 in the collection—wasn't normal. "The bone is broken away so you can look into the marrow chamber, where even in a child, you'd expect to see spongy bone," Frayer says. "But in this rib, instead of there being a mesh of bone there, it's completely vacant."
"Thomas Hardy Considers the Newly-Published Special Theory of Relativity" (1981)
A poem by by Brian Aldiss, introduced by Michael Caines, in the TLS:
Doubtless a way there is of grasping whole
This troubled cosmos where we fare and die,
Of grasping, and forgiving much thereby.
Well, some will chance, when I lie in the grave,
To quest like Albert Einstein for a key
To ends far obscured. Then let those brave
Unlock the universe’s mystery,
Not I. If, with the Immanent Will’s consent,
Mankind should gain some means to cancel space
And time, to view eternity’s bleak face,
Such vision could wreak endless dole – and fright
The human hopes of far futurity
With woes yet stored, worse far than those which blight
Maids whom I know, and men who once knew me.
Why Can’t America Be Sweden?
Thomas Edsall reviews a debate in the NYT's Opinionator:
Some pushback from Lane Kenworthy can be found here.
“We cannot all be like the Nordics,” Acemoglu declares, in a 2012 paper, “Choosing Your Own Capitalism in a Globalized World,” written with his colleagues James A. Robinson, a professor of government at Harvard, and Thierry Verdier, scientific director of the Paris School of Economics.
If the “cutthroat leader” – the United States — were to switch to “cuddly capitalism, this would reduce the growth rate of the entire world economy,” the authors argue, by slowing the pace of innovation.
Acemoglu, Robinson and Verdier put their argument technically, but there is no mistaking the implications:
We consider a canonical dynamic model of endogenous technological change at the world level with three basic features. First, there is technological interdependence across countries, with technological innovations by the most technologically advanced countries contributing to the world technology frontier, on which in turn other countries can build to innovate and grow. Second, we consider that effort in innovative activities requires incentives which come as a result of differential rewards to this effort. As a consequence, a greater gap in income between successful and unsuccessful entrepreneurs increases entrepreneurial effort and thus a country’s contribution to the world technology frontier. Finally, we assume that in each country the reward structure and the extent of social protection shaping work and innovation incentives are determined by (forward-looking) national social planners.
In a series of e-mail exchanges with the Times, Acemoglu said he believes that safety net programs in the United States are inadequate. But, if the thesis that he has put forth is correct, there is room for only modest expansion:
The fact that the United States is the world technology leader puts constraints and limits on redistribution at the top. The global asymmetric equilibrium is at the root of the United States being the world technology leader, but the mechanism through which this matters for innovation and redistribution is the very fact that the United States is such a leader.
In our model (which is just that, a model), U.S. citizens would actually be worse off if they switched to a cuddly capitalism. Why? Because this would reduce the world’s growth rate, given the U.S.’s oversized contribution to the world technology frontier. In contrast, when Sweden switches from cutthroat to cuddly capitalism (or vice versa), this does not have an impact on the long-run growth rate of the world economy, because the important work is being done by U.S. innovation.
These findings, if substantiated, will disappoint those who long for a Swedish-style mixed economy with universal health care, paid maternal leave, child allowances, guaranteed pensions and other desirable social benefits.
Tom Shaner "My House is Green"
June 10, 2013
Random thoughts on, or at least caused by, the McGinn case
by Dave Maier
When I was a grad student, I once made an off-color remark, or the equivalent, to a female colleague (I'll call her Jessica). It was in the library, in front of the circulation desk. We had been talking shop, and when I said that I had written something relevant to our discussion, she asked to see it, so I promised to put a copy in her department mailbox. At the end when I turned to go, she called after me to remind me about my paper: "Oh, and put your thing in my box." I was ten feet away by this time, and after weighing my options for about 1.2 seconds, I walked back and stage-whispered, mock-offendedly, "Jessica, please!"
That looks terrible in print, doesn't it? At the time, since a) I got a nice laugh, and b) I was (and remain) convinced that (for myriad reasons most of which I can't get into here; but read on) she was not offended, I felt okay about it; but now I wish I hadn't said it. What do you really lose by forgoing a joke – even after so perfect a set-up – when the potential downside is so great?
I was naturally reminded of this by the recent events (if you don't know what I'm talking about, start here) which have the philosophical world (academic subsection) abuzz. Many of the most relevant issues have been thoroughly hashed out, if not entirely conclusively, on the blogs (esp. New Apps and the Philosophy Smoker). Not surprisingly perhaps, one theme in the comment threads has been (I paraphrase): "philosophy is/you (or we) philosophers are so messed up; here you/we are quibbling over abstract minutiae instead of acting/deciding what to do, like real people would." Here's part of an actual comment: "All those years of arcane, fatuous debates about the trolley problem have blinded many philosophers to obvious ethical truths. If this is a good reflection of the sexual politics of your discipline, then your discipline is fucked." Another complains about people demanding "Cartesian certainty" instead of accepting obvious facts. And yet we also have: "I'm thinking wow, these people have an awful lot to say about a case about which very little is actually known, but then again, they are philosophers: many of them have written entire books on the basis of no information, so two or three facts are more than enough to decide this matter." (So basically we can't win: we either demand too many facts or make do with too few.)
At the risk of confirming the suspicion that philosophers are clueless jerks, I've got a few comments about the philosophical issues that came up in the discussions. In my defense I claim that any good points I might have made here about the real-world case have been made over and over again, and better than I could have, by certain commenters on the threads (including our own J. E. H. Smith). Go read what they said if that's what you're interested in. Here, abstract minutiae rule, so continue at your own risk.
playing around (लीला)
by Leanne Ogasawara
Western culture belittles play since it represents something very powerful to be controlled. Play represents quite fully: a journey, education, exploration to discover our full nature.
To live is to play... and as a adult "play" is taken away in order to keep people in the box... to prevent them from "journeying" to greater states of being.
His words interested me greatly since I have been struck by something similar upon my return here.
Sometimes I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle. Back in America after twenty years away, things sometimes take me aback, and I am always left wondering: Was it really always like this? Wasn't it different back when I was a kid? Wasn't life more playful back then? Why does everything feel so humorless now?
For my man Heidegger, play was crucial. And according to Heidegger, the essence of play has nothing whatsoever to do with "leisure providing an interlude from the seriousness of work." Rather, "the mystery of play is the play of Being by which Being reveals and conceals itself." That is a roundabout way of saying that the history and destiny (Geschick) of being unfolds in playfulness, and human beings in any given age are to "corresponsively participate in the play of the Geschick of being."
Stanley Kubrick. The New York Collection. 1940's.
Current show in Genova, Italy at the Palazzo Ducale.
The Metropolitan Trilogy
by James McGirk
After writing a spate of reasonably successful—and very autobiographical—novels, James Ellroy and Martin Amis took the cities surrounding them and used them as test beds, experimenting with new voices and forms and populating this familiar terrain with doppelgangers and villains and foils and sexual obsessions. Amis wrote three novels devoted to northwest London (and the chicer parts of Manhattan) known colloquially as “the London Trilogy”, while Ellroy revisited the Los Angeles neighborhoods he had prowled as a burglar to write his “L.A. Quartet.” Both used cities to refine distinctive writing styles. Yet despite their precocity, these immense literary efforts remain tethered to a biological fact in each of the author’s lives. A fact that pulses through the work and keeps it vital and exciting despite the fact that the novelists have essentially written the same novel over and over again.
James Ellroy’s mother was raped and brutally murdered when he was only ten years old, and the murder remains unsolved. At the time he was about as estranged from his mother as a ten-year-old could possibly be, and claims to have been delighted that she died because he was sent off to live with his father, an indulgent lowlife who passed away not long after. His dad gave him a copy of Jack Webb’s The Badge, and Ellroy became obsessed with a chapter about the murder of Elizabeth Short, better known as The Black Dahlia, a beautiful woman whose unsolved, grisly murder haunted Los Angeles ten years before Ellory’s mother was killed.
Ellroy began his quartet by reconstructing Betty Short’s murder. The Black Dahlia is told from the point of view of a policeman as he investigates Short’s murder. After that Ellroy’s novels become much more ambitious. The second in the series, The Big Nowhere, is narrated by a god-like omniscience, following three characters as they get sucked into a series of strange murders and political intrigue. The third novel, L.A. Confidential traverses eight years of Los Angeles history, ending on approximately the same day that Ellroy’s mother was killed. (Geneva Ellory died June 22, 1958. The last chapter of L.A. Confidential is date-less but occurs after a series of scenes set in April and is titled “After You’ve Gone”). Along the way, Ellroy experiments with techniques to compress information without sacrificing the velocity of his story (i.e. the pie crust), introducing documents, police reports, and newspaper clippings into his story. The final novel in the quartet, White Jazz, abandons traditional narrative completely. It’s impossibly dense with detail and takes the form of a reconstructed file, animated with clipped recollections, and ends with an epilogue that takes his enormous cast of characters and traces their lives back up to the present day.
What Do Iran and Alaska Have in Common?
by Maniza Naqvi
What do Iran and Alaska have in common? Well for one thing, both have followed a similar path towards equity by sharing mineral revenues with citizens through the Alaska Permanent Fund and the Iran Citizens Income Scheme (here). Why aren't other countries, rich in mineral wealth and poverty doing the same? Because, the "journey", which costly consultants want costly decision makers at costly aid conferences full of power point presentations and participants by the presidential suite loads, to take, is one of visualizing the eradication of poverty with truisms. This journey can be short and sweet: It would entail direct dividend payments from mineral wealth to citizens to become a reality across Africa and other parts of the world.
It's time to put the "mine" in mineral resources. If there ever was a sweet spot for perfect nationalization and poverty eradication then it would be through direct cash payments from natural resource revenues to the citizens of a country: a mechanism by which citizens of a nation, share in its wealth earnings while making sure that the earnings keep growing for future generations (here,here). It is a tantalizing prospect. (here,here)
Africa has mineral revenues and much more that can end poverty. It seems, that whatever the so called developed world craves, Africa already has: from mineral resources to yet to be discovered deposits of diamonds, oils, rare earth; to agriculture land (here, here and here); and even children (here andhere). Yet, whatever enriches the so called developed world from Africa seems to not benefit the continent itself enough or fast enough. Why is that? And what will need to be done to change it?
It is time to transform the discussion on economic growth drivers and development aid by adding into the equation the distribution of mineral and hydro carbons revenues (here). Yet this is left out of the latest discussions, in the public square of elite policy making (here andhere). Similarly the current discussions on the growth from the mining sector still revolves on direct and indirect jobs created through mining and Government investments in social and economic infrastructure on behalf of citizens. The discourse continues on without focusing on giving agency to individuals and providing them with the cash and the tools for making choices for how they spend or invest their cash for their social and economic wellbeing. Mineral rich countries may have had the potential for even greater gains in HD outcomes if they had adopted different policies for how they used mineral revenues.
Department of Coincidences: A Drunkard's Train Ride
by S. Abbas Raza
No matter how many books we read about how coincidences are to be expected in our lives simply due to the sheer amount of information we are bombarded with every day (and psychological reasons that certain kinds of things become salient to us because of various mental traits we share as humans), it still never fails to surprise us when they happen. This is not a scholarly essay but simply a report of one such coincidence that astonished me just yesterday.
On Friday my wife and I went from the Südtirol to Genoa by train to spend the weekend with my sister who had traveled there from Boston to deliver a lecture at a medical conference. Before leaving home I threw a couple of books into my bag to read on the many trains we needed to take. We got there in the evening and ended up having a lovely weekend exploring Genoa and taking a boat to Portofino on Saturday to check out that lovely little town on the Italian Riviera. Yesterday afternoon, after a lunch of spicy doner kebabs, we got on a train from Genoa to Milan. We would then take a train from Milan to Verona, then another from there to Bolzano, and finally a short train ride on a fourth train to Brixen, where we live.
Anyway, so we got on the train to Milan and found seats. I took out my copy of Leonard Mlodinow's excellent book The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives and started reading. At one point I was reading about a guy called Geralomo Cardano who wrote the first book ever on the theory of randomness in the mid-sixteenth century called The Book on Games of Chance. Leonard Mlodinow writes about him:
In the years leading up to 1576, an oddly attired old man could be found roving with a strange, irregular gait up and down the streets of Rome, shouting occasionally to no one in particular and being listened to by no one at all. He had once been celebrated throughout Europe, a famous astrologer, physician to nobles of the court, chair of medicine at the university of Pavia. (p. 41)
Reading this rather vivid description of the man I went into a sort of reverie imagining the distinguished but eccentric chair of medicine at the University of Pavia. For some reason, I imagined Pavia (which I really had never heard of before) to be close to Florence (my Italian geography is terrible) and I was imagining our man Cardano striding through streets laid down on rolling hills near the Arno river to make house calls on patients while carrying a doctor's bag full of potions and instruments. This made me think that perhaps I will visit Pavia next time I am in Florence and I thought also of looking it up on the internet when we got home. I was strangely gripped by a curiosity about what Pavia looks like.
I was jolted out of my extended daydream by the train having slowed down and finally jerking to a stop. We were at some small station in a small city about 20 minutes south of Milan. I stared at the scene outside and at the city beyond the station as the train started moving again. It was then that I saw the name on a large sign at the end of the platform as we passed by: yes, believe it or not, it was Pavia.
I exclaimed something incoherent out loud and told my wife what had happened while I tried to get my camera out and photograph the sign at the end of the platform but it was too late. It did give me a little shiver though. A little thrill. For a second it was almost as if Leonard Mlodinow and the world had conspired to teach me a small lesson about randomness even though, I know, I know well that they did not.
[The image at the top shows a somewhat impressionistic photo I shot a bit later out of the high-speed train window somewhere between Pavia and Milan.]
June 09, 2013
The Sex Life of Birds, and Why It’s Important
Carl Zimmer in the New York Times:
For a strange sexual history, it’s hard to beat birds. In some lineages, bird penises have evolved to spectacular lengths. Ducks, for example,have corkscrew-shaped penises that can grow as long as their entire body. They use their baroque genitalia to deliver sperm to female reproductive tracts that are also corkscrew-shaped — but twisted in the opposite direction.
In other lineages of birds, however, the penis simply vanished. Of the 10,000 species of birds on Earth, 97 percent reproduce without using the organ. “That’s shocking, when you think about it,” says Martin Cohn, a biologist at the University of Florida.
Research on the sex life of birds has come under fire from critics who claim that it’s unimportant and a waste of federal money, particularly in times of lean spending. In April the criticism from Fox News and conservative pundits became so intense that Patricia Brennan, an expert on bird genitalia at the University of Massachusetts, wrote an essay for Slate defending the value of her research.
The mystery of the vanishing bird penis is actually an important question — not just for understanding the evolution of our feathered friends, but for clues it may offer to little-understood human genetic disorders.
Male birds that lack a penis have an opening known as a cloaca. To mate, a male bird presses his cloaca against a female’s, so that his sperm can flow into her body. Scientists have a poetic name for this act: the cloacal kiss.
ways of seeing 1
he escapes in a stranger’s coat with his wife.
And the cloth smells of sweat;
a dog runs after them
licking the earth where they walked and sat.
In the kitchen, on a stairwell, above the toilet,
he will show her the way to silence,
they will leave the radio talking to itself.
Making love, they turn off the lights
but the neighbor has binoculars
and he watches, dust settling on his lids.
It is the 1930s: Petersburg is a frozen ship.
The cathedrals, cafés, down Nevski Prospect
they move, as the New State
sticks its pins into them.
[In Crimia, he gathered together rich ‘liberals’ and said to them strictly: On Judgment Day, if you are asked whether you understood the poet Osip Mandelstam; say no. Have you fed him? – You must answer yes.]
and confess, I loved grapefruit.
In a kitchen: sausages; tasting vodka,
the men raise their cups.
A boy in a white shirt, I dip my finger
into sweetness. Mother washes
behind my ears. And we speak of everything
that does not come true,
which is to say: it was August.
August! the light in the trees, full of fury. August
filling hands with language that tastes like smoke.
Now, memory, pour some beer,
salt the rim of the glass; you
who are writing me, have what you want:
a golden coin, my tongue to put it under.
he walks unshaven in dark-green pants.
In cathedrals: he falls on his knees, praying HAPPINESS!
His words on the floor are the skeletons of dead birds.)
I’ve loved, yes. Washed my hands. Spoke
of loyalty to the earth. Now death,
a loverboy, counts my fingers.
I escape and am caught, escape again
and am caught, escape
and am caught: in this song,
the singer is a clay figure,
poetry is the self—I resist
the self. Elsewhere:
St. Petersburg stands
like a lost youth
whose churches, ships, and guillotines
accelerate our lives.
Dayna Bartoli in Lensculture:
I am a visual artist, and I work as an Ophthalmic Photographer, photographing retinal blood vessels. Especially in this project, my artwork has been influenced by what I do and see at my medical job. My project Florafaunal Angiography is about combining the anatomical and aesthetic aspects of seeing. Each photograph is layered with an image of retinal blood vessels. The work becomes about the visual patterns and interactions that form between the images of blood vessels and nature's flora and fauna.
About the award-winning photographer: Dayna Bartoli is an artist currently living in Scottsdale, Arizona. She graduated with a BFA from Arizona State University in 2010, and has since been working as a medical photographer. She will be pursuing her MFA at the Trondheim Academy of Fine Art in Norway starting this fall.
What the Hell
From The New Yorker:
People can’t seem to let go of the Divine Comedy. You’d think that a fourteenth-century allegorical poem on sin and redemption, written in a medieval Italian vernacular and in accord with the Scholastic theology of that period, would have been turned over, long ago, to the scholars in the back carrels. But no. By my count there have been something like a hundred English-language translations, and not just by scholars but by blue-chip poets: in the past half century, John Ciardi, Allen Mandelbaum, Robert Pinsky, W. S. Merwin. Liszt and Tchaikovsky have composed music about the poem; Chaucer, Balzac, and Borges have written about it. In other words, the Divine Comedy is more than a text that professors feel has to be brushed up periodically for students. It’s one of the reasons there are professors and students. In some periods devoted to order and decorum in literature—notably the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries—many sophisticated readers scorned the Divine Comedy as a grotesque, impenetrable thing. But not in our time. T. S. Eliot, the lawgiver of early-twentieth-century poetics, placed Dante on the highest possible rung of European poetry. “Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them,” he wrote. “There is no third.”
...Translators are not the only ones drawn to Dante. Since 2006, Roberto Benigni has been touring a solo show about the Divine Comedy. In 2010, Seymour Chwast rendered the poem as a graphic novel. There are Inferno movies and iPad apps and video games. As of last week, their company has been joined by a Dan Brown thriller, “Inferno” (Doubleday). In many ways, the new book is like Brown’s 2003 blockbuster, “The Da Vinci Code.” Here, as there, we have Brown’s beloved “symbologist,” Robert Langdon, a professor at Harvard, a drinker of Martinis, a wearer of Harris tweeds, running around Europe with a good-looking woman—this one is Sienna Brooks, a physician with an I.Q. of 208—while people shoot at them. All this transpires in exotic climes—Florence, Venice, and Istanbul—upon which, even as the two are fleeing a mob of storm troopers, Brown bestows travel-brochure prose: “The Boboli Gardens had enjoyed the exceptional design talents of Niccolò Tribolo, Giorgio Vasari, and Bernardo Buontalenti.” Or: “No trip to the piazza was complete without sipping an espresso at Caffè Rivoire.” As we saw in “The Da Vinci Code,” there is no thriller-plot convention, however well worn, that Brown doesn’t like. The hero has amnesia. He is up against a mad scientist with Nietzschean goals. He’s also up against a deadline: in less than twenty-four hours, he has been told, the madman’s black arts will be forcibly practiced upon the world. Though this book, unlike “The Da Vinci Code” and Brown’s “Angels and Demons” (2000), is not exactly an ecclesiastical thriller, it takes place largely in churches and, as the title indicates, it constantly imports imagery from the Western world’s most famous eschatological thriller, Dante’s Inferno. Wisely, Brown does not let himself get hog-tied by the sequence of events in Dante’s poem. Instead, he just inserts allusions whenever he feels that he needs them. There are screams; there is excrement. The walls of underground caverns ooze disgusting liquid. Through them run rivers of blood clogged with corpses. Bizarre figures come forward saying things like “I am life” and “I am death.” Sometimes the great poet is invoked directly. The book’s villain is a Dante fanatic and the owner of Dante’s death mask, on which he writes cryptic messages. Scolded by another character for his plans to disturb the universe, he replies, “The path to paradise passes directly through hell. Dante taught us that.”
Edward Snowden: the Whistleblower Behind Revelations of NSA Surveillance
Wow, outing himself: Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras interview Snowden in The Guardian:
Snowden will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world's most secretive organisations – the NSA.
In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: "I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," but "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant."
Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to avoid the media spotlight. "I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing."
He does not fear the consequences of going public, he said, only that doing so will distract attention from the issues raised by his disclosures. "I know the media likes to personalise political debates, and I know the government will demonise me."
Despite these fears, he remained hopeful his outing will not divert attention from the substance of his disclosures. "I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in." He added: "My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them."
He has had "a very comfortable life" that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. "I'm willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building."
From 9/11 to PRISM: A Nation Gone Dotty
John Cassidy in The New Yorker:
Here’s one of the things I want to know about the government’s electronic-spying programs, which evidently give it the power to find out intimate details about virtually anybody. Who designed the spooky red-and-black logo for the National Security Agency’s Prism program? My colleague Amy Davidson correctly points out that it owes something to Storm Thorgerson’s album cover for Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” a ponderous recording that back in the nineteen-seventies drove me and many others to punk rock. But it’s also reminiscent of the logos featured in the cinematic version of “1984,” featuring John Hurt and Richard Burton, which came out in 1984. In the film, for example, the logo for IngSoc, the all-powerful ruling party of Oceania, the dystopian land of the future, is a red-and-black capital “V.”
Was the Prism designer, whose identity is doubtless classified, a “prog rock” fan, or did he or she share Orwell’s wry sense of humor? When you are dealing with this intelligence stuff, you certainly need an example of the latter, or you will go a bit batty. Take me. Only a few weeks ago, I praised President Obama for publicly questioningthe basis of the ongoing “war on terror.” At the time, a couple of commenters suggested I’d been duped, that it was all just fine-sounding rhetoric, but I was willing to take the President at his word. Big mistake. As the editorial board of the Timespoints out, Obama and his Administration have lost all credibility on the issue of domestic surveillance, which is an integral part of the war on terror.
It’s come to something when Rand Paul—he of the Tea Party membership, goblin-like father, and nutty conspiracy theories about the Federal Reserve—is the hero of the hour, but we have reached that point.
Rationally Speaking podcast: Sean Carroll on Philosophical Naturalism
Over at the Rationally Speaking podcast:
Astrophysicist and author Sean Carroll joins this episode of Rationally Speaking, to talk about "naturalism" -- the philosophical viewpoint that there are no supernatural phenomena, and the universe runs on scientific laws. Sean, Julia [Galef], and Massimo [Pigliucci] discuss what distinguishes naturalism from similar philosophies like physicalism and materialism, and what a naturalistic worldview implies about free will, consciousness, and other philosophical dilemmas. And they return to that long-standing debate: should scientists have more respect for philosophy?
Sean's pick: "The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human"
A Great Day for Philosophy
Ernie Lepore in the NYT's The Stone:
Along with the words to be offered here is an interesting artifact— a photograph of an assembly of some of the most important and influential philosophers of the latter half of the 20th century on one fine day in April in 1984 in front of the Hyatt Hotel in downtown New Brunswick, N.J.
And of course there is a story behind it.
It begins with Donald Davidson, who died in 2003 at the age of 86, one of the most important philosophers of the latter half of the 20th century. Though his contributions are rich and widespread, he is probably best known for his work in three areas; The theory of meaning, especially his influential theory of interpretation; the philosophy of action, in particular, his view that our reasons for our actions both cause and justify them; and the philosophy of mind, especially his defense of the thesis that though every mental event is a physical event not every type of mental event may be identified with a type of physical event.
Davidson’s philosophy is unusually unified for someone making contributions to so many areas. But this unity is difficult to appreciate because it is represented exclusively in a series of compressed, even cryptic, articles he wrote over the course of more than 40 years. These essays overlap and often presuppose knowledge of one another; and together they form a mosaic out of which emerges one of the most integrated and elegant bodies of philosophical work of our era.
June 08, 2013
So why Turkey, and why now?
On Wednesday 29 May 2013, a small group of students and ecologists tore down the barriers to occupy the Gezi Park adjoining Taksim, the most symbolic of Istanbul's central squares. Their declared aim was to stop developers from building a shopping-centre that was to be housed in a replica of a military barracks building demolished sixty years ago – resulting in the destruction of much of the park. The group attracted support from intellectuals and politicians, notably the pro-Kurdish socialist MP Sirri Süreyya Önder. The event was completely peaceful, but the police response to activists was, by any measure, disproportionate. Their repression initially forced the protesters out of the park, but caused wide public outrage. Soon, mobilized by social media, they were back – and in hugely greater numbers. By Friday 31 May, tens of thousands were clashing with police units in different Istanbul neighbourhoods, while clouds of teargas darkened the skies. Police units threw gas-bombs and teargas into metro-stations, hotel-lobbies and residential buildings. By midnight, protesters had retaken the park, even as street-fights continued and spread to many, mostly middle-class, suburbs. Hundreds of protestors were wounded and hundreds more taken into police custody. Clashes intensified on Saturday and spread increasingly around the country.more from Kerem Oktem at Eurozine here.
the hungarian way
According to Demeter, the key aspect of twentieth-century philosophical thought in Hungary is its connection to the social: questions that the most prominent figures of the century addressed are deeply rooted in the problems of society and sociality, and it is against such a characteristically Central-European socio-historical background that their works can be fruitfully interpreted as parts of a tradition. The main question therefore is the following: in the vein of German idealism and British empiricism, is it plausible to speak of something like “Hungarian sociologism” in the twentieth century? Demeter’s answer is an unequivocal “yes”, and the perspective he offers his readers gives him firm grounds to rebut the claim that Hungarian philosophy is “much less creative than it is receptive” His book attempts to paint the picture of a century’s worth of Hungarian thought from Menyhért Palágyi’s critique of psychologism at the turn of the century to Kristóf Nyíri’s contributions to communication theory in the 1990s. Demeter’s investigations are quite wide in scope, addressing not only the work of prominent Hungarian philosophers (like Menyhért Palágyi, György Lukács, Imre Lakatos, György Márkus, Ágnes Heller) but of social historians (István Hajnal), classical scholars (József Balogh), and philosophically inclined sociologists of knowledge and art (Karl Mannheim and Arnold Hauser, respectively), too.more from Ákos Sivadó at Berlin Review of Books here.
time is real
It is Smolin's view that the best hope for a solution to the difficulties that face contemporary physics – for example, the difficulties in bringing gravity into line with the rest of the currently accepted picture of reality – lies in overturning this orthodoxy and reaffirming the view that most of us non-physicists have anyway, namely that "nothing we know or experience gets closer to the heart of nature than the reality of time". In putting his case for it, Smolin says many things that are comprehensible and that, to me at least, seem both true and important. Among those things is the idea (that Smolin advances brilliantly and persuasively) that the reason physicists have come to reject the reality of time is that they have been bewitched by the beauty and success of the mathematical models they use into mistaking those models for reality. For timelessness, though not really a feature of our world, is a feature of mathematics. Two plus two equals four, but if we ask when or for how long the perplexing (though true) answer seems to be: "Well, always. It is an eternal truth. Time is irrelevant to it." And thus we seem to be driven to accepting the thought that some truths, at least, are eternal. And, if we can have timeless truths in mathematics, why not in physics?more from Ray Monk at The Guardian here.
"Bough Down," the first book by artist Karen Green, arrives trailing a train of sorrow. Green was married to writer David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide in September 2008. He was 46. Green has surfaced intermittently since then, giving few interviews. In 2009, at an exhibit in South Pasadena, she showed a piece called "The Forgiveness Machine," a 7-foot-long device into which one placed a piece of paper inscribed with what you wanted forgiven; the paper emerged, shredded, from the other end of the machine. The exhibition, one of her first public appearances since her husband's death, was draining for Green, and she told an interviewer that she struggled to make it through. She never used the machine herself. "Bough Down" is a book of prose poems interspersed with collages the size of a few postage stamps. It's not about forgiveness so much as the excruciating difficulty of living with someone terminally depressed and, after his death, the long, lonely aftermath.more from Jacob Silverman at the LA Times here.
NAPOLEON CHAGNON: BLOOD IS THEIR ARGUMENT
Thanks to Steven Pinker for initiating and facilitating this Edge Special Event with Napoleon Chagnon, the last of the great ethnographers.
Napoleon Chagnon is a Living World Treasure. Arguably our greatest anthropologist, he is brave on two fronts. As a field worker in the Amazon forest he has lived, intimately and under conditions of great privation, with The Fierce People at considerable physical danger to himself. But the wooden clubs and poison-tipped arrows of the Yanomamö were matched by the verbal clubs and toxic barbs of his anthropologist colleagues in the journal pages and conference halls of the United States. And it is not hard to guess which armamentarium was the more disagreeable to him.
Chagnon committed the unforgivable sin, cardinal heresy in the eyes of a certain kind of social scientist: he took Darwin seriously. Along with a few friends and colleagues, Chagnon studied the up-to-date literature on natural selection theory, and with brilliant success he applied the ideas of Fisher, Hamilton, Trivers and other heirs of Darwin to a human tribe which probably ran as close to the cutting edge of natural selection as any in the world. It is sobering to reflect on how unconventional a step this was: science bursting into the quasi-literary world of the anthropology in which the young Chagnon was trained. Still today, in many American departments of social science, for a young researcher to announce a serious interest in Darwin's dangerous idea—even an inclination towards scientific thinking at all—can come close to career suicide.
Faith in the Unseen: Curtis White’s ‘Science Delusion’
From The New York Times:
Is there really a menace to the humanities in the breezy flourishes of a Richard Dawkins or a Stephen Hawking? White believes that the remarks of such thinkers matter immensely in an environment that glorifies science, one in which lectures by theorists like Krauss attract more than one million YouTube viewers and a TED presentation of the “connectome” speculations of Sebastian Seung is a hot ticket while attendance at symphony halls dwindles. The connection between the two, as if the lovers of the classical repertory might not significantly overlap with the viewership of lectures on neuroscience, is the kind of implicit dichotomy assumed throughout “The Science Delusion.”
White says that high culture and science are battling over a shared ground, and that the gain of one means the retreat of the other. And he is adamant that the emergence of a new form of science storytelling, wedded to entertainment outlets like TED Talks, is creating a monster that substitutes flashy wonder for hard thinking and insulates the practice of science from a real-world political context of value decisions, large capital investment and dubious technological offshoots. He is unhappiest when it comes to popular science journalism, which he views mostly as a malodorous brew of gushing prose mixed with a dash of snake oil: “The thing that I find most inscrutable about all of the recent books and essays that have sought to give mechanistic explanations for consciousness, personality, emotions, creativity, the whole human sensorium, is how happy the authors seem about it. They’re nearly giddy with the excitement, and so, for some reason, are many of their readers.”
but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money
in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)
lived happily during the war.
from Poetry International, 2013