Monday, February 16, 2015
Last chance to nominate yourself or someone else! Do it in the comments below...
Dear Readers, Writers, Bloggers,
We are very honored and pleased to announce that Kenneth Roth has agreed to be the final judge for our 5th annual prize for the best blog and online-only writing in the category of politics and social science. Details of the previous four politics (and other) prizes can be seen on our prize page.
Kenneth Roth is the executive director of Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s leading international human rights organizations. Under Roth’s leadership, Human Rights Watch has grown eight-fold in size and vastly expanded its reach. It now operates in more than 90 countries, among them some of the most dangerous and oppressed places on Earth. Prior to joining Human Rights Watch in 1987, Roth served as a federal prosecutor in New York and for the Iran-Contra investigation in Washington. A graduate of Yale Law School and Brown University, Roth has conducted numerous human rights investigations and missions around the world. He has written extensively on a wide range of human rights abuses, devoting special attention to issues of international justice, counterterrorism, the foreign policies of the major powers, and the work of the United Nations.
As usual, this is the way it will work: the nominating period is now open. There will then be a round of voting by our readers which will narrow down the entries to the top twenty semi-finalists. After this, we will take these top twenty voted-for nominees, and the editors of 3 Quarks Daily will select six finalists from these, plus they may also add up to three wildcard entries of their own choosing. The three winners will be chosen from these by Ken Roth.
The first place award, called the "Top Quark," will include a cash prize of 500 dollars; the second place prize, the "Strange Quark," will include a cash prize of 200 dollars; and the third place winner will get the honor of winning the "Charm Quark," along with a 100 dollar prize.
(Welcome to those coming here for the first time. Learn more about who we are and what we do here, and do check out the full site here. Bookmark us and come back regularly, or sign up for the RSS Feed.)
The schedule and rules:
February 16, 2015:
- The nominations are opened. Please nominate your favorite blog entry by placing the URL for the blog post (the permalink) in the comments section of this post. You may also add a brief comment describing the entry and saying why you think it should win. Do NOT nominate a whole blog, just one individual blog post.
- Blog posts longer than 4,000 words are strongly discouraged, but we might make an exception if there is something truly extraordinary.
- Each person can only nominate one blog post.
- Entries must be in English.
- The editors of 3QD reserve the right to reject entries that we feel are not appropriate.
- The blog entry may not be more than a year old. In other words, it must have been first published after February 15, 2014.
- You may also nominate your own entry from your own or a group blog (and we encourage you to).
- Guest columnists at 3 Quarks Daily are also eligible to be nominated, and may also nominate themselves if they wish.
- Nominations are limited to the first 100 entries.
- Prize money must be claimed within a month of the announcement of winners.
March 4, 2015
- The public voting will be opened.
March 11, 2015
- Public voting ends at 11:59 PM (NYC time).
March 13, 2015
- The finalists are announced.
March 23, 2015
- The winners are announced.
One Final and Important Request
If you have a blog or website, please help us spread the word about our prizes by linking to this post. Otherwise, post a link on your Facebook profile, Tweet it, or just email your friends and tell them about it! I really look forward to reading some very good material and think this should be a lot of fun for all of us.
Best of luck and thanks for your attention!
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Christopher S. Celenza in Salon:
Clues concerning Machiavelli’s thinking as to his own immediate personal path lie in one of the Italian Renaissance’s most beautiful—and in some ways most deceiving—letters, which he wrote to his friend Vettori on December 10, 1513. There had been a brief interruption in their correspondence, one that left Machiavelli concerned. But upon receiving Vettori’s latest letter Machiavelli is “most pleased,” he says, and since he has no news to report resolves to send Vettori an account of what his life in exile is like. “I am on my farm, and I haven’t been in Florence for more than twenty days, total, since my recent problems.” Machiavelli spent about a month hunting thrushes—“two at least, at most six”—each day. After this diversion ended, Machiavelli settled into a routine: “In the mornings I rise with the sun, and I go to one of my woods that I am having cleared, where I stay for two hours to look over the work done the day before and to spend some time with the woodsmen. They are always in the middle of some argument, either among themselves or with the neighbors.” Machiavelli mixes and mingles with people of all classes, even as he listens to and participates in arguments. This fact was probably unsurprising to Vettori, knowing his friend as he did, even as it might seem surprising to connoisseurs of “high” literature.
“After I leave the woods, I go to a spring, and thereafter to a place where I hang my bird nets. I have a book with me— Dante, or Petrarch, or a minor poet, like Tibullus, Ovid, or other ones of that sort. I read about their romantic passions, their love affairs, and I remember my own, taking pleasure for a while in those thoughts.” From the social to the solitary: this seems to be the second phase of his day, where repeated reading of a light classic, something that he already has read many times but to which he willingly returns, allows him to reflect on his own life. After this diversion and care of the soul comes more interactivity: “Then I take to the road, on the way to the inn. I chat with people who pass by, ask them about the news where they live, learning this and that, and I take note of the diverse taste and imaginings of men.” Machiavelli’s curiosity and, again, his proto-anthropological sensibility, is on display here.
Mary Norris in The New Yorker:
I didn’t set out to be a comma queen. The first job I ever had, the summer I was fifteen, was checking feet at a public pool in Cleveland. I was a “key girl”—“Key personnel” was the job title on my pay stub. I never knew what that was supposed to mean. I was not in charge of any keys, and my position was by no means crucial to the operation of the pool, although I did clean the bathrooms. Swimmers had to follow an elaborate ritual before getting into the pool: tuck your hair into a hideous bathing cap (if you were a girl), shower, wade through a footbath spiked with disinfectant that tinted your feet orange, and stand in line to have your toes checked. This took place at a special wooden bench, like those things that shoe salesmen use, except that instead of a miniature sliding board and a size stick for the customer’s foot it had a stick with a foot-shaped platform on top. The prospective swimmer put one foot at a time on the platform and, leaning forward, used his fingers to spread out his toes so that the foot checker could make sure he didn’t have athlete’s foot. Only then could he pass into the pool. I have never heard of foot checkers in any city besides Cleveland.
Justin P. McBrayer in the New York Times:
I was. As a philosopher, I already knew that many college-aged students don’t believe in moral facts. While there are no national surveys quantifying this phenomenon, philosophy professors with whom I have spoken suggest that the overwhelming majority of college freshman in their classrooms view moral claims as mere opinions that are not true or are true only relative to a culture.
What I didn’t know was where this attitude came from. Given the presence of moral relativism in some academic circles, some people might naturally assume that philosophers themselves are to blame. But they aren’t. There are historical examples of philosophers who endorse a kind of moral relativism, dating back at least to Protagoras who declared that “man is the measure of all things,” and several who deny that there are any moral facts whatsoever. But such creatures are rare. Besides, if students are already showing up to college with this view of morality, it’s very unlikely that it’s the result of what professional philosophers are teaching. So where is the view coming from?
A few weeks ago, I learned that students are exposed to this sort of thinking well before crossing the threshold of higher education. When I went to visit my son’s second grade open house, I found a troubling pair of signs hanging over the bulletin board.
Again, damn it, radio, television, the papers.
The powers that be, as expected, are consummate crooks.
Those back in the days at least had some fear, today’s are no better.
I’d forbid the days to pass without you,
their pitiful sum total – you don’t come,
in the morning you are not to be found even in any of the mirrors,
you don’t arrive at noontime with a purse, a vagina,
an underarm, skin, a scent, an apple –
what should I do between noon and the evening?
In the evening you also do not come.
I want to know what has happened. Maybe you were on your way here,
perhaps they were running after you, maybe they raped you.
I think they cannot not rape you.
All this is radio, television, the papers.
The day without you is my untalented loneliness.
I lie under the ceiling, I pass.
Nothing has happened anywhere, you aren’t here.
A few armed conflicts,
a couple of traitors on TV.
The dollar exchange rate grew,
no trading in rubles today.
by Yuri Andrukhovych
from Songs From the Dead Rooster
translation Vitaly Chernetsky
Maggie Fergusson in More Intelligent Life:
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, Chatto, hardback, out now. Abby Whitshank, the selfless, self-doubting mother at the heart of Anne Tyler’s 20th novel, can’t bear to think that hers is “just another muddled, discontented, ordinary family”. But apparently ordinary families are what Tyler loves best. She writes about them with involved detachment, creating characters who are flawed but endearing, and capable of occasional humdrum heroism. Moving backwards in time, she explores three generations of Whitshanks: “Junior”, who built the family’s Baltimore home in the 1930s, his son Red, Abby’s husband, and Red and Abby’s four grown-up children, who compete to take control as their parents tumble into senility. Tyler is brilliant at the hairline fractures between siblings, and the intermeshing of irritation and tenderness that makes a marriage. But the real triumph here is her portrayal of old age—droll, and desperately sad.
Claudia Dreifus in The New York Times:
James P. Allison is the chairman of the immunology department at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. His seminal research opened up a new field in cancer treatment: immunotherapy. Instead of poisoning a tumor or destroying it with radiation, Dr. Allison has pioneered ways to unleash the immune system to destroy a cancer. Two years ago, Science magazine anointed immunotherapy as the “Breakthrough of the Year.” More recently, Dr. Allison, 66, won the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, often a precursor to a Nobel. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.
Q. The class of drugs you’ve helped invent has been hailed as one of the first truly new cancer treatments in decades. What makes it so different?
A. It’s a bit counterintuitive. Till now, most cancer treatments — radiation, surgery, chemotherapy — attacked tumors directly, with the goal of killing them. In the 1980s, my laboratory did work on how the T-cells of the immune system, which are the attack cells, latch onto the cells infected with viruses and bacteria and ultimately kill them. That research lead me to think that the immune system could be unleashed to kill cancers. Basically, I proposed that we should stop worrying about directly killing cancer cells and develop drugs to release those T-cells.
Monday, March 02, 2015
by Zaheer Kazmi
Did the Martians that landed at Horsell Common live on in the souls of dead Muslim soldiers? Just over a century before the ‘War on Terror', H. G. Wells penned his own fin de siècle mythic battle to protect God's empire. The setting for the alien invasion in The War of the Worlds (1898) was later to become the final resting place of some of the British Empire's Muslim fallen. Yet the Muslim Burial Ground at Horsell Common is only part of the trans-global history of Woking in Surrey, the outlying town at Greater London's edge. In 1889, nearly a decade before the publication of Wells's classic allegory of imperial anxiety, England's first purpose-built mosque, the Shah Jahan, was constructed in Woking by Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, a Hungarian Jew. Wells himself lived in the area at the time of writing his book. He would have been aware no doubt of the mosque just beyond the railway line that ran along his lodgings in Maybury Road. He would also have known of the vast nearby London Necropolis, or Brookwood Cemetery, where, among its Muslim graves, two of the most influential translators of the Qur'an into English were later to be buried: Marmaduke Pickthall and Abdullah Yusuf Ali, the former, an English convert, the latter, an Indian Ismaili Bohra.
Space and time collapse in a nondescript part of suburban England where Muslims and aliens live and die. Until very recently, Brookwood Cemetery, the largest in England, was owned by Turkish Cypriots, the Guney family, who had founded Britain's first Turkish mosque in 1977. Their fate was intimately tied to their involvement in far off battles with Greek Cypriot compatriots in that divided island's wars of resistance with their strong religious undertones. Barely a few miles away, the environs of Woking where Wells resided still retain small tightly-packed Victorian terraces, several of whose current Muslim inhabitants, of which there are now many, hark from the Subcontinent. In one of these houses, in Stanley Road adjoining Wells's Maybury Road retreat, the latter-day Dickensian chronicler of working-class life, Paul Weller, grew up to find artistic inspiration while his mother worked as a cleaner at the local mosque. Years later, in his ode to nostalgia, ‘Amongst Butterflies', he would retrace his steps to Horsell Common where he played as a child, reminiscing that ‘God was there amongst the trees' by the soldiers' tomb. He also paid his own respects to this sacred confluence of memory by pledging to help finance the burial ground's restoration.
by Jonathan Kujawa
Last month at 3QD we discovered that Pascal's Triangle contains all sorts of surprises. Like most things in mathematics, there is no end to the things you can uncover if you keep digging and have a curious mind. If we revisit the Triangle with our eye open for curiosities we notice that the sequences of numbers which run parallel to the side of the triangle look a bit interesting :
Okay, the first line is just a sequence of 1s and is pretty darn boring. The second sequence is the counting numbers and is only slightly better than the 1s since anyone over the age of five who knows the addition rule for the Triangle can see why they are there.
But the third row! They seem to follow some sort of pattern, but it's not quite so obvious what it might be. We already have the hint that they're called the Triangular Numbers. If you were a boring person devoid of curiosity, you could go on with your life never knowing what's going on. But you're not and you know the Triangle rewards the curious. The following image explains why they're called the Triangular Numbers:
Once you notice that the pattern, it's not too hard to see that the nth number in this sequence is the number of balls needed to make a triangle which has n balls along one side (to go from one triangle to the next you just add another row to one side and counting those additional balls amounts to the addition rule of Pascal's Triangle). It's also not too hard to see  that the nth Triangular Number is given by the formula n(n+1)/2.
Let's agree that the 0th triangular number is 0. Not only is it reasonable to say the triangle with no balls on each side is made from 0 balls, we'll see it also turns out to be a convenient convention.
by Dwight Furrow
In many traditional wine regions of the world wine, like food, has been a marker of identity. Wine, when properly made, expresses the character of the soil and climate in which grapes are grown, and the sensibilities of the people who make and consume it. Thus, it is a form of cultural expression that sets one culture or region off from another, drawing a contrast with the rest of the world and inducing a sense of local uniqueness and particularity. As a bulwark against the homogenization of wine produced by global corporations for a world market, the authenticity of a wine's expression thus becomes one criterion by which wine quality is assessed. Wine that does not taste of its origins is branded inauthentic.
But just as creative chefs are confronted with the problem of being innovative while maintaining links to traditions, winemakers are faced with a similar dilemma. Wine lovers are nothing if not diviners of secrets. We strain to find the hidden layer of spice that emerges only after an hour of decanting, alertly attend to the ephemeral floral notes from esters so volatile that a few seconds exposure to air whisks them away forever, and obsess over the hint of tobacco that begins to develop only after 10 years in the cellar. If a wine is to qualify as a work of art, it must repay such devoted attention, revealing new dimensions with repeated tastings, especially as it develops with age. It should be an expression of the vision of the winemaker or the terroir of the region in which the grapes were grown, and like great art, a great wine should be a bit of an enigma, yielding pleasure and understanding while leaving the impression that there is something more here to be grasped. But most importantly, a vinous work of art must be unique. Just as Van Gogh's rendering of Arles is great because no predecessor had been able to capture with paint what Van Gogh saw in an ordinary Cyprus tree, a work of vinous art will uncover new dimensions in flavor. But that seems to contradict the demand that wine reflect the traditional flavor profile characteristic of the region from which it comes. How does a winemaker achieve originality while remaining wedded to tradition?
Gordon Parks. Couple, with man playing cello. 1980.
Current exhibition at MFA, Boston.
by Jalees Rehman
There are at least two ways of how the topic of trust in God is broached in Friday sermons that I have attended in the United States. Some imams lament the decrease of trust in God in the age of modernity. Instead of trusting God that He is looking out for the believers, modern day Muslims believe that they can control their destiny on their own without any Divine assistance. These imams see this lack of trust in God as a sign of weakening faith and an overall demise in piety. But in recent years, I have also heard an increasing number of sermons mentioning an important story from the Muslim tradition. In this story, Prophet Muhammad asked a Bedouin why he was leaving his camel untied and thus taking the risk that this valuable animal might wander off and disappear. When the Bedouin responded that he placed his trust in God who would ensure that the animal stayed put, the Prophet told him that he still needed to first tie up his camel and then place his trust in God. Sermons referring to this story admonish their audience to avoid the trap of fatalism. Just because you trust God does not mean that it obviates the need for rational and responsible action by each individual.
It is much easier for me to identify with the camel-tying camp because I find it rather challenging to take risks exclusively based on the trust in an inscrutable and minimally communicative entity. Both, believers and non-believers, take risks in personal matters such as finance or health. However, in my experience, many believers who make a risky financial decision or take a health risk by rejecting a medical treatment backed by strong scientific evidence tend to invoke the name of God when explaining why they took the risk. There is a sense that God is there to back them up and provide some security if the risky decision leads to a detrimental outcome. It would therefore not be far-fetched to conclude that invoking the name of God may increase risk-taking behavior, especially in people with firm religious beliefs. Nevertheless, psychological research in the past decades has suggested the opposite: Religiosity and reminders of God seem to be associated with a reduction in risk-taking behavior.
Daniella Kupor and her colleagues at Stanford University have recently published the paper "Anticipating Divine Protection? Reminders of God Can Increase Nonmoral Risk Taking" which takes a new look at the link between invoking the name of God and risky behaviors. The researchers hypothesized that reminders of God may have opposite effects on varying types of risk-taking behavior. For example, risk-taking behavior that is deemed ‘immoral' such as taking sexual risks or cheating may be suppressed by invoking God, whereas taking non-moral risks, such as making risky investments or sky-diving, might be increased because reminders of God provide a sense of security. According to Kupor and colleagues, it is important to classify the type of risky behavior in relation to how society perceives God's approval or disapproval of the behavior. The researchers conducted a variety of experiments to test this hypothesis using online study participants.
"New York isn't your fantasy.
You're the fantasy in New York's imagination."
~ John DeVore, New York Doesn't Love You
There is a time-honored genre of literature that masochistically trucks with the fatalism and rejection of living in, loving and eventually leaving New York City. I know this is a real genre, because the fact that there is an anthology proves it. Writers especially, perhaps due to the ephemerality of their profession, seem to have an axe to grind when it comes to leaving New York. It's not that no other city generates this passion; rather, no other city has fetishized and memorialized this ambivalence to such an extent. To these writers, leaving New York is tantamount to an admission of failure, and they passionately rationalize the ways in which they have not failed. But New York evolves, like any other city, and it is worth asking if the reasons for leaving these days are substantially different from those of previous decades.
Joan Didion's 1967 classic essay "Goodbye To All That" sets the confessional tone that is implied in all of these narratives: "But most particularly I want to explain to you, and in the process perhaps to myself, why I no longer live in New York." Didion's narrative concerns the years required for the imperceptible shading from wide-eyed ingénue to a vaguely numb and indifferent denizen. Her prose is compassionate, and wears the weariness of experience lightly: "It was a very long time indeed before I stopped believing in new faces...Everything that was said to me I seemed to have heard before, and I could no longer listen". In the end, she does not fling New York away in disgust – she accompanies her husband to Los Angeles for a sabbatical away from the city. As a result she leaves New York almost accidentally, like remembering a few days after the fact that you forgot your umbrella in a restaurant, then deciding it wasn't worth the trouble of going back to get it.
Contrast this genteel regretfulness with John DeVore's recent aphoristic punch-up, "New York Doesn't Love You":
New York will kick you in the hole, but it will never stab you in the back. It will, however, stab you multiple times right in your face.
No one "wins" New York. Ha, ha.
You will lose. Everyone loses. The point is losing in the most unexpected, poignant way possible for as long as you can.
Complaining is the only right you have as a New Yorker. Whining is what children do. To complain is to tell the truth. People who refuse to complain, and insist on having a positive outlook, are monsters. Their optimism is a poison. If given the chance they will sell you out.
DeVore lives in a different New York from Didion: he doesn't really elaborate on what success might actually look like, for himself or for anyone else. Your plan, whatever it may be, will go wrong. Fifty years of water flowing underneath the Brooklyn Bridge will do that.
by Madhu Kaza
I was jetlagged during the week in early March 2014 when I heard the news that air traffic controllers had lost contact with Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The news seemed at first like a seamless detail added to my mental fog. I had just returned to New York from India where I had spent much of January and February thinking about plane crashes. I had begun research on a project that I vaguely imagined would be a history of Indian aviation accidents, and I had spent many days examining news archives that documented incidents and their aftermaths. I had studied the names and capacities different aircraft, learned some of the aviation terminology such as "controlled flight into terrain" (which despite the reassuring word "controlled" is not a good thing), and begun to log a timeline of events. As I read the newspaper accounts I couldn't ignore the political dimensions of these disasters, either, whether they involved international coordination for search and rescue operations, the cover-up of lax security and safety measures, the response of the airlines to victims' families or the settlement of lawsuits. I also noticed that initial newspaper reports often contained inaccuracies that had to corrected later as more information emerged. As much as anything else, I became fascinated by how these articles were written, how the narratives of these disasters took shape over time and by what they told and what they left out. Out of whatever facts were reported and the scant details of these articles, I would try to imagine what it was like to experience these events as a witness, a survivor, a family member of a victim, a responder, or a reader of the morning paper. I became increasingly curious, in particular, about how disaster shapes one's experience of time.
by Brooks Riley
by Omar Ali
A few days ago, Graeme Wood wrote a piece in the Atlantic that has generated a lot of buzz (and controversy). In this article he noted that:
"The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam"
The article is well worth reading and it certainly does not label all Muslims as closet (or open) ISIS supporters, but it does emphasize that many of the actions of ISIS have support in classical Islamic texts (and not just in fringe Kharijite opinion). This has led to accusations of Islamophobia and critics have been quick to respond. A widely cited response in "Think Progress" quotes Graeme Wood's own primary source (Princeton scholar Bernard Hakykel) as saying:
“I think that ISIS is a product of very contingent, contextual, historical factors. There is nothing predetermined in Islam that would lead to ISIS.”
Indeed. Who could possibly disagree with that? I dont think Graeme Wood disagrees. In fact, he explicitly says he does not. But that statement is a beginning, not a conclusion. What contingent factors and what historical events are important and which ones are a complete distraction from the issue at hand?
Every commentator has his or her (implicit, occasionally explicit) "priors" that determine what gets attention and from what angle; and a lot of confusion clearly comes from a failure to explain (or to grasp) the background assumptions of each analyst. I thought I would put together a post that outlines some of my own background assumptions and arguments in as simple a form as possible and see where it leads. So here, in no particular order, are some random comments about Islam, terrorism and ISIS that I hope will, at a minimum, help me put my own thoughts in order. Without further ado:
1. The early history of Islam is, among other things, the history of a remarkably successful imperium. Like any empire, it was created by conquest. The immediate successors of the prophet launched a war of conquest whose extent and rapidity matched that of the Mongols and the Alexandrian Greeks, and whose successful consolidation, long historical life, and development of an Arabized culture, far outshone the achievements of the Mongols or the Manchus (both of whom adopted the existing deeper rooted religions and cultures of their conquered people rather than impose or develop their own).
by Kathleen Goodwin
I recently read the surgeon and public health researcher Atul Gawande's latest book, "Being Mortal" in which he writes about end-of-life care in the American healthcare system, which has developed into a series of increasingly radical attempts to postpone death, often at the expense of the comfort of patients during their remaining life. Gawande argues that doctors should refocus their goals on quality rather quantity of life. He advocates for physicians to educate patients about their healthcare options and then assist them in making informed decisions. A few weeks after reading Gawande's book my younger sister was hospitalized for 5 days with an acute case of bacterial pneumonia. An otherwise healthy 22-year old, she was not the type of patient considered in "Being Mortal" but I was surprised to find that many of the topics Gawande described appear to be relevant regardless of the patient's prognosis.
Some healthcare providers have acknowledged that empowering patients and reducing their suffering is a secondary concern in modern medicine and usually far from a priority. A doctor's main goal is to heal but in many cases this seems to lead to a sacrifice of a patient's autonomy and comfort, in the name of an eventual return to full health. It's a practical cost-benefit analysis— distilling years of medical training into layman's terms in order to explain a diagnosis, options for care, and the possible effects of procedures and medications with every individual patient would prevent physicians from having the time to see other patients and would net out to fewer patients healed. In terms of quantifiable success, a patient's experience in a hospital is measured by morbidity and mortality not by the comfort of her stay. Concurrently, in the U.S. healthcare system doctors are generally paid for services rendered and are incentivized to see as many patients as possible.
by Tamuira Reid
I remember being five years old and sitting in the pediatrician's office as my mother explained the problem. She talks in voices, doctor. Three or four of them at a time. I stand by her door and listen and it is frightening, I tell you. Just frightening.
After hours of testing, more to appease my worried mother than anything else, Doctor Wolfe looked gently at the two of us and said, Yes, your daughter does have a special condition. And it is called a wonderful imagination. Mrs. Reid, your daughter is creating stories that she is simply too young to write down.
A few years later, those voices would become my first poems, first one-act plays. They would become my lifeline.
For as easy as writing came to me, the rest of school did not. I'd stare out the window for hours on end, dreaming of what the world had in store for me, instead of learning the algebraic equations my teacher scribbled across the board in front of us. I would read chapbooks during recess and perform monologues out in the open field behind the block of modular classrooms. I was bright but uninspired. I remember tutors being involved. I remember hushed conversations between my parents behind closed doors.
It wasn't until I ran away to college that I began to really engage in my lessons. I remember the first class vividly. Professor Lesy walked into the room with a small grey boom box under one arm and a bundle of books and papers under the other. His hair was long and unkempt, shirt wrinkled. Coke-bottle glasses. When he finally sat down at the head of the table, pushing the play button to release classical music into the air, he looked at each one of us and said, If you can't write from your heart, you have no business writing at all.
Day after day, workshop after workshop, we picked up our essays now covered in ink. He demanded the truth from us; we gave him half of it. We gave him what we thought he wanted to know. As the semester progressed, we began to let go of what we thought we knew about writing and realized we knew nothing at all. That writing is a process, a craft, not necessarily an inherent gift.
I wrote everyday for the entire first year of my college career. I wrote first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I wrote with coffee, I wrote with beer. I wrote until my hands would cramp so badly that I'd be forced to take a break, smoking cigarettes out in the cold New England night.
It wasn't shocking that I connected to writing this way. I'd always loved writing. What was surprising, however, was how I would fall into teaching.
When Lesy would get up in front of the room, he had this incredible, commanding presence that seemed to grab you around the neck and say, Look at me! What I tell you is divine truth! You will never hear anything more interesting than what I'm about to say right now! He had us completely enraptured, under his psychotic but totally intoxicating spell. It was kind of magical.
He gave a solid performance, day in and day out. And that is exactly what it was: a performance.
I wanted to perform.
Sunday, March 01, 2015
Steven Pinker in Forbes:
Not since the days of Mitch Ryder and Monica Lewinsky has a blue dress aroused so much passion. A Tumblr user posted this photo and pleaded “guys please help me – is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can’t agree and we are freaking the f*ck out.”
She was not the only one freaking out — the puzzle has ricocheted around the internet and set off hundreds of comments and speculations, including judgments by a number of celebrities. Within minutes a dozen students in my introductory psychology course emailed me, asking for an explanation. I had to catch a plane, and at the airport bar overheard the barmaid and several patrons debating the dress. Here’s my best guess as to what’s going on.
The puzzle has nothing to do with what philosophers call the inverted-spectrum paradox (Is my red the same as your red?), which pertains to cases in which peopleagree—at least overtly—about the color they are seeing.
Nor does it have anything to do with rods and cones. The viewing conditions for the image are all well into the brightness range of the cones. The rods aren’t seeing the image at all.
And the two different percepts don’t seem to depend on the color settings of their monitor. According to the internet reports, two people can look at the same screen and still see the colors differently.
What it has to do with is lightness constancy and color constancy.
Mites hide in your bed and breed on your face. They’re smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.
Rob Dunn in National Geographic:
Several years ago I made a bet about face mites, animals that live in hair follicles. They are so small that a dozen of them could dance on the head of a pin. They are more likely, though, to dance on your face, which they do at night when they mate, before crawling back into your follicles by day to eat. In those caves mother mites give birth to a few relatively large mite-shaped eggs. The eggs hatch, and then, like all mites, the babies go through molts in which they shed their external skeleton and emerge slightly larger. Once they’re full size, their entire adult life lasts only a few weeks. Death comes at the precise moment when the mites, lacking an anus, fill up with feces, die, and decompose on your head.
Currently two species of face mites are known; at least one of them appear to be present on all adult humans. My bet was that even a modest sampling of adults would turn up more species of these mites, ones that are totally new to science.
Biologists often make bets; they call them predictions to sound fancier. My bet was based on an understanding of the tendencies of evolution and of humans. Evolution tends to engender its greatest richness in small forms. Humans, on the other hand, tend to ignore small things. Aquatic mites, for example, live in most lakes, ponds, and even puddles, often in densities of hundreds or thousands per cubic meter. They can even be found in drinking water, yet few people have ever heard of aquatic mites, including, until recently, me. And I study tiny things for a living.
Malise Ruthven in the New York Review of Books:
It has now become clear that Barack Obama is under enormous pressure to intensify the campaign against ISIS. Last week, as the White House held a summit on countering extremist violence in which Obama declared, “we are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” sources at the Pentagon told reporters that the retaking of Mosul, possibly with significant US military support, had been planned for as early as April. This followed the president’s recent announcement that he is seeking formal authorization from Congress for an all-out assault on ISIS in western Iraq and eastern Syria and that “our coalition is on the offensive” and the group “is going to lose.”
But the challenge of defeating the Islamic State is a huge one. The group is formidably armed, having captured large quantities and varieties of weaponry from Syrian and Iraqi forces. Its senior commanders include former officers of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime in Iraq, a battle-hardened Chechen Islamist and former Georgian army sergeant, and veterans of the conflict in Libya. Above all, it has been able to attract unprecedented numbers of young recruits from the West itself—not least by drawing on apocalyptic currents in Islamic culture and thought in which the region of Greater Syria, known as Bilad al-Sham, is given paramount importance.
According to Europol, some five-thousand European nationals—mainly from the wealthier countries of northern Europe—have now joined the group, with around one thousand each from Britain and France. Among them are hundreds of young men and women still in their teens. Meanwhile, the caliphate’s tentacles now stretch from Afghanistan, to Yemen and to Libya, with Sunni affiliates and tribal groups making their allegiance (baya) to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-styled caliph of ISIS.
Scott Porch in The Atlantic:
Steven Pinker: Not really. Clearly, there’s overlap and some people write in a more conversational style than others, but it is striking how a transcript of a talk given extemporaneously does not read well on the printed page. I first noticed this when I was a teenager and read the Watergate transcripts—the conversations among Nixon and advisors like Haldeman and Ehrlichman and Mitchell. A number of people at the time who had never seen conversations transcribed were astonished at how difficult they were to interpret.
Porch: What do you think about the flagrant misuse of the word “literally”? Does it literally make your head explode?
Pinker: [Laughs.] It’s understandable why people do it. We are always in search of superlatives, of ways of impressing upon our hearer that something that happened is noteworthy or even extraordinary. And the words we use to signal that eventually lose their meaning.
Porch: Like “awesome.”
Pinker: “Awesome” is a recent example. In the UK, “brilliant” is used for the most banal observations. Before that, words like “terrific,” meaning inspiring terror, “wonderful,” inspiring wonder, “fabulous,” worthy of fable. We see the fossils of dead superlatives that our ancestors overused the way we overuse “awesome.” “Literally” is a victim of a similar type of inflation. The figurative use doesn’t mean the language is deteriorating. Hyperbole has probably been around as long as language has been around.