Sunday, July 31, 2005
To Put It Bluntly, What's the Point of Blogging?
'What makes what you write have anything more than passing meaning in a vast sea of blogs? Does it have any meaning if only, say, ten people read it, or twenty or a hundred? Does it have meaning if someone else links to it or comments on it?'
Excellent questions from a very sustained post by Bud Parr of litblog Chekhov's Mistress.
Labor leaders address the issues and the debate about organized labor
The departure of SEIU and The Teamsters from the AFL-CIO is perhaps the biggest change in organized labor since the merger of the AFL and the CIO. In The Nation, Janice Fine interviews six of organized labor's most prominent leaders about the fissures in the confederation and the challenges facing unions.
"[Andy] Stern [head of SEIU]: We have gone from a GM to a Wal-Mart economy. This can be slowed down, or, as we saw with the New Deal, we can organize unions and pass laws to soften the changes. There are a lot of factors we have less control of, but we have complete control over our own strategies and plans and the way we work with each other. That is where you have to start, with things that are in your control. If we want to reward work, we are going to need unions that have strategies, resources and the focus to be successful. I would say, right now we have unions that don't coordinate and cooperate and don't share a common strategy. We have a badly divided labor movement."
A review of Foucault and the Iranian Revolution
In The Nation, Johnathan Ree reviews Janet Afary and Kevin Anderson's Foucault and the Iranian Revolution.
"Foucault's experiment in political journalism earned him rebukes in the French press from the very beginning. Maxime Rodinson, a venerable Marxist scholar of Islam, informed him wearily that an Islamic government was bound to usher in some kind of 'archaic fascism.' And an exiled Iranian feminist claimed that Foucault's interest in 'political spirituality' was blinding him, like many other Westerners, to the inherent injustice of Islam, especially toward women. For the time being, Foucault refused to respond, but events seemed to be vindicating his critics. The Shah fled Iran in the early weeks of 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini returned in triumph and at the end of March an Islamic republic was ratified in a popular referendum: a classic case, it would seem, of a resurgence of reactionary authoritarian populism. Many of the possibilities that Foucault had canvassed were coming to nothing, and in April he published an open letter to the new Iranian Prime Minister, Mehdi Bazargan, expressing dismay at the abridgment of rights under the incoming 'government of mullahs.'
But while he remonstrated with his friends in Iran, Foucault never yielded an inch to his critics in Paris."
The Bacteria eaters
"Doctors don't know where to turn: More and more bacteria are resistant to antibiotics. The race for a substitute is already going full speed. Entrepreneurs are recruiting capital for research. Whoever is first to cross the finish line will take the whole pot - easily worth billions of dollars.
The development of resistance to antibiotics was first noted back in 1947, not long after they came into widespread use, and over the years the situation has persistently worsened...Only about 10 years ago, as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was learned in the West that at a research institute called Eliava in Tbilisi, Georgia, developed an antibiotic substitute back in the 1930s that proved effective in the treatment of infections. While the West was placing all its bets on antibiotics, the Soviet Union evidently already believed in bacteriophages - called "phages" for short."
Music Without Magic
From The Wislon Quarterly:
Schubert’s song may well be the most beautiful thank-you note anyone has ever written, but it’s also something else. It’s a credo, a statement of faith in the wondrous powers of music, and by its very nature an affirmation of those powers. But just how does our gracious Art exercise these powers? How does it comfort us, charm us, kindle our hearts? We might start our search for answers by positing two fundamentals: a fundamental pain and a fundamental quest. A fundamental pain of our human condition is loneliness. No surprise here: We’re born alone, we’re alone in our consciousness, we die alone, and, when loved ones die, we’re left alone. And pain itself, including physical pain, isolates us and makes us feel still more alone, completing a vicious circle. Our fundamental quest—by no means unrelated to our aloneness and our loneliness—is the quest for meaning, the quest to make sense of our time on earth, to make sense of time itself.
Where does music come in?
Defending the faith
From The Guardian:
Kamila Shamsie is enchanted by Tariq Ali's A Sultan in Palermo, a vivid, relevant and necessary tale of Islamic history. In A Sultan in Palermo, the fourth novel in Tariq Ali's Islam quintet, the 12th-century geographer al-Idrisi thinks back on his first encounter with the works of the Greek al-Homa (Homer). Al-Idrisi had been told by his father of the 12 calligraphers who transcribed Arabic translations of al-Homa's poetry, working under conditions of such secrecy that if they were even to reveal the nature of their work, "the executioner's scimitar, in a lightning flash, would detach head from body". But one of the calligraphers, undaunted, copied out parts of both al-Homa's poems and sent them to his family in Damascus, along with the information that the complete manuscripts were in secret compartments in the library of Palermo. Generations later, al-Idrisi finds himself in the library at Palermo and, of course, discovers the secret compartment.
Saturday, July 30, 2005
God vs. Satan: Who's the better investor?
Daniel Gross in Slate:
The market is amoral and agnostic. It has no interest in your virtues or vices or God, except insofar as they help make money. But just as morality and faith have taken a larger role in all of American life, so are they also playing an increasingly prominent role in investing. For the secularly progressive, there are socially conscious mutual funds. Jews may be partial to Israel bonds. Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, which sounds like the setup for a Garrison Keillor one-liner, offers more than 20 mutual funds. Putting money to work in ways compatible with your overall worldview is clearly appealing to growing numbers of investors.
And this has produced a very odd market anomaly: Both virtue and vice seem to be increasingly effective investing strategies. God and Satan are both winning on Wall Street. In recent years, people who have invested in a particular brand of virtue—the Ave Maria Catholic Values Fund—and people who have invested in a particular brand of vice—the Vice Fund—have both handily beaten the market.
More here. [Thanks to Alan Koenig.]
Symbolic Logic: Easy and Fun
Most non-professional philosophers are deterred from attending lectures and reading books by academics who use symbolic logic. Some even claim it is an elitist attempt to make presentations deliberately inaccessible to the uninitiated. In any case, I believe it is worth studying and needn’t be a scary as it at first looks. I hope this ‘child’s guide’ to modern philosophical formalism will provide a bridge between these two groups of philosophers..
The two most intimidating symbols are ‘∃’, standing for ‘one’ or ‘some’ or ‘somebody’, and ‘∀’, standing for ‘all’ or ‘every’ or ‘everybody’. They were designed by the Italian mathematician and logician Giuseppe Peano (1858-1912) and they are usually combined with another letter or letters which stand for the statement of our choice
From The New York Times:
The current tendency to political polarization in news reporting is a consequence of changes not in underlying political opinions but in costs, specifically the falling costs of new entrants. The rise of the conservative Fox News Channel caused CNN to shift to the left. CNN was going to lose many of its conservative viewers to Fox anyway, so it made sense to increase its appeal to its remaining viewers by catering more assiduously to their political preferences.
So why do people consume news and opinion? In part it is to learn of facts that bear directly and immediately on their lives - hence the greater attention paid to local than to national and international news. They also want to be entertained, and they find scandals, violence, crime, the foibles of celebrities and the antics of the powerful all mightily entertaining. And they want to be confirmed in their beliefs by seeing them echoed and elaborated by more articulate, authoritative and prestigious voices. So they accept, and many relish, a partisan press. Forty-three percent of the respondents in the poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center thought it ''a good thing if some news organizations have a decidedly political point of view in their coverage of the news.''
You are invited to the...
Come to our party tonight!
Place: Flux Factory
Date: July 30, 2005
Time: 9:15 pm
RSVP: In the comments area
Drinks/Dancing/DJ Dan Balis...
Plus, Amazing Live Music!
Sherlock Holmes and Pippi Longstocking Autistic?
Polly Morrice in the New York Times:
Some time ago, while trolling the Web, I came across a 30-year-old paper by William P. Sullivan, originally published in The Bulletin of the West Virginia Association of College English Teachers, that describes Melville's Bartleby as ''a high-functioning autistic adult.'' The notion struck me as far-fetched, but it certainly has had legs. A recent search using the words ''Bartleby'' and ''autism'' turned up, among other results, a 2004 Modern Language Association essay on the pale scrivener's ''autistic presence'' and a University of Iowa study guide that asks if Melville might have ''observed some of these attributes in himself.'' Bartleby even appears on a site listing literary figures with autistic traits -- along with Pippi Longstocking, Sherlock Holmes and several characters from ''Pride and Prejudice.''
What's behind the impulse to unearth autism in the classics?
It was written in the stars
"Biographies of Fred Hoyle from Simon Mitton and Jane Gregory tell the tale of a slighted genius, says Robin McKie."
From The Guardian:
Fred Hoyle died a wronged man. The cosmologist quit this world aged 86 in 2001, having done more than any other to explain how it came into existence. He did so by describing how the elements, the building blocks of our planet, were forged in cosmic furnaces across our galaxy.
For that feat, one of the greatest intellectual triumphs of modern physics, he was ignored by the Nobel Prize committee which chose to reward others who had done lesser work in this field. Thus, the scientific establishment, which claims to seek truth dispassionately, treated one of its finest proponents with contempt.
In China, Critics debate value of literature
From China View:
The five winners of this year's Mao Dun Literary Award were selected from some 156 titles nominated by publishing houses across the country.
According to He Shaojun, a member of both the first and second round review committees, about 1,000 full-length novels are published in China every year.
Though some of the nominated works were poorly printed, the list of nominees, published between 2001 and 2005, did not miss a title.
A total of 23 were then selected by a group of about 20 readers, most of whom are literature professors or editors of literature periodicals, after carefully reading all 156 works.
Then the review committee, consisting of another group of literary insiders, decided the final winners by voting on the 23 books.
Orphan works of Art and Literature
Scott Carlson in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
This week, at the urging of prominent legal scholars, academic-library organizations, technology companies such as Google and Microsoft, and many other interested parties, the U.S. Copyright Office is holding a series of hearings to determine whether copyright law should change to allow for more liberal use of orphan works.
Scholars and others weighed in earlier this year, filing comments on the issue with the copyright office in anticipation of the hearings. The American Historical Association, for example, noted that orphan works had become a problem for scholars, "hampering the historian's ability to work with the raw materials of history."
The comments reveal that even frequent adversaries on copyright issues agree that changes are needed in how the law governs orphan works. But few people agree on what those changes should be.
The Anti-Semitic Disease
Paul Johnson in Commentary:
The intensification of anti-Semitism in the Arab world over the last years and its reappearance in parts of Europe have occasioned a number of thoughtful reflections on the nature and consequences of this phenomenon, but also some misleading analyses based on doubtful premises. It is widely assumed, for example, that anti-Semitism is a form of racism or ethnic xenophobia. This is a legacy of the post-World War II period, when revelations about the horrifying scope of Hitler’s “final solution” caused widespread revulsion against all manifestations of group hatred. Since then, racism, in whatever guise it appears, has been identified as the evil to be fought.
But if anti-Semitism is a variety of racism, it is a most peculiar variety, with many unique characteristics. In my view as a historian, it is so peculiar that it deserves to be placed in a quite different category. I would call it an intellectual disease, a disease of the mind, extremely infectious and massively destructive. It is a disease to which both human individuals and entire human societies are prone.
Friday, July 29, 2005
Doug Harvey on UCLA's Fowler Museum of Cultural History:
The most reliable place for a fix of the unexpected, though, remains UCLA’s Fowler Museum of Cultural History, which has hosted some of my favorite shows of the last few years, including exhibits about Senegalese Sufi saint Amadou Bamba, Inuit printmaker Jessie Oonark, associative neo-pagan thought-stylist and certified madman Aby Warburg, and the deliriously postmodern hand-painted movie posters of Ghana. There were already a couple of interesting shows at the Fowler, but with the recent opening of photo-documentarian Linda Butler’s “Yangtze Remembered: The River Beneath the Lake,” I knew I had to visit — with one stop, I could rack up enough cultural antibodies to see me through a dozen shows of deliberately incompetent landscape paintings (thank you again, Laura Owens) and narcissistic Photoshop noodlings.more here.
2 Good Ones and a Bad One
Having always been strangely moved by The Scorpions' "Winds of Change," and having grouped it together in my mind with Jesus Jones' "Right Here, Right Now," I was particularly delighted by this short piece from Hua Hsu. It also touches on the amazingly awful Billy Joel song "We Didn't Start the Fire," which a late night discussion among my own friends once nominated as crappiest popular song ever.
It was impossible to misread Meine’s teleology: “The world is closing in / And did you ever think / That we could be so close, like brothers?” The previous November, the Scorpions had witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now it was time for the Soviet Union to implode, the secret mission of glasnost fulfilled. To Meine and his woolly comrades, it was the natural order of things—“The wind of change blows straight / Into the face of time.” Matthias Jabs followed with a lengthy guitar solo, a more direct expression of what freedom sounded like. The future was in the air, and Meine could feel it everywhere. By sheer coincidence, the Soviet Union collapsed the very next year, in August 1991.
There are several very good articles in this special feature in Nature:
The classic image of India that most people can conjure has cows, beggars, small children and sari-clad women all jostling for space on crowded streets. That image still reflects reality — but with palpable differences.
Along some of those streets now are gleaming, modern buildings where men and women churn out medicines for poor countries. Many children are being immunized with affordable vaccines produced by India's own biotechnology industry. And if the country continues to prosper as it has for the past decade, there soon may not be many beggars left.
Since 1991, when India discarded its socialist past and instituted broad reforms, its economy has been growing rapidly. By 2032, India's economy could be larger than those of all but the United States and China, according to an estimate by the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs.
In the following pages, we look at what effect these changes have had on India's life sciences. Indian biotechnology companies have been remarkably successful, but they have made most of their money copying patented drugs. To sustain growth, they will have to become more innovative. The same is true of basic-research institutes, which have only recently begun to be globally competitive.
More here. [Thanks to Lara Inis.]
one of the most original and rigorous pieces of criticism in any medium I have encountered in quite some time
A.O. Scott in the New York Times:
"The Aristocrats" is - how shall I put it? - an essay film, a work of painstaking and penetrating scholarship, and, as such, one of the most original and rigorous pieces of criticism in any medium I have encountered in quite some time.
For those of you who have not already put down your newspaper and rushed off to buy tickets (and I hereby authorize the advertising department at ThinkFilm to plaster the previous sentence wherever it likes), perhaps I should add that "The Aristocrats" is also possibly the filthiest, vilest, most extravagantly obscene documentary ever made. Visually, it is as tame as anything on PBS or VH1's "Behind the Music," but there is scarcely a minute of screen time that does not contain a reference to scatology, incest, bestiality and practices for which no euphemisms or Latinate names have been invented.
Tiny embryos linked to giant dinosaurs
The oldest fossilized dinosaur embryos ever found reveal how the creatures grew from tiny hatchlings to become such giant land beasts. The embryos, including one that was ready to hatch before being frozen in time, had no teeth. That is further evidence that at least some dinosaurs must have tended their young, scientists said Thursday. The embryos are 190 million years old, dating from the beginning of the Jurassic Period.
Rich Little 'Poor' Kids
From The Village Voice:
In the past generation, the increasing polarization of American incomes has created a new class: the super-rich. The number of households worth over $1 million nearly doubled between the early 1980s and the late 1990s. In 2003 two economists at the Boston College Social Welfare Research Institute reconfirmed their 1999 prediction that an astonishing $41 trillion of personal wealth, including assets like real estate, will be bequeathed from one generation to the next over the next 55 years. Just as the average boomer offspring is struggling to make a living, the children of the brightest new American success stories can't be blamed for feeling a little inadequate when comparing their parents' achievements with their own.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Best of worst writing is recognized
A man who compared a woman's anatomy to a carburetor won an annual contest that celebrates the worst writing in the English language.
Dan McKay, a computer analyst at Microsoft Great Plains in Fargo, North Dakota, bested thousands of entrants from North Pole, Alaska to Manchester, England to triumph Wednesday in San Jose State University's annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.
"As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire," he wrote, comparing a woman's breasts to "small knurled caps of the oil dampeners."
The competition highlights literary achievements of the most dubious sort -- terrifyingly bad sentences that take their inspiration from minor writer Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel "Paul Clifford" began, "It was a dark and stormy night."
More here. [Thanks to Margit Oberrauch.]
Open Source . . . Beer
"Students from the Information Technology University in Copenhagen is trying to help by releasing what they are calling the world's first open source beer recipe.
It is called Vores Oel, or Our Beer, and the recipe is proving to be a worldwide hit.
The idea behind the beer comes from open source software. This is software whose code is made publicly available for anyone to change and improve, provided that those changes and improvements are then shared in turn.
Perhaps the most well-known example of open source software is the Linux operating system.
Microsoft, on the other hand, creates proprietary software, meaning the company does not tend to let others see how its software works.
The Danish brewer Carlsberg takes a similar approach to beer.
Rasmus Nielsen, who runs a Copenhagen-based artist collective called Superflex, wanted to challenge the idea of 'proprietary' beer."
Misperceptions of the size of Minority populations
Speaking of Andrew Gelman, Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science (the blog he runs with Samantha Cook) has an intereting post and follow ups about estimations of minority populations by ordinary people.
Across the western world, the average estimates by people on the street of the size of minorities tend to be way off from the actual share of the population minorities make up. For example, when Americans are asked what percentage of the population is black, the average response is usually around 25%; the actual share of blacks and African-Americans in the population is about 12%. This tendency to overestimate the (immigrant) minority population is also found in Europe, but interestingly, the overestimate becomes larger as the size of the immigrant minority population grows smaller.
The misperceptions are clearly biased; the means of the errors of individual estimates don't equal zero.
See the posts and commenst for possible causes behind the misperception. Some possible reasons suggested by the cognitive psychologist David Budescu:
This overestimation is, probably, due to a combination of several factors: (a) different definions of the target event (the judges may generalize and assume, for example, that all the children of foreign born residents are also born abroad), (b) vividness (members of of the target population stand out -- looks, accent, language, clothing), (c) clustering (often they are concentrated in certain areas), (d) typically, these surveys don't employ incentives for truthful responding (i.e. proper scoring rules), and some people may respond "strategically" by inflating their estimates to make a political point.
In The Realm of Paranoia
'For a few days after the explosions, the atmosphere was bad on the buses. Passengers were looking into every face as they sat on a Number 30 from King’s Cross, and if the face happened to be brown, they looked to their bag or backpack. That is how fear and paranoia work: they create turbulence in your everyday passivity, and everyone was affected after the attempted bombings on 22 July in ways that won’t quickly go away. In the realm of paranoia, the second bombings were more powerful than the first, for they made it clear how very gettable we are, even in a culture of high alert.'
From the LRB's Andrew O'Hagan on the fallout from the London bombings.