September 30, 2007
The New Cigarette: The Secret History of the War on Cancer
Devra Davis wants chemical waste to become the new cigarette, an object that generates reflexive loathing from most Americans. And the pieces of the puzzle seem to be there: exposure-related cancers, decades of incriminating research, and cover-ups by the chemical industry. In her new book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer, Davis diligently and persuasively argues that we are ignoring dozens of cancer-causing chemicals. She also sounds a familiar call for toxic-producing industries to clean up their waste and figure out how to get rid of it without creating future hazards.
For almost as long as there has been a "war on cancer," there has been what might be called a "war on the war on cancer": a series of efforts to move beyond a sole focus on the detection and treatment of cancer (the standard war on cancer) to actual prevention of the disease. Although Davis promises to share "stories I'd never heard before and documents I could never find in libraries or government documents," her book by and large tells well-known horror stories about supposedly cancer-inducing products long vilified by environmental activists, such as asbestos, benzene, vinyl chloride, and dioxin.
Best Science Images of 2007 Honored
From The National Geographic:
A still image from a 3-D animation shows how nicotine stimulates nerve impulses to the pleasure center of the brain.
September 29, 2007
Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder
Richard Dawkins delivers his brilliant 1996 Richard Dimbleby Lecture:
How To Live Forever
Jason Wilson in The Smart Set:
I’d been sent into the wild interior of Sardinia on assignment by AARP Magazine. Researchers had recently documented an abnormal cluster of modern-day Methuselahs residing here. At least one man in this region lived to 112 and, until his death, was the oldest man in the world. And there were many other centenarians living in isolated Ogliastra villages.
Basically, my AARP assignment called for me to barge in on very old Sardinians and ask: How can our readers, too, live such a long life? The editors wanted tips, nuts and bolts, practical “how to” nuggets. Of course, I wanted to know these things, too. Like most other human beings, my desire to live forever — or at least as long as I possibly can —knows no bounds. And I, like many, have been fooled before in this quest for longevity. I remember, for instance, a widely reported tale of men in the Caucasus Mountains who lived to the ripe of old age of 120 by subsisting solely on a diet of yogurt. After gorging myself on yogurt, it was soon reported that whole story was a hoax. The men’s birth records were wrong. Faulty data. Sorry.
But in Sardinia, the story is different. This time, after rigorous study, all the Sardinian centenarians’ birth records checked out. The demographers on the case confirm that the age data are perfect. No hoaxes, no inaccuracies.
The "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks
Bethany Keeley on the FAQ page at her blog:
Answer: Actually, I don’t consider quotation marks a peeve. I just think it’s funny to misinterpret them, almost always. This is not the case with most other grammatical errors, although the occasional dangling modifier is pretty amusing. Somebody else can blog about your thing if they want; I really think the genius here is the specificity. Check out my sidebar though; some of those people might already blog about your thing. Especially you legion of apostrophe pedants.
Why are quotation marks such a big deal to you anyway?
Answer: They really aren't. I'm actually not a grammar fanatic at all, although clear writing is important to me. I have an actual job and PhD education which are higher priorities for me than anything quotation-mark related. I started this blog for fun never expecting anybody to notice it except my family and friends.
Is there any purpose in translating poetry?
Carol Rumens in The Guardian:
This question was posed last weekend in the Guardian Review by James Buchan, reviewing a new Paul Celan selection, Snowpart/Schneepart, with English translations by Ian Fairley. He adds that, after all, "a poem does not contain information of importance, like a signpost or a warning notice".
That's true enough. Modern lyric poetry, with its symbols and metaphors, its arcane allusions and teasing line breaks, is fairly bad at giving us the facts. We no longer live in an age in which the skills of beekeeping, say, are explained by the greatest verse-maker in the language, as Virgil does in The Georgics. Even those jolly mnemonics about the weather or the Greek alphabet are fading from consciousness. It's a pity, as I often think I might get the gist of assembling a new piece of flatpack furniture quicker if the instructions were wittily rhymed.
So why translate? My first answer is that poetry in translation simply adds to the sum total of human pleasure obtainable through a single language. It opens up new language worlds within our own tongues, as every good poem does. It revitalises our daily, cliche-haunted vocabulary. It disturbs our assumptions, jolts us with rhythms flatter or stronger than we're used to. It extends us in the way real travelling does, giving us new sounds, sights and smells. Every unique poetry village sharpens us to life.
a world worth visiting
To call “The Darjeeling Limited” precious is less a critical judgment than a simple statement of fact, equivalent to saying that the movie is in color, that it’s set in India or that it’s 91 minutes long. It’s synonymous with saying the movie was directed by Wes Anderson. By now — “The Darjeeling Limited” is his fifth feature film — Mr. Anderson’s methods and preoccupations are as familiar as the arguments for and against them. (See an essay in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly for the prosecution and a profile in this week’s New York magazine for the defense.) His frames are, once again, stuffed with carefully placed curiosities, both human and inanimate; his story wanders from whimsy to melancholy; his taste in music, clothes, cars and accessories remains eccentric and impeccable.
And like his other recent films, “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” this new one celebrates a sensibility at once cliquish and inclusive. It reflects the aesthetic obsessions of a tiny coterie that anyone with the price of a ticket is free to join. (Charter members include Owen Wilson, one of the film’s three leading men, and his co-star Jason Schwartzman, who wrote the script with Mr. Anderson and Roman Coppola.)
more from the NY Times here.
All of us are now 'no-longers'
Ah, longevity. Without it, we would have to think differently about Philip Roth. Despite the success and notoriety (and, yes, outright brilliance) of "Goodbye, Columbus" and "Portnoy's Complaint," his early career is, frankly, spotty, marked by minor efforts ("Our Gang," "The Breast") and books such as "When She Was Good" and "My Life as a Man" that never seem to find their way. Indeed, it was only with the 1979 publication of "The Ghost Writer," the first of his novels to feature Nathan Zuckerman, that Roth uncovered what has become the center of his work.
It's not that he wasn't ambitious; he didn't call his 1973 baseball fantasia "The Great American Novel" for nothing, after all. Yet to look back at Roth's writing of the 1960s and 1970s is to see a writer in chrysalis, testing out themes and ideas -- the relationship of Jewishness and Americanness, the interplay between art and identity, the ongoing struggle of the self to define itself -- that he would get at with far greater acuity in his later work.
more from the LA Times here.
two centuries of pitiless persecution of black men by sordid whites
Poor Africa, the happy hunting ground of the mythomaniac, the rock star buffing up his or her image, the missionary with a faith to sell, the child buyer, the retailer of dirty drugs or toxic cigarettes, the editor in search of a scoop, the empire builder, the aid worker, the tycoon wishing to rid himself of his millions, the school builder with a bucket of patronage, the experimenting economist, the diamond merchant, the oil executive, the explorer, the slave trader, the eco-tourist, the adventure traveler, the bird watcher, the travel writer, the escapee, the colonial and his crapulosities, the banker, the busybody, the Mandela-sniffer, the political fantasist, the buccaneer and your cousin the Peace Corps Volunteer. Oh, and the atoner, of whom Thoreau observed in a skeptical essay: “Now, if anything ail a man so that he does not perform his functions ... if he has committed some heinous sin and partially repents, what does he do? He sets about reforming the world.” Thoreau, who had Africa specifically in mind, added, “Do you hear it, ye Wolofs?”
more from the NY Times Book Review here.
ballads, opera, fairy tales
Tom Shippey at TLS:
In 1848, the year of revolutions, a “National Assembly” was convened at Frankfurt, to discuss unification of the German lands, civil rights and a constitution for a future Reich. The strangest thing about the assembly was its seating plan. Delegates were placed in a semi-circle facing the Speaker, but there was one seat in the centre of the semi-circle, directly opposite the Speaker, set apart from all the others. It was reserved for Jacob Grimm. Can one imagine a British durbar to decide the future of the Empire, deliberately and symbolically centred on a professor of linguistics, also known as a collector of fairy tales? But Grimm was not a mere linguist, he was a Philolog, and by 1848, as Joep Leerssen points out in his exceptionally wide-ranging study, philology was a combination of linguistics, literary history and cultural anthropology with the prestige of a hard science and the popular appeal of The Lord of the Rings. Grimm was there to speak, not for the nation, for there was no German nation, but for an imaginary Deutschland which he had very largely created in an unmatched though repeatedly imitated feat of “cultural consciousness-raising”.
Two Environmentalists Anger Their Brethren
From Wired Magazine:
For angry heretics on the run, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger sure know how to enjoy themselves. Sitting in a cozy Berkeley restaurant just a few blocks from San Francisco Bay, exchanging tasting notes on the vermentino ("cold white wine is so good with fatty, fried food," Shellenberger says), they recount with perverse pleasure, in tones almost as dry as the wine, how they've been branded as infidels by fellow environmentalists. It started in 2004, when they published their first Tom Paine-style essay accusing the movement's leaders of failing to deal effectively with the global warming crisis.
And now, with the October publication of their first book, Break Through: From "The Death of Environmentalism" to the Politics of Possibility, they are going to face the full fury of enraged environmentalists. Break Through is a fascinating hybrid: part call to arms, part policy paper, part philosophical treatise. (Name another book that gives equal time to Nietzsche, cognitive therapy, and fuel-economy legislation.) It takes aim at some of the environmental movement's biggest lions, including Kennedy and Al Gore. It belittles the Kyoto Protocol; it rips into best- selling social critics like Thomas Frank and Jared Diamond. But it also dismisses free marketeers who believe that unfettered markets alone can solve our carbon-emission woes. "If this book doesn't piss off a whole lot of conservatives and a whole lot of liberals, we've failed," Nordhaus says.
A View of the Bosporus
From The New York Times:
ORHAN PAMUK takes the pundit’s dry talk of a “clash of civilizations” and gives it a human face, turns it on its head and sends it spinning wildly. In his early novel “The White Castle,” a Venetian slave and his Ottoman master swap clothes, exchange ideas and squabble like siblings until you can no longer tell who is who — or who’s on top. “I enjoy sitting at my desk,” Pamuk told The Paris Review, in an interview included in his new book, “like a child playing with his toys.” This gift for taking the urgent issues of the day and presenting them as detective stories that race past like footfalls down an alleyway has made Pamuk the best-selling writer in the history of his native Turkey and the deserving winner of last year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, at the unvenerable age of 54. Serving up 16th-century murder stories that investigate shifts in the history of Islamic art and offering us seriously entertaining wild goose tales that ask the deepest questions about identity, Pamuk is that rarest of creatures, a fabulist of ideas.
September 28, 2007
News from the savannah
From The Economist:
Which is more dangerous, an elephant or a minivan? For most readers of this newspaper, the answer is going to be a minivan. From childhood, people in motorised civilisations are warned about the dangers of running into the road, taught the appropriate highway code and—when old enough—permitted to get behind the wheel only after having undergone a rigorous programme of training that ends with a formal examination.
You might think, therefore, that such people would be more aware of the movements of vehicles than of animals. But if you did think that, you would be wrong. An experiment just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Joshua New of Yale University shows that people pay more attention to the activities of animals than to those of vehicles. That applies even among urban Westerners who rarely see an animal from one year's end to the next.
Dr New was testing a theory of mind originally developed by Leda Cosmides and John Tooby of the University of California, Santa Barbara, with whom he collaborated on the experiment. Dr Cosmides and Dr Tooby were among the first to break from the idea that the brain has evolved as a general-purpose problem-solving machine. They suggested that some tasks are so important and so universal that you would expect to find specially evolved “modules” to handle them, just as the senses are handled by specialised areas of the brain's cortex.
Something nice this way comes. It begins with the awful — whether it’s as enormous as the Holocaust or the World Trade Center or as intimate as family dysfunction or the death of a loved one — and then finds comfort. None of this Anna on the tracks, Emma in the dumps, or depressing Father Zosima’s corpse smells stuff; that’s sooo 19th century. As for Molly Bloom’s devil may care so let’s screw our brains out attitude, or Humbert Humbert’s twisted sexuality, or Dr. Spielvogel’s “Now vee may perhaps to begin” ironies, they’re clearly the product of 20th-century neuroses. Instead, let’s just book passage on a gentle, healing voyage. Sound trite? It is, but it’s apparently the literature of our time as exemplified by Jonathan Safran Foer, Myla Goldberg, Nicole Krauss, and Dave Eggers, along with everything McSweeney’s, the magazine founded by Eggers. What this otherwise disparate group of fiction and nonfiction writers share are a special calming effect on the souls of their many readers and, most significantly, a locus in which their work has come to fruition: Brooklyn.
more from The American Scholar here.
all eyes on burma
When New Statesman readers voted Aung San Suu Kyi the greatest hero of our time in May last year, there was no doubting the strength of feeling over the plight of the Burmese people. The pro-democracy leader, who has spent much of the past 17 years under house arrest, received three times as many nominations as Nelson Mandela.
In August 2006, we devoted a special issue to Burma. "Is there hope in the land of the generals?" we asked, as we focused on the tragedy of a country that has suffered under the rule of a military dictatorship since 1962, when General Ne Win seized the power he held on to until 1988.
That year is significant, for it was the time of the last major challenge to the ruling junta. Ne Win did step down, and in 1990 elections were held. But the generals did not relax their control of the country; Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, won 82 per cent of the vote but was never allowed to form a government. And the protests that had led to a shifting of power within the regime had been put down with a barbarism and cruelty for which Burma's leaders are too well-known. Troops fired on peaceful demonstrators in Rangoon and other cities, killing several thousand and arresting many who have never been seen again.
more from The New Statesman here.
The Man in the Irony Mask
Seth Mnookin in Vanity Fair:
Like Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat, Stephen Colbert so completely inhabits his creation—the arch-conservative blowhard host of The Colbert Report, his Daily Show spin-off hit—that he rarely breaks character. As Colbert's new book, I Am America (And So Can You!), is published, Vanity Fair gets a revealing interview with the real thing: a master comedian, forever altered by family tragedy.
I used to make up stuff in my bio all the time, that I used to be a professional ice-skater and stuff like that. I found it so inspirational. Why not make myself cooler than I am? I [told an interviewer that] I'd been arrested for assaulting someone with a flashlight. And I said that I drove a Shelby Cobra, like the Road Warrior, like Mel Gibson. I said, "I'd like you to know I drive a Shelby Cobra." They totally swallowed it, and I felt bad. Then I thought, It doesn't matter. It'll make a better story. —Stephen Colbert in an interview in his office, June 19, 2007.
What Ails the Short Story
Stephen King in the New York Times:
Do you like the sound of that? Me too. I only wish it were actually true. The art form is still alive — that I can testify to. As editor of “The Best American Short Stories 2007,” I read hundreds of them, and a great many were good stories. Some were very good. And some seemed to touch greatness. But “well”? That’s a different story.
I came by my hundreds — which now overflow several cardboard boxes known collectively as The Stash — in a number of different ways. A few were recommended by writers and personal friends. A few more I downloaded from the Internet. Large batches were sent to me on a regular basis by Heidi Pitlor, the series editor. But I’ve never been content to stay on the reservation, and so I also read a great many stories in magazines I bought myself, at bookstores and newsstands in Florida and Maine, the two places where I spend most of the year. I want to begin by telling you about a typical short-story-hunting expedition at my favorite Sarasota mega-bookstore. Bear with me; there’s a point to this.
Why organic food can't feed the world
Craig Meisner in Cosmos:
Can organic food feed the world? A recent study, published in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems provides new data that suggests it can. However, I have some grave reservations about this prospect that are based on my experience as a scientist and my time living and working with real farmers in developing nations.
The authors of this study assume the major stumbling blocks to organic farming feeding the world are low crop yields and insufficient quantities of approved organic fertilisers. However, I have lived and worked in Bangladesh – as a professor of Cornell University, covering agricultural research and development – for the last 25 years, and I believe that even if these problems could be surmounted, using organic farming to feed the developing world remains a pipe dream.
Philip Roth on the State of the Union
A Dandelion for My Mother
How I loved those spiky suns,
rooted stubborn as childhood
in the grass, tough as the farmer's
big-headed children--the mats
of yellow hair, the bowl-cut fringe.
How sturdy they were and how
slowly they turned themselves
into galaxies, domes of ghost stars
barely visible by day, pale
cerebrums clinging to life
on tough green stems. Like you.
Like you, in the end. If you were here,
I'd pluck this trembling globe to show
how beautiful a thing can be
a breath will tear away.
Harvard researchers find longevity, restricted diet link
From The Harvard Gazette:
Researchers believe they’ve found the cellular link between extremely restricted diets and dramatically lengthened lifespan and hope to use the knowledge to develop new treatments for age-related diseases. The research, conducted by scientists at Harvard Medical School, Cornell University Medical School, and the National Institutes of Health, illuminates for the first time the cellular processes triggered by extremely low-calorie diets. Scientists have known for about 70 years that extremely restricted diets — where caloric intake is 30 percent to 40 percent below normal — can extend lifespan by as much as a third. In addition, those years are healthier and relatively free of common age-related debilities such as cancer, heart problems, and type 2 diabetes. The longer, healthier lives have been seen in a host of animals maintained on a very low-calorie diet, including mice, rats, and monkeys. What scientists haven’t been able to figure out, until now, is why eating a lot less makes one live a lot longer.
The answer, it turns out, lies in tiny bodies inside each cell that act as cellular battery packs. As one ages, cells lose these battery packs — called mitochondria — and slow down. Extremely restricted diets, it turns out, revs them back up again. The research, published in the Sept. 21 issue of the journal Cell, shows that calorie restriction sparks a chain reaction within cells that creates two enzymes called SIRT3 and SIRT4. The enzymes cross into mitochondria, making them grow stronger and increase energy output.
Once More Into the Fray
Whereas most animals run away from the dangers of the African savannas, meerkats, brave little souls that they are, race toward them. Large groups run headlong at venomous snakes and other potential predators, harassing them with jeering noises and pokes from their tiny claws. Scientists have long thought the meerkats were somehow protecting their colony, but new research suggests that the odd behavior may also be a way for younger meerkats to learn more about their enemies. If so, then it may lead biologists to take a second look at other social species, such as prairie dogs and vervet monkeys, which behave similarly.
Biologists Beke Graw and Marta Manser of the University of Zurich in Switzerland studied meerkats in the wild. When they released cobras and other predators near the colony, the meerkats mobbed the snakes and became aggressive. They also mobbed innocuous critters, such as moles and squirrels--even empty cages--but eventually lost interest and drifted away. Meerkats responded differently according to their age. Adults between 1 and 2 years of age mobbed intruders longer and growled, barked, and poked more intensely than did younger and older animals, the team reports in this month's issue of Animal Behaviour.
September 27, 2007
To Form a More Perfect Hitchens
There's an entire micro-economy based on the pursuit of betterment. The author—58, full-figured, and ferocious in his consumption of cigarettes and scotch—agreed to test its limits, starting with the Executive De-Stress Treatment at a high-end spa.
The Hitch in Vanity Fair:
I'd noticed a touch of decline here and there, but one puts these things down to Anno Domini and the acquirement of seniority. A bit of a stomach gives a chap a position in society. A glass of refreshment, in my view, never hurt anybody. This walking business is overrated: I mastered the art of doing it when I was quite small, and in any case, what are taxis for? Smoking is a vice, I will admit, but one has to have a hobby. Nonetheless, when my friends at this magazine formed up and said they would pay good money to stop having to look at me in my current shape, I agreed to a course of rehabilitation. There now exists a whole micro-economy dedicated to the proposition that a makeover is feasible, or in other words to disprove Scott Fitzgerald's dictum that there are no second acts in American lives. Objectives: to drop down from the current 185 pounds, to improve the "tone" of the skin and muscles, to wheeze less, to enhance the hunched and round-shouldered posture, to give some thought to the hair and fur questions (more emphasis perhaps in the right places and less in the wrong ones), to sharpen up the tailoring, to lessen the booze intake, and to make the smile, which currently looks like a handful of mixed nuts, a little less scary to children.
Dung from mammoths sends warming signal
Dmitri Solovyov at MSNBC:
For millennia, layers of animal waste and other organic matter left behind by the creatures that used to roam the Arctic tundra have been sealed inside the frozen permafrost. Now climate change is thawing the permafrost and lifting this prehistoric ooze from suspended animation.
But Zimov, a scientist who for almost 30 years has studied climate change in Russia’s Arctic, believes that as this organic matter becomes exposed to the air it will accelerate global warming faster than even some of the most pessimistic forecasts.
“This will lead to a type of global warming which will be impossible to stop,” he said.
When the organic matter left behind by mammoths and other wildlife is exposed to the air by the thawing permafrost, his theory runs, microbes that have been dormant for thousands of years spring back into action.
As a by-product they emit carbon dioxide and — even more damaging in terms of its impact on the climate — methane gas.
Rembrandt Is Eyes
Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:
One of the virtues of the current exhibit "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is that you can see Rembrandt among his contemporaries. You can see the milieu he was working within and what was different and unique about him. One thing that is confirmed in this comparison is that, like no one else, Rembrandt is eyes. (This is a different point than that made by Simon Schama in his Rembrandt's Eyes, but not necessarily an incompatible one). By eyes I mean the whole “eye area” — the brow, the lids, the entire fleshy region immediately surrounding and containing the eyes. Contrary to the popular saying, it is not just the eye that is the window to the soul. It is the aforementioned “eye area” that really does it. The wrinkles and furrows, the black bags, and the heavy lids — these are essential aspects of the eye. They tell of a person and who that person has been so far.
Rembrandt was a true master — of that there is no doubt and so nobody bothers to. Everyone who looks at a Rembrandt, especially the portraits, is soon struck by the humanism of it all, by the uncanny closeness you feel toward the human faces that emerge out of the characteristic Rembrandtian gloom. And no matter the person — man or woman, powerful merchant, or outright commoner — Rembrandt portrays them as suddenly vulnerable. Plain and simple, these people can be wounded, they have been wounded. That is the humanism of Rembrandt, his ability to see everyone as a potential wound, as barely prepared for the next blow, whatever it may be. And it is always in the eyes.
the liberal state dilemma
In 1976 Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde presented the following dilemma: “The liberal secular state lives on premises that it is not able to guarantee by itself. On one side it can subsist only if the freedom it consents to its citizens is regulated from within, inside the moral substance of individuals and of a homogeneous society. On the other side, it is not able to guarantee these forces of inner regulation by itself without renouncing to its liberalism.” What answers can the liberal state offer to questions of social cohesion and ethical deficit that are affecting secularized democracies? Are we living in a secular or a post-secular society? Reset put these questions to some of the most influential international intellectuals.
more from Reset here.
We need a music worth our time
File under Dionysus the feelings a rock concert aims to induce: careless ecstasy and careless unity, dissolving in the careless crowd. Is Dionysus all-embracing, or is he instead all-consuming, all-digesting, reducing all to homogenous shit-stink? Why has no one mentioned that John Lennon’s “I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one” is a sentiment suitable for chanting at a Nuremberg rally?
The solution to mass-market Dionysianism is the obvious corrective tilt toward the Apollonian. Apollo is the contrary principle of form, clarity, precision, and individuation. Sculpture is the art of saying No to the rest of the mountain.
Apollo and Dionysus need one another, but only Apollo seems to understand this; Dionysus is busy vomiting into the toilet.
more from n+1 here.
One Does Not Escape Jewishness
Ultimately, Hannah Arendt’s achievements and biases, her creativity and inner conflicts must be seen as part of the quite extraordinary history of post-emancipation German-Jewish intellectuals as they confronted German culture and its later breakdown, the experience of totalitarianism, and Jewish attempts at reconstitution. Her involvement with the Jewish world was always intense and complex, but so too was her simultaneous engagement in other cultural and political spheres. Precisely because she acutely and distinctively embodied the tensions and contradictions of these manifold worlds, she was able – sometimes more, sometimes less successfully – to grasp critically their interconnections and plumb both the despair and the possibilities of her fractured time.
more from the TLS here.
Triumph from disaster
From The Guardian:
Like Salman Rushdie, Indra Sinha used to be an adman. Best leave the comparison there: the parallels are so close that Sinha prefers not to think about them. Both were born in Bombay, went to the Cathedral School for Boys, came to Britain, went to Cambridge, wrote ads about cream cakes (as well as The Satanic Verses, Rushdie is credited with the "Naughty but Nice" campaign), and abandoned advertising to write fiction. Sinha, the son of an Indian naval officer and an Englishwoman who wrote short stories, doesn't dwell on the similarities because he doesn't want to think too hard about the latest one. Rushdie went on to win the Booker prize; now Sinha has been shortlisted for his second novel, Animal's People, a powerful fictionalisation of the Bhopal disaster of 1984 in which a gas escape from a US-owned chemical factory killed thousands in the central Indian city.
The story is told by Animal, a 20-year-old whose spine was wrecked as a result of the leak and who has been reduced to walking on all fours. "I used to be human once. So I'm told," he says at the outset. Animal curses, masturbates while spying on a naked woman from up a tree, and tries to poison the leader of the justice campaign. He is the anarchic centre of an angry, yet warm-hearted, book. It is a remarkable piece of ventriloquism by the cultivated, Cambridge-educated Sinha, a large, shambling, shaggy-haired bear of a man who speaks in disconcertingly perfect sentences and still frets about the amount of swearing in the book.
Tiny RNAs, big problems: Spread of breast cancer is linked to micro-RNA
The smallest bit of genetic material may cause the deadliest of tumours. Researchers have implicated a tiny RNA molecule in the invasive spread of breast cancer — the factor responsible for most deaths from the disease. In 2007, around 179,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and some 47,000 will probably die. RNA is one of the main players in human genetics; the most well studied type, messenger RNA (mRNA), is vital for translating the code of our DNA, allowing those instructions to be read and used to produce proteins. MicroRNAs — tiny strings of genetic code often just a couple of dozen nucleotides or 'letters' long — can block this translation process by binding to mRNAs, stopping the production of proteins. A spate of new research has found these diminutive molecules to be involved in crucial processes of development, metabolism and cell suicide.
Now, a team led by Robert Weinberg at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Whitehead Institute in Cambridge has linked one of these up-and-coming molecules to invasive breast cancers. "I think that these microRNAs are going to be involved ubiquitously in regulating a wide variety of cellular processes, and this is just the tip of the iceberg," Weinberg says.
Did TV Destroy the Possibilty of Socialism?
Regis Debray in the New Left Review:
Consider the debt owed by socialist writing to the epistolary art: Marx and Engels worked out half their theories in letters, and virtually all their political activity had to pass through a pillarbox; the First International was conceived by Marx as a central correspondence bureau of the working class. Nowadays the militants socialize more and know less of each other’s ideas. More conversation means less controversy. The telephone destroyed the art of correspondence, and in the process diminished the moral stature of attempts at rational systematization; email has not restored it. Rarely do we pick up the phone to impart a complex sequence of principles and themes: we use it to chat. The general discourse has become indexed to the trappings of intimacy and private life. The cellphone, internet, laptop and plane are good for internationalization, but they render solidarity less organic—lethal for internationalism. They enlarge the sphere of individual relations but privatize them at the same time; they particularize even as they globalize. The cellphone is a permanent one-to-one. It drives the universal from our heads.
The crisis for socialism, then, is that even if it can resume its founding principles it cannot return to its founding cultural logic, its circuits of thought-production and dissemination. The collapse of the graphosphere has forced it to pack up its weapons and join the videosphere, whose thought-networks are fatal for its culture. A practical example: to find out what is going on one has to watch tv, and so stay at home. A bourgeois house arrest, for beneath ‘a man’s home is his castle’ there always lurks, ‘every man for himself’. The demobilization of the citizen begins with the physical immobilization of the spectator.
A New Solution to the God and Evolution Conundrum?
Sarah Coakley in the Harvard Divinity Bullentin:
What then are the three problems that confront us when we try to see a coherent relation between a good, providential deity and the unfolding created process? First, there is the issue of how we should understand the relation of God's providence to prehuman dimensions of creation and their development. Second, there is the issue of how God's providence can relate to the specific arena of human freedom and creativity. Then third, there is the problem of evil, the question of why what happens in the first two realms manifests so much destructiveness, suffering, and outright evil, if God is indeed omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent.
Why does modern evolutionary theory intensify these problems? They were, after all, already confronted and tackled with some sophistication in classical Greek philosophy and in early Christian thought, and refined further in the much-ramified discussions of high scholastic medieval theology. But modern Darwinian evolutionary theory appears: (a) to underscore the contingency or randomness of evolutionary "mutation" and "selection," and thus to render newly problematic the possibility of a coherent divine guidance of precultural revolution; (b) to bring further into question the compatibility of divine providence with the human "freedom" of the "cultural evolution" stage, given the deterministic and reductive assumptions of much evolutionary theory, bolstered more recently by genetic accompaniments to the original Darwinian vision ("freedom" now looks little more than an "elbow room" within a predetermined nexus—so Daniel Dennett; yet, paradoxically, one represented in much modern thought as straining toward an autonomous "will to power" that would precisely compete with, and cancel, an undergirding divine impetus); and thus (c) modern evolutionary theory appears to intensify the problem of evil intolerably. If God is, after all, the author and "sustainer" of the destructive mess and detritus of both precultural and cultural evolutionary processes, why is she so incompetent and/or sadistic as not to prevent such tragic accompaniments to her master plan? If intervention is an option for God, why has he not exercised it?
September 26, 2007
james wood starts up at the new yorker, with god
What is God like? Is he merciful, just, loving, vengeful, jealous? Is he a bodiless force, a cool watchmaker, or a hot interventionist, a doer with big opinions, a busy chap up in Heaven? Does he, for instance, approve of charity and disapprove of adultery? Or are these attributes instead like glass baubles that we throw against the statue of his invisibility, inevitably shattering into mere words? The medieval Jewish thinker Maimonides thought that it was futile to belittle God by giving him human attributes; to do so was to commit what later philosophers would call a category mistake. We cannot describe his essence; better to worship in reverent silence. “Silence is praise to thee,” Maimonides wrote, quoting from the second verse of Psalm 65.
Whatever one thinks of Maimonides’ chilly rigor, it is cannily paradoxical that even as he advises silence he quotes from the noisiest book in the Hebrew Bible. And, not only that, but from the very book that dramatizes, again and again, the gap between our language and the indescribable God, between our certainty that God is with us and our anxiety that he has abandoned us, between his cosmic proportions and our comic littleness.
more from The New Yorker here.
In 1890, the neo-Impressionist Paul Signac offered to paint Félix Fénéon, the very coiner, four years previously, of the term ‘neo-Impressionist’. The critic-subject responded with modest evasiveness, and then a proviso: ‘I will express only one opinion: effigy absolutely full-face – do you agree?’ Signac did not agree. Five months later, the best-known image of Fénéon emerged: in left profile, holding top hat and cane, presenting a lily to an off-canvas recipient (homage to an artist? love-gift to a woman?) against a circusy pinwheel of dashing pointillist colour. Fénéon, whether from vanity or critic’s pique at the artist’s disobedience, strongly disliked the image, commenting that ‘the portraitist and the portrayed had done one another a cruel disservice.’ He accepted the picture, however, and kept it on his walls until Signac died some 45 years later. But neither that event, nor the passing of time, mellowed his judgment: in 1943 he told his friend and future literary executor, the critic Jean Paulhan, that it was ‘the least successful work painted by Signac’.
more from the LRB here.
‘The irony of my life’
Trevor Butterworth in the Financial Times:
I get writers to sign their books,” says Louis Auchincloss, reaching up to a shelf of immaculate first editions. Just shy of his 90th birthday, he is now the “grand old man” of American letters – older than Norman Mailer (84), Gore Vidal (82), Tom Wolfe (77), John Updike (75) and Philip Roth (74) – and in rude health, apart from his hips, the only act of betrayal wrought by age. He is alone – his wife Adele, an artist and a commissioner of New York’s public parks, died in 1991. Their three sons are grown up, and he has a granddaughter just starting at Yale.
He is confined to his apartment atop a solid 14-storey building on 90th and Park Avenue, one of the red-brick repository boxes of old money and old New York. The Upper East Side, the golden mile of American power and privilege, is to his south and west. It is this world, the locus of power and privilege for much of America’s history, that he has chronicled and dissected for 60 years, and now he is shut off from it until after his surgery. Bored, and decidedly irritated by his confinement, he turns energetically to the past.
“There’s the Bonfire,” he says, taking down Wolfe’s tumultuous novel of financial decadence and racial tension in 1980s New York, and opening the cover to reveal a dedication as outsize as the dandified author – a florid script of copperplate curls and Gothic abutments written with a nib the size of a small paintbrush. “It’s a marvellous book,” Auchincloss says in a patrician accent of broad “a”s and reedy “r”s that in its natural, inherited form has all but disappeared from America, “but not everyone thinks so.”
Bombs We Can Stop
Matthew Bunn in American Scientist:
William Langewiesche has the reputation of being one of America's best investigative reporters. Unfortunately, he has written a very bad book on nuclear proliferation. Although The Atomic Bazaar does include some useful reporting, it is marred by substantive errors and misjudgments. There are no footnotes, and almost all the quoted sources are anonymous, making it difficult for the reader to judge the credibility of Langewiesche's conclusions and of his interlocutors' statements. Worse, if policy makers were to accept his major theme—that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable and there is little hope in trying to stop it—they would not take the actions needed to make the world a safer place.
The Atomic Bazaar is a modest elaboration on three articles by Langewiesche that appeared this past winter in The Atlantic Monthly. If you have read the articles—which discuss nuclear terrorism and outline A. Q. Khan's role in building Pakistan's nuclear bomb and in leading a global black-market network that supplied dangerous nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea—you will not gain a great deal from the book.
Barbara Forrest: Philosopher Activist
Ruchira Paul at Accidental Blogger:
We are familiar with the evolution vs creationism (masquerading as Intelligent Design) debate that has plagued several school districts, resulting in the Kansas School Board injecting ID in the science curriculum and Dover, PA succeeding in keeping it out by taking the school board to court. What we may not know are the behind the scenes shenanigans mounted by creationists to push their religious agenda down the throats of an unwitting public. Dr. Forrest has worked tirelessly to fend off the efforts by religious extremists to corrupt science education in her own state of Louisiana and elsewhere. She appeared as an expert witness for the prosecution in the Dover, PA ID ( Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District) case where a group of parents took the school board to court to keep it from introducing religion based creationism in the science curriculum. The outcome happily was a verdict for sanity and against obscurantism. Dr. Forrest was recently honored with the American Society of Cell Biology's Public Service award for her work in support of science education and biomedical research.
Through a Lens, Darkly
David Margolick in Vanity Fair:
During the historic 1957 desegregation of Little Rock Central High School, 26-year-old journalist Will Counts took a photograph that gave an iconic face to the passions at the center of the civil-rights movement—two faces, actually: those of 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford on her first day of school, and her most recognizable tormentor, Hazel Bryan. The story of how these two women struggled to reconcile and move on from the event is a remarkable journey through the last half-century of race relations in America.
More here. [Thanks to Beajerry.]
Jeff Strabone in his eponymous blog:
A lot of obvious arguments have been rolled out against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech at Columbia University yesterday: that he's a hatemonger, a Holocaust denier, a homophobe, and so on. These are all valid criticisms of the man, for he is all those things. He certainly did his credibility no help yesterday with these remarks, reported by the BBC:
'Asked about executions of homosexuals in Iran, Mr Ahmadinejad replied: "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country."
Reacting to laughter and jeers from the audience he added: "In Iran we don't have this phenomenon, I don't know who you told this."'
Universities have a special place in public life. They are the one place where intellectual freedom is taken most seriously. That is not to say that universities ought to invite rude individuals with bad ideas to speak, but it is understandable that they sometimes do.
Despite all of that, Columbia was wrong to allow Ahmadinejad on its campus, and it's not because he hates Jews, gays, and men with stylish haircuts. There are surely members of the Columbia community—faculty and students alike—who hold these and other prejudices. And it's not because he has blood on his hands. If that were the rule, it would be hard to find an important figure in world politics who qualified. Besides that, we might not agree on which international bloodletters were terrorists and which were freedom fighters. No, there is an even more fundamental reason than that: Ahmadinejad is the enemy of universities.
More here. [Thanks to Asad Raza.]
Christopher Hitchens in The Atlantic Monthly:
Having assumed the title of this very slight novel to be drawn from the famous stage direction in Hamlet, I was quite braced for some Rothian reflections on the Oedipal, with plenty of reluctant and dutiful visits to wheezed-out Jewish fathers in the wilderness of postindustrial New Jersey, and to the grisly wives and mothers who had drained them dry and made them into husks. But the reference is actually to another sort of father figure: a dead and almost-forgotten writer called E. I. Lonoff, who had been a hero and mentor to the young Nathan Zuckerman. According to Lonoff's relict, a terminal brain-cancer patient named Amy Bellette, the great man had once instructed her to take down the following aperçu: "Reading/writing people, we are finished, we are ghosts witnessing the end of the literary era."
By the time that he encounters this rather ordinary valediction, which occurs in the second half of the book, Zuckerman has been revealed as highly disposed to hear it. He has been stuck on the top of a Massachusetts mountain for 11 years, seeing almost nobody and ignoring the news and, by the sound of it, not getting much work done. His prostate has turned against him in a big way, forcing him to wear Pampers and to endure the regular humiliation of feeling sodden. Returning to New York in the hope of an operation to repair his urinary arrangements (a hope that proves vain), he is geezerishly astonished by the prevalence of cell phones and by the general cultural barbarity. But this feeling of nausea and alienation is by no means enough to quell his excitement when he notices one of those apartment-swap ads in the New York Review of Books, and sees that some young couple wants a place just like his in the rural fastnesses.
Am I by any chance boring you? I promise that I have done my best to put a light skip into this summary of a weary trudge. Roth's own method of alleviation we can see coming a mile off: The female half of the want-ad couple will turn out to be a fox, offering the ghost of a chance that Zuckerman's flaccid and piss-soaked member can be revived. And so it proves.
Why a person doesn't evolve in one lifetime
It's not easy making a human. Getting from a fertilized egg to a full-grown adult involves a near-miracle of orchestration, with replicating cells acquiring specialized functions in just the right places at the right times. So you'd think that, having done the job once, our bodies would replace cells when required by the simplest means possible. Oddly, they don't. Our tissues don't renew themselves by mere copying, with old skin cells dividing into new skin cells and so forth. Instead, they keep repeating the laborious process of starting each cell from scratch. Now scientists think they know why: it could be nature's way of making sure that we don't evolve as we grow older1.
Evolution is usually thought of as something that happens to whole organisms. But there's no fundamental reason why, for multicelled organisms, it shouldn't happen within a single organism too. In a colony of single-celled bacteria, researchers can watch evolution in action. As the cells divide, mutants appear; and under stress, there is a selective pressure that favours some mutants over others, spreading advantageous genetic changes through the population. In principle, precisely the same thing could occur throughout our bodies. Our cells are constantly being replaced in vast numbers: the human body typically contains about a hundred trillion cells, and many billions are shed and replaced every day. If this happened simply by replication of the various specialized cells in each tissue, our tissues would evolve: mutations would arise, and some would spread. In particular, mutant cells that don't do their specialized job so well tend to replicate more quickly than non-mutants, and so gain a competitive advantage, freeloading off the others. In such a case, our wonderfully wrought bodies could grind to a halt.
Atheists' Article of Faith
September 25, 2007
The Top 10 Myths about Evolution
Bob Lane in Metapsychology:
Since the Dover trial [Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District] in 2005 there has been an enormous interest in the conflict between the religious right and the science of biology. The entire transcript of that landmark trial is available from the ACLU website. That trial was to have been the endgame for the Intelligent Design effort to get creationism into the biology classrooms of the USA by re-describing creationism and dressing it up as science. The effort failed very publicly in that trial and the transcript is well worth reading to get a real sense of the conflict and of the fact that no matter how the ID folks dress their product it is definitely not science. About that the Judge was clear.
The best way to give readers a sense of the book under review is to list the ten chapters which are bracketed by an introduction and an afterword:
- Survival of the Fittest
- It's Just a Theory
- The Ladder of Progress
- The Missing Link
- Evolution is Random
- People Come From Monkeys
- Nature's Perfect Balance
- Creationism Disproves Evolution
- Intelligent Design is Science
- Evolution is Immoral
Each chapter provides, in a clear and intelligent manner, the arguments for and against the idea or claim of the chapter title.
Edward Wadie Said, 1935-2003
Four years ago today one of the brightest lights of the intellectual and moral realms was extinguished. Here's an homage by Mahmoud Darwish writing in Le Monde Diplomatique in 2005:
New York. Edward awakes while dawn slumbers on. He plays an air by Mozart. Tennis on the university court. He reflects on thought’s ability to transcend borders and barriers. Thumbs through the New York Times. Writes his spirited column. Curses an orientalist who guides a general to the weak spot in an eastern woman’s heart. Showers. Drinks his white coffee. Picks out a suit with a dandy’s elegance and calls on the dawn to stop dawdling!
He walks on the wind. And, in the wind, he knows himself. No four walls hem in the wind. And the wind is a compass for the north in a foreign land.
He says: I come from that place. I come from here, and I am neither here nor there. I have two names that come together but pull apart. I have two languages, but I have forgotten which is the language of my dreams. I have the English language with its accommodating vocabulary to write in. And another tongue drawn from celestial conversations with Jerusalem. It has a silvery resonance, but rebels against my imagination.
And your identity? Said I.
His response: Self-defence . . . Conferred on us at birth, in the end it is we who fashion our identity, it is not hereditary. I am manifold . . . Within me, my outer self renewed. But I belong to the victim’s interrogation.
Were I not from that place, I would have trained my heart to raise metonymy’s gazelle there . . .
More here. And see also brilliant remembrances of Edward Said at 3QD by Akeel Bilgrami here and Asad Raza here. My own post on the first anniversary of Edward's death is here, and contains links to tributes by many others.
And this is David Price in CounterPunch:
In response to my request under the Freedom of Information Act, filed on behalf of CounterPunch, the FBI recently released 147 of Said's 238-page FBI file. There are some unusual gaps in the released records, and it is possible that the FBI still holds far more files on Professor Said than they acknowledge. Some of these gaps may exist because new Patriot Act and National Security exemptions allow the FBI to deny the existence of records; however, the released file provides enough information to examine the FBI's interest in Edward Said who mixed artistic appreciations, social theory, and political activism in powerful and unique ways.
Most of Said's file documents FBI surveillance campaigns of his legal, public work with American-based Palestinian political or pro-Arab organizations, while other portions of the file document the FBI's ongoing investigations of Said as it monitored his contacts with other Palestinian-Americans. That the FBI should monitor the legal political activities and intellectual forays of such a man elucidates not only the FBI's role in suppressing democratic solutions to the Israeli and Palestinian problems, it also demonstrates a continuity with the FBI's historical efforts to monitor and harass American peace activists.
Helmut in Phronesisiacal:
Today is the great William Faulkner's birthday. Born on this date in 1897, he died in 1962.
Years ago, I was browsing an antique store in the small Texas town of Bryan. I have an interest in rare books and first editions. Antique stores are sometimes good places to find them because their books are often priced for a general market based on the factor of being old, rather than priced for the specialized market of the rare books world. In the Texas antique store, I came across a first edition of Nobel laureate Faulkner's late novel A Fable. I bought it for a dollar or two and was pleased with the find - Faulkner is one of my favorite American writers.
After buying it along with some other books I noticed that the letter in it, which I had taken to be a simple bookmark, was postmarked from Oxford, Mississippi. June 25th, 1956. Faulkner was raised in Oxford and made it his home town until the end of his life (Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County).
I opened the envelope and read the letter (below). The letter itself, dated June 20th, is mostly rather banal. One Mrs. Owens (I don't know who she is/was) writes to Faulkner asking for the source of the quote, "...but that was in another country; and besides, the wench is dead." The quote itself is fairly famous, at least for its influence on other writers, and is worth examining in its own right for its embedded moral claim about moral boundaries.
Why Ahmadinejad Loves New York
Tony Karon in Time:
New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, had criticized Columbia for hosting Ahmadinejad, warning that "All he will do on that stage ... is spew more hatred and more venom out there to the world." Not quite. Despite the harsh words of his host, Bollinger, Ahmadinejad stayed on message, appearing relaxed, reasonable, open, even charismatic. Whether or not American TV audiences are seduced is beside the point, because Ahmadinejad's primary audience is not American. The provocations of his New York visit are an integral part of his domestic political strategy, which depends on his ability to hold America's national attention with an unapologetically nationalist message about Iran's nuclear rights, lecturing them about God and their aim to run the world.
It was pure political ju-jitsu, using the momentum of your adversaries to your own advantage. The protestors got him on TV, and he used the platform to grandstand for the folks back home.
More here. [Thanks to Saifedean Ammous.]
Full transcript of talk:
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OF IRAN MAHMOUD AHMADINEJADMODERATOR: JOHN COATSWORTH, ACTING DEAN, SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, COLUMBIA, UNIVERSITY INTRODUCTION BY LEE BOLLINGER, PRESIDENT, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITYCOLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK1:50 P.M. EDT, MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2007(Note: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments are through interpreter.)MR. BOLLINGER: I would like to begin by thanking Dean John Coatsworth and Professor Richard Bulliet for their work in organizing this event and for their commitment to the School of International and Public Affairs and its role -- (interrupted by cheers, applause) -- and for its role in training future leaders in world affairs. If today proves anything, it will be that there is an enormous amount of work ahead of us. This is just one of many events on Iran that will run throughout the academic year, all to help us better understand this critical and complex nation in today's geopolitics.
Abram Kardiner Lecture to be given by Akeel Bilgrami
My longtime mentor and friend Akeel Bilgrami is a brilliant lecturer and I highly recommend attending his upcoming talk:
Tuesday, 2nd October 2007 8:00 pm
New York Academy of Medicine 1216 Fifth Avenue (at 103rd Street)
“Unconscious mental conflict and our democratic culture”
Akeel Bilgrami, Columbia University:
Freud's notion of the unconscious presupposes as a "conceptual prior", the idea of a divided or conflicted mind to account for our irrational behaviour and our neuroses and anxieties. That one of the conflicted segments of the mind should be unconscious, and that indeed the internal mental conflict itself should be unconscious, is a further empirical hypothesis of Freud's, as are the various specific claims about the unconscious sexual aetiology of our neuroses and anxieties and irrational behaviour.
A primary and sustained interest of Abram Kardiner was to apply psychoanalytic ideas to the study of culture and society and politics. In this lecture, bearing his name, I will present an analysis of the religiosity of the heartland in contemporary America in terms of the idea of a divided mind and of an unconscious internal mental conflict in ordinary people to cope with the pervasive disenchantment of American modernity; and through this analysis I will explore the scope and the nature of our democratic culture.
Akeel Bilgrami received his first degree in English literature at Bombay University and then went to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, where he got a B.A in philosophy, politics, and economics. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago, where he wrote a dissertation on the indeterminacy of translation. He is currently Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University and the Director of Columbia's Heyman Center for the Humanities. He is the author of Belief and Meaning: The Unity and Locality of Mental Content (Blackwell 1992), Self-Knowledge and Resentment (Harvard University Press, 2006), Politics and the Moral Psychology of Identity (forthcoming 2007, Harvard University Press), and is presently writing a book on Gandhi's philosophy. Professor Bilgrami has also written over fifty articles on subjects ranging from the philosophy of language and mind to politics, culture and moral psychology.
The Mathematician's Brain
If "The Mathematician's Brain" does not answer the questions it poses, this is because no other book has answered these questions either. The book's value lies in Mr. Ruelle's description of the curious inner life of mathematicians. Their subject is very difficult. It requires unusual gifts. Physicists may disguise the triviality of their results by bustling about in large research groups. Mathematicians work alone. They are professionally naked.
As a result, many mathematicians have unstable personalities. Alexandre Grothendieck is an extreme example. His is hardly a household name, especially in the English-speaking world. Yet for the 15 years between 1958 and 1973, Mr. Grothendieck dominated the field of algebraic geometry and ruled like a prince over a court comprising some of the most talented mathematicians in the world. His immense treatise on algebraic geometry is, as Mr. Ruelle observes, the last great mathematical oeuvre written in the French language.
more from the NY Sun here.
The Greeks may have written wonderfully about desire, but Catullus was the first classical poet to write about the joy and heartbreak of relationships. And Ovid left us a detailed, scandalous, hilarious, cynical, explicit and still user-friendly handbook on how to go about finding, and keeping, the man or woman of our dreams.
This fabulous poem, the Ars Amatoria, or The Art of Love, was first published around the time that Jesus Christ was teething. And it's still up to the job better than the stuff in the self-help section of the local bookshop.
more from The Guardian here.
learning to forget
"We used to have a system in which we forgot things easily and had to invest energy in remembering," says Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, an associate professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "Now we're switching to a system in which we remember everything and have to invest energy in order to forget. That's an enormous transformation."
Jorge Luis Borges envisioned the risks of perfect memory in his famous story "Funes the Memorious," about a man gifted with unlimited recall, and paralyzed by it. Perhaps not even Borges, however, could have imagined our present capacity to accumulate and preserve memory in digital form - or the powerful impact it is already having on individual lives, as temporary indiscretions become part of the permanent record. "What you do online is potentially there forever," says Coye Cheshire, an assistant professor at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley. "Delete if you want; ask Google to take down that one unflattering photo - but it's still saved, archived, somewhere."
more from Boston Globe Ideas here.