Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Charles Tilly, 1929-2008
The great sociologist Charles Tilly died today. I did not have the good fortune of being one of his advisees, but he was certainly a presence in my old department. Kieran Healy over at Crooked Timber:
Tilly was a comparative and historical sociologist, an analyst of social movements, a social theorist, a political sociologist, a methodological innovator—none of these labels quite capture the scope of his work. I think of him as someone who was interested in the general problem of understanding social change, and he attacked it with tremendous, unflagging energy.
And Dan Nexon, who was one of his students, from the acknowledgments of his forthcoming book:
What can I possibly say about Chuck Tilly that an endless number of his students and peers have not already written in their prefaces? I hope the others I thank will take no offense if I describe him as the most powerful intellect I have ever encountered in the social sciences. I expect that people will still be reading and debating his enormous and varied corpus of work for decades to come. Yet Chuck treats all of his students as members of an intellectual community of equals. He seeks out their opinions; he discusses his own views with humility and an open mind.
President of the Social Sciences Research Council Craig Calhoun called Tilly “one of the most distinguished of all contemporary social scientists,“ adding: “He is the most influential analyst of social movements and contentious politics, a path-breaker in the historical sociology of the state, a pivotal theorist of social inequality.”
“His intellectual range and level of productivity are virtually unrivaled in the social sciences,” said Columbia sociology Professor and Chair Thomas DiPrete. Adam Ashforth, professor of anthropology and political science at Northwestern University, described Tilly as “the founding father of twenty-first century sociology.”
Behavioral Genetics and the End of Freudianism
In the TLS, Carol Travis reviews Daniel Nettle's Personality:
What a difference a century makes. One hundred years ago, Sigmund Freud’s answer to Daniel Nettle’s question – “What makes you the way you are?” – would have begun with your unconscious mind: the unique pattern of fantasies, defences, and instinctual conflicts that create your neurotic insecurities and self-defeating habits. These unconscious mechanisms would, in turn, have been profoundly influenced by your parents, who overpunished you or underappreciated you, who told you too much about sex or not enough. You can’t do much about your personality, though you can tweak it a bit with years of psychoanalysis.
Today, personality researchers almost uniformly agree that the things that make you the way you are consist of a combination of your genes, your peers and the idiosyncratic, chance experiences that befall you in childhood and adulthood. Your parents influence your relationship with them – loving or contentious, conflicted or close – but not your “personality”, that package of traits we label extroverted or shy, bitter or friendly, hostile or warm, gloomy or optimistic. Your genes, not your parents, are the reason you think that parachuting out of planes is fun, or, conversely, that you feel sick to the stomach at the mere idea of doing such a crazy thing voluntarily. You can’t do much about your personality, though you can tweak it a bit with cognitive therapy.
The Return of Liberation Theology
Nikolas Kozloff in the wake of the Fernando Lugo electoral victory, in Brazzil.com:
During the 1980s and 1990s Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, acted as John Paul II's doctrinal czar. At the time, John Paul was in the midst of a fierce battle to silence prominent Church liberals. "This conception of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary, as the subversive of Nazareth," the Pontiff once said, "does not tally with the church's catechism."
In 1983 the Pope wagged his finger at Sandinista government minister and Nicaraguan priest, Ernesto Cardenal on a trip to Managua, warning the latter to "straighten out the situation in your church." Cardenal was one of the most prominent Liberation Theologians of the Sandinista era.
Originally a liberal reformer, Ratzinger changed his tune once he became an integrant in the Vatican hierarchy. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog agency, Cardinal Ratzinger warned against the temptation to view Christianity in an exclusively political light. Liberation Theology, he once said, was dangerous as it fused "the Bible's view of history with Marxist dialectics."
Calling Liberation Theology a "singular heresy," Ratzinger went on the offensive. He blasted the new movement as a "fundamental threat" to the church and prohibited some of its leading proponents from speaking publicly. In an effort to clean house, Ratzinger even summoned outspoken priests to Rome and censured them on grounds that they were abandoning the church's spiritual role for inappropriate socioeconomic activism.
Lawrence Krauss & Natalie Jeremijenko on the Politics of Knowledge
Azra Raza invites you to attend...Update
Dear 3quarksdaily Readers,
Thank you for the overwhelming response to The Sixth Harvey Preisler Memorial Symposium invitation, I am deeply moved. Unfortunately, because of limited space, we can only accommodate the first 25 responders along with their guests. Please check in the comments section to make sure whether you belong to this group or not. A guest list has been submitted to the New York Academy of Sciences and if your name is not on the list, security will not allow you to enter. I am deeply sorry if I am causing any disappointment to you. Hopefully, next year we will be able to arrange a bigger venue. Please accept my apologies once again and my gratitude for your kind responses.
sofia, fluid city
There is no memory and all signs of the immediate past are carefully erased – democrats dynamited Dimitrov's mausoleum as the authorities did with the last of the mosques after the liberation in 1877; tourist guides replace the communist past with references to Roman ruins. Why should memory block the freedom of the present to move, reinvent itself? Foreign friends often tell us that the charm of the city is in its disorder, its dirt, its chaos, in the liberty it allows to paint one's house or not to paint it, to plant roses in the yard or tomatoes. The ethos of modernization is probably the reason why we locals resist such a vision and refuse to accept that what surrounds us could be real.
Sofia is growing – who knows whether it won't soon reach the three-million mark? It flows elusively in a southeasterly direction and up the mountain, producing pleasant towered mansions and postmodern office blocks, leaving behind the ugly northern part of the city, with the one-storey houses, the misery, abandoning even its cemeteries. The city is flowing, fleeing itself. If its inhabitants have become fluid, working part time in Spain or Greece and part time at home, if they are half-way between village and city, between capitalism and state socialism, then what else could one expect than a fluid city?
more from Eurozine here.
frida: homemade surrealism
What one takes away from Kahlo's art, however, is a less wide-ranging or exalted experience. She found a way to show a certain emotion, at once accusatory, nervy, furious, a little adolescent, and, as Fuentes says, funny. She is giving the world the finger, whether in The Suicide of Dorothy Hale, where she does it with a masterful complexity, in some of her folk art– like self-portraits of the 1930s, where she can be raw or charming about it, or even in her less spirited self-portraits of the following decade, when illness was getting the better of her. It was an emotion, in any event, that she never quite lost, as it is there in the last words of her diary when she wrote, "I hope the exit is joyful—and I hope never to come back."
more from the NYRB here.
germaine greer on the miley cyrus dust up
When Miley Cyrus was asked about the picture of herself clutching a satin sheet to her chest that Annie Leibovitz has taken for the current issue of Vanity Fair, she said it looked "pretty and natural" and that she thought it was "really artsy". If by this she meant artistic, rather than artsy-fartsy, she was right on the money. In western art most of the women portrayed semi-clad or totally nude are children. Their nipples are pallid and undeveloped, their breasts hard and veinless, their pubes unfurred. When Lucian Freud paints girl children, nobody cares; when Leibovitz photographs them, everyone goes ballistic. When Botticelli paints the yet-to-be-enjoyed goddess of love emerging from the sea, people come from all over the world to gape at her. The Greeks and Romans liked their goddesses meaty; our preferred Venuses are children. Hardy perennials such as Diane de Poitiers held their sway as long as they did because their bodies never matured.
more from The Guardian here.
Poet Gary Snyder is the winner of the 2008 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Established in 1986 and presented annually by the Poetry Foundation, the award is one of the most prestigious given to American poets, and at $100,000 it is one of the nation's largest literary awards. Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine and chair of the selection committee, made the announcement today. The prize will be presented at an evening ceremony at the Arts Club of Chicago on Thursday, May 29.
In announcing the award, Wiman said: "Gary Snyder is in essence a contemporary devotional poet, though he is not devoted to any one god or way of being so much as to Being itself. His poetry is a testament to the sacredness of the natural world and our relation to it, and a prophecy of what we stand to lose if we forget that relation."
A grizzled black-eyed rabbit showed me
...irrigation ditches, open paved highway,
...to the hill. bell
...chill blue jewel sky
Banner clouds flying,
The mountains all gathered,
..juniper trees on the flanks
.....the snug bark scale
.......in thin powder snow
.....over rock scrabble, pricklers, boulders,
..pines and junipers,
The trees all singing.
The mountains are singing
To gather the sky and the mist
..to bring it down snow-breath
..and gather it water
Sent from the singing peaks
....flanks and folds
Down arroyos and ditches by highways the water
The people to use it, the
....mountains and juniper
Do it for men,
Said the rabbit.
Crimes of the Heart
From The Washington Post:
"History works itself out in the living," says a character in Louise Erdrich's new novel, and, indeed, the history in The Plague of Doves is something of a workout. She's challenged us before with complex, interconnected stories about the Ojibwe people of North Dakota, but here she goes for broke, whirling out a vast, fractured narrative, teeming with characters -- ancestors, cousins, friends and enemies, all separated and rejoined again and again in uncanny ways over the years. Worried about losing track, I started drawing a genealogical chart after a few chapters, but it was futile: a tangle of names and squiggling lines. That bafflement is clearly an intentional effect of this wondrous novel; the sprawling cast whose history Erdrich works through becomes a living demonstration of the unfathomable repercussions of cruelty.
In the creepy, one-paragraph chapter that opens The Plague of Doves, a man murders five members of a white family in Pluto, N.D., near the Ojibwe reservation in 1911. The chronology of the stories that follow is radically jumbled, but the massacre in Pluto precipitates another one: When four hapless Indians come upon the dead family, they discover that a baby has been left alive in the house. Determined to save the child from abandonment but worried they'll be held responsible for the murders, they leave an anonymous note for the sheriff. Their plan backfires, though, and a gang of white men lynches the Indians in a heartbreaking scene that is among the most moving and mysterious in the novel.
Study Shows Brain Power Can Be Bolstered--Maybe
From Scientific American:
In the market for more brain power? In what's being touted as "a landmark" result, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (U.M.) researchers report that a specific memory exercise may improve so-called fluid intelligence—the capacity to succeed at new cognitive tasks and in new situations. The finding flies in the face of conventional wisdom in psychology that training for one brain task cannot be transferred to improvement in other mental abilities. If proved, the finding could lead to new therapies and prevention of learning disorders and age related memory loss.
The study contradicts decades of research showing that attempts at crossover training effects, known as far transfer, do not work well. Previous research has shown that improving on one kind of cognitive task does not improve performance on other kinds—for example, memorizing long strings of numbers does not help people learn strings of letters.
Researchers gave 35 volunteers a standardized intelligence test and gave them another such test after training them on a complex memory task for a variable number of days (eight, 12, 17 or 19). Thirty-five other study participants simply took the tests. Both improved on the second one, but those who did the exercise showed far more improvement—and the more they trained, the better they got.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Azra Raza invites you to attend...
This year, the lecture will be delivered by Richard Dawkins. The lecture is entitled "The Purpose of Purpose," and Professor Dawkins will make himself available for a question/answer period afterward. If you are in the New York City area (or can be on Saturday), I urge you to attend. I myself will be flying in from Italy for the lecture and hope to see you there.
RSVP in the comments section to me to be put on a complimentary list, courtesy of my sister.
The Man Who Ended Slavery
Christopher Hitchens in The Atlantic Monthly:
When Abraham Lincoln gave an audience to Harriet Beecher Stowe, he is supposed to have greeted her by saying that she was the little woman who had started this great war. That fondly related anecdote illustrates the persistent tendency to Parson Weemsishness in our culture. It was not at all the tear-jerking sentiment of Uncle Tom's Cabin that catalyzed the War Between the States. It was, rather, the blood-spilling intransigence of John Brown, field-tested on the pitiless Kansas prairies and later deployed at Harpers Ferry. And John Brown was a man whom Lincoln assiduously disowned, until the time came when he himself was compelled to adopt the policy of "war to the knife, and the knife to the hilt," as partisans of the slaveocracy had hitherto been too proud of saying.
David Reynolds sets himself to counter several misapprehensions about the pious old buzzard (Brown, I mean, not Lincoln). Among these are the impressions that he was a madman, that he was a homicidal type, and that his assault on a federal arsenal was foredoomed and quixotic. The critical thing here is context. And the author succeeds admirably in showing that Brown, far from being a crazed fanatic, was a serious legatee of the English and American revolutions who anticipated the Emancipation Proclamation and all that has ensued from it.
Noble Eagles, Nasty Pigeons, Biased Humans
Natalie Angier in The New York Times:
The other day I glanced out my window and felt a twinge of revulsion delicately seasoned with indignation. Pecking at my bird feeder were two brown-headed cowbirds, one male and one female, and I knew what that meant. Pretty soon the fattened, fertilized female would be slipping her eggs into some other birds’ nest, with the expectation that the naïve hosts would brood, feed and rear her squawking, ravenous young at the neglect and even death of their own.
Hey, you parasites, get your beaks off my seed, I thought angrily. That feeder is for the good birds, the birds that I like — the cardinals, the nuthatches, the black-capped chickadees, the tufted titmice, the woodpeckers, the goldfinches. It’s for the hard-working birds with enough moral fiber to rear their own families and look photogenic besides. It’s not meant for sneaky freeloaders like you. I rapped on the window sharply but the birds didn’t budge, and as I stood there wondering whether I should run out and scare them away, their beaks seemed to thicken, their eyes blacken, and I could swear they were cackling, “Tippi Hedren must go.”
The Possibility of Disappointment as Hope
In the Left Business Observer, Henwood on Obama:
Super Tuesday II, as Fox dubbed it, took some steam out of the Obama bandwagon, but he’s still the likely Democratic nominee, and therefore the likely president-to-be. Which is remarkable, really—a nonparticipant can only stand slackjawed in awe of Obamamania. Previously rational people whom LBO admires, like Barbara Ehrenreich and Christopher Hayes, have fallen in love with the Senator’s brand of change we can believe in, a slogan that has to be one of the emptiest since Sandburg’s “The people, yes!,” that the New Party used in New York in the early 1990s. Obama has become the Tokio Hotel of politics.
On what is this mania based? Obama is inspiring the young, lifting the alienated off their couches, and catalyzing a new movement for…change, presumably one we can believe in. The content of this change is hard to specify. Some serious leftists we know and love point to Obama’s roots as a community organizer in Chicago, though many people in a position to know say he didn’t rock many boats in those days. He was embraced by foundation liberals, however, who greased his way into the Harvard Law School via a lakefront condo.
All of which doesn’t make Obama uniquely bad: he’s just another mainstream Democrat with a sleazy real estate guy in his past. Though he’s being touted as an early opponent of the Iraq war, he told the Chicago Tribune in 2004: “There’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position….” He voted to renew the PATRIOT Act, campaigned for happy warrior Joe Lieberman against Ned Lamont in 2006, and wants to increase the size of the U.S. military. He supports Israel’s continuing torture of the Palestinians penned into the Gaza Strip. A Congressional Quarterly study found his Senate voting record was virtually indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton’s; the only major difference in their votes is a surprising one: a move to limit class actions suits against corporations, which Clinton voted against, and Obama for. Obama’s vote was against the preferences of a Dem financial base, trial lawyers, but pleasing to the Fortune 500 and Wall Street.
In this binary world, when you criticize Obama, people immediately include you’re a Hillary Clinton fan. Uh, no. Her politics are bellicose and neoliberal. Her “experience” consists largely of having watched her husband be president for eight years, though it’s likely they were sleeping in separate bedrooms for much of the time. A plague on all their houses.
Smoking and non-smoking
David Sedaris in The New Yorker:
When my sister Lisa started smoking, I forbade her to enter my bedroom with a lit cigarette. She could talk to me, but only from the other side of the threshold, and she had to avert her head when she exhaled. I did the same when my sister Gretchen started.
It wasn’t the smoke but the smell of it that bothered me. In later years, I didn’t care so much, but at the time I found it depressing: the scent of neglect. It wasn’t so noticeable in the rest of the house, but then again the rest of the house was neglected. My room was clean and orderly, and if I’d had my way it would have smelled like an album jacket the moment you remove the plastic. That is to say, it would have smelled like anticipation.
When I started smoking myself, I realized that a lit cigarette acted as a kind of beacon, drawing in any freeloader who happened to see or smell it. It was like standing on a street corner and jiggling a palmful of quarters. “Spare change?” someone might ask. And what could you say?
Microcosm, by Carl Zimmer: The Book and the Book Tour
3QD-friend, Carl Zimmer:
A mistake to fete repentant members of Islamist cults
Ziauddin Sardar in The Guardian:
I am troubled by the fact that former extremists are seen as the only people who know how to deal with extremism. Just because you have been an inmate of a mental hospital does not mean you are an expert in clinical psychology. But former extremists are being lionised because they confirm the basic tabloid prejudice that violence is a natural part of being a Muslim. So whose ignorance is being vindicated? Certainly the potential of an open, unapologetic belief in Islam as a valuable part of British society is not on the agenda.
At every stage of dealing with extremism, the government has made the wrong choice. First, only British-trained imams were to be promoted, though how and what they were trained in was not examined. Then there were to be roadshows at which religious scholars selected for their moderation and tractability, rather than an understanding of the problems of young British Muslims, would explain the error of extremist ways. Then Sufism was touted as the solution, and the Sufi Muslim Council was created as the voice of moderation. Now the way forward is with sinners who were once mouthpieces for jihadi propaganda and advocated the violent rejection of all things western.
The thing nobody has suggested is engaging the silenced and diverse majority of Muslim communities. If the debate of the mainstream is ignored, there is nowhere for those rescued from extremism to go. The silent majority is supposed to be groomed to embrace quietism - which explains why Sufi mysticism is in vogue - and, most important, to be put off politics for life.
More here. [Thanks to Manas Shaikh.]
Environmental Cost of Shipping Groceries Around the World
Elizabeth Rosenthal in the New York Times:
Increasingly efficient global transport networks make it practical to bring food before it spoils from distant places where labor costs are lower. And the penetration of mega-markets in nations from China to Mexico with supply and distribution chains that gird the globe — like Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Tesco — has accelerated the trend.
But the movable feast comes at a cost: pollution — especially carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas — from transporting the food.
Under longstanding trade agreements, fuel for international freight carried by sea and air is not taxed. Now, many economists, environmental advocates and politicians say it is time to make shippers and shoppers pay for the pollution, through taxes or other measures.
Reviews of books by the three presidential candidates
Our own Morgan Meis on books by Obama, McCain, and Clinton, in The Smart Set:
...in Hillary's book there are no theoretical disputes. There are no methodological claims. There aren't any ideas (in the fancier sense of the term) at all. There are simply facts, facts as she saw them. That's how things are presented and that's the only way they are presented. I guess we could say that she is a kind of extreme empiricist. Living History is exactly that for Hillary Clinton: history as a series of events that a person lives through. She makes decisions and she has positions but, in the end, the political decisions are no different in kind and status than the decisions about anything else during a day's work. Indeed, one of the odd experiences in reading Living History is the utter lack of transitions. Here's an example:
In Nepal, a plastic sheet for a woman in labor to lie on, soap for the midwife to clean her hands and utensils, string to tie off the umbilical cord and a clean razor blade to cut it can make the difference between life and death to a mother and her newborn.
On a stopover in the Royal Chitwan National Park in southern Nepal, Chelsea and I rode an elephant.
Now it's true, of course, that this is partly the result of careless writing. But I think it is a sign of something else, a kind of facts-speaking-for-themselves extremism that is at the core both of what is admirable and disappointing about the woman. There is nothing to object to, per se, in Living History , and many of the actions and attitudes described therein are to be lauded. But one never escapes, either, the disconcerting sense that every experience is just like every other experience for Hillary. The funny thing is that this is the opposite of the conspiratorial mindset. For the conspirator, small things matter too much. In rejecting Alinsky, Hillary Clinton started down a path in which she stopped making distinctions between big and small things altogether. It's kind of like the dedication to Living History , which starts out thanking her parents and her husband and her daughter, and ends up throwing in "all the good souls around the world whose inspiration, prayers, support, and love blessed my heart and sustained me in the years of living history." You're welcome.
Does going to Mecca make Muslims more moderate?
Ray Fisman in Slate:
Last December, more than 2 million Muslims from around the world converged on Saudi Arabia to participate in the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to the holy site of Mecca. The Hajjis spent a month performing religious rituals, mingling with Muslims from all walks of life, and, in some cases, taking part in communal chants of "Death to America" led by Islamic extremists. This was understandably unnerving to the 10,000 or so Americans who made the pilgrimage, not to mention those who didn't. Such behavior raised concerns that the Hajj is a breeding ground for anti-Western sentiment—or worse.
Then again, the spirit of friendship and community that typically prevails during the Hajj has also been known to promote tolerance and understanding across peoples. Malcolm X famously softened his views on black-white relations during his pilgrimage to Mecca, where he witnessed a "spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white."
So does the Hajj open minds, or does it expose Muslims to radical views that unite them against the non-Islamic world? To find out, researchers David Clingingsmith, Asim Khwaja, and Michael Kremer surveyed more than 1,600 Pakistanis, about half of whom went on the Hajj in 2006. In a recent, as yet unpublished study, they report that those who went to Mecca came back with more moderate views on a range of issues, both religious and nonreligious, suggesting that the Hajj may be helpful in curbing the spread of extremism in the Islamic world.
You send me your poems,
I'll send you mine.
Things tend to awaken
even through random communication
Let us suddenly
proclaim spring. And jeer
at the others,
all the others.
I will send a picture too
if you will send me one of you.
Monday, April 28, 2008
BIL snores. Is he Pickwickian?
My brother in law (BIL) has joined the jobless - the vortex of sub-prime debacle has sunk the hedge fund he managed. But please don’t pity him: he is without a job but not without money. Unlike a side-street plebeian, this Wall Street prince stays rich even when unemployed.
BIL - though ailing from derivatives deprivation - is now blessed with free time to reflect on the genesis of the hedge fund collapse. He thinks he suffers from sleep apnea; he snores at night and feels exhausted when awake. He blames this daytime undue somnolence for his blunders in trading.
Sleep apnea made its debut in medical literature in 1956. Dr C S Burwell and his colleagues told the story of an ever-sleepy 51 years old obese businessman who measured 5 ft 5 inches and weighed 260 Lbs. During a game of poker - with three aces and two kings in his hand - the businessman missed the prime chance to make a killing. The reason: he had fallen asleep! Dr Burwell titled the article, ‘Extreme Obesity Associated with Alveolar Hypoventilation: A Pickwickian Syndrome’.
‘Pickwickian’ refers to ‘The Pickwick Papers’ where in 1837, Charles Dickens introduced a gluttonous, “wonderfully fat boy” Joe, who had a hard time staying awake. He stood at the door after repetitive knocking “ upright his eyes closed as if in sleep” with looks of “calmness and repose.” Questioned thrice, he did not answer, but “nodded once and seemed ----- to snore.” Then he “suddenly opened his eyes, winked several times, sneezed once, and raised his hand as if to repeat the knocking.”
Dr Burwell - with retrospective analysis – diagnosed ‘fat Joe’ and the somnolent obese businessman suffering from obesity-hypoventilation, which is now called sleep apnea. Joe still continues to live in the medical literature as the original embodiment of the Pickwickian Syndrome.
BIL thinks, he is the clone-reincarnation of fat boy Joe. Like him, BIL is also portly, short and overweight; his round head sits atop his stout neck; a cigarette often dangles from his wet lips and he finds the poker game goof akin to his hedge fund fiasco.
He wonders, “Do I have Pickwickian Syndrome?”
So, BIL goes for a check up - a sleep apnea study. BIL spends one night in the sleep lab, wired to gadgets, which monitor his blood oxygen, respiratory pattern, blood pressure, pulse and brain electrical activity.
During sleep, the muscles inside his throat relax and collapse into the air passage, which is already narrow due to his stout neck. The air cannot flow through the obstructed airway and his breathing stops for a moment (apnea), which plummets his blood oxygen. The oxygen-deprived brain startles and awakens him for a moment; the muscles at the back of his throat tense up, which opens the breathing passage allowing air to rush through. He breathes again. The gushing air vibrates the floppy throat muscles, broadcasting a sonorous snore. He falls asleep only to stop breathing again. He repeats this cycle of stops-and-starts, about 27 times every hour during the night.
BIL does not remember the sleeping-awakening cycles, but the video monitors, focused on him, capture his snoring, tossing and turning. A sleep-deprived night leaves him exhausted the next day.
The sleep lab verdict follows quickly: BIL does have sleep apnea. He is not alone. One in fifteen or 6.6 percent Americans have sleep apnea. Most are overweight mid age males, though skinny ones and women are not exempt. One in fifty snore through life undiagnosed – at work, while driving or in public places.
Now, the bear news: many years of sleep apnea are likely to give BIL high blood pressure and heart failure. He also has higher chances of suffering from a paralytic stroke.
And the bull news: sleep apnea is treatable and simple interventions yield satisfactory results. BIL can, once more, enjoy a restful sleep at night and profitable derivatives during day.
What should BIL do?
He should stop smoking and avoid alcohol. (Alcohol relaxes the throat muscles, enhancing the obstruction.) He should loose weight. His Body Mass Index or BMI is 33, which classifies him as obese; if it were over 40, he would be morbidly obese. (BMI is weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. A Belgian statistician, Adolph Quetelet, who was friend of Charles Dickens, first described this concept in 1869 and called it Quetelet index.)
He should sleep on his side and may use a mouth appliance to keep his throat open. BIL may have to use a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which forces air under pressure into his obstructed airway. If these methods don’t help, he may have to undergo surgery, where the surgeon will remove the triangular floppy muscle hanging form the roof of his throat (uvula and soft palate) and also some of the surrounding tissue, to widen his airway.
BIL, in his insuppressible bullish manner, is determined to get his trading prowess back. No more daytime slumber! The night in the sleep lab convinced BIL of his infirmity. “See, I told you I am Pickwickian.”
BIL: the answer is yes and no. You do have sleep apnea but you may not have the Pickwickian Syndrome; the two may not be the same disease.
You remember, Dickens describing the nonstop knock at the door at the Pickwick mansion, which prompted the opening of the door leading to discovery of a “wonderfully fat boy” standing “upright” and “in sleep”. Some experts tell us that people suffering from sleep apnea do not fall asleep during vigorous action like incessant knocking. If Joe did fall asleep, he would not be standing but would have dropped to the floor with flaccid muscles. His snore would be loud and not ‘feeble”. Joe probably exhibited a different sleep disorder: narcolepsy.
BIL still insists in washing off his guilt. “ But, you do agree that sleep deprivation was the cause my poor judgment and hedge fund collapse?”
Dear BIL, the cause of your bungled trading was not apnea-when-asleep but avarice-when- awake. You are less like Joe from Dickens and more like Malcolm from Macbeth:
“With this there grows
In my most ill-composed affection such
A stanchless avarice that, were I king,
I should cut off the nobles for their lands,
Desire his jewels and this other's house:
And my more-having would be as a sauce
To make me hunger more; that I should forge
Quarrels unjust against the good and loyal,
Destroying them for wealth.”
The Mad Race for London Mayor
by Ahila Sornarajah
Stuck in a traffic jam in hot, dusty and dynamic Chennai (formerly Madras) recently, I started thinking about the far away elections for the Mayor of London and what this will mean for Londoners. While America is obsessed with the groundbreaking race for the democratic nomination between Clinton and Obama, we’re proud to be having our very own tightly fought contest in London this year.
Labour’s Ken Livingstone and the Tories’ Boris Johnson are neck and neck with the finishing line in sight at the end of this week. Compared to national politics – the general disappointment of Gordon Brown’s first months in power and the seemingly inexorable rise of the baby faced David Cameron – the Mayoral race is truly nail-biting stuff. Livingstone and Johnson are the only men in the country with sufficient personality to be instantly recognizable by their first names. In the left corner, is “Red Ken” the maverick leftwing politician with working class roots whose love of London politics is only matched by his love of newts. And in the right, posh toff “Boris” or to be exact, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, one of Cameron’s buddies from Eton who is often labeled a gaffe-prone buffoon but has an 18th century satirist’s wit when it comes to words and has been as much of a regular on the current affairs comedy circuit, as he has been in the shadow cabinet.
Mayoral elections in Chennai just can’t be as exciting. In Chennai, while the Chennai Municipal Corporation headed by the Chennai Mayor is ostensibly responsible for public transport, the Mayor’s tenure only lasts a year, and being vested with very little real power, the role is largely that of a figurehead. Perhaps the fact that there is no one to champion Chennai shows in its roads. Chennai roads are catastrophic and everyone drives as if they are wielding a wheeled weapon in the greatest game of bumper cars there ever was. Traffic signals are few and far between, and the number of lanes dependant on the different permutations of traffic in front of you: a bus, and an old Morris Oxford make a two lane road, the auto rickshaw, three scooters, and a bicycle in front of them will conspire to add a few more lanes to the fun. What’s more, having to contend with people driving against the traffic is commonplace. I read in the Hindu a few days ago that more than 1600 people died on Chennai Roads last year. 60% of these were pedestrians. This might not be surprising given that pavements in the city sprout from the ground, transform into rubble and then disappear fairly frequently. The total also compares rather unfavourably with the 316 people who died in road accidents London last year – a city five times the size of Chennai.
Clearly to compare London with Chennai is rather simplistic given the comparative lack of financial resource in the latter and historical developments in infrastructure in the former. However, it is difficult to see the new shining IT companies off Chennai’s main roads, the new shopping plazas, and food courts, without contrasting these with the rubble and chaos that lie on their doorsteps. People in Chennai, always on the go, always off somewhere to do something, must find the impediment of their choked and chaotic roads infuriating. Could a strong city government make a difference?
While road traffic in London has never compared, London in the nineties was a very different place from now. There was very little care taken about the look of London under the depressed aegis of John Major. London’s neglect was clear from the pollution, grime and graffiti evident on the streets. I still remember the long awaited, but still half built Canary Wharf tower along the London skyline in utter defeat after it was almost bombed by the IRA in 1992.
Until 2000, all London’s policies were fragmented across several local boroughs controlled by either Labour or Tory politicians. The results of this are evident today. You can travel a few stops along a London tube line and life expectancy rates will decrease from north to south, from west to east. Every trip across London is accompanied by the constant hum of the postcode lottery.
The creation of the post of Mayor with its larger strategic role in cross cutting issues such as transport, policing and the environment enshrined in the Greater London Authority Act 1999 has, most agree, truly made a difference. It has meant that someone really cares about London, overseeing the way its riverside skyline looks, the cleaning up of the city as well as, most importantly, the control of road congestion at its centre and the reduction of vehicle emissions. It also means that someone is directly accountable to the city’s voting public, rather than the central government of the day. Given the recent successes of the mayoral post, the London Authority Act 2007 will extend the mayoral role to include powers to direct housing policy in the capital as well as extend its environmental remit. It is hoped that some control over the capital’s health policies will follow.
Red Ken has, in the round, been a good Mayor. His greatest achievement is likely to have been the introduction of the congestion charge; the city now charges vehicles for entering the city centre at particular times of day, thus booting more people out of cars and onto buses, tubes and trains. He has also introduced a more efficient ticketing system for public transport, free transport for pensioners, and secured cash from central government for a new cross-city rail service. He has helped London win the Olympics for 2012 on the basis that it will help regenerate the more impoverished areas of East London. Importantly, Red Ken who, in his former incarnation as member of the General London Council in the eighties despised the capitalist pigs of the city of London, has realized that they are not such bad chaps after all, and cleverly used his power of veto on planning permissions for major London construction projects to get private business to contribute to building adjunct affordable housing for the poor. Even where Ken has proved slightly megalomaniacal, self-importantly concluding a deal with his friend, Hugo Chavez, to supply London transport with cheap Venezuelan oil, people were rather willing to forgive him. They like that he, like London, is a little more than eccentric.
Boris Johnson despite his playing the lovable buffoon in years past has actually floated a number of good ideas in his campaign, some of which Ken unashamedly announced he would be happy to implement if he were elected given that there is no intellectual property in public policy. He has some good ideas about getting kids off the streets in the wake of gang related stabbings that killed 27 kids last year, and has suggested new cost cutting measures to get more policemen on the beat. His housing policy is almost lyrical; in a veiled reference to the ugly public housing blocks that stud London’s landscape with dark stairwells and identikit flats, Boris says that “we must build houses that will still be loved and respected in a hundred years, dwellings of distinction and grace that satisfy the instinct for differentiation that is deep in the human soul”.
Despite the promise of the role, and even the candidates (I have ignored the candidacies of a number of others including that of the man currently polling third in the race, the impressive Liberal Democrat candidate, Nick Paddick) the mayoral race has now descended into the usual mudslinging. Ken has been accused of cronyism as one of his top mayoral aides has been accused of using city funds inappropriately. Boris, perhaps more worryingly, is constantly reminded of politically incorrect articles he wrote in the Spectator while editor of that publication. He once accused the Queen of only loving the Commonwealth because it supplied her “with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving picanninies”. While this could well be an accurate representation of how the Queen views her third word subjects, it wasn’t exactly choice language. On Africa he once wrote “the problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge anymore… the best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers or their citizens scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty”. The unearthing of these quotes does not bode well for Boris in a liberal London stacked to the rafters with ex-colonials. His defence has been equally quaint. He has suggested that he couldn’t possibly be considered racist because his great grandmother was a Circassian slave (a genealogical defence that sounds as if it has been cribbed straight out of a Captain Flashman novel).
Notwithstanding its entertainment value, from the perspective of a Chennai traffic jam, the way in which the London mayoral race has descended into sheer spectacle seems like a colossal waste. Unlike in Chennai the role of Mayor in London has tangible power. While Chennai may lack a strong personality to champion it, it seems a real shame that Boris and Ken are letting allowing their personalities to get in the way of a truly effective public office.