It’s impossible to imagine someone like Bowie giving the media anything like this kind of insane access today – but then, of course, there is no one like Bowie today. In 2016 it might take five months of negotiation to get an interview with the superstar of your choice and then you’d probably have to present your questions in advance and be babysat by three or four PR flaks and a spooky zombie-faced entourage for the whole blessed 15 minutes. In 1975, Bowie just turned up grinning, already babbling, at Crowe’s door. When Crowe got him to sit still long enough he couldn’t stop talking, which may or may not have had something to do with the industrial amounts of pharmaceutical cocaine he was daily ingesting. He had become almost an abstraction in the dry California air: surrounded by stubbly country-rock cowboys and wailing witchy women he was a sheet of virgin foolscap. Where did he fall from, this Englishman with his barking seal laugh and outrageous quotes about Himmler and semen storage and articulate ghosts?
Saturday, December 31, 2016
Paintings Reveal Signs of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in Famous Artists
George Dvorsky in Gizmodo:
Researchers from the University of Liverpool have shown that it’s possible to detect neurodegenerative disorders in famous artists by analyzing subtle changes in their brush strokes over time. The technique could eventually be used to flag Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in artists before they’re diagnosed.
A new study published in Neuropsychology shows that a mathematical technique known as “fractal analysis” can be used to detect signs of neurodegeneration in an artist’s work. A research team led by Alex Forsythe from the University of Liverpool’s School of Psychology made the discovery by examining 2,092 paintings from the careers of seven famous artists who experienced either normal aging or neurodegenerative disorders.
Using fractal analysis, the researchers were able to identify complex geometric patterns in the brushstrokes of each artist. Fractals can reveal hidden and often self-repeating patterns in everyday objects and phenomena. These distinctive geometrical shapes are like fingerprints, allowing scientists to match an artist with his or her work.
Vincent van Gogh Documentary
Video length: 2:26:55
Power Poser: When big ideas go bad
Tom Bartlett in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on power poses has been viewed 37 million times. For comparison purposes, Kanye West’s video "Famous," which features naked celebrities in bed together, has been viewed 21 million times. Cuddy’s talk is the second-most-watched video in TED history, behind only Ken Robinson’s "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" — and, at its current pace, will eventually take over the No. 1 spot, thereby making power poses the most popular idea ever on the most popular idea platform. The talk led to a book, Presence, which was published a year ago by Little, Brown and became a best seller. For the promotional tour, Cuddy, an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, popped up on an impressive list of television shows, including Good Morning America, Today, Morning Joe, and The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. She received the sort of publicity roll-out usually reserved for celebrities. And why not? Cuddy had become a celebrity in her own right. In Presence, she writes about getting recognized in airports and snapping selfies with fans. They spot her and immediately strike a power pose — feet apart, hands on hips, head thrown back. "Hey! It’s TED girl!" they cry.
As scientific ideas go, power poses could hardly be more clickable. For starters, it’s simple to understand: Standing like Wonder Woman or in another confident pose for two minutes is enough, Cuddy informs us, to transform a timid also-ran into a fierce go-getter. Even better, this life hack comes straight from an Ivy League professor who published her findings in a peer-reviewed journal bolstered by charts and percentages and properly formatted citations. This wasn’t feel-good conjecture; this was rock-solid research from a bona fide scientist. What went unmentioned on those shows, however, was that the study supporting Cuddy’s claims had begun to crumble. Well before the publication of her book, another research team had tried and failed to replicate the most-touted finding — that assuming a power pose leads to significant hormonal changes. In addition, the intriguing discovery that power poses made subjects more willing to take risks seemed dubious. In the wake of the apparent debunking, online science watchdogs sank their teeth into the study, picking apart its methodology and declaring its results risible. Then, in late September, one of Cuddy’s co-authors, Dana Carney, did something unusual: She posted a detailed mea culpa on her website, siding with the study’s critics. "I do not believe that ‘power pose’ effects are real," wrote Carney, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley’s business school. Her note went on to say that, while the research had been performed in good faith, the data were "flimsy" and the design and analysis, in retrospect, unsound. She discouraged other researchers from wasting their time on power poses. So how did arguably the most popular idea on the internet end up on the scientific ash heap?
Graphic Tale of a Scandalous Starlet
Woody Allen in The New York Times:
Life is so unfair. I tore up the old linoleum in a grungy apartment I rented years ago and found under it only schmutz, hardened chewing gum and a torn ticket stub to “Moose Murders.” Ed Sorel tears up the old linoleum in his apartment and finds yellowing newspapers with headlines screaming about a scandal that gave him material for a terrific book. Not only does he then write a terrific book, but he illustrates it with his wonderful caricature drawings. Who would figure that Mary Astor’s life would provide such entertaining reading, but in Sorel’s colloquial, eccentric style, the tale he tells is juicy, funny and, in the end, touching. But why Mary Astor? Just because she happened to be under his linoleum? I mean I liked Mary Astor. I enjoyed seeing her up on the screen, but I never lost my heart to her the way Sorel has, and if it had been my linoleum she surfaced from, I wouldn’t have felt driven to research all the interesting details that have mesmerized the author. To me, Mary Astor was a very good, solid actress but not the exciting equal of, say, Bette Davis or Vivien Leigh. (Who was the equal of Vivien Leigh?) And when Bogart, in “The Maltese Falcon,” says his murdered partner was too smart a detective to follow a man he was shadowing up a blind alley but then tells Astor, “But he’d have gone up there with you, angel. . . . He’d have looked you up and down and licked his lips and gone, grinning from ear to ear,” I give this appraisal a lukewarm nod.
The truth is I can think of a dozen other femmes fatales I’d prefer to be lured up a dark alley with to enjoy a beating or violent death. Even Sorel, who is so smitten with this movie star that he wants to see her put on a postage stamp, agrees she never achieved the sensual humidity of Rita Hayworth or Marilyn Monroe. So what did Mary Astor have that such a good book could be written about her? Well, for one thing, she had a major scandal — and a torrid one at that. And while she may not have projected sex appeal, she did reek of aristocracy, or at least her name, Astor, smacked of the manor. Of course she was in no way related to the richest man who went down on the Titanic. Astor wasn’t her real name. She was born Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke, a name that would probably never even fit on the average movie marquee.
Visiting the Oracle
It’s dark on purpose
so just listen.
Maybe I inherit a jar, maybe a pot,
maybe nothing. Only this
loose end of a voice
rising to meet you.
It sounds like water.
Don’t think about that.
Let your servants climb back down the mountain
by themselves. I’ll listen.
I’ll tell you everything
I discover, but I can’t
say what it means.
Someone will always
assure you of the best of fortunes,
but you know better.
And keep this in mind: The answer
reveals itself in time
like the clue that fits
perfectly and explains everything
after the crime has been solved..
Then you will say: I should have know.
It was there all along
and never even concealed,
like the story of the letter
overlooked by the thief because
it had not been hidden.
That’s the trick, of course.
You don’t need me.
by Lawrence Raab
from The Collector of Cold Weather
Ecco Press, 1976
Friday, December 30, 2016
Inequality and Skin in the Game
Nassim Nicholas Taleb in Medium:
There is inequality and inequality.
The first is the inequality people tolerate, such as one’s understanding compared to that of people deemed heroes, say Einstein, Michelangelo, or the recluse mathematician Grisha Perelman, in comparison to whom one has no difficulty acknowledging a large surplus. This applies to entrepreneurs, artists, soldiers, heroes, the singer Bob Dylan, Socrates, the current local celebrity chef, some Roman Emperor of good repute, say Marcus Aurelius; in short those for whom one can naturally be a “fan”. You may like to imitate them, you may aspire to be like them; but you don’t resent them.
The second is the inequality people find intolerable because the subject appears to be just a person like you, except that he has been playing the system, and getting himself into rent seeking, acquiring privileges that are not warranted –and although he has something you would not mind having (which may include his Russian girlfriend), he is exactly the type of whom you cannot possibly become a fan. The latter category includes bankers, bureaucrats who get rich, former senators shilling for the evil firm Monsanto, clean-shaven chief executives who wear ties, and talking heads on television making outsized bonuses. You don’t just envy them; you take umbrage at their fame, and the sight of their expensive or even semi-expensive car trigger some feeling of bitterness. They make you feel smaller.
There may be something dissonant in the spectacle of a rich slave.
The author Joan Williams, in an insightful article, explains that the working class is impressed by the rich, as role models. Michèle Lamont, the author of The Dignity of Working Men, whom she cites, did a systematic interview of blue collar Americans and found present a resentment of professionals but, unexpectedly, not of the rich.
It is safe to accept that the American public –actually all public –despise people who make a lot of money on a salary, or, rather, salarymen who make a lot of money. This is indeed generalized to other countries: a few years ago the Swiss, of all people almost voted a law capping salaries of managers . But the same Swiss hold rich entrepreneurs, and people who have derived their celebrity by other means, in some respect.
The Cost of Cooperating
A conversation With David Rand in Edge:
I'm most interested in understanding cooperation, that is to say, why people are willing to act for the greater good rather than their narrow self-interest. In thinking about that question, there's both a scientific part of understanding how the selfish process of natural selection and strategic reasoning could give rise to this cooperative behavior, and also the practical question of what we can do to make people more cooperative in real-world settings.
The way that I think about this is at two general different levels. One is an institutional level. How can you arrange interactions in a way that makes people inclined to cooperate? Most of that boils down to “how do you make it in people's long-run self-interests to be cooperative?” The other part is trying to understand at a more mechanistic or psychological/cognitive level what's going on inside people's heads while they're making cooperation decisions; in particular, in situations where there's not any self-interested motive to cooperate, lots of people still cooperate. I want to understand how exactly that happens.
If you think about the puzzle of cooperation being “why should I incur a personal cost of time or money or effort in order to do something that's going to benefit other people and not me?” the general answer is that if you can create future consequences for present behavior, that can create an incentive to cooperate. Cooperation requires me to incur some costs now, but if I'm cooperating with someone who I'll interact with again, it's worth it for me to pay the cost of cooperating now in order to get the benefit of them cooperating with me in the future, as long as there's a large enough likelihood that we'll interact again.
Even if it's with someone that I'm not going to interact with again, if other people are observing that interaction, then it affects my reputation. It can be worth paying the cost of cooperating in order to earn a good reputation, and to attract new interaction partners.
After Weight-Loss Surgery, a Year of Joys and Disappointments
Gina Kolata in the New York Times:
It was Oct. 11, 2015, and a middle-aged man and a young woman, both severely obese, were struggling with the same lump-in-the-throat feeling. The next day they were going to have an irreversible operation. Were they on the threshold of a new beginning or a terrible mistake?
They were strangers, scheduled for back-to-back bariatric surgery at the University of Michigan with the same doctor. He would cut away most of their stomachs and reroute their small intestines. They were almost certain to lose much of their excess weight. But despite the drastic surgery, their doctor told them it was unlikely that they would ever be thin.
Nearly 200,000 Americans have bariatric surgery each year. Yet far more — an estimated 24 million — are heavy enough to qualify for the operation, and many of them are struggling with whether to have such a radical treatment, the only one that leads to profound and lasting weight loss for virtually everyone who has it.
Most people believe that the operation simply forces people to eat less by making their stomachs smaller, but scientists have discovered that it actually causes profound changes in patients’ physiology, altering the activity of thousands of genes in the human body as well as the complex hormonal signaling from the gut to the brain.
More here. [Thanks to Syed Tasnim Raza.]
"POEM" by Frank O'Hara, read by Richard Samuel
Video length: 3:25
James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, 100 years on
Colm Toibin in The Guardian:
James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man begins with the confidence, ease and innocence of a story told to a child and ends with a tone that is hesitant, suspicious, fragmented and estranged. Between the two comes the education of one Stephen Dedalus, as the nets of race, religion and family attempt to ensnare his tender soul and complex imagination. Stephen is a born noticer and an attentive listener. He is also someone who can take himself and his experiences with immense seriousness and then, a few pages later, put on an ironic disposition, as though his own very thoughts and the sufferings he endured were made to be fictionalised. (The earlier version of the book was called “Stephen Hero”.) In A Portrait, there is a constant and nourishing conflict going on between the artist and the young man, the artist concerned with style and texture and the refraction of experience, the young man with registering what he saw and remembered, how he grew.
For many Irish male writers who came after Joyce, from Frank O’Connor to John McGahern to Seamus Heaney, the sifting of early memory, the detailed description of parents, domestic space, school, religious belief, came with the matching account of the young artist’s effort to navigate these through solitude and reading, through knowledge and language.
Immune cells in covering of brain discovered; may play critical role in battling neurological diseases
University of Virginia School of Medicine researchers have discovered a rare and powerful type of immune cell in the meninges (protective covering) of the brain that are activated in response to central nervous system injury — suggesting that these cells may play a critical role in battling Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, meningitis, and other neurological diseases, and in supporting healthy mental functioning. By harnessing the power of the cells, known as “type 2 innate lymphocytes” (ILC2s), doctors may be able to develop new treatments for neurological diseases, traumatic brain injury, and spinal cord injuries, as well as migraines, the researchers suggest. They also suspect the cells may be the missing link connecting the brain and the microbiota in our guts, a relationship that has been shown to be important in the development of Parkinson’s disease.
ILC2 cells have previously been found in the gut, lung, and skin, the body’s barriers to disease. Their discovery by UVA researcher Jonathan Kipnis, PhD, in the meninges, the membranes surrounding the brain, comes as a surprise. They were found along the same vessels discovered by the Kipnis lab last year, which showed that the brain and the immune system are directly connected. “This all comes down to immune system and brain interaction,” said Kipnis, chairman of UVA’s Department of Neuroscience. These where previously believed to be not communicating, but not only are these [immune] cells present in the areas near the brain, they are integral to its function, Kipnis said. Immune cells play several important roles within the body, including guarding against pathogens, triggering allergic reactions, and responding to spinal cord injuries. But its their role in the gut that makes Kipnis suspect they may also be serving as a vital communicator between the brain’s immune response and our microbiomes (microbes in the body). That could be very important, because our intestinal flora is critical for maintaining our health and well being.
My father said I could not do it,
but all night I picked the peaches.
The orchard was still, the canals ran steadily.
I was a girl then, my chest its own walled garden.
How many ladders to gather an orchard?
I had only one and a long patience with lit hands
and the looking of the stars which moved right through me
the way the water moved through the canals with a voice
that seemed to speak of this moonless gathering
and those who had gathered before me.
I put the peaches in the pond’s cold water,
all night up the ladder and down, all night my hands
twisting fruit as if I were entering a thousand doors,
all night my back a straight road to the sky.
And then out of its own goodness, out
of the far fields of the stars, the morning came,
and inside me was the stillness a bell possesses
just after it has been rung, before the metal
begins to long again for the clapper’s stroke.
The light came over the orchard.
The canals were silver and then were not.
and the pond was--I could see as I laid
the last peach in the water--full of fish and eyes.
Brigit Pegeen Kelly
from To the Place of Trumpets
published by Yale
Why is Turkey so divided?
What went wrong in Turkey? Ten years ago the world was full of praise for the “Turkish model”. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, were heralded as democratic pioneers. Turkey was said to have created a successful template for other Muslim-majority countries to follow, marrying democracy, free-market capitalism and pragmatic Islam. Those days now seem remote. The government has steadily tightened its authoritarian grip; a peace process with Kurdish rebels collapsed last year, leaving south-east parts of the country in rubble; terror attacks have shaken Turkey’s biggest cities; the economy is stalling; a military coup was avoided in July but the ongoing state of emergency is giving cover for an extensive government power grab; the war over the 900-km border in Syria is exacerbating Turkey’s internal fault lines; many educated citizens now talk of emigrating.
The 180-degree turn from hope to gloom shows how easily news coverage can be distorted by convenient overarching narratives. While Erdoğan was once simplistically characterized in Western reporting and analysis as a model leader for the Middle East, he is today denounced as the single source of all the country’s problems. The subject of a strange cult of personality in Turkey, he is a figure of increasing fascination abroad. Foreign correspondents despair about their editors’ obsession with the Turkish President, a larger-than-life character guaranteed to stir interest among readers.
Colors / Turquoise
Professor Larry P. Lazuli
MW 4—5 pm, Incandeza Institute, Studio 207
This course will immerse us deeply in the coolest, calmest, and most creative of colors: Blue. We will explore the history of Blue, from the idea that the ancient Greeks did not see the color Blue at all to Persian architecture’s mimicry of the very sky to Blue’s prominence in contemporary brands like Chase Bank and Face Book. We will explore Blue’s cataclysmic role in modern art, from Monet’s profound yet indistinct lilies to the Expressionist Blue Rider group to Picasso’s Blue Period to Rothko’s gloomiest blocks of blue. We will make our own Blue paints and dyes with materials collected by hand during our weekly nature walks: crushed shells of bird eggs, lambent petals of blooms, dust of uncouth gems. We will spend most of our time exploring that wiliest of the Blues—turquoise, a color that, like your professor, never seems to know whether it is truly Blue, or just a bit muddled.
A Green Thought in a Green Shade
Assistant Professor Andy Marvell
MW 9–10 am, Incandeza Institute, Studio 207
This course explores the philosophy of green, the most significant color in the history of humankind and the fundamental basis for all other colors. Special attention will be paid to turquoise, a shade in the cyan group, which also includes aquamarine, cerulean, sea green, teal, verdigris, viridian. Of these, turquoise clearly has the greatest and greenest depth of spirit. As a case study, turquoise proves that, despite grandiose claims about, say, the color blue, everything is in fact always already green. (Perhaps with envy; see Art 254.)
Pipilotti’s Pleasure Dome
In many ways Rist is a kind of lusty feminist flower-child—her first name is an invented combination of Pippi Longstocking and Rist’s own childhood nickname, Lotti—but of a generation that missed the first blush of those tendencies and so was in a position to look back on them critically. Raymond Pettibon, the punk Goya of the post-Haight-Ashbury–post-Altamont counter-Counter-Culture, and his polymathic, multimedia pal Mike Kelley both turned jaundiced eyes on the giddy spirit of the 1960s in their indictments of the periods Utopian fantasies. In striking contrast, Rist’s approach has been to embrace such idealism without any apparent cynicism. Over many years, she has deployed a sensual ethos and aesthetic with a robustness and invention that persuades one not only of her sincerity but of the abiding worth of such optimism.
I write this as a sixty-seven-year-old ’68er who has smoked my share of dope, lounged around my share of crash pads watching light shows, and communed with my share of kindred, soul-searching spirits. I don’t really hunger for more and certainly have no desire to relive the past. Accordingly it was with considerable wariness that I exited the elevator on the top floor of the New Museum to find a dimmed chamber scattered with beds of every description—from standard issue IKEA to faux-Rococo sleighs—on which members of the public stretched out to watch two videos projected on a ceiling framed by curvaceous Plexiglass cutouts.
Thursday, December 29, 2016
THOMAS C. SCHELLING: A REMINISCENCE
Robert Jervis in War on the Rocks:
I first “met” Tom in print. As a junior at Oberlin College, I ran across The Strategy of Conflict. Without seeing all of its implications and nuances, I found it eye-opening. This is what politics, especially international politics, was all about: strategic interaction, which meant that each side was trying to anticipate how the other side would respond to its moves, knowing that the other side was doing likewise. One didn’t need formal game theory to grasp this or to follow out many of its leads. Among the most famous concepts he developed were the strategy of commitment and the reciprocal fear of surprise attack. Fifty years later, it is easy to forget how radical these ideas were at the time. The pre-Schelling literature on bargaining had noticed that actors sometimes staked out positions in public that made retreat much more difficult, but these incidents seemed aberrations, errors, or the product of emotions.
The academic community and members of the educated public simply did not understand what was going on. We had all missed one key idea. An actor that staked its reputation on standing firm and increased the costs it would pay upon backing down also increased the chance that its adversary, understanding this and seeing that the actor was now less likely to retreat, would have to make the concessions that were necessary to avoid a mutually destructive conflict.
Why we react to inconvenient truths as if they were personal insults
Brian Resnick in Vox:
Psychologists have been circling around a possible reason political beliefs are so stubborn: Partisan identities get tied up in our personal identities. Which would mean that an attack on our strongly held beliefs is an attack on the self. And the brain is built to protect the self.
When we’re attacked, we evade or defend — as if we have an immune system for uncomfortable thoughts, one you can see working in real time.
“The brain’s primary responsibility is to take care of the body, to protect the body,” Jonas Kaplan, a psychologist at the University of Southern California, tells me. “The psychological self is the brain’s extension of that. When our self feels attacked, our [brain is] going to bring to bear the same defenses that it has for protecting the body.”
Recently, Kaplan has found more evidence that we tend to take political attacks personally. In a study recently published in Scientific Reports, he and collaborators took 40 self-avowed liberals who reported having “deep convictions,” put them inside in a functional MRI scanner, and started challenging their beliefs. Then they watched which parts of the participants’ brains lit up. Their conclusion: When the participants were challenged on their strongly held beliefs, there was more activation in the parts of the brain that are thought to correspond with self-identity and negative emotions.
Does Empathy Guide or Hinder Moral Action? A debate between Paul Bloom and Jamil Zaki
From the New York Times:
Paul Bloom: What does it take to be a good person? What makes someone a good doctor, therapist or parent? What guides policy-makers to make wise and moral decisions?
Many believe that empathy — the capacity to experience the feelings of others, and particularly others’ suffering — is essential to all of these roles. I argue that this is a mistake, often a tragic one.
Empathy acts like a spotlight, focusing one's attention on a single individual in the here and now. This can have positive effects, but it can also lead to short-sighted and unfair moral actions. And it is subject to bias — both laboratory studies and anecdotal experiences show that empathy flows most for those who look like us, who are attractive and who are non-threatening and familiar.
When we appreciate that skin color does not determine who we should care about, for example, or that a crisis such as climate change has great significance — even though it is an abstract threat — we are transcending empathy. A good policy maker makes decisions using reason, aspiring toward the sort of fairness and impartiality empathy doesn't provide.
Empathy isn’t just a reflex, of course. We can choose to empathize and stir empathy for others. But this flexibility can be a curse. Our empathy can be exploited by others, as when cynical politicians tell stories of victims of rape or assault and use our empathy for these victims to stoke hatred against vulnerable groups, such as undocumented immigrants.
Open Society Needs Defending
George Soros in Project Syndicate:
Globalization has had far-reaching economic and political consequences. It has brought about some economic convergence between poor and rich countries; but it increased inequality within both poor and rich countries. In the developed world, the benefits accrued mainly to large owners of financial capital, who constitute less than 1% of the population. The lack of redistributive policies is the main source of the dissatisfaction that democracy’s opponents have exploited. But there were other contributing factors as well, particularly in Europe.
I was an avid supporter of the European Union from its inception. I regarded it as the embodiment of the idea of an open society: an association of democratic states willing to sacrifice part of their sovereignty for the common good. It started out at as a bold experiment in what Popper called “piecemeal social engineering.” The leaders set an attainable objective and a fixed timeline and mobilized the political will needed to meet it, knowing full well that each step would necessitate a further step forward. That is how the European Coal and Steel Community developed into the EU.
But then something went woefully wrong. After the Crash of 2008, a voluntary association of equals was transformed into a relationship between creditors and debtors, where the debtors had difficulties in meeting their obligations and the creditors set the conditions the debtors had to obey. That relationship has been neither voluntary nor equal.
Germany emerged as the hegemonic power in Europe, but it failed to live up to the obligations that successful hegemons must fulfill, namely looking beyond their narrow self-interest to the interests of the people who depend on them. Compare the behavior of the US after WWII with Germany’s behavior after the Crash of 2008: the US launched the Marshall Plan, which led to the development of the EU; Germany imposed an austerity program that served its narrow self-interest.
Don't blame technology
Irina Borogan and Andrei Soldatov in Eurozine:
Disappointment with the mainstream media as the traditional intermediary between society and the authorities grew to striking levels. The concept of media denial was born: now readers wanted to judge events for themselves. Technology arose to aid them in this, and what seemed insane back in 2001, with people sitting in front of their television and computer screens and coming to far-fetched conclusions about the masterminds behind 9/11, became convenient in the late 2000s, with the rise of WikiLeaks and the concept of "data journalism" presented as an alternative to narrative journalism.
Russian bloggers, most of whom had never been journalists but who had some background in PR, became extremely popular. A blogger writing about politics, cars, cameras or anything else could get a million daily views.
And then came the world of social media: a platform to share experiences, data and stories where the credibility of the story was judged not on the reputation of the author but on numbers – of reposts and followers. This brave new world cried out to be exploited.
Were the Russians the first to exploit it? Certainly not.
In March 2011, The Guardian reported on a contract from the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees US operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what was described as an "online persona management service". This service would allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world. The CENTCOM contract stipulated that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate these false identities from their workstations "without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries". Back then these false online personas were called "sock puppets" – these days they are better known as trolls. The software's objective was to help US service personnel, working around the clock in one location, to respond to emerging online conversations with any number of coordinated messages, blog posts, chatroom posts and other interventions. As CENTCOM spokesman Commander Bill Speaks said at the time, "The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable CENTCOM to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US."
But Russia was the first country to turn this weapon into a new way of conducting public policy, first in Ukraine, then in Europe.
Wham Bang, Teatime
Ian Penman in the LRB:
In 1975 David Bowie was in Los Angeles pretending to star in a film that wasn’t being made, adapted from a memoir he would never complete, to be called ‘The Return of the Thin White Duke’. This dubious pseudonymous character was first aired in an interview with Rolling Stone’s bumptious but canny young reporter Cameron Crowe; it soon became notorious. Crowe’s scene-setting picture of Bowie at home featured black candles and doodled ballpoint stars meant to ward off evil influences. Bowie revealed an enthusiasm for Aleister Crowley’s system of ceremonial magick that seemed to go beyond the standard, kitschy rock star flirtation with the ‘dark side’ into a genuine research project. He talked about drugs: ‘short flirtations with smack and things’, but given the choice he preferred a Grand Prix of the fastest, whitest drugs available. He brushed aside compatriots/competitors like Elton John and called Mick Jagger the ‘sort of harmless bourgeois kind of evil one can accept with a shrug’. If pushed, this apprentice warlock could also recite Derek and Clive’s ‘The Worst Job I Ever Had’ by heart and generally came on like a twisted forcefield of ego, will and fantastic put-on.
Political Surrealism, Surreal Politics
Carl Freedman in the LA Review of Books:
WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP between radical aesthetic practices and actual political radicalism? There are many — and various — answers to this question. One of the most interesting is suggested by a famous exchange between Lenin and the Romanian-Jewish writer Valeriu Marcu. During his exile in Zurich, Lenin took many of his meals at a restaurant frequented by radically avant-garde painters, poets, and other such bohemian types, Marcu among them. In conversation one day, Lenin said to Marcu, “I don’t know how radical you are, or how radical I am. I am certainly not radical enough. One can never be radical enough; that is, one must always try to be as radical as reality itself.” Marcu was so sufficiently impressed by the great Russian revolutionary that he went on to write his first biography.
To try to be as radical as reality itself is a good motto for anyone wishing to accomplish anything of value in art or in politics. Brecht, who was unswervingly radical in both spheres, however, maintained that the artistic comprehension of reality in all its “radicality” is not necessarily best achieved through traditional literary realism. China Miéville would certainly agree. All of his numerous works are animated by revolutionary Marxism, and all diverge in one way or another — or in many ways — from classical realism. His recent volume, The Last Days of New Paris(2016), is set in France, mainly in Paris, during Nazi occupation; but this occupation is quite different from the one you can read about in the history books. The text can be classified as an alternative-history novel (or novella, as Miéville labels it). Yet a knowledge of the canonical achievements of this genre — like Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962), or Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (2004), or any of a number of works by Kim Stanley Robinson — will suggest only a very partial idea of what is to be found here.
Why do our cell's power plants have their own DNA?
Laurel Hamers in Science:
It’s one of the big mysteries of cell biology. Why do mitochondria—the oval-shaped structures that power our cells—have their own DNA, and why have they kept it when the cell itself has plenty of its own genetic material? A new study may have found an answer. Scientists think that mitochondria were once independent single-celled organisms until, more than a billion years ago, they were swallowed by larger cells. Instead of being digested, they settled down and developed a mutually beneficial relationship developed with their hosts that eventually enabled the rise of more complex life, like today’s plants and animals.
Over the years, the mitochondrial genome has shrunk. The nucleus now harbors the vast majority of the cell’s genetic material—even genes that help the mitochondria function. In humans, for instance, the mitochondrial genome contains just 37 genes, versus the nucleus’s 20,000-plus. Over time, most mitochondrial genes have jumped into the nucleus. But if those genes are mobile, why have mitochondria retained any genes at all, especially considering that mutations in some of those genes can cause rare but crippling diseases that gradually destroy patients’ brains, livers, hearts, and other key organs.
Hor Vi Neevan Ho. Noori
It looked like a clump of small dusty nettles
Growing wild at the gable of the house
Beyond where we dropped our refuse and old bottles
Unverdant ever, almost beneath notice.
But, to be fair, it also spelled promise
And newness in the back yard of our life
As if something callow yet tenacious
Sauntered in green alleys and grew rife.
The snip of scissor blades, the light of Sunday
Mornings when the mint was cut and loved:
My last things will be first things slipping from me.
Yet let all things go free that have survived.
Let the smells of mint go heady and defenceless
Like inmates liberated in that yard.
Like the disregarded ones we turned against
Because we’d failed them by our disregard.
by Seamus Heaney
from The Spirit Level
Faber and Faber 1996