Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Again, damn it, radio, television, the papers.
The powers that be, as expected, are consummate crooks.
Those back in the days at least had some fear, today’s are no better.
I’d forbid the days to pass without you,
their pitiful sum total – you don’t come,
in the morning you are not to be found even in any of the mirrors,
you don’t arrive at noontime with a purse, a vagina,
an underarm, skin, a scent, an apple –
what should I do between noon and the evening?
In the evening you also do not come.
I want to know what has happened. Maybe you were on your way here,
perhaps they were running after you, maybe they raped you.
I think they cannot not rape you.
All this is radio, television, the papers.
The day without you is my untalented loneliness.
I lie under the ceiling, I pass.
Nothing has happened anywhere, you aren’t here.
A few armed conflicts,
a couple of traitors on TV.
The dollar exchange rate grew,
no trading in rubles today.
by Yuri Andrukhovych
from Songs From the Dead Rooster
translation Vitaly Chernetsky
Maggie Fergusson in More Intelligent Life:
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, Chatto, hardback, out now. Abby Whitshank, the selfless, self-doubting mother at the heart of Anne Tyler’s 20th novel, can’t bear to think that hers is “just another muddled, discontented, ordinary family”. But apparently ordinary families are what Tyler loves best. She writes about them with involved detachment, creating characters who are flawed but endearing, and capable of occasional humdrum heroism. Moving backwards in time, she explores three generations of Whitshanks: “Junior”, who built the family’s Baltimore home in the 1930s, his son Red, Abby’s husband, and Red and Abby’s four grown-up children, who compete to take control as their parents tumble into senility. Tyler is brilliant at the hairline fractures between siblings, and the intermeshing of irritation and tenderness that makes a marriage. But the real triumph here is her portrayal of old age—droll, and desperately sad.
Claudia Dreifus in The New York Times:
James P. Allison is the chairman of the immunology department at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. His seminal research opened up a new field in cancer treatment: immunotherapy. Instead of poisoning a tumor or destroying it with radiation, Dr. Allison has pioneered ways to unleash the immune system to destroy a cancer. Two years ago, Science magazine anointed immunotherapy as the “Breakthrough of the Year.” More recently, Dr. Allison, 66, won the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, often a precursor to a Nobel. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.
Q. The class of drugs you’ve helped invent has been hailed as one of the first truly new cancer treatments in decades. What makes it so different?
A. It’s a bit counterintuitive. Till now, most cancer treatments — radiation, surgery, chemotherapy — attacked tumors directly, with the goal of killing them. In the 1980s, my laboratory did work on how the T-cells of the immune system, which are the attack cells, latch onto the cells infected with viruses and bacteria and ultimately kill them. That research lead me to think that the immune system could be unleashed to kill cancers. Basically, I proposed that we should stop worrying about directly killing cancer cells and develop drugs to release those T-cells.
Monday, March 02, 2015
by Zaheer Kazmi
Did the Martians that landed at Horsell Common live on in the souls of dead Muslim soldiers? Just over a century before the ‘War on Terror', H. G. Wells penned his own fin de siècle mythic battle to protect God's empire. The setting for the alien invasion in The War of the Worlds (1898) was later to become the final resting place of some of the British Empire's Muslim fallen. Yet the Muslim Burial Ground at Horsell Common is only part of the trans-global history of Woking in Surrey, the outlying town at Greater London's edge. In 1889, nearly a decade before the publication of Wells's classic allegory of imperial anxiety, England's first purpose-built mosque, the Shah Jahan, was constructed in Woking by Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, a Hungarian Jew. Wells himself lived in the area at the time of writing his book. He would have been aware no doubt of the mosque just beyond the railway line that ran along his lodgings in Maybury Road. He would also have known of the vast nearby London Necropolis, or Brookwood Cemetery, where, among its Muslim graves, two of the most influential translators of the Qur'an into English were later to be buried: Marmaduke Pickthall and Abdullah Yusuf Ali, the former, an English convert, the latter, an Indian Ismaili Bohra.
Space and time collapse in a nondescript part of suburban England where Muslims and aliens live and die. Until very recently, Brookwood Cemetery, the largest in England, was owned by Turkish Cypriots, the Guney family, who had founded Britain's first Turkish mosque in 1977. Their fate was intimately tied to their involvement in far off battles with Greek Cypriot compatriots in that divided island's wars of resistance with their strong religious undertones. Barely a few miles away, the environs of Woking where Wells resided still retain small tightly-packed Victorian terraces, several of whose current Muslim inhabitants, of which there are now many, hark from the Subcontinent. In one of these houses, in Stanley Road adjoining Wells's Maybury Road retreat, the latter-day Dickensian chronicler of working-class life, Paul Weller, grew up to find artistic inspiration while his mother worked as a cleaner at the local mosque. Years later, in his ode to nostalgia, ‘Amongst Butterflies', he would retrace his steps to Horsell Common where he played as a child, reminiscing that ‘God was there amongst the trees' by the soldiers' tomb. He also paid his own respects to this sacred confluence of memory by pledging to help finance the burial ground's restoration.
by Jonathan Kujawa
Last month at 3QD we discovered that Pascal's Triangle contains all sorts of surprises. Like most things in mathematics, there is no end to the things you can uncover if you keep digging and have a curious mind. If we revisit the Triangle with our eye open for curiosities we notice that the sequences of numbers which run parallel to the side of the triangle look a bit interesting :
Okay, the first line is just a sequence of 1s and is pretty darn boring. The second sequence is the counting numbers and is only slightly better than the 1s since anyone over the age of five who knows the addition rule for the Triangle can see why they are there.
But the third row! They seem to follow some sort of pattern, but it's not quite so obvious what it might be. We already have the hint that they're called the Triangular Numbers. If you were a boring person devoid of curiosity, you could go on with your life never knowing what's going on. But you're not and you know the Triangle rewards the curious. The following image explains why they're called the Triangular Numbers:
Once you notice that the pattern, it's not too hard to see that the nth number in this sequence is the number of balls needed to make a triangle which has n balls along one side (to go from one triangle to the next you just add another row to one side and counting those additional balls amounts to the addition rule of Pascal's Triangle). It's also not too hard to see  that the nth Triangular Number is given by the formula n(n+1)/2.
Let's agree that the 0th triangular number is 0. Not only is it reasonable to say the triangle with no balls on each side is made from 0 balls, we'll see it also turns out to be a convenient convention.
by Dwight Furrow
In many traditional wine regions of the world wine, like food, has been a marker of identity. Wine, when properly made, expresses the character of the soil and climate in which grapes are grown, and the sensibilities of the people who make and consume it. Thus, it is a form of cultural expression that sets one culture or region off from another, drawing a contrast with the rest of the world and inducing a sense of local uniqueness and particularity. As a bulwark against the homogenization of wine produced by global corporations for a world market, the authenticity of a wine's expression thus becomes one criterion by which wine quality is assessed. Wine that does not taste of its origins is branded inauthentic.
But just as creative chefs are confronted with the problem of being innovative while maintaining links to traditions, winemakers are faced with a similar dilemma. Wine lovers are nothing if not diviners of secrets. We strain to find the hidden layer of spice that emerges only after an hour of decanting, alertly attend to the ephemeral floral notes from esters so volatile that a few seconds exposure to air whisks them away forever, and obsess over the hint of tobacco that begins to develop only after 10 years in the cellar. If a wine is to qualify as a work of art, it must repay such devoted attention, revealing new dimensions with repeated tastings, especially as it develops with age. It should be an expression of the vision of the winemaker or the terroir of the region in which the grapes were grown, and like great art, a great wine should be a bit of an enigma, yielding pleasure and understanding while leaving the impression that there is something more here to be grasped. But most importantly, a vinous work of art must be unique. Just as Van Gogh's rendering of Arles is great because no predecessor had been able to capture with paint what Van Gogh saw in an ordinary Cyprus tree, a work of vinous art will uncover new dimensions in flavor. But that seems to contradict the demand that wine reflect the traditional flavor profile characteristic of the region from which it comes. How does a winemaker achieve originality while remaining wedded to tradition?
Gordon Parks. Couple, with man playing cello. 1980.
Current exhibition at MFA, Boston.
by Jalees Rehman
There are at least two ways of how the topic of trust in God is broached in Friday sermons that I have attended in the United States. Some imams lament the decrease of trust in God in the age of modernity. Instead of trusting God that He is looking out for the believers, modern day Muslims believe that they can control their destiny on their own without any Divine assistance. These imams see this lack of trust in God as a sign of weakening faith and an overall demise in piety. But in recent years, I have also heard an increasing number of sermons mentioning an important story from the Muslim tradition. In this story, Prophet Muhammad asked a Bedouin why he was leaving his camel untied and thus taking the risk that this valuable animal might wander off and disappear. When the Bedouin responded that he placed his trust in God who would ensure that the animal stayed put, the Prophet told him that he still needed to first tie up his camel and then place his trust in God. Sermons referring to this story admonish their audience to avoid the trap of fatalism. Just because you trust God does not mean that it obviates the need for rational and responsible action by each individual.
It is much easier for me to identify with the camel-tying camp because I find it rather challenging to take risks exclusively based on the trust in an inscrutable and minimally communicative entity. Both, believers and non-believers, take risks in personal matters such as finance or health. However, in my experience, many believers who make a risky financial decision or take a health risk by rejecting a medical treatment backed by strong scientific evidence tend to invoke the name of God when explaining why they took the risk. There is a sense that God is there to back them up and provide some security if the risky decision leads to a detrimental outcome. It would therefore not be far-fetched to conclude that invoking the name of God may increase risk-taking behavior, especially in people with firm religious beliefs. Nevertheless, psychological research in the past decades has suggested the opposite: Religiosity and reminders of God seem to be associated with a reduction in risk-taking behavior.
Daniella Kupor and her colleagues at Stanford University have recently published the paper "Anticipating Divine Protection? Reminders of God Can Increase Nonmoral Risk Taking" which takes a new look at the link between invoking the name of God and risky behaviors. The researchers hypothesized that reminders of God may have opposite effects on varying types of risk-taking behavior. For example, risk-taking behavior that is deemed ‘immoral' such as taking sexual risks or cheating may be suppressed by invoking God, whereas taking non-moral risks, such as making risky investments or sky-diving, might be increased because reminders of God provide a sense of security. According to Kupor and colleagues, it is important to classify the type of risky behavior in relation to how society perceives God's approval or disapproval of the behavior. The researchers conducted a variety of experiments to test this hypothesis using online study participants.
"New York isn't your fantasy.
You're the fantasy in New York's imagination."
~ John DeVore, New York Doesn't Love You
There is a time-honored genre of literature that masochistically trucks with the fatalism and rejection of living in, loving and eventually leaving New York City. I know this is a real genre, because the fact that there is an anthology proves it. Writers especially, perhaps due to the ephemerality of their profession, seem to have an axe to grind when it comes to leaving New York. It's not that no other city generates this passion; rather, no other city has fetishized and memorialized this ambivalence to such an extent. To these writers, leaving New York is tantamount to an admission of failure, and they passionately rationalize the ways in which they have not failed. But New York evolves, like any other city, and it is worth asking if the reasons for leaving these days are substantially different from those of previous decades.
Joan Didion's 1967 classic essay "Goodbye To All That" sets the confessional tone that is implied in all of these narratives: "But most particularly I want to explain to you, and in the process perhaps to myself, why I no longer live in New York." Didion's narrative concerns the years required for the imperceptible shading from wide-eyed ingénue to a vaguely numb and indifferent denizen. Her prose is compassionate, and wears the weariness of experience lightly: "It was a very long time indeed before I stopped believing in new faces...Everything that was said to me I seemed to have heard before, and I could no longer listen". In the end, she does not fling New York away in disgust – she accompanies her husband to Los Angeles for a sabbatical away from the city. As a result she leaves New York almost accidentally, like remembering a few days after the fact that you forgot your umbrella in a restaurant, then deciding it wasn't worth the trouble of going back to get it.
Contrast this genteel regretfulness with John DeVore's recent aphoristic punch-up, "New York Doesn't Love You":
New York will kick you in the hole, but it will never stab you in the back. It will, however, stab you multiple times right in your face.
No one "wins" New York. Ha, ha.
You will lose. Everyone loses. The point is losing in the most unexpected, poignant way possible for as long as you can.
Complaining is the only right you have as a New Yorker. Whining is what children do. To complain is to tell the truth. People who refuse to complain, and insist on having a positive outlook, are monsters. Their optimism is a poison. If given the chance they will sell you out.
DeVore lives in a different New York from Didion: he doesn't really elaborate on what success might actually look like, for himself or for anyone else. Your plan, whatever it may be, will go wrong. Fifty years of water flowing underneath the Brooklyn Bridge will do that.
by Madhu Kaza
I was jetlagged during the week in early March 2014 when I heard the news that air traffic controllers had lost contact with Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The news seemed at first like a seamless detail added to my mental fog. I had just returned to New York from India where I had spent much of January and February thinking about plane crashes. I had begun research on a project that I vaguely imagined would be a history of Indian aviation accidents, and I had spent many days examining news archives that documented incidents and their aftermaths. I had studied the names and capacities different aircraft, learned some of the aviation terminology such as "controlled flight into terrain" (which despite the reassuring word "controlled" is not a good thing), and begun to log a timeline of events. As I read the newspaper accounts I couldn't ignore the political dimensions of these disasters, either, whether they involved international coordination for search and rescue operations, the cover-up of lax security and safety measures, the response of the airlines to victims' families or the settlement of lawsuits. I also noticed that initial newspaper reports often contained inaccuracies that had to corrected later as more information emerged. As much as anything else, I became fascinated by how these articles were written, how the narratives of these disasters took shape over time and by what they told and what they left out. Out of whatever facts were reported and the scant details of these articles, I would try to imagine what it was like to experience these events as a witness, a survivor, a family member of a victim, a responder, or a reader of the morning paper. I became increasingly curious, in particular, about how disaster shapes one's experience of time.
by Brooks Riley
by Omar Ali
A few days ago, Graeme Wood wrote a piece in the Atlantic that has generated a lot of buzz (and controversy). In this article he noted that:
"The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam"
The article is well worth reading and it certainly does not label all Muslims as closet (or open) ISIS supporters, but it does emphasize that many of the actions of ISIS have support in classical Islamic texts (and not just in fringe Kharijite opinion). This has led to accusations of Islamophobia and critics have been quick to respond. A widely cited response in "Think Progress" quotes Graeme Wood's own primary source (Princeton scholar Bernard Hakykel) as saying:
“I think that ISIS is a product of very contingent, contextual, historical factors. There is nothing predetermined in Islam that would lead to ISIS.”
Indeed. Who could possibly disagree with that? I dont think Graeme Wood disagrees. In fact, he explicitly says he does not. But that statement is a beginning, not a conclusion. What contingent factors and what historical events are important and which ones are a complete distraction from the issue at hand?
Every commentator has his or her (implicit, occasionally explicit) "priors" that determine what gets attention and from what angle; and a lot of confusion clearly comes from a failure to explain (or to grasp) the background assumptions of each analyst. I thought I would put together a post that outlines some of my own background assumptions and arguments in as simple a form as possible and see where it leads. So here, in no particular order, are some random comments about Islam, terrorism and ISIS that I hope will, at a minimum, help me put my own thoughts in order. Without further ado:
1. The early history of Islam is, among other things, the history of a remarkably successful imperium. Like any empire, it was created by conquest. The immediate successors of the prophet launched a war of conquest whose extent and rapidity matched that of the Mongols and the Alexandrian Greeks, and whose successful consolidation, long historical life, and development of an Arabized culture, far outshone the achievements of the Mongols or the Manchus (both of whom adopted the existing deeper rooted religions and cultures of their conquered people rather than impose or develop their own).
by Kathleen Goodwin
I recently read the surgeon and public health researcher Atul Gawande's latest book, "Being Mortal" in which he writes about end-of-life care in the American healthcare system, which has developed into a series of increasingly radical attempts to postpone death, often at the expense of the comfort of patients during their remaining life. Gawande argues that doctors should refocus their goals on quality rather quantity of life. He advocates for physicians to educate patients about their healthcare options and then assist them in making informed decisions. A few weeks after reading Gawande's book my younger sister was hospitalized for 5 days with an acute case of bacterial pneumonia. An otherwise healthy 22-year old, she was not the type of patient considered in "Being Mortal" but I was surprised to find that many of the topics Gawande described appear to be relevant regardless of the patient's prognosis.
Some healthcare providers have acknowledged that empowering patients and reducing their suffering is a secondary concern in modern medicine and usually far from a priority. A doctor's main goal is to heal but in many cases this seems to lead to a sacrifice of a patient's autonomy and comfort, in the name of an eventual return to full health. It's a practical cost-benefit analysis— distilling years of medical training into layman's terms in order to explain a diagnosis, options for care, and the possible effects of procedures and medications with every individual patient would prevent physicians from having the time to see other patients and would net out to fewer patients healed. In terms of quantifiable success, a patient's experience in a hospital is measured by morbidity and mortality not by the comfort of her stay. Concurrently, in the U.S. healthcare system doctors are generally paid for services rendered and are incentivized to see as many patients as possible.
by Tamuira Reid
I remember being five years old and sitting in the pediatrician's office as my mother explained the problem. She talks in voices, doctor. Three or four of them at a time. I stand by her door and listen and it is frightening, I tell you. Just frightening.
After hours of testing, more to appease my worried mother than anything else, Doctor Wolfe looked gently at the two of us and said, Yes, your daughter does have a special condition. And it is called a wonderful imagination. Mrs. Reid, your daughter is creating stories that she is simply too young to write down.
A few years later, those voices would become my first poems, first one-act plays. They would become my lifeline.
For as easy as writing came to me, the rest of school did not. I'd stare out the window for hours on end, dreaming of what the world had in store for me, instead of learning the algebraic equations my teacher scribbled across the board in front of us. I would read chapbooks during recess and perform monologues out in the open field behind the block of modular classrooms. I was bright but uninspired. I remember tutors being involved. I remember hushed conversations between my parents behind closed doors.
It wasn't until I ran away to college that I began to really engage in my lessons. I remember the first class vividly. Professor Lesy walked into the room with a small grey boom box under one arm and a bundle of books and papers under the other. His hair was long and unkempt, shirt wrinkled. Coke-bottle glasses. When he finally sat down at the head of the table, pushing the play button to release classical music into the air, he looked at each one of us and said, If you can't write from your heart, you have no business writing at all.
Day after day, workshop after workshop, we picked up our essays now covered in ink. He demanded the truth from us; we gave him half of it. We gave him what we thought he wanted to know. As the semester progressed, we began to let go of what we thought we knew about writing and realized we knew nothing at all. That writing is a process, a craft, not necessarily an inherent gift.
I wrote everyday for the entire first year of my college career. I wrote first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I wrote with coffee, I wrote with beer. I wrote until my hands would cramp so badly that I'd be forced to take a break, smoking cigarettes out in the cold New England night.
It wasn't shocking that I connected to writing this way. I'd always loved writing. What was surprising, however, was how I would fall into teaching.
When Lesy would get up in front of the room, he had this incredible, commanding presence that seemed to grab you around the neck and say, Look at me! What I tell you is divine truth! You will never hear anything more interesting than what I'm about to say right now! He had us completely enraptured, under his psychotic but totally intoxicating spell. It was kind of magical.
He gave a solid performance, day in and day out. And that is exactly what it was: a performance.
I wanted to perform.
Sunday, March 01, 2015
Steven Pinker in Forbes:
Not since the days of Mitch Ryder and Monica Lewinsky has a blue dress aroused so much passion. A Tumblr user posted this photo and pleaded “guys please help me – is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can’t agree and we are freaking the f*ck out.”
She was not the only one freaking out — the puzzle has ricocheted around the internet and set off hundreds of comments and speculations, including judgments by a number of celebrities. Within minutes a dozen students in my introductory psychology course emailed me, asking for an explanation. I had to catch a plane, and at the airport bar overheard the barmaid and several patrons debating the dress. Here’s my best guess as to what’s going on.
The puzzle has nothing to do with what philosophers call the inverted-spectrum paradox (Is my red the same as your red?), which pertains to cases in which peopleagree—at least overtly—about the color they are seeing.
Nor does it have anything to do with rods and cones. The viewing conditions for the image are all well into the brightness range of the cones. The rods aren’t seeing the image at all.
And the two different percepts don’t seem to depend on the color settings of their monitor. According to the internet reports, two people can look at the same screen and still see the colors differently.
What it has to do with is lightness constancy and color constancy.
Mites hide in your bed and breed on your face. They’re smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.
Rob Dunn in National Geographic:
Several years ago I made a bet about face mites, animals that live in hair follicles. They are so small that a dozen of them could dance on the head of a pin. They are more likely, though, to dance on your face, which they do at night when they mate, before crawling back into your follicles by day to eat. In those caves mother mites give birth to a few relatively large mite-shaped eggs. The eggs hatch, and then, like all mites, the babies go through molts in which they shed their external skeleton and emerge slightly larger. Once they’re full size, their entire adult life lasts only a few weeks. Death comes at the precise moment when the mites, lacking an anus, fill up with feces, die, and decompose on your head.
Currently two species of face mites are known; at least one of them appear to be present on all adult humans. My bet was that even a modest sampling of adults would turn up more species of these mites, ones that are totally new to science.
Biologists often make bets; they call them predictions to sound fancier. My bet was based on an understanding of the tendencies of evolution and of humans. Evolution tends to engender its greatest richness in small forms. Humans, on the other hand, tend to ignore small things. Aquatic mites, for example, live in most lakes, ponds, and even puddles, often in densities of hundreds or thousands per cubic meter. They can even be found in drinking water, yet few people have ever heard of aquatic mites, including, until recently, me. And I study tiny things for a living.
Malise Ruthven in the New York Review of Books:
It has now become clear that Barack Obama is under enormous pressure to intensify the campaign against ISIS. Last week, as the White House held a summit on countering extremist violence in which Obama declared, “we are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” sources at the Pentagon told reporters that the retaking of Mosul, possibly with significant US military support, had been planned for as early as April. This followed the president’s recent announcement that he is seeking formal authorization from Congress for an all-out assault on ISIS in western Iraq and eastern Syria and that “our coalition is on the offensive” and the group “is going to lose.”
But the challenge of defeating the Islamic State is a huge one. The group is formidably armed, having captured large quantities and varieties of weaponry from Syrian and Iraqi forces. Its senior commanders include former officers of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime in Iraq, a battle-hardened Chechen Islamist and former Georgian army sergeant, and veterans of the conflict in Libya. Above all, it has been able to attract unprecedented numbers of young recruits from the West itself—not least by drawing on apocalyptic currents in Islamic culture and thought in which the region of Greater Syria, known as Bilad al-Sham, is given paramount importance.
According to Europol, some five-thousand European nationals—mainly from the wealthier countries of northern Europe—have now joined the group, with around one thousand each from Britain and France. Among them are hundreds of young men and women still in their teens. Meanwhile, the caliphate’s tentacles now stretch from Afghanistan, to Yemen and to Libya, with Sunni affiliates and tribal groups making their allegiance (baya) to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-styled caliph of ISIS.
Scott Porch in The Atlantic:
Steven Pinker: Not really. Clearly, there’s overlap and some people write in a more conversational style than others, but it is striking how a transcript of a talk given extemporaneously does not read well on the printed page. I first noticed this when I was a teenager and read the Watergate transcripts—the conversations among Nixon and advisors like Haldeman and Ehrlichman and Mitchell. A number of people at the time who had never seen conversations transcribed were astonished at how difficult they were to interpret.
Porch: What do you think about the flagrant misuse of the word “literally”? Does it literally make your head explode?
Pinker: [Laughs.] It’s understandable why people do it. We are always in search of superlatives, of ways of impressing upon our hearer that something that happened is noteworthy or even extraordinary. And the words we use to signal that eventually lose their meaning.
Porch: Like “awesome.”
Pinker: “Awesome” is a recent example. In the UK, “brilliant” is used for the most banal observations. Before that, words like “terrific,” meaning inspiring terror, “wonderful,” inspiring wonder, “fabulous,” worthy of fable. We see the fossils of dead superlatives that our ancestors overused the way we overuse “awesome.” “Literally” is a victim of a similar type of inflation. The figurative use doesn’t mean the language is deteriorating. Hyperbole has probably been around as long as language has been around.
Some Love Poems
There you go
in your parka
down London Road
I’d know your walk
But I’m not there
I’m in this dumb room
with your blond hair
& all the beautiful lines
on your very special face
In your doorway
the light kisses
& there are diamonds
on your eyelids
I’ll stay here
in your doorway
& when we kiss
we both look so young
Max Liu in The Independent:
Australian psychologist David Roland opens his memoir with an account of finding himself in a hospital waiting room with very little idea of how he got there. His wife, Anna, is present and he vaguely remembers her driving "and me vomiting out of the car window", but he doesn't know what year or day it is. Anna found Roland wandering their house at dawn, talking in a "dreamy monotone", his skin white and icy. Initially, doctors suspect he has suffered "a psychogenic fugue: an episode of amnesia". They send him to recuperate at a psychiatric clinic where he adjusts to his altered status from doctor to patient. "I've finally lost it," Roland thinks. "I've had a mental breakdown."
For the past three years, he'd been feeling depressed: his marriage was in trouble, his father died and he stopped working. Two decades of listening to patients' harrowing stories have taken their toll and Roland's own psychiatrist, Wayne, diagnoses him with post-traumatic stress disorder. Roland describes the patients who haunt him – from the woman who was sexually abused in childhood to the young murderer – and recalls his apprentice years treating prisoners: "The small world of the prison had expanded in my mind, while the world outside had become small." This reminded me of my time reporting on trials and inquests when detailed accounts of violence and misery would lodge themselves in my mind daily. Readers whose work exposes them to trauma, even in indirect ways, will value Roland's perspectives on this.
Bryan Appleyard in New Statesman:
Americans apparently spend more than $100bn a year on motivating their employees using various positive thinking techniques. This is madness, as anybody who has been subjected to team-building or any of the other devices from the shabby book of spells that is management theory will attest. It produces palpably false statements such as this one from Marc Andreessen, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor: “And I can tell you, at least from the last 20 years, if you bet on the side of the optimists, generally you’re right.” In fact, once you take into account the number of optimistic failures, you’d lose every penny. More preposterously, there was the supreme expression of positive thinking that was The Secret (2006), a book by Rhonda Byrne. This exposed the superstitious roots of positive thinking by openly saying that there was a “law of attraction”, whereby the universe would materially reward your positive thoughts. Our own dear Noel Edmonds is an adherent of something similar called “cosmic ordering”, a form of intergalactic Amazon.
That this has got dangerously out of hand is obvious to the most intelligent. The Nobel Prizewinner Daniel Kahneman (the author of the bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow) and his collaborator Dan Lovallo point out that optimism undermines executive decisions. They show that forecasts based solely on internal company attitudes are often wildly overoptimistic and suggest that companies should instead adopt “reference class forecasting”, where the performance of outsiders in similar situations is taken into account, and at once pessimism intrudes. There is also the Icarus paradox, identified by the economist Danny Miller, which is all about the way extreme success in business is often followed by abject failure, precisely because of the overoptimism fomented by the good times.
Saturday, February 28, 2015
Andrew Collins in The Guardian:
As with many others of my generation, Mr Spock was my babysitter. What we now refer to as “the original series” of Star Trek – it having since been superseded by four others, not to mention a dozen motion pictures – was famously cancelled by NBC in America in 1969 after three seasons, but it started airing here that July and boldly went into eternal syndication like no show had done before. I’m guessing I started watching it a couple of years later, unaware that its vision of a pioneering American future was already history. Spock was my favourite character on that famous bridge. Wasn’t he logically everybody’s?
As played by Leonard Nimoy, a Boston-raised polymath of Ukrainian parentage who eventually learned to embrace the pixie-eared half-Vulcan who made him an international icon, the starship Enterprise’s science officer was our appointment to view in those glory years when those of us too young to see science fiction at the cinema snaffled it up on TV. It was Mr – never Doctor – Spock who kept his head while all around were losing theirs, whether to a sexy female alien like fallible farmboy Captain Kirk, or amid some engine-room catastrophe like Scotty. (I seem to remember my mum having at least one baby book by the famous American paediatrician and Olympic rowing medallist Doctor Spock, who empowered mothers with his 1946 book Baby and Child Care. He was not Spock.)
Although the thespian and the half-Vulcan were two different people, to us they were one and the same. We assumed Nimoy to be as calmly logical and emotionally repressed as Spock. Nimoy’s relationship with his alter-ego was encapsulated by the titles of his two autobiographies, I Am Not Spock, published in 1975, and I Am Spock, 20 years later. But Nimoy was Spock; he even invented the famous Vulcan “neck-pinch” as a fighting technique suitable for a vegetarian, which Spock was. And the Vulcan salute (do it now), which he adapted from a blessing sign used bykohanim priests. The actor admitted that Spock’s personality had influenced his own in real life. Nimoy is in Spock’s green blood and Spock is in Nimoy’s red equivalent.