Facebook is killing everyone, maybe even 3QD

Dear Reader,

I am not particularly against Facebook and actually use it myself to keep in touch with far-flung family and friends. But there is no doubt that in the last five years many smaller websites and the majority of blogs have been killed off by what some people are calling the “Facebook Effect”. Many people find Facebook (and also Twitter, of course) so addictive that they spend too much time on it looking at cat videos (which I like too!) and whatever else their newsfeeds throw at them, and then they feel guilty about spending any more time online and in this way audiences for smaller, more serious sites like 3QD inexorably shrink. We have seen only a small reduction in our readership and have so far avoided turning into what the Japanese call ishikoro: the blogs or websites which have fallen into neglect or are completely abandoned.

If you like 3QD, please help us grow our audience by taking a few minutes to recommend us to your friends by email and by social media (yes, we might as well try to use the same media that is hurting us to get the word out). You could send this link to our “About Us” page which explains what we do: “https://www.3quarksdaily.com/about-us”. Please just do that now, will you?

Best wishes and season’s greetings,

Abbas

NEW POSTS BELOW

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December 14, 2018

Edward Gorey: Master of the Macabre

Sam Leith at The Spectator:

Gorey has here and there been described as ‘Dr Seuss for Tim Burton fans’ and ‘the Charles Schulz of the macabre’, but he was in every way more wayward and interesting than that. He wrote almost impossible to classify little books — crunched-down Victorian novels — that seemed to belong in the children’s sections of bookshops but were quite unsuited to children, in whom he took little or no interest. He found a public only very slowly, and over many years — thanks, in large part, to till-point placement and Hello-Kitty-scale merchandising efforts by the Gotham Book Mart in New York.

As a rough contemporary, Maurice Sendak, described it, Dr Seuss knew ‘how to satisfy the customer’, and Sendak had no inkling of how to satisfy the customer but managed anyway; but ‘Ted had no intention of satisfying the customer’. He got there in the end though — working brilliantly and with great success as a commercial illustrator of book jackets, and getting famous in his own right with the anthology Amphigorey and its successors, and then his showstopping designs for a Broadway production of Dracula. But he ploughed his own death-haunted furrow. As he said at one point: ‘There is so little heartless work around. So I feel I am filling a small but necessary gap.’

more here.

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A Moscow Caught at a Crossroads.

Gregory Afinogenov at The Nation:

Everyone knows that Russia is a kleptocracy, a Mafia state run by corrupt oligarchs who live in fear of the arch-oligarch, Vladimir Putin. It is also a neo-Stalinist dictatorship that seeks to restore the Soviet empire and sow the seeds of subversion in every Western democracy. Somehow, it is also a traditionalist bastion of Eastern Orthodox social conservatism and neo-czarist monarchism. Comfortable in our self-satisfaction, we writers and readers of Western journalism about Russia have an endless supply of frameworks by which to understand Russia, and very few of them ever indict us in the process. Russia’s problems stem from a tragic legacy peculiar to itself, a spectacle at which we can marvel but about which we can do very little.

Keith Gessen’s new novel, A Terrible Country, asks whether it is possible to unlearn the habit of thinking this way about Russia. Narrated through the eyes of an academic named Andrei, who flees the United States’ collapsing job market in 2008 to care for his grandmother in Moscow, the novel shifts our picture of Russia from one of comforting alienness to one of disturbing familiarity.

more here.

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The Existential Dread of Gmail’s Auto-Complete Feature

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

Smart Reply and Smart Compose are smart features that have the effect of highlighting just how unsmart we might be. In a recent interview with a source for another story, I brought up my issues with Gmail’s auto-complete function, and we ended up talking about that for several minutes. “It can be so stressful!” he said. “Sometimes I see Gmail suggest a sentence and then I feel like I have to come up with a better sentence than the machine, because I don’t want my response to feel robotic.” In these cases, Smart Compose doesn’t automate the email process, or save time, at all. Rather, it extends the work of replying to email by alerting writers to the banality of their prose and by establishing a kind of Mendoza Line for non-robotic emailing that has to be surpassed before the author can hit Send with his soul intact. As the source continued to talk about his email issues, I laughed the nervous laugh of somebody who felt, not eerily predicted, but deeply understood.

more here.

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Why performing naked is good for the soul

Adam Smith in More Intelligent Life:

Minutes before stepping out into the spotlight on a stage – totally naked – I am wondering whether to wear socks. “It’s cold,” shivers another performer. A friend counsels, “If you’re going out naked, do it in full.” The matter of the sock is a distraction from the fact that we’re about to show our willies to the masses. This might not be Wembley Arena, but the trendy basement bar in east London I’m performing in is packed with people – mainly men. Anticipation crackles among them. They giggle about picking seats with a good view of the stage. There are twice as many eyeballs as people. And each one of them is about to see all I have.

You might wonder why I am about to go out on stage in the buff. As a child I hated my puppy fat. From the boy emerged a slimmer adult man, but he will never have washboard abs. Gay men like me are the freest we’ve ever been, but many of us still feel oppressed by the grids of hunks on Instagram and Grindr and the narrow ideal of male beauty they represent. A survey of 5,000 readers of Attitude magazine in 2017 found that 59% were either unhappy or very unhappy with their bodies. The problem is particularly acute with gay men. Three times as many gay or bisexual men have eating disorders as heterosexual men. And as I pull down my boxers in the green room, I can’t help but wonder how little Adam measures up.  want to defy these feelings of inadequacy. That is why I find myself clutching my pages and jogging on the spot to get my energy levels up, preparing to deliver on the event’s mission: to help us celebrate our bodies. “Anyone who wants to be naked on stage can be,” says Justin Hunt, a co-founder of Naked Boys Reading. It is somewhat of a comfort to know that this event is by now an institution. Six years and hundreds of readings after this cheeky literary salon hosted its first event in a gay bar in east London, it is still serving up naked bodies every few months to a predominantly gay male crowd, in its effort to promote self-acceptance.

More here.

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Huge brain study uncovers ‘buried’ genetic networks linked to mental illness

Linda Geddes in Nature:

Brain conditions such as schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder have long been known to have an inherited component, but pinpointing how gene variants contribute to disease has been a major challenge. Now, some of the first findings from the most comprehensive genomic analysis of the human brain ever undertaken are shedding light on the roots of these disorders. Among the discoveries are elements buried in the genome’s ‘dark matter’ that seem to regulate gene expression. Researchers have also uncovered previously unidentified networks of genes and the buried elements, which might contribute to the chances of developing such disorders.

…Unlike disorders caused by mutations in a single gene — such as cystic fibrosis or some types of muscular dystrophy — neuropsychiatric disorders including schizophrenia involve hundreds of genes that interact with environmental factors. Each gene contributes only a small amount to the overall disease risk2. Over the past decade, scientists have identified numerous genetic variants that are associated with such disorders. But in many cases, it is not clear how the sequence changes alter gene function — if at all.

More here.

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Friday Poem

Aunties love it when seafood is on sale

In summertime, the women
in my family spin sagoo
like planets, make
even saturn blush.
They split the leaves
of kang kong with
riverbed softness.

They are precise;
measure rice by palm lines
with laughter and season
broth made of creature’s last gasps.
You’d swear they were
teenagers again, talking gossip
stretching limbs
elastic, durable, like seaweed.

Come dinner time,
skilled mouths slurp
through the domes of
shrimp and crab.

They
prize the fat,
the angles of their teeth
splinter claw, snap sinew,
dip tart into sweet
then back again;
bitterness balanced,
succulence on succulence,
is to find flesh from even the
smallest of spaces.

Women who swallow whole,
who make a pile of bones,
who suck teeth,
taste every morsel,
so that all that is left
is a quiet room
and shells of what once was.

To the daughters of dried fish nets
whose dreams dragged on sand,
dragged to this country,
they bring home recipe years later,
flick joints to garlic,
salabat to the sick,
culinary remix, teach cousins,
this is how we stay alive,
mourning in the Midwest
by taste bud.

Afterwards, they keep the ocean
husks for another meal
because to get a good deal
is to double.
And anybody from the island
will tell you,
that is where true flavor is

and what is hunger
anyway, but the carving
out of emptiness,
the learning you gotta always
always save something
for later?

by Kay Ulanday Barrett
from Split This Rock

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December 13, 2018

Ray Monk on Kurt Gödel and the romance of logic

Ray Monk in Prospect:

Mathematician Kurt Gödel, right, and physicist Albert Einstein, left, taking a walk in Princeton, 1954

We are sometimes inclined to make celebrities out of intellectuals despite—or perhaps precisely because of—their producing work we can never hope to understand. Bertrand Russell’s oddly old-fashioned dress sense and aristocratic bearing remain familiar features on the cultural landscape, as are Albert Einstein’s friendly face and shock of white hair. Indeed, such was the popularity of the aging Einstein that he was, decades after coming up with relativity theory, offered the (largely ceremonial) presidency of Israel. The elder Russell, meanwhile, was invited on to radio and television to give his opinion on everything from communism to what kind of lipstick women should wear. The reason he was invited on to the media was not, of course, that he was an authority on these subjects, but that he had, in his younger days, written abstruse things on mathematical logic and the philosophy of mathematics. The most notable of these, Principia Mathematica—in which he and his co-author Alfred North Whitehead put forward an axiomatic system of logic upon which they hoped to build, first arithmetic and then the whole of mathematics—is considered formidably difficult even by experts in the field.

The logician and philosopher Kurt Gödel passes the Einstein/Russell test, in doing work whose importance is beyond argument, but can also seem beyond comprehension as well. If you wanted to make the case that he should join them as a celebrated public figure, you could point out that among his work is an important contribution to the interpretation of Einstein’s relativity theory, and that he pulled the rug out from under the project on which Russell spilled most sweat.

More here.

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Measuring cosmic distances with standard sirens

Daniel Holz, Scott Hughes, and Bernard Schutz in Physics Today:

The chirp of GW150914, the first gravitational-wave event to be detected.

Decades of experimental effort paid off spectacularly on 14 September 2015, when the two detectors of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) spotted the gravitational waves generated by a pair of coalescing black holes.1 To get a sense of the effort leading to that breakthrough, consider that the gravitational waves caused the mirrors at the ends of each interferometer’s 4 km arms to oscillate with an amplitude of about 10−18 m, roughly a factor of a thousand smaller than the classical proton radius. The detection was also a triumph for theory. The frequency and amplitude evolution of the measured waves precisely matched general relativity’s predictions for the signal produced by a binary black hole merger, even though the system’s gravity was orders of magnitude stronger than that of any system that had been precisely probed before that detection. As figure 1 shows, gravitational-wave astronomy began not with a bang but with a chirp.

More here.  [Thanks to Sean Carroll.]

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Coal and Consequences: Five Days in Katowice

Daniel Judt in The Point:

As the bus nears downtown Katowice, the site of the 24th annual UN Climate Conference, or COP24, two huge funnels loom into view: a coal mine. There are fourteen in Katowice, although only two remain active. The rest lie strewn across the city like dormant volcanoes. The UN insists that Katowice is in transition—“from black to green,” says a welcome video at the opening ceremony—and claims that 40 percent of the city’s surface area is devoted to green spaces. Judging by the looks on their faces as they ogle the coal mine, the delegates on this bus do not see it that way. When they disembark, one of them scrunches up his nose at the unmistakable smell—rich and smoky—that wafts from an alleyway. Many Katowicians still burn coal for heat.

The conference center, called Spodek, is a massive circular arena with one end tilted upwards, which makes it look like a crashed flying saucer. To accommodate the thirty thousand or so conference attendees, Katowice has attached a network of temporary hallways (all climate-controlled, though they often oscillate between way too hot and way too cold) and a boxy entrance hall to Spodek, with a security apparatus to rival an airport.

More here.

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Recollections of Stravinsky

C.F. Ramuz at Music and Literature:

We made each other’s acquaintance among things and by way of them. Once again, I don’t remember anything about the subject of conversation: what I do remember is the perfect harmony the bread and wine afforded us. For instance, I could immediately see that you, Stravinsky, like me, love bread when it’s good and wine when it’s good, bread and wine together, each for the other, each through the other. This is where your personality and, by the same token, your art—in other words, all of you—begin; I took the outermost path to this inner knowledge, the most terrestrial road. There was no “artistic” or “aesthetic” discussion, if memory serves; but I can still see you smiling at your full glass, the bread you were brought, the carafe. I can see you picking up your knife and the quick, decisive gesture with which you separated the rind from the lovely semi-firm cheese. I came to know you amid and through the kind of pleasure I saw you derive from things, the so-called “humblest” ones; a certain brand and quality of delectation that gets the whole being interested. I love the body, as you know, because I can scarcely separate it from the soul; mostly I love the great unity of their total participation in such a maneuver, where the abstract and concrete find themselves reconciled, where they explain and elucidate one another. For many young ladies, a musician is a big forehead with “ideas” inside (God only knows which ones!): you showed me right away that the musician who invents a sound might be the furthest thing from a specialist, and that he distills it from a living substance, a substance common to all of us but with which one must first make direct and human contact.

more here.

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Marclay’s Astonishing 24-hour Film Installation, The Clock

Ryan Gilbey at The New Statesman:

Between 2007 and 2010, the artist Christian Marclay and a team of researchers scoured tens of thousands of films for scenes and shots in which time was in some way incorporated. It could be a close-up of a watch or a sand timer, the $10m four-faced opal clock at New York Grand Central Station or a novelty timepiece showing two pigs humping merrily (from Mighty Aphrodite). Better yet, it might be an instance in which time plays a pivotal role: the clock tower struck by lightning in Back to the Future, or Harold Lloyd clinging to the minute hand high above Los Angeles in Safety Last!

Marclay had in mind a more ambitious concept than the sort of themed compendium routinely found on YouTube – “Every Single Nicolas Cage Laugh”, say, or “Highlander: All the Beheadings”. The installation, which has been touring the world since its premiere in 2010, isn’t simply named after a timepiece – it is one.

more here.

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Brighton’s Ghosts

Graham Chainey at the TLS:

Starlings gather for their nightly murmuration on Brighton Pier, Brighton, East Sussex.

I’m going to make a claim that it’s not just Brighton but the whole of Sussex that is saturated with ghosts, one of our most haunted counties. From Racton in the far west (Margaret Pole, with a red streak round her neck) to Rye in the far east (Henry James’s cook at Lamb House; or the Mermaid, one of the country’s most haunted inns, where spectral duellers in doublet and hose forever clash swords), there’s not a town or village that’s immune. All Sussex castles have their ghostly host – Arundel, Amberley, Herstmonceux, Pevensey – as do the county’s ancient houses, hostelries, abbeys. There are Roman centurions, Cavalier soldiers, Catholic priests, a Tudor lady chasing a cloaked man down a vanished stair, a black monk atop Beachy Head, beggar boys, phantom cyclists, hitchhikers and lady golfers. There are the screaming victims of the 1861 Clayton Tunnel rail crash, five miles north of Brighton, caused by a signalling error, that reputedly inspired Dickens to pen his ghost story “The Signalman”.

more here.

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Novel perspectives on Israeli-Palestinian conflict

John Colin Marston in Christian Science Monitor:

Author Hannah Lillith Assadi revels in the contradictions of her identity: She was born in the United States to a Jewish mother and a Palestinian father. Her debut novel, “Sonora,” is a paean to the vexing process of how a second-generation immigrant struggles to come to terms with herself and history. Israeli-American novelist and poet Moriel Rothman-Zecher explores similar themes in “Sadness Is a White Bird,” revealing the agonizing internal struggle of an American-Israeli man who cannot balance his friendship with two Palestinians and his enrollment in the Israeli army. Both are examples of Millennial writers with Israeli and Palestinian heritage living in the US who are forging novel perspectives on the conflict.

“Increasingly it’s people who have lived abroad, who have experienced other ways of being in the world, that are looking critically at their own societies,” says Ranen Omer-Sherman, the JHFE endowed chair in Judaic studies at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. Mr. Rothman-Zecher feels that in his novel “the identities are much more woven and complicated” than an easy division of Israelis and Palestinians. “Americanness and the characters’ connection to America makes it become this sort of neutral zone, that shared space that transports the three of them far away,” he says. As conflict continues between Israel and the Palestinian territories, cultural exchange – the solution many have lauded as a way to end the conflict – has also suffered. Israeli high school teachers were displeased after the Education Ministry decided not to allow Dorit Rabinyan’s 2014 novel, “All the Rivers,” to be taught in Israeli high schools. The novel follows a love affair between a Palestinian man and Israeli woman in New York City.

More here.

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Tiny implantable wireless devices could help people repair nerves and lose weight

Robert F. Service in Science:

Implanted electronics can steady hearts, calm tremors, and heal wounds—but at a cost. These machines are often large, obtrusive contraptions with batteries and wires, which require surgery to implant and sometimes need replacement. That’s changing.

…Xudong Wang, a bioelectronics expert at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, is developing miniature, wireless devices that take advantage of a technology pioneered by others to convert the body’s motion into electrical current. In one study reported on 29 November in ACS Nano, a fingertip-size generator that delivered a stream of tiny electrical pulses to wounds on rats’ skin sped healing. And at the meeting, Wang described similar generators that mimic commercially available implanted electrodes meant to help patients with obesity lose weight. These devices stimulate a branch of the vagus nerve, which runs from the colon and stomach to the brain stem, helping relay signals of fullness after eating. Available devices are pacemaker-size and contain batteries that often need replacement, requiring repeated surgeries. Wang and his colleagues wanted to see whether their much smaller device, which requires no batteries, could do the same job. They implanted their device on the outer wall of a rat’s stomach, so the organ’s motions during eating would power the generator. At the meeting, Wang reported that animals with the generator ate at normal times, but less than control animals. The rats lost 38% of their weight over 18 days, at which point their weight stabilized.

More here.

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Thursday Poem

Inheritance

I didn’t know how to cook.
My older sister left me
the birthright just like that,
she went.

Her children came to live with us,
the pot widened.
Its handles became farther from each other
and my sister from me.
The potatoes in it grew heavy.

The faucet bent its head
over the kitchen sink
like a horse hitched to the house-cart.

Once with a press on the button
of the electric teapot
I moved the world,
now I drag the reins.

Careful not to get close to its end
lest it turn over again.

by Nadia Adina Rose
from Snow Ink
publisher: Helicon-Afik, Tel Aviv, 2015

translation: 2018, Linda Zisquit

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December 12, 2018

Climate Gut Check: Beneath the jargon, a new UN report serves up a revolutionary response to climate change

Troy Vettese in the Boston Review:

A century ago in late October, a mutiny broke out in the Imperial German Navy. In Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea, hungry, demoralized sailors refused to follow orders in preparation for one last skirmish with the British for the sake of their officers’ vainglory. Unsure of the crew’s loyalty, the officers ordered the fleet to port in Kiel, but by November 4 the rebels had taken over the city and established a workers’ and soldiers’ council. Their cries for “peace and bread” reverberated throughout the empire, and over the following week revolutionaries captured a string of towns and provinces. On November 9 the red tide had swept over Berlin, forcing Kaiser Wilhelm II to abdicate and ushering in the end of World War I two days later.

The November Revolution was swift because Germans had been starving for years thanks to the British blockade, as recent historical work has finally proven. But the success of the blockade depended upon German mismanagement. As a populous nation with an economy driven by industry rather than agriculture, Germany had been a major importer of foodstuffs and fertilizer before the war; it faced extreme shortages once fighting broke out. Yet, as detailed in economic historian Avner Offer’s study The First World War: An Agrarian Interpretation (1991), it could have achieved agricultural self-sufficiency had it abandoned animal husbandry. Dairy and meat production were extremely inefficient, then as now. As a visiting U.S. physiologist wrote in 1916: “Had the Germans been vegetarians, there would have been no problem. To the people of India, the ratio of grain to population would have constituted luxury. For people accustomed to eating a great deal of meat and animal products, the natural impulse was to cling as closely as possible to established habits.”

As liberal democracies wilt the world over, it may increasingly feel in the United States—and elsewhere—as though one lives in the Weimar Republic, but perhaps the more useful historical parallel is Wilhelmine Germany. The new special report released by the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Global Warming of 1.5°C, hints at a dynamic not so dissimilar to that facing German leaders in 1914.

More here.

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What These Medical Journals Don’t Reveal: Top Doctors’ Ties to Industry

Charles Ornstein and Katie Thomas in the New York Times:

One is dean of Yale’s medical school. Another is the director of a cancer center in Texas. A third is the next president of the most prominent society of cancer doctors.

These leading medical figures are among dozens of doctors who have failed in recent years to report their financial relationships with pharmaceutical and health care companies when their studies are published in medical journals, according to a review by The New York Times and ProPublica and data from other recent research.

Dr. Howard A. “Skip” Burris III, the president-elect of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, for instance, declared that he had no conflicts of interest in more than 50 journal articles in recent years, including in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

However, drug companies have paid his employer nearly $114,000 for consulting and speaking, and nearly $8 million for his research during the period for which disclosure was required. His omissions extended to the Journal of Clinical Oncology, which is published by the group he will lead.

More here.

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What Happened When We Tried to Debate Immigration

Matthew Goodwin and Eric Kaufmann in Quillette:

Immigration and diversity politics dominate our political and public debates. Disagreements about these issues lie behind the rise of populist politics on the left and the right, as well as the growing polarization of our societies more widely. Unless we find a way of side-stepping the extremes and debating these issues in an evidence-led, analytical way then the moderate, pluralistic middle will buckle and give way.

This is why, as two university professors who work on these issues, we decided to help organize and join a public debate about immigration and ethnic change. The debate, held in London on December 6, was a great success, featuring a nuanced and evidence-based discussion attended by 400 people. It was initially titled, “Is Rising Ethnic Diversity a Threat to the West?” This was certainly a provocative title, designed to draw in a large audience who might hold strong views on the topic but who would nonetheless be exposed to a moderated and evidence-led debate. Though we would later change the title, we couldn’t escape its powerful logic: On the night itself, we repeatedly returned to this phrasing because it is the clearest way of distinguishing competing positions.

Aside from ourselves, two university professors who between us have researched the issue for decades, the panel included Trevor Philips, the former Head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (who is of African-Caribbean heritage), and David Aaronovitch, a liberal columnist at The Times. The debate was chaired by Claire Fox and co-sponsored by the Academy of Ideas, founded to provide a “forum committed to open and robust public debate in which ideas can be interrogated,” and the online magazine UnHerd, which aims to draw attention to stories and ideas that do not usually get covered in the mainstream media.

As soon as the title of the event was published it provoked a strong backlash. Rather than a genuine debate, it was interpreted as an open attack on immigrants and minorities.

More here.

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