3 Quarks Daily’s search for writers is open again

Dear Readers and Writers,

First of all, I want to thank all the people who have sent me excellent samples of their writing as a response to our call for new Monday Magazine columnists. I had promised that I would announce the names of the new people who will be writing for us today but, after doing some thinking and talking to various colleagues and friends, I am not going to do that and here’s the reason: among the approximately 40 excellent people who have applied, there is not a single woman. This is very strange and nothing like it has ever happened before at 3QD. While we do not follow anything like quotas and basically make our decisions based on the quality of the pieces submitted, this complete lack of women applicants is so anomalous that it has caused me to think hard about what we might be doing to discourage women from applying. I have spoken to a couple of experts on diversity in hiring about this and even ran the text of my initial call for writers through an AI-based program which tries to identify language which might not appeal to certain groups of people (based on a deep-learning analysis of several hundred million job descriptions and responses to them) but it had little criticism of what I had written and even diagnosed my writing as “slightly feminine”.

One woman whom I asked for advice said to me that, “Sometimes the problem is not what you say but what you don’t say”. This struck me as sensible and so I would like to open up the window for submissions for another 5 days to everyone again after saying this:

We would certainly love for our pool of writers to reflect the diversity of our readers in every way, including gender, age, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, etc., and we encourage people of all kinds to apply. And we like unusual voices and varied viewpoints. So please send us something. What have you got to lose?

The new deadline for submissions is 11:59 pm, Friday, July 20, 2018 (New York Time). Please click here for details of what to send if you want to write for us. I now plan to announce whom we’ll be taking next Monday, July 23, 2018. Sorry about the delay.

Best wishes,

Abbas

New Posts Below

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July 17, 2018

The Moscow Midterms: How Russia could steal our next election

Clare Malone in Five Thirty Eight:

While Americans are well-acquainted with Russian online trolls’ 2016 disinformation campaign, there’s a more insidious threat of Russian interference in the coming midterms. The Russians could hack our very election infrastructure, disenfranchising Americans and even altering the vote outcome in key states or districts. Election security experts have warned of it, but state election officials have largely played it down for fear of spooking the public. We still might not know the extent to which state election infrastructure was compromised in 2016, nor how compromised it will be in 2018.

Most of us can’t really picture what it would look like to tamper with an election, but security experts can. Even as you read this, voting systems, so dry and complicated and completely taken for granted, could well be in the midst of fending off attacks from foreign adversaries. Things could get bad — really bad.

More here.

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Opinion: This hated energy source is what the world needs to limit environmental damage from oil, coal and gas

Richard Rhodes in Market Watch:

Some environmentalists believe countries should somehow rely on renewables alone to increase their energy supply. Renewables — primarily wind and solar — certainly have a place in the mix, especially locally and at small scale. But because larger-scale renewable sources are dispersed and dilute, they’re limited to favorable conditions, and since they’re intermittent, they require backup energy generation to fill in when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.

Which means the renewable system has to be supported by a supplemental load-following system, typically natural gas. “As more wind and solar generation capacity get added,” observes energy security specialist Jude Clemente, “even more natural gas capacity is added.” Clemente figures that “some 35 states will have natural gas as their main source of electricity by 2022.” Unfortunately, burning natural gas produces about half the volume of CO2 as coal burning, significantly reducing the effectiveness of renewables in limiting global warming.

Rather than choosing a favorite energy technology and trying to adapt societies to its quirks, it’s surely better to choose technologies that meet the demanding conditions both developed and developing countries will face as the world warms. Replacing fossil fuels with renewables is a red herring. The real and primary challenge is decarbonizing the energy supply.

More here.

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How the Dominant Business Paradigm Turns Nice People into Psychopaths

Lynn Stout in Evonomics:

The problem with the homo economicus theory is that the purely rational, purely selfish person is a functional psychopath. If Economic Man cares nothing for ethics or others’ welfare, he will lie, cheat, steal, even murder, whenever it serves his material interests. Not surprisingly, although homo economicus is alive and well in many economics departments, many experts today prefer to embrace behavioral economics, which relies on data from experiments to see how real people really behave. Behavioral economics confirms something both important and reassuring. Most of us are not conscienceless psychopaths.

The vast majority of human beings are to least to some degree “prosocial.” In the right circumstances, we can be counted on to make modest personal sacrifices to follow ethical rules and avoid harming others. Of course, it’s easy to doubt pervasive pro-sociality when reading the daily news. We should remember, however, that cheating, corruption, and murder make the news because they are relatively rare. (No newspaper would run the headline: “Employee Doesn’t Steal, Even When No One’s Looking.”) As the phrase “common decency,” suggests, prosocial behavior is so omnipresent we tend not to notice it.

More here.

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Should We Mourn The Death of a Bad Person?

Erica Shumener at 3:AM Magazine:

Why should we mourn the death of a bad person? I was recently struck by an interesting philosophical conversation on death that emerged far outside of the philosophy classroom—on Twitter. Hip-hop fans were grappling with the murderof rapper XXXTentacion, born Jahseh Onfroy. Onfroy was a popular rapper with a reputation for horrific violence. Onfroy’s ex-girlfriend accused him of brutally assaulting and imprisoning her while she was pregnant in 2015. Onfroy also once confessed to assaulting his gay cellmate at a juvenile detention center for staring at him.

Reactions to Onfroy’s murder in Twitter and Reddit’s hip-hop communities ran the gamut from sorrowful condolences to messages of good riddance. In Los Angeles, fans blocked roadways and swarmed cars during a vigil for Onfroy. Onfroy’s death forced many to confront the question: How should we regard Onfroy’s death if he truly lived a morally abhorrent life?

more here.

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On Sylvia Plath and Female Rage

Megan Abbott at The Millions:

There’s always been a drumbeat of disapproval of Plath’s work, and it often comes down to: She’s just too muchA 1966 Time review of Ariel refers to “Daddy” as that “strange and terrible poem” Plath composed during her “last sick slide toward suicide,” adding that its style is as “brutal as a truncheon.” M.L. Rosenthal’s 1965 review of Ariel in The Spectator finds several of the poems “hard to penetrate in their morbid secretiveness” and puzzles uncomfortably over the way they seem to “make a weirdly incantatory black magic against unspecified persons and situations.” Years later, in the New CriterionBruce Bawer would refer to Plath’s “shrill, deranged” voice in the Ariel poems. She’s too much, too loud, too hysterical; she’s taking up too much space. It’s fascinating to read this criticism today, when political and cultural rhetoric runs searingly hot, when the standards for hyperbole have dramatically shifted, and when charges of female shrillness resonate more deeply than ever.

more here.

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When Female Artists Stop Being Seen as Muses

Cody Delistraty at The Paris Review:

The idea behind the career-spanning exhibition of Gabriele Münter at the Louisiana is to take a woman who should be one of Germany’s most famous artists and to break her free from Kandinsky—here, she is presented as an artist, separately and simply. Isabelle Jansen, the show’s curator, notes in her recent book on Münter that “through the narrow lens of her relationship with Kandinsky many of her accomplishments have lingered in obscurity.” Jansen hopes to approach “Münter’s oeuvre in all its richness: from classic genres such as portraits and landscapes to interiors, abstractions, and her works of ‘primitivism.’ ”

Münter worked ceaselessly to make herself into an individual and to wield her partnership with Kandinsky as an asset. She prided herself on her fearlessness and boldness of style. “My pictures are all moments of life,” she told Edouard Roditi in a 1958 interview. “I mean instantaneous visual experiences, generally noted very rapidly and spontaneously. When I begin to paint, it’s like leaping suddenly into deep waters, and I never know beforehand whether I will be able to swim.” Her brushstrokes render reality in eerie simplification.

more here.

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Tuesday Poem

When Geometric Diagrams

When geometric diagrams and digits
Are no longer the keys to living things,
When people who go about singing and kissing
Know deeper things than the great scholars,
When society is returned once more
To unimprisoned life, and to the universe,
And when light and darkness mate
Once more and make something entirely transparent,
And people see in poems and fairy tales
The true history of the world,
Then our entire twisted nature will turn
And run when a single secret word is spoken.

Novalis / 1800
translated by Robert Bly

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Trump outdoes Orwell in role as Moscow’s Agent Orange

Richard Wolffe in The Guardian:

George Orwell conjured up a totalitarian regime where Ignorance Is Strength, but he surely never conceived of this. How can we know that two and two make four, or that the DNC isn’t responsible for its own hacking, or that Vladimir Putin isn’t a bigger American friend than the entire European Union and Nato alliance? As Trump explained so clearly, when he talks about Russia as a rival, he really means it as a compliment, no matter what your lying ears have told you.

…“My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said that it’s Russia,” Trump said, referring to his own director of national intelligence. That would be the American director of American national intelligence. “I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia,” Trump continued, talking about the Russian president of the Russian Federation. “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server. But I have confidence in both parties. I, I really believe that this will probably go on for a while. But I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? Where are those servers? They’re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? Thirty-three thousand emails gone. Just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily. I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.”

You know what else is missing? Elvis Presley at the chip shop. The X-files on Area 51. And the president’s patriotic duty, if not his brain. It seemed so normal that this eruption was the first work-product of Trump’s new communications chief, Bill Shine, the former Fox News exec, jammed in just before no less than two Fox News interviews with those titans of journalism, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson. Why take the word of all your intelligence agencies when you have the word of Putin and Fox News to outweigh them?

More here.

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Psychology Itself Is Under Scrutiny

Benedict Carey in The New York Times:

The Stanford prison experiment is a case in point. In the summer of 1971, Philip Zimbardo, a midcareer psychologist, recruited 24 college students through newspaper ads and randomly cast half of them as “prisoners” and half as “guards,” setting them up in a mock prison, compete with cells and uniforms. He had the simulation filmed. After six days, Dr. Zimbardo called the experiment off, reporting that the “guards” began to assume their roles too well. They became abusive, some of them shockingly so. Dr. Zimbardo published dispatches about the experiment in a couple of obscure journals. He provided a more complete report in an article he wrote in The New York Times, describing how cruel instincts could emerge spontaneously in ordinary people as a result of situational pressures and expectations. That article and “Quiet Rage,” a documentary about the experiment, helped make Dr. Zimbardo a star in the field and media favorite, most recently in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in the early 2000s.

Perhaps the central challenge to the study’s claims is that its author coached the “guards” to be hard cases. Is this coaching “not an overt invitation to be abusive in all sorts of psychological ways?” wrote Peter Gray, a psychologist at Boston College who decided to exclude any mention of the simulation from his popular introductory textbook. “And, when the guards did behave in these ways and escalated that behavior, with Zimbardo watching and apparently (by his silence) approving, would that not have confirmed in the subjects’ minds that they were behaving as they should?”

Recent challenges have echoed Dr. Gray’s, and earlier this month Dr. Zimbardo was moved to post a response online.“My instructions to the guards, as documented by recordings of guard orientation, were that they could not hit the prisoners but could create feelings of boredom, frustration, fear and a sense of powerlessness — that is, ‘we have total power of the situation and they have none,’” he wrote. “We did not give any formal or detailed instructions about how to be an effective guard.” In an interview, Dr. Zimbardo said that the simulation was a “demonstration of what could happen” to some people influenced by powerful social roles and outside pressures, and that his critics had missed this point.

Which argument is more persuasive depends to some extent on where you sit and what you may think of Dr. Zimbardo. Is it better to describe his experiment, questions and all — or to ignore it entirely as not real psychology?

More here.

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July 16, 2018

Monday Poem

Shohola Orchard

I’m planting an orchard in Shohola
–a river runs through there
and the light is good for apples
and other living things

The place is filled with riches:
eagles fly overhead on thermals preying,
rafters happen by laughing, waving

We have a boat I can use
to row out and, like a Tahitian gentleman,
offer red Cortlands or Braeburns;
or,  if I so choose, a pear or a plum

I love the sound of a thing well said
and think, music when I sit with a good book
and imagine overlooking our orchard,
hearing the passing river harmonize
with a perfect line

And in my mind’s eye I even conjure
a snake in a tree pranking Eve,
and Adam the even more gullible,
but this time just for laughs because
I love the beauty and truth in laughter

Oh, and my children— their grove
blossoms at our orchard’s center;
they were the first, their limbs
have reached for light
and they have presented us
with their finest saplings

In my orchard I see myself
standing among trees reaching for
hanging fruit in pied beauty,
dappled light upon my shirt

my wife of many years is here
my kids come by with theirs,
friends show up every now and then;
the old ones dripping with nostalgia
but not tangled in the past,
who hold it but know enough to
be here now

Jim Culleny
January 2009

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Civility as a Reciprocal Public Virtue

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

Constitutional democracy is a system for conducting politics under conditions where citizens, understood as free and equal persons, disagree profoundly about what is good. Naturally, such disagreements extend to politics itself. That is, we expect democratic citizens to disagree, sometimes even sharply, about the fundamental aims and aspirations of government and its policies. The moral claim underwriting democracy holds that each citizen’s status as a free and equal person is respected when collective political decisions are made by way of a system that affords to each an equal say.

Still, in a democracy, we also expect disagreements over politics to extend beyond Election Day. Even after the votes are counted, citizens are nonetheless entitled to continue arguing over the wisdom, prudence, and even the justice of democratic collective decisions. What’s more, ongoing democratic engagement in the form of continuing scrutiny of political affairs is expected of citizens.  Participation in ongoing political discussion is among the democratic citizen’s duties.

If democracy calls citizens to engage regularly in political discussion, there will be among them ongoing political disagreements. Disagreements over things that matter often get heated, sometimes even hostile. And yet political disagreement in a democracy must be conducted in a way that manifests a fundamental respect for each citizen’s status as a free and equal person. In a democracy, no citizen is inherently another’s boss or subordinate; and all of our political interactions as citizens must reflect that basic moral commitment. Read more »

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Mathiness: the use and abuse of mathematics

 by Jonathan Kujawa

In a miracle we neither understand nor deserve, some of the most outlandish inventions of mathematicians’ fevered imaginations have later prove eminently useful in the real world. We’ve talked about some of these here at 3QD. From using the stretchy math of topology to identify data clusters in medicine, to using exotic measures of distance to fill in large amounts of missing data, to using number systems coming from elliptic curves to create strong encryption systems. These are only a few of the gifts we’ve received over the years from mathematics. Several years ago the mathematicians who congregate at mathoverflow compiled a list of applications for each of the main areas of modern mathematics.

Many of these applications contribute billions of dollars of value to our modern world, and yet in nearly every case the mathematics underpinning these were developed years, decades, or even centuries earlier. Bringing a little math to things often pays off bigly.

Plus, doing math is just plain fun! I may be biased, but I say the (fun + value)/cost ratio of math is pretty close to unbeatable. To quote Steve Earle, “I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that”.

Last month I asserted one explanation for the “unreasonable effectiveness” of mathematics is its insistence on precision in our language and thought. There is a real power in the mere act of mathematization. Even if you can’t solve the problem using actual mathematics, thinking mathematically often lays bare the real questions, the real obstacles, and the possible paths to a solution.

That’s easier said than done. As any calculus student will tell you, one of the most difficult parts of using mathematics on a real-world problem is turning the messy, ambiguous chaos of the real world into something on which you can try to do math. Read more »

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