Paul Laity reviews Worst Cases by Lee Clarke, in the London Review of Books:
If you’re feeling vulnerable in these cataclysmic times, stay clear of Lee Clarke, the Eeyore of American sociology and author of the forthcoming study of disaster, Worst Cases (Chicago, £16). ‘Doom is everywhere,’ he says, ‘catastrophes are common.’ Viruses as deadly as Ebola could circle the globe in 24 hours, ‘on the planes that don’t crash’. And ‘it’s not a question of if but of when terrorists will detonate a nuclear device.’
Bad things happen all the time, but once in a while the bad thing is so unlikely as to be almost inconceivable. In 2001 a hunter in the middle of a wood in Pennsylvania fired his gun: the bullet failed to hit a single tree, travelled through the window of a house, went through a door and a wall, and killed a woman standing in her bedroom. A few years before, on Long Island, Andres Perez, testing his new .22 rifle, pointed it into the sky and fired. A minute or so later, Christina Dellaratta, sunbathing in her backyard nearby, felt a nasty sting.
For Clarke, five hundred airline passengers are five hundred potential casualties.
As Alan Wolfe points out, the newly revitalized religions have made next to no changes on the doctrinal level. But they have modified their practices, appeals, and attitudes in a more accepting and nurturing direction, creating a new sense of community. This is more than a matter of marketing; it involves living one’s faith and meeting people’s needs. Atheists have much to learn from this. If the appeal of atheism relies on arguments or it casts itself as a messenger bearing cold hard truths, it will continue to fare poorly in today’s world. For secularists, the most urgent need is for a coherent popular philosophy that answers vital questions about how to live one’s life. As McGrath points out, classical atheists were able to provide this, but no more. A new atheism must absorb the experience of the twentieth century and the issues of the twenty-first. It must answer questions about living without God, face issues concerning forces beyond our control as well as our own responsibility, find a satisfying way of thinking about what we may know and what we cannot know, affirm a secular basis for morality, point to ways of coming to terms with death, and explore what hope might mean today. The new atheists have made a beginning, but much remains to be done.
more from Bookforum here.
Models of movement, which are activated in the brain when we observe the actions of another person, hold information and knowledge about the way our own body functions. The possibilities and limitations of movement of our own body are the reference from which we process and interpret the actions of another person. In other words, we understand in others that which we can do ourselves, and what we cannot do ourselves, we cannot also understand in others. Feedback from our own bodies apparently plays a role in our intuitive knowledge of the intentions of other people. In this way, we can predict not only the consequences of other people’s actions, but we are able to “put ourselves in the position” of the other person. Such a mechanism is the basis for sympathy and empathy, and thus decisive for the success and continuity of social relationships.
more from the Max Planck Society here.
From the Daily Times of Pakistan:
Pervez Akhtar Tanoli is a candidate with a difference in Thursday’s local council elections; he’s a transvestite who rails against corruption and vows to help the poor.
Tanoli, or ‘Baby’ as he is known, is running for a seat on a council in a sub-district of Haripur.
“The constituents are my family,” Baby told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday. “I have nobody else. My family abandoned me because I am a transvestite.”
The former wedding dancer in his mid-thirties is not new to local politics. He has been councilor for the town of Haripur North since 2002, winning the seat with a record number of votes.
“People have voted for me to work for their benefit, not to dance at weddings,” he says.
“The poor have suffered at the hands of politicians because they put the tax money which is meant for development into their own pockets. I don’t do that and people know this. They know I only work for the poor.”
When Walt Whitman began what would ultimately become his masterpiece “Song of Myself,” this was one of the first lines he wrote: “And the cow crunching with depress’d head surpasses any statue.” The nobility of the grazing cow, changing grass into protein, jolts the poet into an impassioned announcement of his own identity and an instant awareness of himself thatched in the expansive web of the world. Thus Whitman, in some small way, may be America’s first Meat Writer. The recognition and immediate reconciliation of digestive dissonance—the linking of himself to his food and beyond—is a catalyzing moment in his ecstatic celebration of life. No lesser a figure than Mohandas Gandhi drew this same conclusion, claiming “To me, the cow is the embodiment of the whole infra-human world; she enables the believer to grasp his unity with all that lives…. The cow is a poem of compassion.”
Popular Meat Writing is about making connections, tying the ubiquitous to the sensational, restoring a place and face to the rootless and indistinct. It puts our Christmas ham back in a cramped pen at Smithfield and plops the Iraq War squarely on our plates. Horrifying as these connections may be, they’re also reassuring. For the details may foster in us, as they did in Whitman, self-awareness—a greater sensitivity to our responsibilities, whether we can ultimately live up to them or not. After all, Meat Writing ties us to something, and no one likes to dine alone.
more meat writing from The Believer here.
It was inevitable, perhaps, that a pictorial style based on transparent veils of color would prove severely limiting. What may also have effected a change in Mr. Olitski’s handling of color was Greenberg’s death in 1994. It’s hardly news that Greenberg’s influence was central to the development of color-field abstraction; without that influence, it’s doubtful that color-field abstraction would have acquired the authority it briefly enjoyed. I don’t say this as a criticism of Greenberg, whose writings I very much admire (though I often disagreed with him). But I do believe that his departure from the New York art scene made it possible for certain artists—Mr. Olitski among them—to expand their pictorial horizons into areas of style and concept alien to his taste. Be that as it may, it’s my view that in the Matter Embraced paintings at Knoedler & Company, Mr. Olitski has created his finest work.
more from Kramer (you can’t keep on old formalist down) at the New York Observer here.
In the making of the modern world, Paris and London are related almost as head and body. It was Paris that had the ideas – from the idea of revolution to Charles Baudelaire’s notion of the artist of modern life to Picasso’s concept of cubism. The Marxist cultural theorist Walter Benjamin called Paris “capital of the 19th century” and he was right. Yet this is a paradox, because London was the place where modern life began, capital of the workshop of the world, metropolis of the largest empire the world has ever seen, home of the Crystal Palace that inspired Eiffel’s wondrous iron lattice in the sky. London was the grinding nightmare city of the future, in foreign eyes; the setting of Edgar Allan Poe’s chilling story The Man of the Crowd. When the French illustrator Gustave Doré visited mid-19th-century London he went in the spirit of an explorer visiting Africa and came back with dreadful doom-laden images of a future city where people live under railway arches in unimaginable squalor.
more from The Guardian Unlimited here.
From Scientific American:
A recent study indicates that our brains employ far fewer cells to interpret a given image than previously believed, and the findings could help neuroscientists determine how memories are formed and stored. In previous decades, two extreme views have emerged. One says that millions of neurons work in concert, piecing together various bits of information into one coherent picture, whereas the ot her states that the brain contains a separate neuron to recognize each individual object and person. In the 1960s neurobiologist Jerome Lettvin named the latter idea the “grandmother cell” theory, meaning that the brain has a neuron devoted just for recognizing each family member. Lose that neuron, and you no longer recognize grandma. Experts long ago dismissed this latter view as overly simplistic. But Rodrigo Quian Quiroga of the University of Leicester in England and his colleagues decided to investigate just how selective single neurons might be.
From National Geographic:
Medical researcher Anne Weston took this photograph of a cancer cell with an electron microscope. She captured the image as the cell crept into a pore on a laboratory filter to illustrate how cancer cells move.
Cambridge University lecturer John Brackenbury combined this series of high-speed photographs to illustrate the concept of panspermia. Panspermia is the theory that seeds of life exist throughout the universe and that life on Earth arose when those seeds landed on our planet eons ago. The image shows eggs shattering as they hit water, releasing smaller eggs within.