The outsized appeal of Arcade Fire

Sasha Frere-Jones in The New Yorker:

Int_arcadefire01_490There is little about the Montreal band Arcade Fire that is not big. The group has seven core members, including its founders, a married couple named Win Butler (who is six feet three) and Régine Chassagne. Onstage, Arcade Fire expands to nine musicians, or more. The band’s unusually polished début, “Funeral,” which was recorded for less than ten thousand dollars and released in 2004, has sold more than three hundred thousand copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. This is a robust number for an independent band, especially one whose fans append free MP3s of the songs to their gushing Web posts. (An entry on a blog called “Blinding Light of Reason” commands, “If you are a human being, you owe it to your eternal soul to love the Arcade Fire and see them play live.”) David Bowie has performed live with the band, and, on a recent tour, U2 chose “Wake Up,” Arcade Fire’s apocalyptic sing-along about lightning bolts, to play over the sound system before its performances. (“Wake Up” is also played during pre-game ceremonies at Rangers games at Madison Square Garden.)

More here.  [Thanks to Asad Raza.]

Now Hrant Dink has joined his fellow Armenians as the last victim of the first genocide of the last century


… that dost almost persuade Justice to break her sword! One more, one more. Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee, And love thee after. Othello, 5.2.16-19.[1]

Now, when the torrent of eulogies for Hrant Dink, the late editor-in-chief of Istanbul’s Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper Agos, has almost subsided, the barbarity of Turkish nationalism has become even more horrifying. Fronts have formed in Turkey after Dink’s funeral, attended by over a hundred thousand mourners carrying identical black and white signs proclaiming “We are all Armenians”. Immediately, surveys were conducted testing public feeling about the slogan.[2] Then, images were released of Ogun Samast, the 17-year-old who confessed to Dink’s murder, posing proudly with a Turkish flag between security officials; behind them could be seen a poster bearing the words of Ataturk: “The nation’s land is sacred, it cannot be left to fate”. These images followed fast on news of crazed masses chanting in football stadiums: “We are all Ogun Samast”.

more from Eurozine here.

God’s trumpet waking him to military action


The cultural stock of John Brown and the Redeemers has fluctuated across time. After inspiring Yankees during the Civil War, Brown passed through the end of the century as an ambiguous figure in American letters. In 1909, W. E. B. Du Bois resurrected him in a sympathetic biography. At the same time, Thomas Dixon finished a trilogy of novels, adapted by D. W. Griffith into his film The Birth of a Nation in 1915. In Dixon’s and Griffith’s revisionist histories, the Redeemers fought for glory, while abolitionists and carpetbaggers sullied feminine virtue and stole the South’s honour. More recently, activists in the civil-rights movement reversed the trend, elevating Brown and vilifying the Redeemers.

Today, things are more complicated. The politics of the present have muddied our perspective on the past. We know all too well that faith, unfettered by doubt, can be deadly. So when Reynolds writes of Brown, “he was willing to die for his utter belief in the word of the bible”, it is hard not to ask: but what of his willingness to kill? The Redeemers, beloved by neo-Confederates and white supremacists, are seemingly more easily cast into history’s dustbin. But, as Nicholas Lemann insists, they won. And in the ongoing debate over limited voting rights (whether through faulty technology or the inadequate provision of polling stations), we see their legacy. So in a world in which pro-life terrorists invoke John Brown’s example, and Senate candidates wrap themselves in the Confederate flag, it may be that Adelbert Ames is the best model for the present US condition. Ames, bumbling and naive, lived in complex times and was swamped by uncertainty. He tried to find the righteous path. But he kept tripping along the way.

more from the TLS here.

Marko Ahtisaari on the Future of Mobility

This is a characteristically great short talk by Marko Ahtisaari, at whose encouragement and with whose support, I started 3 Quarks Daily. Says Marko: has posted the video of my 10-minute talk on the future of mobility at LeWeb3.

The funny thing about this talk was that I was asked on short notice to be the opening-act for Sarkozy. It reminded me of the times when I was playing with Skizm on the New York rock scene.

Sometimes knowing that everyone is waiting for the main act makes you play harder.

Marko’s own blog is here.

The caudate and the ventral tegmental areas

Elizabeth Cohen at CNN:

Screenhunter_03_feb_15_1543Close your eyes for a minute and envision all the romantic parts of the human body.

Her beautiful eyes. His strong shoulders. We’ll stop there, but you go right ahead and think about all the body parts you want.

Bet you didn’t think about the caudate and the ventral tegmental areas, did you?

These areas of the brain, while little known to most people, are helping scientists explain the physiological reasons behind why we feel what we feel when we fall in love.

By studying MRI brain scans of people newly in love, scientists are learning a lot about the science of love: Why love is so powerful, and why being rejected is so horribly painful.

In a group of experiments, Dr. Lucy Brown, a professor in the department of neurology and neuroscience at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and her colleagues did MRI brain scans on college students who were in the throes of new love.

While being scanned, the students looked at a photo of their beloved. The scientists found that the caudate area of the brain — which is involved in cravings — became very active. Another area that lit up: the ventral tegmental, which produces dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter that affects pleasure and motivation.

More here.

H. Allen Orr and Daniel C. Dennett clash over Richard Dawkins

Last month, H. Allen Orr wrote a critical review of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion in the New York Review of Books:

Orrphoto_2The most disappointing feature of The God Delusion is Dawkins’s failure to engage religious thought in any serious way. This is, obviously, an odd thing to say about a book-length investigation into God. But the problem reflects Dawkins’s cavalier attitude about the quality of religious thinking. Dawkins tends to dismiss simple expressions of belief as base superstition. Having no patience with the faith of fundamentalists, he also tends to dismiss more sophisticated expressions of belief as sophistry (he cannot, for instance, tolerate the meticulous reasoning of theologians). But if simple religion is barbaric (and thus unworthy of serious thought) and sophisticated religion is logic-chopping (and thus equally unworthy of serious thought), the ineluctable conclusion is that all religion is unworthy of serious thought.

The result is The God Delusion, a book that never squarely faces its opponents. You will find no serious examination of Christian or Jewish theology in Dawkins’s book (does he know Augustine rejected biblical literalism in the early fifth century?), no attempt to follow philosophical debates about the nature of religious propositions (are they like ordinary claims about everyday matters?), no effort to appreciate the complex history of interaction between the Church and science (does he know the Church had an important part in the rise of non-Aristotelian science?), and no attempt to understand even the simplest of religious attitudes (does Dawkins really believe, as he says, that Christians should be thrilled to learn they’re terminally ill?).

Instead, Dawkins has written a book that’s distinctly, even defiantly, middlebrow…

Rest of the review here.  Dan Dennett then wrote a letter to the NYRB defending Dawkins:

Ff_182_atheism4_fH. Allen Orr, in “A Mission to Convert” [NYR, January 11], his review of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion and other recent books on science and religion, says that Dawkins is an amateur, not professional, atheist, and has failed to come to grips with “religious thought” with its “meticulous reasoning” in any serious way. He notes that the book is “defiantly middlebrow,” and I wonder just which highbrow thinkers about religion Orr believes Dawkins should have grappled with. I myself have looked over large piles of recent religious thought in the last few years in the course of researching my own book on these topics, and I have found almost all of it to be so dreadful that ignoring it entirely seemed both the most charitable and most constructive policy. (I devote a scant six pages of Breaking the Spell to the arguments for and against the existence of God, while Dawkins devotes roughly a hundred, laying out the standard arguments with admirable clarity and fairness, and skewering them efficiently.) There are indeed recherché versions of these traditional arguments that perhaps have not yet been exhaustively eviscerated by scholars, but Dawkins ignores them (as do I) and says why: his book is a consciousness-raiser aimed at the general religious public, not an attempt to contribute to the academic microdiscipline of philosophical theology. The arguments Dawkins exposes and rebuts are the arguments that waft from thousands of pulpits every week and reach millions of television viewers every day, and neither the televangelists nor the authors of best-selling spiritual books pay the slightest heed to the subtleties of the theologians either.

Who does Orr favor? Polkinghorne, Peacocke, Plantinga, or some more recondite thinkers? Orr brandishes the names of two philosophers, William James and Ludwig Wittgenstein, and cites C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, a fairly nauseating example of middle-brow homiletic in roughly the same league on the undergraduate hit parade as Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ (1998) and transparently evasive when it comes to “meticulous reasoning.” If it were a book in biology—Orr’s discipline—I daresay he’d pounce on it like a pit bull, but like many others he adopts a double standard when the topic is religion…

H. Allen Orr replied in the NYRB:

Daniel Dennett’s main complaint about my review is that I held Dawkins’s book to too high a standard. The God Delusion was, he says, a popular work and, as such, one can’t expect it to grapple seriously with religious thought. There are two things wrong with this objection. The first is that the mere fact that a book is intended for a broad audience doesn’t mean its author can ignore the best thinking on a subject. Indeed it’s precisely the task of the popularizer to take this best thinking and present it in a form that can be understood by intelligent laymen. This task is certainly feasible. Ironically, the clearest evidence comes from Dawkins himself. In his popular works on evolution, and especially in The Selfish Gene, Dawkins wrestled with the best evolutionary thinkers —Darwin, Hamilton, and Trivers—and presented their ideas in a way that could be appreciated by a broad audience. This is what made The Selfish Gene brilliant; the absence of any analogous treatment of religion in Dawkins’s new book is what makes it considerably less than brilliant.

The second thing wrong with Dennett’s objection is that it’s simply not true that The God Delusion was merely a popular survey and “not an attempt to contribute to …philosophical theology.” Dennett has apparently forgotten that the heart of Dawkins’s book was his philosophical argument for the near impossibility of God. Dawkins presented his so-called Ultimate Boeing 747 argument in a chapter entitled “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God,” branded his argument “unanswerable,” and boasted that it had stumped all theologians who had met it. I can see why Dennett would like to forget about Dawkins’s attempt at philosophy—the Ultimate 747 argument was shredded by reviewers—but it’s absurd to pretend now that The God Delusion had no philosophical ambitions. It also won’t do to claim, as Dennett does, that Dawkins’s book was concerned only with arguments “that waft from thousands of pulpits every week and reach millions of television viewers every day.” Dawkins explicitly stated that he was targeting all forms of the God Hypothesis, including deism, and insisted that all were victims of his arguments…

Full text of both letters to the NYRB here.  Now, Dan Dennett has written a fairly heated open letter to H. Allen Orr at in which after rebutting several of Orr’s points, Dennett throws down a challenge for another response from Orr:

As I write this message, I am reminded of your earlier trashing, more than ten years ago, of my book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, first in Evolution, which does not permit rebuttals from authors, and then, slightly enlarged, in the Boston Review, which does. You leveled very serious charges of error and incomprehension in that review, and when I challenged them, you responded with a haughty dismissal of my objections (in an exchange in the Boston Review). Quoting an example, dealing with the speed of evolution: “Now I’ve been in the population genetics business for some time and, frankly, I have no idea what Dennett is talking about. And-I can find no polite way of putting this-it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Dennett has no idea what he’s talking about either.” (1996, p37) Now that was rude-even ruder than your reply this time. When I explained then in a private letter to you what I had meant, you conceded to me in your private response that you had not seen my point in the light I intended, and that my claim was not in fact the blunder you had said it was-but of course you never chose to recant your criticism in print, so your uncorrected accusation stands to this day. Such a gentleman and a scholar you are! But times have changed. We now have blogs, so this time you can readily respond in public to my open letter…

Full text of Dennett’s letter here.

The Arabian Adventure of Wallace Stegner

Cynthia Haven in Stanford Magazine:

St0107_saudi3_qg_rev1In the early 1990s, Robert Vitalis was on a fellowship at Princeton preparing a book about the Arabian American Oil Company. One day in a seminar room, he overheard two young history professors discussing Wallace Stegner.

Was this the same Stegner who had written a book about American oil interests in Saudi Arabia? Vitalis asked. Nope, the professors assured him. The Stegner they were talking about was a Pulitzer-winning novelist and a pioneering voice in the fight to save our natural environment. He never wrote a book about Saudi Arabia.

They were wrong. Vitalis, now an associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, eventually learned that the Stegner who founded Stanford’s creative writing program was indeed the author of Discovery! The Search for Arabian Oil, a tormented work-for-hire project about the early days of Saudi oil exploration in the 1930s and 1940s. Discovery! was serialized in 14 issues of the Arabian American Oil Company magazine Aramco World, beginning in 1968, 12 years after Stegner had turned in his manuscript to Aramco’s public relations department. Although eventually published as a book by Beirut’s Middle East Export Press in 1971, it has never been widely available.

More here.

How to be a successful Valentine

Raj Persaud in The Telegraph:

Screenhunter_02_feb_15_1337The findings of one of the largest experiments in the science of attractiveness shown here challenge current thinking about the differences between men and women.

Around four thousand people took part in the web experiment, launched two weeks ago on this page, to provide new insights in time for Valentine’s Day tomorrow.

Some revelations are obvious – in the case of men, being rich, powerful, smart and funny helps, and the more attractive the woman you are pursuing, the more these factors matter to her. Some are less obvious: women rate being good in bed as more desirable in a possible partner than men do.

The woman’s face deemed the most beautiful – by just over half of the men rating the five photographs – was that of the youngest, B, aged 19. Women, however, plumped for the second oldest man, A, aged 29, as the most attractive.

More here.

Writers list their greatest reads

Frank Wilson in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

TolstoyLast year, the New York Times came up with a list of the best works of American fiction of the previous 25 years. This ignited much controversy. Which was to be expected, since a good deal of the fun of lists comes from disagreeing with them.

J. Peder Zane, book review editor of the Raleigh News & Observer, has outdone the Times considerably in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books (Norton, $14.95): From the 10 favorites proffered by 125 noted writers, he has culled the all-time Top 10. The winners (in order, from top to bottom) are: Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina; Flaubert’s Madame Bovary; Tolstoy’s War and Peace; Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita; Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Shakespeare’s Hamlet; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; Proust’s In Search of Lost Time; the stories of Anton Chekhov; and George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

An unexceptionable list, right? Well, only until you start thinking about it. Critic Sven Birkerts, in his introductory essay, picks up on two oddities: first, only one of the works is by a woman (and she, Mary Ann Evans, used the male pen name of George Eliot); second, only one was written before the 19th century. No Homer, no Dante, no Chaucer.

More here.  [Tolstoy in photo.]

Casanova: Love Him or Leave Him

Eric Ormsby in The NY Sun:

Screenhunter_01_feb_15_1323Certain books betray the unmistakable flavor of their origins on every page. Kafka rarely mentioned Prague, but the city tinges every sentence he wrote. As he put it, “The little mother has claws.” Venice has claws too, though often discreetly sheathed. Even so, they flash at regular intervals throughout Casanova’s “History of My Life,” (Everyman’s Library, 1,497 pages, $35), the most quintessentially Venetian book ever penned. Though Casanova ranged over all of Europe during his long life, venturing as far east as Constantinople, he always remained fixed on Venice.

He was born there, the illegitimate son of a touring actress, on April 2, 1725, and for the rest of his days, he loathed and loved the place. When exiled, he contrived to sneak back; when imprisoned there, he longed only to escape. His birthplace defined the boundaries of his memory. His narrative, as alive with surprises as the city itself, takes us down unexpected alleyways from which we emerge, without quite knowing how, onto improbable piazzas. Like Venice, the great lover’s autobiography is a floating labyrinth.

The 12 volumes of “History of My Life,” drawn from the complete translation by Willard Trask, are now available from Everyman’s Library in a single hefty volume expertly abridged by Peter Washington and introduced by John Julius Norwich.

More here.

Subcontinental shift

From The Guardian:

Calcuttapiyaladhikaryepa372_1 Kiran Desai’s Booker-winning novel The Inheritance of Loss has been a bestseller in India for weeks now. It is displayed proudly in upmarket bookshops. Bootleg copies are brandished by boys, weaving in and out of traffic light fumes. These boys can’t read, but they know what everyone wants: “Kiran book”.

The Inheritance of Loss is largely based in India, where Desai lived until she was 14. She now lives in America, making her the latest in a line of very successful non-resident Indian (NRI, in the customary acronym) writers. Although India basks in the limelight of such NRIs as Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth, their ability to portray India from abroad has been questioned. Another NRI, Vikram Chandra writes about being hounded by a Delhi English professor for his use of Hindi words. Now Kiran Desai’s “Indianess” has been scrutinized by the Indian media.

“There’s been a fair bit of chatter about why she italicised Hindi words and didn’t wear a sari to the prize-giving, whether she pandered too much to a western audience.”

More here.

Scientists in love: When two worlds collide

Our own 3quarksdaily guest columnist Jennifer Ouellette in Nature:

Jennifer_1 Last October, I became engaged to Caltech cosmologist Sean Carroll, capping six months of a long-distance romance that began via our respective physics blogs. Our his-and-hers blog announcements garnered the proverbial 15 minutes in the online scientific community, and it didn’t take long before someone asked: “So, will you be relocating to California?”

Of course I will move to Los Angeles from Washington DC. Like any romantic, I would move mountains to be with my beloved; a cross-country trek, yowling cat in tow, is trivial in comparison. Sean is well worth that and more. But then I’m a self-employed science writer. You can give me a mobile phone, a laptop and a high-speed Internet connection, and I can do my job from almost anywhere.

Alas, scientists who marry scientists can’t always get it together quite so easily. There is a daunting obstacle to be overcome: they must find jobs not just for themselves, but for their spouses. This is the ‘two-body’ problem: a reference to the challenge of calculating the paths of two objects interacting with each other. Mathematics solved the two-body problem long ago, but married scientists still struggle with it.

More here.

Also on This Day

In addition to Valentine’s Day, today is the 18th anniversary of the fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini, which called for the execution of Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses. In The Herald:

SALMAN Rushdie says he still receives a “sort of Valentine’s card” from Iran each year on February 14 letting him know the country has not forgotten the vow to kill him.

His comment came as the author of The Satanic Verses started a five-year appointment with Emory University, one day before the 18th anniversary of the death threat that catapulted him into worldwide fame.

Rushdie was forced into hiding for a decade after the late Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a 1989 fatwa, or opinion on Islamic law, ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie because the book allegedly insulted Islam.

In 1998, the Iranian government declared it would not support but could not rescind the fatwa. But the yearly notes continue. “It’s reached the point where it’s a piece of rhetoric rather than a real threat,” Rushdie said.

The 59-year-old Rushdie is also donating his archive to the university, including a diary of his decade in hiding and two early, unpublished novels.

What to do about Burma

Thant Myint-U in the London Review of Books:

Myanmar_burmaThere is an enduring myth that in 1948, when it achieved independence from Britain, Burma was a rich country with every reason to expect a bright future and that the policies and practices of the military government are alone to blame for today’s miseries. It is beyond dispute that many of these policies and practices have been disastrous. But there is a deeper history of misfortune which needs to be understood.

At independence, Burma was a country devastated by war, with a collapsed economy and a peculiarly debilitating colonial legacy dating back to 1885, when Lord Randolph Churchill, the secretary of state for India, dispatched an expeditionary force to sort out the ‘Burma problem’ of the day.

When the Burma Expeditionary Force seized Mandalay, British policy-makers decided not only to dethrone the king, Thibaw, but to abolish the monarchy altogether. The nobility was soon disbanded too and families who had held sway over their villages for centuries were fatally undermined. The old social order collapsed during the ‘pacification’ campaign of the late 1880s, when tens of thousands of British and Indian troops attempted to quell unexpectedly harsh guerrilla resistance, and with this collapse came the disappearance of an ancient tradition of Buddhist and secular scholarship. This was followed by a period of peace and considerable prosperity, which lasted from the early 1890s to the late 1920s. There were new connections – intellectual as well as commercial – to England, India and elsewhere, and a generation of well-educated men and women hoped to be part of a more progressive world. But the foundations of future problems were being laid.

More here.

Hacker cracks HD DVD copy protection

Dan Goodin in The Register:

Blueray_578781fA lone hacker has unlocked the master key preventing the copying of high-definition DVDs in a development that is sure to get the entertainment industry’s knickers wrapped tighter than a magnet’s coil. What’s more, the individual was able to defeat the technology with no cracking tools or reverse engineering, despite the millions of dollars and many years engineers put into developing the AACS (Advanced Access Content System) for locking down high-definition video.

A hacker going by the name arnezami on the Doom9 discussion boards, has been hard at work for at least the past eight days, when he first claimed to have discovered how to read the volume ID of the movie King Kong. Over the coming days, he documented his progress, with the Eureka moment occurring on Sunday, when he was able to confirm the validity of his method for identifying the processing key. Combining the two allowed him to unlock the copy protection.

After getting some much-needed sleep, arnezami was back to explain how he accomplished his feat. While his player loaded the Kong disc, he closely looked for changes being made to a certain part of his computer memory. Making a memdump with the WinHex file editor, he was about to find the key fairly easily.

More here.


The Economist reviews Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s autobiography.

SAY what you will about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, she fascinates. The Dutch-Somali politician, who has lived under armed guard ever since a fatwa was issued against her in 2004, is a chameleon of a woman. Just 11 years after she arrived in the Netherlands from Africa, she rode into parliament on a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, only to leave again last year, this time for America, after an uproar over lies she had told to obtain asylum.

Even the title of her new autobiography reflects her talent for reinvention. In the Netherlands, where Ms Hirsi Ali got her start campaigning against the oppression of Muslim women, the book has been published under the title “My Freedom”. But in Britain and in America, where she now has a fellowship at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, it is called “Infidel”. In it, she recounts how she and her family made the cultural odyssey from nomadic to urban life in Africa and how she eventually made the jump to Europe and international celebrity as the world’s most famous critic of Islam.

Read as a modern coming-of-age story set in Africa, the book has a certain charm. Read as a key to the thinking of a woman who aspires to be the Muslim Voltaire, it is more problematic. The facts as Ms Hirsi Ali tells them here do not fit well either with some of the stories she has told in the past or with her tendency in her political writing to ascribe most of the troubles of the Muslim world to Islam.

The Filmanthropists

Chris Lee in the Los Angeles Times:

Screenhunter_02_feb_14_1517Call them “filmanthropists.” They have deep pockets and issue-driven agendas. Rather than make high-class dramas that might carry some mild social message, these producers are turning out full-blown advocacy movies.

Although their individual aims may be different, each has used a nonfiction film to shine a spotlight on social injustices, or government malfeasance, and even to recast history in the service of human uplift and national reconciliation.

Almost without fail, filmanthropists have done well financially before deciding it is time to do good. But they are not passive about their investment. They want to control the process and the message.

More here.

What the West Can Learn From Islam

Tariq Ramadan in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Sriimg20051111_6233092_1In late September, I finally received a response to the question I had been asking the Bush administration for more than two years: Why was my work visa revoked in late July 2004, just days before I was to take up a position as a professor of Islamic studies and the Henry Luce chair of religion, conflict, and peace building at the University of Notre Dame? Initially neither I nor the university was told why; officials only made a vague reference to a provision of the U.S. Patriot Act that allows the government to exclude foreign citizens who have “endorsed or espoused terrorism.” Though the U.S. Department of Homeland Security eventually cleared me of all charges of links with terrorist groups, today it points to another reason to keep me out of the country: donations I made totaling approximately $900 to a Swiss Palestinian-support group that is now on the American blacklist. A letter I received from the American Embassy in Switzerland, where I hold citizenship, asserts that I “should reasonably have known” that the group had ties with Hamas.

What American officials do not say is that I myself had brought those donations to their attention, and that the organization in question continues to be officially recognized by the Swiss authorities (my donations were duly registered on my income-tax declaration). More important still is the fact that I contributed to the organization between 1998 and 2002, more than a year before it was blacklisted by the United States. It seems, according to American officials, that I “should reasonably have known” about the organization’s alleged activities before the Homeland Security Department itself knew!

More here.

The Truth About Love

Since this Valentine’s Day is so close to Auden’s centenary, this (“O Tell Me the Truth About Love“) seemed appropriate:

Some say that love’s a little boy
And some say it’s a bird,
Some say it makes the world go round,
And some say that’s absurd,
And when I asked the man next-door,
Who looked as if he knew,
His wife got very cross indeed,
And said it wouldn’t do.

Does it look like a pair of pajamas,
Or the ham in a temperance hotel?
Does it’s odour remind one of llamas,
Or has it a comforting smell?
Is it prickly to touch as a hedge is,
Or soft as eiderdown fluff?
Is it sharp or quite smooth at the edges?
O tell me the truth about love.

But on the topic, EurekAlert! reports that the truth about it involves mostly oxytocin and vasopressin and the regions of the brain that respond to it:

A new study of young mothers by researchers at University College London (UCL) has shown that romantic and maternal love activate many of the same specific regions of the brain, and lead to a suppression of neural activity associated with critical social assessment of other people and negative emotions. The findings suggest that once one is closely familiar with a person, the need to assess the character and personality of that person is reduced, and bring us closer to explaining why, in neurological terms, ‘love makes blind.’

In the experiment, published in February’s NeuroImage online preview edition, the brains of 20 young mothers were scanned while they viewed pictures of their own children, children they were acquainted with, and adult friends, to control for feelings of familiarity and friendship (the brain regions involved in romantic love having been identified by the authors in an earlier study).

The similarity of the activity recorded in this study compared to those obtained in the earlier study was striking; with activity in several regions of the brain overlapping precisely in the two studies. In summary, the findings showed that both types of love activate specific regions in the reward system, while reducing activity in the systems necessary for making negative judgements.