A Golden Age, by Tahmima Anam

Reviewed by Anita Sethi in The Independent:

Ta“The rasping feeling of loss” percolates the pages of this powerful debut novel. Tahmima Anam traces a “country splitting”, in the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence, through the breaking heart of a widow. Rehana Haque loses custody of her two children, Maya and Sohail, to the care of her brother-in-law in Karachi on the grounds of “her grief, her poverty, her youth”. As she struggles for the hearts of her children, so a nation struggles to be custodian of its own fate.

When war breaks out, rumour has it that all the animals in Mirpur Zoo die of fright. But Anam’s concern is with human beings finding ways to live in the landscape of war in spite of the “cold fear” at their backs, as “twisted politics” intrudes upon the intimately personal at every turn.

The insidious power of the novel is in a sense of foreboding imbued in both human beings and inanimate objects, which endows the storytelling with a rhythmic, assured force – the chronicle of deaths foretold. Huts tilt towards the water, “as though aware of their fate”; for every monsoon, the rivers steal vast chunks of the land, and yet every year “hopeful little shacks” are rebuilt.

More here.

Camus as Journalist

Enda O’Doherty in The Dublin Review of Books:

Avec Camus, by Jean Daniel.

Camus In August 1944, as General Dietrich von Choltitz defied Hitler’s orders to burn Paris and surrendered the city to Free French and Resistance commanders, two journalists and former résistants, one in his thirty-first year, the other just turned forty-one, were among a small group who took possession of the rue Réaumur premises of the Wehrmacht newspaper the Pariser Zeitung, so hastily evacuated by its former occupants that they left behind their hand grenades.

Albert Camus and Pascal Pia’s acquaintance went back to 1938, when Pia, already an experienced newspaperman, had hired the young Camus as a secrétaire de rédaction (subeditor) on Alger Républicain, a left-wing daily established to oppose fascism and anti-Semitism and support the social and political emancipation of Algeria’s Muslims. The two worked together again at Paris-Soir in spring 1940 as France huddled behind the Maginot line awaiting Germany’s next move. When the blow came, in May, it was swift. French armies collapsed on the eastern front and on June 14th the Germans entered Paris. At first Camus followed the Paris-Soir team as they evacuated to Clermont-Ferrand, then Lyon, in the unoccupied zone. At the end of the year, however, he was laid off by his employer and in January 1941 returned with his new wife, Francine, to Algeria.

It was during a prolonged stay in the mountains of central France in 1942 and 1943, initially undertaken on doctor’s advice to treat his tuberculosis, that Camus first came into contact with active members of the Resistance. Of those he met there he was most drawn to the young Catholic poet René Leynaud, a regional leader of the Combat movement, whose passion and sincerity he found immediately appealing, in spite of their differences over religion. Leynaud was to be one of a large group of prisoners shot by the Germans in Lyon in summer 1944.

It is difficult to know with any precision when Camus himself first became active in the Resistance as in later life he seldom talked about it, but a false identity card issued in May 1943 in the name Albert Mathé suggests one possible starting point. That autumn he moved to Paris and began work as a reader with the Gallimard firm, which had published his first novel, The Outsider, and the philosophical tract The Myth of Sisyphus in the previous year. It was also about this time that Camus, introduced by Pia, joined the editorial team of the clandestine newssheet Combat, operating under the pseudonym Bauchard.

More here.

The Life of Gore Vidal

Stephen Wilson in The Dublin Review of Books:

Point To Point Navigation: A Memoir, 1964 to 2006, by Gore Vidal,

Vidal There is an old joke about a man – Murphy is as good a name as any other – whose continual name-dropping and bragging about his intimacy with the great, the good and the famous so exasperates his workmates that they resolve to expose him as a liar at the first opportunity. When Murphy announces that he is going to spend the weekend in Rome “with a few friends” and that he will tell them all about it on Monday they see their chance and gleefully club together to send one of their number to keep tabs on him and gather the necessary evidence.

At first all goes well, but once in Rome the appointed shadow loses track of his quarry and, after wandering around disconsolately for a few hours, decides that as he is in the vicinity he might as well go and see the Pope. So he joins the crowd of pilgrims in front of St Peter’s and after half an hour or so the Holy Father emerges onto his balcony, followed almost immediately by none other than Murphy. The shadow is still reeling from shock when his neighbour turns to him and asks: “Who’s that fella in the frock up there with Murphy?” This, as I have said, is not a new joke (nor indeed a very good one) but it does convey something of the experience on one level of reading a Gore Vidal memoir.

More here.

Speciation May Be More Common in the Temperate Zones

Michael Hopkin in news@Nature.com:

Most people tend to think of the tropics as the hottest scene on the planet when it comes to spawning new life. But Canadian zoologists have found that it is actually the world’s temperate zones where new species evolve and become extinct the fastest.

The discovery by Jason Weir and Dolph Schluter of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver threatens to overturn the theory that because tropical regions contain the greatest overall species diversity, that they must also have the fastest rates of ‘speciation’ — the emergence of new species.

“Our findings contradict the conventional view by suggesting that temperate zones, and not the tropics, are the hotbeds of speciation,” says Weir.

Khawaja on Posner’s Not a Suicide Pact

In Democratiya, Irfan Khawaja reviews Richard Posner’s Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency.

According to Posner, rights are ‘created’ by engaging in a pragmatic cost-benefit analysis and tying this analysis in a very loose way to the generalities we find in the Constitution. In other words, when it comes to national emergencies like the current one, pragmatism requires us to ‘balance’ the interests of liberty against those of security, choose an arrangement that gets us the optimal amount of both, and find a (rough) textual rationale for doing so. ‘Ideally,’ he writes,

in the case of a right (for example the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures) that could be asserted against government measures for protecting national security, one would like to locate the point at which a slight expansion in the scope of the right would subtract more from public safety than it would add to personal liberty and a slight contraction would subtract more from personal liberty than it would add to public safety. That is the point of balance, and it determines the optimal scope of the right. (p. 31)

Unfortunately (Posner continues) American judges, with the connivance of civil libertarian ideologues, have pushed things away from the ‘point of balance,’ that is, too far in the direction of personal liberty and too far away from the requirements of national security. Though problematic enough in the case of ordinary crime, in the case of Islamist terrorism, this ‘rights fetish’ (p. 150) imperils our very existence. The time has therefore come to push things in the reverse direction (albeit only as regards Islamist terrorism). To this end, Posner argues, we should reinterpret the principle of habeas corpus to allow for the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists (p. 56); reinterpret the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution so as to deny its applicability to suspected terrorists (pp. 88-91); allow torture for purposes of intelligence-related information gathering (pp. 86-87); allow unlimited electronic surveillance (and perhaps physical searches) without warrants or probable cause (pp. 99-101); and reinterpret the First Amendment so as to allow for the censorship of ‘hate speech’ by and against Muslims (p. 124).

To some, Posner’s recommendations will sound like a sober resolution of the problem with which I opened this review. To others, the same recommendations will sound like an outright apology for dictatorship. I incline toward the latter interpretation. Despite the sobriety and sincerity of his prose, Posner’s book amounts in the end to a wild and incoherent defense of dictatorship. His arguments are premised on tacit claims he does not defend, and explicit claims he cannot defend. Once we consider and reject these claims, there turns out to be little left of the book.

On von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others

Michael Wood in the LRB:

When I left the cinema I had a title of Flannery O’Connor’s running in my head: A Good Man Is Hard to Find. But there is another title that provides a much better clue to the moral preoccupations of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s first full-length film, The Lives of Others: Brecht’s Good Person of Szechuan. It was Brecht, too, who in response to the distribution of a leaflet announcing (in 1953) that the people of the DDR had ‘forfeited the confidence of the government’ wondered with mock innocence:

Would it not be easier

In that case for the government

To dissolve the people

And elect another?

‘You are a good person,’ an actress says to a Stasi captain in the film: ‘Sie sind ein guter Mensch.’ She doesn’t at this moment know he is the melancholy master of surveillance who is tracking every detail of her and her partner’s life. Is he a good person? Why is he spying on them? Have they done something to arouse the suspicion of the authorities? No, but they will. They do, or one of them does. Did we imagine the secret police of the DDR pursued people for nothing?

The Stasi captain, Gerd Wiesler, wonderfully played by Ulrich Mühe, who looks like a depressed and introverted Michel Piccoli, asks this last question near the beginning of the movie. It is in turn one of the standard, sardonic lines of Hitler’s SS, and has what is no doubt its secret sharer in the opening of Kafka’s The Trial. But Wiesler is not being sardonic, he is being sadly sincere. He knows the guilty often look innocent, but he’s not fooled. He knows that guilty people repeat their stories of innocence verbatim, and that innocent people get angry at their interrogation, while guilty people go quiet. We see him grilling a suspect on the basis of these principles, and we see him teaching his expertise at the Stasi college. The students are disturbed, but impressed. The time is 1985.

Debating The Economist

For those of you who haven’t be following, the blogosphere discussion/debate about the virtues and vices of the Economist has been drawing more and more voices into its ambit. (Donning the persona of Rudolph Hilferding, a younger Rudolph Hilferding, I suppose, I asked on a post on the Economist over at Crooked Timber, what else would we expect from the unofficial mouthpiece of international finance capital. As long as we remember its biases in full, meaning what it is likely to do to set up a story, what assumptions it makes, what relevant factors it will not consider, and filter them, the magazine is not a bad one. It’s not as good as it can be and, as DeLong rightly suggests, certainly not as good as the FT.)

Tom Scocca’s advice to Time that it not try to emulate the Economist and, especially, Henry Farrell’s spot on description of its tone seems to have started the discussion. Scocca:

The Economist is less provocative than it is aggressively boring: “The last time he ran for president John McCain spent months rolling around New Hampshire in a bus, the Straight Talk Express.” “In the absence of reliable, up-to-date information, markets go awry.” The layout is even duller—thick columns of type wrapping from page to page, like a cross between the old New Republic and the telephone book. The back page is filled with currency tables (for those who would convert the 16 different cover prices longhand). The only nod to magazine aesthetics is the sheen of the paper stock.

Stupefaction is its own form of power. “When a Garuda Indonesia airliner crashed and burst into flames at Yogyakarta airport in central Java on March 7th it naturally saddened the nation.”

Taken seriously, the content becomes inscrutable. A dispatch about Cote d’Ivoire declares that a peace agreement had settled the “vital” issue of “identification”: “Millions of Ivorians do not have identity papers, so northerners like [rebel leader Guillaume] Soro and his fighters have been obstructed from getting the Ivorian citizenship that is rightfully theirs.” Are identity papers the same thing as citizenship? How did millions of people come to be without them? The story, unperturbed, moves on, like a scene from a commuter-train window.

The audience for this is not people who care about the world, but people who believe it is important to care about the world. When other magazines say they want to be like The Economist, they do not mean they wish to be serious. They mean they wish, by whatever means, to be taken seriously.

If you think that’s harsh, here’s DeLong:

As a longtime reader of the Economist, let me just say that in the past six years I have come to the conclusion that in five important issue areas–U.S. politics, U.S. economics, finance (U.S. and global), Middle Eastern politics, and African politics–anything the Economist states that I did not already know is likely to be wrong. That’s a terrible thing to have happened.

But I think Henry Farrell’s resurrection of James Fallows on the Economist is what has really gotten people going, especially of this description by Fallows:

The other ugly English trait promoting The Economist’s success in America is the Oxford Union argumentative style. At its epitome, it involves a stance so cocksure of its rightness and superiority that it would be a shame to freight it with mere fact.

American debate contests involve grinding, yearlong concentration on one doughy issue, like arms control. The forte of Oxford-style debate is to be able to sound certain and convincing about a topic pulled out of the air a few minutes before, such as “Resolved: That women are not the fairer sex.” (The BBC radio shows “My Word” and “My Music,” carried on National Public Radio, give a sample of the desired impromptu glibness.)

Economist leaders and the covers that trumpet their message offer Americans a blast of this style. Michael Kinsley, who once worked at The Economist, wrote that the standard Economist leader gives you the feeling that the writer started out knowing that three steps must be taken immediately — and then tried to think what the steps should be.

In response to that Economist staffer Lane Greene answers back:

I’ll resist the urge to answer most of the criticisms here; the only one I’ll respond to is our oft-cited condescension and snobbishness. What bothers me about this is the assumption that a million readers are idiots, or are masochists who enjoy being condescended to by a bunch of upper-class English twits. Who is really condescending here? Us, or James Fallows, Henry Farrell and Tom Scocca, who are think that we’ve somehow snookered these million fools with nothing more than a bit of Oxford-Union sneer? If you think our readers are stupid, that is your right. We rather respect and like them.

But it is Henry Farrell’s response to this which I think gets to the heart of the matter (the whole comments describes one case that illustrates how the Economist journalistically falls short).

(There’s also a discussion over at the Economist’s own blog.)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream in seven languages

From Guardian Unlimited:

Midsummer2460 Despite the difficulty of following a play in seven different languages, the critics have fallen in love with Tim Supple’s visually spectacular production. Acted out by a Sri Lankan and Indian cast and featuring no fewer than seven different languages, Tim Supple’s sensational and sexy version of the play incorporates song, dance and acrobatics.

Designer Sumant Jayakrishnan was widely praised and it was generally agreed that the moment when the fairies entered the stage stole the show. Charles Spencer of the Telegraph claimed it was “one of the greatest – and simplest – stage effects I have ever seen”. He was so enthused by the entire performance that he “left the theatre wanting to catch the next flight to Bombay to rekindle my own dormant love affair with the subcontinent”.

More here.

Muslim Toast

From Me and my big mouth:

Unimagined_2 I distinctly remember tackling the first few pages of The Path Unimagined over a cup of tea in my office at Waterstone’s.  An hour later my tea was cold and I was nearly half-way through the book.  When the time came to trot off to the boardroom for a meeting, I found it painful to have to put it down.  It was remarkable: funny, moving, intelligent, beautifully observed.  The amiable confessional style along with short pithy chapters with titles such as Jesus, Spam, Muhammad, Wogs and Spock, reminded me of Nigel Slater’s excellent memoir Toast.  Only with added Islam.  This was an excellent book and I was convinced it could be huge.  But not with a cover like that it wouldn’t.

Here is a small sample to give you an idea of the style and subtle humour:

I came second in the Karachi ‘Bonnie Baby’ contest.  I was wearing a black suit, white shirt and dark tie.  Smartly dressed, suave and handsome, I looked like James Bond, although I was too young to have seen either of his movies.  I was also somewhat unsteady on my feet.  People were particularly impressed by my light skin.

First prize went to the child of the organiser.  The judges were her friends.  This is absolutely typical of third-world, banana-republic unfairness. In the West, the organiser’s child would not be allowed to enter the contest.  I was denied the title of ‘Karachi’s Bonniest Baby’ by blatant nepotism.  I began my lifelong struggle against corruption and injustice.

More here.

gory details

Illo1 Susan Lumenello in Harvard Magazine:

Vita: Edward Gorey
Brief life of an artful author: 1925-2000

Although he died almost seven years ago, Edward Gorey ’50 has just brought out a new book. Amphigorey Again, the fourth anthology of Gorey’s weird and wondrous tales, presents works previously unpublished and uncollected, including the saga of an admonitory hippopotamus and a meditation on the letter Z. Bad things happen to placid people.

To those with an absurdist sense of humor and fondness for the fine line, Gorey is the beloved author and illustrator of such neo-Edwardian tales as The Doubtful Guest, The Curious Sofa, and The Loathsome Couple. To television viewers, he’s the creator of the animation that opens Mystery on PBS. To theatergoers, he’s the Tony Award-winning costumer of Dracula. And to his Harvard classmates—before fame, success, and cult notoriety—Gorey was a campus dandy with a high-speed brain and large-size appetite for art, literature, and music. Born and raised in Chicago, he came to Cambridge, in that first post-World War II year, after a stint as a clerk at Utah’s Dugway Proving Ground, where the army tested poison gas.

If the military left any impact on young Gorey, it didn’t show. He arrived sporting a full-length sheepskin-lined coat, sneakers, and thick rings on his long fingers. His hair was combed forward, Roman style. A typical freshman he was not.

Drawing courtesy of the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust.

More here.

keep on laughing

Katharine Dunn in Harvard Magazine:

Hostile Takeover
Laugh for Your Lungs’ Sake

Stress headaches, stress fractures, and stress-induced heart attacks already register with the general public. Now new research suggests that the lungs are vulnerable to the effects of stress as well.

“[Poor] lung function is very much a Cinderella disorder,” says Rosalind Wright, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard and a pulmonologist at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. The lungs have been neglected in part, she says, because there’s no clear-cut event like a heart attack to show evidence of their decline. But Wright and her colleagues, drawing on new data, say doctors need to pay more attention to pulmonary function and talk about it with at-risk patients. Recently, in the journal Thorax, they published one of the first studies to show that hostility is a risk factor for poor lung function among older men.

After controlling for factors like smoking, weight, and education level, the researchers found that men who were more hostile at the outset of the study suffered a more rapid rate of decline in their lung function than others. Moreover, the study found that damage to lung function from hostility was comparable to the amount of damage done by cigarettes, an effect even the investigators were surprised to see. That means, says Wright, that doctors can say to patients, “Just as breathing in tobacco smoke can hurt your lungs and lead to ill health, harboring hostility may be harmful.”

The Thorax paper doesn’t specify the ailments that may result from weakened lung function, though there is evidence that a rapid decline on the order of those recorded in the study’s most hostile subjects can lead to lung disease, heart disease, and even early death. The study’s strength, Wright says, is that it uses an interdisciplinary approach involving psychology and medicine, and relies on objective measures of both hostility and lung function.

More here.

mugabe unhinged

Mugabered

“We Africans should hang our heads in shame,” said Dr Tutu of the largely lukewarm response from African leaders, who have hitherto given Mr Mugabe a lifeline despite his ever escalating human rights abuses. Dr Tutu, who together with Nelson Mandela is widely regarded as South Africa’s moral conscience, asked in a statement yesterday. “How can what is happening in Zimbabwe elicit hardly a word of concern let alone condemnation from us leaders of Africa?” The bishop, who once described Mr Mugabe as either “mentally deranged” or “a cartoon figure of an archetypal African dictator,” said all leaders in Africa should condemn the Zimbabwe government. Dr Tutu seemed to have been particularly angered by the South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has not commented on this week’s turmoil in Zimbabwe.

more from The Independent here.

the most terrifying text of the 20th century

Auschwitzbig

Borowski is among the important but little known writers to have bestowed an almost metaphysical dimension on Auschwitz. Although his oeuvre offers no contribution to the debate on “theology after Auschwitz”, it does help the reader to comprehend the unbelievable and the monstrous in the lives and deaths of Homo auschwitziensis, even if only to a limited extent. Borowski’s stories are characterized by great precision. He refrains entirely from moral value judgements, and there is not the slightest hint of empathy, making the book’s brutal, horrific passages a torture to read. Is this nihilistic indifference, this lack of empathy feigned? Was it the author’s provocative literary means of awakening empathy in the reader?

more from Sign and Sight here.

Donald Knuth writes to Condi Rice

From Don Knuth’s Stanford University website:

DonDear Condi,

I’m 99.99% sure that my writing this letter will have no effect, but my conscience tells me to write it anyway. Danziger’s cartoon has pushed me out of my lethargy.

[His cartoon shows her banging on a grand piano, saying “War! War! War!”]

When I knew you at Stanford I had the greatest admiration for your abilities and good sense. (And I was disappointed that we never were able to get together to play four-hands music.) But now I cannot help but express to you my chagrin that the warm feelings I once had have basically evaporated. I hope you can pause to try to understand why this might be the case.

Fundamentally I don’t see how the government of my country has done anything whatsoever to address and correct the root causes of international terrorism. Quite the contrary; every action I can see seems almost designed to have the opposite effect — as if orchestrated to maximize the finances of those who make armaments, by maximizing the number of people who now hate me personally for actions that I do not personally condone. How can I be a proud citizen of a country that unilaterally pulls out of widely accepted treaties, that refuses to accept a world court, that flouts fair trade with shameful policies regarding steel and agriculture, and that almost blindly supports Israel’s increasingly unjustifiable occupation?

And worst of all, I find that my leaders, including you, are calling for war against a sovereign nation that we suspect to be corrupt, thereby (even if our suspicions are correct) undermining all precedents against unilateral action by other countries who might in future decide that our own policies are wrong. If we peremptorily strike country X, why shouldn’t country X have a right to do the same to us, and to our children and grandchildren in future years?

On my trips to Europe all I can do is hope that my friends there can help their governments try to make somebody in my own government act responsibly.

Sincerely, Don Knuth

P.S. This is the second time in my life that I have written a letter to a U.S. government official. The first time was during the Vietnam war.

poverty as a series of perceptual categories

Voll190

How does traveling the world asking poor people why they think they’re poor differ from traveling the world asking people in pain why they’re in pain or thirsty people why they thirst? Is this a serious, legitimate inquiry, or does it betray a certain faux-autism that might be better suited to performance art? These are two of my questions for William T. Vollmann, the prolific, award-winning novelist and journalist whose new book, “Poor People,” centers on just such a Pyrrhic, postmodern project: asking the unfathomable of the unfortunate and using their numbed, predictable responses as proof of their plight’s intractable mystery.

Vollmann opens his study of poverty by describing all the things he won’t do and setting forth his reasons for not doing them. For starters, because he considers himself “rich” and doesn’t wish to playact or condescend, he informs us he won’t follow the example of George Orwell in “Down and Out in Paris and London” and try to walk a mile in poor folks’ shoes. Nor will he emulate James Agee’s text in “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” (a book he regards as an “elitist expression of egalitarian longings”) and tug at the heartstrings of the privileged while elevating the poor to sainthood.

more from the NY Times Book Review here.

Mark Twain’s passion for $$$

Caroline Valetkevitch at Reuters:

Screenhunter_02_mar_17_1217Mark Twain is best known for novels such as “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and his witty commentary on late 19th Century and early 20th Century life.

But a new book about the “father of American literature” contends that his greater interest lay in the speculation, invention and money-making schemes that took him and his fortunes on a roller-coaster ride throughout his life.

In “Ignorance, Confidence and Filthy-Rich Friends,” author Peter Krass takes his readers on a tour of these business adventures and concludes that the man of letters was “motivated by a relentless desire to accumulate great wealth.”

According to Krass, Mark Twain was an inveterate gambler and speculator and even set aside work on his future masterpiece, Huckleberry Finn, to devote time to inventing a children’s trivia game that he thought would make money.

More here.

underground art co-operative?

Craig Lambert in Harvard Magazine:

Tank1The blip festival may be unfamiliar to you, but for lovers of “low-bit music,” it’s the world’s premier event. Late last year, 1,200 low-bit aficionados converged on Manhattan from locales as remote as Japan, Mexico, and the Netherlands for four days to share their works, which they create using obsolete home computers and older video game consoles like Nintendos and Segas. Such devices can produce “sounds you’d never expect to hear,” says Randy Bell ’00, a co-founder of The Tank, the versatile avant-garde New York performance space that hosted the festival.

Tank shows include film and video, mixed media, music, theater, comedy (stand-up, improv, and sketch), dance, and public affairs (like political blogger panels), for starters. Located in downtown Manhattan, The Tank (www.thetanknyc.org) is “a place where the next generation can go for their avant-garde, alternative, and underground entertainments,” says a second co-founder, Justin Krebs ’00. The place does have a resolutely downtown attitude—as well as T-shirts, tote bags, and, naturally, tank tops—and has done so many remarkable things in its three years that the mainstream has taken notice, with salutes like an unsolicited $10,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation and funding from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. The Tank’s stature as an “absurdly irreverent, unconventional space,” as Bell puts it, is drawing attention.

Eight young artists and activists, including Bell and Krebs, all age 24 or 25, launched The Tank in May 2003 in New York’s theater district. It moved through three midtown spaces before settling into its Tribeca location, at 279 Church Street, a year ago: “This is the first time in our existence that we’re not looking for a home,” Krebs reports. The Tank stages 25 to 30 events a month and is staffed entirely by volunteers, with the exception of its full-time managing director, Mike Rosenthal. “One of the smartest things a volunteer-run organization ever did,” says Krebs, “was to hire somebody.”

(The photograph shows the band We Are Scientists at The Tank).

More here.

Memory workouts beat other computer games in study

From Scientific American:Memory

Training the brain with a computer workout program may be better than classic computer games at staving off age-related mental decline, scientists reported on Friday. While the computer and video game store has long been the bastion of teenagers and hard-core gamers, a host of new games for older folk have made their way into the stores.

The games, from companies like Nintendo and Mattel Inc., are based on studies showing that with a little training, older people can improve their brain power.Researchers in Israel compared how one brain-training program, MindFit, fared versus a workout with a sampling of classic computer games, such as the puzzle game Tetris.

Both groups benefited, but the group using the MindFit program showed a statistically significant improvement in spatial short-term memory, spatial learning and focused attention.

More here.

Girls Will Be Boys

From The New York Times:

Man_2 Michael Dillon wanted nothing more than to be invisible, to be one of the guys. Problem: he was born with a woman’s body. Everything he did toward realizing his humble dream — the cross-dressing, the hormones and surgeries and the chimera that resulted — pushed it further from his grasp. He went through life as the most visible sort of human being: a physical anomaly. He was the first person on record to undergo surgery (13 operations between 1946 and 1949) to change his gender.

Dillon’s story, as Kennedy tells it, is itself a chimera: part biography, part medical history. Here the surgery is seamless, the hybrid better than the sum of its parts. “The First Man-Made Man” is oddly mesmerizing, as close to Shakespearean tragedy as you can come with the words “tube pedicle” and “mast of cartilage” in your book. It’s Romiette and Julio.

Dillon fell in love but once in his life. In 1950, he met Roberta Cowell, the only woman who might understand and even love him. Alas, Roberta didn’t love Michael Dillon. She led him on, because, well, she needed him to remove her testicles. Owing to an obscure bit of British law, the physical mutilation of a man who would otherwise be fit for military service was then illegal.

More here.