Jeremy Harding in the London Review of Books:
Davis’s books are great evidential engines. Planet of Slums howls with figures. Copious examples drawn from around the globe are stacked up to illustrate a single point; comparative tables drive it home. This constant production of numbers – and a seamless access between continents – offers us the world as a single, intelligible place defined by the universal laws of accumulation and deprivation. Any sense that slum cultures and slum cities might have a specific character, beyond the common lot of misery, is tenuous. No book will give readers the impression of covering greater distances, even if they will feel by the end as though they’d been cooped up in a narrow, featureless room. Homogeneity, Davis would argue, is what late capitalism does: already a billion people live in roughly the same extraordinary way in roughly similar environments. Vast, contiguous slums are the habitat of the future for even larger numbers, yet the future looks more and more like it did the day before yesterday.
And so to the figures. By 2015 there will be at least 550 cities with a population of more than one million. Already this aggregate population is growing ‘by a million babies and migrants each week’. The peak will come in 2050, when ten billion people, by then the great majority of humankind, will be living in cities: ‘95 per cent of this final build-out of humanity will occur in the urban areas of developing countries, whose populations will double to nearly four billion over the next generation.’ Even more striking than these huge projected increases and the assertion that they are ‘final’ is the accelerating rate at which they’re taking place – nowhere faster than in China.
John Lahr in The New Yorker:
Can we agree that we’re all haunted? The ghost world is part of our world. We carry within us the good and the bad, the spoken and the unspoken imperatives of our missing loved ones. As children, we are dreamed up by our parents; as adults, when our parents die we dream them up in turn. Conversations rarely stop at the grave. So, when we encounter ghosts onstage, they both terrify and compel us; within their trapped energy is an echo of our own unresolved losses. Ghosts must be banished, in order to get rid of their aggression toward the living and our aggression toward them for having left us. In the theatre, ghosts are traditionally agents either of tragic provocation (the ghost of Hamlet’s father) or of comic persecution (Elvira in Noël Coward’s “Blithe Spirit”); in Tina Landau’s clever and stimulating revival of J. M. Barrie’s 1920 play “Mary Rose” (at the Vineyard), however, the ghost turns out to be a catalyst for autobiographical repair.
Kristina Dell and Rebecca Myers in Time:
WHISKEY REBELS, 1794
Congress enacted a steep tax on spirits in 1791 to help pay down the national debt, and hard-hit small producers protested by taking to the streets in western Pennsylvania. They quickly formed a multi-state armed rebellion and President George Washington called in 13,000 troops to quell the opposition. Intent on emphasizing federalist power, the government charged the whiskey rebel leaders with treason against the U.S., although many were released due to a lack of evidence. Virginia Governor Henry Lee, on Washington’s behalf, issued a general pardon for those who had participated “in the wicked and unhappy tumults and disturbances lately existing,” even though some of the rebels had not even been indicted. Only a few men had trials and two were convicted of treason (which meant death by hanging). Eventually, Washington pardoned those who had treason convictions and indictments. It was the first pardon in American history that overturned a criminal conviction, and the first time under the young U.S. Constitution that the federal government wielded military force to quell its own citizens.
Lakiesha R. Carr in the New York Times:
When 17-year-old Mary Masterman set out to build a spectrograph, she knew it would be no easy task. The device, an instrument used to identify characteristics of different kinds of molecules, can cost thousands of dollars, and Mary was building on a budget.
“I wanted to build one that was lower costing so it would be more available to anyone interested in spectrography,” Mary said.
A senior at Westmoore High School in Oklahoma City, Mary built the spectrograph at home for $300, and her project won the top prize of a $100,000 scholarship in the Intel Science Talent Search Monday night in Washington.
From The Washington Post:
WAITING FOR DAISY By Peggy Orenstein
Unlike many women who have written about the experience of trying and failing to have a baby, Orenstein doesn’t leave her feminism at the door. She writes frankly about her initial reluctance to become a mother and traces the complicated evolution of her feelings from “no! never!” to single-minded passion. Once launched on the all-consuming path, she makes stops that will be familiar to many of her readers: joyless “fertility sex”; miscarriage after miscarriage; fertility test after fertility test; expensive, uncaring reproductive-medicine specialists; adoption near-misses; attempts at the brave new universe of surrogacy. But her voice makes all the difference in the world. Far from the anguished, often reverential, super-serious tone of Internet discussion groups is this passage on her introduction to the world of fertility medicine:
“Clomid was my gateway drug; the one you take because, Why not — everyone’s doing it. Just five tiny pills. They’ll give you a boost, maybe get you where you need to go. It’s true, some women can stop there. For others, Clomid becomes infertility’s version of Reefer Madness. First you smoke a little grass, then you’re selling your body on a street corner for crack. First you pop a little Clomid, suddenly you’re taking out a second mortgage for another round of in vitro fertilization (IVF). You’ve become hope’s bitch, willing to destroy your career, your marriage, your self-respect for another taste of its seductive high.”
We’ll be brief: Hemingway once wrote a story in just six words (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”) and is said to have called it his best work. So we asked sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writers from the realms of books, TV, movies, and games to take a shot themselves.
Dozens of our favorite auteurs put their words to paper, and five master graphic designers took them to the drawing board. Sure, Arthur C. Clarke refused to trim his (“God said, ‘Cancel Program GENESIS.’ The universe ceased to exist.”), but the rest are concise masterpieces.
Failed SAT. Lost scholarship. Invented rocket.
– William Shatner
Computer, did we bring batteries? Computer?
– Eileen Gunn
Vacuum collision. Orbits diverge. Farewell, love.
– David Brin
Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so.
– Joss Whedon
Automobile warranty expires. So does engine.
– Stan Lee
Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time
– Alan Moore
Longed for him. Got him. Shit.
– Margaret Atwood
Many more here. [Feel free to add your own as comments to this post!]
Andrew Delbanco in the New York Review of Books:
It is hardly surprising that lots of rich kids go to America’s richest colleges. It has always been so. But today’s students are richer on average than their predecessors. Between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s, in a sample of eleven prestigious colleges, the percentage of students from families in the bottom quartile of national family income remained roughly steady— around 10 percent. During the same period the percentage of students from the top quartile rose sharply, from a little more than one third to fully half. If the upscale shops and restaurants near campus are any indication, the trend has continued if not accelerated. And if the sample is broadened to include the top 150 colleges, the percentage of students from the bottom quartile drops to 3 percent. In short, there are very few poor students at America’s top colleges, and a large and growing number of rich ones.
More on lice, from Carl Zimmer in his excellent blog, The Loom:
If pubic lice are not the sort of thing you want to be seen reading about, let me give you the opportunity to close your browser window right now. But if you’re at all curious about the secret that pubic lice have been keeping for over three million years, the tale of a mysterious liaison between our ancestors and the ancestors of gorillas–read on.
Many parasites tend to stick close to their hosts. A parasitic wasp may wander through forests and fields to find a caterpillar from a single species of butterfly in which it will lay its eggs. Blood flukes taste the water of their ponds for molecules from human skin. Wolbachia, a species of bacteria, never even has to leave its hosts, because it is passed down from mothers to their offspring. If a parasite sticks to its host for millions of years, their evolution may run on parallel tracks. As the host species splits in two, its parasite splits as well.
One of the best studied cases of parasites and hosts coevolving this way comes from pocket gophers and their lice…
Carl Wunsch in American Scientist:
What happens when an immature and incomplete science meets a societal demand for information and direction? The spectacle is not pretty, as we learn from Useless Arithmetic, a new book that describes a long list of incompetent and sometimes mindless uses of fragmentary scientific ideas in the realm of public policy. The troubling anecdotes that authors Orrin H. Pilkey and Linda Pilkey-Jarvis provide cross diverse fields, including fisheries management, nuclear-waste disposal, beach erosion, climate change, ore mining, seed dispersal and disease control. Their extended examples of the misuse of science are both convincing and depressing. The book is a welcome antidote to the blind use of supposedly quantitative models, which may well represent the best one can do, but which are not yet capable of producing useful information.
In one of the last conversations I had with Isaiah Berlin before he died, I asked him which writer or thinker most closely shared his view of things. Without hesitation, he replied: “Herzen.” Berlin revered Alexander Herzen, the 19th-century Russian radical émigré, for many reasons, but it was his insistence that humans make their own lives that resonated most deeply. Just as there is no song before it is sung – a saying of Herzen’s that Berlin loved to cite – so there is no human life until it is lived. It is an idea inherited from the Romantics, and while it captures something profoundly important, it also has a certain unreality. Humans may fashion their lives, but in some of their most vital decisions they have no choice. When facing circumstances they cannot alter, they can only act in character, sometimes with tragic results, and in this sense their lives are fated to unfold as they do.
Justin Cartwright’s The Song Before It Is Sung is, among other things, a meditation on the equivocal nature of human action as played out in the relationship of Elya Mendel and Axel von Gottberg – fictional versions of Berlin and one of the conspirators in Claus von Stauffenberg’s July Plot to assassinate Hitler, Adam von Trott, who was tortured and hideously executed in August 1944.
more from The New Statesman here.
Before I meet Andy Goldsworthy, I have a wander round the retrospective of his work being constructed at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield. Goldsworthy creates moments of wonder out of local rocks and earth and trees, and this wandering prompts several questions, which I jot down in my notebook: are all farm animals abstract expressionists? Is one dry-stone waller’s work distinguishable from another’s? Just how do you suspend these three oak trees in mid-air below ground in the middle of a field? And, is sheep shit more user-friendly (for smearing on gallery windows) than cow shit?
more from The Guardian here.