Darwin’s Living Legacy–Evolutionary Theory 150 Years Later

From Scientific American:

Darwins-living-legacy_1 When the 26-year-old Charles Darwin sailed into the Galápagos Islands in 1835 onboard the HMS Beagle, he took little notice of a collection of birds that are now intimately associated with his name. The naturalist, in fact, misclassified as grosbeaks some of the birds that are now known as Darwin’s finches. After Darwin returned to England, ornithologist and artist John Gould began to make illustrations of a group of preserved bird specimens brought back in the Beagle’s hold, and the artist recognized them all to be different species of finches. From Gould’s work, Darwin, the self-taught naturalist, came to understand how the finches’ beak size must have changed over the generations to accommodate differences in the size of seeds or insects consumed on the various islands. “Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends,” he noted in The Voyage of The Beagle, published after his return in 1839.

Twenty years later Darwin would translate his understanding of finch adaptation to conditions on different islands into a fully formed theory of evolution, one emphasizing the power of natural selection to ensure that more favorable traits endure in successive generations. Darwin’s theory, core features of which have withstood critical scrutiny from scientific and religious critics, constituted only the starting point for an endlessly rich set of research questions that continue to inspire present-day scientists. Biologists are still seeking experimental results that address how natural selection proceeds at the molecular level—and how it affects the development of new species.

More here.

Interpretations: Blood Studies

by Anjuli Raza Kolb

For me, moving into adulthood was and continues to be a series of amplifying revulsions as I find out more and more about what goes on in grown-ups’ secret lives. If this sounds peevish and stufepyingly lacking in empathy, it is. But I think it’s the reason that I am especially moved by stories that shuttle us to the outermost limits of what is morally and viscerally incorporable—can I love this person who likes Radiohead (no)? Can I love this person who is deceiving his affianced (yes)? Can I love this person who eats in this fashion, tongue preceding lips and teeth? Whose eyes change color? Who scales ice-cold hospital walls in an unseasonably light nightie with bare feet? Who, in sleepless hungry nights, kills middle-aged men to guzzle their blood and in the ensuing froth might be incapable of not also drinking me dry? Yes please.


Horror stories, and vampire tales in particular, are almost always read according to a series of circulating paranoias that range from the intensely personal to the anxious social. Disquiet about chastity, virginity, invasion of the domestic space, and contagion occupy the more intimate chambers of such paranoias. Xenophobia is one of the most obvious of the latter, more social agitations. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the paradigm for such interpretations, obsessively detailing cultural and psychological difference through letters, physicians’ diaries, shipping bills, and journals. In what is perhaps the imprisoned solicitor Jonathan Harker’s most uncanny discovery in Castle Dracula, he learns that the Count is applying himself rigorously to the study of English culture and idiom, revealing not only the monster’s focus and drive, but also the promise of an unidentifiable and dangerous assimilation about to take place—an intimate and secret invasion that activates all the more personal, antigenic panics on the other end of the spectrum.

What’s interesting to me about vampire stories is how they cut two paths around a particularly feminine adolescent narcissism with which I am uncomfortably familiar. On the front side, they model a generosity of spirit and a maternal instinct that allows especially sensitive, brainy, outsidery beauties to fantasize about what amounts to gestating and/or breast-feeding (neck-feeding? blood-nursing? lactation station at the blood bank?) anemic boys at the expense of their own strength. Like Bram Stoker’s Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra, and more recently Stephanie Meyer’s Isabella Swan from the Twilight series, these often-female subjects, defined by their independence and smarts, find themselves moved by the idea of becoming providers, life-lines. The failers-to-thrive they thusly nurse or dream of nursing—and herein lies the seduction for at least a century’s worth of voracious female readers—are paradoxically capable of puncturing the taut skin of their defenses, at throat and hotly thither.

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At the back, there’s the promise that whatever ontological distance exists between two people can, if necessity or passion should force our hand, be eliminated by the quick and dirty trick of sharing a blood supply. In other words, a more thanatophilic version of my favorite flea from John Donne’s Songs and Sonnets who unites the speaker’s blood with his reluctant lover’s in its promiscuous gut to render them “more than married.” This sanguine exchange is, I think, equally heady to both vampire and victim because for each it can expeditiously turn the other into a version of the self, or at least a separate being infected with the self. Victims become vampires, and vampires make the blood of their prey circulate through their own veins becoming fully inhabited, at least until the next meal—a solution to solitude not entirely different from the tried and true umbilical connection between mother and foetus.

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Paris, Paranoia, the CIA, Humes

by Bryant Urstadt

ScreenHunter_16 Dec. 27 19.16 Here’s Harold L. Humes again, back from the dead this time, rising from the boiling mists of time like The Swamp Thing, dripping muddy secrets and forgotten brilliance and true madness. Nothing new about that, in a way. He was always showing up with his own invite, overstaying a welcome he had extended to himself. His appearance in a PBS documentary making the rounds of local public stations this winter is among the least strange of his drop-ins.

He appeared at James Jones’ funeral in 1978, with a boulder in the back of his station wagon, which required three men to unload. Jones was the author of From Here to Eternity, just the kind of bright literary lamp Humes would introduce himself to when he was alive. The boulder is still on the lawn in Bridgehampton. Fine, but… Humes had never met Jones.

He showed up at Random House in the mid-Fifties with a stellar novel, just moved in with his manuscript and his toothbrush and his motorcycle, which he wheeled into the lobby of the office of founder Bennett Cerf, when Random was located in the more motorcycle-friendly Villard Mansion, just behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Madison Avenue.

“You didn’t just meet Humes,” remembers Random House editor Bob Loomis, who edited Humes’ second novel, Men Die.


Loomis, now 80, is the embodiment of the legend of Random, having worked with everyone from William Styron to Toni Morrison, and he lobbied hard within Random to allow for last springs’ reissue of Men Die and Humes’ longer, better novel The Underground City. “He kind of entered your life. He used to sleep in our offices. He helped me move. He just became part of your day.”

Humes swept into the cafes of Paris in the late forties and early fifties, inserting himself into a crowd that included Irwin Shaw, James Baldwin, and everyone else, it sometimes seemed, who would otherwise have been living in Greenwich Village. Humes was at Le Dome in Paris one night in 1951, probably wearing the black velvet cape and carrying the silver-handled cane for which he became known in those days, tapping a 24-year-old Peter Matthiessen on the shoulder and introducing himself, and soon after teaming up with him to start Paris Review.

And now Humes, dead for 16 years, crashes 2008, his books up for reevaluation after forty years in the cooler of history; the subject of Doc, the documentary by daughter Immy Humes; and shedding awkward news about Matthiessen, who used Humes and their Paris Review as a front for his work with the CIA. (It was deeper than that, of course; in a way, it can be argued that Matthiessen was using the CIA as a front for living as a novelist in Paris.) Humes now is a weird Banquo pounding the literary table, asking us to listen, listen, to the story of his life, his work, and the birth of one of the country’s most important literary magazines.

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What shall the meek inherit? The case of Guinea

Guinea “The natives are restless” — I used to get indignant when I heard that paternalistic, sometimes cynical phrase. Now I try to smile. For one, I hear it a lot in my line of work, and it gets tiresome to always think ill of someone whose diction deceives her intentions. But mostly I smile because I want the cliché to mean something else, a portent for positive change, the end of calamitous rule, a new era for the meek. So when the meek turn restless, it should mean that justice is around the corner.

With last week's passing of Guinea's senile dictator, Lansana Conté, and the military coup that followed, the country is marking no deviation from a well-rehearsed choreography, enacted repeatedly since independence from the French in 1958. The dance moves are economical, simple for new generations of political elites to learn.

A leader emerges, accedes power bolstered by populist rhetoric, buys off the military, installs single-party rule. Cronyism flourishes, rule of law evaporates, the military shores up the trappings of statehood. Decades pass; the population languishes. Leader then dies, military resumes control until a new leader-puppet is found. For nine million Guineans, the spectacle and squalor continue.

Conté down for the count

Conté belonged to a dwindling species of wizened and paranoid leaders-for-life, whose ranks include Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Omar Bongo of Gabon. Once hailed as liberators and visionaries, they became pathetic parables of 'absolute power corrupting absolutely'. The psychological path from flamboyant liberator to murderous despot is dramatic stuff, and was ably fictionalized in The Last King of Scotland. An excellent non-fiction account of Mobutu Sese Seko’s rise and fall is Mobutu, Roi du Zaire, by Thierry Michel.

Not so for Conté. A diabetic chain-smoker who rarely appeared in public, Conté was a garden-variety despot whose life and career will be quickly forgotten, even by Guineans. In the murky hours after Conté’s death, a military junta declared power. Western powers demanded an immediate return to civilian rule; a rote bit of finger wagging that has surely never produced a single result.

Alluding to the high propensity for carnage in this West African neighborhood, Senegalese President Wade recently appealed for acceptance of Guinea’s new military junta. Although highly predatory and wholly opportunistic, the Guinean national military arguably prevented the country from sliding into the chaos of its neighbors, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, for whom Guinea served for years as a place of refuge.

The intent of Wade’s appeal is ambiguous. Another leader-for-life in the making and no friend of opposition parties or the free press, Wade's point may be that civilian rule and democracy are over-rated, and that in such places security is primordial. He may also be a proponent of 'negative solidarity', as my Burundian friends call it, between African leaders who defend one another till the bitter end. Witness the deafening silence from African leaders regarding Mugabe.

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The Jennifer Aniston in All of Us

by Jeff Strabone

Ja cropped

It would be easy to laugh off Jennifer Aniston's problems. She's rich, famous, and able to have her pick of nearly all the men of the world and all the scripts of Hollywood. And what she's famous for is being funny. Her television sitcom ran for ten years, her movie comedies are big money-makers, and, for what it's worth, there was even a hairstyle named after one of her characters. But something about her disturbs me deeply. To put it simply, Jennifer Aniston represents one of the worst traits of the human race: the inability to forget.

Kierkegaard and Nietzsche wrote important statements on forgetting, but I prefer the simplicity of Rodgers and Hart's 1935 classic 'It's Easy to Remember'. Imagine it in Frank Sinatra's 1957 recording on his Close to You LP, arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle:

Your sweet expression,
The smile you gave me,
The way you looked when we met,
It's easy to remember, but so hard to forget.

I hear you whisper,
'I'll always love you.'
I know it's over and yet,
It's easy to remember, but so hard to forget.

It is hard to forget, and all the more so when we fight it. Who wants to forget the way a lover's skin tastes, or the sounds she made, once the relationship ends and those sensations are no longer possible? Perhaps one reason we resist forgetting lovers, the special ones at least, is that we come to believe that we were better people with that person than we could be otherwise. It's not so much about losing them as it is about losing all that we were when we loved them. Without that special object of our affection, we fear lapsing into a heap of selfishness again.

But what if we had stayed together? Wouldn't we change anyway? Wouldn't we eventually forget, to paraphrase another great song from the 30's, why we ever tolerated the way he held his knife or the way she insisted on dancing 'til three? Love, unlike television, should not go out on a high note. When it does, it creates the illusion that one's bliss would have known no vicissitudes and that it can never be matched. Only by forgetting can we make ourselves available to what may come next and what, however inconceivable, may be even better.

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In Another city another me is writing; Another thought is unwinding

by Daniel Rourke

In Another city another me is writing; Another thought is unwinding.

When we think of minds we think of intentions. Intentions that lie behind acts, acts that unfold at the recourse of agents: agents with minds. In short, when we look out at the world we see objects that are acted upon and entities that do the acting. This clear cut distinction between the 'done upon' and the 'doer' appears stable, but it hides one of the mightiest constraints of our world view. A logical stand-off that threatens to undermine the logical systems upon which it is based.

In Another city all matter pulses like a living organ, where time imposes significance upon the most dilapidated dwelling or murky gutter.

Take this article, for example. It is an unwinding spring of phonic sounds, encoded into a series of arbitrary symbols, stretching from left to right within an imaginary frame projected onto the surface of your computer screen. Here lies the perfect example of an artefact with intention behind it. A series of artefacts in fact, positioned by my mind and placed within a certain context (i.e. 3QD: a fascinating and widely read blog). As a collection, as an article, its intention is easy to distinguish. I wanted to say something, so I wrote an article, which I hoped would be read by a certain audience. But what of the intention of each individual object within the whole? What was the original intention of the letter 'A' for example? Do we decide that the intention is connected to all speakers of the English language, perhaps? Or maybe all literate members of the human race? Or maybe the human race as a whole?

Another city begins at the out-stretched tip of a human finger and ends as artefacts gathered from the dust. It is a spider-web, a precious ball of dung, a bare and crimson backside glinting in the jungle sun.

It would be short-sighted to claim that the letter 'A' is intention-less. At some point the shape of the letter 'A' was attached to the phonic value for the sound 'ay'. At some point the letter 'A' was placed at the front of a 26 letter string of arbitrary symbols. A separate, but connected artefact, later to be called 'The Alphabet'. There was intention behind these acts, and these acts were perpetrated by people or persons who – we hope – believed that their decisive acts mattered. The difference between my artifact – the one you now find yourself reading – and the letter 'A' is one of time, distance and – most importantly – appropriation. The alphabet is omnipresent, it is everyone's. It has become disconnected from the very idea of mind and intention. We have appropriated it into our sense of what being human is; into the scaffolding of our reality. Of course we still have to learn how to read, whether it be with the Western syllabic alphabet or the Chinese pictographic/logographic system. But we treat our writing system as an extension of language, of ourselves, and we do this quite naturally. For not one second do we question the intention behind the alphabet, even less so the letter 'A'.

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The Leftist and The Leader

Benazir1 127985 TariqAli12

Benazir_Bhutto_10 TariqAli7 TariqAli10

An imagined conversation between Tariq Ali and Benazir Bhutto.

By Maniza Naqvi

Act I: The Leftist and the Leader:

Scene/Stage: There is a screen at the back of the stage which plays the clip, of General Zia-ul-Haq, declaring Martial Law, on July 5, 1977.

When the speech ends, two spot lights have searched, found and trained themselves on two people on the stage. Two actors playing Tariq Ali and Benazir Bhutto stand a couple of feet apart from each other. They are a young Tariq Ali, in jeans and a young Benazir Bhutto also in jeans. Tariq Ali, stands, legs apart, and grabs his head in anger and frustration. Benazir crouches—holds her head and then reaches out her arms as though reaching for someone in grief and pain.

TA: Arghhhhhhhhhhh

BB: ———Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh.

Stage darkens.

Lights go up. In the middle of the stage, there are two podiums at a short distance from one another. Tariq Ali stands at one and Benazir at the other. Benazir wears a white dupatta covering her head –and a green colored shalwar-kameez. Tariq Ali is dressed the same way as before, in jeans. They have their backs to the audience and they face two screens at the back of the stage. In the foreground there is a single chair.

The screen in front of Benazir shows one of her typical political rallies. There are massive jubilant crowds of people waving banners and chanting slogans. The screen in front of Tariq Ali shows either a clip of a talk, or Tariq Ali leading the February 2003 anti war demonstrations.

There is the sound of people cheering and shouting her name. Her fists punch the air she makes movements that show that she is delivering an impassioned speech. There are cheers and slogans in both crowds. Benazir and Tariq Ali turn away from the screens and look at the audience and then turn around to face each other. They stand for a moment just looking at each other. Benazir adjusts her dupatta, in her characteristic way with both her hands. She moves forward away from the podium waving. A flash goes off-from a camera—then another and another. With each pop of the flash, the sound gets louder, till it segues into the sounds of explosions and gunshots.

Benazir4 Bhutto-1

Tariq Ali on his side of the stage instinctively ducks. Sound dies. Silence.

Benazir stands straight and still——She leaves the podium and makes her way to a chair in the foreground of the stage. Tariq Ali, shakes his head as he watches her go. He stays where he is but reaches out one arm in a futile gesture of trying to reach out to catch her. Then he stands his head bowed for a moment (a longish moment) before he looks across at her. He approaches her and stands gazing at her. She looks at him.

TA: Take that damn thing of your head, will you. Why do you wear it?

BB: (She looks at him slides it back from her head and smiles, and says in a forlorn voice): I’m afraid they won’t recognize me without it.

TA: Would you?

BB: You have the white head of hair—I have the white scarf—Moses and the Madonna.

Read more »

If Gaza falls . . .

Sara Roy in the London Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_03 Dec. 29 06.48 Israel’s siege of Gaza began on 5 November, the day after an Israeli attack inside the strip, no doubt designed finally to undermine the truce between Israel and Hamas established last June. Although both sides had violated the agreement before, this incursion was on a different scale. Hamas responded by firing rockets into Israel and the violence has not abated since then. Israel’s siege has two fundamental goals. One is to ensure that the Palestinians there are seen merely as a humanitarian problem, beggars who have no political identity and therefore can have no political claims. The second is to foist Gaza onto Egypt. That is why the Israelis tolerate the hundreds of tunnels between Gaza and Egypt around which an informal but increasingly regulated commercial sector has begun to form. The overwhelming majority of Gazans are impoverished and officially 49.1 per cent are unemployed. In fact the prospect of steady employment is rapidly disappearing for the majority of the population.

On 5 November the Israeli government sealed all the ways into and out of Gaza. Food, medicine, fuel, parts for water and sanitation systems, fertiliser, plastic sheeting, phones, paper, glue, shoes and even teacups are no longer getting through in sufficient quantities or at all. According to Oxfam only 137 trucks of food were allowed into Gaza in November. This means that an average of 4.6 trucks per day entered the strip compared to an average of 123 in October this year and 564 in December 2005.

More here.

Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption

Marcia Angell in the New York Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_02 Dec. 29 06.37 Recently Senator Charles Grassley, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has been looking into financial ties between the pharmaceutical industry and the academic physicians who largely determine the market value of prescription drugs. He hasn't had to look very hard.

Take the case of Dr. Joseph L. Biederman, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and chief of pediatric psychopharmacology at Harvard's Massachusetts General Hospital. Thanks largely to him, children as young as two years old are now being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and treated with a cocktail of powerful drugs, many of which were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for that purpose and none of which were approved for children below ten years of age.

Legally, physicians may use drugs that have already been approved for a particular purpose for any other purpose they choose, but such use should be based on good published scientific evidence. That seems not to be the case here. Biederman's own studies of the drugs he advocates to treat childhood bipolar disorder were, as The New York Times summarized the opinions of its expert sources, “so small and loosely designed that they were largely inconclusive.”

In June, Senator Grassley revealed that drug companies, including those that make drugs he advocates for childhood bipolar disorder, had paid Biederman $1.6 million in consulting and speaking fees between 2000 and 2007. Two of his colleagues received similar amounts. After the revelation, the president of the Massachusetts General Hospital and the chairman of its physician organization sent a letter to the hospital's physicians expressing not shock over the enormity of the conflicts of interest, but sympathy for the beneficiaries: “We know this is an incredibly painful time for these doctors and their families, and our hearts go out to them.”

More here. [Thanks to Tasnim Raza.]

Caveat Donor

Yudhijit Bhattacharjee in The Atlantic:

ScreenHunter_01 Dec. 29 05.55 In a country where 300 million people live on less than a dollar a day, Amit Kumar—nicknamed “Dr. Horror” by the Indian media after his arrest last winter for heading an illicit global kidney-transplant ring—had little trouble finding homegrown organ donors. One favorite hunting ground was a strip of restaurants, shops, and hovels near an Islamic shrine, or dargah, in Mahim, a predominantly Muslim precinct of Mumbai. Devotees of the dargah, which attracts people of all faiths, donate money to restaurants to help feed the beggars who cluster there. Last June, walking past one such restaurant whose kitchen extends to the sidewalk, I saw a dozen or so men huddled within scorching distance of giant cauldrons in which meat and potatoes simmered. Expressions glazed and clothing in tatters, the men watched, motionless and silent, their patience unwavering. I felt as if I were looking at a still photo.

Kumar, who’s now on trial, has told officials that he sent his agents to offer such men anywhere from $500 to $2,500 for a kidney. Elsewhere, in the fast-growing towns of states like Haryāna and Uttar Pradesh, Kumar’s ring also went after newly arrived migrant workers seeking jobs.

More here.

“Working Sisters” The everyday lives of migrant women in China’s world factories

From Harvard Magazine:

China The massive rural-to-urban labor migration that has been transforming China since the late 1980s—an estimated 130 million people—is unprecedented in that nation’s history. Unprompted by direct ecological or political factors such as famine, war, or the forced relocation of population groups under draconian state policy, migration in post-Mao China is more likely to be instead the result of structural forces (economic need and consequences of agricultural reform) that are beyond the control of individual farmers. Motivated by the search for opportunities to improve their own lives, rural people have taken the initiative, making decisions to shape their own destinies—and fostering unforeseen entrepreneurial individualism in the process. Above all, restless young village women have assumed a major role in the current population shift, establishing a brand-new identity as dagongmei (literally, “working sisters”) in the booming industrial cities in China’s coastal areas, contributing to what sociologists call the “feminization of the global workforce.”

In Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, Leslie T. Chang ’91, who spent a decade in China as a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, delivers a vivid portrayal both of the dynamics of this internal migration and of women migrants as active players in globalization and local social and economic change.

More here.

Am I Still Here? Looking for validation in a wired world

From Orion Magazine:

“We fall in love, we drink hard, we run to and fro upon the earth like frightened sheep,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. “And now you are to ask yourself if, when all is done, you would not have been better to sit by the fire at home, and be happy thinking.”
Do we like sitting by the fire?

We do.

Does it make us happy to think? It does. For a while. But pretty soon don’t we start worrying, now that we’ve stepped away from the world, that the world is slipping past without us? Don’t we wonder, when we come back, Am I still here?

Oh, the strange mix of revulsion and pleasure Z and I felt when we returned from five days under the sky in the middle of Idaho and watched the e-mail counter piling up: 21, 32, 58, 74 e-mails! Z has 74 e-mails! Z is indeed part of it all! Z was missed! Z exists!

More here.

What’s All the Flap About?

Fenella Saunders in American Scientist:

ScreenHunter_21 Dec. 28 12.37 It’s not just poetic alliteration that makes the pat phrase “a butterfly fluttered by” so appropriate. The insects, although not always that speedy, often take a flight path that involves so many erratic dips and turns that they almost look out of control. But it’s not because they can’t do any better: Such unpredictable flight is how butterflies evade birds and other predators. However, most butterflies are brightly colored, which would seem to counter their evasiveness by making them easier to spot and track. “The question always bothered me,” says Thomas Eisner, a biologist at Cornell University. “Why are butterflies flaunting their visibility?” As Eisner and Benjamin Jantzen, a doctoral candidate now at Carnegie Mellon University, report in the October 28 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a butterfly’s ability to evade and its blatant pigmentation may go hand in hand.

The first step was to find out what physical feature of butterflies allows them to move so erratically. It’s been known for about a century that the front wings in butterflies are the ones driven by the insect’s muscles; the hind wings are passively coupled to the front ones. Eisner decided to investigate just what the back wings were doing by trimming them away bit by bit. To his surprise, he found that if he removed the entire hind wing, the insects had no problem flying. Indeed, when Eisner went on to test an extensive list of butterfly and moth species, he found that without exception they were all capable of sustained flight with only their front wings. “It is pretty startling that they’re that overendowed with lifting surface,” says Jantzen.

More here.

Scientific illiteracy all the rage among the glitterati

Steve Conner in The Independent:

ScreenHunter_20 Dec. 28 12.26 When it comes to science, Barack Obama is no better than many of us. Today he joins the list of shame of those in public life who made scientifically unsupportable statements in 2008.

Closer to home, Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith faltered on the science of food, while Kate Moss, Oprah Winfrey and Demi Moore all get roastings for scientific illiteracy.

The Celebrities and Science Review 2008, prepared by the group Sense About Science, identifies some of the worst examples of scientific illiteracy among those who profess to know better – including top politicians.

Mr Obama and John McCain blundered into the MMR vaccine row during their presidential campaigns. “We've seen just a skyrocketing autism rate,” said President-elect Obama. “Some people are suspicious that it's connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it,” he said.

His words were echoed by Mr McCain. “It's indisputable that [autism] is on the rise among children, the question is what's causing it,” he said. “There's strong evidence that indicates it's got to do with a preservative in the vaccines.”

Exhaustive research has failed to substantiate any link to vaccines or any preservatives. The rise in autism is thought to be due to an increased awareness of the condition.

More here.

Waltz with Bashir

A. O. Scott in the New York Times:

“Waltz With Bashir” is a memoir, a history lesson, a combat picture, a piece of investigative journalism and an altogether amazing film.

Directed by Ari Folman, an Israeli filmmaker whose struggle to make sense of his experience as a soldier in the Lebanon war of 1982 shapes its story, “Waltz” is by no means the world’s only animated documentary, a phrase that sounds at first like a cinematic oxymoron. Movies like Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life” and Brett Morgen’s “Chicago 10” have used animation to make reality seem more vivid and more strange, producing odd and fascinating experiments.

But Mr. Folman has gone further, creating something that is not only unique but also exemplary, a work of astonishing aesthetic integrity and searing moral power.

That it is also a cartoon is not incidental to this achievement.

More here.

Oh the humanity

Robyn Creswell contemplates the provocations of Faisal Devji, whose fascinating new book upturns conventional accounts of al Qa’eda by investigating ‘the rich inner life of jihad’.

From The National:

ScreenHunter_19 Dec. 28 12.00 The field of jihadi studies, situated at the crossroads of policy-making, intelligence work, journalism and academic research, sprang up almost overnight following the attacks of September 11. It now boasts all the infrastructure that comes with the discovery of a glittering new frontier, as fascinating in its way as superstrings or Martian ice. Conferences, courses and research centres are devoted to explaining the intricacies of holy war. Amidst this mushroom patch of interlocking institutions and individuals, the work of Faisal Devji – an assistant professor at the New School for Social Research in New York – sticks out like a rare flower. Devji’s studies, which focus on the doings and sayings of al Qa’eda, are so at odds with what passes for common sense in this field that one sometimes wonders if he isn’t merely thumbing his nose at received wisdom. In his latest book, The Terrorist in Search of Humanity, he suggests that al Qa’eda has in some sense inherited the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. He also argues that the ideology of jihad is a “humanitarian” one, and that the militants of al Qa’eda are “the intellectual peers” of environmentalists and pacifists. What does he mean by such provocations?

More here.

Sunday Poem

Abuelo, Answers and Questions
Maurice Kilwein Guevara

Abuelo, why are there flies?
They're reporters for the dead, mi joven bestia.
What do they report?
If the millionarios won or lost.

I forgot.

Abuelo, who puts the scorpion in my bed when I'm asleep?
Why, is it there when you wake?
Don't worry, the dead don't sting.

How old am I?
Almost five years old.
How old are you?
Old as bones. When the moon was born,
I was already eight years old. . . .
When I was a boy, I lived on the coast of Colombia
and rode the fins of blue whales at night
from Barranquilla to Nantucket Island
and back, before dawn.

Abuelo, why do I have steel hooves?
To kick truth in the ass.
Abuelo, why do I have shiny hooves?
To dance a little cumbia. To play with mirrors.
Abuelo, why do I have hooves?
Because they run in the family.

The Lives They Lived

ScreenHunter_18 Dec. 27 19.46From the New York Times Magazine:

Philip Agee | b. 1935: Unspooked
George Carlin | b. 1937: Hard Laughs
Will Elder | b. 1921: His Mad World
Bobby Fischer | b. 1943: The Wonder Match
Steve Fossett | b. 1944: The Aviator
Edwina Froehlich | b. 1915: Founding Mothers
Charlton B. Heston | b. 1923: After Ben-Hur
Albert Hofmann | b. 1906: Day Tripper
Kathleen Kinkade | b. 1930: Commune Creator
Harry Kozol | b. 1906: Inside Her Head
John List | b. 1925: Wanted
Mildred Loving | b. 1940: The Color of Love
Harriet McBryde Johnson | b. 1957: Happy Nevertheless
Jim McKay | b. 1921: The Unexpected Anchor
Ron Rivera | b. 1948: Solution in a Pot
Tim Russert | b. 1950: Role Model
Irena Sendler | b. 1910: The Smuggler
Lew Spence | b. 1920: A Tune for His Times
Stephanie Tubbs Jones | b. 1949: A Clinton Loyalist
Levi Stubbs | b. 1936; Dee Dee Warwick | b. 1945: Soul Bearers