Feminist friend or foe?

From The Guardian:

Friedrich-Engels Friedrich Engels condemned prostitution but enjoyed it himself; called for equality but dismissed female suffrage. Tristram Hunt on a strangely enlightened sexist

“It is absolutely essential that you get out of boring Brussels for once and come to Paris, and I for my part have a great desire to go carousing with you,” Friedrich Engels wrote to Karl Marx in 1846. “If I had an income of 5000 francs I would do nothing but work and amuse myself with women until I went to pieces. If there were no Frenchwomen, life wouldn't be worth living. But so long as there are grisettes [prostitutes], well and good!” The life of Friedrich Engels, the mill-owning Marxist, was one of supreme self-contradiction – particularly when it came to feminism. He was a socialist who condemned the use of prostitutes as “the most tangible exploitation – one directly attacking the physical body – of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie”, but then regularly enjoyed their services. He demanded female equality, but couldn't bear the company of high-minded women. Engels was the intellectual architect of socialist feminism, and an old-fashioned sexist.

More here.

Obama promises spending boost for science

From Nature:

Obama President Barack Obama bolstered his lofty promises to US scientists on Monday, saying he would push through an historic increase in research and development funding. Obama pledged to raise the country's R&D budget to 3% of the national gross domestic product from today's nearly 2.7% — an increase of roughly $46 billion annually. The government currently picks up about one third of the tab. Assuming that trend continues, public funding would need to increase by about $15 billion annually, says Rick Weiss, a spokesman for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“This represents the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history,” Obama said in a speech at the National Academy of Sciences' 146th annual meeting in Washington DC. John Marburger, science adviser to former President George W. Bush, called 3% of GDP a “healthy target” but said the trick will be getting industry on board. “The federal government can't do all of that by itself,” he says. “Remember, two-thirds of that figure is coming from the private sector, and we're in the middle of a recession.” Marburger says Obama made the right decision to propose permanently extending the research tax credit to give private companies a stable incentive to invest in research and development. Bush proposed the same thing as part of the American Competitiveness Initiative, which sought to boost funding for math, science and engineering, but it was never fully funded during Bush's tenure.

More here.

dilettantes of the world, unite!


Knapton, who was in fact an extremely accomplished painter, created a rogues’ gallery that includes milordi like John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich (the very one who first put meat between slices of bread to avoid wasting precious gambling time by sitting down to normal meals) in a Turkish turban, gazing lovingly, and not quite soberly, at a glass of wine (of course it is a beautifully blown Venetian glass). Sir Bourchier Wrey (the names of the Dilettanti are often as colorful as their outfits) dips into a porcelain punch bowl; the window behind him reveals that he, and implicitly we, are inside a ship’s cabin on a vigorously bounding main. The ceramic vessel’s rim bears the inscription “Dulce est Desipere in Loco”; “it is sweet to act like a fool in the appropriate place.” The whole composition rolls and heaves along with the ship and its tipsy toastmaster; the texture of paint evokes hot flesh, supple fabric, cool china, ripe fruit, the wine-dark sea, and a sea of golden wine. The Dilettanti not only acted like fools in the appropriate places; they could also be downright blasphemous, especially with regard to the Catholicism they had encountered in Italy. Knapton painted Sir Francis Dashwood, Lord LeDespencer, decked out as a Franciscan friar, tonsure and all, lofting a gilt chalice inscribed “MATRI SANCTORUM” (to the mother of the saints), but Dashwood’s wide eyes are fixed on what he might have called the “charms” of a classical Venus, whose hand, which should have been poised to shield her celestial nudity, has conveniently broken off.

more from the NYRB here.

baby brain


WHAT IS IT like to be a baby? For centuries, this question would have seemed absurd: behind that adorable facade was a mostly empty head. A baby, after all, is missing most of the capabilities that define the human mind, such as language and the ability to reason. Rene Descartes argued that the young child was entirely bound by sensation, hopelessly trapped in the confusing rush of the here and now. A newborn, in this sense, is just a lump of need, a bundle of reflexes that can only eat and cry. To think like a baby is to not think at all. Modern science has largely agreed, spending decades outlining all the things that babies couldn’t do because their brains had yet to develop. They were unable to focus, delay gratification, or even express their desires. The Princeton philosopher Peter Singer famously suggested that “killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all.” Now, however, scientists have begun to dramatically revise their concept of a baby’s mind.

more from the Boston Globe here.

epidemic thinking


Let me tell you the basics of risk communication, and then I want to apply them, a little bit, to bird flu. The fundamental principle of risk communication can be summarized in a number, [which] is the correlation between how much harm a risk does and how upset people get about it. If you look at a long list of risks, and you rank them in order of how upset people get [about them], then you rank them again in order of how much harm they do, then you correlate the two, you get a glorious 0.2. Those of you who remember your statistics know you can square a correlation coefficient to get the percentage of variance accounted for: If you square 0.2, you get 0.04, or 4% of the variance. That is, the risks that kill people and the risks that upset people are completely different. If you know that a risk kills people, you have no idea whether it upsets them or not. If you know it upsets them, you have no idea whether it kills them or not.

more from UPMC here (via Marginal Revolution).

Tuesday Poem

A Poem of Changgan
Li Bo

When my bangs hung about my forehead
I played by the gates, bending off flowers;

Riding on a horse of bamboo, you come
Circling the well in play, infant plums in hand:

Two children without dislike or suspicion,
Living in the lands of the boatsmen.

At fourteen I became your wife.
My shy cheeks widened for laughter not once.

I lowered my head to a dark wall;
Beckoned a thousand times, I answered not once.

Only at fifteen my eyebrows opened to you:
I would follow you as ashes mix with dust.

I gave you my antique promise.
I won't climb the look-out for you.

At sixteen you traveled far beyond the Gorge,
Where the Horse-Head Rocks pile high.

Beware the month of May- there
The apes call of sorrow, the heavens wail.

Your footsteps at the gates
Grew of green moss,

Moss deeper than broom sweepings. Leaves fell–
By autumn wind. Early this year.

In August butterflies turn yellow, pair by pair,
Flying over the grass in the Western Garden.

They hurt your wife, pair by pair.
She frets on a chair for her cheeks growing old.

Tell me in a letter
When you will come down from Sanba.

I will meet you– nowhere is far—
Even on the Sands of Lasting Wind.

Translation: Kevin Tsai

Beyond belief

From The Boston Globe:

Secularinside__1240678486_1542 RELIGION CAN BE good for more than the soul, a growing number of studies seem to say. Over the past decade, academic research on religiosity has exploded, and with it has come a raft of publications suggesting that spiritual beliefs and practices can add years to life, lower blood pressure, or keep at-risk kids on the straight and narrow. As sociologists, psychologists, and physicians turn their attention to measuring the effects of religion, often fueled by grant money from private foundations, the results have percolated swiftly through weekend sermons and the popular media. Being nonreligious, one might conclude, looks more and more like a danger to your health.

But as the academic interest in religion has mounted, some scholars have begun to call this picture into question. What's missing, they believe, is a comparable examination into the lives of nonreligious people and even the potential benefits of nonbelief. Galvanized by a desire to even the scales, these researchers have been organizing academic centers to study the irreligious, conducting major surveys, and comparing their findings. They've already found that convinced atheists appear just as well equipped to cope with hardship as convinced believers, and that some of the world's healthiest societies have the lowest levels of piety.

More here.

To Fathom a Colony’s Talk and Toil, Studying Insects One by One

From The New York Times:

Ants Anna Dornhaus is peering into a cardboard nest box only an inch on a side, at a “family” of 100 or so European rock ants. Known as Temnos, the ants — painted in primary colors — are going about their ant chores hauling, foraging, nursing the glistening maggoty brood. Next to a color-coded Temnos, a rice grain would look like an old-growth log. When the lid on an ant colony is raised, a whiff of dead cockroach — ant chow — wafts by. A quiescent larger queen is a study in brown. “She’s hardly a head of state,” Dr. Dornhaus said. “More like an ovary.” Nearby are bumblebee hives under glass in which each bee sports a number from 1 to 100 on tiny price-tag-like label attached to its back.

To understand what is really going on in a colony of ants or bees, Dr. Dornhaus, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, tracks the little creatures individually — hence the paint and the numbers. Individual ants, she said, have “their own brains and legs, as well as complex and flexible behaviors.” She continues, “Each ant’s behavior and the rules under which it operates generate a pattern for the colony, so it’s crucial to discover its individual cognitive skill.” Dr. Dornhaus, 34, a tall, blond German-born scientist, has great patience, a prime requirement in her trade, and a feel for the creatures she studies. When people find out that “I study ants, bees and other crawly things, the first thing they ask is do I know how to kill them.” She added, “I wouldn’t tell them if I knew.”

More here.

Dispatches: Rome Food Report

Fettuccine alla gricia, a common pasta dish in Rome, has four ingredients: the noodles, olive oil, bits of cured pig's cheek, and grated cheese. Most trattorias offer it. It's not innovative, nor is it usually presented with much elegance. It's simply an oily plate of flat, yellow noodles with some reddish brown bits of guanciale and a shower of pecorino. The pleasure it gives is hard to describe. The word delicious somehow seems too refined and cerebral, tasty insufficiently hyperbolic. Scrumptious is close, but kind of pretentious. Anyway, a good alla gricia is lipsmackingly, profoundly pleasurable to eat.

There's a difference between eating and dining. In Rome, you eat. By eating, I mean the straightforward, carnal pleasure of gnawing things that taste good. A perfect example would be another common speciality: abbacchio scottadito, which is grilled very young lamb sauced with a lemon wedge. There's usually a rib, a bit of shoulder or leg, and a chop. (Incidentally, Urdu speakers call a chop a “champ,” which has always struck me as charming, and oonomatopoetic of lipsmackingness.) Abbacchio scottadito is variously salty, gamy, fatty, and cartilagenous. It tastes extremely, intensely lambish. Impossible not to chew the bones.

Not that you can't dine in Rome: at La Rosetta, Rome's most celebrated fish restaurant, you can wear your Lanvin suit, sit with the multinational haute-bourgeoisie, and have a spaghetti with seafood that costs forty-two euros. But I had a superb (superb!) spaghetti alla vongole for eight euros at a random neighborhood restaurant. By the way, you can make this at home very easily: fry a tiny bit of minced garlic, add some white wine and the smallest clams you can find, cover till they open, and mix with some high-quality pasta (I recommend Martelli, if you can find it; I can't anymore) and a bit of chopped flat-leaf parsley. End of story. But try getting dime-sized little vongole outside of Italy that are as fresh and sweetly saline.

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My Life as a Crime Fighter: The Case of the Predator Psychiatrist

[Note: Some names and details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals, especially the victims.]


There is no justice except that for which you are willing to fight. There is no freedom except that which you claim as your own, and for which you are willing to suffer and fight. There is no unalienable right except that which you can articulate, and, with others, arrive at a consensus on its value and utility. Justice is not a reality, external to the human condition, that acts upon this world, its institutions, and its inhabitants; Nor is justice a cosmic balance sheet that compensates for our losses in the world we experience by allocating credits that are redeemable upon our death. Waiting for justice to be dispensed can be a wait for an eternity. You have to seek it, fight for it, persevere, and hope there might be some measure of fairness in the end. You have to pick your fights carefully. Sometimes you find justice and feel vindicated; You may find an incomplete measure of justice and wonder if it was worth the fight; There are times when the bad guys win and you're fucked. This makes the human condition, to some extent, tragic. This can also make the human condition redemptive, if in the search for justice, regardless of the outcome, we learn important lessons about ourselves, our institutions, and the world around us.

The Case of the Predator Psychiatrist

Nathan Kossik phoned me and asked if he could come over that evening. He said he had a very serious problem, he needed to talk to me, and could use my help and advice. He didn't want to discuss anything over the phone. I told him to come over after my kids were in bed. Nate was my neighbor and one of my best friends. We both went to graduate school, married, and started a family. Nate was an aspiring architect and in his second year at a local architectural firm. His wife Gertrude did not work outside the home for pay, at that time. Gerti was pursuing a nursing degree, part-time, at a local community college.

Nate came to my house alone. I had assumed he would come with his wife, Gerti. It's hard to describe his state except to say that he was very, very upset. He was devastated, heartbroken, angry, very concerned about his two children, and worried sick over his wife. Nate and Gerti were both in psychotherapy with the same psychiatrist, Dr. Joseph R. Dorsey, of Hopewell Junction, NY. They started together in marriage counseling, but they stopped seeing Dr. Dorsey as a couple. Instead they continued with separate individual appointments. This went on for two and one-half years. Nate and Gerti came from dysfunctional working class families. They were striving for a normal, middle class life through education and pursuing decent professional jobs. Nate and Gerti had two beautiful children who were school mates and regular play mates with my own kids. Some time before, Nate confided to me that his wife's father was an abusive alcoholic, who terrorized his family and sexually abused Gerti as a child. Gerti was also sexually abused by her neighbor. She had been diagnosed by a psychiatrist about 5 years earlier as having severe mental problems. The only thing Nate remembered about the diagnosis was that it included the phrase 'schizoid tendencies'.

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Imaginary Tribes #6

The Middle Managers

Justin E. H. Smith

[Please click to read Imaginary Tribes #'s 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.]

IMG_8945 It's the 105th annual meeting of the American Society for Anthropology. Dr. Ken Vonderwelt is late to his own talk. He is rushing from door to door in the massive foyer of the Minneapolis Sheraton, looking for the appointed venue, from the Lake Superior Banquet Hall to the Madison Ballroom to the 10,000 Lakes Business Solutions Headquarters. He can't find a soul he knows, not even in the Twins Sports Bar.

Vonderwelt spots an employee and asks him where the anthropologists are. The employee's nametag says 'Jimmy'. Jimmy asks him if he means the convention. He says there was a convention on the mezzanine level, but that the mezzanine conventioneers were all carrying tote bags advertising some new hip-replacement device.
“I think they're like doctors,” Jimmy says. “Are you a doctor?”
“Not really,” Vonderwelt replies.
“Maybe your group is meeting in the basement rooms. They're along the hall next to the fitness center. They're named after cities from around here. You know like Brainerd and Duluth.”

Vonderwelt takes the elevator down two flights below the ground floor. In the Bemidji Room there's a man wearing a turquoise bolo tie. He has a long grey goatee and is talking to an audience of a dozen people or so about a recent summer spent arrowhead collecting with his wife. “We took the camper out near Flagstaff,” he recounts. “Great arrowhead country out there. Mitzi and I were in heaven.” Alas, Vonderwelt says to himself, I'm with my people.

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The End of Something

By Aditya Dev Sood


I am sitting inside a white cube, watching things familiar but different. I know this music, but there are no lyrics, nothing to anchor the sound flowing round and through me. These soldiers, their rhythms, they seem to be preparing for an event I was once at. Perhaps India's Republic Day, which I remember attending with my kid brother when he was about six, both of us sitting in grass in front of the VIP enclosure with passes that Captain Kumar had arranged for us while he was serving as ADC to the President. Perhaps the Beating of the Retreat, which is held in front of the old Viceroy's Palace, now the Rashtrapati Bhavan, and which ends with a spectacular drum detail, no two drummers in the same uniform or from the same regiment, North and South Block reverberating together, silhouetted by the camel brigade, whose mounted guards point submachine guns into the air as the flares come sailing down to close the ceremony. It is, of course, another country, another time, and these memories have been triggered by a haunting new video work by Shahzia Sikandar entitled Bending the Barrel (no still available).

There is something uncanny about the angle and depth of Sikandar's camera. The marching band is moving past without making much progress, as if depth had been flattened for framing the scene into a Mughal miniature painting. The music emanates from their instruments but the moment is intercut with other scenes — we are there but no longer there. Before there can be boredom there is a new anomie, introduced by Krugeresque text fragments that overlay the image plane, not with slogans, but with the impersonal and passively-voiced militarese that cannot but be recognized as the public pronouncements of the Army's leadership. This is an acute, biting piece, crafted without polemic, so much more powerful for being all quotation, all documentation, all juxtaposition.

The conductor's back is to me, his musicians stare at their sheets of music. They are seated on an elevated bandstand whose steps were coated last night in chuna, lime, to shine back in the sun a brilliant, almost blinding white, outshining the musician's spats and their neelam-washed white tunics. Framed by Sikandar, the musicians at first appear anonymous, ordered, regimented. But now and again she swoops in. At first this causes me to worry that some amateurism had caused a camera shudder. But she is neither zooming nor panning, but shifting frame, capturing in perfect detail a particular Army bandsman staring directly back at the recording lens, a new composition, a new picture within the picture. This is the delirious pleasure of experiencing cinema through the eyes of a miniaturist, who like others of her craft, can see, and can desire to see the whole as well the individual parts of creation with the same detail, the same interest. Sikandar's way of seeing is elucidated by her film-making, and newly educated, I want more of this vertigo.

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Jazz Standards That Aren’t: On the Debut of Secret Society’s New Album Infernal Machines

Infernal Machines 3QD friend Darcy James Argue is the creative force behind the very brilliant 18-piece steampunk contemporary bigband jazz ensemble Secret Society. (Secret Society played the second 3QD ball to our eternal delight.) Secret Society's first album Infernal Machines is about to be released by New Amsterdam Records, and we all eagerly await it. Some of the pieces can be heard here. The review in Newsweek:

Each generation tries its hand at grafting new styles onto jazz, with varying results—note Gil Evans's not-always successful use of Jimi Hendrix's music—but lately there have been some hip moves in this direction. On the small-ensemble front, Jason Moran has turned the hip-hop anthem “Planet Rock” inside out on piano, while the Bad Plus have proved they can work up a fever interpreting, by turns, the music of Nirvana and Stravinsky. But often as not, the thrills given off by these mash-ups are those of reinvention, as opposed to sui generis invention itself.

For a wholly original take on big band's past, present and future, look to Darcy James Argue, a 33-year-old Brooklynite who has composed a batch of manifestoes that draws on past legacies, and adds a little postpunk energy to boot. A onetime student of big-band visionary Bob Brookmeyer, Argue himself seems a natural product of an era in which genres can be shuffled with ease on iPod playlists. Talking with him, you go from discussing obscure Italian serialist composers to indie bands like TV on the Radio. The composer calls his music “steampunk big band,” a reference to the niche art movement that fantasizes about modern tech innovations existing in the steam-powered era. That range is reflected—and, more important, is made frictionless—on Argue's debut record, “Infernal Machines.” Argue's tunes can command your attention anywhere—no small feat in our media-saturated world. He and his 18-piece Secret Society band pull off the trick by pairing electro-influenced rhythms with fuzzed-out guitars, fearsome horns and chamber-music voicings in the woodwinds. For all this panstylistic erudition, though, Argue's music still swings hard whenever it wants. “Transit” explodes with an elaborate fire that recalls Mingus's “Let My Children Hear Music.” The song “Jacobin Club,” named after Robespierre's merry band, slinks with the sly wit of “Such Sweet Thunder”–era Ellington, proving Argue is no enemy of history. Listen on headphones, and you can hear a lot of rocklike production layering. Two thirds through “Habeas Corpus (for Maher Arar)”— a civil-rights ode that's timely in light of the Obama administration's release of Bush-era “torture memos”—the production supports its trombones, stabbing like sirens, with a guitar that chugs ominously low in the mix.

It’s Better to Have Rich Parents Than to be Educated, in the US

Via Andrew Sullivan, Ryan Avent points to a remarkable finding in some recent research on education and economic well-being:

The truly amazing thing to me is that parental income isn't just crucial in getting to college, and getting through college — its effects linger on, basically, in perpetuity. One of the most remarkable findings from the Pew Charitable Trusts' Economic Mobility Project is that a child from a family in the top income quintile who does not get a college degree is more likely to wind up in the top income quintile himself than a child from a family in the bottom income quintile who does get a college degree.

Educ and equal

‘How to Win a Cosmic War’ by Reza Aslan

From The Los Angeles Times:

RAslan15cw Reza Aslan's “How to Win a Cosmic War” recognizes the struggle between Global Jihadism and the war on terror as an insolubly infinite one. He proposes, instead, that we'd be better off if we replaced the rhetoric of the absolute obligation, which characterizes movements, with the campaign's rhetoric of the finite aim. “It is time,” Aslan writes in his introduction, “to strip this ideological conflict of its religious connotations, to reject the religiously polarizing rhetoric of our leaders and theirs, to focus on the material matters at stake, and to address the earthly issues that always lie behind the cosmic impulse.” Aslan goes on to devote much of his book to distinguishing the earthly grievances of Islamists from the cosmic grievances of Global Jihadists, and to detailing how the former are pressed into service of the latter. Islamists, like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, are “religious nationalists”; they seek specific domestic redress, through Islamic political parties, of political and economic deprivation. Global Jihadists, like Al Qaeda, are “religious trans-nationalists.” They plait together stories of specific injustice — Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, the corruption of decades of secular Egyptian and Saudi leaders, the dispossession of Muslim minorities in Europe — into a “master narrative” of universal Muslim humiliation. They are purists; they prefer the unspecific glory of the struggle to the disheveling imperatives of regency. For nationalists who despise some foreign patriotism, war is the health of the state. For religious trans-nationalists who despise all infidels, jihad is the bloom of the believers.

Aslan is not only a perspicuous, thoughtful interpreter of the Muslim world but also a subtle psychologist of the call to jihad. This book's achievement is less its big point (rather obvious and repetitively made) about the impossible nature of “cosmic war” than its smaller understanding of how, for example, a well-assimilated second-generation European Muslim might blow himself up on a bus; its finest chapter describes the sort of conversion process that allows a Leeds youth like Hasib Hussain to become one of England's 7/7 bombers. Aslan makes a convincing case for jihadism as a quasi-religious variant of militant romanticism: a young man like Hussain comes to look like a disenfranchised Werther with a rudimentary global consciousness.

More here.