When the Mind Wanders, Happiness Also Strays

John Tierney in The New York Times:

Brain A quick experiment. Before proceeding to the next paragraph, let your mind wander wherever it wants to go. Close your eyes for a few seconds, starting … now. And now, welcome back for the hypothesis of our experiment: Wherever your mind went — the South Seas, your job, your lunch, your unpaid bills — that daydreaming is not likely to make you as happy as focusing intensely on the rest of this column will.

I’m not sure I believe this prediction, but I can assure you it is based on an enormous amount of daydreaming cataloged in the current issue of Science. Using an iPhone app called trackyourhappiness, psychologists at Harvard contacted people around the world at random intervals to ask how they were feeling, what they were doing and what they were thinking. The least surprising finding, based on a quarter-million responses from more than 2,200 people, was that the happiest people in the world were the ones in the midst of enjoying sex. Or at least they were enjoying it until the iPhone interrupted. The researchers are not sure how many of them stopped to pick up the phone and how many waited until afterward to respond. Nor, unfortunately, is there any way to gauge what thoughts — happy, unhappy, murderous — went through their partners’ minds when they tried to resume. When asked to rate their feelings on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being “very good,” the people having sex gave an average rating of 90. That was a good 15 points higher than the next-best activity, exercising, which was followed closely by conversation, listening to music, taking a walk, eating, praying and meditating, cooking, shopping, taking care of one’s children and reading. Near the bottom of the list were personal grooming, commuting and working.

More here.

3 Quarks Daily Welcomes Our New Columnists

Hello Readers (and Writers!),

We received a triple-digit number of submissions of sample essays in our search for new columnists. Most of them were very good as usual (with the normal number of incomprehensible and some even insane pieces thrown in just to test our sanity, I suppose) and it was hard deciding whom to accept and whom not to. So hard, in fact, that we ended up deciding that we will dramatically expand the number of 3QD columns on Mondays. Hence today we welcome to 3QD the top 32 people (in the combined ratings of the editors). Without further ado, here they are, in alphabetical order by last name:

  1. Fountain-pens-530Omar Ali
  2. Robert P. Baird
  3. Kevin S. Baldwin
  4. Simon Boas
  5. Rishidev Chaudhuri
  6. Gabe DiNicola
  7. Melody Dye
  8. Wayne Ferrier
  9. Julia Galef
  10. Jonathan Halvorson
  11. Liam Heneghan
  12. Joy Icayan
  13. Thomas Jacobs
  14. David Maier
  15. James McGirk
  16. Vivek Menezes
  17. Dave Munger
  18. Feisal H. Naqvi
  19. Jen Paton
  20. Alyssa Pelish
  21. Gautam Pemmaraju
  22. Steven Poole
  23. Akim Reinhart
  24. Meghan Rosen
  25. Ryan Sayre
  26. Haider Shahbaz
  27. Hartosh Bal Singh
  28. Robert Basil Talisse & Scott Forrest Aikin
  29. Terrance Tomkow
  30. Jenny White
  31. George Wilkinson
  32. Frederick William Zackel

A few of these people will begin writing at 3QD today (see below). I will be in touch with the rest of you to schedule a start date. The “About Us” page will be updated with short bios and photographs of the new writers no later than the day they start.

Thanks to all of the people who sent samples of writing to us. It was sometimes tiring, but still a pleasure to read them all. If you didn't make it this time, we will keep you in mind for the future. And congratulations to the new columnists!

Best wishes,


The Good, The Bad and Peter Singer

by Terrance Tomkow

Singer The Wall Street Journal reporting Peter Singer's new book tells us:

In his latest book, “The Life You Can Save,” Mr. Singer argues that failing to donate money to help the roughly 1 billion people suffering from poverty and preventable diseases is a moral offense equivalent to standing by as a child drowns because you don't want to ruin a nice pair of shoes.

Equivalent. But how bad is that I wonder? Given that Singer is on record saying there is “no intrinsic moral difference between killing and allowing to die” he would seem committed to saying that failing to donate is morally equivalent to drowning a child. Pretty bad!

Of course, not everyone denies moral significance to the difference between killing and allowing to die. Some philosophers distinguish between “negative” duties (e.g., not to drown children) and positive ones, (e.g., to save children from drowning), holding that positive duties are not as morally onerous as negative ones. But Singer's arguments pose a challenge for this position.

After all, this bystander who stands by while a child drowns (for the sake of his shoes!) is a bad man. Let us not mince words; he is a sonofabitch. If failing in positive duties makes us as bad as that guy, then the difference in weight between positive and negative duties must itself be morally slight.

I give negligible amounts to charity. So is Singer calling me a sonofabitch? Apparently. And you too, if you fail to donate money to the starving billion when you could (and you know you could).

Is there any way to defend ourselves?

Well, one problem with Singer's view is that no one really believes it. Not even Singer.

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When I saw him he had only a couple of months to live, and the days I spent at his chairside were hardly pleasant. He had adopted a mask of stoic resignation to his fate (the best way to induce guilt in the living), so I feigned a cheerful ignorance of it (the best way to induce envy in the dying).

I found him in The Wheatsheaf with a woman by his side, surrounded by sycophants and nursing a large whiskey. A Florence Nightingale of the single malt. He was talking about hurricanes.

“It’s no wonder Hurricane Alan caused so much damage. A wind with a crap name obviously has something to prove. Hurricane Robert – fine. Probably rattles a few roofs. Hurricane Alice – expends its fury at sea. But can you imagine Hurricane Darren? Or tropical storm Kylie? That’s when you run for the cellar. Fear an anticyclone with a chip on its shoulder!”

People sitting round his wheelchair proposed other names for storms, and laughed as he assessed their ferocity. “Hurricane Arnold? A closet queer. Expect gusty wind and localised flooding”. As the sun set over the Caribbean, the one English pub on the island was full of uncontrived mirth. Choosing a lull in the chatter, occasioned by one of his coughing fits, I suggested the name ‘Percy’. After all, that is what he’d christened me.

A dissolute life led to the full. That is how he’d like to be remembered, and the first part is literally true. He was soluble in anything. He certainly managed to wow my mother and her crazy family for a couple of years, and even though she hated him for the rest of her life, you could tell that all her attempts to love anyone else were futile. She certainly never remarried, and nor (as far as I know) did she ever seek a divorce.

So he started off Hurricane Percy with a huge pompous thunderstorm, but then he had the decency to stop mid-sentence when he recognised who I must be, and to the obvious astonishment of his woman and his disciples I wheeled him outside and sat on a bench next to him.

I had imagined this moment for most of my life, and yet neither of us could think of anything to say. He had coloured my life by his absence rather than his presence, and apart from a Y chromosome there was little I could think of that he’d actively done to influence me. I’d occasionally got a birthday present on April 25th – a hundred dollar bill twice and a backgammon board also twice – but I was born in September. That’s his birthday.

He broke the ice by saying “I’m sorry”, and then “I’m dying”. Both turned out to be individually true, but at the time I thought they were connected. Actually, that was true too. He was truly sorry that he was dying.

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Some notes on the grammar of the curry

Chicken_vindaloo To someone from the subcontinent, it is hard to believe that Indian restaurant owners in the United States are not malicious, reactionary, or in thrall to an obscure formal ideology. How else to explain what seems to be a concerted effort to trivialize a noble family of cuisines, both by reducing them all to a monotonous handful of sauces, and by violating the general structural principles that make these meals meaningful? It is well known that Indian restaurant owners are at the forefront of the right-wing movement to construct a homogenous dehistoricized South Asian identity[1], and the tragedy of Bangladeshis cooking bad Punjabi food is lost on no one. But, for the moment, let us forget that this iteration of Indian food is a particular, abstracted and displaced version of the cuisine of the Punjab and its surroundings, and that it ignores most of the other cuisines of the subcontinent. And let us forget that “Indian” food really should mean South Asian food.

But how to explain this fetishism of particular signifiers, this combinatorial generation of a menu from {chicken, lamb, shrimp} and some handful of sauces, these ungrammatical and unpoetic culinary utterances? How to explain the same sauce applied, with minor variations, to produce aborted versions of the same dish under many different names. What drives such promiscuous corruption of the understanding? Whence such systemic violence?

Even the most materialistic among us must realize that if we have no hope of seizing the means of production, we can still hope to educate. The following curry is as an example, not an essential exemplar or generative grammar. All of these principles are violated somewhere; still, they are a glimpse into the overlapping set of rules and resemblances that make up the cuisines of South Asia, whose grandeur and allusive depth is matched only by those of the French and of the Japanese.

Finely slice a kilogram of onions and deep fry them in very hot oil until dark brown (not black) and crisp. Set them aside and strain the oil…

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Waging War on Christmas, to Save Thanksgiving

Blackfriday Weeks before Halloween, Christmas decorations started appearing around town. At the local department stores, mannequins of witches and zombies were crowded by Santa’s elves. The Christmas season has, it seems, overcome Halloween. Halloween is a charming holiday, so this is lamentable to some degree. But given the relatively stable interest children have in candy and play-acting, Halloween is not in danger of extinction. The constantly-expanding Christmas season does not threaten to undermine its spirit.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for Thanksgiving. When pitted against the aggressive encroachment of Christmas and the corresponding shopping season, Thanksgiving, our most humane and decent holiday, doesn’t stand a chance.

Unlike Halloween, Thanksgiving is a holiday of human significance. Though it is occasioned by the mythology of Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians, the point of Thanksgiving is not that of rehearsing or commemorating that original event. In this respect, Thanksgiving differs crucially from other holidays. The Thanksgiving gathering is not a means to some other end, such as memorializing the signing of a document (July 4th), observing an ancient liberation (Passover), celebrating the birth of a god (Christmas), or honoring the bravery and sacrifice of soldiers in war (Veterans Day). The point of Thanksgiving is rather to gather with loved ones, to reaffirm social bonds, to enjoy company, and to appreciate the goods one has. To be sure, the Thanksgiving celebration is focused on a meal, typically involving large portions of turkey and cranberries. Still, the details of the meal are ultimately incidental. The aim of the Thanksgiving gathering is not to eat, but to be a gathering. The coming of people together is the point– and the whole point– of Thanksgiving.

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The Malignancies of History, or Polewards! with My Forgotten Neighbor, Frederick A. Cook

by Tom Jacobs

Every explorer names his island Formosa, beautiful. To him it is beautiful because, being first, he has access to it and can see it for what it is.
~ Walker Percy, “The Loss of the Creature” (1966)

But my compass takes its cardinal point from tragedy.
~ Richard Rodriguez, “Late Victorians” (1990)

It is not down in any map; true places never are.
~ Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851) Peary03d

Although indigenous peoples have lived for at least the last three thousand years within striking distance of the North Pole, the idea of obtaining the northernmost summit of our planet never seemed to have presented an appealing or even an interesting proposition. As American and European explorers began passing through and occasionally staying with local communities during their tentative efforts to set foot on and poke a national flag into the North Pole around the turn of the twentieth century, Inuits and other locals must have asked themselves (if not the ghostly white fanatics) something to the effect, “what kind of crazy person would bother with such an enterprise? What could possibly be the motive, goal, or point of such a thing?” And it’s an undeniably strange proposition—risking death to plant one’s flag on a remote site of an almost purely symbolic nature if only to say that I/We’ve been there first. Aside from the obvious notions of national pride and some enlightenment idea of exploration, the question still remains: how have explorers justified such a silly mission? And why didn’t the North Pole draw the imagination of precisely those people who were in the best
position to attain it?

Questions like these imply further corollaries: how, at the turn of the last century, could anyone definitively prove that they were there anyway? A photograph? A diary? A chronicle of coordinates obtained and passed through? In an era of rampant confidence games and men, who would believe you even if you produced such evidence? The will to believe is, of course, always a powerful element in public credulity, and, as the competing stories of Frederick Cook and Robert Peary would illustrate, the conditions in the States were such that people were ready and willing to believe.

1908 was a big year for the North Pole. Although attempts had been made on this symbolic summit previously, 1908 saw American and European explorers began to make their way “polewards” in earnest and in such a way that this most inaccessible and meaningless of geo-symbolic spaces was, for the first time, at risk of becoming just another demystified and disenenchanted set of coordinates.

What is it about places like the North Pole (or Mount Everest, or the Moon) that so incite the imagination of Western explorers? It’s a dumb question, from many points of view—the simplest answer is that it is the more or less natural product of masculine narcissism: one goes there in order to say that one has been there, and then, perhaps, to reap whatever fame and rewards might follow. No doubt there’s truth to such an answer. But it somehow misses the more philosophical dimensions of the project—the sheer overdetermined plenitude of unmapped and unknown spaces that draws people into their magnetic influence. What damn fool’s errand sends people off on a nearly certain Arctic Death Trip?

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Evolution as Aesthetic Experience

Aesthetic experience affects the senses, emotions, and intellect. It’s often associated with works of art, like paintings, dance, or music. Such experience is unique and personal; it depends not just on the artwork itself, but on the meaning that we attach to it and the feeling that this generates.

picVan Gogh’s painting, Starlight over Rhone, has personal significance for me. The scene depicted reminds me of the nighttime view of Cape Breton Island from mainland Nova Scotia–a view that was familiar to me as a child. For me, the painting comes with poignant memories attached. Because these memories are uniquely mine, however, I wouldn’t expect others viewing it to have the same response. Such is the nature of aesthetic experience: an object with a single set of objectively identifiable features produces a unique experience for each observer.

While the role of subjectivity is well recognized in the artistic realm, art isn’t exceptional in its ability to create aesthetic experience. Such experience could be created by multicolored autumn foliage or an expansive view of the night sky. It can also be created by immaterial entities, like concepts.

Evolution is one such concept. By evolution, I mean “the scientific theory of evolution”–that concept that creates controversy in non-scientific circles despite an abundance of supporting evidence. Just as with a piece of art, we can present evolution to a group of people and they may each respond differently. Evolution comes with strings attached–preconceptions, associations, and implications. People’s perception of evolution isn’t shaped just by empirical facts, but by the meaning and feeling that they attach to it. Their response will be influenced by their worldview, personality traits, and a host of other factors.

It shouldn’t be surprising then that acceptance of evolution isn’t entirely dependent on comprehension and knowledge of evolution. Studies have shown that we can significantly improve people’s understanding of evolution without having much of an effect on their acceptance of it. A 2003 study of undergraduate biology students found no relation between knowledge and acceptance of evolution1. A later study showed that increasing biology teachers’ knowledge of evolution had little effect on their views on the teaching of antievolutionary ideas2. Despite improved understanding, the majority of teachers still favored the teaching of antievolutionary concepts. Understanding evolution and accepting it are not the same thing. It follows that improving acceptance of evolution requires strategies that aim beyond improved understanding.

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The Humanists: Sangsoo Hong’s Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors


by Colin Marshall

“Art is the concealment of art,” someone once said. Though sources conflict about exactly who that was, his words must have reached Sangsoo Hong, who toils to produce films that look and feel like nothing at all. This is a canny strategy to raise cinephiles’ eyebrows: plain people doing plain things, plainly portrayed? Then there must be something big and complex grinding away beneath the surface. While this way of thinking often leads straight to a dead end, the wall against which earnest film students beat their heads until their grad school fund runs dry, it pays off when applied to Hong, the most distinctive filmmaker to emerge out of South Korea’s cinematic boom of fifteen years and counting.

The Hong movie, of which ten specimens with a strong family resemblance now exist, is both a hard sell and an easy one. Spartanly unadorned, it’s built out of long, often unmoving shots of decidedly un-epic subjects. Its large stable of floundering creative types — writers, composers, filmmakers — pass the time hanging out in pubs, taking car and train trips, pounding bottle after bottle of liquor, stumbling into wanly unappealing sexual encounters, and blearily, unconvincingly, insisting upon their worthiness as artists, as lovers, as human beings. Their conversations are as outwardly inane as anything overheard on public transit or in hotel lobbies around the world. Despite the small scale of their problems, solutions refuse to budge from the hazy distance.

Yet it can all be so relatable. Though subject to a wide range of cultural and temperamental oddities — about which more later — Hong’s flighty monuments to frustration endure, in some sense, the same problems we all do. They want to stake out recognizable individualities, to do work that will make a mark on the cultural world, and to hook up with the men or women they’re particularly into — to connect, in various senses. But these broad desires are also vague, and they’re easily overwhelmed by the detritus of the moment. In Hong’s world, this detritus manifests as an endless stream of cigarettes, bottles of soju, chintz in all its forms, and sudden opportunities for sexual congress.

2000’s Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Hong’s third film, looks and feels different than the others but, with its chin up, covers the very same territory. Soo-jung, a screenwriter at a television station, draws the amorous attentions of both producer Young-soo and gallerist Jae-hoon. Soo-jung is the virgin of the title, and it’s on her to decide whether and whom to surrender the virginity in question. Jae-hoon pulls ahead of Young-soo early and rapidly, though neither candidate for deflorist comes off as a golden god. Soo-jung herself seems to be no prize, for that matter, with all her blank hesitancy and whiny vacillation. Why couldn’t all three have just stayed home?

The only possible answer: welcome to Hongland, a realm populated by the boisterous, the shiftless, the vainglorious, and the drunk. It’s a place where even the simplest plans, for everything from excursions to the mountains to halfhearted seduction schemes, have a way of haphazardly deflating in action. (While never framed in a classically comedic fashion, instances of this are often hilarious. In 2002’s Turning Gate, an entire group piles into a van, getting ready to head out just as one of them slams the door on their finger, memorably 86ing the whole excursion in an instant.) Men like Jae-hoon and Young-soo — not to mention women like Soo-jung — are par for the course. It’s only natural they’d get all entangled.

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Monday Poem

Working Their Mojo
…..—A random report on a staus quo from the wild west

It’s hard to tell if we’re in the midst of a permanent downtick
or just in the throes of what used to be labeled a bad trip
—or if “going-to-hell-in-a-bucket” is apropos

I’ve almost given up wondering if we might eventually enter an uptick
or if we’'ll forever be holding the dry end of our dip sticks
—it’s hard to fathom what future fuel will be making our go go

I’ve just roughed-in a canvas which seems to be-coming a triptych
you need at least that much room to capture anything apocalyptic
—the subject surpasses the margins when painting a really big blow

Bumblers are manning the helm of a fervently split ship
officers even are begging magicians to dream up some new trick
—but ruses of shamans just work in the moment they’re in an illusionist’s show

One priest from Alaska looks good in high heels or mukluks and lipstick
she counts cash on her dogsled after doing her populist us-versus-them shtick
—she quit her governor job when the circus promised her more dough

It seems the captain believes his opponents are innocent apparatchiks
not corporate ass-licks bent on perks in the shape of some very fat checks
—it’s as if the chief’s been dumped in a bank of eyeball-deep snow

And here we are on the ground plowing through trying to manage to stay hip
in a media smoke-screen and stupor brought on by some very slick shits
—they’re engrossed hoarding gold for themselves not sweating while working their mojo

The last will be first in the end, while the first will be getting their wings clipped
so it says in the sayings of seers well known for not keeping their lips zipped
—but that's just a red herring to get everyone last to waltz to the Status Quo

by Jim Culleny, 11/12/10

Mojo: here


My memory is not the greatest there is but, someone once asked me the question “Why did you and your wife decide to have children?” What I can remember is that I thought it was a strange question at the time and I was somewhat taken aback and didn't quite know how to answer it. I assumed that basically it was just what all of us did if given a choice and if we were capable1. This is the answer I gave and I wasn't very happy with the explanation at the time. Since then I've had time to think it over but it wasn't until recently when reading an article about “the technological singularity” that I was able to formulate a much better answer.

Raymond_Kurzweil_Fantastic_Voyage This technological singularity is easily described as being the point in time when artificial intelligence becomes self-aware and able to reason as well as or better than humans do.

It will essentially be a point in mankinds' existence where everything prior to that time was known and more or less followed Moore's Law2 and everything beyond that time will be unknown due to the fact that we can not know what super intelligent beings will do. 3

In my opionion, the inevitable outcome of the technological singularity will be the creation of more complex artificial beings by their predecessors. In other words, we will create intelligent artificial beings who will in turn create more advanced artificial beings and if we were to extrapolate that process there would be no end to the creation of beings so advanced they would resemble nothing we can possibly imagine (I am in no way receiving any form of retribution for recommending “The Age Of Spiritual Machines” by Ray Kurzweil but that book should be required reading for all kindergarteners. Ok, maybe second grade. If you haven't read it, go get it).8

I came to this conclusion based on the need for life as we know it today to reproduce. It would stand to reason that life, whether artificial or real and tangible4, has a need to create more life. I will take that one step further and state that life has a need to create more advanced life.

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American Apocalypse (Re)Discovered: Thinking about Camden, New Jersey

by Michael Blim

ScrapYard2_img I get The Nation magazine whether I want to or not. Years ago, a close friend and I found ourselves separated by the geography of new jobs and career moves, and so we unknowingly gave each Nation subscriptions as going-away gifts. For me, it’s one of those things that I’ll read because it comes to my home free. That’s the beauty of giving: her gift is free to me, and mine to her. Since I don’t need expect my money’s worth, I can diss the magazine all I want, but still sneak a peek at it from time to time. The Nation is what used to be called a magazine of opinion. They tell you what to think, in other words. Given that we are bombarded with opinions daily, I prefer to collect facts, and keep my opinions to myself – or, well, share them with you.

Perhaps it was the graphic art accompanying Chris Hedges’ article, “City of Ruins” on Camden, New Jersey, in the November 22 issue of The Nation that slowed my eye. Hedges is a distinguished print journalist formerly with the New York Times who writes work that sticks with you.

As did this article. Hedges describes today’s Camden as one of America’s most dismal dystopias. It is achingly poor, dangerous, used up and thrown away. It’s a bomb shelter for its residents, 70,000 of whom live in a city with the highest crime and poverty rates of any city in the country. For those of you who live in Baltimore, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Oakland, St. Louis, Memphis, or Washington, D.C., and thought that portions of your city’s degradation knew no peers, consider the possibilities further down the food chain for the quality of life and for human dignity. In the seventies, I lived in a Philadelphia neighborhood nicknamed “the bottoms.” In a town full of bad neighborhoods, “the bottoms” was the worst.

Then I worked for a while in Camden. It was worse than “the bottoms.”

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A City for Human-clams: a Plea for Environmental Immobility

A young man of my acquaintance, adequately nourished, and provided with a room and a gaming console appears to be sustainable, quite extraordinarily so, in the environmental sense. He has a small physical footprint. A few square feet of a pleasantly upholstered couch in an ill-lit room is all that is needed to sustain him. From this perch he can command vast legions of hobgoblins, medieval warlocks, sport heroes, and assorted heavily-armed movie characters. He can distract himself fBytheriveror days at a time, emerging from his room very occasionally, like a three-toed sloth, to pad to the latrine. An army of youth so employed needs little in the way of a great outdoors. Slightly soiled pajamas, or underpants, it seems, can suffice for clothing. The nutritional requirements of this battalion extend little beyond sodas and pop-tarts. In light of this, might it not be wise for us to reverse course, and rather than advocating strenuously, as many of us have, for urban kids to get out of doors to cultivate responsible environmental stewardship, might we not instead council the cultivation of obsessive gameplay, reclassifying it as environmentally laudable behavior?

If we take this pragmatic tack, setting aside our pious feelings about the “old environment” and the worthy pleasures to be found there, it is apparent that there are several tendencies in contemporary life that we might encourage rather than scorn. We have for too long decried our sedentary natures and the accompanying tendencies towards corpulence of body and spirit. Bloat a little, rest a little more; you are doing your bit for the environment. Applaud your small adventures in the great indoors – a peregrination from fridge to sofa will never have felt so good, and the lazy-boy is a fine environmental destination. Think of the gas saved compared with a trip to Yosemite – no planes, no trains, no automobiles. Even if your kids might like to romp in the corn fields of some distant rural hinterland, spare yourself the self-laceration. Quite simply a family ensconced in a moderately appointed metropolitan apartment may well have a smaller environmental cost than a family whizzing around in their so-called mini-van in some suburban Eden.

A back of the envelop calculation shows that the environmental footprint of the imm obile is smaller that of one in constant auto-motion. Whole earths can be saved by merely standing still[1].

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Home Boy + 1: An Interview with H.M. Naqvi


Cover of Home Boy, HarperCollins India edition, 2010, cover painting by Faiza Butt

Below, author photo by David Williams

Elatia Harris

HM-Naqvi In his excellent blog Work Product, Matt Wilkens ballparks the number of English language long form prose fiction volumes published globally, every year, at about 100,000. Not all these works aspire to the condition of literature, of course, but among those that do, Home Boy, by H.M. Naqvi, published last year, has famously pulled ahead of a great many of the rest. Consider that the author was top-seeded. A Lannan Fellow, a recipient of the Phelam Prize, a creative writing teacher at Boston University, an erstwhile banker and a slam poet, Naqvi was less likely to be overlooked than most first novelists. Home Boy, a distinctively American novel by a “card-carrying” Pakistani, has been taken to heart by readers around the world, with translations into Italian, German and, soon, Portuguese, following launches in New York, Karachi and Jaipur. Last month, Home Boy was short-listed for the prestigious and lucrative DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.

In the year since Home Boy was published, I have corresponded with Naqvi, who once wrote for this blog. We have had a long conversation about what is uniquely American about Home Boy; close readers will find it as American as Moby Dick, and much shorter. We talked about the fast-growing South Asian literary festival scene, and about the shifts in artistic intention the first year out has impelled. As well as writing fiction, Naqvi is a correspondent for the superb Global Post, with articles covering a Pakistan it's almost impossible to draw a bead on reading other English language newspapers. What are the tales of the dazzling year, for H.M. Naqvi? And what's next?

9788172238407 410U21gI5WL._SL500_AA300_ 2344307 41EkU-uA2+L._SL500_AA300_

Left to right: Covers of the South Asian, German, Italian and American editions of Home Boy

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Presidential Art

ID_NC_MEIS_BUSH_AP_001 Morgan decides that he admires the new, middlebrow official portrait of George W. Bush at the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian, in The Smart Set:

The portrait is by Robert Anderson, a portrait painter more or less by trade and, as it happens, a classmate of Bush's from Yale. George W looked at the work of a number of painters and eventually settled on Anderson as the man to do the official portrait, the one that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian along with the other presidential portraits.

That can't be serious, I thought to myself when I turned a corner at the Gallery and saw the portrait. The mundane kitsch of the thing was shocking. There are standards. By God there are standards. Aren't there? A vase of flowers sits on the table of a dining room set behind him. The set is more middlebrow than anything you could find even at a mainstream outfit like IKEA. It is a set you'd find, I suppose, at Jennifer Convertibles. The whole scene is resolutely suburban. Aggressively suburban. The portrait is, essentially, a Sears portrait. Hanging at The National Portrait Gallery, not too far from where Elaine de Kooning's Modernist rendering of JFK can be found, is a Sears portrait of the 43rd President of the United States of America.

Pantless morgan

The more I looked at it, the more my admiration grew. Say what you like about George W. Bush, but that dummy is no dummy. Any other painting, any other style, any other approach would have been ridiculous. But how do you ridicule a Sears portrait that really and truly presents itself as nothing other than a Sears portrait? It should have been more classical, you could protest. It should have been more in line with contemporary trends in the arts. Oh, really?

I like how clean his shirt is, how crisp are the lines running up the right arm that Bush rests with such infinite comfort on his leg.

Bad Chemistry

57807-1 Mary Beth Aberlin in The Scientist:

There's something irresistible about plays that deal with iconic scientific discoveries, especially when controversy surrounds the people who make these finds–just think of Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in Copenhagen. That play, by Michael Frayn, portrayed seminal discoveries about the structure of the atom made in the early 20th century. The second iconic discovery of that century–the molecular structure of DNA–was every bit as earthshaking, and is the subject of a new play, Photograph 51, written by Anna Ziegler.

The drama centers on the story of X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin and her role in elucidating DNA's double-helical structure from 1951 to 1953. James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for this achievement. Franklin died from ovarian cancer in 1958, but had she lived, there is little possibility that she would have been tapped for the prize.

In Photograph 51, Franklin is portrayed as a complex person–attractive, competent, self-confident, but also driven and rather imperious. She arrives at Kings College in 1951 with the understanding that she will have sole charge of a project to determine the crystal structure of DNA, just as the molecule's role in the passage of hereditary information was becoming clearer. Ray Gosling, an affable young PhD candidate, who had formerly worked on DNA with Maurice Wilkins, is to be her assistant. Wilkins returns from vacation eager to work with Franklin, not knowing that the head of the department, J.T. Randall, has assigned his project to her. And Franklin doesn't know that Wilkins doesn't know. This terrible misunderstanding sets the stage for the bitter relationship that develops between the two, where daily life in the lab becomes a sad sort of turf battle.

Lost Your Libido? Let’s Try a Little Neuro-Realism, Madam

MRI-of-the-brain-006 Ben Goldacre in the Guardian:

When the BBC tells you, in a headline, that libido problems are in the brain and not in the mind, you might find yourself wondering what the difference between the two is supposed to be, and whether a science article can really be assuming – in 2010 – that its readers buy into a strange Cartesian dualism in which the self is contained by a funny little spirit entity in constant and elaborate pneumatic connection with the corporeal realm. But first let's consider the experiment they're reporting on.

As far as we know (because this experiment has not yet been published, only presented at a conference), some researchers took seven women with a “normal” sex drive, and 19 women diagnosed with “hypoactive sexual desire disorder”. Participants watched a series of erotic films in a scanner while an MRI machine took images of blood flow in their brains: the women with a normal sex drive had an increased flow of blood to some parts of their brain associated with emotion, while those with low libido did not.

Dr Michael Diamond, one of the researchers, tells the Mail: “Being able to identify physiological changes, to me provides significant evidence that it's a true disorder as opposed to a societal construct”. In the Metro, he goes further: “Researcher Dr Michael Diamond said the findings offer 'significant evidence' that persistent low sex drive – known as hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) – is a genuine physiological disorder and not made up.”

This strikes me as an unusual world view. All mental states have physical correlates, if you believe that the physical activity of the brain is what underlies our sensations, beliefs and experiences. So while different mental states will be associated with different physical states, that doesn't tell you which caused which.

Far stranger is the idea that a subjective experience must be shown to have a measurable physical correlate in the brain before we can agree that the subjective experience is real. If someone is complaining of persistent low sex drive, then they have persistent low sex drive, and even if you could find no physical correlate in the brain whatsoever, that wouldn't matter: they still have low sex drive.

Sunday Poem

Border Song

I water my horse
Crossing an autumn river.
The water is cold,
The wind like a knife.

Away across level sands
The sun is still sinking.
Off in the darkness—
The beginning of the Great Wall.

A former days' battles
By the Great Wall,
Everyone says
Will and spirit ran high.

But yellow earth
Is all that remains,
Then or now.
White bones lie scattered
In the weeds.

by Wang Chang-Lin
Tang Dynasty, about 750 A.D.
from The Heart of Chinese Poetry
editor: Greg Whincup;
Anchor Books, 1987