Sunday Poem

Street Kid

The window opens to a field of sagebrush—
California country northeast of San Francisco.
The sun burns into the hill.
This night is his first taste
of a new ache in the adam's apple,
the hard, dry knot,
a fresh loneliness.
Twilight whirrs with meadowlarks
and insects crawling down the glass
between the bars, and he,
apart from the other boys,
the cool toughs playing ping pong
before lockup, hears his heart stop
the tear before it leaves the eye.
Injun Joe, the nickname given him
by the brothers, the blacks, the chicanos,
is not afraid of the heart of darkness,
but of his own soul beating like a fist
against the wall.

by Duane McGinnis
from American Indian Prose and Poetry
published by Longman Canada Limited,
Toronto, 1974

The Social Psychological Narrative — or — What Is Social Psychology, Anyway?

From Edge:

Wilson640 TIMOTHY D. WILSON, the Sherrell J. Aston Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, is author of Strangers To Ourselves (“the most influential book I've ever read”, Malcolm Gladwell), which was named by The New York Times Magazine as one of the Best 100 Ideas of 2002 He is also the coauthor of the best-selling social psychology textbook, Social Psychology, now in its seventh edition. His latest trade book is Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change.

“If liberating the unconscious had been Wilson’s only contribution to psychological science, it would have been enough. But it was just the start. Wilson has since discovered and documented a variety of fascinating ways in which all of us are “strangers to ourselves” (which also happens to be the title of his last book—a book that Malcolm Gladwell, writing in the New Yorker, correctly called the best popular psychology book published in the last twenty years). He has done brilliant research on topics ranging from “reasons analysis” (it turns out that when people are asked to generate reasons for their decisions, they typically make bad ones) to “affective forecasting” (it turns out that people can’t predict how future events will make them feel), but at the center of all his work lies a single enigmatic insight: we seem to know less about the worlds inside our heads than about the world our heads are inside.

The Torah asks this question: “Is not a flower a mystery no flower can explain?” Some scholars have said yes, some scholars have said no. Wilson has said, “Let’s go find out.” He has always worn two professional hats — the hat of the psychologist and the hat of the methodologist. He has written extensively about the importance of using experimental methods to solve real world problems, and in his work on the science of psychological change — he uses a scientific flashlight to chase away a whole host of shadows by examining the many ways in which human beings try to change themselves — from self-help to psychotherapy — and asking whether these things really work, and if so, why? His answers will surprise many people and piss off the rest. I predict that this new work will be the center of a very interesting storm.”

— Daniel Gilbert, Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University; Director of Harvard’s Hedonic Psychology Laboratory; Author, Stumbling on Happiness.

More here.

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein: secular humanist with a soul

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Gold “There's a Hassidic legend, that in any point of history, there are 36 pure souls for the sake of whom God doesn't destroy the world. And they don't know who they are,” Rebecca Newberger Goldstein tells me. It's early Saturday morning, and we're having breakfast in New York's Washington Square Hotel. The dining room is small, put in almost as an afterthought, and barely has room for the guests waiting anxiously for a fresh batch of coffee. Goldstein is dressed in a simple long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans, not completely awake – the consequence of constant travel and an inability to sleep in unfamiliar surroundings. As a young girl, Goldstein suspected that her father, a cantor in White Plains, New York, was one of those 36 pure souls. In her latest novel, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, the figure of Azarya, a boy genius who has to choose between science and his orthodox Jewish community, is another one. Secular saints, Goldstein calls them both, comparable to Spinoza.

Goldstein, 61, has a powerful presence and a mind that seem too large for her petite figure. She is a philosopher, novelist ( “36 Arguments” is her seventh work of fiction), and author of two nonfiction books. Goldstein has received numerous awards and grants, including a MacArthur fellowship, or “Genius Award.” In 2011, she was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association. She and her second husband Steven Pinker, professor of Psychology at Harvard, are considered one of Cambridge's true power couples.

More here.

ashbery does rimbaud


If Rimbaud anticipated the Surrealists by decades, Ashbery is said to have gone beyond them and defied even their rules and logic. Yet though nearly 150 years have intervened since Rimbaud’s first declaration of independence, many readers in our own age, too, still prefer a coherence of imagery, a sameness of tone, a readable sequential message, even, ultimately, what amounts to a prose narrative broken into lines. Enough others, however, find the “crystalline jumble” intellectually and emotionally revitalizing and say, Yes, please do interrupt the reverie you have created for us to allow an intrusion of Popeye! Besides his early absorption of Rimbaud’s work, Ashbery brings to this translation a long and deep familiarity with French life, language and culture, particularly artistic and literary culture, and the experience of having translated many other French works over the years — by Pierre Reverdy, Raymond Roussel, Max Jacob, Pierre Martory (as well as at least one detective novel, as the amusingly renamed Jonas Berry). These translations are part of a larger body of Ashbery’s work that has served to offer us — his largely monolingual Anglophone readership — access to poets of another culture, either foreign or earlier in time. (Notable, for instance, is his keenly investigatory, instructive and engrossing “Other Traditions,” the six Norton Lectures that open our eyes to the work of such luminaries as John Clare and Laura Riding.) In tandem, then, with his own 20-plus books of poetry (not to mention his teaching and his critical writings on the visual arts), Ashbery has extended his generous explicating intelligence to the work of many others, most recently in “Illuminations.”

more from Lydia Davis at the NYT here.

India: A Portrait

India_A Portrait

There are 7 billion people on the planet, and nearly 1.2 billion of them live in India, making it famously the world’s biggest democracy by far. In the thriving, striving new Indian economy, businessmen make sudden, amazing fortunes, as the American robber barons did in the 19th century, and regularly place on the Forbes list of the world’s most wealthy. Yet at least 300 million Indians live in desperate conditions, many of them starving. The poor are sometimes literally bulldozed out of the way for developments, the underclass of the dispossessed and disenfranchised is huge: The go-go sub-continent might look like a democracy only for the elite. “With its overlap of extreme wealth and lavish poverty … its competing ideologies, its lack of uniformity, its kindness and profound cruelty, its complex relationships with religion, its parallel realities and the rapid speed of social change — India is a macrocosm, and may be the world’s default setting for the future,” writes Patrick French in “India: A Portrait,” in which he mingles historical analysis with on-the-spot reportage, aiming to capture the country in all its teeming, volatile complexity. The result is rich, engaging and indeed multi-hued.

more from Richard Rayner at the LAT here.

mamet loves palin


Why, if he so loves small-town America and its values, does he live in the liberal enclave of Los Angeles? “There is a lot of work. My wife works there,” he says and then he mentions his daughters. “They are very, very beautiful. It once occurred to me: being able to write is like being the pretty girl at the party. You can’t be diffident about it because that’s a lie but it’s nothing to be arrogant about.” The waitress returns and Mamet asks if she has any fresh fruit. She offers us two plates of berries, bananas and sliced apples. “Yum, yum,” he says appreciatively as the fruit arrives a few minutes later. We are discussing Hollywood and his liberal friends and colleagues. “It is very amusing to listen to some people of my acquaintance who not only own summer homes but transcontinental jets going on about greed and how greed is ruining our country,” Mamet says with a laugh. “You get rich through luck. You get rich through crime. You get rich through fulfilling the needs of another. You can be as greedy as you like. If you can’t do one of those three things, you ain’t going to get any money.” We close with his Phil Spector film and, as Mamet describes a monologue from it, it is clear how much he identifies with the defiantly eccentric and isolated producer – and with Lawrence of Arabia. “He [the Spector character] talks a lot about Lawrence. He loved Lawrence. Either he loved him or I do, I can’t remember. He says in the film Lawrence wanted the one thing that he couldn’t have, which was privacy. He simply wanted to be by himself. Did that make him a monster?”

more from John Gapper at the FT here.

Pakistan After Osama

Pervez Hoodbhoy in Himal South Asian:

ScreenHunter_04 Jun. 11 10.50 Why was Pakistan’s warrior class never tamed by civilian rule? The answer must be sought in the foundation of Pakistan and the state of confusion into which it was born. Beyond the simplistic notion that Hindus and Muslims were incapable of living together, the idea of Pakistan was unclear from the outset. Although he made many speeches, Mohammad Ali Jinnah left no manifesto and authored no book before his untimely death. Critical questions were thus left unanswered: Would the new state be capitalist or socialist, liberal or theocratic, modern or tradition-based? On what basis would power be distributed between its different regions? How would defence, education, science, health, etc be prioritised?

With no clear answers, and lacking a clear basis for legitimacy or direction, the state quickly aligned with the powerful landed class: the army leadership and the economic elite joined forces to claim authority in a nation without definition or cohesion. The Kashmir dispute gave reason for the military to become powerful and to make the acquisition of modern weaponry an overriding priority. The Americans happily obliged, given the burgeoning cold war. A fatal attraction for guns steadily drew Pakistan into the US orbit.

More here.

The Red Juice in Raw Red Meat Isn’t Blood

From Misconception Junction:

Raw-meat-300x192 Nearly all blood is removed from meat during slaughter, which is also why you don’t see blood in raw “white meat”; only an extremely small amount of blood remains within the muscle tissue when you get it from the store.

So what is that red liquid you are seeing in red meat? Red meats, such as beef, are composed of quite a bit of water. This water, mixed with a protein called myoglobin, ends up comprising most of that red liquid.

In fact, red meat is distinguished from white meat primarily based on the levels of myoglobin in the meat. The more myoglobin, the redder the meat. Thus most animals, such as mammals, with a high amount of myoglobin, are considered “red meat”, while animals with low levels of myoglobin, like most poultry, or no myoglobin, like some sea-life, are considered “white meat”.

Myoglobin is a protein, that stores oxygen in muscle cells, very similar to its cousin, hemoglobin, that stores oxygen in red blood cells. This is necessary for muscles which need immediate oxygen for energy during frequent, continual usage. Myoglobin is highly pigmented, specifically red; so the more myoglobin, the redder the meat will look and the darker it will get when you cook it.

More here.

Lessons From Jane Austen

From The New York Times:

Jane In 1990, William Deresiewicz was on his way to gaining a Ph.D. in English literature at Columbia University. Describing that time in the opening pages of his sharp, endearingly self-effacing new book, “A Jane Austen Education,” Deresiewicz explains that he faced one crucial obstacle. He loathed not just Jane Austen but the entire gang of 19th-century British novelists: Hardy, Dickens, Eliot . . . the lot. At 26, Deresiewicz wasn’t experiencing the hatred born of surfeit that Mark Twain described when he told a friend, “Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shinbone.” What Deresiewicz (who has considerable fun at the expense of his pompous younger self) was going through was the rebel phase in which Dostoyevsky rules Planet Gloom, that stage during which the best available image of marriage is a prison gate.

Sardonic students do not, as Deresiewicz points out, make suitable shrine-­tenders for a female novelist whose books, while short on wedding scenes, never skimp on proposals. Emma Bovary fulfilled all the young scholar’s expectations of literary culture at its finest; Emma Woodhouse left him cold. “Her life,” he lamented, “was impossibly narrow.” Her story, such as it was, “seemed to consist of nothing more than a lot of chitchat among a bunch of commonplace characters in a country village.” Hypochondriacal Mr. Woodhouse, garrulous Miss Bates — weren’t these just the sort of bores Deresiewicz had spent his college years struggling to avoid? Maybe, he describes himself conceding, the sole redeeming feature of smug Miss Woodhouse was that she seemed to share his distaste for the dull society of Highbury.

More here.

Restaurant Photos Help Nail Bean Sprouts in German Outbreak

From Science:

Beans Today, researchers at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the German center for disease prevention and control, confirmed the suspicion in what they call a “recipe-based restaurant cohort study.” “The problem is that many people do not remember exactly what was in the food they had for lunch or dinner days ago,” says Gérard Krause, head of infectious epidemiology at RKI. To address that problem, the researchers identified five travel groups that had eaten at a restaurant in Northern Germany. There were EHEC victims in all five groups; altogether, 19 of the 112 diners had become infected. (The name of the eatery has been kept secret.) On Tuesday and Wednesday, research teams swarmed out to interview the groups' members. Using order lists, bills, and photos, they managed to determine for most of the guests which items on the menu they had chosen. At the same time, three researchers went to the kitchen to find out how exactly the food was prepared and what ingredients went into each dish. “Only by bridging the memory gaps of the guests with the detailed knowledge of the chefs could we find out exactly what every guest had consumed,” says RKI President Reinhard Burger. “Those photos really helped us as well.”

The researchers returned to Berlin on Wednesday evening and started entering the data into their computers. A statistical analysis, ready at 6:00 Thursday morning, revealed that people who had eaten sprouts were 8.6 times more likely to have become infected with EHEC than those with sprout-free meals. All 19 guests who had fallen ill had eaten sprouts. On the strength of this evidence—and because a total of 26 EHEC clusters has been traced back to the sprout farm in Bienenbüttel—the BfR officially exonerated the other vegetables at a press conference here today. Households and restaurants were advised to destroy any sprouts they had in stock and any food that might have come into contact with them.

More here.

Saturday Poem

The Gift

To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he'd removed
the iron sliver I thought I'd die from.

I can't remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.

Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy's palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife's right hand.

Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he's given something to keep.
I kissed my father.

by Li-Young Lee
from Poetry Out Loud Anthology
The Poetry Foundation, 2005

3QD Science Prize Semifinalists 2011


The voting round of our science prize (details here) is over. A total of 2,018 votes were cast for the 87 nominees (click here for full list of nominees). Thanks to the nominators and the voters for participating.

Carla Goller has designed a “trophy” logo that our top twenty vote-getters may choose to display on their own blogs. So here they are, in descending order from the most voted-for:

  1. Semifinalist_2011_sciene Southern Fried Science: Back from the Brink: Victories in Conservation
  2. Georneys: Word of the Week: O is for Ophiolite
  3. Cosmology Science Blog: International Astronomical Union has no definition for Big Bang
  4. Neutrino Blog: Four Neutrinos? But You Said There Were Just Three!
  5. (((1/f))): A Sunday Afternoon Watching Symmetry Break
  6. Convergence: Ocean Acidifi-WHAT?!
  7. Laelaps: The Pelican's Beak – Success and Evolutionary Stasis
  8. Communicate Science: Is Féidir Linn: Obama was right
  9. Oh, For the Love of Science: Prehistoric Clues Provide Insight into Climate's Future Impact on Oceans
  10. Dr. Carin Bondar: Sacrifice on the Serengeti
  11. Surprising Science: Rare Earth Elements Not Rare, Just Playing Hard to Get
  12. Empirical Zeal: Blind Fish in Dark Caves Shed Light on the Evolution of Sleep
  13. Bering in Mind: One Reason Why Humans Are Special and Unique: We Masturbate. A Lot
  14. Anthropology in Practice: Power, Confidence, and High-Heels
  15. ERV: Barnyard Week: White Chickens Are ERV Mutants
  16. Highly Allochthonous: Levees and the Illusion of Flood Control
  17. Doctor Stu's Blog: The Future of Nuclear Power after Fukushima: Thorium Reactors?
  18. Observations of a Nerd: How Do You ID a Dead Osama Anyway?
  19. Observations of a Nerd: Why do women cry? Obviously it's so they don't get laid
  20. Scientific American Guest Blog: Seratonin and Sexual Preference: Is It Really That Simple?

The editors of 3 Quarks Daily will now pick the top six entries from these, and after possibly adding up to three “wildcard” entries, will send that list of finalists to Professor Lisa Randall for final judging. We will post the shortlist of finalists here on June 13, 2011.

Good luck!


Man Is Not Cat Food

Tumblr_lmaox8GjiO1qhwx0o Barbara Ehrenreich in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

In the last decade, human vanity has taken a major hit. Traits once thought to be uniquely, even definingly human have turned up in the repertoire of animal behaviors: tool use, for example, is widespread among non-human primates, at least if a stick counts as a tool. We share moral qualities, such as a capacity for altruism with dolphins, elephants and others; our ability to undertake cooperative ventures, such as hunting, can also be found among lions, chimpanzees and sharks. Chimps are also capable of “culture,” in the sense of socially transmitted skills and behaviors peculiar to a particular group or band. Creatures as unrelated as sea gulls and bonobos indulge in homosexuality and other nonreproductive sexual activities. There are even animal artists: male bowerbirds, who construct complex, obsessively decorated structures to attract females; dolphins who draw dolphin audiences to their elaborately blown sequences of bubbles. Whales have been known to enact what look, to human divers, very much like rituals of gratitude.

The discovery of all these animal talents has contributed to an explosion of human interest in animals — or what, as the human-animal gap continues to narrow, we should properly call “other animals.” We have an animal rights movement that militantly objects to the eating of nonhuman animals as well as their enslavement and captivity. A new field of “animal studies” has sprung up just in the last decade or so, complete with college majors and academic journals. Ever since the philosopher Peter Singer’s groundbreaking 1976 Animal Liberation, one book after another has attempted to explore the inner lives and emotions of nonhuman animals. Bit by bit, we humans have had to cede our time-honored position at the summit of the “great chain of being” and acknowledge that we share the planet — not very equitably or graciously of course — with intelligent, estimable creatures worthy of moral consideration.

But it will take more than a few PETA protests or seasons of the Discovery channel to cut humans down to size. Contempt for animals is built into our languages: think of the word “bestial” or fressen, the German word for the distinctive way animals are thought to eat. In the great monotheistic religions, human superiority is as much taken for granted as the superiority of God over humans. Nonhuman animals were created in the service of humans, as if the deity wanted to leave us with a fully-stocked refrigerator. They offer up their flesh, their pelts and often their labor, and that, as Immanuel Kant saw it, was their mission on earth.

Pakistan’s General Problem

8407.pak-rot Mohammad Hanif in Open The Magazine:

Pakistan is a society divided at many levels. There are those who insist on tracing our history to a certain September day in 2001, and there are those who insist that this country came into being the day the first Muslim landed on the Subcontinent. There are laptop jihadis, liberal fascist and fair-weather revolutionaries. There are Balochi freedom fighters up in the mountains and bullet-riddled bodies of young political activists in obscure Baloch towns. And, of course, there are the members of civil society with a permanent glow around their faces from all the candle-light vigils. All these factions may not agree on anything but there is consensus on one point: General Zia’s coup was a bad idea. When was the last time anyone heard Nawaz Sharif or any of Zia’s numerous protégés thump their chest and say, yes, we need another Zia? When did you see a Pakistan military commander who stood on Zia’s grave and vowed to continue his mission?

It might have taken Pakistanis 34 years to reach this consensus but we finally agree that General Zia’s domestic and foreign policies didn’t do us any good. It brought us automatic weapons, heroin and sectarianism; it also made fortunes for those who dealt in these commodities. And it turned Pakistan into an international jihadi tourist resort.

And yet, somehow, without ever publicly owning up to it, the Army has continued Zia’s mission. Successive Army commanders, despite their access to vast libraries and regular strategic reviews, have never actually acknowledged that the multinational, multicultural jihadi project they started during the Zia era was a mistake. Late Dr Eqbal Ahmed, the Pakistani teacher and activist, once said that the Pakistan Army is brilliant at collecting information but its ability to analyse this information is non-existent.



In December 1926 the German critic Walter Benjamin arrived in Moscow. Almost ten years after the Communist revolution, he was curious to see what revolution now looked like. It turned out, wrote Benjamin, that revolution was really renovation. Moscow was the city of Do-It-Yourself. Everywhere, he observed, there was this gusto for what the Russians called remont: an endlessly renewable, delighted, fussy passion for fixing, touching up, reupholstering, redecorating. “Each thought, each day, each life lies here as on a laboratory table.” He added: “The country is mobilized day and night.”1 Another inhabitant of this city was Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, a Ukrainian writer with a comically unpronounceable Polish name. Benjamin, of course, was a tourist. Krzhizhanovsky—whose occluded literary career coincided with the era of Stalinist repression—was not.

more from Adam Thirwell at the NYRB here.

the end of violence


In March 2010, almost twelve months after the hostilities in northern Sri Lanka that had caught the world’s attention had finished, I drove up the road from the town of Vavuniya to Kilinochchi, the former headquarters of the Tamil Tigers. Velupillai Prabhakaran, the violent and dictatorial leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), was dead; he had been shot in the last days of the civil war waged for nearly three decades between the Tamil separatists and the Sri Lankan government, which he bore at least some of the blame for perpetuating. The LTTE had been dispersed and, though an army officer told me that some of their fighters still remained at liberty, most had been killed or interned. The conflict was clearly over. It had taken some time to get permission for the drive – my dispatch from Kilinochchi for The Guardian ended up being the first published from the town – and the actual journey from Vavuniya was almost disappointingly straightforward. The road had been resurfaced and was in excellent condition, a rare occurrence anywhere in South Asia, and there was almost no other traffic. The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the populist politician from the south of the island whose power was buttressed by support among rural communities from the Sinhalese majority, had publicly said he was banking on economic development to heal the wounds of war. Except for a large billboard advertising a bank, there was little sign of any obvious wealth generation in the bleak, scrubby, depopulated plains of the Vanni as I drove across them. The military presence was, in contrast, very evident, with small fortified posts, many on stilts, among the half-cleared minefields either side of the road.

more from Jason Burke at Literary Review here.

indefensibly happy


G. K. Chesterton once said that he had been “indefensibly” happy for most of his life. There is a note, not simply of happiness, but of joy, in much of what he wrote; but what meaning should one give to this happiness? Is there a self-delighting, whimsical, even wilful obliviousness in the merriness of Chesterton? Was he just a bit silly? T. S. Eliot once said that he found the cheerfulness of Chesterton entirely “depressing”. Yet Chesterton claimed that his levity came from his deepest beliefs: “Christianity is itself so jolly a thing that it fills the possessor of it with a certain silly exuberance, which sad and high-minded Rationalists might reasonably mistake for mere buffoonery and blasphemy; just as their prototypes, the sad and high-minded Stoics of old Rome, did mistake the Christian joyousness for buffoonery and blasphemy”. That is, of course, the sort of thing that Chesterton often said, the sort of thing not likely to satisfy anyone in a captious mood. (T. S. Eliot had been a Christian for just under a year when he said that he found Chesterton depressing; but then it is difficult to imagine Eliot ever being wholly in sympathy with the high spirits of Chesterton.) It could be that Chesterton saw Christianity as “jolly” because he was temperamentally inclined to be cheerful; but it could also be that this made him responsive to something essential in Christianity.

More from Bernard Manzo at the TLS here.

On How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One, by Stanley Fish

Joseph Epstein in The New Criterion:

How_to_Write_a_Sentence After thirty years of teaching a university course in something called advanced prose style, my accumulated wisdom on the subject, inspissated into a single thought, is that writing cannot be taught, though it can be learned—and that, friends, is the sound of one hand clapping. A. J. Liebling offers a complementary view, more concise and stripped of paradox, which runs: “The only way to write is well, and how you do it is your own damn business.”

Learning to write sound, interesting, sometimes elegant prose is the work of a lifetime. The only way I know to do it is to read a vast deal of the best writing available, prose and poetry, with keen attention, and find a way to make use of this reading in one’s own writing. The first step is to become a slow reader. No good writer is a fast reader, at least not of work with the standing of literature. Writers perforce read differently from everyone else. Most people ask three questions of what they read: (1) What is being said? (2) Does it interest me? (3) Is it well constructed? Writers also ask these questions, but two others along with them: (4) How did the author achieve the effects he has? And (5) What can I steal, properly camouflaged of course, from the best of what I am reading for my own writing? This can slow things down a good bit.

More here.