Life After Kevorkian

William Saletan in Slate:

Kevo Jack Kevorkian is dead. He didn't kill himself. But after years of failing health, he received his own medicine: a merciful end. He was 83. So was my father. Two months ago, my dad passed away. Like Kevorkian, he had cancer. He saw the end coming. He rejected chemotherapy, turned to hospice care, and went home to die. I spent weeks with him. He was at peace with the prospect of oblivion. Two weeks before he died, a group of friends came over to toast him. They said they were really going to miss him. “Well,” my dad joked, “Since I don't believe in an afterlife, I'm not going to miss you.”

Death was OK. But suffocation wasn't. His body, filling up with cancer, couldn't breathe. I saw the anxious look in his eyes, heard the plaintive tone as he asked the nurse for a little extra morphine. She stared back, gauging him. This, I learned, is what good caregivers do. They don't shut you down or hasten your death the first time you ask. They want to be certain you need it. They want to make sure that what's coming out of your mouth is your will, not just a moment of panic.

I always thought Kevorkian was basically right about assisted suicide.

More here.

God Bless You, Mr. Greybeard

Bill Moyers interviews Jane Goodall in Guernica:

Goodall-300 When Jane Goodall walked into the building for this interview, faces lit up. Our security chief told me she does animal rescue work after hours because of Goodall. Our stage manager whispered into my ear, “She’s been my hero for decades.” And the nine-year-old daughter of our video editor hurried into the studio because she was writing a school report on Goodall (she got an A, by the way). Everyone was aware of who Jane Goodall is or what she has done to close the gap between the animal world and our own species. Goodall herself evolved from a youthful enthusiast of animals—inspired by her father’s gift to her of a toy chimpanzee he named Jubilee—to the world’s most noted observer of chimpanzees and a global activist for all of life on earth. Through a chain of unintended consequences, the young Goodall met the famous anthropologist Louis Leakey in Kenya, was hired as his secretary, and then was sent into the forest as his primary researcher on chimps. Over many years in the Gombe Stream National Park, she came to know her subjects as individuals with distinct personalities, and with social and family lives shaped by their emotions, as are our own. Her landmark studies diminished the distance between human and nonhuman, and her television specials were so popular it became easy to think all of us had grown up with her and the chimps.

Bill Moyers: This life you’re living now is such a contrast to the life of the Jane Goodall we first met many years ago, living virtually alone in the forest in the company of chimpanzees, sitting for hours quietly taking notes, observing. And now, three hundred days a year, you’re on the road. You’re speaking. You’re lobbying. You’re organizing. Why? What’s driving you?

Jane Goodall: It actually all began in 1986. In the beginning of the year, I was in my dream world. I was out there with these amazing chimpanzees. I was in the forests I dreamed about as a child, I was doing some writing and a little bit of teaching once a year. And then this conference in Chicago brought together the people who were studying chimpanzees across Africa and a few who were working with captive chimps, noninvasively. We were together for four days and we had one session on conservation. And it was so shocking to see, right across the chimpanzees’ range in Africa, forests going, human populations growing, the beginning of the bushmeat trade, the commercial hunting of wild animals for food, chimpanzees caught in snares, population plummeting from somewhere between one and two million at the turn of the last century to at that time, about 400,000. So I couldn’t go back to that old, beautiful, wonderful life.

More here.

Philosophy is Useless

Philosophy is useless. How much nicer it is
to brew some tea, to make it strong, to sip it
with apricot preserves, while going through
your chest of treasures: a collection of
clay dragons from Samarkand, with their tails
chipped off and then repaired with good old glue.
If you get bored with that, there is also a collection
of toy lions. One of them, made of grey metal,
is most amusing, with its fierce head
and mangy mane; originally it embellished
the handle of an ancient sword, then someone
ingeniously used it as a model for the corkscrew
that I, unfortunately, cannot put to use because
the thing was given to me as a farewell memento.

Read more »

The Coke Side of Life

From The Paris Review:

Cocacola_sammydavisjr_BLOG Coca-Cola is the brand par excellence, the marca di tutti marche, the brand the other brands dream about being (even though the brands never sleep). Nothing else is even close. When it comes to what a brand is, Coke, as they say, is it. According to the branding consultancy Interbrand, Coke has a “brand value” of seventy billion dollars, which is twelve billion more than its nearest competitor, IBM. That’s a strange measurement, brand value, because it takes several nebulous things into consideration, including probably love. While many people are fond of Coke, some of them to the point of addiction, who even likes IBM?

Coke’s status is not merely economic or pop cultural or emotional or psychological. Coca-Cola transcends those categories to compete in the broader realm of speech, of monosyllables. We’re told that Coke is the second most recognized word in any language, after okay. There are 6.9 billion people in the world, and according to The Coca-Cola Company they drink 1.6 billion Cokes a day. I don’t have the figures for this, but it may be that right now the only thing people on this planet are doing more than breathing is drinking Coke. There may be more people drinking Coke this very minute than sleeping. There may be more people drinking Coke than awake.

More here.

A brain training exercise that really does work

From PhysOrg:

Brain Forget about working crossword puzzles and listening to Mozart. If you want to improve your ability to reason and solve new problems, just take a few minutes every day to do a maddening little exercise called n-back training.

…According to Jonides, the n-back task taps into a crucial brain function known as working memory—the ability to maintain information in an active, easily retrieved state, especially under conditions of distraction or interference. Working memory goes beyond mere storage to include processing information. The n-back task involves presenting a series of visual and/or auditory cues to a subject and asking the subject to respond if that cue has occurred, to start with, one time back. If the subject scores well, the number of times back is increased each round. The task can be done with dual auditory and visual cues, or with just one or the other. A few years ago, Jonides and his colleagues Martin Buschkuehl, Susanne Jaeggi, and Walter Perrig demonstrated that dual n-back training increased performance on tests of fluid intelligence. But the current work extends that finding in several ways. “These new studies demonstrate that the more training people have on the dual n-back task, the greater the improvement in fluid intelligence,” Jonides said. “It's actually a dose-response effect. And we also demonstrate that the much simpler single n-back training using spatial cues has the same positive effect.”

More here.

VS Naipaul finds no woman writer his literary match – not even Jane Austen

From Guardian:

VS-Naipaul-007 VS Naipaul, no stranger to literary spats and rows, has done it again. This time, the winner of the Nobel prize for literature has lashed out at female authors, saying there is no woman writer whom he considers his equal – and singling out Jane Austen for particular criticism. In an interview at the Royal Geographic Society on Tuesday about his career, Naipaul, who has been described as the “greatest living writer of English prose”, was asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match. He replied: “I don't think so.” Of Austen he said he “couldn't possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world”.

He felt that women writers were “quite different”. He said: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.” The author, who was born in Trinidad, said this was because of women's “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world”. “And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too,” he said. He added: “My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don't mean this in any unkind way.”

More here.

Mobile phones officially under suspicion

From Nature:

News341-i1_0 Mobile-phone use has joined the World Health Organization's purgatorial category of “possibly carcinogenic for humans”. A committee of experts brought together by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a World Health Organization (WHO) scientific centre in Lyon, France, announced yesterday that it cannot rule out the possibility that heavy mobile-phone use may increase the risk of brain cancer.

The IARC's formal opinions on such matters — always based on published data — are influential, and likely to raise the temperature of an already overheated debate on mobile-phone use and health. The WHO's 'possible carcinogen' category covers 266 other radiation sources and chemicals, including certain pesticides and gasoline — and also items such as coffee, which joined the list in 1991 as a possible cause of bladder cancer. The IARC regularly puts together expert groups to evaluate evidence for the carcinogenic potential of chemicals and radiation sources that have raised concern. Its categories include 'carcinogenic', 'probably carcinogenic', 'possibly carcinogenic' and 'not classifiable'. The IARC expert group of 31 scientists from 14 countries was headed by epidemiologist Jonathan Samet of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The group held a closed conference between 24 and 31 May to assess potential carcinogenic hazards associated with exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, including radio and television transmitters, as well as mobile phones.

More here.

Friday Poem

High-speed Bird

At full tilt, air gleamed –
and a window-struck kingfisher,
snatched up, lay on my palm
still beating faintly.

Slowly, a tincture
of whatever consciousness is
infused its tremor, and
ram beak wide as scissors

all hurt loganberry inside,
it crept over my knuckle
and took my outstretched finger
in its wire foot-rings.

Cobalt wings, shutting on beige
body. Gold under-eye whiskers,
beak closing in recovery
it faced outward from me.

For maybe twenty minutes
we sat together, one on one,
as if staring back or
forward into prehistory.

by Les Murray
from Taller When Prone
Publisher: Black Inc., Melbourne
© 2010

3 Quarks Daily 2011 Science Prize: Vote Here

ScreenHunter_08 Mar. 04 17.11 Dear Reader,

Thanks very much for participating in our contest. For details of the prize you can look at the announcement here, and to read the nominated posts you can go here for a complete list with links.

If you are new to 3 Quarks Daily, we welcome you and invite you to look around the site after you vote. Learn more about who we are and what we do here, and do check out the full site here. Bookmark us and come back regularly, or sign up for the RSS feed. If you have a blog or website, and like what you see here, we would very much appreciate being added to your blogroll. Please don’t forget!

Results of the voting round (the top twenty most voted for posts) will be posted on the main page on June 11, 2011. Winners of the contest, as decided by Lisa Randall, will be announced on or aorund June 21, 2011.

Now go ahead and submit your vote below!



P.S. If you notice any problems, such as a nominee is missing from the list below, please leave a comment on this page. Thanks.

BEWARE: We have various independent ways of keeping track of attempts at voting multiple times, which I am deliberately not revealing publicly. Any attempts at fraud will be thoroughly investigated, and anyone caught trying to vote multiple times will be instantly disqualified. I don’t think I really need to say this, but there are always a couple of bad eggs who will try!

Hooked on Meat

Bittman2 Mark Bittman in the NYT:

Once, we had to combine hunting skills and luck to eat meat, which could supply then-rare nutrients in large quantities. This progressed — or at least moved on — to a stage where a family could raise an annual pig and maybe keep a cow and some chickens. Quite suddenly (this development is no more than 50 years old, even in America), we can drive to our nearest burger shop and scarf down a patty — or two! — at will.

Because evolution is a slow process, this revolutionary change has had zero impact on the primal urge that screams, “Listen, dummy, if you can find meat you’d better eat it, because who knows when you’ll eat it again!” At some point our bodies may adapt to consuming unlimited quantities of meat or — a better alternative — our minds will crave less. Right now, primal urge and modern availability form a deadly combo.

We’re crack addicts with a steady supply. Beyond instinct and availability, there’s a third factor: marketing. When you add “It’s what’s for dinner” to the equation, you have a powerful combination: biology, economics and propaganda all pushing us in the same direction.

Those who were born in mid-to-late 20th century America take this for granted; I grew up eating meat seven days a week, usually for lunch and dinner, sometimes for breakfast, too. But the phenomenon is global: there’s more than twice as much meat available per person than there was in 1950. Citizens of most developed nations have gone down the same path, and as the poor become less so, they buy more meat, too.


Kirsch_052711_380px Adam Kirsch in Tablet:

As every contributor to Philosemitism in History acknowledges, Jews have never been entirely happy about the idea of philo-Semitism. The volume’s introduction, by editors Adam Sutcliffe and Jonathan Karp, begins with a Jewish joke: “Q: Which is preferable—the antisemite or the philosemite? A: The antisemite—at least he isn’t lying.” This may be too cynical; closer to the bone is the saying that “a philo-Semite is an anti-Semite who loves Jews.” That formulation helps to capture the sense that philo- and anti- share an unhealthy interest in Jews and an unreal notion of who and what Jews are. Both deal not with Jewishness but with “Semitism,” as if being a Jew were the same as embracing a political ideology such as communism or conservatism—rather than what it really is, a religious and historical identity that cuts across political and economic lines.

This Jewish mistrust of philo-Semitism finds ample support in the history of the word offered by Lars Fischer in his contribution to the book. Fischer’s essay focuses rather narrowly on debates within the socialist movement in Germany in the late 19th century. But since this was exactly the time and place that the words “anti-Semitism” and “philo-Semitism” were coined, Fischer’s discussion of the political valences of the terms is highly revealing. From the beginning, when the word was coined by Wilhelm Marr in 1879, “anti-Semitic” was a label proudly claimed by enemies of the Jews. In Austria and Germany, there were political parties, trade unions, and newspapers that called themselves “anti-Semitic,” even when their political programs went beyond hostility to Jews.

Philo-Semitism sounds like it would have been the rallying-cry of the opponents of anti-Semitism, a movement with its own political program. But Fischer explains that this was not the case. In fact, “philo-Semitism” was invented as a term of abuse, applied by anti-Semites to those who opposed them. Though Fischer does not draw the parallel, he makes clear that “philo-Semite” was the equivalent of a word like “nigger-lover” in the United States, meant to suggest that anyone who took the part of a despised minority was odious and perverse.

land art for the landless


Unlike men, all conceptualisms are not created equal. Some idea art—another dated term circa 1970—is so cliquishly abstruse as to celebrate, say, a man masturbating inside a gallery as a creative act (Vito Acconci’s 1971 Seedbed), or, more recently, a figure slithering around buffed cement in white pajamas (Terence Koh’s 2011 nothingtoodoo). Other examples, though, push open art’s closed doors: Consider Joseph Beuys’s 1980 founding of the German Green Party (he tagged it “social sculpture”) and the protest work that recently got Ai Weiwei arrested. Besides the obvious differences in generosity, crucial distinctions also appear when these artists address the mother of all art world MacGuffins—the “dematerialization of the art object.” A formula fetishized by legions of American artists, this “iron rule” has served Third World creators largely as a means to an end. And what end would that be? It varies, of course. In the case of the Belgian-born artist Francis Alÿs—whose work has explored the demanding intersection between politics and poetics in Mexico for two decades—that artistic mission amounts to a set of pointed but open-ended reflections on the volatile nature of entropic societies. Not one to churn out additional in-house chatter about the global art market, Alÿs’s goal has been instead to produce work that questions, provokes, and engages, while in the process also expanding the reach of art and its audience.

more from Christian Viveros-Fauné at The Village Voice here.

Strauss-Kahn ends an era


At the heart of the matter is the question of what it means to be a man in the two cultures. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was a strong and effective leader of the IMF, a post that has always been occupied by a European male of a similar stripe. This means: successful and sexually commanding. Sexual aggression in France is a kind of accessory to success. Like a pair of supple Armani shoes, it completes the outfit. “I’m even proud of [his sexual escapades],” his wife is quoted to have said once. “It’s important to seduce for a politician.” The droit du seigneur (or right of the lord of an estate to have his way with any peasant on it) is a French phrase, not by accident. The difference is also enshrined in the literary canon. In the English tradition — and the Brits, as their refusal of the Euro tells us, are not really European but proto-American — the concentration is on courtship and marriage. In the French tradition, it is on adultery. As was explained to me when I lived in France some years back, a man with a mistress is normal—which is why no one in France batted an eyelash when, on the death of President and alleged Resistance hero Francois Mitterrand, a second wife and child showed up at the funeral. During the Clinton-Lewinski scandal, the French were bemused by American outrage. What was all the fuss about? Clinton’s indulging himself with an available young woman? C’est normal. That Lewinski happened to be the age of his daughter, something we Americans noted with disgust, didn’t seem to bother the French. The ethos of Father’s Day, one might conclude, was not as embedded in the cultural consciousness.

more from Paula Marantz Cohen at The Smart Set here.

Live and Learn: Why we have college.

From The New Yorker:

College Society needs a mechanism for sorting out its more intelligent members from its less intelligent ones, just as a track team needs a mechanism (such as a stopwatch) for sorting out the faster athletes from the slower ones. Society wants to identify intelligent people early on so that it can funnel them into careers that maximize their talents. It wants to get the most out of its human resources. College is a process that is sufficiently multifaceted and fine-grained to do this.

College is, essentially, a four-year intelligence test. Students have to demonstrate intellectual ability over time and across a range of subjects. If they’re sloppy or inflexible or obnoxious—no matter how smart they might be in the I.Q. sense—those negatives will get picked up in their grades. As an added service, college also sorts people according to aptitude. It separates the math types from the poetry types. At the end of the process, graduates get a score, the G.P.A., that professional schools and employers can trust as a measure of intellectual capacity and productive potential. It’s important, therefore, that everyone is taking more or less the same test.

More here.

Shame and honor increase cooperation

From PhysOrg:

Honor-and-shame The research team shows that the threat of and promise of honour each increased by as much as 50 per cent, providing insights into potential future strategies for tackling global issues such as and . “Shame and honour might evoke images of The Scarlet Letter or The Three Musketeers, but as tactics to drive social cooperation, they are increasingly important in the digital age of YouTube, and , where acts of shame and honour are being shared and propagated with unprecedented speed,” says lead author Jennifer Jacquet, a postdoctoral fellow in UBC's Fisheries Centre and the Dept. of Mathematics.

Jacquet says shame and honour are increasingly used to affect policy and cultural change. For example, to deter tax evasion, many U.S. states recently implementing policies to post names of tax delinquents online. Large-scale conservation programs use honour to encourage corporate and public involvement, such as labels that signal to consumers that products are sustainable, including Vancouver's Ocean Wise seafood program. The new study is part of a series to establish a scientific foundation that informs future strategies to encourage cooperation on global issues. “The study confirms that a shame tactic can be effective, but rather surprisingly, we've also found that apparently honour has an equally strong effect on encouraging people to cooperate for the common good,” says co-author Christoph Hauert, an assistant professor in UBC's Dept. of Mathematics and an expert on .

More here.

Thursday Poem

White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn't darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —

as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

by Mary Oliver
from House of Light