45 years after the 1967 war: How the Arabs lost Jerusalem

Ali Younes in Al Arabiya:

ScreenHunter_05 Aug. 02 14.08This past June marked the 45th anniversary of the Arab defeat of the 1967 war. War is normally measured by its final outcome, but many individual heroes faithfully gave up their lives for the Arab side, defending the honor of their nations. The actions of those men deserve to be highlighted and explained, especially the contributions of the Pakistani pilot Saiful Azam and the brave Jordanian soldiers of the battle of Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem.

At 12:48 p.m. on June 5, four Israeli jets were descending on Jordan’s Mafraq air base to smash the country’s tiny air force, shortly after the entire Egyptian air force had been reduced to rubble.

To intercept the incoming attack, Jordanian air force commanders deputized Flt. Lt. Saiful Azam, who was on loan as an advisor from Pakistan. Once airborne with other Jordanian pilots, Saiful Azam engaged the attacking aircrafts in an air-to-air combat, shooting down a Mystére commanded by Israeli pilot H. Boleh and shot and damaging another that crash-landed in Israeli territory.

More here.

What some people call idleness is often the best investment

From New Statesman:

WorkIn his essay “In Praise of Idleness”, Ber­trand Russell suggested that the working day should be reduced from eight hours to just four. Russell’s intention was not to boost productivity during those four hours (he distrusted efficiency). No, he wanted half as much work to be done and more leisure to be enjoyed. “There will be happiness and joy,” he suggested, “instead of frayed nerves, weariness and dyspepsia.” Russell’s theory, ironically, holds much better as professional advice than as moral philosophy. He wanted people to work less because work was bad for them. I would argue we should work less because it will make us achieve more. He would be horrified at his idea being recast by the enemy, but his injunction “work less” should be embraced enthusiastically by managers, coaches and businessmen who are trying to get the best out of their charges.

The cult of busyness

Experience tells me that excessive hard work is counterproductive. When I was a professional cricketer, before each season – just before the team got together as a group – I would block out a few consecutive days and dedicate them entirely to practising batting. My only goal was to become a better player, to develop new skills. This wasn’t the humdrum practice that happens throughout the season. This was my selfish time: it was as close as my cricket practice got to a creative exercise. Which days ended with me batting signi­ficantly better than I started out? The best days followed the same pattern – an intense morning session, around two and a half hours long, followed by a shorter, lighter afternoon session, perhaps lasting an hour or 90 minutes. In total, then, I would do about four hours, just as Russell wanted.

More here.

Thursday Poem

The Enigma We Answer by Living
Einstein didn't speak as a child
waiting till a sentence formed and
emerged full-blown from his head.
I do the thing, he later wrote, which
nature drives me to do. Does a fish
know the water in which he swims?
This came up in conversation
with a man I met by chance,
friend of a friend of a friend,
who passed through town carrying
three specimen boxes of insects
he'd collected in the Grand Canyon—
one for mosquitoes, one for honeybees,
one for butterflies and skippers,
each lined up in a row, pinned and labeled,
tiny morphologic differences
revealing how adaptation
happened over time. The deeper down
he hiked, the older the rock
and the younger
the strategy for living in that place.
And in my dining room the universe
found its way into this man
bent on cataloguing each innovation,
though he knows it will all disappear—
the labels, the skippers, the canyon.
We agreed then, the old friends and the new,
that it's wrong to think people are a thing apart
from the whole, as if we'd sprung
from an idea out in space, rather than emerging
from the sequenced larval mess of creation
that binds us with the others,
all playing the endgame of a beautiful planet
that's made us want to name
each thing and try to tell
its story against the vanishing.
by Alison Hawthorne Deming

Cancer stem cells tracked

From Nature:

CellCancer researchers can sequence tumour cells’ genomes, scan them for strange gene activity, profile their contents for telltale proteins and study their growth in laboratory dishes. What they have not been able to do is track errant cells doing what is more relevant to patients: forming tumours. Now three groups studying tumours in mice have done exactly that1–3. Their results support the ideas that a small subset of cells drives tumour growth and that curing cancer may require those cells to be eliminated. It is too soon to know whether these results — obtained for tumours of the brain, the gut and the skin — will apply to other cancers, says Luis Parada at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who led the brain study2. But if they do, he says, “there is going to be a paradigm shift in the way that chemotherapy efficacy is evaluated and how therapeutics are developed”. Instead of testing whether a therapy shrinks a tumour, for instance, researchers would assess whether it kills the right sorts of cell. Underlying this scenario is the compelling but controversial hypothesis that many tumours are fuelled by ‘cancer stem cells’ that produce the other types of cancer cell, just as ordinary stem cells produce normal tissues. Previous studies have tested this idea by sorting cells from a cancer biopsy into subsets on the basis of factors such as cell-surface markers, and injecting them into laboratory mice. In principle, those cells that generate new tumours are the cancer stem cells. But sceptics point out that transplantation removes cells from their natural environment and may change their behaviour. “You can see what a cell can do, but not what cells actually do,” says Cédric Blanpain of the Free University of Brussels, who co-led the skin study1.

All three research groups tried to address this knowledge gap by using genetic techniques to track cells. Parada and his co-workers began by testing whether a genetic marker that labels healthy adult neural stem cells but not their more specialized descendents might also label cancer stem cells in glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer. When they did so, they found that all tumours contained at least a few labelled cells — presumably stem cells. Tumours also contained many unlabelled cells2. The unlabelled cells could be killed with standard chemotherapy, but the tumours quickly returned. Further experiments showed that the unlabelled cells originated from labelled predecessors. When chemotherapy was paired with a genetic trick to suppress the labelled cells, Parada says, the tumours shrank back into “residual vestiges” that did not resemble glioblastoma.

More here.

Islam and the Arab Awakening

Tariq Ramadan in Guernica:

ScreenHunter_04 Aug. 02 00.17Do the secularist intellectuals of the Global South have an alternative to propose for their own countries? Over and above the simulacrum of a debate pitting them against religious conservatives and Islamists, do they have a vision of society drawn up for the people, with the people, and in the name of the liberation of the people? The debate over secularization and political Islam is to the secularists of the Global South what the foreigner (and today, the Muslim) is to the populist xenophobes of the North: a pretext, and an alibi.

The true challenge of the day is to choose the right battle, to mobilize the creative energy of the people in the attempt to find real solutions to real problems. The march toward democracy in the Global South entails a thorough reconsideration of the three “fundamentals”: economic (and agricultural) policy, educational policy, and cultural and media policy (in the general sense). The secularist elite would be well advised to acknowledge that it truly has nothing new to offer in these three vital policy categories. At the risk of sounding repetitious, there can be no true political democracy without a profound restructuring of the economic priorities of each country, which in turn can only come about by combating corruption, limiting the prerogatives of the military and, above all, reconsidering economic ties with other countries as well as the modalities of domestic wealth distribution. Concern for free, analytical, and critical thought must take the form of educational policies founded upon the construction of schools and universities, revising the curriculum and enabling women to study, work, and become financially independent.

More here.

Murree Brewery: Pakistan’s True Brew

From Come Con Ella:

IMG_81922012 has proved to be an interesting year for pakistan. alongside the staple flow of pessimistic news, one of its most successful businesses, murree brewery, has captured the imagination of the local and international press. for the latter in particular, the existence of murree brewery is a paradox. the telegraph opens on the line ‘pakistan is one of the last countries in asia where you would expect to discover a flourishing – and legal – brewery, especially these days’ in an article titled ‘ale under the veil: the only brewery in pakistan’. the economist follows suit on how an unlikely outfit in pakistan is flourishing under the banner ‘hope in the hops’. even the guardian cannot help itself with its description of murree brewery as ‘a raj-era oddity in an increasingly conservative islamic country’ under the more neutral title of ‘pakistan and india start new era of trade co-operation with a beer’.

Murree brewery, however, is far from an oddity and a contradiction. since its inception in 1860, the only period when it ceased productions was after bhutto’s declaration of prohibition of alcohol. a subsequent court order led to the resumption of operations on the basis that bhutto’s laws breached the rights of minorities. aside from this it has always enjoyed the support of the government, military or otherwise. the greater paradox perhaps is that a powerful leader like bhutto, who loved his drink, felt compelled to appease the religious right through prohibition. until his ban in 1977 alcohol was freely available in army messes, clubs and from licensed stores.

But that of course is not the pakistan of today.

More here.

How WikiLeaks Revitalized Brazil’s Media

Natalia Viana in The Nation:

ScreenHunter_03 Aug. 02 00.00As the Boeing 777 from London arrived at the gate of Guarulhos International Airport in São Paulo on December 2, 2010, its passengers queued up to deplane, many with the local newspaper under their arm. “Brazil fears terrorism at the 2016 Olympics, says US Embassy” blared the headline of the daily Folha de S. Paulo—a front-page story generated from the first of tens of thousands of classified US diplomatic cables obtained and released by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. Unnoticed among those passengers was a young woman with a backpack slung over her shoulder. Concealed within a bundle of messy clothing inside her bag was a pen drive containing nearly 3,000 sensitive cables to and from the US Embassy and consulates in Brazil between 2003 and 2010—a cache of documents provided by WikiLeaks.

This trove of records covered the two terms of President Inacio “Lula” da Silva’s progressive government and captured the policies, operations and diplomatic efforts of US presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as those of the Brazilian government itself, at a time when the country was on the rise as a world-class economic and political power. As WikiLeaks-generated stories appeared in the Brazilian media in the ensuing months, the cables would reveal how the Bush White House curried favor with the country’s defense minister and military, how Bush tried to persuade Brazil to spy on Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and how the Obama administration became increasingly uncomfortable with Brazil’s close relationship with Iran. Brazilians would learn some startling details about their own government as well.

More here.

The Real Reason for Germany’s Industrial Expansion? No copyright law

Did Germany experience rapid industrial expansion in the 19th century due to an absence of copyright law? A German historian argues that the massive proliferation of books, and thus knowledge, laid the foundation for the country's industrial might.

Frank Thadeusz in Der Spiegel:

Image-117294-panoV9-vordThe entire country seemed to be obsessed with reading. The sudden passion for books struck even booksellers as strange and in 1836 led literary critic Wolfgang Menzel to declare Germans “a people of poets and thinkers.”

“That famous phrase is completely misconstrued,” declares economic historian Eckhard Höffner, 44. “It refers not to literary greats such as Goethe and Schiller,” he explains, “but to the fact that an incomparable mass of reading material was being produced in Germany.”

Höffner has researched that early heyday of printed material in Germany and reached a surprising conclusion — unlike neighboring England and France, Germany experienced an unparalleled explosion of knowledge in the 19th century.

German authors during this period wrote ceaselessly. Around 14,000 new publications appeared in a single year in 1843. Measured against population numbers at the time, this reaches nearly today's level. And although novels were published as well, the majority of the works were academic papers.

The situation in England was very different. “For the period of the Enlightenment and bourgeois emancipation, we see deplorable progress in Great Britain,” Höffner states.

More here.

An Artificial Joke Generator

Zach Weiner in The Weinerworks:

Monkey_stickThe following is an idea I’ve been mulling over and talking to friends about for a few months. I thought I’d finally share it to see if anyone liked it or was interested in working on it.)

Warning: Evo psych just-so story to follow. Think of it as a parable, not as a theory. It’s just here to contextualize the idea that follows.

Suppose there’s a monkey. Suppose also that the monkey has evolved to have an inbuilt proto-toolmaking behavior.

For this specific example, let’s say he’s learned to snap a twig off a tree and stick it in an anthill. When he pulls it out, it’s covered with tasty protein-rich ants.

This monkey is unlike you and I in that he takes no pleasure in finding the right stick. He knows the stick must have certain qualities – long, thin, not too brittle. However, he does not experience any pleasure until he actually eats the tasty ants.

Suppose this monkey represents a species. This species does well because it has this one trick for getting protein out of the ground in abundance at a low cost.

Now, suppose one day a monkey is born who has a quirk. Instead of taking pleasure in the ant part, he takes pleasure in the stick selection part too. That is, when he finds an appropriate stick, his brain rewards him with premature pleasure. So, whereas his brethren experience pleasure only upon eating the ants, this one monkey gets pleasure from selecting an appropriate branch.

More here.

Gore Vidal (1925 – 2012) quotes: 26 of the best

Gore-Vidal-during-a-Los-A-008 (1)

From The Guardian:

“I never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television.”

“It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”

“A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.”

“Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically by definition be disqualified from ever doing so.”

“Democracy is supposed to give you the feeling of choice like, Painkiller X and Painkiller Y. But they're both just aspirin.”

“Envy is the central fact of American life.”

“Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.”

More here.

A Radical Fix for the Republic

From Harvard Magazine:

Lessig_Page_1For a decade, Lawrence Lessig, a mild-seeming legal scholar, pursued the intricacies of updating American copyright law to reflect the rise of the digital era, the Internet, and new means of producing and disseminating texts, music, images, and software. Based first at Harvard, then Stanford, he co-founded organizations such as Creative Commons, a nonprofit that gives people legal tools to control use of their creative output, and argued that mashups (of songs or YouTube videos, for example) are culturally important products that (in some circumstances) can be legal under the principle of fair use. He felt he was making progress: “The public was getting it. Businesses were getting it. Universities. Everybody had come to the recognition that ‘There is something wrong with the existing system,’ and that it needed to be updated—but we were making no progress in the context of policymakers.” At first, he was puzzled. But gradually he realized the problem lay in the sclerotic, gridlocked policymaking system itself—particularly in Congress. “We weren’t making any progress because money was so inherent and tied to decisions,” he says now. “The public domain had no lobbyists. The ideas of the public domain weren’t even on the table because there was no infrastructure for putting them there.”

As long as Congress remains in the thrall of “the economy of influence”—its members dependent on money to fund reelection campaigns—“no progress would be made on copyright or any other public-policy question,” he explains. “It wasn’t just esoteric areas like copyright, it was also fundamental issues like global warming, healthcare, or any number of others.” That set Lessig off in a new direction—including an exploratory, aborted run for Congress and, ultimately, in 2008, a return to Harvard. He now directs the Safra Center for Ethics, serves as Furman professor of law and leadership at Harvard Law School, and investigates the American government and what ails it. His findings, recently published in Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It, have led him to conclude that nothing less than overhauling the way elections are funded—involving a tool never before invoked in American democracy—is required.

More here.

Wednesday Poem

Her Body is Private

ppppppppppppppp in spite of all
the sweet inducements to disrobe
in the public eye, to sunbathe
in the hot glow of the spotlight (not be
forgotten for a minute, maybe two);
ppppppppppppppp in spite of all
the cash that flows to those
who wear their heart, not on their sleeve
in that old innocence, but on their naked
wrist, or butt, like a tattoo;
ppppppppppppppp in spite of all
emoluments, of shrinks who swear
that secrets eat the lining from the guts
and that the more you tell, the less
you burn in hells intestinal;
ppppppppppppppp in spite of all,
her memory, like her body, is
her own, and serpents guard it
like a tree with treasure in a myth;
if you approach, she'll turn
the blank side of her words, a shield
to the light, to fix your face
in the bright circle
of its mirror. This time Medusa
has the shield, and the last word.

by Eleanor Wilner
from Reversing the Spell: New & Selected Poems
Copper Canyon Press, 1998

Gore Vidal: October 3 1925-July 31 2012

From The Telegraph:

Gore-vidal_2295260bIn his own country, from whose eastern political establishment he came, he detected no conversation worth the name, a failure of education, manners on the decline, and political leaders cynical and without languages or a grasp of the outside world. The morals and lifestyle of his countrymen he fond abhorrent, and the state of literature and popular entertainment, especially television, beyond words. For much of his adult life Vidal lived in Italy, which he first visited at 13, and there he wrote about the United States, where he set the bulk of his novels, including the five-book saga running from the American Revolution to the Korean War. His wide reading in Greek and Roman history — though he never attended university — showed in allusions to the ancient world throughout his novels on Washington, and in the parallels he liked to draw between political life in classical times and in modern America. From his flat in Ravello (where he was made an honorary citizen) on the Amalfi peninsula, and his penthouse in old Rome, he found that distance gave him perspective as he wrote his observant, witty, often vitriolic books and essays on his own country.

Vidal had an enormous output, publishing more than 20 novels as wells as collections of stories and essays, plays and television work. When he was at home he was in demand on radio and television chat shows, which he made an outlet for his cutting wit and iconoclastic views on history, politics, art, journalism, theatre and sex. In an essay called Writing Plays for TV he described himself thus: “I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which cannot be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”

More here.