I Am Not This Body

Brian J Stanley in The New York Times:

We live not alone but chained to a creature of a different kingdom: our body.
— Marcel Proust

BodyEvery time I look at my face in a magnified mirror in a hotel bathroom, I jump back in surprise. Seen closely, my skin looks like the surface of a strange planet. Ridges and canyons pock my chin and lips. Forests of tiny hairs grow from my ear lobes. Unnoticed pimples rise from my nose like volcanoes. A sheen of oil coats the landscape. I half expect to see alien creatures living in minute settlements in my dimples or roving the great plains of my cheeks — and could I look at higher magnification, I would see exactly that. I do not identify with my body. I have a body but I am a mind. My body and I have an intimate but awkward relationship, like foreign roommates who share a bedroom but not a language. As the thinker of the pair, I contemplate my body with curiosity, as a scientist might observe a primitive species. My mind is a solitary wanderer in this universe of bodies.

Though I identify with mind, the mind itself is matter. I remember dissecting a fetal pig’s brain in high school. As I sliced layers of cerebellum and cerebrum, I imagined someone likewise cutting my own brain from my skull and examining the weird intersection of my mind and body. There I would lie in the petri dish, the whole mystery of my being made visible, the unutterable complexities of consciousness, thought and personality reduced to a three-pound mass of squiggly pink tissue. Hello, self. Where is the vaporous soul I am said to be, the exiled child of God from another world? This looks, rather, like some Martian’s bizarre pet.

More here.

David Byrne & St. Vincent Announce Release Of Brass Tactics EP, and it’s free

This is what David (old friend of 3QD) has to say:

382_c_w_450_h_450After the release of Love This Giant last year, we did a tour of North America and Australia that was like nothing we’ve ever done before—drums, keys and Annie and I supported by 8 choreographed brass players. We did the new material, but also a lot of recognizable songs, arranged for that group. The sound is incredible, and it’s a bit of a visual spectacle as well. We were pretty excited at how it turned out. The critical and audience response was great too! Touring a group that size with a fairly complex show is a big financial gulp, so it has taken us a while to collect enough offers in North America and Europe, but ow they are in and we kick off in a few weeks.

One of our business folks had the idea that we might offer a taste of what we’re up to—so we put together an EP to give folks a taste of what to expect. It has one song that didn’t make it on the record (a waltz featuring some lovely glass harmonica), a couple of energized remixes of some of the album tunes and two live tracks of the sort of more familiar material we do in the set. Did we say it’s FREE? We’re very excited at how this whole project came out so we want more folks to discover it. Download it below!

Link to download the EP here.

Obama’s foreign policy owes a lot to Jimmy Carter’s

Peter Beinart in The Daily Beast:

1369766135553.cachedSince Obama assumed the presidency, hawks have been comparing him to Carter. And the analogy makes sense. In important ways, Obama’s foreign policy and Carter’s have had the same basic focus: the restoration of “solvency.” The concept comes from Walter Lippmann, who in 1943 wrote that “foreign policy consists in bringing into balance, with a comfortable surplus of power in reserve, the nation’s commitments and the nation’s power.” Just as a government cannot indefinitely incur financial commitments that exceed the money it has in the bank, Lippmann argued, it cannot indefinitely incur international commitments that exceed its national power. The longer it tries, the weaker it will get.

For Carter, the cause of this insolvency was the global Cold War. By the 1960s, George Kennan’s limited, mostly nonmilitary strategy for preventing Soviet domination of Western Europe had swelled into a commitment to stop any communist movement from gaining ground anywhere on earth, if necessary by force. And by the time Carter took office in 1977, that effort had led to Vietnam, a war that had damaged America’s economic strength, democratic system, and national morale.

Obama inherited his own solvency gap. George W. Bush had defined the Global War on Terror as a new cold war, meant to defeat jihadist terrorism, prevent nuclear proliferation, and spread democracy across the Muslim world, and beyond. Like the old cold war, it was nearly infinite in scope. And like the old cold war, it has justified military interventions that have sapped America economically, geopolitically, and morally. Since 9/11, Obama noted last Thursday, “our nation has spent well over a trillion dollars on war, exploding our deficits and constraining our ability to nation build here at home.”

More here.

Japan ranks a dismal 101st in gender equality out 135 countries

William Pesek at Bloomberg:

687FFF2EF9C33A7C8D77DA5B925066The World Economic Forum ranks Japan a dismal 101st in gender equality out 135 countries — behind Azerbaijan, Indonesia and China. Not a single Nikkei 225 company is run by a woman. Female participation in politics is negligible, and the male-female wage gap is double the average in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.

One number explains why Japan must pull women into the job market and help them achieve leadership roles: 15 percent. That’s how much of a boost that gross domestic product would receive if female employment matched men’s (about 80 percent), says Kathy Matsui, the chief Japan equity strategist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

“Japan is lagging because it’s running a marathon with one leg,” says Matsui, who has been churning out “Womenomics” reports regularly since 1999. “It must start tapping its most underutilized resource.”

Abe is acting from fiscal necessity, not from a sense of social justice. Japan’s workforce is shrinking as the population ages and the birthrate declines. That might be manageable if not for a public debt more than twice the size of the $5.9 trillion economy. Politically, increasing the number of women workers is an easier sell than opening up Japan to immigrant labor.

More here.

the wounded hopkins


Good things in life are worth waiting for, if we manage to live long enough. When complete, there will be eight volumes in The Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins and now, seven years after the first (Volume IV) was published, Volumes I and II are on the shelf. Of the remaining five, The Dublin Notebook (Volume VII) might be published before the end of this year and Volume III, Journals and Diaries (which will include all of the previously expurgated diary entries from 1865-66), should appear in 2014. Volume V, Sermons and Spiritual Writings, is due the following year, while Volume VI, Sketches, Notes and Studies, and the final Volume VIII, covering the poetry, are hovering somewhere on the horizon. Serendipitous it may seem, even haphazard when Volume IV, entitled Oxford Essays and Notes, does not include all of Hopkins’s prose texts from his Oxford undergraduate years; his writings in a large notebook from 1862-65 (the manuscript now known as B.II) will be part of Volume VI instead. Any such response would be churlish to say the least when consideration is given to the difficulty of the task facing editors working to compile and present the most complete collection of Hopkins’s writings that is humanly possible. When it comes to just his correspondence, never mind other issues, the two volumes have a “Lost Letters” section detailing what is known to be missing or destroyed by Hopkins and others.

more from Sean Sheehan at Dublin Review of Books here.

the new technology idiots


There is a thesis of sorts in Schmidt and Cohen’s book. It is that, while the “end of history” is still imminent, we need first to get fully interconnected, preferably with smartphones. “The best thing anyone can do to improve the quality of life around the world is to drive connectivity and technological opportunity.” Digitization is like a nicer, friendlier version of privatization: as the authors remind us, “when given the access, the people will do the rest.” “The rest,” presumably, means becoming secular, Westernized, and democratically minded. And, of course, more entrepreneurial: learning how to disrupt, to innovate, to strategize. (If you ever wondered what the gospel of modernization theory sounds like translated into Siliconese, this book is for you.) Connectivity, it seems, can cure all of modernity’s problems. Fearing neither globalization nor digitization, Schmidt and Cohen enthuse over the coming days when you “might retain a lawyer from one continent and use a Realtor from another.” Those worried about lost jobs and lower wages are simply in denial about “true” progress and innovation. “Globalization’s critics will decry this erosion of local monopolies,” they write, “but it should be embraced, because this is how our societies will move forward and continue to innovate.” Free trade has finally found two eloquent defenders. What exactly awaits us in the new digital age? Schmidt and Cohen admit that it is hard to tell. Thanks to technology, some things will turn out to be good: say, smart shoes that pinch us when we are running late. Other things will turn out to be bad: say, private drones.

more from Evgeny Morozov at TNR here.

art and hell


The most telling of all paintings about the Civil War, Winslow Homer’s “Prisoners from the Front” (1866), is enough on its own to save “The Civil War and American Art,” a show at the Metropolitan Museum, from the general inadequacy of art in the face of traumatizing world events. “Prisoners” pictures a youthful Union brigadier general, Francis Barlow, confronting a trio of captured Confederates—about to be fellow-citizens again, against their will—on a devastated field. Barlow, crisp and cool, with his hands clasped behind him, radiates professional rectitude. Two of the rebels are clad in near-rags: one is an inattentive, shambling young lout; the other a white-bearded man, his face clenched with anxiety. The third is a long-haired cavalier in high boots, his tight gray uniform negligently buttoned and his cap set at a rakish angle. He might be challenging his captor to a staring match. But Barlow is impervious; he lacks nothing except, perhaps, historical prescience. Does he detect in the prisoners the enduring alienation that we do? Homer, a rare artist who cannot lie, grasps and conveys that the Civil War was not really over, as it may never be. “The Civil War and American Art” complements another show at the Met, “Photography and the American Civil War,” which opened in April with a theatrical profusion of vintage prints, stereographs, ambrotypes, and tintypes, notably from the studios of the pioneering photojournalist Mathew Brady and of Alexander Gardner, a former Brady staff photographer who set up in competition with him.

more from Peter Schjeldahl at The New Yorker here.

Ventriloquist dummy

Vijay Prashad in Frontline:

FL14BKvijay_jpg_1468967mRashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, U.S., has written a number of crucial books to explain the predicament of the Palestinian people. Five of which have provided the long history of Palestinian nationalism, from his first book that opens in 1906 (British Policy towards Syria and Palestine, 1906-1914, 1980), through his wide-ranging study of Palestinian national consciousness (Palestinian Identity, 1997) to his more recent attempt to understand how that striving ended up with the P.A. (The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood, 2006). Alongside this exploration of Palestinian exertions, Khalidi has traced the role of U.S. foreign policy in West Asia with two important books about the U.S’ power in the region during the Cold War (Resurrecting Empire, 2004, and Sowing Crisis, 2009).

In the book under review, Khalidi brings to bear these two concerns, the complicity between the Israel and the U.S. to throw Palestinian nationalism into an iron cage that is gilded on the outside with language that appears conciliatory but is in fact its opposite. It is a forensic analysis of the collusion between the U.S. and Israel, dispelling the view of the U.S. as an “honest broker” in the negotiations (hence the book’s title).

Having written several comprehensive books on the Palestinian struggle and on its limitations, Khalidi here turns to a useful narrative device. He looks at three moments in the “peace process” to illuminate the complicity of the U.S. with Israel’s project of settler-colonialism.

More here.

Wednesday Poem


I replaced the candle holder on my wall

with a painting by an artist unknown,
brought back by my wife from Habana,
of a woman with jug upon her shoulder –
I call her Waterwoman. She reminds me
of my mother and the women of her era,
how they would carry a bucket brim-full
on their heads from the river without
spilling one single drop of water. Such
natural grace and poise as of a gazelle;
Africa, across ocean, soft-wired in DNA;
each one a
beauty, each one a queen,
each one a beauty queen, like Oshun,
flowing, fluid, each one a waterwoman.

by G. Newton V. Chance, ©2013

Sleep: Off to night school

From Nature:

SleepNeuroscientist Jan Born is quietly jealous of his eight-month-old daughter. “She sleeps when she wants,” he says. Then again, he says, sleep is a crucial time for learning, and she probably has more to learn about the world than the average adult. “I think about whether she needs this sleep because her hippocampus is full,” he says. The hippocampus is a node in the brain's memory network, the place memories are first encoded for transferral later to longer-term storage. Sleep is one way its contents are downloaded to other regions of the brain where it is thought they are interpreted and stored. “We know that during sleep the brain processes a wide range of memory types,” says Robert Stickgold, a neuroscientist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, Massachusetts. Researchers know that a bit of shut-eye helps you recall all manner of things, from newly acquired motor skills, such as how to play the piano, to what you wore to the theatre last night. But sleep is not a passive storage process, like saving a video file to a hard drive. Sleep also reconfigures memory. It helps us edit the files — adding or removing content or emotional tone, for example — and re-save them. “This isn't just memory representation getting stronger,” says Born, who studies sleep and memory at the University of Tübingen in Germany. “Memories are reactivated and reprocessed.” And just what is it about the sleeping brain that makes it a memory machine? “We don't know how it does any of this,” says Stickgold, “because no one knows how a memory is formed.” But that is not going to stop scientists from trying to find out. Working in humans and animal models, researchers are documenting how the sleeping brain behaves, and trying to link that activity to the vast and complex constellation of information it stores.

Memory maker

A night's sleep has five distinct phases, which the brain cycles through roughly every 90 minutes. In rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the brain's electrical activity looks much as it does when someone is awake. Researchers assumed that REM was when dreams took place — and that in dreams, perhaps, memories are consolidated, the brain replaying the day's experiences and storing them as enduring recollections.

More here.

The dark side of Thomas Jefferson

From Delanceyplace:

In today's selection — the paradox between Thomas Jefferson's authorship of the Declaration of Independence and his ownership of slaves. When he drafted the Declaration of Independence Jefferson wrote that the slave trade was an “execrable commerce …this assemblage of horrors,” a “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberties.” Yet when he had the opportunity in 1817 due to a bequest from Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko, he did not free his slaves. Jefferson owned more than 600 slaves in his lifetime and at any given time approximately 100 slaves lived on Monticello. In 1792, Jefferson calculated that he was making a 4 percent profit per year on the birth of black children. Jefferson's nail boys alone produced 5,000 to 10,000 nails a day, for a gross income of $2000 in 1796, $35,000 in 2013. “With five simple words in the Declaration of Independence — 'all men are created equal' — Thomas Jefferson undid Aristotle's ancient formula, which had governed human affairs until 1776: 'From the hour of their birth, some men are marked out for subjection, others for rule.' In his original draft of the Declaration, in soaring, damning, fiery prose, Jefferson denounced the slave trade as an 'execrable commerce …this assemblage of horrors,' a 'cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberties.' …

Slave“But in the 1790s, … 'the most remarkable thing about Jefferson's stand on slavery is his immense silence.' And later, [historian David Brion] Davis finds, Jefferson's emancipation efforts 'virtually ceased.' …”In 1817, Jefferson's old friend, the Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko, died in Switzerland. The Polish nobleman, who had arrived from Europe in 1776 to aid the Americans, left a substantial fortune to Jefferson. Kosciuszko bequeathed funds to free Jefferson's slaves and purchase land and farming equipment for them to begin a life on their own. In the spring of 1819, Jefferson pondered what to do with the legacy. Kosciuszko had made him executor of the will, so Jefferson had a legal duty, as well as a personal obligation to his deceased friend, to carry out the terms of the document. “The terms came as no surprise to Jefferson. He had helped Kosciuszko draft the will, which states, 'I hereby authorize my friend, Thomas Jefferson, to employ the whole [bequest] in purchasing Negroes from his own or any others and giving them liberty in my name.' Kosciuszko's estate was nearly $20,000, the equivalent today of roughly $280,000. But Jefferson refused the gift, even though it would have reduced the debt hanging over Monticello, while also relieving him, in part at least, of what he himself had described in 1814 as the 'moral reproach' of slavery.

More here.

Far from having replaced metaphysics, science is in a mess and needs help. Einstein saw it coming

Raymond Tallis in The Guardian:

Philosophy-and-metaphysic-008In 2010 Stephen Hawking, in The Grand Design, announced that philosophy was “dead” because it had “not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics”. He was not referring to ethics, political theory or aesthetics. He meant metaphysics, the branch of philosophy that aspires to the most general understanding of nature – of space and time, the fundamental stuff of the world. If philosophers really wanted to make progress, they should abandon their armchairs and their subtle arguments, wise up to maths and listen to the physicists.

This view has significant support among philosophers in the English-speaking world. Bristol philosopher James Ladyman, who argues that metaphysics should be naturalised, and who describes the accusation of “scientism” as “badge of honour”, is by no means an isolated case.

But there could not be a worse time for philosophers to surrender the baton of metaphysical inquiry to physicists. Fundamental physics is in a metaphysical mess and needs help. The attempt to reconcile its two big theories, general relativity and quantum mechanics, has stalled for nearly 40 years. Endeavours to unite them, such as string theory, are mathematically ingenious but incomprehensible even to many who work with them. This is well known. A better-kept secret is that at the heart of quantum mechanics is a disturbing paradox – the so-called measurement problem, arising ultimately out of the Uncertainty Principle – which apparently demonstrates that the very measurements that have established and confirmed quantum theory should be impossible. Oxford philosopher of physics David Wallace has argued that this threatens to make quantum mechanics incoherent which can be remedied only by vastly multiplying worlds.

More here.

Intelligence linked to ability to ignore distractions

From the BBC:

Apple_intelligence_image-splIn the study, individuals watched short video clips of black and white bars moving across a computer screen. Some clips were small and filled only the centre of the screen, while others filled the whole screen.

The participants' sole task was to identify in which direction the bars were drifting – to the right or to the left.

Participants also took a standardised intelligence test.

The results showed that people with higher IQ scores were faster at noticing the movement of the bars when observing the smallest image – but they were slower at detecting movement in the larger images.

Michael Melnick of the University of Rochester, who was part of the research team said the results were very clear.

“From previous research, we expected that all participants would be worse at detecting the movement of large images, but high IQ individuals were much, much worse.

The authors explain that in most scenarios, background movement is less important than small moving objects in the foreground, for example driving a car, walking down a hall or moving your eyes across the room.

More here.

Poem: “I’m not saying anything against Alexander”

Timur, I hear, took the trouble to conquer the earth.
I don't understand him.
With a bit of hard liquor you can forget the earth.

I'm not saying anything against Alexander,
Only I have seen people who were remarkable,
Highly deserving of your admiration
For the fact that they were alive at all.

Great men generate too much sweat.
In all of this I see just a proof that
They couldn't stand being on their own
And smoking and drinking and the like.
And they must be too mean-spirited to get
Contentment from sitting by a woman.

by Bertolt Brecht, from here

[Thanks to Ram Manikkalingam.]