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.]

Human Scale

Justin E. H. Smith in Paper Monument:

Mueck_Couple_Under_An_Umbrella-480x302While the science-­fiction trope of travelling great distances or growing to great sizes often serves as the stuff of respectable fantasy, shrinking down and travelling microscopically through “inner space” is generally, by contrast, regarded as child’s play, familiar from light Lily Tomlin movies and Disneyland rides with no minimum height requirement. Relatedly, telescopy preceded microscopy by several decades at the beginning of the scientific revolution, even though the two practices involve exactly the same optical technology and differ only with respect to the orientation of the lenses. When Galileo’s observations of the features of the sun were destabilizing ancient cosmology, the microscope was still being dismissed as a hobbyist’s “flea glass.”

We might be orbiting here around an obvious point: there is something undignified about tininess. And yet both ends of the scale, the microscopic and the macroscopic, the baroque curly-­cue and the sublime of the infinite void, are part of one and the same historical shift: the abrupt jolt away from the mesoscopic, which is to say the discovery of the problem of scale.

The Australian artist Ron Mueck’s great coup, in his outsized hyperrealist sculptures of human beings currently on display at the Fondation Cartier in Paris, is that he has taken on what might be called the philosophical problem of scale, but has done so without heavy-­handedly forcing us all into the position of the incredible shrinking viewer. That is, visitors are invited to consider the way scale affects perception, and indeed ontology (for what makes these human figures more thanreal is nothing but the fact that there is more of them), but there is no sense that we have ourselves been diminutivized for some cheap adventure.

More here.



A Writer at War collects correspondence and diary entries by Irish-born author and philosopher Dame Iris Murdoch, perhaps the most criminally under-read writer in America at this time. Why Murdoch should be under-read in the States is a mystery. Author of twenty-five novels plus significant works on philosophy, Murdoch wrote narratives of great psychological intensity that grapple with mythic forces: the search for meaning, morality, the loss of faith, and manifestations of love. Often featuring charismatic male protagonists, many of her books, including Booker Prize-winning The Sea, The Sea, are fearless tours de force. In the U.K., Murdoch has not been so neglected, witness the three biographies of her within the last decade, but the fascination with her personal affairs has at times threatened to overshadow her literary achievements. If Iris Murdoch exists in the American popular consciousness, it is largely due to her widower John Bayley’s three successful memoirs written after her death, and the subsequent film based on them.

more from Laura Albritton at Harvard Review here.

a dream


One day in 1842, the thirty-eight-year old Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote in his notebook: “To write a dream, which shall resemble the real course of a dream, with all its inconsistency, its eccentricities and aimlessness—with nevertheless a leading idea running through the whole. Up to this old age of the world, no such thing has ever been written.” Indeed. From the first dream of Gilgamesh four thousand years ago on to our time, Hawthorne’s observation proves to be right. Something in the retelling of a dream, however haunting and however true, lacks the peculiar verisimilitude of dreams, their unique vocabulary and texture, their singular identity. Alice, whose experience of dreams is one of the deepest and most convincing in all literature, is quite ready to admit that words cannot be used to name the endless plurality of the world. When Humpty Dumpty tells her that he uses the word “glory” to mean “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you,” Alice objects that “glory” does not mean “a nice knock-down argument.”

more from Alberto Manguel at the NYRB here.

gatsby now


I was a little surprised, not too long ago, to hear a student mention that The Great Gatsby was her favorite book. “Because it is the only book you have read,” flashed through my mind, before I could shut up the red-faced misanthrope who accompanies me through my days. I have seen enough of contemporary undergraduates to know that they do read — oh, they do indeed – but only if instructed to do so in order to prepare them for some specific form of assessment that will end in a credential they can list on their curriculum vitae (Harry Potter? Well, that must be read to prove one’s bona fides as a Millennial). But, no, in this case the ruddy misanthrope was wrong, and was well advised to turn his bar stool back round and continue toasting Jason Peters’ health with a long pour of rye on the rocks. There was something else at stake in that student’s love — something that I found mysterious. For, while I always admired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s success at straddling the border between celebrity and genius, literary realism and a lyrical modernism (the modernism that might have been, as opposed to the modernism that was), I never quite understood why Gatsby occupies the place it does in so many persons’ imaginations, their canons of youthful affection.

more from James Matthew Wilson at Front Porch Republic here.

Sons and Lovers: a century on

From The Guardian:

LawrenceBettmannCorbis4“I tell you I've written a great book,” DH Lawrence informed his publisher Edward Garnett, after sending him the manuscript of Sons and Lovers in November 1912. “Read my novel – it's a great novel.” Lawrence's immodesty is forgivable: the book had been through four drafts, and after two years of struggle he was hugely relieved to have it finished. The sense of elation didn't last long. He worried about the title (he had originally called the book “Paul Morel”). He worried whether it might benefit from a foreword (and belatedly posted one to Garnett). He worried about the dust jacket, and arranged for a friend, Ernest Collings, to design one (like the foreword, it wasn't used). Beneath these worries lay a deeper worry, about the text itself: “I am a great admirer of my own stuff while it's new, but after a while I'm not so gone on it,” he admitted. He was already on to the next thing (a draft of what would become The Rainbow), and had “scarcely the patience” to correct the proofs. But he was proud when a finished copy reached him in Italy. And the word he used to Garnett recurred, in letters to friends. “It is quite a great novel”; “I remember you telling me, at the beginning, it would be great. I think it is so.”

Lawrence was right. Sons and Lovers is a great novel. A century of readers have reached for the same adjective. FR Leavis did, when he enrolled Lawrence in the “great tradition” of the English novel, comprising Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad. And Philip Larkin did so, too, describing Lawrence as “England's greatest novelist” and Sons and Lovers as his finest achievement: “Cock me! Nearly every page of it is absolutely perfect.” The perfection wasn't apparent to those close to Lawrence at the time, including his childhood sweetheart Jessie Chambers, his editor Garnett, and his wife-to-be Frieda, all of whom suggested improvements and left their mark on the finished text. But the reviews were good, and 100 years later the novel's reputation holds up, despite the recent dip in Lawrence's critical standing.

More here.

Slowing the aging process using only antibiotics

From Kurzweil AI:

Lightmatter_lab_miceWhy is it that within a homogeneous population of the same species, some individuals live three times as long as others? EPFL researchers investigated this question and found the mechanism responsible for aging hidden deep within mitochondria. The were able to dramatically slow aging down in worms by administering antibiotics to the young, achieving a lifespan extension of 60 percent. The aging process identified by EPFL scientists takes place within organelles called mitochondria, known as the cellular powerhouses because they transform nutrients into proteins including adenosine triphosphate (ATP), used by muscles as energy. Several studies have shown that mitochondria are also involved in aging. The new EPFL research, done in collaboration with partners in the Netherlands and the U.S., pinpoints the exact genes involved and measures the consequences to longevity when the amount of protein they encode for is varied: less protein, longer life.

Laboratory mice in the BXD reference population typically live from 365 to 900 days. This population, which reflects genetic variations that occur naturally within a species, is used by many researchers in an approach known as “real-world genetics.” The benefit of working with this population in particular is that their genome is almost completely decoded. The team led by professor Auwerx, head of EPFL’s Laboratory of Integrative and Systemic Physiology, analyzed mice genomes as a function of longevity and found a group of three genes situated on chromosome number two that, up to this point, had not been suspected of playing any role in aging. But the numbers didn’t lie: a 50 percent reduction in the expression of these genes — and therefore a reduction in the proteins they code for — increased mouse life span by about 250 days.

More here.


by Jalees Rehman

“Shorter sentences and simple words!” was the battle cry of all my English teachers. Their comments and corrections of our English-language essays and homework assignments were very predictable. Apparently, they had all sworn allegiance to the same secret Fraternal Order of Syntax Police. I am sure that students of the English language all over the world have heard similar advice from their teachers, but English teachers at German schools excel in their diligent use of linguistic guillotines to chop up sentences and words. The problem is that they have to teach English to students who think, write and breathe in German, the lego of languages.

Stack Things Fall Apart

Lego blocks invite the observer to grab them and build marvelously creative and complex structures. The German language similarly invites its users to construct composite words and composite sentences. A virtually unlimited number of composite nouns can be created in German, begetting new words which consist of two, three or more components with meanings that extend far beyond the sum of their parts. The famous composite German word “Schadenfreude” is now used worldwide to describe the shameful emotion of joy when observing harm befall others. It combines “Schaden” (harm or damage) and “Freude” (joy), and its allure lies in the honest labeling of a guilty pleasure and the inherent tension of combining two seemingly discordant words.

The lego-like qualities of German can also be easily applied to how sentences are structured. Commas are a German writer's best friends. A German sentence can contain numerous clauses and sub-clauses, weaving a quilt of truths, tangents and tangential truths, all combined into the serpentine splendor of a single sentence. Readers may not enjoy navigating their way through such verschachtelt sentences, but writers take great pleasure in envisioning a reader who unwraps a sentence as if opening a matryoshka doll only to find that the last word of a mammoth sentence negates its fore-shadowed meaning.

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