Does Europe Exist?


The Hungarian philosopher Agnes Heller, in a chapter she contributed to a book published in 1992, stated with some confidence her view that there was no such thing as European culture. There was certainly, she wrote, Italian and German music, and Florentine and Venetian painting, “but there is no European music and no European painting”. It is true that the history of art and culture was not really Heller’s field, but it would seem that those who, in the same year as she wrote her essay, framed the Maastricht Treaty, signalling the transition from European Community to European Union, at least partially agreed with her. The treaty was the first time the community had taken for itself significant powers in the cultural field. European cultures (note the plural), the relevant article stated, were to be understood as requiring “respect” – by which one understands freedom from too much supranational interference (“The Community shall contribute to the flowering of the cultures of the Member States, while respecting their national and regional diversity …”). At the same time however, the Community was to be entrusted with the task of “[b]ringing the common cultural heritage to the fore”.

more from Enda O’Doherty at Dublin Review of Books here.

Woody Allen’s 30 best one-liners

From The Telegraph:

'I’m very proud of my gold pocket watch. My grandfather, on his deathbed, sold me this watch.' (Woody Allen was a stand up comedian between 1964-1968, saying later that there was nothing about the lifestyle he liked.)

'My brain: It`s my second favorite organ.'

'Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable.' (What Woody Allen's character Alvy Singer says to Annie Hall (1977) in an Oscar-winning screenplay Allen co-wrote with Marshall Brickman. In the full speech, Singer says: 'Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That's the two categories. The horrible are like, I don't know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don't know how they get through life. It's amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you're miserable, because that's very lucky, to be miserable.')

'I failed to make the chess team because of my height.'

More here.

What happens during the dying process?

From HowStuffWorks:

Happens-during-dying-1The Scout motto is “be prepared,” but it's hard to be prepared for death, be it our own or a loved one's. Too much is unknown about what dying feels like or what, if anything, happens after you die to ever feel truly ready. However, we do know a bit about the process that occurs in the days and hours leading up to a natural death, and knowing what's going on may be helpful in a loved one's last moments.

During the dying process, the body's systems shut down. The dying person has less energy and begins to sleep more and more. The body is conserving the little energy it has, and as a result, needs less nourishment and sustenance. In the days (or sometimes weeks) before death, people eat and drink less. They may lose all interest in food and drink, and you shouldn't force them to eat. In fact, pushing food or drink on a dying person could cause him or her to choke — at this point, it has become difficult to swallow and the mouth is very dry. As the person takes in less food and drink, he or she will urinate less frequently and have fewer bowel movements. The person may also experience loss of bladder and bowel control. People who are dying may become confused, agitated or restless, which could be a result of the brain receiving less oxygen. It can be disconcerting and painful to hear a loved one so confused in his or her last days.

More here.

Wednesday Poem


I have to drag you
Id b totally kewl with it

​to come away with me
if u were nicer 2 me

​You keep me off-balance
Say pls sometimes like u care

​like I just got off a cruise
But u always favor the other 1

​I have more than just you to think about
Not like I asked 2 b born

​The point is, all you do is cause me pain
Ugh do u know how hard it is

​Can’t you just straighten up
2 b perf all the time

​instead of poking me and poking me
Y dont u just replace me, k

​when if you would just make an effort
Ive got ** on speed dial

​I could get on with my life
Its always abt u isn’t it

Its always abt u​

​Its always

by Jen Karetnik
from Gravel

grandpa and me


In this picture, Grandpa is lying on his back on a green slope, with his hands behind his head for a pillow and his hat pulled halfway down over his eyes. It’s hard to tell whether he’s dozing or not. It seems that he’s in that blessed peace between a light nap and the calm refreshment of gazing up into the clear sky. A spray of scraggly birch leaves hangs over him from above. The boy, meanwhile, is lost in another kind of contemplation. He’s sitting in front, right next to Grandpa’s side. His straw hat is set back to reveal his whole face. The legs of his patched trousers are rolled almost up to his knees, which are tucked up, while his bare feet – big bony feet, scuffed and dirty with life, brace against the hillside. His she-dog beagle nestles under one of the knees, as she sniffs at one of the three yellow-paper butterflies flitting about. But the boy isn’t thinking of the dog or the butterflies, or even Grandpa. He has a wild daisy in his hand – there are a few of them on the slope – and he’s picking the petals off, one by one. “She loves me, she loves me not, she loves me,” that is evidently what is in his mind, as he looks at the flower, with the slightest trace of a smile on his lips, and his eyebrows raised just a little, in wonder.

more from Anthony Esolen at Front Porch Republic here.

bulgakov’s letters


Mikhail Bulgakov, most readers and critics would concur, is the most widely loved and perhaps the greatest Russian writer in the Soviet period of fictional prose and drama. Some might be more deeply affected by Andrei Platonov’s harrowing prose, others impressed by the elegance of Vladimir Nabokov or the prophetic fantasy of Yevgeny Zamyatin, but nobody could render the intervention of the demonic into a corrupt and degraded world so comically and so frighteningly as Bulgakov did in his two major novels (Black Snow and The Master and Margarita) and his short stories and plays. Like many great writers, Bulgakov has his flaws: not all readers feel the saccharine love affair between the Master and Margarita belongs in the same novel as the apocalyptic progress of the satanic Professor Woland; he also liked to hound his oppressors (officials, theatre directors, ideologists) with disproportionate satirical force. Other readers are disconcerted by Bulgakov’s implicit ideology: loyal to the values of the pre-revolutionary educated classes, he seems to have had little hesitation in making a pact with Stalin – the great demon, by destroying lesser demons, protects Bulgakov as an artist, just as Louis XIV shielded Molière and Tsar Nicholas I did for Pushkin.

more from Donald Rayfield at Literary Review here.

dancing Shostakovich


What sparks Ratmansky’s imagination is music. This may seem obvious, but there are plenty of choreographers who take their cues from nonmusical sources and ideas. In Shostakovich, he has an ideal partner. The composer’s sound world offers a vibrant spectrum, from cartoonish chases to crashing dissonances and swooning melodies, often spliced together with very little transition from one mood to the next. Without being programmatic, the music seems to suggest images and stories, though usually discontinuous and jumpy, or layered one on top of the other, and full of mischievous play. As the musicologist Simon Morrison told me not long ago, “The phrases are sometimes misaligned, and cut in different ways. If you listen to his music and think about silent-film technique, it’s the musical equivalent of that.” The technique of cutting and splicing—shot, countershot—is one Shostakovich picked up on early. After the Russian Revolution, the young composer earned his keep by improvising on the piano during silent movies—as did George Balanchine—and later wrote scores for modernist Soviet films such as New Babylon (1929). His music sometimes has the feel of several films spliced together, with a Tom and Jerry chase perhaps followed by a moonlit ride down the Elbe, a passionate kiss, a witch’s dance, a soccer match and a close-up of laughing faces.

more from Marina Harss at The Nation here.

They Finally Tested The ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’ On Actual Prisoners — And The Results Were Not What You Would Expect

Max Nisen in the Business Insider:

ScreenHunter_248 Jul. 23 15.26The “prisoner’s dilemma” is a familiar concept to just about anybody that took Econ 101.

The basic version goes like this. Two criminals are arrested, but police can’t convict either on the primary charge, so they plan to sentence them to a year in jail on a lesser charge. Each of the prisoners, who can’t communicate with each other, are given the option of testifying against their partner. If they testify, and their partner remains silent, the partner gets 3 years and they go free. If they both testify, both get two. If both remain silent, they each get one.

In game theory, betraying your partner, or “defecting” is always the dominant strategy as it always has a slightly higher payoff in a simultaneous game. It’s what’s known as a “Nash Equilibrium,” after Nobel Prize winning mathematician and A Beautiful Mind subject John Nash.

In sequential games, where players know each other’s previous behaviour and have the opportunity to punish each other, defection is the dominant strategy as well.

However, on a Pareto basis, the best outcome for both players is mutual cooperation.

Yet no one’s ever actually run the experiment on real prisoners before, until two University of Hamburg economists tried it out in a recent study comparing the behaviour of inmates and students.

Surprisingly, for the classic version of the game, prisoners were far more cooperative than expected.

More here.

The Trayvon Martin Killing and the Myth of Black-on-Black Crime

Jamelle Bouie in The Daily Beast:

The idea that “black-on-black” crime is the real story in Martin’s killing isn’t a novel one. In addition to Shapiro, you’ll hear the argument from conservative African-American activists like Crystal White, as well as people outside the media, like Zimmerman defense attorney Mark O’Mara, who said that his client “never would have been charged with a crime” if he were black.

(It’s worth noting, here, that Zimmerman wasn’t charged with a crime. At least, not at first. It took six weeks of protest and pressure for Sanford police to revisit the killing and bring charges against him. Indeed, in the beginning, Martin’s cause had less to do with the identity of the shooter and everything to do with the appalling disinterest of the local police department.)

But there’s a huge problem with attempt to shift the conversation: There’s no suchthing as “black-on-black” crime. Yes, from 1976 to 2005, 94 percent of black victims were killed by black offenders, but that racial exclusivity was also true for white victims of violent crime—86 percent were killed by white offenders. Indeed, for the large majority of crimes, you’ll find that victims and offenders share a racial identity, or have some prior relationship to each other.

What Shapiro and others miss about crime, in general, is that it’s driven byopportunism and proximity; If African-Americans are more likely to be robbed, or injured, or killed by other African-Americans, it’s because they tend to live in the same neighborhoods as each other. Residential statistics bear this out (PDF); blacks are still more likely to live near each other or other minority groups than they are to whites. And of course, the reverse holds as well—whites are much more likely to live near other whites than they are to minorities and African-Americans in particular.

More here.

Some innovations spread fast. How do you speed the ones that don’t?

Atul Gawande in The New Yorker:

130729_r23758_p233Did the spread of anesthesia and antisepsis differ for economic reasons? Actually, the incentives for both ran in the right direction. If painless surgery attracted paying patients, so would a noticeably lower death rate. Besides, live patients were more likely to make good on their surgery bill. Maybe ideas that violate prior beliefs are harder to embrace. To nineteenth-century surgeons, germ theory seemed as illogical as, say, Darwin’s theory that human beings evolved from primates. Then again, so did the idea that you could inhale a gas and enter a pain-free state of suspended animation. Proponents of anesthesia overcame belief by encouraging surgeons to try ether on a patient and witness the results for themselves—to take a test drive. When Lister tried this strategy, however, he made little progress.

The technical complexity might have been part of the difficulty. Giving Lister’s methods “a try” required painstaking attention to detail. Surgeons had to be scrupulous about soaking their hands, their instruments, and even their catgut sutures in antiseptic solution. Lister also set up a device that continuously sprayed a mist of antiseptic over the surgical field.

But anesthesia was no easier. Obtaining ether and constructing the inhaler could be difficult. You had to make sure that the device delivered an adequate dosage, and the mechanism required constant tinkering. Yet most surgeons stuck with it—or else they switched to chloroform, which was found to be an even more powerful anesthetic, but posed its own problems. (An imprecise dosage killed people.) Faced with the complexities, they didn’t give up; instead, they formed an entire new medical specialty—anesthesiology.

So what were the key differences?

More here.

Inner speech speaks volumes about the brain

From KurzweilAI:

James_Tissot_-_Inner_VoicesDo you talk to yourself? If so, researcher Mark Scott of the University of British Columbia can help. He’s found evidence that a brain signal called corollary discharge plays an important role in these experiences of internal speech. This is a signal that helps us distinguish the sensory experiences we produce ourselves from those produced by external stimuli. It’s a kind of predictive signal generated by the brain that helps to explain, for example, why other people can tickle us but we can’t tickle ourselves. The signal predicts our own movements and effectively cancels out the tickle sensation.

This explains why we don’t overload our brain when we speak. “By attenuating the impact our own voice has on our hearing — using the ‘corollary discharge’ prediction — our hearing can remain sensitive to other sounds,” Scott said. But Scott also speculated that the internal copy of our voice produced by corollary discharge can be generated even when there isn’t any external sound, meaning that the sound we hear when we talk inside our heads is actually the internal prediction of the sound of our own voice. Curiously, Scott found that the impact of an external sound was significantly reduced when participants said a syllable in their heads that matched the external sound. Their performance was not significantly affected, however, when the syllable they said in their head didn’t match the one they heard. These findings provide evidence that internal speech makes use of a system that is primarily involved in processing external speech, and may help shed light on certain pathological conditions.

Picture: Inner voices, by James Tissot

More here.

Searching for Meaningful Markers of Aging

David Stipp in The New York Times:

How fast are you aging?

Age…In a 2010 study, Dr. Miller and colleagues analyzed medical records of 4,097 women, collected over two decades beginning when they were in their 60s, to sift out 13 factors that best predicted future mortality from different causes. Oddly, contrast sensitivity — as measured by a test of the eye’s ability to pick out very lightly shaded images on white backgrounds — was among the most predictive of the 377 factors evaluated, as was the number of rapid step-ups on a low platform that the subjects could complete in 10 seconds. Taken together, the 13 factors “characterize the clinical presentation of healthy aging” in older women, the study concluded. More recently, novel technologies that can detect thousands of age-associated molecular changes in cells have come to the fore in the biomarker hunt.

Earlier this year Dr. Zhang and his colleagues in San Diego reported that a kind of molecular aging clock is embedded in our genomes whose speed can be measured via blood testing. The moving parts of the clock consist of chemical tags on DNA molecules that control whether genes are active in cells. The researchers found that the patterns of the tags, called epigenetic markers, predictably change with age. In a study published in January in Molecular Cell, the scientists scrutinized around 485,000 of these tags in blood cells of 656 people aged 19 to 101. Some 70,387 tags were predictive of chronological age, the scientists found. Collectively these tags spell out a “signature for age” that is “largely not changed by disease or ethnic background,” said Ronald Kohanski, an expert on biomarkers of aging at the National Institute on Aging. That means these markers may be less muddied by confounders than other factors tied to aging. Of the markers, 71 most indicative of chronological age were selected to measure the speed at which people are growing old. That was calculated by comparing a subject’s epigenetic tags to the norm for his or her age — a 40-year-old whose pattern closely resembled the typical one for 50-year-olds, for example, would apparently be aging 25 percent faster than normal.

Already the molecular clock has yielded interesting findings. Men appear to age on average 4 percent faster than women, the scientists have found, which may largely explain why women’s life expectancy exceeds men’s by about 6 percent worldwide. And the research has shed intriguing light on cancer: The clock indicated that tumor cells have aged, on average, 40 percent more than normal cells taken from the same patients.

More here.

Grandad and a Pramload of Clocks

Wheeling them in,
the yard gate at half-mast
with its ticking hinge,
the tin bucket with a hairnet of webs,
the privy door ajar,
the path gloved with moss
ploughed by metal
through a scalped tyre –
in the shadows of the hood,
in the ripped silk
of the rocking, buckled pram,
none of the dead clocks moving.

And carrying them in
to a kitchen table,
a near-lifetime’s Woodies
coating each cough,
he will tickle them awake;
will hold like primitive headphones
the tinkling shells to each ear,
select and apply unfailingly
the right tool to the right cog
and with movements
as unpredictable as the pram’s
will wind and counter-wind
the scrap to metronomic life.

And at the pub,
at the Grey Horse or Houldsworth,
furtive as unpaid tax,
Rolex and Timex
and brands beneath naming
will change hands for the price of a bevy,
a fish supper
or a down payment
on early retirement
on a horse called Clockwork
running in the three-thirty at Aintree.

by John Lindley

Three Seconds: Poems, Cubes and the Brain

by Jalees Rehman

Stopwatch.06.jpg4c4d5258-02ae-4e67-bb40-71ea134b660dLargerA child drops a chocolate chip cookie on the floor, immediately picks it up, looks quizzically at a parental eye-witness and proceeds to munch on it after receiving an approving nod. This is one of the versions of the “three second rule”, which suggests that food can be safely consumed if it has had less than three seconds contact with the floor. There is really no scientific basis for this legend, because noxious chemicals or microbial flora do not bide their time, counting “One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand,…” before they latch on to a chocolate chip cookie. Food will likely accumulate more bacteria, the longer it is in contact with the floor, but I am not aware of any rigorous scientific study that has measured the impact of food-floor intercourse on a second-to-second basis and identified three seconds as a critical temporal threshold. Basketball connoisseurs occasionally argue about a very different version of the “three second rule”, and the Urban Dictionary provides us with yet another set of definitions for the “three second rule”, such as the time after which one loses a vacated seat in a public setting. I was not aware of any of these “three second rule” versions until I moved to the USA, but I had come across the elusive “three seconds” time interval in a rather different context when I worked at the Institute of Medical Psychology in Munich: Stimuli or signals that occur within an interval of up to three seconds are processed and integrated by our brain into a “subjective present”.

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Rain Meditation

by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

Heat is eerie: lipsticks left unrefrigerated melt into deformity, ice cream liquefies and renders the scoop useless; fruit and flower stalls carry the smell of that peculiar cusp between ripe and rotten.


Then rain comes, licking the sky green; the veil between the mysteries and the sun-weary, bleached and hardened world dissolves away, becoming thin as a glassy insect wing. A dusty estrangement washes out, newly woven silken webs everywhere; meditation is possible again.

Clarity makes me humble: I’m smaller than a melon seed, slighter than a fishbone. I’m the moisture in the air and the movement in antennae; I’m filament and feelers, the quiver within the quiver, the wet crease in the smallest leaves. I’m also a rusty door hinge, static on television, soaked clothesline, scurrying lizard, the moving minute hand on the timepiece that is suddenly ticking louder; Rain changes the acoustics entirely— each syllable, sob, twitter, footfall, turning of a knob, is distinct. The airwaves have cleared and the cosmic channels open up.

I watch the raindrops make rings on the surface of a mossy cistern: water bangles! I imagine the continuously disappearing rain bangles on my wrists. Leaves float, throats are stirred into singing: a frog’s croaking has a timbre of energy today, as if it is charging the earth in its deep, steady way.

Birdsong becomes an articulation in a foreign tongue I long to translate and memorize. I’m filled with a peaceful attentiveness. I listen like just another creature, to the sound of rain and the rustling and chirping in response. It occurs to me that the overpowering heat of summer hurts every sparrow, toad and tree as much as it hurts us. It also occurs to me that the heat has a maddening effect—we build rage, boil over, our spirits wilt, our vision blurs as if in sweat, our demons hover incessantly; we lose focus of the essence. It is a defeat of the soul because the body is under an immense attack.

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for Richard Howard

The servants never listen to me
Only when the new wife nods
They run around like rats
To fetch the thermos

There is poison in the spring water
A present from my son
In America — the wind

Carried my message
After all
Under my bed

I want latches on my door
And a mirror
The old one shattered
When the nail

Gave way
I hang my shawl on the wall
Dried roses upside down
My room not swept for six days

No water to
dunk clothes
My daughter will clean
When she visits

The door is bolted
From outside
If the house catches fire who will
Open it?

Will I burn alive?
The servant's outhouse
Turns my stomach
A pane is broken

I'll spray Chanel!
My grandson from his grave
Come to visit
He is with his great-grandfather

They both received transfusions
My husband says I don't need a doctor
But that doesn't keep his new wife
From going to Combined Hospital

I am still the head of this household
O Wind
Tell my son in America
The dollars he sends

The new wife steals
Tell him I need a car
To buy roses
At Shalimar

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The View from Above

by Liam Heneghan


Male Torso (Wikipedia)

Every year, for a number of years, I received a letter about my body from a man who was neither a family member, nor an especially intimate friend. Invariably they started: “Dear Liam, thank you for your recent visit. I am happy to confirm that you are largely in a healthy condition.” The earliest of these letters was handwritten with a fountain pen, as if to confirm that, though not physically remarkable, I was nevertheless, in his eyes, a very special fellow.

The greetings and general summary thus dispatched, he would describe my physical condition meticulously. I was taller, by an inch, back then apparently. Perhaps I am not physical shriveling and merely relaxed now and less inclined to stretch to impress. On the other hand, I was less weighty back then, and having always had an ability to convert food into more me, I have slowly, and incrementally, squeezed out more Liam, becoming a shorter, heavier version of myself.

My correspondent recorded his observations on my pulse, and noted my blood pressure which was, in the old classification at least, high normal. Today, I understand, these number would be regarded with an arched eyebrow. Consolingly he informed me that “we’ll keep an eye on it.”

There was always in these letters some ominous tones, as if to say that though everything looked normal, potential horrors lurked around the corner. The price: eternal vigilance in matters of the flesh. My liver, for instance, didn’t seem enlarged. He reiterated my self-reported alcohol consumption. “You consume, you say, no more than two drinks a day.” I detected in this a whiff of disbelief, as if his intuition over-ruled both the evidence of his palpations and his ears.

His was not an especially expansive vocabulary. Once he described as “loose” both my stools and my testicles. The former condition I may have mentioned to him; the latter condition he detected for himself after each had descended like imperfect plover’s eggs into the grabby nest of his latexed hand. I coughed. By the mysteries of internal plumping something softly leapt within. I was not herniated.

Fathers should tell their sons what is involved in prostate exams. I swear I had no idea, though the terse preparatory directions make it clear. I was living in Georgia when first this test was administer to me.“This might make you tearful..”, my doctor drawled.

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Coronation! Westminster Abbey, London

by Sue Hubbard

6th May 2013 – 27th September 2013

3380301_10The day I went to Westminster Abbey London was sweltering. Long queues of tourists stood in the broiling sun in their shorts and sunhats. Listless children looked as though they rather be anywhere else. Another June day 60 years ago, the Queen's Coronation in 1953, was one of the coldest and wettest of the year. Perhaps there's something about the Monarchy that the weather gods don't favour. The Queen shivered through the recent sodden river pageant for her Diamond Jubilee.

As I made my way through the ancient cloisters to the Chapter House to find the small exhibition mounted to mark the 60th anniversary of the Coronation, I thought how strange it is that if you live in London you never come to these landmark locations and forget how redolent with history they are. Ostensibly the exhibition documents the energetic preparations undertaken at Westminster Abbey, the pomp and magnificence, and its prodigious transformation in the six months prior to the big day. The Ministry of Works, the government's building department at the time, carried out extensive arrangements to re-configure the Abbey and recorded it all in meticulous detail. Some of the original Ministry of Works prints, which are now all stored at The National Archives, Kew, have been scanned specially for use in the exhibition. David Eccles, the minister responsible, can be seen with his slick Brylcreamed hair explaining his vision to a press conference on 28th March 1953.

The Coronation caught the imagination of a nation ground down by post-war austerity and the photographs show how deeply enmeshed the monarchy is within the fabric of British society. Over hundreds of years it became a symbolic, almost magical institution at the heart of the nation. By implication, these potent photographs also emphasise that during the last sixty years it has slowly turned from something mystical and sacred into a plebeian soap opera that fills the pages of Hello and OK.

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