Listen up, women are telling their story now

Despite the ongoing pandemic of violence against women, the threats online and the harassment on the streets, women’s voices assumed an unprecedented power in 2014.

Rebecca Solnit in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_918 Jan. 02 17.29I have been waiting all my life for what 2014 has brought. It has been a year of feminist insurrection against male violence: a year of mounting refusal to be silent, refusal to let our lives and torments be erased or dismissed. It has not been a harmonious time, but harmony is often purchased by suppressing those with something to say. It was loud, discordant, and maybe transformative, because important things were said – not necessarily new, but said more emphatically, by more of us, and heard as never before.

It was a watershed year for women, and for feminism, as we refused to accept the pandemic of violence against women – the rape, the murder, the beatings, the harassment on the streets and the threats online. Women’s voices achieved a power that seems unprecedented, and the whole conversation changed. There were concrete advances – such as California’s “Yes Means Yes” campus sexual consent law – but those changes were a comparatively small consequence of enormous change in the collective consciousness. The problems have not been merely legal – there have been, for example, laws against wife-beating since the 19th century, which were rarely enforced until the late 1970s, and still can’t halt the epidemic of domestic violence now. The fundamental problem is cultural. And the culture – many cultures, around the world – is beginning to change.

You can almost think of 2014 as a parody of those little calendars with the flower or the gemstone of the month. January was not for garnets; it was finally talking about online threats, and about Dylan Farrow’s testimony that her adoptive father had molested her when she was seven. The conversation in April was about kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, and a Silicon Valley multimillionaire caught on video battering his girlfriend. May wasn’t emeralds; it was the massacre of six people in Isla Vista, California, by a young misogynist and the birth of #YesAllWomen, perhaps the most catalytic in a year of powerful protests online about women and violence.

More here.

The question we actually face in our daily lives is not how much personal or “private” information to share with Google, Facebook or Amazon—it is rather, and much more stressfully, how much of it to share with our friends

Editorial from The Point:

ScreenHunter_917 Jan. 02 17.19Whether or not warnings about what Evgeny Morozov calls the “growing commodification of our personal data” turn out to have been warranted, recent history suggests we will continue to ignore them. As a society we seem to have made a decision—and not one we can claim was uninformed—to continue using Google, Facebook and Amazon, regardless of the uses they might be making of our personal emails, web searches and shopping histories. As has been often pointed out, recent revelations about the unprecedented (and sometimes illegal) information-gathering capabilities of internet companies, not to mention the U.S. government, have inspired a series of localized and academic protests, rather than (what might be expected, given the tenor of those protests) any kind of mass egress from the online portals where most of the spying is presumed to be taking place. Whatever the long-term risks of such activities, they have not struck most of us as severe enough to sacrifice, or even to seriously consider sacrificing, the conveniences of online commerce and communication.

That does not mean that we do not grapple every day with urgent privacy-related problems on the internet; we do. But the question we actually face in our daily lives is not how much personal or “private” information to share with Google, Facebook or Amazon—it is rather, and much more stressfully, how much of it to share with our friends.

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Yiyun Li in More Intelligent Life:

BigQ5Everyone, sooner or later, draws their last breath. What’s the point of living, one could ask, if we all have to come to a dead end? What’s the point, if life never tires of offering situations like asthma? Far from fatal, these nevertheless cause inconvenience, suffering, even despair—in a letter Stefan Zweig wrote before his and Lotte Zweig’s suicides, he mentioned her incurable asthma as one of the reasons for their decision.

When asked for the secret to a long life, an old woman in Chinese folklore says: “There are two things we all do in life: to be born and to die. We’ve done one, what’s the hurry for the other?” Patience: there is plenty of rehearsing time for one to understand the script better. “To philosophise is to learn how to die,” wrote Montaigne, Seneca’s 
intellectual offspring. To philosophise, however, is not the only way to rehearse: to live through a moment of triviality with courage is laudable, too. As Charlie Brown says in a strip, after looking into the vastness of the starry sky, “Let’s go inside and watch television. I’m beginning to feel insignificant.”

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Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters

Billy Kung in Art Asia Pacific:

MalkCurrently running at Chicago’s Catherine Edelman Gallery, the exhibit “Sandro Miller: Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to photographic masters”, is a remarkable exhibition conceived with his long time friend, actor John Malkovich, in honoring the men and women whose photographs helped shape Miller’s career.

In each image, Miller recreated the original iconic photograph – with Malkovich posed and dressed almost exactly as the subjects were – such as Irving Penn’s portrait of Pablo Picasso, Bert Stern’s Marilyn Monroe, Philippe Halsman’s Salvador Dali, Herb Ritt’s Jack Nicholson and Albert Watson’s Alfred Hitchcock, among many others. The result is a palpable labor of love involving a team of seamstresses, stylists, make-up artists, lighting specialists and researchers, all working under the immaculate vision of Miller toward bringing this project to perfection. While this is a tribute and respect paid by Miller to all the old masters, it is also an appreciation of Malkovich’s chameleon-like proclivity and the ease in which he morphs into any character. Most interestingly perhaps, it also serves as a reminder of how entrenched these images of celebrities and famous icons have become in our collective memory through the vision of the old masters.

More here.

Is science broken?

Scientists seek demigod status, journals want blockbuster results, and retractions are on the rise.

Jill Neimark in Aeon:

RTR3KI62-1On 5 August 2014, a celebrated Japanese scientist was found dead, hanging by his neck at his workplace, his shoes politely removed and placed on the landing of the stairs. Yoshiki Sasai, 52, was a legendary stem-cell expert, widely regarded as an exceptional scientist, who worked at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe. Seven months before he killed himself, Sasai and colleagues in Japan and Boston announced a stupefying research breakthrough in two papers inNature. They claimed that ordinary mouse blood cells could be transformed into powerful stem cells – the holy grail of regenerative medicine – by simply bathing them in a mildly acidic solution (called STAP, for stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency).

Almost instantly, the work was called into question. Accusations surfaced in the science blogosphere that images in the papers had been duplicated or altered, and at least eight scientists announced that they were unable to reproduce the experiment. In February 2014, RIKEN launched an internal investigation, and found the 30-year-old lead author, Haruko Obokata, guilty of scientific misconduct (which includes falsification, fabrication, or plagiarism). She had been Sasai’s protégé.

In June, Science reported that earlier versions of the STAP work had been rejected by three top journals: Cell, Science and even Nature itself. Science quoted RIKEN’s report, where peer reviewers raised many troubling questions. ‘This is such an extraordinary claim that a very high level of proof is required,’ wrote one. Another said the paper was ‘simply not credible’. Scientists once again took to the blogosphere asking why Nature had published flawed work and whether journals today value hype over substantive science.

In July, Nature retracted both papers – essentially stamping them with a scarlet letter. Retraction lofted the scandal to worldwide infamy. One evening, when Obokata left work in a taxi, a reporter on a motorcycle started following her. She stopped at a hotel, but was pursued up the escalator and into the bathroom by five journalists, including a cameraman, and sprained her right elbow trying to get away.

More here.

When Threatened By Worms, Bacteria Summon Killer Fungi

Ed Yong in Not Exactly Rocket Science:

Nematode_fungusWhen you’re the size of a human, you worry about lions and tigers and bears. But if you’re a bacterium, a tiny nematode worm, just a millimetre long, can be a vicious predator. Nematodes are among the most common animals on the planet, and many of them hunt bacteria in soil and water. The microbes, in turn, have evolved many defences. Some secrete toxins. Others gather in large, invulnerable swarms*.

Now, a team of Chinese scientists have discovered the most outlandish strategy yet: some bacteria transform fungi into worm-killers.

Fungi aren’t known for their speed or mobility, but around 200 species have evolved ways of killing nematodes nonetheless. They use traps, including sticky nets and microscopic lassos made of single coiled cells. Once they ensnare a worm, they grow into it and digest it from the inside out.

These fungi aren’t always killers. One of the most common and best-studied species—Arthrobotrys oligospora—usually feeds on decaying vegetation. It only produces its deadly traps when nematodes are around. Two years ago, one team of scientists showed that it knows when to do this because it can smell its prey, detecting chemicals that the worms can’t help but produce.

But these chemicals aren’t always necessary. Earlier studies have shown that the fungi can also change from death-eaters to death-bringers when they’re exposed to fresh cow dung. Xin Wang, Guo-Hong Li, and Cheng-Gang Zou from Yunnan University reasoned that bacteria in the dung were responsible.

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Nadia Goodman in TED Ideas:

Science_of_setting_goalsIt’s the time of year when optimism strikes anew and we think to ourselves: our New Year’s resolutions will totally work out this time. Never mind that we abandoned them by Valentine’s Day last year. And the year before. And, well, you know the drill.

But what if this year really could be different?

There’s a science to setting goals. The problem is that it often stays in the ivory tower or gets muddled with misinformation. We called up Kelly McGonigal (TED Talk: How to make stress your friend), a psychologist at Stanford University, and asked her about the best way to set and accomplish a goal, scientifically speaking. Below, she shares four research-backed tips to help you craft and carry out successful goals.

Choose a goal that matters, not just an easy win.

Our brains are wired to love rewards, so we often set simple goals that make it easy to check off boxes. Did you go to the gym today? Check. Did you write in your journal? Check. “It feels really good to set a goal,” says McGonigal. “People often set them just for the burst of optimism they get when they vow to make a change.” But if that’s all our New Year’s resolutions are about, no wonder we end up abandoning them so quickly.

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The Best of LensCulture in 2014

Selected by the Editors of Lensculture:

LensWe love photography in all its forms and genres. We search the world, literally, for people who are using photography in the most interesting and compelling ways. And then we share our discoveries with you. Here are some of the highlights from 2014 — and when you dig even deeper into the LensCulture archives you'll find even more amazing photography from 2014, as well as over ten years of inspiration since we started in 2004. We continue to expand our global reach to photographers and photography lovers. For example, this year, we accepted photographers' submissions from 116 countries and in 15 different languages. Our mission is to discover the best that is happening right now with photography around the world, and to share the best with you.

If this photography doesn't inspire you, please go out and make some of your own! We would love to see what you are doing with this amazing visual language of photography. Really.


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White People Problems: A Critical Response to William Deresiewicz’s “Excellent Sheep”

Douglas Greenberg in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Excellent-SheepWilliam Deresiewicz is angry about the miseducation of young people at the nation’s most prestigious universities. He has written a book on the subject, and he thinks we all should be worried. Really worried. It’s a case of what Louis CK famously called “white people problems,” which he said were “when your life is so amazing that you have to make shit up to be upset about.”

Deresiewicz is definitely upset, and he is also making shit up. He is upset with Columbia and Yale, from which he holds degrees, but he is also upset with Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and an ill-defined group of other private universities. His widely reviewed Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite has something unpleasant to say not only about these institutions but about everyone associated with them: the students, their parents, the faculty, the administrators, the donors, the alumni. Many of these criticisms of elite private higher education have some merit. Yet the tone of the book is so egocentric and intemperate and the framing of the issues is so narrow and sensationalistic that it might not merit a review in the Los Angeles Review of Books if it had not already received so much attention in the national press. Somehow this book has captured the entire national conversation about higher education, although it is mainly concerned with a subset of a small and atypical group of private research universities whose importance can be easily exaggerated, particularly by people who work for, graduated from, or pay tuition to them — or hope someday to do any of the three…

Like it or not, if you don’t go to a college on Deresiewicz’s murky and shifting list of elite institutions, you are a loser. Of course, you are also pathetic if you go to one of the elites since you will be condemned to a soulless life making nothing but money at Bain or Goldman Sachs. It actually seems that for Deresiewicz, if you go to college anywhere at all, you will wind up either a heartless winner or a pathetic loser. In fact, if you have the audacity even to suggest that “you can get an equally good education at Fresno State as at Stanford […] or at Linfield College as at Swarthmore,” you are indulging in a “species of willful anti-elitism.” This is Deresiewicz’s gloss on Sophie Tucker (“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.”): “I’ve been to Fresno State and I’ve been to Stanford. Stanford is better.”

Read the full article here.

Magna Carta: the things you didn’t know

Dan Jones in The Telegraph:

Magna_carta_3146985bThis will be the year of Magna Carta. It is a year rich in historical anniversaries, including those of the battles of Agincourt (1415) and Waterloo (1815). But it is the commemoration of King John’s great concession at Runnymede on June 15 1215 that should dominate our thoughts, as we consider the profound influence that the Great Charter has had on eight centuries of history in England, Britain and the English-speaking world.The celebrations begin this year on February 3. For one day, the only four known copies of Magna Carta 1215 will be brought together for the first time, at the British Library, where they will be seen by the 1,215 people who have won their tickets in a public ballot. There will be plenty more Magna Carta pageantry during the rest of the year, including an exhibition, also at the British Library, a royal visit to Runnymede on the anniversary itself and many other smaller events in towns across the UK – Lincoln, Bury St Edmunds, Salisbury and more – who claim a historic connection with the Great Charter.

But what exactly is Magna Carta? Why was it granted? Does it really speak to the principles of democracy, liberty and human rights with which it is so often associated? And what is the purpose of the charter – if it has one – today? All of these questions are of critical importance as we celebrate eight centuries of Magna Carta, and look towards a ninth.Magna Carta was a failed peace treaty. It was produced during a civil war between John and a coalition of his barons, known by various titles, including The Army of God and The Northerners.

More here.