Sweet dreams. New research implies the ability to imagine future events is not a uniquely human ability

From Science Daily:

RatWhen rats rest, their brains simulate journeys to a desired future such as a tasty treat. Researchers monitored brain activity in rats, first as the animals viewed food in a location they could not reach, then as they rested in a separate chamber, and finally as they were allowed to walk to the food. The activity of specialized brain cells involved in navigation suggested that during the rest the rats simulated walking to and from food that they had been unable to reach. The study, published in the open access journal eLife, could help to explain why some people with damage to a part of the brain called the hippocampus are unable to imagine the future.

“During exploration, mammals rapidly form a map of the environment in their hippocampus,” says senior author Dr Hugo Spiers (UCL Experimental Psychology). “During sleep or rest, the hippocampus replays journeys through this map which may help strengthen the memory. It has been speculated that such replay might form the content of dreams. Whether or not rats experience this brain activity as dreams is still unclear, as we would need to ask them to be sure! Our new results show that during rest the hippocampus also constructs fragments of a future yet to happen. Because the rat and human hippocampus are similar, this may explain why patients with damage to their hippocampus struggle to imagine future events.”

More here.

Cancer drug lengthens fly lifespan

Heidi Ledford in Nature:

FlyA cancer drug that boosts the lifespan of fruit flies is the latest addition to a small roster of compounds shown to lengthen life — although none has yet been proven in humans. Trametinib (Mekinist), which was developed by the London-based pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline, is already used to treat advanced melanoma. It extends the lifespan of adult fruit flies by about 12%, although the later in life the drug is started, the less effect it has, says Linda Partridge, a geneticist at University College London and the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Cologne, Germany, who led the work. Her team’s research is reported on 25 June in Cell1. But Partridge cautions against rushing to take trametinib in search of a longer life. “That would be mad,” she says. “We just don’t know enough about the long-term consequences.”

Trametinib’s effects are connected to a biochemical pathway controlled by a family of proteins collectively called Ras which seem to be important to both cancer and ageing. They are activated when cells need to grow and proliferate, for example to replace damaged tissue. Mutations in the proteins are associated with cancer — which has led to a decades-long pursuit of drugs that target Ras. At the same time, Ras proteins are involved in other pathways that have been firmly linked to ageing. In yeast, deleting a gene for Ras extends lifespan2, notes Valter Longo, director of the University of Southern California’s Longevity Institute in Los Angeles. And Partridge’s team showed that trametinib’s benefits in fruit flies depended on suppressing a pathway regulated by Ras. Flies genetically modified to have this pathway permanently switched on did not live longer on trametinib.

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Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

Hilton Kramer, longtime chief art critic for the New York Times, was never a shy man, at least in print. He thought of art criticism as a battle. There was a war, as Kramer saw it, between good art and bad art or – maybe more crucially – between art and non-art. Kramer saw himself as a warrior on the side of Art and The Good. In this war, it did not pay to be nice.

Reviewing an exhibit at the Whitney Museum by the young artist Richard Tuttle in 1975, Hilton Kramer wrote, “To Mies van der Rohe’s famous dictum that less is more, the art of Richard Tuttle offers definitive refutation. For in Mr. Tuttle’s work, less is unmistakably less.”

Among Tuttle’s works that Kramer hated were wire pieces from the early 1970s. Here’s what Tuttle does to make a wire piece. First, he enters into a meditative state. He considers the nature of the line he is about to draw, in pencil, on the wall. Then, he draws a line in one fluid motion. Next, he takes a length of florist wire (thin, flexible wire) and tacks one end of the wire to the end of the line he just drew. Then, he unspools a length of wire and tacks the other end of the wire back to the wall where the line terminates. The wire dangles and bends and assumes its own shape. Then, there are two elements: a two-dimensional line drawn on a wall, and a three-dimensional length of wire that hangs, semi-sculpturally, off the wall. Actually, there are three elements, since the wire casts a subtle shadow.

More here.

It Is Accomplished


Andrew Sullivan over at The Daily Dish:

As Gandhi never quite said,

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.

I remember one of the first TV debates I had on the then-strange question of civil marriage for gay couples. It was Crossfire, as I recall, and Gary Bauer’s response to my rather earnest argument after my TNR cover-story on the matter was laughter. “This is the loopiest idea ever to come down the pike,” he joked. “Why are we even discussing it?”

Those were isolating days. A young fellow named Evan Wolfson who had written a dissertation on the subject in 1983 got in touch, and the world immediately felt less lonely. Then a breakthrough in Hawaii, where the state supreme court ruled for marriage equality on gender equality grounds. No gay group had agreed to support the case, which was regarded at best as hopeless and at worst, a recipe for a massive backlash. A local straight attorney from the ACLU, Dan Foley, took it up instead, one of many straight men and women who helped make this happen. And when we won, and got our first fact on the ground, we indeed faced exactly that backlash and all the major gay rights groups refused to spend a dime on protecting the breakthrough … and we lost.

In fact, we lost and lost and lost again. Much of the gay left was deeply suspicious of this conservative-sounding reform; two thirds of the country were opposed; the religious right saw in the issue a unique opportunity for political leverage – and over time, they put state constitutional amendments against marriage equality on the ballot in countless states, and won every time. Our allies deserted us. The Clintons embraced the Defense of Marriage Act, and their Justice Department declared that DOMA was in no way unconstitutional the morning some of us were testifying against it on Capitol Hill. For his part, president George W. Bush subsequently went even further and embraced the Federal Marriage Amendment to permanently ensure second-class citizenship for gay people in America. Those were dark, dark days.

I recall all this now simply to rebut the entire line of being “on the right side of history.”

More here.

Greening Justice: Can Disparate Actors Heed Pope Francis’s Call for Unity?


Rubén Martínez in the LA Review of Books:

HEYBELIADA, Turkey: On the eve of the release of Pope Francis’s historic encyclical on climate change, I sat in a conference room with windows that offered a view across the Sea of Marmara toward the skyscrapers, mosques, and ancient Christian churches of Istanbul, fabled crossroads between East and West, or, if you prefer, between the developed world and the “global south.” It was a fitting site for the Halki Summit II called by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, who has long been known as the “green patriarch” for his commitment to environmentalism. Among the few dozen delegates were theologians, environmentalists, and artists of various disciplines, the majority hailing from Great Britain and the United States (the conference was co-sponsored by Southern New Hampshire University), with a sprinkling from other continents. Our charge? To cultivate a connection between, as the summit’s subtitle put it, “Theology, Ecology, and the Word” in the context of the fight against climate change.

One would expect that a gathering convened by an august personality such as the patriarch would hold to punctilious form. It did, for a while. And then the two keynoting Terrys — American naturalist and feminist author Terry Tempest Williams and everyone’s favorite British Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton — took center stage in consecutive addresses that revealed a deep divide in a gathering where everyone was nominally on the same ideological team. The fissures, of language and culture, of experience and discipline, highlighted the challenges in bringing not just a few conferees into some semblance of order, but of reeling in disparate actors on a global stage into a cohesive movement that joins (as Francis’s Laudato Si’ does) moral, scientific, political, and even aesthetic authority.

More here.

Five Artists, Five Book Reviews


Over at the New York Times, “Must a book review take the form of prose — or can it be pure image? For this first art-themed issue of the Book Review, five pathbreaking contemporary artists create visual works of literary criticism, paying homage to the inspiration they’ve found in fiction, philosophy and poetry.”

Wangechi Mutu on “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy

I read Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things” many, many years ago, at a time when I was considering the idea of what home meant to me. I’d been away from home for over a decade, and yet wasn’t used to being away, was deeply homesick, missing my birth home and rethinking what family meant. I was completing my M.F.A. in sculpture at Yale University and was thinking about belonging, transience and sacrifice. I found myself working through the very large imprint made on my psyche by this book: a story of a family in India that reads like a metaphor for the entire dysfunction and history of a country. Through this, I began to piece together personal narratives to reflect larger stories about a people and their trauma. This book helped me reflect on how important the personal experience is in describing the shared, and even the universal.

More here.

the roots of charity

UrlPeter Brown at Lapham's Quarterly:

When Christians of late antiquity thought of religious giving, they went back to what for them was the beginning—to the words of Jesus. The words of Jesus to the Rich Young Man described a transfer of “treasure” from earth to heaven: “Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.’ ”

Jesus repeated this challenge to his disciples: “Sell your possessions and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.”

The transfer of treasure from earth to heaven was also current in Jewish circles. In the Jerusalem Talmud of the late fourth century, there is a story about King Monobazos, the Jewish king of Adiabene on the Euphrates. He was said to have spent his fortune providing food for the poor in Jerusalem. His infuriated relatives accused him of living up to his name, which was derived from the word bazaz—“to plunder.” Monobazos was plundering his earthly inheritance. He answered them: “My fathers laid up treasure for below, but I have laid up treasures for above. They laid up treasures in a place over which the hand of man may prevail: I in a place over which no hand can prevail.”

more here.

Jessica Jackson Hutchins Finds Truth in Clay

29-critics-art.nocrop.w529.h736.2xJerry Saltz at New York Magazine:

Clay reappeared in the art world about ten years ago. Long disparaged as a craft material, it was — like the demeaned paper silhouette that Kara Walker excavated in the early 1990s — something artists turned to in reaction to the processed, slick Jeff Koons–Damien Hirst movement toward jobbing art out to production teams. Clay represented a way to retake ancient territory and techniques and redefine skill with less expensive, labor-intensive, malleable material that takes on aspects of the body. Unlike the navel-gazing, marketable Zombie Formalists, who have also defined themselves by their unslickness, artists who turned to clay and papier-mâché weren’t making tame-looking art about art. Not only does worked clay show the traces of its making; it’s a tremendous support for painting, twisted, smooth, shaped, with insides and outsides, battered, eternally hard but always liquid-looking. Surprises of glazing are built in, the way surprise is built into painting. Women instinctively understood clay as unprotected territory, as they’d seen photography in the early 1980s — something no one cared about, and thus available. Hutchins, Huma Bhabha, Sterling Ruby, Shio Kusaka, Sarah Lucas, and others have made ceramics almost as ubiquitous in galleries as painting and sculpture. Glazed clay is so sexy that it’s become a gateway material for other “lesser” processes, like weaving and embroidery.

Hutchins was a standout in Francesco Bonami’s 2010 Whitney Biennial, notable in part for showcasing more women than men — hallelujah! By then, she’d shown in New York, fantastically, for a decade.

more here.

thinking about John Berryman

John.berryman1August Kleinzahler at the London Review of Books:

For what then seemed a lengthy spell, from the late 1950s well into the 1970s, the standard-bearers of American poetry were a group of manic depressive exhibitionists working largely, if not exclusively, in traditional metre and rhyme schemes, analysands all, and with self-inflating personae that always reminded me of those giant balloons of Mickey Mouse and Pluto associated with Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. They published and reviewed one another in journals like the Nation, Partisan Review, theKenyon Review and Sewanee Review, with a good deal of auto-canonising. Robert Lowell, almost by default it seemed, was ceded pride of place, the ‘most important American poet now at work’. Lowell and Randall Jarrell, roommates at Kenyon College in the 1930s, and to a lesser extent Berryman too, were big on rating and ranking: the top three poets, the top three oyster houses or second-basemen, the three best Ibsen plays – they seemed especially to like the number three.

How do they rate now? It all looks a bit different fifty years on – it always does – after all the theatrics and hyperventilating, the crack-ups, ECT, Pulitzers, heart attacks, suicides, obituaries, followed hard on by biographies, critical appraisals and reappraisals, canonisation and decanonisation. This is the group sometimes known as ‘confessional’ poets or ‘mid-century’ poets: Lowell, Berryman, Jarrell, Delmore Schwartz, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop and Theodore Roethke. The last two were more peripheral, both less overtly confessional, especially Bishop, and not so much on the scene, New York or Ivy League (though Bishop turned up briefly, and memorably, at Harvard).

more here.

Friday Poem

Demeter, Waitiing

No. Who can bear it. Only someone
who hates herself, who believes
to pull a hand back from a daughter’s cheek
is to put love into her pocket—
like one of those ashen Christian
philosophers, or a war-bound soldier.

She is gone again and I will not bear
it, I will drag my grief through a winter
of my own making and refuse
any meadow that recycles itself into
hope. Shit on the cicadas, dry meteor
flash, finicky butterflies! I will wail and thrash
until the whole goddamned golden panorama freezes
over. Then I will sit down to wait for her. Yes.

by Rita Dove
from Mother Love

publisher: W.W. Norton, 1995

Fear, Rage and Class: The Horror, The Horror … But Also the Beauty

Fawzia Afzul-Khan in Counterpunch:

FawziaI was visiting Washington DC this past week/end to attend a 3 -day orientation for Fulbright scholars and teachers going abroad to different countries around the globe to pursue our research interests in “other” societies and cultures, possibly to impart some skills we’ve learned in our corner of the world here in the USA, and to generally serve as cultural ambassadors, using a “soft” approach to convey American goodwill. Importantly, the almost 70-year old Fulbright international educational exchange program, sponsored by the U.S. government , is meant to aid in shattering stereotypes others may hold of us, as well as those we hold of other cultures and peoples who are “different” from us, whom we don’t know and hence are ideologically trained to fear and often to hold in contempt as “inferior.” But what of the deep ideological divides within the USA? What programs are funded by our department of State to help tear down the walls that separate Black from White, walls that teach hate borne of fear of the “Other”—that Black “other” which “threatens” to usher in an era of justice , an era of equality of Black (and Brown) lives with those of White Americans; ofcourse, this is a “threat” only to those who don’t wish to share their power and privilege, because an era of racial and economic justice challenges the very bedrock of white supremacy on which this admittedly great nation has been built.

The day after the racist assassinations of Black spiritual and political leaders in Charleston, S.C. (the Reverend Pinkney, pastor of the Emanuel African Methodist Church, was also a Democratic state senator in South Carolina)—where 9 worshippers who had gathered for Bible study on a Wednesday evening lost their lives to a white gunman whom they had welcomed into their fold—I happened to walk past the Washington DC branch of this historic Black church. The Metropolitan A.M.E Church at the corner of M and 16th streets, has its own venerable history, where inaugural prayers for Bill Clinton were held, where President Obama and his family have also worshipped, and where several other American Presidents including William Howard Taft and Jimmy Carter have either worshipped or spoken. Naturally, I stepped inside the Church to pay my respects, and it was clear that the young man at the door felt bad telling me that because of the shootings in Charleston the day before, the Church was not open to visitors at that time but that I was welcome to return the following day or for weekend services.

More here.

Between Saying and Doing


Richard Marshall interviews Robert Brandom in 3:AM Magazine:

3:AM: And then there’s the pragmatism – both the American and the Wittgensteinian species that you draw upon and develop. Aren’t these an alternative rather than an extension to the analytic approach? Wasn’t the later Wittgenstein of the ‘Philosophical Investigations’ reacting against the analytics – and his earlier self? How do you manage to run pragmatism in the analytic spirit, and why?

RB: It is easy to see pragmatism as not only critical of but antithetical to analytic philosophy’s concern with meanings. Wittgensteinian pragmatism about discursivity urges us to shift our attention from the analyst’s focus on meaning to concern with use—from semantics in the traditional sense to pragmatics in a broad sense. Rorty, like Dewey, wants to replace analytic philosophy’s master-concept of representation by concern with coping and practical agreement. Heidegger relocates the description and explanation characteristic of Vorhandenheit as a late-coming parochial sub-region of the more primordial Zuhandenheit. And so on. Wittgenstein himself seems to have drawn semantically nihilistic conclusions from his foregrounding of the social practices that constitute the use of linguistic expressions. Methodological pragmatists assert that the point of associating meanings with expressions (as theoretical postulates) would be to codify proprieties governing their use. Wittgenstein takes it that the uses in question are so varied and motley, and above all so plastic and variable, as to defy such regimentation. This is a point that his admirer Charles Travis in our own day has underscored with examples exhibiting the unavoidable “occasion sensitivity” of even the most ordinary empirical descriptive vocabulary—from which he has also drawn skeptical conclusions about the prospects for compositional truth-conditional semantics as classically conceived.

But I think concern with meanings and concern with the use of expressions, semantics and pragmatics, ought to be seen as complementing, rather than competing with one another. Methodological pragmatism and semantic pragmatism about philosophical semantics—that is, the claim that all there is to associate meanings (semantically relevant whatsises) with expressions is their use—do not together entail the semantic nihilist conclusions Wittgenstein and Travis want to draw. One of the ways in which classical analytic philosophy read its brief too narrowly is that it did not systematically consider the ways in which the meanings expressed by some vocabularies can make explicit what is implicit in the use of other vocabularies. This is true for instance of vocabularies whose principal expressive role is to serve as pragmatic metalanguages for other vocabularies. Expressions for normative statuses, such as “commitment” and “entitlement” let us say what it is one is doing in endorsing a claim or an inference.

More here.

China in Revolt


Eli Friedman in Jacobin:

For parts of the rich-world left, the moral of these opposing narratives is that here, in our own societies, labor resistance is consigned to history’s dustbin. Such resistance is, first of all, perverse and decadent. What entitles pampered Northern workers, with their “First World problems,” to make material demands on a system that already offers them such abundance furnished by the wretched of the earth? And in any case, resistance against so formidable a competitive threat must surely be futile.

By depicting Chinese workers as Others — as abject subalterns or competitive antagonists — this tableau wildly miscasts the reality of labor in today’s China. Far from triumphant victors, Chinese workers are facing the same brutal competitive pressures as workers in the West, often at the hands of the same capitalists. More importantly, it is hardly their stoicism that distinguishes them from us.

Today, the Chinese working class is fighting. More than thirty years into the Communist Party’s project of market reform, China is undeniably the epicenter of global labor unrest. While there are no official statistics, it is certain that thousands, if not tens of thousands, of strikes take place each year. All of them are wildcat strikes — there is no such thing as a legal strike in China. So on a typical day anywhere from half a dozen to several dozen strikes are likely taking place.

More importantly, workers are winning, with many strikers capturing large wage increases above and beyond any legal requirements. Worker resistance has been a serious problem for the Chinese state and capital and, as in the United States in the 1930s, the central government has found itself forced to pass a raft of labor legislation. Minimum wages are going up by double digits in cities around the country and many workers are receiving social insurance payments for the first time.

More here.

The Internet Accused Alice Goffman of Faking Details In Her Study of a Black Neighborhood. I Went to Philadelphia to Check.


Jesse Singal in NY Magazine:

Goffman, like any successful author, had her critics. Some said she focused too closely on the “bad apples” of the neighborhood; others that, as a white woman, she was telling a story that wasn’t hers to tell. Both critiques came up during a somewhat heated (according to participants I spoke with)author-meets-critics event held at last August’s meeting of the American Sociological Association that filled the room in which it was held. Overall, though, On the Run was seen by criminal-justice reformers and critics alike as an important step in confronting America’s mass-incarceration crisis — and a timely one given that the Ferguson riots would shake the country just a few months after the book’s initial release. No one had done quite what Goffman had done, and she earned plaudits for her courageous, revealing ethnographic research.

That all began to change last month, when a potentially career-threatening document materialized: On May 2 — or that’s when the document got to Goffman, at least — someone sent an anonymous 60-page critique of On the Run to hundreds of people in her field, including to members of the sociology departments at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was finishing her third year as an assistant professor, and the undergraduate (University of Pennsylvania) and graduate (Princeton) institutions where Goffman was based when she conducted much of the research that would become the book.

The document, uneven in its writing and logic but weirdly compelling in the sheer number of problems it purports to identify in On the Run, presents itself as a call for an investigation into research misconduct: It accuses Goffman of everything from lying about living near 6th Street (the author flags one of Goffman’s former Philly addresses — in fact, it matches up exactly to one neighborhood where she says she lived in the book) to mixing up characters’ ages in ways that suggest she fabricated major events. These were difficult charges for Goffman to forcefully rebut.

More here.

John Roberts Saved Obamacare Again


Scott Lemieux in The Guardian (Photograph: Donald Traill/Invision):

As Roberts’s opinion carefully explains, however, the plaintiffs’ claim was plainly wrong when the provision is read in the context of the statute as a whole. Roberts observed that, “State Exchanges and Federal Exchanges are equivalent – they must meet the same requirements, perform the same functions, and serve the same purposes.” If the court had accepted the theory of the law’s opponents, Roberts wrote, no one utilizing a federal exchange would qualify for a subsidy, “But the Act clearly contemplates that there will be [subsidy-] qualified individuals on every Exchange” even if the law doesn’t spell it out to its opponents’ satisfaction.

Even the court’s dissenters in this case once understood that Congress wouldn’t establish federal exchanges if they wanted them to fail – when it was politically convenient for them to understand it. Thursday’s majority opinion, in observing that it is “implausible that Congress meant the Act” to establish federal exchanges that wouldn’t work, cited the joint dissent written by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy in NFIB v Sebelius – the first case the court heart on the ACA –which assumed that the subsidies would be universally available. Kennedy was at least consistent in his assertion that subsidies would be available to all; the other three dissenters in Sebelius changed their interpretations in this case because their objective is apparently not to construe the statute fairly, but to inflict the maximum amount of damage to it.

Justice Scalia’s histrionic, protesting-too-much dissent provides plenty of evidence that his legal reasoning gave way to his political positions. Attempting to answer the question of why Congress would go to the trouble of designing a federal backstop that was designed to fail, Scalia asserted that, without the subsidies, the “the individual mandate [would continue] to encourage people to maintain coverage, lest they be ‘taxed.’” This is simply nonsense: in many cases, because Americans with low incomes aren’t mandated to carry insurance if it represents a financial hardship, without the subsidies, many people wouldn’t carry insurance nor be taxed for not doing so.

More here.

Why Australian painting matters

_Eastern_Road__Tur_1158587hFiona Gruber at the Times Literary Supplement:

Artists’ interpretation of Australia’s extraordinary landscape, its arduous and covertly violent history, and the modes of alienation and accommodation that are hallmarks of the white experience, all make for fascinating viewing; but there is a persistent image problem, especially among North Americans. Since its first rough colonization, Australia has suffered from being seen as a place rather than a culture. As McCaughey has written elsewhere: “the frustration for Australian artists and writers is that there is little or no curiosity about their identities, their histories, their reputations but only about how their work is a revelation of place”.

It isn’t just a bias of the North Americans. In 1788, the ships disgorging England’s unwanted were moored alongside shores with the longest continuous culture in the world, a fact refuted by the notion of terra nullius. The 40,000-year-old living art tradition at the heart of the culture was something of interest only to a few ethnographers and collectors, and the indigenous relationship between place and art hadn’t penetrated white consciousness. All of that changed in the 1970s, and McCaughey opens his book with an exploration of Aboriginal painting at a point when indigenous artistic expression, formerly found only in sacred ceremonies and sites, was translated into paintings in acrylic on canvas. Among collectors and the public, there was amazement at the explosion of colour and intricate dot or cross-hatch patterning, at the way works could seem abstract when looked at through a Western lens, but which also told complex stories about country, spirits and ritual. Enclosed within a familiar rectangle and hung on a wall, these works could now assume a legitimacy and status in the art world they had never before possessed. They allowed white people to see indigenous art for the first time.

more here.