We are now witnessing Elon Musk’s slow-motion disruption of the global auto industry

Steve LeVine in Quartz:

ScreenHunter_1850 Apr. 13 16.42On March 31, his Tesla Motors unveiled its long-promised Model 3, a $35,000 electric car that will go 215 miles per charge. The market response suggests to some the potential as a category killer, not just in electric vehicles, but mainstream cars in general: in the week since, more than 325,000 Model 3s have been pre-ordered by people putting down $1,000 per reservation, the company said April 7.

Even deep Tesla skeptics call this demand unprecedented. There simply may be no example of a new car attracting as much interest in more than a century of automative history. Veteran auto analyst Bertel Schmidt says the closest comparison would be the 1955 Citroen DS (below), which was pre-ordered by 12,000 motorists on launch day. Wall Street has responded by sending Tesla’s share price up by about 12% since the Model 3’s debut.

More here.

The Absurd Primacy of the Automobile in American Life

Edward Humes in The Atlantic:

Lead_960What are the failings of cars? First and foremost, they are profligate wasters of money and fuel: More than 80 cents of every dollar spent on gasoline is squandered by the inherent inefficiencies of the modern internal combustion engine. No part of daily life wastes more energy and, by extension, more money than the modern automobile. While burning through all that fuel, cars and trucks spew toxins and particulate waste into the atmosphere that induce cancer, lung disease, and asthma. These emissions measurably decrease longevity—not by a matter of days, but years. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculates that 53,000 Americans die prematurely every year from vehicle pollution, losing 10 years of life on average compared to their lifespans in the absence of tailpipe emissions.

There are also the indirect environmental, health, and economic costs of extracting, transporting, and refining oil for vehicle fuels, and the immense national-security costs and risks of being dependent on oil imports for significant amounts of that fuel. As an investment, the car is a massive waste of opportunity—“the world’s most underutilized asset,” the investment firm Morgan Stanley calls it. That’s because the average car sits idle 92 percent of the time. Accounting for all costs, from fuel to insurance to depreciation, the average car owner in the U.S. pays $12,544 a year for a car that puts in a mere 14-hour workweek.

More here.

I am on the Kill List. This is what it feels like to be hunted by drones

Malik Jalal in The Independent:

Pg-29-drones-apI am in the strange position of knowing that I am on the ‘Kill List’. I know this because I have been told, and I know because I have been targeted for death over and over again. Four times missiles have been fired at me. I am extraordinarily fortunate to be alive.

I don’t want to end up a “Bugsplat” – the ugly word that is used for what remains of a human being after being blown up by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone. More importantly, I don’t want my family to become victims, or even to live with the droning engines overhead, knowing that at any moment they could be vaporized.

I am in England this week because I decided that if Westerners wanted to kill me without bothering to come to speak with me first, perhaps I should come to speak to them instead. I’ll tell my story so that you can judge for yourselves whether I am the kind of person you want to be murdered.

I am from Waziristan, the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan. I am one of the leaders of the North Waziristan Peace Committee (NWPC), which is a body of local Maliks (or community leaders) that is devoted to trying to keep the peace in our region. We are sanctioned by the Pakistan government, and our main mission is to try to prevent violence between the local Taliban and the authorities.

More here.

Wallace Stevens, a “philosophical” poet (or not)

WallaceStevensRegalia-3.28.50David Baker at The New England Review:

We think by feeling,” writes Roethke, and then adds with a lyric shrug, “what is there to know?” Roethke articulates in “The Waking” a manner of late, purified, and some have said discredited romanticism—more inspiration than intellect, more sense than sanity or reason. So he doesn’t get lost in his unknowing, in a dark time, Roethke finds his way in and back out of the maze by means of form itself, following the step-by-step, syllable-by-syllable guidance of the villanelle. Otherwise, it might all look like, well, disaster.

Wallace Stevens is one of our supreme knowers, one of the profound thinkers of, and inside, the lyric poem. If Roethke thinks by feeling, then how does Stevens think? All that abstract longwinded highbrow stuff, that tink-a-tink and philosophy, what to do with all that?

Philosophy is my first point, or rather the relation of philosophy to the lyric utterance. One of the persisting characterizations of Stevens and his poems—and it seems everyone has written on Stevens—is that he is a philosophical poet, that particular kind of abstractive thinker. Even a quick amble through recent Stevens criticism will show the commentators as likely to position Stevens alongside philosophers as alongside poets. Of course they situate him with Burke and Kermode, James and Santayana and Locke; but also Stevens with Derrida, Gombrich, Adorno, Bachelard, Blanchot, Wittgenstein, Lacan, Pater, Levinas, Hegel, Schlegel, Kant. Entire books appear about Stevens and the philosophical: The Never-Resting Mind, The Act of the Mind, Stevens’ Poetry of Thought, and A Cure of the Mind.

more here.

Seamus Heaney’s Aeneid

Heaney aeneidJ. Kates at Harvard Review:

Seamus Heaney introduced his translation of Beowulf with these words: "When I was an undergraduate at Queen's University, Belfast, I studied Beowulf and other Anglo-Saxon poems and developed not only a feel for the language but a fondness for the melancholy and fortitude that characterized the poetry." [1] His introduction to Book VI of Virgil's [2] Aeneidbegins in both a parallel and yet a very different fashion: "This translation of Aeneid VI is neither a 'version' nor a crib: it is more like classics homework, the result of a lifelong desire to honour the memory of my Latin teacher at St. Columb's College, Father Michael McGlinchey." [3]

I am certain the poet needed little encouragement. Heaney descended into the Underworld time and time again from the very beginning of his writing career. Many of his own poems confront the dead who passed through and out of his life, just as Aeneas eternally confronts those in his regnum inferni. In Station Island, Heaney came close to employing Dante as his own Virgil. The Aeneid was standard fare for a Latin student of Heaney's generation. In Father McGlinchey's class he was set, as I was set in Mr. Clegg's, passages to translate as part of the pedagogy. Now Heaney's translation of Book VI, the narrative of Aeneas's descent into the Underworld, has been published posthumously in its own slim volume.

more here.

Gerald Foos bought a motel in order to watch his guests having sex

160411_r27944-320Gay Talese at The New Yorker:

As to whether my correspondent in Colorado was, in his own words, “a deranged voyeur”—a version of Hitchcock’s Norman Bates, or the murderous filmmaker in Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom”—or instead a harmless, if odd, man of “unlimited curiosity,” or even a simple fabulist, I could know only if I accepted his invitation. Since I was planning to be in Phoenix later in the month, I decided to send him a note, with my phone number, proposing that we meet during a stopover in Denver. He left a message on my answering machine a few days later, saying that he would meet me at the airport baggage claim.

Two weeks later, when I approached the luggage carrousel, I spotted a man holding out his hand and smiling. “Welcome to Denver,” he said, waving in his left hand the note I had mailed him. “My name is Gerald Foos.”

My first impression was that this amiable stranger resembled many of the men I had flown with from Phoenix. He seemed in no way peculiar. In his mid-forties, Foos was hazel-eyed, around six feet tall, and slightly overweight. He wore a tan jacket and an open-collared dress shirt that seemed a size small for his heavily muscled neck. He had neatly trimmed dark hair, and, behind horn-rimmed glasses, he projected a friendly expression befitting an innkeeper.

more here.

The Rest Is Silence: Chaplin’s trip abroad

Henry Giardina in The Paris Review:

Mytripabroad05chapialaIn the fall of 1921, journalists were clamoring to know if Charlie Chaplin intended to play Hamlet. They asked him in Chicago at the Blackstone Hotel. They cornered him at the Ritz. His response each time was coy and evasive: “Why, I don’t know.” Of all the unlikely questions they tended to ask him at this point in his career—“Are you a Bolshevik?” “What do you do with your old mustaches?”—the Hamlet question seems most out of place. Why would an actor known for his comedy and silence take on a famously verbose and tragic role? Hamlet, with his hemming and hawing, didn’t seem a natural fit for an actor in Chaplin’s position. But then, no actor had ever been in Chaplin’s position before.

In 1921, Chaplin was the most famous man in the world, famous in a way that hadn’t been possible since the birth of cinema a mere twenty-odd years earlier. He’d just put out The Kid, his most ambitious film, and the first feature-length film comedy. There had been other attempts, mainly accidents: Harold Lloyd’s A Sailor-Made Man, which ran over its three intended reels into a fourth, and Chaplin’s earlier Tillie’s Punctured Romance had the length but lacked the architecture. The Kid was different. It merged tragedy and comedy into a third, fluid form. Chaplin wanted to wring out of audiences every single emotion at once without losing any narrative cohesion. The result was a high emotional realism not yet seen in the short history of the cinema. This was, before 1921, unheard of—inadvisable, even. People thought Chaplin too ambitious, especially for his medium. “It won’t work,” his friend Gouverneur Morris told him. “The form must be pure, either slapstick or drama; you cannot mix them, otherwise one element of your story will fail.” But Chaplin understood something of the complicated response he produced in his audience, a response belonging neither to pure joy nor pure sadness. In 1914, an actress had approached him with tears in her eyes after watching him film a two-reel comedy. “I know it’s supposed to be funny,” she said, “but you just make me weep.”

More here.

Cocktails for cancer with a measure of immunotherapy

Heidi Ledford in Nature:

Cancer-virusIn cancer research, no success is more revered than the huge reduction in deaths from childhood leukaemia. From the 1960s to the 2000s, researchers boosted the number of children who survived acute lymphoblastic leukaemia from roughly 1 in 10 to around 9 in 10. hat is sometimes overlooked, however, is that these dramatic gains against the most common form of childhood cancer were made not through the invention of new drugs or technologies, but rather through a reassessment of the tools in hand: a dogged analysis of the relative gains from different medicines and careful strategizing over how best to apply them side by side as combination therapies.

That lesson has particular relevance in cancer research today. A new class of immunotherapies — which turn the body's immune system against cancerous cells — is elevating hopes about combination therapies again. The drugs, called checkpoint inhibitors, have already generated great excitement in medicine when applied on their own. Now there are scores of trials mixing these immune-boosting drugs with one another, with radiation, with chemotherapies, with cancer-fighting viruses, with cell treatments and more. “The field is exploding,” says Crystal Mackall, who leads the paediatric cancer immunotherapy programme at Stanford University in California. Fast-moving trends in cancer biology often fail to meet expectations, and little is yet known about how these drugs work together. Some observers warn that the combinations being tested are simply marriages of convenience — making use of readily available compounds or capitalizing on business alliances. “In many cases, we're moving forward without a rationale,” says Alfred Zippelius, an oncologist at the University of Basel in Switzerland. “I suspect we'll see some disappointment in the next few years with respect to immunotherapy.” But many clinicians argue that delay is not an option as their patients queue up for the next available clinical trial. “Right now I have more patients that could benefit from combinations than there are combinations being tested,” says Antoni Ribas, an oncologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “We're always waiting on the next slot.”

More here.

 Joseph Brodsky, Darker and Brighter


Cynthia Haven in The Nation:

In June 1972, a young poet from Leningrad stepped off a plane in Detroit and into a new life. His expulsion from the Soviet Union had won him international fame; yet he didn’t know how to drive, how to open a bank account or write a check, or how to use a toaster. His English, largely self-taught, was almost incomprehensible. He had dropped out of school at 15. Nevertheless, at age 32, he would soon start his first real job, and at a world-class institution: He was the new poet in residence at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Within a few years, Joseph Brodsky would be a colossus on the New York literary scene. Within 15, he would be awarded a Nobel Prize.

At the moment the plane landed, however, Brodsky became the poster boy for Soviet persecution: a “victim,” in other words, and therefore a cliché. He wasn’t the cliché, but publicity would grant him instant power and prestige in his adopted land. The American voices suddenly clamoring around him could not fathom the forces that had shaped him: KGB arrest, prison, psychiatric hospitals, a courtroom trial, and a sentence of hard labor and internal exile near the Arctic Circle. It was the stuff of legend and contributed to a barrage of media coverage. A Cold War Stations of the Cross was easier to package for mass consumption than an accounting of the musicality, metaphorical ingenuity, compression, and raw intelligence of Brodsky’s verse, which had barely appeared in English at all, and only in the most select publications.

Ellendea Proffer Teasley, in her short new memoir,Brodskij sredi nas (Brodsky Among Us), offers a different view of the poet. It’s an iconoclastic and spellbinding portrait, some of it revelatory. Teasley’s Brodsky is both darker and brighter than the one we thought we knew, and he is the stronger for it, as a poet and a person. The book’s reception itself is instructive. Since its publication by Corpus Books in the spring of 2015, Brodsky Among Us has been a sensation in the poet’s former country, quickly becoming a best seller that is now in its sixth printing. Last spring, Teasley made a triumphant publishing tour, speaking at standing-room-only events in Moscow and St. Petersburg; Tbilisi, Georgia; and a number of other cities. The book received hundreds of reviews. According to the leading critic Anna Narinskaya, writing in the newspaper Kommersant, Teasley’s memoir had been written “without teary-eyed ecstasy or vicious vengefulness, without petty settling of scores with the deceased—or the living—and at the same time demonstrating complete comprehension of the caliber and extreme singularity of her ‘hero.’” Galina Yuzevofich, in the online publication Meduza, praised Teasley’s “exactness of eye and absolute honesty,” resulting in a portrait of “wisdom, calm, and amazing equanimity.” Even so, the book has yet to find a publisher in English, the language in which it was written.

More here.

The dark side of Guardian comments


Becky Gardiner, Mahana Mansfield, Ian Anderson, Josh Holder, Daan Louter and Monica Ulmanu in The Guardian:

Comments allow readers to respond to an article instantly, asking questions, pointing out errors, giving new leads. At their best, comment threads are thoughtful, enlightening, funny: online communities where readers interact with journalists and others in ways that enrich the Guardian’s journalism.

But at their worst, they are something else entirely.

The Guardian was not the only news site to turn comments on, nor has it been the only one to find that some of what is written “below the line” is crude, bigoted or just vile. On all news sites where comments appear, too often things are said to journalists and other readers that would be unimaginable face to face – the Guardian is no exception.

New research into our own comment threads provides the first quantitative evidence for what female journalists have long suspected: that articles written by women attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men, regardless of what the article is about.

Although the majority of our regular opinion writers are white men, we found that those who experienced the highest levels of abuse and dismissive trolling were not. The 10 regular writers who got the most abuse were eight women (four white and four non-white) and two black men. Two of the women and one of the men were gay. And of the eight women in the “top 10”, one was Muslim and one Jewish.

And the 10 regular writers who got the least abuse? All men.

How should digital news organisations respond to this? Some say it is simple – “Don’t read the comments” or, better still, switch them off altogether. And manyhave done just that, disabling their comment threads for good because they became too taxing to bother with.

But in so many cases journalism is enriched by responses from its readers. So why disable all comments when only a small minority is a problem?

At the Guardian, we felt it was high time to examine the problem rather than turn away.

More here.

 Marianne Moore’s infectious devotion to everything small

James Longenbach in The Nation:

ScreenHunter_1849 Apr. 12 19.49No poet is more formally precise than Walt Whitman at his most expansive, no poet more wildly extravagant than Emily Dickinson at her most curtailed; freedom is not sloppiness, structure is not constriction. But perhaps more clearly than any poet of the 20th century, Moore allows us to see why this is the case. Hence her extraordinary usefulness for other poets, hence her lasting influence even on poets who do not sound like her, much less transform her discoveries into mannerisms.

Moore was born near St. Louis, Missouri, in 1887. Her parents separated before her birth, and subsequently her father, already institutionalized, severed his hand, taking literally the injunction of Matthew 5:30 (“If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off”). To her mother and her brother Warner, who became a Presbyterian minister, Moore remained fiercely, sometimes pathologically close. Though she attended Bryn Mawr College, became a suffragette, moved to a tiny Greenwich Village apartment in 1918, and edited the legendary magazineThe Dial from 1925 until its demise in 1929 (an achievement that would ensure our interest in Moore even if she had written no poems), she lived with her mother until her mother’s death in 1947.

More here.

The famous Sleeping Beauty problem has divided probability theorists, decision theorists and philosophers for over 15 years

Quanta Editor's Note: In January, we ran an Insights column about the much-debated Sleeping Beauty problem. Now, our puzzle columnist Pradeep Mutalik claims to have discovered why this problem is so polarizing. In the spirit of experimentation, we will be inviting a panel of experts to weigh in on whether this insight adds any new clarity to the problem.

Pradeep Mutalik in Quanta:

ScreenHunter_1848 Apr. 12 19.39In the puzzle, the fairy-tale princess participates in an experiment that starts on Sunday. She is told that she will be put to sleep, and while she is asleep a fair coin toss will determine how the experiment is to proceed. If the coin comes up heads, she will be awakened on Monday, interviewed, and put back to sleep, but she won’t remember this awakening because of an amnesia inducing drug she is given. If the coin comes up tails, she will be awakened and interviewed on Monday and Tuesday, again without remembering either awakening. In either case, the experiment ends when she is awakened on Wednesday without being interviewed.

Whenever Sleeping Beauty is awakened and interviewed, she won’t know which day it is or whether she has been awakened before. During each awakening, she is asked: “What is your degree of certainty that the coin landed heads?” (“Degree of certainty” is sometimes expressed as “belief,” “degree of belief,” “subjective certainty,” “subjective probability” or “credence.”) What should her answer be?

This simple mathematical problem has generated an unusually heated debate. The entrenched arguments between those who answer “one-half” (the camp called “halfers”) and those who say “one-third” (the “thirders”) put political debates to shame. In my columnintroducing the problem, I compared it to a Necker cube, the popular visual illusion that can be perceived in two completely different ways. But while most people can flip quite easily between the two views of the Necker cube, halfers and thirders tend to remain firmly rooted in their view of the Sleeping Beauty problem. Both camps can certainly do the math, so what makes them butt heads in vain? Is the problem underspecified? Is it ambiguous?

More here.

Lead: America’s Real Criminal Element

Kevin Drum in Mother Jones:

Unknown_38Giuliani won the election, and he made good on his crime-fighting promises by selecting Boston police chief Bill Bratton as the NYPD's new commissioner. Bratton had made his reputation as head of the New York City Transit Police, where he aggressively applied broken-windows policing to turnstile jumpers and vagrants in subway stations. With Giuliani's eager support, he began applying the same lessons to the entire city, going after panhandlers, drunks, drug pushers, and the city's hated squeegee men. And more: He decentralized police operations and gave precinct commanders more control, keeping them accountable with a pioneering system called CompStat that tracked crime hot spots in real time.

The results were dramatic. In 1996, the New York Times reported that crime had plunged for the third straight year, the sharpest drop since the end of Prohibition. Since 1993, rape rates had dropped 17 percent, assault 27 percent, robbery 42 percent, and murder an astonishing 49 percent. Giuliani was on his way to becoming America's Mayor and Bratton was on the cover of Time. It was a remarkable public policy victory.

But even more remarkable is what happened next. Shortly after Bratton's star turn, political scientist John DiIulio warned that the echo of the baby boom would soon produce a demographic bulge of millions of young males that he famously dubbed “juvenile super-predators.” Other criminologists nodded along. But even though the demographic bulge came right on schedule, crime continued to drop. And drop. And drop. By 2010, violent crime rates in New York City had plunged 75 percent from their peak in the early '90s.

More here.

The world’s most bizarre YouTube star is from Pakistan

Max Bearak in the Washington Post:

At a time when Pakistan finds itself in the news for grisly bombings and asoaring rate in executions, an unexpected angel has swooped in with a message of peace, love and harmony.

Two years after “Eye to Eye” baffled the country by giving birth to a huge cult following, the Pakistani singer Taher Shah returned this weekend with a second music video, “Angel,” that has gone viral. Topping Twitter's trending list in India and Pakistan (and ranking third across the globe) and racking up millions of plays, this new classic may cement Shah's position as the world's most unlikely YouTube sensation.

Shah is a businessman from the port city of Karachi and doesn't seem to be a trained singer. His voice and the bizarre aesthetic of the videos have led some to believe that his shtick is an elaborate ruse. For most of the new video, Shah walks around a golf course wearing a tiara and a purple gown (bathrobe?), showing off his chest hair. One of the top commentors on the video for the song joked, “That awkward moment when you think you are an angel, but in reality u r a brinjal,” using a common South Asian term for eggplant.

More here, including his previous video, “Eye to Eye”.

On Shakespeare’s sonnets

800px-Sonnets1609titlepageWilliam Logan at The New Criterion:

About the early history of the sonnets, we know almost nothing. The first reference comes in 1598, when Shakespeare already had a reputation on the stage—the plays behind him included A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, Richard III, and The Merchant of Venice. That year Francis Meres praised him inPalladis Tamia as the “most excellent” English playwright, like Plautus and Seneca a master of comedy and tragedy. Shakespeare had first come to attention as author of a popular pillow-book, Venus and Adonis (1593), and what he called a “graver labor,” The Rape of Lucrece(1594). Meres remarked that the “sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare, witness his Venus andAdonis, his Lucrece, his sugared Sonnets among his private friends.” The sugared sonnets were eventually published in quarto as Shake-speares Sonnets (1609).

Who those private friends were and what they possessed has excited speculation ever since. If not an outright liar, Meres was close enough to that circle to have heard of these private verses. Perhaps he had seen a few—“sugared” sounds like firsthand acquaintance, not gossip. In the surviving manuscripts of the next century, there are almost 250 copies of Sidney’s poems, over seven hundred of Jonson’s, and more than four thousand of Donne’s. Of Shakespeare’s there are only twenty-six, almost all dating to the 1630s or later, none probably earlier than 1620. Either Shakespeare’s private circle was very small, or its members guarded the sonnets closely. The poems were probably untitled and for the most part unpunctuated, like his contribution toThe Book of Sir Thomas More.

more here.