D. A. Powell interviewed by Tadeusz Dąbrowski

From the Boston Review:

TD: The foreword to your debut collection Tea (1998) begins, “This is not a book about Aids.” Many readers would probably hear in this an echo of Magritte’s famous painting of a pipe, captioned “This is not a pipe.” What role did AIDS play in your early work if it wasn’t what your work was about? What might your poetry be like today without the illness?

D-A-Powell_bodyDAP: Well, I think, philosophically, this is a hard question to answer; it’s rather like trying to separate form and content and to consider them as independent of one another. I think in the first place we need, as artists, obstacles. A river flows faster where there are more rocks; the water has to push through the barriers, and perhaps ultimately it is the very essence of a river’s energy, this impediment and pressure formed from encountering resistance. Aids was a force that exerted pressure on the poems, but my hope was that the poems triumphed over that pressure, that they were language broken free from the times. And so, even as we need obstacles, we need velocity, we need an internal desire to break free of what shuts us out or blocks our way, we need to be ever striving to reject the language of control and confinement and to work ourselves past the words that seek to define us. So I don’t know what my poetry would look like without this obstacle and my intent to resist it. Something else. Perhaps I would be writing love poems to people still alive, instead of elegies for those who are not.

More here.

Psycho thrillers: five movies that teach us how the mind works

Five leading psychologists look at the classic films that explore how human beings work.

Catherine Shoard, Philippa Perry, Steven Pinker, Dacher Keltner, Sue Blackmore and Susan Greenfield in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_1890 Apr. 26 17.59The Godfather by Steven Pinker

The Godfather is not an obvious choice for a psychological movie, but its stylised, witticised violence says much about human nature.

Except in war zones, people are extraordinarily unlikely to die from violence. Yet from the Iliad through video games, our species has always allocated time and resources to consuming simulations of violence.The brain seems to run on the adage: “If you want peace, prepare for war.” We are fascinated by the logic of bluff and threat, the psychology of alliance and betrayal, the vulnerabilities of the body and how they can be exploited or shielded. A likely explanation is that in our evolutionary history, violence was a significant enough threat to fitness that everyone had to understand how it works.

Among the many subgenres of violent entertainment, one with perennial appeal to brows both high and low is the Hobbesian thriller – a story set in a circumscribed zone of anarchy that preserves the familiar trappings of our time, but in which the protagonists must live beyond the reach of the modern leviathan (the police and judiciary), with its monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Examples include westerns, spy thrillers, battlefield dramas, zombie apocalypses, space sagas and movies about organised crime. In a contraband economy, you can’t sue your rivals or call the police, so the credible threat (and occasional use) of violence is your only protection.

More here.

We challenged seven physics experts to explain quantum computing to the rest of us, in the time it took Justin Trudeau to do so: 35 seconds

Aaron Hutchins in Maclean's:

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont. last week and offered his explanation for how a quantum computer works, it sparked intense media coverage from around the world. It also led to a backlash over whether Trudeau really knew anything about the cutting-edge technology, or was just pretending.

But what happens when experts in quantum computing themselves are asked to explain the technology to a lay audience in 35 seconds, the time Trudeau took to give his explanation? “This is something that cannot be explained well in 35 seconds,” says Aephraim Steinberg, a professor of physics at the University of Toronto and member of the Centre for Quantum Information and Quantum Control. But Steinberg—and a half-dozen other experts from across North America—were willing to step up to our challenge and give it a try.

Scott Aaronson

ScreenHunter_1889 Apr. 26 17.42A quantum computer is a proposed device that exploits quantum mechanics to solve certain specific problems like factoring huge numbers much faster than we know how to solve them with any existing computer. Quantum mechanics has been the basic framework of physics since the 1920s. It’s a generalization of the rules of probability themselves. From day to day life, you’d never talk about a minus-20 per cent chance of something happening, but quantum mechanics is based on numbers called amplitudes, which can be positive or negative or even complex numbers. The goal in quantum computing is to choreograph things so that some paths leading to a wrong answer have positive amplitudes and others have negative amplitudes, so on the whole they cancel out and the wrong answer is not observed.

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Michael Chabon Talks Occupation, Injustice and Literature After Visit to West Bank

Naomi Zeveloff in Forward:

Naomi Zeveloff: You said you had not dealt with the topic of occupation in your writing until now. You have a large Jewish readership. Are you concerned about alienating them?

ScreenHunter_1888 Apr. 26 15.41Michael Chabon: I’m not so worried about that. All I’m really doing is going to try to see for myself. Once you see for yourself, it is pretty obvious, I think, to any human being with a heart and a mind, it is pretty clear what to feel about it. It is the most grievous injustice I have ever seen in my life. I have seen bad things in my own country in America. There is plenty of horrifying injustice in the U.S. prison system, the “second Jim Crow” it is often called. Our drug laws in the United States are grotesquely unjust. I know to some degree what I am talking about. This is the worst thing I have ever seen, just purely in terms of injustice. If saying that is going to lose me readers, I don’t want those readers. They can go away and never come back.

More here.

Thriving at Age 70 and Beyond

Jane Brody in The New York Times:

BRODY-tmagArticleA recently published book, “70Candles! Women Thriving in Their 8th Decade,” inspired me to take a closer look at how I’m doing as I approach 75 and how I might make the most of the years to come. It would be a good idea for women in my age cohort to do likewise. With a quarter of American women age 65 expected to celebrate their 100th birthday, there could be quite a few years to think about. It’s not the first time I’ve considered the implications of longevity. When one of my grandsons at age 8 asked, “Grandma, will you still be alive when I get married?” I replied, “I certainly hope so. I want to dance at your wedding.” But I followed up with a suggestion that he marry young!

Still, his innocent query reminded me to continue to pursue a healthy lifestyle of wholesome food, daily exercise and supportive social connections. While there are no guarantees, like many other women now in their 70s, I’ve already outlived both my parents, my mother having died at 49 and my father at 71. If I have one fear as the years climb, it’s that I won’t be able to fit in all I want to see and do before my time is up, so I always plan activities while I can still do them. I book cycling and hiking trips to parts of the world I want to visit and schedule visits to distant friends and family to be sure I make them happen. In a most pragmatic moment, I crocheted a gender-neutral blanket for my first great-grandchild, but attached a loving note in case I’m no longer around to give it in person. Of course, advancing age has taken — and will continue to take — its incremental toll. I often wake up wobbly, my back hates rainy days, and I no longer walk, cycle or swim as fast as I used to. I wear sensible shoes and hold the handrail going up and down stairs. I know too that, in contrast to the Energizer Bunny life I once led, I now have to husband my resources more carefully. While I’m happy to prepare a dish or two for someone else’s gathering, my energy for and interest in hosting dinner parties have greatly diminished. And though I love to go to the theater, concerts, movies and parties, I also relish spending quiet nights at home with my Havanese, Max, for company.

More here.

The left-wing firebrands who turned to the right

HitchJohn Gray at The New Statesman:

Writing about Whittaker Chambers, who, from being a member of the Communist Party and later an ­operative for Soviet intelligence, defected to become a leading figure of the American right, Daniel Oppenheimer comments: “The party, for Chambers, was less a political organisation than a crucible for the forging of his own Bolshevik soul.” It is an astute judgement, one that applies to some degree to all of the six apostates from the left whose lives and beliefs Oppenheimer examines in this arresting and at times revelatory study. Chambers, James Burnham, Ronald Reagan, Norman Podhoretz, David Horowitz and Christopher Hitchens were different from one another in many ways, some of them quite fundamental. And yet, for each man, his volte-face was much more than a response to world events: it was an exercise in self-creation, in which what was being fashioned was the meaning of a life.

Chambers turned to communism while fleeing a fractured family and a hidden life of homosexual cruising, which he renounced when he rejected communism and became a Christian. A scion of Princeton and Balliol, Burnham used his mastery of Marxist theory to show off his formidable intellect and, once he had demolished Marxism, to issue dramatic forecasts of the near future that were nearly always confounded, but somehow enabled him to enjoy an afterlife as a consultant to the CIA. Reagan moved on from liberalism to the American presidency by way of a failed marriage and a ­flagging Hollywood career.

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Open the Cages!

51q46wOiKxL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Peter Singer at The New York Review of Books:

The most fundamental question to ask about Pacelle’s thesis is whether the humane economy can take us beyond piecemeal reforms to a world without speciesism. As long as we continue to eat animals, that seems doubtful, for it is difficult to respect the interests of beings we eat, especially when we are under no necessity to eat them. This daily practice taints all our attitudes toward animals. Can the humane economy change that?

Pacelle introduces us to several entrepreneurs who are trying to change it. Plant-based products with the taste and “mouth feel” of meat are already in supermarkets and restaurant chains, offering a product that is not only cruelty-free, but healthier and more environmentally friendly than meat. Further down the track, if costs can be reduced we may be eating meat that comes from a factory without ever being part of an animal. In 2013 Mark Post, of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, served a group of journalists the world’s first lab-grown hamburger. In a Brooklyn laboratory, Andras Forgacs’s company Modern Meadow uses a different process to achieve the same end. Forgacs visited Pacelle in Washington, D.C., bringing a “steak chip,” a kind of lab-grown beef jerky. Pacelle, a vegan for thirty years, had to think hard before deciding to take a bite. He does not enthuse about the taste, but adds that real beef jerky wouldn’t do much for him either.

There is broad support beyond the animal movement for reducing meat consumption. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report Livestock’s Long Shadowacknowledged that livestock, as a result of their digestive process, are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector.7 One study has even suggested that farmed animals are the most significant drivers of climate change.

more here.

‘hystopia’, by david means

9780865479135Anthony Domestico with David Means at Commonweal:

David Means, a recognized master of the short story, is the author of four collections of fiction, most recently The Spot (2010). Means’s stories display the compressed intensity of poetry, throwing off little lyrical flares every few sentences, as in his description of a car “roar[ing] off in a rooster tail of dust.” Like Alice Munro, he manipulates time in surprising ways—dilating and contracting, telescoping an entire life, with all its dramas and regrets, into a single paragraph. This effect is especially acute when he writes, as he often does, about events of dramatic import and limited temporal scope: a bank heist, a murder, a police standoff. He reminds us of how flexible the apparently rigid form of the short story can be.

Means was born in 1961 in working-class Kalamazoo, Michigan. As he told the New Yorker, “Our neighbor was a paper-mill worker, and a drunk, and I remember feeling that Bruce Springsteen was making songs about the people in my world.” Most of his stories are grounded in a world of closed factories and desperate crimes, and they are peopled by outsiders: tramps and criminals, prostitutes and war veterans, “these stupid sinning willful men who were dying by their own clock.” Means describes himself as a “problematic Christian,” and he finds in such outcast figures—and, more specifically, in the violence they inflict on one another—a space for thinking about grace and redemption.

more here.

A Puzzle about Metaphilosophy

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

ApollocutoutEnduring movements in the history of philosophy often owe their influence not to their core doctrines, but rather to the distinctive vision of philosophy they embody. Indeed, one might say of such movements – think of the traditions associated with the Stoics, Descartes, Hegel, the existentialists, and beyond – that they are primarily conceptions of what philosophy is. A conception of what philosophy is – a metaphilosophy – coordinates ideas about philosophical method, the nature of philosophical problems, and the limits of philosophy. In other words, a metaphilosophy tells us not only how to do philosophy, but also what philosophy can do, what we can expect from philosophy. A metaphilosophy hence often distinguishes genuine philosophical problems from pseudo-problems and nonsense; it also typically demarcates genuine philosophical problems from those genuine problems that reside within the purview of some other kind of inquiry, such a natural science, psychology, and history. It is tempting to conclude that although we tend to think of the history of philosophy as a series of debates concerning truth, goodness, knowledge, being, meaning, and beauty, it is actually an ongoing clash among metaphilosophies.

Though tempting, this conclusion should be resisted. This is because it is as yet unclear how metaphilosophical clashes are to be resolved, or even addressed. Which area of inquiry is suited to adjudicate conflicts over what philosophy is? Must there be a meta-metaphilosophy? But then wouldn't we also require a fourth tier to address conflicts at the meta-meta level? Then a fifth, sixth, and seventh? This proliferation of “meta” discourses about philosophy looks well worth avoiding. A further cause for resistance lies in the fact that the very idea of a clash among metaphilosophies is opaque. Why regard, say, the phenomenologist and the ordinary language philosopher as embroiled in a metaphilosophical clash at all? Why not say instead that they are engaged in entirely different enterprises and be done with it? Why posit something over which (philosophy and its proper methods) they are in dispute? The fact that it is not clear how there could be an adjudication of metaphilosophical clashes may be marshalled as a consideration in favor of the idea that opposing schools normally identified as philosophical do not promote different conceptions of philosophy, but instead embrace distinctive concepts that each calls “philosophy,” and so ultimately do not even clash at all, but only speak past each other. It certainly seems to capture what it is like to witness such clashes.

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How weird is quantum mechanics, really?

by Daniel Ranard

NASA stellar swarm M80, NGC 6093

Nearly anyone who tells you about quantum mechanics is quick to tell you how weird it is. And perhaps any science that ventures outside the realm of the visible or the human is bound to be strange. Our universe is a strange place, filled with exotic objects whose undeniable strangeness is blunted only by familiarity: the double helix, rippling force fields, supernovae. But physicists will tell you that quantum mechanics is even stranger. They explain that distant photons may be intimately entangled, or that an electron may exist in a superposition of two places at once. They describe a world not only strange in its particulars but strange in its way of being. According to quantum theory, particles may lack definite properties until measured, and the outcomes of quantum experiments are fundamentally uncertain.

What should we make of these claims? Perhaps we should be deeply impressed. After all, quantum mechanics is not some niche of modern physics; physicists expect that the rules of quantum theory underlie all physical phenomena. And if taken seriously, these claims about quantum weirdness are claims about the nature of knowledge or existence itself. Philosophers and thinkers should take note.

But even though we might be impressed, we should also be suspicious. No definite properties, fundamental uncertainty… what could it all mean? It's hard to imagine how scientific experiments (or any line of investigation, really) might yield such bold claims. You worry that the physicists have taken their equations and their metaphors too seriously. Here it's helpful to borrow a perspective from operationalism, a school of thought in the philosophy of science. A staunch operationalist might say the real content of a physical theory lies only in the list of experimental predictions it makes: “If you build an experiment in this way, you will see result X; if you build an experiment in that way, you will see that result Y,” and so on. Any talk about invisible particles or fields then serves only to package and describe these predictions. Most philosophers agree this view is too simple, but it contains a point of truth: the language and concepts we use to describe our predictions are often a matter of taste and historical contingency. In fact, we expect that our most fundamental physical theories will be revealed as only useful approximations, undergirded by new theories with new descriptions.

Before we take claims of quantum weirdness seriously, we must ask whether the weirdness is a property of nature itself or only of our current description. This question is rarely broached in popular explanations of physics, or even in most physics classes. But the question stands: how do we know quantum theory will never be rephrased or replaced, that quantum weirdness is not just a figment of our odd descriptions?

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On Muslims, Terrorism, and Bigotry

by Ahmed Humayun


Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore

Terrorist attacks of the sort we have seen in Lahore, Brussels, Ankara, Paris, and in so many other cities around the world, are serious atrocities against innocents. These attacks are also a cunning attempt by strange cult-like groups to provoke large scale conflict – between Muslims and Westerners, and between different types of Muslims. These groups are utterly opposed to those of us who hold multiple identities at the intersection of different cultures, and do so comfortably or even proudly.

People become members of terrorist organizations for different reasons. Some are fanatics and true believers; some are looking for adventure; some are commonplace thugs and criminals; some are sadists; some are deceived and some know exactly what they are doing. Whatever the case may be, the leadership of these groups is investing an enormous amount of time and energy in finding young Muslims who have real or imagined grievances, and channeling this sentiment into a destructive path. A vast infrastructure of extremism and propaganda is designed to incite and recruit people to the ranks of these groups.

It's true that terrorist recruitment mostly fails: the number of terrorists are a tiny portion of the global Muslim community. Yes, that matters. Most people are not attracted to spectacular terror as a way of life.

But this is small comfort. Terrorist groups may comprise a tiny minority of Muslims but they have an outsized impact – on the politics of Muslim majority societies, and on the state of Muslim communities in the West.

Consider what has happened to the Muslim world so far. There are now tens of thousands of members of these types of militias, maybe more, depending on how you count. Many of these people are from the middle class – people who have lots of options in life. Thousands have migrated from Western societies to join the wars in places like Syria and Iraq. (Though, we are overly naïve when we ask, how do people with choices fall for this murderous nonsense? The people with choices – the rich Bin Laden's, the middle class Zawahiri's – are at the vanguard of these types of groups. The use of terror to advance utopian ideas has deep precedent in modern history).

Tally the lives lost and maimed, the treasure expended to confront these groups. And when you factor in the devastation of Islam's intellectual and cultural heritage, the serious setbacks to democratization, scientific progress, and moral advancement, the costs start becoming incalculable.

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Old King in the New World: Restraint and Art in ‘Madame X’

by Olivia Zhu

MadamexThe pale neck of John Singer Sargent’s most notorious portrait subject graces the cover of William Logan’s latest book, a collection of poetry that pays homage to the artist in its themes and style. Madame X, named after the painting, opens with two epigraphs that establish the themes of the work: the first explicitly links Herman Melville’s Ahab to “that wild Logan of the woods,” in reference to a Native American chief who literary historian Jonathan Elmer calls “a melancholic relic,” of the same lonesome breed as both captain and poet (119). The last of his kind, fanatically in search of a poetic white whale: this is how Logan announces himself.1 The second epigraph, a quote from Roman Holiday, reveals the object of his pursuit. Gregory Peck’s expat character, attempting to resist an undressing, Shelley-reciting Audrey Hepburn, advises her to “Keep [her] mind off the poetry and on the pajamas and everything will be all right.” Taken together, the two inscriptions position the poet as an old king, yearning for the classicality of the Old World, its elegant poetry, and its restrained sexuality. Madame X, with all its recurring images of ancient soldiers and overexposed young women, is a testament to Logan’s self-assigned role as a guardian of taste and timelessness.

Like Logan, Sargent might have also been called an “old king.” Toward the end of his career, Sargent’s devotion to his brand of “realism was viewed increasingly as anachronistic and facile,” paralleling Logan’s fidelity to “a certain sense of tradition that was antipathetic to the traditions that most of the poets [his] age were following” (Churchwell; qtd. in Jalon, 16). Nevertheless, the artist and poet soldiered on. Both have defended their relatively traditionalist work, and the very first poem of Madame X hints at the poet’s artistic loneliness in doing so. “The Hedgehog in His Element” indicates that Logan, oft-maligned for his “miserable” and “bullying” criticism, is the titular creature, very much at home in his attitude and medium (1). During a phone interview, Logan admitted he “was attracted to the sense of a hedgehog as a masochistic figure—it looked as if he had been shot full of arrows.” Is Logan’s tenth work a vindication of how he has suffered for his formal style? Its introductory poem suggests so, for “like a Sherman tank forced out of the brush,” the poet is made to emerge and set up a defense in whatever prickly way he might choose (“Hedgehog” 2). The image of a self-sacrificing soldier is driven home by the poem’s concluding image of “St. Sebastian bristling with arrows,” with the patron saint of warriors—and a martyr twice over—shown as angry and defiant even when wounded (“Hedgehog” 3).

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Here is Waldo: Anonymity in the Age of Big Data

by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad

Data_fingerprint_sqaureThe television series Person of Interest posits the existence of a machine that can monitor every person’s daily activities and can then use this information to predict crimes before they happen. While such a system may be way off in the future, a system that can at least identify the identity of any person may not be that far off. Annonymity used to be private affair, if one wished to remain anonymous then all that one had to do was to lay low and limit one’s interactions with outsiders. It was easier to adopt pseudo-identities, the nature of the internet even facilitated this to a greater extent. I should know this because I have been blogging as a Chinese Muslim for almost 10 years now. New waves of technologies aided by Big Data however are changing nature of anonymity with evermore levels of sophistication needed to be truly anonymous.

Even in the ideal case where John Doe disengages from the digital world i.e., does not own a smart phone, only carries cash, does not use any online service etc, others can still leak information about John e.g., pictures that his friends might put up on social media platforms, post something on Facebook, geo-tag one another etc. Locating a person, determining their likes or dislikes would really depend upon how much information their family and friends are leaking about them. In short you are only as anonymous as your most chatty friend.

In cases where we think that we are not giving away any explicit information about ourselves, much can be inferred from the digital traces that we leave. The manner in which we shop online, respond to messages, play video games etc can reveal a lot about ourselves even when we do not want to reveal anything. In our previous work we have observed that it is possible to predict a person’s gender, age, personality, marital status and even political affiliation by just studying at how they play video games. This is just the top of the iceberg; a case in point is the case where Target’s data analytics were able to infer that a girl is pregnant even though she was able to hide this from her parents.

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Take Me To Church

by Tamuira Reid

ScreenHunter_1887 Apr. 25 17.31Part of being a parent is being prepared for anything. Natural disasters. Snake bites. Broken limbs. Tiny fingers getting slammed into heavy drawers. Occasionally, though, I find myself caught off-guard. That moment when I realize my Survival Guide for Mothers is missing an important chapter.

Case in point: Last week. The walk home from school. Ollie, my five year-old stops suddenly, squints up at the sky, then at me.

I want to know God, mama.


Text him. Lets have pizza with him. God like pizza?

I don't know.

But you know everything.

Except this. This is not really in my wheelhouse. I go to church for weddings or funerals and not much in-between. I was raised in a family that half-followed Christian Science, a religion that favors unwavering faith in God and self-healing over traditional medical intervention. Even as a child, I could never understand why someone would suffer through a pounding headache or horrible menstrual cramps or a hellish fever instead of simply popping a Tylenol like the rest of the world. My father was bitten by a black widow one Easter, and instead of going to the doctor, he decided to heat a needle and systematically cut the infected tissue from his arm. While this obviously made him superhuman to me, you are so fucking cool, dad, I was also confused by it.

Being a Christian Scientist meant going to Sunday school, but only if Taco Bell was a solid reward for good behavior. It meant knowing a few commandments, part of the Lord's Prayer. It meant the annual clearing out the medicine cabinets before the “real ones” came over on Christmas Eve, those relatives so devout that our aspirin or Rite Aid cough syrup might actually make them sad.

Later in my life, Christian Science meant losing people. A grandma. An aunt I adored. A cousin who took me roller-skating for the first time. Women who believed their cancers could be treatable only by miracle, not by chemo. Women who died long before they should have.

So when Ollie asks to know God, my immediate reaction is no, baby boy, not you, too.

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Sorting Burnt Pancakes: or, how Bill Gates Became a Billionaire

by Jonathan Kujawa

In 1894 Benjamin Finkel, a teacher at the Kidder Institute in Missouri, founded the American Mathematical Monthly. Its purpose was and is to provide inspiration and stimulation for teachers of mathematics. As Finkel later described the founding of the Monthly,

Knowing that the status of the mathematical teaching in our high schools and academies was very deplorable and even worse in the rural schools, I had the ambition to publish a journal devoted solely to mathematics and suitable to the needs of teachers of mathematics in these schools. — B. Finkel

Apparently decrying the state of mathematics education was as popular then as now. But rather than fume and write an op-ed for the New York Times, Finkel created the Monthly. It still appears every month and contains a variety of mathematics for teachers and students at the high school and college level. The favorite pages for most, though, is the Problem section. In it you can find puzzles of all kinds, most of which don't require anything more than high school math.

A good example of a Monthly problem is this one proposed by Harry Dweighter [1] in 1975:

The chef in our place is sloppy, and when he prepares a stack of pancakes they come out all different sizes. Therefore, when I deliver them to a customer, on the way to the table I rearrange them (so that the smallest winds up on top, and so on, to the largest on the bottom) by grabbing several from the top and flipping them over, repeating this (varying the number as I flip) as many times as necessary. If there are n pancakes, what is the maximum number of flips (as a function of n) that I will ever have to use to rearrange them?

PancakekidThat is, imagine you have a spatula and a stack of pancakes of all different sizes which you'd like to put into order from biggest to smallest. In the worst case how many times would you have to stick the spatula between two pancakes and flip over the part of the stack sitting on your spatula? For example, if there are two pancakes, either they are in order or they are out of order. If out of order, then slipping your spatula under the stack and doing a single flip is all that's needed. If there are three pancakes, then the worst case is when the stack of pancakes from top to bottom is smallest, largest, medium. This requires three flips. In general, let's write f(n) for the number flips required in the worst case stack of n pancakes (so f(1)=0, f(2)=1, f(3)=3, etc.). Harry Dweighter is asking us to determine a formula, rule, or algorithm which computes f(n).

This is a classic Monthly problem. No fancy math, just a nifty puzzle which came to mind over breakfast. There is no expectation that this will lead to deep new math or cure cancer, just a little recreational math with your morning coffee. Amazingly enough, despite its simplicity, forty years later we still don't know how to answer Dweighter's question! Some progress has been made, though.

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Art and Artification: The Case of Gastronomy

by Dwight Furrow

Atelier crenn

In grasping the role of art in contemporary life, one noteworthy theme is the process of artification. “Artification” occurs when something not traditionally regarded as art is transformed into art or at least something art-like. As far as I know, the term was first used in a Finnish publication by Levanto, Naukkarinen, and Vihma in 2005 but has found its way into the wider discussion of aesthetics. It is a useful concept for addressing the boundaries between art and non-art that are constantly being negotiated and renegotiated in contemporary society.

The general issue I want to address is whether artification is a confused and superficial misappropriation of art, a kind of “making pretty” of ordinary objects which we normally associate with kitsch. Or should we welcome artification as an enhancement of both art and life?

Since at least the 18th Century we have had a fine arts tradition that included painting, sculpture, literature, poetry, classical music, and the performing arts of dance and theatre. But over the last century cultural phenomena from architecture, film, jazz, rock music, and hip-hop to graffiti, video games, and even some natural objects have aspired to, and to some degree succeeded in, being included in the extension of the concept of art. The world in which “art” refers to a specific kind of object is long past

Furthermore, many cultural practices including advertising, science, and education are being mixed with art in order to introduce creativity, imagination, and emotional engagement. Among this group of artified objects and practices, many people would include gastronomy, which I want to use in this essay to test assumptions about art and artification. What does this process of artification mean in the context of gastronomy?

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Welcome To Alphaville

by Misha Lepetic

“The secret of my influence has always been
that it remained secret.”
~ Salvador Dalí

Alphaville_0Last month I looked at the short and ignominious career of @TayandYou, Microsoft's attempt to introduce an artificial intelligence agent to the spider's parlor otherwise known as Twitter. Hovering over this event is the larger question of how best to think about human-computer interaction. Drawing on the suggestion of computer scientist and entrepreneur Stephen Wolfram, I put forward the concept of 'purpose' as such a framework. So what was Tay's purpose? Ostensibly, it was to 'learn from humans'. But releasing an AI into the wild leads to unexpected consequences. In Tay's case, interacting with humans was so debilitating that not only could it not achieve its stated purpose, but neither could it achieve its real, unstated goal, which was to create a massive database of marketing preferences of the 18-24 demographic. (As a brief update, Microsoft relaunched Tay and it promptly went into a tailspin of spamming everyone, replying to itself, and other spasmodic behaviors more appropriate to a less-interesting version of Max Headroom).

People have been releasing programs into the digital wild for decades now. The most famous example of the earlier, pre-World Wide Web internet was the so-called Morris worm. In 1988, Robert Tappan Morris, then a graduate student at Cornell University, was trying to estimate the size of the Internet (it's more likely that he was bored). Morris's program would write itself into the operating system of a target computer using known vulnerabilities. It didn't do anything malicious but it did take up valuable memory and processing power. Morris's code also included instructions for replication: specifically, every seventh copy of the worm would instantiate a new copy. More importantly, there was no command-and-control system in place. Once launched, the worm was completely autonomous, with no way to change its behavior. Within hours, the fledgling network of about 100,000 machines had nearly crashed, and it took several days of work for the affected institutions – mostly universities and research institutes – to figure out how to expunge the worm and undo the damage.

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