Trump vs Clinton: worlds apart on science

Jeff Tollefson in Nature:

ClintonScience is slowly coming into focus in the US presidential campaign. Although neither Republican Donald Trump nor Democrat Hillary Clinton has emphasized core research issues, the candidates — and their parties — are beginning to flesh out their positions on climate change, education, biomedical research and other topics that involve the scientific community. Trump’s pick of Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate on 15 July signalled a sharp turn towards the Republican party’s conservative base. Pence, a self-described Christian conservative, has questioned the existence of climate change, waffled on evolution and criticized President Barack Obama for supporting embryonic-stem-cell research. His new role aligns with the hard-line policy platform adopted at the Republican convention, where Trump officially became the party’s nominee on 19 July.

…The two candidates — whose campaign staff declined multiple interview requests — also seem to think very differently about the role of science. Although Clinton has described science and innovation as a foundation for the future, science funding seems to be an afterthought for Trump, says John Karsten, coordinator of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington DC. Instead, the Republican has focused on issues such as national security, immigration and crumbling infrastructure. Climate change is one of the few science topics that has grabbed the campaign spotlight — in part because of Republican anger over Obama’s regulations to limit greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants, vehicles and oil and gas development. Clinton’s climate and energy proposals would largely maintain the current course; by contrast, in a major policy speech on 26 May, Trump promised to roll back Obama’s “totalitarian” regulations and withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. Trump, who has long denied mainstream climate science, also said that his administration will focus on “real environmental challenges, not phony ones”.

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How Friedrich Hayek Became a Monster

David Sloan Wilson in Evonomics:

ScreenHunter_2123 Jul. 26 21.27Any serious student of economics can’t help but notice that the academic and popular versions are as different from each other as Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. Take Friedrich Hayek, for example. His books could fill a bookshelf and the commentary could fill a small library, but the monstrous version can only speak in two-word sentences. “Government bad! Market good!” Likewise the monstrous version of Adam Smith, the father of economics, can only say “Invisible hand!”

Just as Dr. Frankenstein couldn’t prevent his monster from running amok, it seems that economists can’t do anything to stop the monsters they created from sowing confusion wherever they go. Some economists act genuinely alarmed but I strongly suspect that others like it that way. They are mad economists and the monsters do their dirty work for them.

The creation of the Hayek Monster is well documented and nicely summarized in a 2010 New York Times article prompted by the sudden appearance of Hayek’s 1944 book The Road to Serfdom on the New York Times best seller list. That book was Hayek’s own attempt at popularization but it received two other boosts by a Reader’s Digest version in 1945, which sold more than a million copies, and a cartoon version that was published by the General Motors Corporation in Look Magazine during the same year and widely distributed by GM as a pamphlet. By then the transformation from man to monster was complete. According to the cartoon version, any step in the direction of government planning leads to a totalitarian state. The final panel of the cartoon shows John Q. Citizen being shot by a firing squad.

I’m not here to demonize Friedrich Hayek the man. I’m here to demonize Friedrich Hayek the Monster. The man was complex and so was his time.

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Ed Yong in The New Yorker:

Yong-BreastMilk-1200The Foods for Health Institute, at the University of California, Davis, has the appearance of a Tuscan villa, its terra-cotta-walled buildings overlooking a large vineyard and a garden that bursts with summer vegetables. It is led by a chemist named Bruce German, and if there were a world title in extolling the virtues of milk he would surely hold it. At our first meeting, he spent half an hour monologuing on the subject, bouncing on an exercise ball and kneading a tattered shred of bubble wrap as he spoke. Milk, he said, is a perfect source of nutrition, a superfood that is actually worthy of the label. This isn’t a common view. The number of scientific publications about milk is tiny, compared with the number devoted to other bodily fluids—blood, saliva, even urine. The dairy industry has spent a fortune on extracting more and more milk from cows, but very little on understanding just what this white liquid is or how it works. Medical-funding agencies have generally dismissed it as irrelevant, German said, because “it doesn’t have anything to do with the diseases of middle-aged white men.” And nutritionists have looked at it as a simple cocktail of fats and sugars, one that can be easily duplicated and replaced by formulas. “People said it’s just a bag of chemicals,” German told me. “It’s anything but that.”

Milk is a mammalian innovation, common to platypuses and pangolins, humans and hippos, its ingredients varying according to what each species needs. Human milk is a particular marvel. Every mammal mother produces complex sugars called oligosaccharides, but human moth­ers, for some reason, churn out an exceptional variety: so far, scientists have identified more than two hundred human milk oligosaccharides, or H.M.O.s. They are the third-most plentiful ingredient in human milk, after lactose and fats, and their structure ought to make them a rich source of energy for growing babies—but babies cannot digest them. When German first learned this, he was gobsmacked. Why would a mother expend so much energy manufacturing these complicated chemicals if they were apparently useless to her child?

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Trump Is an Agent of Putin

Justin E. H. Smith in his own blog:

ScreenHunter_2122 Jul. 26 21.13The evidence has been accumulating for a long time now –the connection to Yanukovych's former advisor Paul Manafort, the apparent Russian hacking of the DNC, the flippancy about NATO's responsibilities in the Baltics, the general conspiratorial tenor that sounds so much like a typical invited loon on the RT network, the mutual public praise– that Trump is, at least unwittingly, an agent of Putin.

Whenever I try to bring this up as potentially damaging, Americans keep telling me that the Putin connection can't be made into a campaign issue, since “Trump's supporters don't really care about foreign policy.” But that can't really be true. Surely they care about possible future foreign policies that diminish US sovereignty, or that shift the balance of geopolitical power in the world towards an autocratic Eurasia. It seems to me that the real problem is just poor information in the US: Americans seem to believe that Russia ceased to exist in 1991, that Gorbachev just gave up and closed up shop. This perception only strengthened after 2001, when US triumphalism over the fall of communism in the 1990s fused with racism and 'civilisational' bigotry to convince Americans that the Arab and Muslim world was the principal geopolitical hotspot in the world.

Tellingly, Slavic-studies departments in US universities downsized, and enrolment in Arabic courses skyrocketed (studying Russian in the early 1990s, we still got to use military-issue textbooks with helpful phrases about nuclear summits and fallout shelters). But this indifference only goes one way: Putinite ideology, while also working when expedient to cultivate small autocrats such as Le Pen fille or Viktor Orban, is monomaniacally focused on the US, all the nuclear weapons are still there, and of course Putin is interested in helping to install a leader in the US who has given up on the post-war Atlanticist liberal-democratic order.

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How Bollywood shuts its doors on the poor

The-Outcasts_Photo-by-Ritesh-Uttamchandani_The-Caravan-magazine_July-2016-01-652x435Tanul Thakur at Caravan:

BOLLYWOOD STARDOM, though, has a particular geography. Historically, the Hindi film industry has recognised only certain parts of Mumbai. It knows Yari Road and Lokhandwala in Andheri West, where aspiring actors, screenwriters, assistant directors and directors live; Aram Nagar, where production houses hold auditions for films, television serials and advertisements; Juhu and Bandra West, home to film stars; and south Mumbai, or Town, where many movies are shot. But it doesn’t know Dharavi, Bhiwandi, Naigaon or Nalasopara, or any of the city’s other slums and sprawling suburbs.

Still, if you visit any of those slums or suburbs, you find thousands of people who don’t know this, who don’t want to know this. They, like so many of their fellow Indians, are in thrall to Bollywood. They crowd theatres to see new releases, follow stars’ lives, and, in indulgent moments, imagine some twist of fate landing them on the silver screen. Some of them take such daydreams more seriously than others. Some, like Jadav, make that dream the centre of their lives.

So they go knocking on doors, trying to find a way in. They look for acting classes that promise them a leg-up, and approach casting agents who promise to get them auditions. And, repeatedly, they find all doors shut. Because the truth is that Mumbai’s geography of Bollywood corresponds pretty much exactly to Mumbai’s geography of wealth. The city Bollywood knows is that of the haves. The city it pays no mind to is that of the have-nots.

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Nicole Eisenman’s Path to Genius

NEisenman_SundayNightDinner_2009_300-650x536Barry Schwabsky at The Nation:

The will to dissolve or relax boundaries is part of what makes Eisenman’s work feel so of the moment right now. It’s the same acceptance of ambiguity that allows the artist, when asked why her single-figure paintings have been mostly of men, to remark: “Representing bodies is complex. What looks masculine in a painting could be a self-determined gender mutineer, or trans, or something completely off the spectrum. It seems that I present as masculine in the world, and I think I use my body as a baseline jumping-off point for representation, which I think goes a long way toward explaining the preponderance of masculine-looking bodies in this show.” What’s true of the painted figure also goes for the act of painting itself. When pressed with the observation that the painters who caught her eye in the 1980s—the likes of Julian Schnabel and the German Neo-Expressionists—were “very macho and conservative,” Eisenman explains: “To me, it’s radical, and it felt radical when I saw it for the first time…. My feeling about painting and gender is that whatever any dude feels entitled to, I feel like: ‘Fuck, I’m entitled to that too.’”

The title of the New Museum show, though, points to the ambivalence of Eisenman’s relation to the age-old traditions. At least some of her paintings are genuine allegories, with appropriately moralizing titles like The Work of Labor and Care (2004); Progress: Real and Imagined (2006), a diptych oddly represented in this show by just one of its panels; and The Triumph of Poverty (2009). At the same time, they are also send-ups of allegory, maybe even expressions of disgust with it. The didactic function of painting can only be sustained, Eisenman implies, if it is pursued with self-critical humor, if it tacitly acknowledges that it does not speak from a position of vested authority— allegorizing on behalf of church or state or any social consensus on values—but instead on the basis of its own cogency.

more here.

On Ben Lerner’s “The Hatred of Poetry”

HatredofpoetryBrandon Kreitler at the LA Review of Books:

In his short new book The Hatred of Poetry, Ben Lerner glosses the problem like this: the poet wants to say more than can be said, wants language to do more than it does, wants to transcend. (The poet who merely wants to communicate would do better, in Richard Hugo’s advice, to use the phone.) The consolidation of this ambitious but diffuse impulse into a verbal act — the arrival at actual terms fixed on the page — is an unacceptable circumscription of the impulse, a failure. But the failure is unavoidable. It inheres in the activity of putting words on paper. Lerner writes: “Poetry isn’t hard, it’s impossible.”

“Poetry” here names that utterance which would somehow surpass the limits of speech: a conceptual category that, though by definition empty of examples, tempts the history of literary production like the ghost of some God or father we could have known or might know yet but can’t humanly grasp. The poet feels the dull memory of other knowledge of the tongue and can’t reproduce it. She has to use the words there are for such things as have names — language is the fallen medium, built of worn material — but what she wants from an act of reference exceeds what any amalgam of communicable content can actually do. She wants to make moonlight felt, not speak again the name of the moon.

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Michelle Obama’s powerful speech demolishes Donald Trump without even mentioning his name

Julia Rampen in New Statesman:

Gettyimages-580960326This is one speech he won't be able to steal. After her stirring speech at the Democratic Convention, Michelle Obama can be sure of one thing – Melania Trump won't be able to copy it. Obama, like her husband, is a fine orator, so much so that the wife of Republican nominee Donald Trump was widely suspected of borrowing from her speeches. But those who crowded into the audience on Monday night could be sure of the real deal. Obama did not mention Trump by name, but in an implicit criticism of him, she spoke passionately about the responsibilities of the Presidency, and how the United States had moved on since the days of slavery and oppression.

The Obamas knew their kids were watching them, she said: “We know that our words and actions matter.” And in a reference to Trump's Twitter obsession, she declared: The issues a President faces “cannot be boiled down to 140 characters”. Obama, whose husband fought a fierce campaign against Hillary Clinton to clinch the Democratic nomination in 2008, now heaped praise on his former rival. Clinton was a “true public servant” who “did not pack up and go home” after losing to Obama in 2008, she said. She had carried out “relentless, thankless work” to actually make a difference in children's lives.

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Personality Change May Be Early Sign of Dementia

Pam Belluck in The New York Times:

Untitled“Has the person become agitated, aggressive, irritable, or temperamental?” the questionnaire asks. “Does she/he have unrealistic beliefs about her/his power, wealth or skills?” Or maybe another kind of personality change has happened: “Does she/he no longer care about anything?” If the answer is yes to one of these questions — or others on a new checklist — and the personality or behavior change has lasted for months, it could indicate a very early stage of dementia, according to a group of neuropsychiatrists and Alzheimer’s experts. They are proposing the creation of a new diagnosis: mild behavioral impairment. The idea is to recognize and measure something that some experts say is often overlooked: Sharp changes in mood and behavior may precede the memory and thinking problems of dementia.

…Dr. Zahinoor Ismail, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of Calgary and member of the group proposing the new diagnosis, said studies and anecdotes suggested that emotional and behavioral changes were “a stealth symptom,” part of the dementia disease process, not separate from it. Whatever is eroding memory and thinking skills in the dementia process may also affect the brain’s systems of emotional regulation and self-control, he said. If two people have mild cognitive impairment, the one with mood or behavior changes develops full-blown dementia faster, he said. Alzheimer’s patients with those symptoms “do much worse over time;” after death, autopsies have shown they had more brain damage. Of course, not everyone experiencing mood swings with age is suffering warning signs of dementia. Dr. Ismail emphasized that, to be considered M.B.I., a symptom should have lasted for at least six months and be “not just a blip in behavior, but a fundamental change.” Still, some experts worry that naming and screening for such an early-stage syndrome might end up categorizing large numbers of people, making some concerned they will develop Alzheimer’s when there are not yet effective treatments for the disease.

More here.

Big, Small, and New European Tribes

by Ram Manikkalingam


I am sitting in Colombo, Sri Lanka. We are at peace and are enjoying real democracy after more than three decades of civil war and almost five years of creeping authoritarian rule under the previous president. I spend half my time in Amsterdam, just a two-hour train ride to Brussels and a couple more to Paris – sites of so many attacks recently. It is surreal that Europe, the continent I went to, to avoid being targeted by terrorism in my country, is now becoming less and less safe while Sri Lanka has become an island of peace and democracy. While the cost of how we did it can be debated, and continues to be, there is no denying that we ended up in a good place for all of us in Sri Lanka, and the world too.

Meanwhile, (with perhaps a small degree of schadenfreude) I watch Europe become tense, turn in on itself, exclude communities, become subject to attacks, impose emergency law, and break apart with Brexit. I ask myself what is really going on in Europe. While we may draw a direct line from the invasion of Iraq to the attacks against civilians in Paris and Brussels, that alone is insufficient to explain why young men in Brussels and Paris will travel thousands of miles away to join a movement with which they have little social, cultural or political affinity. And it simply does not even begin to explain Brexit, Scottish nationalism, or Marie Le Pen. Maybe, just maybe, it might be more useful to start in Europe and ask how have things changed in the past decade since I have been living there. What do I see now that I did not see before? And how would I describe the politics of Europe to someone who had never been there, not experienced it, and needed to understand it better?

For all its progress and enlightenment, Europe is still a continent of Tribes – Big Tribes, Small Tribes and New Tribes. Big Tribes have their own state. Within this state they feel dominant (or at least feel that they ought to be). These Big Tribes may be as big as the English and French or as small as the Dutch and Danes. What they have in common is they live under their own political roof. Then we have the Small Tribes. These are invariably the Tribes that live within the borders of a state the Big Tribes dominate. These Tribes range from the Scots and the Northern Irish, to the Basques, the Tyroleans and the Corsicans. They yearn for a political roof that is closer to them. Or at least they reject the political roof that has been built on top of them by others who are more powerful then they. And finally you have the New Tribes. These are Tribes related to Europe’s colonial project. Some arrived during colonialism, others after colonialism ended, and still others continue to enter today. This Tribe is viewed as foreign by the Big Tribes. But they are, or at least feel they are, as European as the other two Tribes. Let me unpack each of these Tribes a little further.

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The Two Party System is Officially a Nightmare

Teenager For Barryby Akim Reinhardt

Much has been made of the fact that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two most loathed presidential candidates since the birth of polling. Each of them has managed to alienate roughly half the country. About a quarter of Americans despise both of them. They make Barry Goldwater, Michael Dukakis, and Mitt Romney look beloved.

There has been a lot of focus on why these two candidates are so widely reviled. Simple partisanship doesn't seem to adequately explain it; fewer than a third of American view either of them favorably.

The Washington Post and ABC News tell us that Clinton-haters typically see her as a corrupt, untrustworthy flip-flopper, while Trump-haters hate too many things about him to list here, but it largely boils down to him being perceived as an inexperienced hatemonger.

Fortune magazine dispenses with the specifics and instead points to Clinton's and Trump's long and choppy resumés as repulsing the masses. Despite whatever accomplishments they may have racked up over the years, the thinking goes, voters simply can't get past the many “bad” things each candidate has done.

However, I'm less concerned with why exactly these two candidates are so widely detested. On some level, the why doesn't really matter; what's more pressing, I believe, is the how. In terms of American political mechanics, how could this happen and what does it mean? How did it get here, and what can we learn from it?

The one common mechanical process in almost every aspect of American politics is the two-party system: an extra-constitutional artifice that long ago hijacked government. And it is through those double swinging doors that we have stumbled into our current political purgatory.

This bi-polar orgy of villainy signifies that America's two-party system itself is badly broken; indeed, odds are that such a scenario would not have emerged if there were additional healthy political parties.

Let's start with Donald Trump.

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Hieronymus Bosch. The Pedlar or The Wayfarer, c.1500.

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

“This vagabond or pedlar with mismatched shoes is symbolic of man on his path through life. He is a kind of 'Everyman' a popular late 15th century moral tale. He represents the 'homo viator', the pilgrim who goes through life weighed down by the baggage of his earthly existence. He suffers his lot along a path full of temptations.”

And from “Abandon All Hope” by Nat Segnit, Harper's Magazine, August 2016.

A naked man grabs me by the lapels and bares his teeth in frustration. I say naked, when I mean clad in a skintight nude suit that delineates his six-pack and decorously abstracts his genitals in the manner of a kids’ action figure. I have been assaulted by the personification of Anger. I’m probably being paranoid, but the unshakable sense of foreboding this gives me derives, as far as I can tell, from the suspicion that his little coup de théâtre is so effective because the guy playing Anger has actually taken against me, can discern in me something weak or sinful that he could exploit as grist for his performance. Earlier, a jester wearing a boat around his midriff had sniggered at the way I was holding my press folder. Maybe I’m not being paranoid, and the bad feeling I’ve had since I walked onstage at the Theater aan de Parade — which will increase over the course of my stay — is only an appropriate response.”

More here, here, and here.

Mario and Niccolò: Poets, Punchers, and Plodders

by Michael Liss

“You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose.” —Mario Cuomo, 1985

If Hillary Clinton does not become the next President of the United States, I have a feeling that whatever her regrets might be about emails and Benghazi, she's going to spend most of her remaining years wondering just how fate led her to be married to one political genius, be outmaneuvered by, lose to, and then serve under a second, and get jack-hammered by a third.

Bill, of course, was in his own league. Even now, with his fastball diminished by age, he can still conjure up a Luis Tiant-like variety of curves, knucklers, and other off-speed stuff. But in his prime, Bill had all the tools. He was the Muhammed Ali of politics. He could float, he could dip and dodge and shuffle and rope-a-dope, he could even sting like a bee (or hit like a mule) when needed, and all the while spouting his own special brand of poetry. Bill had another gift as well, less apparent, but there. He was a triple threat—not only a puncher and a poet, but also a worker, a real policy wonk who dove deep into the details. I sometimes wonder if one of the reasons Bill and Hillary stayed together through all of Bill's “adventures” was that they respected in each other the same quality—the willingness to keep at it doggedly until the task was accomplished, the staying power of plodders who won't give up. There was a price, of course, to Hillary's perseverance, as, to this day, she still carries a Clinton Bulls-Eye on her back—for his sins as well as her own.

When, in 2008, she reached for the nomination she was sure was hers, she couldn't possibly have expected that a second generational talent would stand in her way—Barack Obama. Yes, he gave a phenomenal speech at the 2004 Convention, but she clearly did not see him as a serious threat for the top spot. Obama looked Vice-Presidential to her—the guy who could go on her short list and perhaps even be an effective surrogate, but was more likely headed back to the Senate for more seasoning.

Hillary became the first national victim (John McCain and Mitt Romney would follow) of Mr. Obama's secret weapon—he's a lot like Derek Jeter in his prime, underestimated for being overestimated. What many of the President's political opponents have never quite grasped is that the extraordinary arc of his life is of his own design, not some mad spasm of feel-good political correctness. Behind the star status, and the poetry that enrages so many, is a cool organizing intelligence, a deliberateness, a carefully thought-out ground game. Obama doesn't punch much (his historic “first” status certainly constrains him), but he can grind it out with the best of them.

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Current Genres of Fate: Wind in Miyazaki

by Paul North

Wind is low on the list of the awe-inspiring invisible powers. In other eras it ranked among the top Jiro and final designforces beyond human control, blowing us this way and that. Today we think of wind as easily harnessed for human uses, as a mild amusement or nuisance, or as a fairy-tale character with puffed up cheeks and pursed lips.

If those lips could talk, we would hear some stories about uncontrollable forces. Although there hasn't been much talk of wind lately, a serious anemological investigation has been being carried out over the last three decades by the anime director Hayao Miyazaki. Wind is always blowing in Miyazaki, or almost always. Nevertheless, it doesn't always do the same thing. The main question driving his investigation into wind is: does wind liberate us or blow us in the direction of our destiny? One thing does stay steady across his films. Whatever we do on and in the wind, we never gain control over it. This doesn't mean that wind is in control of us. Miyazaki's is a control-less view of fate. Wind is the basic element in a fluid cosmic system that strews and carries, resists and supports, lifts upward and slams to earth with abandon. Where fate is King, wind is his advance scout, his highest ambassador and field marshal. It decides nothing: wind simply executes. In contrast, fate is rather abstract, a faint inkling of limits on what you can do or hope. When you face fate, however, you don't face a concept but a force. Wind is the force against which you push when you resist your fate, and when pushed, wind reveals itself to be only air. And you cannot push against air.

You can however ride it. Many things ride the wind in Miyazaki's landscapes. Pollution. War machines. Clouds. And depending how it is ridden, depending whether your calculations include the wind as the most salient factor, your endeavors may come out well or extremely ill.

In classical myths and tales wind is either a brutish force or a changeable force. The Aesop's fable about the North Wind and the Sun tells of wind's brutishness. Sun and North Wind argue: who can strip a traveler's clothes off more quickly? Wind goes first, blowing its all. Yet it doesn't loosen a button. Sun only shines on the traveler long enough and she starts to undress of her own accord. Persuasion wins over force—that's the moral of the tale. Both are forces—soft, effective persuasion and brutish, direct assault. But as a form of force, the sun is more pernicious. It disguises its violence as reason and presents its strength as gentility. Worse than this, whereas it exerts deadly force, the force appears to come from the victim—the traveler believes the decision to undress has been a free decision of her own. In contrast, the cold North Wind, Boreas, comes openly and directly, and human ingenuity can resist it, at least when it comes to clothing. Notice that both these fateful forces aim to render the traveler defenseless and naked, a plaything for nature's sadism.

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