Mario Vargas Llosa in Literary Hub:

ScreenHunter_2200 Sep. 07 19.23It is very likely that never in human history have there been as many treatises, essays, theories and analyses focused on culture as there are today. This fact is even more surprising given that culture, in the meaning traditionally ascribed to the term, is now on the point of disappearing. And perhaps it has already disappeared, discreetly emptied of its content, and replaced by another content that distorts its earlier meaning.

This short essay does not intend to add to the large number of interpretations of contemporary culture but rather to explore the metamorphosis of what was still understood as culture when my generation was in school or at university, and the motley definitions that have replaced it, an adulteration that seems to have come about quite easily, without much resistance.

Before developing my own argument, I would like to explore, albeit in summary fashion, some of the essays that, in recent decades, have focused on this topic from different perspectives, and have at times stimulated important intellectual and political debates. Although they are very different from each other, and are only a small sample of the ideas and theses that the subject has inspired, they do share a common denominator in so far as they all agree that culture is in deep crisis and is in decline. The final analysis in this essay, by contrast, talks of a new culture built on the ruins of what it has come to replace.

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The enigma machine takes a quantum leap


ScreenHunter_2199 Sep. 07 19.18Researchers at the University of Rochester have moved beyond the theoretical in demonstrating that an unbreakable encrypted message can be sent with a key that's far shorter than the message—the first time that has ever been done.

Until now, unbreakable encrypted messages were transmitted via a system envisioned by American mathematician Claude Shannon, considered the “father of information theory.” Shannon combined his knowledge of algebra and electrical circuitry to come up with a binary system of transmitting messages that are secure, under three conditions: the key is random, used only once, and is at least as long as the message itself.

The findings by Daniel Lum, a graduate student in physics, and John Howell, a professor of physics, have been published in the journal Physical Review A.

“Daniel's research amounts to an important step forward, not just for encryption, but for the field of data locking,” said Howell.

Quantum data locking is a method of encryption advanced by Seth Lloyd, a professor of quantum information at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that uses photons—the smallest particles associated with light—to carry a message. Quantum data locking was thought to have limitations for securely encrypting messages, but Lloyd figured out how to make additional assumptions—namely those involving the boundary between light and matter—to make it a more secure method of sending data.

More here. [Thanks to Farrukh Azfar.]


In a searing investigation into the once lauded biotech start-up Theranos, Nick Bilton discovers that its precocious founder defied medical experts—even her own chief scientist—about the veracity of its now discredited blood-testing technology. She built a corporation based on secrecy in the hope that she could still pull it off. Then, it all fell apart.

Nick Bilton in Vanity Fair:

ScreenHunter_2198 Sep. 07 19.10It was late morning on Friday, October 18, when Elizabeth Holmes realized that she had no other choice. She finally had to address her employees at Theranos, the blood-testing start-up that she had founded as a 19-year-old Stanford dropout, which was now valued at some $9 billion. Two days earlier, a damning report published in The Wall Street Journal had alleged that the company was, in effect, a sham—that its vaunted core technology was actually faulty and that Theranos administered almost all of its blood tests using competitors’ equipment.

The article created tremors throughout Silicon Valley, where Holmes, the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire, had become a near universally praised figure. Curiosity about the veracity of the Journal story was also bubbling throughout the company’s mustard-and-green Palo Alto headquarters, which was nearing the end of a $6.7 million renovation. Everyone at Theranos, from its scientists to its marketers, wondered what to make of it all.

Forr two days, according to insiders, Holmes, who is now 32, had refused to address these concerns. Instead, she remained largely holed up in a conference room, surrounded by her inner circle. Half-empty food containers and cups of stale coffee and green juice were strewn on the table as she strategized with a phalanx of trusted advisers, including Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, then Theranos’s president and C.O.O.; Heather King, the company’s general counsel; lawyers from Boies, Schiller & Flexner, the intrepid law firm; and crisis-management consultants.

More here. [Thanks to Ali Minai.]

The Divine Madness of Philip K Dick

26721313Mike Jay at Literary Review:

Across dozens of novels and well over a hundred short stories, Philip K Dick worried away at one theme above all others: the world is not as it seems. He worked through every imaginable scenario: consensus reality was variously a set of implanted memories, a drug-induced hallucination, a time slip, a covert military simulation, an illusion projected by mega-corporations or extraterrestrials, or a test set by God. His typical protagonist was conspired against, drugged, hypnotised, paranoid, schizophrenic – or, possibly, the only person in possession of the truth.

The preoccupation all too clearly reflected the author’s life. Dick was a chronic doubter, tormented, like René Descartes, by the suspicion that the world was the creation of an evil demon ‘who has directed his entire effort to misleading me’. But cogito ergo sum was not enough to rescue someone who in 1972, during one of his frequent bouts of persecution mania, called the police to confess to being an android. Dick took scepticism to a level that he made his own. It became his brand, and since his death it has been franchised across popular culture. He isn’t credited on Hollywood blockbusters such as The Matrix (in which reality is a simulation created by machines from the future) or The Truman Show (about a reality TV programme in which all but the protagonist are complicit), but their mind-bending plot twists are his in all but name.

more here.

The Mountain Lions of Los Angeles

Vqr_mountain_lion_final_-01Ryan Bradley at VQR:

It is useful to start at the end, which is also the beginning: at the far side of an imaginary bridge, picturing a mountain lion slinking over the rise to the east, hugging the shadows and contours of the easy-rolling ridge, then arriving at the 101 freeway’s eight lanes. Mountain lions have died here before, crossing from one sliver of wilderness to another—from the inland, semi-coastal ranges in the Angeles and Los Padres National Forests, across the Simi and San Fernando Valleys, to the Santa Monica Mountains, which run along the Pacific Ocean before elbowing eastward, inland again into the middle of Los Angeles. If the mountain lions don’t die crossing over, those moving westward into the Santa Monicas enter the home range of a famous and stressed-out cat family with a particularly famous son, whose likeness has been printed on magazine covers and T-shirts. The lions here are celebrated and beset upon by all sides—they’re cramped, which is why they are also so ill at ease. It was these cats, the famous group, we were trying to imagine finding a way eastward, over the freeway, escaping L.A.

The crossing point where the bridge might be is named, too perfectly, Liberty Canyon. It is not much of a canyon, more of a dry, narrow valley, or a choke point between a few large hills. We—biologists, ecologists, animal-corridor experts, a few scientists employed by the California Department of Transportation, and I—were here imagining mountain lions and the bridge that they might cross mostly because the bridge will be expensive—many tens of millions of dollars, certainly.

more here.

Alice Oswald’s odd, brilliant ode to the English countryside

160912_r28661-1200x1200-1472749149Dan Chiasson at The New Yorker:

Oswald, born in 1966, is the daughter of a renowned garden designer, and read classics at Oxford. She lives with her family near a bend in the River Dart, in Devon, the misty setting for “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” In an interview, she has said that she likes “the way that the death of one thing is the beginning of something else,” an Ovidian mind-set equally fit for the gardener and the translator. Her nature poems tend to be revisions of earlier poems on the same subjects: John Clare’s “Badger” has become “Body,” in which the sleep of the dead “under their mud roof” is disturbed by a badger “hard at work / with the living shovel of himself”; you can hear Dickinson’s “I heard a Fly buzz—” amid the “horrible trapped buzzing” of Oswald’s “Flies”; Andrew Marvell’s “On a Drop of Dew” bequeaths to Oswald “A Rushed Account of the Dew”; Ted Hughes’s “The Thought Fox” stalks Oswald’s “Fox.” This isn’t simply influence or homage, though Oswald is generous about crediting her forebears. The deeper urge is to collaborate with the dead, whose descriptions of badgers and foxes and flies are part of a timeless continuum that now includes Oswald and her readers, each new mind capturing the world according to its distinct angle and music.

A poet whose thoughts are saturated with prior literature recognizes the actual, living fox by mentally matching it to the fox on the page, a reversal of the usual perceptual order—observe, then describe—that threatens to fog up her vision. There is an impulse in these poems to inventory the natural world without the palliatives of conventional description; the paradox, as old as classical pastoral and georgic, is that our nature is to describe, an imperative that seems perfectly unnatural when measured against the unselfconscious work of bees or ants or oxen.

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Quantum Hanky-Panky

Seth Lloyd in Edge:

Lloyd640Right now, there's been a resurgence of interest in ideas of applying quantum mechanics and quantum information to ideas of quantum gravity, and what the fundamental theory of the universe actually is. It turns out that quantum information has a lot to offer people who are looking at problems like, for instance, what happens when you fall into a black hole? (By the way, my advice is don't do that if you can help it.) If you fall into a black hole, does any information about you ever escape from the black hole? These are questions that people like Stephen Hawking have been working on for decades. It turns out that quantum information has a lot to give to answer these questions.

Twenty-five years ago, I started working on the problem of quantum computing, which is how atoms and molecules, photons, elementary particles, process information. At that point, there were only half a dozen people in the world looking at this problem, and now there are thousands. There goes the neighborhood. In any field that expands by so much so rapidly, there are now all kinds of branches on this tree. There are still branches of the fundamental questions of how we understand the world, in terms of how it processes information. Right now, there's been a resurgence of interest in ideas of applying quantum mechanics and quantum information to ideas of quantum gravity, and what the fundamental theory of the universe actually is. It turns out that quantum information has a lot to offer people who are looking at problems like, for instance, what happens when you fall into a black hole? (By the way, my advice is don't do that if you can help it.) If you fall into a black hole, does any information about you ever escape from the black hole? These are questions that people like Stephen Hawking have been working on for decades. It turns out that quantum information has a lot to give to answer these questions.

More here.

How to raise a genius: lessons from a 45-year study of super-smart children

Tom Clynes in Nature:

Nature_geniuskids_del2On a summer day in 1968, professor Julian Stanley met a brilliant but bored 12-year-old named Joseph Bates. The Baltimore student was so far ahead of his classmates in mathematics that his parents had arranged for him to take a computer-science course at Johns Hopkins University, where Stanley taught. Even that wasn't enough. Having leapfrogged ahead of the adults in the class, the child kept himself busy by teaching the FORTRAN programming language to graduate students. Unsure of what to do with Bates, his computer instructor introduced him to Stanley, a researcher well known for his work in psychometrics — the study of cognitive performance. To discover more about the young prodigy's talent, Stanley gave Bates a battery of tests that included the SAT college-admissions exam, normally taken by university-bound 16- to 18-year-olds in the United States. Bates's score was well above the threshold for admission to Johns Hopkins, and prompted Stanley to search for a local high school that would let the child take advanced mathematics and science classes. When that plan failed, Stanley convinced a dean at Johns Hopkins to let Bates, then 13, enrol as an undergraduate.

Stanley would affectionately refer to Bates as “student zero” of his Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY), which would transform how gifted children are identified and supported by the US education system. As the longest-running current longitudinal survey of intellectually talented children, SMPY has for 45 years tracked the careers and accomplishments of some 5,000 individuals, many of whom have gone on to become high-achieving scientists. The study's ever-growing data set has generated more than 400 papers and several books, and provided key insights into how to spot and develop talent in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and beyond. “What Julian wanted to know was, how do you find the kids with the highest potential for excellence in what we now call STEM, and how do you boost the chance that they'll reach that potential,” says Camilla Benbow, a protégé of Stanley's who is now dean of education and human development at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. But Stanley wasn't interested in just studying bright children; he wanted to nurture their intellect and enhance the odds that they would change the world. His motto, he told his graduate students, was “no more dry bones methodology”.

More here.

Israel’s Impending Civil War

Uri Avnery in the London Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_2195 Sep. 06 18.56Something happens to retired chiefs of the Israeli internal Security Service, Shin Bet. Once they leave their jobs, they become spokesmen for peace. How come? Shin Bet agents are the only members of the establishment who come into real, direct, daily contact with Palestinians. They interrogate Palestinian suspects, torture them, try to turn them into informers. They collect information, penetrate the most remote parts of Palestinian society. They know more about the Palestinians than anybody else in Israel (and perhaps in Palestine, too).

The intelligent among them (intelligence officers can be intelligent) also come to conclusions that evade many politicians: that there is a Palestinian nation, that this nation will not disappear, that the Palestinians want a state of their own, that the only solution to the conflict is a Palestinian state next to Israel. And so, on leaving the service, Shin Bet chiefs become outspoken advocates of the two-state solution.

The identity of all secret service personnel is, well, secret, except the chiefs. (When I was a member of the Knesset, I submitted a bill which stipulated that the name of the service chiefs be made public. The bill was rejected, like all my proposals, but soon afterwards the prime minister decreed that the names of the chiefs be made public.) Some time ago, Israeli TV showed a documentary called The Doorkeepers, in which all the living ex-chiefs of the Shin Bet and the Mossad advocated peace based on the two-state solution. They expressed their opinion that there will be no peace unless the Palestinians achieve a national state of their own.

More here.

Smarter brains are blood-thirsty brains


ScreenHunter_2194 Sep. 06 18.42A University of Adelaide-led project has overturned the theory that the evolution of human intelligence was simply related to the size of the brain—but rather linked more closely to the supply of blood to the brain.

The between Australia and South Africa showed that the evolved to become not only larger, but more energetically costly and blood thirsty than previously believed.

The research team calculated how blood flowing to the brain of changed over time, using the size of two holes at the base of the skull that allow arteries to pass to the brain. The findings, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, allowed the researchers to track the increase in across .

“Brain size has increased about 350% over human evolution, but we found that blood flow to the brain increased an amazing 600%,” says project leader Professor Emeritus Roger Seymour, from the University of Adelaide. “We believe this is possibly related to the brain's need to satisfy increasingly energetic connections between nerve cells that allowed the evolution of complex thinking and learning.

“To allow our brain to be so intelligent, it must be constantly fed oxygen and nutrients from the blood.”

More here.

Harold Bloom on Alvin Feinman’s Self-limiting Transcendence

Harold Bloom in The Critical Flame:

ScreenHunter_2193 Sep. 06 18.21I first met Alvin Feinman in September 1951, the day before I encountered another remarkable young man who also became a life-long friend, Angus Fletcher. Alvin was twenty-two, a year older than we were, and a graduate student in philosophy at Yale, where Angus and I were students of literature. Alvin, to my lasting sorrow, died in 2008. Of my closest friends I am fortunate still to have Angus, having lost Alvin, Archie Ammons, and John Hollander, three superb poets and majestic intellects.

I am no poet; I cannot forget. Many of my friends are or were poets: Mark Strand, a recent loss; Robert Penn Warren, and happily still with us, William Merwin, John Ashbery, Jay Wright; and younger figures: Rosanna Warren, Henri Cole, Martha Serpas, Peter Cole.

Alvin at twenty-two was already a poet of astonishing individuation: the emergence of voice in him clarified as rapidly as it had in Rimbaud and Hart Crane.

More here.

The Long 20th Century of Terror

Marat-davidRobert Zaretsky at The American Scholar:

Terrorism is as old as recorded history. Plutarch describes how ancient Spartans would ambush and kill a few enslaved helots every year to keep the rest in a state of terror. A few centuries later, according to Josephus, the Jewish Zealots earned the moniker sicarii, or dagger men, thanks to their practice of slitting the throats of Roman officials in crowded marketplaces. The dagger was also the weapon of choice for the Assassins, a medieval Shiite sect dedicated to the destruction of both the Sunnis and the Crusaders. For more than a millennium, a Hindu offshoot known as the Thuggees strangled unsuspected travelers as offerings to the goddess Kali.

Fast forward to the modern age, when the French Revolution ushered in a century and a half of guillotines, gulags, and gas chambers. The defining trait of totalitarian states ever since, from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy to Communist Russia and China, has been the systematic and sustained use of terror to maintain power. Whether used by states that capitalize on violence and repression, or by stateless movements that monopolize the attention of our media and governments (and justify wars), terror remains the order of the day.

Historians and sociologists, philosophers and political theorists have interpreted terrorism, adding a great deal to our knowledge, but less to our understanding. For the latter, perhaps we need to turn to novelists.

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Exploring the riven region of Ukraine

51u3Q0-pkSLWilliam T. Vollman at Bookforum:

We Americans suffered on September 11, but we have no dread that our nation will imminently disappear. Our states and territory remain intact; no invader struts on our soil. We live as if tomorrow will closely resemble today. The past influences us powerfully, for a fact, but almost invisibly. The Civil War, for instance, has small perceptible impact on our daily getting and spending. But our complacency is no more than a local peculiarity. In certain other places, among them Ukraine, history blocks the horizon like a range of mountains. “Today,” writes Judah, “what you think of this past, how you relate to it, determines what you think about the future of Ukraine. And what you think of the past is quite likely to be bound up with the history of your own family and where you live.”

The nineteenth-century ancestors of a Donetsk coal-mining family could easily have been Russian—and even back then, Russians and Ukrainians were bickering. Nowadays this Donetsk family might well look kindly on Putin. Meanwhile, a family from the southwestern region of Transcarpathia looks back on a past when, as Judah puts it, their land appeared in the same travel guidebook as Vienna, Prague, and Trieste, those glamorous cities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. One would expect these people to be less drawn to Russia, as is indeed the case. Transcarpathia then belonged to Galicia, another bygone region whose identity was cultivated by Hapsburg overlords “keen to divide and rule and to balance Polish identity and aspirations.” So Judah carefully explains the matter: “Today, when we see [from] voting patterns in Ukraine” that eastern Galicia is “more nationalistic and proud of its Ukrainianness, this is the historical root of the reason why.”

more here.

The Last Time I Saw Basquiat

Basquiat-studioLuc Sante at The New York Review of Books:

The first time I met Jean-Michel Basquiat was in the spring of 1979, at the Mudd Club. His hair was dyed orange and cut very short with a V-shaped widow’s peak in the front. He wore a lab coat and carried a briefcase. “Going on a trip?” I asked him. “Always,” he replied. He had a disquieting stare. He had probably taken fifty drugs that night, but it was clear there was a lot more to him than that.

He was sleeping on the floors of a rotating set of NYU dorm rooms then. He had no money at all. He had recently stopped tagging as SAMO and had renamed himself MAN-MADE, although that wasn’t a tag but a signature for things he made, T-shirts and collages and these color-Xerox postcards, which he sold for a buck or two. Eventually he sold one to Henry Geldzahler and one to Andy Warhol, and his name became currency.

Before that, though, he was still writing on walls, but as a poet rather than a tagger. I wish I could remember more of his works than just the one someone photographed him writing on Lafayette Street near Houston: “The whole livery line/ Bow like this with/ The big money all/ Crushed into these feet.”

more here.

Researchers Confront an Epidemic of Loneliness

Katie Hafner in The New York Times:

LonelyLoneliness, which Emily Dickinson described as “the Horror not to be surveyed,” is a quiet devastation. But in Britain, it is increasingly being viewed as something more: a serious public health issue deserving of public funds and national attention. Working with local governments and the National Health Service, programs aimed at mitigating loneliness have sprung up in dozens of cities and towns. Even fire brigades have been trained to inspect homes not just for fire safety but for signs of social isolation. “There’s been an explosion of public awareness here, from local authorities to the Department of Health to the media,” said Paul Cann, chief executive of Age UK Oxfordshire and a founder of The Campaign to End Loneliness, a five-year-old group based in London. “Loneliness has to be everybody’s business.” Researchers have found mounting evidence linking loneliness to physical illness and to functional and cognitive decline. As a predictor of early death, loneliness eclipses obesity.

“The profound effects of loneliness on health and independence are a critical public health problem,” said Dr. Carla M. Perissinotto, a geriatrician at the University of California, San Francisco. “It is no longer medically or ethically acceptable to ignore older adults who feel lonely and marginalized.” In Britain and the United States, roughly one in three people older than 65 live alone, and in the United States, half of those older than 85 live alone. Studies in both countries show the prevalence of loneliness among people older than 60 ranging from 10 percent to 46 percent. While the public, private and volunteer sectors in Britain are mobilizing to address loneliness, researchers are deepening their understanding of its biological underpinnings. In a paper published earlier this year in the journal Cell, neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology identified a region of the brain they believe generates feelings of loneliness. The region, known as the dorsal raphe nucleus, or D.R.N., is best known for its link to depression.

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The Fear is Real Poetry

like some wild horse chained
to his stall just ripped out
the post & chewed on the links
& got free & burned down the barn
so he could see
the moon dance
an irish amazing reel
& ran & ran & ran
until the sweat poured
like honey
& the wounds
cleaned the
tired arabian

that's what this honesty
tells me rip out the post

& i never knew my father's
loneliness & never knew my mother's
fear although i wore them like
hard saddles

there's plenty of time
to die

stones on the road
shattered glass

by Jim Bell
from Crossing the Bar
Slate Roof: a Publishing Collective

The Night Of

by Gerald Dworkin

ThenightofeditFrom time to time my friends, knowing that I watch many television series, ask me what current show I recommend. I always start by asking if they have watched The Wire. If they say they have not, I suggest they watch all five seasons and then I will make suggestions about what to watch now.

The Wire, which ran from 2002 to 2008, was created, and largely written, by David Simon, a former police reporter on the Baltimore Sun. It is a systematic examination of the oppression of poor and black Baltimore citizens by five major institutions as they interact with the criminal justice system. These are drug trafficking, the seaport and its unions, city hall (politicians and bureaucracy), the school system, and the press.

The series is brilliant both artistically and sociologically. Using mainly unknown–at the time–actors, kids from the streets of Baltimore, as well as real-life characters from Baltimore, superbly written and directed, it exposes how these institutions not only oppress the poor but corrupt and compromise all those who act with power within these institutions.

This spring HBO introduced a new eight part series The Night Of, henceforth TNO. It was presented as a crime series with the crime being the murder of a young woman, and the person arrested for the crime being a young Pakistani college student, Naz. The show received quite favorable ratings although also some criticism as to pacing and some implausible plot points.

Considered as a police procedural or as a mystery I think it is excellent watching although not in the same class as, say, the first series of True Detective, the first series of Broadchurch, Happy Valley, River, or the Fall.

However I am going to argue that viewing the series as the sixth episode of The Wire it is a brilliant success as a portrait of the criminal justice system– the institution that The Wire never got around to portraying in detail.

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Monday Poem

Now the bricks lay on Grand Street
Where the neon madmen climb
They all fall there so perfectly
It all seems so well timed

……………….. —Bob Dylan


upon first hearingpieta
I knew the perfection

Dylan wove that verse around
(as if anything on earth could be so flawless
as to deserve the divinity of that word)
which says:
………………...could be here now

and so well timed that all the angles
of Pythagoras and all the angels
of Einstein’s curly gravity
and all of Kepler’s mathic motions
and all of Shakespeare’s mythic tragedies
are met in streets laid in English Bond
as beautifully sublime as the Pietá
whose only imperfection
is in the brutal timeless tale it tells in stone
in which Michelangelo distilled
so perfectly
the failed perfection of the world
Jim Culleny


Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art
of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature.