Who is a Muslim?

Haider Shahbaz in Jadaliyya:

ScreenHunter_2237 Sep. 22 14.32Interest in Islamic art—a label that became popular in Western museums after World War II—has substantially increased since 11 September 2001. Some of the biggest and wealthiest museums in Europe and North America, including The Louvre, Benaki Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, British Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, have expanded, renovated, and highlighted their collections of Islamic art. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s collection of Islamic art, which began purchasing works in 1973, has seen major acquisitions since 9/11. Middle Eastern museums have also joined the race. The Kuwait National Museum and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha have become major competitors in this market. The controversial openings of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Louvre Abu Dhabi are scheduled for the next few years.

All these museums hope to boost profits in the tourism and culture industries by playing on a renewed fascination with Islam. Moreover, they hope to introduce visitors to a softer, more tolerant side of Muslims by educating them about the history and culture of regions that have become associated with war and religious fundamentalism. As Sophie Makariou, head of the Louvre's Islamic art department, said, “I like the idea of showing the other side of the coin.”

Unfortunately, such gestures are still unable to move beyond two sides: the inevitable binary of the good, cultured Muslim and the bad, terrorist Muslim.

More here.

Microsoft will ‘solve’ cancer within 10 years by ‘reprogramming’ diseased cells

Sarah Knapton in The Telegraph:

Chris-bishop-news-xlarge_trans++oPAi5XbSwK8QL90mYz1FnoFaLrBU0IPUtwMSjva79vgMicrosoft has vowed to “solve the problem of cancer” within a decade by using ground-breaking computer science to crack the code of diseased cells so they can be reprogrammed back to a healthy state.

In a dramatic change of direction for the technology giant, the company has assembled a “small army” of the world’s best biologists, programmers and engineers who are tackling cancer as if it were a bug in a computer system.

This summer Microsoft opened its first wet laboratory where it will test out the findings of its computer scientists who are creating huge maps of the internal workings of cell networks.

The researchers are even working on a computer made from DNA which could live inside cells and look for faults in bodily networks, like cancer. If it spotted cancerous chances it would reboot the system and clear out the diseased cells.

Chris Bishop, laboratory director at Microsoft Research, said: “I think it’s a very natural thing for Microsoft to be looking at because we have tremendous expertise in computer science and what is going on in cancer is a computational problem.

More here.



From Vanity Fair:

In their conversation, the president and Goodwin exhibit an easy camaraderie, sometimes completing each other’s sentences. They touch on everything from comedy Web sites to bodysurfing in Hawaii. But the central focus is on history, and on enduring questions. What is presidential temperament? How does a leader maintain perspective? When does the job of president feel the heaviest? What is good and bad about ambition?

Obama and Goodwin spent more than an hour over coffee, water, and scones (“I won’t be eating those,” said the president), followed by a brief chat in the Oval Office. Obama, in shirtsleeves, sat in a straight-backed chair, his long frame relaxed, legs crossed, as he responded or parried—always thoughtfully, sometimes intensely. V.F.’s Annie Leibovitz photographed at the start of the session and then re-entered, periodically, but mainly let them be.

The walls of the private dining room and the hallway nearby are lined with telling mementos: images of Martin Luther King Jr.; a photo of the president with Nelson Mandela; and a Life-magazine cover showing the 1965 march on Selma, signed by civil-rights leader John Lewis (who, inside the House chamber the next morning, would lead a sit-in against gun violence). Tables in the room hold framed family photos, a bust of J.F.K., and a pair of Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves.

More here.

A song composed by artificial intelligence in the style of the Beatles

From Boing Boing:

Scientists at SONY CSL Research Laboratory have created the first-ever entire songs composed by Artificial Intelligence: “Daddy's Car” and “Mister Shadow”.

The researchers have developed FlowMachines, a system that learns music styles from a huge database of songs. Exploiting unique combinations of style transfer, optimization and interaction techniques, FlowMachines composes novel songs in many styles.

“Daddy's Car” is composed in the style of The Beatles. French composer Benoît Carré arranged and produced the songs, and wrote the lyrics.

The two songs are excerpts of albums composed by Artificial Intelligence to be released in 2017.

More here.

DNA hints at earlier human exodus from Africa

Paul Rincon in BBC News:

AfricaPresent-day people outside Africa were thought to descend from a group that left their homeland 60,000 years ago. Now, analysis of nearly 500 human genomes appears to have turned up the weak signal of an earlier migration. But the results suggest this early wave of Homo sapiens all but vanished, so it does not drastically alter prevailing theories of our origins. Writing in the academic journal Nature, Luca Pagani, Mait Metspalu and colleagues describe hints of this pioneer group in their analysis of DNA in people from the Oceanian nation of Papua New Guinea. After evolving in Africa 200,000 years ago, modern humans are thought to have crossed through Egypt into the Arabian Peninsula some 60,000 years ago. Until now, genetic evidence has shown that every non-African alive today could trace their origins to this fateful dispersal. Yet we had known for some time that groups of modern humans made forays outside their “homeland” before 60,000 years ago.

  • Fossilised remains found at the Qafzeh and Es Skhul caves in Israel had been dated to between 120,000 and 90,000 years ago.
  • Then in 2015, scientists working in Daoxian, south China, reported the discovery of modern human teeth dating to at least 80,000 years ago.
  • An additional piece of evidence recently came from traces of Homo sapiens DNA in a female Neanderthal from Siberia's Altai mountains. The analysis suggested that modern humans and Neanderthals had begun mixing around 100,000 years ago – presumably outside Africa.

In order to reconcile this evidence with the genetic data from living populations, the prevailing view advanced by scientists was of a wave of pioneer settlement that ended in extinction. But the latest results suggest some descendents of these trailblazers survived long enough to get swept up in the later, ultimately more successful migration that led to the settling of Oceania.

More here.

An Ivy League professor on what the campus conversation on race gets wrong

Sean Illing in Vox:

ScreenHunter_2236 Sep. 21 21.11College professors are increasingly liberal — according to a study cited in the Washington Post earlier this year, the percentage of American professors identifying as “liberal” or “far left” jumped from 42 percent in 1990 to 60 percent in 2014.

Glenn Loury is an outlier in this environment — his politics are difficult to pin down exactly, but they’re probably best described as right of center. An author and professor of economics at Brown University, Loury has written books questioning what he sees as the liberal orthodoxy on race and history, including One by One From the Inside Out and The Anatomy of Racial Inequality.

I spoke with Loury earlier this month about his views on political correctness, the legacy of state-sanctioned racism, and his disagreements with the Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. Our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows.

Sean Illing: “Political correctness” has become a catchall term. Often it’s a trite signaling device or it’s used to paper over nasty rhetoric. Occasionally, though, it’s a legitimate backlash against a tendency to suppress uncomfortable speech. What do you think about this term and the way it’s used?

Glenn Loury: My argument about political correctness is not tendentious or partisan — it's analytical. The core of the argument is that when groups care a lot about maintaining conformity of belief on some matter of critical interest to them, then the hunt for heretics is always ongoing. We're always looking for deviants. The willingness to speak in certain ways can be a sign of deviance, because if speakers know that punishment awaits them for speaking in particular ways, the only speakers willing to take the risks are indeed people who are not reliable on whatever the core belief or value is.

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New gene-editing technology breakthroughs could help save native species from the blight of invaders—but at what risk?

Jason G. Goldman in Scientific American:

ScreenHunter_2235 Sep. 21 21.03As Earth enters the Anthropocene epoch, its biodiversity wobbles on the precipice of disaster—and island species have been hit especially hard. About 80 percent of recorded extinctions have occurred on islands and 40 percent of the world's endangered and threatened species are island dwellers. Researchers say the leading cause of these extinctions is invasive rodents—rats and mice that stowed away on ships, then quickly populated islands where they have no natural predators and often find a buffet of things like eggs and baby wildlife. Whereas there are several ways to clear such invaders, the most effective has been rodenticides. But these poisons can neither be deployed effectively on islands with large human populations nor where residents disapprove of their use. And poisons do not discriminate, killing along with unwanted pests the native species they are meant to protect.

But now a controversial new strategy called gene drive offers a brutally efficient solution by introducing genetically modified organisms designed to spread a chosen trait—such as producing infertile offspring—throughout a wild population. Scientists, government officials and other interested parties debated the idea last week at the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) World Conservation Congress in Honolulu.

More here.

How Hillary Clinton Became a Vessel for America’s Fury

Janet Reitman in Rolling Stone:

ScreenHunter_2234 Sep. 21 20.53They were everywhere this summer, the wanna-be statesmen, the failed comedians, the conspiracy theorists and entrepreneurs with political convictions, or absolutely no convictions, selling the national id. In Cleveland, they trawled the streets outside the Republican National Convention, shouting, “Hillary's lies matter!” or “Hillary for prison!” – the slogans stamped on buttons, T-shirts, bumper stickers, decals, trucker hats, hoodies, onesies. At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, diehards in Bernie 2016 shirts held signs reading “#NeverHillary” or “Shillary,” or handed out posters renaming the Democratic nominee “War Hawk” or “Goldman Girl” or “Monsanto Mama.” Everywhere the venom was carefully packaged and rigorously on-message. One button, plumbing the depths of the anti-politically correct, read “Life's a Bitch – Don't Vote for One.” Another promoted a “KFC Hillary Special: 2 Fat Thighs, 2 Small Breasts…Left Wing.” There were images of an angry Hillary giving America the finger and countless others of her yelling, scowling, looking mean. “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica!” yelled one T-shirt vendor, who told me he'd sold almost 500 shirts in Cleveland with that catchphrase. “Trump that bitch!”

More here.

A theory of creepiness

David Livingstone Smith in Aeon:

ScreenHunter_2233 Sep. 21 18.03Imagine looking down to see a severed hand scuttling toward you across the floor like a large, fleshy spider. Imagine a dog trotting up to you, amiably wagging its tail – but as it gets near you notice that, instead of a canine head, it has the head of an enormous green lizard. Imagine that you are walking through a garden where the vines all writhe like worms.

There’s no denying that each of these scenarios is frightening, but it’s not obvious why. There’s nothing puzzling about why being robbed at knifepoint, pursued by a pack of wolves, or trapped in a burning house are terrifying given the physical threat involved. The writhing vines, on the other hand, can’t hurt you though they make your blood run cold. As with the severed hand or the dog with the lizard head, you have the stuff of nightmares –creepy.

And creepiness – Unheimlichkeit, as Sigmund Freud called it – definitely stands apart from other kinds of fear. Human beings have been preoccupied with creepy beings such as monsters and demons since the beginning of recorded history, and probably long before. Even today in the developed world where science has banished the nightmarish beings that kept our ancestors awake at night, zombies, vampires and other menacing entities retain their grip on the human imagination in tales of horror, one of the most popular genres in film and TV.

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Philosophy, the Sartre blend

SatreRay Monk at The New Statesman:

On YouTube there is a three-minute clip of the funeral of Jean-Paul Sartre. The funeral took place on Saturday 19 April 1980 and the television coverage from which the clip is taken follows the journey of the hearse from the hospital where Sartre died to Montparnasse Cemetery, where he was to be buried – a distance of about three kilometres. Along the way, the hearse moves through a staggering number of people. The commentator says that there are 50,000 mourners in total, 30,000 on the streets leading to the cemetery and another 20,000 at the cemetery itself. When the camera pans out, you can see how extraordinarily packed the streets are; when it homes in on some of the faces, you notice that many of the mourners are young, in their early twenties. If you did not know whose funeral it was, you would guess a famous actor or actress, a rock star, or some such popular public figure as Diana, Princess of Wales or Winston Churchill. It would never occur to you that what you were seeing was the public reaction to the death of a philosopher.

It is often remarked that this shows the difference between French and British culture, because it is unimaginable that so many people in this country would be so deeply affected by the death of an intellectual. But, in fact, it is a pretty unusual event anywhere and at any time.

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Making Sense of Patterns of Police Violence

2016-07-15-1468604858-4887989-march6Adolph Reed, Jr. at nonsite:

Some readers will know that I’ve contended that, despite its proponents’ assertions, antiracism is not a different sort of egalitarian alternative to a class politics but is a class politics itself: the politics of a strain of the professional-managerial class whose worldview and material interests are rooted within a political economy of race and ascriptive identity-group relations. Moreover, although it often comes with a garnish of disparaging but empty references to neoliberalism as a generic sign of bad things, antiracist politics is in fact the left wing of neoliberalism in that its sole metric of social justice is opposition to disparity in the distribution of goods and bads in the society, an ideal that naturalizes the outcomes of capitalist market forces so long as they are equitable along racial (and other identitarian) lines. As I and my colleague Walter Benn Michaels have insisted repeatedly over the last decade, the burden of that ideal of social justice is that the society would be fair if 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources so long as the dominant 1% were 13% black, 17% Latino, 50% female, 4% or whatever LGBTQ, etc. That is the neoliberal gospel of economic justice, articulated more than a half-century ago by Chicago neoclassical economist Gary Becker, as nondiscriminatory markets that reward individual “human capital” without regard to race or other invidious distinctions.

We intend to make a longer and more elaborate statement of this argument and its implications, which antiracist ideologues have consistently either ignored or attempted to dismiss through mischaracterization of the argument or ad hominem attack.1 For now, however, I want simply to draw attention to how insistence on reducing discussion of killings of civilians by police to a matter of racism clouds understanding of and possibilities for effective response to the deep sources of the phenomenon.

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Jürgen Habermas and the unfinished project of the enlightenment

JuergenHabermasPeter E. Gordon at The Nation:

The pensive man with the snow-white hair was the philosopher and social theorist Jürgen Habermas, who for more than six decades has played the part of gadfly in modern Germany, just as Socrates did in ancient Athens. Even at his ripe age—he is now 87—Habermas’s passion remains undiminished. As a public intellectual, however, he may seem an unlikely hero. We live in an age when what some of us still fondly call “the public sphere” has grown thick with personalities who prefer the TED Talk to the printed word and the tweet to the rigors of rational argument. For Habermas, it’s clear that without the constant exercise of public deliberation, democracy will collapse, and this means that citizens must be ready to submit their arguments to the acid bath of rational criticism. The debates that preceded the construction of the Holocaust Memorial brought bitter memories to the surface—the novelist Martin Walser complained of “a monumentalization of our disgrace”—but for Habermas, a willingness to engage productively in self-criticism is a prerequisite for democratic consciousness. National pride in the conventional sense leaves him cold: In an essay for Die Zeit, he responded to Walser, emphasizing that “anyone who views Auschwitz as ‘our shame’ is more interested in the image others have of us than in the image German citizens retrospectively form of themselves in view of the breakdown of civilization, in order to be able to look each other in the face and show each other respect.” Habermas argues instead for “constitutional patriotism,” a sense of loyalty to the principles and procedures of the modern democratic state.

The ideal that most animates Habermas is a belief in the possibility of a genuinely critical and self-reflexive form of modern consciousness that can serve as the groundwork for politics.

more here.

Sad movies help us bond with those around us—and alleviate pain

Emily Underwood in Science:

FilmIf you were old enough to see a PG-13 movie in 1997, chances are you went to see Titanic. And chances are you cried. You might have even seen the film multiple times, doing your part to make it the highest-grossing sob fest in movie history. Now, a new study suggests why people want to see tragedies like Titanic over and over again: Watching dramas together builds social bonds and even raises our tolerance for physical pain. “Why on Earth would we waste so much of our time and money going back to novels and films that make us cry?” evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and his team asked at the beginning of the new study. In their previous investigations of group activities like dancing, laughing, and singing, they found that feel-good chemicals called endorphins were released in the brain, leading to increased pain tolerance and stronger bonds between participants. Endorphins are also released when monkeys and other nonhuman primates groom, suggesting that this mechanism has evolved to boost social ties, Dunbar says. Watching a tragic drama unfold in a theater might harness the same system, the researchers hypothesized. So Dunbar and his colleagues recruited 169 people to watch Stuart: A Life Backwards. This made-for-TV film portrays the experiences of a disabled homeless man who was sexually abused as a child and struggles with lifelong drug use and imprisonment. He ultimately dies by throwing himself in front of a train. Based on a real man’s life, the story is “about as close to pure tragedy as Shakespeare,” Dunbar says. “People were leaving in tears.”

The researchers compared those viewers with a second group of 68 people who watched two rather sedate BBC documentaries: episode one of The Museum of Life—a behind-the-scenes look at the Natural History Museum in London—and Landscape Mysteries “In Search of Irish Gold,” which explores Irish geology and archaeology. Before and after watching the films, all participants took two tests: One measured their sense of belonging or bonding with their fellow audience members. Another was a measure of pain sensitivity, called the Roman chair, which Dunbar says is a well-established proxy for endorphin release. In it, participants brace themselves unsupported in a chairlike stance against a wall until their leg muscles burn painfully. The higher the endorphin level, the longer a person should be able to sustain the posture, Dunbar says. Participants who had watched Stuart: A Life Backwards were able to maintain the Roman chair roughly 18% longer than they had in their initial baseline test, compared with those who had watched the documentaries, the authors report today in the journal Royal Society Open Science. They also found a parallel increase in the volunteers’ sense of social bonding that was not seen in the control group, suggesting that watching the drama—and not the duller BBC shows—had boosted group coherence.

More here.

Wednesday Poem

Then Ay Know My Horse

Then Ay know my horse,
let alive and out of days,
hide now paled, hind legs slow
to drag, lower head to lift,
hoof-split, burred and rough from the dirt.

Strange when Ay speak to him.
Tremble runs under him.
What owned him fills him.

Same horse Ay tamed are you the same?
Mane-tangled, lank, and under brow,
hims eye as from a coal half-burnt
sparked up. Ay pulled my body on-

start, rear, run-
and did not loose but stormed and shaken
held as leaf to stem. Sky could hear
the finding cry Ay made.

by Joan Houlihan
from AY
Tupelo Press, 2014

My Father: A Life

Justin Erik Halldór Smith in his own blog:

ScreenHunter_2232 Sep. 20 20.02The dolphin fish (Coryphaena hippurus) has no inner life, so its death can only play out on the surface of its body, in a spectacular display of multicoloured flashes. But where there is cognition, memory, emotion, where there is a man, the light show sometimes happens on the inside, a fireworks display of the soul's contents, transformed and expressed in a way that the nursing staff will dismiss as hallucination, but which is in fact no less true than the life itself.

In the week leading up to Friday, September 2, 2016, I accompanied my father in his transition to death. I came back and he did not. I am not yet old, and was only there to help him across. But I am not yet fully back. I know things now that I did not know before, about him, about us, about the living and the dead, and about the category of being or of mental phantasm (what is the difference, really?) that the country folk call 'ghosts'.

I always knew I would write about him. Though it may seem too soon, too raw, against protocol, to do so is the closest thing to filial piety I have in me. To do so is to honour him, who long ago vested his own dream of writerliness in me. He set up this very website over a decade ago; his final post to Facebook, in mid-August, was a review of my most recent book in The Nation. The hard drive of his laptop, which I have taken into my possession, is filled with fragments of creative writing projects, not least a folder with hundreds of files (including a home-made cover) contributory to a novel, entitled Bananaman, that would have been about the CIA and the United Fruit Company's involvement in various Central American coups d'état, and about the creation of a certain popular peelable monoculture that my father somehow saw as key to understanding his American century. Bananaman will never see the light of day, but I think that at some point my father stopped expecting it would, and that, after some years of intergenerational competition, he could now just kick back, let me do all the work, and beam with paternal pride. So this is a coda to that, a necessary culmination of who each of us was for the other.

More here.

The Strange Second Life of String Theory

K. C. Cole in Quanta:

ScreenHunter_2231 Sep. 20 19.58String theory strutted onto the scene some 30 years ago as perfection itself, a promise of elegant simplicity that would solve knotty problems in fundamental physics — including the notoriously intractable mismatch between Einstein’s smoothly warped space-time and the inherently jittery, quantized bits of stuff that made up everything in it.

It seemed, to paraphrase Michael Faraday, much too wonderful not to be true: Simply replace infinitely small particles with tiny (but finite) vibrating loops of string. The vibrations would sing out quarks, electrons, gluons and photons, as well as their extended families, producing in harmony every ingredient needed to cook up the knowable world. Avoiding the infinitely small meant avoiding a variety of catastrophes. For one, quantum uncertainty couldn’t rip space-time to shreds. At last, it seemed, here was a workable theory of quantum gravity.

Even more beautiful than the story told in words was the elegance of the math behind it, which had the power to make some physicists ecstatic.

To be sure, the theory came with unsettling implications. The strings were too small to be probed by experiment and lived in as many as 11 dimensions of space. These dimensions were folded in on themselves — or “compactified” — into complex origami shapes. No one knew just how the dimensions were compactified — the possibilities for doing so appeared to be endless — but surely some configuration would turn out to be just what was needed to produce familiar forces and particles.

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I Used to Be a Human Being

Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine:

ScreenHunter_2230 Sep. 20 19.52I was sitting in a large meditation hall in a converted novitiate in central Massachusetts when I reached into my pocket for my iPhone. A woman in the front of the room gamely held a basket in front of her, beaming beneficently, like a priest with a collection plate. I duly surrendered my little device, only to feel a sudden pang of panic on my way back to my seat. If it hadn’t been for everyone staring at me, I might have turned around immediately and asked for it back. But I didn’t. I knew why I’d come here.

A year before, like many addicts, I had sensed a personal crash coming. For a decade and a half, I’d been a web obsessive, publishing blog posts multiple times a day, seven days a week, and ultimately corralling a team that curated the web every 20 minutes during peak hours. Each morning began with a full immersion in the stream of internet consciousness and news, jumping from site to site, tweet to tweet, breaking news story to hottest take, scanning countless images and videos, catching up with multiple memes. Throughout the day, I’d cough up an insight or an argument or a joke about what had just occurred or what was happening right now. And at times, as events took over, I’d spend weeks manically grabbing every tiny scrap of a developing story in order to fuse them into a narrative in real time. I was in an unending dialogue with readers who were caviling, praising, booing, correcting. My brain had never been so occupied so insistently by so many different subjects and in so public a way for so long.

I was, in other words, a very early adopter of what we might now call living-in-the-web. And as the years went by, I realized I was no longer alone. Facebook soon gave everyone the equivalent of their own blog and their own audience.

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The Unsung Hero Left Out of ‘Sully’

Clive Irving in The Daily Beast:

49138975.cachedFear of flying has no easy antidote. It’s no good telling sufferers that flying is so much safer than driving on the expressway to the airport. That’s statistics, not the reality of the human condition. But there is one feel-good story that may be invoked to calm the fever: the moment in January 2009 when 150 airline passengers suddenly found themselves heading not for their destination, Charlotte, North Carolina but the ice-cold Hudson River in New York.

This is, of course, the Miracle on the Hudson. US Airways Flight 1549 had lost power from both engines after the engines ingested a flight of Canadian geese soon after taking off from La Guardia Airport.

Few passengers ever bother to know or even care about the names of the pilots to whom they entrust their lives. In this case none of the passengers (and much of the nation) would ever forget the name of the pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger, or just Sully.

Now Sully has rightly been elevated into the pantheon of those American heroes worthy of being played by Tom Hanks. TheClint Eastwood directed movie,Sully, is a surprise box office hit. It seems a good moment, then, to finally give credit to a hero so far unsung in this drama.

More here. [Thanks to Victoria Schindler.]