The Radical Works of a Young Dostoevsky

DotMatthew James Seidel at The Millions:

At 28, Fyodor Dostoevsky was about to die.

The nightmare started when the police burst into his apartment and dragged him away in the middle of the night, along with the rest of the Petrashevsky Circle. This was a group made up of artists and thinkers who discussed radical ideas together, such as equality and justice, and occasionally read books. Madmen, clearly. To be fair, the tsar, Nicholas I, had a right to be worried about revolution. The Decembrist Revolt of 1825 was still fresh in everyone’s mind, and it was obvious throughout the world that something was happening. In addition to earlier revolutions in America and France, revolutionary ideas were spreading like a virus around the world through art, literature, philosophy, science, and more. To the younger generation and Russians who suffered most under the current regime, it was exhilarating. For those like Nicholas I, whose power depended on the established order, it was terrifying.

So these revolutionaries, most barely in their 20s, were hauled off to the Peter and Paul Fortress, a prison that contained some of Russia’s most vicious criminals. After months of isolation broken up by the occasional interrogation, Dostoevsky and the rest were condemned to death by firing squad.

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palestinian diary


More than one and a half million Palestinians live in Israel, not in the West Bank and Gaza, but in Israel itself, in the Galilee in the north, the Triangle in the centre and the Naqab (Negev) in the south. After the wiping out of Palestine in 1948, about 15 per cent of the Palestinian population remained in the new state of Israel. On the surface, we are far more privileged than our brethren in the West Bank and Gaza; having Israeli citizenship and a passport means that we can vote, we have access to good education, public healthcare and social benefits, and we can travel easily, although we can’t visit some Arab countries. We don’t live in an occupied zone surrounded by checkpoints, with the constant threat of clashes, Israeli army incursions and settler violence. We are free to study almost anything we choose, in a country with a large job market. But this is a façade behind which is a system of rampant structural and institutional discrimination. As Palestinians, we spend every minute of our lives paying for the fact that we are not Jewish.

When I lived in my family’s village of Fassouta, in the Galilee, I was reminded every morning as I drove to work of my people’s dispossession. First, I had to drive through the remains of Suhmata and Dayr El-Qasi, two Palestinian villages that were destroyed in 1948. All that remains of Suhmata is a mass of shrubs and some stones that survived the Israeli bulldozers when they ploughed the village into the ground. In the miracle of Israel’s creation, Dayr El-Qasi was turned into Elqosh, a Jewish village, some of whose residents live in houses that were not destroyed in 1948, perhaps because they appreciate the Arab architecture. The Palestinians of Dayr El-Qasi and their descendants have lived in refugee camps in Lebanon ever since.

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Tuesday Poem

The Kitchen Gods

Carnage in the lot: blood freckled the chopping block —
The hen's death is timeless, frantic.
Its numbskull lopped, one wing still drags
The pointless circle of a broken clock,
But the vein fades in my grandmother's arm on the ax.
The old ways fade and do not come back.
The sealed aspirin does not remember the willow.
The supermarket does not remember the barnyard.
The hounds of memory come leaping and yapping.
One morning is too large to fit inside the mouth.
My grandmother's life was a long time
Toiling between Blake's root and lightning
Yahweh and the girlish Renaissance Christ
That plugged the flue in her kitchen wall.
Early her match flames across the carcass.
Her hand, fresh from the piano plunged
The void bowel and set the breadcrumb heart.
The stoves eye reddened. The day's great spirit rose
From pies and casseroles. That was the house —
Reroofed, retiled, modernized, and rented out,
It will not glide up and lock among the stars.
The tenants will not find the pantry fully stocked
Or the brass boat where she kept the matches dry.
I find her stone and rue our last useless
Divisive arguments over the divinity of Christ.
Only where the religion goes on without a god
And the sandwich is wolfed down without blessing,
I think of us bowing at the table there:
The grand patriarch of the family holding forth
In staunch prayer, and the potato pie I worshipped.
The sweeter the pie, the shorter the prayer.

by Rodney Jones
from Transparent Gestures
Houghton Mifflin, 1989

The Doe’s Song

Leath Tonino in Orion Magazine:

Tonino_image-771x771RICHARD NELSON’S 1997 book, Heart and Blood: Living with Deer in America, doesn’t deal all that much with roadkill, but the few statistics it does provide are overwhelming. By chance I had been overwhelmed with them at breakfast, drinking my coffee, reading at the table in Vermont, before getting in the car for the drive to New Jersey. “Back in 1961 when deer were scarce by present standards,” Nelson writes, “œofficial reports counted fewer than 400 deer killed by cars on [Wisconsin’™s] roads. Just 30 years later, in the 1990s, the number had soared to between 35,000 and 50,000 whitetails killed annually, and the actual figure could be much higher, since injured deer often get away from the highway before dying.” He goes on: The number of deer killed by cars in Boulder [Colorado] varies from 120 to more than 200 each year, and an equal number (if not more) are injured or straggle off to die in the brushland. Deer accidents increase during winter, midsummer, and especially the fall rut. An animal control officer told me, “We’ll pick up two or three dead deer every day in rutting season, plus usually one more that’s injured so badly it has to be euthanized.”

A spring morning, a cup of coffee, the house quiet. I leaned back in my chair and thought about the math. Boulder plus every other city, town, and open road in Colorado. Plus Wisconsin. Plus Florida and California. Plus Vermont and New Jersey. Two or three. Plus usually one more. Between 35,000 and 50,000. Could be much higher. I took a gulp, then took another. Straggle off to die in the brushland.

More here.

Cell maps reveal fresh details on how the immune system fights cancer

Heidi Ledford in Nature:

CellsDetailed maps of the immune cells that surround tumours could suggest fresh therapeutic targets, point out biological markers that can be used to select the patients most likely to respond to a given therapy, and offer insights into the best time to start administering that treatment, according to two studies released on 4 May.

…One team, led by systems biologist Bernd Bodenmiller of the University of Zurich in Switzerland, mapped the immune response to a form of kidney cancer called clear cell renal cell carcinoma2. It focused on two kinds of immune cell, T cells and macrophages. Both can either mount or suppress an immune attack on a tumour, depending on the state that they are in and the proteins they express. Bodenmiller and his colleagues examined samples from 73 people with kidney cancer along with 5 samples of healthy tissue. They analysed 3.5 million cells for the expression of 29 proteins used to characterize macrophages, and 23 to characterize T cells. The results showed that populations of those T cells and macrophages are more varied than previously thought. The team also found that patients who had a particular combination of T cells and macrophages also tended to have fast-progressing cancers. The data show that the current practice of looking at only one or two proteins to infer the state of a T cell or macrophage misses important information, says Kai Wucherpfennig, an immunologist at the Dana–Farber Cancer Institute. “It’s very unlikely that a single marker is sufficient,” he says.

Another study, led by oncologist Miriam Merad of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, created an atlas of immune cells associated with early-stage lung cancer1. The team compared normal lung tissue and blood with tumour tissue, and found that the young tumours had already begun to alter the immune cells in their neighbourhood. This is a sign that cancer therapies that target the immune system need not be reserved for advanced stages of the disease, says Merad. “It suggests that already, we could act,” she says. “We don’t have to wait until the tumour has spread.”

More here.

The antidotes to populism: stoicism and civil society

by Thomas R. Wells

ProtestThe politics of populist rage are on the ascendant in every democracy, even if thankfully not always triumphant. Authoritarian regimes like China and Russia, and cynics like John Gray, are relishing the collapse of the moral high ground and the return to good honest Machiavellianism. The old calumnies against democracy seem to be coming true. That the rule of the people is just the rule of the mob. That order, the uncontested rule of the powerful, is the best we can hope for. That there is no higher moral principle for a people to aspire to than their country's domination over others.

Something has certainly gone wrong in how we do democracy. We have forgotten what it is and how to do it. Specifically, we have gotten the idea that democracy consists in our right to command the government to give us what we want, when actually it is collective self-government. Democracy is not a reality TV-style contest in which the people are spectators and voters on who gets to win the prize of ultimate power. Rather, it is a relationship to ourselves and our fellow citizens that we develop and practise in our daily lives.


So how did we go so wrong?

We allowed the bonds between us to decay. The collapse of civic institutions outside work, well noted by Robert Putnam in ‘Bowling Alone', left more and more people isolated, unable to relate to each other as fellow citizens, unable to organise anything together.

Cable news and then social media came along to reorder us into bubbles of those we agree with. But worse, the economics of both cable news and social media depends on engagement – the more time we spend watching, or liking and sharing, the more of our attention these companies can chip off and sell to advertisers. And it turns out that outrage – besides cute cats – is extremely good at generating engagement. That's why Facebook's news feed algorithm has gotten so good at serving up the exact stories from around the world most likely to send us into paroxysms of anger, or the other dark emotions such as fear and disgust.

And that's where we are now. A society of millions of strangers, all alone together in front of our televisions and twitter feeds, shivering with indignant rage.

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On Frank Capra’s Apolitics

by Carl Pierer

Images-w1400[1]Much has been written about how the political centre today can be characterised by offering a choice between two spins of the same idea. Essentially, a choice that is not a really choice. But this point is nothing new. Indeed, this very mechanism can already be found in the 1938 film You Can't Take It With You.

In line with his other films, Frank Capra's You Can't Take It With You excels in a sentimentality and heart-warming humour that has won much popular appraisal. It is a film that is easy to watch, easy to enjoy and thus precisely of the charming sort that attracts fervent criticism. Too comforting, too nice, but most importantly too ideological. Capra's films are often seen to hide, behind a humanist façade, a stifling defence of the status quo and an outmoded idea of Americanness. This is not least due to his own descriptions in his autobiography. Against this sort of criticism, without defending Capra's non-existent ideas, it is possible to appreciate his You Can't Take It With You as a staple of ideological presentation of a pseudo-choice.

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Yelahanka: Sketches of a Neighborhood

by Hari Balasubramanian

013My parents live in a two-bedroom flat at the northern end of Bangalore, in a town called Yelahanka. They moved in 2002, two years after I left for grad school in the United States. Over the last fifteen years, as I've continued to live abroad, Yelahanka has become the somewhat unfamiliar home in India, experienced every two years but no more than a few weeks at a time, and always changing each time I visited.

Once a town with a history of its own, Bangalore's explosive growth over the last few decades made Yelahanka part of the greater city. In 2005, when I came to renew my student visa, the highway outside my parents' flat complex, the Bangalore-Bellary road, was being widened in preparation for the new international airport twenty kilometers north. The city seemed then to be splitting at its outer limits: earthmovers raking up heaps of rubble on the roadsides; laborers patiently striking heavy hammers to break existing concrete structures; and uprooted trunks and roots of what had once been massive trees, caked with the red earth of the depths from which they had been dug up. A study based on satellite imagery revealed that Bangalore, once called Garden City for its beautiful parks and tree-lined boulevards, lost 180 square kilometers of its green cover from 2000-2006.

The new airport got going in 2008. A flyover – a separate airport access road to bypass local traffic – was constructed about 50 feet above, supported by giant pillars. In Yelahanka, these pillars landed on the lower road, splitting it in two. Instead of making things easier, the flyover for a long time felt like a major obstruction to the locals, blocking the view, and reducing access to public buses. The traffic, always notorious in India – an ever present cacophony of honks, a jostling for every inch of space between motorbikes, auto rickshaws and newly acquired cars – only got worse as drivers adjusted to the new u-turns and flows.

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America’s complicated execution methods bespeak a bad conscience

by Emrys Westacott

Last month the world witnessed a morally repulsive Imagesspectacle in Arkansas. The state sought to execute eight men over eleven days, and succeeded in executing four of them, including two within an hour of each other. The reason for the rush to complete the executions before the end of April was that the state's supply of a certain drug used in the process was about to pass its "best used by" date, and the authorities were concerned on two counts: that they wouldn't be able to acquire further supplies; and that once the stocks they had were past their expiration date, there might be legal grounds either for stopping the executions or for suing the state should the executions not proceed smoothly.

Arkansas' preferred method of execution is lethal injection. In the recent cases this involved administering three drugs in succession:

  1. Midazolam: a sedative that is supposed to render the condemned person unconscious
  2. Pancuromium bromide, which paralyses them
  3. Potassium chloride, which stops the heart

The use of midazolam is controversial. It is a benzodiazepine, a similar sort of drug to valium. Unlike the barbiturates that are usually used as anesthetics in surgery, it is not guaranteed to render a person completely unconscious. It is therefore possible that the subsequent injections could cause severe pain, and this sometimes appears to have happened. In 2014, the execution in Oklahoma of Clayton Lockett by lethal injection took 43 minutes; the condemned man writhed and groaned on the gurney, went into convulsions and eventually died of a heart attack. In Ohio that same year, Denis McGuire appeared to be suffering several minutes into the procedure. In Arkansas last month, witnesses reported that Kenneth Williams, the last of the four to be executed, groaned and suffered convulsions.

People often ask why these problems arise given that we routinely anaesthetize patients for surgery and euthanize animals painlessly. The main reason is that the companies that manufacture drugs like sodium thiopental, pentobarbital or propofol, which are commonly used for such purposes, will not provide these drugs to anyone who might use them for the purpose of capital punishment. Some of this reluctance might stem from the moral values of the main shareholders; but to a large extent it is dictated by legal and commercial considerations. The drugs in question are largely manufactured in Europe, and EU regulations prohibit the export of drugs that might be used in executions. Rather than risk having sales to the US banned, companies choose not to supply the drugs to prisons.

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by Richard King

Greek_student_protestor_during_2009_G20_London_summit_protestsI wonder, do you believe that children are our future? I do. In fact, I often catch myself thinking how important it is to teach them well, and indeed to let them lead the way. Hell, some days I even resolve to show them all the beauty they possess inside – you know, give them a sense of pride, to make it easier, right? And their laughter reminds me … Okay I'll stop now.

Whitney had one thing right, at least. Children, young people, are the future. Or rather, they'll experience more of the future than I, at 46, am likely to. Not a difficult point to grasp, or a difficult point to make, and of course we should keep our hands on our wallets when politicians invoke The Young. Such invocations are to politics what The Bodyguard is to cinema: transcendentally anodyne.

And yet, and yet … Young people, youth, the kids, whatever, are facing a very uncertain future, and their place in it is fast becoming an inescapable modern theme. Indeed a healthy sense of grievance would appear to be brewing in their hormone-addled brains. The young are revolting, and by that I don't mean that their complexions resemble pizza dough or that their hair smells like a forest floor. No. I mean that they're pissed off with the world and with the indifference of our political Kevin Costners to their current and future prospects within it.

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Artificial intelligence will have implications for policymakers in education, welfare and geopolitics

Special report in The Economist:

20160625_SRD004_0In July 2011 Sebastian Thrun, who among other things is a professor at Stanford, posted a short video on YouTube, announcing that he and a colleague, Peter Norvig, were making their “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course available free online. By the time the course began in October, 160,000 people in 190 countries had signed up for it. At the same time Andrew Ng, also a Stanford professor, made one of his courses, on machine learning, available free online, for which 100,000 people enrolled. Both courses ran for ten weeks. Mr Thrun’s was completed by 23,000 people; Mr Ng’s by 13,000.

Such online courses, with short video lectures, discussion boards for students and systems to grade their coursework automatically, became known as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). In 2012 Mr Thrun founded an online-education startup called Udacity, and Mr Ng co-founded another, called Coursera. That same year Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology got together to form edX, a non-profit MOOC provider, headed by Anant Agarwal, the head of MIT’s artificial-intelligence laboratory. Some thought that MOOCs would replace traditional university teaching. The initial hype around MOOCs has since died down somewhat (though millions of students have taken online courses of some kind). But the MOOC boom illustrated the enormous potential for delivering education online, in bite-sized chunks.

The fact that Udacity, Coursera and edX all emerged from AI labs highlights the conviction within the AI community that education systems need an overhaul. Mr Thrun says he founded Udacity as an “antidote to the ongoing AI revolution”, which will require workers to acquire new skills throughout their careers. Similarly, Mr Ng thinks that given the potential impact of their work on the labour market, AI researchers “have an ethical responsibility to step up and address the problems we cause”; Coursera, he says, is his contribution. Moreover, AI technology has great potential in education. “Adaptive learning”—software that tailors courses for each student individually, presenting concepts in the order he will find easiest to understand and enabling him to work at his own pace—has seemed to be just around the corner for years. But new machine-learning techniques might at last help it deliver on its promise.

More here.

Review: “Adults in the Room” by Yanis Varoufakis

One of the greatest political memoirs ever? The leftwing Greek economist and former minister of finance tells a startling story about his encounter with Europe’s ‘deep establishment’.

Paul Mason in The Guardian:

3500Yanis Varoufakis once bought me a gin and tonic. His wife once gave me a cup of tea. While dodging my questions, as finance ministers are obliged to, he never once told me an outright lie. And I’ve hosted him at two all-ticketed events. I list these transactions because of what I am about to say: that Varoufakis has written one of the greatest political memoirs of all time. It stands alongside Alan Clark’s for frankness, Denis Healey’s for attacks on former allies, and – as a manual for exploring the perils of statecraft – will probably gain the same stature as Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon B Johnson.

Yet Varoufakis’s account of the crisis that has scarred Greece between 2010 and today also stands in a category of its own: it is the inside story of high politics told by an outsider. Varoufakis began on the outside – both of elite politics and the Greek far left – swerved to the inside, and then abruptly abandoned it, after he was sacked by his former ally, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, in July 2015. He dramatises his intent throughout the crisis with a telling anecdote. He’s in Washington for a meeting with Larry Summers, the former US treasury secretary and Obama confidant. Summers asks him point blank: do you want to be on the inside or the outside? “Outsiders prioritise their freedom to speak their version of the truth. The price is that they are ignored by the insiders, who make the important decisions,” Summers warns.

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Calculating Women

Despite the collaborative nature of science, for too much of its history the work of women and scientists of color was exploited and unacknowledged.

Priyamvada Natarajan in the New York Review of Books:

Natarajan_1-052517After a precisely calculated and perfectly executed voyage, the Mars Orbiter Mission reached its destination on September 24, 2014. The Indian Space Research Organisation, which oversaw the mission, had succeeded in doing what Russia, the United States, China, and Japan had failed to do: send an unmanned probe into orbit around Mars on the first attempt. The project’s success captured headlines worldwide, and a photograph of the cheering women on the administrative staff in the operations control room went viral on the Internet. Subsequently, articles about the female scientists and engineers who were central to the success of the project were widely published.

Perhaps never before had the participation of women in a space mission been so visible, even though women had been making fundamental computational contributions to astronomy and aeronautics for well over a century. Three recent books—Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe, Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures (which has also been turned into an Oscar-nominated film), and Nathalia Holt’s The Rise of the Rocket Girls—show some of what they accomplished.

In the late nineteenth century, the term “computer” referred not to a machine but to a person who took measurements, graphed data, and made calculations that helped interpret information and predict results. Although computing was considered mechanical and menial, it was a necessary task that required precision and patience. Before the invention of the modern digital computer, it was crucial to the advance of science and technology. Computers were often women, who could be paid less than men and could work during wartime. Despite the integral part they played in establishing the US as a leader in modern astrophysics and space exploration, their work has remained largely unknown.

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Why My Father Votes for Le Pen

Édouard Louis in the New York Times:

07louis-master768Last month, the face of Marine Le Pen appeared on my computer screen. The headline under the picture read, “Marine Le Pen in Round 2.” The leader of France’s far-right National Front, she had advanced to a runoff vote in the presidential election. I immediately thought of my father, a hundred miles away.

I imagined him bursting with joy in front of the TV — the same joy he felt in 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s father and the previous leader of the National Front, also made it to the second round. I remembered my father shouting, “We’re going to win!” with tears in his eyes.

I grew up in Hallencourt, a tiny village in Northern France where, until the 1980s, nearly everyone worked for the same factory. By the time I was born, in the 1990s, after several waves of layoffs, most of the people around me were out of work and had to survive as best they could on welfare. My father left school at 14, as did his father before him. He worked for 10 years at the factory. He never got a chance to be laid off: One day at work, a storage container fell on him and crushed his back, leaving him bedridden, on morphine for the pain.

I knew the feeling of being hungry before I knew how to read. From the time I was 5 my father would order me to go down the street and knock on the door of one of my aunts to ask if she could spare some pasta or bread for our table.

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