Nancy Averett in the website of the University of Chicago:
When Husain Sattar, MD, took a leave of absence from medical school to study Arabic and Islamic spirituality in Islamabad, Pakistan, he spent his days in a classroom that had walls made of clay and would heat up to 120 degrees in the summer. In the winter, the unheated classrooms were freezing — Islamabad sits at the foothills of the Himalayas — and Sattar, who was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, sat on the floor with the other students shivering and dreaming of summer.
It was a far cry from the University of Chicago, where he earned his undergraduate and medical degrees and later did his internship, residency and fellowship. Besides the lack of creature comforts, his instructors did not have fancy diplomas from prestigious universities. But there was a Pakistani teacher who made an impression on Sattar — one that planted the seed for Sattar’s wildly successful textbook and video series on pathology known as Pathoma.
“This teacher always came to class without notes,” Sattar said, recalling the instructor with the gray beard who smiled often and dressed in the traditional Pakistani garb of loose pants and tunic-like shirt. “He would say, ‘If I can’t tell you about it from the top of my head, then I shouldn’t be telling you about it at all.’” The man lectured passionately, as if there were 3,000 people in the room instead of eight, but what the young American medical student found most impressive was his skill distilling colossal amounts of material. “He had this ability to take vast amounts of information and summarize it in the most eloquent, simple, principle-based method,” Sattar said.
A picture is worth 1,000 words, the saying goes, but a group of Harvard-based scientists is hoping that it may also be worth the same number of equations.
Pictorial laws appear to unify ideas from disparate, interdisciplinary fields of knowledge, linking them beautifully like elements of a da Vinci painting. The group is working to expand the pictorial mathematical language first outlined last year by Arthur Jaffe, the Landon T. Clay Professor of Mathematics and Theoretical Science, and postdoctoral fellow Zhengwei Liu.
“There is one word you can take away from this: excitement,” Jaffe said. “And that’s because we’re not trying just to solve a problem here or there, but we are trying to develop a new way to think about mathematics, through developing and using different mathematical languages based on pictures in two, three, and more dimensions.”
Last year they created a 3-D language called quon, which they used to understand concepts related to quantum information theory. Now, new research has offered tantalizing hints that quon could offer insights into a host of other areas in mathematics, from algebra to Fourier analysis, as well as in theoretical physics, from statistical physics to string theory. The researchers describe their vision of the project in a paper that appeared Jan. 2 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“There has been a great deal of evolution in this work over the past year, and we think this is the tip of the iceberg,” Jaffe said. “We’ve discovered that the ideas we used for quantum information are relevant to a much broader spectrum of subjects. We are very grateful to have received a grant from the Templeton Religion Trust that enabled us to assemble a team of researchers last summer to pursue this project further, including undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs, as well as senior collaborators at other institutions.”
My first introduction to Jordan B. Peterson, a University of Toronto clinical psychologist, came by way of an interview that began trending on social media last week. Peterson was pressed by the British journalist Cathy Newman to explain several of his controversial views. But what struck me, far more than any position he took, was the method his interviewer employed. It was the most prominent, striking example I’ve seen yet of an unfortunate trend in modern communication.
First, a person says something. Then, another person restates what they purportedly said so as to make it seem as if their view is as offensive, hostile, or absurd.
Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and various Fox News hosts all feature and reward this rhetorical technique. And the Peterson interview has so many moments of this kind that each successive example calls attention to itself until the attentive viewer can’t help but wonder what drives the interviewer to keep inflating the nature of Peterson’s claims, instead of addressing what he actually said.
When it was reported, last week, that the British government had appointed a “Minister for Loneliness,” the news was greeted by observers on the opposite side of the Atlantic with fascination and a certain amount of knowing humor. The title, Aimée Lutkin noted at Jezebel, might denote “a character from an alternate Harry Potter timeline where wizards battle ennui instead of snake magic.” Monty Python, which almost fifty years ago parodied Whitehall officialdom with its “Ministry of Silly Walks,” was invoked. Stephen Colbert, on his TV show, suggested that “Minister for Loneliness” sounded like “a Victorian euphemism for ‘gigolo.’ ” (Actually, the Victorian euphemism for gigolo was “Casanova,” but points for effort.) Colbert went on to riff upon the comedic implications of the appointment. “This is so British,” he said. “They’ve defined the most ineffable human problem and come up with the most cold, bureaucratic solution.”
While one might take issue with Colbert’s grasp of broad transatlantic national stereotypes—surely the nation best known for brisk bureaucratic compensations for the deficiencies of human nature is Germany—his performance of wonderment at Britain’s Minister of Loneliness is understandable.
Basketball is like this for young Indian boys, all arms and legs and serious stomach muscles. Every body is brown! These are the twentieth-century warriors who will never kill, although a few sat quietly in the deserts of Kuwait, waiting for orders to do something, to do something.
God, there is nothing as beautiful as a jumpshot on a reservation summer basketball court where the ball is moist with sweat, and makes a sound when it swishes through the net that causes Walt Whitman to weep because it is so perfect.
There are veterans of foreign wars here although their bodies are still dominated by collarbones and knees, although their bodies still respond in the ways that bodies are supposed to respond when we are young. Every body is brown! Look there, that boy can run up and down this court forever. He can leap for a rebound with his back arched like a salmon, all meat and bone synchronized, magnetic, as if the court were a river, as if the rim were a dam, as if the air were a ladder leading the Indian boy toward home.
Some of the Indian boys still wear their military hair cuts while a few have let their hair grow back. It will never be the same as it was before! One Indian boy has never cut his hair, not once, and he braids it into wild patterns that do not measure anything. He is just a boy with too much time on his hands. Look at him. He wants to play this game in bare feet.
While any encompassing history of the perpetrators ought to prioritize Germans and Austrians without making them the exclusive focus, any inclusive and adequate history of the victims would have to begin with Poland and eastern Europe at large before arriving at the European level. Surprisingly, while there has been consensus on the former point ever since the war, the latter is far from established practice even today. Many of the finest historians of the Holocaust who devote attention to the Jewish experience of the Nazi era tend to focus almost exclusively on Jews in Nazi Germany prior to 1939 – to take an eminent example, Saul Friedlaender’s justly praised The Years of Persecution. Such books thereby largely neglect Jews from elsewhere in the same years – people who came to account for some 98% of the victims.
What is more, the crime of the Holocaust was committed primarily on the pre-war territory of Poland and the Soviet Union. The main extermination camps of Operation Reinhard, most infamously Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka, where the majority of Polish Jews were murdered during the main phase of the Holocaust in 1942-43 and which in fact were little more than killing facilities, are all located in what is now Poland; the main sites of the Holocaust where victims were killed by bullets, a method that started and reached its peak in 1941, such as Mikolaev or the Babi Jar ravine just outside Kiev, are in Ukraine; even the Reich-territory that Auschwitz constituted during World War II – a surprisingly little known fact in Germany today – belonged to Poland both before and after the war.
From the moment I landed in Warsaw, where I was collected by my future sister- and brother-in-law, my feelings were conflicted.I already knew a lot about the country, partly from having read recent books like Timothy Garton Ash’s masterful The Polish Revolution: Solidarity,Norman Davies’ exhaustive two-volume history Heart of Europe, the novels of Tadeusz Konwicki and Marek Hłasko and the poetry of Czesław Miłosz and Zbigniew Herbert.In addition, while growing up I had read a lot of World War II fiction set in Poland and, if much of it was poorly written, it was also historically enlightening.I knew, for instance, that the last group of fighters from the Ghetto Uprising had died in the basement of a house at Miła 18 and that in 1944 the Soviet army had halted its advance on the Vistula’s east bank and watched while the Germans destroyed the city, which had subsequently been rebuilt from rubble during the darkest days of the Cold War. The country’s resilience was hard not to admire.
Yet a lot of things bothered me.Though Martial Law had technically ended four years earlier, you could not walk down the street in any major city without seeing soldiers.
You might say, having read some of my recent essays, “Umair! Don’t worry! Everything will be fine! It’s not that bad!” I would look at you politely, and then say gently, “To tell you the truth, I don’t think we’re taking collapse nearly seriously enough.” Why? When we take a hard look at US collapse, we see a number of social pathologies on the rise. Not just any kind. Not even troubling, worrying, and dangerous ones. But strange and bizarre ones. Unique ones. Singular and gruesomely weird ones I’ve never really seen before, and outside of a dystopia written by Dickens and Orwell, nor have you, and neither has history. They suggest that whatever “numbers” we use to represent decline — shrinking real incomes, inequality, and so on —we are in fact grossly underestimating what pundits call the “human toll”, but which sensible human beings like you and I should simply think of as the overwhelming despair, rage, and anxiety of living in a collapsing society. Let me give you just five examples of what I’ll call the social pathologies of collapse — strange, weird, and gruesome new diseases, not just ones we don’t usually see in healthy societies, but ones that we have never really seen before in any modern society.
America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days. That’s one every other day, more or less. That statistic is alarming enough — but it is just a number. Perspective asks us for comparison. So let me put that another way. America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days, which is more than anywhere else in the world, even Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, the phenomenon of regular school shootings appears to be a unique feature of American collapse — it just doesn’t happen in any other country — and that is what I mean by “social pathologies of collapse”: a new, bizarre, terrible disease striking society. Why are American kids killing each other? Why doesn’t their society care enough to intervene? Well, probably because those kids have given up on life — and their elders have given up on them. Or maybe you’re right — and it’s not that simple. Still, what do the kids who aren’t killing each other do? Well, a lot of them are busy killing themselves.
So there is of course also an “opioid epidemic”. We use that phrase too casually, but it much more troubling than it appears on first glance. Here is what is really curious about it. In many countries in the world — most of Asia and Africa — one can buy all the opioids one wants from any local pharmacy, without a prescription. You might suppose then that opioid abuse as a mass epidemic would be a global phenomenon. Yet we don’t see opioid epidemics anywhere but America — especially not ones so vicious and widespread they shrink life expectancy. So the “opioid epidemic” — mass self-medication with the hardest of hard drugs — is again a social pathology of collapse: unique to American life. It is not quite captured in the numbers, but only through comparison — and when we see it in global perspective, we get a sense of just how singularly troubled American life really is.
Why would people abuse opioids en masse unlike anywhere else in the world? They must be living genuinely traumatic and desperate lives, in which there is little healthcare, so they have to self-medicate the terror away. But what is so desperate about them? Well, consider another example: the “nomadic retirees”. They live in their cars. They go from place to place, season after season, chasing whatever low-wage work they can find — spring, an Amazon warehouse, Christmas, Walmart.
The sun may have long ago set on the British Empire (or on all but a few tattered shreds of it), but it never seems to set on the debate about the merits of empire. The latest controversy began when the Third World Quarterly, an academic journal known for its radical stance, published a paper by Bruce Gilley, an associate professor of political science at Portland State University in Oregon, called “The Case for Colonialism.” Fifteen of the thirty-four members on the journal’s editorial board resigned in protest, while a petition, with more than 10,000 signatories, called for the paper to be retracted. It was eventually withdrawn after the editor “received serious and credible threats of personal violence.”
Then, in November, Nigel Biggar, regius professor of theology at Oxford University, wrote an article in the London Times defending Gilley. Biggar saw Gilley’s “balanced reappraisal of the colonial past” as “courageous,” and called for “us British to moderate our post-imperial guilt.”
Biggar also revealed that he was launching a five-year academic project, under the auspices of Oxford University’s McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics and Public Life, called “Ethics and Empire.” The project aims to question the notion prevalent “in most reaches of academic discourse,” that “imperialism is wicked; and empire is therefore unethical” and to develop “a Christian ethic of empire.” Fifty-eight Oxford scholars working on “histories of empire and colonialism” wrote an open lettercondemning the project as asking “the wrong questions, using the wrong terms, and for the wrong purposes.” A second open letter with nearly two hundred signatures from academics across the globe expressed “alarm that the University of Oxford should invest resources in this project.” Another Oxford historian of empire, Alexander Morrison, denounced these open letters as being “deeply corrosive of normal academic exchange” and encouraging “online mobbing, public shaming and political polarization.”
Women lose out when reviewers are asked to assess the researcher, rather than the research, on a grant application, according to a study on gender bias. Training reviewers to recognize unconscious biases seems to correct this imbalance, despite previous work suggesting that it increased bias instead.
The findings were posted last month on the bioRxiv1 preprint server and are currently in review at a journal. They came out of a 2014 decision by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to phase out conventional grant programmes, in which reviewers evaluated both the science and the investigator. Instead, the CIHR started one programme that focused its evaluation on the applicants and another that focused mostly on their research. This created a natural experiment that allowed scientists to analyse the outcome of nearly 24,000 grant applications and to test whether funding differences were due to the quality of the applicants’ research or to biased assessments of their gender.
Past studies have looked at gender inequalities in grant funding, but most examined grant programmes that didn't separate their application pool like the CIHR programmes. Some also didn’t consider other factors, such as whether research fields had different ratios of male to female scientists2. The new analysis, which took into account applicants’ research areas and age — a proxy for career stage — allowed the study authors to draw “more robust conclusions”, says Holly Witteman, a health-informatics researcher at Laval University in Quebec City, Canada, who led the study.
For years, I’ve been saying Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature was the best book I’d read in a decade. If I could recommend just one book for anyone to pick up, that was it. Pinker uses meticulous research to argue that we are living in the most peaceful time in human history. I’d never seen such a clear explanation of progress.
I’m going to stop talking up Better Angels so much, because Pinker has managed to top himself. His new book, Enlightenment Now, is even better.
Enlightenment Now takes the approach he uses in Better Angels to track violence throughout history and applies it to 15 different measures of progress (like quality of life, knowledge, and safety). The result is a holistic picture of how and why the world is getting better. It’s like Better Angels on steroids.
Pinker was generous enough to send me an early copy, even though Enlightenment Now won’t be released until the end of February. I read the book slowly since I loved it so much, but I think most people will find it a quick and accessible read. He manages to share a ton of information in a way that’s compelling, memorable, and easy to digest.
It opens with an argument in favor of returning to the ideals of the Enlightenment—an era when reason, science, and humanism were touted as the highest virtues.
The bomb fell in the Laotian forest sometime between 1964 and 1973, and there it lay for decades, rusting in rain, oxidizing with time, until someone found it, cracked it open, and extracted the explosive inside, perhaps to sell or to use for bomb fishing or removing big boulders from a path. The weapon’s remnants ended up in a ditch, right outside a little shop house along a dusty dirt road linking Laos and Vietnam, run by a Vietnamese couple selling phone cards and noodles, hats and belts, chips and shampoo. The immigrants live there with their young son and never liked the looks of that old bomb—three feet of solid steel, red as the earth around it. Its back end was missing, and you could peer inside. Something didn’t feel quite right. But what could they do?
Then one day, a dozen Laotian men in blue uniforms, joined by a lone American, pass the shop in a Land Cruiser. They are the members of a bomb-clearance team assembled by the Wisconsin-based organization We Help War Victims, in partnership with the nonprofit CARE.
It’s been one of the vexing questions in medicine: Why is it that most people who have heart attacks or strokes have few or no conventional risk factors? These are patients with normal levels of cholesterol and blood pressure, no history of smoking or diabetes, and no family history of cardiovascular disease. Why aren’t they spared? To some researchers, this hidden risk is the dark matter of cardiology: an invisible but omnipresent force that lands tens of thousands of patients in the hospital each year. But now scientists may have gotten a glimpse of part of it. They have learned that a bizarre accumulation of mutated stem cells in bone marrow increases a person’s risk of dying within a decade, usually from a heart attack or stroke, by 40 or 50 percent. They named the condition with medical jargon: clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential.
CHIP has emerged as a risk for heart attack and stroke that is as powerful as high LDL or high blood pressure but it acts independently of them. And CHIP is not uncommon. The condition becomes more likely with age. Up to 20 percent of people in their 60s have it, and perhaps 50 percent of those in their 80s. “It is beginning to appear that there are only two types of people in the world: those that exhibit clonal hematopoiesis and those that are going to develop clonal hematopoiesis,” said Kenneth Walsh, who directs the hematovascular biology center at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
…“Some mutations are just markers of past events without any lasting consequence,” said Dr. David Steensma, a blood cancer specialist at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. But others, especially those linked to leukemia, seem to give stem cells a new ability to accumulate in the marrow. The result is a sort of survival of the fittest, or fastest growing, stem cells in the marrow. “Some mutations may alter the growth properties of the stem cell,” said Dr. Steensma. “Some may just make the stem cell better at surviving in certain less hospitable parts of the bone marrow where other stem cells can’t thrive.”
Around 500 BC, the Carthaginian explorer Hanno the Navigator guided a fleet of sixty oared ships through the Strait of Gibraltar and along the northwest lobe of the great elephant ear that is the African continent. Toward the end of his journey, on an island in a lagoon, he encountered a “rude description of people”—rough-skinned, hairy, violent. The local interpreters called them Gorillae. Hanno and his crew attempted to capture some of them, but many climbed up steep elevations and hurled stones in defense. Eventually, the Carthaginians caught three female Gorillae, flayed them, and brought their skins back home, where they hung in the Temple of Tanit for several centuries.
Though scholars dispute whether the Gorillae were gorillas, chimpanzees, or an indigenous tribe of humans, many regard Hanno’s account as the oldest surviving record of humans encountering another species of great ape. The ambiguity of Hanno’s early descriptions—are the Gorillae human or beast, people or apes?—is not just an artifact of translational difficulties; it is exemplary of a profound misunderstanding in historical attitudes about our closest animal cousins, a confusion that is still being resolved today.
If a cat doesn’t like the furniture you’ve bought for it, you have two choices: blame the furniture or blame the cat. (Never blame yourself for raising an ungrateful cat.) Most Amazon reviewers choose the former, steering clear of inquiry into the hairy world of cat taste or into whether animals are fickle by nature or nurture: they just slap single-star ratings on the trees and castles and scratching posts that don’t delight their pets as promised. “This product must have something in it that cats don’t like!” they write. “Our cats wouldn’t touch it, our friends [sic] cats wouldn’t touch it, and their friends [sic] cats wouldn’t touch it!”
I know all of this intimately, unfortunately. For half a year, as a researcher for a start-up incubator, I was tasked with trawling Amazon for some insight into what people like and don’t like. I’d sit—back to the window and face to the screen, sunlight bouncing off Lake Michigan’s corduroy waters and onto my shoulders, an occasional horn twenty floors below piercing the murmuring air conditioning—and I’d click.
To sleep with you or to be slept, what’s the difference if there’s any? Two bodies collide — the force, the flower pushed open by the force, the virtual spring in the flowering — nothing more than this, and this we mistake as life restarting. In half of China, things are happening: volcanoes erupting, rivers running dry, political prisoners and displaced workers abandoned, elk deer and red-crowned cranes shot. I cross the hail of bullets to sleep with you. I squeeze many nights into one morning to sleep with you. I run across many of me and many of me run into one to sleep with you. Of course I can be misled by butterflies and mistake praise as spring, a village similar to Hengdian as home. But all these are absolutely indispensable reasons that I sleep with you.
It was only a few days ago that I heard about Joe Frank's recent passing, which was an odd feeling, because I'd thought he was already dead. Further reflection made me realize that I based this opinion on no evidence whatsoever, but if you know about Joe Frank, you'll agree that an abiding belief in his demise would have been entirely appropriate, and that he would have likely even approved of such a confusion. If you don't know Frank, though, I envy you the experience of hearing him for the first time. To me, he was the greatest radio ever committed to the airwaves. But, regrettably, the best way to hear Frank's work is to have no idea that it's him at all. In that sense, I apologize for blowing it with this modest appreciation, and take comfort from knowing that Frank would be amused by such ambivalence.
Any fan will remember exactly where they were when they first heard one of Joe Frank's broadcasts. For me, it was back in high school, in 1980s central New Jersey. One of my friends was Nadim, a burly Pakistani guy who lived in the tonier part of my neighborhood. Nadim always tramped around in big black combat boots and teased out his long hair with liberal amounts of hairspray to signal his devotion to The Cure. He also played guitar in a few bands, and was the first person to pass me a joint. His parents were wealthy enough that they gave him a red Trans Am for some birthday or other, and we would cruise down the farm lanes of central Jersey late at night, smoking, listening to Joy Division, The Smiths, Bauhaus, Hüsker Dü or Big Black, and remonstrating against life as only teenagers could.
On one of these bone cruises I was fiddling with the radio when I came across a husky, grieving voice intoning over a short loop of a Jewish cantor singing. Frank's voice is unforgettable in its immediacy. He spoke so closely into the microphone that you could feel the humidity of his breath. Although he had many guests on his shows (both intentional and unintentional) his was the only voice that sounded as if it were coming from inside your head. On the occasion of discovering him, it's difficult to remember what he was talking about; his surrealist's take on life was obscured further by the fact that we'd just parachuted into the middle of one of his stories, and immediately, in the words of Conrad at the start of Heart Of Darkness, "we knew we were fated…to hear about one of Marlow's inconclusive experiences." But while Marlow's listeners were mildly irritated at being a captive audience, Nadim and I were hooked. We kept driving, and Joe Frank kept talking. It felt as if we'd made a pact with the radio.
—thoughts on finishing Emily Wilson’s new translation of the Odyssey
Book 22 of TheOdyssey plays like a scene of The Punisher so we know that men have been bloodthirsty since the Greeks sacked Troy (at least) and that Homer rivals Hensleigh in imagery of hacked limbs and scarlet springs. Almost 3000 years have not dulled our thirst for an aesthetic of pain. We can imagine Homer yakking with Tarantino of techniques depicting dread death and cruel dispatch over cups of sea-dark wine imagining clueless suitors mocking an 800 BC ISIS collapsed into the form of one Odysseus disguised by Athena as an old mendicant, a beggar envisioning his tormentors' imminent decapitations, amputations, punctures, skewers, unconcerned of R ratings, happily scripting till bloody-fingered dawn rolls in with crime scene cleaners to make the place respectable for the almost-civilized who’ve slapped down good money for tickets to clean, screen brutality and spent small fortunes on popcorn and coke