Ghosts and Ghouls on Grand Street: Yun-Fei Ji

Robert C. Morgan at artcritical:

For Chinatown residents, Ji’s paintings may serve as an allegory of what is happening elsewhere; but for Chinese farmers and their families it is reality, one they are forced to confront as an everyday occurrence. In rural China today , extreme poverty has become a fact of life. This has much to do with the fields formerly used for growing crops that have been flooded to produce electrical power or polluted to the extent that farmers no longer have land to work and water to fish and drink, thus leaving their families in a desperate state constantly fighting for survival. Their fields are now dumping grounds for antiquated computer parts that poison the furrows they once tilled.

These harrowing conditions are at the source of what Ji paints and through the act of painting in a style reminiscent of the Southern Sung Dynasty (1127 – 1279), the artist reminds himself of the China that few urban residents have actually seen.

more here.

Who Speaks Freely?: Art, Race, and Protest

Aruna D’Souza at The Paris Review:

The “urgent recommendation” by Black and her cosignatories that the offending artwork should be destroyed stemmed from a desire to prevent the image of black suffering and death from becoming another commodity; as such, it led to vigorous pushback. Those who rejected the protesters’ positions—people ranging from respected art critics, artists, and art historians, to those who had little interest in art per se but objected to complaints by “snowflake” social-justice warriors on principle—largely framed their counterarguments in terms of free speech, artistic freedom, and censorship. (If we measure the strength of an art-world controversy by how deeply it penetrated into public consciousness, I’d say Whoopi Goldberg telling the protesters they needed to “grow up” on The View ranks this one pretty high. Zadie Smith chalking the controversy up to the “cheap” binary of us vs. them politics in Harper’s Magazine and Coco Fusco writing off not only Hannah Black but the historical black arts movement in Hyperallergic were also telling markers.)

more here.

A Brief Lesson on Media Bias and Palestine

Christian Frock in Hyperallergic:

In the spring of 2014 I was invited to write freelance art criticism for the San Francisco Chronicle — the invitation came in an email out of the blue one day from the late David Weigand, who passed away earlier this month, who was then the Executive Features Editor. It was a thrilling opportunity, but everything soon unraveled when I was handed off to another editor.

I define my work as independent because I choose my subjects. I don’t work on assignment unless it makes sense for my larger body of work, which encompasses a number of themes relative to art, politics, and public life. My focus is not always warmly received by editors hoping for a certain kind of commercial-art-market boosterism, but I see my work as a collection of research and ideas, specifically my own. Writing simply doesn’t pay enough to write repurposed ad copy. Weigand was openly enthusiastic about the political nature of my writing and had studiously considered a lot of my work, going back several years. Talking with me in his windowless office the day he sent me a contract, his exact words were, “Come work for me and write whatever you want.” I couldn’t believe my luck.

But as I said, it didn’t last. After talking through some ideas, I was assigned to another editor. I soon pitched a story on the block-long Oakland-Palestine Solidarity Mural being produced that summer in Oakland, featuring work by a number of great artists, including Emory Douglas, former Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party. Everyone wanted mural stories, plus Emory Douglas is a legend — it seemed like a slam dunk. I was stunned when my editor wrote back a terse no, saying I was “talking to the wrong lady here on this issue,” and expanding only to say in a second email, that she had strong feelings on the subject and “not that side LOL.”

More here.

The Real Driver of Rising Inequality

Lance Taylor over at INET:

Income distribution and employment are crucial macroeconomic indicators. Profits are key to distribution. Ther share in the value of output has risen steadily since around 1980. Households near the top of the size distribution of income receive business profits through various channels including interest, dividends, capital gains, proprietors’ incomes, and even labor compensation—which in US statistics includes profit-related items such as bonuses and stock options. Rising household inequality can be traced directly to higher profits fed by slower growth of real wages than of productivity (Taylor and Ömer, 2018).

The employment rate or the ratio of employment to the working age population, fluctuates around 60%. It hit a post-WWII high of 64% in 1990 at the peak of a business cycle, dropped to 55% in the wake of the Great Recession, and now is nearing 62%.

How do these developments hang together? Rising income inequality and oscillating employment are not the happiest macroeconomic combination. Causes include changing structural relationships including more “duality” between low wage/high employment industries and the rest.

In our paper, my co-author and I first trace these linkages in the data and then examine possible explanations. A key contrast is between business firms’ “monopoly” power to push up prices in markets for goods and services against consumers’ wages on the one hand, and their ability by various means to drive down wages against prices on the other. The latter strategy may well be more significant.

More here.

Philip Roth, Towering Novelist Who Explored Lust, Jewish Life and America, Dies at 85

Charles McGrath in the New York Times:

Philip Roth, the prolific, protean, and often blackly comic novelist who was a pre-eminent figure in 20th century literature, died on Tuesday night at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 85.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said the writer Judith Thurman, a close friend. Mr. Roth had homes in Manhattan and Connecticut.

In the course of a very long career, Mr. Roth took on many guises — mainly versions of himself — in the exploration of what it means to be an American, a Jew, a writer, a man. He was a champion of Eastern European novelists like Ivan Klima and Bruno Schulz, and also a passionate student of American history and the American vernacular. And more than just about any other writer of his time he was tireless in his exploration of male sexuality. His creations include Alexander Portnoy, a teenager so libidinous he has sex with both his baseball mitt and the family dinner, and David Kepesh, a professor who turns into an exquisitely sensitive 155-pound female breast.

Mr. Roth was the last of the great white males: the triumvirate of writers — Saul Bellow and John Updike were the others — who towered over American letters in the second half of the 20th century. Outliving both and borne aloft by an extraordinary second wind, Mr. Roth wrote more novels than either of them.

More here.  [Thanks to Akbi Khan.]

Lend Me Your Ears

Isaac Butler has a new podcast over at Slate on politics and Shakespeare. The first episode is on Julius Caesar:

In the summer of 2017, New York City’s Shakespeare in the Park staged a production of Julius Caesar that proved unexpectedly controversial. As played by Gregg Henry, Julius Caesar had pursed lips, inscrutable blond hair, and an extra-long red tie. Sound familiar?

And—as the play calls for—he got viciously murdered halfway through the play. Right-wing news outlets like Fox News and Breitbart carried stories about this seditious show where Donald Trump gets viciously stabbed to death, and multiple sponsors pulled their support from the production.

It’s remarkable to think that Julius Caesar, written more than four centuries ago, still has the power to provoke. But one of the reasons why Shakespeare remains the unshakable cornerstone of the Western canon is that every generation finds a new way that he speaks to their times.

In Shakespeare’s own time, England was undergoing enormous political and social upheaval. The country was wracked by famine and plague, threatened by religious violence, and confronted with political crises whose resolutions were often unclear.

More here.

Sam Harris and the myth of perfectly rational thought

Robert Wright in Wired:

Sam Harris, one of the original members of the group dubbed the “New Atheists” (by Wired!) 12 years ago, says he doesn’t like tribalism. During his recent, much-discussed debate with Vox founder Ezra Klein about race and IQ, Harris declared that tribalism “is a problem we must outgrow.”

But apparently Harris doesn’t think he is part of that “we.” After he accused Klein of fomenting a “really indissoluble kind of tribalism” in the form of identity politics, and Klein replied that Harris exhibits his own form of tribalism, Harris said coolly, “I know I’m not thinking tribally in this respect.”

Not only is Harris capable of transcending tribalism—so is his tribe! Reflecting on his debate with Klein, Harris said that his own followers care “massively about following the logic of a conversation” and probe his arguments for signs of weakness, whereas Klein’s followers have more primitive concerns: “Are you making political points that are massaging the outraged parts of our brains? Do you have your hands on our amygdala and are you pushing the right buttons?”

Of the various things that critics of the New Atheists find annoying about them—and here I speak from personal experience—this ranks near the top: the air of rationalist superiority they often exude.

More here.

Every Cell in Your Body Has the Same DNA. Except It Doesn’t.

Carl Zimmer in the New York Times:

James Priest couldn’t make sense of it. He was examining the DNA of a desperately ill baby, searching for a genetic mutation that threatened to stop her heart. But the results looked as if they had come from two different infants.

“I was just flabbergasted,” said Dr. Priest, a pediatric cardiologist at Stanford University.

The baby, it turned out, carried a mixture of genetically distinct cells, a condition known as mosaicism. Some of her cells carried the deadly mutation, but others did not. They could have belonged to a healthy child.

We’re accustomed to thinking of our cells sharing an identical set of genes, faithfully copied ever since we were mere fertilized eggs. When we talk about our genome — all the DNA in our cells — we speak in the singular.

But over the course of decades, it has become clear that the genome doesn’t just vary from person to person. It also varies from cell to cell. The condition is not uncommon: We are all mosaics.

More here.

Protestants decline, more have no religion in a sharply shifting religious landscape in the U.S.

Allison De Jong at ABC News:

The nation’s religious makeup has shifted dramatically in the past 15 years, with a sharp drop in the number of Americans who say they’re members of a Protestant denomination – still the nation’s most prevalent religious group – and a rise in the number who profess no religion.

On average last year, 36 percent of Americans in ABC News/Washington Post pollsidentified themselves as members of a Protestant faith, extending a gradual trend down from 50 percent in 2003. That includes an 8-point drop in the number of evangelical white Protestants, an important political group.

Reflecting the change among Protestants, the share of Christians overall has declined from 83 percent of the adult population in 2003 to 72 percent on average last year. In the same time, the number of Americans who say they have no religion has nearly doubled, to 21 percent.

More here.

A New Theory Linking Sleep and Creativity

Ed Yong in The Atlantic:

In 1920, the night before Easter Sunday, Otto Loewi woke up, seemingly possessed of an important idea. He wrote it down on a piece of paper and promptly returned to sleep. When he reawakened, he found that his scribbles were illegible. But fortunately, the next night, the idea returned. It was the design of a simple experiment that eventually proved something Loewi had long hypothesized: Nerve cells communicate by exchanging chemicals, or neurotransmitters. The confirmation of that idea earned him a Nobel Prize in medicine in 1936.

Almost a century later after Loewi’s fateful snoozes, many experiments have shown that sleep promotes creative problem-solving. Now, Penny Lewis from Cardiff University and two of her colleagues have collated and combined those discoveries into a new theory that explains why sleep and creativity are linked. Specifically, their idea explains how the two main phases of sleep—REM and non-REM—work together to help us find unrecognized links between what we already know, and discover out-of-the-box solutions to vexing problems.

More here.

Jean-Luc Godard explains why he’s still making movies

Brian D. Johnson at The Walrus:

Godard has a way of spinning every question into a cosmic tangent. A Brazilian journalist asked him about his approach to sound. A technical question. Godard replied that one his original titles for the film was An Attempt at Blue. “There are things that text and language cannot convey,” he added. “The voice is not the same as speech. And speech is not necessarily language. When it came to sound, the aim was to separate the sound from the image. We didn’t want it to be just an accompaniment. We wanted a true dialogue between the sound and the images.” Alluding to cinema’s original pioneers, he added, “I believe that the Lumière brothers, when they filmed the arrival of the train in the station, were thinking of all this.” Without a pause, he then jumped straight to French impressionism. “What the impressionists have brought into art is light. Then Cézanne brought colour, and colour has something to do with speech—even if we are talking about Heidegger here. The sound should not be too close to the images for me. The perfect screening should be in a café instead of on a TV screen.

more here.

The Lives of the Surrealists

Laura Freeman at Literary Review:

When Salvador Dalí came to lecture at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936, he arrived with two Russian wolfhounds on leads. He wore a deep-sea diver’s suit and carried a billiard cue. A jewelled dagger hung from his belt. The subject of his lecture was ‘Paranoia, The Pre-Raphaelites, Harpo Marx and Phantoms’. The audience couldn’t hear him through the diving helmet, so it was not immediately obvious that Dalí was suffocating. When friends did eventually sound the alarm, they found the bolts on Dalí’s helmet stuck fast. Send for a spanner! By the time they’d taken the helmet off, Dalí was close to death.

All in the name of surreal art. Nothing was too silly, too sensational, too childishly scatological for Dalí, André Breton, Marcel Duchamp and the squabbling Surrealist gang.

more here.

devastatingly human: Bacon, Freud, etc.

Jenny Uglow at the NYRB:

Nothing, however, prepares one for the tender ferocity of Bacon’s isolated, entrapped figures. In the earliest of these, the large canvas of Figure in a Landscape(1945), a curled-up, almost human form appears to be submerged in a desert—we see his arm and part of his body, but the legs of his suit hang, empty, over a bench. This is masculinity destroyed. The sense of desperation is even stronger in Bacon’s paintings of animals, such as Dog (1952), in which the dog whirls like a dervish, absorbed in chasing its tail, while cars speed by on a palm-bordered freeway, or Study of a Baboon (1953), where the monkey flies and howls against the mesh of a fence. In their struggles, these animals are the fellows of Bacon’s “screaming popes”: in Study after Velazquez (1950), a businessman in a dark suit, jaws wrenched open in a silent yell, is trapped behind red bars that fall like a curtain of blood. The curators connect Bacon’s postwar angst with Giacometti’s elongated statues, isolated in space, and to the philosophy of existentialism. Yet Bacon’s vehement brushstrokes speak of energy and involvement, physical, not cerebral responses. In Study for Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake) (1955), you feel the urgent vision behind the lidded eyes. He cares, passionately.

more here.

Implantable decoy could limit metastatic breast cancer

Gobe Cherry in The Michigan Engineer:

A small device implanted under the skin shows promise for improving breast cancer survival by catching cancer cells and slowing the development of metastatic tumors in other organs. These findings, based on experiments in mice and reported in the journal Cancer Research, suggest a path for identifying metastatic cancer early and intervening to improve outcomes. “This study shows that in the metastatic setting, early detection combined with a therapeutic intervention can improve outcomes. Early detection of a primary tumor is generally associated with improved outcomes. But that’s not necessarily been tested in metastatic cancer,” says study author Lonnie D. Shea, Ph.D., the William and Valerie Hall Department Chair of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Michigan.

The study found 64 percent fewer metastatic cancer cells in the liver and 75 percent fewer metastatic cancer cells in the brains of mice implanted with the devices compared to mice without them, five days after both groups underwent surgery to remove cancerous tumors. This suggests that the presence of the device slows the progress of metastatic disease. The device is a scaffold is made of FDA-approved material commonly used in sutures and wound dressings. It’s biodegradable and could last up to two years within a patient. The researchers envision it would be implanted under the skin, monitored with non-invasive imaging and removed upon signs of cancer cell colonization, at which point additional treatment could be administered. The scaffold is designed to mimic the environment in other organs before cancer cells migrate there. The scaffold attracts the body’s immune cells, and the immune cells draw in the cancer cells. This then limits the immune cells from heading to the lung, liver or brain, where breast cancer commonly spreads.

More here.

Tuesday Poem

Call and Answer

Tell me why it is we don’t lift our voices these days
And cry over what is happening. Have you noticed
The plans are made for Iraq and the ice cap is melting?

I say to myself: “Go on, cry. What’s the sense
Of being an adult and having no voice? Cry out!
See who will answer! This is Call and Answer!”

We will have to call especially loud to reach
Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.

Have we agreed to so many wars that we can’t
Escape from silence? If we don’t lift our voices, we allow
Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.

How come we’ve listened to the great criers—Neruda,
Akhmatova, Thoreau, Frederick Douglass—and now
We’re silent as sparrows in the little bushes?

Some masters say our life lasts only seven days.
Where are we in the week? Is it Thursday yet?
Hurry, cry now! Soon Sunday night will come.

Robert Bly
from My Sentence was a Thousand Years of Joy
Harper Perennial

On “Fake News”

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

Fake news is a problem. That’s one thing that most people can agree on, despite the expanding breadth of their various political disagreements. So what is fake news? In their recent article in the journal Science, David Lazer, Matthew Baum, et al. define fake news as “fabricated information that mimics news media content in form but not in organizational process or intent.” That they have provided such a clean and straightforward definition is an achievement — the political vernacular is saturated with charges of fake news, and hence it’s important to introduce some precision into the discourse. This is especially the case in light of the fact that many deployments of the charge of “fake news” are what one might call politically opportunistic, that is, aimed at de-legitimating a story that has been reported as news, while also demonizing the person or agency doing the reporting. Having a precise definition of fake news is needed in order to distinguish actual instances of fake news from the cases in which the charge of fake news is invoked merely opportunistically.

However, it strikes us that the analysis above is yet lacking; there are cases that look to us like instances of fake news that are nonetheless excluded by the definition. So it may be too narrow. Consider the following case:

CRIME REPORT Putative news source (N) reports (accurately) to an audience (A) an incident (I) in which a violent crime is committed within A’s vicinity, by a group identified as Muslim immigrants.

Thus far, the original definition delivers the right result in CRIME REPORT: no fake news is in play.  But let’s add to the case that N excessively reports I throughout a news cycle, and reports in a manner that could give a casual member of A the impression that several different crime incidents involving Muslim immigrants have taken place. Now, it seems to us that CRIME REPORT has become an instance of fake news. However, N’s reportage involves no fabricated information; in fact, the reportage is ex hypothesi accurate. The misleadingness might have more to do with errors arising from the availability heuristic and various priming effects than with anything in the content of the claims themselves. Moreover, it might even be the case that CRIME REPORT involves the creation of no new beliefs; the report is misleading in that it confirms or fortifies existing beliefs prevalent in A. Read more »

Words still have meaning, sometimes

by Jonathan Kujawa

A table?

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

— Ecclesiastes 1:2

This spring I taught one of my favorite classes. Officially, it goes by the name of Discrete Math and covers various standard topics: sets, functions, basic logic, modular arithmetic, counting problems, graph theory, etc. Unofficially, it is our department’s boot camp for people who want to take advanced math classes.

Up through high school math, and even in most freshman and sophomore math classes, the goal of a math class is for students to be able to use standard tools to solve standard questions. We are teaching students to distinguish between a screw and a nail, and to know to twist one with a screwdriver and hit the other with a hammer. Most problems and techniques are chosen more for teachability and testability, than for being interesting or useful. What matters is The Answer. It is right or wrong, and it’s right because someone said so. We shouldn’t blame the teachers for this state of affairs. They suffer as much as anyone under our educational system.

But math is meant to be a creative, human activity. In Discrete Math our students are deprogrammed of their twelve years of bad math education. I teach it using a slow version of the Socratic method, sometimes called Inquiry-Based Learning. Students are given a well-chosen series of problems to solve, but many are ambiguous or open-ended. They collaborate, share ideas, present written and oral solutions, and they critique each other’s work. For students used to being force-fed, Clockwork Orange style, it’s liberating, exciting, exhilarating, and terrifying all at once.

The first challenge is to get the students to deeply internalize the fact that words have meaning. If we’re going to talk about even numbers, then we’d better all agree on which numbers are even. Is 104 even? How about -2, or 0, or π?

Worse, they discover there are no God-given definitions in mathematics. Students are always a bit shocked to realize it was people just like them who came up with the math they take for granted. Even the equals sign was invented by someone, after all. Definitions can be contentious. Read more »

Monday Poem

“… but who /
………….. drinks / from a mirage”

……………………………………. —poet, Sonia Bueno

Hard to Say

but we do:

vital hallucinations on driving a coast road 
new day blinding sea calm sequined motion
stiletto horizon running its blade south north

.. far
     . ……………………………………………. far off

……………………. we

swing through bends
on asphalt swells
top down

and suddenly or soon (hard to say)
we’re in breeze-driven mist
in a trough between two hills
……………………………………  …. wherein unsure

we eventually capitulate to inevitability
and at once or with time (hard to say)
substance morphs into
………………………………….  mirage

Jim Culleny