The State of the Rape of Sabines

by Maniza Naqvi

I write this as Saturday begins to wane on the long Columbus Day weekend while I listen on the radio to the speeches given by senator after senator prior to the final confirmation vote for Bret Kavanaugh as Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States of America. The vote is scheduled for 3.30 p.m. October 6, 2016. I listen to their conflicted words in the Senate of the United States pleading yes or no, or yes and no. Conjuring images, I am reminded of that Roman mythology and the artists’ rendition of it, of the Rape of the Sabine Women.

The idea and basis of the State is illustrated by artists through a rendition of this mythology for its first founding. The idea of State as we know it is based on this concept and definition of family and marriage in which there are unequal members: some to be served and others to serve; some to consume while others to produce; some to own and others to be owned; some to rule and others to be ruled; some to be strong and continuously strengthened by all means necessary and others to be weak and be weakened by all means necessary. All this a must for the good of the State—and the spirit vested into it through this definition of family. Read more »

Does Reading Hateful Comments Increase Prejudice and Hatred?

by Jalees Rehman

How should social media platforms address hate speech and abusive comments while also maintaining a commitment to freedom of expression? The platform Twitter, for example, evaluates whether posts by individual users constitute abusive behavior, which it defines as “an attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice”. Twitter’s rationale is that promoting dialogue and freedom of expression requires that all of its users need to feel safe in order to express their opinions, and that abusive posts by some users may undermine the safety of others. If users engage in abusive behavior, they may be asked to remove offensive posts, and if there is a pattern of recurring abusive posts, the offenders may be temporarily or permanently suspended. This rationale sounds quite straightforward, especially when a user specifically threatens or incites violence against other individuals. However, if the offenders post hateful comments denigrating members of a gender, race, sexual orientation or religion without specifically threatening individuals, then it becomes challenging to demonstrate that the victims of such hate speech are less safe. What is the impact of hate speech? Researchers have begun to address this important question and their results highlight the dangers of unfettered hate speech.

Dr. Wiktor Soral from the University of Warsaw in Poland and his colleagues recently conducted multiple studies to investigate the impact of hate speech on shaping prejudice and published their findings in the paper Exposure to hate speech increases prejudice through desensitization. In the first study, the researchers examined the views of adult Poles (computer assisted face-to-face interviews of 1,007 participants, mean age 46 years) in regards to prejudice against Muslims and members of the LGBT community because both of these groups are frequently targeted by hate speech in Poland. Participants were first given a list of anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT hate speech examples such as “I am sorry, but gay people make me feel disgusted” or “Muslims are stinky cowards, they can only murder women, children and innocent people.” The researchers were asked to rate these statements on a scale of 1 to 7, from “Not at all offensive” (1) or “Strongly offensive” (7). The researchers then asked the participants how often they heard anti-LGBT and anti-Muslim hate speech. Lastly, the researchers then assessed the prejudice level of the participants by asking them to rate whether they would (or would not) accept a member of the Muslim or LGBT communities as a co-worker, a neighbor, or as part of their family. Read more »

Mask Off (Art and Trust)

by Nickolas Calabrese

Recently the person whom I had been in a serious cohabiting relationship with for the past few years disappeared. Not in the Unsolved Mysteries kind of way, but in the “I just ghosted you because I can’t deal with breaking up with you in person” kind of way. She was spending a month working at an artisan’s residency in Seattle, when, one week in, she suddenly stopped responding to any correspondence. After a few weeks I finally spoke on the phone with R and she said that she simply had a change of heart and was now going to be living with her sister, shortly afterward arranging to have her belongings packed and moved by professionals. I didn’t see this coming – R never let on that anything was amiss, going so far as to mailing me a letter during that first week at the residency declaring her love and desire for marriage, kids, the whole nine yards. We rarely had arguments, everything was good. She had simply changed her mind. I was surprised.

Now I’m sure this sort of thing happens all the time. And it’s reasonable that she wanted something else out of life, something that I could not offer. But allow me to ruminate on this surprise for a moment. I was surprised because I had assigned my highest subjective commitment of trust to her, beyond anybody else. After all, you place trust in someone that you deem trustworthy. Trustworthiness is not an inherent quality to any given person, it is an evaluation that you yourself make about the apparent reasons for why you ought to trust another. But it is not without risk: whenever you choose to trust someone you take a gamble on whether or not your trust will be broken, which can result in being hurt emotionally or otherwise. Read more »

Would It Be Better If There Were More of You?

by Tim Sommers

Here are some well-known facts. Human beings are limited beings. We take up a limited amount of space, we exist for a limited amount of time, and, in that time, we move around in a relatively confined area. When it comes to the substance of our lives we constantly make choices that limit our options going forward, and we must often choose one path over another in a way that sometimes (maybe, often) forecloses the other path forever. It’s hard to even conceive of what it could mean for us to not be limited in these ways. But here’s one conceivable way we could be less limited. What if there could be numerically more of us? What if, for example, instead of choosing between paths we could make copies of ourselves and go both ways?

Since we can’t do that, we might wonder why the question is even worth asking. I am tempted to say it’s because we might be able to do that one day (or that it may, in fact, be happening to us right now, though we don’t know it) – but, of course, that’s not why.  It may not be worth asking such a question. But if it is, it will be because it tells us something about ourselves right now.

So, would it be better if there were more of you?

That’s not quite the question I want to answer. It seems clear to me that the world would be a better place if there more Shakespeare’s and more Virginia Wolff’s, more Ada Lovelace’s and more Einstein’s, more Gandhi’s and more Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s – not to mention more Denis Johnsons’. I don’t mean that it would be better if there more people like, for other examples, Mac McCaughan’s or Martin Luther King, I mean the world would be better if there were numerically more of these particular people – or, if you prefer, if there were more (initially) exact copies thereof. Read more »

In Defense of Hoaxes

Justin E. H. Smith in his own blog:

A rather ambitious campaign of academic hoaxing has been in the news over the past week. The hoaxers claim to be “liberals.” The online nonacademic right is gleeful in its celebration of the hoaxers’ purported accomplishments, and in its denunciation of what they call “postmodernism” (I prefer the alternative term “grievance studies,” as I take it that this relatively new sort of agenda-driven “me-search” holds to a naive and basically premodern realism about its categories; the proliferation of new pseudospecies and the tracking of their “intersections” looks much more like the “analogism” that characterises Italian Renaissance cosmology than it looks like, say, Baudrillard’s theory of simulacra or Lyotard’s critique of metanarratives). The academic left has taken its familiar posture of preening defensiveness, denying that there’s any distinct problem at all in the scholarly standards governing the publication of articles in the various “theory” fields that do not also show up in, say, psychology or political science.

Whatever. Everyone’s playing their assigned roles. But what I wanted to speak to here is the question of hoaxes in general. Quite apart from whether I think “Sokal Squared” has accomplished what its authors claim, I confess I am astounded, though I really should not be by now, by the moralism and the piety about rules and procedures that so many academics are expressing, as if hoaxing were always unethical and lacking in any potential salutary effects. These academics seem entirely unaware of the distinguished history of hoaxing, and to assume that it dates back no earlier than Sokal.

More here.

Inside the Black Mirror World of Polygraph Screenings

Mark Harris in Wired:

CHRISTOPHER TALBOT THOUGHT he would make a great police officer. He was 29 years old, fit, and had a clean background record. Talbot had military experience, including a tour of Iraq as a US Marine, and his commanding officer had written him a glowing recommendation. In 2014, armed with an associate degree in criminal justice, he felt ready to apply to become an officer with the New Haven Police Department, in his home state of Connecticut.

Talbot sailed through the department’s rigorous physical and mental tests, passing speed and agility trials and a written examination—but there was one final test. Like thousands of other law enforcement, fire, paramedic, and federal agencies across the country, the New Haven Police Department insists that each applicant take an assessment that has been rejected by almost every scientific authority: the polygraph test.

Commonly known as lie detectors, polygraphs are virtually unused in civilian life. They’re largely inadmissible in court and it’s illegal for most private companies to consult them. Over the past century, scientists have debunked the polygraph, proving again and again that the test can’t reliably distinguish truth from falsehood. At best, it is a roll of the dice; at worst, it’s a vessel for test administrators to project their own beliefs.

More here.

How Onna-Bugeisha, Feudal Japan’s Women Samurai, Were Erased From History

Christobel Hastings in Broadly:

It was the autumn of 1868, and for the samurai warriors of the Aizu clan in northern Japan, battle was on the horizon. Earlier in the year, the Satsuma samurai had staged a coup, overthrowing the Shogunate government and handing power to a new emperor, 15-year-old Mutsuhito, who was wasting no time in replacing the feudal ways of the ruling Tokugawa with a radically modern state. After a long summer of fighting, imperial forces reached the gates of Wakamatsu castle in October to quash the resistance, besieging the stronghold with 30,000 troops. Beyond its walls, 3,000 defiant warriors readied themselves for the final stand.

As the Aizu fought valiantly from the towers and trenches, most women remained behind the scenes, ploughing their energies into cooking, bandaging, and extinguishing cannonballs that pounded the castle day and night. But for Nakano Takeko, an onna-bugeisha woman warrior, front line defense was the only course of action. Faced with the mighty gun-power of the imperial army, Takeko led an unofficial unit of 20-30 women in a counter-attack against the enemy, felling at least five opponents with her naginata blade before taking a fatal bullet to the chest. With her dying breaths, Takeko asked her sister to behead her, so that her body wouldn’t be taken as a trophy. She was buried under a tree in the courtyard of the Aizu Bangmachi temple, where a monument now stands in her honor.

More here.

Are these dark times, or are they unconscionably stupid times?

Mark Greif in n + 1:

IT’S PROVING DIFFICULT TO STOP THINKING about the testimonies last week. Four hours of questions to a citizen named Christine Blasey Ford. Four hours of questions, of a sort, to Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the second highest court in the United States. The woman lives quietly as a professor of psychology and surfer in Northern California. The man has never left Washington, DC, and helps decide the law of the land. The miserable anticipation before last Thursday depended on the “impression” Ford would make in repeating, before the country, the assertion that this judge—nominated to the Supreme Court—had once confined and sexually assaulted her when she was 15 and he was 17. The abyss we’ve dwelt in since is the result of the impression from his testimony. I still don’t know how to assimilate it all. The mirrored sessions reversed the conventional meanings and assignment of shame and pity, then of impartiality and knowledge.

The one thing certain following both testimonies was that Christine Blasey Ford had shown herself qualified by temperament and character to ascend to the open seat on the Supreme Court. Alas this was not the arrangement being considered.

More here.

Sunday Poem


A vagueness comes over everything,
as though proving color and contour
alike dispensable: the lighthouse
extinct, the islands’ spruce-tips
drunk up like milk in the
universal emulsion; houses
reverting into the lost
and forgotten; granite
subsumed, a rumor
in a mumble of ocean.
definition, however, has not been
totally banished: hanging
tassel by tassel, panicled
foxtail and needlegrass,
dropseed, furred hawkweed,
and last season’s rose-hips
are vested in silenced
chimes of the finest,
clearest sea-crystal.
opens up rooms, a showcase
for the hueless moonflower
corolla, as Georgia
O’Keefe might have seen it,
of foghorns; the nodding
campanula of bell buoys;
the ticking, linear
filigree of bird voices.

by Amy Clampitt
from The Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt
published by Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. 

A New Project Weaves Patient Stories Into Art

Giovanni Biglino in Smithsonian:

When working with people in other disciplines – whether surgeons, fellow engineers, nurses or cardiologists – it can sometimes seem like everyone is speaking a different language. But collaboration between disciplines is crucial for coming up with new ideas.

I first became fascinated with the workings of the heart years ago, during a summer research project on the aortic valve. And as a bioengineer, I recently worked with an artist, a psychologist, a producer, a literature scholar and a whole interdisciplinary team to understand even more about the heart, its function and its symbolism. We began to see the heart in completely different ways. The project, The Heart of the Matter, also involved something that is often missing from discussions purely centred around research: stories from the patients themselves. The Heart of the Matter originally came out of artist Sofie Layton’s residency at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London a couple of years ago, before the project grew into a wider collaborative effort. For the project, patient groups were engaged in creative workshops that explored how they viewed their hearts. Stories that emerged from these sessions were then translated into a series of original artworks that allow us to reflect on the medical and metaphorical dimensions of the heart, including key elements of cardiovascular function and patient experience.

More here.

Your IQ Matters Less Than You Think

Dean Keith Simonton in Nautilus:

People too often forget that IQ tests haven’t been around that long. Indeed, such psychological measures are only about a century old. Early versions appeared in France with the work of Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon in 1905. However, these tests didn’t become associated with genius until the measure moved from the Sorbonne in Paris to Stanford University in Northern California. There Professor Lewis M. Terman had it translated from French into English, and then standardized on sufficient numbers of children, to create what became known as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale. That happened in 1916. The original motive behind these tests was to get a diagnostic to select children at the lower ends of the intelligence scale who might need special education to keep up with the school curriculum. But then Terman got a brilliant idea: Why not study a large sample of children who score at the top end of the scale? Better yet, why not keep track of these children as they pass into adolescence and adulthood? Would these intellectually gifted children grow up to become genius adults?

Terman subjected hundreds of school kids to his newfangled IQ test. Obviously, he didn’t want a sample so large that it would be impractical to follow their intellectual development. Taking the top 2 percent of the population would clearly yield a group twice as large as the top 1 percent. Moreover, a less select group might be less prone to become geniuses. So why not catch the crème de la crème? The result was a group of 1,528 extremely bright boys and girls who averaged around 11 years old. And to say they were “bright” is a very big understatement. Their average IQ was 151, with 77 claiming IQs between 177 and 200. These children were subjected to all sorts of additional tests and measures, repeatedly so, until they reached middle age. The result was the monumental Genetic Studies of Genius, five volumes appearing between 1925 and 1959, although Terman died before the last volume came out. These highly intelligent people are still being studied today, or at least the small number still alive. They have also become affectionately known as “Termites”—a clear contraction of “Termanites.”

More here.

Michael Lewis Makes a Story About Government Infrastructure Exciting

Jennifer Szalai in the New York Times:

“Many of the problems our government grapples with aren’t particularly ideological,” Lewis writes, by way of moseying into what his book is about. He identifies these problems as the “enduring technical” variety, like stopping a virus or taking a census. Lewis is a supple and seductive storyteller, so you’ll be turning the pages as he recounts the (often surprising) experiences of amiable civil servants and enumerating risks one through four (an attack by North Korea, war with Iran, etc.) before you learn that the scary-sounding “fifth risk” of the title is — brace yourself — “project management.”

More here.