Brighton’s Ghosts

Graham Chainey at the TLS:

Starlings gather for their nightly murmuration on Brighton Pier, Brighton, East Sussex.

I’m going to make a claim that it’s not just Brighton but the whole of Sussex that is saturated with ghosts, one of our most haunted counties. From Racton in the far west (Margaret Pole, with a red streak round her neck) to Rye in the far east (Henry James’s cook at Lamb House; or the Mermaid, one of the country’s most haunted inns, where spectral duellers in doublet and hose forever clash swords), there’s not a town or village that’s immune. All Sussex castles have their ghostly host – Arundel, Amberley, Herstmonceux, Pevensey – as do the county’s ancient houses, hostelries, abbeys. There are Roman centurions, Cavalier soldiers, Catholic priests, a Tudor lady chasing a cloaked man down a vanished stair, a black monk atop Beachy Head, beggar boys, phantom cyclists, hitchhikers and lady golfers. There are the screaming victims of the 1861 Clayton Tunnel rail crash, five miles north of Brighton, caused by a signalling error, that reputedly inspired Dickens to pen his ghost story “The Signalman”.

more here.

Novel perspectives on Israeli-Palestinian conflict

John Colin Marston in Christian Science Monitor:

Author Hannah Lillith Assadi revels in the contradictions of her identity: She was born in the United States to a Jewish mother and a Palestinian father. Her debut novel, “Sonora,” is a paean to the vexing process of how a second-generation immigrant struggles to come to terms with herself and history. Israeli-American novelist and poet Moriel Rothman-Zecher explores similar themes in “Sadness Is a White Bird,” revealing the agonizing internal struggle of an American-Israeli man who cannot balance his friendship with two Palestinians and his enrollment in the Israeli army. Both are examples of Millennial writers with Israeli and Palestinian heritage living in the US who are forging novel perspectives on the conflict.

“Increasingly it’s people who have lived abroad, who have experienced other ways of being in the world, that are looking critically at their own societies,” says Ranen Omer-Sherman, the JHFE endowed chair in Judaic studies at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. Mr. Rothman-Zecher feels that in his novel “the identities are much more woven and complicated” than an easy division of Israelis and Palestinians. “Americanness and the characters’ connection to America makes it become this sort of neutral zone, that shared space that transports the three of them far away,” he says. As conflict continues between Israel and the Palestinian territories, cultural exchange – the solution many have lauded as a way to end the conflict – has also suffered. Israeli high school teachers were displeased after the Education Ministry decided not to allow Dorit Rabinyan’s 2014 novel, “All the Rivers,” to be taught in Israeli high schools. The novel follows a love affair between a Palestinian man and Israeli woman in New York City.

More here.

Tiny implantable wireless devices could help people repair nerves and lose weight

Robert F. Service in Science:

Implanted electronics can steady hearts, calm tremors, and heal wounds—but at a cost. These machines are often large, obtrusive contraptions with batteries and wires, which require surgery to implant and sometimes need replacement. That’s changing.

…Xudong Wang, a bioelectronics expert at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, is developing miniature, wireless devices that take advantage of a technology pioneered by others to convert the body’s motion into electrical current. In one study reported on 29 November in ACS Nano, a fingertip-size generator that delivered a stream of tiny electrical pulses to wounds on rats’ skin sped healing. And at the meeting, Wang described similar generators that mimic commercially available implanted electrodes meant to help patients with obesity lose weight. These devices stimulate a branch of the vagus nerve, which runs from the colon and stomach to the brain stem, helping relay signals of fullness after eating. Available devices are pacemaker-size and contain batteries that often need replacement, requiring repeated surgeries. Wang and his colleagues wanted to see whether their much smaller device, which requires no batteries, could do the same job. They implanted their device on the outer wall of a rat’s stomach, so the organ’s motions during eating would power the generator. At the meeting, Wang reported that animals with the generator ate at normal times, but less than control animals. The rats lost 38% of their weight over 18 days, at which point their weight stabilized.

More here.

Thursday Poem


I didn’t know how to cook.
My older sister left me
the birthright just like that,
she went.

Her children came to live with us,
the pot widened.
Its handles became farther from each other
and my sister from me.
The potatoes in it grew heavy.

The faucet bent its head
over the kitchen sink
like a horse hitched to the house-cart.

Once with a press on the button
of the electric teapot
I moved the world,
now I drag the reins.

Careful not to get close to its end
lest it turn over again.

by Nadia Adina Rose
from Snow Ink
publisher: Helicon-Afik, Tel Aviv, 2015

translation: 2018, Linda Zisquit

Climate Gut Check: Beneath the jargon, a new UN report serves up a revolutionary response to climate change

Troy Vettese in the Boston Review:

A century ago in late October, a mutiny broke out in the Imperial German Navy. In Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea, hungry, demoralized sailors refused to follow orders in preparation for one last skirmish with the British for the sake of their officers’ vainglory. Unsure of the crew’s loyalty, the officers ordered the fleet to port in Kiel, but by November 4 the rebels had taken over the city and established a workers’ and soldiers’ council. Their cries for “peace and bread” reverberated throughout the empire, and over the following week revolutionaries captured a string of towns and provinces. On November 9 the red tide had swept over Berlin, forcing Kaiser Wilhelm II to abdicate and ushering in the end of World War I two days later.

The November Revolution was swift because Germans had been starving for years thanks to the British blockade, as recent historical work has finally proven. But the success of the blockade depended upon German mismanagement. As a populous nation with an economy driven by industry rather than agriculture, Germany had been a major importer of foodstuffs and fertilizer before the war; it faced extreme shortages once fighting broke out. Yet, as detailed in economic historian Avner Offer’s study The First World War: An Agrarian Interpretation (1991), it could have achieved agricultural self-sufficiency had it abandoned animal husbandry. Dairy and meat production were extremely inefficient, then as now. As a visiting U.S. physiologist wrote in 1916: “Had the Germans been vegetarians, there would have been no problem. To the people of India, the ratio of grain to population would have constituted luxury. For people accustomed to eating a great deal of meat and animal products, the natural impulse was to cling as closely as possible to established habits.”

As liberal democracies wilt the world over, it may increasingly feel in the United States—and elsewhere—as though one lives in the Weimar Republic, but perhaps the more useful historical parallel is Wilhelmine Germany. The new special report released by the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Global Warming of 1.5°C, hints at a dynamic not so dissimilar to that facing German leaders in 1914.

More here.

What These Medical Journals Don’t Reveal: Top Doctors’ Ties to Industry

Charles Ornstein and Katie Thomas in the New York Times:

One is dean of Yale’s medical school. Another is the director of a cancer center in Texas. A third is the next president of the most prominent society of cancer doctors.

These leading medical figures are among dozens of doctors who have failed in recent years to report their financial relationships with pharmaceutical and health care companies when their studies are published in medical journals, according to a review by The New York Times and ProPublica and data from other recent research.

Dr. Howard A. “Skip” Burris III, the president-elect of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, for instance, declared that he had no conflicts of interest in more than 50 journal articles in recent years, including in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

However, drug companies have paid his employer nearly $114,000 for consulting and speaking, and nearly $8 million for his research during the period for which disclosure was required. His omissions extended to the Journal of Clinical Oncology, which is published by the group he will lead.

More here.

What Happened When We Tried to Debate Immigration

Matthew Goodwin and Eric Kaufmann in Quillette:

Immigration and diversity politics dominate our political and public debates. Disagreements about these issues lie behind the rise of populist politics on the left and the right, as well as the growing polarization of our societies more widely. Unless we find a way of side-stepping the extremes and debating these issues in an evidence-led, analytical way then the moderate, pluralistic middle will buckle and give way.

This is why, as two university professors who work on these issues, we decided to help organize and join a public debate about immigration and ethnic change. The debate, held in London on December 6, was a great success, featuring a nuanced and evidence-based discussion attended by 400 people. It was initially titled, “Is Rising Ethnic Diversity a Threat to the West?” This was certainly a provocative title, designed to draw in a large audience who might hold strong views on the topic but who would nonetheless be exposed to a moderated and evidence-led debate. Though we would later change the title, we couldn’t escape its powerful logic: On the night itself, we repeatedly returned to this phrasing because it is the clearest way of distinguishing competing positions.

Aside from ourselves, two university professors who between us have researched the issue for decades, the panel included Trevor Philips, the former Head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (who is of African-Caribbean heritage), and David Aaronovitch, a liberal columnist at The Times. The debate was chaired by Claire Fox and co-sponsored by the Academy of Ideas, founded to provide a “forum committed to open and robust public debate in which ideas can be interrogated,” and the online magazine UnHerd, which aims to draw attention to stories and ideas that do not usually get covered in the mainstream media.

As soon as the title of the event was published it provoked a strong backlash. Rather than a genuine debate, it was interpreted as an open attack on immigrants and minorities.

More here.

Eisenberg’s Poetry Documents The History of Women in Construction

Maggie Messitt at Poetry Magazine:

By the time Eisenberg started as an apprentice, several events suggested that the gender barrier in construction, and in other industries, could finally be cracked. It had been 15 years since the passage of the Equal Pay Act, which prohibited wage differentials based on sex, and 14 years since the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, and—at the eleventh hour—sex. (Labor unions strongly opposed the latter.) Almost a decade earlier, Gloria Steinem’s article “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation,” published in New York magazine, created small seismic shifts in homes and workplaces across America. The Equal Rights Amendment had finally passed, nearly a half-century after it was introduced, and was awaiting state ratification. (The ERA remains in constitutional limbo to this day. A faction of conservative women thwarted its passage, arguing that it would lead to the draft and eventually to unisex bathrooms.)

In 1975, three years before Eisenberg started working on Boston construction sites, Time magazine awarded its annual Man of the Year honor to “American Women,” in recognition that the patriarchal gender balance was shifting across the country.

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Imagining a Free Palestine

George Abraham at The Paris Review:

Palestine’s colonization doesn’t just take the form of checkpoints, walls, eradicated villages, testimonies from families with concrete barriers through their homes; it takes the form of an opulent city whose residents are convinced they live in the greatest city in the world. It was here, at this moment, when I began to realize the weight of what we lost, when I realized my memory of Palestine was a misappropriation of my displaced family’s lived experience, and no matter how much learning and unlearning I did, nothing would restore that original memory. Nothing would reconcile my experience of Palestine with my family’s collective memory. Nothing would resurrect the country this once was.

The liberated Palestine will not look like the Palestine that existed before it needed liberation. We must imagine it outside of its colonial reality. The land has gone from country to no man’s land to country once more. The streets are heavy with a language both new and familiar; the hillsides, reimagined, are empty of gazelles; the villages, unimagined, are swallowed in overgrowth. Would you believe that after all of this, I can see the land only through its postcolonial symbols? I don’t know how else to say this: There is always a hillside. There is always an animal, wandering or flying, and how easily a gazelle becomes a flock of eagles. Above all, there is always an ocean, a border, a wound festering from earth to blood-fed earth, from sea to shining sea.

more here.

Revolutionary Postcards in Imperial Russia

Donald Rayfield at Literary Review:

In 1905, defeated by Japan and facing insurrection in the major cities and financial catastrophe, Russia’s tsar and his government were forced to retreat from autocracy and create a parliament (the Duma). Censorship, already weak and inconsistent, virtually collapsed. By then, there were plenty of printing presses, legal and illegal, along with cheap paper and card and, most surprisingly, an efficient postal system of a kind that modern Russians can only dream of. Moscow and St Petersburg had six collections a day; a letter sent from the Crimea to France took just four days to arrive. By 1913 Moscow alone handled thirteen million letters a year. Postcards, first introduced in 1872, were the cheapest form of communication – a mere three-kopeck stamp took a card anywhere in the empire. It was some time before cards could be illustrated, and it was later still that it became no longer obligatory to confine the message to a line or two scrawled over the illustration. Regulations eventually relaxed so much that giant postcards much larger than the standard 9 x 14 cm were accepted.

more here.

Searching for digital technology’s effects on well-being

Simon Makin in Nature:

In his 1909 short story The Machine Stops, E. M. Forster imagined a future in which people live in isolation underground, their needs serviced by an all-powerful ‘machine’. Human activity consists mainly of remote communication — face-to-face interaction is frowned upon. Ultimately, the title of the story plays out: the machine stops, civilization collapses, and the future of humanity is left to the surface-dwellers who avoided dependency. The story has been lauded not only for its prescient imagining of something like our hyperconnected Internet age, but also for its insights into the human impact of an all-powerful technology. We are now starting to grapple with similar questions. What do we lose when we cede autonomy to technology? Are we becoming dependent on it? And what is digital technology doing to our minds?
According to Ofcom, the UK regulatory body for telecommunications, 78% of the UK population, and 95% of those aged 16–24, own a smartphone. On average, people check their phones every 12 minutes, and one in five adults spends more than 40 hours per week online. Most of this rise in connectivity has occurred in the past decade, making it one of the fastest changes society has experienced. Smartphones, social media, video games and screen time in general have been accused of impairing memory, attention and reading, and making us less sociable, civil and empathetic. To counter growing public pressure, the corporate giants driving the revolution are moving to mitigate harm and manage addiction. But some researchers say that any negative associations are small and that causal evidence is lacking — indeed, many studies have found positive effects. In the absence of clear evidence, battle lines are being drawn.
More here.

Wednesday Poem

Fern Hill

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
     The night above the dingle starry,
          Time let me hail and climb
     Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
          Trail with daisies and barley
     Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
     In the sun that is young once only,
          Time let me play and be 
     Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
          And the sabbath rang slowly
     In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
     And playing, lovely and watery
          And fire green as grass.
     And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
     Flying with the ricks, and the horses
          Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
     Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
          The sky gathered again
     And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
     Out of the whinnying green stable
          On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
     In the sun born over and over,
          I ran my heedless ways,
     My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
     Before the children green and golden
          Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
     In the moon that is always rising,
          Nor that riding to sleep
     I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
          Time held me green and dying
     Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

by Dylan Thomas

The Morning After: One Man’s Quest for a Hangover Cure

Molly Young in the New York Times:

A thought experiment: If hangovers didn’t exist, what percentage of your life would you spend drunk? It’s unexpectedly hard to predict. Part of the thrill of getting wasted, after all, is knowing that you’re sacrificing your future self for your present self’s fun. That’s the point of bad behavior.

The Canadian writer and actor Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall is a fine person to write a book about hangovers, not only because he’s a tenacious researcher but also because he’s willing to get thoroughly torn up on a consistent basis in colorful circumstances. He gorges on single-malt Scotch in Las Vegas, swallows a dozen pints of ale in a series of English pubs, binges on tequila and collapses beside a cactus near the Mexican border, wears lederhosen to a German beer festival and so forth. Reading his chronicle, “Hungover: The Morning After and One Man’s Quest for the Cure,” has an effect not unlike recovering from food poisoning or slipping into a warm house on a frigid night. You turn the pages thinking, “Thank God I don’t feel like that right now.” Or maybe, “Thank God I’m not this guy.”

According to Bishop-Stall, a hangover is composed of two forces combining to form a third force of great evil, like warm water and a storm cluster smashing together into a hurricane. One of the forces is dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, which is the reason the bathroom lines in bars are so long and why you wake up from a binge gasping for water. The second force is fatigue. Although alcohol sedates you, it won’t permit access to the deepest levels of sleep, which is why you can pass out for hours and still wake up feeling (and physiologically being) exhausted.

More here.

Sean Carroll’s Mindscape Podcast: Ge Wang on Artful Design, Computers, and Music

Sean Carroll in Preposterous Universe:

Everywhere around us are things that serve functions. We live in houses, sit on chairs, drive in cars. But these things don’t only serve functions, they also come in particular forms, which may be emotionally or aesthetically pleasing as well as functional. The study of how form and function come together in things is what we call “Design.” Today’s guest, Ge Wang, is a computer scientist and electronic musician with a new book called Artful Design: Technology in Search of the Sublime. It’s incredibly creative in both substance and style, featuring a unique photo-comic layout and many thoughtful ideas about the nature of design, both practical and idealistic. We talk about what design is, how it can be artful, and in what sense it points us toward the sublime.

More here.

Left Populism and the Rediscovery of Agonistic Politics

Shadi Hamid in American Affairs:

If there were a tagline for today’s populist moment, it would probably be something like “It’s not the economy, stupid.” Economic factors matter, but they are far from decisive in understanding why populists, especially right-wing populists, have solidified their position as the second largest or even largest parties in many Western democracies.

In 2012—in the aftermath of the financial crisis—40 percent of Americans cited the economy as their top concern, according to a Reuters survey. By 2017, that number had dropped to 10 percent.1 Particularly among Republicans, immigration, identity (measured by demography), and culture wars have come to dominate. Meanwhile, according to a 2018 YouGov survey, immigration was the number one concern for voters in seven European countries, closely followed by terrorism.2 Not health care, unemployment, the European Union, poverty, the environment, or anything else. Immigration and terrorism have one thing in common: a fear of Islam and Muslims. In the populist universe, Muslims are a “metaphor” for other, bigger things—demography, culture, and national identity.3

The political scientist Eric Kaufmann, whose recent study drew on various data sources, found a 78 percent correlation “between projected Muslim share [of the population] in 2030, a measure of both the level and rate of change of the Muslim population, and the best national result each country’s populist right has attained.”4 “If we stick to data,” he writes, “the answer is crystal clear. Demography and culture, not economic and political developments, hold the key to understanding the populist moment.”5 Even with provisos about the difference between correlation and causation, the overall picture is striking.

More here.

The Nobel Prize for Literature?

James English at Public Books:

What was the Nobel Prize in Literature? Everyone seems to think it’s over. December 10 is the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death and the date on which the prizes in his name are traditionally awarded. This year, for the first time ever, the Prize in Literature has been entirely omitted from the ceremony: no medal, no presentation speech, not even the announcement of an absent or unwilling laureate. The Swedish Academy has retreated deep into rehab to deal with its multiple and scandalous dysfunctions, and the very future of the prize it has overseen for 117 years has been called into doubt.

Since May, when an exasperated Nobel Foundation forced this hiatus on the Academy by freezing its prize money, observers have increasingly seen the crisis in Stockholm as terminal. Most people expect the prize to be reestablished on some footing or other next year. Either the Academy, fitted out with some new members and supplementary bylaws, will resume its usual responsibilities, or a different institution will be put in charge, a new literary academy uncompromised by crimes and cover-ups and free from the rot of old-boy privilege. But either way, it is thought, the symbolic value of the prize has been fatally diminished.

more here.

Cézanne Photographic

Richard Shiff at nonsite:

Cézanne’s kind of painting—the digital kind, composed of discrete marks—is so far removed from the analog illusions of photography that its engagement with cultural issues is of a divergent sort. By rendering its technique explicit, it revealed its liaison with living sensation, eye-to-hand. Artist-theorist André Lhote wrote in 1920: “A large part of the emotive power of Cézanne’s canvases derives from the fact that the painter, rather than hide them, shows his means.21 Hiding generates an integrated, analog effect; showing generates a fractured, digital effect. The emotion Lhote addressed did not belong to the subject represented, which by 1920 could be arbitrary without being criticized as such. André Derain wrote to Henri Matisse in 1906 (the final year of Cézanne’s life) that both were fortunate to belong to the first generation at liberty to let their chosen material assume “a life of its own, independent of what one makes it represent.”22 So the emotionality of the art need no longer correspond to the artist’s thoughts about the model depicted, its cultural identity, and all it might connote. A stronger or more direct emotion derived from the material basis of the representational process. Viewers sensed this emotion to the extent that they perceived that a life had been lived mark to mark, moment to moment, sensation to sensation. Such was Cézanne’s life, his digital reality, lived at the same pace as that of the people, objects, and land he painted—lived along with his world.

more here.

Laibach in North Korea

Alex Marshall at the NYT:

On a recent afternoon, Ivan Novak, a member of the Slovenian rock group Laibach, went for a walk in the hills overlooking the country’s capital, Ljubljana. In between stops to pet passing dogs, he explained what it was like when Laibach became the first Western band to perform in North Korea.

In 2015, the group made headlines around the world — many bemused— when they played a show in the insular, communist country that consisted mostly of over-the-top covers from “The Sound of Music.”

An album of the same name featuring some of those songs — including “Maria,” reworked to ask, “How do you solve a problem like Korea?” — has just been released as a final document of the trip.

The technical setup for the Pyongyang show, held in a theater next to the headquarters of North Korea’s secret police, left a little to be desired, Novak said.

more here.