How the Right Is Using Venezuela to Reorder Politics

Greg Grandin in The Nation:

Donald Trump has been hot for Venezuela for some time now. In the summer of 2017, Trump, citing George H.W. Bush’s 1989–90 invasion of Panama as a positive precedent, repeatedly pushed his national-security staff to launch a military assault on the crisis-plagued country. Trump was serious. He wanted to know: Why couldn’t the United States just invade? He brought up the idea in meeting after meeting.

His military and civilian advisers, along with foreign leaders, forcefully dismissed the proposal. So, according to NBC, he outsourced Venezuela policy to Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who, along with National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, began coordinating with the Venezuelan opposition. On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence called on Venezuelans to rise up and overthrow the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro. On Wednesday, the head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, the heretofore unknown 35-year-old Juan Guaidó (whose political godfather is, according to The Washington Post, jailed far-right leader Leopoldo López), declared himself president. Guaidó was quickly recognized by Washington, followed by Canada; a number of powerful Latin American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia; and the United Kingdom.

More here.

It’s time to rewrite the narrative of “Trump Country”

Elizabeth Catte in the Boston Review:

Political veterans such as Pelosi and Israel think that the cornerstones of the emerging left platform—housing as a human right, criminal justice reform, Medicare for all, tuition-free public colleges and trade schools, a federal jobs guarantee, abolition of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and for-profit prisons, campaign finance reform, and a Green New Deal—might perform well in urban centers but not so much elsewhere. Appalachia has become symbolic of the forces that gave us Trump. After all, his pandering to white racial anxiety did find purchase here. His fantasies to make America great again center on our dying coal industry. And the region’s conservative voters, who have been profiled endlessly, have been a reliable stand-in for all Trump voters, absorbing the outrage of progressive readers. But what Pelosi and Israel see as common sense and pragmatism can also be interpreted as tired oversimplifications and a failure of imagination.

We remain attached, after all, to narratives that have worked very hard to simplify and neatly divide the state of the union: blue cities, red rural areas, a few swing suburbs. “In a period of political tumult, we grasp for quick certainties,” sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild writes in Strangers in Their Own Land (2016). Indeed, the biggest gift that the left has given the right since 2016 is not a few avowed socialists but the myth that Trump voters are inscrutable and monolithic.

More here.

Israeli Scientists: “We believe we will offer in a year’s time a complete cure for cancer”

Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman in the Jerusalem Post:

The potentially game-changing anti-cancer drug is based on SoAP technology, which belongs to the phage display group of technologies. It involves the introduction of DNA coding for a protein, such as an antibody, into a bacteriophage – a virus that infects bacteria. That protein is then displayed on the surface of the phage. Researchers can use these protein-displaying phages to screen for interactions with other proteins, DNA sequences and small molecules.

In 2018, a team of scientists won the Nobel Prize for their work on phage display in the directed evolution of new proteins – in particular, for the production of antibody therapeutics.

AEBi is doing something similar but with peptides, compounds of two or more amino acids linked in a chain. According to Morad, peptides have several advantages over antibodies, including that they are smaller, cheaper, and easier to produce and regulate.

More here.

How People Become Radicalized

Scott Atran in Scientific American:

With support from Minerva Research Initiative of the U.S. Department of Defense and National Science Foundation, we recently published the first neuroimaging study of a radicalizing population. The research used ethnographic surveys and psychological analysis to identify 535 young Muslim men in and around Barcelona—where ISIS-supporting jihadis killed 13 people and wounded 100 more in the city center in August 2017.

Half of these young men (267) scored higher that the other half (268) on all measures of vulnerability to recruitment into violent extremism. From the more vulnerable group, 38 men, second-generation immigrants of Moroccan origin who had already “expressed a willingness to engage in or facilitate violence associated with jihadist causes,” agreed to have their brains scanned.

The young men selected for the neuroimaging study then played a ball-throwing game (Cyberball) with fellow Spaniards, and half of them were abruptly and deliberately excluded from being passed the ball. Their brains were then scanned while asking them questions about behavior and policies they considered sacred and inviolable (e.g., forbidding cartoons of the Prophet, preventing gay marriage) as well non-sacred but important values (e.g., women wearing the veil, unrestricted construction of mosques).

More here.

Why Data Is Never Raw

Nick Barrowman at The New Atlantis:

A technician checks the dial on a Bailey Fluid Meter and makes a note on his clipboard, circa 1950s. (Photo by Welgos/Frederic Lewis/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The word data is derived from the Latin meaning “given.” Rob Kitchin, a social scientist in Ireland and the author of The Data Revolution (2014), has argued that instead of considering data as given it would be more appropriate to think of it as taken, for which the Latin would be capta. Except in divine revelation, data is never simply given, nor should it be accepted on faith. How data are construed, recorded, and collected is the result of human decisions — decisions about what exactly to measure, when and where to do so, and by what methods. Inevitably, what gets measured and recorded has an impact on the conclusions that are drawn.

For example, rates of domestic violence were historically underestimated because these crimes were rarely documented. Polling data may miss people who are homeless or institutionalized, and if marginalized people are incompletely represented by opinion polls, the results may be skewed. Data sets often preferentially include people who are more easily reached or more likely to respond.

more here.

A Small, Dark Miracle of a Book

Katherine Coldiron at 3:AM Magazine:

How do you recommend an experience you never want to have again? How does a film critic say, for instance, that Requiem for a Dream is a must-watch, when it’s infused with such ugliness and despair? When a piece of art is unapologetically dark and unpleasant but of objectively excellent quality, finding a way to push audiences toward it is a challenge.

In this vein is Thirty-Seven, by American novelist Peter Stenson, an intense, exceptionally well-made, unforgettable book. I loved every word, but I can’t suggest it’s an enjoyable read. It’s a horror story without ghosts or beasts, a book that continually evokes Rorschach, in Watchmen, saying “as dark as it gets.” Meticulously constructed, Hitchcockian in its layering of tension, Faulknerian in its network of ideas, wise and strange as an angel, black as a night in a dungeon. Certainly one of the best books I read in 2018. But difficult to recommend. At least, not if you’re looking for a comfortable ride.

more here.

The Digressive, Prescient Brilliance of DH Lawrence’s Essays

Geoff Dyer at the New Statesman:

The best parts of “Art and Morality” (1925) are not about art or morality but – via an extraordinary speculative detour into the lives of ancient Egyptians – about how the “Kodak” habit of photographing oneself all the time has fundamentally changed our sense of ourselves: a prophetic diagnosis of a defining malaise of the iPhone era. In an editorial note to “Introduction to Pictures” the scholar James T Boulton rightly points out that the essay “does not once refer to pictures”. This tendency to stray from stated intentions was best expressed by Lawrence himself on 5 September 1914. “Out of sheer rage I’ve begun my book about Thomas Hardy. It will be about anything but Thomas Hardy I am afraid – queer stuff – but not bad.”

Intended as part of a series called “Writers of the Day”, the manuscript, which had veered far from any template, was not accepted for publication. Lawrence wanted it to leave the original brief still further behind and began recasting something that had been “mostly philosophicalish, slightly about Hardy” into a more explicit statement of his “‘philosophy’ (forgive the word)”.

more here.

The Trouble with the New “Islamic Science”

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad in Atlantis:

The history of Islam’s relation to science has largely been one of harmony. It offers no real parallel to the occasional bouts of suspicion toward science that the Christian world experienced. Today, many Muslims can be found in the fields of medicine and engineering. Even the ultraconservative Muslims who long for a return to the ethical norms of the seventh century see no need to abandon cell phones to do so, and even the most extreme of Islamic extremists envies the high-tech oil-extraction techniques and the weaponry of the West. Muslims, both conservative and liberal, issue fatwas (legal opinions) over the Internet without any hesitation over the technology they employ and with no fear that it may be haram (prohibited).

However, although contemporary Muslims tend not to be averse to science or technology, their strong belief in the compatibility of science and Islam may leave them vulnerable to dubious efforts to equate the two. The effort to harmonize modern technical knowledge and practice with Islamic teaching is part of a project known as the “Islamization of knowledge,” and is quite popular among Muslim intellectuals today. The most visible area of this intellectual work has been in the world of finance, with the development of so-called “Islamic banking.” A wide variety of venture-capital investments, joint-development projects, and partnership financing have been devised to avoid the appearance of charging interest, a practice forbidden by traditional Muslim jurisprudence. On a smaller scale, there has been a rising interest in bringing the sciences into a conversation with Islamic teachings.

An offshoot of this project takes an absurd turn: it attempts to demonstrate, in effect, that the Koran is a scientific textbook — that it is not merely compatible with science but actually foretells and validates specific modern scientific theories. This movement is troubling in part because it is becoming associated with the term “Islamic science,” which has long been used to refer to the medieval Golden Age during which the Muslim world made important contributions to natural philosophy, medicine, and mathematics. Confusing this new movement with that important period is a disservice to history. Moreover, this new movement to seek out science in the Koran is contrary to the scientific method and, in ignoring the Koran’s warning against confusing allegory with basic facts (3:7), is contrary to Islamic teaching.

More here.

Germs in Your Gut Are Talking to Your Brain

Carl Zimmer in The New York Times:

In 2014 John Cryan, a professor at University College Cork in Ireland, attended a meeting in California about Alzheimer’s disease. He wasn’t an expert on dementia. Instead, he studied the microbiome, the trillions of microbes inside the healthy human body. Dr. Cryan and other scientists were beginning to find hints that these microbes could influence the brain and behavior. Perhaps, he told the scientific gathering, the microbiome has a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The idea was not well received. “I’ve never given a talk to so many people who didn’t believe what I was saying,” Dr. Cryan recalled. A lot has changed since then: Research continues to turn up remarkable links between the microbiome and the brain. Scientists are finding evidence that microbiome may play a role not just in Alzheimer’s disease, but Parkinson’s disease, depression, schizophrenia, autism and other conditions.

For some neuroscientists, new studies have changed the way they think about the brain. One of the skeptics at that Alzheimer’s meeting was Sangram Sisodia, a neurobiologist at the University of Chicago. He wasn’t swayed by Dr. Cryan’s talk, but later he decided to put the idea to a simple test. “It was just on a lark,” said Dr. Sisodia. “We had no idea how it would turn out.” He and his colleagues gave antibiotics to mice prone to develop a version of Alzheimer’s disease, in order to kill off much of the gut bacteria in the mice. Later, when the scientists inspected the animals’ brains, they found far fewer of the protein clumps linked to dementia.

Just a little disruption of the microbiome was enough to produce this effect. Young mice given antibiotics for a week had fewer clumps in their brains when they grew old, too.

More here.

A Puzzle about Ancient Cynicism

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

Diogenes of Sinope famously walked the streets of Athens searching for an anthropos. The tale is regularly rendered as him looking for an honest man, but this is too restrictive a translation. Rather, he was looking for a human, in the thick sense of the word. It is like a coach of a soccer team, challenging the squad of players, asking them if they are soccer players. In this regard, the thick sense of the term bears a normative weight, as a success term. And so, when one points to Lionel Messi and says, “Now, that’s a soccer player,” one is not merely saying that Messi plays the game. Rather, one is saying that he plays excellently, that he is exemplary. And so, when Diogenes, with his lit lamp in the daylight, asks people he meets if they are human beings, he is using the term in the thick sense. And given that his search seems to be ongoing, he implicates that everyone is failing to live up to the standard.

The standard that Diogenes — and with him, the ancient Cynic tradition — had in mind is not clear. However, one value at the center of this thick notion of humanity is not in question: that of autarkeia, roughly, independence, self-sufficiency, freedom. The genuine human is free; but, again, Diogenes finds no one fulfilling that standard. Instead, he finds people who are who have lost or given away their independence. Hence a famous Cynic paradox: only the practicing Cynic is free, only the Cynic is rich. How to make sense of these claims? Read more »

A Love Poem

by Amanda Beth Peery

Ms Green isn’t any good with
love poems or tokens, doesn’t like
small, easily lost objects. So she wants
to give him her visions—for example
the wedge of park & slim streetlights
shattering in shallow rainwater
like swarms of bottled fireflies
or clusters of leaping stars.
She wants to give him her gratitude
for life itself: darkness broken by light
days broken by night. The pattern of
dark leaves pressed against the sky.

Here Goes Everything

by Tim Sommers

I know you’ve heard this before. But it’s just too relevant to avoid, so, please, bear with me. It may, or may not, be a garbled version of something Bertrand Russell wrote in Why I am not a Christian, but it has become the equivalent of an urban legend in philosophy. It goes like this. Some famous philosopher or another, maybe Russell, maybe William James, is traveling in some non-Western country, probably India, because of the elephants, and they ask a local informant about their cosmology. The local says, “We believe that the world is a vast sphere resting on the back of four great elephants.”

The philosophy professor says, “But what are the elephants standing on?”

“The elephants are standing on the back of an enormous turtle.”

“What’s the turtle standing on?”

“An even larger turtle.

“But what is that turtle standing on?”

“You are very clever, sir, but I’m afraid it’s turtles all the way down.”

What is that so relevant to? Maybe, the cosmological argument for the existence of God, for one thing, but certainly this. Either the universe has existed in some form or another forever or the universe came into existence out of nothing at some point. That’s not physics or even cosmology. That’s logic. P or not P. Either some turtle is standing on nothing or it’s turtles all the way down. Read more »

I am attempting to Come to Terms with this Big Failure

by Niall Chithelen

1) I got to see a different side of the Forbidden City when I brought visitors to there on a Monday and learned that the Forbidden City is not open to the public on Mondays. The side of the city that I saw was the outside, because Plan B (improvised) was to walk around the Forbidden City to the park behind it, which amounts largely to walking alongside a large, wide gray wall. Truly remarkable, you know, the immaculate geomancy, the imperial wonders and golden roofs. And then the wall and then us on the other side, strolling around as though I did not just commit a grave and truly ignominious error—strolling in pained, weak silence.

2) On any informal tour I lead, I like to show people the real China, you know, not just the tourist spots. Some people might like to see the inside of the Forbidden City, but for most of its existence, common people could not see the Forbidden City, and so it is more appropriate, I think, to walk around it, as a person would have two or three hundred years ago in order to do whatever business or activity people did at that time in this city—perhaps involving carts, or administration, or workplace conflict resolution. I am not sure about this. This is a more legitimate experience—no ticket required—just a channel into Beijing, feet on the ground in this old city, eyes on those old buildings that have seen so many years of change, an injection of pure Beijing right into your goddamn veins, really. And I try to be informative and even-handed as I dole out history and explain contemporary developments. Is China perfect? No. Is the US perfect? Also no. It is so difficult to judge these things. Read more »