HOW LONG did an hour feel in 1971? Was it like three 2018 hours? Ten minutes? The music of the eighty-six-year-old French composer Éliane Radigue forces these questions because as much as it’s about synthesizers and magnetic tape and silence and held notes and resonance, it is also about time. Her work cannot be excerpted or sliced into representative swatches or versified. The movement from a piece’s beginning to its end is the motif itself; to lose even a little of that adventure is to lose the music. Œuvres électroniques (Electronic Works), a new fourteen-CD box set recently released by Ina GRM, collects pieces recorded between 1971 and 2007. The shortest of them is a little over seventeen minutes long; most of them run closer to an hour. These days, Radigue composes largely for acoustic stringed instruments, but she remains as focused an artist as electronic music has ever had, possibly because she never needed the equipment to hear her sound, only a series of tools with which to render it.
As the argument has progressed, a de facto alliance between ostensibly progressive identitarians and Wall Street Democrats has come together around asserting, along with Paul Krugman and others, that “horizontal inequality”—i.e., inequality between statistically defined racial/ethnic groups—is a more important problem than “vertical inequality,” characterized as inequality between individuals and households. That distinction instructively makes class and class inequality disappear, which is consistent with the trajectory of American liberalism across the more than seven decades since the end of World War II. Moreover, in a sort of mission creep, opponents of what they decry as a “class-first” position increasingly have come to denounce any expressions of concern for economic inequality as in effect catering to white supremacy. This tendency, which Touré Reed has argued rests on a race-reductionism, has surfaced and spread within the newly revitalized Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), as even many among those who consider themselves socialists object to the organization’s selection of Medicare for All as its key political campaign on the ground that pursuit of decommodified health care for all is objectionable because doing so does not sufficiently center antiracist and anti-disparitarian agendas. I submit that there’s clearly a problem when anti-socialism is defined as socialism.
On entering Pierre Huyghe’s exhibition Uumwelt at the Serpentine Gallery, we first notice the large, square, digital screens which flash images in split-second succession. The images are not decipherable, although they seem to reference real things, often organic; one in particular appears to display some kind of cleavage or nudity. They were created in arcane contemporary fashion, with the assistance of researchers into human intelligence based in Japan: a person is presented with pictures and scenarios that he or she is then asked to re-create mentally; this brain activity is scanned, and artificial intelligence, on the basis of these scans, attempts to re-create the things envisaged. These flashing images, accompanied by an unobtrusive electronic soundtrack, also derived from brainwaves, stand out in the scarcely-illuminated gallery space. Soon after, you become aware of the flies: there are hundreds of them, unusually juicy and plump. They settle on the screens, around the light sources, and sometimes on you, the visitor. They form constellations on the ceiling and, in the digital-screen context, seem like demented black pixels.
The world is as close to annihilation as it was last year, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The hands of the organization’s Doomsday Clock will stay at two minutes to midnight, it said, warning that the lack of progress on a host of global threats is a “new abnormal”. Stalled progress on addressing nuclear threats, lack of action on climate change and a worsening cybersecurity and cyberwarfare situation were of particular concern, the group said. This is the third time in the Bulletin’s history that the clock has been set so close to a global catastrophe, said Rachel Bronson, president and executive director of the organization, at a press conference in Washington DC on 24 January. The first came in 1953 at the height of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union and the United States were testing their thermonuclear bombs. Then, in 2018, the group adjusted the clock‘s hands after news of North Korea’s nuclear tests and increasing concerns over climate threats.
“The fact that the clock did not change is bad news indeed,” said Robert Rosner, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago in Illinois and chair of the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board. “Where we are is very close to disaster.” In the last year, for example, cyberattacks aimed at corrupting the flow of information have polarized populations and undermined trust in science, said Herb Lin, a cyber security and policy researcher at Stanford University in California and a member of the Bulletin’s group on cyber and disruptive technologies.
“These practices attack the very idea of rational discourse,” said Lin. “It’s a more insidious use of cyber tools to exploit weaknesses in human cognition and thinking.”
I’m 47 and my apartment is 325 square feet. Of course, if you measure your life by the size of your apartment you’ve got bigger problems than squeezing between the door and the bed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Bigger problems than spending too much time playing video games and an inability to love. If you’re going to judge your life by the size of your apartment then you’re better off not thinking of any of it. Just watch some docu-series on Showtime about prison breaks and plug into your twitter feed and let the time pass peacefully. Because the size of your apartment does not matter. Or it does, but it’s not a statement on whether or not you’re successful. But then how do we measure success? Or a better question might be, why?
If you bled when you brushed your teeth this morning, you might want to get that seen to. We may finally have found the long-elusive cause of Alzheimer’s disease: Porphyromonas gingivalis, the key bacteria in chronic gum disease.
That’s bad, as gum disease affects around a third of all people. But the good news is that a drug that blocks the main toxins of P. gingivalis is entering major clinical trials this year, and research published today shows it might stop and even reverse Alzheimer’s. There could even be a vaccine.
Alzheimer’s is one of the biggest mysteries in medicine. As populations have aged, dementia has skyrocketed to become the fifth biggest cause of death worldwide.
The glass tower that houses George Soros’s office in Manhattan is overflowing with numbers on screens, tracking and predicting the directions of markets around the world. But there’s one that’s particularly hard to figure out — a basic orange chart on a screen analyzing sentiment on social media.
The data, updated regularly since 2017, projects the reactions on the internet to the name George Soros. He gets tens of thousands of mentions per week — almost always negative, some of it obviously driven by networks of bots. Soros is pure evil. A drug smuggler. Profiteer. Extremist. Conspiracist. Nazi. Jew. It’s a display of pure hate.
The demonization of Soros is one of the defining features of contemporary global politics, and it is, with a couple of exceptions, a pack of lies. Soros is indeed Jewish. He was an aggressive currency trader. He has backed Democrats in the US and Karl Popper’s notion of an “open society” in the former communist bloc. But the many wild and proliferating theories, which include the suggestion that he helped bring down the Soviet Union in order to clear a path to Europe for Africans and Arabs, are so crazy as to be laughable — if they weren’t so virulent.
Soros and his aides have spent long hours wondering: Where did this all come from?
Nearly a decade before the gilets jaunes rose up in their high-vis vests to shake France and grab global headlines, the French social geographer Christophe Guilluy foresaw their arrival in an essay called Fractures Françaises. In 2014 he developed his theory further in La France périphérique, or Peripheral France, earning himself national fame (Libération, the left-leaning daily, devoted its cover and two full pages to the work), unprecedented sales (13,000 copies in a fortnight) of a geography book and an audience with Elysée palace advisers. His argument is not especially complicated. France, an ostensibly unified country, is in fact divided in two, between globalised, culturally vibrant cities such as Paris, Bordeaux and Lyon – where careers, investment and wealth are concentrated – and all the rest.
This vast, depressed, “peripheral” France of small and medium-sized towns, un-chic suburbs, post-industrial wasteland and the all but forgotten countryside now encompasses, he reckons, roughly 60% of the country’s population.
The cursory familiarity that many people today have with Mandela’s story of moral courage and triumph has produced a near-universal secular beatification. Mandela enjoys an image akin to that of Martin Luther King Jr. The late South African has, in other words, become an easy-to-claim hero. And in keeping with the often invoked King quote about the arc of the moral universe being long but bent inescapably toward justice—a particular favorite of Barack Obama—from the perspective of the present, Mandela’s ultimate triumph can feel deceptively predestined.
Mandela’s political journey, like that of his country, was far more complex. The black South Africa of the early 1960s did not yet have an obvious leader: it lacked not just a stirringly popular figure, but someone who possessed the tactical acumen and tenacity that would be needed to withstand the assaults of a ruthless racial tyranny, while channeling his society’s energies—and those of the world—in the direction of peaceful liberation. Mandela’s given name was Rolihlahla, which is commonly translated as “troublemaker,” and some of the people closest to him worried that this was a bit too fitting.
Previously, Van Etten sang of the vagaries of loving too hard, or, worse, of loving the wrong person. “Remind Me Tomorrow” is focussed, lyrically, on how it feels to find peace after a long stretch of ache. It is full of glowing, grounded snapshots, as if Van Etten were trying to pause and capture fulfilled moments so that she might savor them longer. “Malibu,” a road-trip song that takes place on California’s Highway 1, is a slow encomium to a carefree couple steering a “little red number” along the Pacific Coast. Van Etten has written about these sorts of scenarios before—dreamy lost weekends, salty breezes, the world becoming so small and complete that it can only accommodate two people. The difference, this time, is that the fantasy turns real, domestic: “I walked in the door / The Black Crowes playin’ as he cleaned the floor / I thought I couldn’t love him any more.” Van Etten regards her present relationship with the wonderment and gratitude of someone who had perhaps briefly given up on love altogether.
Every morning, I buy a black filter coffee from Pret A Manger. There is nothing refined about this. It looks and smells like something you would use to asphalt a road. But the slap of acrid liquid onto tongue is as invigorating as the caffeine itself. Yet though coffee is, ultimately, so much fuel, the means of its production are far from utilitarian: the essence of character and identity are laid bare over the decision to pop a pod in a Nespresso machine (a device whose brilliance lay in convincing Americans that George Clooney was an adequate substitute for sugar and cream) or listen to a Bialetti pot rattle and bubble on the stove top.
During the 1990s, coffee machines were hulking, chrome-clad things that steam-tortured coffee grinds into relinquishing their caffeinated liqueur. The artisanal revolution has made brewing a gentler, more tactile experience. The Rok has a multi-limbed arachnid look. Pour the water in the top, raise the levers then press them down to force out a cup of espresso. Coffee making feels like a minor triumph of competence, like changing the tyre on your car or delivering a lamb.
Curing the childhood eye cancer retinoblastoma often comes at a cost. The tumor, which sprouts in the retina and primarily occurs in children under the age of 5, is fatal if not treated. Yet chemotherapy can cause permanent vision loss, and patients sometimes need surgery to remove one or both eyes. Now, scientists have found that a cancer-slaying virus seems to combat this cancer in mice without serious side effects. A clinical trial has also shown early signs of promise. “It’s potentially a game-changer,” says ophthalmic oncologist David Abramson of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, who wasn’t connected to the study. Researchers have tested cancer-targeting viruses in other types of tumors, but no one had pitted them against retinoblastoma. The tumors grow when there are defects in a molecular pathway that keeps cells from dividing out of control. Oncology researcher Ángel Montero Carcaboso of the Sant Joan de Déu Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain, and colleagues used a type of virus known as adenovirus that typically causes only mild respiratory infections in people. It had been genetically modified so it was missing a key gene and could only reproduce inside cells in which the retinoblastoma pathway had malfunctioned.
To determine whether such a virus would be safe, the scientists injected it into the eyes of rabbits without the tumor. The virus triggered side effects such as inflammation and fluid buildup in the eyes, but they disappeared within 6 weeks. Moreover, little of the virus escaped from the eyes, and it didn’t appear to reproduce elsewhere in the animals’ bodies, suggesting it wouldn’t cause harm in other organs.
…On the strength of those results, Carcaboso and colleagues have begun a clinical trial to test whether the virus is safe in children with retinoblastomas that haven’t responded to chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Two patients have received the virus so far. The researchers have noted preliminary signs that the virus is targeting the tumors.
The sixties were a decade of upheaval and progress, and one of the many areas where that revolutionary spirit reared its head was in the art of nonfiction. In previous decades, nonfiction—particularly if written for periodicals—had been seen mostly as ephemeral reportage. It was for catching up on world events, local matters, and human interest, usually read over a morning cup of coffee, stained with those wet, brown rings. Partially because it was churned out on deadline, factual writing was often pooh-poohed as a lesser art form than fictional writing, with the focus merely on the transfer of information, rather than aesthetic splendor, thematic heft, and formal precision.
In the sixties, writers like Truman Capote, Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, and John McPhee changed that perception by imbuing the factual with as much artistry as the fictional. Of course, the “New Journalism,” as it has often been called, might not have been as revolutionary—as new—as our cultural myths imply. McPhee, for his part, thinks this narrative is a bit of hooey.
It’s hardly news that computers are exerting ever more influence over our lives. And we’re beginning to see the first glimmers of some kind of artificial intelligence: computer programs have become much better than humans at well-defined jobs like playing chess and Go, and are increasingly called upon for messier tasks, like driving cars. Once we leave the highly constrained sphere of artificial games and enter the real world of human actions, our artificial intelligences are going to have to make choices about the best course of action in unclear circumstances: they will have to learn to be ethical. I talk to Derek Leben about what this might mean and what kind of ethics our computers should be taught. It’s a wide-ranging discussion involving computer science, philosophy, economics, and game theory.
Gordon Pennycook and David Rand in the New York Times:
What makes people susceptible to fake news and other forms of strategic misinformation? And what, if anything, can be done about it?
These questions have become more urgent in recent years, not least because of revelations about the Russian campaign to influence the 2016 United States presidential election by disseminating propaganda through social media platforms. In general, our political culture seems to be increasingly populated by people who espouse outlandish or demonstrably false claims that often align with their political ideology.
The good news is that psychologists and other social scientists are working hard to understand what prevents people from seeing through propaganda. The bad news is that there is not yet a consensus on the answer. Much of the debate among researchers falls into two opposing camps. One group claims that our ability to reason is hijacked by our partisan convictions: that is, we’re prone to rationalization. The other group — to which the two of us belong — claims that the problem is that we often fail to exercise our critical faculties: that is, we’re mentally lazy.
However, recent research suggests a silver lining to the dispute: Both camps appear to be capturing an aspect of the problem.
In her new work, artist Dana Schutz takes back her painterly name. Her current canvasses are hyperassertive, full of operatic grandeur, self-mocking turbulence, acidified flooded color, disfigured hideousness, and the psychopathology of her figures — all clawing in some Malthusian struggle for existence. Like this work or not, Schutz is claiming a lot of visual territory for herself. This means more tenacity in the paint, irrepressible surfaces, ambitious scale, and mixed — conflicted — compositional structures.
The cosmic background radiation and explosive blowback of what Schutz triggered in 2017 are still here, of course. How could they not be? Painting is a kind of time machine: Just as the speed of light and sound are experienced after the fact so, too, is the speed of art — things like stress, shock, conflict, phobia, admissions of complicity, and crushing psychological weight emerge only later in one’s work.