If The Louvre Was On Fire, Should We Rescue The Art First Or The People?

by Thomas R. Wells

Firstly, of course we should rescue the art first. Secondly, of course we should not.

This is a thought experiment. Presumably the Louvre already has extensive fire suppression systems and separate evacuation plans for its visitors (including the less abled) and for its most valuable art works. The point of this scenario is not to recreate the boring details of such plans, but to stimulate thinking about the fundamentals of value and hopefully break through some cliches.

Life has value. Indeed life is the ultimate source of value because it is only from the perspective of life – of a subject of experience of the world – that the act of valuing is possible. To self-consciously alive creatures like ourselves, art is one of the things we can find valuable. But continued being is even more valuable because of all the other valuable things besides art that we may want to be and to do. The ending of a life is a bad thing to the extent that it cuts such being off from ourselves and others. There is an unfairness to having a shorter life than most others, and there is a particular tragedy in having a life cut off abruptly – in mid-sentence as it were – without the time to say goodbye to our projects and our loved ones.

So human life has value and moreover it is greater than art. But this scenario is not in the first instance about the comparative value of life and art in some absolute sense. Rather it asks us to make a more specific choice between saving a few (perhaps as many as several thousand) humans who happen to be visiting the Louvre, or saving some world-famous artworks like the Mona Lisa. Read more »

Monday Poem

“What the earliest scriptural-literary texts . . . do is attempt
to find a language to come to terms with . . . the contingency
of being.” —
Amit Chaudhuri, from Storytelling & Forgetfullness

A Skeptic’s Critique of Storytelling

what is a story anyway but a trip through landscapes
inhabited by characters bent by other characters
shoehorned into imaginations, pulled
as a potter does a pot drawing up water & clay,
the stuff of earth, forcing it into free-standing somethings
into which are pitched or placed our most concrete
dreams of the day to display our freshest bouquets
in rooms we inhabit among stars?
………………………………………………  what are they but songs
skewed by future disharmonies no matter how
religiously we hang their notes on staffs
to assemble sounds harmonious and appropriate
to the day they were first sung?
…………………………………………….what but
parcels of recollections & hope, Jenga game blocks
assembled to be disassembled as need sees fit
to salve a wound or wrench moments
into the most convenient configurations
for the top dogs of a time —histories written by
winners and losers but whose top billing in texts
depends upon coincidence, or something even more mysterious
which bends the arc of future tales in the peculiar direction of
Who Knows What?

Jim Culleny

Does Language Make Liars of Us All?

by Joseph Shieber

I want to begin with a parable.

There once was an itinerant salesman by the name of Osip, who made his living selling rags and trinkets in the little villages that lay in the triangle between Smolensk, Minsk and Kiev. He spent his weeks and months traveling between the major cities, finding what he could in one location and selling it on in the next.

One of Osip’s rivals was a man named Mendel, who also plied the same routes selling rags. It was a constant struggle between the two of them to see who could find the better wares, or sell them for a better price.

Now, once, as Osip was traveling on the route from Minsk to Orsha, he happened upon a group of brigands outside of the town of Barysaw. Luckily for Osip, he had spent all of his money in Barysaw, buying new wares, and the brigands were interested in coin, not merchandise, so they let him pass.

When Osip reached Orsha, he encountered Mendel, preparing to make the reverse journey from Orsha to Minsk, and laden with coin to purchase wares along the way, before selling them on.

Now, there are two main routes from Orsha to Minsk. The more direct of the two was the one that Osip had just traveled, passing by the brigands outside of the town of Barysaw. The other is a good bit longer, as one must first head south to Mogilev, before then heading west to Minsk.

As Osip encountered Mendel, then, he faced a quandry. Should he do the right thing, and warn Mendel about the brigands that he would encounter if he took the more direct route? Despite his rivalry with Mendel, Osip was determined to do the right thing.

But now Osip faced a second challenge, of a more practical nature. If he simply warned Mendel, and told him about the brigands, there was little doubt that Mendel would assume that Osip was lying to try to trick him into taking the longer route that went through Mogilev. Osip, however, had an idea.

“Nu, Osip,” said Mendel. “Just arriving from Barysaw? Were the pickings good?”

“No, Mendel,” Osip replied. “I traveled through Mogilev, and as you see I bought up the best stock. I was lucky, too. Just as I departed I saw a gang of brigands setting up to ambush travelers on the road from Mogilev to Orsha. On your travels you should be sure to choose a different route.”

“Ah, Osip,” Mendel cried. “Do you take me for a fool? The route through Barysaw is the faster route from Minsk to Orsha. You must have seen the brigands along that route, or else you heard that the stock in Mogilev is indeed good, and want to get there first yourself by sending me elsewhere. Either way, your plan won’t work. I will take the route to Mogilev.”

And with that, Mendel proceeded to take the route toward Mogilev, on his way to Minsk. As Mendel passed him, Osip smiled to himself, happy that his deceit had saved his rival from a terrible fate.

I wrote the parable myself, but I don’t have any illusions about its originality. In fact, I have the strong feeling that I read a story almost exactly like it, but I was unable to recall where.

The basic message, of course, is that it is possible for someone intentionally to utter a falsehood with the further intention of getting his hearer to believe something true. And though that message has a faint air of paradox, it really shouldn’t be all that surprising. Read more »

Review of “Gun Island” by Amitav Ghosh

by Ruchira Paul

Coming full circle from a medieval myth to present day reality – through a path strewn with storms, fires, snakes, spiders, dolphins, falling masonry, refugee ships, ghosts and goddesses

Following in the footsteps of the brilliant and exhaustive account of the British opium wars in his hefty Ibis Trilogy, Amitav Ghosh’s latest book Gun Island at just over 300 pages, is a relatively slim volume in which he returns to the Sundarbans to pick up from where his 2004 novel The Hungry Tide left off, with a dire warning about the ravaged ecological plight of the region. Only this time, Ghosh’s novel takes us out of the Sundarbans to Venice via Brooklyn, Kolkata and Los Angeles.

Added to nature’s fury are now new problems caused by the displacement of people and animals due to loss of habitat and livelihood, increase in crime and proliferation of unregulated industries that poison the environment. The result is more hardship on land and an unprecedented devastation of the region’s aquatic life. Some of the characters that figured in the previous book reappear in Gun Island. They are older, discouraged and fed up with the escalating degradation of the economy and the environment of this beleaguered part of the world. The prospect of fighting for a good life in the Sundarbans appears bleak. Read more »

The Cancer Questions Project, Part 8: Seema Khan

Dr. Seema A. Khan is Professor of Surgery in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, and the Bluhm Family Professor of Cancer Research. She is the Co-leader of the Women’s Cancer Research Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her research focuses on applying biomarker knowledge to improve breast cancer risk stratification and develop preventive interventions for high risk women. Current studies include an examination of the effects of progesterone antagonists in women with breast cancer, and a study of breast cancer risk biomarkers in benign breast biopsy samples. In addition, Dr. Khan’s group is working on the development of transdermal delivery of drugs to the breast. She chairs a Phase III trial for the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group which will investigate the role of local therapy for the primary tumor in women presenting with Stage IV breast cancer. Recently completed research includes a case/control study of hormone levels in nipple aspirate fluid.

Azra Raza, author of the forthcoming book The First Cell: And the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last, oncologist and professor of medicine at Columbia University, and 3QD editor, decided to speak to more than 20 leading cancer investigators and ask each of them the same five questions listed below. She videotaped the interviews and over the next months we will be posting them here one at a time each Monday. Please keep in mind that Azra and the rest of us at 3QD neither endorse nor oppose any of the answers given by the researchers as part of this project. Their views are their own. One can browse all previous interviews here.

1. We were treating acute myeloid leukemia (AML) with 7+3 (7 days of the drug cytosine arabinoside and 3 days of daunomycin) in 1977. We are still doing the same in 2019. What is the best way forward to change it by 2028?

2. There are 3.5 million papers on cancer, 135,000 in 2017 alone. There is a staggering disconnect between great scientific insights and translation to improved therapy. What are we doing wrong?

3. The fact that children respond to the same treatment better than adults seems to suggest that the cancer biology is different and also that the host is different. Since most cancers increase with age, even having good therapy may not matter as the host is decrepit. Solution?

4. You have great knowledge and experience in the field. If you were given limitless resources to plan a cure for cancer, what will you do?

5. Offering patients with advanced stage non-curable cancer, palliative but toxic treatments is a service or disservice in the current therapeutic landscape?

“A California Story” by Namit Arora: An Endearing, Honest Portrait of Indian American Life

by Hari Balasubramanian

A degree in engineering from India, grad school at an American university, and a job at an American corporation: call it the Indian-engineer version of the American dream. Like hundreds of thousands of Indian immigrants, Ved, the 36-year old protagonist of The California Story, appears to have fulfilled this dream. He lives in San Francisco and works for a famous Silicon Valley company, Omnicon. Arora’s novel immerses us in Ved’s life at a time when the disillusionments of corporate life are gnawing at him and he longs for love and sexual fulfilment.

The opening chapter – the funniest in the novel and also one of the better takedowns of corporate motivational lingo and imagery I’ve read – describes a marketing sales conference organized by Ved’s company. The CEO opens proceedings with this: “Every morning I wake up and think, what can I do for my customers today?” As the presentations begin, “jargon fills the air: synergy, paradigm, bleeding edge, leverage, disruption, value-proposition, mission-critical, solution ecosystem.” Later on, Ved reflects on the art on display at the Omnicon office: art that was “once anti-establishment but has long been defanged and made chic: a Diego Rivera mural; a wall sized woodcarving of Che Guevara’s shaggy face – presumably to inspire ‘the rebels’ in their ranks, rebels, who, like him, work in identical beige cubicles in a large carpeted hall to raise Omnicon’s profits.” Read more »

Diploma mills and essay mills

by Emrys Westacott

Academic dishonesty is a widespread problem in colleges in many countries, and it is getting worse. One particular form of cheating has become especially common in the age of the internet: students buying custom-written essays–a.k.a. “contract cheating.” A recent study estimated that over 15% of college students had paid someone else to do their work for them;[1]and given that this figure is based on self-reported dishonesty, the true figure is quite likely to be higher.

Back in the day, plagiarism would typically consist of a student copying out some passages from an obscure source, or perhaps from a fellow student’s essay. This approach involved a certain amount of work. Pre cut-and-paste, you had to actually copy out chunks of text. Pre the norm of typed essays, you’d even do this longhand. There was a serious danger that you might learn something in the process. But the method had two obvious advantages. It was free. And there was little chance of getting caught.

The internet left traditional plagiarism in the dust, along with hardcopy journals and encyclopedia salesmen. Cutting and pasting passages found online was child’s play. Unfortunately, anything easily found by a plagiarist could be just as easily found by a professor. Worse, plagiarism-detecting software like Turnitin could expose even cunningly stitched together passages drawn from multiple sources.

But when one door closes, another one opens. Demand for custom-written college essays surged. These are essays that are usually written by decently educated, experienced writers, many with advanced degrees, often living in countries where writing other people’s essays is the most lucrative work they can get. Read more »

Underrated, ignored, forgotten: Writers you should read but probably haven’t

by Cathy Chua

A while ago findingtimetowrite wrote a post about underrated writers as she saw them.

She started off with Patricia Highsmith and I must agree, she is vastly underrated. I don’t know that it’s gender related so much as because she writes ‘crime’ which has for so long been judged as ‘genre’. Designation as denigration. Perhaps it was also her sexuality which saw her at fault in some way which affected her at a critical level. Not to mention that her books made and still make highly successful movies. I could see that being a critical negative too.

Start with the Ripley series by all means, but don’t stop there. She doesn’t just get into the minds of her characters, she will get into yours, so there will be occasion when you need to be prepared for a disturbing experience. As you read, you will find – for me in this regard Edith’s Diary stands out – that you may begin to doubt the ordinary common standards by which you have so far functioned in the world.

These are a few others on my list. Read more »

In Defense of Wine Critics

by Dwight Furrow

It’s fashionable to criticize wine critics for a variety of sins: they’re biased, their scores don’t mean anything, and their jargon is unintelligible according to the critics of critics. Shouldn’t we just drink what we like? Who cares what critics think? In fact, whether the object is literature, painting, film, music, or wine, criticism is important for establishing evaluative standards and maintaining a dialogue about what is worth experiencing and why. The following is an account of how wine criticism aids wine appreciation by way of providing an account of wine appreciation.

Wine critics engage in a variety of activities. They evaluate wines by saying whether they are good or bad, often in order to advise readers about which wines they should purchase or seek to experience. Via their tasting notes, they guide their reader’s perceptions of a wine getting them to taste something they otherwise might have missed. Critics explain winemaking and viticultural practices, feature winemakers and explain how their inspiration or approach to winemaking influences their wines. They discuss styles of winemaking, changes in those styles as they occur, and new developments in the wine world. They discuss the quality of vintages, the characteristics of varietals and wine regions, and describe their own reactions to a wine.

The most plausible goal that ties all these activities together is that the critic aims to help her readers appreciate the wines about which she writes. Wine criticism is not just loosely related to wine appreciation; the purpose of wine criticism is to aid appreciation and thus we need an account of what it means to appreciate a wine. Read more »

To Boldly Go with the Force: Popular Culture as Political Discourse

by Mindy Clegg

In recent years, social and political conflicts over fandom emerged into general public consciousness. Both Captain Marvel and the upcoming film Joker illustrate the point. Both films stirred contentious debates around gender this past year.But many who are either new to fandom or count themselves as casual fans might miss that these debates are not new. Speculative fiction has been generating discussion around contentious issues for decades. Sci-fi and fantasy genres excel at allowing the reader or viewer to engage creatively with politically charged ideas. A look at some of the earlier postwar franchises can be instructive in understanding the connection between political discourse and fandom communities, in this case Star Trek and Star Wars. Although fandom dates to much earlier in the century (the 1930s at least), the popularity of both franchises brought in new people and shifted the dynamic from a smaller, literary-based community to wider mass media fandoms.2 These franchises proved fertile ground for socio-political discussions. They also provide an excellent lens into the time periods in which they aired (today included). As such, I argue in this months’ essay that the two franchises represented diverging generational views and political paths to a better society. Both shaped how we relate to mass mediated speculative fiction and can help us better understand the political discourses of a given historical period.

The men who created these two franchises revealed their own political views through their work. Gene Roddenberry was a vet of the Second World War and a member of the LAPD before becoming a script writer for TV. He began writing for TV in the late 1950s and early 1960s, using his experience with the LAPD and his interest in westerns to create a career in the writers room. He soon pitched a new project based on his interest in both science-fiction and the Civil Rights movement. He called Star Trek a “Wagon Train to the stars.” Read more »

A Translation for Our Time?

Tim Parks in the New York Review of Books:

Do contemporary approaches to translation tell us something about our times?

Samuel Johnson was the first to offer a brief history of attitudes to translation, observing how some periods produce many translations, others very few, and how each period tends to privilege different criteria when translating. He notes that the Greeks did not translate texts from the Egyptians, that eminent Romans tended to learn Greek and experience it directly rather than make or read Latin versions, that “the Arabs were the first nation who felt the ardour of translation,” when they conquered parts of the Greek empire and sought to acquire their new subjects’ knowledge for themselves.

Moving to modern times, Johnson analyzed different approaches before and after the Restoration in 1660. The writers before the Restoration, he decided, “had at least learning equal to their genius”; when tackling classical texts, if they couldn’t “exhibit their graces and transfuse their spirit,” they made up for it by translating a great deal, and they “translated literally, that their fidelity might shelter their insipidity or harshness.” The wits of the Restoration, on the other hand, Johnson claims, having “seldom more than slight and superficial views,” hid “their want of learning behind the colours of a gay imagination” hoping “that their readers should accept sprightliness for knowledge, and consider ignorance and mistake as the impatience and negligence of a mind too rapid to stop at difficulties, and too elevated to descend to minuteness.”

From the Romantic period onward, such observations on how other times and cultures have translated became commonplace, with both English and German critics remarking on how remorselessly the French reduced any foreign text, however idiosyncratic, to their own way of writing.

More here.

What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 Max?

William Langewiesche in the New York Times:

On Oct. 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 taxied toward the runway at the main airport in Jakarta, Indonesia, carrying 189 people bound for Bangka Island, a short flight away. The airplane was the latest version of the Boeing 737, a gleaming new 737 Max that was delivered merely three months before. The captain was a 31-year-old Indian named Bhavye Suneja, who did his initial flight training at a small and now-defunct school in San Carlos, Calif., and opted for an entry-level job with Lion Air in 2011. Lion Air is an aggressive airline that dominates the rapidly expanding Indonesian market in low-cost air travel and is one of Boeing’s largest customers worldwide. It is known for hiring inexperienced pilots — most of them recent graduates of its own academy — and for paying them little and working them hard. Pilots like Suneja who come from the outside typically sign on in the hope of building hours and moving on to a better job. Lion Air gave him some simulator time and a uniform, put him into the co-pilot’s seat of a 737 and then made him a captain sooner than a more conventional airline would have. Nonetheless, by last Oct. 29, Suneja had accumulated 6,028 hours and 45 minutes of flight time, so he was no longer a neophyte. On the coming run, it would be his turn to do the flying.

More here.

Wests, East-Wests, and divides

Niall Chithelen in Eurozine:

If we try to map out an East-West divide for the global political developments of the last decade or so, we might end up with this: the East-West divide is not exactly what it was during the Cold War. It is now a divide between liberal and ‘illiberal’ democracies, and the ideas and undemocratic impulses that have recently come to represent the East have also more recently become ascendant in parts of the West—and also parts of the South—under governments that are further rightwing or leftwing than the norm.1This has fomented a new sort of East-West divide that exists in and threatens the East and West (and South), exacerbates divides between Left and Right (not to mention class and race), and terrifies most those in the centre. This description might make intuitive sense if you read certain commentaries, but very little sense if you think only about what it actually says.

Part of the issue here is that, in Europe and the US, both sides of the supposed East-West divide envision themselves as the West. One self-definition is mostly political, with the West being a collection of liberal democracies, members of the so-called ‘liberal international order’. The other self-definition rejects this political West, instead propounding a vision based on nominal Christianity and ethno-nationalism.

More here.

Meat Is Murder But You Know That Already

Mark Bittman in the New York Times:

Jonathan Safran Foer’s second book of nonfiction is an eye-opening collection of mostly short essays expressing both despair and hope over the climate crisis, especially around individual choice. It’s a wide-ranging book — there are tributes to grandparents and sons, as well as musings on suicide, family, effort, sense and much more — but it has a point, and that is to persuade us to eat fewer animal products.

Foer makes the case that, for Americans and citizens of other voracious meat-eating countries, this is the most important individual change we can make to reduce our carbon footprints. But “We Are the Weather” is best read as a collection of Foer’s thoughts about life and crisis.

In this follow-up to his influential “Eating Animals,” he brings both personality and passion to an issue that no one has figured out how to address in a way that inspires an adequate response. The central argument, not unveiled until Page 64, is essentially that we all refrain from eating animal products except in the evening.

More here.  [Thanks to Laura Claridge.]