Cinematography and Crime

by Palle Yourgrau

Where does this strange notion of non-punishable crimes come from?  … Isn’t it high time it were proclaimed that every discernible crime is a punishable one …? —Simone Weil, The Need for Roots

When the finger points at the moon, the idiot looks at the finger. —Confucius

Evgeny Kissin

What Happened at Vergier

At the 10th anniversary of the Vergier Festival and Academy in 1994, in Switzerland, there was an extraordinary performance of Bach’s Concerto for Four Claviers (based on a Vivaldi Concerto for Four Violins), an electrifying piece of Baroque rock n’ roll performed by an insanely gifted group of musicians that included the Russian Evgeny Kissin, who rocked the house, eclipsing even the legendary Martha Argerich.[1] Luckily for us, the performance was captured on film, now available on dvd.  Unluckily, the cinematographer or director[2] was, as usual, a criminal.  What passes for a representation of four pianists playing Bach is in fact, for much of the time, a gallery of four faces of four pianists playing Bach, though fortunately for us, the faces are noble ones, especially the Beethovenian countenance of Argerich-in-winter counterpointed by the seraphic visage of the ever-child-like-Kissin.  Still, every now and then, thanks to a merciful God, actual piano playing emerges on screen as a kind of afterthought, including even passages that musically deserve to be center stage.

Now, what happened in Vergier in 1994 is by no means an anomaly.  It is as common as sand on a beach.  It is, sadly, the norm when cinematographers and directors set out to capture a cultural event or an historic or otherwise important performance in music or ballet, or other artistic venues like figure skating.  There is, to cite another example, a dvd containing performances by four pianists, including Joanna MacGregor and Angela Hewitt, of Bach’s complete Well-Tempered Clavier, where the cinematographer/director puts to shame the crimes committed at Vergier. Read more »

Thinking About Things

by John Schwenkler

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of Mind and World, a groundbreaking book by the South African-born philosopher John McDowell, who has taught since 1986 at the University of Pittsburgh. The book is based on a series of lectures that McDowell had delivered at the University of Oxford in 1991. The importance of McDowell’s arguments was recognized immediately when the lectures appeared in print, and for many philosophers of my generation an encounter with Mind and World—in my case, within the context of a decade of philosophical work responding to those arguments—was a defining moment in our intellectual development.

There is no easy way in to a book that treats fundamental philosophical questions in the manner of Mind and World, but a reasonable place to start is with a passage from Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason that frames its overall dialectic. I have set in boldface a crucial sentence that I’ll focus on below:

Our nature is so constituted that our intuition can never be other than sensible; that is, it contains only the mode in which we are affected by objects. The faculty, on the other hand, which enables us to think the object of sensible intuition is the understanding.

To neither of these powers may a preference be given over the other. Without sensibility no object would be given to us, without understanding no object would be thought. Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.

It is, therefore, just as necessary to make our concepts sensible, that is, to add the object to them in intuition, as to make our intuitions intelligible, that is, to bring them under concepts.

What Kant calls ‘intuition’ can fairly be glossed as ‘perception’ or ‘sensory experience’: he means that by which our minds are related to particular objects in the world thanks to the way they affect our sensory organs. This contrasts with what he calls the ‘understanding’, through which we think about things using general concepts. The concept horse, for example, is not a concept of any horse in particular. According to Kant, we can apply this concept to a particular horse, say the famed Secretariat, only because we stand in a sensory relation to that horse, or have heard of Secretariat from someone who (has heard of him from someone who has …) encountered Secretariat directly. And this direct encounter is what Kant calls intuition: it’s a way for this particular animal, Secretariat, to become present to our minds, i.e. be ‘given to us’, so that our thinking can be about him in particular. Read more »

Sequestered Spaces, Public Places: Identity Politics, the Neoliberal University, and the Crisis of Imagination

by Eric J. Weiner

An intransigent form of identity politics in combination with neoliberal ideology has left the modern university, if not in ruins, then lacking imagination and cultural capital. It has become a place of sequestered spaces—symbolic and real—where too many students and faculty fear discussing issues deemed to be controversial, inappropriate, or “political.” Across the social sciences/humanities, politics, religion, sex, sexual orientation, climate change, science, gender, economic inequality, poverty, reproductive rights/regulations, homelessness, race, Trump, democracy, capitalism, patriarchy, anti-Semitism, Israel, terrorism, gun violence, sexual violence, and white supremacy are just some of the topics that today make students and even some teachers uncomfortable. At best maybe these topics are addressed by creating some kind of false equivalent in an effort to feign neutrality and keep people comfortable. Discomfort in the classroom from ignorance, tension, power imbalances, conflict, disagreement, or any degree of affective and cognitive dissonance is no longer tolerated. While it used to be considered a fundamental part of the critical learning experience, discomfort of this sort now signals a flaw in pedagogy and/or the curriculum and a betrayal of trust. Learning should always feel good, be nurturing (maternalistic), and, above all, fun. If it’s not then there is hell to pay.

The fear of being emotionally and intellectually uncomfortable and the strategies used to avoid it come from all over the ideological spectrum. Avoidance strategies, from the right and left, take the form of accusations about political bias; political (in)correctness-gone-wild; claims of social/intellectual marginalization; censoring viewpoints (books, speakers, media) that are deemed offensive; silencing people through various forms of protest; creating homogenized “safe spaces”; and policing, through different modes of surveillance, language, thoughts, and behavior. Retreating into intellectual silos on campus and online, students and teachers find comfort and solace in group-think, shared social practices, and aligned ideologies. The cost of these avoidance strategies for the individual and the republic is a form of idiocy, from the Greek “idiotes,” which describes a person who cannot participate in political and intellectual life because of their lack of skills, knowledge, and general ignorance about the responsibilities of civic life. At the same time the left and right are doing their best to defang the critical civic function of the university, most universities are now aligned with neoliberal ideology, focusing on market-based competition, branding, privatization, the de-unionization of faculty/staff, and job training. Within this toxic brew of schooling, tribalism, and ideology, students are seen (and generally want to be seen) first and foremost as children in need of protection, entertainment, and comfort; savvy and influential consumers; agile agents of social media unofficially employed to promote their schools; and docile members of the university “family.” Read more »

A Sentimental Bond with the Product: Joe Biden, the Past and the Future.

by Michael Liss

I’ve been thinking a lot about Joe Biden recently. Joe Biden and nostalgia, Joe Biden and memory. Joe Biden and Mad Men.

There is a wonderful scene to close the first season as Don Draper pitches an ad campaign to two exceptionally nerdy guys from Kodak. The boys from the lab want to talk technology, but a plastic and metal “wheel” is decidedly unsexy. Stumped at first, Don puts in a few of his own 35mm slides and an idea emerges. The lights dim, and images of happy moments with wife and kids, some posed, more not, each appear on the screen, with Don providing narration:

Well, technology is a glittering lure. But, there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product. My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, with this old-pro copywriter, a Greek named Teddy. Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is new. Creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product. Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent. … Teddy told me that in Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards, takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel. It’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Round and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.

I’ve never had an itch to see Joe Biden as President. I do like him. A lot of Americans of a certain age like him, friendly and familiar and a bit worn, like a favorite old jacket you take out every fall when it gets a little chilly. The country could do a lot worse than elect Joe Biden. He has the temperament and the policy chops: former Chairman of both the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees, former Vice-President, former glad-hander, back-slapper, and deal maker. Republicans who mocked him during the Obama Administration were often secretly relieved when the occasionally aloof President would send Joe to work the back-rooms and rope-lines. Joe got it done.  Read more »

The Cancer Questions Project, Part 7: Kanti Rai

Kanti R. Rai, MD, is professor of medicine at The Karches Center for Oncology Research, The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research; director of the Center for Oncology and Cell Biology, Long Island Jewish Medical Center; and professor of medicine and molecular medicine at Hofstra University Northwell School of Medicine. He has been involved in diagnosing and treating Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia for almost 40 years and the staging system that bears his name came out of his early breakthrough research. His research led to the eventual development of idelalisib (Zydelig) as a second-line treatment for patients with CLL and ibrutinib (Imbruvica), used to treat mantle cell lymphoma, CLL, and Waldenström macroglobulinemia. He has been collaborating with other CLL scientists at The Feinstein Institute for years establishing the importance of fludarabine, now a standard-of-care treatment for CLL, and demonstrating the effectiveness of cladribine in treating hairy cell leukemia. Dr.Rai is an active investigator in the Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Research Consortium, the International Workshop on CLL, and Cancer and Leukemia Group B. He is a member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Association for Cancer Research and the American Society of Hematology (ASH).

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?

On ‘Late Work’ & The Groans of the Unpublished Novelist

by Robert Fay

Henry James, The Master.

In 1899 at the age of 59 Henry James began work on The Ambassadors, the first of his brilliant, ground-breaking final three novels that included The Wings of the Dove and finally The Golden Bowl. James’ biographer Leon Edel writes, “The Ambassadors was told by James in a complex, indirect style he had never attempted before…rather than accept the old tradition of the novel which told everything, James allowed his readers to know only as much as one learns in life.” And R.P. Blackmur wrote of these final novels, “James made a spiritual trilogy which, with each succeeding volume, approaches nearer and nearer the condition of poetry.”

James is the exemplar of producing unparalleled, distinctive work late in life when the artist must confront, not only the specter of death, but the more intimidating nemesis of one’s previous output, duel foes which can freeze one into a morbid nostalgia. I’m reminded of the Reverend Gail Hightower in William Faulkner’s Light in August, who cannot escape the chimera of his grandfather’s battles in the Civil War, and how this fixation destroys his marriage and his ministry. The past can strangle us indeed.

The challenge of doing true important “late work,” or “late style” as Edward Said called it, should stoke the ambitions (and anxieties) of all serious artists. And while it’s not an impossible mountain to summit, the list of accomplished mountaineers and their treks is intimidating, for it includes: Beethoven’s Late String Quartets; Philip Roth’s great late novels, American Pastoral (published when Roth was 64), I Married a Communist and The Plot Against America; as well as works from Picasso’s Late Period (though there are still critics who disparage these pieces), to name a few. But there is more here than the individual artist bravely exploring his own dimensions, there is the effect on the surrounding culture which (in our present age) is deprived of mature thought, being seduced by the lazy discourse of the adolescent and the crudely juvenile (I’m not speaking of chronological age here). And if you think I’m overstating it, go see what’s trending right now on your favorite social media platform. Read more »

Dancing With Skeletons

by Rafaël Newman

Brick repository, Barilevë, Kosovo, May 2019. Photograph by the author.

It was Ramadan on Mother Teresa Street, so the professor and his wife were discreetly abstaining. Their daughter, an aspiring YouTuber, had been granted special dispensation and was gorging herself on chocolate ice cream and Coca Cola, along with me and my colleague, an Israeli poet who had won an award from the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Youth the evening before, both of us treated to refreshments at one of the many outdoor cafés that lined the pedestrian zone in the middle of Prishtinë.

It had taken us a while to reach the café, constantly interrupted in our progress from one end of the mall to the other by passersby greeting the professor – colleagues from the local university and its sister institutions elsewhere in Kosovo; relatives and well-wishers, offering our host “respekt”; and an instrument vendor, who insisted on the professor’s demonstrating his prowess on the qifteli, a long-necked, two-stringed local guitar – so I was delighted when I heard myself greeted, as we took our place at the café, by a Kosovar of my own acquaintance from the French-speaking region of Switzerland, who happened to be in town to visit family.

The Israeli poet and I were in Prishtinë on the last leg of a three-day stay in Kosovo. Our time had been spent not in the capital but in the town of Pejë, in the northwest of the country near the borders with Montenegro and Albania, once a significant stop on the trade route between Dubrovnik and Istanbul. We had been attending a literary festival there, taking part in readings, lectures, and a dizzying round of awards ceremonies. Most of the writers in attendance – largely poets – were “ethnic” Albanians, from the eponymous country to the west, from the significant minority community in Macedonia, to the south, as well as from Kosovo itself, our host. Read more »

Stone’s Turn

by Maniza Naqvi

Grief stages its unfurling
Towards the promise of sorrow,
Strips away to beauty
Peels in layers
Sheds
Skin,
Leaks
Bleeds.
Sheds and sheds.
A friend texts
A song by Daniel Johnston.
An icon. Gone.
Says: Transitioned,
As you would say.
It has taken years, eight
To get here
To rescue stone.
This state.
To transform.
An avocado’s stone
Witness peel
Slip away
Pit turn to flesh
Shed
Dye.
Stone turned flesh,
Weeps,
Bleeds,
Dye.
Heart, pit, stone.
Reborn as stain.
On white sheet.
Tree.
Now washed:
Now bathed,
Now dipped,
Now dunked,
Now immersed,
Now lifted.
Now stained,
Faded rose red,
The hue of that stone
We picked for you
Now glimpses
Glimmers
Gold scapes
Sea blues,
And yes shades,
Crimson and beyond
Brushes and
Strokes
Thoughts
Eternity.
Struggle.

Thoughts on California

by R. Passov

When I arrived in California, when I was born, I joined 15 million inhabitants, including my parents.

They were part of a long wave of predominately eastern European descendants who came in such numbers as to pull west much of post-WWII American culture.

In the year I found California, 16 million people lived in New York State. It was the New York of West Side Story and the Bronx Bombers, the year when the Boys of Summer would play their first game in Los Angeles.

In the early 1970s my family took a cross-country road trip. For four days we drove toward our history.

I was in school with children of the East, growing in the seams of our parent’s dreams of leaving places with exotic names like Brooklyn, Hoboken and best of all, the Bronx. That’s where we aimed on that cross-country drive to visit my great grandparents, so old by then they no longer moved.

Two floors up a dark stairwell on the Grand Concourse, once the boulevard of dreams for Jews, the lights of Yankee Stadium shown in their summer windows. Sitting on their tattered sofa surrounded by their old country furnishings, wearing the same formal clothing that protecting them across the Atlantic, they were old-country old. How glad I was that my parents had come west.

In 1997 I left California’s then 32 million inhabitants to move East, thereby adding one to New York’s 18 million. Read more »

Small Fractures on a Large Piece of Curved Glass

by Akim Reinhardt

It doesn’t take much. A small piece of gravel, spit out by a truck’s wheel, ricochets off the windshield, taking a tiny chip of glass with it. A microscopic divot and discreet little lines, like crow’s feet at the corner of an eye. Barely noticed for months, the accordion of heat and cold compress and expand, adding and relieving pressure. Then finally, the scratches spread out across the glass like an avant garde spider web.

The windshield has not fractured into zagged plates or smashed into a thousand glass pebbles. Perhaps that is its future, but for now it is merely degraded and slightly obscurant. Yet it was never true. Tinted, laminated, curved, and often dirty, the windshield always presented a slightly skewed image of the outside world. Not grotesquely wrong, but fundamentally distorted in minor ways difficult to detect from inside the car. Now, however, the little cracks have suddenly made you aware that the image upon the glass is subtly warped.
*
As in many countries, if not most, American school children are indoctrinated with nationalistic history that incorporates heroic narratives and stirring interpretations. From kindergarten through high school, state sanctioned curricula present a range of facts and viewpoints that coalesce into what can fairly be called imperial mythology. Most of it is technically correct, but the total image produced is often heavy on the rah-rah and short on critical self-examination. Of course some states are worse than others, and some teachers better than others, but the overall effect across society is consistent. Read more »

The Time of White Dew (白露): 

by Leanne Ogasawara

Photographs by Tracey Parmley Nuki

1.

Back from three weeks on the road, I immediately consult my Japanese almanac. To my delight, I see we are now in the Time of White Dew (白露):

Falling just prior to the Autumnal Equinox, the sun is said to have passed the 165th solar degree on its journey south. Although the afternoons are still dominated by the lingering heat of August and September, Autumn-like weather can increasingly be felt, deepening with each passing rain shower, especially noticeable in the mornings and evenings as the equinox approaches.

It’s like clockwork. Every year, by mid-September, the dew point is reached and suddenly there are glistening dewdrops –like diamonds– scattered in the morning grass.

This was true in Tokyo and it’s true in Los Angeles.

In Japan, these pearly gems are not only treasured for their gem-like beauty, but they are also appreciated  for their fleetingness; which, like scattering cherry blossoms, are likened to the transience of our human existence. For life, like the disappearing dewdrops in the morning sunlight, is too often cut short. In this way, dewdrops have been considered, since ancient times, along with “scattering flowers and fallen leaves” (飛花落葉) as a poetic metaphor for impermanence, or mujo (無常).

Have you heard of the dewdrop world? Read more »

On the Road: Laundry Day in Abidjan

by Bill Murray

The first part of this century West Africa was no place to be. Liberia was led by Charles Taylor, now serving a fifty year sentence for “aiding and abetting as well as planning some of the most heinous and brutal crimes in recorded human history.” In Sierra Leone’s civil war, entire families were gunned down in the street. Children and adults had their limbs hacked off with machetes. 

A few years later in 2010, Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president of Côte d’Ivoire, refused to cede power following elections. Subsequent clashes led to 3000 deaths. (Gbagbo was acquitted of war crimes in January of this year).

In the late 1990s though, you might casually catch a flight to Abidjan on now defunct Air Afrique for a bit of innocent, if unlikely, tourism.

It was still the era of guidebooks. Here is the then-current Lonely Planet Guide to West Africa:

“On the northwest edge of town near the beginning of the road to Dabou is the Parc du Banco. Several hundred meters beyond the dirt road entrance to the park you’ll see … Africa’s largest outdoor laundrette – some 750 fanicos (washermen), mostly Burkinabé and none Ivorian, jammed together … in the middle of a small stream frantically rubbing clothes on huge stones held in place by old car tyres.” Read more »

Virtual Feudalism in the Twenty-First Century

by Bill Benzon

September 4, 2019: Adam Satariano, “The World’s First Ambassador to the Tech Industry”, The New York Times, September 3, 2019.

In 2017, Denmark became the first nation to formally create a diplomatic post to represent its interests before companies such as Facebook and Google. After Denmark determined that tech behemoths now have as much power as many governments — if not more — Mr. Klynge was sent to Silicon Valley.

“What has the biggest impact on daily society? A country in southern Europe, or in Southeast Asia, or Latin America, or would it be the big technology platforms?” Mr. Klynge said in an interview last month at a cafe in central Copenhagen during an annual meeting of Denmark’s diplomatic corps. “Our values, our institutions, democracy, human rights, in my view, are being challenged right now because of the emergence of new technologies.”

He added, “These companies have moved from being companies with commercial interests to actually becoming de facto foreign policy actors.”

Here we go, I thought, I’ve seen this kind of thing before.

September 12, 2019: Miriam Pawel, You Call It the Gig Economy. California Calls It ‘Feudalism’. The New York Times, September 12, 2019.

Labor leaders cheered in the balcony and lawmakers embraced on the floor of the California Senate on Tuesday as it passed a landmark measure that defines employees, a move that could increase wages and benefits for hundreds of thousands of struggling workers. […]

The “new economy, the gig economy, the innovation economy” is “feudalism all over again,” said the Assembly speaker, Anthony Rendon, a Los Angeles Democrat.

Bam! Another one.

What kind of thing is that? – you ask. Virtual Feudalism, that’s what.

* * * * *

Abbe Mowshowitz is a mathematician and computer scientist interested in the impact of computing technology on society. I’d met Abbe when I was on the faculty at The Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute in the previous century. He was interested in how the deployment of computer technology was creating virtual organizations that would lead to a virtual feudalism. He would eventually publish a book on the subject [1]. Before that, however, he commishioned me to to ghost an article on the subject. Alas, that article never got published. Here it is. The ideas are Abbe’s. The prose and stories are mine. Read more »

Another not the best ambient and space music of the year post

by Dave Maier

Sometimes I think I should post new mixes more often; but one advantage of doing them only twice a year is that I have no shortage of really excellent material. (Actually that’s always true, so so much for that excuse …). Nothing of my own this time, but in recent months I have obtained some amazing tools, with another on the way in December, so next year could be quite interesting in that regard, once I figure out what I’m doing. Stay tuned!

Star’s End Annex 9/19 [direct link if widget fails]

FernLodge – a brief time [Hjemve]
En – Elysia [Already Gone]
Halftribe – Virus [v.a./Illuminations II (The New Year 2018 charity compilation)]
Jarguna – Garden of the Gods [Fusion of Soul]
Knivtid – Paus I [v.a./the opposite of aloof vol. 1]
Noveller & thisquietarmy – Reverie 3 [Reverie]
Ann Annie – delicate landscape [Cordillera]
Beaunoise – Forst, 1975 [Buchlaworks, Module 1]

We’ve seen a couple of these artists before. FernLodge is this guy Joe from Canada, whose music is (as is all of this music actually; follow the links) available on Bandcamp. However, while most artists, even when giving their music away for free, allow you to “name your price” (which in turn allows you, if your price isn’t zero, to put that music into your Bandcamp “collection,” available to download whenever you want), Joe simply sets the price at “free” (which means you can’t put it into your online collection even if you want to). As you can tell by listening, Joe is being way too modest, as Hjemve in particular is excellent, his best yet. Incidentally, one of the instruments Joe used on this record (a Ciat-Lonbarde Cocoquantus 2) is now in my possession, as earlier this year I traded him some Eurorack modules for it. If I ever do anything with it as good as Hjemve, I’ll be very happy! Read more »

Sunday, September 15, 2019

What Chili Peppers Can Teach Us about Pain

Tanya Lewis in Scientific American:

What Chili Peppers Can Teach Us about PainDavid Julius knows pain. The professor of physiology at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine has devoted his career to studying how the nervous system senses it and how chemicals such as capsaicin—the compound that gives chili peppers their heat—activates pain receptors. Julius was awarded a $3-million Breakthrough Prize in life sciences on Thursday for “discovering molecules, cells, and mechanisms underlying pain sensation.” Julius and his colleagues revealed how cell-membrane proteins called transient receptor potential (TRP) channels are involved in the perception of pain and heat or cold, as well as their role in inflammation and pain hypersensitivity. Much of his work has focused on the mechanism by which capsaicin exerts its potent effect on the human nervous system. His team identified the receptor responsive to capsaicin, TRPV1, and showed that it is also activated by heat and inflammatory chemicals. More recently, he has revealed how scorpion venom targets the “wasabi” receptor TRPA1. Drug developers are now investigating whether these receptors and others could be targeted to create nonopioid painkillers.

Besides his findings on pain, Julius has discovered a receptor for the brain-signaling chemical serotonin. He is also interested in other types of sensory reception, such as infrared sensing in snakes and electroreception in sharks and rays.

More here.

Richard Ford on Anton Chekhov

Richard Ford in Literary Hub:

Until I began the long and happy passage of reading all of Anton Chekhov’s short stories for the purpose of selecting the twenty for inclusion in The Essential Tales of Chekhov, I had read very little of Chekhov. It seems a terrible thing for a story writer to admit, and doubly worse for one whose own stories have been so thoroughly influenced by Chekhov through my relations with other writers who had been influenced by him directly: Sherwood Anderson. Isaac Babel. Hemingway. Cheever. Welty. Carver.

As is true of many American readers who encountered Chekhov first in college, my experience with his stories was both abrupt and brief, and came too early. When I read him at age twenty, I had no idea of his prestige and importance or why I should be reading him—one of those gaps of ignorance for which a liberal education tries to be a bridge. But typical of my attentiveness then, I remember no one telling me anything more than that Chekhov was great, and that he was Russian.

And for all of their surface plainness, their apparent accessibility and clarity, Chekhov’s stories—especially the greatest ones—still do not seem so easily penetrable by the unexceptional young. Rather, Chekhov seems to me a writer for adults, his work becoming useful and also beautiful by attracting attention to mature feelings, to complicated human responses and small issues of moral choice within large, overarching dilemmas, any part of which, were we to encounter them in our complex, headlong life with others, might evade even sophisticated notice.

More here.

Are Generation IV nuclear reactors the answer to green energy?

Dylan James Moon in The Stute:

Nuclear energy is controversial among politicians, environmental activists, and investors. But new reactor designs, the immense energy-density of nuclear fuel, and the lack of carbon emissions make nuclear power attractive, if not crucial, amid growing energy demands and a changing climate.

In the United States, around 100 nuclear reactors provide 20% of the energy. Worldwide, 449 reactors provide 10%. But the designs, dating back to the ’50s, are homogenous. Most reactors use water to cool the Uranium fuel and spit out weapons-grade Plutonium-239 as waste. In his talk, Dr. Friedman, who has physics degrees from MIT and Columbia, emphasized that there are in fact “more than 1,000 possibilities” for reactor designs. This estimate considers fuels, nuclear moderators, coolants, control rods, and the physical configuration of these components. From these possibilities come Generation IV reactor designs.

Generation IV reactors are breeder-burners, meaning the Plutonium-239 byproduct is never removed but simply recycled as fuel.

More here.