John Kenneth Galbraith, the iconoclastic economist, teacher and diplomat and an unapologetically liberal member of the political and academic establishment that he needled in prolific writings for more than half a century, died yesterday at a hospital in Cambridge, Mass. He was 97.
Mr. Galbraith lived in Cambridge and at an “unfarmed farm” near Newfane, Vt. His death was confirmed by his son J. Alan Galbraith.
Mr. Galbraith was one of the most widely read authors in the history of economics; among his 33 books was “The Affluent Society” (1958), one of those rare works that forces a nation to re-examine its values. He wrote fluidly, even on complex topics, and many of his compelling phrases — among them “the affluent society,” “conventional wisdom” and “countervailing power” — became part of the language.
more from the NY Times here.
The always brilliant Rochelle Gurstein is back at TNR with a superb, lovely essay:
It has long been a sociological truism that we live in a world with few meaningful public forms, social customs, or religious ceremonies. Yet it is only when we face such devastating events as the death of a loved one that we learn what such truisms mean in lived experience: at the time of our most desperate need, we find ourselves abandoned to our own devices. It is not only that the bereaved must find their way as if no one before them had ever lost a husband or a wife; those who would comfort them are equally at a loss as to what to say or do. Priests still perform last rites, religious services continue to be conducted at funerals, and even non-observant Jews are loath to give up the custom of “sitting shivah”; but what remains of the old rituals and words of consolation has come to feel increasingly hollow.
Yet it would be wrong to imagine that those who lived in societies with well-established rituals of mourning somehow had an easier time reconciling themselves to their shattered lives. Personal letters from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries occasionally include the shocking news that a grieving husband or wife could not properly recover and has died. Nor does it appear that religious faith necessarily makes that reconciliation any less torturous. Consider the case of C.S. Lewis, one of Christianity’s greatest modern defenders, who kept a journal of his spiritual collapse after his wife, Helen Joy Gresham, died following a long and excruciating ordeal with bone cancer.
Sandra Upson in Scientific American:
Ask why most people are right-handed, and the answer might fall along the same lines as why fish school. Two neuroscientists suggest that social pressures drive individuals to coordinate their behaviors so that everyone in the group gets an evolutionary edge.
Approximately 85 percent of people prefer their right hand, which is controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain. One theorized benefit of locating a particular function in one hemisphere is that it frees the other to deal with different tasks. But that idea does not explain why population-wide trends for handedness exist in the first place. Moreover, evidence gleaned in recent years has overturned the long-held belief that human handedness is a unique by-product of brain specialization attributable to language. A suite of studies has revealed brain lateralization in species from fish to primates. Last August, for instance, scientists discovered that in the wild, chimpanzees show hand preferences.
The presence of lateralization throughout the animal kingdom suggests some benefit from it, contend neuroscientists Giorgio Vallortigara of the University of Trieste and Lesley Rogers of the University of New England in Australia. Also, last August, in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, the two presented evidence to support their idea that social constraints force individuals toward asymmetry in the same direction. They noted, for example, that baby chickens attack more readily when a threat appears on their left. And Rogers has found that chicks with more asymmetrical brains form more stable social groups: perhaps by approaching each other on the right, she hypothesizes, the chicks fight one another less and are more likely to notice predators.
Christopher Avery in Harvard Magazine:
In his new book, The Chosen, Jerome Karabel ’72, Ph.D. ’77, offers a provocative account of undergraduate admissions at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale from the late 1800s to the present—a period when the “Big Three” were transformed by the addition of representative numbers of women, minorities, and others who could never have enrolled before. Such a dramatic shift warrants explanation, and two decades of original research uniquely qualify Karabel, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, to provide it.
At heart, The Chosen is a great story. Karabel brings life to a century’s worth of faculty meetings and administrative maneuvering, providing an account that is both entertaining and authoritative. He also reveals many dirty secrets of the admissions process: primarily that the definition of “merit” was slanted in the past to ensure a sufficient number of “paying guests” for the universities to thrive financially. This will disquiet readers—particularly graduates of the Big Three—because of its clear implication that the admissions process is suspect, rather than sacrosanct.
The complete collection of maps from Carnegie’s, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats
Click on each map to view a larger image. Windows users should hold the cursor over the image and click on the icon appearing in the lower right-hand corner to expand the map to its full size.
The first five maps reflect the worldwide proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and their missile delivery systems. The country maps show the major nuclear installations, both civilian and military, in each country.
More here. [Thanks to Laura Claridge.]
PARIS—Just weeks after the centennial of the birth of pioneering minimalist playwright Samuel Beckett, archivists analyzing papers from his Paris estate uncovered a small stack of blank paper that scholars are calling “the latest example of the late Irish-born writer’s genius.”
The 23 blank pages, which literary experts presume is a two-act play composed sometime between 1973 and 1975, are already being heralded as one of the most ambitious works by the Nobel Prize-winning author of Waiting For Godot, and a natural progression from his earlier works, including 1969’s Breath, a 30-second play with no characters, and 1972’s Not I, in which the only illuminated part of the stage is a floating mouth.
“In what was surely a conscious decision by Mr. Beckett, the white, uniform, non-ruled pages, which symbolize the starkness and emptiness of life, were left unbound, unmarked, and untouched,” said Trinity College professor of Irish literature Fintan O’Donoghue. “And, as if to further exemplify the anonymity and facelessness of 20th-century man, they were found, of all places, between other sheets of paper.”
more from The Onion here.
Twenty years ago, Deng Xiaoping erected huge billboards throughout China that proclaimed, “Development is the Irrefutable Argument.” The way Deng’s slogan is translated today, China’s spectacular growth rates not only win the argument, they end the argument. The government speaks in a triumphalist discourse that is actually a remarkable echo of the language of nineteenth-century England, in the heyday of what historians later learned to call ‘the Industrial Revolution.’ England was enjoying tremendous industrial growth and taking over more and more of the world each year. Its mass media were united in an orgy of self-celebration. And yet its level of human suffering was alarmingly high. So much of its prosperity depended on the energy of its industrial working class, yet so much of this class lived in poverty and squalor. Victorian England was the world leader in productive power, but also in human misery. Plenty of people were aware of this mass misery. But most of them, when they thought critically, denounced the whole of modern life: they wished “to get rid of modern arts, in order to get rid of modern conflicts.” Marx was more complex: he wanted to affirm and to celebrate human progress, but also to confront its outrageous human costs. His thinking could be called a discourse of contradiction.
In our day everything seems pregnant with its contrary. Machinery, gifted with the power of shortening and fructifying human labor, we behold starving and overworking it. The new-fangled sources of wealth, by some weird spell, are turned into sources of want. The victories of art seem bought by loss of character.
There are good reasons to say that ‘everything is pregnant with its contrary’ in China today and to look for a language that can grasp and penetrate its inner contradictions. It is ironic that, for decades, a travesty of Marxism was imposed on a backward, peasant China that couldn’t possibly digest it. It is only now, as China goes through dramatic and explosive development, that Marx’s discourse of contradiction can be a powerful critical vision of its real life.
more from Marshall Berman at Dissent here.
It’s hard to overstate Gay Talese’s gold-standard reputation. A few years ago, David Halberstam called him “the most important nonfiction writer of his generation, the person whose work most influenced at least two generations of other reporters.”
The bedrock of that reputation consists of several exceptional magazine profiles from the 1960’s, in particular “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” published in Esquire in 1966. Helped along by one of the great modern magazine headlines, the piece became a canonical archetype of the so-called New Journalism — nonfiction conceived and written in the manner of fiction, with fully rendered scenes, extended conversations and plainly subjective depictions of mood. In 1969, Talese published “The Kingdom and the Power,” an institutional portrait of The New York Times, where he had been a reporter for nine years. That book became a best seller, certifying him as a literary pop star as well as a reporter’s reporter. Just two years after the Times book, he published another first-rate best seller, his story of a Mafia family called “Honor Thy Father.”
more from the NY Times Book Review here.
From Scientific American:
For the past five years, hundreds of scientists have been using a powerful new atom smasher at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island to mimic conditions that existed at the birth of the universe. Called the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC, pronounced “rick”), it clashes two opposing beams of gold nuclei traveling at nearly the speed of light. The resulting collisions between pairs of these atomic nuclei generate exceedingly hot, dense bursts of matter and energy to simulate what happened during the first few microseconds of the big bang. These brief “mini bangs” give physicists a ringside seat on some of the earliest moments of creation.
During those early moments, matter was an ultrahot, superdense brew of particles called quarks and gluons rushing hither and thither and crashing willy-nilly into one another. A sprinkling of electrons, photons and other light elementary particles seasoned the soup. This mixture had a temperature in the trillions of degrees, more than 100,000 times hotter than the sun’s core.
The cities where everyone is a minority: expert voices from around the world
The Commission for Racial Equality, in association with the Smith Institute, held a round table discussion on the rise of “plural cities” – those where no single ethnic group holds the demographic majority. This event took place on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 21st March 2006, in Leicester, which is becoming one of Britain’s first plural cities. It brought together many leading experts from around the world to discuss the experiences of their cities – including Marseille, São Paulo, Los Angeles, Cape Town and Oldham, and the implications for how cities generate policy, and what it means for integration and social cohesion
more from a roundatble at The New Statesman here.
THREE YEARS OF FIGHTING in the Darfur region of Sudan have left an estimated 180,000 dead and nearly 2 million refugees. In recent weeks, both the UN and the US have turned up the volume of their demands to end the violence (which the Bush administration has publicly called genocide), but they’ve been hard pressed to turn their exhortations into action. The government in Khartoum has scuttled the UN’s plans to take control of the troubled peacekeeping operations currently being led by the African Union, and NATO recently stated publicly that a force of its own in Darfur is ”out of the question.” Meanwhile, refugee camps and humanitarian aid workers continue to be attacked, and the 7,000 African Union troops remain overstretched and ineffective.
But according to J. Cofer Black, vice chairman of the private security firm Blackwater, there is another option that ought to be on the table: an organization that could commit significant resources and expertise to bolster the African Union peacekeepers and provide emergency support to their flagging mission.
more from Boston Globe Ideas here.
Tull’s lost decade seems to constitute nothing less than the missing link between Mike Kelley’s and Jim Shaw’s curdled Pop and that of the emerging Los Angeles neo-psychedelic school. Combining a lifetime’s accumulation of formal chops and unquenchable creativity with an unholy hybrid of introspective archival obsessiveness and smart-ass pop-cultural glossolalia, Tull has produced an orgy of interpenetrating bodies of work that are as superficially entertaining as they are emotionally and structurally challenging. Let’s hope it won’t be another 10 years until his next show, but you should check out “Odd Ark” just in case — if there’s one thing Tull hasn’t learned in his wanderings in the cultural desert, it’s how to dumb it down and repeat himself for the marketplace. Dude must be thick or something.?
more from the LA Weekly here.
This sense that philosophers should occupy a special and uniquely privileged position in our national conversation is absent from Britain today. The last philosopher who lived as successfully in the public as well as the academic sphere was Isaiah Berlin. While Britain has tipped into philosophical decline, so America has risen triumphantly. John Rawls, Thomas Nagel, Charles Taylor, Richard Rorty, Hilary Putnam, Paul Boghossian, Martha Nussbaum. Their reach extends significantly beyond the academy.
These Americans now embody Kant’s hope for independent-minded thinking about society in its various states. It seems there is little prospect that such ambition will prosper in modern British faculties of philosophy. Boghossian prefaces his recent study of how we think and whether “we have fundamentally misconceived the principles by which society ought to be organised” (Fear of Knowledge, 2006), by noting that his book is intended not only for philosophers but also for “anyone who values serious argument”.
But in our contemporary escape from serious ideas – from the very notion of seriousness itself – our flight into the arms of irony and satire, while wonderfully bracing, leaves us all the poorer. Short-term and ephemeral gratification, perhaps. But longer-term moral stagnation and depravity.
more from The Guardian here.