47% of jobs will vanish in the next 25 years, say Oxford University researchers

Philip Perry in Big Think:

The Trump campaign ran on bringing jobs back to American shores, although mechanization has been the biggest reason for manufacturing jobs’ disappearance. Similar losses have led to populist movements in several other countries. But instead of a pro-job growth future, economists across the board predict further losses as AI, robotics, and other technologies continue to be ushered in. What is up for debate is how quickly this is likely to occur.

Now, an expert at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania is ringing the alarm bells. According to Art Bilger, venture capitalist and board member at the business school, all the developed nations on earth will see job loss rates of up to 47% within the next 25 years, according to a recent Oxford study. “No government is prepared,” The Economist reports. These include blue and white collar jobs. So far, the loss has been restricted to the blue collar variety, particularly in manufacturing.

More here.

Is It Okay to Copy China?

David Byrne in Reasons to be Cheerful:

How should one think of a nation, institution or company that has pioneered innovation and found solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems, but also has aspects we find objectionable, even despicable? How do we balance good and bad? Can we separate the two, or are they inexorably linked?

More specifically: How do we think about a country that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, has backed and advanced renewable energy technology, and mostly avoided military imperialism, even as it violates the human rights of millions, persecutes minorities, wreaks havoc on the environment and embraces authoritarianism, surveillance, censorship and corruption? If we cheer the good stuff, are we tacitly endorsing the bad? Does it have to be all or nothing?

With Reasons to be Cheerful we try to present the good stuff. But sometimes the good stuff is mixed in with not-so-good stuff, sometimes even with fairly horrible stuff. I’m going to take China as an example of this dilemma. Watching the Beijing-supported crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong, and reading about the brutal Uyghur detention camps in Xinjiang province, one wonders whether it is bad form to highlight even the most indisputably good solutions from China. Like German coal-powered electric car infrastructure, is China good or is it bad? It’s complicated.

More here.

The Posthuman Enlightenment

Ivan Kreilkamp at Public Books:

What does it take to think beyond the human? Can we imagine our human selves in other lives? And should we? While contemporary answers to these questions have highlighted the desirability and necessity of imagining ourselves as animals, plants, and even objects, others argue that such acts of the imagination are fundamentally flawed. The human, Lynn Festa argues in Fiction without Humanity, is really all we get access to.

The 21st century has seen the rise of what are often lumped together as a variety of “posthumanist” critical approaches: thing theory and “new materialism” (see Bill Brown’s Other Things and Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter), animal studies (see Jacques Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am and Donna Haraway’s When Species Meet), and even a burgeoning plant studies (see Jeffrey T. Nealon’s Plant Theory: Biopower and Vegetable Life). Each of these approaches has asked us to broaden the range of what Miguel Tamen calls “interpretable objects” well beyond the human; to consider what forms of signification, consciousness, or meaning might belong to animals, plants, and objects.

more here.

Martin Hägglund’s ‘This Life’ and Yi-Ping Ong’s ‘The Art of Being’

William Egginton at The Believer:

For Hägglund what flows from the recognition that religious faith is incoherent is a revaluation of our relation to our finite lives that he calls secular faith—the faith that life is worth living, for itself, and not for some deferred or transcendent goal. But secular faith leads necessarily to another revaluation. When we realize that our time in this life is finite, we are compelled to ask the most fundamental of questions: what ought I to do with this time? Asking this question is at the core of what Hägglund calls spiritual freedom: “The ability to ask this question—the question of what we ought to do with our time—is the basic condition for what I call spiritual freedom. To lead a free, spiritual life (rather than a life determined merely by natural instincts), I must be responsible for what I do.”

Accordingly, the second half of This Life takes the form of an extended engagement with thinkers who have plumbed the problems of what freedom is and can be under capitalism, from classic theorists of liberalism like Rawls, Mills, and Hayek, to critics of it like Marx and Martin Luther King, critical figures who along with Knausgaard will becomes the heroes of The Life. The gist of Hägglund’s argument here is that the redistribution of wealth called for by almost all left-leaning critiques of capitalism, while desirable, must fall short of the freedom entailed by democracy.

more here.

Love in Plague Time

Clair Wills at the NYRB:

‘Joy’; from the Lombardy edition of the Taqwim as-Sihha, an eleventh-century medical treatise by Ibn Butlan of Baghdad, circa 1390

“Ordinary time” is that part of the liturgical calendar, between Easter and Advent, when nothing much happens. But ordinariness also stands for life lived under temporal constraints, for the commonplace experience of being human. Questions of free will and the shape given to private thoughts and desires hover at the margins of both of these novels. And it cannot be a coincidence that in both novels those questions are posed by a clerk who takes on the role of a priest, without having the authority to administer the sacraments or to shrive sins. In The Corner That Held Them, the false priest is Ralph Kello, a clerk who turns up at the convent gate in 1349, claiming to be a priest because he is hungry, and who becomes trapped by his lie for thirty years. In To Calais, it is Thomas, a religious scholar but not an ordained priest, who is forced by circumstance to hear the last confessions of dying victims of the plague. In the act of confessing to the living, rather than to God, whose pardon is required? In the absence of the sacrament, the confessions are nothing but stories—nothing more or less than a means for people to ask forgiveness of one another, and to give it. In this scenario confessing is like talking, or thinking, and the basis of enlightenment measured on a human, and ordinary, scale.

more here.

Wednesday Poem

To a Friend Who Likes Transcendence

Here’s a brook in all its April energy.
Up its steep and many-bouldered bank
a profusion of nasturtiums scatter –
“like bright syllables”
a transcendentalist poet might say.
Her eye would read that poem.
She’d hear harmonies of rock and water,
feel the soft touch of sun,
the warm taste of spring,
and think of what it meant.
Yet, air is full
of a blue confidence in itself.
The world is full of fullness.
Nothing to transcend here.

by Nils Peterson

from All the Marvelous Stuff

Do We Share DNA with ET?

Daniel Oberhaus in Nautilus:

The primary difficulty of interstellar communication is finding common ground between ourselves and other intelligent entities about which we can know nothing with absolute certainty. This common ground would be the basis for a universal language that could be understood by any intelligence, whether in the Milky Way, Andromeda, or beyond the cosmic horizon. To the best of our knowledge, the laws of physics are the same throughout the universe, which suggests that the facts of science may serve as a basis for mutual understanding between humans and an extraterrestrial intelligence. One key set of scientific facts presents an intriguing question. If aliens were to visit Earth and learn about its inhabitants, would they be surprised that such a wide variety of species all share a common genetic code? Or would this be all too familiar? There is probable cause to assume that the structure of genetic material is the same throughout the universe and that, while this is liable to give rise to life forms not found on Earth, the variety of species is fundamentally limited by the constraints built into the genetic mechanism.

On Earth we have only sequenced the genomes of a small percentage of living organisms and have only recently completed the human genome. We have successfully cloned several animals, but technical and ethical roadblocks prevent scientists from doing the same with humans. If an extraterrestrial civilization isn’t burdened with ethical dilemmas about cloning, however, sending the genetic code for humans and other species may be the most effective way to teach them about our biology.

More here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Philosopher King: Tommie Shelby on MLK

Julian Lucas and Tommie Shelby at The Point:

Julian Lucas: Your introductory essay suggests that when it comes to King, contemporary thought is held “captive by a picture.” Do you think that there can be a coexistence between King the political icon and King the serious philosophical thinker?

Tommie Shelby: Well, I suppose there’s not a lot we can do about his iconic status. But it’s possible to show a world-historical figure like him due respect without treating him like an infallible oracle. In philosophy as a field, we revere a small canon of figures. We also disagree with them, point out their limits, and take them down new avenues which might be more productive. One way of re-engaging King is to read him in the way we would thinkers like Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, John Dewey—as interested in fundamental moral principles, what aspects of society deserve our allegiance and which do not.

He’s also engaged in a public discussion. No great thinker is just sitting in their study coming up with everything on their own. Everybody builds on what came before, and King is no different.

More here.

Sean Carroll’s Mindscape Podcast: Jenann Ismael on Connecting Physics to the World of Experience

Sean Carroll in Preposterous Universe:

Physics is simple; people are complicated. But even people are ultimately physical systems, made of particles and forces that follow the rules of the Core Theory. How do we bridge the gap from one kind of description to another, explaining how someone we know and care about can also be “just” a set of quantum fields obeying impersonal laws? This is a hard question that comes up in a variety of forms — What is the “self”? Do we have free will, the ability to make choices? What are the moral and ethical ramifications of these considerations? Jenann Ismael is a philosopher at the leading edge of connecting human life to the fundamental laws of nature, for example in her recent book How Physics Makes Us Free. We talk about free will, consciousness, values, and other topics about which I’m sure everyone will simply agree.

More here.

Joseph Stiglitz: Trump’s economy is an absolute disaster

Joseph Stiglitz at AlterNet:

As the world’s business elites trek to Davos for their annual gathering, people should be asking a simple question: Have they overcome their infatuation with US President Donald Trump?

Two years ago, a few rare corporate leaders were concerned about climate change, or upset at Trump’s misogyny and bigotry. Most, however, were celebrating the president’s tax cuts for billionaires and corporations and looking forward to his efforts to deregulate the economy. That would allow businesses to pollute the air more, get more Americans hooked on opioids, entice more children to eat their diabetes-inducing foods, and engage in the sort of financial shenanigans that brought on the 2008 crisis.

Today, many corporate bosses are still talking about the continued GDP growth and record stock prices. But neither GDP nor the Dow is a good measure of economic performance. Neither tells us what’s happening to ordinary citizens’ living standards or anything about sustainability. In fact, US economic performance over the past four years is Exhibit A in the indictment against relying on these indicators.

More here.

Is Professor Bhaer Jewish, and Other Mysteries

Sadie Stein at The Paris Review:

Last week, my parents saw Little Women. My mother immediately phoned me. “I think Professor Bhaer is Jewish,” she said, her voice vibrating with barely suppressed excitement. I said I didn’t think the facts supported this theory. But several days later, I got an email from her with the subject line “FYI!!!” When I clicked on the link, I saw it was Forward piece by Eve LaPlante headed, “Discovering Louisa May Alcott’s Jewish History on Portuguese Tour.”

I knew her game: my mom regarded this as proof that Alcott, apparently proud of her Sephardic ancestry—which, I read, the family credited with some of its dark coloring—had, indeed, written in a sympathetic Jewish foil for Jo. I couldn’t help but suspect that my mother was projecting; just because she had married a Jewish guy didn’t necessarily mean her favorite childhood literary figure had. “I just don’t see the evidence,” I wrote back, not without regret. “Bhaer is pretty Christian in the later books. He’s probably a 48er. And fwiw, the actor Louis Garrel isn’t Jewish, I don’t think.”

more here.

March 1917: ‘The Red Wheel, Node III, Book 2’ by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Gary Saul Morson at The American Scholar:

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s multivolume historical novel about the Russian Revolution, The Red Wheel, is divided into four “nodes,” each a lengthy account of a short span of time. March 1917, the third node, is in turn divided into four volumes, the second of which is the book under review, translated into English for the first time. Combining nonfictional historical argument with novelistic accounts of the principal historical actors and a few fictional characters, March 1917 covers a mere three days of unrest and revolution, March 13–15, 1917, at the end of which Tsar Nicholas II abdicates, ending the Romanov dynasty in Russia. Marian Schwartz’s splendid translation captures the prose’s powerful pace and conveys, as few translators could, the author’s subtle use of tone.

Heavily indebted to Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008) borrows a central insight of his great predecessor: war is far more chaotic, random, and contingent than its representation in historical narratives. Tolstoy described battle as no one had ever done before, showing soldiers moving blindly in fog with no idea what is going on and generals, unable to keep up with ever-changing situations, issuing orders that are impossible to execute.

more here.

Bombay Bicycle Club

Ellen Peirson-Haggar at The New Statesman:

The last time we heard from Bombay Bicycle Club, they’d gone out on a high. 2014’s So Long, See You Tomorrow, their fourth album, was their first to reach number one. Their final show before they announced a hiatus in January 2016 was also the last ever gig at London’s 19,000-capacity Earl’s Court – a historic, confetti-fuelled moment before the bulldozers came in to flatten 40 years of rock history.

The thrill of being a teenage Bombay fan lay in their unwillingness to sit still within any one genre. With each new album, their sound evolved, from the dancefloor indie of 2008’s I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose, through the pared-back folk of Flaws, to the eclectic pop-ready A Different Kind of Fix and the international eclecticism of So Long, See You Tomorrow, which featured Bollywood samples and enthusiastic percussion.

more here.

Back to the Land

George Scialabba in The Baffler:

AN ANTIMODERNIST is someone who stands in the path of progress and yells “Stop!” Of course different antimodernists want to stop different things. The first antimodernists, the Luddites of early nineteenth-century England, wanted to stop power looms from replacing (and thereby starving) weavers, to the considerable profit of textile industrialists. John Ruskin and William Morris in late nineteenth-century England wanted to stop the comely landscapes and buildings of the English countryside from being razed to make way for cheap and ugly but profitable new construction, both commercial and residential. William F. Buckley Jr., who coined the phrase about standing “athwart history, yelling Stop,” wanted to stop democracy, racial and sexual equality, and pretty much everything else humane and good, but above all, progressive taxation. (He was rich.) Ivan Illich wanted to stop expertise, which he thought had trapped modern men and women in universal dependence. Christopher Lasch wanted to stop mass society, which he showed, with a wide-ranging critique spanning history, sociology, and psychoanalysis, produces people who are less able to resist authority than those who grow up in a human-scale, largely face-to-face society.

Wendell Berry is probably the best-known and most influential antimodernist alive today, at least in the English-speaking world. Besides being a prolific essayist, novelist, story writer, and poet, Berry is a farmer in the Kentucky River Valley, an experience that has provided him with his material, his message, and his pulpit. He did not come to farming in midlife, as a novelty or a pastoral retreat. He grew up where he now farms, and his family has been farming in the area for many generations.

More here.

Our best weapons against cancer are not magic bullets

Vinay Prasad in Nature:

Earlier this month, the American Cancer Society announced its latest figures on cancer incidence and mortality1. These included the largest drop ever observed in national cancer statistics, which several media outlets seized on. Cancer death rates in the United States peaked in 1990, and in 2008–17 fell by about 1.5% per year. Between 2016 and 2017, the drop was slightly larger: 2.2%. This is undeniably good news.

But our optimism must be tempered by other measures of population health — particularly declining life expectancy.

The reason behind the large drop is a decrease in mortality for lung cancer — without lung cancer, the rate is still about 1.5%. Several reactions to the Cancer Society’s news heralded advances in precision treatments. Yet much of the continued reduction in mortality is due to the lower incidence of lung cancer, or a reduction in new cases per year. And new drugs cannot cause that. The two major therapeutic advances for treating this cancer — genome-targeted therapies and immunotherapy — are currently approved for the worst-off individuals: those with advanced or metastatic disease. Exciting technologies that uncover genetic drivers of cancer and unleash the immune system against it make headlines, but I think we must be careful not to give customized treatments too much credit, and I have been outspoken about my work to pin down the impact of these therapies. We would do better to focus on public-health strategies that are less glamorous.

More here.

Tuesday Poem

Gravelly Run

I don’t know somehow it seems sufficient
to see and hear whatever coming and going is,
losing the self to the victory
..of stones and trees,
of bending sandpit lakes, crescent
round groves of dwarf pine:

for it is not so much to know the self
as to know it as it is known
..by galaxy and cedar cone,
as if birth had never found it
and death could never end it:

the swamp’s slow water comes
down Gravelly Run fanning the long
..stone-held algal
hair and narrowing roils between
the shoulders of the highway bridge:

holly grows on the banks in the woods there,
and the cedars’ gothic-clustered
..spires could make
green religion in winter bones:

so I look and reflect, but the air’s glass
jail seals each thing in its entity:

no use to make any philosophies here:
..I see no
god in the holly, hear no song from
the snowbroken weeds: Hegel is not the winter
yellow in the pines: the sunlight has never
heard of trees: surrendered self among
..unwelcoming forms: stranger,
hoist your burdens, get on down the road.

by A. R. Ammons
The Selected Poems, Expanded Edition
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Courting the Deplorables

by Ali Minai

For the last three years, I have struggled with a dilemma: As a reasonable, quite liberal person, what should I think of my 60 million fellow Americans who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, and the vast majority of whom continue to support him today? Normally, a personal dilemma is a private thing, not a topic for public airing, but I feel that this particular problem is one the vexes many others – perhaps even a majority of Americans, as more of us voted for Hillary Clinton and many did not vote at all. Since that bleak day in November 2016, an unspoken – and sometimes loudly spoken – question hangs in the air: What kind of “deplorable” person would vote for Donald Trump?

By now, it is clear to any reasonably sentient person that Donald Trump is a venal, corrupt, narcissistic individual with no shred of human decency or moral principle. From his first announcement where he called Mexicans rapists and criminals, to the Access Hollywood tape exposing his habit of groping women, the mocking of a disabled journalist, the xenophobic Muslim ban, calling white supremacists “very fine people”, the abduction and caging of innocent children, the destruction of environmental protections, the denial of the climate threat, the shredding of all ethical norms, the open defiance of laws, the appointment of racists and thugs to high office, the pardoning of war criminals, the decimation of government institutions and policies, the betrayal of allies, the subversion of American democracy, the celebration of despots, and blind obedience to Vladimir Putin – and much, much more – everything Trump has done has established him as a person of truly monumental vice. And yet, something like 40% of American voters still support him reliably, including many who have been grievously hurt by his policies and know that they have been hurt. Why? And how should those who cannot stand Trump relate to them? Read more »

The Fermi-Pasta-Ulam-Tsingou problem: A foray into the beautifully simple and the simply beautiful

by Ashutosh Jogalekar

In November 1918, a 17-year-student from Rome sat for the entrance examination of the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy’s most prestigious science institution. Students applying to the institute had to write an essay on a topic that the examiners picked. The topics were usually quite general, so the students had considerable leeway. Most students wrote about well-known subjects that they had already learnt about in high school. But this student was different. The title of the topic he had been given was “Characteristics of Sound”, and instead of stating basic facts about sound, he “set forth the partial differential equation of a vibrating rod and solved it using Fourier analysis, finding the eigenvalues and eigenfrequencies. The entire essay continued on this level which would have been creditable for a doctoral examination.” The man writing these words was the 17-year-old’s future student, friend and Nobel laureate, Emilio Segre. The student was Enrico Fermi. The examiner was so startled by the originality and sophistication of Fermi’s analysis that he broke precedent and invited the boy to meet him in his office, partly to make sure that the essay had not been plagiarized. After convincing himself that Enrico had done the work himself, the examiner congratulated him and predicted that he would become an important scientist.

Twenty five years later Fermi was indeed an important scientist, so important in fact that J. Robert Oppenheimer had created an entire division called F-Division under his name at Los Alamos, New Mexico to harness his unique talents for the Manhattan Project. By that time the Italian emigre was the world’s foremost nuclear physicist as well as perhaps the only universalist in physics – in the words of a recent admiring biographer, “the last man who knew everything”. He had led the creation of the world’s first nuclear reactor in a squash court at the University of Chicago in 1942 and had won a Nobel Prize in 1938 for his work on using neutrons to breed new elements, laying the foundations of the atomic age. Read more »