Scientists are seeing a glimmer of hope in the complicated future of coral reefs

Bethany Augliere in Nautilus:

Today, news of damaged or devastated coral reefs has become commonplace. Reefs face many threats, including bleaching, disease, overfishing, pollution and even invasive species. While the fates of the reefs may seem almost universally bleak, some scientists think the future of these vital marine ecosystems could be more complicated—and perhaps even hopeful. Ecologist Stuart Sandin, director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., studies how and why reefs change over time and how best to manage them in light of looming threats. To understand clearly what’s happening in the oceans, Sandin and his team travel to remote islands around the world, take thousands of images of local reefs, and then stitch them together into three-dimensional photomosaics. They’ve been using this method for seven years, and to their surprise, what they’ve found is not all doom-and-gloom. In fact, they have observed coral reefs rebounding and growing as soon as two years after massive bleaching events.

…For instance, one of the reefs the team is studying is off the Micronesian island of Kiritimati, also known as Christmas Island, in the Republic of Kiribati about 240 kilometers north of the equator. Kiritimati is the world’s largest coral atoll. During the 2015–2016 El Niño event, the area experienced sea-surface temperatures 1.5 to 3 degrees Celsius higher than normal for 10 months, according to data reported by climatologist Kim Cobb of Georgia Tech and colleagues in 2016. As of November 2015, 50 to 90 percent of Kiritimati’s corals were bleached, and 30 percent were dead. But when the 100IC team went to Kiritimati in 2018, they saw new corals growing. “We didn’t expect to go to some of these remote places that experienced utter death and destruction, and see [corals] come back,” Zgliczynski says. They also saw healthy coralline algae—algae that produce a hard skeleton—which help cement reefs and provide habitat for juvenile coral to grow. “The reef got hit hard and the corals do not look like they did five years ago, but we’re starting to see life come back,” he says.

More here.

Surrogacy is surging in the tech community

Alexandra Bass in 1843 Magazine:

One Saturday night a few months ago, a friend of mine who works in the tech industry announced the good news that she and her husband were expecting a baby. This September, they will engage in that quintessential parenting ritual: a mad dash to the hospital and the return home with their newborn. Their birth experience, however, will have a modern twist. My friend is not having the baby herself. Their new arrival will come courtesy of a female stranger whom they screened, paid and entrusted to incubate their embryo. Only after their surrogate goes into labour will they make their way to the hospital, flying from the Bay Area to southern California, where their surrogate lives and will deliver their child.

This was not their first choice. My friend, who is in her 40s, went through repeated rounds of egg extraction through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and quietly suffered miscarriages, until their clinic suggested they might consider surrogacy. At first I thought the story was a rarity. But not long after that a close friend from college, who also works in tech, told me that if she ever has a child, she also plans to use a surrogate. Then her male roommate chimed in to say that if he doesn’t get married by a certain age, he will find one too. And with that, I made a mental note, as any off-duty journalist does on a weekend. Three makes a trend.

As a native of the always avant-garde Bay Area, I am used to having frank conversations on topics that might be unmentionable elsewhere. But I admit that even I was surprised by how quickly surrogacy has come to be seen as a viable path to procreation. Surrogacy is not new. The first legal, compensated surrogacy arrangements began in America in the 1980s but remained stigmatised and uncommon. According to the Centre for Disease Control, in 2015 surrogacy accounted for only 3% of babies conceived in America through IVF.

More here.

June 8, 2019

Knowledge is crude

David Papineau in Aeon:

I’m against knowledge. Don’t get me wrong: I’m as keen on the facts as the next person. I’m no friend of fake news. I want truth rather than falsity. It is specifically knowledge I’m against, not true belief. Knowledge asks more of us than true belief, and it isn’t worth it. In reality, the concept of knowledge is a hangover from a stone-age way of thinking that has long outlived its usefulness. We’d be far better off without it.

Philosophers are fond of showing how knowledge goes beyond mere true belief. To see the difference, imagine that you are convinced, on no very good grounds, that a horse called Meadowlark will win the 3:40 race at Ascot tomorrow. And then suppose it does in fact romp home. We wouldn’t say you had knowledge it would win, just because your belief turned out to be true.

What more than true belief is required for knowledge? A natural thought is that your belief needs to be backed by good reasons. It can’t just be a guess that happens to turn out right. But this doesn’t seem enough either. Imagine a friend buys you a lottery ticket as a gift. You don’t think much of the present, because you’re convinced that it won’t win, for the very good reason that it’s one in a million. And in due course it indeed turns out not to be the winner. Even so, we still wouldn’t say that you had knowledge that the ticket was worthless. Your belief might have been eminently reasonable, as well as true, but it still seems too happenstantial to qualify as knowledge.

More here.

The radical afterlives of Frantz Fanon

Bhakti Shringarpure in Africa is Not a Country:

When Frantz Fanon was in late stages of leukemia at age 36, he was flown to a hospital in Bethesda, Maryland in the United States, for surgery. His five-year-old son, Olivier, walked in on an ongoing blood transfusion and, seeing the bags of blood, feared that his father had been cut into pieces. Little Olivier was later found waving an Algerian flag on the street since the brutal and ongoing Franco-Algerian war in which both his parents were deeply engaged was his only understanding of violence and blood in the world.

I was reminded of this heartbreaking story, included in David Macey’s Fanon biography, during the screening of Hassane Mezine’s film Fanon: HierAujourd’hui  (Fanon: Yesterday, Today), which features Olivier Fanon, now an adult, reading excerpts from his father’s work. Interviews with him add a particularly melancholic note to the beautifully composed summary of Fanon’s life comprising the “yesterday” portion of the film’s first half. “I was molded into the pro-independence scene of the Algerian war,” Olivier explains as he recounts living underground because of the constant threat to his father’s life.

Mezine encases Fanon’s story—a life lived defiantly for a short, energetic and prolific burst of time—between his beginnings as an 18-year old World War II soldier fighting against Nazism to his “ultimate fight against colonialism.” Here, the focus is on Fanon’s Algeria years, starting with his posting to Blida, where he was appointed chief doctor at the psychiatric hospital. Coming on the heels of the recently published Alienation and Freedom: Frantz Fanon, which has recuperated and translated almost two-thirds of Fanon’s work on psychiatry, the film also attempts to place Fanon’s psychiatric work at the center of his anti-colonial thought. It was in Blida where he was able to try out new, progressive methods in a place and moment where colonial, racist treatment of North African patients had become the norm.

More here.

Social Democracy at Death’s Door

 (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Loren Balhorn in Jacobin:

The Social Democratic Party (SPD) went into last week’s European elections with some bold, albeit vague campaign slogans: “Come together and make Europe strong” was one. “Europe is the answer” was another. Given the party’s humiliating performance, taking in a new historic low of just over 15 percent, one has to wonder whether they were asking the right questions.

The Social Democrats lean hard on “more Europe” as the solution to Germany’s problems, and are far more likely to praise French president Emmanuel Macron than defend the leader of their British sister party, Jeremy Corbyn. They banked on selling themselves as a stable, mildly progressive bulwark against creeping right-wing populism but seem to have lost this role to the Greens, who broke 20 percent in a nationwide election for the first time. The looks on the faces of party chairwoman Andrea Nahles and “wholeheartedly European” top candidate Katarina Barley Sunday night were ones of defeat, out of luck and bereft of ideas for what to do next.

Catastrophic as the election may have been, it was anything but unexpected. The Social Democrats have been lumbering from one defeat to the next for nearly two decades, their toxic brand of what Oliver Nachtwey calls “politics without politics” costing them hundreds of thousands of members and millions of voters. The European elections were merely the latest confirmation of a seemingly unstoppable downward spiral for what was once the proudest, strongest socialist party on earth.

More here.

Europe’s democracies are in trouble. To understand why, look to the past

Henry Farrell interviews Sheri Berman over at the Washington Post:

H.F. — Why is it difficult to construct well-functioning liberal democracy?

S.B. — Another theme of “Democracy and Dictatorship” is that liberal democracy is so rare and difficult because it requires not only transforming political institutions, but also overcoming the anti-democratic and illiberal economic and social legacies of the old order. And this often requires violence, even war, to achieve.

This was true, for example, of the modern era’s first political revolution — the French — which did away with the political and legal infrastructure of the ancien régime in France. “Democracy and Dictatorship” then analyzes how the First World War permanently eliminated the old order’s political infrastructure — monarchical dictatorships and continental empires — from the rest of Europe, but it took fascism, national socialism and the Second World War to eradicate most of its remaining social and economic legacies.

This was particularly clear and particularly consequential in Germany. The Nazi regime finally pushed aside conservative Junker elites and established civilian control over the military. The regime also broke down the rigid status hierarchies that had long defined German society. The war’s aftermath then forced ethnic Germans from their traditional homelands in Eastern and Central Europe, eliminating a long-standing cause of conflict from the region, and making borders and peoples coincide across it more than they ever had before. Germany and Austria, in particular, became the home of essentially all of Europe’s Germans after 1945, finally fulfilling the goal proclaimed by German nationalists in 1848.

More here.

Give Up on Work-Life Balance

Woman working away on business in hotel room, computer on dressing table, biting toast as she gets ready for work

Olga Khazan in The Atlantic:

I’ve timed calls from PR people to coincide with my commute home, since that’s the only “free” time I had to talk. On a recent cross-country trip to see my parents, I spent a day doing my work expenses. Constant pressure in my profession has made me go to great lengths to minimize how much labor I perform outside of work. I once made my boyfriend pay me for the hours I spent booking flights and hotels for our vacation.

The reasons behind this “madness,” as Schulte put it, are familiar, and they’re not specific to journalism. American workers—especially those in white-collar professions—are working longer hours. Women are often the default chore-doers and child-tenders, even in relationships that strive for egalitarianism. The solution from career gurus has historically been to try to squeeze both work and life into the overpacked Tupperware that is your day. Check emails during the kids’ swim meet, they say, or pick up a hobby to “take your mind off work”—and take up even more time you don’t have.

Busy workers have been trying and failing at these types of hacks for decades. This fruitless cycle suggests that work-life balance is not independently achievable for most overworked people, if not outright impossible.

More here.

A Biography of George Orwell’s 1984

Alwyn W. Turner at Literary Review:

What a difference a decade makes. In 1940 George Orwell published his eighth book, the essay collection Inside the Whale, but when the Nazis in the same year drew up a list of Britons to be arrested after the planned invasion, his name wasn’t included. It was, observes Dorian Lynskey in his superb new book, ‘a kind of snub’. By the time Orwell died in January 1950, however, he was being acclaimed around the Western world as one of the great defenders of democracy and liberty, and had just been adjudged, for the first time, worthy of an entry in Who’s Who.

Much of the acclaim then was in recognition of his novel Animal Farm, but in the years since, Orwell’s popularity has increasingly rested on his final work, Nineteen Eighty-Four, published the summer before he died. It was an instant hit, selling a quarter of a million copies in its first six months, and it’s never gone away. Current estimates say worldwide sales exceed thirty million, and it has returned periodically to the top of the bestseller lists here and in America, most recently following the election of Donald Trump.

more here.

Stalingrad by Vasily Grossman

Marcel Theroux at The Guardian:

Although it was first published in English in 1985, it’s only in the last 10 years or so that Vasily Grossman’s novel Life and Fate has been widely acclaimed as a masterpiece. The publication of Robert Chandler’s revised translation in 2006 was a tipping point for the book’s reputation in the UK. It began to receive huge praise – “World War II’s War and Peace”, “equal to anything in the great canon of Russian literature”, “it took me three weeks to read and three weeks to recover from the experience” (Niall Ferguson, Gillian Slovo and Linda Grant, respectively). In 2011, an eight-hour BBC adaptation was broadcast on Radio 4. This won a new audience for the book, though the actual number of people who made it through the 850-page volume is another question.

I confess I resisted Life and Fate for a long time. I’m suspicious of gigantic novels and mindful of the critical tendency to overpraise them. I also recall with mixed feelings many hours spent wading through Virgin Soil Upturnedby Mikhail Sholokhov, a Russian Emmerdale, and Children of the Arbat, Anatoly Rybakov’s epic tetralogy about life under the Stalinist terror.

more here.

Climate Change’s Lost Ground

Tim Flannery at The New Statesman:

Forty years ago, Nathaniel Rich tells us in Losing Earth, global warming was better understood by the general public and US politicians than at any time since. Moreover, the opportunity to broker a global treaty to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases had presented itself, and the political will existed for the US to lead on the issue. Had action been taken, we could have stopped climate change in its tracks, much as we halted ozone depletion with the 1989 Montreal Protocol to phase out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

The history of what went wrong is a sorry tale, and Rich chooses to tell it through the eyes of two of the most enduring climate campaigners, Rafe Pomerance and James Hansen. Pomerance’s engagement with climate change began in 1979. He was working in the Washington office of Friends of the Earth when he read a technical report on coal that mentioned that in a few decades coal-burning might bring about “significant and damaging” changes to the atmosphere.

more here.

Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Debate About the Best Way to Get Donald Trump Out of Office

Amy Sorkin in The New Yorker:

As Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi roamed Normandy on Thursday (she had brought along a contingent of dozens of members of Congress for the official commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of D Day, including veterans from both sides of the aisle), her party was debating what it meant to want someone behind bars. Was it too tough, or not tough enough? Politico had reported that, in a meeting of “top Democrats,” on Tuesday night, Representative Jerrold Nadler, of New York, had argued in favor of having the Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, begin proceedings for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. Politico cited “multiple Democratic sources familiar with the meeting” who said that Pelosi demurred, telling Nadler, “I don’t want to see him impeached. I want to see him in prison.”

How did “lock him up” become a motto for forbearance and patience? The logic here is that it is constitutionally complicated to indict a sitting President. Indeed, Robert Mueller, the special counsel whose investigation of Russian meddling in the election and related matters is now closed, believed that Justice Department guidance precluded him from making such a move. (If he had done so, the crime would almost certainly have concerned obstruction of justice, rather than collusion.) The calculation would be different, obviously, if Trump were not President. And, as it happens, there is an election next year, which could lead, fairly quickly, to his exit from the White House. In other words, the way to hold him to account criminally is to first hold him to account electorally.

But, others in the Democratic Party say, impeachment is also a way to remove a President from office. That is, indeed, the means to do so that the Constitution gives to Congress. The Democrats view Pelosi as overly cautious. Trump, being a bully, has begun insulting Pelosi in terms that he apparently thinks will get those close to her to turn against her.

More here.

Saturday Poem

This is not a small voice

This is not a small voice
you hear               this is a large
voice coming out of these cities.
This is the voice of LaTanya.
Kadesha. Shaniqua. This
is the voice of Antoine.
Darryl. Shaquille.
Running over waters
navigating the hallways
of our schools spilling out
on the corners of our cities and
no epitaphs spill out of their river mouths.

This is not a small love
you hear               this is a large
love, a passion for kissing learning
on its face.
This is a love that crowns the feet with hands
that nourishes, conceives, feels the water sails
mends the children,
folds them inside our history where they
toast more than the flesh
where they suck the bones of the alphabet
and spit out closed vowels.
This is a love colored with iron and lace.
This is a love initialed Black Genius.

This is not a small voice
you hear.

by Sonia Sanchez
from
Wounded in the House of a Friend
Beacon Press, 1995

The Unseen Worlds Beneath Us: Places of Beauty, Danger and Wisdom

Terry Tempest Williams in The New York Times:

You know a book has entered your bloodstream when the ground beneath your feet, once viewed as bedrock, suddenly becomes a roof to unknown worlds below. The British writer Robert Macfarlane has written such a book. “Underland: A Deep Time Journey” is an epic exploration and examination of darkness and the caverns underground that have captured our imaginations, pulled us downward, housed our dead and allowed us to bury our most violent secrets. It is also a descent into the beauty where dark wisdom is located. Macfarlane divides his explorations into three sections, or “chambers,” devoted to “Seeing,” “Hiding” and “Haunting.” As he moves through them, he will take us to ancient barrows in Britain’s Mendip Hills, the understory of the Epping Forest and a physics lab investigating “dark matter” from deep within a coastal Yorkshire mine. He will guide us through underground rivers in Italy and show us the pictographs known as “the red dancers” found in Norwegian sea caves.

Macfarlane homes in on “something seemingly paradoxical: that darkness might be a medium of vision, and that descent may be a movement toward revelation rather than deprivation.” Night vision becomes an essential strategy for survival in the Anthropocene, the new epoch we find ourselves in, which registers the human press on the planet as a geologic force. “For more than 15 years now,” Macfarlane explains, “I have been writing about the relationships between landscape and the human heart. What began as a wish to solve a personal mystery — why I was so drawn to mountains as a young man that I was, at times, ready to die for love of them — has unfolded into a project of deep-mapping.”

More here.

June 7, 2019

The Canterbury Tales: A Reading List by Marion Turner

Stephanie Kelley in Five Books:

Today we’re going to discuss the Canterbury Tales. You’ve just written a biography of Geoffrey Chaucer. What would someone learn from your biography about Chaucer that they might not have known before?

Marion Turner: People who know a bit about Chaucer tend to think of him as the father of English literature—there’s a famous picture of him as an old patriarch, pointing with a rosary—or they think of him as a genial, middle-aged man telling slightly risqué stories in a pub. That’s the popular image of Chaucer. But really, that image came about after his death. In his lifetime, no one thought of him in that way. He wasn’t staid; he wasn’t patriarchal. He had an extraordinary life. That life involved, for instance, being a prisoner of war in France; it involved traveling multiple times to Italy; it involved going to Spain. He was multilingual, and he lived in all kinds of different environments. Chaucer was a great internationalist and a cosmopolitan poet.

More here.

The Secret of Our Success

Scott Alexander in Slate Star Codex:

“Culture is the secret of humanity’s success” sounds like the most vapid possible thesis. The Secret Of Our Success by anthropologist Joseph Henrich manages to be an amazing book anyway.

Henrich wants to debunk (or at least clarify) a popular view where humans succeeded because of our raw intelligence. In this view, we are smart enough to invent neat tools that help us survive and adapt to unfamiliar environments.

Against such theories: we cannot actually do this. Henrich walks the reader through many stories about European explorers marooned in unfamiliar environments. These explorers usually starved to death. They starved to death in the middle of endless plenty. Some of them were in Arctic lands that the Inuit considered among their richest hunting grounds. Others were in jungles, surrounded by edible plants and animals. One particularly unfortunate group was in Alabama, and would have perished entirely if they hadn’t been captured and enslaved by local Indians first.

These explorers had many advantages over our hominid ancestors. For one thing, their exploration parties were made up entirely of strong young men in their prime, with no need to support women, children, or the elderly. They were often selected for their education and intelligence.

More here.

This Picture Tells a Tragic Story of What Happened to Women After D-Day

Ann Mah in Time:

They called it the épuration sauvage, the wild purge, because it was spontaneous and unofficial. But, yes, it was savage, too. In the weeks and months following the D-Day landings of June 6, 1944, Allied troops and the resistance swept across France liberating towns and villages, and unleashing a flood of collective euphoria, relief and hope. And then the punishments began.

The victims were among the most vulnerable members of the community: Women. Accused of “horizontal collaboration” — sleeping with the enemy — they were targeted by vigilantes and publicly humiliated. Their heads were shaved, they were stripped half-naked, smeared with tar, paraded through towns and taunted, stoned, kicked, beaten, spat upon and sometimes even killed.

One photograph from the era shows a woman standing in a village as two men forcibly restrain her wrists; a third man grabs a hank of her blonde hair, his scissors poised to hack it away. Just as the punished were almost always women, their punishers were usually men, who acted with no legal mandate or court-given authority.

More here.  [Thanks to Ram Manikkalingam.]

A Few Unanswerable Questions Regarding Moses Mendelssohn

Gurmeet Singh at 3:AM Magazine:

Mendelssohn’s Wiki page says his grave has been reconstructed. Not surprising: grand historical narratives are everywhere legible in Berlin’s built environment. The Jewish cemetery where he’s buried became part of East Berlin after the war, falling into even further disrepair after the Nazi years. His grave, as well as many others, was only reconstructed in the 2000s.

Born in 1729 in Dessau, then in the Principality of Anhalt, Mendelssohn moved to Berlin in his teens. His entry into the city marked his entry into history: in the 19th century, it was common knowledge that the philosophical genius Moses Mendelssohn had entered Berlin via the Rosenthal Gate—a gate reserved for cattle and Jews.

After his death in 1786, not only was his work considered vital by cultured Europeans, his life seemed a perfect demonstration of the educative power of the Enlightenment, and a living example of a successfully-achieved bildung. So why is he not more widely known today?

more here.