Tuesday, January 24, 2017
In his quiet film "In the Last Days of the City", Tamer El Said brilliantly captures a struggle I’ve had for years: how to pin down what it is about Cairo that leaves us feeling as if we exist in a no man’s land.
Yasmine El Rashidi in the New York Review of Books:
Last winter and spring, I was away from my native Cairo for the longest stretch in my life—nearly five months—and with each piece of news about home from friends and family, or even via Twitter, my feelings were conflicted. Little of what was reaching me was good. A journalist friend arrested on a trumped up charge. Someone else I knew barred from leaving the country. Another’s assets frozen. A young activist, feeling defeated, turning herself in, no longer able to fight a venal system intent on manufacturing charges to keep her behind bars. A TV show, a publishing house, shut down. With each passing week, the number of arrests, crackdowns, censorship cases, seemed only to increase. My impulse was at once return home, to be present, to witness and write and support those I knew as best I can, but at the same time, I knew it would be futile.
Then one morning last April, I woke to an email with the subject line, “Townhouse Fell Today.” The somewhat dilapidated nineteenth-century building in downtown Cairo that housed the country’s leading art gallery and cultural foundation had partially collapsed, after cracks had emerged in its walls. I had spent years in it writing and passing time with friends (it was there that a gathering of us watched the results of the 2012 presidential election that Morsi won come in). The building’s collapse seemed to capture the general state of things. A state security entity immediately ordered its complete demolition. A group of us who had been associated with the gallery attempted, by way of emails and phone calls to contacts with sway, to fight to keep the remainder of the building standing. The governor’s office and a local heritage entity seemed persuaded, issuing an order to immediately assess the condition of the building, and consider listing it as a part of the “heritage” of the city to be restored and conserved. But what was deduced to be an arm of the state’s security apparatus, seemingly adamant on erasing this cultural space, which they had earlier raided and shut down for a month (on charges of “administrative irregularities”), sent in a make-shift demolition team the next day at the crack of dawn. They hammered at walls and through floors, tearing down windows, balconies, breaking tiles, pulling wiring out of walls, edging the building to precariousness. This back and forth of intent ensued for days. I set up a Kayak price alert for flights to Cairo, and searched almost compulsively for tickets home.
Paul Ratner in Big Think:
Jobs were a big topic in the 2016 Presidential election in the United States and continues to be a hot-button issue. The loss of manufacturing jobs in the Rust Belt states was largely responsible for propelling Donald Trump to a surprise win. As President-elect, Trump has continued to push the jobs message, making deals like his recent involvement in the fate of Indiana’s Carrier plant to show that he will bring jobs back to regions with great job loss. Yet, regardless of such efforts, many futurists are predicting that a large amount of our jobs will be replaced by automation and robots within a very foreseeable future. Professor Moshe Vardi projected recently that more than half of the workers in the world will be replaced by robots in just 30 years from now. This is in line with a 2013 Oxford University study that put the future number of robot-replaced jobs in America at 47%.
What to do about this looming threat? One obvious solution would be re-educating the labor force, finding a way for it to work with the automation and artificial intelligence that will become ubiquitous. Still there is a strong likelihood that the inequality of wealth distribution will continue to grow around the world, and large parts of the labor force will be simply unable to find meaningful employment.
Elon Musk waded into this discussion recently by suggesting that a different economic system would have to be in place.
"There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation," Musk told CNBC in an interview. "Yeah, I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen."
The idea of universal basic income (UBI) is that the government would provide citizens with a minimum amount of money to live on. Proposals for UBI are being considered in Switzerland, Finland and the Netherlands, while Canada is instituting a pilot program in 2017 to provide supplemental income to keep people above poverty level in the province of Ontario.
Patrick Phillips in the New York Times:
One Sunday in 1984, my father did something unexpected, at least for a white man in Georgia. He drove us past the little rural church we usually attended and kept going 40 miles south, all the way to Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist — home parish of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and an epicenter of the American civil rights movement.
Reading Michael Eric Dyson’s “Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America,” I was often reminded of that morning, when I was first exposed to the righteous anger, wry humor and unflinching honesty of a black pastor, determined to guide and teach his flock. While Dyson is best known as a writer and sociologist, he is also an ordained Baptist minister, and his new book draws both its impassioned style and its moral urgency from his years in the pulpit.
At a time when one video after another has forced us to acknowledge that unarmed African-Americans are regularly killed by the police, Dyson desperately wants his readers to confront the sources of that violence in our nation’s longstanding culture of white supremacy. But he also knows how many political arguments and sociological studies have fallen on deaf ears. And so rather than a treatise, “Tears We Cannot Stop” is a fiery sermon, and an unabashedly emotional, personal appeal. “What I need to say” to white America, Dyson writes, can only be said in “a plea, a cry, a sermon, from my heart to yours.”
Ashutosh Jogalekar in The Curious Wavefunction:
David Hilbert (born today in 1862) was one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century. He made incisive contributions to a remarkable range of mathematical fields, published a best selling textbook on mathematical methods in physics, laid out a famous list of twenty-three unsolved problems which still challenge the field's practitioners and was a kind of philosophical godfather to at least two generations of mathematicians. Under his influence German mathematics reached its zenith before it was scattered apart by the rise of totalitarianism.
Perhaps less known is Hilbert's friendly and sometimes not-so-friendly rivalry with Einstein. Einstein's two most serious mathematical competitors were Hilbert and Henri Poincare. Poincare came close to discovering special relativity. Hilbert came close to discovering the equations of general relativity. Unlike Einstein, both were men of prodigious mathematical talent. Einstein's own mathematical shortcomings are well known; he had to learn most of the mathematics he needed for cracking open general relativity from friends and colleagues, most notably Marcel Grossmann.
In 1915 Hilbert came very close to publishing the equations of general relativity before Einstein did. Einstein had given a lecture in Berlin on his tentative attempts at formulating the equations. Hilbert was in the audience and doubled his efforts to find the right formulas. In the end Einstein ended up finding the correct form of the equations just a few days before Hilbert. It's quite likely that Hilbert would have gotten there first had Einstein gotten stalled for some reason.
David Chalmers at Edge:
I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of technology on philosophy, and how technology can illuminate or sometimes even transform philosophical questions. These are exciting times right now in technology, with massive advances the last few years in artificial intelligence and virtual reality that’s got them in use on a wider scale than ever. Both of these technologies raise very deep philosophical issues. What’s artificial intelligence? That’s an artificial mind. What’s virtual reality? That’s an artificial world. This is great for a philosopher because philosophy, as I see it, is all about thinking about the nature of the mind, the nature of the world, and the connection between them. Thinking about artificial minds and artificial worlds can shed a lot of light on the mind and the world more generally.
I’ve thought a lot about the mind and consciousness, and when you’re doing that it becomes very natural to think about artificial intelligence. Could a computer have a mind? Could it be conscious? What kind of mind would it have? I’ve also thought a lot about technology augmenting the mind—like smartphones as extensions of the mind. Thinking about those questions about technology has helped philosophers get clearer on traditional questions about just what it is to have a mind.
Lately, I’ve been getting especially interested in questions about the world and about artificial worlds. It turns out that thinking about artificial worlds can help to think about many of the central questions in philosophy—the nature of reality, our knowledge of the external world, the existence of god, the mind-body problem, even the meaningfulness of life.
Video length: 9:10
Double-entendre: Class takes satirical aim at Brooklyn grade-school parents and their liberal values
Sarah Lyall in National Post:
If anyone is insane in Class, Lucinda Rosenfeld’s stiletto-sharp new novel about the quandaries and neuroses that consume the lives of a small swath of privileged white public-school parents in Brooklyn, it’s Karen. At 45, she works for a nonprofit organization that provides food to poor children, and she is about as self-conscious, self-involved and self-questioning a person as you’re likely to meet. It’s the rare encounter or decision that doesn’t fling her into a whirlpool of semantic, emotional and sociological analysis and second-guessing about whether she (as well as everybody else) is conveying the correct impression and living the correct way. Here she is described, for instance, after trying and failing to imbue her daughter with the requisite degree of empathy for an African-American classmate, Empriss, who lives in a homeless shelter.
“What was Karen doing wrong?” Rosenfeld writes. “She feared the only thing she’d accomplished by sending her child to a mixed-income school was to make Ruby feel venomous toward at-risk children. Or was she expecting too much from an 8-year-old?” The novel is called Class, but it’s just as preoccupied with race, and Rosenfeld deserves a great deal of credit for taking on this minefield of a subject. Karen and her “chronically underemotive” husband, Matt, a low-income-housing advocate who is “currently earning zero dollars per week,” try to live according to their values. This effort entails, among other things, sending their daughter to a public school, Betts, where white students are in the minority. It’s an admirable ideal, but Karen has a hard time with the ensuing reality. She’s reflexively dismayed at various elements of the African-American experience that she witnesses among Ruby’s classmates – the “beaded braids, buzz cuts and neon backpacks”; the names, like Sa’Ryah, “with their apostrophes, dashes, purposeful misspellings and randomly added letters”; – and then reflexively worried that she’s at heart a racist. But Mather, the predominantly white public school a few blocks away – where Karen impulsively enrolls Ruby (with the help of some forged documents) after an unpleasant incident with a bully named Jayyden, and where the children have names like Harper and Hudson – is hardly better.
Natalie Angier in The New York Times:
Among clonal raider ants, there are no permanently designated workers and queens. Instead, all the ants in a colony switch back and forth from one role to the other. About half the time, they behave like workers, gathering food for their young — generally, by raiding the nests of other ants and stealing their larvae. The rest of the time, they go into queen mode and all colony members lay eggs together.
...Whereas normal raider ants will happily pile on top of one another whenever possible, the knockout ants avoided the crowd, instead wandering around on their own for days at a time, as though they were nothing more than the average asocial beetle. The results suggest that the diversification and specialization of olfactory receptors were keys to the evolution of ant sociality. The researchers are also exploring the biochemistry of caretaking, asking which signals prod ants to leave the nest and find food for their young. Preliminary results suggest that volatile pheromones exuded by newborn larvae stimulate the brains of adult ants to begin generating the hormone inotocin, the ant’s equivalent of oxytocin, which is famed for its role in promoting nurturing behavior among mammals. For raider ants, an inotocin surge galvanizes the urge to venture forth and start plundering, and ants with the greatest number of inotocin-making neurons, Dr. Kronauer said, “are the first ones out the door.” Some ants, by contrast, ignore the community cues altogether, and they pay dearly for their scoffery. Reporting in the journal Current Biology, Dr. Kronauer and his colleagues described the strictness with which a colony of clonal ants synchronized its schedule: Now everyone lays eggs, now the eggs hatch into larvae, now the adults shut down their ovaries and instead attend to the hungry young. On occasion, though, an ant’s ovaries remain animated when they should be suspended, and other ants can detect the illicit activity through telltale hydrocarbon signatures on the offender’s cuticle. Policing ants soon move in on the hyperovarian individual, drag it out of the nest, hold it down and pull it apart, an execution that can take hours or days. “These ants are like little tanks,” Dr. Kronauer said. Why is it important to kill off an ant that might breed off-season when that ant is your genetic twin? Dr. Kronauer compared the police ants to the body’s immune system, and the rebel ant to cancer. “An ant colony faces similar problems as a multicellular organism,” he said. “You can’t have components that don’t respond to regulatory cues and start to replicate out of control.” When the ant police come knocking, there’s no rock big enough to hide you.
Monday, January 23, 2017
by Genese Sodikoff
One does not normally think about infection, illness, and recovery in terms of a three-staged "rite of passage" as European ethnographer Arnold van Gennep defined it, although catching a disease certainly involves a period of physical transition and disruption of our sense of self.
Of course, a "rite of passage" conventionally refers to a ceremony that marks a change in status, such as a wedding or commencement, where one social identity is shed and another assumed. Van Gennep's three stages include the separation from peers, a liminal or in-between period, and reassimilation into society with a new status. But if we loosely apply this concept to other life experiences, such as illness, we begin to see a structure to the stories that make up our lives.
Say an individual goes from healthy person, to ill patient, and finally to some resolution. At this point the individual has either returned to the prior state of healthiness, dies, remains somehow marked by the period of suffering, or persists in a state of impaired health, neither here nor there. Certain diseases seem to occupy the liminal space, casting their victims into medical limbo as neither diagnosable nor well. Chronic Lyme disease is one of those. Since the source of prolonged suffering is contested by doctors, many sufferers must seek help at the edges of the medical mainstream.
To turn back to the "rite of passage" schema for a moment, anthropologist Victor Turner was intrigued by Van Gennep's demarcation of a liminal period, the "betwixt and between" stage. In the late 1960s, Turner elaborated the concept, finding it rife with both social ambiguity and possibility. For Turner, liminality evoked an unstructured space, an opposition to the dominant structure at the edges of the cultural mainstream. It is here where people experience "communitas," a spirit of camaraderie and equality. Liminality is counter-cultural, a state of flux in which the dominant structure is recast in the image of the oppositional force until that new image becomes the structure from which to pull away.
"All humans are genetically 99.9 per cent identical.”
—Roger Highfield, Science Editor
Great Wall, Tremendous Wall
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall one poet said
imagining friendly neighbors working their way
along that which stood between, resetting
fallen gneiss and granite loaves and balls
that had fallen to each to keep their wall intact
while one questioned the irony of friendly walls
and the other made a prima facie case
for an inherent friendliness in their practicality.
And so we’ve had walls and walls remain
not of stone but of blood and bone,
walls built of double helixes spiraling through time,
hydrogen-mortared pairs of adenine,
guanine, cytosine, thymine,
smaller than any past poet’s wall-builder might imagine,
but centuries stronger than Hadrian’s real
or Alexander’s mythic one which imprisoned
the Gogs and Magogs of alien tribes
behind stone or iron barriers to keep the builders safe
from differences that barely exist in the protein hieroglyphics
of the nature-made chemical bonds of a double helix
making us all Gogs and Magogs of each other
as we spiral through worlds hurting and killing
to uphold our imagination’s chronic beliefs
in quixotic walls and spurious distinctions
which heap between us grudges and griefs
by Carol A. Westbrook
You can't afford to have cancer without insurance. Medical bills from cancer run from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention the unreimbursed personal costs, such as loss of income, babysitting, caregiver's costs, and transportation.
Paying for this is a complex process. About 60% of peple with cancer will be 65 or older, and thus will be insured through Medicare. A few percent more will qualify for Social Security disability insurance. Some of the rest will have health insurance. The others face loss of savings, huge loans, and even bankruptcy.
But even with insurance or Medicare, many medical costs are not reimbursed--these include deductibles, co-pays for clinic visits, medical supplies, and outpatient medication. Cancer patients face especially high unreimbursed costs because their treatment may require frequent clinic visits or expensive chemotherapy pills with exorbitant co-pays.
Cancer patients and their doctors are concerned about the uncertainty of health care costs with the threatened repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare with the new presidential administration. What will be the impact on cancer care?
In reality, the impact may be smaller than you think. Obamacare has helped with cancer care in some ways, but has made it worse in others. The most significant positive impact is guaranteeing health insurance coverage even in the face of pre-existing conditions, including cancer. Another improvement is in the ability to obtain insurance, even if you never had any in the first place. But the uninsured are still liable for the medical bills they already owe before their insurance kicks in--and they have to wait for the open enrollment period (December to January) to sign up for it through the insurance exchanges.
Where Obamacare has really failed is in cost containment. Enactment of the ACA led to rapid and often exorbitant increases in insurance premiums, or even the loss of coverage for those whose policies did not meet ACA standards. Worse yet, medical costs have continued skyrocket; there are continued increases in deductibles, co-pays, medication, medical supplies, and hospital charges. Although Obamacare does not apply to Medicare, there were collateral effects on its recipients, who faced mounting costs for their medication, for their Medicare supplemental insurance, and higher deductibles. Obamacare did nothing to stop the increase in health costs, and may have made it worse.
Jiang Zhi. Love Letters (12), 2014.
Archival inkjet prints.
"In 2010, Jiang Zhi’s wife, whose name meant Orchid, died suddenly at the age of 37. His photo series Love Letters (2011–2014) was his way of mourning her: “She loved flowers,” he says. Selecting one or two flower stems—first orchids and later lilies, roses, peonies—he sprayed them with alcohol, set them alight, and, with his shutter clicking at 60 frames per second, captured the blossoms haloed in pale flames. The artist, who is also a poet, likens the flames to the butterfly in a fairy tale he once wrote. The butterfly fell in love with a flower, and when the flower died it wanted to die too, to “be with its beloved forever”. In Jiang Zhi’s pictures, the flowers are wreathed in flames but miraculously untouched by them. It is as if their beauty, like love itself, is immortal."
by Christopher Bacas
My first paid gig: volunteer fire hall, Saturday night. The leader picked me up at my house and drove to a small township outside the city. Barry was related to a woman who worked with my mother. In the orphanage where he spent some years, a teacher drilled hymns and choral music into his charges. Sam Cooke, in his Soul Stirrer days, visited the school and heard the boy sing. Sam embraced and encouraged him. That moment, Sam's music changed his life. He still played guitar and sang in a fetching tenor. With a day job now, weekend gigs were all he could manage. In the car, he talked to me like a musician, not a kid, explaining what we'd play (not surprisingly, I knew a few) and where I'd be contributing.
I was in tenth grade and a bit under a hundred pounds. So far, I'd played football games, Pancake Jamborees, and school assemblies. The high school fielded a juggernaut band of 250, drawing eager youth from three middle schools. A local wind band, filled with parents and teachers, performed park concerts all summer and included a jazz unit. At the fall agricultural fair, its stalwarts backed touring acts. Music as vocation wasn't in the air, though. Sulfurous paper plants, tar and asphalt makers, and a feed mill all smoked constantly. Guys started a second or third shift job the summer after graduation. Their father or uncle would vouch them in. If they did well, better hours and money, a car and house could follow. My trajectory was different. The day I came home with a tenor, my dad played "Soultrane" for me. On the LP jacket, a saxophonist with onyx skin and a gold mouthpiece; an African God pouring molten ore from his mouth. His playing, on "Russian Lullaby" (written by a real Russian), confirmed that mythic gift. Later, at a Woody Herman concert, Gregory Herbert, unimpressed I listened to Weather Report and Mahavishnu, pointed me back to Stitt, 50's Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Of course, my father had their records,too. Later on, I saw Herbert burn up the bandstand with Thad and Mel. A year later, he was dead at 30. I knew about Bird and Fats Navarro, of course. Punctures came soon for the rest of my innocence.
“THE PRESIDENT IS HUMAN. HE GETS SICK”
-- White House Press Secretary Responding to Reporters' Questions in The New York Times, January 9, 1992
A thousand tiny dots of light:
I diminish the noise.
Duped smirk on aging face,
eyes eclipsed by spectacles,
moving his lips slowly.
Watching me watching him
he holds my stare
Reading my thoughts,
George Herbert Walker Bush
By Rafiq Kathwari / rafiqkathwari.com / @brownpundit
by Elise Hempel
I remember my grandfather, sometime in the 1970s, sitting in his checkered wing-chair on the back porch of his Chicago house, his slippered feet propped as usual on the ottoman, complaining that there were too many Blacks appearing now on TV, as we all watched some sitcom or variety show after Sunday dinner. What was supposed to be progress he considered a setback.
He was a misogynist too, every once in a while, from behind his daily paper or The Wall Street Journal, telling my grandmother to "shut yer yap" if he felt she was talking too much, or talking about something he didn't want to hear. And once, I've recently learned, when my aunt was a teenager and my grandfather had ordered my grandmother to get the ketchup or mustard or whatever condiment it was he immediately needed, and my aunt spoke up from her place at the table and told him, on my grandmother's behalf, to get it himself, he hauled her to the bedroom and beat her with his belt. His beliefs about women being subordinate to men didn't end after my grandmother died and he was forced to spend his final days in a nursing home. After he died, at 85, with Parkinson's, there were reports from the home not only of his attempted escapes but also of his inappropriate touching of certain female residents. He was depressed and disoriented at the nursing home, but he didn't have dementia, and it's hard not to wonder about the possibility of some long prior history of sexual indiscretion.
by Brooks Riley
by Max Sirak
Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon write in their book, A General Theory of Love, "Because human beings remember with neurons, we are disposed to see more of what we have already seen, hear anew what we have heard most often, think just what we have always thought."
The game is rigged. The deck, stacked. Odds are, despite our best (or pretend-best) efforts, we will continue to live as we always have and do what we've always done. We are designed to repeat our patterns. We're made to continue our habits.
This is how we work. It's how we're wired. To borrow some computer programmer lingo, this is a feature of our system, not a bug. Because our neurons like ruts, "attempting to change" could easily be rebranded "fighting inertia."
I get it. I mean, I love ruts. They're comfortable and easy, like an old pair of jeans. They're familiar and warm, like a favorite hoodie. However, just like old clothes, sometimes old ruts need replacing.
Maybe we wake up one morning and have an anti-Talking Heads moment. "I don't have a beautiful house. I don't have a beautiful wife. I don't even have a job. How did I get here?"
Or perhaps there's an external cause. Our doctor calls and says the test came back positive. We're on a crash course with a major health risk. There is no surgery. There is no medicine. It's change or die.
Whatever our reasons, whatever our whys, I want to help with our hows.
by Maniza Naqvi
A very decent, elegant, graceful and intelligent man, the kind who opens doors for his wife, and wins a Nobel prize for Peace just by being has for eight years occupied the White House, furthering and expanding the indecency of war. And Mr. Trump may slam doors on everyone and not win a prize but will do the same.
Because in this system, it doesn't matter who is elected, they become part and parcel of, let me coin a term the: war industrial complex kitkaboodles endless dreadfulness (WICKED).
Let me locate myself. If you draw a straight line from here, Karachi, to there—DC, both points are home. Most days of the year walking past it I stop and gaze at the White House—at its glory—with appreciation as well as with many grievances in my heart for the policies unleashed across the globe.
Grievances against the kind of endless war policies which have now brought us inevitably, shamefully, tragically, criminally up to year sixteen of relentless erosion of public space, privacy, discourse and the increase of war and the propaganda necessary for it—books have disappeared—we rely on google and social media for all our information.
In the vicinity of where I live in Washington DC and where I work there used to be many bookshops and now there are next to none. Yes, Politics and Prose and Kramers--- one or two keep chugging on—but more as coffee shops, bars and restaurants then bookstores. With the erosion and disappearance of books and with the rise of IPhones and social media—we are getting more and more connected with nothing—and informed about nothing. Perhaps the march across the USA on January 21, 2017 has finally woken up America, thanks to the over the top fascistic rhetoric of Donald J. Trump. Perhaps Trump has managed to build that wall—after all—but of people rising against injustice and fascism. Perhaps against war and the killing of people and genocide and not just for the sake of protection of our women's right to birth control.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Mark Dunbar in The American Conservative:
The European poet Paul Celan once said that a poem “intends another, needs this other, needs an opposite.” For Wallace Stevens, this otherness was the world at large—the reason, perhaps, why his poetry contained so little but expressed so much.
Stevens was born October 2, 1879, and died August 2, 1955. Between these two dates quite a lot happened in the world. Fanatical ideologies were born, took control of states, and were defeated. Two global wars were fought: the first began with skirmishes on horseback and the second ended with the splitting of the atom. Human aviation was established, then militarized, and, finally, commercialized. Economic depressions wiped out the general optimism of the 19th century, and welfare systems were put in place as acts of material expiation. Frantic voices—either approvingly or with alarm—cried out that politics had replaced religion as society’s moral centrifuge. Telephones, cars, and antibiotics became commonplace, and the modern computer was already beginning its ascendancy toward societal ubiquitousness.
Stevens, however, was always somewhere else when the action happened and never spoke intelligently afterward about what took place. In Paul Mariani’s biography of him, The Whole Harmonium, one of the things that stands out is how little effect any of these tragedies or trends had on Stevens’s life or his poetry. Modern technology rarely appears in his poems. Planes don’t naggingly fly overhead and the telephone doesn’t interrupt the neurotic aesthetician. Scant political images can be found in a handful of his poems but never any political ideals.
Rayyan Al-Shawaf in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
Of the countless terms for categories of music […] the least useful phrase I know is “popular music.” It provides no information about the music itself: no suggestion of how it sounds or what mood it might conjure, no indication of the traditions it grows from or defies, and no hint of whether it could be good for dancing, for solitary listening, or for anything else.
Yet he went and wrote a book on the subject — go figure — and a fine one at that.
Love for Sale examines the shape-shifting undergone by popular music, from minstrelsy to hip-hop, and the equally protean ways in which it has reached the public, from printed notation sheets for do-it-yourself parlor revelry in days of yore to the streaming and downloading of our digital era. The result is an exceptionally astute and stimulating account of music in the United States from the late 19th century until the early 21st. Hajdu’s propensity for stepping away from the hit parade in order to mingle with its architects as well as members of its audience not only militates against the monotony that a straightforward chronicle of the charts would generate, but it also fleshes out the social context of the songs under discussion.
The author also fills in the history of popularity for different kinds of music before 1940, when Billboard, which already compiled and published lists of popular songs, devised a system of charts — albeit an imperfect one — for tracking their sales.
Both NASA and NOAA declare that our planet is experiencing record-breaking warming for the third year in a row
Andrea Thompson in Scientific American:
2016 was the hottest year in 137 years of record keeping and the third year in a row to take the number one slot, a mark of how much the world has warmed over the last century because of human activities, U.S. government scientists announced Wednesday.
2016 is a “data point at the end of many data points that indicates” long-term warming, Deke Arndt, chief of the monitoring branch of the National Centers for Environmental Information, said.
While the record was expected, the joint announcement by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration came in the midst of Senate confirmation hearings for President-elect Trump’s cabinet nominees, several of whom have expressed doubts about established climate science, as has Trump himself.
Many climate scientists, policy experts and environmentalists are concerned about the potential for the incoming administration to limit funding for climate science and roll back both national and international progress toward limiting the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet.
According to NOAA data, the global average temperature for 2016 was 1.69°F (0.94°C) above the 20th century average and 0.07°F (0.04°C) above the previous record set last year.
In NASA’s records, 2016 was 1.8°F (0.99°C) above the 1951-1980 average.
Each agency has slightly different methods of processing the data and different baseline periods they use for comparison, as do other groups around the world that monitor global temperatures, leading to slightly different year-to-year numbers.
But despite these differences, all of these records “are capturing the same long-term signal. It’s a pretty unmistakable signal,” Arndt said. Or as he likes to put it: “They’re singing the same song, even if they’re hitting different notes along the way.”
John Holbo in Crooked Timber:
I agree with a lot in this piece by Will Wilkinson. But I disagree with stuff he says after asking the question ‘why is our moral culture polarizing?’
One place to start is to ask why it is that people, as individuals, gravitate to certain moral and political viewpoints. Jonathan Haidt’s “moral foundations” theory—which shows that conservatives and liberals have different moral sensibilities, sensitive to different moral considerations—is perhaps the best-known account. But there are others.
In a 2012 piece for the Economist, I surveyed some of the research in personality psychology that indicates a correlation between political ideology and a couple of the “Big Five” dimensions of personality—conscientiousness and openness to experience, in particular—and then connected that to evidence that people have self-segregated geographically by personality and ideology. It’s an interesting post and you should read it.
The upshot is that liberals (low conscientiousness, high openness to experience) and conservatives (high conscientiousness, low openness) have distinctive personalities, and that there’s reason to believe we’ve been sorting ourselves into communities of psychologically/ideologically similar people.
Wilkinson goes on to talk about other, non-Haidt stuff that contributes to polarization. I like that better. (I think Wilkinson does, too.) But I want to grouse about Haidt, who I think has done interesting empirical work but who commits what I regard as terrible howlers when it comes to moral theory, and when it comes to reasoning about practical, normative implications of his work.
Jean-Paul Delahaye in Inference Review:
In November 2008, a paper entitled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” was published online.1 The system described in the paper, including a monetary unit termed “bitcoins,” embodied the world’s first cryptocurrency. The most striking characteristic of the bitcoin system is the complete absence of any form of centralized control. There is no role for governments, financial institutions, or regulatory bodies. The system is completely autonomous. Peer-to-peer networking technology and mathematical encryption form the basis for the system. A distributed ledger, known as the blockchain, maintains a public record of all transactions. In the absence of trusted third parties, the security and maintenance of the system is a shared responsibility.
On January 3, 2009, with access limited to a select few cryptologists, the bitcoin software was released and the first bitcoins issued. Bitcoin was not, it must be noted, an overnight success. In fact, it wasn’t until 2013 that the system really began to take off. That year saw a fifty-fold increase in valuation, so that by January 2014, a bitcoin was worth around nine hundred euros. A series of advances and declines since then has seen the value of bitcoins fluctuate. Against the expectations of some observers, the currency has recovered and a bitcoin is again worth around six hundred euros.2 There are now more than seven hundred cryptocurrencies competing with bitcoin.3 Their success to date has been limited, with a cumulative capitalization of only around twenty percent that of bitcoin. The total capitalization of the bitcoins issued thus far amounts to more than fifteen billion euros.
Although credited to Satoshi Nakamoto, the true identity of the person, or people, responsible for the bitcoin paper remains unknown.