Monday, November 17, 2014
It is time for 3QD's winter subscription drive. As you know, we are able to run the site only because our regular readers support us through subscriptions or one-time payments. Whichever you'd like to do, please take a couple of minutes and use the appropriate button near the top of the left-hand column to make a contribution.
We really cannot continue to award the prizes or for that matter do all the other things we do without your generous financial support.
So please do it now! Don't think, "Someone else will do it!"
Oh, and by the way, if you don't know who Ned Block is, you should: Ned Block (Ph.D., Harvard), Silver Professor of Philosophy, Psychology and Neural Science, went to NYU in 1996 from MIT where he was Chair of the Philosophy Program. He works in philosophy of mind and foundations of neuroscience and cognitive science and is currently writing a book on attention. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society, has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Senior Fellow of the Center for the Study of Language and Information, a Sloan Foundation Fellow, a faculty member at two National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institutes and two Summer Seminars, the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Science Foundation; and a recipient of the Robert A. Muh Alumni Award in Humanities and Social Science from MIT. And, oh yeah, he is a 3QD reader!
New posts below.
Friday, November 28, 2014
University of Leeds professor Brendon Nicholls made a list of the “Five African Novels to Read Before You Die” yesterday, and it’s a fine list, if your best-case scenario is that literate first-world types manage to read a handful of creative works from Africa in their lifetime. And let’s be real, most Westerners are not even going to do that. So his list is fine, albeit extremely predictable:Achebe and Ngugi, of course, and let’s add Ayi Kwei Armah’s most canonical novel—because we need more than one West African male novelist from the 60’s—and, hmm, oh, shoot, we need some women, so, okay, Tsitsi Dangerembga, obviously, and Bessie Head, I guess. But not the really hard Bessie Head novel, let’s try the one that won’t confuse people. DONE.
I’m giving Nicholls some good-natured sass, here (sorry dude), because, as someone who studies, reads, and teaches contemporary African literature, I’m just very bored with this list, which is a fine list, but it’s a bit, I do’t know, “Five White Writers You Should Read Before You Die: Shakespeare, Milton, Dostoyevsky, Austin, Woolf.” Does the world need another suggestion that you read Things Fall Apart? It’s a great novel, but everybody knows that, or if they don’t, there’s no hope for them anyway...
As we peer forward towards 2015, the literatures of the Africas are much more interesting than those five books and the canon-making principles they index. The old canons have become a critical crutch: Nicholls’ list is a good place to start if you want to appreciate what has been going on for the last decade; anyone worth reading will probably have read at least most of these people, and if they haven’t, the people they have read probably will have. Those writers are really helpful for appreciating what African writers are doing right now, and there’s no getting away from that. They’re also great writers...
For this reason, Nicholls list is a perfectly good place to start, as long as you don’t want to read anything written in the last three decades. If you do want to read things that were written in the last thirty years, however—maybe, for example, because you want to read things that were written in your lifetime, and you were born, say, in 1979, like me—you are in luck! I have a list for you.
Read the rest here.
Jake Kerridge in The Telegraph:
PD James had, to quote the title of what is probably her finest novel, A Taste for Death. Only last month she attended the launch party for CJ Sansom’s latest Shardlake mystery. Picking up the hefty tome and noticing its size, she said: “This will see me out.” It’s the sort of morbid joke you would expect from someone who famously said that when she first heard the story of Humpty Dumpty, her initial response was to wonder: “Did he jump or was he pushed?” She was fascinated by death all her life. She brought that fascination to a genre, detective fiction, that had previously tended to ignore the subject. Yes, old-style detective fiction was littered with corpses, but they are principally there to provide a puzzle for the reader, and the realities of violent death are ignored.
James was one of the first writers to combine a pleasingly complicated Christie-esque mystery with the depth of literary fiction, and she was the first of these new-style crime writers to be taken to the reading public’s heart. In her novel Devices and Desires(1989) she has a character reading an old-fashioned crime novel in which there is a “detective who, despite his uncertainties, would get there in the end because this was fiction; problems could be solved, evil overcome, justice vindicated, and death itself only a mystery which would be solved in the final chapter.” The implication is clear: no such comforting falsehoods are to be expected at the end of a James novel. Everything will not be alright again once the murderer is caught. But millions of readers adored her uncompromising view of the evil lurking in ordinary life.
More here. (Note: I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. James in 1993 in Chicago and she was every bit the Grand Dame I had imagined her to be, I mourn her loss today.)
Let us call this the Rembrandt effect. It is an immensely powerful one, whose mechanics remain largely a mystery. It proved inimitable; or rather, the imitations seemed often to get the mechanics right, but mostly failed to deliver the effect. People in the 17th century appear to have wanted the effect and been willing to pay for it. Their dismal handbooks of art theory (and even more dreadful guides to the progress of the soul) had nothing germane to tell them about the picture of self on offer from the disreputable showman, with his ‘whore’ of a wife and his sordid bankruptcy, but there was apparently a thriving market for the kind of face-to-faceness he specialised in. A market for the unspeakable, we might say. Whether or not Rembrandt was bankrupt, his prices remained high. Italian noblemen and international bankers beat a way to his door – a German called Everhard Jabach, art dealer-cum-financier in Paris, seems to have been the first owner of Self-Portrait as Apostle Paul. Shades of the prison house clearly appealed.
What I now think was wrong in my previous approach to Rembrandt was my choice of terms. My essay assumed that the ‘look’ of self-portraiture was paramount, and extracted the look from the ‘face’. Rembrandt did not. His pictures – not just his self-portraits, but the whole world he shows us, predicated as it is on faces – have to do centrally with the belonging of eyes and eyesight to the unlikely cluster of ‘features’ that cling to the lower front half of the skull, exposing the brain to the world. Exposure of this kind has dangers.
There is also a sense that, in recent years, novelists have formed part of a rearguard action in response to the New Atheist consensus that emerged after Richard Dawkins’s God Delusion was published in 2006. The aggressive incuriosity and self-righteousness exhibited by the more militant end of the movement seemed to devalue the freedom of thought required to write a novel. “I never quite understood why you would read fiction to understand the human condition,” Dawkins surprised nobody by saying in 2013. One other thing that unites writers with believers is a sense that the truth can be story-shaped.
“It’s extremely hard to convince a New Atheist polemicist that the standard way of understanding scripture is one that allows for it to be metaphorical,” Spufford said. “It’s the fundamentalists who claim the Bible is a handbook or a scientific treatise who are the marginal ones.”
Deterministic ideas, whether theological, political or scientific, produce novels in which destinies are sewn up and moral questions tidily resolved. When Nick Hornby read Gilead, the second novel by the American writer Marilynne Robinson, he wrote in the Believer magazine: “For the first time I understood the point of Christianity – or at least, I understood how it might be used to assist thought.” He is not the only one for whom that book has had the effect of a conversion (James Wood in the New Yorker was reduced to “a fond mumbling”) – not a conversion to Christianity, of course, but to a new understanding of religion’s place in human culture and intellectual activity.
Really, it is just like that. America is a continent with which one can have innumerable love-affairs. I am not monogamous myself in my passion for the Mississippi. There are times when I think with as insistent a longing for a place named Bingham, which is in the state of Utah. It is a mining-camp. One drives in one’s automobile on noble roads planted with poplars over a green and fertile plain (it was desert till the Mormons irrigated it) to a canyon that drives a wedge into the foothills of the snow-peaked mountains. There is one long winding street of wooden houses, paintless, dilapidated; some with verandas on which men in broad hats sit in rocking chairs, spitting slowly and with an infinity of sagacity; some with plate glass windows, on which the washed-off word “saloon” still shows as a pathetic shadow, which are eating-houses of incredible bareness and dinginess, some others with plate-glass windows that show you men on high chairs with white sheets round them being shaved, and tin cans everywhere. Then at the end of the street one comes on a mountain of copper. Just that, a mountain of copper. Pyramid-shaped it is, and cut into regular terraces all the way from the apex to the base, where lies a pool of water emerald as Irish grass. It sounds the hardest thing in the world, and the terraces have as sharp an edge as a steel knife. Yet it seems a shape just taken for an instant by the ether. One feels as if one were standing in front of a breaking wave of a substance more like cloud-stuff than water, yet like the sea; for the whole hillside is luminously and transparently pale, and reticulated with mineral veins that are blue and green like sea water.
He adored openly and gave not a damn who saw. In the middle of parties, amid any gathering, he blurted encomiums of love and appreciation: 'Doesn't she look radiant?', he would say of Bacall. ('I remember feeling so happy,' she said of such eruptions.) Whatever his latest elations and fancies, they were always made grandly audible: 'No one prettier has ever been in my house!' 'You're beautiful tonight!' 'You look mah-velous!' (That was in fact exactly how he said it.) Public proclamation did not faze him; after all, he sang the same sentiments on records and stages-legendarily making every woman feel that he sang only to her.
"Thus, in 1965, to his still-secret girlfriend Mia Farrow, thirty years his junior: He popped his head out of the Palm Springs swimming pool, adjacent to the golf course. And there, dripping chlorine with house guests agape, he bellowed toward her 'I love you!' Recalled one witness, 'If anyone had been on the Tamarisk seventeenth green that second, they would have had the scoop of the year.' Before becoming at age twenty-one, the third Mrs. Frank Sinatra, Mia Farrow had shorn her locks, cropped them all but off, stirring a nationwide hubbub. (She was then an ingenue on television's Peyton Place, whose mailbags lumped with outrage de coiffure.) 'But,' she later wrote, 'there was no drama, no fight with Frank, he loved my hair the minute he saw it, so I kept it short for years.' Indeed, he promptly gave her a pale yellow Thunderbird-'to match your hair.' 'I'm proud of her', he announced to everyone, crowing of her beauty and her brains and her bangs. ...
Thursday, November 27, 2014
For the last thirty years of his life — the first thirty years of 20th century America — the historical genre painter Jean Leon Gerome Ferris devoted himself to capturing the history of America in paint. He called the result of this enormous task — a series of 78 scenes from the landing of Columbus to the start of World War I — The Pageant of a Nation. No one had ever seen America like this: All her heroes, great and small, presented in one complete and satisfying narrative — the most extensive series of American historical paintings by an individual artist before or since.
The paintings, wrote the authors of History of the Portrait Collection, Independence National Historical Park, were “expertly executed reproductions of the past”; Ferris on par with the best historical genre painters of his time. They were meticulously researched and crafted. And yet, the authors wrote, Ferris’ paintings said more about the era in which they were created than the events they portray. The paintings “formed a bridge between fact and fiction over which the viewers…were willing travelers.” The Pageant of a Nation, wrote the authors, confused “verity with verisimilitude.”
In one of the most widely reproduced Ferris paintings, The First Thanksgiving, the characters are just as they exist in our Thanksgiving myth. The Pilgrims don the familiar tall hats and buckles. The Wampanoag wear feathered headdresses. The women smile. The Wampanoag are serious.
Susan Harlan in The Morning News:
Last year, I opted out of Thanksgiving. I had never failed to celebrate a major holiday before. When I used to live in New York City, I was accustomed to spending Thanksgivings with friends and their families as my own family was far away in California. This usually involved waiting amongst crowds in Penn Station and then taking the train out to New Jersey. Now that I live in a small city in North Carolina, I receive generous offers of holiday festivity that usually involve large quantities of bourbon. But last year, I felt the need to be elsewhere.
So I set off.
This was not my first retreat, as I had started to call my weekend getaways. Since the beginning of the school year, I had been taking long drives over the weekends get to know North Carolina better, but also because I found myself restless at home. I didn’t necessarily have to go anywhere in particular; I just liked to drive along two-lane highways, past small-town cemeteries, BBQ joints, and rummage stores. “What are you up to this weekend?” friends would ask. “Going on a retreat,” I would reply. I found old lodges, log cabins, inns, and motels in the mountains. I brought my dog Millie, lots of books, a notebook. A flashlight and bug spray. Some groceries. Red wine. Blue rubber rain boots and several good sweaters that I left in the car.
“In the mountains, there you feel free.” So says the first speaker in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, which was among the books I brought with me, along with Dylan Thomas and Walt Whitman, Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, and M.F.K. Fisher’s As They Were. These books were my supplies. And in the evenings, in the mountains, I did feel free, even if I knew I was not. One afternoon in late October, I sat on a bench on a sloping hillside and watched the wind blow red and yellow leaves off the trees in the distance, a declaration of the end of fall. I liked to rent cabins in the woods, and some people asked if I was scared of being murdered in one of these isolated places. Sometimes they were joking, but sometimes they weren’t. They genuinely found the idea terrifying. Before I went away for Thanksgiving, I showed a friend a picture of the cabin I had rented. She gasped.
“That looks like it should be in a horror film,” she said.
Freddie deBoer over on his blog:
This is a question that people like Andrew absolutely have to answer if they want to grapple with this issue in an honest way: are you comfortable with a university system with incredibly low percentages of black and Hispanic students? With percentages of black and Hispanic students that are far lower than their averages in the population? That’s what you’re actually advocating for when you call for an end to affirmative action. We know that. We don’t have to guess. Andrew spills a lot of ink weeping for a plaintiff who won’t be able to go to Harvard. For her, the alternative was likely… going to Cornell, or Brown, or Dartmouth. (The horror! The horror!) For students like those in the UC system, the demise of race-based affirmative action can be the difference between attending a 4-year university or not at all. And if you oppose affirmative action then what, exactly, is the alternative for solving our enormous race-based economic and social inequalities? The self-same people who oppose affirmative action are the ones who oppose redistributive social programs! What makes this all so infuriating is that going to college and getting an education is exactly the way that conservatives say they want underrepresented minorities to get ahead. It’s the work hard, fly right, bootstraps vision of racial justice. I have no doubt that Andrew earnestly wants to end the massive gaps in quality of life between the races in contemporary American life. But what’s his plan? If “no” to reparations and “no” to affirmative action, 50 years after the heyday of the Civil Rights movement, how exactly do we get to racial economic equality?...
This whole debate depends on a flatly bogus notion of what college is, or what our country is. There is no such thing as meritocracy. There has never been anything resembling meritocracy. Not in colleges and not in our economy writ large. Anyone even remotely familiar with the history of our higher education system is aware that the system began as an explicit method for perpetuating received advantage. The notion of merit only began to creep in when America’s vast inequalities became too glaring to ignore. Andrew mentions the legacy of anti-Semitism in higher education and equates the current standing of Asian Americans to the past standing of Jews in that context. That’s a ludicrous comparison; our elite colleges were involved in an open and direct conspiracy to exclude Jewish students at all costs, whereas Asian American students attend US colleges far out of proportion with their overall percentage of our society. But he might stop and think about what that legacy actually tells us about our college system. No honest person with a minimum amount of understanding of our system would ever conclude that it has ever been anything resembling a meritocracy. Affirmative action has been one of the only genuine attempts to forcibly reduce the inherent inequality of our entire system. In its place, opponents propose… nothing.
Read the rest here.
Critique expresses the possibility that everything could have been different. By doing so, critique puts things and the order of things in a state of crisis – institutions, meanings, relationships, mental and cultural dispositions. Realities emerge as possibilities, possibilities that have materialised. In other words, critique is an expression of the equal importance of the possible and the real. InThe Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil writes that "the sense of possibility" exists alongside "the sense of reality" and that "possible realities", not "real possibilities", are what is really interesting.
It has been said that critique is a genuinely modern disposition, just as crisis is a genuinely modern societal and mental state. The urban sociologist Robert Ezra Park wrote that the city – the ultimate manifestation of modernity, both with regards to social order and mentality – was in, or even constituted, "a permanent state of crisis".
Critique and crisis are central categories in any understanding of the modern culture. The concepts have a common etymological origin. They describe a state where nothing is yet determined but is soon to be; a state all about decisions, distinctions and discernment. The Greek word krínein meant both "subjective critique" and "objective crisis". The concepts achieve their real significance and are filled with opportunities and potential during the modern age, from the Renaissance and Reformation up to the present.
Mrgan Garber in The Atlantic:
There may be an art to preparing Thanksgiving dinner, but there is an art, as well, to putting that dinner on a plate. The stakes are high: Get a little pour-happy at the moment of truth, and your turkey-to-gravy ratio gets completely upended; arrange your selections poorly, and suddenly your brussels sprouts are infiltrating your stuffing and potatoes. And then there's the cranberry sauce! Even a tiny bit of the stuff, misplaced, can turn an otherwise perfectly assembled plate into a mess of tangy hot-pink. If you, like me, have known the plight of the mis-proportioned meal, help is here. I asked Dan Pashman—author of the book Eat More Better, leader of the podcast The Sporkful, and general expert in the field of food consumption—for help engineering the optimal Thanksgiving plate. Here's his advice:
1. Use Your Mashed Potatoes as Construction Materials
Mashed potatoes, Pashman says, are "the structural backbone" of the Thanksgiving plate: "They're flexible, they're structurally sound, they're delicious, and they go well with most other things." Everyone knows the myriad benefits of the mashed potato moat, the depression that allows your potatoes to become a lake-like storage vessel for your gravy; Pashman advises taking that basic structure and running with it. You can use potatoes, Pashman points out, "to cordon off other areas of your plate," creating divisions that keep each food item in its place.
A reputation established over eight decades collapsed in less than eight months. Islamism, an ideology that carved its name from Islam, had always been synonymous with it in the minds of many. The Egyptian Muslim Brothers, who had invented and embodied this ideology since 1928, were perceived as fervent believers who went beyond practicing religion to promoting and defending it. But a gathering rebellion against the country’s first Brotherhood president changed all that.
On the eve of the 2013 popular uprising against Muhammad Morsi, Brothers organized preemptive sit-ins in several locations around the country. The biggest crowd camped around Cairo’s Raba’a al-‘Adawiya mosque. For forty days, unsuspecting Egyptians tuned in (some even strolled in) to witness for themselves what Brothers said and did. It was a rare opportunity to eavesdrop on this exceptionally discreet group. And what they saw and heard was quite different from what they were used to from the usually minted Brothers: political competitors were religiously condemned; images of Prophet Muhammad’s epic battles were conjured; biblical stories, from David and Moses to Armageddon, were invoked; allegations that Archangel Gabriel prayed at the Islamist campsite were flaunted; and sacred visions were relayed on stage night after night. This was not the vocabulary Brothers typically employed. Almost overnight, many Egyptians panicked. Who were these strangers, they wondered?
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Georg Diez in Der Spiegel via Edge:
"Brockman, Brockman?" Shake of the head. "I don't know", says the reporter from the New Yorker. Says the colleague of the New York Review of Books. Says the young writer who cofounded the magazine n + 1.
In the literary milieu where he is ignored more than despised, John Brockman is about as well known as the first three digits of the number Pi.
"This crowd sees everything through the lenses of culture and politics," he says. "But an understanding of life, of the world, can only come through biology, through science."
Ebola, stem cells, brain research—Who needs the new David Foster Wallace, the new Philip Roth?
"The great questions of the world concern scientific news," says Brockman. "We are at the beginning of a revolution. And what we hear from the mainstream is: "Please make it go away."
And there you are—this is how it goes with John Brockman who doesn’t like to waste time in the midst of the contradictions of the present. "Come, let's start," he says in a good mood and puts a recording device on his desk. "I'm turning it on, you don't mind?"
He is charming, without hiding his own interests. He is proud of his life, his intelligence, without that he would have to apologize for it. He is a key figure of the late 20th and early 21st century, the éminence grise and major source of inspiration for the globally dominant culture, which he himself named as the "third culture".
It is not Brockman, but his authors, who are well-known: Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Daniel C. Dennett, Jared Diamond, Daniel Kahneman. Physicists, neuroscientists, geneticists, evolutionary biologists, fixed stars of the science age, superstars of nonfiction bestseller lists, the reason for Brockman's financial success and good mood.
Today, all you need to carve the turkey is an electric knife. In the 1600s, you needed a serious education
Heather Hess in The Smart Set:
Pity the turkey. Capons are sauced, cranes are lifted, partridges are allayed, geese arereared. Turkeys are, to use the proper historical carving vocabulary, simply cut up. The ritual carving of the turkey is one of the few vestiges of a past, glorious tradition that once wowed diners at spectacular feasts, and yet, the prosaic words for slicing up the turkey do not seem to match the grandeur of the deed.
Once, carving was held in high esteem. It was less about serving base bodily needs for nourishment and more concerned with spectacle and performance. Those who carved (and those who had carving done for them) were not concerned with where their next meal was coming from. It was a demonstration of power: the ability to muster a bountiful feast and an exhibition of control of the body (both that of the carver and of the animal carcass to be consumed). In full view of the diners assembled at the table, the carver hoisted the bird aloft with one hand, while wielding a razor-sharp knife in the other. Slices from the cooked carcass floated down to the plate.
Emily Eakin in The New Yorker:
One morning last fall, Jon Ritter, an architectural historian living in Greenwich Village, woke to find an e-mail from a neighbor, who had an unusual request. “Hi Jon, This is Tom Gravel, from Apt. 4N,” the e-mail began. “I wanted to check in and see if you may be open to helping me with a health condition.” Gravel, a project manager for a land-conservation group, explained that he had Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of the intestinal tract along with unpredictable, often incapacitating episodes of abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. His doctor had prescribed a succession of increasingly powerful drugs, none of which had helped. But recently Gravel had experimented with a novel therapy that, though distasteful to contemplate, seemed to relieve his symptoms: fecal transplantation, in which stool from a healthy person is transferred to the colon of someone who is sick. He hoped to enlist Ritter as a stool donor.
“I realize this is really out there,” Gravel wrote. “But I think you and your family are the nicest people in our building, and I thought I might start with lucky you.”
Crohn’s disease affects as many as seven hundred thousand Americans, but, like other autoimmune disorders, it remains poorly understood and is considered incurable.
Andrew Anthony in The Guardian:
Like India and Walt Whitman, Arundhati Roy contains multitudes. She is, however, far from large. Small, delicately boned, a beguiling mixture of piercing dark eyes and bright easy smile, she is a warm presence. She turns 53 tomorrow and the grey tint to her curls lends depth to a still strikingly youthful face. Looking at her, it’s not hard to detect the author of the richly empathetic The God of Small Things, her debut, Booker-prize winning novel about family life in Kerala, that John Updike described as a “massive interlocking structure of fine, intensely felt details”.
That was 17 years ago and photos from that period show a captivating figure, at once shy and fiercely proud, wary and utterly self-possessed. The book was a huge international hit and the publishing world readied itself to cash in on a phenomenal new talent, galvanised by the fact that so photogenic an author would be a dream to market.
But the follow-up novel didn’t arrive. Instead Roy directed her considerable energies towards political activism, most especially in India where, despite her success, she has remained. It was a path that has led her to express solidarity with groups – such as Kashmiri separatists and Maoist guerrillas – that are seen by many Indians, with some reason, as terrorists. As a result Roy has become a controversial figure, an outspoken heroine in certain radical quarters, but loathed by large sections of Indian society, not least Hindu nationalists.
She has also become a prolific essayist and polemicist.
Razib Khan in The New York Times:
IT’S commonplace to call our cats “pets.” But anyone sharing a cat’s household can tell you that, much as we might like to choose when they eat in the morning, or when they come inside for the night, cats are only partly domesticated. The likely ancestors of the domestic dog date from more than 30,000 years ago. But domestic cats’ forebears join us in the skeletal record only about 9,500 years ago. This difference fits our intuition about their comparative degrees of domestication: Dogs want to be “man’s best friend”; cats, not so much. Fossils are handy snapshots of the past, but a genomic sequence is a time machine, enabling scientists to run evolutionary history backward. The initial sequence of the domestic cat was completed in 2007, but a recent study to which I contributed compared the genomes of the domestic cat and the wildcat (Felis silvestris) and sheds new light on the last 10,000 years of feline adaptations. Domestic cats are not just wildcats that tolerate humans in exchange for regular meals. They have smaller skulls in relation to their bodies compared with wildcats, and are known to congregate in colonies. But in comparison with dogs, cats have a narrower range of variation in size and form.
Wesley C. Warren, an author of the study, notes that domestic cats have excellent hunting skills, like their wild ancestors. This, too, supports the notion that cats are only semi-domesticated. Comparing the genomes of the wildcat and the domestic cat added much to what we had known. Michael J. Montague, the lead author, told me he’d anticipated that the two genomes would be very similar, but our study found a specific set of differences in genes involved in neuron development. This brain adaptation may explain why domestic cats are docile.
David Shukman in BBC:
Schemes to tackle climate change could prove disastrous for billions of people, but might be required for the good of the planet, scientists say. That is the conclusion of a new set of studies into what's become known as geo-engineering. This is the so far unproven science of intervening in the climate to bring down temperatures. These projects work by, for example, shading the Earth from the Sun or soaking up carbon dioxide. Ideas include aircraft spraying out sulphur particles at high altitude to mimic the cooling effect of volcanoes or using artificial "trees" to absorb CO2. Long regarded as the most bizarre of all solutions for global warming, ideas for geo-engineering have come in for more scrutiny in recent years as international efforts to limit carbon emissions have failed.
Now three combined research projects, led by teams from the universities of Leeds, Bristol and Oxford, have explored the implications in more detail. The central conclusion, according to Dr Matt Watson of Bristol University, is that the issues surrounding geo-engineering - how it might work, the effects it might have and the potential downsides - are "really really to doing nothing, to business-as-usual leading us to a world with a 4C rise." The studies used computer models to simulate the possible implications of different technologies - with a major focus on ideas for making the deserts, seas and clouds more reflective so that incoming solar radiation does not reach the surface. One simulation imagined sea-going vessels spraying dense plumes of particles into the air to try to alter the clouds. But the model found that this would be far less effective than once thought. Another explored the option of injecting sulphate aerosols into the air above the Arctic in an effort to reverse the decline of sea-ice. A key finding was that none of the simulations managed to keep the world's temperature at the level experienced between 1986-2005 - suggesting that any effort would have to be maintained for years.
The voting round of our philosophy prize (details here) is over. Thanks to the nominators and the voters for participating.
So here they are, the top 20, in descending order from the most voted-for:
Imperfect Cognitions: Sadder but Wiser? Interview with Jennifer Radden
Absolute Irony: Nāgārjuna, Nietzsche, and Rorty’s Strange Looping Trick
A Wondering Jew: The Sound of Silence
The Philosopher's Beard: The Case for Ethical Warning Labels on Animal Products
A Philosopher's Take: Moral Resposibility and Volunteer Soldiers
A Bag of Raisins: An Excerpt from Plato's "Philosopher"
- Angela Roothaan: (Auto)biography and Derrida II (finished reading)
Elisa Freschi: Veṅkaṭanātha’s contribution to Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta
Imperfect Cognitions: Epistemic Injustice and Illness
Psychiatric Ethics: Anosognosia and Epistemic Innocence: Lisa Bortolotti
Proof I Never Want To Be President (Of Anything): Work Friends
Vihvelin: How Not to Think About Free Will
Huffington Post: Muslims: WWJD (What Would Jefferson Do?)
3 Quarks Daily: The Sense of Self: A Conversation
Flickers of Freedom: The Case for Libertarian Compatibilism
Indian Philosophy Blog: On the possibility and nature of neurophilosophical study of Indic traditions
Eyes open in the womb. The struggle arrives to turn darkness into light.
Dangling on the wings of
the Phoenix. The creative process begins to turn ugly. Vandalizing and robbing
child prodigies turning into serious discussions of Mass Murder and the
therapeutic value of
saturday morning shopping sprees. The betrayal of genius is burning at the
stake. The spider
descends. The violence is always there. The web embraces us all. More
drugs. More pleasurable than sex. Slightly entangled. Slightly confused. That
criminal element awakens you to the terror and lonliness of running into the
silent pain of
someone else looking to you for answers. Glamorous and well financed pools
profiling on neighborhood corners while smiling at and tempting the boldest
The wealth we squandered on poor excuse and starving lines of poetry
inspired by the
tenderness of your smile healed me, cleansed me of my indifference to the
should have told us something about being chidren of God in all this Madness,
these odds of too intense and too delicate to be real lovers in real times. The
wind, the water,
the waves so natural in our hands. Falling on notes and images forever
caressing the Full
Moon and laughter too strong to be forgotten on opening nights and wanting
to be a big hit.
Run... Run... Run... to the birth, to the growth, to the experience of harmony so
peaceful desires to go back to the beginning and try to be good to yourself and
from Poetry International, 2006
Maria Popova in Brain Pickings:
1. THE ACCIDENTAL UNIVERSE
“If we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from,” Carl Sagan wrote in his timeless meditation on science and religion, “we will have failed.” It’s a sentiment that dismisses in one fell Saganesque swoop both the blind dogmatism of religion and the vain certitude of science — a sentiment articulated by some of history’s greatest minds, from Einstein to Ada Lovelace to Isaac Asimov, all the way backGalileo. Yet centuries after Galileo and decades after Sagan, humanity remains profoundly uneasy about reconciling these conflicting frameworks for understanding the universe and our place in it.
That unanswerable question of where we came from is precisely what physicistAlan Lightman — one of the finest essayists writing today and the very first person to receive dual appointments in science and the humanities at MIT — explores from various angles in The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew (public library | IndieBound).
At the intersection of science and philosophy, the essays in the book explore the possible existence of multiple universes, multiple space-time continuums, more than three dimensions. Lightman writes:
Science does not reveal the meaning of our existence, but it does draw back some of the veils.
Theoretical physics is the deepest and purest branch of science. It is the outpost of science closest to philosophy, and religion.
Rick Perlstein in In These Times (Scott Olsen/Getty Images):
In Ferguson, police racism is built in, institutionalized in the town’s business model of using revenue from fines to pay its bills (and in the process, turning some residents into unemployable criminals). The encounter with Ferguson’s fierce justice system, if you are black, works like this: You have an overwhelming chance of being cited or arrested by police, for doing little or nothing that is wrong. A report from the legal group ArchCity Defenders found that in 2013, “the Ferguson Municipal Court disposed 24,532 warrants and 12,018 cases, or about three warrants and 1.5 cases per household,” an incredibly high rate. Then you are likely to face a fine you cannot afford to pay—ArchCity Defenders calculates that the average fine is $275—or a summons to a court that is rigged against you showing up on time. “The bench routinely starts hearing cases 30 minutes before the appointed time and then locks the doors to the building as early as five minutes after the official hour, a practice that could easily lead a defendant arriving even slightly late to receive an additional charge for failure to appear,” reads the report. Thus, you might end up in jail—with a criminal record that frequently bars employment.
That Kafkaesque sense of futility explains some of the frustration that boiled over in Ferguson with the shooting of Michael Brown. But that’s only one half of it. The other part is political.
Ferguson’s six-person city council has only one black member. It’s been much discussed that the dearth of African-American political representation has been helped along by what has been described as the apathy of black voters there, only 1.78 percent of whom turned out from one of the city’s black townships in a recent municipal election. But reporters on the ground in Ferguson—and possibly the Justice Department—should be looking at whether the powers that be have been practicing the sort of dark arts of malapportionment that disenfranchised other municipalities with sizable black populations in the past. Boston, for example, was able to defy a 1963 state law demanding school integration for nearly a decade by electing its school board “at large,” instead of by district. And prior to its 1967 riot, Newark’s Mayor Hugh Addonizio practiced a form of “urban renewal” that had a political twist: By building high-rises downtown, he was able to break up geographic concentrations of blacks, to ensure they would have no political power base.
Black Fergusonians have shown that they will vote when they have something to vote for and know that their vote will count. Seventy-six percent of them turned out in November 2012, when Missouri was a key swing state for Barack Obama’s reelection. When it comes to local elections, they might just be making the rational decision that a hike to the polls is a waste of time. Even that one black council member, Dwayne James, has baffled observers by remaining mum in the face of the single issue now galvanizing his constituency, Michael Brown’s killing. He’s said only, “Our city charter provides that our mayor is the spokesperson for the city.”
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Sara Lipton in the New York Review of Books:
In 1940 the Nazis released a propaganda film called The Eternal Jew. The film claimed to show the Jews in their “original state,” “before they put on the mask of civilized Europeans.” Stagings of Jewish rituals were interspersed with scenes of yarmulke- and caftan-wearing Jews shuffling down crowded alleys, all meant to show the benighted nature of Jewish life. Above all, the filmmakers focused on Jewish faces. They trained their cameras in lingering close-up on their subjects’ eyes, noses, beards, and mouths, confident that the sight of certain stereotypical features would arouse responses of loathing and contempt.
The designer of the film’s poster evidently agreed, avoiding more obvious symbols of Jewish identity (skull-cap, sidecurls, Star of David) in favor of a single dark, hook-nosed, fleshy face. Indeed, the poster hardly needed the accompanying title. In Europe in 1940, this representation of Jewishness was widespread: similar depictions of Jews could be seen on posters and in pamphlets, newspapers, even children’s books.
This image of the Jew, however, was far from “eternal.” Though anti-Semitism is notoriously “the longest hatred,” until 1000 CE, there were no easily distinguishable Jews of any kind in Western imagery, let alone the stereotypical swarthy, hook-nosed Jew. Earlier monuments and manuscripts did depict Hebrew prophets, Israelite armies, and Judaic kings, but they were identifiable only by context, in no way singled out as different from other sages, soldiers, or kings. Even nefarious Jewish characters, such as the priests (pontifices) who urged Pilate to crucify Christ in the Egbert Codex (circa 980), were visually unremarkable; they required labels to identify them as Jewish.
George Packer in The New Yorker:
A summer afternoon at the Reichstag. Soft Berlin light filters down through the great glass dome, past tourists ascending the spiral ramp, and into the main hall of parliament. Half the members’ seats are empty. At the lectern, a short, slightly hunched figure in a fuchsia jacket, black slacks, and a helmet of no-color hair is reading a speech from a binder. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany and the world’s most powerful woman, is making every effort not to be interesting.
“As the federal government, we have been carrying out a threefold policy since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis,” Merkel says, staring at the binder. Her delivery is toneless, as if she were trying to induce her audience into shifting its attention elsewhere. “Besides the first part of this triad, targeted support for Ukraine, is, second, the unceasing effort to find a diplomatic solution for the crisis in the dialogue with Russia.” For years, public speaking was visibly painful to Merkel, her hands a particular source of trouble; eventually, she learned to bring her fingertips together in a diamond shape over her stomach.