Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Bill Fletcher, Jr. in AlterNet:
It has become almost a cliché to speak of Gaza, the Palestinian territories on the Mediterranean controlled by Hamas and blockaded by Israel, as the largest open-air prison on the planet. Yet I am not sure I will any longer agree with the limits of that characterization. The Palestinians are all in prison. While Gaza may be a maximum security facility, the West Bank is nevertheless a prison. So little is actually controlled by Palestinians despite the formal notion of autonomy. Israeli military incursions can and do happen at any time convenient for the Israeli government and its military occupation. Palestinians are prohibited from using certain roads. The ominous and illegal separation wall, better known as the apartheid wall, spreads like a disease across the land, dividing the Palestinians not as much from the Israelis as from their own land.
For all of that, it is the sense of permanent insecurity and maximum humiliation that reinforces the feeling one gets of being in a prison. There are checkpoints at seemingly every turn; one is subjected to being stopped at any time. There is an attitude of arrogance and contempt on the part of most of the Israeli military personnel. With their submachine guns and their insistence on using Hebrew in communicating with the Arabic-speaking Palestinians, they invade the space of the indigenous population, always reminding them that there is no such thing as privacy in the Occupied Territories.
Jordan Michael Smith in The Christian Science Monitor:
Okay, that last name might not be as familiar as the others. But the details of the crime are almost certainly known to you. In New York City in 1964, the 29-year-old Genovese was stabbed to death in three separate attacks as 38 neighbors watched and declined to get involved. At least, that is commonly reported version of the story. But Kevin Cook explains in his new book Kitty Genovese why this simplified version of the story is not the true one. Cook, a freelance journalist, has accessed for his book the detective’s reports of their preliminary interviews with Genovese’s neighbors. He found that, rather than including 38 eyewitnesses, the police log contained 38 entries. Writes Cook: “It was a roundup of interviews with many of Kitty’s neighbors, not a definitive accounting of anything.” Far fewer eyewitnesses actually existed, and those that did were generally fearful of getting involved, rather than indifferent to the woman. The popular figure of 38 resulted from a clerical error provided to the police chief, who passed it along to the New York Times reporter who made the case famous. It was a consequential mistake. The murder shocked Americans, who were horrified and baffled that so many onlookers refrained from intervening to assist the woman. The idea of 38 people so self-obsessed and alienated from their neighbors reflected the anxieties of many citizens, who saw rising crime, feared the Civil Rights Movement, and felt alone in an urbanized America.
CBS’s Mike Wallace narrated a segment on “The Apathetic Americans.” The murder spurred officials to create the 911 emergency-phone system. States created Good Samaritan laws. Victim-compensation laws, witness-assistance programs, neighborhood watch groups – the list of public policy changes that resulted from reaction to the case is extraordinary. Equally more remarkable has been the lasting influence the murder – particularly the false figure reported – has had in academia. One professor tells Cook that the murder is “the most-cited incident in social psychology literature until the September 11 attacks.” Cook manages to maintain an impressive level of tension in a book about a half-century old case about which everyone thinks they know the outcome. He assumes, surely correctly, that while many readers may have heard of the case, they don’t recall the specifics aside from the number of eyewitnesses. So he treats Genovese’s murder like something of a mystery – we may know that she was killed, but not why.
And who was Kitty Genovese, anyway? She was, in fact, a lesbian, a fact that likely would have drastically affected the public’s response to the crime, had it been reported at the time.
What Makes a Poem
and the manner of its malting
its standing up to the wind
its sprouting and drying
its gradual ripening
and the manner of its flowing
traces of peat and mineral
its floral and honey notes
The mash tun
and the manner of the yeasting
where malt and water mix
starch turning to sugar
the draining of the wort
and the manner of its tending
its shape—column or pot—
the ancient skill of the coppersmith
and the manner of its keeping
the flavors of the wood
the subtle art of the cooper
its tempering of sublimities
and the manner of its passing
of its passing
and the manner of his knowing
the manner of his loving
the grain, the water, the copper, the wood,
and the slow ferment of years.
Albert Sun in The New York Times:
For years, health advocates have been telling us to move more. But just how much more? A multitude of activity tracking devices now promise to answer that question. Generally, these digital monitors, which can be worn around the wrist, on collars and belts, even as jewelry, record how and how much you move throughout the day. Some aim to do a great deal more. Makers of the devices have begun intensive campaigns aimed at convincing the large population of “worried well” consumers to get wired and start recording their every move. How well do these work? Curious about the benefits and limits, I’ve been testing as many different models as possible — wearing them day and night for six months, 11 models in all, sometimes four at once. I’ve learned a great deal about these gadgets. And about myself.
I’d thought I was a fairly active person: I bike to work most days and hit the gym or get other physical activity two or three times a week. The trackers, on the other hand, showed that aside from those spates of exercise, for the vast majority of each day I was completely sedentary. But that may not be the whole story. Activity trackers typically combine a wearable device with a website or smartphone app to view data collected about your movements. The goal is to measure not only your steps from the parking lot to your desk, but also your sedentary down time at work or in front of a television, bursts of intense exercise and even your sleep habits — all to create a complete picture of your most and least healthful behaviors. Some models also offer tips and set goals based on your data.
Monday, March 10, 2014
Alphabetical list of nominated blog names followed by the blog post title:
(Please report any problems with links in the comments section below.)
For prize details, click here.
- 3 Quarks Daily: Can America Survive What Our 1% And Their Useful Idiots, The GOP And The Dems, Have Done To Us?
- 3 Quarks Daily: Enduring Sharedom
- Abandoned Footnotes: Francisco Franco, Robust Action, and the Power of Non-Commitment
- Another Amateur Economist: Walmart, Oligopoly and Community Economy
- Committee on the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing: What’s the Matter with Artificial Intelligence?
- Corey Robin: Jews Without Israel
- Family Inequality: State of Utah falsely claims same-sex marriage ban makes married, man-woman parenting more likely
- Forbes: How Putin Invented The New Authoritarianism
- Huffington Post: Love in the Syrian Revolution
- In Search of Enlightenment: Ottawa Talk on "Bridging the Gap"
- Los Angeles Review of Books: I Am Malala : The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
- Monkeypicked Aspie: Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky and Me
- New Economic Perspectives: Bow down to the Bubble: Larry Summerian Endorses Bubbleonian Madness and Paul Krugman Embraces the Hansenian Stagnation Thesis
- Open Democracy: A Cuban Diary
- Oxford Human Rights Hub: Malaysia’s Dangerous Path Towards “Allah”
- Pandaemonium: In Defense of Diversity
- Religious Left Law: Hugo Chávez and Chavismo: The Venezuelan Transcendence of Neo-Liberalism
- Save the Post Office: Betrayal without remedy: The unwinding of the Postal Service
- Social Pulses: Democratic Austerity: Semi sovereign states, semi sovereign peoples
- The Belgravia Dispatch: An Epidemic of Putin Derangement Syndrome
- The New Yorker: The Trial of Pervez Musharraf
- The Philosopher's Beard: Britain's sudden and bizarre resentment of migration
- The Philosopher's Stone: How to Do History
- Unreported: The Poster Boy For Unending War
- U.S. Intellectual History Blog: Gramsci, Our Contemporary, Part II
- U.S. Intellectual History Blog: History, Memory, and THE ACT OF KILLING
- U.S. Intellectual History Blog: How American Studies Matter
- U.S. Intellectual History Blog: Not Everyone Wants to Hear Lee Atwater Sing the Blues
- U.S. Intellectual History Blog: Signs of the Times
- U.S. Intellectual History Blog: Thinking Like a Gramscian Historian: An Introduction, a Provocation, and Guide to the Basics
- Whispers of Satan: Keeping Ukraine Together
- XPostFactoid: What if the (Republican) dog catches the Obamacar(e)?
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by Gerald Dworkin
It has been a well-recognized phenomenon for some time that how we frame our questions to others affects the answers they give. The best known work on the topic is by Kahneman and Tversky. They give examples such as the following.
Subjects were asked to choose between two treatments for 600 people who had a fatal disease. Treatment A was predicted to result in 400 deaths.
Frame Treatment A
Positive saves 200 lives
Negative 400 people will die
Treatment A was chosen by 72% of participants when it was presented with positive framing ("saves 200 lives") dropping to only 22% when the same choice was presented with negative framing ("400 people will die").
Another example: 92% of Ph.d students registered early when there was a penalty for late registration, but only 67% did so when the penalty was framed as a discount for early registration.
Those who choose because of these framing effects display a cognitive bias leading to choices that are less than fully rational.
More recently psychologists and philosophers who are part of the so-called experimental philosophy group (x-phi) turned their attention to whether such framing effects affect judgments about what to do in various well-known examples of moral dilemmas such as the notorious trolley problems. Those of you lucky enough to have escaped the latter will be exposed to them anon.
Here are some examples of framing effects in people's responses to the following hypothetical cases used by philosophers to determine what are called "moral intuitions." These are the judgments that people make about what is right or wrong, and what they would choose to do in these cases.
1) Standard trolley case. A runaway trolley is heading for a track on which five people are trapped. You are standing by a switch that can divert the trolley onto a track where there is only one person trapped. Should you or should you not divert the trolley?
2) Heavy Man. There is a heavy man standing on a bridge over the tracks. He is standing on a trap door that you can release by pulling a lever. If he drops onto the track with the five people ahead his body will stop the trolley before it gets to them.
3) Heavy Man. Same as above but you are standing on the bridge and have to push him over.
Many people believe that while you ought to divert the trolley in the standard case one ought not to do so in the Heavy Man case. It does not matter, for our purposes, whether you agree or not. What you probably do not believe, and should not believe, is that the order in which you present the cases should affect your judgments about what to do. That is, if we present 1 and then 3, or 3 and then 1, the judgments about what one ought to do in the two cases should not be affected.
by Tasneem Zehra Husain
"Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas". - Albert Einstein, (Obituary forEmmy Nother)
The first time you encounter a truly dazzling idea, its light seems almost blinding; slowly, your eyes grow more accustomed, and the glare dulls down to a glow which pleasantly illuminates your outlook. At least, that's how it usually happens, but Noether's Theorem is in a class of its own. I first came across it as a graduate student, about fifteen years ago, and to this day, I am stunned by its unfading brilliance.
I find it a travesty that Emmy Noether and her beautiful work are not more widely known. With International Women's Day just behind us, and Noether's birth anniversary around the corner, this seems like a good time to right that wrong. But before I introduce you to Emmy Noether, let me first tell you about her work. That, I am convinced, is how she would have wanted it.
Symmetries & Conservation Laws
The fact that the total energy of a system must always stay fixed, has been used to tremendous effect, countless times and in several contexts; from calculating the height to which a ball will rise, to predicting the existence of the neutrino. The laws of conservation of energy, momentum and charge, have long been considered sacrosanct, but for centuries, no one knew where they came from. To what do we owe the pleasure of their (very welcome) protection? Emmy Noether figured it out: Conservation laws arise out of symmetries, she said. And suddenly, just like that, there was a deeper underlying reason behind these mysteriously powerful statements - they had an origin.
Noether's theorem states that, to every (continuous) symmetry of a theory, there corresponds a conservation law.
What exactly does that mean? Physicist Philip Morrison writes, "symmetry is related to the indiscernibility of differences. Once you walk into the hall of a Palladian building, you can't quite remember whether you turned left or right". ‘The indiscernibility of differences', while not a formal definition, is a good working description. An object is symmetric if some operation can be performed on it without leaving a trace: a circle, for instance, is rotationally symmetric, because can be rotated (about its center) through any arbitrary angle, and no one will know the difference.
The symmetries Noether was concerned with are far more abstract - they are symmetries of the equations that describe a process (more properly speaking, symmetries of the Lagrangian), not symmetries of the objects participating in the process. In other words, they refer to differences that are indiscernable to the laws of physics.
I'm sitting in the empty bathtub with all my clothes on and my laptop in my lap, because it's the only place I can't hear the neighborhood jackhammer, when a headline from The Onion catches my attention: 15 Years In Environment Of Constant Fear Somehow Fails To Rehabilitate Prisoner. "About time," I shout, to the empty bathroom. The satirical article goes on:
[O]fficials at Woodbourne Correctional Facility struggled Tuesday to make sense of how the prisoner had not been rehabilitated by 15 years of constant threats, physical abuse, and periodic isolation. "It just doesn't seem possible that an inmate could live for a decade and a half in a completely dehumanizing environment in which violent felons were constantly on the verge of attacking or even killing him and not emerge an emotionally stable, productive member of society"…
A story's inclusion in The Onion signals its self-evidence. The story—in this case, the inefficacy of incarceration—must be so obvious, so incontrovertible, that it's funny to dress it up as breaking news. It bodes well, I think, that this particular joke is getting some mainstream laughs because it hasn't always. (To be clear, by "joke" I mean "farce" and by "laughs" I mean "attention." The distinction is important because lately prisons have become the object of increased media consideration, but sometimes the spotlight takes a precarious form. Does entertainment like Orange is the New Black help or hurt? Do we care? When it inspires fans to dress up in blackface and orange prison garb for Halloween, you might see the risk. A young friend of mine, someone who narrowly escaped the pipeline to prison himself, interpreted the name of the show as a reference to skin color, rather than fashion: "the new black," he said, pointing to his bare arm. The intended joke was lost on him.)
And the notion that the prison system works—that it makes us safer, that it doles out appropriate punishment to deserving offenders and offers meaningful rehabilitative opportunities to those willing to change—has become a notion deserving of derision. It remains one of the greatest farces of our current justice system. I know a few who have served time and had an experience, sometimes a miracle, that changed them for the better. But mostly these experiences transpired in spite of, not because of, the environment. Incarceration, in its current form, does not rehabilitate but rather exacerbates criminality and mental illness.
by Brooks Riley
by Tamuira Reid
It's hot out. We're by the pool.
"Shh – baby, we're talking. I'm talking to your father." Mama slaps my butt playfully, not hard like when I ate all her thyroid pills. Not hard like when she's scared.
I climb onto her lap. Papa watches us from the pool. It's shaped like a peanut. He never really swims, just stands there in the water looking distracted. His elbows rest on the edge, big plastic cup in one hand, a cigarette in the other. Mama doesn't smoke, but she's got the plastic cup too. She closes her eyes when she takes a sip. Closes her eyes a lot.
I don't know it now, but he will kick these bad habits one day. Quit drinking and stop buying Winston's. He'll call me up to tell me how he threw his pipe into the ocean. I'll laugh at his story while I light my own cigarette, trying to picture him standing over a cliff, flinging his most prized possession into the cold winter waves.
Papa tells me to beat it for a while, he needs to talk to mama. She grabs me tighter, wet chest pressing into my back. He stares at the two of us for a minute, his brown eyes looking into our blue eyes, the father looking at the mother. The father looking at the daughter. A year from now he'll look at the pictures of us on his desk in his new apartment twenty minutes outside of town. He'll pick us up every other weekend and take us to the mall for corn dogs and soda, and wonder when his heart begins aching where he went wrong. How seventeen years of marriage went down the drain, and why the tears on her face and long vacant stares weren't enough to make him feel bad. He'll write a letter the following spring from inside that same apartment, and it'll start "Mien Liebe", my sweetheart, and my mother will read it and think, and hurt, but not hurt enough. She will tuck it away in a wooden box under the bed, and only pull it out ten years later to show to her daughter in a single nostalgic moment.
Papa is still staring from the pool shaped like a peanut, and my sister has her goggles on. She can hold her breath under water. She sneaks up to daddy and wraps her arms around the hairy part of his belly. He takes another sip and tells her to get off him, no goddamn horseplay, this is a serious time. She's so pretty. Long blonde hair and a red bathing suit. The baby cries from her bouncy seat in the doorway, and mama winds it back up again.
Papa is drying off. He's wearing the blue shorts and they're all bunched between his legs, and he can smoke without using his hands. He can drive like that too – no hands or anything. Balancing a hot cup of coffee between his knees. One time he ran over a gopher that shot out of the lawn and into the street like a bottle rocket. He told me not to tell anybody and I swore I wouldn't because, like he said, mamas are sensitive about that kind of thing.
When they are both remarried and semi-happy, their past just a "fart in the wind" as my sister will put it, my parents find some sort of solace in a shared cup of coffee. "The girls ready yet?" "What do you think?" she'll reply and they'll both laugh. "Got a fresh pot?" "Just about to put it on and she'll scoot past him, squeezing into our small kitchen. Every other weekend pick-ups become their every other weekend visits and they both look forward to them in their own silent ways.
The sun looks like a giant orange sitting in the sky and mama keeps squeezing me. I love you baby, she whispers in my ear with that damp, sweet breath. Papa says he's taking all his books with him. And maybe the antiques, too. You can't leave me with nothing, mama says, and he tells her I'm not – I'm leaving you the kids.
by Akim Reinhardt
In an early episdoe of Mad Men, a character named Ken Cosgrove publishes a short story in the Atlantic Monthly. It'sentitled:
"Tapping a Maple on a Cold Vermont Morning."
That's just about pitch perfect for the American literary scene circa 1960. The coating of influential New England literati is so thick on the young author, you can practically see it glisten.
But the reason I recently remembered "Tapping a Maple on a Cold Vermont Morning" had nothing to do with Mad Men or literature. Rather, it's because of late I've been remembering winter.
For much of the United States, including here in Maryland, it has been a particularly fierce winter. Not the snowiest necessarily, though there has certainly been snow. But long and cold.
This is my 13th consecutive winter in Maryland, and it's the first one that harkens back to my experience of onerous winters in harsher climes.
From the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, I toughed it out, spending the better part of seven winters in southeastern Michigan and another five in eastern Nebraska. These are serious winter places. They're not Siberia or Winnipeg, but they will punch you in the face, and you need to come to terms with that if you live there.
Southern Michigan winters, first and foremost, are just plain long. Snow usually begins falling in November and never quite goes away. Just when you think it might all melt off, boom! Another half foot covers everything. None of this March goes out like a lamb stuff. Every bit of March is winter. So is a chunk of April.
When will it end? you find yourself pleading aloud to no one in particular. It just goes and goes and goes. It grinds you down and forces you to get back up again. Every year you know what you're in for. Body blow after body blow. And you wonder to yourself how the people from northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, the ones who mock you for your soft, southern winters, how do they do it?
by Eric Byrd
Literature flies so high and is so hotly spiced, that our notes may seem hardly more than breaths of common air, or draughts of water to drink. But that is part of our lesson. (Specimen Days, "New Themes Entered Upon")
Intensely artful, intensely vernacular – some draughts of the tipsy-making water Emerson talks about in the essay by which young Whitman was called ("The Poet"). But Whitman's waters do not flow in the clear stream of a style that refuses to call attention to itself – the bizarre ideal of those dismayed at the demanding perceptual detours and little linguistic renewals that constitute "good" writing, truly readable writing. Whitman recoiled from what he called "the sickliness of verbal melody," and the prose of Specimen Days is among the most casual and colloquial in English – but the style still calls and holds one's attention. Style, Flaubert insisted, is an "absolute way of seeing," and Whitman makes us to see what he sees, in the way he sees, with all the corporeal contours and spiritual subtleties apparent to him.
And did he see! He was everywhere. Metropolitan man of ferried crowds, omnibus flaneur and opera-goer in the booming Astoria of midcentury New York City – an ink-stained bohemian, arguing politics over sudsy steins in rowdy fireman taverns – a stroller of Broadway, where he sees Andrew Jackson, Dickens, and "the first Japanese ambassadors." In 1861 he goes down to fort-belted wartime Washington ("her surrounding hills spotted with guns") to nurse the wounded and watch over the dying – meets the bloody boatloads down at the wharf, dresses wounds, reads the Bible at bedsides, loans books, distributes money, stamped letters and writing paper – soda water and syrups when Lee is repulsed at Gettysburg – and pens letters home for the illiterate and feeble. He doesn't know how much good he does but he cannot leave them, stays on in the embattled, cemetery- and hospital-environed capital through the four years of carnage. When not in the wards, he loafs in army camps, observes and notes the goings-on, chills with the pickets through their watches, and clerks part-time in a government bureau until its indignant head realizes he's employing an "indecent poet." Once stands in the street all night as endless columns file past to the front, savoring unseen the jokes and songs that waft through the dark. He and Lincoln nod to each other when they pass in the street. He chats with Rebel prisoners and Union deserters; compares eastern and western, northern and southern soldiers, speculates about regional types, local moldings, the looks of future Americans. The war – "the most profound lesson of my life," with "the marrow of the tragedy concentrated in those Army Hospitals" – breaks his health, and the lusty rambler is confined paralyzed for a time. He regains much of his strength later, enough to resume "gaddings-about in cities" and even to manage "a long jaunt west"—to the "distances join'd like magic" by the railroad—and there to eyewitness the course of empire, to see America planting the prairies with world-feeding wheat, tunneling railways through mountains, feeding forests into steam-powered sawmills, the sublime statistics of this titanic industry yet dwarfed by the continent itself, by the tinted canyons and empyrean peaks, the melted snows thundering through gorges.
Seo Young Deok. Nirvana 2, 2010.
Strained Analogies Between Recently Released Films and Current Events: Non-stop, the Ben Bernanke Biopic
by Matt McKenna
Over the past year, theatres have been inundated with terrific biopics: Leonardo DiCaprio won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar for his rendition of Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club, and 12 Years a Slave won best picture for its depiction of the life of Solomon Northrup. Less talked about, but even more interesting than the aforementioned films is Non-stop, the recently released Ben Bernanke biopic starring Liam Neeson. Granted, the film isn't a straight retelling of the economist's life--at no point does Neeson's character open up an Excel document and ponder interest rates. Instead, Neeson's character spends most of his time texting terrorists and punching people in the nose, things for which Bernanke isn't particularly well known. Don't be fooled by these surface differences, however. Director Jaume Collet-Serra realized that, in order to adequately tell the story of Ben Bernanke's life as the chairman of the Federal Reserve, he would have to do it through the lens of a suspense-thriller set on a transatlantic flight.
Non-stop is a fantastic example of a high-concept film: an international flight is hijacked, and the accused hijacker happens to be Bill Marks, the American air marshal assigned to protect the plane. Because the movie is more of a mystery film than an action film, the overarching tension isn't so much about the safety of the passengers on board. Rather, audiences are expected to wonder whether or not Marks, played by Liam Neeson, is actually hijacking the plane or if he is, in fact, attempting to save it from being hijacked. The is-he-a-good-guy-or-is-he-a-bad-guy question that pervades Non-stop mirrors the questions surrounding Ben Bernanke and his tenure as chairman of the Federal Reserve. In a sense, Bernanke was the air marshal assigned to protect the United States economy. And indeed, the policies Bernanke enacted while the economy was "hijacked" by the Great Recession have engendered voluminous commentary on the subject of whether or not he did a good job or a bad job at improving the country's economic outlook.
by Tara* Kaushal
Some thoughts on diet and exercise, food and drink, and health. Conceptual image by Sahil Mane Photography.
I've been on one diet or the other since I was in my teens. Most have been the very definition of crash (cigarettes and Diet Coke for a week, anyone?) and, later, I've tried more wholesome, longer-term lifestyle ones (that I would soon abandon and revert to my yoyo crash-trash diet cycle). First, it was only for aesthetic reasons, to lose weight; the lifestyle diets, Eat More Weigh Less and the like, started when I started to encompass health and fitness as a goal for my body (duh)!
Diet vs. Exercise: A Gendered Choice?
While all of us recognise that the key to a healthy body is a combination of good-for-you food and exercise (and not smoking, limited drinking, etc, and the absence of genetic and birth defects) most people fall in to one or the other category—some preferring exercise, unable to control their need to eat, drink and be merry; others preferring to diet or at least practice diet control, unable or unwilling to exercise. There are the some that do both, as we all should, and those, of course, that do neither.
I've realised that the choice, whether to diet or exercise, both or neither, is quite personality driven. Dieting is passive, to not eat; exercise is active, to get off your butt… And, in light of this fact, I hate to admit that my observation, that more women choose to diet, more men choose to exercise, falls in to gender stereotypes. Though there are exceptions all around, and my casual survey, of friends and boyfriends, and numbers from my local gym, has a small sample size, one could analyse my observation to bits. Is it because women are more driven by aesthetics, we are judged on them from an early age; and power, muscle, sports are traditionally male? Then there are the questions of time, priorities and lifestyle factors, and socioeconomic and cultural positioning. (More about the question of genderism in sports.) Also, men or women, individuals negotiate a complex social, familial, ethical, religious, consumerist, emotional, psychological and gendered relationship with food and drink.
by Josh Yarden
The white pigeon
waiting perhaps worrying
perched high up on a shadowy ledge
does not know that wall
once supported an ancient shrine venerated and contested
does not know it is a symbol of peace
among the humans
seeking respite from the sun
in a safe, defensible position
We are no different
fashioning safe dwellings for our offspring
negotiating a delicate balance in a precarious place
confering our fears, hopes and dreams
upon unknowing creatures
by Leanne Ogasawara
It is my second favorite essay of all time: C.S Lewis' Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages. First delivered as a lecture in 1956, the piece was later published posthumuously in this collection of his essays in 1966. Unlike in my #1 favorite essay, William Golding's magnificent Hot Gates, CS Lewis does not seek to form arguments or to persuade. What he does instead is to transport the reader back in time, illuminating the medieval world-view using nothing more than words alone.
He begins his essay urging the reader to perform an experiment. He says,
Go out on any starry night and walk alone for half an hour, resolutely assuming that pre-Copernican astronomy is true.
Look up at the sky with that assumption in mind. The real difference between living in that universe and living in ours will, I predict, begin to dawn on you.
Intrigued, I decided to take him up on his suggestion. It so happened that my beloved and I had found ourselves up on the summit of Mauna Kea, on the Big Island. Home to the world's greatest collection of large telescopes, the skies up there are dark and famously clear.
As a girl, I had wanted to become a cosmologist. It was my first great passion. And, in addition to reading astronomy books voraciously, I spent many nights using my amateur telescope to look up at the stars from my parent's house in Los Angeles. Growing up, I drifted away from cosmology, turning naturally toward philosophy. Still, I always loved the stars--for as Van Gogh said, they make me dream. Returning home to Los Angeles about twenty five years after leaving it, I have been dismayed by their disappearance. What happened to all those myriad of stars of my childhood? Indeed, I cannot recall the last time I saw the Milky Way--had never seen it in Japan and was sad to see it was simply invisible from LA now. It is dis-heartening, really, since the splendid vision of the stars at night is something that we used to just take for granted.
by Grace Boey
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading - treating - till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through -
And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum -
Kept beating - beating - till I thought
My mind was going numb -
And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space - began to toll,
As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here -
And then a Plank in Reason broke,
And I dropped down, and down -
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing - then -
* * *
In the poem, I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, Emily Dickinson watches a part of herself die as she sinks into insanity. The fragmentation and loss of the Self that Dickinson describes is a common theme amongst victims of mental illness. By their very nature, conditions like schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder have profound impact on one's personality, behaviour and beliefs. Mental illness can rear its head and usurp one's identity at any time; what happens next can be confusing and frightening, for victims as well as their loved ones.
by Bill Benzon
My earliest memory is of a song about a fly that married a bumblebee. I've been told–I don't really remember this–that early one morning I played that record so often that it drove a visiting uncle to distraction.
I don't know how many people count music as their earliest memory, but I surely can't be unique in that. For music is a basic and compelling form of human experience. Martin Luther believed that "next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits." And so it does.
Which perhaps is why we are so ambivalent about it. If it can control us, then it is dangerous. Why else would repressive regimes have worked so hard to suppress jazz and rock and roll? Why would the Taliban attempt to suppress all music?
But let us set the danger aside. It is the power that interests me.
Some years ago Roy Eldridge, the jazz great trumpeter, told Whitney Balliett (American Musicians: 56 Portraits in Jazz) about playing with Gene Krupa:
When ... we started to play, I'd fall to pieces. The first three or four bars of my first solo, I'd shake like a leaf, and you could hear it. Then this light would surround me, and it would seem as if there wasn't any band there, and I'd go right through and be all right. It was something I never understood.
What's going on? I suppose we could say it had something to do with the brain and nervous system, but what?
In a similar vein Vladimir Horowitz, the classical pianist, told Helen Epstein (Music Talks: Conversations with Musicians): "The moment that I feel that cutaway–the moment I am in uniform–it's like a horse before the races. You start to perspire. You feel already in you some electricity to do something." Again, the nervous system, getting him primed, for what?
"When I'm right and the band is right and the music is right," [Sonny] Rollins said, "I feel myself getting closer to the place where the sound is less polished and more aboriginal. That's what I'm striving for. The trumpeter Roy Eldridge once told a guy he could only reach a divine state in performance four or five times a year. That sounds about right for me."
A divine state? What's that – perhaps it's another one of those things that the nervous system rigs up, no? Perhaps. We might also wonder whether or not it's the same thing that Martin Luther had in mind when he talked of music as "the greatest treasure in the world." And yet they lived in such different worlds, after all: Martin Luther, Sonny Rollins, Roy Eldridge, and Vladimir Horowitz.
Sunday, March 09, 2014
A nice empirical study of vaccine risk communication--and an unfortunate, empirically uninformed reaction to it
Dan Kahan at the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School:
Pediatrics published (in “advance on-line” form)an important study yesterday on the effect of childhood-vaccine risk communication.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers including Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reiﬂer, both of whom have done excellent studies on public-health risk communication in the past.
NR et al. conducted an experiment in which they showed a large sample of U.S. parents with children age 17 or under communications on the risks and benefits of childhood vaccinations.
Exposure to the communications, they report, produced one or another perverse effect, including greater concern over vaccine risks and, among a segment of respondents with negative attitudes toward vaccines, a lower self-reported intent to vaccinate any “future child” for MMR (mumps, measles, rubella).
The media/internet reacted with considerable alarm: “Parents Less Likely to Vaccinate Kids After Hearing Government’s Safety Assurance”; “Trying To Convince Parents To Vaccinate Their Kids Just Makes The Problem Worse”; “Pro-vaccination efforts, debunking autism myths may be scaring wary parents from shots”. Etc.
Actually, I think this a serious misinterpretation of NR et al.
From The Telegraph:
'I never forget a face, but in your case I’d be glad to make an exception.'
Les Dawson (1931-1993):
'My wife sent her photograph to the Lonely Hearts Club. They sent it back saying they weren't that lonely.'
Bob Newhart ( September 5, 1929-):
'I don't like country music, but I don't mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, denigrate means 'put down'.
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900):
'The English country gentleman galloping after a fox is the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.'
Dorothy Parker (1893-1967):
'If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.'
W.C Fields (1880-1946):
'Start every day off with a smile and get it over with.'