Wednesday, May 04, 2016
Rafia Zakaria in The Guardian:
She writes of places where many Beyoncé fans rarely go, the portions of London where the faces are black and brown, where men huddle outside shop-front mosques and veiled women are trailed by long chains of children. Warsan Shire, the Somali-British poet whose words are featured in Beyoncé’s new globe-shaking Lemonade album, is a bard of these marginalised areas – she was even named the first Young Poet Laureate for London at 25.
Beyoncé reads parts of Shire’s poems, including For Women Who Are Difficult To Love, The Unbearable Weight of Staying (the End of the Relationship) and Nail Technician as Palm Reader in interludes between songs in her 12-track, hour-long video album that premiered this week. Truly, Shire was a brilliant choice for Beyoncé’s unapologetically black and female album: like the people and places from which they are woven, Shire’s poems – published in a volume titled Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth – are laden with longing for other lands and complicated by the contradictions of belonging in new ones. In Conversations about Home, she writes: “I tore up and ate my own passport in an airport hotel. I’m bloated with language I can’t afford to forget”, and: “They ask me how did you get here? Can’t you see it on my body? The Libyan desert red with immigrant bodies, the Gulf of Aden bloated, the city of Rome with no jacket.”
Finally, here is the migrant talking back, trolling the absurdities of documentation that have such unquestioned legitimacy in the Western architecture of border and boundary, admission and exclusion.
Ben Orlin in Math With Bad Drawings:
Me: So, you want to get math?
Assailant: Obviously! Why else would one human being violently accost another, if not for the acquisition of knowledge?
Me: Easy, then! All you need to do is listen to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Assailant: [arches eyebrow] You can’t be serious. The Beatles album?
Me: [easing out of their grip, brushing my collar] Naturally! The whole album is trippy and spectacular, of course. But I’m talking about the final moments of the final track, a song that Rolling Stone has hailed as the Beatles’ greatest: “A Day in the Life.”
Assailant: [listening on an iPhone] This better be good, or I’m going to pound you into a fine math teacher carpaccio.
Me: Patience, assailant, patience! Wait until three minutes and fifty seconds in. That’s when a cacophonous noise begins. It’s the sound of a 40-piece orchestra playing absolute gibberish.
Assailant: [brow furrowing] This music sounds like I’m losing my mind.
Me: Exactly! Producer George Martin had some very odd and vague instructions to the musicians. Start quiet; end loud. Start low in pitch; end high. “You’ve got to make your own way up there,” he said, “as slidey as possible so that the clarinets slurp, trombones gliss, violins slide without fingering any notes. Most of all, don’t listen to the fellow next to you because I don’t want you to be doing the same thing.”
More here. And come back after reading the article to watch the video for the Beatles song:
Kenan Malik in Pandaemonium:
‘Can Europe be the same with different people in it?’ So asked the American writer Christopher Caldwell in his book, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, published a few years ago. It is a question that has been asked with increasing urgency in recent years as the question of immigration, and in particular of Islamic immigration, has taken centre stage.
At the heart of this question lies the dilemma of how Western societies should respond to the influx of peoples with different traditions, backgrounds and beliefs. What should be the boundaries of tolerance in such societies? Should immigrants be made to assimilate to Western customs and norms or is integration a two-way street? Such questions have bedeviled politicians and policy-makers for the past half-century. They have also tied liberals in knots.
The conundrums about diversity have been exacerbated by the two issues that now dominate contemporary European political discourse – the migration crisis and the problem of terrorism. How we discuss these issues, and how we relate the one to the other, will shape the character of European societies over the net period.
Jason Goldman for Conservation Magazine:
When the story of Cecil the lion’s death at the hands of an American hunter hit the media, the global response was “the largest reaction in the history of wildlife conservation,” according to a new paper. Researchers from Oxford’s Wildlife Research Conservation Unit (or WildCRU, the same organization that had tracked the lion since 2009) analyzed the traditional and social media response to the hunting incident. They found that a combination of elements in the story may have made it go viral in a different way than the average Internet sensation. And conservationists may subsequently have a golden opportunity to transform the “Cecil Moment” into a “Cecil Movement.”
To recap the sequence of events around Cecil’s death: Around 10:00 pm on July 1, 2015, a hunter from Minnesota named Walter Palmer sent an arrow into the side of a 13-year-old male African lion nicknamed ‘Cecil’ on privately owned property outside of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. This arrow failed to kill the beast, but the second one, shot some 11 hours later, did. Several weeks later, the news hit both mainstream news and social media. On July 27, Palmer was publicly named as the hunter. The next day, Jimmy Kimmel denounced the hunt—and trophy hunting in general—during the monologue portion of his nightly talk show on the ABC network. While tearing up, he encouraged folks to donate to WildCRU and displayed the unit’s website on the screen. The site received some 4.4 million visitors following Kimmel’s monologue before it went down due to server overload.
Susie Neilson in Nautilus:
Felice Frankel lives between the lines. Along with being a part-time science photographer, she’s a researcher at the Center for Materials Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “As a photographer,” Frankel says, “I look for edges.” Her previous career, as a photographer of architecture, taught her how to capture the most striking elements of a design. “But here’s the thing,” she says. “Edges don’t really exist. If you really, really get down to things, what looks like a smooth transition from one place to another, when you investigate it microscopically or macroscopically, is not as perfect as it appears.”
Take the photographs above. If you zoom out from the defined grey channels, Frankel says, you’d see a microfluidic device, a tool that exploits the small-scale properties of fluids, like surface tension; and if you zoom into the hedged image of the atrium, she says, “We’d start seeing the roots of the plants, and the rough edges of the stone. The more detail we have, the more we question, ‘Are there real demarcations between one [thing] and another?” Frankel’s work has been featured on the covers of National Geographic, Nature, Science, and other magazines. She has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and was an Artist-in-Residence at MIT’s Edgerton Center, “where mind and hand come together.” As Nautilus learned in a recent interview with Frankel, you can say her photographs feel like art—just don’t call her an artist.
Observe that when I speak of crates
your mind provides one straight away.
Likely you are thinking of the fruiterer’s crate;
a shallow slatted box of rain-matted pine,
the archetype of apples stencilled on the side,
a cartouche slot above it for a grocer’s hand.
Your crate may be the sturdy plastic tub
of the eco-minded council, waiting at the gate
with all its rinsed tomato cans and, in this case
a drowned frog.
Or then again the solid, beer-smoothed wood
hefted by the publican
with its hungover slump of bottles
to the sunny yard, the morning after.
Your crate, in fact, exists as soon as it is thought.
Its shape is shown in speaking of it.
Now, let us speak of love.
by Jo Bell
from And Other Poems website, 2012
Tuesday, May 03, 2016
Kenneth M. Pollack in the New York Times:
“A Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil, From Tahrir Square to ISIS,” by Robert F. Worth, tells the story of the 2011 Arab Spring and its slide into autocracy and civil war better than I ever could have imagined its being told. The volume is remarkably slender for one of such drama and scope — beautifully written, Worth’s words scudding easily and gracefully across the pages. It is also a marvel of storytelling, with the chapters conjuring a poignancy fitting for the subject.
Worth, a former correspondent for The New York Times, employs the familiar journalistic conceit of telling the history of the Arab Spring by presenting the stories of different individuals whose lives became caught up in it. While the method is timeworn, it has rarely been done with such skill.
Summer Brennan in Literary Hub:
Like a lot of avid readers, I enjoyed Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up but bristled when it came to the section about books. The gist of her now-famous method is this: go through all your possessions by category, touch everything, keep only that which “sparks joy,” and watch as your world is transformed. It seems simple enough, but Kondo gives minimalism the hard sell when it comes to books, urging readers to ditch as many of them as they can. You may think that a book sparks joy, she argues, but you’re probably wrong and should get rid of it, especially if you haven’t read it yet.
Paring down one’s wardrobe is one thing, but what kind of degenerate only wants to own 30 books (or fewer) at a time on purpose? What sort of psychopath rips out pages from their favorite books and throws away the rest so they can, as Kondo puts it, “keep only the words they like?” For those of us for whom even the word “book” sparks joy, this constitutes a serious disconnect. Still, as the weather gets warmer, many readers will tackle their spring cleaning with The Life-Changing Magic in hand.
I wondered, can Kondo’s Spartan methods be adapted for someone who feels about books the way the National Rifle Association feels about guns, invoking the phrase “cold dead hands”? I decided to give it a try.
Cade Metz in Wired:
The Friday afternoon news dump, a grand tradition observed by politicians and capitalists alike, is usually supposed to hide bad news. So it was a little weird that Elon Musk, founder of electric car maker Tesla, and Sam Altman, president of famed tech incubator Y Combinator, unveiled their new artificial intelligence company at the tail end of a weeklong AI conference in Montreal this past December.
But there was a reason they revealed OpenAI at that late hour. It wasn’t that no one was looking. It was that everyonewas looking. When some of Silicon Valley’s most powerful companies caught wind of the project, they began offering tremendous amounts of money to OpenAI’s freshly assembled cadre of artificial intelligence researchers, intent on keeping these big thinkers for themselves. The last-minute offers—some made at the conference itself—were large enough to force Musk and Altman to delay the announcement of the new startup. “The amount of money was borderline crazy,” says Wojciech Zaremba, a researcher who was joining OpenAI after internships at both Google andFacebook and was among those who received big offers at the eleventh hour.
Morgan Meis in The Easel:
This year is shaping up to be downright Boschian. We are speaking here of Hieronymus Bosch, the painter. 2016 happens to mark the five-hundred-year anniversary of Bosch’s death. So, Bosch’s home and eponymous town, Den Bosch (or, more correctly but much harder to say, ‘s-Hertogenbosch), has assembled the largest retrospective of Bosch’s work ever to be exhibited. The exhibit (Jheronimus Bosch – Visions of a Genius) is at the Noordbrabants Museum through May 8th. Such is public demand to see the show that this normally sedate regional museum has extended its opening hours until past midnight. And Bosch mania will not end there. The Prado in Madrid, for example, is hosting its own blockbuster Bosch exhibit beginning at the end of May and running into September. The crowds at the Noordbrabants Museum and the activity in the global press suggests that Bosch is more relevant, more interesting to the public mind than ever. Bosch mania is set to peak at the same time as the heat of the Northern summer, with festival events scheduled throughout the summer.
This extraordinary level of interest is generated by the simple fact that whosoever sees the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch does not soon, it is safe to say, forget them. That’s because they are fantastic works of art. There’s so much going on in a typical Bosch painting (more on that later) that the eye cannot but dart around, taking in the strange imagery. For that reason, Bosch’s work was popular from the very beginning—that beginning being the 15th century, when Bosch was alive and painting away in the lands of Northern Europe we now call The Netherlands. Throughout the ensuing years, Bosch’s star waxed and waned, but his work never passed out of public consciousness completely. Then, in the early part of the 20th century, he was “rediscovered” in full force. The 20th century public loved the outrageous scenarios to be found in Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings, artists especially. Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, and Leonora Carrington explicitly referenced Bosch in their own work, just to name a few.
But let us turn to the most important work that has survived from Piero’s oeuvre, the frescos of the Legend of the True Cross in the church of San Francesco in Arezzo. They were the donation of a rich family, the Bacci, and took a long time to be completed. Piero joined the project in 1452 at the latest and created one of the most imposing fresco cycles of the early Renaissance. In fourteen scenes he depicts—probably following the text of the Legenda Aurea—the Legend of the True Cross from the death of Adam to the Cross’s entrance into Jerusalem. Again it is perspective in its interplay with light that gives the scenes their vivid presence. He places his powerful figures near the front edge of the pictures, so that in their statuesque physicality and colorful garments they move as if on a stage. Piero is a gripping narrator who never diverts our attention from the main figures and the predominant events.
In the depiction of emotional agitation, emphatically recommended by aesthetic theories of the time, Piero is restrained. For him, it is gesture and especially gaze that are most important. We encounter only one figure who is emotional in the expressive sense defined by the art historian Aby Warburg: the mourning woman at the burial of Adam who raises her arms and opens her mouth in a wail. The gracefulness Vasari praises in Piero is evident in the female figures surrounding the Queen of Sheba and the Empress Helen. Piero’s sensitive feeling for light culminates in the scene of the slumbering Constantine, where the dark of night is wonderfully illuminated by the heavenly messenger bringing the dream in which he is shown the True Cross by an angel.
David Bennun in More Intelligent Life:
“Lemonade” is about race and sex, subjects which are now at the forefront of the American political landscape, as the Black Lives Matter movement gains momentum and women find themselves fending off those who would strip them of their reproductive rights. “Lemonade”, the visual album, combines these subjects: it is explicitly about female blackness. It isn’t a manifesto – it’s not that coherent, nor does it attempt to be – but it is by its existence both a kind of mutiny and a proclamation of solidarity. It is defined by who it is for: black women.
Yet at no point does Beyoncé fall short as an entertainer. This is agitprop with a sky-high budget; “Lemonade” is lavishly styled, immaculately shot and full of beautiful people. Often surreal, it taps deep into a psychosexual dream world, and borrows from the visual language of Buñuel and Dali.The effect is unsettling. Among the unsettled is Piers Morgan, who wrote about how uncomfortable it makes him, and how much he preferred it when Beyoncé was fun and apolitical. In my book, you should as a rule take note of Morgan’s opinions only to assure yourself they do not align with your own. But in this case Morgan is useful: he stands in for the kind of person Beyonce is trying to disturb, which is anybody unnerved or threatened by a black woman who doesn’t conform to their expectations. “Lemonade” isn’t meant to be easy going: it’s high-gloss art that’s disruptive and subversive (all the more so because it will probably sell in the millions). It’s no doubt clever and calculated, but so what? When, in pop music, did that become a sin? This record wants everything its own way, to be at once shiny mass-market product and gritty sedition – and it just about pulls it off. “Lemonade” lives up to its title: acid-sharp, amply sugared and mightily refreshing.
Though shy by nature, Farman is a writer and singer of Kurdish music, who started at the age of twelve performing for the Kurdish diaspora in Streatham, south London. He returned to this region in 2013 and now gets by performing at weddings and cafés to the accompaniment of electric organ or the more traditional tembûr. With wages usually several months in arrears, most Peshmerga have a second job when not at the front, but to our constant surprise they still turn up to train and fight whenever called to do so. Farman’s repertoire, though traditional in style, covers subjects as conventional as unrequited love and as contemporary as the economy and the victims of the current war. It includes elegies to those who have died in flight, drowning in their bid to cross the Mediterranean. But when among his comrades, the most popular tunes are his paeans to the Peshmerga – “those who face death”. These are always well received and have the ability to animate a group of tired fighters training in a cold, steady drizzle in a way that we, with our translated encouragements, can only long for.
Slowly catching the attention of his fellow Peshmerga who begin to gather round, weapons slung and cigarettes lit, he starts to sing. Quietly at first, retaining a youthful self-consciousness, he soon gets into his stride, encouraged by the increasing accompaniment of the clapping crowd, who by the end, arms linked, have broken into a dance. Sometimes another Peshmerga will dare to join in, to the delight of everyone, as we are now in for a treat. The resulting lyrical exchange – part duet, part duel – is a tense one and clearly hard fought (even to those who can’t fully comprehend it). The result rarely seems in doubt, with the youthful and diminutive Farman usually emerging victorious. The encounters hold a particular appeal for some of our younger soldiers, attuned as they are to a similar style of adversarial performance in rap music.
One of the unusual things about Malick is how much life he lived before he was bitten by the film-making bug. He studied philosophy at Harvard and Oxford, where he wrote a doctoral thesis on the concept of the world in Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Wittgenstein; then he worked as a photographer and wrote for theNew Yorker, before studying film at the American Film Institute Conservatory under George Stevens.
He did a rewrite on the Dirty Harry script for Warner Bros – the serial killer in his version was a vigilante – and Marlon Brando was considered for the lead part. When Clint Eastwood was cast, however, Malick’s script was dropped in favour of an earlier one. The thought of American cinema’s premier Emersonian polishingDirty Harry’s one-liners (“You’ve gotta ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Does your ruin benefit the earth, does it help the grass to grow? Well, does it, punk?”) remains in the realm of conjecture.
So, the man who made Badlands was no neophyte film geek, but an accomplished person, a student and a writer, fluent in Spanish and French, possessed of a quiet confidence that led people to predict great things. While shooting Badlands, he fed Sissy Spacek her lines on rolled-up pieces of paper like love notes, peppering her with questions: “What do you think of this? How do you think Holly would do this?” Spacek remembers, “Right away, he gave me ownership of the character.”
Malick told Sheen, “That gun is like a magic wand.” The spell under which the actors worked was so intense that the finished film came as something of a shock. “He’s a killer . . . a horrible killer,” said Sheen of the character he played, after seeing the film for the first time, as if he had realised it only then.
Gretchen Reynolds in The New York Times:
For many of us, the most pressing question about exercise is: How little can I get away with? The answer, according to a sophisticated new study of interval training, may be very, very little. In this new experiment, in fact, 60 seconds of strenuous exertion proved to be as successful at improving health and fitness as three-quarters of an hour of moderate exercise. Let me repeat that finding: One minute of arduous exercise was comparable in its physiological effects to 45 minutes of gentler sweating. I have been writing for some time about the potential benefits of high-intensity interval training, a type of workout that consists of an extremely draining but brief burst of exercise — essentially, a sprint — followed by light exercise such as jogging or resting, then another sprint, more rest, and so on. Athletes rely on intervals to improve their speed and power, but generally as part of a broader, weekly training program that also includes prolonged, less-intense workouts, such as long runs.
But in the past few years, exercise scientists and many of the rest of us have become intrigued by the idea of exercising exclusively with intervals, ditching long workouts altogether. The allure of this approach is obvious. Interval sessions can be short, making them a boon for anyone who feels that he or she never has enough time to exercise. Previously, I have written about a number of different interval programs, involving anywhere from 10 minutes of exhausting intervals in a single session to seven minutes, six, four and even fewer. Each program had scientific backing. But because of time and funding constraints, most studies of interval training have had limits, such as not including a control group, being of short duration or studying only health or fitness results, not both.
Monday, May 02, 2016
by Paul North
In these monthly posts I will survey the landscape of "fateful thinking," as we glimpse it on the moons orbiting old Europe today. The premise will be that in politics, culture, academia, medicine, economics, and private life, among other regions of experience, we—those in charge and those charged up and those under the thumb of others in this orbit—tend to express ourselves, on the most important matters, in fateful terms. "It has to be like this or that." Whether we are correct or not when we say "it is" and mean "it must be," "it has always been," we regularly call on such statements to support our most critical decisions. Let us assume provisionally that, despite so much hurried change, with all our freedom of imagination and all our progress, we still tend to base our decisions on what must be the case, what could not be otherwise, what comes out of a finished past or certain future and determines the core of our being. In our times these sound like old-fashioned, even ancient sentiments. For the purposes of this survey, I shall assume that "fateful thinking" is as at home in the new as it was in the old. Fate ideas operate equally in science and religion, although "fate" certainly takes distinct forms in each. What remains then is to describe and analyze those forms, the current genres of fate, in hopes of discovering by chance a way of living in which the idea of life has not already been settled in advance.
Current Genres of Fate 1: Kafka's Innocents
When did the idea of fate arise, the one in which every tiny detail of life, every twist in life's way is a sign that says: "no way out." Classical labyrinths have exits, though they are hard to find. When did the intuition of a labyrinth whose doors open back into itself take over the imagination? When did we enter into zones of experience in which the exit brings us back to square one? Some think it was the work of the Protestant Reformation. Iris Murdoch attributed it to the rise of science: "The idea of life as self-enclosed and purposeless is of course not simply a product of the despair of our own age. It is the natural product of the advance of science and has developed over a long period." Whatever its origins, when certainty about the destiny of any single human life is taken away, every tiny event becomes a possible portal to destiny. When fate toppled from its throne at the end of history, fateful thinking seeped back into everyday life, filling its crevices. Institutions like law and bureaucracy grew exponentially alongside the rise of science, and this only intensified the seepage of fate into the crevices of life. Institutional protocols took on the offices of destiny and made destiny into a matter of finding the right office.
Life's suffusion with fate had a peculiar consequence: we became innocent again. It is a new Eden, except that, under this version of fate, whereas in the Garden we could do nothing wrong because there was not yet any wrong in the world, now we can do nothing wrong because our actions are so severely limited by the strictures that surround us. We can do nothing really wrong because we really can do so little. Kafka wrote about this constricting context and its new innocence.
by Michael Liss
If you love classical music, there is a place in your imagination that takes you back 192 years, to May 7, 1824, and puts you at one of the most extraordinary moments in musical history—the first public performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
You want to be there. You want to see Beethoven himself raise his hands for the first downbeat, that odd woosh that then unfolds almost like an orchestra tuning up. You want to hear those crisp, slashing sounds as it moves through the second movement, and swirling cloud of notes, floating above you, that is the third. But the payoff comes in the fourth, when Beethoven surpasses himself, first trying, and then rejecting, the themes of the first three to resolve by joining instrumental beauty to vocal, fused in the pure elation of Schiller's "Ode to Joy. "
If you were there, you would do as every other person in attendance did—leap to your feet and roar your approval. And you would be witness to the most dramatic, even shattering moment in music history—when one of soloists, Caroline Unger, gently turns the ailing, unhearing Beethoven to receive their adoration.
As the historian (and musicologist) Edmund Morris recounts in "Beethoven, the Universal Composer," if there was any silence in the house, it could have only come from the Imperial Box, which was empty. Beethoven, a man underwritten for decades by the aristocratic and wealthy, had begun to edge away from them, and they from him. The Ninth is not only revolutionary in its form, it is perhaps the first large-scale truly democratic work. With one 74-minute effort, Beethoven created an entirely new vocabulary, one that not only spoke of a stateless universal brotherhood, but in form and delivery, frees the individual to participate to the extent of his abilities.
To put Beethoven in better context, it's useful to place him, and two of the great composers before him, Bach and Mozart, in "political-musical" time, or perhaps more accurately, "political-musical-economic" time.
by Ryan Ruby
"Ordinary men commonly condemn what is beyond them." —François de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims
For the American reader Dan Fox is an ideal guide to the murky space where class overlaps with taste. His position in the art world—he is a co-editor of the renowned contemporary art magazine frieze—has furnished him with ringside seats to some of the "nastiest brawls over pretentiousness." Moreover, he is British. The class education the English receive as a matter of their cultural heritage enables them to view the matter more clearly than their American counterparts, whose understanding of class has been systematically retarded by taboo, ideology, and denialism, resulting in a deeply classed society that has no idea how to talk about this aspect of itself.
Class is not "just a question of money and how you spend it," Fox helpfully reminds us in his book-length essay Pretentiousness: Why It Matters (Coffee House Press, 2016). It's also "about how your identity is constructed in relationship to the world around you." When we divide classes solely on the basis of wealth—into upper, middle, and lower—as we tend to do in America, it becomes easy to forget that the division is not only arbitrary, but also a gross simplification. In fact, the more generally we talk about class, the easier we fall into confusion. The so-called upper, middle, and lower classes are by no means unified groups, whose members view themselves as bound by the same interests. Every member of the "upper class," for example, may be considered an elite, but this elite group is comprised of a number of class segments, whose members may in turn be ranked on the basis of their access to various kinds of capital (financial, educational, social, cultural, geographical, symbolic, etc.) whose relative importance is in a permanent state of flux.
by Evan Edwards
In September of 1851, a word enters the journal of Henry David Thoreau: perambulation. An inveterate enthusiast of walking, as well as a voracious collector of words, such a sudden introduction of this peculiar peripatetic term, which is an antiquated relative of the more familiar ‘ambulation,' or ‘to amble,' (from the Latin Ambulare, ‘to walk') should stand out to us as readers. He writes that "[o]n Monday, the 15th, I am going to perambulate the bounds of the town," and later, "Sept. 17. Perambulated the Lincoln Line," and "Sept. 18. Perambulated Bedford line." This word begins to cross Thoreau's mind more and more steadily for the better part of a month until, in October, he gives up ‘perambulating,' and instead uses a near synonym, ‘surveying,' (which, like perambulating, has to do, at least on the surface, with the work he was doing at the time) to describe his activities. He then rarely returns to ‘perambulation' for the rest of his life. At least in word.
Instead, in October, he begins to speak exclusively of ‘surveying,' ‘walking,' or elsewhere, ‘skating to,' and then, as he enters the late 1850s, in the last half-decade of his life, he all but ceases to lead journal entries with a description of his own activity at all, perambulation or otherwise, referring instead to the conditions of the environment and then, occasionally, drifting into descriptions of his own mind and body. Although the term does not seem to return, it tells us worlds about Thoreau's philosophical position.
In order to understand the significance of the brief intrusion of this term, we should keep two things in mind: first, the time at which he was writing these entries; and second, the difference between ambulating and perambulating. Attending to these two points should help us not only understand Thoreau, but also something about our own relationship to nature.
Sughra Raza. Black Ducks, Winter 2016.
by Dave Maier
Math is pretty easy when you’re just starting out. You’re just adding and subtracting and multiplying and dividing. They might even let you use calculators, but even if they don’t, you’re just dealing with whole numbers, the kind you use when you’re counting on your fingers. (Sometimes they spring some newfangled versions of the multiplication algorithm on you, but it’s still just multiplication.)
Some students first run into trouble when they get to fractions, usually in sixth grade or so. Now we are writing the same number in rather different ways (1/2 = 2/4 = 0.5, and so on), and we can’t really count on our fingers either. All of a sudden there are a whole bunch of numbers between 2 and 3. In fact, as it turns out, there are an infinite number of such numbers. Infinity was okay when it was the biggest number of all, all the way on the end (or ends) of the number line and thus safely out of the way, but now we’re using it to count things, and those things are themselves not only the things we count with, but the numbers between what we seem now to be calling the “counting” numbers. (It even turns out – although they don’t make a big deal of this in sixth grade, thank goodness – that there are more numbers between 2 and 3 than there are “counting” numbers on the whole number line, even though both numbers are infinite. Yikes!)
Again, though, in arithmetic at least we’re just talking about numbers. Every problem has a single right answer, even if we now get to write that answer in different ways. But then, all of a sudden, straight up ahead: algebra.
by Paul Braterman
Toilet etiquette is where prudery meets absurdity. Your chance of being embarrassed, let alone molested, by a transgender person in a US public toilet is probably zero, and certainly less than your chance of being shot dead at home by a toddler playing with a gun; after all, the only public display of genitalia is at the men's urinal, and you can always use a booth if you prefer.
It is said that an undergrad once asked Sir John Pentland Mahaffy, Provost of Trinity College Dublin, where he might find a lavatory. "At the end of the corridor," Mahaffy grandly gestured, "you will find a door marked GENTLEMEN; but don't let that stop you." In the UK, of which Dublin was stll part at the time, class trumps gender. Incidentally, Trinity had been admitting female undergraduates since 1903, 74 years before Harvard; I assume that sanitary arrangements were instituted to cope with this.
It is established law in the US that the teaching of creationism serves a religious, rather than scientific or educational, purpose. It follows (Edwards v. Aguillard) that such teaching is unconstitutional in US public schools, since it violates the First Amendment separation of Church and State. There is no prospect of this ruling being overturned, unless we end up with a Supreme Court nominated by President Ted Cruz.
It has also been repeatedly established that display of the Ten Commandments on Government property violates the US Constitution, for much the same reasons.
So why do we have States bringing in transgender bathroom laws, scientifically baseless (as discussed here by my friend Faye Flam), whose only effect would be to inconvenience and offend one particular small minority? Why has this monumental non-issue even spilled over into the moronic drivelfest that is now the Republican Party's nomination debate?
Prince, Bowie, and Glenn Frey: 21st Century Public Mourning as a Rejection of Cold War Culture, or, Why Nobody Really Gives a Shit About that Guy from the Eagles
by Akim Reinhardt
David Bowie was a white Englishman. Prince was a black American. Bowie was deeply rooted in the riffs, major/minor chords, and melody of rock-n-roll. Prince was grounded in the syncopated rhythms and arrangements of funk and R&B.
Prince's and Bowie's careers did overlap to a degree. Their biggest selling albums, Bowie's Let's Dance and Prince's Purple Rain, were released within a year of each other. But of course Let's Dance was Bowie's capstone in many ways, his big pop breakthrough after nearly 15 years of churning out music, whereas Purple Rain came fairly early in Prince's career, establishing him as an international pop icon for decades to come. So despite the kissin' cousin chronology of their biggest albums, the respective heydays of David Bowie and Prince were, in many ways, separated by about a decade. That makes sense since Prince was ten years younger than Bowie.
Despite all these differences, however, their deaths, coming three months apart from each other, produced similar strains of public mourning. In particular, many people confessed how one or the other artist had profoundly affected them during their formative years. And this heartfelt influence, many said, came not just from Bowie's and Prince's music, but especially from their artistic personae.
In between Bowie's and Prince's passing came the death of Glenn Frey, one of the two lead singer/songwriters of the Eagles, one of the most successful bands in the history of recorded music.
I have yet to see anyone write an essay, post a facebook comment, tweet, or make any other public expression of their deep gratitude for the vital role Glenn Frey played in helping them cope during their formative years.
Why? I suspect the answer is the Cold War.