Tuesday, August 23, 2016
George Johnson in The New York Times:
Carcinogens abounded 1.7 million years ago in Early Pleistocene times when a nameless protohuman wandered the South African countryside in what came to be known as the Cradle of Humankind. Then, as now, ultraviolet radiation poured from the sun, and radon seeped from granite in the ground. Viruses like ones circulating today scrambled DNA. And there were the body’s own carcinogens, hormones that switch on at certain times of life, accelerating the multiplication of cells and increasing the likelihood of mutations.
That, rather than some external poison, was probably the cause of a bone tumor diagnosed as an osteosarcoma found fossilized in Swartkrans Cave, a paleoanthropological trove northwest of Johannesburg. A paper in the current South African Journal of Science describes the discovery, concluding that it is the oldest known case of cancer in an early human ancestor. “The expression of malignant osteosarcoma,” the authors wrote, “indicates that whilst the upsurge in malignancy incidence is correlated with modern lifestyles, there is no reason to suspect that primary bone tumours would have been any less frequent in ancient specimens.” Perhaps the main reason there is more cancer today is that people live much longer, leaving more time for dividing cells to accumulate genetic mistakes. Osteosarcoma, however, occurs most frequently in younger people, as their limbs undergo adolescent spurts of growth. That and the fact that bones outlast softer organs make osteosarcoma a natural cancer to look for among early hominins, the zoological tribe that includes humans and their extinct kin.
Monday, August 22, 2016
by Paul North
Natural science is as valuable as its expression. What does this mean? An analogy with the economy will help. When we work, our working has to produce benefits for us beyond just the work itself. Those benefits can be called the expression of the work. Mostly they take the form of money—but not always. Natural science is similar. To be valuable it has to express itself in other forms, just as work does.
Even where natural science gives us a big new truth, like the theory of relativity in physics or the theory of evolution in biology, this truth—which may be compelling and very simple to grasp, or very complex and difficult and require some convincing before we believe in it—its truth is not its expression. Truth is one thing, expression another. Natural science has all sorts of expressions. We tend to think of it as a closed club with secret goings on in hidden chambers. Nevertheless, it periodically sends out bulletins that concern us all. This is part of what I mean by "expression." Natural science—physics, biology, chemistry, both the theoretical and the empirical kinds—sends out messages about life and history to a very large audience.
Natural science has many expressions. To be sure, its earliest and most secretive expression is the technical papers shared among scientists, which journalists misquote and the NSF decodes for the purposes of giving grants. But of course these technical documents are only as good, as useful, as praised and as prized—ultimately—as their capacity for wider expression. They should produce conferences and volumes. They should change the practices of other scientists and they should eventually change the goals of science, by a little or a lot. Such expressions remain within the non-public confines of scientific circuits however. Science has its own internal public, but intellectual sectors like natural science always aim at a greater public. This does not mean that science follows fads and fashions. Quite the contrary: it exists to remake the popular sphere in its own image, just as art does, or entertainment, or the military or other kinds of politics. So what are the greater effects of natural science? What are its widest expressions?
by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad
Science Fiction literature is fraught with examples of what-ifs of history which speculate on how the would have looked like if certain events had happened a different way e.g., if the Confederates had won the American Civil War, if the Western Roman Empire had not fallen, if Islam had made inroads in the imperial household in China etc. At best these are speculations that we can entertain to shed light on our own world but imagine if there was a way to gauge how societies react under certain environmental constraints, social structures and stress. Simulation is often described as the Third Paradigm in Science and the field of Social Simulation seeks to model social phenomenon that cannot otherwise be studied because of practical and ethical constraints. Isaac Asimov envisions the science of predicting future with the psychohistory in the foundation series of science fiction novels.
The history of social simulation can be traced back to the idea of Cellular Automata by Stainlaw Ulam and John von Neumann: A cellular automata is a system of cell objects that can interact with its neighbors given a set of rules. The most famous example of this phenomenon being Conway’s Game of Life, which is a very simple simulation, that generates self-organizing patterns, which one could not really have predicted by just knowing the rules. To illustrate the concept of Social Simulation consider Schilling’s model of how racial segregation happens. Consider a two dimensional grid where each cell represents an individual. The cells are divided into two groups represented by different colors. Initially the cells are randomly seeded in the grid representing an integrated neighborhood. The cells however have preference with respect to what percentage of cells that are their neighbors should belong to the same group (color). The simulation is run for a large number of steps. At each step a person (cell) checks if the number of such neighbors is less than a pre-defined threshold then the person can move by a single cell. If the number of such neighbors meets the threshold then the person (cell) remains at its current position. Even with such a simple setup we observe that the integrated neighborhood slowly becomes segregated so that after some iterations the neighborhood is completed segregated. The evolution of the simulation can be observed in Figure 1. The main lesson to be learned here is that even without overt racism and just having a preference about one’s neighbors can lead to a segregated neighborhood.
by Michael Liss
“In every country there must be a just and equal balance of powers in the government, an equal distribution of the national forces. Each section and each interest must exercise its due share of influence and control. It is always more or less difficult to preserve their just equipoise, and the larger the country, and the more varied its great interests, the more difficult does the task become, and the greater the shock and disturbance caused by an attempt to adjust it when once disturbed.” —Henry J. Raymond, Editor of the New York Times, January, 1860 (as quoted by Allan Nevins).
“We don’t win anymore. But we are going to start winning again.” —Donald J. Trump, just about any and every day, 2015-16.
Donald Trump is done with keeping quiet. It’s possible you might not have noticed the buttoned-up, reserved Trump (I’ve heard it compared to the Higgs boson), but worry not; it’s no longer relevant, and you won’t be seeing it in the future.
Trump wants to be Trump, and he’s tired of people telling him he needs to appear more substantive, more Presidential. So he shook up his campaign, demoted the controversial Paul Manafort (who subsequently resigned), elevated the pollster Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager, and made Stephen Bannon the campaign’s chief executive. Conway is an operative who previously worked for Ted Cruz and has good contacts with the conservative base. But Bannon is the real prize, and the one who raised eyebrows, and a little fear, even amongst Republicans. Bannon runs the influential and persistently inflammatory conservative outlet Breitbart News, which has recently closely coordinated with Trump’s messaging. And Breitbart takes no prisoners. Wild speculation, innuendo, and hyperbole are its stock in trade, and if you are in its sightline, expect to lose.
Trump has made a decisive choice. He will do what got him the nomination. Back to his fastball: an unscripted (but obviously deliberate) stream-of consciousness mélange of pugnacity, promises, patriotism, law-and order, and a firm, unkindly hand towards those who are undesirable because of their origins or political beliefs. He will occasionally throw in a kinder, gentler Donald because he’s retained slash-and-burn types to act as surrogates, but the core Trump message will remain intense and in your face. That’s who he is, a hammer in search of a nail.
This is actually a very smart move, a businessman’s move, and the freak-out from his fellow Republicans misses the mark. Trump isn’t like other politicians. He doesn’t do “pivot.”
I’m in the weeds on my knees pawing dark earth
looking for my squash among prolific opportunist grasses
and broad-leafed virtuosos at finding sustenance
in the garden of a part-time farmer—
finding advantage in his jammed schedule,
in life’s necessary distractions and precious
irrelevancies, his asamprajanya
On knees I sweat under an indifferent sun
to undo the effects of looking the other way
while rooted intruders ensconced themselves
in a life of ease throttling zucchini
under the erratic care of a life-long
junkie of mysteries, dreams and peeks behind scenes,
looking for grails among wild greens
which threaten his squash’s fundamental urge to bear fruit,
who counts angels and grasps at clouds
while many weeds take root
*Asamprajanya (Sanskrit): inattentiveness, non-alertness
by Leanne Ogasawara
The other night, I was dancing with the Dalai Lama. We were in a large auditorium that looked like a high school gym-- and in front of a packed audience sitting in the bleachers, we danced, just the two of us--cheek to cheek. I am not actually such a huge fan of his holiness-- so this all was rather unexpected.
As we were floating and twirling ballroom style out on the dance floor, he pressed me very close, and giggled-- and I started to laugh; and then still in my dream, I thought, "Wow, maybe I died and this is heaven..."
I've long wondered, why it is that right from the very start, peopled have preferred Dante's Inferno to his Paradiso?
Am I the only one who-- while utterly unable to imagine hell-- often finds myself lost in dreams of paradise?
It's true, I love to fantasize about paradise.
Often imagining it like a Persian garden, there is the intoxicating fragrance of roses, jasmine and gardenias. There is music and gently perfumed spring breezes. And people picnic, unendingly.
by Akim Reinhardt
During your 20s and 30s, when you don't have any children, it is inevitable that people will periodically ask you: "Do you want to have kids?"
It never mattered who asked. Family, friends, or lesser acquaintances, men or women, married or single, parents themselves or not. I always had the same answer.
Yes, just not now.
As I approached my mid-30s, I began to append a caveat: If I didn't have any children by age 40, I probably never would. I didn't want to be an old dad.
But the realization, that I'd rather not be a middle aged gray beard huffing and puffing while I try to keep up with the little rascals, opened a door. Whereas I'd previously assumed I wanted kids, just not now, the 40 year old expiration date I adopted forced me to question my pat answer and ask myself if I really wanted them at all.
After spending a couple of decades saying Yes, but not now, I finally realized something. There was never a "now" because I never actually wanted them. And I probably never would.
The generations that came of age after World War II made divorce mainstream.
As teens, they were still subject to intense social pressure to marry and have kids, which most of them did. But the Boomers became increasingly resentful of their parents as they matured, or in many cases, at least leery of their elders' mistakes. They and the so-called Silent Generation (Depression and War babies) asked themselves: Must I really spend half-a-century and all of my best years in a bad marriage that I jumped into when I was way too young to know better?
As the 1970s unfolded, more and more of them decided the answer was No.
Katharina Grosse. Rockaway. July 2016.
Presented by MoMA PS 1 at Gateway National Recreational Area, Fort Tilden, NY.
by Dave Maier
Consider how difficult it has been to get Big Tobacco to admit that cigarette smoking is bad for you at all, let alone that it kills many thousands of people every year. In particular, you might remember that time when all the major executives swore under oath at Congressional hearings that cigarettes are perfectly safe. Consider as well that most tobacco profits come from heavy users of tobacco, not smokers of only the occasional cigarette. So the all-important bottom line – public health be damned – can be preserved only by recruiting new heavy smokers as the older (or not so older) ones die off or quit. For Big Tobacco, this means targeting children, who are not only risk-takers by nature, but very often concerned above all to be cool. If cigarettes are risky and cool, then children will become smokers, and many (some studies say 30%) will become hooked, preserving corporate profits for another generation.
Marijuana prohibitionists hold the analogous establishment of Big Marijuana up as a nightmare scenario. If big money is involved – as of course it is – it is quite natural to worry that Big Marijuana will be just as bad as Big Tobacco: fighting warning labels, putting out deceptive and child-friendly advertising (Joe Camel = Joe Cannabis?) fighting class-action lawsuits with expensive lawyers, and so on. Prohibitionists point to the existence of yummy cannabis edibles (THC-infused gummy bears! “Pot Tarts”!) and fanciful marijuana strain names (“Girl Scout Cookies”! “Green Crack”!) as evidence that even the nascent legal cannabis industry has our defenseless children in its sights.
The most vocal proponent of this line is Kevin Sabet of the anti-legalization organization Project SAM [Smart Approaches to Marijuana]. Sabet represents a new development in prohibitionism, consciously distancing himself from old-school drug-warrior tactics in the hope of reaching a more moderate audience. In terms of actual policy recommendations, in fact, Sabet sounds quite a bit like yesterday’s marijuana reform activists. NORML's Roger Roffman, for example, whose book we looked at last time, spent most of his career pushing not for legalization, but for decriminalization, and more generally a reconstrual of marijuana policy not as a matter for law enforcement but instead as a public health issue: not arrest and incarceration, but education and treatment.
by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash (original visuals by David Thall)
Here are the main traits that distinguish a psychopath:
1. A lack of empathy
2. A disregard for the rights of others
3. A failure to feel remorse or guilt
4. Grandiose self-worth
5. Pathological lying
6. Glib and superficial charm
7. Cheating, conning and defrauding others for personal gain
8. A tendency to display violent behavior
Remind you of somebody running for president of America?
1. Donald Trump, in the way he responded to the charges of the Khan family, showed a stunning lack of empathy.
2. Donald Trump, in the way he talks about Mexicans and Muslims, shows a stunning disregard for the rights of others.
3. Donald Trump, in the way he jauntily smears John McCain, Mexicans, Muslims, women, and even fellow Republicans, shows no remorse or guilt.
4. Donald Trump, in his stunningly high regard for his own amazingness, has a sense of grandiose self-worth second to none. Nobody in public life has ever exhibited such an amazing degree of narcissism.
5. Donald Trump can lie and then lie about that lie in the same sentence. PolitiFact states that 72% of Trump's public remarks about factual circumstances are false.
6. Donald Trump has an amazing amount of glib and superficial charm.
7. Donald Trump, who all his life has stiffed his business suppliers by not paying them for goods and services rendered unto him, has always been a cheating, defrauding con.
8. Donald Trump has encouraged his followers to commit violence and threatened Hillary Clinton with assassination. He said of the Democratic convention that he felt like hitting many of its speakers. "There was one guy in particular, a very little guy. I was going to hit this guy so hard, his head would spin. He wouldn't know what the hell happened."
All of this is very true, but when did it become apparent that Trump was actually a psychopath?
by Brooks Riley
Strained Analogies Between Recently Released Films and Current Events: Suicide Squad and Why It's Rough to Be a Republican Right Now
by Matt McKenna
Though the target demographic for Suicide Squad can’t yet vote in the United States, it was was still thoughtful of director David Ayer to create a PG-13 film that educates children as to the state of the Republican Party. By fashioning the silly misanthrope protagonists in Suicide Squad after Republican candidates, Ayers deftly describes the sad circumstance many Republican politicians and voters are experiencing this election cycle--they dislike the candidates they’re obliged to support.
For those unfamiliar with the Suicide Squad comic book franchise, the protagonists are a group of DC Comics villains who are pressed into service by the United States in order to battle other, even worse villains. These anti-heroes, who share a cinematic universe with Batman, Superman, and other superheros in similarly boring films, are compelled to fight alongside the “good guys” because the good guys have threatened to detonate an explosive device implanted in each of the villain’s necks. It does seem a bit unfair to call the team the “Suicide Squad” given that if the protagonists don’t go along with the plan, their heads will be blown off. Alas, I suppose a more accurate title like “Hostage Squade” isn’t quite as mellifluous.
If the concept of Suicide Squad seems like a breath of fresh air compared to the noxious wind that accompanies most of the other Marvel and DC comic book movies, prepare to be disappointed. While the protagonists may not be the trite, righteous do-gooders we’ve been forced to endure over the past decade of me-too comic book cash-grabs fashioned in the form of feature films, the plot centers around the same tired tropes as its predecessors. Like the similarly incoherent Ghostbusters film from earlier this summer, Suicide Squad involves an action-figure-ready gaggle of wry underdogs charging into a skyscraper to battle a supernatural being who, before destroying the world, must first conjure a glowing beam of light and shoot it into the sky for two hours. Why does this evil spirit monster need to project a glowing energy beam through the ceiling? I don't know; Maybe that detail was covered somewhere within the bountiful dialogue, but even if it was, I can't imagine myself thinking, “Ohhh, okay. Sure, that makes sense.” Anyway, what Suicide Squad lacks in an interesting plot, it certainly makes up for in its uncanny depiction of the current state of the Republican Party.
These songs of mine have to be played. They mustn’t be lost, they have to be out there....They’re Byzantine and their ‘roads’, their tunes are ancient.
To read this book, this as-told-to autobiography of Markos Vamvakaris, is to confront how strange is this thing we call writing, the child of this strange thing in which we live, called civilization. It is not that Markos, as he came to be known, is uncivilized. It is not that. Living at the time and place that he did, Greece during the early and middle twentieth century, he couldn’t avoid it, this civilization.
But he could resist it. And that he did, with wine, women, and song. Hashish too, more than the wine, and the bouzouki, along with the song and more than the women. Civilization didn’t win, neither did Markos. But I wouldn’t call it a draw either. It was a dance.
* * * * *
I knew almost nothing about rebetiko – Greek urban folk music with Asian influence – when I began reading this book, this circle dance between Markos the road warrior, Angeliki Vellou-Keil, scholar and scribe who published the material in Greek in 1972, and Noonie Minogue, who translated and edited this English edition (2015). Yet the story herein set forth, Markos Vamvakaris: The Man and the Bouzouki, that story is a familiar one: poverty, social marginalization, drugs, rubbing shoulder with criminals, womanizing, dedication to craft, and the transformation of a nation’s musical culture. Rebetiko has been likened to the blues, and the stories of major blues musicians have all those elements. It is a story of resistance, survival, and transformation.
Markos Vamvakaris was born in 1905 on the island of Syra in the Cyclades in the South Aegean Sea. That puts it on one of the major crossroads of world travel and trade for three millennia, between mainland Greece to the West and Turkey to the East. Its largest city, Ermopouli, was the major Greek port in the second half of the 19th Century, and a center for commerce and industry. Many different peoples have lived in and passed through Syra, as they do today in these days of destruction and despair in the Middle East. The dance of snivilization, as James Joyce called it, power and domination, freedom and music, pomp and circumcision, the bouzouki vs. bullets. Markos snubbed the law and the songs won. For awhile.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
Roger Lowenstein in the New York Times Book Review:
The nasty headlines from across the Atlantic — Brexit, terrorism, debt crises — almost make us forget that these were supposed to be Europe’s salad days. With a common currency and increasing integration, Europe was, finally, bidding adieu to cross-border conflict and economic crisis. Turmoil and strife were so very 20th century; the future was to be only digital apps and polyglot cafes.
Well, they still have Chartres, and they still have Goethe. They also have millions of migrants, rising nationalism, recurrent recessions and plummeting birthrates. What went wrong?
Joseph E. Stiglitz, the former chief economist of the World Bank and winner of the Nobel in economic science, proposes a simple answer. In “The Euro: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe,” he argues that the chief source of Europe’s malaise is its 17-year-old currency experiment. “While there are many factors contributing to Europe’s travails,” he writes, “there is one underlying mistake: the creation of the single currency, the euro.”
Stiglitz is not speaking about the obvious fact that 19 independent states use a common currency, but about their failure so far to create the quilt of institutions and shared regulations to make it work. This sounds wonky, and though Stiglitz spews plenty of populist rhetoric, “The Euro” is thick with dense paragraphs (imagine an economics text written by Michael Moore). Still, the underlying idea is simple.
Emily Underwood in Science:
In 2010, neurobiologist Beth Stevens had completed a remarkable rise from laboratory technician to star researcher. Then 40, she was in her second year as a principal investigator at Boston Children’s Hospital with a joint faculty position at Harvard Medical School. She had a sleek, newly built lab and a team of eager postdoctoral investigators. Her credentials were impeccable, with high-profile collaborators and her name on an impressive number of papers in well-respected journals.
But like many young researchers, Stevens feared she was on the brink of scientific failure. Rather than choosing a small, manageable project, she had set her sights on tackling an ambitious, unifying hypothesis linking the brain and the immune system to explain both normal brain development and disease. Although the preliminary data she’d gathered as a postdoc at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, were promising, their implications were still murky. “I thought, ‘What if my model is just a model, and I let all these people down?’” she says.
Stevens, along with her mentor at Stanford, Ben Barres, had proposed that brain cells called microglia prune neuronal connections during embryonic and later development in response to a signal from a branch of the immune system known as the classical complement pathway. If a glitch in the complement system causes microglia to prune too many or too few connections, called synapses, they’d hypothesized, it could lead to both developmental and degenerative disorders.
Since then, finding after finding has shored up and extended this picture.
Stan Sorscher at the website of the Economic Opportunity Institute:
In 2002, I heard an economist characterizing this figure as containing a valuable economic insight. He wasn’t sure what the insight was. I have my own answer.
The economist talked of the figure as a sort of treasure map, which would lead us to the insight. “X” marks the spot. Dig here.
The graphic below tells three stories.
First, we see two distinct historic periods since World War II. In the first period, workers shared the gains from productivity. In the later period, a generation of workers gained little, even as productivity continued to rise.
The second message is the very abrupt transition from the post-war historic period to the current one. Something happened in the mid-70’s to de-couple wages from productivity gains.
The third message is that workers’ wages – accounting for inflation and all the lower prices from cheap imported goods – would be double what they are now, if workers still took their share of gains in productivity.
More here. [Thanks to Jim Culleny.]
Yascha Mounk in Slate:
There are years, decades even, in which history slows to a crawl. Then there are weeks that are so eventful that they seem to mark the dissolution of a world order that had once seemed solid and to foretell the rise of one as yet unknowable.
The week of July 11, 2016, has every chance of being remembered as one of those rare flurries of jumbled, inchoate, concentrated significance. The centrifugal forces that are threatening to break political systems across the world may have started to register a decade ago; they may have picked up speed over the last 12 months; but never since the fall of the Berlin Wall have they wreaked havoc in so many places in so short a span of time—showcasing the failures of technocratic rule, the terrifying rise of populist strongmen, and the existential threat posed by Islamist terrorism, all in the span of seven short days.
At first glance, a political crisis in London; a terrorist attack in Nice, France; a failed putsch in Ankara, Turkey; and a bloviating orator on his way to becoming the Republican nominee for the presidency of the United States look like the dramatic apex of very different, barely connected screenplays. To my eye, they are garish panes of glass that add up to one unified, striking mosaic. Looked at from the right distance, they tell the story of a political system, liberal democracy, that has long dominated the world—and is now in the midst of an epic struggle for its own survival.
When despair for the world grows in me
by Wendell Berry
from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
Brandon M. Terry in Dissent:
The most punitive, humiliating, and deadly forms of policing fall almost entirely on the poor, especially the black poor. And while the stigma of criminality disproportionately affects African Americans, so does the suffering that accompanies gangs, violent crime, and the underground economy. Neglecting these facts leads to bewilderment when appeals to racial solidarity around issues like criminal justice or gentrification fail to achieve the desired results. These failures of analysis evince such a lack of judgment that they are less likely to inspire sacrifices for the transformative programs of the left than encourage the risk-averse accommodation to the status quo. In the future, leftists of all races will have to make a sustained commitment to grassroots engagement that focuses on working-class and poor black communities, and that is more precise about the ways in which racial injustice and black disadvantage work in today’s America. This will require an ethos of humility and self-criticism that, over time, will generate more powerful ideas, arguments, and hopefully, coalitions. Trust and respect—and substantive political power—will only come from a mutually enriching process of engaging with and arguing over needs (like safety, income, and education) and values (that is, the ethics of punishment, ideals of masculinity, nativism, and so on) as well as policies. This project is difficult to pursue in the heat of a presidential campaign, and we’ve seen both Democratic candidates struggle to adequately address these intersecting issues. But it must command our attention in the post–Obama era.
Bayard Rustin once remarked that he was “eternally optimistic” that “people who become president . . . want to go down as great moral figures, and they make some real effort in trying.” In the horrifying event of a Trump presidency, we may have to revisit this judgment. But for the first black president at least, it seems appropriate. In trying to advance a particular view of racial justice despite political, cultural, and structural constraints, the Obama years reshaped the landscape of racial politics in a way that is difficult to have imagined just eight years ago. For better and for worse, this is our inheritance. How we navigate its perils will leave its imprint on the politics of race in America for some time to come.
Costica Bradatan in Aeon:
Failure is like the original sin in the biblical narrative: everyone has it. Regardless of class, caste, race, or gender, we are all born to fail, we practise failure for as long as we live, and pass it on to others. Just like sin, failure can be disgraceful, shameful and embarrassing to admit. And did I mention ‘ugly’? Failure is also ugly – ugly as sin, as they say. For all its universality, however, failure is under-studied, when not simply neglected. It’s as if even the idea of looking at failure more closely makes us uneasy; we don’t want to touch it for fear of contagion. Studying failure can be a contorted, Janus-headed exercise, though. With one pair of eyes we have to look into ourselves (for ‘moral’ or ‘cognitive’ failures, for failures of ‘judgment’ or ‘memory’), and with another pair we need to dwell on instances of failure ‘out there’, in the world around us. Fascinating as the former can be, let me focus here on the latter: the failure we experience in our dealings with the world.
Picture yourself in an airliner, at high altitude. One of the plane engines has just caught fire, the other doesn’t look very well either, and the pilot has to make an emergency landing. Finding yourself in such a situation can be a shattering, yet also a revealing experience. First, there are of course the cries, the tears, the whispered prayers, the loud hysterics. Amid all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, you cannot think of anything in any detached, rational fashion. For you have to admit it, you are scared to death, just like everyone else. Yet the plane lands safely and everybody gets off unharmed. After you’ve had a chance to pull yourself together, you start thinking a bit more clearly about what just happened. That’s when we might realise, for example, how close we can be sometimes to not being at all. And also that there is something oppressively materialistic, to an almost obscene degree, in any ‘brush with death’. Some faulty piece of equipment – a worn-out part, a loose screw, a leaking pipe, anything – could be enough to do us in. That’s all it takes. We thus realise that, when we experience failure, we start seeing the cracks in the fabric of existence, and the nothingness that stares at us from the other side. Yet even as failure pushes us towards the margins of existence it gives us the chance to look at everything – at the world, at ourselves, at what we value most – with fresh eyes. The failure of things, coming as it does with a certain measure of existential threat, exposes us for what we are. And what a sight!
From that unique location – the site of devastation that we’ve become – we understand that we are no grander than the rest of the world. Indeed, we are less than most things.
Saturday, August 20, 2016
Linda Tirado in Slate:
Because our lives seem so unstable, poor people are often seen as being basically incompetent at managing their lives. That is, it’s assumed that we’re not unstable because we’re poor, we’re poor because we’re unstable. So let’s just talk about how impossible it is to keep your life from spiraling out of control when you have no financial cushion whatsoever. And let’s also talk about the ways in which money advice is geared only toward people who actually have money in the first place.
I once read a book for people in poverty, written by someone in the middle class, containing real-life tips for saving pennies and such. It’s all fantastic advice: buy in bulk, buy a lot when there’s a sale on, hand-wash everything you can, make sure you keep up on vehicle and indoor filter maintenance.
From Medical Press:
Whether or not they aced the subject in high school, human beings are physics masters when it comes to understanding and predicting how objects in the world will behave. A Johns Hopkins University cognitive scientist has found the source of that intuition, the brain's "physics engine."
This engine, which comes alive when people watch physical events unfold, is not in the brain's vision center, but in a set of regions devoted to planning actions, suggesting the brain performs constant, real-time physics calculations so people are ready to catch, dodge, hoist or take any necessary action, on the fly. The findings, which could help design more nimble robots, are set to be published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"We run physics simulations all the time to prepare us for when we need to act in the world," said lead author Jason Fischer, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences in the university's Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. "It is among the most important aspects of cognition for survival. But there has been almost no work done to identify and study thebrain regions involved in this capability."