Spreadsheet Superstars

David Pierce at The Verge:

But I’d wager that if you wanted to see the most exciting drama happening at the MGM on this Friday night, you’d have to walk through the casino and look for the small sign advertising something called The Active Cell. This is the site of the play-in round for the Excel World Championship, and it starts in five minutes. There are 27 people here to take part in this event (28 registered, but one evidently chickened out before we started), which will send its top eight finishers to tomorrow night’s finals. There, one person will be crowned the Excel World Champion, which comes with a trophy and a championship belt and the ability to spend the next 12 months bragging about being officially the world’s best spreadsheeter. Eight people have already qualified for the finals; some of today’s 27 contestants lost in those qualifying rounds, others just showed up last-minute in hopes of a comeback.

More here.

Now is the time to take action on H5N1 avian flu, because the stakes are enormous

Matthew S Miller at The Conversation:

Bird flu poses a massive threat, and the potential for a catastrophic new pandemic is imminent. We still have a chance to stop a possible humanitarian disaster, but only if we get to work urgently, carefully and aggressively.

This will require a major collective shift in the way we approach infectious diseases management — one that embraces a “One Health” approach and prioritizes prevention of human infection before widespread infection happens, rather than responding rapidly once human cases become widespread.

As Canada Research Chair in Viral Pandemics and director of the M.G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University, I have spent my career studying the impact of previous pandemics, and developing new ways to prevent them in the future. The actions taken now will determine whether the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 outbreak already affecting birds and mammals around the world takes hold in humans.

More here.

The Irani Cafes of Karachi

Mishal Zahoor Jamali at Medium:

Stepping into High Ceiling and dimly lit Irani cafes with vintage furniture, mosaic chipped floors and tablecloths take one back to old Karachi. These desolate Irani cafes were once hubs of social and intellectual exchange and frequented by students, journalists, and intellectuals.

The history of Irani cafes can be traced back to the early 1900s when Parsis migrated to the port cities of the subcontinent to escape the economic crisis in Iran. Most settled in Bombay and the rest in Karachi.

Parsis established Irani cafes, coffee shops and bakeries all over Karachi. By the 70s there were hundreds of Irani cafes and restaurants now a few remain.

More here.

The Soul Of Strauss

Glenn Ellmers at The New Criterion:

Last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of Strauss’s death. With the notable exception of a tribute by the (now retired) Harvard professor Harvey C. Mansfield in the Claremont Review of Books, this occasion went largely unremarked. Strauss—a refugee from Hitler’s Germany who spent most of his career at the University of Chicago—wrote for the few (or even the very few). He might not, therefore, have minded this neglect by the larger world. His scholarship, however, continues to exert an influence far out of proportion to his relative anonymity among the general public.

A new volume of essays, Leo Strauss’ Published but Uncollected English Writings, edited by Steven J. Lenzner and Svetozar Minkov (St. Augustine’s Press), is the latest of several new Strauss-related books. This collection includes important essays that can be found in other volumes (perhaps the most essential is “Farabi’s Plato”) as well as several that are obscure or hard to find (e.g., “On a New Interpretation of Plato’s Political Philosophy,” “Liberal Education and Mass Democracy,” “Greek Historians,” and “Machiavelli and Classical Literature”).

more here.

Friday Poem


Driving five-year-old Dara to school December 15,
she tells me that God was visible
when he created the world,
but that made him tired,
so he died,
and went to heaven,
then he became invisible.

Suddenly I understand Lao Tzu, Plato,
Augustine and Aquinas,
Barth, Tillich,
all those guys—

the whole thing.

by Gerald Barrax
The Language They speak is Things to Eat
University of North Carolina Press, 1994

Gut microbiome discovery provides roadmap for life-saving cancer therapies

Giorgia Guglielmo in Nature:

Despite their small size, gut bacteria wield large influence over the effectiveness of certain cancer drugs. Researchers have now found that the ratio of specific microbial communities in the gut can help to predict who will respond to next-generation drugs for treating some kinds of cancer1.

The findings will also help to identify healthy volunteers who could donate faecal bacteria to transfer into the intestines of people who do not respond to these drugs, a procedure known as faecal microbiome transplantation, study co-author Laurence Zitvogel, an immunologist and oncologist at the Gustave Roussy Cancer Campus in Villejuif, France, wrote in an e-mail to Nature. The work “is a breakthrough from a diagnostic point of view”, says Fabio Grassi, an immunologist at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Bellinzona, Switzerland. The findings, he says, also highlight how the delicate balance of gut microbial species can affect the success of high-stakes therapies, such as immune checkpoint inhibitorsThis treatment helps the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells and is the focus of the new research. The findings were published today in Cell.

More here.

Spycraft Through The Ages

Peter Davidson at Literary Review:

In the 17th century, the Uffizi offered its visitors a rather more diverse range of exhibits than it does now, among them weapons made by some distant precursor of Q Branch. The Scottish traveller James Fraser on a visit to Florence in the 1650s recorded what he saw: ‘A rarity, five pistol barrels joined together to be put in your hat, which is discharged at once as you salute your enemy & bid him farewell … another pistol with eighteen barrels in it to be shot desperately and scatter through a room as you enter.’

It is not possible to go very far in the divided Europe of the early modern period without coming across some instance of the many kinds of covert activity that are chronicled in this genial and immensely readable work. The spirit of the age is captured in an extraordinary line in the poem ‘Character of an Ambassador’ by the Dutch polymath and diplomat Constantijn Huygens, which says that ambassadors are ‘honourable spies’. An unexpected page in Nadine Akkerman and Pete Langman’s book is devoted to invisible inks in the family papers of a Lancashire Catholic squire.

more here.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

3QD Is Looking For New Columnists: DEADLINE APPROACHING!

Dear Reader,

Here’s your chance to say what you want to the large number of highly educated readers that make up 3QD’s international audience. Several of our regular columnists have had to cut back or even completely quit their columns for 3QD because of other personal and professional commitments and so we are looking for a few new voices. We do not pay, but it is a good chance to draw attention to subjects you are interested in, and to get feedback from us and from our readers.

We would certainly love for our pool of writers to reflect the diversity of our readers in every way, including gender, age, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, etc., and we encourage people of all kinds to apply. And we like unusual voices and varied viewpoints. So please send us something. What have you got to lose? Click on “Read more” below…


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Artificial Women: Sex Dolls, Robot Caregivers, and More Facsimile Females

Marion Thain at the Los Angeles Review of Books:

It seems no coincidence that Yorgos Lanthimos’s cinematic rendition of Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel Poor Things, released at the end of 2023, would come at a time of obsessive commentary about the possibilities and threats of AI. While Lanthimos’s movie has nothing, ostensibly, to say about digital technologies (beyond its own production process), the publication this year of Julie Wosk’s Artificial Women: Sex Dolls, Robot Caregivers, and More Facsimile Females provides a context for considering the potential of the film in the public imaginary.

Wosk’s study explores the construction of artificial women in the age of AI as sex robots, care providers, domestic servants, and the disembodied voices of our digital tools and personal assistants. Considering both actually manufactured women and the many artworks that fabricate them as fictions, Artificial Women explores the strange phenomenon of womanhood in the artificially generated human world.

More here.

Eat, Poop, Die: How Animals Make Our World

Leon Vlieger at The Inquisitive Biologist:

What a killer title. Rarely have I seen three snappy words so effectively capture the essence of a concept in biology. What concept is that? Zoogeochemistry. Many scientists have convincingly made the case that it is the small things that run the world. Though it is undeniably true that e.g. microbes and insects have shaped our planet, and continue to do so, it would be a mistake to think that larger animals are just along for the ride. I was stoked the moment the announcement for this book dropped and conservation biologist and marine ecologist Joe Roman did not disappoint. Eat, Poop, Die is fun and fascinating, while always keeping one eye firmly on the facts and complexities of ecology. Is it too soon to start earmarking titles for this year’s top 5? I think not.

More here.

The Myth of Low Black Self-Esteem

John McWhorter at Persuasion:

The 70th anniversary, last month, of the Brown v. The Board of Education decision has had me thinking about a certain conundrum regarding black students and education. Part of what has remained as the enduring legacy of Brown is Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s “Doll Test,” which featured in expert testimony for the case, and showed that a majority of black children preferred white over black dolls. The idea resonated thereafter that black children have a confidence problem, with a hovering implication that this confidence problem affects their performance in school. That hypothesis seemed to be borne out in Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson’s “stereotype threat” paper, their seminal 1995 study that showed that black students’ scores on a GRE test of verbal ability went down when asked to indicate their race on the test—suggesting that their knowledge of negative stereotypes impacted their performance. That paper went on to be cited over 5,000 times and to inspire a host of education reforms.

And certainly you might think that racism would leave black Americans as America’s least confident people. However, the reality is more counterintuitive and interesting than that.

More here.

Hanif Abdurraqib Writes A Letter Of Love And Loss To Basketball And Ohio

Gene Seymour at Bookforum:

In this testament to both a sport and a state, Abdurraqib leads with his own heart, one that’s been broken over time by loss of family, friends, even a home. His previous works of cultural criticism (A Little Devil in AmericaGo Ahead in the Rain, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us) and poetry (A Fortune for Your Disaster, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much) are steeped in elegy and tempered by irony. He goes all out to sustain this difficult balance in his newest and, one could argue, most ambitious solo performance thus far, an awesomely discursive mixtape of memoir, film criticism, tone poem, and sports punditry interspersed with brief tributes to “legendary Ohio aviators” in whose company he includes Lonnie Carmon, the Black Columbus junk collector who built a plane from some of his salvage and flew it on weekends to astonish and inspire his neighbors. Other Buckeye State heroes need little to no introduction to the rest of us: John Glenn and John Brown, Toni Morrison and Virginia Hamilton.

Though Abdurraqib doesn’t say so explicitly, those last two African American native daughters (Morrison was from Lorain and Hamilton was from Dayton, where, by the way, the Wright Brothers and Paul Lawrence Dunbar were well acquainted with one another) each wrote books declaring that Black people could, indeed, fly.

more here.

The Gods of Logic: Before and after artificial intelligence

Benjamin Labatut in Harper’s Magazine:

We will never know how many died during the Butlerian Jihad. Was it millions? Billions? Trillions, perhaps? It was a fantastic rage, a great revolt that spread like wildfire, consuming everything in its path, a chaos that engulfed generations in an orgy of destruction lasting almost a hundred years. A war with a death toll so high that it left a permanent scar on humanity’s soul. But we will never know the names of those who fought and died in it, or the immense suffering and destruction it caused, because the Butlerian Jihad, abominable and devastating as it was, never happened.

The Jihad was an imagined event, conjured up by Frank Herbert as part of the lore that animates his science-fiction saga Dune. It was humanity’s last stand against sentient technology, a crusade to overthrow the god of machine-logic and eradicate the conscious computers and robots that in the future had almost entirely enslaved us. Herbert described it as “a thalamic pause for all humankind,” an era of such violence run amok that it completely transformed the way society developed from then onward. But we know very little of what actually happened during the struggle itself, because in the original Dune series, Herbert gives us only the faintest outlines—hints, murmurs, and whispers, which carry the ghostly weight of prophecy. The Jihad reshaped civilization by outlawing artificial intelligence or any machine that simulated our minds, placing a damper on the worst excesses of technology.

More here.

Confirmed. Most robust evidence yet that plant-based diets protect both human and planetary health

Emma Bryce in Anthropocene Magazine:

People who follow a diet rich in plants cut their mortality risk by almost a third, while simultaneously slashing the climate impact of their food by a similar amount. These results come from the largest study ever to analyze the health and environmental impacts of the widely-publicized EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet.

Launched in 2019, the EAT-Lancet Commission brought together reams of research to determine what would be the best way for us to eat on a global scale, to limit the environmental impacts of farming and food. The Commission came up with a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grain and plant-sourced proteins, and lower in—but crucially not excluding—animal-sourced products like meat and dairy milk. That became known as the Planetary Health Diet. Until now, however, the benefits of this diet have been explored mainly on a small scale. The new study takes it up a notch. “This is by far the longest term, large study in actual people to look at both the human and planetary health benefits of the Planetary Health Diet,” says Walter Willett, the Fredrick John Stare professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, and lead author on the research.

More here.

Thursday Poem

Silver Maple, Solstice

And still, forty years later, I lean
my cheek to your trunk, breathe
familiar summer. I imagine the sap
pulse running through, what your roots
tell the lake, what they told the other

two other maples you once knew,
network of under earth shared
in the black of Michigan soil. Storms
stole them, trunks yanked back
from decades. Lightning severed,

both fell with such protest they took
a house right down to its stone
basement heart. They never wanted to go.
I share this with them. I share
this with you. Keep up in gale and ice,

hundreds high. Hold fast in spring’s
torment wind. Abandon any blight.

Attend only to the insects
that adore, the birds that make
respectful nests. I say this all as I round

you, touch a secret I don’t want to admit:
one small rusted nail. You’ve grown
around it, taken the scar as a mossed beauty.
But I remember the story another way:
the tin sign it held after we hammered

it into you: Payne Cottage, est. 1982.
Forgive us for wanting to claim
what was never grown for owning.

Forgive us for attempting to harness majesty,
believing it was anything but yours.

by Julie E. Bloemeke
Poetry Magazine