Dawkins on the Opiate of the Masses

From Prospect Magazine:

Gerin oil (or Geriniol to give it its scientific name) is a powerful drug which acts directly on the central nervous system to produce a range of characteristic symptoms, often of an antisocial or self- damaging nature. If administered chronically in childhood, Gerin oil can permanently modify the brain to produce adult disorders, including dangerous delusions which have proved very hard to treat. The four doomed flights of 11th September were, in a very real sense, Gerin oil trips: all 19 of the hijackers were high on the drug at the time. Historically, Geriniol intoxication was responsible for atrocities such as the Salem witch hunts and the massacres of native South Americans by conquistadores. Gerin oil fuelled most of the wars of the European middle ages and, in more recent times, the carnage that attended the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent and, on a smaller scale, Ireland.

More here.

Smart Beer Mat

Julie Clothier at CNN:

Beer_1The “smart” beer mat, created by Matthias Hahnen and Robert Doerr from Saarland University in Saarbruecken, southwest Germany, can sense when a glass is nearly empty, sending an alert to a central computer behind the bar so waiters know there are thirsty customers.

The students’ supervising professor, Andreas Butz, told CNN the plastic beer mat had sensor chips, which measured the weight of the glass, embedded inside.

When the weight of the glass drops to a certain level, the sensor chips detect that it is close to empty and alerts the bartender via a radio signal.

More here.

A review of Levy’s Female Chauvinst Pigs

Over at Nerve.com, Kara Jesella reviews Ariel Levy’s book Female Chauvinist Pigs.

“Something is going on with this country when the only way to tell the hipster girls dry-humping one another on lastnightsparty.com from the sorority girls parading around in wet T-shirts at MTV’s Spring Break is by counting their tattoos (hint: the first group has more). Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (Free Press), thirty-year-old Ariel Levy posits that as pornography has permeated American society, a new and pervasive genre of woman has arisen: the Female Chauvinist Pig.

Anxious to be perceived as hot, and reluctant to feel left out of what Levy calls ‘the frat party of pop culture,’ FCPs eagerly make sex objects out of other women and themselves, claiming that watching Drew Barrymore whirl around a pole in the Charlie’s Angels sequel and posing for Playboy is ’empowering.’ Levy thinks they’re kidding themselves, mistaking sexual power for real power and, worse, believing that mimicking the sexuality of strippers, Playmates, and porn stars — women who are paid to simulate real women’s sexuality — is power in the first place.”

Lewontin on Evolution, Creationism, and Extensions of the Darwinian Framework

Richard Lewontin reviews two new books on the evolution debates in the New York Review of Books.

“The development of evolutionary biology has induced two opposite reactions, both of which threaten its legitimacy as a natural scientific explana-tion. One, based on religious convictions, rejects the science of evolution in a fit of hostility, attempting to destroy it by challenging its sufficiency as the mechanism that explains the history of life in general and of the material nature of human beings in particular. One demand of those who hold such views is that their competing theories be taught in the schools.

The other reaction, from academics in search of a universal theory of human society and history, embraces Darwinism in a fit of enthusiasm, threatening its status as a natural science by forcing its explanatory scheme to account not simply for the shape of brains but for the shape of ideas. The Evolution–Creation Struggle is concerned with the first challenge, Not By Genes Alone with the second.”

jim jarmusch’s ghostbusters


Sigourney Weaver cameo. She’s possessed again. What can Bill Murray do about it? He chooses to do nothing. They part. Is that a hint of regret on his face? Could be. Or maybe he is thinking of something else. Is that the devil himself turning her eyes a lurid red? Or is it an allergy? Either interpretation is valid. Slow fade to black. Bill Murray in a ceremony at the governor’s office. It seems as if he has saved the entire state from an attack of ghosts. The details are not clear. The governor makes a speech. Fade from the speech into reverb-drenched strains of Mahler as Bill Murray’s reflection shivers in a black window, framed by falling snow. Bill Murray is not listening. He gazes out the window, musing over lost time. Or it could well be that he is thinking of a kind of cake he enjoys. One corner of his mouth curls upward. Or, just as likely, downward. The movement is so subtle, perhaps it did not happen at all. Snow. Slow fade to black.

more from McSweeney’s here.

An Index of Failed States

From Foreign Policy and The Fund for Peace, a failed states index.

“How many states are at serious risk of state failure? The World Bank has identified about 30 ‘low-income countries under stress,’ whereas Britain’s Department for International Development has named 46 ‘fragile’ states of concern. A report commissioned by the CIA has put the number of failing states at about 20.

To present a more precise picture of the scope and implications of the problem, the Fund for Peace, an independent research organization, and FOREIGN POLICY have conducted a global ranking of weak and failing states. Using 12 social, economic, political, and military indicators, we ranked 60 states in order of their vulnerability to violent internal conflict. . . . The resulting index provides a profile of the new world disorder of the 21st century and demonstrates that the problem of weak and failing states is far more serious than generally thought. About 2 billion people live in insecure states, with varying degrees of vulnerability to widespread civil conflict.”

Fodor on Blackburn’s Truth

In the TLS, Jerry Fodor reviews Simon Blackburn’s Truth: A Guide for the Perplexed.

“Reading Simon Blackburn’s new book Truth: A guide for the perplexed prompted these dour reflections. Blackburn thinks there is currently a cultural crisis over the relativity (or otherwise) of truth and knowledge. He pitches it pretty strong. The conflict plays out, he says,

‘not only between different people, but grumbles within the breast of each individual. [It] is about our conception of ourselves and our world, about the meaning of our sayings, and indeed the meaning of our activities, and of our lives . . . . the stakes in this war are enormous . . . . Today dogmatisms feed and flourish on the desecrated corpse of reason. Astrology, prophecy, homoeopathy, Feng shui, conspiracy theories, flying saucers, voodoo, crystal balls, miracle-working angel visits, alien abductions, management nostrums and a thousand other cults dominate people’s minds, often with official backing. ‘Faith education’ is encouraged by the British Prime Minister, while Biblical fundamentalism, creationism and astrology alike stalk the White House.’

Blackburn offers as an antidote a balanced, informed, civil, literate and reasonably neutral account of the dispute between philosophical Relativism and philosophical Absolutism. His thought seems to be that our perplexities might be resolved if only we could get straight about the metaphysics and epistemology of truth. “

Ronald Dworkin on Judge Roberts

As this is written, there seems no doubt that the committee and then the Senate will confirm Judge Roberts’s nomination, probably, in the latter case, by a large margin. He is a stunningly intelligent lawyer who may well prove to be an excellent chief justice. The country will have to wait and see. But Senator Biden was right when he said that in approving his nomination the Senate is “rolling dice.” The Judiciary Committee allowed him to keep his jurisprudential convictions, if he has any, almost entirely hidden. The senators asked him to comment on very specific cases and issues, an invitation he steadily—though with at least one notable exception—refused.[11] I believe he was wrong to refuse to answer these specific questions. His argument that it is unfair to litigants to reveal his present opinion of issues he might later confront is very weak. His honest statement of his present views would in no sense be a promise or commitment. He will have to consider arguments in specific cases before making a decision, and he will join a Court most of whose other members have publicly stated their opinions on many of the issues that will come before them without raising any question of fairness to future litigants, who must often argue knowing that certain justices are disposed to vote against them. His argument, moreover, wholly neglects a very powerful contrary consideration: that according to any plausible view of democracy the public has a right to know his views on matters affecting their fundamental rights in some detail before their representatives award him lifetime power over those rights.

more from The New York Review of Books here.

Sugimoto: history of history


The exhibit currently on view at the Japan Society in New York.

One of the most internationally-acclaimed Japanese artists living today, Hiroshi Sugimoto is best known for his photographic series of empty movie theaters and drive-ins, seascapes, dioramas and wax museums. This exhibition juxtaposes Sugimoto’s exquisitely minimalist works, selected from the photographer’s past and most recent series, with fossils, artworks and religious artifacts ranging from prehistoric to the 15th century, all drawn from his own collection. . . . The exhibition, Sugimoto writes, addresses “recorded history, unrecorded history, and still another history–that which is yet to be depicted… like parts waiting to be assembled in a do-it-yourself kit.”



Viennese Actionist Otto Mühl hit a very sensitive nerve several decades ago, and he’s still doing so today. In Hamburg this summer, you can see filmed documentation of the works that first put Mühl on the map: his truly radical “Matieralaktionen” (Material Actions) of the ’60s. For the first time, all eighteen films of these carefully staged actions are on view, along with around two hundred drawings and photographs dating from the ’60s to the present. In the films, naked bodies—smeared with flour, mud, excrement—are the focal point. Often, the borders between desire and violence, sensuality and childishness are blurred.

more from Artforum here.

Return of the time lord

From The Guardian:

Hawk2_1 Stephen Hawking can only communicate by a twitch in his right cheek, yet his attempt to explain the universe to ordinary people has made him the world’s most famous living scientist. His 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, clung to the bestseller lists for 237 weeks. It sold one copy for every 750 people on earth – even if they didn’t all read it – and earned him cameos in cult shows such as the Simpsons and Star Trek. In a rare interview he talks to Emma Brockes about disability, why women can’t read maps and thinking in 11 dimensions.

I ask if he gives two hoots that there aren’t many top women scientists, and if he has an idea as to why. “It is generally recognised that women are better than men at languages, personal relations and multi-tasking, but less good at map-reading and spatial awareness. It is therefore not unreasonable to suppose that women might be less good at mathematics and physics. It is not politically correct to say such things and the president of Harvard got in terrible trouble for doing so. But it cannot be denied that there are differences between men and women. Of course, these are differences between the averages only. There are wide variations about the mean.”

It’s been said, primarily by your ex-wife, that you have nothing but contempt for the arts, in particular medieval Spanish poetry [her PhD subject]. “Not entirely. An awful lot of the arts world is mediocre or sham. But there are a few great works that have a direct effect on people.” These two questions have taken almost three-quarters of an hour to answer. I ask: “If you could go back in time, who would you rather meet, Marilyn Monroe or Isaac Newton?” and after 10 minutes he says in that voice that makes the blandest statement sound profound: “Marilyn. Newton seems to have been an unpleasant character.”

More here.

That Famous Equation and You

Brian Greene in The New York Times:Mc2_1

DURING the summer of 1905, while fulfilling his duties in the patent office in Bern, Switzerland, Albert Einstein was fiddling with a tantalizing outcome of the special theory of relativity he’d published in June. His new insight, at once simple and startling, led him to wonder whether “the Lord might be laughing … and leading me around by the nose.” But by September, confident in the result, Einstein wrote a three-page supplement to the June paper, publishing perhaps the most profound afterthought in the history of science. A hundred years ago this month, the final equation of his short article gave the world E = mc².

Before 1905, the common view of energy and matter thus resembled a man carrying around his money in a box of solid gold. After the man spends his last dollar, he thinks he’s broke. But then someone alerts him to his miscalculation; a substantial part of his wealth is not what’s in the box, but the box itself. Similarly, until Einstein’s insight, everyone was aware that matter, by virtue of its motion or position, could possess energy. What everyone missed is the enormous energetic wealth contained in mass itself.

More here.

photos and text by Tamara Lischka

From Lens Culture:

Lischka_14When I was a child I occasionally found mermaid’s purses – egg cases for sharks and skates which had washed up on the beach. I wanted to open the purses, to find out if the leathery sacks actually contained a baby shark or not, but spent long minutes filled with anxiety about what I would see if I did. Would the fish still be alive? Would it squirm or move? Having destroyed its haven, could I really just stand there and watch the fetus die? Eventually such thoughts eclipsed all curiosity, and so I always put the purse back down on the sand and left it undisturbed.

In the past my work has held its secrets close, literally enclosed in the sculptural spaces created by curled fingers and closing hands… But now the hands are beginning to open, long sequestered thoughts and feelings finally examined and revealed.

More here.

“Facts, schmacts. You can use facts to prove anything that’s even vaguely true,” Homer Simpson. So Congress tries fiction instead

Via Wonkette, science and policy drift further apart.

“Tomorrow, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, led by anti-environment champion James Inhofe (R-OK), will hold a hearing to “discuss the role of science in environmental policy making.

It’s an important topic, given the tendency in Washington to choose ideology over facts. Unfortunately, Inhofe’s witness list wasn’t available on the committee’s website, so we called today to find out who would be speaking.

We received the following list. As you’ll see, the featured witness isn’t a noted environmental scientist, or an expert in regulatory policy. It’s Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton.

And why would Inhofe invite a fiction author to testify on the role of science in environmental policy making?”

blackburn and truth


Truth is basically a recasting of the culture wars with the great philosophers enlisted as protagonists. Blackburn starts the book with a discussion of William James, later goes back as far as Locke and Bishop Berkeley and Kant, and has generously long sections on recent analytic philosophers, some of whom he admires, like Quine, and some he deplores, such as Sellars. Blackburn is himself a philosophy professor at Cambridge University, best-known in professional circles for a doctrine he pioneered called “quasi-realism.” Blackburn the quasi-realist is widely recognized as a lucid, careful, and generous philosopher. His two heroes are Hume and Wittgenstein; keying off them, he has pointed to a middle way, whereby we might reject a strictly realist account of knowledge, but without lapsing into the flabbiness of relativism, or emotivism, or what philosophers sometimes call noncognitivism.

more from Slate here.

MIT Unveils Laptop for the Masses

From BBC News:

_40855128_neg_mockup203Nicholas Negroponte, chairman and founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Labs, has been outlining designs for a sub-$100 PC.

The laptop will be tough and foldable in different ways, with a hand crank for when there is no power supply.

Professor Negroponte came up with the idea for a cheap computer for all after visiting a Cambodian village.

His non-profit One Laptop Per Child group plans to have up to 15 million machines in production within a year.

A prototype of the machine should be ready in November at the World Summit on the Information Society

Children in Brazil, China, Egypt, Thailand, and South Africa will be among the first to get the under-$100 (£57) computer, said Professor Negroponte at the Emerging Technologies conference at MIT.

More here. (MIT Media Labs’ $100 Laptop FAQ)

danto on perl


“New Art City” is, of course, New York City, the scene and in a variety of ways the subject of Jed Perl’s engaging narrative of the history of New York art from, in his terms, its Golden Age in the 1940s to the end of its Silver Age in the ’60s. The artists of both these ages are heroic figures in Perl’s pantheon, and he writes about them with informed admiration and critical generosity. With one qualification, these attitudes, together with the historical schema of ages of decreasing luminosity, make this book a pendant to Perl’s earlier Paris Without End—an equally engaging celebration of the capital of modern art after World War I, before it was replaced in this capacity by New Art City. Perl’s qualification has to do with the crossover figure of Marcel Duchamp, about whose gifts and contributions he is ambivalent, though he is far from ambivalent about what he regards as the artist’s baleful influence as a kind of serpent in the paradise that was New York before the emergence in the late ’50s of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and the Pop art explosion they helped detonate. The age of Pop has no Hesiodic counterpart for Perl: Metallurgy knows no metal base enough to emblematize the degradation of art that took place under its auspices in the ’60s. The contempt and sarcasm he marshals in writing about it here match the tantrums of critical negativity he now and again exhibits as art critic for The New Republic.

more from Bookforum here.

Bissell on Packer’s new Iraq book


Free of cant—but not, crucially, of anger—Mr. Packer has written an account of the Iraq War that will stand alongside such narrative histories as A Bright Shining Lie, Fire in the Lake and Hell in a Very Small Place. As a meditation on the limits of American power, it’s sobering. As a pocket history of Iraq and the United States’ tangled history, it’s indispensable. As an examination of the collision between arrogance and good intentions, it could scarcely be improved upon. It’s also a welcome answer to the compelling but ultimately empty stares through the rifle scope offered by such recent combat accounts as Evan Wright’s Generation Kill and John Crawford’s best-selling The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell. In short, The Assassins’ Gate is a book every American needs to read.

more from the NY Observer here.

How Many More Will Die in Iraq?

From The Village Voice:Iraq

We are a nation at war—globally—against terrorism. But here at home, except for extra security at travel terminals, one could hardly guess it. There is no war footing to be seen. Washington has not mobilized Americans on the home front. President Bush has made it clear that he wants it that way. Yet the war is real. And the sacrifices are being borne solely by the roughly 160,000 men and women in uniform who are risking—and losing—their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. And by their grieving and worried families. National politicians, though they lavish the country’s military population with warm rhetoric in public, privately do not regard them as a voting bloc to worry about.

More here.


From The Edge:Dawkins_6 

Richard Dawkins has comfortably topped Prospect‘s poll of the top 100 public intellectuals in Britain. Over a thousand people voted for their top five public intellectuals from the list of 100 published in the July issue of Prospect.

It’s interesting to note that the very first edition of Edge in December, 1996 featured a talk by Dawkins entitled “Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder”. The site began in part as an extension of my 1991 essay on “The Emerging Third Culture” which stated that “The third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.”

In Edge #1, as an introduction to the Dawkins piece, I wrote: “Richard Dawkins enjoys the high regard of his peers both for his writing and his thinking. Sir John Maddox, editor emeritus of Nature, notes that “Climbing Mount Improbable has the grandeur of Darwin’s The Origin of Species, but that’s not surprising—it covers the same ground. Nobody can look at this book and then put it down unread—and nobody who reads it can fail to understand what Darwin is all about.” According to Danny Hillis, “notions like selfish genes, memes, and extended phenotype are powerful and exciting. They make me think differently. Unfortunately, I spend a lot of time arguing against people who have overinterpreted these ideas. They’re too easily misunderstood as explaining more than they do. So you see, this Dawkins is a dangerous guy. Like Marx. Or Darwin.”

Congratulations to Richard Dawkins!

More here.