I will alarm islamic owls

Alex Lencicki at Brokentype:

My coworker Francis wrote a book called the Holy Tango of Literature. In it, he made anagrams of the names of famous poets, and then wrote poems based on the anagrams in the poet’s style. The book includes Emily Dickenson’s “Skinny Domicile”, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Errol Flynn’s not Dead”, and William Shakespeare’s “Is Sperm Like a Whale?”

Here’s William Carlos Williams


I will be alarming
the Islamic owls
that are in
the barn

and which
you warned me
are very jittery
and susceptible to loud noises

Forgive me
they see so well in the dark
so feathery
and so dedicated to Allah.

Which is several grades of awesome.

More here.

The Haifa International Film Festival

Kenneth Brown reports on the 21st Haifa International Film Festival, in Le Monde Diplomatique (English ed.).

Haifa is Israel’s only remaining large, mixed, Jewish-Palestinian city. Of its population of 250,000 at least 10% are Arabs; the figure jumps to 30% for students at the University of Haifa. (Of Israel’s overall population of 6.7 million, about 1.3 million are Arabs, 19.4% of the total.) Haifa prides itself on this coexistence, real or imagined, between Arab and Jew. The novelist Emile Habibi (1), the city’s best-known Palestinian, believed the Arabs who remained in Haifa after the war of 1948 could live with Jews in relative tranquillity provided they stayed in their place: that place is geographically and symbolically at the city’s lowest level. Habibi, who died in his beloved city in May 1996, left his mark indelibly on the consciousness of Palestinian and Jewish Israelis. Engraved on his tombstone are the words “Still in Haifa”. A cunning, sad, brilliant writer, he received the Israeli prize for his literary work in 1992. He gave the prize money to the child victims of the first intifada.

At the time of this year’s film festival, Haifa was also celebrating the centenary of the Hijaz railway opened by the Ottoman emperor. The railway ran to Damascus and on to Mecca. It was meant to transport wheat and barley from the interior of Syria to Haifa and, in the other direction, pilgrims arriving by ship from the Maghreb, bound for Mecca, south to the Hijaz. The railway marked the beginnings of the transformation of a small Ottoman town into a modern city.

Top Science Stories of 2005

From Scientific American:

Top_stories 2005 has been a year of tempests both literal and figurative. Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma led a record pack of devastating storms; the issue of whether to teach intelligent design in the classroom went to trial; the decision about whether to make “Plan B” emergency contraception available over the counter was postponed; a celebrated stem cell researcher was revealed as a fraud; and the threat of avian flu loomed large.

But there were exhilarating developments as well. Long believed extinct, the ivory-billed woodpecker was detected in the Big Woods of Arkansas; astronomers discovered a tenth planet in our solar system–complete with its own moon; physicists created a new state of matter using quarks and gluons; and the genome of our closest living relative, the chimpanzee, was sequenced.

More here.

Popularising philosophy

From a review of The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy in The Economist:

ThinkerneonleftlgClose behind the news headlines lurk abstract puzzles. Freedom and democracy are offered up as justifications for war, yet they themselves are rarely explained or justified. People argue passionately about abortion, uncertain where law and morals meet or what anchors moral convictions. A judge in Dover, Pennsylvania, faced by Christian zealots claiming that evolution is “just a theory”, asks experts to explain what makes theories scientific.

Puzzles are all very well. But arguments have to end. When arguments themselves turn on contentious principles—majority rule, moral truth, science against faith—philosophy will not go away. Shut the door, and back it comes through the window. Philosophy, once readmitted, then turns a characteristic trick. It makes you think how you should be arguing about those principles and tries to make plain what should count as good and bad reasons. It guarantees no answers but does offer the wherewithal to recognise genuine answers when they appear.

More here.

“I will astonish Paris with an apple.”

Paul Trachtman in Smithsonian Magazine:

CezannemedPaul Cézanne wanted to make paint bleed. The old masters, he told the poet Joachim Gasquet, painted warmblooded flesh and made sap run in their trees, and he would too. He wanted to capture “the green odor” of his Provence fields and “the perfume of marble from Saint-Victoire,” the mountain that was the subject of so many of his paintings. He was bold, scraping and slapping paint onto his still lifes with a palette knife. “I will astonish Paris with an apple, ” he boasted.

In the years when his friends Manet, Monet, Pissarro and Renoir were finally gaining acceptance, Cézanne worked mostly in isolation, ridiculed by critics and mocked by the public, sometimes ripping up his own canvases. He wanted more than the quick impressions of the Impressionists (nature, he wrote to a fellow artist, “is more depth than surface”) and devoted himself to studying the natural world. “It’s awful for me,” he told a young friend, “my eyes stay riveted to the tree trunk, to the clod of earth. It’s painful for me to tear them away.” He could often be found, according to one contemporary, “on the outskirts of Paris wandering about the hillsides in jackboots. As no one took the least interest in his pictures, he left them in the fields.”

More here.

How Google is changing medicine

Dean Giustini in the British Medical Journal:

For all the benefits technology provides, it does provoke anxiety. In a recent letter in the New England Journal of Medicine, a New York rheumatologist describes a scene at rounds where a professor asked the presenting fellow to explain how he arrived at his diagnosis.4 Matter of factly, the reply came: “I entered the salient features into Google, and [the diagnosis] popped right up.” The attending doctor was taken aback by the Google diagnosis. “Are we physicians no longer needed? Is an observer who can accurately select the findings to be entered in a Google search all we need for a diagnosis to appear—as if by magic?” In a post-Google world, where evidence based education is headed is anyone’s guess.5 Googling your diagnosis; Googling your treatment—where is all this leading us?

More here.

The Mirage of Empire

John Gray in the New York Review of Books:

Bush_george20060112Robert Kaplan was one of the few who did not share the complacent sense of triumph that accompanied the end of the cold war. In an article entitled “The Coming Anarchy,” which he published in The Atlantic Monthly in February 1994, Kaplan outlined a very different prospect from that anticipated by most other observers. He saw a world in which some states collapsed or rusted away, leaving their populations to scramble for survival, while powerful states acted ruthlessly to ensure their control of the world’s dwindling resources. In many countries, he wrote, the struggle for resources would be intensified by ethnic and religious conflicts, and nationalist demagogues and fundamentalist prophets would come to power, imperiling what remained of order and security in the international system.

More here.

Paradise City Lost

In Harvard Design Magazine, Marshall Berman reviews Michael Johns’ The American City in the 1950s.

All over America, from the biggest cities to the smallest, the FHS [Federal Highway System] worked as an engine for ripping up downtowns. In just a few years, hundreds of solid city neighborhoods turned into fragments lodged between freeways and entrance / exit ramps. Thriving businesses found themselves cut off from their customers. Venerable streets became parking lots. Beloved hotels and department stores, so vital to civic identity, were forced to close.

Even as the FHS ravaged downtown, it created overpowering reasons for moving, “offers you can’t refuse,” as the wiseguys in The Godfather said. Capital, jobs, and people took the offers and left. Meanwhile, millions of Southern and West Indian blacks poured into Northern cities in search of the entry-level jobs that were disappearing fast. Meanwhile, a heroin epidemic spread, leading to a prolonged explosion of violence. It happened all over, but cities felt it worst. Everyday city life got harder and scarier.

Our two political parties recognized that there was big trouble, but they dealt with it in very different ways. Democrats offered programs to help people in trouble (“Model Cities”); Republicans blamed them and punished them for the trouble (“planned shrinkage”). Still, they shared an underlying desire to change our cities from centrifugal into centripetal places, where energy went “flying from the center” to the edges.

The Cultural Economy of Awards and Prizes

And continuing with the week’s theme of lists and rankings, Michael Sandlin reviews James F. English’s The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value, in PopMatters.

English approaches his topic with a postmodernist critic’s eye, viewing the world of cultural prizes through the monocle of French theorist Pierre Bourdieu: he often deploys Bourdieu’s own terminology (when speaking of the “consecration” of artists, for example), and defines the cultural awards racket in terms of absence and illusion, or as Baudrillaud or Macherey might say (with a thumbs-up and a wink), it’s “a manipulation of signs that takes the place of an absent reality.” This po-mo reasoning naturally leads to English’s recurring references to the “collective make-believe” that artist, press, and general public must (and do) perpetuate in order for awards to potently function as “symbolic capital,” in an increasingly de-industrialized, “weightless” economy.

English’s advancements in the woefully thin discourse on cultural prizes are many; but his most crucial breakthrough may be the complicit role he sees in high-profile critics of awards (or those behind anti-award awards like the Razzies), whose insults are actually essential to perpetuating “prize frenzy.” And this is where Bourdieu again rears his bereted head, as English speaks of the “styles of condescension” that play an important role in the symbolic empowerment of cultural prizes. And considering there’s little difference today between good and bad publicity, clued-in anti-awards critics, often prizewinners themselves, engage in public naysaying that simply fuels the hype machine. And in this way the scandal-dependent prizes — like say, the Booker — stay relevant in the eyes of an increasingly controversy-hungry media and the public at large.

Question is, can we detect any real hope from English’s study that this all-powerful “collective make-believe” will ever be dispelled?

Humiliation and rejecting rejection

In Economic and Political Weekly, Sanjay Palshikar looks at the phenomenon of humiliation.

Besides these two ways of talking about one’s humiliation, there is a third possibility in which one claims to be humiliated, or gives an account of it, on the unreflected basis of an order of values, but later comes to reject that order, and reconstitutes the grounds of the claim. This is famously exemplified in Gandhi. He began by thinking of the British rule in India as a challenge to our manhood, and considered various ways of overcoming the lack of manly vigour in himself, to start with; over time, he came to see the empire as ill-treating its loyal subjects, and later went beyond even this basis of criticism. Here, we see notions of fairness and justice replacing the culture of masculinity and reformulating the account of humiliation on a new basis.

There is a similar thing happening with Ambedkar’s turning to Buddhism. Soon after declaring in 1935 his resolve to leave the Hindufold, Ambedkar made a speech in the Mahar Conference. Conversion is not for the slaves, he said. It is part of the struggle against the caste Hindus. The oppressed needed three kinds of strength to win this struggle: manpower, finance, and mental strength. Regarding the last, he said the oppressed had come to accept without any complaint all manner of insults. There was neither “retort nor revolt”. “Confidence, vigour and ambition” had vanished, and the oppressed had become “helpless, unenergetic and pale”. There was an “atmosphere of defeatism and pessimism”. He ended the speech by saying that one of the reasons he was asking his followers to convert was to gain strength: “convert to become strong”. Even two decades later, he remained preoccupied with these ideas and the themes of strength and spiritedness surfaced even in his historic speech at Nagpur, the day after he finally converted to Buddhism. He spoke appreciatively of the combativeness of the Muslims, and he also quoted Sant Ramdas to the effect that the lack of enthusiasm or spiritedness leads to the disease of mind and body. But there was something else he wanted to tell his followers: “lead such a life that you will command respect”.

(If you’re interested in the phenomenon, I highly recommend Avishai Margalit’s The Decent Society.)

Reading Bin Laden

In openDemocracy, Faisal Devji reviews Bruce Lawrence, ed., Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden.

While Messages to the World arranges and presents Bin Laden’s words in a lucid and comprehensive way, the nature of the material often militates against its own readability. But this has nothing to do with anything particularly foreign or exotic about Osama bin Laden’s words; indeed the contrary, since it is the sheer familiarity of his rhetoric that might permit readers to pass by what is of interest in it. . .

The risk of simply reading one’s own concerns into Osama bin Laden’s words is, needless to say, made many times more likely by the controversy he generates in all walks of life from politics and economics to philosophy and religion. Even the collection’s editor does not escape this risk, for in the book’s introduction Bruce Lawrence is determined to locate his hero squarely within the politics of the middle east, or even better, the Arab world. Professor Lawrence confines al-Qaida to regional issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, America’s support of repressive and undemocratic local regimes or the struggle for oil and its wealth, and in doing so finds himself in agreement with the very concerns that he claims animate American or Israeli policy in the middle east. This is surely an embarrassing position for a Verso author to find himself in, since to agree with the terms of a debate while disagreeing with its details is already to hold a politics in common.

Another list: The Wealthiest 15 Fictional Characters

Speaking of silly lists, Forbes.com has a list of the 15 wealthiest fictional characters. (The methodology remains opaque.) (Via The Cool Tricks and Trinkets Newsletter.)

Collectively, we are fascinated by the super-rich. We devour their biographies. We hang on their advice. Maybe we even hope for their downfall. But in our attempts to explain the ultra-rich–and their super-inflated bank accounts–we are often guilty of reducing real people to mere caricatures. There is the monopolist. The oracle. The genius. The thief.

With the Forbes Fictional 15, we have taken the opposite approach–fiction’s caricatures are elevated to the status of real people.

At the top:

    1. Santa Claus
    2. Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks
    3. Richie Rich
    4. Lex Luthor
    5. C. Montgomery Burns
    6. Scrooge McDuck
    7. Jed Clampett
    8. Bruce Wayne

(Luthor and Clampett, wealthier than Wayne???)

Understanding Fundamentalism

Edward Farley offers a theory of fundamentalism in Cross Currents.

Since the early twentieth century, the term, fundamentalism, has undergone significant changes of meaning. First, the initial movement (biblicistic and anti-evolution Protestantism) experienced an upsurge after World War II that included denominational takeovers, the successful deployment of radio and television, relatively successful ventures into local and national politics, and, in recent times, the development of large and small independent congregations (“community churches”) whose music, entertainment, anti-liturgy and informal worship are especially attractive to young married couples with children. Second, in the 1940’s and after, Protestant fundamentalism in the United States split into conservative and moderate factions: the former preferring cultural and denominational isolation and anti-historical Biblicism, the latter, centered in the new National Association of Evangelicals and Fuller Seminar, rejecting such isolation and embracing selected elements of “modernism.” Third, the original funmentalist movement, its pre-history, and its period of upsurge called forth a whole literature of historical, sociological, and even theological studies. Fourth, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, and Hindu communities spawned movements which closely resembled American Protestant fundamentalism. Following these developments, the term, fundamentalism, underwent both a narrowing and a broadening. The “evangelical” or moderate side of the original movement restricted the term to the far right wing of conservative Protestantism. Because of this restriction, “fundamentalism” migrated from a descriptive historical to a pejorative term for an ossified, hostile, and even fanatical way of being religious. In the last part of the twentieth century, students of world religions appropriated the term to describe aggressively anti-modernist, tradition-preserving movements in many of the world’s faiths. Others in turn resisted this broadening on grounds that the term was too loaded with Protestant Christian connotations to apply to other faiths. “Islamism” and “Hinduization” thus became the preferred terms to describe these tradition-defending movements. The broadeners have argued that, granting the differences between religions, there does exist a complex of similar behaviors and attitudes in these faiths that justify a common label. Behind these similarities is the struggle of all contemporary religious faiths to maintain themselves in a radically secularized world.

Testing Action at a Distance and other Quantum Weirdness

In The New York Times:

This fall scientists announced that they had put a half dozen beryllium atoms into a “cat state.”

No, they were not sprawled along a sunny windowsill. To a physicist, a “cat state” is the condition of being two diametrically opposed conditions at once, like black and white, up and down, or dead and alive.

These atoms were each spinning clockwise and counterclockwise at the same time. Moreover, like miniature Rockettes they were all doing whatever it was they were doing together, in perfect synchrony. Should one of them realize, like the cartoon character who runs off a cliff and doesn’t fall until he looks down, that it is in a metaphysically untenable situation and decide to spin only one way, the rest would instantly fall in line, whether they were across a test tube or across the galaxy.

The idea that measuring the properties of one particle could instantaneously change the properties of another one (or a whole bunch) far away is strange to say the least – almost as strange as the notion of particles spinning in two directions at once.

Slowly, Cancer Genes Tender Their Secrets

From The New York Times:

Cancer_cell_1 At first, as scientists grew to appreciate the complexity of cancer genetics, they despaired. “If there are 100 genetic abnormalities, that’s 100 things you need to fix to cure cancer,” said Dr. Todd Golub, the director of the Cancer Program at the Broad Institute of Harvard and M.I.T. in Cambridge, Mass., and an oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. “That’s a horrifying thought.” Making matters more complicated, scientists discovered that the genetic changes in one patient’s tumor were different from those in another patient with the same type of cancer. That led to new questioning. Was every patient going to be a unique case? Would researchers need to discover new drugs for every single patient? “People said, ‘It’s hopelessly intractable and too complicated a problem to ever Golubportrait figure out,’ ” Dr. Golub recalled.

But to their own amazement, scientists are now finding that untangling the genetics of cancer is not impossible. In fact, they say, what looked like an impenetrable shield protecting cancer cells turns out to be flimsy. And those seemingly impervious cancer cells, Dr. Golub said, “are very much poised to die.”

More here.

Todd Golub, M.D. here.

Getting a Rational Grip on Religion

From Scientific American:

Dennet_1 In Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Daniel Dennett, director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, has embarked on another of his seemingly impossible quests. His provocatively titled book Consciousness Explained made a persuasive effort to do just that. More recently, in Freedom Evolves, he took on free will from a Darwinian perspective. This time he may have assumed the hardest task of all–and not just because of the subject matter. Dennett hopes that this book will be read not just by atheists and agnostics but by the religiously faithful–and that they will come to see the wisdom of analyzing their deepest beliefs scientifically, weeding out the harmful from the good. The spell he hopes to break, he suggests, is not religious belief itself but the conviction that its details are off-limits to scientific inquiry, taboo.

“I appreciate that many readers will be profoundly distrustful of the tack I am taking here,” he writes. “They will see me as just another liberal professor trying to cajole them out of some of their convictions, and they are dead right about that–that’s what I am, and that’s exactly what I am trying to do.” This warning comes at the end of a long, two-chapter overture in which Dennett defends the idea that religion is a fit subject for scrutiny. The question is how many of the faithful will follow him that far.

Picture: HAMLET  exemplifies the way we continue to experience the presence of those who are important to us even after they die. Such “spirits” may have provided the earliest impetus for religion. (Laurence Olivier in a 1948 production.)

More here.

The Flight of Form: Auden, Bruegel, and the Turn to Abstraction in the 1940s

Alexander Nemerov in Critical Inquiry:

Pieter Bruegel made Landscape with the Fall of Icarus in 1938—or so W. H. Auden helps us see. Auden wrote his famous poem “Musée des Beaux Arts” that year, with its last stanza devoted to Bruegel’s picture, and under the poem’s pressure The Fall of Icarus becomes a commentary about events in the months leading up to inevitable world conflict. More precisely, the poem transforms Bruegel’s painting into a surrealist diagram concerning the place of the intellectual in violent times. What do artists and poets and critics do in the face of catastrophe? How do they register it in their work, or should they even try to do so? Auden makes Bruegel’s painting address these questions with a special urgency, indeed with enough power that this picture painted around 1560 becomes a template for understanding literature and visual art at the end of the nineteen thirties and into the forties. In particular the motivations and underlying energies of American abstract painting of that era—that of Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock, for example—become unexpectedly clearer in light of The Fall of Icarus. What did it mean for the artist to turn away from the world? Bruegel suggests some answers.

Auden wrote “Musée des Beaux Arts” when he was in Brussels in December 1938, biding his time before he and Christopher Isherwood moved to New York early the next year.1 The poem refers to two other Bruegel paintings, The Massacre of the Innocents and The Nativity, both in Vienna, but it is the Brussels Fall of Icarus that Auden concentrates on the most. Then as now in a second-floor gallery of the museum the poem is named after, the painting depicts the story from book 8 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses of Daedalus and his son Icarus (fig. 1).


Figure 1. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, ca. 1560. Oil on panel transferred to canvas, 28 5/8 x 43 5/8 in. Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels. Photo: Scala/Art Resource, New York.

Daedalus fashioned wings of wax, thread, and feathers to escape imprisonment on the isle of Crete and made a second set of wings for his fellow prisoner Icarus. He warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, which would melt the wax and bring him crashing down, but the impetuous youth ignored his father’s advice and suffered the forewarned meltdown, falling to the earth.

Some artists—Peter Paul Rubens, for example—focus exclusively on the airborne drama of father and son, but Bruegel omits Daedalus and shows only Icarus’s pale legs as he plunges into the water at lower right (fig. 2).


Figure 2. Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (detail). Photo: Scala/Art Resource, New York.

Bruegel concentrates on other aspects of Ovid’s tale: “Some fisher, perhaps, plying his quivering rod, some shepherd leaning on his staff, or a peasant bent over his plough handle caught sight of [Daedalus and Icarus] as they flew past,” Ovid writes, “and stood stock still in astonishment.”2 These figures appear throughout Bruegel’s picture—the fisherman at lower right, the shepherd at midground center, and most clearly the plowman at left foreground—but Bruegel departs from Ovid, as Walter Gibson notes, by showing them oblivious to the drama around them. Even the figures busily scaling the rigging of the ship at lower right notice neither Icarus nor the feathers floating past the sails. Indifference and preoccupation are everywhere. In the distance, the culpable sun sits half-submerged, as if in sympathy with Icarus’s sinking, but it too is part of a vaster world—even the icon of that world—that goes about its business, its daily cycle, unconcerned with particular tragedies.

This of course is the quality Auden seized on in his poem, with its famous last stanza devoted to the Brussels painting:

Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.3

More here.

Short story: The Unfortunate Fate of Kitty da Silva

“After the huge success of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and its successor novels, ALEXANDER McCALL SMITH turns to his home city of Edinburgh for ‘The Unfortunate Fate of Kitty da Silva’, a whimsical short story about an unusual companionship.”

From The Independent:

Mccall231205body_104496bHe arrived before the agent did, and was standing there, on the pavement, for 15 minutes or so before the young man came round the corner. The agent was whistling, which surprised him, because one did not hear people whistling; there was something unexpected, something almost old-fashioned about it. And there was no birdsong, of course, or very little. At home there had always been birdsong, and one took it for granted. Here the mornings seemed silent; the air drained of sound. Thin air. Thin.

“Are you the doctor?” asked the young man, looking at a piece of paper extracted from his pocket. “You’re Dr… Dr John. Right?”

He shook his head, and stopped and reminded himself that it was the other way round. In India one shook one’s head for yes, which was the opposite of what they did here. It was rather like water going this way round as it drained out of the bath in the southern hemisphere, and that way round in the north, or so people said. Clockwise or anti-clockwise. Widdershins and deasil. Those were wonderful words – widdershins and deasil – and he had written them down in his notebook of fine English words, as he had always done since he was a boy. He had had an uncle who had taught English at a college and had impressed upon him the importance of a wide vocabulary. He had imitated his uncle’s habit of writing down interesting words in his notebook. Pejorative, he wrote. Gloaming. Conspicuous.

More here.

The Other Panda’s Thumb

Carl Zimmer in his blog, The Loom:

Medium20red20pandaIf you could travel back to Spain about ten million years ago, you’d have no end of animals to watch, from apes to bear-dogs to saber-tooth tigers. With so many creatures jockeying for your attention (and perhaps chasing you down for lunch), you might well miss the creature shown here. Simocyon batalleri was roughly the size and shape of a puma, although its face looked more like a raccoon’s. If anything were to draw your attention to Simocyon, it would probably be the animal’s gift for climbing trees. Most big carnivorous mammals of the time were restricted to the ground; some may have been able to climb up tree trunks and onto bigger boughs. But judging from its fossils, Simocyon could have climbed trees out to their slender branches. It could do so because, unlike other carnivores, it had thumbs that it could use to grasp branches much like a monkey would. Those thumbs turn out to have a fascinating story to tell about the tinkering habits of evolution.

More here.