Jeff Strabone in his blog:
Far be it from me to advocate syntactical conservatism, but one of our most valuable words is experiencing an intolerable slippage into its opposite, and all of us who care about language must do what we can to stop it. I’ve always appreciated the ceaseless engine of innovation that is language. For me, the 1980’s in particular stand out as a period of great ferment as hip hop shook up the English-speaking world. We are all the richer for having ‘mad’ as an adverb (as in ‘mad phat’), ‘science’ restored to its original Latin meaning (as in ‘dropping science’), and ‘dis’ as a diminutive for ‘disrespect’. But there is one word whose literal meaning cannot be allowed to change, and that word is ‘literal’.
People are increasingly using ‘literally’ to mean ‘figuratively’. Here is an instance from the floor of the U.S. Senate on March 9, 2007. The speaker was Senator Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana:
Now, normally this redtape is a nuisance. We work through it. It is inconvenient. It is a nuisance. But we just sort of move through the redtape of Government. But in this case, it is literally a noose that is around the necks of people, of business owners, large and small, family members—strangling their efforts to recover their communities that were devastated.
Is it time for Northern troops to occupy Louisiana again as they did during the Reconstruction? Is someone literally lynching people down South with nooses made of literal red tape? Senator Landrieu seems to think so.
More here. [Thanks to Asad Raza.]
From The Washington Post:
If human beings vanished from the Earth, our ceramic pottery and bronze statues would last much longer than our wood-frame houses. New York’s subways would be flooded within days; Lexington Avenue would be a river within decades. Head lice would go extinct, and predators would make short work of our doggies, but a lot of endangered fish and birds and trees would flourish in our absence. We endangered them, after all.
A diligent and intelligent science writer named Alan Weisman discovered all this while investigating what would happen to this planet if people suddenly disappeared. Now he has converted his thought experiment for Discover magazine into a deeply reported book called The World Without Us, and it’s full of interesting facts. For example: The European starling spread like avian kudzu after some Shakespeare buff introduced every bird mentioned by the Bard into Central Park. The demilitarized (and therefore depopulated) zones of Korea and Cyprus have become undeclared wildlife sanctuaries; so have Chernobyl and abandoned forests in New Englans and Belarus. Almost every ounce of plastic that’s ever been manufactured still lurks somewhere in our environment. And radio waves are forever, so extraterrestrials at the edge of the universe might be able to watch “I Love Lucy” reruns billions of years after we’re gone. Who knew?
In 1945, Jean-Paul Sartre visited the US at the invitation of the American Office of War Information. He was following in the footsteps not only of that most famous of transatlantic literary voyagers, Alexis de Tocqueville, but also those of Chateaubriand and Céline. Sartre’s visit attracted the attention of Time magazine, which reported that during his stay, the “short, square-shouldered” “philosopher-playwright” had developed a taste for corned beef hash and chocolate ice cream, not to mention an “awed liking” for “squalor-spotted, ill-mannered New York City.”
The pieces Sartre filed home for Le Figaro and Combat had a rather different flavour. Manhattan, he wrote, was a vast “rock desert” in which thousands of houses built of brick, wood or reinforced concrete appeared to be “on the point of flying away.” Indeed, all the American cities Sartre visited seemed to him touched by a sense of impermanence or lightness. The prefabs he saw in Fontana, Tennessee, on a tour of the Tennessee Valley Authority, were American dwellings par excellence, fragile and provisional; and even in New York, he was struck by the “flimsiness of the building materials used.”
more from Prospect Magazine here.
David Remnick in The New Yorker:
The self-regard of Israelis is built, in no small part, around a sense of sang-froid, and yet few would deny that the past year was deeply unnerving. Last July, Israel launched an aerial attack on Lebanon designed to destroy the arsenal of the radical Islamist group Hezbollah, the Party of God, and force its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, to return two kidnapped soldiers and end its cross-border rocket attacks. “If the soldiers are not returned,” Dan Halutz, the Israeli Army’s chief of staff, said at the time, “we will turn Lebanon’s clock back twenty years.” Israel bombed the runways of the Beirut airport, the Beirut-Damascus highway, and numerous towns, mainly in the south; Hezbollah, from a network of guerrilla installations and tunnel networks worthy of the Vietcong, launched some four thousand rockets, mainly Katyushas, at cities in northern Israel. Israel degraded Hezbollah’s military capabilities, at least temporarily, but there was no victory. Hezbollah survived and, in the eyes of the Islamic world, in doing so won; Nasrallah emerged as an iconic hero; and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, one of his sponsors, called yet again for the elimination of Israel from the map of the Middle East. Halutz, who had dumped all his stocks on the eve of the war, resigned, and Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, saw his approval rating fall to as low as two per cent.
Ken Binmore reviews A Beautiful Math: John Nash, Game Theory, and the Modern Quest for a Code of Nature, by Tom Siegfried, in American Scientist:
Game theorists have won five Nobel Prizes in recent years. The best known of these laureates by far is John Nash, whose remarkable life was the subject of Sylvia Nasar’s best-selling 1998 book, A Beautiful Mind. A movie with the same name starring Russell Crowe then made Nash into a modern folk hero.
The highs and lows of Nash’s life are out of the range of experience of most human beings. As an undergraduate, he initiated the modern theory of economic bargaining. His graduate thesis formulated the idea of a Nash equilibrium, which is now regarded as the basic building block of the theory of games. He went on to solve major problems in pure mathematics, using methods of such originality that his reputation as a mathematical genius of the first rank became firmly established. But at the age of 30 he fell prey to a serious schizophrenic illness, which persisted for many years, during which time he languished in obscurity. By the early 1990s, he was no longer delusional, although this fact was not widely appreciated. Fortunately, his recovery was brought to the attention of the Nobel committee just as they were deciding who should get a Nobel Prize for game theory, which had by degrees totally transformed the face of economic theory while Nash was out of action.
Ruchira Paul in Accidental Blogger:
Do you like hot foods? What is the limit of your personal “heat” index – black pepper, jalapeno, serrano, the slinky Thai pepper or the more daunting Habanero? When does mouthwatering enjoyment deteriorate into agony? The Aztecs utilised chilli peppers in a traditional drink. With heat levels spanning a wide range of “burn,” chilli peppers are an essential ingredient in cuisines across the world from Mexico to the Far East, to suit every type of dish and palate. My own palate is far from fire-proof, but I do love hot foods. Sadly enough, as I grow older, my level of tolerance for “heat” is dwindling although I have heard that the opposite should happen with advancing age. I could handle Thai foods at a respectable 3.5 to 4 level of spicy with relative ease just a decade ago. Now I order a wimpish 2. Even then, my refrigerator is always stocked with a fresh supply of jalapeno or serrano peppers which I like to bite into during meals and an assortment of hot sauces to spread on bland dishes. I read once that the Indian born conductor Zubin Mehta carries hot peppers in his pocket when he is invited out to dinner, even to the fanciest banquet.
I spent the mid ’90s in a café called Limbo, smoking and trying to write a novel. A friend who worked at Henry Holt gave me a copy of The Field Guide to North American Males by Marjorie Ingall, and I saw that I’d been pegged: I was the “Acerbic Bipolar Novelist” cross-bred with the “Slacker Boy Toy.” Among the things that anger the Novelist are “a huge advance for… a writer he considers marginal” and “a price increase at Kinko’s.” Check and check. The mating call of the Boy Toy is: “Wanna come over and watch The Simpsons?” It was like reading my biography, or at least my FBI file. It was like reading the file of every guy I’d ever met between the ages of nineteen and forty. There’s the “Patriarchal Yet Nurturing College Professor” who “takes you to the one ‘fancy’ Italian restaurant in range of campus.” The “Witty Advertising Exec” can be found “in his ironic yet slavishly decorated apartment.” It’s an ingenious and sweeping exhibition of the female gaze—which turns out to be a lot sharper, wittier, and more considered than the male gaze. In the years since, I’ve given the book away a number of times. Having your quirks and values exposed in a venue like this is both thrilling and embarrassing. It’s comforting to be recognized and nestled into a category—and scary to realize you can be so easily reduced to a comic set of predictable gestures.
more from The Believer here.
The Village Voice on Irwin’s genius video rendition of Escort’s “All Through the Night”:
Jim Henson is doing the Hustle in his grave. For the finest collision of infectious disco and Muppet exuberance known to man, avail thyself of Escort’s video for “All Through the Night,” the zenith of a truly splendid couple of weeks as far as YouTube is concerned. (Its partner in dominance is that bewildering clip of Filipino prison inmates re-enacting the “Thriller” video.) For three and a half mesmerizing minutes, Rolf, Animal, Sam the Eagle, the Pigs in Space, and various other furry personages are expertly synced to the Brooklyn disco orchestra’s fourth and latest single, a Technicolor blast of dance-floor dynamite propelled by a helium-huffing, syllable-stuffing chorus of Giveittomesayittomeworkitwithmeif- you’rereadyI’mabouttopop. Given the relatively basic mechanics of Muppet speech—few teeth, fewer tongues, mouths just clamping open and shut—they are credibly edited so as to espouse more erotic commentary than you have perhaps grown accustomed to; it’s amazing. Irving Coffee, a jovial filmmaking friend of the band who’s worked on The Chappelle Show and a documentary called The Beauty Academy of Kabul, sat down with eight DVDs’ worth of raw Muppet material and bashed it out. “Discounting all the technological bullshit, it took three days,” he recalls.
From Scientific American:
Drinking three or more cups of coffee a day may cut the risk of colon cancer in women by half, according to a study by Japanese scientists.
Researchers from Tokyo’s National Cancer Center studied data from more than 96,000 men and women aged between 40-69 over a period of up to 12 years from 1990, a member of the team said on Wednesday. They found no significant benefit in men. Even after adjusting for other factors including diet and exercise, they found that women who drank three or more cups of coffee a day had half the risk of developing colon cancer, compared with those who drank no coffee at all. The researchers, whose findings have been published in the International Journal of Cancer, did not find any link between consumption of green tea and colon cancer.