Brian Braiker in Newsweek:
Hackers around the world had one goal this summer: “Unlock” the iPhone and allow users to ditch AT&T’s exclusive service contract. The glory today goes to George Hotz, a 17-year-old New Jersey tinkerer who logged some 500 hours (and downed a river of energy drinks) to post detailed instructions on his blog on how to liberate an iPhone and operate it on any cellular network. It’s an ingenious and fully functional solution, but be warned. Hotz’s hack requires a soldering gun and some fairly technical know-how. Apple declined to comment.
While Hotz is the hot topic around the Internet watercooler this weekend, other purely software-based hacks were also being unveiled. One group that claims to have broken the chains that bind iPhone owners to AT&T says they have been ordered to cease and desist by the carrier’s lawyers. Uniquephones, a Belfast-based cell phone service that boasts having unlocked phones on more than 600 mobile networks, had been planning to sell its software download online beginning this weekend. The fix is supposed to be as simple as plugging an iPhone into your USB port, downloading a software patch and clicking an “unlock” icon.
More here. And more here.
In EurekAltert!, a brief on Allan A. Tulchin’s forthcoming article in the Journal of Modern History:
A compelling new study from the September issue of the Journal of Modern History reviews historical evidence, including documents and gravesites, suggesting that homosexual civil unions may have existed six centuries ago in France. The article is the latest from the ongoing “Contemporary Issues in Historical Perspective” series, which explores the intersection between historical knowledge and current affairs.
Commonly used rationales in support of gay marriage and gay civil unions avoid historical arguments. However, as Allan A. Tulchin (Shippensburg University) reveals in his forthcoming article, a strong historical precedent exists for homosexual civil unions.
Opponents of gay marriage in the United States today have tended to assume that nuclear families have always been the standard household form. However, as Tulchin writes, “Western family structures have been much more varied than many people today seem to realize, and Western legal systems have in the past made provisions for a variety of household structures.”
For example, in late medieval France, the term affrèrement – roughly translated as brotherment – was used to refer to a certain type of legal contract, which also existed elsewhere in Mediterranean Europe. These documents provided the foundation for non-nuclear households of many types and shared many characteristics with marriage contracts, as legal writers at the time were well aware, according to Tulchin.
In the NYT Magazine, Fernanda Eberstadt profiles José Saramago:
Saramago is the kind of old-fashioned atheist who is hopping mad at a God who he believes does not exist. His novel’s starting point is the Massacre of the Innocents, when Herod, the Roman king of Judea, learns that the future king of the Jews has just been born in Bethlehem and orders that all the baby boys in that village be slaughtered. In Saramago’s telling, Joseph, husband of Mary, overhears the collective death sentence by chance and manages to hide his own son while leaving the others to perish. It is therefore in atonement for his earthly father’s sin in indirectly colluding with Herod’s iniquity, as well as for God’s in allowing the massacre to occur, that Jesus is later forced to give his life. (The amateur Freudian may wonder if there isn’t an echo here of a Communist son’s guilt at his father’s serving as a policeman under Salazar.) On the cross, Saramago’s Jesus asks humankind to forgive God his sins.
“The Gospel” polarized readers, both in Portugal and abroad, and led to Saramago’s self-imposed symbolic exile in the Canary Islands. The effect on Saramago’s work has been stark. His Canary Island novels are denuded of all the aching particularity, the clamor, reek and clutter of his Portugal works: austere and monitory parables, they often take place in an allegorical urban landscape as stylized as a computer game. In a book like “Las Intermitencias de la Muerte,” which will be published in the United States in the spring, his subject is nothing less than the folly of man’s search for eternal life.
Stephen Greenblatt in Harvard Magazine:
“The calculation that underlies the appearance of effortlessness”
The first and perhaps the most important requirement for a successful writing performance—and writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig—is to understand the nature of the occasion. This particular occasion, the Gordon Gray Lecture, is unusually gratifying, since I am called on to talk about something I care passionately about—writing—and, indeed, about that aspect of the subject to which I have given the most sustained practical attention: my own writing. Under most other circumstances, so self-centered a focus would seem fatuous, and I would fear to cut what Italians call a brutta figura. In the sixteenth century, a famous behavior manual by Baldassare Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, counseled what it called sprezzatura, or “nonchalance.” The successful courtier must cunningly hide all signs of practice, calculation, and effort, so as to make everything he or she does seem spontaneous and natural. But the Gordon Gray Lecture is an invitation to lift the curtain and reveal the calculation that underlies the appearance of effortlessness.
Editor’s note: Cogan University Professor of the humanities Stephen Greenblatt adapted this essay slightly from his Gordon Gray Lecture on the Craft of Scholarly Writing (sponsored by Harvard’s Expository Writing Program), presented to students and colleagues last October.
Craig Lambert in Harvard Magazine:
Not long ago, Virginia Heffernan, Ph.D. ’02, who writes about television and on-line media for the New York Times, got an e-mail from her boss, culture editor Sam Sifton ’88. Heffernan had submitted a draft that contained the word chthonic, a term from classical mythology that refers to deities and other spirits living in the underworld. As a smiling Heffernan recalls, Sifton reminded her that “you can’t use words that would stop a reader on the A train.”
Heffernan is no lightweight: her hip, funny pieces bristle with fresh ideas. In the fall of 2004, for example, she began her review of the hit nighttime soap opera Desperate Housewives with a synopsis of a 1958 John Cheever short story, “The Housebreaker of Shady Hill,” a dark tale about a suburbanite who loses his job and eventually turns to burglarizing his neighbors’ homes. Heffernan then segued into Housewives, which had “bold ly flung off prime-time’s imperative to topicality, and embraced an overtly literary mode. It is not an innovation, but a clever throwback, a work of thoroughgoing nostalgia and a tribute to Cheever’s war horse, the suburban gothic.” Later, she noted that “Desperate Housewives has succeeded because, like the best of reality television, it derives suspense by threatening its characters with banishment. All of the characters look as though they belong—but only for now.”
From Scientific American:
Two years ago Katherine M. Flegal, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did a new statistical analysis of national survey data on obesity and came to a startling conclusion: mildly overweight adults had a lower risk of dying than those at so-called healthy weights.
Decades of research and thousands of studies have suggested precisely the opposite: that being even a little overweight is bad and that being obese is worse. The distinction between overweight and obese—which are sometimes both classified under the rubric of obesity—can be confusing. It relates to the measure called body mass index (BMI), derived by dividing one’s weight in kilograms by the square of one’s height in meters. A myriad of Internet-based calculators will handle the math for you. The only thing to remember is that a BMI of at least 25 but less than 30 is considered overweight, and one of 30 or more is characterized as obese.
H. Allen Orr in The New York Review of Books:
Darwinism seems to occupy a special place at the intersection of science, philosophy, and religion. One result is that evolution gets featured in controversies as different as those over theism versus materialism and nature versus nurture, to mention just two. In America, any discussion of evolution typically turns to the subject of creationism, the idea that an intelligent agent played a part in designing life. (According to this definition, creationism includes, but is not restricted to, the biblical account of life’s origins.) Though some of us doubt that creationism provides an ideal vehicle for serious discussion of science and religion, the topic won’t go away. In his latest book, Living with Darwin, Philip Kitcher considers creationist claims and uses them as a springboard for discussing subtler issues.
Kitcher hopes to accomplish two things in Living with Darwin. One is to survey various versions of creationism and to recount the arguments against them. In doing so, he hopes to present a positive case for Darwinism and “to formulate it in a way that people with no great training in science, history, or philosophy could appreciate.” Kitcher’s other goal is more ambitious and — given the current noisy debate over science and religion — perhaps more important. He hopes to get at just what it is about Darwinism that’s so threatening to religion. Why is it that of all intellectual enterprises, this one “particular piece of science provokes such passions, requires such continual scrutiny, demands such constant reenactment of old battles?”
Dan Chiasson on Poems From Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak, edited by Mark Falkoff, in the New York Times:
This short book prints 22 poems by detainees at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, that have been cleared for release by the United States military. The poems — some by accomplished writers, others by first-time poets — suffer “some flaws,” as the book’s editor, Marc Falkoff, himself a lawyer for 17 detainees, puts it. It is hard to imagine a reader so hardhearted as to bring aesthetic judgment to bear on a book written by men in prison without legal recourse, several of them held in solitary confinement, some of them likely subjected to practices that many disinterested parties have called torture. You don’t read this book for pleasure; you read it for evidence. And if you are an American citizen you read it for evidence of the violence your government is doing to total strangers in a distant place, some of whom (perhaps all of whom, since without due process how are we to tell?) are as innocent of crimes against our nation as you are.
All of which is to say, reading “Poems From Guantánamo” is a bizarre experience. “The Detainees Speak” is this book’s subtitle: but putting aside the real question of whether lyric poets ever “speak” through their art, in the sense of revealing a historical person’s actual life story (they have rarely done so through poetry’s long history, and often poets “speak” least revealingly precisely when they claim to be telling the truth), in what sense could these poems, heavily vetted by official censors, translated by “linguists with secret-level security clearance” but no literary training, released by the Pentagon according to its own strict, but unarticulated, rationale — “speak”?
Given these constraints, a better subtitle might have been “The Detainees Do Not Speak” or perhaps “The Detainees Are Not Allowed to Speak.” But the best subtitle, I fear, would have been “The Pentagon Speaks.”
Tony Karon in Rootless Cosmopolitan:
I’ll freely admit to being a sucker, at least occasionally, for the sweet and starchy Hunan/Canton/Sichuan fare — cooked by people who were not chefs in their home country — that we know as “Chinese” on these shores. But now I learn, from Nina and Tim Zagat, that in fact we’re not getting Chinese at all. They write:
Chinese food in its native land is vastly superior to what’s available here. Where are the great versions of bird’s nest soup from Shandong, or Zhejiang’s beggar’s chicken, or braised Anhui-style pigeon or the crisp eel specialties of Jiangsu? Or what about the tea-flavored dishes from Hangzhou, the cult-inspiring hairy crabs of Shanghai or the fabled honeyed ham from Yunnan? Or the Fujianese soup that is so rich and sought after that it is poetically called “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall,” meaning it is so good that a Buddhist monk would be compelled to break his vegetarian vows to sample it?
Like so many other aspects of Chinese life, the culinary scene in China is thriving. As capitalism has gained ground there, restaurants have become a place for people to spend their newfound disposable incomes. Cooking methods passed down within families over the centuries have become more widely known as chefs brought the traditions to paying customers. Today, there are a number of regional cuisines known in China as the Eight Great Traditions (Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan and Zhejiang cuisines). Unless you’ve visited China, they most likely have never reached your lips.
That’s because the lackluster Cantonese, Hunan and Sichuan restaurants in this country do not resemble those you can find in China.
Over at the Scientific American blog, George Musser posts of an odd observation:
The MAGIC gamma-ray telescope team has just released an eye-popping preprint (following up earlier work) describing a search for an observational hint of quantum gravity. What they’ve seen is that higher-energy gamma rays from an extragalactic flare arrive later than lower-energy ones. Is this because they travel through space a little bit slower, contrary to one of the postulates underlying Einstein’s special theory of relativity — namely, that radiation travels through the vacuum at the same speed no matter what?
The team studied two gamma-ray flares in mid-2005 from the black hole at the heart of the galaxy Markarian 501. They compared gammas in two energy ranges, from 1.2 to 10 tera-electron-volts (TeV) and from 0.25 to 0.6 TeV. The first group arrived on Earth four minutes later than the second. One team member, physicist John Ellis of CERN, says: “The significance of the time lag is above 95%, and the magnitude of the effect is beyond the sensitivity of previous experiments.”
Either the high-energy gammas were released later (because of how they were generated) or they propagated more slowly. The team ruled out the most obvious conventional effect, but will have to do more to prove that new physics is at work — this is one of those “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” situations. But if the high-energy gammas really did lose the cosmic race, we’re talking Big Discovery. It could be a way to constrain string theory, loop quantum gravity, and other bleeding-edge theories.
Also in the Boston Review, George Scialabba on modernity and religion in the thought of Philip Rieff:
Prescribing religion without specifying any particular theology has become commonplace among social critics, particularly communitarians. They have a point. No society—for that matter, no individual—can flourish without a great deal of trust, devotion, solidarity, and self-discipline. Religion often fosters these things, and not only among coreligionists. But not all forms of freedom are equally dangerous, as Rieff seems to imply. Although untrammeled sexual freedom is not a requirement of human flourishing, any more than the untrammeled freedom to accumulate money, untrammeled intellectual freedom most certainly is. Unquestioned authority is not merely undesirable, it is impossible, a contradiction in terms. Authority is what remains after all questions have been asked, all objections posed, all doubts explored. Until then, there is only superstition or cowed silence. Religious orthodoxy, and in particular the theistic hypothesis, has had many centuries to establish its intellectual authority. Its prospects are dwindling. If trust, devotion, and the other requisites of community depend on a general belief in supernatural agencies, then the triumph of the therapeutic is probably permanent.
Well, then, can we be good without God? Certainly some people can. Marcus Aurelius, David Hume, George Eliot, John Stuart Mill, and William James—undoubtedly (all right, it’s just my opinion) the five most perfect human beings—were not theists. But of course, the existence of exceptions has never been at issue. The question is about the rest of us, run-of-the-mill humanity. What can motivate ordinary men and women to behave decently most of the time and heroically in emergencies?
Over at bloggingheads.tv, Joshua Cohen and Glenn Loury discuss the incarceration epidemic, sparked by Loury’s Boston Review piece.
Carl Zimmer in his blog, The Loom:
As I’ve mentioned before, my brother Ben also blogs. An editor at Oxford American Dictionaries, he writes about words over at “From A to Zimmer.” Not surprisingly, our blogs usually don’t overlap. But Ben’s latest entry–on very, very long words, has prompted me to pose a question of my own here.
In his post, “Hippopotomonstrosesquipedalianism!”, Ben points out that a lot of the longest words are, as he puts it, “stunt words.” They’re cobbled together from prefixes and suffixes, but never actually used in real life. Hippopotomonstrosesquipedalianism is a case in point–a word that is used to describe long words.
Then Ben moves onto my turf, pointing out that scientists do a wonderful job of manufacturing huge words. The biochemists are arguably the best at it, concocting words like dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane. But in real life, they just use short-hand: dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane becomes the easy-to-spell, easy-to-pronounce DDT.
Photo essay by Nathan Myhrvold at Edge.org:
Lions are the only truly social cat, living in groups called prides. A pride is a set of females, often but not always sisters, along with their cubs and subadult cubs. There are also one or more males, usually a coalition of two brothers, but sometimes unrelated lions. Lionesses are the backbone of the pride—they stay together for many years. Males tend to come and go—the typical time frame for them dominating a pride is just 3 to 4 years. Upon reaching adulthood female cubs may stay with the pride. Males never do—they disperse and become nomadic, looking for a pride where they can challenge the dominant male and take over.
Male lions really look the part of the “king of beasts”. Their lives are full of violence, exploitation and sex—in other words just like human royalty through much of history. Male lions sleep an average 20 hours per day. The females on the other hand do all of the really hard work—killing the majority of prey, which the males then appropriate for themselves. The main danger males face is fighting off other males that want to take over their pride and territory. This is serious business; most male lions die in such fights. In between territory fights they are bad tempered and terrorize the females in their pride. In short, they have the lifestyle of pimps.
William Dalrymple in The Guardian:
Amid all the hoopla surrounding the 60th anniversary of Indian independence, almost nothing has been heard from Pakistan, which also turned 60. Nothing, that is, if you discount the low rumble of suicide bombings, the noise of automatic weapons storming the Red Mosque and the creak of slowly collapsing dictatorships.In the world’s media, never has the contrast between the two countries appeared so stark: one is widely perceived as the next great superpower; the other written off as a failed state, a world centre of Islamic radicalism, the hiding place of Osama bin Laden and the only US ally that Washington appears ready to bomb.
On the ground, of course, the reality is different and first-time visitors to Pakistan are almost always surprised by the country’s visible prosperity. There is far less poverty on show in Pakistan than in India, fewer beggars, and much less desperation. In many ways the infrastructure of Pakistan is much more advanced: there are better roads and airports, and more reliable electricity. Middle-class Pakistani houses are often bigger and better appointed than their equivalents in India.
Moreover, the Pakistani economy is undergoing a construction and consumer boom similar to India’s, with growth rates of seven per cent, and what is currently the fastest-rising stock market in Asia. You can see the effects everywhere: in new shopping centres and restaurant complexes, in the hoardings for the latest laptops and iPods, in the cranes and building sites, in the endless stores selling mobile phones: in 2003 the country had fewer than three million cellphone users; today there are almost 50 million.
Mohsin Hamid, author of the Booker long-listed novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist, wrote about this change after a recent visit: having lived abroad as a banker in New York and London, he returned home to find the country unrecognisable. He was particularly struck by “the incredible new world of media that had sprung up, a world of music videos, fashion programmes, independent news networks, cross-dressing talkshow hosts, religious debates, and stock-market analysis”.