johnny’s four dads


Whether or not multiple parentage gains wider legal and social acceptance, the fact that it’s being debated — and, in a few cases, allowed — suggests the flexibility that the concept of parenthood has taken on today, not only among scholars, but among adults doing the work of actually raising children in sometimes unorthodox situations. It’s part of a broader reexamination of what it means to have a family, a conversation that is itself only a chapter in a story that has unfolded over hundreds of years. That constant push and pull has been shaped by religion and law, custom and economics, and its inflection points are not only changes like the abolition of illegitimacy, but the revision of adoption laws, the relaxation of divorce requirements, the movement in some states to legalize same-sex marriage, and even the debate, in places as different as late 19th-century Mormon Utah and the contemporary Netherlands, over the permissibility of polygamy. Some of those changes remain deeply controversial, of course. And yet there are other aspects of the contemporary family that, while they would strike people of an earlier era as deeply unnatural, today go all but unremarked: the fact, for example, that it’s common for grandparents to live not with their children and grandchildren but instead hundreds of miles away. The family of the future may look similarly unfamiliar to us, and in ways we’re only beginning to discern.

more from Drake Bennett at the Boston Globe here.

Tuesday Poem

–for Bernard

is when your car ends facing backwards
on the wrong side of the road

when the wind beats your umbrella
till its insides all hang out

when the water takes your little boat
and spins it like a plate.

It’s like a song reversed, a church
constructed widershins

to face the falling sun, the day
next week or sometime soon

you’ll take a truth and twist it,
turn a child to face the wall

or force a man stark naked
to get down and lick the floor.

It’s the dream which has you driving
down exactly the wrong street

as you race to reach your boat
before it sails.

It’s the wind along the western quay,
the voices in its throat

the seaman on the closing doors,
the words you hear him shout

I'll wait. I'll wait all night
if need be. I can wait.

by Jane Draycott
from Poetry London
publisher: Poetry London, London, 2009

Dictionary of slang: ‘Everything went off A1

From The Telegraph:

Slang Eleven years ago, I read books for Jonathon Green, who I’d heard was researching a slang dictionary. A fun-sounding project turned out to be the compilation of an enormous computer database, with citations for printed usage, over the last 500 years – the most complete record of its kind. This voracious abstraction, to which I fed titbits for a couple of years, is now about to be published in three large, and appropriately green, hardback volumes. Training began with a pile of early PG Wodehouse novels. These related the adventures of Psmith, the man about town who revelled in such phrases as “last night’s rannygazoo” several years before Bertie Wooster began to bounce them off the silver-plated English of Jeeves.

Rannygazoo (“nonsense; irrelevant, irritating activity”) was an easy spot. And because Wodehouse is full of such exuberance, marking up the books seemed a breeze. I remember my disappointment when I learnt that I was regularly missing useful citations. When you begin to study it, much more familiar language reveals itself as slang. A few pages on in the new dictionary, for example, Wodehouse yields a citation for the “coarse, dismissive, jeering noise” that most people would call a “raspberry”. As the definition indicates, it doesn’t have another name – I had always dimly thought of it as a more fruity sort of “rasp”. But it actually derives from rhyming slang, where phrases are often shortened to exclude the rhyme that reveals the word intended – and, in this case, the thing imitated (“raspberry tart”).

More here.

Why Sisterly Chats Make People Happier

From The New York Times:

Sis “Having a Sister Makes You Happier”: that was the headline on a recent article about a study finding that adolescents who have a sister are less likely to report such feelings as “I am unhappy, sad or depressed” and “I feel like no one loves me.” These findings are no fluke; other studies have come to similar conclusions. But why would having a sister make you happier? The usual answer — that girls and women are more likely than boys and men to talk about emotions — is somehow unsatisfying, especially to a researcher like me. Much of my work over the years has developed the premise that women’s styles of friendship and conversation aren’t inherently better than men’s, simply different. A man once told me that he had spent a day with a friend who was going through a divorce. When he returned home, his wife asked how his friend was coping. He replied: “I don’t know. We didn’t talk about it.” His wife chastised him. Obviously, she said, the friend needed to talk about what he was going through.

This made the man feel bad. So he was relieved to read in my book “You Just Don’t Understand” (Ballantine, 1990) that doing things together can be a comfort in itself, another way to show caring. Asking about the divorce might have made his friend feel worse by reminding him of it, and expressing concern could have come across as condescending. The man who told me this was himself comforted to be reassured that his instincts hadn’t been wrong and he hadn’t let his friend down. But if talking about problems isn’t necessary for comfort, then having sisters shouldn’t make men happier than having brothers. Yet the recent study — by Laura Padilla-Walker and her colleagues at Brigham Young University — is supported by others.

More here.

Love a Man in Uniform? Think Twice in Congo

In today’s world, rarely do raping and pillaging so routinely coincide as in Eastern Congo's conflict. Increased scrutiny from the US Congress and concerned activist networks are highlighting the systematic rape and abuse of Congolese women and girls by marauding security forces, particularly Congo’s National Army. Equally appalling is Congo’s 'conflict minerals' problem—mineral ores extracted from mines controlled by various military factions, fueling the lucrative anarchy that is crippling the East and supporting the communications technology central to our way of life. Greater scrutiny should bring practical solutions, but our policy makers are missing the elephant in the room.

So is it greed, governance or grievance driving this crisis? Eastern Congo is a vast ungoverned space; some of its many armed groups are foreign, others domestic. Yet none treat the civilian population as brutally as President Kabila’s own National Army. A recent Human Rights Watch survey indicates that Congolese soldiers are the primary rapists in the East.

Since President Kabila took office in 2006, all three national security services—police, army, and intelligence—have operated as a winner-take-all bonanza where pedestrian pocket change, rare timber, protected fauna, and high-value minerals are equally expropriated by the services. As under Mobutu, a deliberate lack of oversight and no threat of sanction encourage economic opportunism among security officers, made easier with guns and uniforms with which to intimidate and extort. Would be public service providers but instead instruments of a nimble kleptocracy, state security services have become ‘Public Enemy Number One’, say Congolese here, raping and stealing instead of protecting and serving.

Commissariats pilotes Bas Congo 058 Police are generally circumscribed to towns; soldiers roam the country’s wild spaces, hence their freedom to occupy remote mining areas in the mineral-rich eastern provinces. Together they comprise a legion of footmen driving an extensive parallel economy whose profits rival those skimmed from government coffers by politicians in the capital. Low-level shakedowns of average citizens, taxi drivers and small-time traders generate large sums to be paid back up the chain and pocketed by the top brass. Urban traffic cops, for instance, must meet a daily quota of 50$ to 100$ a day. Failure means they lose their uniform and weapon, the sole means of improving their lot in life.

Outside observers, and many Congolese, believe that chronically unpaid soldiers and police must be destitute and thus obliged to extort, steal and beg in order to survive. The reality is that without a convincing deterrent to extraction and extortion—and their fantastic spoils—the security sector will continue to ransom the population into perpetuity. Lucrative extortion rackets and resource extraction are far more attractive than the promise of regular salaries, public accountability and civilian oversight. The current array of foreign-funded security sector reform programs, totaling hundreds of thousands of foreign tax dollars annually, contain only carrots, no sticks.

Read more »

Can Jon Stewart Restore Our Sanity?

TDS_RallyPoster by Olivia Scheck

I can’t decide what to wear to next weekend’s “Rally to Restore Sanity,” the Jon Stewart march on Washington to take place the Saturday of Halloween weekend. I spent $30 plus shipping and handling on the foam I’ll use to make my life-size Olivia Scheck silly band costume, and I want to get as much use out of it as possible. On the other hand, I’m still holding out hope that the rally will be more than an opportunity for people to actively abstain from throwing feces at Tila Tequila, as promised on the event’s website – that it might instead serve as a powerful symbol of the public’s opposition to the state of American political discourse.

Since Stewart announced the rally (and Stephen Colbert announced his competing “March to Keep Fear Alive”) last month (the two have since joined forces, renaming the event the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear ”), Arianna Huffington and Oprah Winfrey have both leant their support. Even President Obama seemed to endorse the rally, or at least allude to it, even if he couldn’t remember the actual name, while he nearly bored the teenager sitting in front of him to sleep.

Others have been less supportive. Bill O’Reilly refused to attend for obvious reasons but also because he felt it was “a Halloween thing and [he didn’t] have a costume.” Slate’s Timothy Noah said Stewart should cancel the march, fearing what effect “the spectacle of affluent 18-to-34-year-olds blanketing the Mall to snicker at jokes about wingnut ignoramuses and Bible thumpers” might have on the election, to be held just three days later, as did Carlos Lozada of the Washington Post, who argued that the rally seemed too “earnest” and might undermine Stewart’s role as “media critic in chief.”

Either of these predictions could turn out to have been accurate. (Colbert’s in-character appearance before congress last month did, after all, spark an unexpected backlash from Republicans and Democrats.) Or the rally might have no significant ramifications for the election or for its hosts.

Still, it seems to me, there is a chance, however slight, that the rally might be a memorable, awesome and even historically important event.

Read more »

What Obama Can Learn From Lady Gaga (And Progressives From The Tea Party)

by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash

Lady_Gaga My name is Obama. But call me Icarus.

I soared on the wings of an angel. I was the biggest star the planet had ever seen, without having to go near a guitar. I was dancing on the moon, when suddenly, the moon gathered its bowels and dropped me like a turd back on earth.


And here I sit, in my redecorated Oval Office, surrounded by all these clever Ph.D people, and by my pointillist-picture-perfect family, and I'm gobsmacked and paddywhacked and privately pissed and publicly petulant.

People scorn me. Left and right. They treat me like a dog.

After all I've done. What a record of legislation! How did I legislate? Let me count the bills.

On my 24th day in office, I whelped a $787 billion Recovery Act that included $78.61 billion of green energy stimulus, and cut the taxes of 95% of our taxpayers.

But I didn't rest.

I squeezed out Healthcare Reform. That took a little longer. It was an almost stillborn breech baby, but today it is incubating and will start kicking about four years from now if the Republicans don't starve it to death before then. Wonder of wonders, in its placenta can be found the detritus of the “pre-existing condition” scam. Unfortunately the baby is missing its genitals — the public option — but some industry deal snipped that one out of its genetic code.

Still, I didn't rest.

Soon I begat Financial Reform that included a Consumer Financial Protection Agency birthed by Elizabeth Warren and now being midwifed by her.

And then, lest you forget, as most Americans have, I saved Detroit. Plus I shook down BP for $20 billion.

Those were my five biggies. Stimulus, health, finance, Detroit, BP shakedown. There's a lot of little stuff too numerous to mention: my ban on torture, the student loan overhaul, our foreign rep restored, two okay Supreme Court ladies, etc.

But what happened? Where have all the voters gone? I feel like Sartre locked out of De Beauvoir's bedroom because she's banging the husband of the wife I banged, or their daughter, all because of some combination of nausea and misplaced ressentiment because our final philosophy agregation exam jury quibbled about whether they should give first place to me or to her, and then naturally confirmed her second-sex status.

Read more »

Monday Poem

Under & Over

Under a full moon

Under a luminous night sky under
a full moon

Under stark black trees in the cold under
a luminous sky at night under a full moon

under stars unseen in the light of a full moon
hung over a second sphere with an iron core

under a magma sea beneath twelve billion dancing human feet
upon a crust brittle and hard of granite and gneiss

under a humus bed black as oil
under fathoms of sea and sand and stone

Cenozoic remains pooled under
the smoke of burning pearls of wisdom
curling through skulls clouding

over the march of mammals and millipedes
under a luminous sky at night under a full moon
radiating silver

Under these stark black trees
in the midnight cold I walk with you

by Jim Culleny
Oct 24, 2010

Historical Achievements and Contemporary Failures: The American Lawn

by Diana Balmori

51OePl1in0L__SL500_AA300_ As a first example of this redesigning based on a new interpretation of nature and history, and on seeking a better model of the coexistence of humans with nature, let us take the American Lawn.

Your backyard, that third of an acre where you’ve lounged, played Frisbee, and let your small children crawl, is your private property and nobody else’s business. The American Lawn, all thirty-one million acres of it, is the nation’s largest single crop, sixty percent of it made up of home lawns like yours, the rest in public landscapes. Between your lawn and those thirty-one million acres lies the new story.

The American Lawn has a notable trait that makes it the perfect landscape to examine. It tells a tale at the very small front-yard-of-your-house scale. And it also tells a tale at the million-acre scale. What emerges from the examination of the relation of each of these scales is that scale itself is what prompts the need for a transformation of the lawn.

The lawn’s rise to preeminence as the American landscape first brings us back to the Picturesque and then to the history of its entry into North America.

Though the French had also used lawn (the “flowery Meade” of tapestry)—in walled medieval gardens as a place for music and pleasure, the American Lawn is a direct descendant of the eighteenth-century English lawn. More than anyone else, the landscape artist Capability Brown was its creator; in the words of the contemporary landscape artist Ian Hamilton Finlay: “Brown made water appear as Water, and lawn as Lawn.” The great inventions that made it Lawn were its scale, sweeping over topography and uniting distant landscapes with its blanket of green, and the contemporary invention of the ha-ha (a dry ditch with a raised retaining wall used to conceal the boundaries of a landscape), which hid hedges or property fences from view and kept vistas open. Thomas Jefferson’s notation on visiting one of these English eighteenth-century estates summed it up: “the lawn about thirty acres.”

Read more »

Luck of the draw

AppleWe all remember our favorite teacher; the one who inspired us, excited us, saw something in us that perhaps we didn't even see in ourselves and helped us nurture that spark into a flame. For me, that teacher was Mrs. Rocco and I was 8 years old. Before I entered Mrs. Rocco's class, I had heard “the stories” about her: she was crazy and stood on desks and stamping feet. In fact, there was some truth to some of these stories; Mrs. Rocco would usually wear a long, flowing, fringed shawl and she did like to sometimes, just for the fun of it, stand on a desk and pretend to be a flamenco dancer. And she was just a little eccentric, let's say, flamboyant. But she was one of the best teachers I have ever had. She made learning fun and exciting as she approached every subject with a contagious enthusiasm. When I was asked recently to draw a picture illustrating the story of my life journey, including people who had inspired and motivated me along the way, a stick figure drawing of Mrs. Rocco was there front and center. Through my life, Mrs. Rocco has been followed by many other inspirational teachers and mentors, in high school, in university and throughout my career. These teachers have guided me, expanded my horizons, awakened my curiosity and dared me to follow my dreams.

Just as I have been lucky enough to have some great teachers, I've had a few pretty terrible ones as well; teachers who were clearly just going through the motions after too many years of teaching the same subject; teachers for whom a teaching career was a consolation prize when they failed to achieve their true career aspirations; and sometimes, teachers who just didn't seem to like children very much at all. Teachers who brought no energy or enthusiasm to teaching, making us squirm in our seats with boredom as we watched the hands of the clock on the wall move forward, time, seemingly, slowed down to a snail's pace.

I was fortunate, bad teachers were the exceptions in my life and my exposure to them was minimal, normally outweighed by the rest of my educators. I realize that teaching is often a poorly paid, demanding, exhausting job, and that intimating that any teachers might be less than stellar is a statement that is probably going to get me get me some unpleasant responses to this piece. But of course, when we all reflect back on our educational experiences, we know this is actually true. My question is: what happens when this kind of teacher is all a child knows?

Read more »

Statistics – Destroyer of Superstitious Pretension

Statistics-education-research-day1 In Philip Ball’s Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another, he articulates something rather profound: statistics destroys superstition. The idea, once expressed, is simple but does not stem its profundity. Incidents in small numbers sometimes become ‘miraculous’ only because they appear unique, within a context that fuels such thinking. Ball’s own example is Uri Geller: in the 1970’s, the self-proclaimed psychic stated he would stop the watches of several viewers. He, perhaps, twisted his face and furrowed his brow and all over America watches stopped. America, no doubt, turned into an exclamation mark of incredulity. What takes the incident out of the sphere of the miraculous, however, is the consideration of statistics: With so many millions of people watching, what was the likelihood of at least some people’s watches stopping anyway? What about all those watches that did not stop?

Our psychological make-up seeks a chain in disparate events. Our mind is a bridge-builder across chasms of unrelated incidents; a credulity stone-hopper, crouching at each juncture awaiting the next link in a chain of causality. To paraphrase David Hume, we tend to see armies in the clouds, faces in trees, ghosts in shadows, and god in pizza-slices.

Many incidents that people refer to as miraculous, supernatural, and so on, become trivial when placed within their proper context. Consider the implications of this: Nicholas Leblanc, a French chemist, committed suicide in 1806; Ludwig Boltzmann, the physicist who explained the ‘arrow of time’ and gave us the Boltzmann Constant, committed suicide in 1906; his successor, Paul Ehrenfest, also committed suicide, in 1933; the American chemist Wallace Hume Carothers, credited with inventing Nylon, killed himself in 1937. This seems to ‘imply’ a strong link between suicide and science. Of course, as Ball indicates himself, we must look at the contexts: We must ask what the suicide-rating of these different demographics was in general: of Americans, Europeans, males, and any other demographic.

Read more »

For adventurous film, whether making or watching: Colin Marshall talks to film critic David Sterritt

David Sterritt is the chairman of the National Society of Film Critics and former longtime critic at the Christian Science Monitor. Sterritt’s books, from titles on Jean-Luc Godard and Alfred Hitchcock to more recent ones on B-movies and even the television sitcom The Honeymooners, reveal cinematic interests that stretch from the avant-garde to the long and widely beloved to the ostensibly (but perhaps not actually) disposable. Colin Marshall originally conducted this interview on the public radio program and podcast The Marketplace of Ideas [iTunes link].

I'm interested in talking to you as a film critic, but also as a fellow interviewer. You've interviewed two filmmakers that are my absolute luminaries for filmmaking: Werner Herzog and Abbas Kiarostami. What does those guys' work mean to you?

An interesting pair. In some ways, they're really different from each other. I guess the way in which they're most similar is that each one seems to have carved out a distinctive — one might even say unique — niche in the world of the movies. The one who's been practicing the longest is Werner Herzog. I've interviewed him many times over the years, or just talked with him casually. Just a few years ago, I interviewed him — and this was kind of an interesting experience — during the San Francisco film festival in the Castro Theatre. Sold out house. Enormous number of people just jammed the Castro to hear Werner. I sat on the stage with Werner and they had us on a big TV screen. We did this interview for something like an hour, and it went really well. He was very witty, very scrappy, as he usually is. Just a real pleasure to talk to him.

The interesting thing was that the movie he had chosen, a brand new movie he had just finished, to have shown right after our interview as the other part of the evening. It was a very, very experimental work. It consisted largely of long takes of a diver swimming underneath ice floes in the Antarctic. These went on and on and on. There wasn't a whole lot other than that. I didn't stay for the screening; I had seen the film already. I was not really sure how the audience was going to respond to this. But later on, I was hearing that a lot of people were really dismayed. It was not only what they did not expect from Werner Herzog; it was what they didn't expect from the movies at all, ever.

It was just an interesting moment. He has, since, made a movie called Encounters at the End of the World, which is about the Antarctic and which is a very coherent and interesting documentary. I think that footage I'm talking about got incorporated into that film. But what was shown that night was so strange and so bizarre. The fact that he was perfectly happy to show this and see what people make of it — if they don't like it, okay, I'm going to be making another movie real soon. That sums him up, in certain ways.

Read more »

An ungodly row: Richard Dawkins sues his disciple

Tom Rowley and Alistair Walker in The Independent:

ScreenHunter_10 Oct. 25 08.51 Josh Timonen was one of a small coterie of young protégés around Richard Dawkins, sharing his boss's zealous atheism. But now he and the evolutionary theorist have fallen out spectacularly. Professor Dawkins's charity has accused Mr Timonen of embezzling hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The two atheists had become close in recent years, with Dawkins, the best-selling author and Emeritus Professor of Biology at Oxford University, even dedicating his latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth, to him. But Mr Timonen and the Dawkins foundation are now preparing for a legal wrangle.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, has filed four lawsuits in a Californian court alleging that Mr Timonen, who ran its online operation in America, stole $375,000 (£239,000) over three years. It is claiming $950,000 in damages, while Mr Dawkins is suing him for $14,000 owed to him personally. Mr Timonen strongly denies the allegations.

In the 18-page complaint filed in a Los Angeles court, the foundation claims that Mr Timonen said the website he was running was just “squeaking by,” making only $30,000 in three years, when in fact it was grossing 10 times that sum. The charity alleges that Mr Timonen pocketed 92 per cent of the money generated by the store, with his girlfriend spending $100,000 of the charity's money on upgrading her home before putting it on the market.

More here. [Thanks to John Ballard.]

The Real Danger from NPR’s Firing of Juan Williams

Md_horiz Glenn Greenwald over at Salon:

I'm still not quite over the most disgusting part of the Juan Williams spectacle yesterday: watching the very same people (on the Right and in the media) who remained silent about or vocally cheered on the viewpoint-based firings of Octavia Nasr, Helen Thomas, Rick Sanchez, Eason Jordan, Peter Arnett, Phil Donahue, Ashleigh Banfield, Bill Maher, Ward Churchill, Chas Freeman, Van Jones and so many others, spend all day yesterday wrapping themselves in the flag of “free expression!!!” and screeching about the perils and evils of firing journalists for expressing certain viewpoints. Even for someone who expects huge doses of principle-free hypocrisy — as I do — that behavior is really something to behold. And anyone doubting that there is a double standard when it comes to anti-Muslim speech should just compare the wailing backlash from most quarters over Williams' firing to the muted acquiescence or widespread approval of those other firings.

But there's one point from all of this I really want to highlight. The principal reason the Williams firing resonated so much and provoked so much fury is that it threatens the preservation of one of the most important American mythologies: that Muslims are a Serious Threat to America and Americans. That fact is illustrated by a Washington Post Op-Ed today from Reuel Marc Gerecht, who is as standard and pure a neocon as exists: an Israel-centric, Iran-threatening, Weekly Standard and TNR writer, former CIA Middle East analyst, former American Enterprise Institute and current Defense of Democracies “scholar,” torture advocate, etc. etc. Gerecht hails Williams as a courageous “dissident” for expressing this “truth”:

[W]hile his manner may have been clumsy, Williams was right to suggest that there is a troubling nexus between the modern Islamic identity and the embrace of terrorism as a holy act.

Above all else, this fear-generating “nexus” is what must be protected at all costs. This is the “troubling” connection — between Muslims and terrorism — that Williams lent his “liberal,” NPR-sanctioned voice to legitimizing. And it is this fear-sustaining, anti-Muslim slander that NPR's firing of Williams threatened to delegitimize. That is why NPR's firing of Williams must be attacked with such force: because if it were allowed to stand, it would be an important step toward stigmatizing anti-Muslim animus in the same way that other forms of bigotry are now off-limits, and that, above all else, is what cannot happen, because anti-Muslim animus is too important to too many factions to allow it to be delegitimized.

The Allais Paradox

Jonah Lehrer in Wired (via Delong):

Suppose somebody offered you a choice between two different vacations. Vacation number one gives you a 50 percent chance of winning a three-week tour of England, France and Italy. Vacation number two offers you a one-week tour of England for sure.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of people (typically over 80 percent) prefer the one-week tour of England. We almost always choose certainty over risk, and are willing to trade two weeks of vacation for the guarantee of a one-week vacation. A sure thing just seems better than a gamble that might leave us with nothing. But how about this wager:

Vacation number one offers you a 5 percent chance of winning a three week tour of England, France and Italy. Vacation number two gives you a 10 percent chance of winning a one week tour of England.

In this case, most people choose the three-week trip. We figure both vacations are unlikely to happen, so we might as well go for broke on the grand European tour. (People act the same way with lotteries: we typically buy the ticket for the biggest possible prize, regardless of the odds.)

Allais presciently realized that this very popular set of decisions – almost everybody made them – violated the rational assumptions of economics. Instead of making decisions that could be predicted by a few mathematical equations, people acted with frustrating inconsistency. After all, both questions involve 50 percent reductions in probability (from 100 percent to 50 percent, and from 10 percent to 5 percent), and yet generated completely opposite responses. Our choices seemed incoherent.

The Allais paradox was mostly ignored for the next two decades. But then, in the early 1970s, two Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, read about the paradox and were instantly intrigued: they wanted to know why people didn’t respond to probabilities in a linear manner. Based upon their conversations with each other, it seemed obvious that people perceived a smaller difference between probabilities of 1 percent and 2 percent than between 0 percent and 1 percent, or between 99 percent and 100 percent. In other words, all changes in risk are not created equal. As Allais had observed decades before, we value complete certainty an inordinate amount.

But why was certainty so attractive?

Why Conservatives Love War

Corey Robin in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Photo_7822_carousel This year is the 60th anniversary of the publication of The Authoritarian Personality. Once this was the most famous of Theodor Adorno's works. Today it's largely forgotten. With one exception: its indelible portrait of the “pseudo-conservative.” Although Richard Hofstadter is often credited with the term—his essay “The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt” appeared in 1955—it was Adorno and his three co-authors who first identified the type: that vengeful and violent citizen who avows his faith in calm and restraint while agitating for policies that “would abolish the very institutions with which he appears to identify himself.” The pseudo-conservative, in other words, is no conservative at all. Prone to “violence, anarchic impulses, and chaotic destructiveness,” he loves war and longs for bedlam in the streets. He has “little in common,” in Hofstadter's words, “with the temperate and compromising spirit of true conservatism.”

Musing on those passages last June, Andrew Sullivan wrote on his blog, “It all sounds weirdly familiar, doesn't it?” He was talking about the predatory revanchism that has stalked the Republican Party since 9/11 and now consumes it. “The Bush-Cheney presidency,” wrote Sullivan, was “the perfect pseudo-conservative administration.” The White House and its neoconservative enablers celebrated war and torture, shredded the Constitution, and bankrupted the nation. “Throughout all this,” Sullivan pointed out, “the Tea Partiers supported them.”

More here.

Testing the hypothesis of a holographic universe

Sara Reardon in Symmetry Breaking:

ScreenHunter_09 Oct. 24 19.22 In 2008, Fermilab particle astrophysicist Craig Hogan made waves with a mind-boggling proposition: The 3D universe in which we appear to live is no more than a hologram.

Now he is building the most precise clock of all time to directly measure whether our reality is an illusion.

The idea that spacetime may not be entirely smooth – like a digital image that becomes increasingly pixelated as you zoom in – had been previously proposed by Stephen Hawking and others. Possible evidence for this model appeared last year in the unaccountable “noise” plaguing the GEO600 experiment in Germany, which searches for gravitational waves from black holes. To Hogan, the jitteriness suggested that the experiment had stumbled upon the lower limit of the spacetime pixels’ resolution.

Black hole physics, in which space and time become compressed, provides a basis for math showing that the third dimension may not exist at all. In this two-dimensional cartoon of a universe, what we perceive as a third dimension would actually be a projection of time intertwined with depth. If this is true, the illusion can only be maintained until equipment becomes sensitive enough to find its limits.

“You can’t perceive it because nothing ever travels faster than light,” says Hogan. “This holographic view is how the universe would look if you sat on a photon.”

Not everyone agrees with this idea. Its foundation is formed with math rather than hard data, as is common in theoretical physics. And although a holographic universe would answer many questions about black hole physics and other paradoxes, it clashes with classical geometry, which demands a universe of smooth, continuous paths in space and time.

“So we want to build a machine which will be the most sensitive measurement ever made of spacetime itself,” says Hogan. “That’s the holometer.”

More here.

Anjali Joseph: ‘Stop trying to label me!’

From The Independent:

Anj Back in 1985, when I was seven, my family moved to England from Bombay. My father was a research scientist. He was going to teach at Warwick University. In his first week, a colleague offered to take him to the cafeteria at the campus arts centre. There were sandwiches, salads, baked potatoes, and something else, which the colleague indicated: “Have you tried these? They're called samosas. They're rather good.”

When we moved, I had never been to England, or anywhere outside India except for a sabbatical year my father had taken at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh when I was a toddler. I was, however, confident about what England would entail. I had been reading. There would be a village, and a fat village policeman; I would have friends, five or seven of them, and a dog; my friends and I would sit in a garden shed, go on picnics, or sleep in gorse bushes, and feast on boiled eggs (which I hated) and delicious-sounding tongue sandwiches. Some recalibration was required; I realised that England was no longer in the 1930s and, perhaps, even then, had not resembled life in the works of Enid Blyton, which I'd eagerly read from our local library in Bombay.

More here.