Frans Hals’ non-religious religious art

Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

ID_IC_MEIS_HALS_AP_001 Frans Hals is often described as a “loose” painter. You can see what that means in one of Hals' great paintings currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The painting is called “The Smoker,” from 1625. You wouldn't be surprised, though, if someone told you it was painted 250 years later than that. The face of the young man smoking a pipe at the center of the painting is rendered in almost impressionistic strokes. A dab of red here, a curve of yellow there. The collar of the man's shirt is created with a rough stab of white down the middle of the canvas. The painstaking brushwork of other Dutch masters from the Golden Age is notably absent. That is not to say Hals was sloppy, a crime for which he has sometimes been accused. Hals labored at his chosen craft all life long. It is just that he worked very hard to achieve a looser style. You can see it even in his formal portraits, in works such as “Portrait of a Man” from 1636-8. The face of the man in that painting is rendered with all the precision you might find in a Rubens of roughly the same era. And the expressiveness of the man's face is reminiscent of Rembrandt. But if you look at the man's left arm, the one cocked at his hip, you notice that the style devolves (or evolves?) into that of the loose Hals again. The elbow — and the folds of garment around the elbow — are painted with the same rough gestures and impressionistic swaths of color that are so startling in “The Smoker.”

More here.

Libya’s Revolution: A Model for the Region?

Maria J. Stephan in Waging Nonviolence:

5510256193_01ba966958_z Recent analyses of the Arab Spring have questioned the efficacy of nonviolent resistance compared to armed struggle in ousting authoritarian regimes. The relatively expeditious victories of the nonviolent uprisings (not “revolutions,” as some suggest) in Tunisia and Egypt stand in stark contrast to Libya, where a disparate amalgam of armed groups, guided politically by the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) and backed militarily by NATO, are on the verge of removing Moammar Qadhafi from power. As someone who has written extensively about civil resistance, notably in the Middle East, while at the same time working on the Libya portfolio within the State Department, I’ve been grappling with the meaning and significance of the Libyan revolution and its possible impact on the region.

More here.

Israel’s Image Won’t Improve Without Policy Changes

Gary Wexler in Forward:

ScreenHunter_05 Sep. 01 13.11 Even with all the efforts of Camera, the Israel Project, the Jewish Federations and all the other organizations that blast my email inbox daily with defensive statements, Israel is increasingly emerging as the world’s pariah nation.

Yet, as strange as it may sound coming from a marketer with an advertising background, who has represented hundreds of Jewish organizations worldwide, I have arrived at the conclusion that the solution will not be found in branding, marketing, public relations or the writings of political pundits. The problem is that all their concepts, strategies, words and legitimate defenses – no matter how powerful and clever – are not going to elevate Israel’s plummeting image. Hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors and the Israeli government have been poured into this effort, yet the situation only worsens every month. I am as much to blame as anyone for being a supporter of these actions.

It has become clear that the world doesn’t care about Israel’s wines, its Bauhaus architecture, its fashion, its alluring women, its sexy gay men, its beaches, its ballet or its hummus. The world, its media and its university campuses are riveted upon Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians as well as the state of its democracy.

No, the answer to Israel’s image problems does not depend upon the marketing. It depends first upon the policies.

More here.

We’re on your case, mate


A t whose expense comes the mild irony when, this fall, the cheaply produced scandal sheet Private Eye will have an exhibition of its cartoons and pictorial covers at the Victoria and Albert Museum, a building consecrated to taste and restraint? Perhaps the show’s modest title furnishes a clue: “ Private Eye: The First 50 Years.” Keep in mind that, a half-century ago, the British establishment was almost as near in time to its Victorian forebears as we are to the half-forgotten names—like Harold Macmillan (who even in his own day was described as an Edwardian)—who were so pitilessly lampooned in Private Eye’ s first issues. I was a mere sheltered schoolboy at the time, but couldn’t fail to notice the exciting fact that the authorities were getting nervous. In spite of a BBC monopoly on the airwaves, the semi-official censorship of cinema and the theater, and the titanic, still-enduring prestige of Winston Churchill and the royal family, you could hear the noise of collapsing scenery as a whole parcel of scandals—sexual ones, property ones, espionage ones—started to unwrap at the same time. Private Eye, which could be bought inexpensively and smuggled under the jacket, was the ideal samizdat bulletin, where you could very often read next week’s real news. They so nearly called it Bladder, which would have gone well with the bathroom humor, the word bubbles, the dirty paper, and the graffiti-like cartoons. But that image would also have evoked the squeaky rubber balls of the old court jesters, meant to rebound in the end from the armor of authority.

more from Hitch at Vanity Fair here.

does cursive matter?


In that regard, the past two years have been good to me. Forty-four states¾most recently Hawaii (Aloha) and Indiana (Go Hoosiers!)—have tacitly affirmed what I insisted all those years ago, with their adoption of an education platform called the Common Core State Standards, which replaces decades-old handwriting requirements with a “keyboarding” mandate. “The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers,” reads the program’s website. “With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.” Of course, competing in the global economy isn’t everybody’s sole concern. “How do they expect these children to sign all their papers when their kids are students?” asks Pamela on one online forum. “Sign their checks, mortgage papers, marriage licenses, personal correspondence?” she continues. “Can you imagine what it would be like to find the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence illegible?” wonders Dwain. “What if the computer goes down or the power goes off?” writes Deeply Shaded. Those are the sorts of questions asked by legions of hand-wringers in thousands of comments on hundreds of websites that have reported on cursive’s demise. A recent CNN story tellingly titled “Nation of adults who will write like children?” opens with some unkind words about the penmanship of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber and ends with the strange warning: “If you write slowly, your hand may not be able to keep up with your mind’s attempt to have a thought, form it into a sentence, and remember it long enough to write it down.”

more from Graham T. Beck at The Morning News here.

The Late, Great Theodora Keogh

From The Paris Review:

Theo-1948 From the end of the forties to 1961, the beautiful, talented, temperamental, generous American expatriate dancer and writer Theodora Roosevelt Keogh (1919–2008) wrote nine vivid novels as sensational, in their way, as anything you’ll ever read. She wrote her novels the way people used to write them: on rackety typewriters in walk-up apartments and hotel rooms in Saint-Germain-des-Prés on Paris’s Left Bank, where she’d moved in the late forties with her new husband, the designer and illustrator Tom Keogh. This was after she graduated from Miss Chapin’s School, made a formal debut in New York Society, dipped into Radcliffe, and ran away in wartime to dance in a ballet company in Rio de Janeiro (and high-kick at the Copacabana) with Alexander Iolas, the future New York gallerist. Fifty years later, gossamer webs of gossip still cling to Theodora Keogh’s life. No, her pet margay did not bite off her ear in the Chelsea Hotel. Stimulated by the atmosphere of that once-lively refuge, the margay took a few irritated nips off an earlobe, after which Theodora styled her hair a little differently. And, no, her second husband, Tommy O’Toole, wasn’t a tugboat captain. More like a steward on the Circle Line when Theodora met him, although he and Theodora did live on a tugboat in New York harbor while she was writing a novel in a neighborhood bar.

For a woman who grew up without the money her social advantages implied—she was the namesake of her grandfather, President Theodore Roosevelt, and the favorite niece of his witty daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth—Theodora always took care to select her own society. But she never had to choose between living it up or writing it down. She did both—and at the same time, too. Keogh’s novels are mostly set in places she’d lived in intensely and knew by heart: the Upper East Side of New York, the Left Bank of Paris, the North Shore of Long Island.

More here.

Research indicates certain probiotics may influence brain functioning

From PhysOrg:

Mouse It was just last year that a certain company selling a special probiotic enhanced yogurt was ordered by a U.S. court to stop suggesting in its advertisements that it's product had health benefits that went beyond the norm. Now, new evidence by Javier Bravo and colleagues at University College Cork, suggests the company may have been on to something. In their paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the team describes how mice given the prbiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus, showed signs of being less anxious and depressed and even had lowered levels of stress hormones. Building on recent research that suggests there may be more of a gut-mind link than scientists have realized (such as depression and anxiety linked to bowel problems) Bravo and his team decided to look into probiotics and their possible impact on mood. In their research, they focused on , a probiotic bacterium normally found in the gut, and which is also commonly found in various kinds of yogurt and other types of dairy products.

To find out if ingesting L. rhamnosus did indeed have any impact beyond normal , the team fed half of a group of mice a broth heavily laden with the for a period of time; the other half were given the same broth without the probiotic. Afterwards, the mice were tested to see if any discernible behavioral changes resulted. Bravo et al found that the mice that had been given the probiotic demonstrated less anxious type behaviors, such as more of a willingness to traverse narrow walkways or to venture out into wide open spaces, activities that are known to cause stress in mice. They also found that the mice that had eaten the probiotic were less likely give in to the sensation of drowning when put in water, a sign that normally indicates depressive behavior. And finally, they found that the treated mice also had lower levels of in their blood.

More here.

Wednesday Poem


I don't know what to say to you, neighbor,
as you shovel snow from your part of our street
neat in your Greek black. I've waited for
chance to find words; now, by chance, we meet.

We took our boys to the same kindergarten,
thirteen years ago when our husbands went.
Both boys hated school, dropped out feral, dropped in
to separate troubles. You shift snow fast, back bent,
but your boy killed himself, six days dead.

My boy washed your wall when the police were done.
He says, “We weren't friends?” and shakes his head,
“I told him it was great he had that gun,”
and shakes. I shake, close to you, close to you.
You have a path to clear, and so you do.

by Marie Ponsot
from Springing -New and Selected Poems
Knopf, 2002

Debating “Guilty Pleasures”

Vinyl Over in the blogosphere, a debate seems to be emerging. So far Atrios, Matthew Yglesias, Amanda Marcotte and Lindsay Beyerstein have weighed in. Lindsay:

Good taste can be idiosyncratic, in fact, it's expected to be. You're supposed to like what you like for your own well-thought-out reasons, and not just like what everyone else likes. (There are also shared cultural and class standards of “good taste,” but those aren't what I'm talking about.)

Someone with taste has a well fleshed-out theory about what makes a work of art good or bad. The cultivated observer is supposed to be able to see something new and rigorously scrutinize it according to their code…

Having coherent reasons for your preferences is integral to the concept of good taste. You're supposed to be able to recognize a band that swings hard, or a rocking baseline, or witty lyrics, or whatever you think is important in music.

You gain status for your good taste if you can reliably pick stuff that other people will like. You can't be capricious. If you recommend songs strictly because they have sentimental value for you, they're unlikely to appeal to other people. You have to appeal to shared musical values.

“Guilty pleasures” are things people like but can't justify liking. The concept of a guilty pleasure only makes sense if you try to live by an aesthetic code in the first place.

False world, good-night!


Washington, Hollywood, Wall Street, the Pentagon: These names have a social meaning apart from geography. Each one indicates a certain world of activity—and the word world, in its primary sense, refers not to a planet but to the realm of human doings. The dictionary tells me that the Old English “weoruld” means something like “human life” or “age of man.” Worldly has an ambiguous, shifting place on the scale from negative to positive adjectives. To be unworldly might signify being a dupe, and worldly knowledge is desirable. Too much worldly knowledge, though, may suggest a villain played by Alan Rickman. Those good and bad connotations are epitomized by another place name that, in 16th- and 17th-century England, was a synonym for “the world” in the urbane, social sense: the royal court. In Ben Jonson’s time, the court was all of the above. It was Washington and Hollywood, the Pentagon and Wall Street, and more: a single seat of all kinds of power, concentrated in a few buildings in one city, a worldly magnet attracting all the most ambitious, gifted people in the worlds of art, money, politics, religion, sex, learning, and glamour. The court embodied worldliness at its most alluring and at its most treacherous.

more from Robert Pinsky at Slate here.

the hazare thing


IN THE past week, the world has been captivated by the bitter confrontation between the Indian government and a short, bespectacled seventy-four-year-old man named Anna Hazare, a self-styled anti-corruption crusader. On August 16, Hazare’s arrest and internment in Tihar Jail, South Asia’s largest complex of high-security prisons, sparked candlelit marches across the country, leading a shaken government to order his release in less than twelve hours. In a stunning turnaround, Hazare refused to leave, insisting that the government remove all conditions on his “fast-unto-death” in protest of the government’s recent anti-corruption legislation, which he feels is not strong enough. Hazare walked out of Tihar a national hero on August 20 and is currently lodged within the expansive public grounds of Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, surrounded by tens of thousands of supporters, national flags, and mammoth portraits of Mohandas Karamchand (“Mahatma”) Gandhi. Today (Wednesday) is the ninth day he has refused to eat. As an admirer of Gandhi’s, I have found the ceaseless comparisons of Hazare with Gandhi—propagated by the media, Hazare’s supporters, and Hazare himself—troubling and inappropriate. I am not alone in my reservations about Hazare, who is not a popular figure within left and progressive circles in India. His movement has been portrayed, so far accurately, as a narrow, middle-class, upper-caste phenomenon that is dangerously tinged with authoritarianism and Hindu nationalism.

more from Mitu Sengupta at Dissent here.



LIKE CORRUPTION, crime, and asbestos, “inflation” is a word that many Americans imagine in all-red capital letters, flashing across TV screens amid warnings of crisis. For anyone who remembers the gloomy, scary 1970s, when the inflation rate in the United States reached double digits, the word is shorthand for an economy that has spiraled out of control, the dollar losing value and prices climbing feverishly. “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber, and as deadly as a hit man,” said Ronald Reagan in 1978, as nervous citizens imagined the day when they’d have to push a wheelbarrow full of cash to the grocery store in order to buy a loaf of bread. That particular nightmare never came to pass, thanks to drastic measures taken by the Federal Reserve. For the better part of the past 30 years, the dollar has stayed stable, reassuring American families and the nation’s trading partners, with the central bank standing guard over the economy and doing everything necessary to keep inflation low. You might say that Kenneth Rogoff has been one of the guards. As a research economist at the Federal Reserve during the first half of the 1980s, he helped ensure that the word “inflation” would never again flash across American TV screens.

more from Leon Neyfakh at the Boston Globe here.

Research team turns terabytes of image data into model of neural circuits

Sarah Zhang in The Harvard Gazette:

SEAS_Hanspeter_380 The brain of a mouse measures only 1 cubic centimeter in volume. But when neuroscientists at Harvard’s Center for Brain Science slice it thinly and take high-resolution micrographs of each slice, that tiny brain turns into an exabyte of image data. That’s 1018 bytes, equivalent to more than a billion CDs.

What can you do with such a gigantic, unwieldy data set? That’s the latest challenge for Hanspeter Pfister, the Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Computer Science at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

Pfister, an expert in high-performance computing and visualization, is part of an interdisciplinary team collaborating on the Connectome Project at the Center for Brain Science. The project aims to create a wiring diagram of all the neurons in the brain. Neuroscientists have developed innovative techniques for automatically imaging slices of mouse brain, yielding terabytes of data so far.

Pfister’s system for displaying and processing these images would be familiar to anyone who has used Google Maps. Because only a subsection of a very large image can be displayed on a screen, only that viewable subsection is loaded. Drag the image around, zoom in or out, and more of the image is displayed on the fly.

This “demand-driven distributed computation” is the central idea behind Pfister’s work, for which he recently won a Google Faculty Research Award.

More here. [Thanks to Sughra Raza.]

Dan Ariely: The field of financial advice is quite strange

Dan Ariely in his blog:

ScreenHunter_01 Aug. 30 16.11 For the most part, professional financial services rely on clients’ answers to two questions:

  1. How much of your current salary will you need in retirement?
  2. What is your risk attitude on a seven-point scale?

From my perspective, these are remarkably useless questions — but we’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s think about the financial advisor’s business model. An advisor will optimize your portfolio based on the answers to these two questions. For this service, the advisor typically will take one percent of assets under management – and he will get this every year!

Not to be offensive, but I think that a simple algorithm can do this, and probably with fewer errors. Moving money around from stocks to bonds or vice versa is just not something for which we should pay one percent of assets under management.

Actually, strike that. It’s not something we should do anyway, because making any decisions based on answers to those two questions don’t yield the right answers in the first place.

To this point, we’ve run a number of experiments. In one study, we asked people the same question that financial advisors ask: How much of your final salary will you need in retirement? The common answer was 75 percent. But when we asked how they came up with this figure, the most common refrain turned out to be that that’s what they thought they should answer. And when we probed further and asked where they got this advice, we found that most people heard this from the financial industry. Sort of like two months salary for an engagement ring and one-third of your income for housing, 75 percent was the rule of thumb that they had heard from financial advisors. You see the circularity and the inanity: Financial advisors are asking a question that their customers rely on them for the answer. So what’s the point of the question?!

More here.

The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America

Wajahat Ali, Eli Clifton, Matthew Duss, Lee Fang , Scott Keyes, and Faiz Shakir at the Center for American Progress:

Islamophobia_onpage A small group of foundations and wealthy donors are the lifeblood of the Islamophobia network in America, providing critical funding to a clutch of right-wing think tanks that peddle hate and fear of Muslims and Islam—in the form of books, reports, websites, blogs, and carefully crafted talking points that anti-Islam grassroots organizations and some right-wing religious groups use as propaganda for their constituency.

Some of these foundations and wealthy donors also provide direct funding to anti-Islam grassroots groups. According to our extensive analysis, here are the top seven contributors to promoting Islamophobia in our country:

  • Donors Capital Fund
  • Richard Mellon Scaife foundations
  • Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
  • Newton D. & Rochelle F. Becker foundations and charitable trust
  • Russell Berrie Foundation
  • Anchorage Charitable Fund and William Rosenwald Family Fund
  • Fairbrook Foundation

Altogether, these seven charitable groups provided $42.6 million to Islamophobia think tanks between 2001 and 2009—funding that supports the scholars and experts that are the subject of our next chapter as well as some of the grassroots groups that are the subject of Chapter 3 of our report.

And what does this money fund?

More here.

The Genius in My Basement

From Guardian:

Book In 2008, at a Downing Street reception, Gordon Brown presented a young man, a member of Plane Stupid, with a Transport Campaigner of the Year award. During the ceremony, the young man superglued himself to the premier's sleeve. The prize is sponsored – £10,000 a year – by Simon Phillips Norton, a rich recluse and public-transport obsessive who lives, surrounded by timetables, ticket-stubs, packets of Batchelors Savoury Rice, in a run-down multi-occupancy house in Cambridge. A former child prodigy, he is still believed to be one of the world's great living mathematicians, although he hasn't held down an academic position since 1985, when he was 33. And he used to be Alexander Masters's live-in landlord, which is how he comes to find himself the subject of this book.

I don't like your books, Alex,” Simon says in the epigraph to one of Masters's chapters. “Your representation of me as interesting is inaccurate,” he says in another. “You must be very careful not to jump to easy answers,” says John Horton Conway, a fellow mathematician. “Oh dear, I have a feeling this book is going to be a disaster for me,” Simon comments in the epigraph to the book.

More here.

The New Generation of Microbe Hunters

Gina Kolata in The New York Times:

Bac The first bacterial genome was sequenced in 1995 — a triumph at the time, requiring 13 months of work. Today researchers can sequence the DNA that constitutes a micro-organism’s genome in a few days or even, with the latest equipment, a day. (Analyzing it takes a bit longer, though.) They can simultaneously get sequences of all the microbes on a tooth or in saliva or in a sample of sewage. And the cost has dropped to about $1,000 per genome, from more than $1 million. In a recent review, Dr. David A. Relman, a professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology at Stanford, wrote that researchers had published 1,554 complete bacterial genome sequences and were working on 4,800 more. They have sequences of 2,675 virus species, and within those species they have sequences for tens of thousands of strains — 40,000 strains of flu viruses, more than 300,000 strains of H.I.V., for example. With rapid genome sequencing, “we are able to look at the master blueprint of a microbe,” Dr. Relman said in a telephone interview. It is “like being given the operating manual for your car after you have been trying to trouble-shoot a problem with it for some time.”

Dr. Matthew K. Waldor of Harvard Medical School said the new technology “is changing all aspects of microbiology — it’s just transformative.” One group is starting to develop what it calls disease weather maps. The idea is to get swabs or samples from sewage treatment plants or places like subways or hospitals and quickly sequence the genomes of all the micro-organisms. That will tell them exactly what bacteria and viruses are present and how prevalent they are. With those tools, investigators can create a kind of weather map of disease patterns. And they can take precautions against ones that are starting to emerge — flu or food-borne diseases or SARS, for example, or antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria in a hospital.

More here.