Just Herself

From Science:

Nergis Mavalvala, professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, can check off a whole lot of boxes on the diversity form. She isn't just a woman in physics, which is rare enough. She is an immigrant from Pakistan and a self-described “out, queer person of color.” “I don’t mind being on the fringes of any social group,” she says. With a toothy grin, the gregarious mother of a 4-year-old child explains why she likes her outsider status: “You are less constrained by the rules.” She may still be an outsider, but she's no longer obscure; her 2010 MacArthur Fellowship saw to that. In addition to the cash and the honor, the award came with opportunities to speak to an interested public about her somewhat esoteric research. “That is the best part,” she says.

Mavalvala and her collaborators are fashioning an ultrasensitive telescope designed to catch a glimpse of gravitational waves. Albert Einstein predicted the existence of these ripples in spacetime nearly a century ago, but they haven’t been observed directly yet. Theoretically a consequence of violent cosmic events—the collisions of black holes, the explosive deaths of stars, or even the big bang—gravitational waves could provide a brand new lens for studying the universe. When she became a MacArthur fellow, former female students wrote to her saying that she was a model for what was possible for women. At different points in her scientific career, lesbian and gay students and colleagues mentioned something similar: They had been inspired by the example she had set for them. She embraces her role as role model. Something important is happening, she believes. “I am just myself,” she says. “But out of that comes something positive.” By being just herself, she is a source of inspiration for a wide range of individuals from groups underrepresented in the physical sciences.

More here.

The 10 Things Economics Can Tell Us About Happiness

From The Atlantic:

HappyLast week, I shared the OECD's brand new rankings of happiest countries on earth. This week, let's pull back the lens and consider the most important lessons about well-being from the mountainous piles of economic research distilled by the New Economics Foundation's excellent review. All caveats about the messiness of research bias and the usefulness of self-reported happiness surveys apply.

1) Generally speaking, richer countries are happier countries (see above). But since many of these rich countries share other traits — they're mostly democracies with strong property rights traditions, for example — some studies suggest that it's our institutions that are making us happy, not just the wealth. More on that in a second.

2) Generally speaking, richer people are happier people. But young people and the elderly appear less influenced by having more money.

3) But money has diminishing returns — like just about everything else. Satisfaction rises with income until about $75,000 (or perhaps as high as $120,000). After that, researchers have had trouble proving that more money makes that much of a difference. Other factors — like marriage quality and health — become more relatively important than money. It might be the case that richer people use their money to move to richer areas, where they no longer feel rich. Non-economists might chalk this up to the “keeping up with the Jones'” principle.

More here.

AP ‘napalm girl’ photo from Vietnam War turns 40

For Tariq Jehangir Khan:


In this June 8, 1972 file photo, crying children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, run down Route 1 near Trang Bang, Vietnam after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places as South Vietnamese forces from the 25th Division walk behind them. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. From left, the children are Phan Thanh Tam, younger brother of Kim Phuc, who lost an eye, Phan Thanh Phouc, youngest brother of Kim Phuc, Kim Phuc, and Kim's cousins Ho Van Bon, and Ho Thi Ting.


Phan Thi Kim Phuc snuggles her son Thomas, 3, as her husband Bui Huy Toan looks on in their apartment in Toronto, Canada, May 25, 1997. Kim Phuc's left arm shows evidence of the burns she suffered on June 8, 1972, when her village in Vietnam was hit by napalm bombs dropped by South Vietnamese warplanes acting on U.S. orders.


This undated file photo shows Vietnam veteran John Plummer with Pham Thi Kim Phuc. Pham was the little girl screaming and running naked from a napalm attack in Vietnam in the famous 1972 photo that won the Pulitzer Prize for AP photographer Nick Ut. Plummer was the officer who ordered the napalm strike.

More here in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Review of ‘Our Lady of Alice Bhatti’ by Mohammed Hanif

Lorraine Adams in The Daily Beast:

1338410023799.cachedAmerican drones kill Pakistani children. Pakistani military harbors Osama bin Laden for years. Most Pakistani women are illiterate. Pakistani corruption isrampant. The word from America’s frenemy seems uniformly bleak. The problems run deep.

Perhaps. Yet much of Pakistan comes to the West through the unsatisfactory filter of mass media. The dynamic culture that lies beneath news accounts remains unavailable to Americans, who, for example, know little of Pakistan’s revered poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz or its short-story master Saadat Hasan Manto. Even more hidden from view than Pakistan’s literary icons are the everyday lives of its desperate poor. Some authors from the newly acclaimed generation of fiction writers in English have explored the codependency of the impoverished and elite—Daniyal Mueenuddin is an especially talented example. But now with Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, Mohammed Hanif is the first to devote an entire novel to the downtrodden. In it, grim headlines and social problems give way to an improbable radiance. It’s an enthralling successor to his first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, about the still unsolved 1988 assassination of President Zia ul-Haq.

Hanif has followed that much acclaimed book with a novel that’s a savage chronicle somehow hilarious, a love story entrancingly doomed, and an acerbic free-of-cliché portrait of Pakistan’s largest city. Part of its genius lies in Hanif’s shrewd understanding that what makes the disadvantaged unforgettable is not their crushing predicaments but how they invent ways to cope with them.

More here.