What did Tom Clancy and David Foster Wallace have in common? Not much….but they were both obsessed with packing in all the facts

Our man of the hour, Morgan Meis, in The Smart Set:

ID_IC_MEIS_CLANC_AP_001Tom Clancy’s death did not shake the literary establishment. That’s because Tom Clancy was never part of the literary establishment. He was an insurance salesman. In his spare time, Clancy wrote military thrillers. His first book, The Hunt for Red October — about a Soviet naval officer who takes his super-secret sub and defects to the US — was published by the Naval Institute Press in Annapolis. Clancy got $5000 bucks for it. But Ronald Reagan read the book and started telling everybody how much he loved it. Soon enough, Clancy was a bestselling author. The story gets ridiculous from there, with books spilling off the presses and hundreds of millions of dollars changing hands. Movies were made. Video games were made. This was the stuff that publishers and business-minded authors dream about on cold autumn nights.

The more famous Tom Clancy became, the more serious readers ignored him. Clancy was, after all, not so much a writer as a teller of war stories. He wrote to get the story down. Beyond that, he had little sense of craft or style. He wrote his stories. He made his money. And then he died. The end.

There is, however, a tantalizing side note to this story. There was a man whose death did very much shake the literary establishment. That man was David Foster Wallace. And David Foster Wallace, it turns out, liked to read Tom Clancy. That’s no big deal, you might say. Even the most serious writer needs to take a break from reading Dostoyevsky and Wittgenstein, and we all enjoy a good potboiler. True enough. Except that DFW seems to have valued Tom Clancy a lot more highly than that.

More here.

Bonus question: What do Morgan Meis and David Foster Wallace have in common? 🙂

the homelessness most new yorkers do not see

131028_r24153_p233Ian Frazier at The New Yorker:

For baseball games, Yankee Stadium seats 50,287. If all the homeless people who now live in New York City used the stadium for a gathering, several thousand of them would have to stand. More people in the city lack homes than at any time since . . . It’s hard to say exactly. The Coalition for the Homeless, a leading advocate for homeless people in the city and the state, says that these numbers have not been seen in New York since the Great Depression. The Bloomberg administration replies that bringing the Depression into it is wildly unfair, because those times were much worse, and, besides, for complicated reasons, you’re comparing apples and oranges. The C.F.H. routinely disagrees with Mayor Bloomberg, and vice versa; of the many disputes the two sides have had, this is among the milder. In any case, it’s inescapably true that there are far more homeless people in the city today than there have been since “modern homelessness” (as experts refer to it) began, back in the nineteen-seventies.

Most New Yorkers I talk to do not know this. They say they thought there were fewer homeless people than before, because they see fewer of them. In fact, during the twelve years of the Bloomberg administration, the number of homeless people has gone through the roof they do not have.

more here.

What the modern science of memory owes to the amnesiac patient H.M.

Gross_longandshortmemory_ftrCharles Gross at The Nation:

H.M. is, arguably, the most famous patient in the history of psychology and neuroscience. He was studied intensively for more than fifty years by hundreds of scientists (including, briefly, the author of this review); he died in 2008, and his brain is still being analyzed. Permanent Present Tense, by Suzanne Corkin, is the story of how these investigations led to a fundamental revolution in our understanding of the human brain and, particularly, of the organization and varieties of memory. Her accessible book places his story in the context of past and present research on memory and describes many of the questions initiated by research on H.M. It is a scientifically exciting and personally moving portrait of a man whose life and brain ended up being devoted to the science of memory. By the time he was 24, in 1950, H.M. (a k a Henry) had developed severe epilepsy, perhaps from a bicycle accident years earlier, and was referred to the neurosurgeon William Beecher Scoville, who had performed many frontal lobotomies on patients diagnosed as “psychotic.” Scoville had been unsatisfied with the results of frontal lobotomies and was trying a new surgery, bilateral medial temporal lobotomy, in another attempt to treat psychosis.

more here.

Chemical ‘clock’ tracks ageing more precisely than ever before

Amanda Mascareli in Nature:

Greying hair and wrinkles are external signs of aging, but they are not very precise. Now research shows that a code written into the body's epigenome — the chemical tags that modify DNA — can accurately tell the age of human tissues and cells. This ‘clock’ could provide insights into why certain tissues age faster than others, and why those tissues may be more cancer-prone. In the past few years, researchers have been homing in on regions of DNA that accrue lots of chemical tags called methyl groups as people age. Such methylation can selectively switch off genes. “What was not yet known was that one can develop an age predictor that really works well across most tissues and cell types,” says Steve Horvath, a bioinformatician at the University of California, Los Angeles.

…Strikingly, he found that women’s breast tissue accrues methylation in a way that makes it look an average of 2–3 years older than other healthy tissues from the same woman. In women with breast cancer, healthy tissue situated next to diseased tissue appeared to be an average of 12 years older than other tissues in the body. And Horvath found that tissue from 20 cancer types looked an average of 36 years older than healthy tissue.

More here.

Tuesday Poem

To Run

Here, in the present, I run
from you and the problems.
I run south, far away, to the warmth
of new places and new people.

In the past, I did not run
from what was happening.
I stayed in familiar places
and weathered the cold.

In the future, I will be running
on a beach with laughing children.
The water is warm and clear.
The horizon is pure blue.

I will have run all way
to a future perfect
in all the ways that the past
and present can never be.
by Pamela Milne

New Technique Holds Promise for Hair Growth

Denise Grady in The New York Times:

HairScientists have found a new way to grow hair, one that they say may lead to better treatments for baldness. So far, the technique has been tested only in mice, but it has managed to grow hairs on human skin grafted onto the animals. If the research pans out, the scientists say, it could produce a treatment for hair loss that would be more effective and useful to more people than current remedies like drugs or hair transplants. Present methods are not much help to women, but a treatment based on the new technique could be, the researchers reported Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

…The senior author of the study is Angela Christiano, a hair geneticist and dermatology professor at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, who has become known for her creative approach to research. Dr. Christiano’s interest in the science of hair was inspired in part by her own experience early in her career with a type of hair loss called alopecia areata. She has a luxuriant amount of hair in the front of her head, but periodically develops bald spots in the back. The condition runs in her family. In the mid-1990s, she sent photographs of her bald spots to researchers in Pakistan, hoping her plight would persuade them to collaborate with her on a study of a rare genetic disorder there that left people with no hair at all on their heads or bodies. Her strategy worked, and the joint effort identified the gene. In subsequent studies, Dr. Christiano and other colleagues identified multiple genes that play an important role in alopecia areata.

More here.

Our own Morgan Meis wins $50,000 Whiting Writers’ Award!

Congratulations, Morgan!

The Whiting Writer's Award is a prestigious prize given to writers who have shown “exceptional talent and promise in early career,” and has previously been won by the likes of Elif Batuman, Mark Doty, Jeffery Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, Tony Kushner, Suketu Mehta, William T. Vollman, and David Foster Wallace.

Morgan is certainly a deserving winner and will no doubt go on to even bigger and better things. As you may recall, he already won a $30,000 Andy Warhol Foundation Award some years ago. His collection of essays (some of which were first published here on 3QD) called Ruins was explicitly cited by the Whiting awards committee. You may buy that book by clicking the ad in the right-hand column.

I was honored to be invited to the awards ceremony in New York City last night but unfortunately I could not make it. Robin Varghese was there, however, and took this photo just after Morgan received his award:


Needless to say, everyone at 3QD is extremely excited for Morgan. And as a mutual friend said, “That tie alone deserves an award!” Congratulations again, my dear friend! The announcment in the New York Times is here.


by Tasneem Zehra Husain

Img_8708_blue_sky2Upon winning the Nobel Prize, Peter Higgs expressed a hope that “this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research”. By this, he means curiosity driven research, with no definite goal, no expectation of a practical outcome; research fueled by questions like ‘why is the sky blue?'

That such questions arise naturally is undeniable, but the act of following them through to the answers is some times looked upon as a luxury. Is it intellectually decadent to expend mental and financial resources going down apparently useless paths, in a world where there are so many concrete problems yet to be fixed? This debate has, in one form or another, gone on for centuries. Whenever there is news of a discovery, one of the first questions asked is ‘what can it be used for'? When Faraday displayed his new electric dynamo, this inevitable question was put to him, too. It is said he retorted “Of what use is a new born babe?” A remarkably apt response, that. A baby may grow up to perform spectacular feats, but you cannot predict at birth what these will be. In any case, most people do not bear and raise children because of what they might possibly accomplish in the future.

Any judgement of scientific value depends on your definition of science and what you consider to be of value. According to Nobel Laureate, Erwin Schrodinger, the ‘objective, purpose and value', of science, as of any other branch of knowledge, is simply to “obey the commandment of the Delphic oracle: ‘Know yourself.' That is science, to learn, to know; that is the rising truth of every spiritual human enterprise.”

Read more »

The New Dark Ages, Part II: Materialism

by Akim Reinhardt

FlatIn part I of this essay, I offered a broad re-definition of the term “Dark Ages,” using it to describe any historical period when dogma becomes ascendant and flattens people's perceptions of humanity's very real complexities. From there, I discussed how the conventional Dark Ages, marked by religious dogma's domination medieval Europe, were supplanted by a subsequent Dark Age; during the 19th and 20th centuries, racism and ethnocentrism complemented the rise of ethnic national states, to cast a pall on much of the Western world.

If part I of this essay sought to expand Dark Age perils beyond the threat of religious totalitarianism, then part II of this essay will seek to drag it out of the past and into the present. To identify modern forms of dogma that threaten to flatten our understanding of life's complexities.

In particular, I will focus on various forms of materialism as among the most potent dogmas that have created Dark Ages during the 20th century, and which continue to threaten the West here in the 21st century.

I began part I of this essay by begging forgiveness from European historians for recycling and attempting to redefine the term “Dark Age,” which most of them have long since discarded. I should probably begin part II of this essay then by requesting patience from philosophers. For I am not using the term “materialism” in the philosophic sense.

Rather, I am using “materialism” to identify dogmatic interpretations of the human condition that are based on economics. That of course is closer to the term “historical materialism,” which refers to Marxist interpretations of the past. And while I will discuss Marxism and the past, I will also be talking about free market interpretations and the present, so the strict Marxist phrase “materiaism” simply will not do. Therefor, I am claiming the word “materialism” in this essay to mean various economic interpretations, from both the Left and the Right, which make grand claims of not just of the economy, but also of broader social, political, and cultural realms.

Originally emanating out of Europe, I define materialism as dogma that views economics as an all-encompassing filter for explaining the human condition. Such dogma has since subdivided into numerous factions, each with millions of followers. And while various doctrines are in stiff competition with each other, all of dogmatic forms of materialism place economics front and center in an effort to explain and interpret the human condition, erroneously downplaying various cultural and social elements.

Marxism is hardly the oldest economic philosophy to be widely accepted in Europe, but it was the first to become a truly dominant dogma that has initiated Dark Ages in various parts of the world.

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Falling in love with a beautiful bronze

by Leanne Ogasawara

0708 bronze (16)Not unlike the stories surrounding my favorite Carpaccio painting, my beloved bronze is surrounded in mystery and romance.

Utterly compelling, whenever I used to come home to LA, one of the first things I would long to do was to pay him a visit. He is so breath-takingly handsome –that truly a lifetime of visits to see him would never be enough. Physically perfect and with the most exquisite patina, it is that hand, pointing toward his victory wreath that always gets me.


Created between 300–100 BCE, the Getty Bronze is a victory statue celebrating a youth's win in one of the Greek Olympic Games. Perhaps he was the son of a wealthy family who wanted to commemorate their golden boy's athletic achievements. Such a beautiful start. But then several hundred years after his creation, the Romans literally ripped his feet off when dragging him back to Rome as booty (maybe for melting down since so little care was taken to pry him off his pedestal?)

That was not the end of his bad luck either, for he would then to sink to the bottom of the cold waters of the Adriatic when the ship carrying him went down–presumably in a storm.

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Is There Such A Thing As A Sane Republican? No.

by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash

Goposaur_upsidedownYou can't understand what a Republican is about until you zone in on his core belief:

“I don't want the government to take my money and give it to poor people. Especially poor black people.”

Republicans are children who never learned to share. Selfish. What's mine is mine.

Children is the right word, because Republicans get childishly bratty and emotional about their beliefs (consider the recent Republican government shutdown temper tantrum, for example). It's a visceral thing for them. They feel.

What do they feel the most? Threatened. They feel threatened by the Other, the Different, the New. They're paranoid. They see so many threats: poor people, blacks, Mexicans, gays, even women. Modernity itself gives them the jitters. They want to move backwards, to some white Christian paradise of the South, when men were men, and women and blacks were slaves.

They want the world to be like them. Reality scares them. They suffer from arrested development. In fact, Republicans are not fully developed human beings.

Their appeal is to childish emotion, not to adult reason. That's why they find it so difficult to compromise.

Democrats are very different. They're about doing the sensible, practical thing. They don't have an ideology, like Republicans do. They don't try to bend the world to some fundamentalist worldview. They try to fix things, not shape the world to some pre-ordained edenic vision.

So, today's question: can we rely on the Republicans to keep screwing up to the point that they lose the House in 2014?


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Gerald Dworkin’s Philosophy Commonplace Book: A Review

Justin E. H. Smith in his blog:

2940044565791_p0_v1_s260x420Jerry Dworkin might not be hands-down the funniest person in the history of philosophy, but he's probably the funniest Dworkin. Not that he's had much competition. There was that one who had the line about 'clerking for Learned Hand', which always made me snicker but was probably just a one-off sort of thing, and there was that other who… well, never mind. As for Jerrys, there he's had some stiff competition indeed, and in the same broadly borschty category. But this much can be said with certainty: Jerry Dworkin has survived all the other Jerrys and all the other Dworkins, and now, with this rich epoch-making e-tome, has singlehandedly revived the genre of the commonplace book, and bequeathed to the generations a fine collection that is bound to survive its author. At least if anyone can figure out how to download the damned thing. I had to write and request a review copy, which was duly sent along. Which in turn compelled me, morally, to either fork over the $5.97 a Kindle download would have cost me, or to do a little write-up. Since I am now an employee of a French university and therefore am basically worrying at this point about stocking up enough coal for the coming winter, I decided to do the writing thing.

Let's get something straight right away. Philosophy humour is generally awful: dismal vocational coping, and nothing more, substantially no different from the bumpersticker you might spot on a sagging Econoline that reads 'Electricians Conduit Better'. And if anyone ever again suggests to me that awful Monty Python sketch about the philosophers' football match, I am just going to come clean and tell them that my ideal of humour is rather closer to Redd Foxx's classic routine, You've Got to Wash Your Ass.

More here.

The Last of the Sheiks?

Christopher M. Davidson in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_364 Oct. 20 17.33This summer, disgruntled Saudis took their grievances online in droves, complaining of ever-growing inequality, rising poverty, corruption and unemployment. Their Twitter campaign became one of the world’s highest trending topics. It caused great alarm within elite circles in Saudi Arabia and sent ripples throughout the region. The rallying cry that “salaries are not enough” helped to prove that the monarchy’s social contract with its people is now publicly coming unstuck, and on a significant scale.

Many experts believe that the Gulf states have survived the Arab Spring because they are different. After all, they’ve weathered numerous past storms — from the Arab nationalist revolutions of the 1950s and ’60s to Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait to an Al Qaeda terror campaign in 2003.

But they are not different in any fundamental way. They have simply bought time with petrodollars. And that time is running out.

The sheiks of the Persian Gulf might not face the fate of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya or Hosni Mubarak of Egypt next year, but the system they have created is untenable in the longer term and it could come apart even sooner than many believe.

More here.

The Searing, Visceral “12 Years a Slave”

Christopher Orr in The Atlantic:

12yearsAslave650“All right now, y’all fresh niggers,” a white overseer in the antebellum South tells his charges in the opening scene of 12 Years a Slave. “Y’all gonna be in the cuttin’ gang.”

We soon discover what this entails, as the slaves take machetes in hand and begin hacking their way through an almost endless expanse of sugar cane; they might as well be trying to empty the ocean using teacups. The physicality of their labor is not merely extreme, it is extravagant. We immediately understand that what we are witnessing is an economy predicated on the idea that human—that is, black—sweat and sinew are not merely cheap resources, but essentially inexhaustible ones, subject to careless squander.

The scene establishes the searing, visceral tone that will characterize director Steve McQueen’s audacious third feature. Moments later we watch as the film’s protagonist, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), lies awake in a bunkhouse surrounded by fellow slaves. When he turns to the woman next to him, she takes his hand roughly to her breast, and then between her legs, grimacing with joyless urgency before she twists away from him. Day and night, a perpetuity of toil and a pantomime of love—it all comes down to this: to flesh and blood, to individual endurance in a solitary prison of pain.

More here.

The psychology of spiritualism: science and seances

The idea of summoning the spirits took thrilling hold of the Victorian imagination – and has its adherents now. But the psychology behind spiritualism is more intriguing.

David Derbyshire in The Guardian:

Seance-Scene-in-Dr.-Mabus-008As the evenings get darker and the first hint of winter hangs in the air, the western world enters the season of the dead. It begins with Halloween, continues with All Saints' and All Souls' days, runs through Bonfire Night – the evening where the English burn effigies of historical terrorists – and ends with Remembrance Day. And through it all, Britain's mediums enjoy one of their busiest times of the year.

People who claim to contact the spirit world provoke extreme reactions. For some, mediums offer comfort and mystery in a dull world. For others they are fraudsters or unwitting fakes, exploiting the vulnerable and bereaved. But to a small group of psychologists, the rituals of the seance and the medium are opening up insights into the mind, shedding light on the power of suggestion and even questioning the nature of free will.

Humanity has been attempting to commune with the dead since ancient times. As far back as Leviticus, the Old Testament God actively forbade people to seek out mediums. Interest peaked in the 19th century, a time when religion and rationality were clashing like never before. In an era of unprecedented scientific discovery, some churchgoers began to seek evidence for their beliefs.

Salvation came from two American sisters, 11-year-old Kate and 14-year-old Margaret Fox. On 31 March 1848, the girls announced they were going to contact the spirit world. To the astonishment of their parents they got a reply.

More here.