How Death Valley’s ‘sailing stones’ move on their own

Becky Crew in Science Alert:

ScreenHunter_734 Aug. 02 22.52Located above the northwestern side of Death Valley in Eastern California's Mojave Desert, an exceptionally flat dried lake called Racetrack Playa contains a peculiar phenomenon. Dozens of large stone stabs made of dolomite and syenite – often weighing as much as 318 kilograms – move across the cracked mud, leaving a series of smooth trails behind them.

Some of these trails stretch for a whopping 250 metres. They often form a nice, lightly curved line, but sometimes they form sharp, zig-zagging angles, implying a sudden shift to the right or left. These ‘sailing stones’, as they’ve been nicknamed, are so common on the the Racetrack Playa, they make it look like a well-worn racetrack, hence the name. (Playa is another word for ‘dried lake’.)

It’s obvious that these stones are moving because of the trails, but how? No one knew. Since the 1900s researchers and casual observers were fascinated by the stones but no one could explain how they moved. And the biggest factor that kept the answer obscured over a century was that to this day, no one’s ever seen them move.

According to Marc Lallanilla at LiveScience, while the less informed guesses included everything from aliens and magnetic fields to good old-fashioned pranksters, a popular theory among researchers was that dust devils, which are strong, relatively long-lived whirlwinds, were pushing the stones around as they swept across the playa. But this theory, and others that cropped up, were all disproved.

And then in 2006, planetary scientist Ralph Lorenz from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in the US started investigating the sailing stones. He came to the Racetrack Playa with an interest in studying its similarities to a hydrocarbon lake on Saturn’s moon, Titan, and stayed to put an end to a long-standing mystery.

To do so, all he needed was a small rock, some water, and an ordinary Tupperware container. Lorez put the small rock in the bottom of the Tupperware container and filled it with a few centimetres of water. Then he put the whole thing in the freezer.

More here.

Top 10 Reasons I Don’t Believe in God

Greta Christina in AlterNet:

God1: The consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones.

When you look at the history of what we know about the world, you see a noticeable pattern. Natural explanations of things have been replacing supernatural explanations of them. Like a steamroller. Why the Sun rises and sets. Where thunder and lightning come from. Why people get sick. Why people look like their parents. How the complexity of life came into being. I could go on and on.

All these things were once explained by religion. But as we understood the world better, and learned to observe it more carefully, the explanations based on religion were replaced by ones based on physical cause and effect. Consistently. Thoroughly. Like a steamroller. The number of times that a supernatural explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a natural explanation? Thousands upon thousands upon thousands.

Now. The number of times that a natural explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a supernatural one? The number of times humankind has said, “We used to think (X) was caused by physical cause and effect, but now we understand that it's caused by God, or spirits, or demons, or the soul”?

Exactly zero.

More here.

War and Peace: the history of Russia during the Napoleonic campaign

James Wood in The Guardian:

War-and-peace-009Henry James once said that “really, universally, human relations stop nowhere,” and that the exquisite problem of the writer is to draw the circle “within which they shall happily appear to do so”. James would never have nominated War and Peace – he famously thought it a “loose baggy monster” – but Tolstoy's novel is surely the greatest attempt in the history of the genre to represent and embody the branching infinity of human relations of which James spoke. And there is no better example of that challenge than the way in which Tolstoy's project kept growing. He wrote War and Peace between 1863 and 1868, and intended, at first, to write a domestic chronicle in the manner of Trollope (whom Tolstoy, with a few qualifications, admired). The novel would be set in 1856, and concern an aristocratic revolutionary and his return from exile in Siberia. It would be called, improbably, All's Well That Ends Well. But in order to explain the atmosphere of Russia just after the Crimean war, Tolstoy felt he had to go back to 1825, when the Decembrists, a group of largely upper-class rebels, were arrested, and either executed or exiled. And 1825, he later said, could not be described without going back to the momentous year of 1812, when Napoleon invaded Russia and occupied Moscow for a month. Yet 1812 obviously needed 1805 as a proper prelude – which is where War and Peace begins.

Inexorably, what began as Russianised Trollope widened and deepened, until it became nothing less than the attempt to write the history of Russia during the Napoleonic campaign – in fact, it became the quarry that Tolstoy had identified as a young man, in his journal: “To write the genuine history of present-day Europe: there is an aim for the whole of one's life.” And as this originally “English” novel became more complex and ambitious, so it became singular and unconventional. Tolstoy claimed that it was “not a novel”, at least in the familiar, European sense. We Russians, he said, produce strange misfits, awkward black sheep, like Gogol's unfinished picaresque, Dead Souls, and Dostoevsky's semi-fictionalised account of his time in a Siberian prison camp, The House of the Dead. Gustave Flaubert seemed to agree. Admiring and horrified, he complained that Tolstoy “repeats himself, and he philosophises”: sins good formalist novelists should not commit.

More here.

A Distant Mirror: modern conservative movement in America from1973 to 1976

Frank Rich in The New York Times:

RichNext to the more apocalyptic spells of American history, the dismal span of 1973 to 1976 would seem a relative blip of national dyspepsia. A period that yielded the blandest of modern presidents, Gerald Ford — “a Ford, not a Lincoln,” as he circumspectly described himself — is not to be confused with cataclysmic eras like the Civil War, the Great Depression and the Vietnam ‘60s. The major mid-70s disruptions — the Watergate hearings and Richard Nixon’s abdication, Roe v. Wade, the frantic American evacuation of Saigon, stagflation, the dawn of the “energy crisis” (then a newly minted term) — were adulterated with a steady stream of manufactured crises and cheesy cultural phenomena. Americans suffered through the threat of killer bees, “Deep Throat,” the Symbionese Liberation Army, a national meat boycott, “The Exorcist,” Moonies and the punishing self-help racket est, to which a hustler named Werner Erhard (né Jack Rosenberg) attracted followers as diverse as the Yippie Jerry Rubin and the Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Even the hapless would-be presidential assassins of the Ford years, Lynette (Squeaky) Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, were B-list villains by our national standards of infamy.

“I must say to you that the state of our Union is not good,” our unelected president told the nation in January 1975. That was true enough. America’s largest city was going bankrupt. Urban crime was metastasizing. The C.I.A. was exposed as a snake pit of lethal illegality. The nostalgic canonization of the Kennedy presidency, the perfect antidote to the Nixon stench, was befouled by the revelation of Jack Kennedy’s mob-moll paramour. Yet the mood of the union was not so much volatile as defeated, whiny and riddled by self-doubt. As Americans slouched toward the Bicentennial celebrations of July 4, 1976, pundits were wondering whether the country even deserved to throw itself a birthday party. “Everyone wanted to be somewhere else,” Rick Perlstein writes in “The Invisible Bridge.”It says much about Perlstein’s gifts as a historian that he persuasively portrays this sulky, slender interlude between the fall of Nixon and the rise of Reagan (as his subtitle has it) not just as a true bottom of our history but also as a Rosetta stone for reading America and its politics today.

More here.

Afghanistan’s Prison Children

Mike Healy on the Al Jazeera show 'People and Power':

Children_in_badam_bagh_prison

Badam Bagh prison (Credit: Anja Niedringhaus/AP)

Once we got there, perhaps the biggest surprise was just how young the majority of the children were. But actually it made sense that the very youngest children including newborns in need of the greatest care remained with their mothers — in prison. When the fathers have to travel hundreds of miles to find work, it is left to relatives to care for the children who remain outside prison. One father described how he is forced to lock his children in the house for their own safety while he is out working. Even when they are at home, they are imprisoned.

However, in a country where reputation is everything, the children of prisoners are often disowned and left to live off the streets. Needless to say, these children are more vulnerable to dangers such as drug addiction, and inevitably, crime. On the inside, the children growing up in prison are desensitised to their environment and likely under the influence of genuine criminals. Inside or out, the system encourages criminality and despair.

The numbers of figures involved are difficult to estimate, especially as the children may have spells in prison followed by time with relatives outside, but its thought to be in the hundreds at least. There are also orphanages and children's centres throughout Afghanistan, some of them excellent, like the USAID-funded centre in Mazar-e-Sharif, but others of a poor standard where abuse is rife. It is understandable if incarcerated mothers are reluctant to trust their babies to the care of strangers miles away.

We interviewed a local psychologist on the subject. He described how vulnerable children will struggle to understand their predicament. For example, if their mothers insist that they are innocent and yet they are living in jail, this will give them a skewed understanding of morality and justice, and a lack of motivation therefore to be good citizens.

In addition, they may come to resent their own mothers for the lives they have given them. And even if the mothers were innocent to begin with, they may become damaged and cynical parents as the years pass. Both mothers and children may eventually become institutionalised and feel safer behind the prison walls, especially when life outside is so harsh.

Read the rest and watch the segment here.

Saturday Poem

The Death of the Hired Man

Mary sat musing on the lamp-flame at the table
Waiting for Warren. When she heard his step,
She ran on tip-toe down the darkened passage
To meet him in the doorway with the news
And put him on his guard. ‘Silas is back.’
She pushed him outward with her through the door
And shut it after her. ‘Be kind,’ she said.
She took the market things from Warren’s arms
And set them on the porch, then drew him down
To sit beside her on the wooden steps.

‘When was I ever anything but kind to him?
But I’ll not have the fellow back,’ he said.
‘I told him so last haying, didn’t I?
If he left then, I said, that ended it.
What good is he? Who else will harbor him
At his age for the little he can do?
What help he is there’s no depending on.
Off he goes always when I need him most.
He thinks he ought to earn a little pay,
Enough at least to buy tobacco with,
So he won’t have to beg and be beholden.
“All right,” I say, “I can’t afford to pay
Any fixed wages, though I wish I could.”
“Someone else can.” “Then someone else will have to.”
I shouldn’t mind his bettering himself
If that was what it was. You can be certain,
When he begins like that, there’s someone at him
Trying to coax him off with pocket-money,—
In haying time, when any help is scarce.
In winter he comes back to us. I’m done.’

‘Sh! not so loud: he’ll hear you,’ Mary said.

‘I want him to: he’ll have to soon or late.’

‘He’s worn out. He’s asleep beside the stove.
When I came up from Rowe’s I found him here,
Huddled against the barn-door fast asleep,
A miserable sight, and frightening, too—
You needn’t smile—I didn’t recognize him—
I wasn’t looking for him—and he’s changed.
Wait till you see.’

Read more »

Chris Blattman on Cash, Poverty, and Development

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Russ Roberts over at EconTalk interviews Chris Blattman:

Russ: So, you have been writing a series of articles and done quite a bit of research, and I hope we get into much of that. Arguing that giving people cash rather than more complicated forms of development or welfare might be the right way to go for helping people who are desperately poor. What's the basic argument?

Guest: Well, the basic argument is not necessarily that cash is more effective than other forms of assistance, but that it's effective relative to its cost. It isn't always; but it can be very, very, very inexpensive to deliver. So if you have any kind of utilitarian view of the world and you want to help as many people as possible, then you pay attention to that. And so the question is: What is it good at? And there's a two-part answer. One is, like anywhere, people can use cash to buy the things they need. Maybe that's just shelter and food. And that can be here or that can be in the poorest country. But I think especially in a poorer country where a lot people have potential to be self-employed. Mainly because there aren't firms, so there aren't jobs, they are held back from self-employment because they don't have capital. And one of the cheapest ways to get them capital, to help [?] by a lot of things; but capital is really important. And cash can be one of the effective ways to put capital into their hands. But then the question is: When the poorest get cash, especially what people might think of as the more vulnerable or the more risky, high-risk young men for example, what kinds of decisions do they make with cash? We weren't surprised they didn't have access to it. But I think the big question has been: Do they invest it or do they spend it on “good things”?

More here.

Forever Orwell

George_Orwell_press_photo

Francis Mulhern in New Left Review:

Rob Colls’s intellectual portrait George Orwell: English Rebel joins an already substantial body of commentary—his introduction lists some twenty predecessors, who themselves are only a sub-set of the much larger corpus of writing devoted to the man, the works and their afterlife.[1] Where he differs from these is in his particular interest in Englishness, which has been his speciality as a historian over the past thirty-odd years. That too has been a busy field, and the result is a book of conspicuous learning, more than a quarter of its length given over to the scholarly apparatus. It is also, within its simple chronological scheme, a digressive book, here taking off to explore some aspect of a general situation, there pausing over some circumstance or consideration, as if wanting to find room for everything. In this, Colls is faithful to his general understanding of Englishness as a historical formation: the title of his principal work on the topic, a loose-limbed discussion ranging from the Middle Ages to the present, is an awkward, telling epitome of his position. Identity of England (2002) finds its form by negation of the more obvious and fluent phrasings to hand in the book itself. (Omit the essentializing or stipulativeThe . . . while avoiding an easy, evasive plural or the deceptive calm of English Identity: national character is a singular not a plural, yet indeterminate and changeful.) Colls’s understanding of Orwell is of a piece with this. ‘I am not saying that Englishness is the key to Orwell . . . There is no “key” to Orwell’, he writes in his Introduction, ‘any more than he is a “box” to open.’ But then, in a parting sentence whose placing and manner are worth noting for later consideration: ‘His Englishness, though, is worth following through.’

This is the optic through which Colls reviews the familiar course of Orwell’s life: private schooling and service in the Imperial Indian Police (1922–28); the rejection of Empire and return to England with the aim of becoming a writer; living hand to mouth in Paris, hop-picking and tramping in the South of England, a self-styled Tory anarchist discovers the poor (1928–31); the early novels and the decisive encounter with the North of England working class (1932–36); a socialist fighting in Spain, fighting at home, against fascism, Stalinism and war (1937–39); the herald of revolutionary patriotism (1940–43); the fabulist of political betrayal (1943–50). The turning-point in the sequence comes in 1936, and its significance, as Colls reads it, is that during his two months of fieldwork for the publishing commission that became The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell ‘for the first time in his life found an England he could believe in’, a popular, proletarian Englishness that would serve him as a political stimulus and test from then onwards, inspiring his wartime advocacy of revolutionary patriotism.

The test applied in two ways. It served to justify Orwell’s unrelenting campaign against the left intelligentsia, whom he portrayed as a menagerie of grotesques, rootless eccentrics with a fatal weakness for abstraction and hard-wired doctrine, gullible in the face of Soviet boosterism and nihilistic in their attitude towards English institutions. Colls relays these themes in a kindred spirit, as contemptuous as Orwell if not so inventively abusive in his treatment of abstractions, systems, ‘set-squares and equations’, dogmas asserted in disregard of personal experience and what is ‘reasonably assumed to be the case’—everything that is suggested to him by the word ‘ideology’. However, he goes further and applies the test to Orwell himself. The ‘ludicrous’ anti-intellectualism, as he sees it, was at least in part a projection of the feelings of deracination that Orwell recognized and feared in himself.

More here.

China’s Bad Dream

Gene-Frieda

Gene Frieda in Project Syndicate:

China’s debt/GDP ratio, reaching 250% this month, remains significantly lower than that of most developed economies. The problem is that China’s stock of private credit would normally be associated with a per capita GDP of around $25,000 – almost four times the country’s current level.

There are strong parallels between China’s current predicament and the investment boom that Japan experienced in the 1980s. Like China today, Japan had a high personal savings rate, which enabled investors to rely heavily on traditional, domestically financed bank loans. Moreover, deep financial linkages among sectors amplified the potential fallout of financial risk. And Japan’s external position was strong, just as China’s is now.

Another similarity is the accumulation of debt within the corporate sector. Corporate leverage in China rose from 2.4 times equity in 2007 to 3.5 times last year – well above American and European levels. Nearly half of this debt matures within one year, even though much of it is being used to finance multi-year infrastructure projects.

Making matters worse, much of the new credit has originated in the shadow-banking sector at high interest rates, causing borrowers’ repayment capacity to become overstretched. One in five listed corporations carries gross leverage of more than eight times equity and earns less than two times interest coverage, weakening considerably these companies’ resilience to growth shocks.

More here.

Should Buying Sex Be Illegal?

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Michelle Goldberg in The Nation:

[D]efining “trafficking” can be politically fraught; there is a gray area between absolute exploitation and total free agency. “Most cases of trafficking are not the media-popular story of somebody being forcibly taken out of their home and forcibly chained to a bed,” says the Red Umbrella Fund’s van der Linde. “In my experience, most cases of trafficking are about women who were actually already working as a sex worker but decided to work somewhere else as a sex worker, and came into a situation where they faced some form of exploitation.”

However they ended up in the country, some women working as prostitutes in the Netherlands are being coerced. Majoor is no abolitionist, but her off-the-cuff estimate is even larger than that of the National Threat Assessment. “I think between 5 and 10 percent of sex workers are actually trafficked,” she says—which, given 20,000 prostitutes in the Netherlands, would mean somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 people.

Academic evidence suggests that trafficking is exacerbated by legalization. A 2012 article by the scholars Seo-Young Cho, Axel Dreher and Eric Neumayer, published in the journal World Development, concluded that “countries with legalized prostitution have a statistically significantly larger reported incidence of human trafficking inflows. This holds true regardless of the model we use to estimate the equations and the variables we control for in the analysis.”

This can seem counterintuitive—shouldn’t legalization reduce the role of force in the industry, since it allows more women to enter sex work legally? The explanation, according to Cho, Dreher and Neumayer, is that while more women enter prostitution voluntarily in a legal market, the increase in the number of clients is even greater. Demand outstrips supply.

More here.

Why writers have spent centuries attacking Shakepeare

Adam Kirsch in The New Republic:

MTE1ODA0OTcxNzgzMzkwNzMzDoes Shakespeare suck? Ira Glass, the host of the popular upper-middlebrow radio show “This American Life,” apparently thinks so; he tweeted as much after suffering through a performance of King Lear in Central Park. The backlash has been swift and severe, thus answering the question of whether there remain any literary taboos in the twenty-first century. Apparently, calling the Bard “not relatable” is still enough to get someone branded as a philistine.

I come not to praise Glass, certainly—I think he is a philistine—but also not totally to bury him. For there is always something admirable in speaking with complete honesty about one’s aesthetic reactions, even when those reactions are plainly wrong. Those who automatically praise Shakespeare because they know it is the right thing to say, or because they fear Glass-like ostracism if they say otherwise, may also be philistines—The kind that Nietzsche, in his Untimely Meditations, called the “culture-philistine,” who “fancies that he is himself a son of the muses and a man of culture,” but is actually incapable of a genuine encounter with art. The first rule of any such encounter is honesty: If you fail to find what you are looking for in a work of art, even King Lear, you must be willing to admit it. Then you can move on to the question of whether it is you or King Lear that is deficient.

The truth is that Glass could have summoned some pretty impressive names to testify in his defense. George Bernard Shaw famously hated Shakespeare, complaining that “Shakespeare’s weakness lies in his complete deficiency in the highest spheres of thought,” and offhandedly claiming “I have actually written much better [plays] than As You Like It.” Tolstoy, too, had a low opinion of Shakespeare: “Open Shakespeare … wherever you like, or wherever it may chance, you will see that you will never find ten consecutive lines which are comprehensible, unartificial, natural to the character that says them, and which produce an artistic impression.”

More here.

Octopus Cares For Her Eggs For 53 Months, Then Dies

Ed Yong in Not Exactly Rocket Science:

ScreenHunter_733 Aug. 01 16.53In April of 2007, Bruce Robison sent a submersible into a huge underwater canyon in California’s Monterey Bay. At the canyon’s base, 1400 metres below the surface, he spotted a lone female octopus—Graneledone boreopacificacrawling towards a rocky slope.

The team sent the sub to the same site 38 days later and found the same female, easily recognisable through her distinctive scars. She had crawled up the slope itself and was guarding a group of 160 small, milky teardrops cemented to the rock. They were eggs.

For many a female octopus, laying eggs marks the beginning of the end. She needs to cover them and defend them against would-be predators. She needs to gently waft currents over them so they get a constant supply of fresh, oxygenated water. And she does this continuously, never leaving and never eating.

When the eggs hatch, she dies, starving and exhausted. As biologist Jim Cosgrove says, “No mother could give more”.

More here.

Christopher Williams’s sophisticated pictures

140804_r25296-690x561-1406307096Peter Schjeldhal at The New Yorker:

Working with the MOMA curator Roxana Marcoci, Williams shows scores of photographs, mostly of odd objects (glass flowers, stacks of chocolate bars, cameras that have been cut in half to reveal their anatomy) and of subjects that suggest glossy-magazine advertisements (fashion models, fancy photographic gear) but often have something a bit off about them—such as a model seen from a strange angle. On rare occasions, Williams appropriates images, but, when he does, it’s always with a conceit. For example, he sought out photographs in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library that had been taken on a certain day in May, 1963, and that show the President’s back turned. (There are four, rephotographed and lined up on a wall; they stir feelings of remoteness and sadness.) Williams’s work is too recondite to fit among that of his more succinctly ironic contemporaries, such as the image bandits Richard Prince, Louise Lawler, and Sherrie Levine. Nor is he trendy in technique; none of his pictures were shot digitally. Williams, now fifty-eight (a year younger than Koons) and, since 2008, a professor of photography at the Düsseldorf Art Academy, remains a knight of the darkroom. He also has a sideline in collecting relics of his exhibitions: in the MOMA show there are sections of walls cut out and transported from museums where Williams has previously shown. Not that you’d know this: there are no wall texts or labels to explain or identify any of the pieces in the show, although a handout checklist provides the works’ titles.

more here.

hal foster goes to The Whitney

Fost01_3615_01Hal Foster at the London Review of Books:

This poisoned apple, this witchy charm, is what Koons offers in his best work, and when the ambiguity isn’t there, the performance falls flat. Thus his paintings are mostly a computer-assisted updating of Pop and Surrealism, equal parts James Rosenquist and Salvador Dalí (his first love), and the sculptures that mash up pop-cultural figures like Elvis and Hulk are also usually overdone. So, too, Koons often fails to inflect the three categories that are his bread and butter – kitsch, porn and classical statuary – with much edginess or even oddity; their tautological structures (‘I know porn when I see it’) appear to resist his attempts. Some of his objects cast a spell nonetheless, especially early ones such as his Hoovers presented as fetishes and his basketballs submerged in tanks of water, in a state of ‘equilibrium’ (the title of this 1985 series) that Koons likens to that of a foetus in a womb as well as to a state of grace (is there a pro-life message here?). He is also able to fascinate with objects that are not at all, physically, what they appear to be imagistically, such as Rabbit (1986), a bunny cast in stainless steel and finished to the point where it looks exactly like the cheap plastic of the inflatable toy that is its model. This is a talismanic piece for Koons, for it confirmed his shift from the relatively simple device of the readymade to the very painstaking one of the facsimile. Here he adapts the unusual genre, ambiguously positioned between art and craft, of the trompe-l’oeil object (the pictorial version of such illusionism is familiar enough), exactly reproducing a tacky curio (such as a Bob Hope statuette) or an ephemeral trifle (a balloon animal) in an unexpected material like stainless steel. Koons thus renders the thing (which is already a multiple) a weird simulation of itself, at once faithful and distorted; and, paradoxically, this illusionism reveals a basic truth about the ontological status of countless objects in our world, where the opposition between original and copy or model and replica is completely undone.

more here.

The death of a fly is utterly insignificant – or it’s a catastrophe

FLYStephen Cave at Aeon Magazine:

There is an equal and opposite alternative to veganism’s insistence on the momentousness of each death, and its ensuing death-denial. We can instead assert death’s insignificance. Whereas in the first approach, each life acquires infinite value such that we dare not let it end, in the second approach, we strip each life of its value so that its end is a matter only of indifference. This approach, of course, is nihilism.

There is a long tradition of seeing in the omnipresence of death the negation of all meaning, hope and value. It was what the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson meant when in 1849 he described Nature as ‘red in tooth and claw’. He laments that she is ‘so careless of the single life’, then, on considering fossils, how she is so careless of whole species. She cries: ‘I care for nothing, all shall go’, and Tennyson concludes: ‘O life as futile, then, as frail!’

But just as the first attempt to escape the paradox becomes an attempt to deny the undeniable, so does this one. The fact of death does not destroy meaning: indeed, as we pass through the heat of life we cannot help but produce meaning, like a popcorn machine produces popcorn.

more here.

The many shades of rape cases in Delhi

Rukmini Shrinivasan in The Hindu:

29_delhi_rape_jpg_2028840gA six-month long investigation by The Hindu has revealed that the nature of reported sexual assault in Delhi is far more complex than earlier imagined. Among the key findings is that a third of all the cases heard during one year dealt with consenting couples whose parents had accused the boy of rape.

Over the last six months, The Hindu analysed all cases involving sexual assault that came before Delhi’s six district courts in 2013 – nearly 600 of them in all. The Hindu also interviewed judges who hear rape cases, public prosecutors who argue them, police officers who work on the cases, complainants, accused and their families, and women’s rights activists and lawyers. What emerges is a complex picture of the nature of sexual assault in the capital, a city that has come to be known as India’s “rape capital”…

The Hindu found that one-fifth of the cases were wound up because the complainant did not appear or turned hostile. Of the cases fully tried, over 40% dealt with consensual sex, usually involving the elopement of a young couple and the girl’s parents subsequently charging the boy with rape. Another 25% dealt with “breach of promise to marry”. Of the 162 remaining cases, men preying on young children in slums was the most common type of offence.

Read the rest here.

This is your brain on racism: Inside the mind of modern bigotry

Stephan Eric Bonner in Salon:

Mel_gibsonKarl Marx once quipped that “violence is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.” Just as surely, however, prejudice is the midwife of violence. The bigot embraced this view from the start. Hatred of the Jews goes back to Egypt and Babylonia. Contempt for what the Greeks considered the “barbarian”—whoever was not of Greece—existed even at the height of the classical period. And Homer already understood the struggles of the outcast and the stranger. What today might be termed ethnic or racial conflicts between empires, religions, tribes, and clans have always shaped the historical landscape.

But there is a sense in which modernity created the bigot. Prior to the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century, perfectly decent people simply accepted prevailing prejudices as a matter of course. They suffered no opprobrium. Even in early twentieth-century America, few people (other than the targets of prejudice) were especially bothered that major-league baseball admitted only whites, that the armed forces were segregated, that rape and incest were barely mentioned, and that the white male was the standard by which intelligence was judged. The bigot of today, in recalling the jokes and everyday humiliations that these groups endured, seeks to re-create the normality of prejudice. That subaltern groups have proven so successful in resisting his project only intensifies his frustration.

More here.

The social origins of intelligence in the brain

From KurzweilAI:

Emotional-intelligence-twoBy studying the injuries and aptitudes of Vietnam War veterans who suffered penetrating head wounds during the war, researchers have found that brain regions that contribute to optimal social functioning are also vital to general intelligence and emotional intelligence. This finding, reported in the journal Brain, bolsters the view that general intelligence emerges from the emotional and social context of one’s life. “We are trying to understand the nature of general intelligence and to what extent our intellectual abilities are grounded in social cognitive abilities,” said Aron Barbey, a University of Illinois professor of neuroscience, psychology, and speech and hearing science.

Studies in social psychology indicate that human intellectual functions originate from the social context of everyday life, Barbey said. “We depend at an early stage of our development on social relationships — those who love us care for us when we would otherwise be helpless.” Social interdependence continues into adulthood and remains important throughout the lifespan. “Our friends and family tell us when we could make bad mistakes and sometimes rescue us when we do. “And so the idea is that the ability to establish social relationships and navigate the social world is not secondary to a more general cognitive capacity for intellectual function, but that it may be the other way around. Intelligence may originate from the central role of relationships in human life and therefore may be tied to social and emotional capacities.”

More here.