Black Lives Matter: From social media post to global movement

Aleem Maqbool in BBC:

The names most associated with Black Lives Matter are not its leaders but the victims who have drawn attention to the massive issues of racism this country grapples with: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, to name a few. The movement can be traced back to 2013, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Florida. The 17-year-old had been returning from a shop after buying sweets and iced tea. Mr Zimmerman claimed the unarmed black teenager had looked suspicious. There was outrage when he was found not guilty of murder, and a Facebook post entitled “Black Lives Matter” captured a mood and sparked action.

“Seven years ago, we were called together. There were about 30 of us standing in the courtyard of this black artist community in Los Angeles, summoned by Patrisse Cullors, one of our co-founders and one of my dearest friends,” says Melina Abdullah, a professor of Pan African Studies in Los Angeles and co-founder of one of Black Lives Matters first “chapters”. “It was students … artists, organisers and mommas. We knew that it was part of our sacred duty to step up. And there was an audaciousness that we could transform the world, but we didn’t have a plan for it,” she laughs.

If calls for justice for Trayvon Martin lit the spark for Black Lives Matter, it was the death of Michael Brown a year later that really brought the movement to national attention. The unarmed teenager had been shot dead by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri and Black Lives Matter took to the streets, often in angry confrontation with the police. But the killing of George Floyd took the movement to areas it had not reached before. This moment of national reckoning gives Ambassador Andrew Young, a legendary civil rights leader, a “tremendous sense of pride”.

More here. (Throughout February, at least one post will be dedicated to honoring Black History Month. The theme this year is: The Family)

A 25-Year-Old Bet Comes Due: Has Tech Destroyed Society?

Steven Levy in Wired:

ON MARCH 6, 1995, WIRED’s executive editor and resident techno-optimist Kevin Kelly went to the Greenwich Village apartment of the author Kirkpatrick Sale. Kelly had asked Sale for an interview. But he planned an ambush. Kelly had just read an early copy of Sale’s upcoming book, called Rebels Against the Future. It told the story of the 19th-century Luddites, a movement of workers opposed to the machinery of the Industrial Revolution. Before their rebellion was squashed and their leaders hanged, they literally destroyed some of the mechanized looms that they believed reduced them to cogs in a dehumanizing engine of mass production.

Sale adored the Luddites. In early 1995, Amazon was less than a year old, Apple was in the doldrums, Microsoft had yet to launch Windows 95, and almost no one had a mobile phone. But Sale, who for years had been churning out books complaining about modernity and urging a return to a subsistence economy, felt that computer technology would make life worse for humans. Sale had even channeled the Luddites at a January event in New York City where he attacked an IBM PC with a 10-pound sledgehammer. It took him two blows to vanquish the object, after which he took a bow and sat down, deeply satisfied.

Kelly hated Sale’s book. His reaction went beyond mere disagreement; Sale’s thesis insulted his sense of the world. So he showed up at Sale’s door not just in search of a verbal brawl but with a plan to expose what he saw as the wrongheadedness of Sale’s ideas. Kelly set up his tape recorder on a table while Sale sat behind his desk.

More here.

Pseudophilosophy encourages confused, self-indulgent thinking

Victor Moberger in Psyche:

There are many kinds of pseudosciences: astrology, homeopathy, flat-Earthism, anti-vaxx. These ‘fields’ traffic in bizarre claims with scientific pretensions. On a surface level, these claims seem to be scientific and usually appear to comment on the same kind of things that science does. However, upon closer inspection, pseudoscience is revealed to be bullshit: it is indifferent to the truth. Analogous to pseudoscience, can there be such a thing as pseudophilosophy, in which one makes claims with philosophical pretensions which on closer inspection turn out to be bullshit? I think there is.

Let’s begin with the concept of pseudophilosophy. If there is something deserving of that name, then it would be deficient with respect to philosophical issues in the same way that pseudoscience is deficient with respect to scientific issues. So, in order to get a grip on pseudophilosophy, we should first look more closely at the way in which pseudoscience is deficient, and then see whether we can find something analogous in the philosophical domain.

More here.

The secret forces that squeeze and pull life into shape

Amber Dance in Nature:

At first, an embryo has no front or back, head or tail. It’s a simple sphere of cells. But soon enough, the smooth clump begins to change. Fluid pools in the middle of the sphere. Cells flow like honey to take up their positions in the future body. Sheets of cells fold origami-style, building a heart, a gut, a brain.

None of this could happen without forces that squeeze, bend and tug the growing animal into shape. Even when it reaches adulthood, its cells will continue to respond to pushing and pulling — by each other and from the environment.

Yet the manner in which bodies and tissues take form remains “one of the most important, and still poorly understood, questions of our time”, says developmental biologist Amy Shyer, who studies morphogenesis at the Rockefeller University in New York City. For decades, biologists have focused on the ways in which genes and other biomolecules shape bodies, mainly because the tools to analyse these signals are readily available and always improving. Mechanical forces have received much less attention.

More here.

How Does Bill Gates Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis?

Bill McKibben in the New York Times:

First things first — much respect to Bill Gates for his membership in the select club of ultrabillionaires not actively attempting to flee Earth and colonize Mars. His affection for his home planet and the people on it shines through clearly in this new book, as does his proud and usually endearing geekiness. The book’s illustrations include photos of him inspecting industrial facilities, like a fertilizer distribution plant in Tanzania; definitely the happiest picture is of him and his son grinning identical grins outside an Icelandic geothermal power station. “Rory and I used to visit power plants for fun,” he writes, “just to learn how they worked.”

And this new volume could not be more timely — it emerges after a year that saw the costliest slew of weather disasters in history, and that despite a cooling La Niña current in the Pacific managed to set the mark for record global temperature. As everyone can attest who watched the blazes of Australia and California, or the hurricanes with odd Greek names crashing through the gulf, we are in dire need of solutions to the greatest crisis our species has yet faced.

It is a disappointment, then, to report that this book turns out to be a little underwhelming. Gates — who must have easy access to the greatest experts the world can provide — is surprisingly behind the curve on the geeky parts, and he’s worse at interpreting the deeper and more critical aspects of the global warming dilemma.

More here.

Thursday Poem

The Dance of the Solids— excerpts

All things are Atoms: Earth and Water, Air
.. And Fire, all, Democritus foretold.
.. Swiss Paracelsus, in his alchemic lair,
.. Saw Sulfur, Salt, and Mercury unfold
.. Amid Millennial hopes of faking Gold.
.. Lavoisier dethroned Phlogiston; then
.. Molecular Analysis made bold
.. Forays into the gases: Hydrogen
Stood naked in the dazzled sight of Learned Men.

The Solid State, however, kept its grains
.. Of Microstructure coarsely veiled until
.. X-ray diffraction pierced the Crystal Planes
.. That roofed the giddy Dance, the taut Quadrille
.. Where Silicon and Carbon Atoms will
.. Link Valencies, four-figured, hand in hand
.. With common Ions and Rare Earths to fill
.. The lattices of Matter, Glass or Sand,
With tiny Excitations, quantitively grand.

The Metals, lustrous Monarchs of the Cave,
.. Are ductile and conductive and opaque
.. Because each Atom generously gave
.. Its own Electrons to a mutual Stake,
.. A Pool that acts as Bond. The Ions take
.. The stacking shape of Spheres, and slip and flow
.. When pressed or dented; thusly Metals make
.. A better Paper Clip than Window,
Are vulnerable to Shear, and, heated, brightly glow.

Ceramic, muddy Queen of human Arts,
.. First served as simple Stone. Feldspar supplied
.. Crude Clay; and Rubies, Porcelain, and Quartz
.. Came each to light. Aluminum Oxide
.. Is typical—a Metal is allied
.. With Oxygen ionically; no free
.. Electrons form a lubricating tide,
.. Hence, Empresslike, Ceramics tend to be
Resistant, porous, brittle, and refractory.

Continue poem here

by John Updike
Scientific American, 2020

Evolution Could Explain Why Psychotherapy May Work for Depression

Gary Stix in Scientific American:

A consensus has emerged in recent years that psychotherapies—in particular, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—rate comparably to medications such as Prozac and Lexapro as treatments for depression. Either option, or the two together, may at times alleviate the mood disorder. In looking more closely at both treatments, CBT—which delves into dysfunctional thinking patterns—may have a benefit that could make it the better choice for a patient.

The reason may be rooted in our deep evolutionary past. Scholars suggest humans may become depressed to help us focus attention on a problem that might cause someone to fall out of step with family, friends, clan or the larger society—an outcast status that, especially in Paleolithic times, would have meant an all-but-certain tragic fate. Depression, by this account, came about as a mood state to make us think long and hard about behaviors that may have caused us to become despondent because some issue in our lives is socially problematic.

recent article in American Psychologist, the flagship publication of the American Psychological Association, weighs what the possible evolutionary origins of depression might mean for arguments about the merits of psychotherapy versus antidepressants. In the article, Steven D. Hollon, a professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University, explores the implications of helping a patient come to grips with the underlying causes of a depression—which is the goal of CBT, and is also in line with an evolutionary explanation. The anodyne effects of an antidepressant, by contrast, may divert a patient from engaging in the reflective process for which depression evolved—a reason perhaps that psychotherapy appears to produce a more enduring effect than antidepressants.  Scientific American spoke with Hollon about his ideas on the topic.

More here.

The true history behind ‘One Night in Miami’

Meilan Solly in Smithsonian:

When 22-year-old Cassius Clay unexpectedly defeated Sonny Liston on February 25, 1964, football star Jim Brown, a close friend of the young athlete, expected to mark the occasion with a night of revelry. After all, in beating Liston, Clay was now the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, proving that his skills in the ring matched his reputation for bravado. As Brown, who narrated the match for an avid audience of radio listeners, later recalled to biographer Dave Zirin, he’d planned “a huge post-fight party” at a nearby luxury hotel. But Clay had another idea in mind. “No, Jim,” he reportedly said. “There’s this little black hotel. Let’s go over there. I want to talk to you.”

One Night in Miami, a new film from actress and director Regina King, dramatizes the hours that followed the boxer’s upset victory. Accompanied by Brown (Aldis Hodge), civil rights leader Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and singer-songwriter Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), Clay (Eli Goree) headed to the Hampton House Motel, a popular establishment among black visitors to Jim Crow–era Miami. The specifics of the group’s post-fight conversation remain unknown, but the very next morning, Clay announced that he was a proud convert to the anti-integrationist Nation of Islam. Soon after, he adopted a new name: Muhammad Ali.

King’s directorial debut—based on Kemp Powers’ 2013 play of the same name—imagines the post-fight celebration as a meeting of four minds and their approach to civil rights activism. Each prominent in their respective fields, the men debate the most effective means of achieving equality for black Americans, as well as their own responsibilities as individuals of note. As Powers (who was also the writer-director of Pixar’s Soul) wrote in a 2013 essay, “This play is simply about one night, four friends and the many pivotal decisions that can happen in a single revelatory evening.”

More here. (Throughout February, at least one post will be dedicated to honoring Black History Month. The theme this year is: The Family)

For the Love of Oranges

Leanne Ogasawara in Gulf Coast:

“How did you reach adulthood without learning how to cook?”

According to him, all women in Japan learn to cook before they get married. On our first date, I had made the mistake of serving him an apple. Not that he expected me to slice them with cute bunny ears like the girls he knew back in his hometown near the foot of Mt. Fuji. But at the very least, I could have cut them in slices of roughly the same size.

He had found himself fascinated by this aberration in female decorum.

And not surprisingly, he wanted to marry me.

Before our son was born a few years later, he got it in his head that even if I couldn’t cut apples properly, I might be able to master oranges.

In Japan, oranges are sometimes served in place of dessert. The fruit is sliced away from the peel, cut into wedges, all pithy bits removed. Without the work of peeling and cutting, the sticky juice running down your arms, an ordinary experience is elevated into a delicacy, even a luxury. It can become an expression of love.

More here.

The long history of digital currencies

Finn Brunton in Cabinet:

The history of digital cash consists of scientific discoveries from the 1970s, hardware from the 1980s, and networks from the 1990s, shaped by theories from the previous three centuries and beliefs about the next ten thousand years. It speaks ancient ideas with a modern twang, as we might when we say “quid pro quo” or “shibboleth”: the sovereign right to issue money, the debasement of coinage, the symbolic stamp that transfers the rights to value from me to thee. Digital cash has the hovering, unsettled realness (not reality) of all money, a matter of life and death that is also symbolic tokens, rules of a game, scraps of cotton blend and polymer, entries in a database, promises made and broken, gestures of affection and trust. The long history we are discussing here is at its heart the history of a debate about knowledge, an epistemological argument conducted through technologies.

It is a debate broadly familiar to anyone who has taken an interest in the nature of money, or even looked idly at a banknote for a bit: how do I know that money is real? I want to phrase the question in this somewhat awkward way to capture how it can be reasonably answered. We can ask it at the level of a particular token of money—how do I know this money is real?—with the feel and texture of a note, the security threads, watermarks, and ultraviolet inks. We can ask it at the level of some type or variety of money, perhaps expressed as a preference for one currency as more “solid” than another, for instance, or for cash over credit, or gold over both: how do I know this kind of money is real? Finally, we can ask it at the level of money as such—what is money that it has value for us, and how do we know that value? How do I know that money is real?

More here.

Do Lockdowns Work? Only If You Lock the Borders Down, Too

Noah Carl in Quillette:

For almost a year, the central policy debate in most Western countries has been whether—and for how long—to impose lockdowns. Advocates of stringent lockdowns argue that measures such as stay-at-home orders and forced closures of businesses are necessary to save lives and prevent health-care systems from being overwhelmed. So-called “lockdown sceptics,” on the other hand, argue either that such measures are ineffective, or that their benefits are outweighed by the associated social and economic costs; and that a focussed protection strategy is preferable. (The term “lockdown,” as I am using it, does not encompass all non-pharmaceutical interventions. In particular, I am excluding non-onerous, common-sense measures like asking symptomatic individuals to self-isolate, encouraging vulnerable people to work from home, and restricting large indoor gatherings.)

The evidence suggests that lockdowns have been effective, but only when they were combined with strict border controls.

More here.

Yeats Now: Echoing Into Life

Declan Kiberd at The Dublin Review of Books:

Yeats saw so deeply into the contours of his age that the shape of the future became somewhat discernible. He understood that those who merely reflect the nostra of their times soon go out of fashion (“like an old song”), but that those who oppose the spirit of their age often capture its central energies and come to know it from within. In doing as much, they may imagine the sort of future world to which a dreamer will awaken (“In dreams begin responsibility”).

Hence the exactitude of the title Yeats Now. He may be a poet for all time, but his wisdom is surely needed in our time. Eliot said that he was one of those who had such insights into the modern age that it could not be understood without them. Having early become a master, Yeats managed to remain forever the contemporary, to such a degree that it becomes hard for us to judge just how much of our minds he invented. Hence our strangely ambiguous response to his quotability. Some “resisting” readers might prefer if they felt less indebted.

more here.

Tove Ditlevsen’s Art of Estrangement

Hilton Als at The New Yorker:

Don’t think yourself odd if, after reading the Danish writer Tove Ditlevsen’s romantic, spiritually macabre, and ultimately devastating collection of memoirs, “The Copenhagen Trilogy” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), you spend hours, if not days, in a reverie of alienation. It’s because the author, who died by her own hand in 1976, when she was fifty-eight, makes profound and exciting art out of estrangement. Like a number of dispassionate, poetic modernists—the writers Jean Rhys and Octavia Butler, say, or the visual artists Alice Neel and Diane Arbus—Ditlevsen was marked, wounded, by her own sharp intelligence. Her world—the world she describes in “Childhood,” “Youth,” and “Dependency,” the three short books that make up the trilogy—was cash poor, emotionally mean, and misogynist. The sun must have shone sometimes in Denmark before and during the Second World War, but the atmosphere in “The Copenhagen Trilogy” is damp, dark, and flowerless.

more here.

Being Lolita – memoir of an illicit relationship

Rachel Cooke in The Guardian:

Teenagers are so vulnerable. Like ripe peaches, they’re too easily bruised. But Alisson Wood was more defenceless than most. At 17, she had already undergone ECT in an effort to treat her depression; beneath her clothes, her arms bore the marks of self-harm. If her American high school was a place to be endured – the other girls, in their locker-room sententiousness, had decided she was a “psycho” – home was hardly a refuge. Her parents, who would soon divorce, were more preoccupied with their own troubles than with those of their exhausting, Sylvia Plath-loving daughter.

Was this why the teacher chose her? Or was it simply that having been assigned to give her extra support, Mr North had an excuse for favouring Wood above other students? Either way, she was an easy target. At their first meeting, she took in his hair, which was too long, and his clothes, which were from Abercrombie & Fitch, as if he were a teenager, too, and felt stunned: “like an animal across a meadow”. Soon, she was meeting him every night at a diner in the next town. It was there that he gave her a copy of Lolita, his favourite novel. “This book is lust, yearning, and occupational hazards,” read his inscription, which I guess is one way of putting it.

More here.

Why Black Marxism, Why Now?

Robin Kelley in Boston Review:

The inspiration to bring out a new edition of Cedric Robinson’s classic, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, came from the estimated 26 million people who took to the streets during the spring and summer of 2020 to protest the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the many others who lost their lives to the police. During this time, the world bore witness to the Black radical tradition in motion, driving what was arguably the most dynamic mass rebellion against state-sanctioned violence and racial capitalism we have seen in North America since the 1960s—maybe the 1860s. The boldest activists demanded that we abolish police and prisons and shift the resources funding police and prisons to housing, universal healthcare, living-wage jobs, universal basic income, green energy, and a system of restorative justice. These new abolitionists are not interested in making capitalism fairer, safer, and less racist—they know this is impossible. They want to bring an end to “racial capitalism.”

The state’s reaction to these protests has also brought us to the precipice of fascism. The organized protests in the streets and places of public assembly, on campuses, inside prisons, in state houses and courtrooms and police stations, portended the rise of a police state in the United States. For the past several years, the Movement for Black Lives and its dozens of allied organizations warned the country that we were headed for a fascist state if we did not end racist state-sanctioned violence and the mass caging of Black and brown people. They issued these warnings before Trump’s election. As the protests waned and COVID-19 entered a second, deadlier wave, the fascist threat grew right before our eyes. We’ve seen armed white militias gun down protesters; Trump and his acolytes attempt to hold on to power despite losing the presidential election; the federal government deploy armed force to suppress dissent, round up and deport undocumented workers, and intimidate the public; and, most recently the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by members of the alt-right, racists, Neo-Nazis, and assorted fascist gangs whose ranks included off-duty cops, active military members, and veterans. The threat of fascism is no longer rhetorical, a hollow epithet. It is real.

More here. (Throughout February, at least one post will be dedicated to honoring Black History Month. The theme this year is: The Family)

Wednesday Poem

For Just One Moment

I was not there
when Charlie Parker started playing between the notes
I could not be there
when Billie Holiday pondered the fruit of southern trees
I was unable to sit at a table
when Miles Davis gave birth to the Cool
but the musicians aren’t the only ones who sing
and I am here with you
to hear my heart start beating
for just one moment

~by Nikki Giovanni
from Blues for all the Changes
William Morrow & Compny 1999

Groundhog Daze: On living the same day over and over

B. D. McClay in The Hedgehog Review:

Lately, I’ve found myself wondering if the time spent in lockdown is going to be memorable or if it’s just going to be one long blur of days spent more or less the same way—waking up, staring, trying to work, forgetting to do things, drinking, sleeping. Even the initial flood of pieces about the lockdown experience has mostly dried up, replaced by tweets in which people confess not to know how to get through the sameness of each predictable tomorrow. There’s nothing to say about nothing. Furthermore, no one wants to read about it. No one even wants to write about it (though here I am anyway).

At the same time, however indistinct my memories may be, what’s going on is very much something. It seems likely that before the vaccine has been widely administered we will cross 500,000 American dead. Lockdown life is bad, but for people in my position—employed, childless, and able to work from home—about as good as it can be. I don’t have to risk my health to work. I don’t have children whose online classes I have to manage. I am not in an “at risk” category. From this comparatively sheltered position, lockdown is mostly about living the same day over and over as the background noise of the news grows slowly worse and promises of financial assistance from the government remain confusing and constantly changing.

More here.