How to Fix Climate Change (A Sneaky Policy Guide)

From The MIT Press Reader:

Climate change is a planetary emergency. We have to do something now — but what? Saul Griffith, an inventor and renewable electricity advocate (and a recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant), has a plan. In his book “Electrify,” Griffith lays out a detailed blueprint for fighting climate change while creating millions of new jobs and a healthier environment. Griffith’s plan can be summed up simply: Electrify everything. He explains exactly what it would take to transform our infrastructure, update our grid, and adapt our households to make this possible. Billionaires may contemplate escaping our worn-out planet on a private rocket ship to Mars, but the rest of us, Griffith says, will stay and fight for the future.

More here.

High-Temperature Superconductivity Understood at Last

Charlie Wood in Quanta:

For decades, a family of crystals has stumped physicists with its baffling ability to superconduct — that is, carry an electric current without any resistance — at far warmer temperatures than other materials.

Now, an experiment years in the making has directly visualized superconductivity on the atomic scale in one of these crystals, finally revealing the cause of the phenomenon to nearly everyone’s satisfaction. Electrons appear to nudge each other into a frictionless flow in a manner first suggested by a venerable theory nearly as old as the mystery itself.

“This evidence is really beautiful and direct,” said Subir Sachdev, a physicist at Harvard University who builds theories of the crystals, known as cuprates, and was not involved in the experiment.

More here.

On Kanye, the Chinese Surveillance State, and Our Post-Realist Future

Andrew Keen in Literary Hub:

Did you know there are over 700 million government-owned surveillance cameras in China? I didn’t, until Liza Lin, The Wall Street Journal’s China correspondent, came on Keen On this week to talk about her new book Surveillance State. My intuitively Orwellian conclusion from this chilling statistic is that the Xi Jinping regime is creating a digital version of Ninety Eighty-Four, with government operated networked cameras on every street corner and in every bedroom, office, classroom and store.

But Lin had another, weirdly counterintuitive explanation. The two largest manufacturers of surveillance cameras in the world are Chinese, she explained. And so China’s surveillance state, with its hundreds of millions of government-purchased cameras, is designed to benefit Chinese industry.

No wonder, then, that the Chinese state is now packaging this technology to the rest of the world. That may be all of our futures. State surveillance capitalism. Infinitely scalable. A win-win for both innovative entrepreneurs and dictators.

More here.

Who’s Afraid Of Doris Wishman?

Elena Gorfinkel at Artforum:

HAVING RESURFACED late in life due to a revival of her sex films, an eighty-nine-year-old Doris Wishman, clad in leopard print and wedge sandals, appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 2002. Conan is flummoxed by Wishman’s spiky retorts and willfully evasive manner. Affecting sheepishness when asked for the name of her latest (penultimate) film, she finally discloses the title: Dildo Heaven. Sensing discomfort, Wishman asks, “Conan, are you afraid of me?” The other guest, Roger Ebert, enters the fray to discuss Wishman’s work, announcing his familiarity with Deadly Weapons (1973) and Double Agent 73 (1974), which stars Chesty Morgan and her seventy-three-inch bustline. Ebert states that the only reason to watch these films, in his view, is to see Morgan entirely nude, and yet she remains mostly clothed. Wishman cannily replies: “Well Roger, I’m sorry you’re frustrated . . . Is there anything I can do?” Reframing male cinephilic desire as pitiful erotic disappointment, Wishman’s bait and switch is both the work of a cunning “exploiteer” in the old-school tradition, with some Borscht Belt thrown in, as well as a testament to the blurring of contraries she and her films embody: feigned prudery and ribald provocation, sincerity and self-consciousness. Asking Ebert why he didn’t put Dildo Heaven on his “Best Of” list, the filmmaker is met with the critic’s blanching reply—of course he likes to see films first before reviewing them! Wishman scoffs: “Ugh, how ordinary!”

more here.

On Proprioception, the Sixth Sense of Storytelling

Daniel Torday at The Millions:

Proprioception, the sense of where we are in space, can do more than simply bring character into focus—it also grants a kind of topicality when employed effectively. In the opening scene of Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bonesthough our main characters don’t know yet the havoc it will wreak, Hurricane Katrina is bearing down on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where they languidly prep for the storm. The novel’s 15-year-old narrator, Esch, watches as her brother Skeetah works to help his pit bull, China, whelp a litter of pups. Ward is an unparalleled sentence-level writer, and the turns of phrase in these opening pages tune up our senses: Esch sees her father “through the window of the shed, his face shining like the flash of fish under water when the sun hit.” China’s whelping evokes in Esch the memory of her younger brother Junior’s birth when he “came out purple and blue as a hydrangea: Mama’s last flower.” The similes do immense work to bring memory—to bring the past—onto the page through visual imagery. But Ward is also masterful with her sense of place, and where Esch is in the world. This begins narrowly, as she tracks Esch’s relation to China and her puppies. Skeetah shakes her quickly from her reverie about Junior’s birth, saying, “Get out the doorway.”

more here.

Friday Poem

Lessons of the War

I. Naming of parts

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
…. And today we have the naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is
,,,,,,, the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the garden their silent, eloquent gestures,
,,,,,,, Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not
,,,,,,, let me
See anyone using their finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
,,,,,,, Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
,,,,,,, They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt
And the breech, and the cocking piece, and the point
,,,,,,, of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and
,,,,,,, the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going
,,,,,,,backwards and forwards,
For today we have the naming of parts.

by Henry Reed
Receiving and Sending the Poem
Harper and Row, 1969

Karachi is volatile, but London is bland

Molly Young in The New York Times:

The true horror of puberty isn’t the emergence of surprising hairs and baneful odors but the abrupt arrival of consequences. Physical ones, obviously — like the sudden possibility of getting pregnant or impregnating someone — but also existential consequences. To enter puberty is to discover not only that the stakes have ratcheted up, but that such a thing as “stakes” exist.

Kamila Shamsie’s novel “Best of Friends” begins at this volatile time — and in a volatile location, too: Karachi, 1988. The best friends are Maryam Khan and Zahra Ali. Maryam is intuitive and romantic; Zahra cerebral and skeptical. Both are 14 years old. Both are privileged but only Maryam is superrich, with private security guarding the family manse and a promise that she will inherit her grandfather’s luxury leather goods business.

Roads are about to fork. Puberty comes to Maryam first. Initially she thinks she has “lost the ability to judge her own dimensions” — like a person hopping into a rental car and immediately severing a side mirror — until she observes that when she accidentally bumps breast-first into strangers, the strangers are always, and suspiciously, men. Zahra experiences her own similar metamorphosis soon after.

More here.

Innovations to detect cancer at its origin

From Nature:

If a single medical objective could be applied to the entire range of cancers, it would be detecting the disease as soon as possible. “At the highest level, finding any cancer early gives you the opportunity for curative treatments,” says Andrea Ferris, CEO of research funding organization, LUNGevity. Although the goal of early detection emerged decades ago, much work remains to be done. Low-dose computed tomography (CT) scanning, used to detect lung cancer, has not changed much in the past ten years, and Ferris says that another part of the problem is a lack of public awareness of the “importance of screening and that it can save lives.”

There are other issues too. Clinicians need more powerful tools to detect and track these diseases, which can be hard to find and identify at the earlier stages before a patient develops symptoms. Cancers start small, often deep in tissues, where the malignancy evades early detection. Plus, even when symptoms develop, they can mimic non-cancerous diseases. Simply put, detecting cancer at its earliest stages presents challenges that vary from one type of cancer to the next.

More here.

How a last-ditch attempt to save the few remaining California condors became a conservation victory for the ages

Michaela Haas in Reasons to be Cheerful:

In 1986, the US Fish and Wildlife Service took drastic, controversial action: they captured all remaining condors from the wild to save them.

Now 537 Gymnogyps californianus soar over North America again, 334 of them in the wild, with their characteristic rumbling wing swoosh that earned them the nickname “thunderbird.” The iconic birds are slowly expanding their range again, from Big Sur to Arizona and Baja California, not least thanks to Wendt and his employer, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. This year, 11 eggs have been laid at the “Condor-minium,” as Wendt and his colleagues playfully call the breeding station, a large facility in a quiet part of the 1,800-acre safari park where no visitors are allowed.

More here.

Sean Carroll’s Mindscape Podcast: Chiara Mingarelli on Searching for Black Holes with Pulsars

Sean Carroll in Preposterous Universe:

The detection of gravitational waves from inspiraling black holes by the LIGO and Virgo collaborations was rightly celebrated as a landmark achievement in physics and astronomy. But ultra-precise ground-based observatories aren’t the only way to detect gravitational waves; we can also search for their imprints on the timing of signals from pulsars scattered throughout our galaxy. Chiara Mingarelli is a member of the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) collaboration, which uses pulsar timing to study the universe using gravitational waves.

More here.

How Christianity Influenced the Development of Capitalism in Medieval Europe

Jacob Soll in Literary Hub:

In many ways, the story of medieval economic thought begins with the life of the founder of the Franciscan Order, Saint Francis of Assisi. He was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone in 1181 in Umbria, Italy, his father a silk merchant and his mother a noblewoman from Provence. The family was part of a new class of wealthy merchants who inhabited the Latin Mediterranean from Italy and southern France to Barcelona. It was a socioeconomic stratum that Francis would reject.

In 1205, he had a mystical vision that led him to forsake earthly wealth. He renounced his inheritance and, in a stunning display of his dedication to total poverty in the name of Christ, stripped his clothes off in public, driving his horrified father to disown him. From then on, he wore only coarse peasant garb, walking and dwelling among the poor as a mendicant monk and living only from donations.

More here.

Layered in Sleep with Marcel Proust

Hannah Gersen in The Millions:

On the whole, motherhood has reshaped my life and habits in ways that have made me a lot happier, but the one thing I really miss from my childless life is waking up slowly. I have never been someone who jumps out of bed, eager to get started with my day. Instead, I like to lie in bed for a while to soak in the dream residue and listen to the radio and to the sounds coming from outside of my window. Maybe this is too obvious to say, but there is something uniquely relaxing about sleeping in after the sun has risen. Marcel Proust’s narrator, Marcel, a connoisseur of sleep, claims that morning sleep “is — on an average — four times as refreshing, it seems to the awakened sleeper to have lasted four times as long when it has really been four times as short. A splendid, sixteenfold error in multiplication which gives so much beauty to our awakening and gives life a veritable new dimension…”

That observation is from The Captive, the volume I’m currently making my way through. As you might well expect from an invalid, Proust brings a wealth of personal experience to the subject of sleep. On the experience of awakening slowly, he writes: “Often we have at our disposal, in those first minutes in which we allow ourselves to glide into the waking state, a variety of different realities among which we imagine that we can choose as from a pack of cards.” On dream residue: “I was still enjoying the last shreds of sleep, that is to say of the only source of invention, the only novelty that exists in story-telling, since none of our narrations in the waking state, even when embellished with literary graces, admit those mysterious differences from which beauty derives.” On the elusiveness of sleep: “Sleep is divine but by no means stable; the slightest shock makes it volatile. A friend to habit, it is kept night after night in its appointed place by habit, more steadfast than itself, protected from any possible disturbance; but if it is displaced, if it is no longer subjugated, it melts away like a vapor.”

More here.

How gut microbes contribute to good sleep

From Medical News Today:

Internal and external cues, such as circadian rhythms and eating, significantly affect sleep. Circadian rhythms are essential biological processes or functions that follow a 24-hour cycle based on the body’s internal clock. One of the most important circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle. Factors that alter or throw off the sleep-wake cycle can cause sleep disturbances. Intestinal metabolism is closely connected to brain function by way of the circulatory system and vagus nerve, which create a network called the “brain-gut axis” or “microbiota-gut-brain axis.” Research shows that the gut microbiome (the community of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the gut) has an effect on elements of cognitive function, brain development, memory formation, circadian rhythmicity, and mental health.

When and what people eat affects the composition, size, and daily rhythms of the gut microbiota. Changes to the gut microbiota can alter intestinal metabolism because microbes belonging to the microbiota produce many gut metabolites — the molecules that result from the chemical reactions that occur during the process of digestion. Therefore, changing their diet may potentially improve a person’s sleep or reduce sleep problems. Should this prove to be the case, it would serve as a natural, fairly simplistic alternative treatment to sleep medications, which can have a range of negative side effects, including daytime drowsiness and gastrointestinal problems.

More here.

Thursday Poem


Like a blur of rain on the real world.
And no one denies the great utility
For comptrollers of imperial households,
For quartermaster-sergeants,
For grocer’s assistants,
For museum curators;
For taxonomists and schoolboys,
Pundits and critics.

And if the name becomes the thing,
The rain it raineth every day
And anyhow: could we bear it?
Could we bear the light of a world
Of things without names?

by John Fowles
The Ecco Press, 1973

How do good conversations work? Philosophy has something to say

Stephanie Ross in Psyche:

Consider the many different purposes that can be served by conversation. Of course, we speak with others – and to ourselves! – to impart information. But we also exchange words to ask questions, forge connections, vent emotions, change attitudes, gain status, urge action, share stories, pass the time, advise, amuse, comfort, challenge, and much, much more. Examining what makes conversation work, and looking at how philosophers have thought about conversation, opens a window on to how language functions and how we function with language. So it is well to ask: what makes someone a good conversant? What makes conversation work?

British philosophers from the 18th century, who were fixated on impressions and ideas, would have taken successful conversations to be those that moved the relevant cluster of ideas from one conversant’s head to another’s. This idea, though tempting, turns out to be inadequate.

More here.

When meta-analysis goes wrong

Stuart Ritchie in Science Fictions:

Six years ago, the psychologist Michael Inzlicht told Slate magazine that “meta-analyses are fucked”.

It’s always stuck with me – the clash between that statement and how we’re meant to feel about meta-analyses. They’re supposed to be the highest form of evidence – a systematic review of all the studies on a particular scientific question, followed by a quantitative estimate of where the evidence points as a whole. No mere opinions, like in a narrative “review” article; no reliance on a single study. A meta-analysis tells us what we really want to know.

And indeed, if you roll out a meta-analysis in a debate over some scientific matter, it’s a powerful finishing move. That’s why those strange advocacy groups for ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine set up those (dodgy) meta-analysis websites during the pandemic – they knew the power of being able to say “meta-analytically, the evidence supports my view”.

And yet meta-analyses are fucked.

More here.

The Late-Night Circuit: Why Do Politicians Do It?

Aida Amoako in JSTOR Daily:

In the past, hosts like Johnny Carson and Jay Leno avoided taking partisan stances so they wouldn’t alienate half their viewers. Letterman and his successor, Conan O’Brien, did the same for the most part. In more recent years, journalists have discussed what is perceived as an increasing politicization and partisanship of late-night, tracing this phenomenon back to Jon Stewart taking over The Daily Show. Stewart “injected point of view,” writes Bill Carter for CNN. “Late night has not looked back since.”

During the 2004 presidential primaries, most Democratic candidates appeared on shows like: The Jay Leno ShowLetterman, and The Daily ShowAccording to Variety, politicians made more than 100 appearances on late-night during the 2008 presidential cycle. Obama became the first sitting president to appear on late-night, and Biden has followed his example, appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live! for his presidential late-night debut.

More here.