Audiophilia And Its Discontents

Sasha Frere-Jones at Harper’s Magazine:

For most of my adult life, I believed in the implications of the phrase “non-stick pans”: other pans must be unmanageably sticky. During the pandemic, as I began to want my own listening room and wrote every day across from a stove, I started to cook. I bought a Lodge cast-iron skillet that cost about forty dollars. It heats up quickly and evenly and can be easily cleaned. Our non-stick pan, by comparison, sheds its coating, and the handle keeps coming unscrewed. This is like the history of audio gear. The cast iron was sufficient, but an imaginary quality—stickiness—was being “solved” by new technology like Teflon. The new gear is fine, and works well in a couple of settings, but seems largely like an unnecessary innovation.

One day, I brought Weiss a copy of Comet Meta, a record by David Grubbs and Taku Unami that features the sound of two electric guitars playing at relatively low volume. When we put the vinyl through his Imperia speakers, we heard the guitar lines ring and hang and interlock—and then something else happened. I felt a presence, as if someone had entered the room.

more here.

On Joanna Walsh’s “My Life as a Godard Movie”

Jamie Hood at the LARB:

In My Life, Walsh remembers a time when “instead of dying I went to Paris,” a providentially budgeted eleventh-hour day trip consisting of “ten hours’ travel and eight hours’ walking: eighteen hours: a day, a day that saved my life.” The transformation by the pandemic of Paris — of crowds, of urban bustle, of the tactile delectations of flânerie — from a font of salvation into a space of mortal dangers and morbid anxieties appears as a kind of violent inversion. But this alienated affect sits comfortably in Walsh’s oeuvre: the founding condition of her writings is a consciousness and interrogation of feelings of geographic, interpersonal, and emotional displacement. Her women navigate their worlds in the exilic mode. Walsh’s settings are intermediary or quite literally transit/ory: hers is a literature of the cafe, the train, the bus, the hotel. That the principal concerns of Godard’s early period were the ennui and political uncertainties of an interstitial generation (“the children of Marx and Coca-Cola,” as Godard notoriously identifies them in 1966’s Masculin Féminin), the defamiliarization of romance, and a kind of uncanny French apocalyptica (think, for example, of the remarkable, and remarkably long, single-take traffic scene in Week-end) establishes an especially fructuous ground for Walsh’s philosophies of the uprooted.

more here.

Argue better — with science

Brian Resnick in Vox:

Anyone who has argued with an opinionated relative or friend about immigration or gun control knows it is often impossible to sway someone with strong views. That’s in part because our brains work hard to ensure the integrity of our worldview: We seek out information to confirm what we already know, and are dismissive or avoidant of facts that are hostile to our core beliefs. But it’s not impossible to make your argument stick. And there’s been some good scientific work on this. Here are two strategies that, based on the evidence, seem promising.

1) If the argument you find convincing doesn’t resonate with someone else, find out what does

The answer to polarization and political division is not simply exposing people to another point of view. In 2017, researchers at Duke, NYU, and Princeton ran an experiment where they paid a large sample of Democratic and Republican Twitter users to read more opinions from the other side. “We found no evidence that inter-group contact on social media reduces political polarization,” the authors wrote. Republicans in the experiment actually grew more conservative over the course of the test. Liberals in the experiment grew slightly more liberal. Whenever we engage in political debates, we all tend to overrate the power of arguments we find personally convincing — and wrongly think the other side will be swayed. On gun control, for instance, liberals are persuaded by stats like: “No other developed country in the world has nearly the same rate of gun violence as does America.” And they think other people will find this compelling, too. Conservatives, meanwhile, often go to this formulation: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

More here.

Thursday Poem

Artificial Supernova

My peace lily thinks this LED
is the sun. Indoor plants
can seldom tell the difference.

She only knows the warmth
that radiates from the perfect
distance. Any closer and her

glossy leaves would be
incinerated. I am a cloddish
creator, carelessly overloading

circuits. I strove to stimulate
growth, but when the fuse blows
my lily thinks she has seen

stars explode. this must be
mass extinction
she thinks,
retreating into her bulb.

by Becca Fang
National Poetry Library

Malta Then and Now

Samuel Jay Keyser at berfrois:

Malta is not so much an island as it is the top of a mountain. Some 14,000 years ago the glacier that covered Europe began to recede. As it did, the water level of the Mediterranean rose, some 120 meters to be exact, enough, anyway, to separate Malta from its mainland. Just 80 kilometers separates the island from Sicily’s Cape Passero. On a clear day you can see Mt. Etna.

The first inhabitants reached Malta around 5200BC, roughly 2500 years before the building of the Palace of King Minos at Knossus. The oldest free standing stone structures in the world are here. They date from 4000BC to 2500BC. These structures belong to the so-called Temple period. They were not dwellings but ceremonial buildings in which god knows what went on. Orgies, maybe. Or sun worship. Or just plain old gossip mongering. We don’t know who the people were or where they came from, except that it was probably over water from Sicily.

more here.

On Mary Shelley and Creativity

Bryan VanDyke at The Millions:

In the foreword to the 1947 edition of Mary Shelley’s collected journals, editor Frederick L. Jones complains that many of Mary’s entries are too short, too self-aware. She’s cautious, impersonal. As if it’s somehow unfair that Mary kept back some of herself, rather than filling page after page with the guileless trust that no one else would ever read them. Because clearly she knew otherwise.

Mary Shelley was the daughter of two famous writers, each with cult-like followings. As a child, she watched her father William Godwin regularly receive guests at their home who ran the gamut from the wooly Samuel Coleridge to the wily Aaron Burr (“This family truly loves me,” Burr wrote of the Godwins in a letter). As a young adult, she reread on an annual basis her mother Mary Wollenstonecraft’s famous tract on the natural rights of women; Wollenstonecraft died less than two weeks after Mary was born. Mary would have been all too acutely aware of how powerful—and dangerous—words were; it’s no wonder she chose to record her thoughts only with great care.

more here.

How Saul Kripke changed philosophy

Timothy Williamson at IAI News:

The stereotype of a philosopher is an old man with a long beard. Saul Kripke made world-leading contributions to philosophy and logic as a teenager. It was the starting-point for his most distinctive later work, which gave philosophers a new framework to think in.

Kripke’s first breakthrough came in modal logic, the branch of logic concerned with structural principles about necessity and contingency, possibility and impossibility. In English, such matters are expressed by everyday modal auxiliary verbs like ‘can’ and ‘must’; a language incapable of making such distinctions would be radically impoverished. The study of modal logic goes back at least to Aristotle. When we accept the inference from ‘It can’t happen’ to ‘It won’t happen’, but reject that from ‘It can happen’ to ‘It will happen’, we are already doing simple modal logic.

Logicians want a more systematic, rigorous approach to classifying arguments as valid or invalid, rather than just relying on vague impressions of plausibility. More specifically, they want to define a range of models of how things are against which they can test an argument, to see whether its conclusion really follows from its premises.

More here.

Can two new drugs change the medical mindset about obesity?

Anita Slomski at Proto:

Sarah’s story is familiar in a country where more than 40% of adults and a fifth of children have obesity. At school, she was bullied for her weight and, starting in her teens, dreaded getting weighed by doctors because they were always critical. At age 26, she had bariatric surgery—yet after dropping 80 pounds, her weight returned. Year after year passed with cycles of strict dieting and trials of various anti-obesity medications. “The weight always came back,” says Sarah, who asks that her real name not be used. 

Last fall, Sarah’s care team, including obesity specialist Fatima Cody Stanford, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Weight Center, recommended that Sarah try a new drug, semaglutide. “I knew within the first week that it was going to work,” says Sarah, now 46. “Without trying, I was eating less than what I normally did, but I didn’t feel hungry or deprived.” Within a year, she had lost 63 pounds. And although only time will tell whether the weight stays off, for now she feels as if “the battle is over” and she can get on with her life.

More here.

How Capitalism—Not a Few Bad Actors—Destroyed the Internet

Matthew Crain in the Boston Review:

The race to commercialize the Internet is over, and advertising is the big winner. This is excellent news if you are an executive or major shareholder of one of the handful of companies that dominate the $600 billion global digital advertising economy. For almost everyone else, advertising’s good fortunes have meant the erosion of privacy, autonomy, and security, as well as a weakening of the collective means to hold power accountable.

This is because the industry’s economic success is rooted in its virtually unrestrained monetization of consumer surveillance. Digital advertising technologies are widely distributed but largely operate under the control of a few giant companies whose monopoly-like market power has, among other ills, unleashed a wave of manipulative communication and deepened a revenue crisis among the nation’s most important journalism outlets. For the ownership class of Silicon Valley, digital advertising has been a gold mine of epic proportions. For democratic society, it is gasoline on a fire.

More here.

The good delusion: has effective altruism broken bad?

Linda Kinstler in 1843 Magazine:

In June 2017, Stern, a liberal German magazine, published an article, “Why your banker can save more lives than your doctor”, introducing readers to a social movement called effective altruism. The piece was about a 22-year-old called Carla Zoe Cremer who had grown up in a left-wing family on a farm near Marburg in the west of Germany, where she had taken care of sick horses. The story told of an “old Zoe” and a new one. The old Zoe sold fair-trade coffee and donated the profit to charity. She ran an anti-drug programme at school and believed that small donations and acts of generosity could change lives. The new Zoe was directing her efforts to activities that were, in her view, more effective ways of helping.

Cremer discovered effective altruism through a friend who was at Oxford University. He told her about a community of practical ethicists who claimed to combine “empathy with evidence” in order to “build a better world”. Using mathematics, these effective altruists, or eas as many called themselves, sought to reduce complex ethical choices to a series of cost-benefit equations. Cremer found this philosophy compelling. “It really suited my character at the time to try to think about effectiveness and rigour in everyday life,” she told me. She began attending ea get-togethers in Munich and eventually became a public face of the movement in Germany. Following the guidance of Peter Singer, a philosopher who has inspired many effective altruists, Cremer pledged to donate 10% of her annual income to good causes for the rest of her life, which would make a greater difference than selling coffee beans. As she considered her next job, she was directed towards the movement’s careers arm, 80,000 Hours – a reference to the amount of time that the average person spends at work during their life.

More here.

What will humans look like in a million years?

Donald Smith in BBC Earth:

Will our descendants be cyborgs with hi-tech machine implants, regrowable limbs and cameras for eyes like something out of a science fiction novel? Might humans morph into a hybrid species of biological and artificial beings? Or could we become smaller or taller, thinner or fatter, or even with different facial features and skin colour?

Of course, we don’t know, but to consider the question, let’s scoot back a million years to see what humans looked like then. For a start, Homo sapiens didn’t exist. A million years ago, there were probably a few different species of humans around, including Homo heidelbergensis, which shared similarities with both Homo erectus and modern humans, but more primitive anatomy than the later Neanderthal. Over more recent history, during the last 10,000 years, there have been significant changes for humans to adapt to. Agricultural living and plentiful food have led to health problems that we’ve used science to solve, such as treating diabetes with insulin. In terms of looks, humans have become fatter and, in some areas, taller.

More here.

Wednesday Poem

Only you, O Iranian woman, have remained
In bonds of wretchedness, misfortune, and cruelty;
If you want these bonds broken,
grasp the skirt of obstinacy

Do not relent because of pleasing promises,
never submit to tyranny;
become a flood of anger, hate and pain,
excise the heavy stone of cruelty.

It is your warm embracing bosom
that nurtures proud and pompous man;
it is your joyous smile that bestows
on his heart warmth and vigour.

For that person who is your creation,
to enjoy preference and superiority is shameful;
woman, take action because a world
awaits and is in tune with you.

Sleeping in a dark grave is happier for you
than this abject servitude and misfortune;
where is that proud man..? Tell him
to bow his head henceforth at your threshold.

Where is that proud man? Tell him to get up
because a woman is here rising to battle him;
her words are the truth, in which cause
she will never shed tears out of weakness.

by Forough Farrokhzad
from Poetic Outlaws

Remembering Lee Bontecou and Her Volcanic Hell Holes

Jerry Saltz at Vulture:

In 1972, the American artist Lee Bontecou, who died this week at age 91, showed a series of plastic flowers and vacuum-formed fish and sea creatures in New York. She felt she got bad reviews and left the city, settling in rural Pennsylvania, where, with her artist husband, she raised a child (“Having a baby was the most wonderful piece of sculpture I ever made,” she later said). For 20 years she commuted to Brooklyn College to teach, but her low-to-no profile turned her into a kind of ghost artist.

She was also already a legend. In 1962, Donald Judd, citing her three-dimensional works — raw canvas stitched together in great bulging forms over wire armature, erupting from their frames like volcanic hell holes — called her “one of the best artists working anywhere.” He was right. Bontecou’s best-known pieces, which have been referred to as “vagina dentata” (only art by women gets this sort of restrictive treatment), were simultaneously painting and sculpture, embodiments of a mythic libido and an anarchic consciousness. When Eva Hesse saw her work, she said, “I am amazed at what this woman can do.”

more here.

Kickoff: The World Cup

Jonathan Wilson at The Paris Review:

Enough about the past. We are about to step into Qatar’s balmy winter, average 70 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit, with high humidity to be dispersed by serious AC in the outdoor stadiums. Of the more than two hundred national teams that set out on this journey four years ago, only thirty-two remain, eight groups of four, the top two in each group to move on to the knockout stage. The games will run for almost a month, culminating in a final on December 18.As is almost always the case, Brazil is favored to win, followed by Argentina, France, England, and Spain, and you never rule out Germany. All these countries have lifted the trophy before, and wouldn’t it be great if someone else crashed the party? After all, Croatia (population 3.8 million) made it to the finals the last time out, and the ageless midfield genius Luka Modrić still runs their show. There is always Kevin De Bruyne’s Belgium (population 11.5 million) or, for a real long shot, Africa’s best hope, Senegal.

more here.

A brief interrogation into the nature of truth

Alan Jacobs in The Hedgehog Review:

In his 1625 essay “Of Truth,” the English writer and politician Francis Bacon—who, a few years earlier, had been deposed from his place as Lord Chancellor of England for corruption—commented on this passage: “What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.” The hint here is that Pilate turns away from Jesus after asking his question because he is afraid it might be answered. And Pilate may not be the only one who has such feelings.

“Jesting” Pilate—truth is but a game to him, a joke. People like that, Bacon says, “count it a bondage to fix a belief.” Bacon’s thoughts on these matters are useful to us because there are many such jesters—always have been—and many reasons for jesting. When Dominion Voting Systems first brought suit against Donald Trump’s legal adviser Sidney Powell for defamation, Powell’s attorneys declared that “no reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact.” What is truth? said jesting Sidney.

More here.