Miyake’s Layers

Jane Hu and other writers at n+1:

AT EVERY JOB I’ve ever had in fashion there’s always a certain brand or designer or aesthetic that gets adopted by everyone, no matter their taste or preference, for good reason: it’s good. For the job I most recently worked, I still see it the second I step foot out of my apartment. Friends wear it with sneakers on our hikes up the mountain, people on the subway brush nonexistent dust off of it after sitting down, and there is always that moment of eye contact at the coffee shop between two customers dressed in the same pair of pants. The first time I went to a new dentist, recommended by a colleague, I was wearing mine. The dentist looked me up and down above his clipboard, and rather than ask who referred me gestured at my outfit. “SSENSE,” he said, like a statement.

“Yes,” I said, holding the delicate material with a pinch.

more here.

‘And Finally: Matters of Life and Death’ By Henry Marsh

Salley Vickers at Literary Review:

There is a well-attested connection between being a good doctor and being a good writer (think Keats). Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm, published in 2014, achieved unlikely but deserved success, and among his many praiseworthy qualities is the ability to write elegant, unpretentious prose. In this and his subsequent book, Admissions (2017), he explored the human brain from the vantage point of the practising surgeon. Now retired from practice in the UK, he has continued to work overseas, particularly in Nepal, Albania and Ukraine, the last a country for which he has a special affection, and whose currently beleaguered state he writes of movingly.

In his latest book, And Finally: Matters of Life and Death, Marsh turns his penetrating mind inwards. 

more here.

Pakistan’s Biblical Floods and the Case for Climate Reparations

Mohammed Hanif in The New Yorker:

We have tried, in various ways, to convey to the world the scale of destruction caused by recent floods in Pakistan, because, apparently, a third of the country underwater and thirty-three million lives upended doesn’t cut it. Pakistan’s climate minister has called it Biblical. We have shot and shared videos in which the landmark New Honeymoon Hotel crumbles in the duration of a TikTok. The U.N. Secretary-General, António Guterres, who is seventy-three and has called the climate crisis a “code red for humanity,” visited Pakistan and said that he hadn’t seen this scale of climate carnage in his life. Some of us have created maps showing that the areas underwater are larger than Britain. We have shown pictures of dead and starving cattle to appeal to animal-lovers. We have posted videos of puppies being heroically rescued from rushing waters.

Maybe when the world seems to be ending, it needs poets. A poet in Khairpur, in southern Pakistan, one of the worst-affected areas, was asked by a journalist if he had received a tent to shelter his family. He found the idea so improbable that he asked, “Why are you making fun of me? Why would anyone give me a tent?”

More here.

Why Iranian women are risking everything by burning their hijabs

Jonathan Guyer in Vox:

It was not an isolated incident of police violence in Iran. But the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody last week has captured the country’s attention.

Amini was visiting the capital of Tehran, coming from the Kurdish province in the country’s northwest, and Iran’s so-called morality police detained her, allegedly for wearing the mandatory headscarf improperly. Several hours after entering police custody, she was in a coma. She died two days later. Iranian police claimed she died after a stroke and suffering cardiac arrest, but witnesses say she died after sustaining blows to the head, and shocking photos that spread online of Amini intubated in a hospital have galvanized the nation. Protesters have since taken to the streets in more than 50 cities across Iran. Authorities reportedly have killed as many as 36 people during demonstrations. The government has also restricted the internet, so the complete picture may not be available. But the growing arrests of human rights defenders, activists, and journalists are particularly troubling.

More here.

Tuesday Poem

Moonlit Apples

At the top of the house the apples are laid in rows,
And the skylight lets the moonlight in, and those
Apples are deep-sea apples of green. There goes
A cloud on the moon in the autumn night.

A mouse in the wainscot scratches, and scratches, and then
There is no sound at the top of the house of men
Or mice; and the cloud is blown, and the moon again
Dapples the apples with deep-sea light.

They are lying in rows there, under the gloomy beams;
On the sagging floor; they gather in silver streams
Out of the moon, those moonlit apples of dreams,
And quiet is the steep stair under.

In the corridors under there is nothing but sleep.
And stiller than ever on orchard boughs they keep
Tryst with the moon, and deep is the silence, deep
on moon-washed apples of wonder

by John Drinkwater
The Poetry Archive

Monday, September 26, 2022

The Gendered Ape, Essay 4: Is Rape in our Genes?

Editor’s Note: Frans de Waal’s new book, Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist, has generated some controversy and misunderstanding. He will address these issues in a series of short essays which will be published at 3QD and can all be seen in one place here. More comments on these essays can also be seen at Frans de Waal’s Facebook page.

by Frans de Waal

Sexual dimorphism is the difference in size and appearance between the sexes. An adult male chimpanzee (left) next to an adult female. Whereas males are hairier and heavier than females, the average size dimorphism in chimpanzees and bonobos is only slightly larger than in our species. Photograph by Frans de Waal.

The violence of men against women is one of the most blatant and dangerous aspects of gender inequality, an issue often ignored by men but of obvious concern to women.

In many primates, males are bigger and stronger than females. The same applies to humans, in which the two genders show little overlap in upper body strength. In one German study, highly trained women athletes reached only the average physical strength of untrained men.

The evolution of sexual dimorphism in size and strength is thought to be driven mostly by male-male competition. The main purpose of greater male size is not dominance over females, but competition with rivals. In humans, this competition is reflected in the homicide statistics of most countries, including the US, in which male-on-male murders prevail.

Nevertheless, male violence against females is common. In our societies, spousal abuse, rape, and femicide are either on the rise or more frequently reported. It is a domain in which the human species stands out by its exceptionally high incidence. Since it often occurs between individuals who are close, one contributing factor is the habit of human families to live in relative isolation in huts and houses. These arrangements, which are unique among the primates, facilitate male control. During the Covid crisis and its lock-down policies, domestic abuse increased worldwide. Read more »

Thinking the Possible with the Impossible

by David J. Lobina

A central property of human thought is the ability to combine two propositions (or thoughts) into complex mental representations, an exemplified by the so-called compound sentences from language, such as the triangle is yellow AND/OR the square is blue, where each clause constitutes a proposition, or thought (the triangle is yellow; the square is blue), and the coordinators “and/or” function as the sentential operators, or connectives, from formal logic (and would be the conjunction connective and or the disjunction connective).

The role of formal logic to examine the ability to represent complex thoughts has been especially fruitful in experimental work on how we represent, and reason with, compound propositions. Indeed, formal logic has informed our understanding of human reasoning since antiquity and remains relevant to modern cognitive science.

Nevertheless, compound sentences often appear to behave in ways that diverge from what is the case in logic. Conjunction and, for instance, can signal much more than a simple union of propositions, which is what logic mandates – e.g., it can mark a temporal, and even causal, relationship between two clauses, as in the bomb exploded and the house was destroyed, which certainly suggests these two events are connected.

The consensus in the literature, however, is that the meaning – the semantics – of compound sentences and coordinators such as and and or is analogous to the meanings logicians assign to compound propositions and connectives in terms of truth tables, with the corollary that the non-logical uses compound sentences exhibit in language use are the result of diverse pragmatic processes (presuppositions, implicatures, etc.). Read more »

Monday Poem

“ A colossal weariness and also disgust at the thought that it takes a lot of hatred, a lot of zeal, to push a knife deep into someone’s eye. It is beyond the edge of human cruelty. And only an intact ideology, not available to disprove in any way, could bring you to the point.”Author Ian McEwen, of the attack on Salman Rushdie

On Becoming a Misanthrope

I’ve read too much history
to believe there is a cruelty
beyond the edge of human cruelty
because we are cruelty’s base definition,
therefore:  history and the news

human cruelty has no edge,
it pushes all boundaries,
steps outside the ring of worse
with the ease of a dancer
moving with diabolical skill

it respects no prohibition
because it has no law,
ideology of faith is just a fig leaf
of which God is an excuse
because Man believes
there must be something
to forgive the devil in him

other animals prey and kill
only humans kill and pray

Jim Culleny

Whence, Wherefore, Whither Utopia?

by Deanna K. Kreisel (Doctor Waffle Blog)

What does the word “utopia” mean to the battle-scarred denizens of the twenty-first century? A shockingly unscientific survey of the nine or ten people I buttonholed last week suggests that the key connotations of the word are: ideal, perfect, imaginary, unrealistic, and unattainable. I’ve arranged these terms purposefully in that order, so that they imply not a static and fixed definition but rather a narrative arc, a falling away from hope into disappointment: all of the people I spoke to (students and colleagues at the large Southern state-flagship university where I teach, so a fair cross-section of ages, races, ethnicities, and genders) firmly believed that the word “utopia” denotes an unrealistic or quixotic goal. It’s not my thesis here that disappointment is the necessary fate of any utopian project, but it might be a provisional thesis that most people living in Western cultures today think that it is.

As a Victorian literature scholar, I’m a little surprised at how pejoratively the word “utopian” is used today. Because I immerse myself in another historical period for my research and teaching, I am forced to move back and forth, somewhat vertiginously, between the Olden Times I study and the present moment; just like H. G. Wells’s Time Traveller, I sometimes find it takes a few moments to blink away the “veil of confusion” occasioned by my most recent trip home from the nineteenth century. For the Victorians the word “utopian” did not carry the negative connotations of impossibility, naïveté, and dunderheadedness that it does for us now—the writers and thinkers who used that word were for the most part engaged in actual utopian projects, whether literal or literary (or both).[1] Read more »

Laïcité and The Gap of Cultural Assimilation

By Andrea Scrima

It’s said that European societies are always about assimilation, and that’s almost true, but not entirely. Minority cultures alter the dominant culture in subtle ways. My twenty-one-year-old son speaks with a Turkish-inflected accent he shares with most boys his age who have grown up in Berlin. It’s a mark of masculinity, of coolness, and the ones who go on to college eventually outgrow it—or don’t, because the ways in which it affects everyday German speech will only become apparent in hindsight, after its traces are already securely imbedded in the language. In Europe, the immigrant presence rarely finds acknowledgement in high culture, but you can see it wielding its influence on popular culture in subversive ways. The Turkish ghetto identity, which developed in response to the discrimination a younger, German-born generation of second- and third-generation migrant worker families continues to face there, particularly in the wake of German Reunification and the deadly xenophobic attacks that followed, has always identified heavily with Black American subculture. The Turkish-German assimilation of Hip Hop and Rap was seamless: it gave them a language, dealt embarrassing blows to German political correctness and its many blind spots, incorporated taboo themes otherwise held to be racist, sexist, or anti-Semitic, and posed questions that cultural commentators, at a complete loss, are still largely trying to evade.

Some time ago, I went to see Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory with a friend; the film made us hungry, and when we reached Bahnhof Zoo we decided to have a Döner. The young Turkish men working there tried their macho number on us—that unquantifiable, unmistakably sexualized nonchalance as they performed a few moves to the music playing and neglected to take our orders until, appraising our appearance, they realized we were old enough to be their mothers and morphed almost instantly into respectful sons. Paying for our sandwiches, we tried to decide what had annoyed us the most about the film—whether it was the self-absorption and vanity, the male artist cliché, or the absence of any viable female roles apart from the idealized mother and doting assistant—when all at once the volume was cranked up loud and a young Turkish-German guy in a baseball cap came rushing inside and thrust his arms out ecstatically in response to the blaring music. The beat was so loud it penetrated the muscles in my arms and legs; when I heard the words “my neck, my back, lick my pussy and my crack” over and over, I jumped up and nearly accosted him. I don’t know what I’m doing in moments like these; the volume was earsplitting, and my body responded to the situation as it would to any other assault. I was shaking with a rage I rarely feel—a rage that wants badly to get into a fistfight, because my mind doesn’t understand that I’m a middle-aged woman and not a boy from the Bronx like my father was, and hence ridiculous—and as the fury blots out all thought, I feel the wave of physical aggression swelling inside me urgently seeking an outlet. The situation felt primal, imminently violent; distant epigenetic memories of war and bloodlust shivered in my veins. Turn the music off, I shouted, the lyrics are misogynistic. Read more »

Effective Altruism and Friendship

by Varun Gauri

Effective altruism is having a moment. Books in the field are getting prominent reviews, the Effective Altruism Global conference took place in Washington DC this past weekend, and the movement now has the backing of at least a couple tech billionaires. Not bad for a social movement that celebrates self-sacrifice.

The basic agenda of effective altruism (EA) is that people should a) give to charities; b) give to organizations and in ways that are the most effective, usually understood to be providing the most bang for the buck; c) give as much as they can, up to the point where they begin to sacrifice something of real moral importance.

Most people would agree that it’s good to give and silly to give to hopeless causes. But EA has a particular understanding of effectiveness: One should give to charities that save the most lives or reduce the most suffering, per dollar spent. The rationale for this argument is that the goal of giving (and perhaps of ethical action altogether) is to alleviate suffering and loss, irrespective of the identities of the sufferer and the donor. The goal of giving is not to make yourself feel good by supporting friends and family, your alma mater, a pet cause, or a cute child who happens to resemble your niece. The idea is to give with your head, not with your heart. Because needs are great in developing countries, and the cost of saving a life is so much lower, the upshot is that people should give mostly to organizations that effectively improve the lives of impoverished strangers in faraway places.

Most people would also agree that it’s good to give as much as you can. People praise saints and admire genuine philanthropists. EA, however, argues that everyone should give until they sacrifice something morally important. The reason you should give so much is that you, after all, are just another person, so you should compare the pain from spending marginally less on your own life (fewer dinners out, no luxury brands) to the benefit of spending more on the faraway impoverished stranger (averting episodes of life-threatening malaria, preventing blindness). Obviously, your own money is better spent elsewhere.

I don’t believe that any single theory has a monopoly on sound ethical reasoning. Following EA to its logical conclusions leads to some unsettling inferences. Suppose person A is extremely poor, severely disabled, very sick, and socially marginalized, so much so that charitable giving has little chance of enhancing or prolonging their life. Person B is not as poor, needs cataract surgery, and has access to (but can’t afford) health care. EA might argue that giving to charities promoting the life of person B is always preferable to giving to charities that target person A, given that person A’s quality of life can’t be improved. I’m uneasy with that conclusion because I think resources (and especially government programs) are valuable not only for the suffering they reduce; they are also a signal of respect, a recognition of human dignity, and a commitment to community and social inclusion.

In the mid to late 1990s, I was evaluating the World Bank’s HIV/AIDS programs in Brazil. In 1996, Brazil had begun to provide antiretroviral “cocktails” at a cost of more than $10,000 per patient per year. Many economists, writing at that time, were critical of the decision. They argued that HIV/AIDS spending should go almost entirely to prevention, rather than treatment, because, per dollar spent, one could avert more cases, and save more lives, with condom distribution than antiretroviral therapy.

Traveling across the country, I saw that access to treatment seemed to be making prevention efforts more effective —  when vulnerable individuals and activists experienced hope and dignity, which treatment signified for them, they became more engaged in their own lives, and put more effort into prevention programs both for themselves and on behalf of others. Access to treatment helped to crystallize the Brazilian HIV/AIDS and human rights movement. That movement would eventually play a critical role in lobbying for expanded domestic production of HIV/AIDS medications in Brazil. It also helped inspire the international effort to permit developing countries to circumvent international patent restrictions on the production of generic drugs. Not only Brazil but Thailand, South Africa, and India began producing low-cost AIDS treatments. As a result, the price of those antiretroviral therapy quickly fell to less than a few hundred dollars per patient per year, a price that facilitated HIV/AIDS treatment in places as resource-poor as Haiti and Rwanda.

I’m broadly sympathetic to EA. I believe in reducing charity for vanity projects, like named university buildings or concert halls, and more generally, in making charitable giving more effective. I also believe that people should give more to distant strangers, and that if they did so the world would be a better place. Still, I suspect my work experience in Brazil points to a blind spot in EA. In the long run, most people want help not from strangers but from friends. They not only seek the mitigation of their suffering but the security that it won’t return; they want a measure of social recognition and the guarantees that go with it. The logic of EA, and its accompanying cost-effectiveness calculations, seem most suited to remaining a stranger, not a friend, to the people one is trying to help.

At least one or two of the big EA donors are investing in politics. But a political campaign is not a social movement. Social movements, like the one around HIV/AIDS in Brazil, could help tackle some of the major structural barriers that disadvantage poor people in developing countries. Those include odious debt (the sovereign debt taken on by corrupt and odious leaders, which citizens are obligated to repay), tax havens in rich countries that allow local capital to escape taxation, intellectual property rules raising costs and limiting innovation in developing countries, and the arms trade, to name a few. Those are complex challenges that will not, I believe, be resolved without significant social transformation and a new species of solidarity, which is a kind of friendship.

The Great American Bigot

by Mark Harvey

Salinas, California – A tractor operator works the agricultural fields of the Salinas Valley of central California.

There are a number of videos circulating on the web that show angry white people screaming at Mexicans and Mexican-Americans to “Go back to where you came from!” It takes a special brand of stupid for, say, a Texan living in a town with a name like Llano located in Llano County to tell a Mexican or Mexican-American to “go back to where they came from.” For when you’re in Texas—a different spelling of the Spanish Tejas—in a county named Llano, which means plain or flat in Spanish, and in a town also named Llano for its flat ground, and you find yourself yelling at someone named Garcia or Gallegos to go home, you might be the one with the problem.

In a country with state names like Colorado, California, and New Mexico, and city names like Santa Fe, Amarillo, La Junta, and San Diego, it’s obvious that explorers, ranchers, store owners, priests, and law men had previous history in what is now Mexico. Our forebears were not just the ones who landed on the east coast after crossing the Atlantic, but also the ones who came up from south of the border, long before a border existed.

More than 200 years before the United States was even a gleam in the eye of one of our revolutionaries, Spaniards traveling up from what is now Mexico were exploring the southwest. In 1540, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado set off on a two-year exploration in search of the mythological seven cities of Cibola with hopes of bringing home gold and silver. Leaving the territory of present day Mexico, he traveled through what is now Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and possibly Kansas. On his trip he encountered the Grand Canyon but never found the promised gold and his trip was considered a failure. Read more »

Anecdote, Belief, And Wonder

by Mike Bendzela

How would you account for the following weird experience? Do you have a handy explanation, or do you dismiss it outright?

When I was twelve, Dad used to drop me off in the twilight in front of the parish across town to serve Mass, usually a Wednesday before dawn, because that was the time new altar boys served their shifts.

“Pray for me,” Dad would say as I got out of the car, “and for your poor mother’s soul.” He parked the car far down the block and sat there in the dark waiting for me to return from Mass — swigging whisky, I now assume, from his paper bag all the while.

The time I spent with my fellow altar boy, Michael, was a refuge from the horrors of home. We got dressed together, laid out brass artifacts and towels and books together, lit candles together. The priest who had my dad excommunicated was more than kind to me, and groomed me for the priesthood with effusiveness and, I saw later, with the intent to elevate me above my fallen parents. I didn’t want to leave the sacristy; I didn’t want to go back to my dad’s car; I wanted to camp out there with Michael, forever. Perhaps he and I could both become priests and secretly live there in the rectory. I even passed this by Father Frank.

He looked at me with something like triumph and affection. “It is not outside the realm of possibility,” he said.

After Mass, I nearly flew back to the car.

Once I was inside, dad asked, “Did you pray for us?”

I stared blankly. In my excitement about moving into the church with Michael, I had forgotten all about my ritual prayer for my parents.

The back story was something I would only learn much later from an aunt: During a rough spot in their marriage, my mother had become pregnant by another man, and Dad decided she should have an abortion (then illegal in our state); he took her where she could get one, and she died of sepsis. My father was consequently forbidden from setting foot in the Catholic Church he was raised in, even though he was prostrate with grief and remorse. He could do nothing to assuage the pain, not even drink it away. Read more »

Acorn Season

by Carol A Westbrook

The intermittent taps on the roof roused me from a deep sleep, and then I remembered the acorns. The acorns had begun dropping. It was the first week of September, the days were still warm, and the leaves were still green. The leaves wouldn’t turn colors and start falling for several weeks yet.

But somehow our oak trees knew it was time to drop their acorns, and all twelve of our oaks began releasing their hard brown nuts with the little caps. The racket came from our larger trees which had branches over the roof; while the chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, deer and other critters showed up to share the wealth before they bedded down for the winter.

It was acorn season. Acorn season starts at the same time as Pumpkin Pie Spice season does, but it lasts only as long as it takes for the trees to drop all of their nuts, about a week and a half. Pumpkin Pie Spice season, on the other hand, continues through Thanksgiving. Picture it. It’s early September, you are still wearing sandals and shorts, and winter is the last thing on your mind, when all of a sudden you pass a Starbucks and get a whiff of that alluring combination of nutmeg, allspice, ground cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, which, in true Proustian fashion, evokes pleasant memories of fall. Read more »