Norm Macdonald’s Best Late-Night Moments

Trish Bendix in the New York Times:

Norm Macdonald was best known for his stand-up comedy and his time as the Weekend Update anchor on “Saturday Night Live.” But the comic, who died on Tuesday at 61, was also hailed over the years for his hilariously unpredictable appearances on late-night shows, with several hosts on Tuesday remembering him as one of their funniest guests.

Where most celebrities and public figures appear on talk shows with banal anecdotes in order to promote something, Macdonald always came prepared with jokes and eccentric stories that elicited guffaws from hosts as well audiences (and viewers at home), and he was quicker than anyone else on the couch. (Just ask Carrot Top — the clip of Macdonald’s off-the-cuff dig at the prop comic on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” was widely shared on Tuesday.)

More here.

Ötzi the Iceman: What we know 30 years after his discovery

Jennifer Pinkowski in National Geographic:

Thirty years ago this month, Europe’s most famous mummy was discovered lying face-down in the ice, on the edge of a lake nearly two miles high in the Ötztal Alps bordering Austria and Italy.

Naturally preserved by more than 5,000 years of sun, wind, and freezing temperatures, the leathery remains of Ötzi the Iceman quickly became a global sensation, the subject of countless books and documentaries and even a feature film reconstructing his life in Neolithic Europe and his violent death.

Today, Ötzi is carefully tended to by researchers at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy, where his wizened body is kept in a custom cold chamber maintained at a constant temperature of –21.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Four or five times a year, his remains are sprayed with sterile water to create an icy, protective exoskeleton that ensures he stays a “wet mummy” (one naturally preserved in a wet rather than dry environment).

More here.

Modi – A Political Biography

Scott Alexander in Astral Codex Ten:

I have a friend who studied the history of fascism. She gets angry when people call Trump (or some other villain du jour) fascist. “Words have meanings! Fascism isn’t just any right-winger you dislike!” Maybe she takes this a little too far; by a strict definition, she’s not even sure Franco qualifies.

Anyway, I mention this because she says Narendra Modi, the current prime minister of India, is absolutely, literally, a fascist.

This is a strong claim, but Balakrishna Moonje helped found the precursor to Modi’s party. He went on a fact-finding trip to fascist Italy, met Mussolini, decided he had the right idea, and told the Indian papers that he wanted to:

“…imitate the youth movement of Germany and the Balilla and Fascist organisations of Italy. I think they are eminently suited for introduction in India, adapting them to suit the special conditions. I have been very much impressed by these movements and I have seen their activities with my own eyes in all details.”

So let’s at least say this isn’t the least fascist-inspired group around. It’s not that there aren’t extenuating circumstances. Indian independence movements of the time were fighting Britain, which made the fascist powers natural allies. And in 1934 when Moonje met Mussolini nobody had seen just how badly fascism could go. Still, not the sort of pedigree you want for your country’s ruling party.

More here.

Ashes and Diamonds: What Remains

Paul Coates at The Current:

Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds (1958) has rightly been lauded as one of the finest of postwar East-Central European films, and the most vital work of the Polish School, the group of filmmakers who, starting in the midfifties, cast startlingly truthful images of the recent war and its aftermath, putting Polish cinema on the world map.  It is salutary, however, to remember how much controversy has dogged the film within Poland itself, and that it is more than a matter of regime-led misgivings about a work with potentially subversive accents. It stems from the film’s pursuit of conflicting goals: to deal with the Polish Home Army’s resistance against the incoming, Soviet-backed Communist regime and yet satisfy both the Polish populace who held that army dear and a Communist Party that wielded powers of censorship, even though it had renounced a Stalinist rigor of repression. Criticize the Home Army too strongly and the audience will turn on you; offend the regime and your film might be amputated or aborted. (Wajda himself reported efforts to remove the protagonist’s death scene going right down to the wire of the first screening.)

more here.

After a Year Without Crowds, Caroline Polachek Takes the Stage

Jia Tolentino at The New Yorker:

Polachek’s career started with guys and guitars. She co-founded the indie band Chairlift when she was in college, in the early two-thousands, and the group quickly reached a steady level of afternoon-set-at-a-festival success. But “Pang,” a sumptuous avant-pop record about the ecstatic terrors of love, had inspired a fervent new following. Instead of being the lead singer of a band, Polachek was now an alt-pop diva whose fans wrote things like “omfg i’m gonna cry and pee yes queen” on Instagram and showed up to gigs in leather and mesh. (The phrase “bunny is a rider” was printed on white cotton thongs; they sold out in every size.) Polachek, who has also written songs for other performers—including “No Angel,” a track on Beyoncé’s self-titled album, from 2013—is as stylized as a Top Forty artist, but she has an experimental aesthetic, tending toward the esoteric. The visuals for “Pang” were partly inspired by the mid-twentieth-century American illustrator Eyvind Earle and the seventeenth-century engraver Jacques Hurtu. She has co-directed several of her frequently surreal music videos with her boyfriend, the visual artist Matt Copson.

more here.

Thursday Poem

I keep lighting candles on my stoop and watching the wind snuff them out

I keep thinking about Breonna Taylor asleep/ between fresh sheets/ I keep thinking/ about her skin cooling after a shower/ about her hair wrapped in a satin bonnet/ I think about what she may have dreamed that night/ keep thinking about her bedroom/ whether she had painted it recently/ argued with her partner about the undertones in that paint/ this one more blue/ this one more pink/ that she may have felt more at home now that she had chosen the color on her walls/ I keep thinking about how she could use her hands to keep blood moving through a human heart/ how she could use her hands to stanch the flow of blood until platelets arrived/ I wonder how many times she heard/ thank you for saving/ please save/ I wonder how many nights she could/ I keep thinking about her when I lie in bed at night/ when I wake up and look in the mirror/ when I walk to my front door/ I keep thinking about the life she wanted to build/ whether she had her eye on a ring and was dropping hints to the man who chose to protect her/ whether he was working on it/ whether it was in his sock drawer already as he waited for the right time/ I keep wondering why a black woman’s death alone can’t begin the revolution/ whether the sweet smoke rising to the heavens across this nation is offering enough/

by Amy M. Alvarez
Split This Rock

The coming collapse of the developing world

Kotkin and Kruger in Spiked Humanity:

Covid has caused a deep crisis in the already suffering developing world, which contains nearly half of all humanity. And this will have serious implications for the future of the world economy and political order. Initially, Covid was something of a rich country’s disease. It started in industrial China and spread to places like the United States, Italy and the United Kingdom. But now none of the wealthiest countries falls within the top 10 worst-hit countries in terms of Covid deaths per capita. In the US, Covid has gone from the leading cause of death to seventh place in just over a year.

According to Bloomberg, the countries now most resilient to Covid and its variants are all among the richest – the United States, New Zealand, Israel, France, the UK and Spain, along with some wealthier East Asian countries, including China. In contrast, the pandemic rages on in Latin America and the backwaters of Eastern Europe. Impoverished Peru has been particularly hard hit, recording a Covid fatality rate twice that of any other country.

At the bottom of the list, according to Bloomberg, lies Argentina, the Philippines, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Colombia and Pakistan, where on average just five per cent of the population have been vaccinated. We may be seeing the fruits of what the Nation describes as ‘a gargantuan north-south vaccination gap’. By June this year, the US and Britain had jabbed half of their populations, and the rest of the EU had jabbed a third. In contrast, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, North Sudan, Vietnam and Zambia had vaccinated between 0.1 per cent and 0.9 per cent of their populations. This is a world lurching towards vaccine apartheid.

More here.

Reproducibility: expect less of the scientific paper

Amaral and Neves in Nature:

Research articles in the life sciences are more ambitious than ever. The amount of data in high-impact journals has doubled over 20 years2, and basic-science papers are increasingly expected to include evidence of how results will translate to clinical applications. An article in a journal such as Nature thus ends up representing many years of work by several people. Still, that’s no guarantee of replicability. The Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology has so far managed to replicate the main findings in only 5 of 17 highly cited articles3, and a replication of 21 social-sciences articles in Science and Nature had a success rate of between 57 and 67%4.

Many calls have been made to improve this scenario. Proposed measures include increasing sample sizes, preregistering protocols and using stricter statistical analyses. Another proposal is to introduce heterogeneity in methods and models to evaluate robustness — for instance, using more than one way to suppress gene expression across a variety of cell lines or rodent strains. In our work on the initiative, we have come to appreciate the amount of effort involved in following these proposals for a single experiment, let alone for an entire paper. Even in a simple RT-PCR experiment, there are dozens of steps in which methods can vary, as well as a breadth of controls to assess the purity, integrity and specificity of materials. Specifying all of these steps in advance represents an exhaustive and sometimes futile process, because protocols inevitably have to be adapted along the way. Recording the entire method in an auditable way generates spreadsheets with hundreds of rows for every experiment. We do think that the effort will pay off in terms of reproducibility. But if every paper in discovery science is to adopt this mindset, a typical high-profile article might easily take an entire decade of work, as well as a huge budget. This got us thinking about other, more efficient ways to arrive at reliable science.

More here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Comedy Divine

Brad Evans in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

September 14, 2021, marked the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri, the Florentine author of the world’s most renowned and masterful of all poems, The Divine Comedy. Not only did this poem have a marked impact on European vernacular languages in its notable departure from Latin, it also transformed how we understand the relationships among perpetrators, victims, and witnesses of violence. But more than this: it is perhaps with Dante that we really began to imagine what Hell looked like, which in turn demanded a revolution in how we understood the wretchedness of life, the fate of the sinful, and the path out through an all too earthly call to love and poetry.

The Divine Comedy was made up of three books, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, each of which consisted of 33 sections or cantos. And whatever we may think of the religiosity of its worldview, its lasting literary impact has never been in doubt. Samuel Beckett, for example, kept a copy by his bedside as he lay dying in a Paris. The poem also provided comfort to Oscar Wilde during his time in Reading Gaol. Nevertheless, while the work is undoubtedly a masterpiece, I find myself agreeing with Victor Hugo, who once noted that Inferno truly stands out and that, “when the poem becomes happy, it becomes boring.” With that idea in mind, I will keep my focus here on the first book and consider its continued relevance.

More here.

Sean Carroll’s Mindscape Podcast: Herbert Gintis on Game Theory, Evolution, and Social Rationality

Sean Carroll in Preposterous Universe:

How human beings behave is, for fairly evident reasons, a topic of intense interest to human beings. And yet, not only is there much we don’t understand about human behavior, different academic disciplines seem to have developed completely incompatible models to try to explain it. And as today’s guest Herb Gintis complains, they don’t put nearly enough effort into talking to each other to try to reconcile their views. So that what he’s here to do. Using game theory and a model of rational behavior — with an expanded notion of “rationality” that includes social as well as personally selfish interests — he thinks that we can come to an understanding that includes ideas from biology, economics, psychology, and sociology, to more accurately account for how people actually behave.

More here.

Why Claude Lévi-Strauss celebrated every culture but his own

Algis Valiunas in The New Atlantis:

Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908–2009) was the foremost anthropologist of the twentieth century, and one of its most renowned intellectuals of any persuasion. Common readers, if they know him at all, tend to do so only by Tristes Tropiques (French for “Sad Tropics”), his 1955 memoir of his fieldwork among Brazilian tribes and his travels as an academic junketeer in other alien enclaves. That book is salted with animadversions on the spread of the “monoculture” of the West doing its worst to refashion the world in its unhandsome image.

When he retails for a popular audience his experiences among the Caduveo, Bororo, and Nambikwara Indians, his observations are exceedingly sharp, shrewd, and empathetic. Yet although Tropiques recounts at length his own travels and explorations, its famous first sentence, “I hate travelling and explorers,” is not a lie or even a gross exaggeration. He was happiest in the seclusion of his study, and the works that made his formidable reputation among social scientists were books conceived of other books. When he writes for this scholarly audience, laying out his trademark “structuralist” interpretation of primitive kinship relations and myths, his findings show little real life behind them. The work that made him academically famous, and that he spent most of his career writing, shows no true connection with the peoples whose ways of life he is purportedly discussing.

More here.

Tell Children the truth

Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic:

The day I was diagnosed with cancer—serious cancer, out-of-the-blue cancer—I reeled out of the doctor’s office and onto the familiar street. My children’s dentist was on that block, and the Rite Aid where we got cheap toys after their checkups. Just an hour and a half earlier, I’d walked down that street and my world had been safe and whole—my two little boys, my good husband, my career as a writer just beginning to unfold. My life! I hadn’t even known to give it a backward glance.

In the car, I was gripped by two thoughts, both about my children, Patrick and Conor, who were about to turn 5. The first was that there was only one bright spot in this terror, but it was a big one: The cancer had struck me instead of them. At least the boys were safe.

But they were in a different kind of danger: that of losing their mother. I grew up in a household in which my mother’s grief over losing her own mother as a very young child was never expressed. She didn’t come from a generation that helped kids cope with trauma; she came from the generation that just carried on—and she had. But something in her never healed, and my sister and I felt it in a hundred ways. The page in Babar that described his mother’s death had been neatly torn out of the book; many fairy tales could not be read at all. Secrets were kept.

More here.

When George Washington Took a Road Trip to Unify the U.S.

David Kindy in Smithsonian:

In 1789, newly elected president George Washington faced one of the most difficult challenges of his life: creating a unified nation out of a disparate, discordant drove of 13 stubbornly independent former colonies. To do that, Washington decided to take a road trip up and down the new United States. Along the way, the former commander-in-chief of the Continental Army used his prominence and prestige—as well as his peaceful persona and level leadership—to convince new Americans to forget what divided them and focus on what united them.

Award-winning author Nathaniel Philbrick revisits this historic journey in his new book, Travels With George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy. Drawing unnerving parallels to the nation’s current political landscape, the writer shows how the lessons taught by the “father of our country” are still relevant today.

“The divisions are remarkably reminiscent of where we are now,” says Philbrick. “It was a book that I thought would be fun to do but didn’t anticipate how deep I would get into it with my research and how it connects with modern events. Even though we were following someone from 230-plus years ago, it seemed like it was happening today.” Part travelogue, part history lesson and part personal reflection, Travels With George reveals how Washington convinced a very skeptical public that America could pull off its experiment in democracy. The key, the president argued, was in the hands of those who elected him: “The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government.”

“This was a novel concept,” Philbrick says. “Everywhere else, there is a king or dictator who is leading the country. This is not someone who has inherited the role. This is someone who has been elected by the people. It had never been done before.”

More here.

Wednesday Poem


Dear Kumari,
I, of course, do not know if Kumari was really your name,
It became a custom in the Gulf to change the name of the servant upon arrival,
The mama says to you, “Your name is Maryam/Fatima/Kumari/Chandra,”
Even before she gives you your cotton apron,
The same apron that the previous Kumari used
Before she ran away
And became free
Crowded in a single room with ten others
Watching their pictures on the walls
Fading under the air conditioners.

They may talk to you in English
And give you your own room,
But they will dress you in a pink uniform,
For the concubine is no longer required to seduce.

Or they may talk to you in Arabic and the language of fingers,
That which depends on hand signs in some days,
Or on slapping your cheeks in others.

You might have to help the son
Discover his sexual desires,
Or even sacrifice
For the father’s bodily failures.
In both cases, do not run to the police station,
From there all fathers and sons come.

You must cut your hair regularly,
Mama might get angry one day
And claim your braid as a rope in her hand.

Write all the songs that you love in a notebook,
No forgotten songs can be found there.

Get angry, Kumari,
Hang yourself with the clothesline,
Use your knife outside the kitchen,
Teach the Mama and the Baba and the Bacha a lesson,
Let them create all those myths about your gods
Who ask you in your dreams
For some Khaleeji blood
To feed the belly of history.

Run, Kumari, run
And steal everything you find;
A ghost gotta act like one.

by Mona Kareem
What I Sleep for Today
Publisher دار نوفا بلس للنشر والتوزيع)
(House Nova Plus Publishing and Distribution), Kuwait, 2016

Translation: 2016, Saqer A. Almarri
Jadaliyya, Ezine, January

Miami’s Built Environment At The Crossroads

“Climate change may be too wild a stream to be navigated in the accustomed barques of narration, yet we have entered a time in human history when the wild has become the norm,” writes Amitav Ghosh in his book The Great Derangement, and part of the reason Anna and I chose more lyric modes of documentation for this project was the impossibility of a linear narrative, of straightforward representation. How could we present something that’s long-term and large-scale dramatic, but harder to see in smaller daily moments, and almost impossible to photograph: raised roads in Miami Beach leaving sidewalks and storefronts below grade, or giant pumps that move water from the streets back into the Bay that simply look like large metal boxes? What language should we use to describe the paradox of a city in a time of sea-level rise, lying just feet above sea level, that’s also built on porous limestone—where rampant development means that multimillion-dollar waterfront houses and condominiums are still going up all along the shoreline?

more here.

Joy Williams’s Cosmic Apocalypse

Justin Taylor at Bookforum:

That something can be existent without properly existing, caught halfway between being and nonbeing, or between life and death, is a concept much larger than Williams’s straightforward claims about the eradication of the Everglades. The notion of a foundational in-between-ness, of existence itself as a fleeting or fugacious form, has been central to her work from the very beginning. The writer Vincent Scarpa, who has studied and taught Williams’s work extensively, put it to me this way: “That liminal state between being alive and being dead—that’s Joy’s playground.” He reminded me that nursing homes, “these collectives where it goes unacknowledged or otherwise refused that the living are only playing at living,” feature frequently in her work. “But we’re really all in that liminal state, just to varying degrees.” Sure enough, a nursing home is a central setting of Williams’s novel The Quick and the Dead (2000), which also features a petulant ghost. Expand the category a bit and you’ll find hospitals and hotels along with rest homes. Her 1988 novel, Breaking and Entering, is about a pair of drifters who squat Florida vacation homes. Florida itself is sometimes known as “God’s Waiting Room.”

more here.