Why “Trusting the Science” Is Complicated

Suman Seth in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

It is possible that John Pringle’s neighbors viewed him with some distaste. Formerly physician-general to the British forces in the Low Countries, in 1749 Pringle had settled down in a rather swanky part of London, where he began investigating the processes behind putrefaction. He would place pieces of beef in a lamp furnace, sometimes combining them with another substance — and then wait for putrefaction to commence, or not. Falsifying an earlier hypothesis, Pringle showed that not only acids but alkalis, like baker’s ammonia, could retard the progress of decay. Even more impressively, some substances, like Peruvian bark (source of the malarial prophylactic, quinine) could outright reverse putrefaction, rendering tainted meat seemingly edible again.

In 1752, Pringle used these results to make medical recommendations in a book entitled Diseases of the Army. Rot within the body, he asserted, accounted for a great many diseases afflicting soldiers in particular. It followed that substances that could slow down or reverse putrefaction could also — when swallowed — combat these diseases.

More here.


How Law Made Neoliberalism

Jedediah Britton-Purdy, Amy Kapczynski, and David Singh Grewal in the Boston Review:

We live in an era of intersecting crises—some new, some old but newly visible. At the time of writing, the COVID-19 pandemic has already caused nearly 500,000 deaths in the United States alone, with many more deaths on the horizon in the coming months. Since its arrival in the United States, the virus has intersected with and magnified long-neglected problems—radical disparities in access to healthcare and the fulfillment of basic needs that disproportionately impact communities of color and working-class Americans, alongside a crisis of care for the young, elderly, and sick that stretches families and communities to the breaking point.

These crises arise from the chronic failure of political institutions to respond democratically to public needs. They are rooted in decades of politics, policy, and law. For many Black, brown, rural, indigenous, and working-class Americans, this democratic failure is business as usual. But over the last four years, and especially since the storming of the Capitol, fear of democratic failure has become mainstream.

These crises are often analyzed in terms of the political economy of neoliberalism, an ideology of governance that came to predominate in the 1970s and ’80s. Neoliberalism is associated with a demand for deregulation, austerity, and an attempt to assimilate government to something more like a market—but it never was as simple as a demand for “free markets.” Rather, it was a demand to protect the market from democratic demands for redistribution.

More here.

Thursday Poem

Wild Dreams of a New Beginning

There’s a breathless hush on the freeway tonight
Beyond the ledges of concrete
restaurants fall into dreams
with candlelight couples
Lost Alexandria still burns
in a billion lightbulbs
Lives cross lives
idling at stoplights
Beyond the cloverleaf turnoffs
Souls eat souls in the general emptiness’
A piano concerto comes out a kitchen window
A yogi speaks at Ojai
It’s all taking pace in one mind’
On the lawn among the trees
lovers are listening
for the master to tell them they are one
with the universe
Eyes smell flowers and become them
There’s a deathless hush
on the freeway tonight
as a Pacific tidal wave a mile high
sweeps in
Los Angeles breathes its last gas
and sinks into the sea like the Titanic all lights lit
Nine minutes later Willa Cather’s Nebraska
sinks with it
Read more »

Leonora Carrington’s ‘The Hearing Trumpet’

Jim Henderson at 3AM Magazine:

“People under seventy and over seven are very unreliable if they are not cats,” somebody says a few pages into Leonora Carrington’s 1974 novel The Hearing Trumpet. Most people would agree; if anything, the bad run of septuagenarians of late shows this age range is too narrow. The statement is characteristic of this chatoyant novel. Cats are everywhere in The Hearing Trumpet: their sheddings are collected to form a sleeveless cardigan; psychic powers are attributed to them; the earth freezes over and an earthquake thins out the human population, but the cats survive. Beneath its cattiness, the remark also offhandedly conflates species (the way “people” transmutes into “cats” at the end of the sentence) and recognizes the virtue of people usually excluded from civic life for being too young or too old. This broadening out of our ordinary categories of human life is at the heart of the novel.

more here.

The Travel Journals Of Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti at The American Scholar:

Poet and author Lawrence Ferlinghetti, pictured above in 1960, was born on March 24, 1919.

To tell the truth, to tell the truth! Well-—this is the most depressing   journey I have ever been on—Imagine having to spend one’s life condemned to passing from one motel to another, one hotel room to another, all of them alike, first class, the same spotless sheets, the same glasses in sanitary wax paper, the same little soap bars individually wrapped, Gideon Bible in the drawer, no one to speak with but hotel clerks, wives running motels in forlorn corners, bus drivers. Loneliness of millions living like this, between cocktails, between filling stations, between buses, trains, towns, restaurants, movies, highways leading over horizons to another Rest Stop. Sad the bundles in bus station waiting rooms, sad the frizzled women sitting next to them, the old couples on benches talking in old languages, the Mexicans with satchels they repack in men’s rooms. Sad hope of all their journeys to Nowhere and back in dark Eternity. … In the middle of the Journey of My Life, I came to myself in a dark wood.

more here.

Klara and the Sun – what it is to be human

Anne Enright in The Guardian:

Klara and the Sun asks readers to love a robot and, the funny thing is, we do. This is a novel not just about a machine but narrated by a machine, though the word is not used about her until late in the book when it is wielded by a stranger as an insult. People distrust and then start to like her: “Are you alright, Klara?” Apart from the occasional lapse into bullying or indifference, humans are solicitous of Klara’s feelings – if that is what they are. Klara is built to observe and understand humans, and these actions are so close to empathy they may amount to the same thing. “I believe I have many feelings,” she says. “The more I observe the more feelings become available to me.” Klara is an AF, or artificial friend, who is bought as a companion for 14-year-old Josie, a girl suffering from a mysterious, perhaps terminal illness. Klara is loyal and tactful, she is able to absorb difficulty and return care. Her role, as she describes it, is to prevent loneliness and to serve.

…There is something so steady and beautiful about the way Klara is always approaching connection, like a Zeno’s arrow of the heart. People will absolutely love this book, in part because it enacts the way we learn how to love. Klara and the Sun is wise like a child who decides, just for a little while, to love their doll. “What can children know about genuine love?” Klara asks. The answer, of course, is everything.

More here.

How Nations Heal

Colleen Murphy in Boston Review:

Transitional justice is both a legal and philosophical theory and a global practice that aims to redress wrongdoing, past and present, in order to vindicate victims, hold perpetrators to account, and transform relationships—among citizens as well as between citizens and public officials. Though it is not as well known in the United States as other paradigms of justice, the framework has been adopted in dozens of countries emerging from periods of war, genocide, dictatorship, and repression, from South Africa to Colombia. As a global practice, the framework began with the recognition that simply moving on hadn’t worked.

From the vantage of transitional justice, healing of communities can only occur if we first understand what is damaged, and damage can only be repaired if it is truly acknowledged and addressed. And to help to prevent recurrence of atrocity, we need to draw a line between what was accepted in the past and what will be acceptable in the future. The particular measures used to achieve these aims have ranged from truth commissions and criminal investigations and prosecutions to reparations, lustration (vetting government officials for ties to repressive regimes or activity), and other legal and institutional changes.

To illustrate how transitional justice differs from other frameworks of justice, consider restorative justice, which prioritizes the repair of ruptured relationships among victim, offender, and community caused by wrongdoing. Repair occurs via a model of amends—characteristically via apology and reparations—followed by forgiveness.

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Is Depression A Uniquely Western Affliction?

Casey Schwartz at Bookforum:

This is the familiar arc that Jonathan Sadowsky traces in his new book The Empire of Depression: A New History. But Sadowsky, a medical historian at Case Western, aims to show how the Western notion of depression is making its way around the globe, threatening to displace other conceptions of the disease. “Western psychiatry often treats anxiety and depression as separate things that often occur together. In many places, though, anxiety and depression are seen as part of one thing,” he writes. And the sense of what causes depression differs significantly, too. Whereas in the West, depression is most often understood as having a physical reason, be it genes, or chemistry, “globally, it is more common to consider depression to be at once psychological, social, and physical.”

The Western model even threatens to stomp out others’ subjective experiences. Sadowsky points to the Punjabi idiom, “sinking heart,” a condition which overlaps with depression, but is not quite identical to it.

more here.

The Machine Stops: Science and Its Limits

Henry M. Cowles at the LARB:

“IMAGINE, IF YOU CAN, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee.” So begins a story by E. M. Forster from over a century ago, about a future that feels uncannily like our present. Called “The Machine Stops,” the story conjures a world of individual humans isolated in such rooms who pass the time by streaming lectures and videoconferencing as the titular Machine tends to their every need. It is a world in which everything — music, food, even your bed — is summoned by the click of a button. In place of work, the Machine offers material and intellectual sustenance. For the story’s main character, Vashti, it turns life into a reassuringly predictable cycle: “[S]he made the room dark and slept; she awoke and made the room light; she ate and exchanged ideas with her friends, and listened to music and attended lectures; she made the room dark and slept. Above her, beneath her, and around her, the Machine hummed eternally.” To Vashti, the Machine offers serenity and certainty in equal measure. In this imagined world of isolated togetherness, heaven is a place.

more here.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poet Who Nurtured the Beats, Dies at 101

Jesse McKinley in the New York Times:

The spiritual godfather of the Beat movement, Mr. Ferlinghetti made his home base in the modest independent book haven now formally known as City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. A self-described “literary meeting place” founded in 1953 and located on the border of the city’s sometimes swank, sometimes seedy North Beach neighborhood, City Lights, on Columbus Avenue, soon became as much a part of the San Francisco scene as the Golden Gate Bridge or Fisherman’s Wharf. (The city’s board of supervisors designated it a historic landmark in 2001.)

While older and not a practitioner of their freewheeling personal style, Mr. Ferlinghetti befriended, published and championed many of the major Beat poets, among them Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Michael McClure. His connection to their work was exemplified — and cemented — in 1956 with his publication of Ginsberg’s most famous poem, the ribald and revolutionary “Howl,” an act that led to Mr. Ferlinghetti’s arrest on charges of “willfully and lewdly” printing “indecent writings.”

More here.

Ancient kauri trees capture last collapse of Earth’s magnetic field

Paul Voosen in Science:

Several years ago, workers breaking ground for a power plant in New Zealand unearthed a record of a lost time: a 60-ton trunk from a kauri tree, the largest tree species in New Zealand. The tree, which grew 42,000 years ago, was preserved in a bog and its rings spanned 1700 years, capturing a tumultuous time when the world was turned upside down—at least magnetically speaking.

Radiocarbon levels in this and several other pieces of wood chart a surge in radiation from space, as Earth’s protective magnetic field weakened and its poles flipped, a team of scientists reports today in Science. By modeling the effect of this radiation on the atmosphere, the team suggests Earth’s climate briefly shifted, perhaps contributing to the disappearance of large mammals in Australia and Neanderthals in Europe.

More here.

The great demographic reversal and what it means for the economy

Charles Goodhart and Manoj Pradhan in the LSE Business Review:

The rise of China to the status of economic superpower has been the dominant narrative of the last three decades. China’s rise as the main feature of globalisation, in conjunction with a beneficial sweet spot in demography, drove output up and inflation down in the advanced economies. But these trends are now reversing. China’s economic success depended on many factors, a strong historical social and cultural background, political single-mindedness, a flexible and competent labour force, fed by internal migration, capital controls, developing satisfactory infrastructure and absorption of Western technological know-how. But China’s greatest contribution to global growth is now past. Its working age population is now shrinking, while the ranks of the old expands.

This great demographic reversal will lead to a return of inflation, higher nominal interest rates, lessening inequality and higher productivity, but worsening fiscal problems, as medical, care and pension expenditures all increase in our ageing societies. Below are key points in our new book. They are the executive summaries of some of its chapters.

More here.

People Answer Scientists’ Queries in Real Time while Dreaming

Diana Kwon in Scientific American:

Dreams are full of possibilities; by drifting into the world beyond our waking realities, we can visit magical lands, travel through time and interact with long-lost family and friends. The notion of communicating in real time with someone outside of our dreamscapes, however, sounds like science fiction. A new study demonstrates that, to some extent, this seeming fantasy can be made real. Scientists already knew that one-way contact is attainable. Previous studies have demonstrated that people can process external cues, such as sounds and smells, while asleep. There is also evidence that people are able to send messages in the other direction: Lucid dreamers—those who can become aware they are in a dream—can be trained to signal, using eye movements, that they are in the midst of a dream. Two-way communication, however, is more complex. It requires a person who is asleep to actually understand what they hear from the outside and think about it logically enough to generate an answer, explains Ken Paller, a cognitive neuroscientist at Northwestern University. “We believed that it was going to be possible—but until we actually demonstrated it, we weren’t sure.”

For this study, Paller and his colleagues recruited volunteers who said they remembered at least one dream per week and provided them with guidance on how to lucid dream. They were also trained to respond to simple math problems by moving their eyes back and forth—for example, the correct answer to “eight minus six,” would be moving your eyes to the left and right twice. While the participants slept, electrodes attached to their faces picked up their eye movements and electroencephalography (EEG)—a method of monitoring brain activity—kept track of what stage of sleep they were in.

More here.

Wednesday Poem

Poetry as Insurgent Art
[I am signaling you through the flames]

I am signaling you through the flames.
The North Pole is not where it used to be.
Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.
Civilization self-destructs.
Nemesis is knocking at the door.

What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?

The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.

If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the
challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds
apocalyptic.

You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are
Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda
and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-
American, you can conquer the conquerors with words….

by  Lawrence Ferlinghetti – 1919-Feb.2021
from Poetry as Insurgent Art
New Directions, 2007

‘The Sum of Us’ Tallies the Cost of Racism for Everyone

Jennifer Szalai in The New York Times:

Hinton Rowan Helper was an unreserved bigot from North Carolina who wrote hateful, racist tracts during Reconstruction. He was also, in the years leading up to the Civil War, a determined abolitionist.

His 1857 book, “The Impending Crisis of the South,” argued that chattel slavery had deformed the Southern economy and impoverished the region. Members of the plantation class refused to invest in education, in enterprise, in the community at large, because they didn’t have to. Helper’s concern wasn’t the enslaved Black people brutalized by what he called the “lords of the lash”; he was worried about the white laborers in the South, relegated by the slave economy and its ruling oligarchs to a “cesspool of ignorance and degradation.” Helper and his argument come up early on in Heather McGhee’s illuminating and hopeful new book, “The Sum of Us” — though McGhee, a descendant of enslaved people, is very much concerned with the situation of Black Americans, making clear that the primary victims of racism are the people of color who are subjected to it. But “The Sum of Us” is predicated on the idea that little will change until white people realize what racism has cost them too. The material legacy of slavery can be felt to this day, McGhee says, in depressed wages and scarce access to health care in the former Confederacy. But it’s a blight that’s no longer relegated to the region. “To a large degree,” she writes, “the story of the hollowing out of the American working class is a story of the Southern economy, with its deep legacy of exploitative labor and divide-and-conquer tactics, going national.”

As the pandemic has laid bare, the United States is a rich country that also happens to be one of the stingiest when it comes to the welfare of its own people. McGhee, who spent years working on economic policy for Demos, a liberal think tank, says it was the election of Donald Trump in 2016 by a majority of white voters that made her realize how most white voters weren’t “operating in their own rational economic self-interest.” Despite Trump’s populist noises, she writes, his agenda “promised to wreak economic, social and environmental havoc on them along with everyone else.”

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

On Eminem and Late Style

Justin E. H. Smith in his Substack Newsletter:

Study, reader, before going further, this sonic document: a recording of Jerry Lee Lewis performing “Mean Woman Blues”, with the Nashville Teens (of Surrey) backing him up, at the Star Club of Hamburg, on the night of April 5, 1964. Not when Hendrix immolated his guitar in Monterey, not when Ozzy decapitated a bat in Des Moines: never did rock and roll more fully realize its evil potential.

Much could be said about the confluence of circumstances that made this possible. Lewis was already old at 29, a relic of the 1950s, playing a dated and proto-normie boogie-woogie routine in a city that had recently incubated and then delivered into the world his far more lovable successors — the “Liverpudlian mop-tops”, along with all the other diminutive epithets the press came up with for the Beatles, always more suited to newborn zoo animals than to men.

He was, moreover, still in de-facto exile. The scandal of a marriage (to the extent that we can call it that) in 1957 to his own thirteen-year-old cousin Myra Gale Brown led the American public to conclude that, because his moral person was beyond the pale, his music was therefore unlistenable. In Europe it is not that morality and aesthetics were decoupled, exactly, but rather that their intertwining led to the opposite conclusion: the Germans wanted to hear him not in spite of the fact that he was a psychotic hillbilly, but because of it, and Jerry Lee knew how to summon all the satanic energy of his life and of his nation to satisfy them.

More here.