Paul McCartney Doesn’t Really Want to Stop the Show

David Remnick in The New Yorker:

Early evening in late summer, the golden hour in the village of East Hampton. The surf is rough and pounds its regular measure on the shore. At the last driveway on a road ending at the beach, a cortège of cars—S.U.V.s, jeeps, candy-colored roadsters—pull up to the gate, sand crunching pleasantly under the tires. And out they come, face after famous face, burnished, expensively moisturized: Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Buffett, Anjelica Huston, Julianne Moore, Stevie Van Zandt, Alec Baldwin, Jon Bon Jovi. They all wear expectant, delighted-to-be-invited expressions. Through the gate, they mount a flight of stairs to the front door and walk across a vaulted living room to a fragrant back yard, where a crowd is circulating under a tent in the familiar high-life way, regarding the territory, pausing now and then to accept refreshments from a tray.

Their hosts are Nancy Shevell, the scion of a New Jersey trucking family, and her husband, Paul McCartney, a bass player and singer-songwriter from Liverpool. A slender, regal woman in her early sixties, Shevell is talking in a confiding manner with Michael Bloomberg, who was the mayor of New York City when she served on the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Bloomberg nods gravely at whatever Shevell is saying, but he has his eyes fixed on a plate of exquisite little pizzas. Would he like one? He narrows his gaze, trying to decide; then, with executive dispatch, he declines.

McCartney greets his guests with the same twinkly smile and thumbs-up charm that once led him to be called “the cute Beatle.” Even in a crowd of the accomplished and abundantly self-satisfied, he is invariably the focus of attention. His fan base is the general population. There are myriad ways in which people betray their pleasure in encountering him—describing their favorite songs, asking for selfies and autographs, or losing their composure entirely.

This effect extends to friends and peers. Billy Joel, who has sold out Madison Square Garden more than a hundred times, has spent Hamptons afternoons over the years with McCartney. Still, Joel told me, “he’s a Beatle, so there’s an intimidation factor. You encounter someone like Paul and you wonder how close you can be to someone like that.”

More here.

Warning signs for dementia found in the blood

From Phys.Org:

Researchers at the DZNE and the University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) have identified molecules in the blood that can indicate impending dementia. Their findings, which are presented in the scientific journal EMBO Molecular Medicine, are based on human studies and laboratory experiments. University hospitals across Germany were also involved in the investigations. The biomarker described by the team led by Prof. André Fischer is based on measuring levels of so-called microRNAs. The technique is not yet suitable for practical use; the scientists therefore aim to develop a simple blood test that can be applied in routine medical care to assess dementia risk. According to the study data, microRNAs could potentially also be targets for dementia therapy.

“When symptoms of dementia manifest, the brain has already been massively damaged. Presently, diagnosis happens far too late to even have a chance for effective treatment. If dementia is detected early, the odds of positively influencing the course of the disease increase,” says André Fischer, research group leader and spokesperson at the DZNE site in Göttingen and professor at the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at UMG. “We need tests that ideally respond before the onset of dementia and reliably estimate the risk of later disease. In other words, tests that give an early warning. We are confident that our current study results pave the way for such tests.”

More here.

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Coupist’s Cookbook

by Michael Liss

Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog…

Mary Hoare, “The Three Witches from Macbeth: Double Double, Toil and Trouble,” Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

It could have worked. It almost did. It may in the future.

A lovely little coup attempt by Former President Trump and his posse. A little violence. A sprinkling of eager state and local “public servants” who planned to please the then-President by spinning gossamer tales of phantom voters and secret shredders. Brigades of lawyers, a few absolute kooks, but others both well-placed in government or in influential positions, and deadly serious. This last group included 17 State Attorneys General who looked in their mirrors each morning and saw “Future Really Important Republican Persons” staring back at them.

Let’s not back away from the obvious. January 6th wasn’t a single, isolated moment of acting-out by an angst-driven set of peaceful patriots driven mad by the loss of their idol. It was the punctuation mark on an intense stretch of unrelenting pressure by Trump and his allies to crush the democratic process. That the Ship of State eventually stayed afloat, that people, including many Republicans, pushed back enough to block Trump’s power grab, is to its and their credit. But, to quote Star Trek’s Scottie when the Enterprise was under assault, “I dannae if she can take any more, Captain!”

The more we learn, the worse it gets. Let’s start with 45. I don’t know whether Donald Trump actually believes much of what he says, but, late in life, he’s found a role he can play where accountability doesn’t exist. He knows his followers love a good show. He knows the media, even the so-called liberal media, would rather cover someone colorful and newsworthy than old, boring Joe Biden. And, through all of it, it doesn’t matter what the 1/6 Committee, or investigative reporters, or state prosecutors might find. He knows he’s untouchable. Others may pay a price, but not Trump. Read more »

Giambattista Vico enters the classroom

by Jeroen Bouterse

It’s my favorite topic of the year, I tell the kids, before scanning my conscience for signs that I have just lied to them. No, this feels about right, and in any case, they didn’t need my reassurance: after a dry unit about ratios, at my mention of the word “probability” I can practically hear the sound of neurons firing. Whether they know of any contexts in which chance turns up? Boy, do they. My twelve-year old students inform me about dice, cards, spinners, lotteries, casinos, about your chances of survival in Squid Game, about unearthing rare minerals in Minecraft, and about whether the stuff you want to buy is actually in stock because sometimes they run out and there’s no telling in advance when. Also the weather.

I love introducing them to the math of probability precisely because it is a topic that they have already thought about so much, but that I know many of them have incoherent intuitions about. Not that I don’t, of course, but I am a little bit ahead of them and I know from experience what I am working with. Somebody will opine that the chance that it’s going to rain next month is “fifty-fifty” because it either will or it won’t. Somebody will say that there is a 1/7 chance that someone’s favorite day of the week is Thursday. Somebody will reason that since the highest sum you can roll with two D6-dice is a 12, the chance you roll a 10 is 1 in 12, which…

Oh wait, is it? Anyway, you get the point: the process feels properly Socratic, taking slightly muddled concepts that students already feel strongly about, and providing the right nudges to make them reconsider some of those concepts and make others click together. It is a significant source of satisfaction every year to see just how fast ‘the group’ moves from guessing that a sequence of three coin flips has six possible outcomes (unless it can land on its side, which they also unerringly point out), to calculating the number of four-digit pin codes where all the digits have to be different.

It’s also becoming a little predictable, now that I teach this level for the third time. Though I was surprised to learn that this cohort of young teenagers had already binged Squid Game, I don’t generally expect them to say anything unexpected about mathematics. Until, last week, we were classifying certain things according to likelihood. I always include an apodictic claim like “1 + 1 = 2” in the mix, and students usually say that its probability is, indeed, 1. This time, I wondered out loud why we are so sure of this. Read more »

On No Longer Liking Allen Ginsberg

by Michael Abraham-Fiallos

I am sitting at a coffee shop downtown. It’s a nice Friday morning, not too hot and not too cool, not quite autumn and not quite summer. I have eaten, so I am no longer dreaming. And, I am reading “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg for the first time in at least half a decade.

I realize about halfway through the poem’s first long section that I don’t like this poem very much. Or, I don’t like this poem very much anymore. It’s a little bit racist, a little bit whiny, a little bit full of itself. It is profound; don’t get me wrong. It is epochal, in its way. But, it is not for me anymore. In his introduction to Howl and Other Poems, William Carlos Williams writes that “Howl” is “a howl of defeat. Not defeat at all for he has gone through defeat as if it were an ordinary experience, a trivial experience” (a sentence if ever there was one). Perhaps this is what I no longer like, this defeat, this sense that only in the abject is one to find the truth. The gambit of “Howl” is to think the marginal—the madman, the homosexual, the drug addict—as the site of visionary consciousness. Normally, this is a gambit for which I would be entirely down. But, contrary to Williams’s notion that, in the poem, “the spirit of love survives to ennoble our lives if we have the strength and the courage and the faith—and the art! to persist,” there is a kind of showmanship in the poem that does not sit well with me, a glorying in the abject that never quite reaches the eternal pronunciation of the Truth-with-a-capital-T that it explicitly declares as its intent. “Howl” is an exposé of the marginalized life, and it reads, to me at least, as imbued at every moment with the same kind of sensationalism on which the exposé thrives. A perfect example of this is the third section to Carl Solomon, in which Ginsberg declares as his refrain, “I’m with you in Rockland,” the psychiatric institute. While Ginsberg and Solomon did meet in a psychiatric institute, and while Solomon was in and out of them throughout his life, he was never in Rockland, and this bothered him. He also generally took issue with his representation in the poem, feeling it was not historically accurate and feeling, one imagines, sensationalized, reduced to his psychological afflictions to serve Ginsberg’s aesthetic aims. This is not to say that there is not gentleness in “Howl” at certain points, that Ginsberg did not belong to and care for the community he describes. But, “Howl” revels in a pain that I would seek to ameliorate rather than to celebrate. It takes too much pride in the total destruction of its protagonists and does not display enough worry for them.

However, as I read, I am taken back in time to a very different period in my life: sixteen and a fag, caught in the suburbs and dreaming of Manhattan, stumbling through sex and hopelessly in love with every boy, gay or straight or inbetween, who would bear his cock to me, tumbling over myself with hormones and earnestness and a flamelike desire to mean, to write. I found Ginsberg sometime around then. “Howl” consumed me like a dream. Read more »

Memoria: Journeys with Weerasethakul, Swinton, Sebald

by Danielle Spencer

Memoria - film posterLast night I (Danielle Spencer) went to the New York Film Festival screening of Memoria (dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul) in Alice Tully hall at Lincoln Center. I last joined a large gathering 19 months ago, in March of 2020.

The film opens a soundscape, memoryscape, landscape—and a bodyscape, all of us in the vast hall sloping gently down towards the screen like a nighttime jungle floor. The opening scene is still, close and quiet, and then there is a very loud sound, which startles me. It also startles Jessica (Tilda Swinton) who awakens in surprise. I am anxious that there will be more surprising loud sounds. Then Jessica rises and sits in a room of the house. She looks at what in my memory is a small bright aquarium in front of the windows, warmly lit with orange fish. The space and sound around the aquarium are dark and oceanic.

In the opening passages of Austerlitz (W.G. Sebald) the narrator travels by train to Antwerp. He finds his way to the zoo and sits beside an aviary full of brightly feathered finches and siskins fluttering about, and then visits the Nocturama, peering at the creatures in their enclosures, leading their sombrous lives behind the glass by the light of a pale moon. He returns to the waiting room of the Centraal Station, remarking that it ought to have cages for lions and leopards let into its marble niches, and aquaria for sharks, octopuses, and crocodiles, just as some zoos, conversely, have little railway trains in which you can, so to speak, travel to the farthest corners of the earth. As the sun sets and the light dims in the station waiting room, he sees the waiting travelers in miniature, as the dwarf creatures in the Nocturama.

When I was ten my father and I spent the spring in Budapest, where he proved theorems at the Institute of Mathematics and I was enrolled in the Kodály music school. Our small apartment building was near the top of a hill on the hilly western Buda side of the city, home to several mathematicians and their families. Some nights we went up the street to eat schnitzel at the restaurant on the corner. Read more »

Representations of Dissent

by Eric J. Weiner

Ghazal: India’s Season of Dissent by Karthika Naïr[1]

This year, this night, this hour, rise to salute the season of dissent.
Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims—Indians, all—seek their nation of dissent.

We the people of…they chant: the mantra that birthed a republic.
Even my distant eyes echo flares from this beacon of dissent.

Kolkata, Kasargod, Kanpur, Nagpur, Tripura… watch it spread,
tip to tricoloured tip, then soar: the winged horizon of dissent.

Dibrugarh: five hundred students face the CAA and lathiwielding
cops with Tagore’s song—an age-old tradition of dissent.

Kaagaz nahin dikhayenge… Sab Kuch Yaad Rakha Jayega…
Poetry, once more, stands tall, the Grand Central Station of dissent.

Aamir Aziz, Kausar Munir, Varun Grover, Bisaralli…
Your words, in many tongues, score the sky: first citizens of dissent.

We shall see/ Surely, we too shall see. Faiz-saab, we see your greatness
scanned for “anti-Hindu sentiment”, for the treason of dissent.

Delhi, North-East: death flanks the anthem of a once-secular land
where police now maim Muslims with Sing and die, poison of dissent.

A government of the people, by the people, for the people,
has let slip the dogs of carnage for swift excision of dissent.

Name her, Ka, name her. Umme Habeeba, mere-weeks-old, braves frost and
fascism from Shaheen Bagh: our oldest, finest reason for dissent.

As democracies wither and die throughout the world, Karthika Naïr’s ghazal is a passionate and timely celebration of dissent. The places, peoples, and languages of India dance, crack, bleed, demand, and sing their dissent. Soaring through and beyond the borders of India’s post-colonial history, dissent is the oxygen of freedom, scoring the sky with “words, in many tongues.” The “winged horizon of dissent” delineates “what is” from what should be; it is a practice of the radical imagination, an articulation of audacious hope in the long shadows of broken promises and paralyzing fatalism. As the malcontent’s muse, dissent drives the radical desires of dissident artists and intellectuals, the pedagogues of utopic possibilities at a time in which, as Naïr pointedly says,

…there are no small freedoms…I think that India is unfortunately right now living proof for anybody who wants to see the chronicle of an ascension of totalitarianism. This is the chronology: the loss of greater freedoms comes in the slipstream of the denial of perceived “smaller” freedoms. It’s an incremental approach. First, almost always, they come for the books, the art, the movies, the seemingly frivolous things. I would trace it all the way back to the first book banned in independent India, whatever the reason. Because if you can police the imagination, control the freedom of the mind, then everything else will fall in line. There can never be adequate protection for, or vigilance over, these.

Naïr’s poem is also a warning that without dissenting voices, bodies, and minds the promises—explicit and implied—of democracy, like the bones of a malnourished child, will break. Its demise is barely audible against the pitch of rage spewing from the mouths of autocrats and their sycophants throughout the world. These “dogs of carnage” are unleashed, roaming urban streets and dusty squares, rabidly tearing the flesh of hope from the bones of people who have the audacity to dissent. Read more »

Stories Of Wealth And Distribution

by Usha Alexander

[This is the thirteenth in a series of essays, On Climate Truth and Fiction, in which I raise questions about environmental distress, the human experience, and storytelling. All the articles in this series can be read here.]

In the world of Star Trek, no one ever goes hungry or lacks access to healthcare. No one wants for housing, education, social inclusion or any other basic need. In fact, no citizen of the United Federation of Planets is ever seen to pay for everyday goods or services, only for gambling or special entertainments. The Federation suffers no scarcity of any kind. All waste is presumably fed into the replicators and turned into fresh food or new clothes or whatever is needed. Yet despite ample social safety nets, there’s no end to internecine politicking, human foibles and failures, corruption and vanity, charisma and venality. The world of Star Trek appeals so widely, I think, because it presents us with something colorfully short of a utopia, a flawed human attempt toward a just, caring, and individually enabling social order. It imagines a society based on a shared set of human values—fairness, cooperation, political and economic egalitarianism—where basic human needs are equitably answered so that no one has to compete for basic subsistence and wellbeing. As the venerable Captain Picard has put it, “We’ve overcome hunger and greed, and we’re no longer interested in the accumulation of things.” Some Libertarian Trekkies have been scandalized to realize that Star Trek actually depicts a post-capitalist vision of society.

But Star Trek’s world is premised upon the existence of a cheap, concentrated, and non-polluting source of effectively infinite energy. Obviously, no such energy source has ever been discovered (solar-paneled dreamscapes notwithstanding). And the replicator, which eliminates both material waste and scarcity, is a magical technology. The Star Trek vision is also a picture of human chauvinism and hubris, presuming H. Sapiens as the only relevant form of Earthly life. So it falls short of a vivid and plausible imagining of an ecologically sustainable, technologically advanced, and egalitarian human civilization.

It is, of course, too much to expect the creators of Star Trek, by themselves, to fully and flawlessly reimagine our global human society. Indeed, it’s become an aphorism of our age that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. Yet, though this might sound like a joke, at this point the matter is all too serious, and reimagining human civilization is a project we all must engage with, to whatever extent we’re able. Read more »

If You Ain’t Got the Do-Re-Mi

by Akim Reinhardt

Map from Orange County Register

I was about 10 miles up the road in Long Beach visiting my sister’s family when word came of last week’s massive oil spill in Huntington Beach, Orange Co., California. We were actually headed over to that very beach when my brother in law checked the conditions. 

Uh oh.

Ten or twenty years ago I might’ve made some tired, easy joke about how this state is a tragicomic carousel of disasters. Earthquakes, mudslides, droughts, riots, etc.  Just add this oil spill to the list. But now it’s the entire nation that resembles a bad joke with punchlines you can smell long before they arrive.  

And if this state is a microcosm of the larger nation, with about 12% of the U.S. population within California’s badly angled borders, then perhaps it has something to do with how money both creates and sorta solves problems, at least for some people. The wealthiest state in the world’s wealthiest nation, and neither can get out of their own way. They both stumble about, knocking everything over amid their ravenous search for profits, and then turn to the “regular people,” the actual workers with sigh-inducing lives and miserable commutes, and even the less fortunate, to foot the bill and clean it all up.

America, can’t abide by simple rules designed to keep a pandemic in check because you’re susceptible to the propaganda actively or passively spewed by profiteering TV networks and digital media? Then just spend lavishly to hog the world’s vaccine supply and ride out the worst of it while maintaining your freewheeling ways.

California, don’t have enough water to support both, 40 million people and an enormous, misguided agribusiness complex in a state that’s mostly desert or near-desert? Then spend decades building and maintaining massive hydro reallocation projects that wreak ecological devastation for hundreds of miles around. Read more »

Five Funerals And A Birthday

by Rafaël Newman

What is the present? When did it begin? Stoics simply consult the calendar for an answer, where they find each new span of 24 hours reassuringly dubbed Today. Archaeologists speak of “Years Before Present” when referring to the time prior to January 1, 1950, the arbitrarily chosen inauguration of the era of radiocarbon dating following the explosion of the first atomic bombs. And the Judeo-Christian West makes of the present age a spatio-temporal chronotope, a narrative rooted in the time and place of birth of a particular figure, whose “presence” as guarantor is inextricable from the dating system, whether the appellations used are the frankly messianic Before Christ and Anno Domini, or the compromise variations on an ecumenical “Common Era”.

In 1977: Eine kurze Geschichte der Gegenwart (Suhrkamp, 2021), Philipp Sarasin deploys a novel methodology to determine the outlines of the present. His is a retrospective, thematic approach: one figured, like the Judeo-Christian narrative, by death and rebirth, but with an ambiguous and polymorphous turn. Sarasin, an intellectual historian who teaches at the University of Zurich, chooses as his foundational moment, and the stark title of his study, a year notorious among connoisseurs of Anglo-American pop culture for its symbolic passing of the baton between generations: the year in which Rock ‘n Roll was declared dead, only to be immediately resuscitated in the form of Punk; when Queen Elizabeth II was fêted throughout the Commonwealth during her Silver Jubilee while the UK languished in economic malaise and the Sex Pistols mocked the monarch from a boat on the Thames. 1977 is thus, viewed from a certain angle, an obvious facile hinge between sociological epochs. The key to Sarasin’s more complex method, however, is in his subtitle: “A Brief History of the Present,” with its echoes of popularizers like Stephen Hawking and Bill Bryson (the latter himself the author of a study devoted to one particular year), is also an insider’s reference to the journal Sarasin publishes with a collective of other historians in Switzerland and Germany. Read more »

Escaping long COVID

by Callum Watts

Almost two years ago I caught COVID-19, and became quite sick for a month. Luckily I did not require hospitalisation. I was then in various states of more or less debilitating ‘unwellness’ (I use this because the word sickness does not seem to quite capture it) for about 6-8 months. I don’t think I felt ‘normal again’ till probably a year later. I’m not convinced I’ve returned to my full previous health. But all in all, if I treat that then/now comparison as an unhelpful rumination (which it is), I’d say I’m now in good physical health. Having said that, I find the phenomena of long COVID interesting and I still read first hand accounts of people experiencing long COVID as well as research on the subject. Recently the WHO has given the condition an official definition. This has caused me to reflect back on my own experiences and try to understand what, if anything I’ve learnt from it.

If I try to remember the sleepless nights, nausea, intense fatigue, palpitations, hot and cold flushes, and brain fog, they all seem very distant now, like they happened to someone else. I find it difficult to even imagine how low I felt. Similarly, when I try to pinpoint the moment at which I felt better, I find it extremely hard to pick it out. It’s almost like trying to remember when I went from being a child to an adult – I know it happened to me, I know that it involved really deep changes in myself, but trying to think back to the before and after feels impossible. I do know that at some point the amount of time I spent thinking about long COVID diminished and the amount of time I spent thinking about “everything else in life” increased. When I think about that recovery, that psychological shift seems at least as important as the physical improvements. Not only did the psychological shift support my physical recovery, but my physical recovery also allowed me to focus on the rest of my life again. If I were to experience a post viral condition again, I would focus predominantly on my psychological well-being rather than changes to my physical symptoms. In the grip of a mild chronic ailment, your mental response to it will have an enormous impact on your ability to feel like you are actually living your life again. Read more »

In Praise of Women’s Hands

by Bill Benzon

We all know that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. We also know that’s nonsense, pious and sentimental nonsense. Which is why it has been said so often.

The subtext, of course, is that the cradle-rocking hand is connected, through appropriate anatomical intermediaries, to a foot that’s chained to the dishwasher, the oven, the vacuum cleaner, and the sewing machine.

I would like to praise that cradle-rocking hand, even, in a sense, in its cradle-rocking mode. This cradle-rocking hand, we have been led to believe, is better at delicate manual tasks – I learned that as a child – than are men’s hands, the hands that shoot the guns, pilot the ship of state, and keep charge of the shackles connecting that associated foot to those many domestic appliances. That’s what I’m interested in, this hand with its delicate and versatile ability to make things, to make a world.

A Sampler

Here’s an example of women’s handiwork that I grew up with:

It is a sampler – that’s what it’s called – illustrating scenes from fairy tales by Hans Christian Anderson. It was done by a woman I never met, a great aunt who, I believe, was named Agnete. She was Danish, as were my paternal grandparents. Read more »

On the Road: The Faroe Islands ‘Grind’

by Bill Murray

The Faroe Islands

Last month, local people drove fourteen hundred dolphins to the end of Skálafjordur Bay near the capital of the Faroe Islands and killed them. It is a tradition called the grindadráp.  In Icelandic, one of the neighboring languages, “Good luck” is hvelreki, with an idea something like “may a whole whale wash up on your beach.” The Faroese don’t wait for luck to produce whales. They sail out and find them.

When a fishing boat or a ferry spies a pod of whales (dolphins in this case but usually whales), a call goes out and word races through the village. Even in the middle of a work day people drop what they are doing and muster. Fishing boats form up in a half circle behind the whales and, banging on the sides of the boats and trailing lines weighted with stones, press the whales into a shallow bay.

Townspeople wait on the beach with hooks and knives. Mandated under new regulations, two devices, a round-ended hook and a device called a spinal lance are designed to kill the whales more quickly and thus, grindadráp proponents say, more humanely.

The hunter plunges the hook attached to a rope into the whale’s blowhole. Men line up tug of war style to pull the whale onto the beach. It takes a line of men to haul them out, for pilot whales may weigh 2500 pounds. The grizzled fisherman, the mayor, the hardware clerk with a bad back, all the townspeople fuse in common cause, shoulder to shoulder on the shore, harvesting the meat, dividing the spoils. Read more »

The Innovation of the Great Resignation

by Sarah Firisen recently spent a few weeks in the UK, which is suffering from a labor shortage post lockdown like the US. Though, unlike the US, some of the UK’s problems are self-inflicted Brexit wounds. The shortages are rippling through every sector, and as in the US, that includes hospitality. Coming out of lockdown, no doubt initiated by hygiene concerns, some restaurants I visited in New York used QR codes instead of handing out menus. Combined with contactless ordering, this seemed to be even more prevalent in the UK. We found QR code menus and contactless ordering in many restaurants and almost every pub we ate in. I loved it. It was quick, efficient, and accurate. We were able to pay immediately and didn’t have to sit around waiting for a check. And of course, as well as the hygiene rewards of contactless ordering, it somewhat mitigates the staffing issues. Having gone down this path, it’s hard to see why restaurants would go back to using only wait staff. 

I experienced the opposite of this innovation on a recent visit to Macy’s in Herald Square in New York. Visiting the largest department store in the world is never for the faint of heart, but during any kind of sale, it’s pretty hellish. And it seems they’ve managed to make this experience even worse post-COVID. It used to be the case in the shoe department that you’d find a style and then wave down a sales associate. They would then disappear into the back and find the right size. Now, I had to wait in the long line at the cash register to ask the harried sales assistant who was also trying to operate the cash register. 

I’m assuming that this is also related to staff shortages. The sales assistant used a mobile app to scan the barcode on the shoe and lookup size availability. Here’s what I don’t understand; Macy’s has a pretty good customer mobile app. You can use it to scan the barcodes on items to do a price check. Why on earth wouldn’t they integrate the shoe stock lookup app that they already have into the customer app? Then customers could request shoe sizes, and an associate could pull them from stock and bring them out. This seems like a missed opportunity to innovate out of the disruption caused by COVID and its aftermath. 

Some industries and businesses have figured this out better than others. Read more »

Charaiveti: Journey From India To The Two Cambridges And Berkeley And Beyond, Part 13

by Pranab Bardhan

All of the articles in this series can be found here.

Shortly after my arrival at Cambridge I struck up a warm friendship with a very bright young faculty member, Jim Mirrlees (who was to get the Nobel Prize later), recently returned from a stint of research in India. (Although he was a high-powered theoretical economist, he had what seemed to me an almost religious/moral fervor for doing something to help poor countries). Even more than Frank Hahn, he got involved in the theoretical analysis in my dissertation, and helped me in making some of the proofs of my propositions simpler and less inelegant.

One time I had found an error in the proof of a proposition in a widely-read article on Growth Theory recently published by Hahn (jointly with Robin Matthews). I was pretty sure that their proposition was correct, but not the way they proved it. The morning I showed this to Hahn in a Department common room, he and several others got busy on the blackboard with constructing an alternative proof, but all of them failed. At one point Mirrlees entered the room and asked what was going on. He looked from a distance for a few minutes at the futile attempts on the board, and then proceeded to another part of the board, and wrote down a neat proof. Everyone in the room clapped. His method of proof also gave me an idea in proving some propositions later in my dissertation.

In Cambridge your supervisor cannot be your examiner, the dissertation has to be approved by two examiners, one internal (to the university), the other external. Mirrlees eventually was appointed my internal examiner. Incidentally, later Mirrlees also became the internal examiner on Kalpana’s dissertation, even though her work was not on theory, but on Indian agriculture. I used to tell Jim that while other people had a family doctor, we had in him a family examiner. Whenever he and his first wife Gill (who I think was a school teacher) went to a dinner party, and economists indulged in their bad habit even there of talking technical economics, I used to notice Jim’s sweet gesture in valiantly trying to whisper into Gill’s ears translations of those technical arguments in more comprehensible language. (He later lost Gill to cancer). Read more »

Sunday, October 10, 2021

On the Winds: Climate Change, Weather, and Time

Justin E. H. Smith in his Substack newsletter Hinternet:

What is weather? Its etymology is not, as one may have hoped, connected to “whether”, as in “that which may be either one way, or the other” —“Whether the picnic is on or not depends on whether it rains”—, though both words have equally fascinating Germanic pedigrees. The modern German Wetter originally described the sort of ferocious wind you might encounter at a mountain peak, and later took on the primary connotation of “bad weather”, or, as is said in German, Unwetter, where the prefix that ordinarily signifies negation or absence, Un-, comes instead to indicate intensification (as in Untier — seemingly “non-animal” but literally “monster”, or Unkraut — seemingly “non-herb” but literally “weed”). At the outset then we may say that weather, strangely, is something the negative instances of which are also its paradigm instances. Yet the German and English words for “weather” are outliers among European languages, while far more commonly the term that is used is the same as the word for “time”: French le temps, Romanian timpul (or the variant Slavic-rooted vremea); even the Finno-Ugric pocket of Hungary calls both time and weather by the same word: idő. Already from this lexical tour we may infer that at some earlier stage what we today call “weather” was conceptualized primarily in a phenomenological sense, as the most basic experience of “in-the-world-ness”. Yet the overlapping history of these two concepts, time and weather, should only make us wonder at the profoundly different connotations each would come to have in late modernity.

More here.

Alzheimer’s: The heretical and hopeful role of infection

David Robson at the BBC:

It is more than 150 years since scientists proved that invisible germs could cause contagious illnesses such as cholera, typhoid, and tuberculosis. The role of microbes in these diseases was soon widely accepted, but “Germ Theory” has continued to surprise ever since – with huge implications for many apparently unrelated areas of medicine.

It was only in the 1980s, after all, that two Australian scientists found that Helicobacter Pylori triggers stomach ulcers. Before that, doctors had blamed the condition on stress, cigarettes and booze. Contemporary scientists considered the idea to be “preposterous”, yet it eventually earned the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2005.

The discovery that the human papillomavirus can cause cervical cancer proved to be similarly controversial, but vaccines against the infection are now saving thousands of lives. Scientists today estimate that around 12% of all human cancers are caused by viruses.

We may be witnessing a similar revolution in our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease.

More here.