Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Decline and Fall of Parental Authority

American parents today face a perfect storm of cultural and social circumstances that undermine the very foundations of parental authority. In response, mothers and fathers are beginning to see therapists as irrelevant and to challenge the entire social, educational, and economic context of childrearing. On a day long before the Occupy Wall Street Movement began, I met with a large group of 21st-century child professionals who were on a tear about the multiple inadequacies of today’s mothers and fathers. Sparks of indignation about parents’ inability or refusal to take charge of their kids—to create any kind of appropriate hierarchy in the family—lit up the auditorium. “They’re scared of their own children!” one proclaimed to nods of agreement all around. “If I ever said just one thing to my parents the way they allow their kids to talk to them every single day, I know exactly what would have happened to me!” said another. “They’ve abdicated, handing their children over to us to raise!” yelled a third. The general consensus was that today’s parents had become a “doormat generation” to their own kids, and that they were resisting all efforts by well-meaning professionals to help them grow parental backbones. It was enough to make one’s head spin.

Well, until later. That evening, I met with hundreds of parents from the same community. In a weirdly antiphonal response to what I’d heard earlier in the day, they rocked the school auditorium with their complaints of how hard—no,impossible—it was to be a parent today. School was a bureaucratic, relentlessly demanding, social and academic rat race that wasn’t even preparing their kids for the future. A vast and frightening Internet culture was hijacking their kids, and they were helpless to do much about it. These parents said they were trying so hard to make ends meet that they had little time left over just to be with their kids, much less maintain consistent authority over their lives.

Besides the more familiar complaints, these parents railed against accusations that they weren’t trying to take charge of their own children and teens, even as they admitted just how hard that had become. It was as though the earlier meeting with school administrators and educators had been bugged. In fact, the parents made clear that they wanted to be more effective and engaged, but were blocked not only by social forces, but by the very childrearing system that was supposed to prepare their children for adulthood. More and more, the collective verdict was clear: the conveyor belt of 21st-century childrearing was seizing up, and the academic and therapeutic professionals working with children “just weren’t getting it.”

Not long ago, I might have heard parents talk as if their kids’ problems—drugs, school failure, or acting out—were matters for individual families to resolve, sometimes with the aid of a therapist. Now, I’m seeing mothers and fathers challenge the entire social, educational, professional, and economic context of childrearing—a system, they increasingly believe, that’s made effective parenting almost unachievable. (...)

“How can I get my child to not go to midweek concerts when almost everyone else in the school is going?” “It’s one thing to tell my kids not to drink and drive, but how can I stop them from texting while they’re driving?” “You tell us that we should limit screen time, but how can we when half of the homework in elementary school is online?” “When my preteen son calls me from anywhere on his phone, how can I be certain he’s really where he says he is?”

These are just a few of the questions I increasingly hear from parents and groups across the country. On top of losing faith in a secure future, mothers and fathers deal with everyday dilemmas that make a joke of traditional rules and childrearing practices. Unfortunately, many therapists still seem to believe that reliable solutions to the problems families face can be readily found in our psychodynamic, family, or standard evidence-based protocols. The rampant “medicalization of childhood”—our attempt to assist kids in getting the help they need to grow up in today’s tumultuous world by assigning more and more DSMdiagnoses—doesn’t instill parental confidence either. “How many of you are familiar with the following diagnoses?” I ask parents. As recently as five years ago, most had only a vague sense of the acronyms used every day in our work. Now ADD (attention deficit disorder), AD/HD (attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder), PDD (pervasive developmental disorder), ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), spectrum disorders, Asperger’s, bipolar I & II roll off parents’ lips so easily you’d think you were at grand rounds in a teaching hospital.

By the time kids are 18, at least half of them have already received a psychological diagnosis. While many mothers and fathers have become psychological sleuths, searching their child’s behavior for any sign of disorder, others continue to believe that the only thing wrong with kids is a lack of discipline. All the while, it becomes harder and harder to distinguish between psychological aberrations and the peculiar 21st-century context in which kids are growing up.

by Ron Tafel, Alternet |  Read more:
Photo: Shutterstock/Anna Jurkovska via:

The Next Future

But to return, if I may use the expression, to the future...
—J. B. S. Haldane, 1924

During a summer in the late 1960s I discovered an easy and certain method of predicting the future. Not my own future, the next turn of the card, or market conditions next month or next year, but the future of the world lying far ahead. It was quite simple. All that was needed was to take the reigning assumptions about what the future was likely to hold, and reverse them. Not modify, negate, or question, but reverse. It was self-evident that this was the right method, because so many of the guesses that the past had made about its then future—that is, my own present—had turned out to be not only wrong but the opposite of what came to be instead, the more so the further ahead they had been projected.

You could, of course, riffle through the old predictions and now and then find some tool or technique, some usage or notion, some general idea of how things would get gradually better or suddenly worse, that seemed eerily to foreshadow the actual; but that was really a game, where you took some aspect of the present and tried to match it with what the past had once thought up. Captain Nemo’s submarine is driven by a heatless inexhaustible power source—Jules Verne predicted the nuclear sub! What was almost never predicted correctly was what the present world would be like: like to be in and to experience. There is a wonderful moment in Edward Bellamy’s influential futurist utopian tract Looking Backward (1888) where a character, having fallen asleep in the 1880s and awakened in the year 2000, rushes out of the house to see the new world—after fortunately finding among the hats on the hatrack by the door a hat that fits him. In the future we, at least we proper folk, will still not go “bareheaded” or “hatless” into the street, for fear of being thought mad or distracted.

So it seemed clear to me that if you simply reversed what the past had imagined, you got something close to the real existing present. The same principle would therefore work for the future, and I went about applying it to the limning of the world that would exist in, say, five hundred years’ time. (I had nothing to do that summer; I had lost my job and was squatting in an unoccupied building as a sort of watchman. It was the time and the moment to think up things never before thought up.)

What predictions could I reverse? One general assumption at the time I set to work was that overpopulation would soon create a future of scarcity and desperate struggles for resources everywhere, including the rich First World, all earth filling with humans as with lemmings. So reverse that: perhaps as an unintended result of attempts to limit growth, numbers will cease to rise and start downward, and in the far future populations will be not large but small, maybe vanishingly small. Pollution, smog, river fires, acid rain spoiling the natural environment and making the built environment uninhabitable? No; smokestack industry, even all industry, will in time cease to grow, tumorlike and poisonous, and instead shrink away. The near-certain chance that eventually, by accident or on purpose, thermonuclear weapons would destroy even the possibility of civilization? No, no nuclear war—somehow it will be obviated. But if vastation by the bomb were escaped, it looked certain that the peoples and nations would be knit ever more closely together by interlocking technologies, skiving off human differences and reducing us to robot cogs in a single ever-growing world machine; or, conversely, that technology would vastly increase wealth and scope for the fortunate in a groomed and gratifying One World with an opening to the stars. No, neither of those: no technology in the future, no space travel, even our current technology forgotten or voluntarily given up, becoming a wonderful dream of long ago, as we dream of knights in armor. So then, brutish neoprimitives squatting in the remains of a self-destroyed technoworld? No, no, that’s what you’d guess, and it will therefore be different from that. Self-conscious minicivilizations, I thought, highly cultivated yet without reading or writing, unknown to one another, with concerns we can’t imagine, walking humbly on a wounded but living earth.

This vision was enthralling to me, convincing because so unforeseen: its roots in the present firm and deep yet so occult that they will only be able to be perceived after centuries. Above all it seemed to me to be a future that had no lesson for the present, gave no warning or hope, made no particular sense of history or the passage of time. Its unknowable origins lifted from the present the burden of needing to do the right thing now in order not to be punished in the time to come. There was no right thing that could be done; we would just have to do our best. The future would be strange, but all right.

Though I had not conceived it so, this pleasant obsession eventually generated a book, a novel, a science fiction, in which all the eons-to-come details impossible to know were given form, though of course not the form they would or will really have. And when read now, forty years from when I first began to write it, what is immediately evident about my future is that it could have been thought up at no time except the time in which I did think it up, and has gone away as that time has gone. No matter its contents, no matter how it is imagined, any future lies not ahead in the stream of time but at an angle to it, a right angle probably. When we have moved on down the stream, that future stays anchored to where it was produced, spinning out infinitely and perpendicularly from there. The process I engaged in is still viable, maybe, or as viable as it was then, but it must forever be redone. The future, as always, is now.

by John Crowley, Lapham's Quarterly |  Read more:

Knee Replacement May Be a Lifesaver for Some


By the time 64-year-old Laura Milson decided to undergo total knee replacement after 12 years of suffering from arthritis, even a short walk to the office printer was a struggle.

After her surgery last August at the Rothman Institute at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Ms. Milson spent a week in rehabilitation and says she hasn’t stopped walking since. “My son says to me, ‘You have to slow down,’ and I say, ‘No, I have to catch up!,’ ” she said. “It’s a whole different life.”

For Ms. Milson, who lives in Shrewsbury, Pa., replacing the joint in her right knee came with a surprising bonus: a 20-pound weight loss in two months. “I joked with my doctor, ‘I think you put a diet chip in my knee,’ ” she said. “The weight just sort of came off.”

Now she has joined Weight Watchers to drop a few extra pounds and is training for a three-day breast cancer walk in October.

For years surgeons have boasted of the pain relief and improved quality of life that often follow knee replacement. But now new research suggests that for some patients, knee replacement surgery can actually save their lives.

In a sweeping study of Medicare records, researchers from Philadelphia and Menlo Park, Calif., examined the effects of joint replacement among nearly 135,000 patients with new diagnoses of osteoarthritis of the knee from 1997 to 2009. About 54,000 opted for knee replacement; 81,000 did not.

Three years after diagnosis, the knee replacement patients had an 11 percent lower risk of heart failure. And after seven years, their risk of dying for any reason was 50 percent lower.

by Tara Parker-Pope, NY Times |  Read more:
Illustration: Stuart Bradford

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Masaaki Yasuda
via:

People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so out of control that you have to transform your life…

Elizabeth Gilbert

Photo: Balthus and Setsuko, 2000 -by Duane Michals

The Patient of the Future

Back in 2000, when Larry Smarr left his job as head of a celebrated supercomputer center in Illinois to start a new institute at the University of California, San Diego, and the University of California, Irvine, he rarely paid attention to his bathroom scale. He regularly drank Coke, added sugar to his coffee, and enjoyed Big Mac Combo Meals with his kids at McDonald's. Exercise consisted of an occasional hike or a ride on a stationary bike. "In Illinois they said, 'We know what's going to happen when you go out to California. You're going to start eating organic food and get a blonde trainer and get a hot tub,' " recalls Smarr, who laughed off the predictions. "Of course, I did all three."

Smarr, who directs the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology in La Jolla, dropped from 205 to 184 pounds and is now a fit 63-year-old. But his transformation transcends his regular exercise program and carefully managed diet: he has become a poster man for the medical strategy of the future. Over the past decade, he has gathered as much data as he can about his body and then used that information to improve his health. And he has accomplished something that few people at the forefront of the "quantified self" movement have had the opportunity to do: he helped diagnose the emergence of a chronic disease in his body.

Like many "self-quanters," Smarr wears a Fitbit to count his every step, a Zeo to track his sleep patterns, and a Polar WearLink that lets him regulate his maximum heart rate during exercise. He paid 23andMe to analyze his DNA for disease susceptibility. He regularly uses a service provided by Your Future Health to have blood and stool samples analyzed for biochemicals that most interest him. But a critical skill separates Smarr from the growing pack of digitized patients who show up at the doctor's office with megabytes of their own biofluctuations: he has an extraordinary ability to fish signal from noise in complex data sets.

On top of his pioneering computer science work—he advocated for the adoption of ARPAnet, an early version of the Internet, and students at his University of Illinois center developed Mosaic, the first widely used browser—Smarr spent 25 years as an astrophysicist focused on relativity theory. That gave him the expertise to chart several of his biomarkers over time and then overlay the longitudinal graphs to monitor everything from the immune status of his gut and blood to the function of his heart and the thickness of his arteries. His meticulously collected and organized data helped doctors discover that he has Crohn's, an inflammatory bowel disease.

I have ulcerative colitis, a cousin of Crohn's, and I am intrigued by what Smarr calls his "detective story." His investigation of his body has evolved into a novel collaboration with a leading gastroenterologist to better understand and treat his disease, and maybe even to help others like me. But I am also a disease-weary skeptic. After 22 years of seeing specialists, enduring a battery of tests, unscrambling the complex medical literature, and trying a hodgepodge of interventions, I have had no luck staving off flares and only modest success controlling them with blunt-force drugs. Like others who have chronic illnesses, I am acutely sensitive to false hope. I have been repeatedly baffled by the course my disease takes and thoroughly confused by tests meant to clarify my condition.

by Jon Cohen, MIT Technology Review |  Read more:
Photo:: Michael Kelley

So Appy Together

Siri, the iPhone's sassy personal assistant, was just the beginning. Right now, behavioral scientists are racing to develop a new generation of apps and programs that can mimic compassion, concern, and sympathy—technology they hope we will form relationships with, even fall in love with. Janelle Nanos goes inside this brave new world to find out how our ever-smarter iPhones and Droids are changing what it means to be human.

Monday morning begins with the chime of bells. Blinking awake, I turn toward the noise, pawing at my bedside table in search of my phone. With a quick tap the bells are silenced, as if someone has abruptly cut the ropes in the belfry. I remove the sleep sensor from my forehead and adjust my glasses, scanning through the data from last night to check my REM. “What’s on the agenda for today?” I ask. “Four meetings ahead of you, two assignments due soon,” my phone says, then pings me with my Daily Challenge text message. Today I’m told to try to take 5,000 steps. Totally doable, I think, then reach for my body-monitoring armband and slide it up onto my biceps. My phone connects to it via Bluetooth, and begins registering my movement as I head to the kitchen. I open the fridge, grab the milk, then pour a bowl of cereal, pulling up my phone’s diet tracker to scan the bar codes on each container for an accurate calorie count.

“We’d better finish the milk — it spoils tomorrow,” my husband says, and I realize it’s the first time we’ve spoken this morning. I grimace apologetically, and flip my phone face-down on the table.

I love my smartphone. It’s become a second brain in my pocket that’s changed how I process information. It’s with me every waking moment — and the sleeping moments, too — tracking my daily habits. And through my constant e-mail and Facebook activity, and the personal documentation of my life via Twitter and Instagram photos, it’s become the lens through which I see the world. All day long, I find myself instinctively reaching for my phone, using it as a tool to validate my existence.

But lately, my smartphone and I have taken our relationship to the next level. I provide it with ever-more-intimate details about my life. Last year, for example, I set a few goals for myself. I wanted to lose some weight, save money, and run a half marathon. With only a few app downloads, my phone became a trainer, life coach, and confidant. It now knows what I eat, how I sleep, how much I spend, how much I weigh, and how many calories I burn (or don’t) at the gym each day. It’s gotten to the point where my phone now somehow knows more about me than anyone else in the world, including my own darling husband. My gadget has become a tiny black mirror, reflecting back how I see myself. Which means things are getting more complicated between us.

Lately, I’ve found myself trying to outsmart my smartphone, fudging my calorie intake when I’ve gone overboard on dessert, or hiding a credit card from my personal-finance app so it doesn’t know about my occasional spending sprees. And then I catch myself: It’s a damn phone. This is insane!

What’s going on here? How is it that I’ve come to feel accountable to a device — my device — one that works for me, not the other way around? I know I can’t be the only one asking these questions, as 30 percent of Americans now own smartphones (and one-third of them have downloaded apps to help them monitor their lives). Right now, something called “behavioral scientists” are hard at work dreaming up technologies to make our phones more and more human in the way they interact with us — and to encourage us to build relationships with them. It turns out that Siri, the iPhone’s wildly popular new personal assistant, is just the beginning. Where are we headed? I wanted to know before things got any weirder between my phone and me.

Like I said, I lie to my phone. On the days when I’m exceeding my calorie goal in my weight-loss app, I’ll sometimes tweak the numbers. Or I’ll just avoid using the app at all that day.

But I don’t enjoy the feeling that I’m cheating on my phone. So I reach out to Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor and author of the recent book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

Turkle, a sociologist and clinical psychologist, has spent the past two decades exploring the relationship between humans and robots. She’s currently researching Siri and the way its users have, in only a few months’ time, come to think of it as a nonjudgmental best friend. Siri is a “cultural preparation for a kind of intimacy with our machines that will take us to a new level,” Turkle explains. As humans, she says, we’re programmed to anthropomorphize objects. But until now, these objects haven’t been programmed to love us back.

“We’re at a moment of temptation,” she says. “We’re entering into a whole new level of relationship with inanimate objects. And they’re not just inanimate objects that we can project on. We have objects that have little minds of their own.”

Janelle Nanos, Boston Magazine |  Read more:
Illustrations by Viktor Koen

Alabama Shakes


The Girl on the Bridge


The last thing Kay said on the phone a little before midnight was unsettling enough—“Bryan, I love you. I got to go. It was nice to know you”—but now she wouldn’t answer her cell. She wasn’t in her Queen Anne apartment. She wasn’t in the park they’d strolled through hand in hand days earlier. He didn’t know where she was, he just knew he had to find her.

Finally around 1:30am, Sunday, January 16, 2011, after pounding on his girlfriend’s door, after multiple calls went straight to voice mail, Bryan Wilson, a 29-year-old sustainable-business consultant, dialed 911.

A Seattle police cruiser met him at the corner of Queen Anne Avenue and Roy minutes later. “Do you have any reason to believe she might hurt herself or others?” asked officer Kurt Alstrin. “Yes,” Bryan said. “She’s severely depressed.”

Soon every police radio in Seattle crackled with the name. Kaylan Rose Campbell, 25 years old. Green eyes. Red or auburn hair. Five feet eight inches tall.

What the radio message couldn’t convey was that few people who knew Kay had ever met anyone more intelligent. Or more beautiful. That she dabbled in six languages and had traveled halfway around the globe by the time she was 20. That she could hear any tune once and play it back on a keyboard. That she laughed so loud you could feel it in your spine.

Nothing in that call to all police units could explain how Kaylan Campbell had been struggling for the past few months, how she had told those closest to her that she hated herself, that she was convinced she was a bad person, that she felt trapped.

“Any idea where she might be?” Officer Alstrin asked.

Bryan recalled the background noise he’d heard during their last phone conversation. Wind. Traffic. He thought of their conversations during the 
past week.

“Where do you think she is?” the officer pressed.

“I think she’s at the bridge,” Bryan said. “The Aurora Bridge.”

He knew the words were loaded, that they sounded preposterous. Someone’s distressed and I automatically assume she’s going to jump off the Aurora Bridge?

But the cliche exists for a reason. The bridge, site of more than 230 suicides, is second in the U.S. only to San Francisco’s Golden Gate in number of jumpers. So dire had the suicide problem become—especially for the vocal minority who lived and worked below the bridge—that the Washington State Department of Transportation was nearly finished constructing a $5 million suicide fence. The project had been stalled, first by historic preservationists who wanted to keep the nearly 80-year-old bridge looking exactly as it did when it was erected in 1932, and later by engineering setbacks and unforeseen noise complaints.

If Kaylan Campbell was on the span connecting Queen Anne to Fremont, staring into the darkness 15 stories down—at either the Ship Canal or its banks—she had joined hundreds of others who had come to the bridge for the same reason since before it was even completed.

by James Ross Gardner |  Read more:
Photo: David Bowden

Monday, February 27, 2012

Those Fabulous Confabs


In January, in Davos, Switzerland, global leaders—prime ministers, central bankers, Mick Jagger—gathered for the annual World Economic Forum, the planet’s most high-powered schmoozefest. Simultaneously, in Lake Tahoe, 650 twentysomethings and their fellow travelers were hanging out with Questlove and the president of Georgia at Summit Series, an event focused on networking and social entrepreneurship. And this week, in Long Beach, a more tech-savvy crowd will convene for TED 2012. The high season of the ideas conference is upon us.

At least since the early seventies, when Davos was founded, there have been exclusive gatherings that mix fizzy ideas with major-league networking. The eighties gave rise to Renaissance Weekend, for a largely political crowd; Allen & Co.’s Sun Valley retreat, for media machers; and an early version of TED, for the titans of the converging worlds of (as the organizers had it) Technology, Entertainment, and Design. But recent years have seen a furious proliferation of these status events. There’s PopTech, FOO Camp, the Clinton Global Initiative, Solve for X (Google’s conference for “moonshot thinking”). And beyond the ­higher-profile events, a lengthening tail of gatherings you’ve never heard of like the Feast, Do Lectures, the 99% Conference, and Techonomy. All promise much the same thing: a velvet rope to keep out the attitudinally unwashed, serendipitous interaction, quirky content, and at least the illusion of egalitarian elbow-rubbing. They have their own vocabulary, too. These are “thought-leader gatherings” where “rock stars” emerge from their “silos” to learn about “disruptive” ideas that have been carefully “curated.”

The appeal is complex. For would-be world-savers enthralled by “the power of ideas,” these conferences are a stand-in for “a time when governments did shit, like put people on the moon,” per one curator. For even die-hard technologists, interacting via disembodied avatars gets old, and occasional 3-D mingling is refreshing. For a certain prosperous tier of the citizenry, the conferences serve as a higher-brow Learning Annex. But most simply, these events are about establishing and reinforcing new hierarchies. In a culture where social rank is ever more fluid, an entrepreneur who overnight goes from sleeping under his desk to IPO-ing into a billionaire needs a way to express his new status, stat. “We don’t have castles and noble titles, so how do you indicate you’re part of the elite?” as Andrew Zolli, PopTech’s executive director, puts it.

Thus the rise of a cohort of speakers and attendees who migrate along the same elite social-intellectual trade routes. Throw in Sundance and SXSW and Burning Man, and you get what Michael Hirschorn has called “the clusterfuckoisie,” tweeting at each other as they shuttle between events. This is so exactly the sort of thing that David Brooks lives to break down into one of his fictive comic-sociological characters that, in his latest book, The Social Animal, he describes Davos parties as “rings of interesting and insecure people desperately seeking entry into the realm of the placid and self-satisfied.” But Brooks is himself a leading citizen of the realm, having spoken at TED and, regularly, the Aspen Ideas Festival. For public intellectuals with books and brands to promote, the new conferences are force multipliers, unpaid gigs that offer intangible yields. “Obviously it’s not the money,” Brooks says. “For me, it’s the chance to get out of my political-pundit circle and meet people I wouldn’t otherwise meet. There are psychic rewards.”

by Benjamin Wallace, New York |  Read more:
Image via:

Interview With an Element: Chlorine

Are you Bleach?

No. I am not Bleach, I am me. The success of Bleach would not have been possible without Sodium and Oxygen. We all have our roles to play. Oxygen does its own part. On my own I am just chlorine, but as sodium hypochlorite something more than that. My solo career was never as successful, looking back I needed time to see that — and I guess time to grow as an element.

Is it true that Bleach is behind “Eau de Labarraque”?

Yes. Eau de Labarraque was our first project together, and that goes way back to that summer in France in 1820. Many people accused us of selling out when we started over as Bleach, but it was just a natural step in our development at the time and a way to reach a greater audience.

What would you call your greatest success with Bleach?

Clearly that is our role in disinfection. Everyone knows about drinking water and swimming pools. We were even involved in deodorizing the body of Louis XVIII…  But I would say our role in preventing child bed fever is something that is often overlooked. Our project with Ignaz Semmelweis in the 1840s did not gain the recognition it should have. His idea of disinfecting your hands after dissection of a cadaver and assisting in the delivery room was so new at the time it was rejected by the medical profession for decades. Semmelweis died at the age of 47 of gangrene after a severe beating in a mental institution asylum in Vienna, and I wish he would get more recognition.

Why did your partnership with Oxygen end?

It did not end. The media love to spread rumors about rivalry, especially after oxygen started its new project OxiClean more than a decade ago, but we remain good friends. Oxygen may be more popular and is getting not as bad press as me, but I am not bitter. I am focused on my collaboration with Sodium and do not have much time to follow whatever gossip is making the rounds.

Do you see Sodium much nowadays?

Yes, we look back on a successful career together, but are not out of great ideas yet. Sodium completes me in a way that no other element does. Lately our reviews have not been great, but we are ready for a comeback. Sodium has been taking the blame for much that seemed wrong with Salt, but without it everything would be bland. Our contribution to food has been legendary, something acknowledged even by our harshest critics. At this point I would like to plug a new venture of mine. I got involved with Sugar, and discovered that my remix of their classic work is even sweeter than the original, and I even prevent any nutritional effect. Our joint offering sucralose is now available in stores.

by Simone Bauer, The Hairpin |  Read more:
Image: Rainshow'r

The Girls at the Front

[ed. In tribute to Marie Colvin, who died last week in Syria trying to escape a rocket shelling attack.]

The handful of female war correspondents whose beat is whatever hellhole leads the news—Christiane Amanpour, Marie Colvin, Janine di Giovanni, et al.—are as tough as any of the guys. But there’s a difference in how they work, the way they love, and the risks they run.

They work in places like Kosovo and Grozny, but they live—most of them, at least—in London’s Notting Hill, a neighborhood better known for its Victorian-camisole street fairs than its rocket-propelled-grenade launchers. The town house of CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, the world’s most famous war reporter, is smartly appointed, with African sculptures and socially conscious photography books stacked just so on the coffee table. Even the vase on the hallway floor works—but only after you hear the backstory: it’s the 155-mm. howitzer shell that landed two doors down from Amanpour at the Sarajevo Holiday Inn during the war in Bosnia. “If it had exploded, I and everyone else in that wing would have been killed,” says Amanpour, feet on coffee table, hands behind head.

The daughter of an Iranian father and British mother, Amanpour is part of a small brigade of women who have trooped, more or less as a group, from misery to misery, from Iraq to Bosnia to East Timor to Chechnya and, lately, to Afghanistan and Israel’s West Bank. They have shared rooms and deep friendships. They have elbowed each other out of the way to get the story, and gossiped behind one another’s backs. And they all think an article about female war correspondents is pretty lame. “Safari Susans!” exclaims Amanpour facetiously.

Amanpour and her colleagues are reporters, they insist, not women reporters, as rugged as any man, and they’ve got the war stories to prove it. Take Afghanistan alone. Amanpour discovered what she believes were “mini– training camps” and a trove of documents about how to make chemical and nuclear weapons. The BBC’s newest sensation, a confident and exuberant 37-year-old Brit, Jacky Rowland, completed her mission of being one of the first Western correspondents into that country after September 11. “We left CNN and their equipment on the tarmac [in Tajikistan], which was a sheer delight,” says Rowland. During the first few days of the U.S. bombing, The Guardian’s Maggie O’Kane—a disheveled human tornado from Ireland who now lives in Edinburgh—endured a weeklong trek from Pakistan into Afghanistan, traversing “Horse Killer Pass.” Janine di Giovanni, an Italian-American with Jessica Rabbit looks, who writes for the London Times (and is a contributing editor at this magazine), vigorously dodged al-Qaeda fire while in Tora Bora. The only member of the group not to have recently visited Afghanistan is the toughest of them all, Marie Colvin, an American who writes for The Sunday Times of London. Instead, she was relearning to negotiate stairs after losing sight in one eye to shrapnel. She now wears a black pirate’s patch. She also has a beaded, sparkly one that was given to her by her friend Helen Fielding, who wrote Bridget Jones’s Diary. “It’s my party patch,” says Colvin as she brings her shaky match to her Silk Cut cigarette. “I never thought in my life I’d be the woman with the patch. But there you are, life changes.”

by Evgenia Peretz, Vanity Fair |  Read more:

Clapton and Richards: Tribute to Hubert Sumlin


Close to midnight last night at New York's Apollo Theater, Eric Clapton had just finished a thunderous take on classic blues number "Forty Four" when Keith Richards ambled onstage with no introduction. Wearing a dark blazer, long green scarf, fedora and a huge grin, he embraced Clapton and stood center stage to massive applause, delivering a smoky take on Wolf’s "Going Down Slow," a chronicle of a frail man who has savored life’s greatest pleasures. "Man, I've had things that kings and queens will never have," Richards growled. "In fact, they don't even know about them, let alone get ’em. And good times? Mmmm...." He hovered around Clapton and then stood sidestage by the piano while Clapton delivered a throaty verse and then weaved clean-toned solos with young Austin guitarist Gary Clark Jr.

There were many highlights at Howlin for Hubert – a tribute to guitarist Hubert Sumlin, who played in Howlin’ Wolf’s band for decades and passed away on December 4th due to heart failure – but that was the peak. It was Richards’ first major musical appearance since the Rolling Stones last toured five years ago, and he showed little rust. After "Going Down Slow,"  he sat down and played metallic 12-string slide while singing "Little Red Rooster," and then strapped on a Gibson electric guitar to sing and trade licks with Clapton on "Spoonful." "It’s good to be back," Richards said, peering up to the balcony before breaking into a cackle. "Goddamn, it’s good to be back."

The entire show, which featured all-stars including Buddy Guy, Billy Gibbons, Warren Haynes, Jimmie Vaughan, Derek Trucks, Doyle Bramhall II and Elvis Costello –  plus overlooked legends like Wolf’s former bandmates, harmonica player James Cotton, guitarist Jody Williams and saxophonist Eddie Shaw – was one for the history books. The event originated while Sumlin was still alive as a celebration to mark his 80th birthday. It stayed that way; Guest after guest recounted Sumlin’s unfaltering positivity and passion for his instrument. At one point, Toni Ann Mamary, Sumlin’s longtime manager and companion, tearfully recalled Sumlin tellling her, "I’m gonna be there. I don’t care if I play – I’m going to be there." She added, "Can you feel him?"

by Patrick Doyle, Rolling Stone |  Read more:
Kevin Mazur/WireImage


Indiglo

[ed. Just in time. I've been looking for a new watch.]

Last year I revealed the secret to affordable stylishness when it came to personal accessories. That secret was: the Timex Easy-Reader Indiglo watch, which costs somewhere between $25 and $40 depending on model variations and where you shop. It is shown not just in the photo at right but also, proudly, on the wrists of such fashion leaders as Harvard's Lawrence Lessig, NPR's Matt Martinez, Andrew Sprung of Xpostfactoid, Eliza Schmidkunz of GNSS, the Atlantic's Scott Stossel, and others including me.

During the holiday shopping stampede, Timex blessed style-conscious purchasers with a Cyber Monday special on the watch. And now Esquire has chosen this fine timepiece as #1 on its list of "Best New Watches for Spring," offering this impressive rationale for the Easy Reader's preeminence: "Because it works just as well from the workday to the weekend. Not to mention the simple retro face looks cooler than some watches that cost six times as much."

by James Fallows, The Atlantic

Clear Your Google Web History


If you've been to Google's homepage lately — and the chances you have are astronomical — you may have noticed a little announcement mentioning something about changes in Google's privacy policy. You then probably ignored it — but you shouldn't.

On March 1st, 2012, Google will implement a new, unified privacy policy. The new policy is retroactive, meaning it will affect any data Google has collected on you prior to that date, as well as any data it gathers afterward. The official Google Blog has more details on what the new privacy policy means. But what does all of this legal jargon mean practically? Basically, under the new policy, your Google Web History (all of your searches and the sites you clicked through to) can be combined with other data Google has gathered about you from other services — Gmail, Google+, etc.

Previously Google kept your search history separate, which means that its profile of you was less complete. If you'd like to keep your personal data a good distance away from Google, you'll need to delete your existing search history and prevent Google from using that history in the future.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has more details on why you might want to turn off Google's Web History feature.

Privacy policies are ubiquitous, yet often highly irrelevant to the typical user; in this case, however, a little time spent changing your settings can provide invaluable peace of mind knowing that Google can't exploit your personal tendencies for its own purposes. Convinced yet? Read on for our guide to locking down your web history.

by Scott Gilbertson, Wired |  Read more:
Photo:  Jonathan McIntosh/flickr/CC

Love and Death


In the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a reporter who, confronted with living the same day over and over again, matures from an arrogant, self-serving professional climber to someone capable of loving and appreciating others and his world. Murray convincingly portrays the transformation from someone whose self-importance is difficult to abide into a person imbued with kindness. It seems that the Nietzschean test of eternal return, insofar as it is played out in Punxsutawney, yields not an overman but a man of decency.

But there is another story line at work in the film, one we can see if we examine Murray’s character not in the early arrogant stage, nor in the post-epiphany stage, where the calendar is once again set in motion, but in the film’s middle, where he is knowingly stuck in the repetition of days. In this part of the narrative, Murray’s character has come to terms with his situation. He alone knows what is going to happen, over and over again. He has no expectations for anything different. In this period, his period of reconciliation, he becomes a model citizen of Punxsutawney. He radiates warmth and kindness, but also a certain distance.

The early and final moments of “Groundhog Day” offer something that is missing during this period of peace: passion. Granted, Phil Connors’s early ambitious passion for advancement is a far less attractive thing than the later passion of his love for Rita (played by Andie MacDowell). But there is passion in both cases. It seems that the eternal return of the same may bring peace and reconciliation, but at least in this case not intensity.

And here is where a lesson about love may lie. One would not want to deny that Connors comes to love Rita during the period of the eternal Groundhog Day. But his love lacks the passion, the abandon, of the love he feels when he is released into a real future with her. There is something different in those final moments of the film. A future has opened for their relationship, and with it new avenues for the intensity of his feelings for her. Without a future for growth and development, romantic love can extend only so far. Its distinction from, say, a friendship with benefits begins to become effaced.

There is, of course, in all romantic love the initial infatuation, which rarely lasts. But if the love is to remain romantic, that infatuation must evolve into a longer-term intensity, even if a quiet one, that nourishes and is nourished by the common engagements and projects undertaken over time.

This might be taken to mean that a limitless future would allow for even more intensity to love than a limited one. Romantic love among immortals would open itself to an intensity that eludes our mortal race. After all, immortality opens an infinite future. And this would seem to be to the benefit of love’s passion. I think, however, that matters are quite the opposite, and that “Groundhog Day” gives us the clue as to why this is. What the film displays, if we follow this interpretive thread past the film’s plot, is not merely the necessity of time itself for love’s intensity but the necessity of a specific kind of time: time for development. The eternal return of “Groundhog Day” offered plenty of time. It promised an eternity of it. But it was the wrong kind of time. There was no time to develop a coexistence. There was instead just more of the same.

The intensity we associate with romantic love requires a future that can allow its elaboration. That intensity is of the moment, to be sure, but is also bound to the unfolding of a trajectory that it sees as its fate. If we were stuck in the same moment, the same day, day after day, the love might still remain, but its animating passion would begin to diminish.

This is why romantic love requires death.

 If our time were endless, then sooner or later the future would resemble an endless Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney.  It is not simply the fact of a future that ensures the intensity of romantic love; it is the future of meaningful coexistence.  It is the future of common projects and the passion that unfolds within them.  One might indeed remain in love with another for all eternity.  But that love would not burn as brightly if the years were to stammer on without number.

Why not, one might ask?  The future is open.  Unlike the future in “Groundhog Day,” it is not already decided.  We do not have our next days framed for us by the day just passed.  We can make something different of our relationships.  There is always more to do and more to create of ourselves with the ones with whom we are in love.

This is not true, however, and romantic love itself shows us why.  Love is between two particular people in their particularity.  We cannot love just anyone, even others with much the same qualities.  If we did, then when we met someone like the beloved but who possessed a little more of a quality to which we were drawn, we would, in the phrase philosophers of love use, “trade up.”  But we don’t trade up, or at least most of us don’t.  This is because we love that particular person in his or her specificity.  And what we create together, our common projects and shared emotions, are grounded in those specificities.  Romantic love is not capable of everything. It is capable only of what the unfolding of a future between two specific people can meaningfully allow.

Sooner or later the paths that can be opened by the specificities of a relationship come to an end.  Not every couple can, with a sense of common meaningfulness, take up skiing or karaoke, political discussion or gardening.  Eventually we must tread the same roads again, wearing them with our days.  This need not kill love, although it might.  But it cannot, over the course of eternity, sustain the intensity that makes romantic love, well, romantic.

by Todd May, NY Times |  Read more:
Image via: DailyBrisk

[ed. Many of the comments in response to this article are also well worth reading. Like this:] 

The screenplay traps the obnoxious, self-absorbed Phil Connors in an endless repetition of the same day to make the point that he can only find true love by learning to be selfless. His initial panic eventually gives way to selfishly exploiting the situation, toying with the citizenry for his bitter amusement. When in his desperation he finally recognizes Andie MacDowell's simple charms, he at first tries to reach her by learning what she likes, little by little, trying to be her artificially constructed soul mate. Ultimately this strategy fails, because it does not ring true to her. Only when Connors becomes weary of the game and starts to use his endless time to improve himself, learn to play the piano, fix an elderly woman's tire, perform a timely Heimlich maneuver, and truly help others, does MacDowell's character see him in a new light. When he becomes a loveable person, MacDowell gives her love to him, and the trap is ended.

The message is that love is not based on the efforts you make to "get" someone. Love is given willingly when someone recognizes the qualities that you possess.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Good News: Happiness Doesn’t Exist

[ed. See also: The Four Noble Truths]

Happiness is slippery. It doesn’t like to stick around. We know we’ve had it before, but it’s gone away, and we know there are certain things we have to do to find it again. Certain ducks have to be in a row. After all, if you didn’t have to do anything to be happy, you wouldn’t do anything at all. It can’t be too hard to find. Other people seem to be finding it all right.

Yet for all our efforts, we never seem to get this happiness problem nailed down, and there’s a very good reason for that.

When we start talking about solving the problem of unhappiness, it’s hard to avoid the topic of Buddhism. I know not everyone is a fan, but they have lain some important groundwork, even for those of us who like the idea of improving our quality of life but aren’t prepared to buy the whole package, with all its baldness and orange robes. Despite its promises of peace and enlightenment, I haven’t leapt in with abandon, so don’t worry, this article doesn’t delve into pratitya-samutpadas and tathagatagarbhas. It’s about a plain-jane concept you know very well: happiness.

Buddhism developed as a response to mankind’s search for happiness. In the simplest terms, it’s not a belief system but a methodology for being happy. Yet Buddhist literature is known for focusing much more on suffering than happiness. Its curious preference for morbid subject matter has led some to describe Buddhism as preoccupied with negativity.

The reason suffering has become Buddhism’s primary focus, rather than happiness, is that happiness, as we conceive of it, doesn’t really exist — at least not in the same way suffering does. What we refer to as happiness is really just what the absence of suffering feels like.

Although it’s become the favorite term for the concept, “suffering” is really not an adequate word. The Buddhists call it dukkha. Suffering is perhaps the most common English substitution, but I’ve also seen anguish, unease, dissatisfaction, stress, discomfort, or unsatisfactoriness. None of them are quite right, and so many writings in English will use dukkha.

I avoid the casual use of Sanskrit or Pali words in my articles because I think they make a lot of readers tune out, as they sense they’re being led into an esoteric religious discussion. Books and articles about Buddhism can get pretty dry and cryptic, scaring away readers who would otherwise be fascinated by the very same concepts if they weren’t presented in such stuffy, user-unfriendly language. But for the rest of this article I’ll use dukkha, if it hasn’t scared you off yet.

by David Cain, Raptitude | Read more:  
Photo by WTL photos

Please Support Duck Soup

Dear Readers,

It was exactly one year ago today that I started Duck Soup. I had just lost someone very special to me and wanted to share all the things we used to share, but then couldn't.

At first it was just an exercise in curiosity: what do I want to do, and how do I do it, and, more importantly, how much does it cost? The title is a result of that process - the term "duck soup" being slang in Hawaii (where I'm from) for something that's easy.

Unfortunately, I'm not much of a creative or conversational writer (too many years steeped in technical documents) but I do appreciate good writing, so that's what I decided to focus on, especially longform articles that delve deeply into subjects.

Everything posted here is of interest to me and a distillation of a larger sampling effort to find particularly noteworthy items (it's a good thing that I'm retired). It's a labor of love that has prompted me to search out and discover new sites and postings that I'd never have expended the effort to find before, and to learn many new things. The result is the blog you're now reading. If there's any underlying theme here it's to seek out thoughtful insights from knowledgeable people about the world we live in and highlight an eclectic mix of music, art and other forms of personal expression.

So, I'm asking you to check out the Donate button on the right side of the screen under the Duck Soup picture and consider a small contribution to this blog if it's something that you find worthwhile. I'll continue to post regardless of whatever response I get, but would be grateful for any help you could provide. If you are uncomfortable using PayPal, you can contact me at: markk_213@yahoo.com and I'll send a physical mail location for checks.

Again, thank you for your support and please tell your friends about Duck Soup.

markk

The Meaning of Home


The title of Arthur Miller’s first book, Situation Normal (1944), alluded to a well-known saying in the army—Situation Normal: All Fucked Up (SNAFU)—but it might be applied more widely to Miller’s view of American life in general and American family life in particular. It’s true that Philip Larkin [Hull, page 24] used the same vocabulary to describe English families—“They fuck you up, your mum and dad”—but Miller saw tragedy, not just humor, in the postwar American scene. Perhaps no major writer understood better than Miller why America could not be one happy family. In his plays of the late 1940s and early 1950s, Miller depicts the postwar nuclear family in a state of fission. His characters in All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, and A View from the Bridge suffer from a kind of psychological radiation sickness, invisible but deadly. War profiteers, failed businessmen, and dockworkers kill themselves or get killed over secrets they cannot bear to admit to their families or themselves. Foul deeds rise in the collective consciousness of a nation that erases and repeats its history—another way of saying that the sins of the fathers and mothers will be visited on the sons and daughters and unto the generations.

What vexed Miller were the stories Americans have told themselves about the power of positive thinking, the instant money and spiritual purity that are sure to follow from unfettered entrepreneurship, the decency of the profit motive, the goodness of the national past, and, when all else fails, the possibility of escape and reinvention in the West. This land is your land: Henry David Thoreau crosses uneasily with Norman Rockwell; the tenets of Ayn Rand crash into the gospel of Jesus Christ; the Book of Mormon reads strangely in parallel with the Bill of Rights; Huckleberry Finn lights out for the territory but never becomes the Marlboro Man, exactly. Above all, Miller responded to a culture that cherished a sanctimonious and noxiously sentimental vision of family life as a beacon of health and wealth.

Yet it’s clear from Miller’s screenplay for John Huston’s movie The Misfits—a film celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year—that Miller didn’t see the American family as a problem that had an answer. Flee the traps of family life on an Eastern stage, and you might find yourself wandering lost and mangled in a film set in the deserts of Nevada, atomized and disconnected, drifting among strangers from divorce court to highway to rodeo to whiskey bottle to bed with fast friends. The myth of the family and the myth of self-reliance—how does the same culture hatch two such irreconcilable dreams? Miller’s characters are always being crushed by conflicting motives and impulses, forced into impossible situations by self-delusions or the repression of past betrayals. In his Eastern plays, blood relations doom one another, acting like planets circling closer and closer to moral black holes. In the movie script that heralded the end of his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, absolute freedom from family ties in the West appears to be another kind of American disaster—one papered over with a Hollywood ending. (...)

Recognition of long-suppressed truths hits Miller’s families not in the self-help mode of Dr. Phil but in the old styles of William Shakespeare [England, page 43] or Euripides [Corinth, page 23]. Miller’s sons—Larry and Chris in All My Sons, Biff and Happy in Death of a Salesman (1949)—sometimes attempt to escape claustrophobic houses haunted by trauma, old ghosts, secrets, and lies, but they rarely leave the nest for long, and then only to fail, or die, or return to learn unbearable truths about their fathers. The children can sing in their chains or struggle in their traps, while their mothers grieve. In these plays, Miller’s mothers, for their part, are fatally strong, not simply all-suffering—they are actively complicit in the tragedies that unfold. At the end of All My Sons, Kate advises Chris, “Forget now. Live.” Good luck with that. In Death of a Salesman, Linda Loman torments herself with an ending the ancient Greeks might have appreciated: “I made the last payment on the house today. Today, dear. And there’ll be nobody home…We’re free and clear.” Tear out your eyes.

by J.M. Tyree, Lapham's Quarterly |  Read more:

The Emerging Science of Connected Networks

In the last decade or so, the study of networks has had a profound effect on the way we understand the spread of everything from fashion and ideas to forest fires and disease.

But this better understanding of individual networks has revealed a gaping hole in our knowledge of how networks interact with each other. That looks to be hugely important. Many systems, rather than being individual networks, are actually networks of networks: the financial system, the economy, our brain and our genetic control system to name just a few.

What's puzzling about all these systems is that they demonstrate emergent behaviour that single networks alone cannot reproduce.

So it's no surprise that with the triumphs in understanding single networks under their belts, complexity scientists have set their sights on the more ambitious goal of understanding 'networks of networks'. Consequently, this area is set to become one of the fastest growing in science.

Today, Anna Saumell-Mendiola, Angeles Serrano and Marian Boguna at the University of Barcelona in Spain reveal their approach to the problem. These guys have studied the way that disease-spreading networks interact when they become linked.

by Physics arXiv |  Read more:

Zhang Daqian Chinese, 1899-1983
via:

He said he was leaving. She ignored him.

Let’s say you have what you believe to be a healthy marriage. You’re still friends and lovers after spending more than half of your lives together. The dreams you set out to achieve in your 20s—gazing into each other’s eyes in candlelit city bistros, when you were single and skinny—have for the most part come true.

Two decades later you have the 20 acres of land, the farmhouse, the children, the dogs and horses. You’re the parents you said you would be, full of love and guidance. You’ve done it all: Disneyland, camping, Hawaii, Mexico, city living, stargazing.

Sure, you have your marital issues, but on the whole you feel so self-satisfied about how things have worked out that you would never, in your wildest nightmares, think you would hear these words from your husband one fine summer day: “I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did. I’m moving out. The kids will understand. They’ll want me to be happy.”

But wait. This isn’t the divorce story you think it is. Neither is it a begging-him-to-stay story. It’s a story about hearing your husband say, “I don’t love you anymore” and deciding not to believe him. And what can happen as a result.

by Laura Munson, The Week |  Read more:

Teller Reveals His Secrets


In the last half decade, magic—normally deemed entertainment fit only for children and tourists in Las Vegas—has become shockingly respectable in the scientific world. Even I—not exactly renowned as a public speaker—have been invited to address conferences on neuroscience and perception. I asked a scientist friend (whose identity I must protect) why the sudden interest. He replied that those who fund science research find magicians “sexier than lab rats.”

I’m all for helping science. But after I share what I know, my neuroscientist friends thank me by showing me eye-tracking and MRI equipment, and promising that someday such machinery will help make me a better magician.

I have my doubts. Neuroscientists are novices at deception. Magicians have done controlled testing in human perception for thousands of years.

I remember an experiment I did at the age of 11. My test subjects were Cub Scouts. My hypothesis (that nobody would see me sneak a fishbowl under a shawl) proved false and the Scouts pelted me with hard candy. If I could have avoided those welts by visiting an MRI lab, I surely would have.

But magic’s not easy to pick apart with machines, because it’s not really about the mechanics of your senses. Magic’s about understanding—and then manipulating—how viewers digest the sensory information.

I think you’ll see what I mean if I teach you a few principles magicians employ when they want to alter your perceptions.

by Teller, Smithsonian |  Read more:
Photo: Jared McMillen / Aurora Select

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cheating Death


Star Trek–style teleportation may one day become a reality. You step into the transporter, which instantly scans your body and brain, vaporizing them in the process. The information is transmitted to Mars, where it is used by the receiving station to reconstitute your body and brain exactly as they were on Earth. You then step out of the receiving station, slightly dizzy, but pleased to arrive on Mars in a few minutes, as opposed to the year it takes by old-fashioned spacecraft.

But wait. Do you really step out of the receiving station on Mars? Someone just like you steps out, someone who apparently remembers stepping into the transporter on Earth a few minutes before. But perhaps this person is merely your replica—a kind of clone or copy. That would not make this person you: in Las Vegas there is a replica of the Eiffel Tower, but the Eiffel Tower is in Paris, not in Las Vegas. If the Eiffel Tower were vaporized and a replica instantly erected in Las Vegas, the Eiffel Tower would not have been transported to Las Vegas. It would have ceased to exist. And if teleportation were like that, stepping into the transporter would essentially be a covert way of committing suicide. Troubled by these thoughts, you now realize that “you” have been commuting back and forth to Mars for years . . .

So which is it? You are preoccupied with a question about your survival: Do you survive teleportation to Mars? A lot hangs on the question, and it is not obvious how to answer it. Teleportation is just science fiction, of course; does the urgent fictional question have a counterpart in reality? Indeed it does: Do you, or could you, survive death?

Teeming hordes of humanity adhere to religious doctrines that promise survival after death: perhaps bodily resurrection at the Day of Judgment, reincarnation, or immaterial immortality. For these people, death is not the end.

Some of a more secular persuasion do not disagree. The body of the baseball great Ted Williams lies in a container cooled by liquid nitrogen to -321 degrees Fahrenheit, awaiting the Great Thawing, when he will rise to sign sports memorabilia again. (Williams’s prospects are somewhat compromised because his head has apparently been preserved separately.) For the futurist Ray Kurzweil, hope lies in the possibility that he will be uploaded to new and shiny hardware—as pictures are transferred to Facebook’s servers—leaving his outmoded biological container behind.

Isn’t all this a pipe dream? Why isn’t “uploading” merely a way of producing a perfect Kurzweil-impersonator, rather than the real thing? Cryogenic storage might help if I am still alive when frozen, but what good is it after I am dead? And is the religious line any more plausible? “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” hardly sounds like the dawn of a new day. Where is—as the Book of Common Prayer has it—the “sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life”? If a forest fire consumes a house and the luckless family hamster, that’s the end of them, presumably. Why are we any different?

Philosophers have had a good deal of interest to say about these issues, under the unexciting rubric of “personal identity.” Let us begin our tour of some highlights with a more general topic: the survival, or “persistence,” of objects over time.

by Alex Byrne, Boston Review |  Read more:
Photo: Angus Clyne

Suzan Buckner
“2011-34-Abstract”
Acrylic on wood
via:

Me & My Monkey

Confessions of a White-Collar Dope Fiend

Where is the cave where the wise woman went
And tell me where is all the money that I spent?
I propose a toast to my self-control
See it crawling helpless on the floor
Someday there'll be a cure for pain
And that's the day I throw my drugs away
--Morphine, ''Cure for Pain,” 1993

Sunday afternoon, June 6. I am going to kill myself. No kidding. This time I mean it.

I'm sick. So sick. My last fix was 45 hours and, let's see, 20-odd minutes ago. Ancient history. Not a wink of sleep last night. Jumping out of my skin. No way to get comfortable. Every hour is a day. Every minute an hour.

Marrow sucked from my bones. Ice water in there now. Aching legs flailing. Why do you think it's called kicking? Snot streams from my nose, tears from my eyes. Rancid sweat pours everywhere. Shivering. Shaking. Every hair standing on end. Goose bumps on my goose bumps. Why do you think it's called cold turkey?

Sick. So very sick. Something even sicker? One shot, one lousy shot of dope would set me straight. OK, six hours later, I'd need another. Then another. Then another. So the dope-fiend day goes. In Junktime, though, six hours is a lifetime. (...)

As violent as the abruptly junkless body's revolt can be, the psychic pain vastly exceeds the physical. Think on it. Sick as you've ever been, and two hard truths remain front and center: 1.) This infection is self-inflicted, and 2.) it can be cured only by the medicine that caused it. Hair of a very savage dog, indeed. Every dope fiend suffers withdrawal symptoms guaranteed to drive him or her uniquely around the bend. Stone insomnia was my personally homesteaded circle of hell. Marinated in misery, I am blinklessly awake for every single second of the ordeal, hundreds of thousands of seconds over a half-dozen or so nightmarish days.

Junk sickness boasts a powerful psychosomatic component, which makes its ravages no less a horrifying reality. Aging metabolism may be partly to blame, but every time I have run up and then kicked a jones, the withdrawal has worsened and the next habit has come on all the more quickly. These days, 48 hours of use, and I am helplessly hooked. Even clean, the dope fiend must sometimes endure the bizarre phenomenon of smack-agony flashback. Protracted conditioned abstinence syndrome, it's called. Returned to the cages in which they became addicted, lab rats are plunged into writhing withdrawal. Those junkie rodents had been drug-free for months. Months! Once the junk receptors have drunk deep of the poppy's nectar, it seems, they develop a crafty monomaniacal mind of their own. I've suffered torturous twinges of this situational sickness myself in New York's Penn Station, through which I passed again and again on copping missions to Manhattan's ghettos, feeding a secret habit none of my colleagues could ever even have guessed at.

by Anonymous, Washington City Paper |  Read more:

Alex Kanevsky, Blue Room with Running Dog

via:

Hollywood’s Vial Bodies

A business in Hollywood is small potatoes until it’s known by three letters: CAA, MGM, PMK, SAG, UTA, WME. These days, though, nothing is hotter than Hollywood’s latest health-and-fitness craze: H.G.H. therapy. Just ask any major-league Hollywood player. Earlier this year, following a game of tennis at a swank Beverly Hills country club, a prominent movie producer sat nursing a sore knee. “Just take this,” one of the club members said, offering a vial of H.G.H. A former studio executive recalls a recent dinner out with one of his colleagues. “He’s a family man with a wife and kids,” the executive says. “And he just starts talking about using H.G.H. I was like, ‘Are you crazy?! You’re fucking shooting yourself up?!’ But he said, ‘No, it’s great. And I feel great in the morning. And it’s invigorating.’ ”

Both sources can rattle off a list of Hollywood H.G.H. users, starting with several top-shelf movie stars of both genders. H.G.H.—or “H,” as jocks call it—is an equal-opportunity employer, except as pertains to age. Although one particularly ripped twentysomething heartthrob is said to be on the needle, H.G.H. is largely the domain of stars who wish they were still under 35. The surest giveaway? “Any actor over 50 you’re still seeing with a ripped stomach and veins in his forearms is probably taking H.G.H.,” says a talent manager who represents one famously veiny TV star.

“I definitely saw a difference in my skin,” says Alana Stewart, an active member of the Hollywood social scene. “I know it gave me energy and made me feel kind of more balanced.” Before she began the treatment, she says, “I had started noticing a few gray hairs coming in. But I noticed that when I was taking it—no gray hairs.”

But don’t expect many on-the-record testimonials. So far, the only major players to step forward have been Sylvester Stallone, Nick Nolte, and Oliver Stone. To acknowledge H.G.H. use is to acknowledge weakness. “People talk about H.G.H.—which can cost upwards of $10,000 per year—the way they talk about people who get Botox or Viagra,” says a movie producer. “What you don’t ever hear is people talking about it as if they do it. It’s always those other dudes who look ridiculous.”

Growing Pains

In a sense, H.G.H. is the love child of Viagra and Botox; when administered appropriately, it is said to smooth wrinkles, reduce body fat, and increase lean-muscle mass and bone density, while also improving one’s libido, mood, and overall sense of vitality—to the point that the recipient both looks and feels years younger. “It is a rejuvenating force,” says Dr. Uzzi Reiss, a Beverly Hills physician on the forefront of the H.G.H. trend.

by Ned Zeman, Vanity Fair |  Read more:

One Is the Quirkiest Number

If there is any doubt that we’re living in the age of the individual, a look at the housing data confirms it. For millenniums, people have huddled together, in caves, in mud huts, in split-levels and Cape Cods. But these days, 1 in every 4 American households is occupied by someone living alone; in Manhattan, mythic land of the singleton, the number is nearly 1 in 2.

Lately, along with the compelling statistics, a stealth P.R. campaign seems to be taking place, as though living alone were a political candidate trying to burnish its image. Two notable examples: Eric Klinenberg, a sociology professor at New York University, recently published “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone,” a mash note to domestic solipsism, which he calls “an incredible social experiment” that reveals “the human species is developing new ways to live.” And last fall, an Atlantic magazine cover story examined the rise of the single woman, a piece in which the author Kate Bolick fondly invoked the Barbizon Hotel and visited an Amsterdam apartment complex for women committed to living solo.

In a sense, living alone represents the self let loose. In the absence of what Mr. Klinenberg calls “surveilling eyes,” the solo dweller is free to indulge his or her odder habits — what is sometimes referred to as Secret Single Behavior. Feel like standing naked in your kitchen at 2 a.m., eating peanut butter from the jar? Who’s to know?  (...)

What emerges over time, for those who live alone, is an at-home self that is markedly different — in ways big and small — from the self they present to the world. We all have private selves, of course, but people who live alone spend a good deal more time exploring them.

Rod Sherwood’s living-alone indulgences center on his sleep cycle. A music manager and record producer who works from his railroad apartment in Brooklyn, Mr. Sherwood, 40, said he’ll go to bed at 2 a.m. one night, and then retire later and later by increments, “until I go to bed when the sun comes up.”

He mused: “I wondered how many times in a year I repeat that cycle? I’d be interested to chart it.”

by Steven Kurutz, NY Times |  Read more:
Illustration: Mark Smith

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Riesling Goes With Everything, and Sixteen Other Rules for Pairing Wine with Food

I led a wine tasting last week for students at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. I like pouring for twenty-somethings because they’re so eager to taste and talk about wine. With B-schoolers like these, I’ll also cover the industry, from merchandising to pricing and distribution, but mostly I’m there to get wines into their bodies and get them thinking about the culture of wine, how to evaluate it, and how to integrate it into their lives.

About half-way through the tasting, I poured a round of a Rhône-style red blend, primarily grenache with a little syrah and cinsault added for depth and top-notes. It’s a light-bodied, fruit-driven wine with great acidity, and so it’s really food friendly. I asked the assembled what they might pair it with.

Poultry? someone ventured. Good, yes, roasted poultry would be great. What else? Cheese, someone said. Sure—and what else? Long pause. How about fish? I offered. This wine has supple tannins, so it would readily pair with lighter meats and seafood. Grenache in general is great with fish.

A few heads nodded hesitantly as I sensed some of them trying to wrap their minds around red wine with fish. A fellow in the corner raised his hand. So, how do you figure out what goes with what? he asked. How do you learn about pairing?

I don’t have an easy answer for you, I replied apologetically, but it is a great question. I have books on wine and food pairing, and while reading’s no substitute for tasting, books can introduce the foundation principles. You need to understand how to balance a wine’s sweetness, savoryness, acidity, fruitiness, tannin, and weight with those same elements in the food, while also accounting for the food’s spiciness, saltiness, or richness.

I guess it also helps that I’ve been cooking for twenty-five years, I continued, so I know what food tastes like, and I can conjure those taste memories when I’m tasting a wine. I jot notes on all the wines I taste, and addition to noting Color, Aroma, Flavor, and Finish, I’ve recently added a fifth category: Pairing. Here, while the wine’s fresh on my palate, I think about what I might pour it with—regardless of what I’m about to serve for dinner.

I guess my best answer, I concluded, is to buy a couple of books, then to become attentive, noticing what works best for you.

The young man nodded and smiled, perhaps appreciatively, or perhaps simply relieved that I’d run out of air.

I clearly hadn’t provided a remotely satisfactory answer for someone who is new to wine. So, as a kind of atonement, I’ve put together a short list of pairing rules I’ve derived over the years, lessons learned both by reading and by studying what’s in the glass, and on the plate, before me. I’ll track the young man down, and send him this list:
  • Wines and foods from the same region generally pair well together. Think Albariño with seafood, Grenache with the aïoli platter, Alsatian Riesling with choucroute, Sherry with Manchego, Barbera with pasta, and Montrachet (the wine) with, well, Montrachet (the cheese). As some like to say, “if it grows together, it goes together.”
  • Wines with moderate acidity are generally quite food-friendly. This is because they can cut the richness of a rich dish, and can also balance the flavor of acidic ones, like salad dressing or fresh tomato sauce. Also, acidity in a food can emphasize fruit flavors in the wine.
by Meg Houston Maker, The Palate Press |  Read more: