Democracy’s Dilemma

Over at the Boston Review, Henry Farrell and Bruce Schneier have the lead piece in a forum on the issue of information and democracy, with responses by Riana Pfefferkorn, Joseph Nye, Anna Grzymala-Busse, Allison Berke, Jason Healey, and Astra Taylor: Today, we live in darker time … | Continue reading | 14 hours ago

Why the Clash Matter

Alexander Billet in Jacobin:  Since the death of front-man Joe Strummer in 2002, the Clash have ascended into rock-and-roll mythos. No fewer than thirty books have been released on the band or on Strummer. Some of them are wonderful. Others are shallow and sloppy hagiographies. T … | Continue reading | 14 hours ago

‘Orientalism,’ Then and Now

Adam Shatz in The New York Review of Books: Orientalism in the age of Trump has no interest in promoting democracy or other “Western values” because these values are no longer believed, or they’re regarded as an inconvenient obstacle to the exercise of power. This new Orientalism … | Continue reading | 14 hours ago

Staggering dominance: The only authentic analysis of this election is two words – Narendra Modi

Pratap Bhanu Mehta in Indian Express: All our normal categories of political analysis and statistical jugglery come to nought when they are faced with Narendra Modi. This is because, he more than any politician in modern history, has grasped three things. First, he is the purest … | Continue reading | 14 hours ago

America’s Great Modern Justice

Lincoln Caplan in Harvard Magazine: IN THE SPRING of 1864, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was fighting in the Civil War as a Union Army captain. He had enlisted three years earlier, soon after the war began, when he was 20 and in his last term at Harvard College, in the class of 1861. … | Continue reading | 16 hours ago

Mel Brooks, the Manic Comic

Dave Itzkoff in The New York Times: There’s a revealing moment early in “Funny Man,” Patrick McGilligan’s comprehensive biography of Mel Brooks, the relentless, redoubtable comedian and filmmaker. It’s not so much an anecdote as a recitation of a musical number from Brooks’s form … | Continue reading | 16 hours ago

Saturday Poem

Elevator Music A tune with no more substance than the air, performed on underwater instruments, is proper to this short lift from the earth. It hovers as we draw into ourselves and turn our reverent eyes toward the lights that count us to our various destinies. We’re all in this … | Continue reading | 17 hours ago

Behind every conspiracy theory is a hidden political agenda

Quassim Cassam at the Institute of Art and Ideas: Conspiracy theorists get a seriously bad press. Gullible, irresponsible, paranoid, stupid. These are some of the politer labels applied to them, usually by establishment figures who aren’t averse to promoting their own conspiracy … | Continue reading | 1 day ago

RIP Murray Gell-Mann (1929 – 2019)

From Wikipedia: Murray Gell-Mann (/ˈmʌri ˈɡɛl ˈmæn/; September 15, 1929 – May 24, 2019) was an American physicist who received the 1969 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles. Until his death, he was the Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Theo … | Continue reading | 1 day ago

Trump Was Right Not to Sign the Christchurch Call

Graeme Wood in The Atlantic: Last week, the prime minister of New Zealand and president of France presented the Christchurch Call—a pledge to “eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.” Eighteen countries and all major tech companies signed up, but Donald Trump’s … | Continue reading | 1 day ago

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma Plays Bach In Shadow Of Mexico-US Border

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How Hinduism Became a Political Weapon in India

Jonah Blank at The Atlantic: The term Hindutva can be (sort of) translated as “Hindu-ness,” and that gets (sort of) at what it’s all about: Hinduism not a theology, but an identity. The movement’s intellectual father, Veer Savarkar, wrote its foundational text (helpfully titled H … | Continue reading | 1 day ago

Chernobyl’s Political Fallout

Philip Ball at The New Statesman: All the same, some of the confusion and apathy in the aftermath of the explosion of Reactor Four was due to an inability to comprehend the enormity of what had happened: that the reactor and the hall housing it had literally been blown apart, its … | Continue reading | 1 day ago

Useful Enemies – learning from the Turks

Christopher de Bellaigue in The Guardian: In 1534 an Ottoman delegation was in Paris to discuss a plan to unite France and Turkey against their shared enemy, the Habsburg empire. That François I should lavish courtesies on infidel diplomats was bitterly resented by French Luthera … | Continue reading | 1 day ago

Can We Revive Empathy in Our Selfish World?

Jamil Zaki in Nautilus: You wake up on a bus, surrounded by all your remaining ossessions. A few fellow passengers slump on pale blue seats around you, their heads resting against the windows. You turn and see a father holding his son. Almost everyone is asleep. But one man, with … | Continue reading | 1 day ago

Friday Poem

There is No Word There isn’t a word for walking out of the grocery store with a gallon jug of milk in a plastic sack that should have been bagged in double layers —so that before you are even out the door you feel the weight of the jug dragging the bag down, stretching the… | Continue reading | 1 day ago

An Icon of the Left (Joseph Stiglitz) Tells Democrats: Don’t Go Socialist

Michael Hirsh in Foreign Policy: But now that the backlash against Democratic centrism has made itself felt at the hands of an angry middle class— many of whom voted for Trump—and the party has tacked leftward in his direction, Stiglitz finds himself in the unusual position of ur … | Continue reading | 2 days ago

The hunt for dark matter

Philip Ball in Prospect: Most of the Universe is missing and decades of searching have so far elicited no sign of it. For some scientists this is an embarrassment. For others it is a clue that might eventually push physics towards the next frontier of understanding. Either way, i … | Continue reading | 2 days ago

How the Rural-Urban Divide Became America’s Political Fault Line

Emily Badger in the New York Times: It’s true across many industrialized democracies that rural areas lean conservative while cities tend to be more liberal, a pattern partly rooted in the history of workers’ parties that grew up where urban factories did. But urban-rural polariz … | Continue reading | 2 days ago

Will Technology Save or Subvert Civility and Society?

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Remembering Critic and Novelist John Berger

Sasha Frere-Jones at Bookforum: John Berger became a writer you might find on television because of Ways of Seeing, the 1972 BBC series that became a short and very famous book. The show presented observations now common to pop-culture reviews—publicity “proposes to each of us tha … | Continue reading | 2 days ago

The Return of Hell

Ed Simon at The Baffler: And we abolish the idea of hell at the very moment when it could be the most pertinent to us. An ironic reality in an era where the world becomes seemingly more hellish, when humanity has developed the ability to enact a type of burning punishment upon th … | Continue reading | 2 days ago

A Sealed Box of Poetry

Gill Partington at the LRB: I received d.p. houston’s poetry collection Boîte de Vers in the post last week. It’s completely unreadable, but not in the sense that it’s bad. It could well be, but I have no idea because it comes in a sealed box, ‘in sloppy hommage to the spirit of  … | Continue reading | 2 days ago

Thursday Poem

River …….Mother, …….Why is the river laughing? Why, because the sun is tickling the river …….Mother, …….Why is the river singing? Because the skylark praised the river’s voice. …….Mother, …….Why is the river cold? It remembers being once loved by the snow. …….Mother, …….How old i … | Continue reading | 2 days ago

Billion-year-old fossils set back evolution of earliest fungi

Heidi Ledford in Nature: Minute fossils pulled from remote Arctic Canada could push back the first known appearance of fungi to about one billion years ago — more than 500 million years earlier than scientists had expected. These ur-fungi, described on 22 May in Nature1, are micr … | Continue reading | 2 days ago

A correspondence between David Sloan Wilson and Massimo Pigliucci on Human Cultural Evolution

David Sloan Wilson (and Massimo Pigliucci) in Letter: Dear Massimo, We go way back and share a love of philosophy in addition to biology. I was proud to be included in the “Altenberg 16” workshop that you organized to explore the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis, a term that you c … | Continue reading | 3 days ago

The Wolfram | Alpha Story

Stephen Wolfram in his blog: For me personally, the vision that became Wolfram|Alpha has a very long history. I first imagined creating something like it more than 47 years ago, when I was about 12 years old. Over the years, I built some powerful tools—most importantly the core o … | Continue reading | 3 days ago

Can we escape surveillance culture?

Kenan Malik in Pandaemonium: Sometimes, it is the very ordinariness of a scene that makes it terrifying. So it was with a clip from last week’s BBC documentary on facial recognition technology. It shows the Metropolitan police trialling a facial recognition system on an east Lond … | Continue reading | 3 days ago

Nuclear plants are closing across New England, so why are these environmentalists rallying to their defense?

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Jean Vanier: “The strong need the weak as much as the weak need the strong”

Maggie Fergusson in MIL: LATE IN THE afternoon of June 22nd 1940, Hitler marched into a glade in the forest of Compiègne, 60km north of Paris. A giant swastika was unfurled as he saluted columns of Nazi troops, before hoisting himself into what had once been the private railway c … | Continue reading | 3 days ago

These tiny microbes are munching away at plastic waste in the ocean

Helen Santoro in Science: Plastic makes up nearly 70% of all ocean litter, putting countless aquatic species at risk. But there is a tiny bit of hope—a teeny, tiny one to be precise: Scientists have discovered that microscopic marine microbes are eating away at the plastic, causi … | Continue reading | 3 days ago

Wednesday Poem

Tectonics In only a few months there begin to be fissures in what we remember, and within a year or two, the facts break apart one from another and slowly begin to shift and turn, grinding, pushing up over each other until their shapes have been changed and the past has become a … | Continue reading | 3 days ago

When Is An American Symphony Not American Enough?

Sudip Bose at The American Scholar: It’s amazing that this landmark symphony could have been so easily forgotten. As with the other seminal New Englanders—George Whitefield Chadwick, Horatio Parker, and Edward MacDowell, among them—modernism killed off Paine’s music. And with the … | Continue reading | 3 days ago

Somehow I Became Respectable

John Waters at the Paris Review: Somehow I became respectable. I don’t know how—the last film I directed got some terrible reviews and was rated NC-17. Six people in my personal phone book have been sentenced to life in prison. I did an art piece called Twelve Assholes and a Dirt … | Continue reading | 3 days ago

A Memoir of Witness and Resistance

Alex von Tunzelmann at Literary Review: There is a lot of horror in this book. People are thrown from helicopters into the sea, their arms tied behind their backs. A colonel grinds up his victims’ bodies and feeds them to his dogs. Forché finds mutilated corpses by the side of th … | Continue reading | 3 days ago

Critics Parul Sehgal and Teju Cole on the changing authority of words

John Ortved in Document: Why do we like what we like? The books, movies, photos, and artworks that form our perspective—who puts them in front of us? One answer is the critic, that cipher of taste who places art in its various corridors, then augments, defines, degrades, and ulti … | Continue reading | 4 days ago

Sean Carroll’s Mindscape Podcast: Adam Rutherford on Humans, Animals, and Life in General

Sean Carroll in Preposterous Universe: Most people in the modern world — and the vast majority of Mindscape listeners, I would imagine — agree that humans are part of the animal kingdom, and that all living animals evolved from a common ancestor. Nevertheless, there are ways in w … | Continue reading | 4 days ago

The “3.5%” Rule: How a small minority can change the world

David Robson at the BBC: Earlier this year, the presidents of Sudan and Algeria both announced they would step aside after decades in office, thanks to peaceful campaigns of resistance. In each case, civil resistance by ordinary members of the public trumped the political elite t … | Continue reading | 4 days ago

Why The US Has No High-Speed Rail

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Disrupting the Pharmacy

John Tierney in The City Journal: A team of Internet entrepreneurs in downtown Manhattan wants to revolutionize how Americans get prescription drugs. Their company, Blink Health, has a crazy idea: let customers shop for the best deal. In any other industry, of course, this would … | Continue reading | 4 days ago

Scientists Created Bacteria With a Synthetic Genome. Is This Artificial Life?

Carl Zimmer in The New York Times:’ Scientists have created a living organism whose DNA is entirely human-made — perhaps a new form of life, experts said, and a milestone in the field of synthetic biology. Researchers at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biolog … | Continue reading | 4 days ago

Tuesday Poem

Under a Certain Little Star My apologies to chance for calling it necessity. My apologies to necessity in case I’m mistaken. May happiness not be angry if I take it for my own. May the dead forgive me that their memory’s but a flicker. My apologies to time for the multiplicity of … | Continue reading | 4 days ago

How Does Belief Polarization Work?

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse We have noted previously that there are two different phenomena called “polarization.” The first, political polarization, refers to the ideological distance between opposing political parties. When it’s rampant, political rivals share no co … | Continue reading | 5 days ago

Monday Poem

“The stars are raining down upon me. I know this is not true, but it is the truth.” —Michel Foucault But it Is the stars are raining down upon me I know this not true, but there are so many, as many as every drop in a deluge, as many as if the earth had… | Continue reading | 5 days ago

The Things It Was Impossible To Say Aloud

by Anitra Pavlico In Louise DeSalvo’s introduction to a 1991 edition of Virginia Woolf’s first novel, The Voyage Out, she describes Woolf’s childhood incest and how she incorporates it into the novel. DeSalvo also discusses an earlier incarnation of the novel, Melymbrosia, which … | Continue reading | 5 days ago


Camille Hoffman. Here We Land. 2019. “The current migration crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border factors heavily into Camille Hoffman’s work. The artist created collages from leaked photos from the border with images of America’s lush natural landscape. These collages are part of the … | Continue reading | 5 days ago

“What exasperates and amuses me pertains almost exclusively to Switzerland and the Swiss” — A Conversation with Madeleine LaRue

by Andrea Scrima Andrea Scrima: Madeleine, you translate, write critical essays, and have been editing for Music & Literature for six years. Recently, all these areas of your expertise were called upon in a particularly rigorous way in preparation for a quietly sensational litera … | Continue reading | 5 days ago

Colonel Kenney-Herbert Slices a Mango

Having before you an iced mango of a really good variety, and in perfect condition, slice off the upper piece as you would decapitate an egg, with this difference, that the mango must be sliced as it rests naturally on its side, lengthwise, and not be set up on end as an egg. Wel … | Continue reading | 5 days ago