Retalls (23.6.19)

(…) Johnson’s Oxford days are now usually mentioned in connection with his membership of the hard-drinking, posh and sometimes destructive Bullingdon Club, but in fact he was a vessel of focused ambition. Arriving in Oxford from Eton in 1983, he had three aims, writes Sonia Purnell in Just Boris: to get a First-class degree, find a wife and become Union president. That post was “the first step to being prime minister”, said the 1980s Tory politician Michael Heseltine. (…)

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Retalls (16.6.19)

(…) But the curse of living in the eternal immediate present is that the stakes for this “last fight” could not be higher, especially since young Hong Kongers fear that if they are defeated in this battle, there will be nothing left to lose. The failure of the Umbrella movement five years ago, when Hong Kongers occupied important thoroughfares for 79 days, seeking greater democratic participation, to win any concrete gains has raised the stakes further still this time round. “HK is not China! Not yet!” These few words hastily scrawled on to a piece of A4 paper and tacked on to the concrete strut of a walkway aptly encapsulate the political crisis roiling Hong Kong. (…)

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Retalls (2.6.19)

(…) The rest of the world may be marking the 30-year anniversary of the Tiananmen crisis as a crucial episode in China’s recent past. For the Chinese government, however, Tiananmen remains a frightening portent. Even though the regime has wiped the events of June 4 from the memories of most of China’s people, they are still living in the aftermath (...)

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Retalls (26.5.19)

(…) In March, 2018, General Motors announced that it would invest a hundred million dollars in a new car called the Cruise AV. On the outside, the Cruise resembles an ordinary car. But, on the inside, it’s what the automotive industry calls a “level five” autonomous vehicle: a car with no steering wheel, gas pedal, or human-operated brake. Ford, too, plans to release a car without a steering wheel, by 2021; Navya, a French company, already produces level-five shuttles and taxis, and has partnered with cities such as Luxembourg City and Abu Dhabi. Silicon Valley futurists and many Detroit executives see such cars as the inevitable future of driving. By taking people out of the driver’s seat, they aim to make travelling by automobile as safe as flying in a plane. (...) Last fall, the Philadelphia Navy Yard hosted Radwood, a car meet-up with a very different conception of the automotive future. The only cars allowed at Radwood are ones manufactured between 1980 and 2000. When I visited, early one morning, people had gathered around a red 1991 Volvo GL (…)

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Retalls (19.5.19)

(…) To get a sense of what it would be like to have the slow process become the fast process, you can go to the AgeLab, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, and put on agnes (for Age Gain Now Empathy System). agnes, or the “sudden aging” suit, as Joseph Coughlin, the founder and director of the AgeLab describes it, includes yellow glasses, which convey a sense of the yellowing of the ocular lens that comes with age; a boxer’s neck harness, which mimics the diminished mobility of the cervical spine; bands around the elbows, wrists, and knees to simulate stiffness; boots with foam padding to produce a loss of tactile feedback; and special gloves to “reduce tactile acuity while adding resistance to finger movements.” (...) Slowly pulling on the aging suit and then standing up—it looks a bit like one of the spacesuits that the Russian cosmonauts wore—you’re at first conscious merely of a little extra weight, a little loss of feeling, a small encumbrance or two at the extremities. Soon, though, it’s actively infuriating. (…)

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Retalls (12.5.19)

(…) Mark’s condition is called hyperacusis. It can be caused by overexposure to loud sounds, although no one knows why some people are more susceptible than others. There is no known cure. Before the onset of his symptoms, Mark lived a life that was noise-filled but similar to those of millions of his contemporaries: garage band, earbuds, crowded bars, concerts. The pain feels like “raw inflammation,” he said, and is accompanied by pressure on his ears and his temples, by tension in the back of his head, and, occasionally, by an especially disturbing form of tinnitus: “You and I would have a conversation, and then after you’d left I’d go upstairs and some phrase you had been saying would repeat over and over in my ear, almost like a song when they have the reverb going.” (…)

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Retalls (5.5.19)

(…) The institute’s classes offer a version of Indian history and society that has parallels with narratives pushed by the Steve Bannons and Nigel Farages of the world. India’s political establishment, the IIDL’s lecturers argue, has for years benefited from corrupt excesses, to the country’s detriment. In their telling, Westernization and globalization have caused more harm than good, and India’s path to greatness lies in reviving religious and cultural traditions. (…)

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Retalls (28.4.19)

(…) In 1974 the performance artist Marina Abramovic stood naked and immobile in a Naples gallery. Next to her was a table with seventy-two objects, including a loaded gun. Beside the objects was a document absolving the audience of responsibility for whatever they might choose to do to her with those objects. Freeing the audience from accountability turned the performance into an exposé of their ethics: they became actors in a scenario as well as witnesses of one another’s behavior. Some of them made violent gestures toward Abramovic—they were not exclusively sexual, but many were. She endured cuts to her skin as well as what one critic described as intimate caresses and minor sexual assaults before the audience erupted into a fight when a participant put the gun to her head. (…)

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Retalls (7.4.19)

(…) Her protagonists often analyze their own statuswhat it means to wear a necklace from the cheap British catalog store Argos or to drink milk directly from the bottle. (…)

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Retalls (31.3.19)

(...) Diderot’s involvement in turning the second and third editions (1774 and 1780) into incendiary denunciations of European colonialism and the slave trade remained largely unknown before the second half of the twentieth century; the papers he left to his daughter were only inventoried in 1951, thanks to the work of Herbert Dieckmann, a German émigré professor then at Harvard, and scholars are still sorting out what came from Diderot’s pen. (...)

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Retalls (17.3.19)

Why Woman Sexual Liberation Came at a Price. Rosie Boycott. Financial Times

My mother was fond of saying she had “loved the war”. She worked, she was wanted, and I know she threw caution to the wind when it came to relationships with young soldiers and airmen who might not return home. But come the end, she was back in the kitchen, the jobs were only for men, and women were expected to pick up everything else. (...)

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Retalls (24.2.2019)

#KoreaToo. E. Tammy Kim. The New York Review of Books

It is curious that a book not primarily focused on sexual violence has become a cultural touchstone for Korea’s version of the Me Too movement. (...) Porn is illegal in Korea, and thus exchanged through underground networks—this was nothing new—but consumers were now downloading countless images of women and girls that had been obtained secretly, without their consent. Revenge porn and footage from spy cameras in women’s bathrooms and changing rooms were being streamed on smartphones and bought and sold on various websites, on a scale few had previously understood. (...)

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Retalls (10-2-19)

New Americanism. Jill Llepore. Foreign Affairs

Nineteenth-century nationalism was liberal, a product of the Enlightenment. It rested on an analogy between the individual and the collective. As the American theorist of nationalism Hans Kohn once wrote, “The concept of national self-determination—transferring the ideal of liberty from the individual to the organic collectivity—was raised as the banner of liberalism.” (...) Liberal nationalism, as an idea, is fundamentally historical. Nineteenth-century Americans understood the nation-state within the context of an emerging set of ideas about human rights: namely, that the power of the state guaranteed everyone eligible for citizenship the same set of irrevocable political rights (...) In the antebellum United States, Northerners, and especially northern abolitionists, drew a contrast between (northern) nationalism and (southern) sectionalism. “We must cultivate a national, instead of a sectional patriotism” urged one Michigan congressman in 1850. But Southerners were nationalists, too (…)

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Retalls (3.2.2019)

Reeducating’ Xinjiang’s Muslims. James Millward. The New York Review of Books.

People outside Xinjiang first began to learn about the camps in 2017. Uighurs abroad grew alarmed as friends and relatives at home dropped out of touch, first deleting phone and social media contacts and then disappearing entirely. Uighur students who returned or were forced back to China after studying in foreign countries likewise vanished upon arriving. When they can get any information at all, Uighurs outside China have learned that police took their relatives and friends to the reeducation camps: “gone to study” is the careful euphemism used on the closely surveilled Chinese messaging app WeChat. (...) Our best sense of what is happening inside the camps comes from former prisoners, one writing anonymously in Foreign Policy, and others interviewed in Kazakhstan by Shih and Emily Rauhala for The Washington Post: detainees must sing anthems of the Chinese Communist Party (…)

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Retalls (27.1.2019)

Happiness on Demand. Lone Frank. The New York Book of Review.

Twelve years ago, a fifty-nine-year-old Dutchman checked into an Amsterdam hospital to have two small electrodes implanted in his brain. The patient, “Mr. B,” had a forty-year history of severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. Neither drugs nor therapy had helped, and he was prepared to try an experimental treatment called deep brain stimulation (DBS). Powered by neurostimulators placed under the skin, the implanted electrodes would deliver regular five-volt electrical pulses to a region of Mr. B’s brain called the nucleus accumbens (...) Until the electrodes were implanted Mr. B had no particular interest in music, least of all country music. If he listened to music, it was usually the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or Dutch rock bands. Six months after the DBS began, however, Mr. B had a transformative moment: he heard Johnny Cash’s song “Ring of Fire” on the radio. From then on, Mr. B listened to Johnny Cash and nothing else. In the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, his doctors wrote, “When listening to his favorite songs he walks back and forth through the room and feels like he finds himself in a movie in which he plays the hero’s part.” (...)

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Retalls (20.1.19)

The Art of Decision Making. Joshua Rothman. The New Yorker.

In “War and Peace,” Tolstoy writes that, while an armchair general may imagine himself “analyzing some campaign on a map” and then issuing orders, a real general never finds himself at “the beginning of some event”; instead, he is perpetually situated in the middle of a series of events, each a link in an endless chain of causation. “Can it be that I allowed Napoleon to get as far as Moscow?” Tolstoy’s General Kutuzov wonders. “When was it decided? Was it yesterday, when I sent Platov the order to retreat, or was it the evening before, when I dozed off and told Bennigsen to give the orders? Or still earlier?” Unlike the capture of Moscow by Napoleon, the birth of my son was a joyous occasion. Still, like Kutuzov, I’m at a loss to explain it: it’s a momentous choice, but I can’t pinpoint the making of it in space or time. For Tolstoy, the tendency of big decisions to make themselves was one of the great mysteries of existence. It suggested that the stories we tell about our lives are inadequate to their real complexity. Johnson means to offer a way out of the Tolstoyan conundrum. He wants to make us writers, rather than readers, of our own stories. Doing so requires engaging with one of life’s fundamental questions: Are we in charge of the ways we change? (…)

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Retalls (13.1.19)

Are our life chances determined by our DNA? Anja Ahuja. Financial Times

Even the home, the very definition of “environment”, is subject to genetic influence, he says. If kids in book-filled homes exhibit high IQs, it is because high-IQ parents tend to create book-filled homes. The parents are passing on their intelligence to their children via their genes, not their libraries: “The shocking and profound revelation . . . is that parents have little systematic effect on their children’s outcomes, beyond the blueprint that their genes provide.” His conclusion is that “parents matter, but they don’t make a difference”. (...) Plomin describes DNA as a “fortune-teller” while simultaneously emphasising that “genetics describes what is — it does not predict what could be”. This caveat is odd, given his later enthusiasm for using genetic testing predictively in almost every aspect of life: in health, education, choosing a job and even attracting a spouse. (...) This vision sounds worryingly like pre-medicalisation. Plomin proclaims himself a cheerleader for such implications but is disappointingly light on the ethical issues. A predisposition might never manifest as a symptom — and besides, “possible schizophrenic” is not the kind of descriptor I would want to carry around from birth. (...) Plomin admits that cowardice stopped him writing such a book before now; it probably also stopped him from addressing alleged racial differences in intelligence. This is a grave omission, as he is one of the few academics capable of authoritatively quashing the notion. James Watson, the 90-year-old DNA pioneer, recently restated his belief that blacks are cognitively inferior to whites. (...)

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Retalls (11.11.18)

American Devilry. Adam Hochschild. The New York Review of Book.

”At least four thousand black people were lynched in the United States between 1877 and 1950. Not all of them were in the South. In 1922, a black man seen kissing a white woman barely escaped being killed by a mob in midtown Manhattan. (...) Where, then, does this deep American racial fury, so skillfully manipulated by Donald Trump’s jut-browed scowl, come from? Churchwell reminds us of how white Americans, no matter how poor, have long been compensated with what W. E. B. Du Bois called the “public and psychological wage” of being white. “White laborers,” he wrote, “were convinced that the degradation of Negro labor was more fundamental than the uplift of white labor.” Fountain quotes another distinguished black writer, James Baldwin, making essentially the same point: “The contempt with which American leaders treat American blacks is very obvious; what is not so obvious is that they treat the bulk of the American people with the very same contempt. But it will be sub-zero weather in a very distant August when the American people find the guts to recognize this fact.”

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Retalls (4.11.18)

The Autocracy AppJacob Weisberg. The New York Review of Books

 “What would the world look like if Facebook succeeded in becoming the Operating System of Our Lives? That status has arguably been achieved only by Tencent in China. Tencent runs WeChat, which combines aspects of Facebook, Messenger, Google, Twitter, and Instagram. People use its payment system to make purchases from vending machines, shop online, bank, and schedule appointments. Tencent also connects to the Chinese government’s Social Credit System, which gives users a score, based on data mining and surveillance of their online and offline activity. You gain points for obeying the law and lose them for such behavior as traffic violations or “spreading rumors online.” (…)

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Retalls (27.10.18)

I won’t vote. W.E.B. Du Bois. The Nation (1956)

If a voter organizes or advocates a real third-party movement, he may be accused of seeking to overthrow this government by “force and violence.” Anything he advocates by way of significant reform will be called “Communist” and will of necessity be Communist in the sense that it must advocate such things as government ownership of the means of production; government in business; the limitation of private profit; social medicine, government housing and federal aid to education; the total abolition of race bias; and the welfare state. These things are on every Communist program; these things are the aim of socialism. Any American who advocates them today, no matter how sincerely, stands in danger of losing his job, surrendering his social status and perhaps landing in jail. The witnesses against him may be liars or insane or criminals.”

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