As Scott Brown prepares to ditch Massachusetts and challenge Jeanne Shaheen for her New Hampshire Senate seat, Kevin Mahnken defends the practice of carpetbagging:
There is a great deal that is silly about the politics in the United States, but nothing more fatuous and bizarre than the widely-held belief that an elected representative must somehow form a lasting relationship with a place, or embody its character and traditions, to ably work on behalf of its people. This expectation forced ex-senator Richard Lugar to go to extreme lengths to prove his residency in Indiana—a state that, in normal circumstances, no sane person would willingly claim as their home—and allowed his primary opponent to successfully paint him as absent and out of touch, costing him reelection and millions of Hoosiers a skilled and popular lawmaker. Even now, Mary Cheney must dodge accusations of carpetbagging in her own Wyoming Senate race. But that (truthful) designation couldn’t possibly be more important than her manifest insanity. A candidate’s policy preferences matter infinitely more than which college football team he roots for. If Brown, like Robert Kennedy and Hillary Clinton before him, were to run and win in a state he hadn’t lived in, it would go a long way toward proving that point.
[In the early 19th century], squirrels were just another animal running around the woods, mainly useful as a source of food for frontiersmen. If you saw a squirrel in the city, it was almost certainly being kept as a pet. One escaped pet squirrel in New York City, circa 1856, drew a crowd of hundreds according to one of the city papers—which called the squirrel an “unusual visitor.”
Around the same time, a sea change in our relationship with squirrels was already underway in Philadelphia. The city had released three squirrels in Franklin Square in 1847 and had provided them with food and boxes for shelter – and the people loved it. One visitor is quoted as saying “it was a wonder that [squirrels] are not in the public parks of all great cities.” In the years that followed, the trend spread to Boston and New Haven, where squirrels soon grew so fat from humans feeding them that they were falling out of the trees. Cities even started planting nut-bearing trees so that the squirrels would have their own food source.
The squirrel fad really took off in the 1870s, thanks to Frederick Law Olmstead’s expansive parks. … A small number of squirrels planted in the park in 1877 soon grew into a sizable population. By the time it had reached an estimated 1,500 squirrels six years later, authorities even talked about culling the population so that it didn’t get out of control. At the same time, squirrel populations were growing around the country, with squirrels gracing the lawns of both Harvard Yard and Washington D.C.’s National Mall.
(Photo: A girl watches a red squirrel in a circa-1875 greeting card. By Hutton Archive)
John Allen Gay asks whether it makes strategic sense for the US foreign policy to concern itself with how other countries treat vulnerable minorities:
Those who advocate a prominent role for human rights in American foreign policy usually embrace a common argument—that disrespect for human rights at home is a warning sign that a country will promote instability beyond its borders, while countries pushed to respect human rights will behave more constructively. Thus, for instance, the Rwandan genocide was followed by a bloodletting throughout the African Great Lakes region, with the Rwandan government (drawn from the side of the victims) an active sponsor of violence in neighboring states. Thus, Saudi Arabia rules repressively at home and supports Islamic extremism abroad. Thus, Nazi Germany went from Kristallnacht to launching a continental war and an international campaign of genocide.
Yet human rights remain separable from international aggression.
The first items in the show are Beethoven’s death mask and a post mortem painting of his hands turning grey and blue, and among other pictures in the room is von Amerling’s painting of his wife on her death bed (1843). Even the one seemingly triumphant picture here, von Amerling’s large and resplendent portrait of Cäcilie Freiin von Eskeles (1832), although depicting her dressed in luxurious clothing and posed in front of a red velvet curtain like a Baroque princess, emphasizes the keen sorrow of her gaze. Despite her wealth and status, like nearly everyone else in the room, she is shown alone with her sad thoughts.
The theme of painful solitude was everywhere in the culture of the city at the time. Indeed, the catalog of the 1905 exhibition spoke of today’s “isolating times”; and just two years later in his book, Vienna, Herman Bahr, referring both to artists of the past such as Beethoven and Waldmüller, and of the present such as Mahler and Klimt, wrote, “Real people are always kept in a cage of immense loneliness [in Vienna].” …
Maria Konnikova presents research into “sleep inertia” (the reason why we’re all so miserable in the morning) and what can be done about it:
When [neuroscientist Kenneth] Wright asked a group of young adults to embark on a weeklong camping trip, he discovered a striking pattern: before the week was out, the negative sleep patterns that he’d previously observed disappeared. In the days leading up to the trip, he had noted that the subjects’ bodies would begin releasing the sleep hormone melatonin about two hours prior to sleep, around 10:30 P.M. A decrease in the hormone, on the other hand, took place after wake-up, around 8 A.M. After the camping trip, those patterns had changed significantly. Now the melatonin levels increased around sunset—and decreased just after sunrise, an average of fifty minutes before wake-up time. In other words, not only did the time outside, in the absence of artificial light and alarm clocks, make it easier for people to fall asleep, it made it easier for them to wake up: the subjects’ sleep rhythms would start preparing for wake-up just after sunrise, so that by the time they got up, they were far more awake than they would have otherwise been. The sleep inertia was largely gone.
Sorry for the missed posting last night. I won’t bore you with the various gruesome details of my current health issues, but I’ve been spending a lot of time in the bathroom. I’m grateful for the Dish team for holding down the fort while I’ve been a little preoccupied.
On the other hand, it’s a great opportunity to talk about toilet reading. Roger’s Profanisaurus is a blessed little tome from the authors of Britain’s most repellent adult comic, Viz. (Yes, my brother brought it to my attention.) I was so entranced by the first edition a few years’ back that I shared it with Hitch, who promptly refused to give it back. It’s probably still in his bathroom. The original tome now has several updates, including 2005′s Profanisaurus Rex, 2007′s Magna Farta, and 2010′s Das Krapital. You probably get the general idea. The latest is called “Hail Sweary.”
It still staggers me that Anglo-Saxon renders so many potential terms for so few bodily fluids (and occasional painful solids). The definitions compound each other – and you can spend a lifetime chasing down the references – but I hereby offer a random sampling of what’s kept me sane the last couple of long nights:
jibblesn. The involuntary vibration of the jester’s shoes just before the custard pie gets thrown.
gesundsheitn. Ger. A simultaneous, albeit unintentional, sneeze and brown trout in the trousers. A cause for congratulation in Germany, that is.
gutbuttn. Affectionate epithet for an extremely obese person, the folds of stomach hanging down out of their t-shirt, resembling nothing so much as a pair of extra, frontal mudflaps. Also fruttocks.
pasturbationn. Dwelling on earlier glories whilst shaking hands with an old friend. Tosstalgia.
march of the penguins 1. n. What passes for a nature film in America, narrated by him off The Shawshank Redemption and them insurance ads. 2. n. An ungainly and seemingly endless waddle to the crapper whilst trying desperately to prevent the release of Bully’s special prize.
I could go on, but I think you have to have gone to an all-boys English school or a local rugby club to fully appreciate the genius of the oeuvre. I’d give you the Amazon link but I wouldn’t be forgiven in some households. Nor should I be.
A new study (pdf) assesses the effects of anti-poverty programs over the past 45 years. Emily Badger comments:
If you’re a working mom of two making $18,000 a year, just below the poverty line, the government doesn’t consider in its own poverty rate whether the food stamps and rental subsidies it gives you effectively help pull your family above that threshold. To address this, the Census Bureau began to roll out in 2011 a supplemental poverty measure, a revised tool that tries to take these non-cash benefits into account (alongside other essential family costs). The supplemental measure, though, is primarily a resource for the curious. It’s not used in official poverty statistics or policy-making.
Researchers at Columbia University’s Population Research Center, however, have used it to make a powerful point about the real impact of all these government programs. Christopher Wimer and colleagues took the new supplemental threshold and carried it back in time, adjusting the 2012 supplemental poverty line for inflation … Take away those programs, and the poverty rate would have actually inched up from 1967 to 2011.
Brad Plumer sees the above chart in the context of the Great Recession:
Navid Khonsari, a videogame director known for his work on the Grand Theft Auto series, has created an open-world game that takes place during the Iranian revolution:
In fact, most of the game play in “1979 Revolution” is a battle of wits and ethical dilemmas, rather than the shoot-em-ups of Khonsari’s more notorious games. “Like the Arab Spring, [the Iranian revolution] was exciting and scary, but not overtly violent,” Khonsari noted. Though frustrated, Khonsari can understand the nerves he has touched. “For [Iranian exiles], 1979 was the quintessential moment when their lives were upturned,” he said. “I left Iran in 1979, and that was important for the rest of my life. A lot of Iranians want to bury this past. The younger [Irans emigrants] get it. They are disassociated enough from that event that they see the possibility of this being an amazing experience to learn what their uncles went through,” he continued.
A former history major, Khonsari hopes “1979” can inspire a genre of games that provide a ringside seat at major historical events. “My father warned me that nothing good could come out of doing things in politics,” Khonsari said. “He also supported us when he saw it wasn’t political, but part of what I’m doing is to be a template for his grandkids to learn about historical events, not through dates and facts, but through experiencing it.” He also hopes the game’s narrative depth, which features original audio recordings and photography from 1979, will resonate with youths in Iran and won’t be just a historical curiosity.
With a new study showing that we are leaching more prescription drugs into our drinking water than previously thought, scientists are getting concerned:
We know how the drugs get there: Our bodies release them when we urinate or flush old drugs down the toilet. And it’s well known by now that pharmaceuticals are affecting fish, frogs and lobsters—small amounts of estrogen cause male fish to develop eggs, for instance…
So far, there have not been any studies showing effects on human health. It is particularly difficult to study the effects on the most vulnerable populations: pregnant women and the elderly. But [Shane] Snyder [co-director at the Arizona Laboratory for Emerging Contaminants] is frustrated that nothing has been done about the drugs that have already been found to be definitely problematic for aquatic life. “Look at estrogen and endocrine disruptors—here’s a case where there is compelling evidence that it has an effect on aquatic life and still nothing has been done,” said Snyder. Snyder said it would not be that difficult to figure out how to remove the compounds from the water, but it might be costly and the byproducts might be worse than the original contaminants.
Meanwhile, another study suggests that rising levels of oceanic acidity are also putting a strain on fish:
Scientists from UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Canada’s MacEwan University recently published this surprising finding in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Science. But what does it mean for fish to be anxious? According to this study, all it takes is observing how much time the fish choose to spend in dark versus light areas of their habitats… Previous studies have shown that fish dosed with anxiety-inducing drugs will, instead of moving continuously around their tanks, prefer to dwell in the dark spots. Turns out, putting fish in slightly more acidic water is just like administering an anxiety-inducing drug.
So do we blame the Christians for bringing down the curtain on those merry scenes? Yes, but against a background that comes as a chill reminder of the lasting strangeness of the ancient world. If one asks if women in these scenes were free persons (and even how many of the men were free, for some might be slave gigolos), the unexpected answer would be: far fewer than we would wish to think. Many of the women were slaves. The jolly free-for-all, which we like to imagine as forming a timeless human bond between us and the ancients, was based upon the existence of a vast and cruel “zone of free access” provided by the enslaved bodies of boys and girls. Slavery, “an inherently degrading institution,” was “absolutely fundamental to the social and moral order of Roman life.” …
What mattered, in Roman law and in Roman sexual morality, had little to do with sex. It had everything to do with whose bodies could be enjoyed with impunity and whose could not be touched without elaborate formulas of consent.
A deal in the Senate to impose additional sanctions on Iran has fallen apart, as Senate Democrats accede to requests from President Obama to delay new legislation while world powers negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran.
Earlier this week, Colin H. Kahl made the case that more sanctions would be counterproductive:
Suppose the Majles, Iran’s legislature, passed legislation tomorrow, over Rouhani’s objections, declaring that Iran would resume and escalate its nuclear activities in six months’ time if Washington failed to live up to its Geneva commitments and agree to a final deal that fully respects Iran’s nuclear rights. …
In Swann’s Way, the taste of a madeleine famously transports Proust’s narrator to the realm of childhood reverie. Borrowing a page from the novel, Julian Baggini decided to spend “a day eating only as I had done around the age when I started secondary school,” reproducing the cuisine of Britain in the 1970s and early ’80s:
By dinner time I was losing my appetite for self-experimentation. This time I cooked a 1970s-style spaghetti bolognese, topped with dried ‘Italian cheese’ from a drum. It could, quite rightly, no longer be called Parmesan. Cooking it brought back some memories: the patient waiting for onions to soften, the pink mince browning and breaking up into very small bits and the meaty smell as it did so, the sauce reducing and getting a greasy sheen. But when I actually ate it, it was underwhelming.
I thought the thread was dead, but apparently not. I’m glad, because I want to share my story. I started this email almost three weeks ago with my adopted five-day-old son on my lap, but then I saved it in my drafts folder thinking that I couldn’t write about my miscarriages or the adoption. Now that the 15-day waiting period has ended and our son can no longer be taken back by his birth mother, I’m ready to talk about my experience.
I read the New Yorkermiscarriage piece with horror a few weeks ago because we were anxiously awaiting the birth of our baby. The birth mother is a healthy young woman, and I was pretty sure the baby would turn out OK. What I wasn’t so sure about was whether or not she would change her mind and close the door on our dream.
My husband and I experienced our first miscarriage in fall of 2004. My last, the twelfth, occurred in January 2012.
U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) answers questions during a press conference in Washington, DC on December 12, 2013. When asked if he would press ultra-conservative groups to tone down their criticism of a pending budget deal, Boehner said, “I don’t care what they do.” By Win McNamee/Getty Images.
Reviving the thread, a reader sighs, ”I should have set a timer for how long it would take a physician to tell me my weight will kill me”:
My original letter prompted this predictable response:
As a physician I am dismayed by one of your readers’ quotes: “I am healthy despite my weight.” That’s the equivalent of saying I’m healthy despite my heart disease or I’m healthy despite my colon cancer.
It is that global belief, which is quickly being undermined by research, that puts doctors outside the reality of the lives of their patients. Recent studies have shown that in the absence of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or other chronic illnesses that can correlate with obesity, but do not always, obesity itself may not be the risk it is assumed to be. The blunt instrument of weight, or the specious BMI, as an absolute indicator of health does not square with the actual experience of many people. The prescription to lose weight – a “losing” proposition in the long run for most people – does not recognize the reality that doing as prescribed – eating healthily and exercising regularly – doesn’t always result in weight loss, but it may result in health.
Another is more blunt:
By insisting on continually recommending weight loss to their fat patients instead of emphasizing healthy habits for all, doctors like your reader do real harm.
Earlier this week, Sy Hersh questioned whether Assad actually launched the Syrian chemical weapons attack. Eliot Higgins pushes back:
Hersh … discusses the possibility that the sarin was produced by Jabhat al-Nusra, the al Qaeda-affiliated group that’s fighting Assad. I asked chemical weapons specialist Dan Kaszeta for his opinion on that. He compared the possibility of Jabhat al-Nusra using chemical weapons to another terrorist attack involving sarin: the 1996 gassing of the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinrikyo cult.
“The 1994 to 1996 Japanese experience tells us that even a very large and sophisticated effort comprising many millions of dollars, a dedicated large facility, and a lot of skilled labor results only in liters of sarin, not tons,” Kaszeta said. “Even if the Aug. 21 attack is limited to the eight Volcano rockets that we seem to be talking about, we’re looking at an industrial effort two orders of magnitude larger than the Aum Shinrikyo effort. This is a nontrivial and very costly undertaking, and I highly doubt whether any of the possible nonstate actors involved here have the factory to have produced it. Where is this factory? Where is the waste stream? Where are the dozens of skilled people — not just one al Qaeda member — needed to produce this amount of material?”
Matthew O’Brien wishes Congress would deal with long-term unemployment:
It’s been over four years since the recovery officially began, but it still feels like a recession to most people. Maybe that’s because with three unemployed people for every job opening, things are still as bad as they ever got last recession. Not that Washington has paid much attention the past few years. It’s been too preoccupied with short-term deficits to care about long-term unemployment. That was obvious when a Congressional hearing in April about people out of work for six months or more drew all of … one senator at the start. And it is even more obvious now with the latest budget deal.
People derive so much of their identity and of their moral core from being able to work. It’s how people provide for their families, express creativity, gives you a sense of purpose. There are all these moral and spiritual and psychological benefits to working. So if you want to ask how society is doing broadly, certainly the economics are important, but more important is whether this society is functioning in a way that people can live the fullest life possible and can maximize their potential. And right now, for these 4 million folks, we’re failing.
Fresh off a Nobel win, biologist Randy Schekman launches a high-profile boycott of the most prestigious academic journals, including Science, Nature, andCell:
While they publish many outstanding papers, they do not publish only outstanding papers. Neither are they the only publishers of outstanding research. These journals aggressively curate their brands, in ways more conducive to selling subscriptions than to stimulating the most important research. Like fashion designers who create limited-edition handbags or suits, they know scarcity stokes demand, so they artificially restrict the number of papers they accept.
A paper can become highly cited because it is good science – or because it is eye-catching, provocative or wrong. Luxury-journal editors know this, so they accept papers that will make waves because they explore sexy subjects or make challenging claims. This influences the science that scientists do. It builds bubbles in fashionable fields where researchers can make the bold claims these journals want, while discouraging other important work, such as replication studies. In extreme cases, the lure of the luxury journal can encourage the cutting of corners, and contribute to the escalating number of papers that are retracted as flawed or fraudulent.
Any scientist will tell you that Nature and Science publish a lot of excellent work. And Dr. Schekman is perhaps not the most disinterested observer: as he mentions in the article, he is the editor of eLife, an “open-access” journal (that is, one that does not charge readers) with ambitions to rival the top dogs. But working researchers will also tell you, perhaps after a few drinks, that Dr. Schekman is far from alone in thinking that the relentless focus on publishing in “high-impact” journals causes big distortions in how science is done. Many are reluctant to speak up, fearful of the damage they might cause to their careers by rocking the boat.
Going a big step further, Michael Eisen, co-founder of the open-access publisher PLOS, would do away with journals entirely:
In today’s video from Doblin, he explains how his own experiences with psychedelic drugs have influenced him and his work:
In a followup, he explains what his family makes of his work as a psychedelic researcher, including a moving story about doing MDMA while visiting his grandmother and a funny story about his daughter’s experience with the DARE program: