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Last Updated Thursday December 21, 2017

Selected Articles

Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?, Immanuel Kant, Berlinische Monatschrift. 'Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. ... Sapere Aude! (Dare to know!) Have courage to use your own understanding!' Kant's famous 1784 elucidation of the critical elements of the Enlightenment still has something of value for us today. He argues that the courage to think for ones self provides the impetus for a progressive society. This cannot happen without social and political conditions which support individual freedoms, but even with that, it requires ongoing courage to question various authorities and the societal pressure to conform. Kant particularly emphasized that church and state must forsake blind paternalism and be open to constructive criticism. Read 2017-12-21.

Protestantism and Progress, Theodore Plantinga, Calvin College, 1997-04-03. Calvinist philosophy professor Theodore Plantinga suggests that post-Enlightenment Protestants, so as to act progressively or correctly in support of individual liberties, should embrace the Protestant faith, building their responses to the world on the foundation of Calvin and Luther, rather than embrace short-sighted Enlightenment ideas. Yet Plantinga agrees with Protestant theologian Ernst Troeltsch's conclusions in his influential essay Protestantism and Progress, that the modern world and its ideas of Enlightenment progress did not spring from the spirit of Protestantism, whose Reformers remained medieval in their societal expectations of the individual and in full support of the state and the Church's coercive role in religion, even as they are argued for changes in theology. How does Plantinga justify his view that the societal and moral direction of Western civilization can be improved by removing the Enlightenment influence and replacing it with the Reformational Christian outlook of the 16th century? Re-Read 2017-12-21.

Soul Survivor, David Remnick, New Yorker, 2016-04-04. Aretha Franklin recently sang at the Kennedy Center Honors tribute to Carole King, reprising the song Carole wrote for her, A Natural Woman. The performance was glorious, and drew tears from the President, as well as from myself as I watched and listened to it later on video. Obama said afterwords: 'Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll - the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope. American history wells up when Aretha sings.' Read 2016-11-03.

A New Enlightenment, George Musser, Scientific American, 2012-11-04. Can quantum theory be the savior of pure reason? Presented herein is a conceit that the metaphors of superposition and entanglement, quantum mechanical mechanisms, are useful in modeling voting and governing choices of individuals in a democracy more accurately than in looking at populations with some stated propensity to support one policy or another. Read 2016-10-31.

Language in a New Key, Paul Ibbotsen, Scientific American, 2016-11-01. Noam Chomsky has dominated linguistics, although he may be better known as a skeptic who holds the powerful accountable. His theory of universal grammar posited that humans evolved an inborn knowledge of a universal grammar structure that was triggered in children as they developed the ability to speak in their culture. The theory has been modified into a less structured structure, so to speak, but more recent studies do not seem to support the main tenets. A newer theory is emerging that is described as a usage-based approach. Children start with a set of tools like categorization, analogy construction and reading social intentions, and use them to build rules for the language they are surrounded by. With the advent of online repositories of linguistic data, the new models are being tested like they never could when Chomsky constructed his theories. Read 2016-10-28.

Chief Justice Roberts 'Had It In for the Voting Rights Act', Stephanie Mencimer, Mother Jones, 2016-10-27. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 5-4 conservative majority opinion for Shelby County v. Holder, which removed critical protections from the 1965 Voting Rights Act, particularly that jurisdictions with a clear history of vote suppression and discrimination could not change their voting procedures without DOJ oversight. The result was a rush of voter suppression efforts in former DOJ-monitored counties (mostly the Deep South and Southwest), and in other states where Republicans control the legislature. Since Scalia died this year, a number of lower courts are overturning the worst of these voter suppression efforts, and with the current balance of the court 4-4, the Supreme Court is not able to stop the lower courts from treating all citizens of the United States as if they are equal, at least as regards voting rights. Read 2016-10-27.

John Roberts and the Shifting Politics of Race, Nathan Pippenger, Democracy Journal, 2016-10-27. 'The Chief Justice is the most powerful defender of an increasingly untenable viewpoint.' John Roberts has spent much of his legal career opposing federal voting rights laws, and spearheaded the gutting of critical voter suppression protections from the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013, Shelby v. Holder. Mounting opposition to this renewed attack on minority voting rights is being seen in lower courts across the nation, with some success, as Scalia's demise is, at least in the short term, making it more difficult for conservative Supreme Court justices to carry their partisan voter suppression attack forward. Read 2016-10-27.

Between the Lines of the Voting Rights Act Opinion, John Schwartz, New York Times, 2013-06-25. Excellent breakdown of the 2013 Supreme Court decision Shelby v. Holder, which removed important voter suppression protection from the 1965 Voting Rights Act, with a 5-4 decision on partisan lines. The Republican Party has since gone on a tear in various states, producing various legislation that is designed to limit their political opponents' ability to vote. Read 2016-10-27.

A New Cuba, Jon Lee Anderson, New Yorker, 2016-10-03. President Obama's Cuban plan normalized relations. Can it also transform the nation? President Obama's Cuban policy is consistent with many other of his administration's foreign policy efforts: To fix the present by symbolic attempts to mend the past. They are marked by a recognition that: incremental and indirect change can be just as important as more obviously interventionist moves can be; change in other parts of the world is usually shaped more by internal efforts and perceptions than external; dialog with other countries is a vital part of exerting influence on change outside our borders. Read 2016-10-02.

Notes Of A Grand Juror, Misha Lepetic, 3 Quarks Daily, 2014-12-08. How the ancient grand jury system in the U. S., the only country in the world to still use such a system for the process of criminal indictments, is in fact a critical point of failure in bringing to justice police who kill unarmed civilians. Read 2016-10-01.

CRISPR Could Usher in a New Era of Delicious GMO Foods, Sarah Zhang, Atlantic Monthly, 2016-09-19. Read 2016-09-22.

New study finds that medical marijuana may be helping to curb the opioid epidemic, Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post, 2016-09-15. Read 2016-09-20.

What O. J. Simpson Means to Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Atlantic Monthly, 2016-10-01. Ta-Nehisi Coates looks back twenty two years and finds that as a young black college student he missed what a lot of outraged white people missed: Many blacks celebrated O. J.'s escape from a brutal justice system that they lived with every day. Read 2016-09-18.

Teaching Purity Culture in Public Schools, Olga Khazan, Atlantic Monthly, 2016-09-07. Read 2016-09-10.

God Is Dead: What Nietzsche Really Meant, Scotty Hendricks, Big Think, 2016-08-03. Read 2016-08-15.

Letter proves Speer knew of Holocaust plan, Kate Connolly, Guardian, 2007-03-07. A newly discovered letter by Adolf Hitler's architect and armaments minister Albert Speer offers proof that he knew about the plans to exterminate the Jews, despite his repeated claims to the contrary. Writing in 1971 to Hélène Jeanty, the widow of a Belgian resistance leader, Speer admitted that he had been at a conference where Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and Gestapo, had unveiled plans to exterminate the Jews in what is known as the Posen speech. Speer's insistence that he had left before the end of the meeting, and had therefore known nothing about the Holocaust, probably spared him from execution after the Nuremberg trials at the end of the second world war. Read 2016-06-08.

The Candor and Lies of Nazi Officer Albert Speer, Gilbert King, Smithsonian, 2013-01-08. 'The minister of armaments was happy to tell his captors about the war machine he had built. But it was a different story when he was asked about the Holocaust.' Read 2016-06-04.

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences, Eugene Wigner, Communications on Pure and Applied Mathematics, 1960-02-01. Eugene Wigner's famous essay on the mysteries of the effectiveness of mathematics as applied to natural science. Wigner was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who's Courant Lecture in 1959 was a delightful exploration of the idea that much in mathematics was invented to describe concepts unrelated to Nature, but some of that very mathematical technique was later used to accurately describe natural science, to the great surprise of both mathematicians and physicists. Originally published in the Communications on Pure and Applied Mathematics, vol. 13, No. 1, 1960. Read 2016-05-05.

Clinton: Into the Headwinds, Elizabeth Drew, New York Review of Books, 2016-03-16. Read 2016-04-11.

Did Christianity Create Liberalism?, Samuel Moyn, Boston Review, 2015-02-09. Samuel Moyn offers an in-depth review of Siedentop's book Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. He finds Siedentop's efforts to provide an explanation for modern freedoms rooted in the influence of medieval Catholicism fall far short of compelling argumentation. Moyn admires the author's appoach to 'treat modern individualism as a historical product rather than a natural fact.' Certainly the modern concept of the social contract alludes to rights rather than a historical progression of increasing expectation of individual liberty. He also admires Siedentop's willingness to take on the biases of modern historiography, which tend to minimize the Middle Ages while harkening back to antiquity for the underpinnings of individual liberty. But he faults Siedentop for doing his own minimization of influences from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. His biggest criticisms center on two things: neglecting the 'vast chasm that separated the moral equality of Christians from the political equality of modern doctrine,' and ignoring the coercion, violence and intolerance of Christendom during the Middle Ages which underscore that problem. The moral equality of Jesus' acceptance of any and all individuals willing to worship him was not translated implicitly or explicitly into a political liberalism during the Middle Ages, but required the impetus of Luther's insistence on the removal of priestly intercession, itself a religious and moral consideration, inadvertently triggering the movement towards political liberalism. Read 2015-12-13.

Letter from Shenzhen: The Gene Factory, Michael Specter, New Yorker, 2014-01-06. 'A Chinese firm's bid to crack hunger, illness, evolution - and the genetics of human intelligence.' A profile of the audacious Chinese company BGI, the world's biggest Genomics institute. Their president Jian Wang said, 'For the last 500 yers, you [the West] have been leading the way with innovation. We are no longer interested in following.' Read 2015-08-05.

Is cosmology having a creative crisis?, Ross Andersen, Aeon, 2015-05-12. Read 2015-06-06.

Why am I moving Left?, Andrew Sullivan, The Dish, 2014-08-10. 'The party of Lincoln, of Eisenhower and of Reagan still appeals. Which is why the party of Cheney, of Hannity and of Adelson so appalls.' Read 2014-08-15.

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN IDEOLOGY AND RELIGION?, Michael Altman, Michael J. Altman, 2011-04-25. 'Ideology seems to give many atheists/agnostics a value system just as religion does for believers. I believe ideologies also provide people with a community of like-minded friends, as do religious beliefs, and people are loath to alienate themselves from their friends. ' Read 2014-07-15.

How should we then think about American history? Thoughts on Francis Schaeffer, Robert Tracy McKenzie, Robert McKenzie, 2013-04-20. A Wheaton College history professor talks about some of the problems of Francis Schaeffer's blend of subjective history with theism, in agreement with most historians and myself. But the professor doesn't stray to far, as he also agrees with what I think is an additional weakness in Schaeffer's view of the world: His insistence, typical of today's Evangelicals, that today's secular humanist culture is a heartbeat away from tyranny because, well, they have no absolute guidance from God. Well, I disagree. Much that he and Schaeffer label as secular humanism is simply secular, not necessarily at odds with religious belief, not to mention that their own thought is in fact just as relative, rather than absolute. Note that Wheaton College requires a teaching of Biblical inerrancy (in the original texts, none of which exist today - pretty convenient), which is another thing I and most Biblical scholars disagree with.
Despite the best of intentions and the most genuine of convictions, Schaeffer had so confused his own subjective interpretation of history with the authority of Christian principles that the two had become inseparable. After nearly two generations of culture war, we are inured to a perpetual bombardment from talk show hosts and pseudo-celebrities who implore us to equate fidelity to Scripture and faithfulness to Christ with a particular interpretation of American history.
Schaeffer's primary goal was to pierce the hearts of his readers by engaging their minds, warning them that a culture that embraced relativistic humanism had forfeited any coherent basis for defending the preciousness of the individual. Once transcendent principle had been abandoned, power alone remained, and the society that took such an ominous step had laid itself bare to the inroads of authoritarianism and tyranny. I agree.
Read 2014-07-11.

When Republicans Really Were the Party of Lincoln, John Nichols, Moyers and Company, 2014-07-02. The tragedy of the Democratic Party through much of its history was an unwillingness to stand strong against its Southern wing and to clearly align itself with the cause of social and economic justice. The tragedy of the Republican Party is that, when Democrats began to do the right thing, key figures in the GOP welcomed Thurmond into its fold and began to craft not just a Southern strategy but a politics of reaction.' Read 2014-07-10.

Book Review: Barry Hankins, Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America, Ted Grimsrud, Peace Theology, 2009-04-15. Money quote: 'My impression, based in part on my own experience and in part on reading Hankins' book as well as numerous other pieces over the years, is that Schaeffer (even if poorly grounded) provided evangelical and fundamentalist Christians in the 1960s and 1970s with inspiration to enter the intellectual life. For some, this inspiration opened doors to a lifetime of learning and working to intergrate faith and scholarship. Perhaps he deserves our appreciation for this. However, given the enormity of his influence in encouraging powerful anti-intellectual dynamics among Christians and a politics of division and coercion that culminated in the disaster of the George W. Bush presidency, it's hard not to conlude that ironically and tragically, the deepest legacy of Francis Schaeffer was to hasten the diminishment of the standing of Christianity in our world.' Read 2014-07-05.

Does Christianity really prefer charity to government welfare?, Elizabeth Stoker, The Week, 2014-04-10. 'One can construct states in a charitable spirit, toward enduring equality and neutrality in distribution of assistance, and know that because the state operates on more than capriciously voluntary premises, it is likely that programs shaped in that spirit will have a good deal of stability.' Read 2014-06-29.

Why I'm a pro-life liberal, Elizabeth Stoker, The Week, 2014-04-16. A genuine pro-life position supports the lives of mothers and children rather than simply their births.' Read 2014-06-29.

Being a Neocon means never having to say you're sorry, Stephen Walt, Foreign Policy, 2014-06-20. 'These guys were wrong about every aspect of Iraq. Why do we still have to listen to them?' . . . As near as I can tell, the strange mind-boggling persistence of neoconservatism is due to four interrelated factors: Shamelessness, financial support, receptive and sympathetic media, liberal allies.' Read 2014-06-22.

Nostalgia for the Numinous, Jonathan Sacks, Jewish Review of Books, 2014-07-01. 'We are meaning-seeking animals. And if we can no longer believe in God we will find other things to worship.' Read 2014-06-21.

It's Not Just Football, Allie Grasgreen, Inside Higher Ed, 2013-12-04. 'As awareness of concussions in football heightens, researchers and sports officials work to make sure other sports get proper attention, too.' According to a National Academy of Sciences report released last month, field hockey, lacrosse, soccer, wrestling, ice hockey, and basketball have all proved about as dangerous or more so than football in recent years. It is more dangerous for women than men. Read 2014-06-14.

The Modern Church Doesn't Need a Make-Believe Devil, Timothy Tutt, Faith Street, 2014-05-25. Read 2014-06-01.

Watch colonialism collapse before your eyes, Zack Beauchamp, Vox, 2014-05-08. The old cliche 'A picture is worth a thousand words' cannot be more aptly demonstrated than with this short series of simple maps. Read 2014-05-09.

John Roberts and the Color of Money, Tom Levenson, Atlantic Monthly, 2014-04-16. Applying the history of white supremacy in America to the Supreme Court's McCutcheon decision.
Political money and hence influence at the top levels is disproportionately white, male, and with almost no social context that includes significant numbers of African Americans and other people of color. This is why money isn't speech. Freedom of speech as a functional element in democratic life assumes that such freedom can be meaningfully deployed. But the unleashing of yet more money into politics allows a very limited class of people to drown out the money 'speech' of everyone else - but especially those with a deep, overwhelmingly well documented history of being denied voice and presence in American political life. Now take the work of the Roberts Court in ensuring that rule of cash, the engine of political power for an overwhelmingly white upper-upper crust, with combine those decisions with the conclusions of the court on voting rights, and you get a clear view of what the five-justice right-wing majority has done. Controlling access to the ballot has been a classic tool of white supremacy since the end of Reconstruction. It is so once again, as states seizing on the Roberts Court's Voting Rights Act decision take aim at exactly those tools with which African Americans increased turnout and the proportion of minority voters within the electorate. There's not even much of an attempt to disguise what's going on. Add all this to the Roberts decision to free states from the tyranny of being forced to accept federal funds to provide healthcare to the poor. When John Roberts declared that Obamacare's Medicaid expansion would be optional, the decision sounded colorblind - states could deny succor to their poor of any race - in practice, that is to say in the real world, this decision hits individual African Americans and their communities the hardest. So: Money, which disproportionately defends existing power structures, is unfettered; ease of voting, which at least in theory permits challenges to such structures, is constrained; and a series of decisions seeming devoid of racial connection presses thumbs the scale ever harder against the chance that in the real-world African Americans will have get to play on a level field.
Read 2014-04-26.

Can Christianity Survive Modernity?, Andrew Sullivan, The Dish, 2014-04-24. Andrew Sullivan, by way of kicking off a discussion about Bart Ehrman's book How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of A Jewish Preacher From Galilee , is in fact suggesting that Christianity can survive modernity, but not by pretending that the Bible is an inerrant text. He suggests that the Bible
isn't the only account - we have many other extant Gospels that never made the cut. Those Gospels are not as compelling or as coherent or as influential - but they sure do exist. That very fact - established in the 20th Century - explodes any idea of 'orthodoxy' among the first Christians. Like any human beings trying to grapple with grief and empowerment and fear and supernatural experiences, they did not understand them fully at first or ever. They disagreed among themselves about them. They had very different perspectives and interactions with Jesus. In the Gospels themselves, Jesus' disciples are a mess half the time - misunderstanding him, betraying him, frustrating him, and abandoning him at critical moments throughout. Whatever else the Gospels teach us, they sure teach us not to trust Jesus' followers for either truth or morality. Peter disowned him three times in his hour of greatest need. And most fled after his crucifixion. And the Gospels offer radically different accounts of what Jesus did, said and meant. There is no single coherent account, for example, of Jesus' last words in the cross, or of his first appearances after his death - critical moments that you might think would have been resolved as fact early on, but weren't. If I were to come up with a phrase to describe what has been handed down to us in these texts, it would be a game of Chinese whispers. Does this rebut Christianity in a decisive way? For many orthodox Christians, wedded to the notion of a single, coherent and inerrant text, it must. But since the scholarship is pretty much indisputable, it seems to me that it is not Christianity that should be abandoned in the wake of these historical revelations, but a false understanding of what the Gospels and Letters actually are. In the end, the sole criterion of a religion is whether it is true. And if you're misreading its core texts and failing to understand their origins and nuances, you’re not committed to the truth. You’re committed to a theology that has become more important than the truth.
Read 2014-04-24.

Field Maneuvers, David Denby, New Yorker, 2014-04-21. Review of the film Unknown Known, by Errol Morris, an extended interview with Donald Rumsfeld, 10 years after the Iraq War. Rumsfeld's famous phrase echos in the viewer's mind as Rumsfeld proves impervious to criticism or self-reflection over the disaster of the Iraq War.
This is not a man given to irony or even to simple acknowledgment of history. Nothing he says suggests that he realizes that he and others in the Administration got it wrong. He expresses no regret over the invasion; instead, he faults Saddam for not preventing the war to remove him.
Read 2014-04-21.

If Doctors Don't Like Electronic Medical Records, Should We Care?, James Fallows, Atlantic Monthly, 2014-04-14. Good discussion by various healthcare professionals about EMR, Electronic Medical Records.
Yes, there are problems in any technology implementation and there always will be. But fewer people die. Yes, it is important to connect with the patient. But fewer people die. Yes, the opportunity to pad billing is obscene. But fewer people die.
Read 2014-04-19.

Everything you need to know about the Ukraine crisis, Max Fisher, Vox, 2014-04-10. This is the first example of the new's summary card decks that attempt to provide a solid but relatively quick background analysis of a current topic. This one on the Ukraine crisis helps underscore the difficulty of simple solutions. Read 2014-04-10.

How to study the numinous, Ross Douthat, New York Times, 2014-04-09. Douthat summarizes the weakness of science in the face of explaining consciousness and it's off-shoot, the perception of numinous religious experience. Read 2014-04-10.

Home Fires, George Packer, New Yorker, 2014-04-07. No one returns from war the same person who went. War opens an unbridgeable gap between soldiers and civilians. There's no truth in war - just each soldier's experience. 'You can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil' (from How to Tell a True War Story, in O'Brien's story collection The Things They Carried). Read 2014-04-10.

The Real Cuban Missile Crisis, Benjamin Schwarz, Atlantic Monthly, 2013-01-01. 'Everything you think you know is wrong.' Read 2014-03-05.

The Writer Speaks: Billy Wilder, Billy Wilder, Writers Guild Foundation, 2103-12-10. A video interview with Billy Wilder, who displays some of the wit that can be found in so many of the movies he wrote and directed, some of which included Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, and my personal favorite, One Two Three. Read 2014-02-11.

The apparent anti-thesis between science and religion examined, Mike Robinson, Amazon, 2011-12-21. This review of Alvin Plantinga's recent book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism is a good summary of Plantinga's take on the conflict between religion and science, or more specifically, the lack thereof. I agree with the overall thrust of Plantinga on this topic, not only that much of it comes down to unmoored assertions on both sides of the argument, but that there is ample room for coexistence. See my own thoughts on this: Can Religion and Science be Reconciled? Plantinga suggests that:
Confusion or alleged connection between Darwinism and unguided Darwinism is one of the most important, perhaps the most important, source of continuing conflict between science and religion. If you confuse Darwinism with unguided Darwinism, a confusion Dennett makes and Dawkins encourages, you will see science and religion as in conflict at this point. ... This confusion between Darwinism and unguided Darwinism is a crucial cause of the continuing debate. Darwinism, the scientific theory, is compatible with theism and theistic religion; unguided Darwinism, a consequence of naturalism, is incompatible with theism, but isn't entailed by the scientific theory. It is instead a metaphysical or theological add-on.
Read 2014-02-11.

Cheap Words, George Packer, New Yorker, 2014-02-17. 'A Reporter at Large: Amazon is good for customers. But is it good for books?' Read 2014-02-10.

Beyond Belief, Chris Lehmann, Nation, 2014-02-05. 'Conservative thinkers and their intellectual crusades.' A review of several books regarding the history of right-wing evangelical intellectual history in the 20th century. Read 2014-02-10.

Bigger than Phil, Adam Gopnik, New Yorker, 2014-02-17. 'A Critic at Large: When did faith start to fade?' Read 2014-02-10.

You have to know history to actually teach it, David Cutler, Atlantic Monthly, 2104-01-10. 'An interview with Eric Foner, Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.' Read 2014-02-10.

Inventing the Individual: Review, David Abulafia, Financial Times, 2014-01-24. A skeptical review of Larry Siedentop's recent book on medieval and Christian sources of modern individuality. Siedentop asserts but struggles to argue that modern liberalism was heavily influenced by medieval Catholic theology. Read 2014-02-09.

Quantum Mechanics Woo, Phil Moriarty, Sixty Symbols, 2013-12-05. Doctor Moriarty, that is physicist Phil Moriarty, holds forth in this video on the various ways of misapplying quantum mechanics, to philosophy, religion, and just about anything but the world of the atom for which it was constructed. He is charmingly cranky about such 'Woo'. Read 2014-02-08.

Frankenpolitics, Robin Varghese, 3 Quarks Daily, 2014-02-01. A left defence of the agricultural use of genetically modified organisms, and a response. Read 2014-02-01.

Tunnel Vision, Andrew Cockburn, Harpers Monthly, 2014-02-01. Will the Air Force kill it's most effective weapon, the A-10? Read 2014-01-26.

Ross Douthat: Please Argue With Better Atheists, Noah Millman, American Conservative, 2014-01-07. Millman takes Ross Douthat to task for arguing with amateurs and then bragging about it. In a very balanced essay, he brings out the difficulties and inherent limitations in the ideology business, whether atheist, Christian, Millsian, Burkean, etc. etc.. Read 2014-01-11.

Robert Gates: The Iraq War Undermined U.S. Efforts in Afghanistan, Conor Friedersdorf, Atlantic Monthly, 2014-01-08. 'The former secretary of defense also says that American foreign policy is too militarized and that politicians can't be trusted to do what's right. ' While media focus has recently been on Robert Gates' criticisns of President Obama in his just-published memoir of his tenure as Defense Secretary under W. and Obama, helpfully highlighted by the Wall Street Journal, the Journal and others ignored a great deal of additional criticism leveled at Congress, the military and George W. Bush. Conor in particular focuses on Gate's description of the Iraq War as a historic catastrophe that weakened America, and hopes that the many Republicans in the U.S. who whitewash the damage done will listen to a highly respected fellow Republican. Read 2014-01-09.

It Is Immoral to Cage Humans for Smoking Marijuana, Conor Friedersdorf, Atlantic Monthly, 2014-01-06. 'That's why Colorado and Washington have the most moral drug laws in America right now.' Read 2014-01-09.

Even the New York Times can't resist going lowbrow with native advertising, Michael Wolff, Guardian, 2013-12-23. The ascendant Open Era of Information might be described as freely available online content from a vast number of sources. It is marked by a movement towards exclusively online news media and away from print, in no small part due to lower costs and increased competition. Today, unlike ten years ago, I can easily access sources of information that I had been entirely unaware of, or had no access to, or simply could not afford, via an Internet browser and a search engine, without paying for it. I can read newspapers from around the world and any number of magazines, including some of the highest quality and with the highest subscription rates, for free. It has allowed for many more voices to be heard outside of established media organizations. It is a certain form of nirvana for me, but for information providers it has been too often a financial nightmare. Read 2014-01-07.

The Long Slow Rise of Solar and Wind, Vlacav Smil, Scientific American, 2014-01-01. 'Why, contrary to popular belief, we are not likely to wean ourselves from fossil fuels quickly.' Meta-analysis of energy sources by one of Bill Gate's favorite authors. Read 2014-01-02.

How to Simulate a Living Cell, Markus Covert, Scientific American, 2014-01-01. 'The first computer model of a fully functioning single-celled organism is a powerful new tool for illuminating how life works and finding new drugs.' Read 2014-01-01.

Anti-Semitism row shines light on fractured French society, John Sinnot, CNN, 2013-12-31. French footballer Nicolas Anelka, who plays in the English Premier League, has gotten international attention by using the 'quenelle' gesture as a goal celebration, a reverse Nazi salute. The gesture was created by controversial French comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala, who makes openly anti-Semitic statements (Sample: 'When I hear Patrick Cohen speak, I think to myself: Gas chambers ... too bad they no longer exist.' Cohen is a French journalist who is Jewish.) Read 2013-12-31.

Interview with Doctor Henry Margenau, Bruce Lindsay, American Institute of Physics, 2013-01-01. Margenau wrote and lectured about the history and philosophy of science. From the Niels Bohr Library and Archives. Also have ebook copy. Read 2013-12-30.

A Reporter at Large: The Intelligent Plant, Michael Pollan, New Yorker, 2013-12-23. 'Scientists debate a new way of understanding flora.' Read 2013-12-23.

Profiles: Who Am I to Judge?, James Carroll, New Yorker, 2013-12-23. 'A radical Popes first year.' Read 2013-12-23.

Untier of Knots, Andrew Sullivan, The Dish, 2013-12-17. 'What is the meaning of Pope Francis?' This is an excellent look at the impact of Pope Francis by the Catholic writer Andrew Sullivan. It amplies my own more elemental and non-religious take on the new Pope - he represents the power of love. Read 2013-12-17.

Seeing reason: Jonathan Israel's radical vision, Kenan Malik, New Humanist, 2013-06-21. Historian Jonathan Israel's magisterial three-volume history of the Radical Enlightenment is the intellectual version of a JCB, ripping up the terrain around him. Kenan Malik follows him down the dark alleys of the Age of Reason.' (EN) Read 2013-12-16.

Without Respite, Vivian Gornick, Nation, 2013-11-25. 'Seeing not a person but a thing was the crime of crimes for Primo Levi.' Read 2013-12-15.

The Manhunt for Christopher Dorner, LA Times, 2013-12-08. My son Jon and his girlfriend Melinda were vacationing in Big Bear when Christopher Dorner was hiding in the area. Read 2013-12-15.

Book of Lamentations, Sam Kriss, New Inquiry, 2013-10-18. 'A new dystopian novel in the classic mode takes the form of a dictionary of madness.' That new novel? None other than the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. This clever and rather scathing review of the latest American Psychiatric Association's catalog of recognizably differentiable mental illnesses, treating the reference book as if it were a dour, dyspeptic, disturbing, dangerous, and dare I say it - deranged satirical novel. Read 2013-12-15.

Science, Right and Wrong, Sam Kean, American Scholar, 2013-07-01. The evolution of knowledge.' A short discussion on the changing perception of the usefulness of curiosity. Read 2013-12-14.

Die, selfish gene, die, David Dobbs, Aeon, 2013-12-02. David Dobbs recently suggested that the 'selfish gene is one of the most successful science metaphors ever invented; unfortunately, it's wrong.' He purports to uncover a scientific trend in genetics that trumps the understanding of the central role the gene plays in biological evolution. To parrot the author, unfortunately, he's wrong. Dobbs describes the real phenomena of gene expression, and the fact that genes do not have to change for an organism to change its behavior, something that he refers to as genetic accommodation. He promotes the idea that gene expression is the engine of evolution rather than inheritable genes. Dobbs seems to have missed the basic point that gene expression, even when epigenetically controlled, itself is controlled by enzymes inherited genetically, that is coded for via an organism's DNA. Doh! Read 2013-12-14.

Adversarial Journalism and The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins, Dawkins Foundation RDFRS, 2013-12-06. Richard Dawkin's response discrediting Dobb's recent article in AEON attacking his thesis and book The Selfish Gene, Die, Selfish Gene, Die. Read 2013-12-14.

David Dobbs mucks up evolution, part I, Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, 2013-12-05. Jerry Coyne's thorough response parrying Dobb's recent article in AEON, Die, Selfish Gene, Die. Dobbs describes gene expression, as modulated by epigenetic factors, as outside the current Darwinian model of inheritable genes. Dobbs seems to have missed the basic point that gene expression, even when epigenetically controlled, itself is controlled by enzymes inherited genetically, that is coded for via an organism's DNA. Read 2013-12-14.

Marilynne Robinson on Faith and Conservatism, Robert Long, American Conservative, 2013-11-01. An excellent interview of Marilynne Robinson by The American Conservative magazine. Read 2013-12-11.

Vitamin's Old, Old Edge, Carl Zimmer, New York Times, 2013-12-09. The evolution of vitamins Read 2013-12-11.

Onward and upward with the arts: Take no prisoners, Lawrence Weschler, New Yorker, 1996-06-17. Weschler, who had been reporting on the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, and on the subsequent war crimes trials at the Hague, amplifies Henry V's decision to kill his prisoners during the battle of Agincourt, and evaluates whether this was a war crime based on the dying chivalric rules of battle. Read 2013-12-09.

Reverse-Engineering a Genius (Has a Vermeer Mystery Been Solved?), Kurt Anderson, Vanity Fair, 2013-11-29. The supposition by master painter David Hockney that Vermeer and many other photo-realistic painters used optical projections techniques to produce their startlingly real paintings has been met with a good deal of skepticism in the art world, in particular because the means and tools for the technique are not forthcoming. Enter a tech inventor, Tim Jenison, who has never painted, and who spent five years researching, building, and ultimately painting a complete replica of Vermeer's The Music Lesson, using an optical apparatus that Vermeer could have built himself. Penn Jillette directed the recent documentary Tim's Vermeer, which follows Jenison through the process. Read 2013-12-09.

Dept of Criminal Justice: The Interview, Douglas Starr, New Yorker, 2013-12-09. 'Interrogation techniques and false confessions.' In various studies of U.S. legal cases involving confessions, more than one quarter of the confessions are found to be false, and nearly all of those resulted in conviction. Why would someone admit to something they didn't do, particularly if they would go to jail or be executed as a result? Why did they not avail themselves of the Miranda rights to refuse interrogation: These same studies show that high rates of suspects waive their Miranda rights. Read 2013-12-08.

Mandela and Conservative Racial Bias, Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, 2013-12-06. 'Why Conservatives Got Segregation Wrong a Second Time in South Africa.' Read 2013-12-07.

The Book of Tebow, Thomas Lake, Sports Illustrated, 2013-11-28. 'He prayed. He won. And then he disappeared. Will we ever see Tim Tebow in the NFL again?' Read 2013-12-06.

Machiavelli was right, Michael Ignatieff, Atlantic Monthly, 2013-11-20. Read 2013-12-06.

Our Broken Constitution, Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker, 2013-12-09. 'Everyone agrees that government isn't working. Are the founders to blame?' Read 2013-12-06.

Look Out! There's a Craft-Beer Revolution Taking Over France, Jeff Campagna, Daily Beast, 2013-12-02. Read 2013-12-03.

The Choice, Patrick Hruby, Sports On Earth, 2013-11-14. Should you let your child play football? Read 2013-11-29.

Rumsfeld's War and its Consequences Now, Mark Danner, New York Review of Books, 2013-12-19. An analysis of Donald Rumsfeld's role in the W Bush administration and particularly his role as one of the chief proponents and architects of the Iraq War. Read 2013-11-27.

Bacterial Quorum Sensing: It's role in virulence and possibilities for its control, Bonnie Bassler, Cold Spring Harbor, 2012-02-01. Recent review article from Perspectives in Medicine on the latest efforts to understand inter-bacterial communication, its role in virulence, and how that might be harnessed for disease control (an emerging alternative to antibiotics). 'Quorum sensing is a process of cell-cell communication that allows bacteria to share information about cell density and adjust gene expression accordingly. This process enables bacteria to express energetically expensive processes as a collective only when the impact of those processes on the environment or on a host will be maximized. Among the many traits controlled by quorum sensing is the expression of virulence factors by pathogenic bacteria. Here we review the quorum-sensing circuits of Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus cereus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Vibrio cholerae.We outline these canonical quorum-sensing mechanisms and how each uniquely controls virulence factor production. Additionally,we examine recent efforts to inhibit quorum sensing in these pathogens with the goal of designing novel antimicrobial therapeutics.' Partially-Read 2013-11-23.
Loaned by my son Jon.

Auto Correct, Burkhard Bilger, New Yorker, 2013-11-25. Has the self-driving car at last arrived? Answer: Not yet, but. A profile on Google's effort to build a self-driving car. If successful, they would be much safer, and would significantly decrease traffic: Most cars are used only for an hour or two a day, he said. The rest of the time, they're parked on the street or in driveways and garages. But if cars could drive themselves, there would be no need for most people to own them. A fleet of vehicles could operate as a personalized public-transportation system, picking people up and dropping them off independently, waiting at parking lots between calls. They'd be cheaper and more efficient than taxis - by some calculations, they'd use half the fuel and a fifth the road space of ordinary cars - and far more flexible than buses or subways. Streets would clear, highways shrink, parking lots turn to parkland. One major step towards self-driving has been Google's mapping technology: Google Street View has since spread to more than a hundred countries. It's both a practical tool and a kind of magic trick - a spyglass onto distant worlds. To Levandowski, though, it was just a start. The same data, he argued, could be used to make digital maps more accurate than those based on G.P.S. data, which Google had been leasing from companies like NAVTEQ. The street and exit names could be drawn straight from photographs, for instance, rather than faulty government records. This sounded simple enough but proved to be fiendishly complicated. Street View mostly covered urban areas, but Google Maps had to be comprehensive: every logging road logged on a computer, every gravel drive driven down. Over the next two years, Levandowski shuttled back and forth to Hyderabad, India, to train more than two thousand data processors to create new maps and fix old ones. When Apple's new mapping software failed so spectacularly a year ago, he knew exactly why. By then, his team had spent five years entering several million corrections a day. Much progress has been made, including incremental introduction of self-driving features by today's automakers, but there is still a long way to go before the cars are ready, or perhaps more important, before we are ready for the cars. Read 2013-11-18.

Why Vincent Bugliosi is So Sure Oswald Alone Killed JFK, Robin Lindley, History News Network, 2007-08-21. Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the Manson case, wrote a 1600 page book, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, in which he exhaustively examines the evidence and the conspiracy theories arising from JFK's death, and comes to a clear conclusion: Oswald acted alone, and was the sole assassin of JFK. He dismisses the various conspiracy theories in detail, but in summary, suggests that they are all smoke and no fire. Innuendo and possible connections postulated by various theories have never been substantiated with hard evidence. Whereas, the evidence of Oswald's actions is overwhelming. This book, written in 2007, stands up well to the recent upsurge in Kennedy assassination discussion on the cusp of the 50th anniversary of the event. The most troublesome areas of dispute have been the single bullet theory and the Zapruder film's evidence that Kennedy's head recoiled backwards from the final shot, suggesting to some that the shot was fired from the front. These issues have been examined carefully by forensics ballistics experts recently, and put to bed: Forensics tests fully support the single bullet theory, and the Zapruder film clearly shows Kennedy's motion started violently forward from the last shot, then lurched backward. Read 2013-11-04.

Eugene district educators are avid about AVID, Josephine Woolington, Eugene Register-Guard, 2013-10-28. My brother Peter was featured in this Eugene Register-Guard article about a program he is running for students trying to improve their grades through self-discipline and organizational skills. Read 2013-10-29.

The Decline and Fall of Christianism, Andrew Sullivan, The Dish, 2013-10-23. 'The fusion of politics and religion - most prominently the fusion of the evangelical movement and the Republican party - has been one of the most damaging developments in recent American history. It has made Republicanism not the creed of realists, pragmatists and compromise but of fundamentalists - on social and foreign policy, and even fiscal matters. And once maintaining inerrant doctrine becomes more important than, you know, governing a complicated, divided society, you end up with the extremism we saw in the debt ceiling crisis.' Read 2013-10-25.

A Closer Look at Newton's Third Law, Rhett Allain, Wired, 2013-10-03. The short version: Forces come in pairs. Forces are an interaction between two objects. This means that if object A pushes on object B, then object B pushes on A with the same force but in the opposite direction. Allain suggests that getting rid of the old terms action-reaction simplifies the explanation, is correct, and uses language more in keeping with modern physics, where forces are described as 'particle' exchanges. Read 2013-10-24.

The G.O.P.'s Phantom Schism, Jeff Shesol, New Yorker, 2013-10-18. Read 2013-10-21.

The Devil you know, Casey Cep, New Yorker, 2013-10-17. Excellent summary of C.S. Lewis' best book: The Screwtape Letters. Channeling Antonin Scalia, from a recent interview, he capably describes the epistolary novel: For believers, the letters are theology in reverse, teaching the love of God through the wiles of the Devil, but for all readers, regardless of belief, the letters frame human experience as a familiar sequence of trials, from how you take your tea and what parties you attend to the sort of person you choose for a partner and the sort of politics you espouse. As Justice Scalia said when he invoked The Screwtape Letters, 'That’s a great book. It really is, just as a study of human nature.' The novel remains wildly popular because whether or not you agree with Lewis and Scalia that the Devil is real, the evils promoted by Screwtape - greed, gluttony, pride, envy, and violence - most certainly are. Lewis also wrote the Narnia children's adventure series, but most of his books were Christian apologetics. The Narnia series, of which I read only the first as a child of nine, is a favorite with Christian parents because it is perceived as allegorical and safe. It is certainly allegorical, yet as a child of nine I certainly never detected it, although I was given a hint by my fourth grade teacher, who read aloud to us each day from a book volunteered from one of her students. I enjoyed reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and offered it to her as a book to read to the class. She very quickly, albeit politely, said no, to my surprise; years later, I wondered if she viewed it as inappropriate due to its religious reputation. Read 2013-10-21.

Christian, Not Conservative, Robert Long, American Conservative, 2013-10-15. Marilynne Robinson remains a stimulating writer, and doesn't disappoint in this recent interview: When asked about the identification of American Christians with the right, she responded: Well, what is a Christian, after all? Can we say that most of us are defined by the belief that Jesus Christ made the most gracious gift of his life and death for our redemption? Then what does he deserve from us? He said we are to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek. Granted, these are difficult teachings. But does our most gracious Lord deserve to have his name associated with concealed weapons and stand-your-ground laws, things that fly in the face of his teaching and example? Does he say anywhere that we exist primarily to drive an economy and flourish in it? He says precisely the opposite. Surely we all know this. I suspect that the association of Christianity with positions that would not survive a glance at the Gospels or the Epistles is opportunistic, and that if the actual Christians raised these questions those whose real commitments are to money and hostility and potential violence would drop the pretense and walk away. See also Long's interview with Robinson upon which this was based. Read 2013-10-20.

How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses, Joshua Davis, Wired, 2013-10-15. Student driven learning in a poor Mexican primary school delivers massive increase in student performance on standardized tests. Read 2013-10-20.

School starting age: the evidence, David Whitebread, Cambridge University, 2013-09-24. Read 2013-10-18.

Thomas Jefferson: Radical and Racist, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Atlantic Monthly, 1996-09-01. 'In the multiracial American future Jefferson will not be thought of as the Sage of Monticello. His flaws are beyond redemption. The sound you hear is the crashing of a reputation.' Read 2013-10-13.

The Beginnings of Life on Earth, Christian de Duve, American Scientist, 1995-09-01. This is a well-known speculation on the origins of life (abiogenesis) featuring the 'RNA World' hypothesis, which argues that since RNA can both carry genetic information and can have some structural and enzymatic behaviors, it might be possible that a precursor pathway to the evolution of the first cell might be through a stepwise unfolding of a protometabolism centered around RNA's DNA-like and protein-like properties, which would have subsequently been replaced by the modern DNA and protein biochemistry. Good explication of the model, some honesty as to how highly speculative it is, but not enough. It is philosophically akilter in its sinusoidal oscillations between a tone of 'boy, we are really just guessing here' to peaks of unearned cockiness, like the last sentence: 'The universe is awash with life.' It would serve scientists and those trying to educate future citizens in the importance and methods of science much better if, for example, that last sentence more honestly said, 'If my model or something like it is true, the universe could be awash with life, but it will be exceedingly difficult to elucidate such a model, since there is almost no evidence to directly or indirectly support it.' After all, the approach and model is deeply modest in its lack of proofs, direct or indirect, and its spasmodic and unearned bravado makes an easy target for those who promote absolute and unverifiable truths to make a case for its weakness and exaggeration, and by extension, cast some doubt on more empirically based science. Abiogenesis is a legitimate place for modest research, with the emphasis on modest. Read 2013-10-13.

A Defense of Creationism, Paul Abramson,, 2006-09-09. Paul Abramson, an old friend, wrote a Defense of Creationism, or more specifically, a defense of Young Creationism, which posits that the universe was created around 6,000 years ago, based on a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis in the Old Testament. I read this article out of curiosity for Paul's take on it; Paul is the editor of a website dedicated to Young Creationism. In the endless churn over evolution, religious opponents emphasize blind faith in an absolute view, while scientific advocates emphasize the skeptical application of the scientific method to mold necessarily incomplete theories. The Defense of Creationism is a good example of the former. Read 2013-10-12.

Onward and upward in the arts: A contest of values, Lawrence Weschler, New Yorker, 1999-05-10. Weschler's 4th of four articles about the painter and performance artist J.S.G. Boggs, who created realistic one-sided paintings of paper money, the paintings usually larger or smaller than the actual bill, with certain details deliberately modified. Boggs ran afoul of several Western country's Treasury Departments, including the U.S., Great Britain and Switzerland. He typically used the paintings as barter for the precise face amount, and would not sell his work directly to any collector, but would sell the artifacts of the resulting transaction: Receipt, change, perhaps some purchased artifact; the collector had to go on and buy the painting from the person with whom Boggs executed the transaction. Read 2013-09-16.

Onward and upward in the arts:: Money changes everything, Lawrence Weschler, New Yorker, 1993-01-18. Weschler's 3rd of four articles about the painter and performance artist J.S.G. Boggs, who created realistic one-sided paintings of paper money, the paintings usually larger or smaller than the actual bill, with certain details deliberately modified. Boggs ran afoul of several Western country's Treasury Departments, including the U.S., Great Britain and Switzerland. He typically used the paintings as barter for the precise face amount, and would not sell his work directly to any collector, but would sell the artifacts of the resulting transaction: Receipt, change, perhaps some purchased artifact; the collector had to go on and buy the painting from the person with whom Boggs executed the transaction. Read 2013-09-15.

Onward and upward in the arts: Value II - Category confusion, Lawrence Weschler, New Yorker, 1988-01-25. Weschler's 2nd of four articles about the painter and performance artist J.S.G. Boggs, who created realistic one-sided paintings of paper money, the paintings usually larger or smaller than the actual bill, with certain details deliberately modified. Boggs ran afoul of several Western country's Treasury Departments, including the U.S., Great Britain and Switzerland. He typically used the paintings as barter for the precise face amount, and would not sell his work directly to any collector, but would sell the artifacts of the resulting transaction: Receipt, change, perhaps some purchased artifact; the collector had to go on and buy the painting from the person with whom Boggs executed the transaction. Read 2013-09-14.

Onward and upward in the arts: Value I - A fool's question, Lawrence Weschler, New Yorker, 1988-01-18. Weschler's first of four articles about the painter and performance artist J.S.G. Boggs, who created realistic one-sided paintings of paper money, the paintings usually larger or smaller than the actual bill, with certain details deliberately modified. Boggs ran afoul of several Western country's Treasury Departments, including the U.S., Great Britain and Switzerland. He typically used the paintings as barter for the precise face amount, and would not sell his work directly to any collector, but would sell the artifacts of the resulting transaction: Receipt, change, perhaps some purchased artifact; the collector had to go on and buy the painting from the person with whom Boggs executed the transaction. Read 2013-09-13.

Engineered bacterium hunts down pathogens, Mark Peplow, Nature, 2013-09-13. E.coli microbe seeks out and destroys invaders without harming helpful bacteria. Read 2013-09-12.

A Critic at Large: Man and Superman, Malcom Gladwell, New Yorker, 2013-09-09. 'In athletic competitions, what qualifies as a sporting chance?' Gladwell examines, in a similar fashion that Samuel Goldman does, what is fair or not in sports competitions, looking particularly at doping, and doping in cycling. Just how 'natural' is intensified training, living in hypobaric chambers, training at altitude, for example, and how does this kind of approach differ from using dope? Read 2013-09-12.

Rosalind Franklin and DNA: How wronged was she?, Robin Lloyd, Scientific American, 2010-11-03. Good background about some the controversies over Rosalind Franklin's role in the discovery of the structure of DNA and about how she was treated by other scientists involved in the pursuit. Specifically, it is a round-robin interview which included: the writer and director of the play Photograph 51 which centered around these controversies; a few science writers who have researched the subject. Read 2013-09-08.

A Critic at Large: The Color of Law, Louis Menand, New Yorker, 2013-07-08. 'Voting rights and the Southern way of life'. 'Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. said that the country has changed, a sentiment echoed by Justice Thomas. They could not mean that race is no longer an issue. The Times reported that one place eagerly awaiting the Court's ruling was Beaumont, Texas, where the Justice Department has blocked several attempts by a group of white citizens to change voting regulations for the explicit purpose of unseating a black-majority school board. What's so changed about that?' Read 2013-07-08.

When Congress Abdicates, Ross Douthat, New York Times, 2013-06-25. Ross examines the price of Congress' shrinking from politically tough choices: Those decisions then fall to the executive or judicial branches, even when clearly they should remain in the realm of the legislative branches. Included in this discussion are the recent Supreme Court decisions overturning parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, and some of DOMA, and the longer history of Congress sidestepping their Constititutional duty to declare war, ceding it effectively to the executive branch. Read 2013-06-30.

Before the Night Falls, Jerome Groopman, New Yorker, 2013-06-24. 'Alzheimer's researchers seek a new approach.' New treatments seeking to stop the formation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, those plaques which are identified post-mortem in sufferers of age-related dementia. Read 2013-06-29.

How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?, Jean Tenge, Atlantic Monthly, 2013-06-19. Read 2013-06-24.

Beyond the Brain, David Brooks, New York Times, 2013-06-17. Brooks effectively summarizes some of the weaknesses of the current scientific models of brain function, and particularly the over-extended credence given to nascent theories and evidence of material explanations of behavior, based on early and crude neuroscience explorations of the brain using tools like fMRI. This topic has been around for a while, and was addressed, much less effectively, in many more words, by Marilynne Robinson in her essay collection Absence of Mind. (Reviewed here). Read 2013-06-22.

Berlin's Most Unsettling Memorial, Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books, 2013-06-15. An old Jewish section of Berlin, Schoeneberg, has a series of signs in various public places describing the anti-Jewish legislation enacted by the Nazis, demonstrating the deep suppression of nearly every aspect of Jewish life - annihilation of the Jews in Germany began by a systematic and thorough removal of their civic rights. Walking around in this neighborhood brings a visitor face to face with the depth of Jewish removal from German society, in parallel with the building up of concentration camps to remove them physically from society, then destruction camps to destroy them. Read 2013-06-20.

Grandma's Experience Leave a Mark on Your Genes, Dan Hurley, Discover, 2013-06-11. Epigenetic studies are burgeoning; these genetic mechanisms that are external to direct DNA/RNA encoding and expression are being intensively studied, particularly how environmental factors can stimulate methylation and acetylation of bases of DNA or histone proteins, which then affects the expression of specific gene activity. Is epigenetic modification heritable, and if so, does this represent a revival of Lamarckism? Read 2013-06-16.
Recommended by my daughter-in-law Jenn..

Annals of Adventure: The Manic Mountain, Nick Paumgarten, New Yorker, 2013-06-03. 'An elite climber and the fight on Everest.' An insightful look at the complex world of high-altitude climbing, where professional guides do most of the unsung work, the professional climbers get the headlines, and the commercial expeditions bring often barely-qualified climbers to dangerous summits for large sums of money. Read 2013-06-08.

'Father, the atheists?' 'Even the atheists.', Hendrik Hertzberg, New Yorker, 2013-06-03. A bracing introduction to the new Pope, and his refreshing attitudes more Christ-like than Christianist. See Hellbound After All for a less exuberant look at the new Pope. Read 2013-06-08.

The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Report, ACLU, 2013-06-03. OVER-POLICING: Between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million pot arrests in the U.S. That's one bust every 37 seconds and hundreds of thousands ensnared in the criminal justice system. WASTED TIME AND MONEY: Enforcing marijuana laws costs us about $3.6 billion a year, yet the War on Marijuana has failed to diminish the use or availability of marijuana. STAGGERING RACIAL BIAS: Marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. Read 2013-06-08.

Breaking the Brain Barrier, Jeneen Interlandi, Scientific American, 2016-06-01. 'A new understanding of the blood-brain barrier as a living, mutable organ may revolutionize the treatment of brain diseases.' A harmless virus could deliver medicine throughout the brain. Read 2013-06-06.

The California Comeback, James Fallows, Atlantic Monthly, 2013-06-01. Read 2013-06-06.

The First Church of Marilynne Robinson, Mark O'Connell, New Yorker, 2012-05-30. 'Robinson is a Calvinist, but her spiritual sensibility is richly inclusive and non-dogmatic. There's little talk about sin or damnation in her writing, but a lot about forgiveness and tolerance and kindness. Hers is the sort of Christianity, I suppose, that Christ could probably get behind.' For myself, I have not yet read any of her novels, but find her essays by turn brilliant or maddening, often both. For more discussion in the Scribbler that is focused on the brilliance of her essays, see The Capacious Heart of Marilynne Robinson; for more on the maddening aspects of her essays, see Parascience: Fair - or Not, and Modern Jeremiad. Read 2013-06-04.

Why Some Evangelicals Are Trying to Stop Obsessing Over Pre-Marital Sex, Abigail Rine, Atlantic Monthly, 2013-05-23. I'm done splitting my sexuality into pieces.' Read 2013-05-28.

Hannah Arendt, Guilty Pleasure, J Hoberman, Tablet, 2013-05-22. 'Thrill to the Jewish Philosopher Queen as she does battle with boring Nazis, The New Yorker, and Mossad.' Read 2013-05-27.

The Curse of Reading and Forgetting, Ian Crouch, New Yorker, 2013-05-22. Read 2013-05-27.

A Reporter at Large: The Sense of an Ending, Rebecca Mead, New Yorker, 2013-05-20. A new direction in dementia care.' 'All behavior is communication.' 'Efforts are being made to offer people with dementia a comfortable decline insteand of imposing on them a medical model of care which seeks to defer death through escalating interventions.' 'When you have dementia, we can't change the way you think, but we can change the way you feel.' In elder care facilities, new methods emphasize that the facility respond and adapt to the residents and to their demented state, rather than force them into specific routines and behaviors (usually for the sake of or organizational efficiency); going along with mistaken identities, adjusting escorted bathroom breaks to minimize the requirement for adult diapers, etc. Kitwood's 1997 landmark work Dementia Reconsidered: The Person Comes First is must reading: Demented people shoud be embraced for what they can teach to the cognitively intact; 'The problem is not that of changing people with dementia, or of managing their behavior; it is that of moving beyond our own anxieties and defences, so that true meeting can occur, and life-giving relationships can grow.' Today their is still too much reliance on psychotropic drugs and even physical restraints to pacify the demented, and many state regulations over-control the elder care environment to protect these residents from abuse or neglect. In selected nursing homes, staff members are being retrained to adjust to the patient, to construct a freer environment for the residents while still protecting them, and monitoring the effectiveness or necessity for psychotropic drugs. Jonathan Swift may have been the first writer to describe dementia, and to understand its implications: In Gulliver's Travels he describes the Struldbruggs, an immortal race. He expects them to have grown wise, but finds instead that 'They were not only Opinionative, Peevish, Covetous, Morose, Vain, Talkative, but uncapable of Friendship, and dead to all natural Affection . . . They have no Remembrance of anything but what they learned and observed in their Youth and middle Age, end even that is very imperfect. As for the Truth or Particulars of any Fact, it is safer to depend on common Traditions than on their best Recollections. The least miserable among them appear to be those who turn to Dotage, and entirely lose their Understandings; these meet with more Pity and Assistatnce, because they want many bad Qualities which abound in others. . . . No Tyrant could invent a Death into which I would not run with Pleasure from such a Life.' As we live longer, we have yet to find a way to avoid dementia; as with palliative care, there is a point where the quality of life takes precedence over additional longevity. We must honor the personhood of the demented, suggests Kitwood. Read 2013-05-25.

Our Local Correspondents: Form and Fungus, Ian Frazer, New Yorker, 2013-05-20. Can mushrooms help us get rid of Styrofoam?' Bio-engineering using fungal mycelia to make bio-degradable packing materials, electrical circuits, etc. Read 2013-05-25.

A Critic at Large: The Baby in the Well, Paul Bloom, New Yorker, 2013-05-20. 'The case against empathy.' Obama: 'the importance of being able to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us. . . . When you can empathize with others, it becomes harder not to act.' Bazelon: 'The scariest aspect of bullying is the utter lack of empathy. . . . But the empathy gap is situational: bullies have come to see their victims as worthless; they have chosen to shut down their empathetic responses. Most outgrow, and regret, their behavior. . . . The key is to remember that almost everyone has the capacity for empathy and decency, and to tend that seed as best as we possibly can.' Rifkin: 'Can we reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avoid planetary collapse?' The empathic response seems most easily stimulated with a an easily identifiable victim, and is therefore, unreasonable; millions of dollars of aid can go to a few highly publicized tragedies, while other less emotionally rendered problems with much greater impact are ignored. Sensible policies often have benefits that are merely statistical but victims have names and stories. The politics of empathy doesn't provide much moral or ethical clarity - many political disputes involve disagreement over whom we should empathize with. It can even pull us in the wrong direction - outrage over victims can stimulate retribution, often when a rational response would be to correct a social situation with emphasis on reducing or eliminating its occurrence in the future. Read 2013-05-25.

Annals of Higher Education: Laptop U, Nathan Heller, New Yorker, 2013-05-20. 'The ivy Leagus's online push.' Are MOOC's, massive open online courses, good for higher education, or not? Read 2013-05-25.

Wells Dry, Fertile Plains turn to Dust, Michael Wines, New York Times, 2013-05-19. Ongoing drought in Midwest draining High Plains (Oglalla) Aquifer more rapidly Read 2013-05-24.

The First New Atheist, Morgan Meis, Smart Set, 2013-05-08. Provocative comparison of Kierkegaard's philosophy with the New Atheists - coming from polar opposite positions, they still had a lot in common, with decidedly different outcomes to similar observations.
Real religion, thought Kierkegaard, is doubt-wracked. Real faith, Kierkegaard wanted us to know, is profoundly involved in working out the deepest paradoxes of being alive. That's why Kierkegaard once said, 'The self-assured believer is a greater sinner in the eyes of God than the troubled disbeliever.' That’s a strange thought for most Christians. What did Kierkegaard mean? He meant that if you are self-assured in your belief then you have neutered faith to make it intellectually palatable. Faith requires belief in things that are insane from the perspective of reason.
Read 2013-05-13.

A Reporter at Large: Bring Up the bodies, Nicholas Schmidle, New Yorker, 2013-05-06. Kosovo's leaders have been accused of grotesque war crimes. But can anyone prove it? Read 2013-05-11.

What if We Never Run Out of Oil?, Charles Mann, Atlantic Monthly, 2013-05-05. Methane Hydrates and sand tars Read 2013-05-10.

The trouble with the Enlightenment, Ollie Cussen, Prospect Magazine, 2013-05-05. Arguments about the Age of Reason have become stale. Can a new book transform the debate? A review of Anthony Pagden's The Enlightenment, And Why It Still Matters. Read 2013-05-10.

The Writing Life: Draft No. 4, John McPhee, New Yorker, 2013-04-29. The great John McPhee on writing. It gets fun on the fourth draft. Read 2013-05-04.

Onward and Upward with the Arts: Studio City, Jennie Erin Smith, New Yorker, 2013-04-22. Filming history in China's Hollywood Read 2013-04-27.

Code Red: Struggling for Wellness in Computer Science, Kyla Cheung, The Eye, 2013-04-18. Sobering account of the alienation and isolation experienced by ambitious computer scientists Read 2013-04-23.

Rosalind Franklin and the Double Helix, Lynne Elkin, Physics Today, 2003-03-01. Lynne Elkin makes a careful case for Rosalind Franklin's full role in the discovery of the structure of DNA, one that was distorted by James Watson's book, The Double Helix. Read 2013-04-03.

Profiles: The Operator, Michael Specter, New Yorker, 2013-02-04. 'The trouble with Dr. Oz. Is the most trusted doctor in America doing more harm than good?' Read 2013-02-09.

There's Nothing Wrong With 'Doping', Samuel Goldman, American Conservative, 2013-01-22. 'Many fans claim to prefer the 'clean' game they'd like their children to enjoy. Their behavior, however, suggests that they actually like super-charged competition among super-humans. In this context, open doping under expert guidance is preferable to the cynical, unfair, and dangerous pursuit of competitive advantage. Consistency demands that we either accept what professional athletics is - a mass spectacle of nearly gladiatorial intensity - or reject the whole nasty business. Read 2013-01-27.

The Unquantum Quantum, David Tong, Scientific American, 2012-12-15. 'Quantum theorists often speak of the world as being pointillist at the smallest scales. Yet a closer look at the laws of nature suggests that the physical world is actually continuous - more analog than digital.' This ancient question - discrete or continuous - seemed to have been answered by the integer, step-wise nature of quantum physics, but Tong argues that in fact the early Heisenberg/Bohr discrete model was quickly complemented, then essentially replaced by the wave mechanics of Schroedinger, itself which was continuous. Today's physics is dominated by field theories, continuous all, with 'discrete' phenomena appearing as ripples in the field. It is the output of Schroedinger's continuous wave equation that produces integer values for electron orbits, that is, the discrete values are not dependent on integers, but are emergent quantities of the physical system. Read 2012-12-20.

The Sharpened Quill, Jill Lepore, New Yorker, 2006-10-16. Was Thomas Paine too much of a freethinker for the country he helped free? Read 2012-10-21.

Onward and Upward with the Arts: The Looking Glass, Lawrence Weschler, New Yorker, 2000-01-31. An excellent discussion of David Hockney's theory that 'the Old Masters of the early sixteenth century made extensive use of optical devices to achieve their results'. Read 2000-02-05.