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In the News 21.09.15 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets

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Photo: Roséline by PFM, find blouse & skirt here.

How an 18th-Century Philosopher Helped Solve My Midlife Crisis

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In 2006, I was 50—and I was falling apart.

Until then, I had always known exactly who I was: an exceptionally fortunate and happy woman, full of irrational exuberance and everyday joy.

I knew who I was professionally. When I was 16, I’d discovered cognitive science and analytic philosophy, and knew at once that I wanted the tough-minded, rigorous, intellectual life they could offer me. I’d gotten my doctorate at 25 and had gone on to become a professor of psychology and philosophy at UC Berkeley.

I knew who I was personally, too. For one thing, I liked men. I was never pretty, but the heterosexual dance of attraction and flirtation had always been an important part of my life, a background thrum that brightened and sharpened all the rest. My closest friends and colleagues had all been men.

More than anything, though, I was a mother. I’d had a son at 23, and then two more in the years that followed. For me, raising children had been the most intellectually interesting and morally profound of experiences, and the happiest. I’d had a long marriage, with a good man who was as involved with our children as I was. Our youngest son was on his way to college.

Read the rest of this article at The Atlantic

Light travels at around 300,000 km per second. Why not faster? Why not slower? A new theory inches us closer to an answer

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If you visit the Paris Observatory on the left bank of the Seine, you’ll see a plaque on its wall announcing that the speed of light was first measured there in 1676. The odd thing is, this result came about unintentionally. Ole Rømer, a Dane who was working as an assistant to the Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, was trying to account for certain discrepancies in eclipses of one of the moons of Jupiter. Rømer and Cassini discussed the possibility that light has a finite speed (it had typically been thought to move instantaneously). Eventually, following some rough calculations, Rømer concluded that light rays must take 10 or 11 minutes to cross a distance ‘equal to the half-diameter of the terrestrial orbit’.

Cassini himself had had second thoughts about the whole idea. He argued that if finite speed was the problem, and light really did take time to get around, the same delay ought to be visible in measurements of Jupiter’s other moons – and it wasn’t. The ensuing controversy came to an end only in 1728, when the English astronomer James Bradley found an alternative way to take the measurement. And as many subsequent experiments have confirmed, the estimate that came out of Rømer’s original observations was about 25 per cent off. We have now fixed the speed of light in a vacuum at exactly 299,792.458 kilometres per second.

Why this particular speed and not something else? Or, to put it another way, where does the speed of light come from?

Electromagnetic theory gave a first crucial insight 150 years ago. The Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell showed that when electric and magnetic fields change in time, they interact to produce a travelling electromagnetic wave. Maxwell calculated the speed of the wave from his equations and found it to be exactly the known speed of light. This strongly suggested that light was an electromagnetic wave – as was soon definitively confirmed.

A further breakthrough came in 1905, when Albert Einstein showed that c, the speed of light through a vacuum, is the universal speed limit. According to his special theory of relativity, nothing can move faster. So, thanks to Maxwell and Einstein, we know that the speed of light is connected with a number of other (on the face of it, quite distinct) phenomena in surprising ways.

Read the rest of this article at Aeon

Anthony Bourdain’s World Domination

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The first thing Anthony Bourdain does upon arriving in a city he’s never been to — a small category that’s shrinking quickly — is to drop his bags and head straight for the central market. Even in a globalized 21st-century metropolis, where Starbucks and foodie blogs have sapped away most mystery, the market, Bourdain believes, can still be counted on for authenticity. “You see what’s for sale, you see what’s in season, you see the fundamental color palette of a cuisine,” he says. “You really get a sense of what a culture loves most dear.”

On the other hand, the first thing Bourdain does upon arriving in a city he knows well — like, say, on his fourth trip to Kuala Lumpur — is go straight to his hotel and promptly take a nap. Which is why, on this humid Malaysian summer evening, six hours after he touched down, and 30 hours after he took off from New York, the 59-year-old Bourdain strides into the lobby of the soaring Grand Hyatt Hotel, refreshed and blinking sleep from his eyes. “Ready for dinner?”

Read the rest of this article at Men’s Journal

The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration

The United States now accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s inhabitants—and about 25 percent of its incarcerated inhabitants.

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By his own lights, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, ambassador, senator, sociologist, and itinerant American intellectual, was the product of a broken home and a pathological family. He was born in 1927 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but raised mostly in New York City. When Moynihan was 10 years old, his father, John, left the family, plunging it into poverty. Moynihan’s mother, Margaret, remarried, had another child, divorced, moved to Indiana to stay with relatives, then returned to New York, where she worked as a nurse. Moynihan’s childhood—a tangle of poverty, remarriage, relocation, and single motherhood—contrasted starkly with the idyllic American family life he would later extol. “My relations are obviously those of divided allegiance,” Moynihan wrote in a diary he kept during the 1950s. “Apparently I loved the old man very much yet had to take sides … choosing mom in spite of loving pop.” In the same journal, Moynihan, subjecting himself to the sort of analysis to which he would soon subject others, wrote, “Both my mother and father—They let me down badly … I find through the years this enormous emotional attachment to Father substitutes—of whom the least rejection was cause for untold agonies—the only answer is that I have repressed my feelings towards dad.”

Read the rest of this article at The Atlantic

How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?

 

Deep anxiety about the ability to have children later in life plagues many women. But the decline in fertility over the course of a woman’s 30s has been oversold. Here’s what the statistics really tell us—and what they don’t.

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In the tentative, post-9/11 spring of 2002, I was, at 30, in the midst of extricating myself from my first marriage. My husband and I had met in graduate school but couldn’t find two academic jobs in the same place, so we spent the three years of our marriage living in different states. After I accepted a tenure-track position in California and he turned down a postdoctoral research position nearby—the job wasn’t good enough, he said—it seemed clear that our living situation was not going to change.

I put off telling my parents about the split for weeks, hesitant to disappoint them. When I finally broke the news, they were, to my relief, supportive and understanding. Then my mother said, “Have you read Time magazine this week? I know you want to have kids.”

Time’s cover that week had a baby on it. “Listen to a successful woman discuss her failure to bear a child, and the grief comes in layers of bitterness and regret,” the story inside began. A generation of women who had waited to start a family was beginning to grapple with that decision, and one media outlet after another was wringing its hands about the steep decline in women’s fertility with age: “When It’s Too Late to Have a Baby,” lamented the U.K.’s Observer; “Baby Panic,” New York magazine announced on its cover.

The panic stemmed from the April 2002 publication of Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s headline-grabbing book, Creating a Life, which counseled that women should have their children while they’re young or risk having none at all. Within corporate America, 42 percent of the professional women interviewed by Hewlett had no children at age 40, and most said they deeply regretted it. Just as you plan for a corner office, Hewlett advised her readers, you should plan for grandchildren.

The previous fall, an ad campaign sponsored by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) had warned, “Advancing age decreases your ability to have children.” One ad was illustrated with a baby bottle shaped like an hourglass that was—just to make the point glaringly obvious—running out of milk. Female fertility, the group announced, begins to decline at 27. “Should you have your baby now?” asked Newsweek in response.

For me, that was no longer a viable option.

Read the rest of this article at The Atlantic

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.