News 02.28.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 02.28.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 02.28.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 02.28.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

We are living through one of the greatest of scientific endeavours – the attempt to understand the most complex object in the universe, the brain. Scientists are accumulating vast amounts of data about structure and function in a huge array of brains, from the tiniest to our own. Tens of thousands of researchers are devoting massive amounts of time and energy to thinking about what brains do, and astonishing new technology is enabling us to both describe and manipulate that activity.

We can now make a mouse remember something about a smell it has never encountered, turn a bad mouse memory into a good one, and even use a surge of electricity to change how people perceive faces. We are drawing up increasingly detailed and complex functional maps of the brain, human and otherwise. In some species, we can change the brain’s very structure at will, altering the animal’s behaviour as a result. Some of the most profound consequences of our growing mastery can be seen in our ability to enable a paralysed person to control a robotic arm with the power of their mind.

Every day, we hear about new discoveries that shed light on how brains work, along with the promise – or threat – of new technology that will enable us to do such far-fetched things as read minds, or detect criminals, or even be uploaded into a computer. Books are repeatedly produced that each claim to explain the brain in different ways.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

News 02.28.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

I was in Paris, waiting to undergo what promised to be a pretty disgusting medical procedure, when I got word that my father was dying. The hospital I was in had opened in 2000, but it seemed newer. From our vantage point in the second-floor radiology department, Hugh and I could see the cafés situated side by side in the modern, sun-filled concourse below. “It’s like an airline terminal,” he observed.

“Yes,” I said. “Terminal Illness.”

Under different circumstances, I might have described the place as cheerful. It was the wrong word to use, though, when I’d just had a CT scan and, in a few hours’ time, a doctor was scheduled to snake a multipurpose device up the hole in my penis. It was a sort of wire that took pictures, squirted water, and had little teeth. These would take bites out of my bladder, which would then be sent to a lab and biopsied. So “cheerful”? Not so much, at least for me.

I’d hoped to stick out in the radiology wing, to be too youthful or hale to fit in, but, looking around the waiting area, I saw that everyone was roughly my age, and either was bald or had gray hair. If anybody belonged here, it was me.

The good news was that the urologist I met with later that afternoon was loaded with personality. This made him the opposite of one I’d seen earlier that month, in London, when I’d gone in with an unmistakable urinary-tract infection. The pain was a giveaway, as was the blood that came out when I peed. U.T.I.s are common in women, but in men are usually a sign of something more serious. The London urologist was sullen and Scottish, the first to snake a multipurpose wire up my penis, but, sadly, not the last. The only time he came to life was when the camera started sending images to the monitor he was looking at. “Ah,” he trilled. “There’s your sphincter!”

I’ve always figured there was a reason my insides were on the inside: so I wouldn’t have to look at them. Therefore I said something noncommittal, like “Great!,” and went back to wishing that I were dead, because it really hurts to have a wire shoved up that narrow and uninviting slit.

The urologist we’d come to see in Paris looked over the results of the scan I’d just undergone and announced that they revealed nothing out of the ordinary. He also studied the results of the tests I’d had in London, including one for my prostate. My eyes had been screwed shut while it took place, but I’m fairly certain it involved forcing a Golden Globe Award up my ass. I didn’t cry or hit anyone, though. Thus it annoyed me to see what the English radiologist who’d performed the test had written in the comment section of his report: “Patient tolerated the trans-rectal probe poorly.”

How dare he! I thought.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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In 2007, almost no one would admit what became obvious in hindsight: The housing market was on the brink of collapse and would take a good chunk of the U.S. economy along with it. Lenders were getting rich, giving home loans to people who couldn’t afford them, investment banks were making a killing by combining those shaky loans into securities, ratings agencies cashed in by certifying those securities as safe and millions of ordinary people got screwed when the whole thing came crashing down.

But David Burt saw it coming. The investor was a consultant at Cornwall Capital, the firm that shorted the subprime mortgage market and made $80 million as some of Wall Street’s biggest firms imploded around it. It was such a spectacular, farsighted bet against the conventional wisdom surrounding the housing market boom that Cornwall was profiled in Michael Lewis’s book The Big Short, and one of Burt’s colleagues was played by Brad Pitt in the movie adaptation. The thing, though, is that many of the risk factors leading up to the crash were fairly easy to spot if you weren’t earning massive profits dependent on ignoring them.

“There’s some really big incentives problems in markets,” Burt explained recently at a hotel café on New York’s Upper East Side. “Whether it’s conscious or subconscious, and it’s not necessarily nefarious, a lot of the time it’s just easier for people to do the thing that’s best for them in some easy-to-conceive-of timeframe.”

Now Burt thinks there could be another financial disaster growing inside the real estate market. But this time, the bubble is being inflated by climate change denial.

Read the rest of this article at: Vice

News 02.28.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 02.28.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Devilry of the kind necessary to kill a toddler had to be punished, and swiftly. That’s how Sue Horn remembered the public outcry about the murder that still haunted Carroll County, Georgia, nearly 30 years after it happened.

On a foggy Saturday morning in April 2019, Horn sat in the parlor of the Edwardian house that served as the office of the StarNews, one of two newspapers in a rural county wedged between Atlanta and the Alabama border. Short and trim, with dark eyebrows whose movements punctuated her speech, Horn was the newspaper’s publisher and editor in chief. Proofs of the next day’s edition were on her desk waiting to be read, but Horn was happy to take a break. On this story in particular she had some things to say.

“Nothing like this ever happens in Carroll County,” Horn explained. “This was the biggest story it had ever seen.”

One day in the spring of 1992, a three-year-old girl was brought to the local hospital, blue and bruised and dead. Her name was Amber, and she came from what many people would call a broken home. Her young mother had a checkered past. She was also new in town. Most residents of Carroll County are homegrown, and they often view outsiders with suspicion. Horn herself knew what it meant to fall into that dubious category: Though she’d lived in the county most of her adult life and spoke with a slight southern drawl, she was originally from the Northeast.

It didn’t take long for locals to blame Amber’s mother, 22-year-old Christina Boyer, for the little girl’s death. Carroll County is in the Bible Belt, and people saw Boyer as the embodiment of everything they claimed to despise: unwed, abusive, sexually promiscuous, ungodly. Boyer, who professed her innocence, went to prison for life.

The way Horn viewed it, justice wasn’t served. She had done her job as a journalist, examined the facts of the case. She had identified what she believed was a pattern of disregard, or worse. “Christina Boyer,” Horn said, looking directly into the video camera positioned in front of her, “needs to go free.”

The camera belonged to three college students who had come to Carroll County for a class project. The class, called “Making an Exoneree,” tasked Georgetown University undergraduates with reviewing the circumstances that led to a purportedly innocent person’s imprisonment, producing a short documentary about what they found, and—fingers crossed—helping to set the prisoner free. The young women researching the Boyer case jotted down observations in their notebooks, adjusted the camera, and nodded along with Horn’s insistent monologue. Horn knew just what she wanted to say; she didn’t hesitate once. This wasn’t her first rodeo on the matter of Christina Boyer.

If you zoomed out, the scene took on a kaleidoscopic aspect: I was taking notes on the students, who were taking notes on the reporter, who for years had been taking notes on Boyer. That we’d wound up in the same room together was a testament to the cultural phenomenon of journalists and amateur sleuths exposing cases in which people may have been wrongfully convicted of a crime. For Boyer, it was only the most recent chapter in the saga that followed Amber’s death. Students, reporters, lawyers, artists, a romantic suitor, paranormal enthusiasts—a parade of personalities had made themselves part of her story by offering themselves up as potential saviors. They had done so out of genuine concern for her, but in some instances they had also used Boyer as a screen to project their own desires and ambitions. Among her champions were people content to remain in the wings and others who’d crept into the limelight, where the line between egoism and altruism became thin and trembling.

Boyer, now 50, has spent more than half her life in prison. She is warm and agreeable, with brown eyes and cropped sandy-blond hair. Her voice is honeyed—when she asks how you’re doing, you can sense her sincere desire to know the answer. She also seems impressible, as though anything said to her will leave a mark. Her magnetism, I came to realize, is in part her baldness of hope—her ardent, almost guileless wish to be delivered.

Long before she was accused of killing her daughter, Boyer was susceptible to aspiring emancipators, people swooping in with promises to pluck her from her circumstances. And why not? A person in Boyer’s shoes had to take what she could get.

Read the rest of this article at: Atavist

News 02.28.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Soon after the violence began, on 5 January, Aamir was standing outside a residence hall in Jawaharlal Nehru University in south Delhi. Aamir, a PhD student, is Muslim, and he asked to be identified only by his first name. He had come to return a book to a classmate when he saw 50 or 60 people approaching the building. They carried metal rods, cricket bats and rocks. One swung a sledgehammer. They were yelling slogans: “Shoot the traitors to the nation!” was a common one. Later, Aamir learned that they had spent the previous half-hour assaulting a gathering of teachers and students down the road. Their faces were masked, but some were still recognisable as members of a Hindu nationalist student group that has become increasingly powerful over the past few years.

The group, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad (ABVP), is the youth wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Founded 94 years ago by men who were besotted with Mussolini’s fascists, the RSS is the holding company of Hindu supremacism: of Hindutva, as it’s called. Given its role and its size, it is difficult to find an analogue for the RSS anywhere in the world. In nearly every faith, the source of conservative theology is its hierarchical, centrally organised clergy; that theology is recast into a project of religious statecraft elsewhere, by other parties. Hinduism, though, has no principal church, no single pontiff, nobody to ordain or rule. The RSS has appointed itself as both the arbiter of theological meaning and the architect of a Hindu nation-state. It has at least 4 million volunteers, who swear oaths of allegiance and take part in quasi-military drills.

The word often used to describe the RSS is “paramilitary”. In its near-century of existence, it has been accused of plotting assassinations, stoking riots against minorities and acts of terrorism. (Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead in 1948 by an RSS man, although the RSS claims he had left the organisation by then.) The RSS doesn’t, by itself, engage in electoral politics. But among its affiliated groups is the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), the party that has governed India for the past six years, and that has, under the prime minister Narendra Modi, been remaking India into an authoritarian, Hindu nationalist state.

It was nearly 7pm when Aamir saw the approaching mob. At that time in mid-winter, the campus of JNU, perhaps India’s most influential state-run university, is unnervingly dark. It spreads over more than 400 hectares of wooded land, sealed off by a wall from the rest of south Delhi. Residence halls sit in groves of acacia and borage. To get anywhere from the gate requires a bicycle, an auto rickshaw or a long walk. The university’s 8,000 students appear to occupy a remote world unto themselves. Since its founding in 1969, though, JNU has functioned as a microcosm of national politics. The ideologies of its students and faculty – exhibited in its hyperactive student politics – have traditionally been liberal, leftist and secular. Through its academics, JNU frequently moulded government policy; its graduates went into the media, major non-profits, the law or leftist parties. Over the years, JNU has stood for much of what the conservative, ethnocentric BJP has resented about the country it governs today. The university has been like a stone in the boot of the BJP, hobbling the party with every step.

When he spotted the mob, Aamir ran into the dorms, up the stairs and into his friend’s room. They locked the door, then hid on the balcony. They heard the attackers shattering panes of glass, barging into rooms and beating students. Aamir silenced his phone. “I was sure they’d break my arms and legs if they caught me,” he said. The mob had come with clear intent, targeting students and faculty who had been critical of the BJP: a Muslim student from Kashmir, teachers with ties to the political left, members of groups that championed underprivileged castes. The president of the JNU student union, Aishe Ghosh, received a deep gash to her head and her arm was broken. The rooms of ABVP allies, though, were spared.

Later, it emerged that the university’s own cadre of ABVP had been bolstered by students from other universities – and perhaps by people who weren’t students at all, people who were just RSS muscle. Rohit Azad, who has spent two decades at the university, first as a student and then a professor of economics, told me that although he had seen his share of violence between student groups, “this thing – this act of bringing in attackers from outside – that was unprecedented”. It was as if the Young Republicans had invited some alt-right thugs to join them in running amok through Berkeley, beating up black and Hispanic students, Young Democrats and anyone who’d expressed support for Bernie Sanders.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

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