Wednesday Round Up #6

USA’s flag-bearer Simone Biles holds her country’s national flag during the closing ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 21, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Leon NEALLEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

Simone Biles on Overcoming Abuse, the Postponed Olympics, and Training During a Pandemic
A powerful profile/interview of an athlete coming into her own as a person and a force for change.

Mounting evidence suggests coronavirus is airborne — but health advice has not caught up
Nature piece covering the debate over aerosols as forming part of how coronavirus gets transmitted. Much of the debate might hinge on an arbitrary standard, that droplets are 5 micrometers or larger and aerosols less than that – when droplets/aerosols that are 4 micrometers in diameter are emitted during normal speech. Still, end of the day, droplets that get onto surfaces and onto hands and into airways still seem to be the primary route of transmission, and aerosols are more of a concern in enclosed, poorly ventilated spaces without direct sunlight or UV light.

The Boogaloo Tipping Point
Excellent consideration of the sociocultural and technological dynamics around this right libertarian group

The birthplace of the boogaloo movement, 4chan’s /k/ section, is ostensibly devoted to the ownership and purchase of weapons. But in practice, it is a space where weapons discussions combine with 4chan’s politicized male anger. The name “boogaloo boys” is a reference to the critically maligned 1984 sequel Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo—around 2012, users on /k/ began referring to the possibility of “Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo.” Half-serious posts about how certain weapons might be employed in “the boogaloo” evolved over time and grew more elaborate. Like many memes on 4chan, each new version was more cryptic than the last, a means to express insider knowledge and in-group status.

Book Review: Why Science Denialism Persists

Nearly 400 years later, the legacy of denial remains intact in some respects. Scientists who publish research about climate change or the safety of genetically modified crops still encounter the same kind of pushback from deniers that Galileo did. Yet denialism has also sprouted some distinctly modern features: As Alan Levinovitz points out in “Natural: How Faith in Nature’s Goodness Leads to Harmful Fads, Unjust Laws, and Flawed Science,” sometimes we ourselves can become unwitting purveyors of denial, falling prey to flawed or false beliefs we may not realize we’re holding.

Levinovitz passionately protests the common assumption that natural things are inherently better than unnatural ones. Not only do people automatically tend to conclude organic foods are healthier, many choose “natural” or “alternative” methods of cancer treatment over proven chemotherapy regimens. Medication-free childbirth, meanwhile, is now considered the gold standard in many societies, despite mixed evidence of its health benefits for mothers and babies.

Letter to the Stanford President and Provost: The inadequacy of “The Impacts of Race in America”

We are also deeply frustrated by administrators’ conceptualization of Black Studies as a limited field of inquiry. These comments are not only disrespectful to Black community members, but they fail to acknowledge the immense intellectual project of African and African-American Studies. The discipline of Black Studies has historically valued and fostered global thinking. Beyond Africa and the United States, Black Studies has theorized and addressed issues of culture and identity in the African diaspora in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia. Furthermore, ideas and insights from Black Studies have been adapted and applied by scholars outside of the tradition.

Moreover, the “too narrow” response is being employed by the University to abdicate its responsibility to broaden its curriculum with marginalized fields of study. Although the number of students who choose to major and minor in African and African American Studies increases each year, Stanford refuses to approve hires to focus on the teaching of Black Studies exclusively. To date, the University has no core faculty dedicated specifically to African and African American Studies.

While administrators worry about Black Studies’ supposedly limited focus, they have little to say about the Eurocentric curriculum and faculty specializations in the University’s traditional departments. If the administrators would critically reflect on the discipline’s legacy at Stanford and beyond, they would see that a Black Studies department would enrich Stanford’s curriculum by strengthening the humanities and social sciences.

Why the Flow of Time Is an Illusion

If I have a particle that is part of my knee, which hasn’t moved, that particle corresponds to a line. At all times, it’s at the same place. If I look at a particle that’s part of a red blood cell, which has been constantly orbiting around my circulatory system, it’s making a super fascinating shape in spacetime. If I look at all my red blood cells together, they would make a braid pattern, making this incredible tangle in spacetime.

If you look at the electron in my brain while I’m thinking, it’s even more complicated. But it’s still just a four-dimensional pattern. So I can either say that reality is a complicated pattern of four dimensions, or I could say it’s this stuff that feels like it’s changing and moving around. Which is more fundamental? Which is more correct? These are just two different ways of describing the same thing.

Rise up: the best books about the power of protest

Angela Davis’s Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement challenges us to engage with this tradition and join the struggle for liberation from oppression in all its forms. This series of essays, interviews and speeches weaves together the internationalist principles of the anticolonial movements with a sharp analysis of state violence in America, the prison industrial complex and the formative years of Black Lives Matter. Key to Davis’s analysis is the understanding that colonial oppression takes the same basic form across the world, whether in Minneapolis, Jerusalem or the Amazon rainforest.

Flailing States: Pankaj Mishra on Anglo-America

Few narratives are more edifying, as economies tank and mass unemployment looms, than the account of the ‘social state’ that emerged in Germany in the second half of the 19th century. ‘The state must take the matter into its own hands,’ Bismarck announced in the 1880s as he introduced insurance programmes for accident, sickness, disability and old age. German liberals, a tiny but influential minority, made the usual objections: Bismarck was opening the door to communism, imposing a ‘centralised state bureaucracy’, a ‘state insurance juggernaut’ and a ‘system of state pension’ for idlers and parasites. German socialists saw that their Machiavellian persecutor was determined to drive a wedge between them and the working class. Nevertheless, Bismarck’s social insurance system wasn’t only retained and expanded in Germany as it moved through two world wars, several economic catastrophes and Nazi rule; it also became a model for much of the world. Japan was Germany’s most assiduous pupil, and the Japanese, in turn, inspired China’s first generation of modern leaders, many of whom spent years in Tokyo and Osaka. Despite the defeat and devastation of the Second World War and the US occupation, Japan has continued to influence East Asia’s other late-developing nation-states: South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Vietnam.

What made Germany such a compelling prototype for Japan? It is that Germany was a classic ‘late developer’ – the archetype of all nation-states in Asia and Africa. It unified only in 1871 and began to industrialise nearly a hundred years after Britain. Its leaders had to cope with the simultaneous challenges of rapid mechanisation and urbanisation, the disappearance of traditional livelihoods, the growth of trusts and cartels as well as trade unions, and an intensifying demand, articulated by a vibrant socialist movement, for political participation.

Buffeted by socio-economic changes and rising inequality, Germany faced early on what Japan and every other late-developing nation was forced to confront – the ‘social question’. Max Weber put it bluntly: how to ‘unite socially a nation split apart by modern economic development, for the hard struggles of the future’?

For Baby’s Brain to Benefit, Read the Right Books at the Right Time

In our investigations, my colleagues and I followed infants across the second six months of life. We’ve found that when parents showed babies books with faces or objects that were individually named, they learn more, generalize what they learn to new situations and show more specialized brain responses. This is in contrast to books with no labels or books with the same generic label under each image in the book. Early learning in infancy was also associated with benefits four years later in childhood.

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