New York magazine has a new Anthony Weiner profile by Mark Jacobson. Somepeople are already giggling at what appears to be the writer's crush on Huma Abedin, Weiner's wife. Given that Abedin is strikingly lovely in every photo that's been circulated of her, that hardly seems all that noteworthy. But that's not to say there's nothing worth noting about the profile's descriptions of Abedin. Let's take a look at one of the paragraphs Isaac Chotiner at The New Republic highlighted as one of the "silliest/creepiest tidbits":
She approached in a knit white top and navy-blue business skirt, her dark, almost black hair down to her shoulders. She wore bright-red lipstick, which gave her lips a 3-D look, her brown eyes were pools of empathy evolved through a thousand generations of what was good and decent in the history of the human race. The harsh, cheap buck lighting in the coffee shop couldn't lay a glove on her. By the time she sat down, the harmony of angels had vanquished the tinny background music from every corporate space on the planet. Of course, you'd seen pictures before. But you'd also seen pictures of the Taj Mahal. It didn't quite come up to actually being there.
Hold it right there. I hate to join the Internet outrage machine, but my problem with this paragraph has nothing to do with whether or not Jacobson is attracted to Abedin. (Who cares, and who isn't?)
My problem is that Jacobson couldn't have written a better paragraph to illustrate what's known as "orientalism" if he had tried. This reads like someone is trying to troll Edward Said.
Let's start with the red flag that should have alerted the editors that a little more work was needed here: comparing Abedin to the Taj Mahal, the icon of Indo-Islamic architecture. (Abedin is a Muslim whose parents were born in India and in Pakistan.)
First, this is crude. As an editorial matter, you probably want to strike out comparisons of Brigitte Bardot to the Eiffel Tower (for example) on your daily cliché watch. Second, though, in terms of racial sensitivity, this is less like comparing Bardot to the Eiffel Tower than comparing Tyra Banks to the Serengeti. As great as it may sound in the mind of a sleep-deprived writer on deadline, it should never, ever make it to print.
This is a tricky point to make delicately, because it's certainly true that there's a lot of manufactured indignation on the web, and I'm not convinced that much good comes from examining every written word in search of the politically incorrect just to have something to talk about. But that isn't a reason to ignore harmful stereotypes -- and what's remarkable about this particular paragraph of stereotyping is that people are not calling it out ... possibly because Internet sensitivity isn't set equally high for all ethnic categories.
Because I was an equal-opportunity skimmer of reading assignments in college, I never had much time for Said, just as I never had much time for Adam Smith. But somewhere along the line, probably while listening to female friends of South Asian extraction talk about feeling exoticized by American men they were trying to date, something sank in.
At the heart of Said's critique of Western treatment of the "Orient" is the observation that even romanticizing something is a way of diminishing it, rendering it two-dimensional. "Orientalism," according to the postcolonialists, is about emphasizing the differences between East and West, exoticizing them, seeing one, for example, as spiritual and the other as material: "By the time she sat down, the harmony of angels had vanquished the tinny background music from every corporate space on the planet." Or seeing one as ancient and the other as modern: "her brown eyes were pools of empathy evolved through a thousand generations of what was good and decent in the history of the human race." In fact, Said was particularly cognizant of the way these trends manifested in Western perceptions of Eastern, Muslim women, in part because he felt the sexualization of the Orient was vital to Western justification for imperialism: the East was a female sex object ready for Western male penetration--the veil was made to be removed. Completely unintentionally, this paragraph, with its joint focus on Abedin's beauty and her otherness, is a classic of the genre.
Don't giggle at Jacobson for admiring Huma Abedin, and don't shame him for resorting to handy cultural references when trying to communicate with his readers, either. As a time-pressed editor myself, I'm reluctant to trash-talk editors every time something slips by. But this was a print profile, not a 20-minute or even two-hour post on the website. Next time, catch this. A paragraph like this has no business in a serious magazine. It certainly has no place in a piece seeking to illuminate a civic choice the voters of New York City will make at the polls this November.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
As the vice president edges toward a presidential run, is he banking on further public disclosures to discredit the frontrunner?
As Joe Biden edges closer to a presidential run, there’s no shortage of theories as to what he’s up to. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton has built a commanding lead in the national polls, giving Biden little apparent space to gain traction. Perhaps he’s counting on the early-primary state of South Carolina to provide a critical boost. He might be banking on appearing as a stronger general-election candidate than any of his potential rivals in the primary race. Maybe after spending the past 42 years of his life running for elective office, he just can’t stop.
But there’s one intriguing theory that has so far garnered little attention: What if Biden knows something about Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton that the rest of us don’t?
The drug modafinil was recently found to enhance cognition in healthy people. Should you take it to get a raise?
If you could take a pill that will make you better at your job, with few or no negative consequences, would you do it?
In a meta-analysis recently published in European Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers from the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School concluded that a drug called modafinil, which is typically used to treat sleep disorders, is a cognitive enhancer. Essentially, it can help normal people think better.
Out of all cognitive processes, modafinil was found to improve decision-making and planning the most in the 24 studies the authors reviewed. Some of the studies also showed gains in flexible thinking, combining information, or coping with novelty. The drug didn’t seem to influence creativity either way.
In 1998, Toni Morrison wrote a comment for The New Yorker arguing that “white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime.” Last week the New York Times, implicitly cited Morrison’s piece, and claimed the author was giving Clinton “a compliment.” This interpretation of Morrison’s claim is as common as it is erroneous.
The popular interpretation of Morrison’s point (exhibited here) holds that, summoning all of her powers, the writer gazed into the very essence of Clinton, and found him sufficiently soulful. In fact, Morrison’s point had little to do with soul of any kind. She was not much concerned with Clinton’s knowledge of Ebonics, his style of handshake, nor whether he pledged Alpha or Q. Morrison was concerned with power.
A new study finds an algorithmic word analysis is flawless at determining whether a person will have a psychotic episode.
Although the language of thinking is deliberate—let me think, I have to do some thinking—the actual experience of having thoughts is often passive. Ideas pop up like dandelions; thoughts occur suddenly and escape without warning. People swim in and out of pools of thought in a way that can feel, paradoxically, mindless.
Most of the time, people don’t actively track the way one thought flows into the next. But in psychiatry, much attention is paid to such intricacies of thinking. For instance, disorganized thought, evidenced by disjointed patterns in speech, is considered a hallmark characteristic of schizophrenia. Several studies of at-risk youths have found that doctors are able to guess with impressive accuracy—the best predictive models hover around 79 percent—whether a person will develop psychosis based on tracking that person’s speech patterns in interviews.
It is not too late to strengthen the Iran deal, a prominent critic says.
It appears likely, as of this writing, that Barack Obama will be victorious in his fight to implement the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by his secretary of state, John Kerry. Republicans in Congress don’t appear to have the votes necessary to void the agreement, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign to subvert Obama may be remembered as one of the more counterproductive and shortsighted acts of an Israeli prime minister since the rebirth of the Jewish state 67 years ago.
Things could change, of course, and the Iranian regime, which is populated in good part by extremists, fundamentalist theocrats, and supporters of terrorism, could do something monumentally stupid in the coming weeks that could force on-the-fence Democrats to side with their Republican adversaries (remember the Café Milano fiasco, anyone?). But, generally speaking, the Obama administration, and its European allies, seem to have a clearer path to implementation than they had at the beginning of the month.
A string of questionable police killings demonstrates the need to reevaluate laws that govern the use of lethal force.
On July 1, 2012, Milton Hall, a homeless man with a history of mental illness, stole a cup of coffee from a convenience store in Saginaw, Michigan. The store’s clerk called 911. When an officer arrived, Hall produced a knife with a three-inch blade and threatened her with it. She called for backup and seven other officers soon joined her, one of them with a police dog. They formed an arc around Hall and aimed their firearms—pistols and a rifle—at him. The standoff continued for several minutes, with the officers repeatedly asking Hall to put the knife down and Hall repeatedly refusing. Finally, Hall, still wielding his knife, began to walk toward the police dog and the K9 officer. After he had taken a few steps—three, by my count, as I watch video footage from a patrol car’s dashboard camera and available on YouTube—the officers shot Hall to death in a volley of 47 bullets.
Four and a half years of violent conflict have destroyed entire regions of Syria. Caught in the middle of all this horror are the children of Syria, relying on parents who have lost control of their own lives and are now being forced to make difficult choices in desperate circumstances.
Four and a half years of violent conflict have destroyed entire regions of Syria. Neighborhoods have been smashed by shelling and government barrel bombs, and towns have been seized by rebels and ISIS militants, then retaken by government troops, killing hundreds of thousands and injuring even more. The United Nations now estimates that more than 4 million Syrians have become refugees, forced to flee to neighboring countries or Europe. Caught in the middle of all this horror are the children of Syria, relying on parents who have lost control of their own lives and are now being forced to make difficult choices in desperate circumstances. Though many families remain in Syria’s war zones, thousands of others are taking dangerous measures to escape, evading militias, government forces, border guards, predatory traffickers, and more, as they struggle to reach safety far from home.
A new study shows that the field suffers from a reproducibility problem, but the extent of the issue is still hard to nail down.
No one is entirely clear on how Brian Nosek pulled it off, including Nosek himself. Over the last three years, the psychologist from the University of Virginia persuaded some 270 of his peers to channel their free time into repeating 100 published psychological experiments to see if they could get the same results a second time around. There would be no glory, no empirical eurekas, no breaking of fresh ground. Instead, this initiative—the Reproducibility Project—would be the first big systematic attempt to answer questions that have been vexing psychologists for years, if not decades. What proportion of results in their field are reliable?