If that doesn’t grab your attention, then perhaps this? A recent piece at WIRED profiled wildlife biologist Tim Caro’s fieldwork for Zebra Stripes, under the zingy headline, “The Man in the Zebra Suit Knows the Secret of the Stripes,” though the article itself willingly deep dives into Caro’s behaviorial-ist adventures. Zebra Stripes is based on Caro’s decade of fieldwork, which questioned the significance of black-and-white striping, and through every possible hypothetical series of circumstances, arrived at an unexpected conclusion: zebra markings are nature’s defense against fly bites. As WIRED writes: At four in the morning, Tim Caro roused his colleagues. Bleary-eyed and grumbling, they followed him to the edge of the village, where the beasts were hiding. He sat them down in chairs, and after letting their eyes adjust for a minute, he asked them if they saw anything. And if so, would they please point where? Not real beasts. Despite being camped in Tanzania’s Katavi National Park, Caro was asking his colleagues to identify pelts—from a wildebeest, an impala, and a zebra—that he had draped over chairs or clotheslines. Caro wanted to know if the zebra’s stripes gave it any sort of camouflage in the pre-dawn, when many predators hunt, and he needed the sort of replicability he . . .
From a recent review of Jessica Riskin’s The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument over What Makes Living Things Tick, by George Scialabba at Inference: According to the delightful science fiction romance film, Her, artificial intelligences also socialize, or will before long. I imagine them asking one another at parties, “Are you an agent?” They will not, of course, be asking about literary representation, but about the psychological or emotional or moral capacity we commonly call agency. They’ll be looking to find out whether the AI they’re meeting answers ultimately to itself or to someone else, whether it can set and change its own goals, whether it can surprise itself and others. Beings possessed of agency are autonomous, spontaneous, capable of initiative, and moved by internal as well as external forces or drives. According to Jessica Riskin’s The Restless Clock, agency is everywhere, or at least far more widespread than is dreamt of in modern philosophy of science. If agency is “an intrinsic capacity to act in the world,” then science is not having any of it. It is “a founding principle of modern science … that a scientific explanation must not attribute will or agency to natural phenomena.” This ban on agency is . . .
Derek S. Hyra’s Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City, an ethnography that uncovers the shifting demographics of Washington, DC’s Shaw/U Street neighborhood—a “gilded ghetto” under pressure of displacement from late-capitalist gentrification by an influx of young, white, relatively wealthy, and/or gay professionals—publishes this April. In the meantime, here’s a teaser—an episode from NPR’s “Around the Nation” focused on Shaw’s gentrification, through the eyes of its residents—that leans on Hyra’s research. *** For as much good as Valentine sees happening in his neighborhood, he recognizes there are real lapses when it comes to how people from different backgrounds interact with each other. The neighborhood’s changing demographics have created a space where identities such as race, age and class are constantly brushing up against each other. It’s a tension Shaw is still dealing with years after “gentrification” began. “Until I sit down and talk to you, we’re not going to get anywhere,” he said. “I can say good morning to you, but unless I sit down and say, ‘Where are you from?’ until I let you into my comfort zone and you’re not afraid of what happened once upon a time here in Shaw, there’s not going to be that cultural assimilation.” Derek . . .
Just this past week in Arizona, lawmakers in Arizona killed HB 2120 (but only after significant academic protest), a bill spurred by a white studies course at Arizona State University, which would have prohibited state-funded universities “from offering any class or activity that promotes division, resentment or social justice toward a race, gender, religion, political affiliation, social class or other class of people,” or encourages “solidarity or isolation” based on those same categories. Ethnic studies is already banned in K-12 education in Arizona, and HB2120 would have built on recent cases like one in Wisconsin, where because of a course on racism entitled “The Problem of Whiteness,” Republican legislators threatened to withhold funds from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. A recent piece at Inside Higher Ed goes in much deeper about this crisis in representation, including an account from Christina Berchini, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, who wrote about the attempt to shutdown whiteness studies in a local op-ed: Berchini, who studies whiteness, said in an interview that conversations about it are often “upsetting because it’s so uncomfortable” — in part because many people have never before been asked what it means to be white. . . .
Congrats to Alice Kaplan, the John M. Musser chair in French literature at Yale University, whose most recent book Looking for The Stranger: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic, was named a finalist for the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. The honor is nothing new for Kaplan—two of her previous books, The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach (which was also nominated for a National Book Award) and French Lessons: A Memoir, were also finalists, in the general nonfiction and autobiography/biography categories. The National Book Critics Circle awards, selected by a rotating group of rotating professional book review editors and critics, “honor the best literature published in the United States in six categories—autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.” Stay tuned: winners will be announced on March 16, 2017, in a ceremony at the New School. To read more about Looking for The Stranger, click here. . . .
Reminder: start your new year off right, and thumb through our Spring 2017 seasonal catalog, which you can download as a PDF here. . . .