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Readers' Paradise - January 2015

Readers' Paradise - January 2015

TestFunda ,  08-Jan-15

About Readers' Paradise


Evolution doesn’t just happen, Evolution Creates

If this article were a thing, I would gleefully rub my hands before picking it up – it is one of the most fascinating articles for me. In my eight standard, I got really interested in the concepts of Darwinian evolution – I wrote so much on the survival of the fittest in a class test that my biology teacher gave me a mark extra than the rest (who had written well too). Enough narcissism – I should talk about where the science has come on the theory of evolution. The theory of the survival of the fittest (roughly) says that the fittest survive – the species/individuals who can adapt to changes in the environment will survive and who cannot adapt will perish. Changes in genetic makeup, according to Darwinian logic, happen through gene-mutations: mutations can sometimes give rise to new evolutionary changes and in time perhaps the rise of a new species; mutations can lead to adaptive changes; or mutations can be deleterious. Would that mean that evolution is random or that the direction of evolution is determined by random mutations? If you look at the variety around you, the sheer complexity may not seem to be only the act of some random mutations. There is more to evolution that just genes – the connections between genes or gene circuits play an important role. For example, there are 40 genes in the circuits of both snake and human. What makes these two species different is the wiring of this so-called Hox-gene-circuit. If you thought “wow” after reading this, you must check out the article:


The Drama Queen

Here’s a review of a biography of a great artist- Vincent Van Gogh. The famous painter (who became famous much later though) was a freeloader, was given to tantrums, and pretty much self-destructive. And, although he was given to pleading, evasion, and manipulation, Van Gogh’s art (as the writer puts it) and his letters were the opposite – clear and remarkable. The review gives interesting tidbits of Van Gogh’s life when he was growing up, while showing what went behind the making of this great painter.


The virtues of know-nothing criticism

Great knowledge may not be a prerequisite of great criticism. Outsiders (people outside that field or non-experts) can take a fresh look at the book, movie, painting, culture, or any piece of art. Since the outsider is not looking at that piece for long (is not an expert), he/she can reflect on things that go unnoticed by the regular observer. Here are some great thoughts on an outsider’s perspective:


The Victims of Jihadism

France underestimated the power of ISIS, al-qaeda and Jihadism until the Charlie Hebdo killings. It is spread far and wide in France where young unstable people join these terror outfits. It began much earlier than the killings this January.


New Designs Altering Human Experience

While talking about revolutionizing technology in the late 18th and early 19th century, people overemphasize technologies that connect distances such as steam engines, telegraphs, telephones and automobiles. Technologies that marked radical shifts in human experience (for the better or worse) such as photographs, recording, packaging, movies, or sweets are overlooked. This book review critically examines the facts and opinions of two books and gives some fine examples of how such seemingly mundane technological changes led to cultural changes.


The importance of “Daddy Months”

We assume that only mothers need maternity leave to bond with their babies. Fathers need some time off with their children too. Arguing this case is a lawyer turned stay-at-home dad: he explains how being a full-time caretaker for his daughter adds meaning and value to himself; he explains why it is difficult for men to take a longer paternity leave or be a stay-at-home dad because of ingrained cultural beliefs, and not-too-well-thought-out policies at work; and he explains why he would be willing to give up on a great professional career with a fat pay for more personal time with his family and a less-than-great professional career.


Flawed metrics

If I have more readers visiting this blog/post/mail, the higher numbers would surely make me happy. However, what is more important is the time that each reader spends reading the post and the articles that the links point to (total time spent in reading should be better metric than total number of visitors). In measuring web traffic we often make such mistakes – consider only one factor when other factors are also important, give more emphasis to a less important factor, or when we just do not have a great metric to measure quality we rely on the wrong metric! More importantly, measuring depth sometimes needs more focus than measuring breadth.


Languages in 2115

In my country at least, local languages are not valued as much as English is. Conversely, fluent English speakers have an edge over others even if unfairly so. My friends request me to talk in English with their children, or nephews and nieces. With time, the language will be spoken by more and more people and we will lose our linguistic diversity. In the article, the author explores the reasons behind some languages losing out on the battle for existence and for some languages winning that battle. He says that linguistic diversity gets threatened because of opportunity availability (English speakers are preferred for more jobs; larger languages are associated with opportunity and smaller ones with backwardness), literacy (formal education emphasis one or two languages and often emphasis other language over native language), or (especially in the past) colonization (native language is discouraged). Among other things, the essayist also indicates what makes a language rich and how that same complexity and richness makes it difficult to revive such languages once they are lost. I also came to understand why it is tough for me to learn Marathi – because I am grown, busy and self-conscious. So, in 2115, how many languages would we be left with?

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When the Psychiatrist's Patient Commits Suicide

My father’s friend - a pediatrician - has a daughter who is a psychiatrist. The Pediatrician was telling me how after her daughter’s client committed suicide, her daughter was devastated. She had tried so hard to help her patient. Another doctor I know was talking about her psychiatrist friend who has to leave all her work (even in the middle of attending to patients) if a patient who is suicidal calls up. One of her patients was on the brink of committing suicide when the patient called and she had to talk him out of it. I remember meeting a psychiatrist, while she was not working, and I found her impenetrable – her training was such that her face betrayed no emotions and it was difficult to gauge what she was thinking. In spite of the stoic exterior, psychiatrists are humans and need help when their mentally ill patients, whom they are helping, choose death despite everything. In United States, some patients’ families sue doctors when patients commit suicide. As a result, if doctors hear that someone is suicidal, they refuse to help in the fear of being dragged to the court besides the fear of feeling a failure if the patient would not respond to the treatment. To add to the woes, mental-health practitioners who lose a patient can face stigma from their colleagues too. Sadder still, left to nobody’s care are seriously mentally-ill patients who can’t find doctors to treat them.


Poetic Doctors

Think of a doctor and the picture of a studious, quietly competent, and serious person in a doctor’s coat comes to the mind. We tend to forget that doctors can be humans with a range of artistic talent. To encourage doctors to build empathy, medical journals allow poetry by doctors to be published. The result could range from the amusing to intense poems. Among these, few poems can be quite evocative and memorable.


Joining the Conversation

Diversity in campuses and diversity at work are important issues today. Organizations aim to have a more diverse workplace in which more women can participate. While there have been books written on how to get more women on board, and discussions among women and advice columns for women on how to deal with work issues and people, there is less advice for men on how to deal with women and related work issues. Today’s first link is for men who look at positively finding ways to better understand women and their issues at work. As the writer puts it – men need to join the conversation too.


The Gain from Pain

Trauma can bring people together. Painful religious rites such as whipping oneself, piercing sensitive body parts, or physical mutilation are ways of showing solidarity with fellow worshippers/devotees. To test the insight that pain brings people together or makes them more generous, a few researchers conduct experiments to find the reasons behind the pain-gain theory.


Strange Power Couple

The second read for today is about a power couple - Mary Anne and Benjamin Disraeli. The match, as the book and this book review say, was a strange one. Mary Anne Disraeli was nothing of a model political wife. She was eccentric in her dressing and in her language – she was adept at making “spicy” conversations. Her spouse – the famous British conservative politician of the 19th century – had been a failure at many things before he met and subsequently married her. However, the book on this strange couple points to an important insight – that the Disraelis’ personal life was responsible for much of Benjamin Disraeli’s political success. The reviewer further uses this information to point to an advantage that Hillary Clinton has as a politician.


The Un-killable Soldier

While watching one of my spouse’s favourite television shows - the popular motorcar show Top Gear presented by the goofy but interesting presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May – I ended up watching a very different episode that featured injured soldiers. The soldiers did repairs and participated in an unusual Dakar rally – a motorsport event. These were battle-wounded soldiers, each of whom had lost some part/s of their bodies. The moving episode showed them preparing for the event in spite of their handicaps, racing in the rally and receiving a standing ovation for their performance. Today’s article is about a brave soldier who despite losing an eye and a hand, kept coming back to fight. He would pull the pins of grenades with his teeth and throw them with his good hand. He had bullets in his skull and knee among other places. But, he would return – to fight in another war. As a result, he had participated in the Boer war, World War I and World War II.


Living it up beautifully

It is notable that for some people pursuing his/her dream does not have a specific age. In his review of a biography, the author speaks about a remarkable writer who started pursuing her dream of a writing career just shy of turning 60. The lady (Penelope Fitzgerald) went on to become Britain’s most admired novelists earning respectful reviews for her books. She was crowned with a Booker prize in 1979 for her novel “Offshore”. Fitzgerald got better in writing with age and wrote historical novels in her 70s.

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