THE YEAR OF PAIN

“The day I had my colonoscopy was the best day of my life,” Everett Staley told me. Staley liked to shock. But he tended to tell the truth.

“I hated the prep of course. But the colonoscopy itself lingers in my memory like a comforting dream.” Even now, the thought evoked a sigh from Staley.

I should explain something. Everett Staley’s colonoscopy occurred toward the end of what he called his “Year of Pain.” He was in pain, more or less constantly, for more than twelve months. It had nothing to do with his colonoscopy. The colonoscopy was merely a foil to make the Year of Pain more understandable.

“Whenever I go in for a colonoscopy, I always ask them to go easy on the anesthetic so I can watch,” Staley said. “The inside of your intestines are up on a monitor, you know. If you’re not fully knocked out, you can watch the doctor’s progress.  I like to watch and pose questions and offer advice. At least I think that’s what I’m doing. Maybe I’m just dreaming.” Staley paused and reconsidered. “The truth is, I asked them to go easy on the anesthetic this time so I’d be conscious enough to enjoy it.”

“Enjoy what?” I asked.

“The absence of pain.”

Hospital Corridor

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LOOKING BACKWARD ON HARVARD’S DIVERSITY PROBLEM

Last week witnessed two events, both involving Harvard University and the enigma of ethnic diversity. On October 15, the trial of Harvard College began in a Boston federal courtroom. The institution stands accused of racial discrimination against Asian-Americans in admissions. On the same day, in the courtroom of public opinion, former Harvard Law Professor, now U.S. Senator, Elizabeth Warren released a DNA report supposedly corroborating her claim to Native American heritage.

Both events are surrounded by controversy, with partisans lining up along predictable lines. And both events take on added significance when viewed against the background of Harvard’s first experiment in what might today be considered affirmative action: the establishment of an “Indian College” in 1655.Old-Harvard-Yard-according-to-Anthropology-1130-e1419632116650 Continue reading

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AFTER KAVANAUGH

As this story goes to press, it is uncertain whether Judge Kavanaugh will be confirmed to sit on the Supreme Court. But one thing is certain. The confirmation process itself is broken, and in desperate need of repair. Here are three recommendations. They may not necessarily fix the many problems manifested over the past few months, but they may at least moderate them.Panorama_of_United_States_Supreme_Court_Building_at_Dusk

First, the process needs a consensus among its participants on the meaning of judicial temperament. Everyone agrees that judicial temperament is a crucial qualification. No one agrees on what that temperament should be. Continue reading

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DisRESPECT IN DETROIT

Funerals are meant to be dignified occasions to honor the dead and to remember their deeds. Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, led a life that certainly deserved honor and memory. The first female performer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she was also inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and received the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

It was therefore distressing – in fact, disgusting – to see the occasion stained by the presence of Louis Farrakhan.  Not just present, but in the front row, next to former President Clinton, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton.Farrakhan

We live in age in which terms like racist, sexist, and anti-Semite are bandied about so freely, that they have almost lost their meaning. Watch cable news. Listen to talk radio. Nearly anyone with whom one disagrees is labelled a “hater” in today’s over-heated climate. If one wants to witness true, sincere hatred – not the ersatz version paraded in the media – one need only read the words of Minister Farrakhan. Continue reading

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THE MONKEY AND THE DUTCH MASTER

Who or what qualifies as an “author” under copyright law? Recent events on opposite sides of the world shed light on the question.

Last April, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals confronted the issue of whether animals qualify as authors. The case arose when Naruto, a 7-year old crested macaque, noticed a camera lying unattended on the jungle floor of his neighborhood on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. For reasons known only to himself (but which may have involved the same egocentrism harbored by humans), Naruto paused in his travels to use the camera to take several photographs of himself. These pictures, dubbed the “Monkey Selfies” by the court, went viral.

Macaquex  Next Rembrandt

While the Monkey Selfies case unfolded, a team in Holland — once the colonial master of Naruto’s homeland – were hard at work studying the facial features and proportions of the 346 known works of the Dutch Master, Rembrandt van Rijn. The team designed an Artificial Intelligence (AI) software program, incorporating a deep-learning algorithm, which analyzed Rembrandt’s use of geometry, composition, and painting materials. Utilizing a 3D printer, the   program replicated the paint and brushstrokes Rembrandt might have used, applying 13 layers of ink. It generated a new work of art, consisting of more than 148 million pixels based on 168,263 painting fragments from Rembrandt’s body of works. The portrait, known as the Next Rembrandt, was put on display in 2016, and won two Grand Prix for cyber and creative data at the Cannes Lions Festival.

The Monkey Selfies and the Next Rembrandt would seem to have little in common. But for students of copyright law, they stand together, cheek by hairy jowl, forcing reconsideration of the nature of authorship. Continue reading

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A NATION OF RAGE BOYS

He is largely forgotten today, but ten years ago, a furious, wide-mouthed Kashmiri protester caused a stir in social media. His name was Shakeel Ahmad Bhat, but he became known as “Rage Boy.”  Whenever cameras were present to record angry mobs protesting Israel, Pope Benedict, Salman Rushdie, or the Danish Muhammed cartoons, there was Rage Boy, demonstrating, in the words of the late Christopher Hitchens, “his piety and pissed-offness.”

Rage Boy II   Rage Boy I

 

 

 

After his identity was ascertained, Rage Boy became something of a cult figure. He was widely interviewed. His visage adorned posters, bumper stickers, and even boxer shorts.

Then he disappeared. No one knew what happened to him. Until now. We now know that Rage Boy emigrated to the United States, cloned himself, joined both political parties, and became the guiding spirit of American opinion.

Thanks to the absorption of Rage Boys into the body politic, rivalries today are less contests over ideas or ideology as they are competitions over who can lay claim to the sincerest, most deep-seated sense of rage. We have become a nation of Rage Boys. Continue reading

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CULTURAL INTEGRATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS

“Cultural appropriation” is the latest vehicle for those thumbing a ride to victim status. Unlike Black Lives Matter or the #MeToo movement, one needn’t have experienced injustice or discrimination to sign up. Practically anyone, from any culture, may proclaim his, her, or their victimization.

The most common definition of “cultural appropriation” is: The act of taking or using things from a culture not your own, especially without showing that you respect or understand it.

Acropolis

Now some cultures – those that sanction slavery or female genital mutilation, for example – deserve disrespect.  But as a general rule, showing disrespect for or lack of understanding of another culture deserves condemnation. Still, many of the most recent examples of alleged cultural appropriation suggest that those complaining most loudly have the least understanding of the cultures they purport to defend. Continue reading

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