Simon Reynolds: You Are Not a SwitchRecreativity has many proponents and represents a wide spectrum of opinion. Still, it’s striking how easily some of these critics and theorists glide from relatively sensible talk about the role of appropriation and allusion in art to sweeping claims of an ontological or biological nature. They seem so confident. How they can be certain that nobody has ever just come up with some totally new idea, ex nihilo? The remixed nature of everything (not new) under the sun has become an article of faith. Impossible to prove, these assertions tell us way more about our current horizons of thought and our cultural predicament than they do about the nature of creativity or the history of art.

Detection in Space WarfareNow I know you do not want to accept the fact that stealth in space is all but impossible. This I know from experience (Every day I have new email from somebody who thinks they’ve figured out a way to do it. So far all of them have had fatal flaws.). The only thing that upsets budding SF writers more is Albert Einstein denying them their faster than light starships. But don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger. The good folk on the usenet newsgroup went through all the arguments but it all came to naught.

David Bordwell: A dose of DOS: Trade secrets from SelznickMe-mos, they were called by many, since they seemed to reflect the compulsive micromanaging of their creator. Directors and staff smarted under Selznick’s insistence that he control every creative decision. But for those of us coming afterward, Selznick’s criticisms, complaints, demands, reminiscences, agonies of frustration, and I-told-you-sos help us grasp the concrete problems of filmmaking. Last week I went to Austin hoping to get some information about how Hollywood creators of the 1940s regarded the task of storytelling. DOS delivered as he did on the screen: splashily.

Anne Applebaum: In the New World of SpiesSteinberg and Oggins looked and acted like wealthy businessmen, but in fact they were Soviet spies, operating not as diplomats but as “illegals,” under false identities and beneath deep cover. “Charles Martin and Co.” may have been a real business, but as Andrew Meier discovered while writing The Lost Spy, his meticulously researched and beautifully written biography of Oggins, the company also provided its “owners” with a reason to be in Manchukuo in 1935. From this unusual vantage point, they were able to observe not only Axis politics but also, again, the large White Russian community that had emigrated to Harbin after the Russian Revolution. They abandoned the effort only because the war between China and Japan was intensifying. There is no record that they were ever exposed.

Nitsuh Abebe: Grizzly Bear Members Are Indie-Rock Royalty, But What Does That Buy Them in 2012?Still, the question of how “big” Grizzly Bear are—where they fall on the long scale between celebrity megastars and those unwashed touring-in-vans-for-the-love-of-it indie rockers whose days consist of, as Droste remembers it, “cars breaking down, sleeping on floors, being allergic to the cat in someone’s house, making literally no money, playing in a diner, having ten people show up, being like Why are we doing this?, eating beef jerky from the gas station for protein”—is a funny and unsettled one, and its answer might depend on your perspective.

Ronald Bailey: Half the Facts You Know Are Probably WrongIn the past half century, all of the foregoing facts have turned out to be wrong (except perhaps the one about inflation rates). We’ll revisit the ten biggest cities question below. In the modern world facts change all of the time, according to Samuel Arbesman, author of The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date.

Salman Rushdie: The DisappearedIt now looked as though he would be at risk for a considerable time, and that was not what the Special Branch had foreseen, Howley told him. It was no longer a matter of lying low for a few days to let the politicians sort things out. There was no prospect of his being allowed (allowed?) to resume his normal life in the foreseeable future. He could not just decide to go home and take his chances. To do so would be to endanger his neighbors and place an intolerable burden on police resources, because an entire street, or more than one street, would need to be sealed off and protected. He had to wait until there was a “major political shift.” What did that mean? he asked. Until Khomeini died? Or never? Howley did not have an answer. It was not possible for him to estimate how long it would take.

Ben Goldacre: Bad PharmaDrugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques which are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments. Unsurprisingly, these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer. When trials throw up results that companies don’t like, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients, so we only ever see a distorted picture of any drug’s true effects. Regulators see most of the trial data, but only from early on in its life, and even then they don’t give this data to doctors or patients, or even to other parts of government. This distorted evidence is then communicated and applied in a distorted fashion. In their forty years of practice after leaving medical school, doctors hear about what works through ad hoc oral traditions, from sales reps, colleagues or journals. But those colleagues can be in the pay of drug companies – often undisclosed – and the journals are too. And so are the patient groups. And finally, academic papers, which everyone thinks of as objective, are often covertly planned and written by people who work directly for the companies, without disclosure. Sometimes whole academic journals are even owned outright by one drug company. Aside from all this, for several of the most important and enduring problems in medicine, we have no idea what the best treatment is, because it’s not in anyone’s financial interest to conduct any trials at all. These are ongoing problems, and although people have claimed to fix many of them, for the most part, they have failed; so all these problems persist, but worse than ever, because now people can pretend that everything is fine after all.

Mark Jacobson: HauntsMyself, I don’t know. In Brooklyn, the arrival of the New has been a vexing constant since members of the Canarsee tribe squinted up from the Flatlands to see strangers on the horizon. The other day, I was on Ocean Parkway listening to several old-line Conservative Jews who were sitting inside a vast but now underattended shul complaining about how the Borough Park neighborhood had been overrun by various Hasidic sects.

Lawrence Weschler: Errol Morris, Forensic EpistemologistSince, as it happens, I’ve been having conversations with Errol for years, especially on his attitudes towards photography (and more especially about a continual tension I sense in those attitudes, between his insistence on the existence of an objective reality and the need to drill towards its expression, on the one hand, and his fascination with the bedeviling sorts of indeterminacies one encounters the deeper one drills, on the other), and, what’s more, these conversations have only become more intense the closer we come to this fall’s publication of Errol’s latest (A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald), I decided I’d be only too happy to oblige. What follows is the original English version of what the two of us came up with.

Markus Kajo: Pöllö, ulkoministeritikkarit ja muitaJa lääkepakkauksissa ei ole edelleenkään yllätyslelua. Vaikka olen puhunut tästä samasta asiasta jo ainakin 4 kertaa eri paikoissa, niin aina kun tutkin uuden pilleripurkin, siellä on vain pillereitä. Tai ehkä joku kuivatustabletti tai muu sen sellainen silikaattipussi pillereiden lisäksi, mutta ei ikinä yllätyslelua, esim. muovista siiliä joka ampuu singolla, tai jotain. Niin ei mitään! Mutta lasten suklaamuniin kyllä riittää leluja.

Andrew F. March: What’s Wrong With Blasphemy? – Most secular philosophical approaches to the morality of speech about the sacred are going to begin with three starting-points:

  • Human beings have very strong interests in being free to express themselves.
  • The “sacred” is an object of human construction and thus the fact that something is called “sacred” is insufficient itself to explain why all humans ought to respect it.
  • Respect is owed to persons but not everything they value or venerate, even if other persons themselves do not uphold such a difference between their selves and their attachments.

These three premises make it hard for some common arguments about speech and the sacred to fully persuade.

(Aiemmin: 1. osa)