Researchers used the Iris Murdoch's last novel to quantify how Alzheimer's first signs show up in language:
As [neurologist Peter] Garrard explains, a patient’s vocabulary becomes restricted, and they use fewer words that are specific labels and more words that are general labels. For example, it’s not incorrect to call a golden retriever an “animal,” though it is less accurate than calling it a retriever or even a dog. Alzheimer’s patients would be far more likely to call a retriever a “dog” or an “animal” than “retriever” or “Fred.” In addition, Garrard adds, the words Alzheimer’s patients lose tend to appear less frequently in everyday English than words they keep — an abstract noun like “metamorphosis” might be replaced by “change” or “go.”
Researchers also found the use of specific words decreases and the noun-to-verb ratio changes as more “low image” verbs (be, come, do, get, give, go, have) and indefinite nouns (thing, something, anything, nothing) are used in place of their more unusual brethren. The use of the passive voice falls off markedly as well. People also use more pauses, Garrard says, as “they fish around for words.”
For his analysis of Murdoch, Garrard used a program called Concordance to count word tokens and types in samples of text from three of her novels: her first published effort, Under the Net; a mid-career highlight, The Sea, The Sea, which won the Booker prize in 1978; and her final effort, Jackson’s Dilemma. He found that Murdoch’s vocabulary was significantly reduced in her last book — “it had become very generic,” he says — as compared to the samples from her two earlier books.
Apparently there's a movie about Iris Murdoch too.
First, today is the bicentennial of Illinois becoming a state, which involved a deal to steal Chicago from Wisconsin:
If Illinoisans had played by the rules to get statehood, Chicagoans would be cheeseheads. By all rights, the Wisconsin border should have been set at the southern tip of Lake Michigan when Illinois was admitted into the union, 200 years ago Monday.
That would have made a 60-mile strip of what’s now northern Illinois a part of southern Wisconsin. Stripped of the smokestacks of Chicago’s factories, Illinois’ landscape would have been dominated by grain elevators and dairy barns. But that didn’t happen.
The fix was in, even as the state of Illinois was conceived.
It's a good story. Today is also the 75th anniversary of Pizzeria Uno opening in Chicago, which introduced deep-dish pizza to the masses:
Pizza had been around the city’s Italian cafes for decades. It was served in tiny wedges, and mainly used as an appetizer. Even on a full pie the crust was wafer-thin.
The pizza at Pizzeria Uno was going to be different—cooked in a deep dish, with a thick crust and heaps of cheese. Who came up with this innovative style? Riccardo? Sewell? Their chef, Rudy Malnati? The debate goes on.
So on a wartime Friday evening in December, Pizzeria Uno opened with little fanfare. Business was slow at first. Gradually, Chicago-style pizza caught on. By 1955, people were lining up outside in the cold, waiting to get in.
Longtime readers know that despite my Chicagoan heritage, I prefer New York-style big slices that you have to drain before eating. Preferrably bought from a window on 3rd Avenue around 4am.
The 41st president of the United States died last night at the age of 94. President Bill Clinton, who succeeded Bush in 1993, remembers his friend:
No words of mine or others can better reveal the heart of who he was than those he wrote himself. He was an honorable, gracious and decent man who believed in the United States, our Constitution, our institutions and our shared future. And he believed in his duty to defend and strengthen them, in victory and defeat. He also had a natural humanity, always hoping with all his heart that others’ journeys would include some of the joy that his family, his service and his adventures gave him.
His friendship has been one of the great gifts of my life. From Indonesia to Houston, from the Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast to Kennebunkport — where just a few months ago we shared our last visit, as he was surrounded by his family but clearly missing Barbara — I cherished every opportunity I had to learn and laugh with him. I just loved him.
We should all give thanks for George H.W. Bush’s long, good life and honor it by searching, as he always did, for the most American way forward.
I voted against Bush in my first election, and helped defeat him in the 1992 campaign. Back then, we opposed people in the other party; we didn't hate them. Bush embodied that decency. He will be missed.
Yesterday was my [redacted] high school reunion. We started with a tour of the building, which has become a modern office park since we graduated:
The glass atrium there is new, as of 2008. The structure back to the left is the Center for the Performing Arts, which featured proudly in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
I didn't get a picture of the Michelin-starred student food court, but this, this I had to snap:
So, at some point I'll post about Illinois school-funding policies and why one of the richest school districts in the world has 20 or so exercise bikes, each of which costs as much as feeding a child lunch every school day for three years...but this is not that post.
It was great seeing some of my classmates and walking around the old school. Also, shout out to the server at Northbrook's Landmark Inn for dealing with about 100 old people who didn't remember their own drinks.
Today is the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' White Album:
There’s something about The White Album that invites listeners to mess around with it. Joan Didion stole its title for her 1979 essay collection, an elegy for the dreams of 1960s California. The producer Danger Mouse chopped it to pieces and recombined the fragments with vocals from Jay-Z’s The Black Album to create his 2004 mash-up The Grey Album. The jam band Phish covered all 30 songs on stage on Halloween night, 1994. Charles Manson, notoriously, had his own theories. Even the title has been rewritten: The Beatles called it The Beatles but their fans had other ideas.
The new reissue defamiliarises the album yet again, with 27 demos, 50 outtakes, and a thorough digital reconstruction by Giles Martin, the son of Beatles producer George Martin. The White Album is the only record by the most analysed group in the history of popular music that still retains considerable mystery, because there’s just so much of it. Whether or not you consider it the best Beatles album (I do), it’s certainly the most Beatles album.
Over the years we’ve learned almost everything there is to know about the circumstances of its creation. We know that due to various rows, sulks and walkouts, the first stage of the band’s disintegration, all four Beatles appear on fewer than half the songs. We know about Yoko Ono’s contentious presence, Ringo’s huffy absence from Back in the USSR, John’s contempt for Paul’s “granny music shit”, and so on. We know that they were less than a year away from the last time that they all stood in a studio together, although in the newly released demos we can also hear that there was still plenty of fun to be had, despite those fissures. Even at the time, I imagine, one could hear pop’s quintessential gang of mates splintering into four individuals, and their musical fusions unravelling into discrete genre exercises. Listening to it is like watching an explosion in slow motion.
I'm about to put it on. But I'll skip "Revolution 9."
This year the WHCA won't have a comedian or the president at its annual dinner. Instead, historian Ron Chernow will speak. Can't think why:
Go back a few minutes to hear the whole thing. I'm highlighting that passage because, don't forget, two days later Osama bin Laden was dead—because two hours earlier, President Obama gave the final order to have him killed.
The International Bureau of Weights and Measures voted earlier today to ditch the platinum-iridium prototype kilogram in favor of a value of mass based on Planck's constant. The Post explains:
Since the 19th century, scientists have based their definition of the fundamental unit of mass on a physical object — a shining platinum iridium cylinder stored in a locked vault in the bowels of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in Sevres, France. A kilogram was equal to the heft of this aging hunk of metal, and this cylinder, by definition, weighed exactly a kilogram. If the cylinder changed, even a little bit, then the entire global system of measurement had to change, too.
With Friday’s vote, scientists redefined the kilogram for the 21st century by tying it to a fundamental feature of the universe — a small, strange figure from quantum physics known as Planck’s constant, which describes the smallest possible unit of energy.
In 1875, the signing of the Treaty of the Metre made the system official. Two platinum and iridium prototypes — a meter-length bar and a kilogram-mass cylinder — were forged to serve as the standard units for the whole world. The BIPM distributed copies of each prototype to the signatory nations; the century-old U.S. national kilogram still sits in a glass case in a locked room down the hall from Pratt’s lab.
But the kilogram prototype, known as “Le Grand K,” was made by humans and is subject to all our limitations. It is inaccessible — the safe containing the cylinder can be opened only by three custodians carrying three separate keys, an event that has happened fewer than a dozen times in the object’s 139-year history. And it is inconsistent — when Le Grand K was examined in the 1980s, it weighed several micrograms less than it was supposed to. This meant that anyone who made products based on the standards had to reissue their weights. Manufacturers were furious. Lawmakers were called. Metrologists, people who study measurements, were accused of incompetence.
The article doesn't say what the Bureau will do with the kilogram prototype.
I didn't have a moment to write any code from 9am until now, so my lunch will include doing the stuff I didn't do in all those meetings. At some point I'll get to these:
Now, back to writing code, as soon as I make yet another vet appointment for my bête noir.
One of the earliest settlers in Chicago, John Kinzie, illegally held a man as a slave who ultimately ran away. Kinzie then sued him in Louisiana to get him back:
In 1804 John Kinzie moved into the old DuSable cabin on the north bank of the Chicago River and began trading with the local Native tribes. Thomas Forsyth Jr, his half-brother, was in business with him. That spring the partners took on an indentured servant named Jeffrey Nash.
Sometime after the 1804 indenture was instituted, Forsyth took Nash there. And sometime later Nash ran away. He eventually made his way to New Orleans, married, and started a family.
The traders were not about to let Nash go. In 1813 they began proceedings in Louisiana to get him back. The case was labeled Kensy (sic) and Forsyth, plaintiffs v. Jeffrey Nash, defendant.
Now the plaintiffs claimed that Nash was not a free-born servant under indenture, but actually their slave. Residents of Peoria had recognized Nash as Forsyth’s slave. Nash himself was said to have admitted being a slave, and had run away when Forsyth broke a promise to free him. The traders also produced a bill of sale transferring the slave Nash to them, dated September 5, 1803.
However, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 banned slavery from the territory that would eventually become Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. The only exceptions were for persons convicted of a crime, or fugitive slaves escaping from a slave-holding state. Nash did not fall under either of these categories. Therefore, the court found in his favor. He would remain a free man.
The road in downtown Chicago named after Kinzie was the locus of the biggest disaster in city history.
Writing for New Republic, Garret Keizer argues that nihilism, not racism or anger at elites, really drives Trump voters:
A nihilist is someone who dedicates himself to not giving a shit, who thinks all meanings are shit, and who yearns with all his heart for the “aesthetic pleasure” of seeing the shit hit the fan. Arguing with a nihilist is like intimidating a suicide bomber: The usual threats and enticement have no effect. I suspect that is part of the appeal for both: the facile transcendence of placing oneself beyond all powers of persuasion. A nihilist is above you and your persnickety arguments in the same way that Trump fancies himself above the law.
[I]t’s probably a mistake to view nihilism as “an explanation apart” from the common analyses of the Trump phenomenon. Economic dispossession and virulent racism stand in relation to nihilism not as alternative theories but as reciprocal causes and effects. In other words, all three flourish in a moral vacuum.
A sense of radical incredulity, spectacularly typified by Trump’s refusal to believe his own intelligence services, is but one manifestation of the nihilism that brought him to power. What makes him “the real deal” in the eyes of his most ardent admirers is largely his insistence that almost everything else is fake. Like him, they know that the news is fake, the melting ice caps are fake, the purported citizenship of certain voters is fake, science is fake, social justice is fake, the whole notion of truth is fake. Whatever isn’t fake is so relative that it might as well be fake; “true for you,” maybe, but that’s as far as it goes. Among those who call themselves “believers” and are thus at least technically not nihilists, one frequently finds an obsession with apocalypse, a gleeful anticipation of the living end that will destroy the inherent fakery of all things. The social teachings of the Gospels need not trouble the Christian conscience so long as the troubles predicted in Revelation come to pass.
Another pertinent factor is envy, a basic human emotion that rising social inequality can only exacerbate. To put it in cruder terms: “The world sucks for me, so I am going to make it suck for you too. I have lost my job, my status as a white male, and may even lose my gun. So you, my smug, privileged friend, are going to lose your civil liberties, your faith in social progress, your endangered species, your affirmative action, your reproductive freedom, your international alliances, your ‘wonderful’ exchange student from Syria.” The rationale is probably not too distant from that of the jealous husband who shoots his wife, her lover, and himself. Enjoying ourselves, are we? We will enjoy nothing!—which is to say, we will enjoy the only thing a nihilist can enjoy.
It's a slightly depressing essay, but probably accurate. Sigh.