Best of 2013,
Every culture looks for creative inspiration to other cultures, but is there a point when this is just outright theft?
I committed my first act of cultural appropriation when I was three years old. I was given a keffiyeh, the checkered scarf that is a symbol of Palestinian nationalism. My grandmother had more important things to worry about than Middle Eastern politics, and keffiyehs were readily available in the markets in Dubai where she lived. It became my comfort blanket when my mother took me there on a long visit. I brought it with me when we returned home to suburban London and I dragged it around for a few years, occasionally using it to dress up as a shepherd for school nativity plays. Towards the end of the second intifada in 2004, a cousin came to stay and spotted it at the back of my wardrobe. She was desperate to borrow it because, she said, ‘terrorist scarves’ had become ‘all the rage’ at school.
Ross Andersen explores the history and rituals of winemaking—including the current-day growth of "biodynamic wine":
I had come back to AmByth to help hasten the vines’ resurrection by taking part in a ritual. I’d been invited the month before, while dining with Philip Hart and his wife, Mary. We’d talked for several hours that night, around their fireplace, wine glasses in hand. They asked me why I was so interested in biodynamic wine. I told them it was the relationship between wine and mysticism that really interested me. The conversation drifted to religion, and Mary told me she was a Christian, and considered herself born again. Philip didn’t come out and say what he believed, but it was clear he took Steiner’s metaphysics quite seriously. A disagreement between them broke out at one point: Mary said, ‘as a Christian’, she was turned off by the pagan elements of biodynamics.
The potential healing powers of stem cells from human fat:
We had set out hoping to convert fat stem cells into cardiovascular cells, but instead, we had identified what seemed like a potent new tool for regenerating the vascular system and healing the heart.
Gritty, emotional, smelly and dirty: new evidence supports Freud’s long-debunked theory that sex fuels our dreams.
When I was a hormone-addled adolescent in the late 1960s and early ’70s, I would often look up at a poster of Sigmund Freud on my brother’s bedroom wall. The title on the portrait – something like ‘Freud: explorer of the unconscious and discoverer of the meaning of dreams’ – depicted a hero of intellectual freedom and creative thought. When you looked at it closely, the portrait seemed to writhe and come alive. In the drug-fuelled style of those decades of ongoing sexual revolution, the artist had depicted the nose as an erect penis, the cheeks as a female behind, and the eyes as female breasts. One side of the face was a voluptuous female whose legs wrapped around the body of a muscular male on the other side of the face and, of course, both heads were thrown back in dramatised ecstasy. I recall some of my brother’s stoned friends gazing at the portrait with bewildered looks on their faces, apparently unsure if the writhing torsos they saw were really there or not.
What happens to life sentences if the human lifespan is radically extended? A philosopher talks about future punishment:
Even in my most religious moments, I have never been able to take the idea of hell seriously. Prevailing Christian theology asks us to believe that an all-powerful, all-knowing being would do what no human parent could ever do: create tens of billions of flawed and fragile creatures, pluck out a few favourites to shower in transcendent love, and send the rest to an eternity of unrelenting torment. That story has always seemed like an intellectual relic to me, a holdover from barbarism, or worse, a myth meant to coerce belief. But stripped of the religious particulars, I can see the appeal of hell as an instrument of justice, a way of righting wrongs beyond the grave. Especially in unusual circumstances.
On the online cultural phenomenon of posting and disseminating horror stories in online forums:
I had unwittingly stumbled into the world of ‘creepypasta’, a widely distributed and leaderless effort to make and share scary stories; in effect, a folk literature of the web. ‘[S]ometimes,’ wrote the American author H P Lovecraft in his essay ‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’ (1927), ‘a curious streak of fancy invades an obscure corner of the very hardest head, so that no amount of rationalisation, reform, or Freudian analysis can quite annul the thrill of the chimney-corner whisper or the lonely wood.’ These days, instead of the campfire, we are gathered around the flickering light of our computer monitors, and such is the internet’s hunger for creepy stories that the stock of ‘authentic’ urban legends was exhausted long ago; now they must be manufactured, in bulk. The uncanny has been crowdsourced.
Inside the quest to understand whether the coelacanth is an early ancestor to tetrapods:
The Coelacanthus fossils caused a stir in the scientific world, particularly after the publication of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” in 1859. In the coelacanth’s lobed fins, palaeontologists thought they saw clues to the identity of the “missing link”, the first fish that crawled out of the sea to evolve into amphibians, reptiles, mammals and, eventually, man. They postulated that the lobed fins of the fossil coelacanths suggested that they were the ancestor of the first fish that crawled out of the sea. Others put their money on the lungfish, the first living specimen of which had been discovered in the Amazon in the 1830s by Johann Natterer, a Viennese naturalist.
Notes from all the stories we read this week, including the Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed and Matter.