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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Did Math Kill God?, by Jospine Livingstone, New Republic

One upon a time, a great Italian published a work called the Siderius Nuncius. Galileo had seen the moons of Jupiter through his telescope. He had seen Venus moving. So, in 1606, he endorsed the ideas Copernicus had written down a half-century earlier in the De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. The earth moves around the sun, Galileo said. On February 24, 1616, the Qualifiers of the Inquisition declared heliocentrism heretical. After a trial Galileo was sentenced to house arrest in 1633. There he stayed ever after, moving indeed around a sun, but stuck indoors while thinking about it.

You have likely heard this tale many times. But what does the story mean? For children it shows that you should stick to your guns when you know you’re right—especially if you’re a scientist. For adults it represents a key moment in the development of astronomy and the sciences in general. And those two lessons bind into a bigger story that we use to define who we are, in our time. The Galileo Affair becomes part of a metanarrative, or, in Jean-Francois Lyotard’s term, a Grand Narrative. It says that early seventeenth-century Europe hung at a crux, with religion pulling it backward into medieval ignorance and science straining to push time forward into modernity. Against the benighted church Galileo labored, alongside the other great thinkers of the sixteenth century who gave rise to our rational modern age.

The Photographer Who Saw Paris With His Heart In His Eyes, by Agnès C. Poirier, New York Times

“Until his death in 2009 at age 99, the French photographer Willy Ronis was listed in the phone book. Anyone could call him, and the door of his modest apartment in a quiet part of the working-class 20th Arrondissement of Paris was open to all: young photographers, admirers and strangers who recognized themselves in his pictures. The man who addressed everyone with the informal French “tu” was one of the last humanist photographers of the Paris school, alongside Robert Doisneau, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Sabine Weiss.

The first major retrospective of his work in 10 years, and the first since his death, opened this week at the Pavillon Carré de Baudouin in the Belleville-Ménilmontant area of the 20th Arrondissement. And it is keeping Ronis’s generosity alive: Entrance is free.”

An MSG CVonvert Visits The High Church Of Umami, by Helen Rosner, New Yorker

“A few years ago, this affinity for MSG might have made me seem edgy or cool. Monosodium glutamate has been widespread in the American food supply since at least the nineteen-twenties, imported from China and Japan by major food-production companies like Heinz and Campbell’s, according to research done by Catherine Piccoli, a curator at New York’s Museum of Food and Drink. But a 1968 letter published in The New England Journal of Medicine raised the spectre of “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” an illness allegedly brought on by the consumption of MSG, which was commonly used in American Chinese restaurants. Ever since, the chemical compound has been vilified—despite dozens of rigorous studies concluding that the ingredient is innocuous and the “syndrome” nonexistent. Certain scientists and culinarians have long agitated for MSG’s rehabilitation. In a 1999 essay for Vogue titled “Why Doesn’t Everyone in China Have a Headache?,” the legendary food writer Jeffrey Steingarten gleefully ripped to shreds the standard litany of complaints and protests. But only in the past decade has MSG’s reputation truly turned a corner. The Times, Epicurious, and Bon Appetit have risen to its defense. The near-infallible food-science writer Harold McGee has regularly championed its use. At the 2012 MAD symposium, in Copenhagen, the chef David Chang gave a talk on the anti-Asian sentiment that underlies MSG aversion. “You know what causes Chinese Restaurant Syndrome?” Anthony Bourdain asked on a 2016 episode of “Parts Unknown.” Then he gave the answer: “Racism.””

How To Fall In Love With How-To Essays, by Courtney Gillette, Electric Literature

You could argue that every autobiographical novel is its own how-to, for any reader who has ever read a novel and flipped from the chapters to the biography, from the epilogue to the author photo, from the acknowledgements to the side characters, hunting for clues. I read for intimacy and I read for instructions. I read with a hunger that someone show me how to write, that I constantly reinvent what I know about writing, that I search for what I don’t know so that I can add it to my repertoire.

Familiar Tales Remixed, At The Hands Of A Postmodern Master, by Yu-Yun Hsieh, New York Times

“Robert Coover’s new collection of short stories, “Going for a Beer,” is a mixtape of variations and a fugue on time from a postmodern master. The prismatic repertoire of nearly six decades, it comprises something old, something new, something borrowed and something dark and blue. The book begins with an alternative flood fable that first appeared in 1962 and ends with an alien invasion tale from 2016.”