Reviews and News:
Mark Roseman reviews David Cesarani's last book: "Final Solution should have been just another milestone in David Cesarani's remarkable oeuvre – a body of work in Jewish history broadly defined that has included a biography of Disraeli, a provocative reinterpretation of Arthur Koestler, a lucid synthesis of scholarship on Adolf Eichmann's role and significance, important and influential interventions in the historiography of bystanders, rescue and early post-war Holocaust memory, and more. Shortly before this book was completed, however, the author died unexpectedly at fifty-eight. Cesarani's poignant final words in the conclusion – he was summing up the continuing consequences of the Holocaust – are: 'There would be much unfinished business'. This splendid book will serve as a fitting end to his career, but it is an enormous loss that it should have to do so."
In defense of suburbia: "The suburbs are where most of us live some of our lives, where our happinesses as well as our plans for escape are hatched. They remain, however, a subject matter for the imagination that can be accepted only if they are looked down upon, or if they claim an element of satire, of loathing, of flight about to take place."
The University of Wisconsin–Stout to remove two murals because of their depiction of American Indians.
Franz Kafka's manuscripts belong to the National Library of Israel, high court rules: "Kafka had instructed Brod to burn the manuscripts after his death but his friend did not honor that request and took them with him when he fled the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 and emigrated to Palestine. On his death in 1968, Brod bequeathed the papers to his secretary Esther Hoffe, with instructions to give them to the 'Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the municipal library in Tel Aviv or another organization in Israel or abroad.' But Hoffe, who died in 2007, instead kept them and shared them between her two daughters – sparking multiple legal battles."
Hunting with Teddy: "Roosevelt's obsession with natural history began when he saw a dead harbor seal on display in a grocery store on Broadway and took the animal's head home to clean and inspect it."
Lydia Sherwood reviews Whitney Way Thore's I Do It with the Lights On: And 10 More Discoveries on the Road to a Blissfully Shame-Free Life: "Thore advises us that 'the road to shame-free bliss happens largely in the dark. You have to advance toward a light you can't see but trust that you'll ultimately get there.' So I guess the trick to living a shame-free life is believing you live a shame-free life. Don't feel bad sitting on the couch all day or eating a large pizza. If you want to feel good, then don't feel bad. And if you need a little help numbing up those brain cells, just turn on another reality show on TLC. My Big Fat Fabulous Life is just about guaranteed to make you feel better about yourself.
Essay of the Day:
In The New Atlantis, Nick Barrowman examines the many problems with the placebo effect and explains why the idea is so appealing:
"In 1955 Dr. Henry Beecher, an anesthesiologist at Harvard Medical School, published a landmark paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 'The Powerful Placebo.' The article is remarkable for the claims it made, for its wide influence, and for its profound flaws. Beecher had been studying placebos — pharmacologically inert treatments, such as pills with no active ingredient — and reviewed evidence from fifteen clinical trials in which the effectiveness of real treatments to reduce subjective patient-reported outcomes, for instance pain, nausea, and anxiety, was tested by comparing them to placebos. Beecher concluded that, overall, in 35 percent of cases the condition was 'satisfactorily relieved by a placebo,' which he took to be evidence of therapeutic effectiveness. He also discussed a few studies finding objective effects of placebos, such as the production of gastric acid and increased adrenal cortical activity. Because the effect seemed to occur more or less equally in a variety of conditions, Beecher inferred that 'a fundamental mechanism in common is operating.'
"It is difficult to overstate the impact Beecher's paper has had. It has been cited close to a thousand times in scientific journals alone, and among researchers, physicians, and the general public it legitimized the idea that placebos are widely effective for therapy. This notion went largely unchallenged for forty years, and though in the last two decades there has been growing recognition that much of the evidence advanced for the placebo effect was tainted by errors and misunderstanding, the grip of the idea on the popular imagination seems unshakeable. A 2011 article on placebo in The New Yorker was tellingly titled 'The Power of Nothing.'
"Indeed, the paradoxical nature of the notion that an inert treatment could produce a therapeutic effect may help to explain its curious appeal. Since placebos are physiologically inert, any effect they might have would be through the patient's mind. In the case of patient-reported outcomes, psychological explanations for placebo effects — for instance, that the experience of receiving treatment helps produce a sense of well-being, or that the expectation of improvement can encourage it — are indeed plausible. But the placebo effect has also often been touted as applying to objective outcomes, and interpretations of its mechanism have tended to focus on exotic notions of the mind's ability to heal the body. There is something intriguing and comforting about the idea that the mere belief in the effectiveness of a treatment could make it effective. And the mystical aura surrounding the placebo effect may have indirectly contributed to the popularity of alternative medicines and therapies, which are often promoted as tapping into the body's hidden potential to heal itself. But there is also something morally troubling about the use of placebos in therapeutic settings — after all, much of their effectiveness would seem to depend on physicians withholding information from their patients, or even lying to them.
"The popular and technical literature about the placebo effect remains littered with errors and confusions, and the very volume of that literature seems strange since there is so little solid evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of placebos. In the wake of research showing that placebo effects are neither as large nor as widespread as previously believed, clearer thinking about placebos is long overdue."
Image of the Day: Family photo
Poem: Jeanne Emmons, "Packing Daddy's Books"
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