Posts Tagged ‘Abbas Raza’

Harvard man gets tenure! “I want to thank all of the enemies that I had to destroy to achieve this great honor.”

Monday, November 4th, 2019

Congratulations! Now head for your bunker.

Some men are graceful in success. James Mickens is not one of them. He just received tenure at Harvard, and is now Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He is also an “Authority on All Things” (according to his own webpage).

Harvard made some sort of announcement, but here’s his: “Excellence. Quality. Science. These are just a few of the words that have been applied to the illustrious research career of James Mickens. In the span of a few years, James Mickens has made deep, fundamental, and amazing contributions to various areas of computer science and life. Widely acknowledged as one of the greatest scholars of his generation, James Mickens ran out of storage space for his awards in 1992, and he subsequently purchased a large cave to act as a warehouse/fortress from which he can defend himself during the inevitable robot war that was prophesied by the documentary movie The Matrix.”

On the landmark occasions of life, people are often magnanimous towards enemies and grateful to those they have met on their road to success. Mickens is not of that ilk, either. He crowed on the occasion: “I want to thank all of the enemies that I had to destroy to achieve this great honor.” 

Then he enumerates them: “Roger Davis at Princeton’s department of nutrition—you questioned my research on the efficacy of an all-Pop-Tart diet, but I am living proof that the diet works. Yes, I have nose bleeds every day and my pancreas has the dysfunction of a failing Soviet client state, but I believe that having constant double vision makes me twice as optimistic about life.”

Smarter than they look. (Creative Commons)

He continues: “And Bruce Jøhansen of the Oslo School of Economics—my sweet, sweet prince! I still remember your scathing book review of my grand opus Not Even Once: A History of Birds Using Money to Pay for Things. You claimed that my findings were “obvious” and “belabored,” and that Chapter 17 (“Red-tailed Finches and the Stock Market Crash of 1819”) was “so insane that I briefly convinced myself that birds have deep opinions about macroeconomic theory but have failed to act on them for millions of years.” Such little thanks I receive for midwifing your brief moment of lucidity! When I learned that I would be Reviewer #3 for your journal article, I covered my naked body in war paint and waited for Saturn to ascend so that the ancient ones could gaze upon my wickedness. I printed your manuscript on paper deemed unfit for office use, replacing my printer’s standard ink with a foul, vengeful tar that I made from discarded Waffle House cooking oil and a shredded copy of your sixth-grade report card. Triumphant, I dragged your manuscript through brackish ponds, allowing ghastly amphibious creatures to gnaw on your preposterous arguments until just a single tattered page was left.”

It’s nice to know that some stories have happy endings: “Martha and the boys are doing well; we built a cabin by the hills. We pluck the blueberries beneath the torch of moonlight and watch the stars dance in the ocean of the sky. When little John sits on my knee, I see my father in him, and my father’s father too. He points to the field that lies just before the curve of the river, and he says, ‘Papa, why have you attached a plow to Bruce Jøhansen and forced him to plant ragweed despite his crippling seasonal allergies?’ One day, son, you’ll understand—when you have tenure.”

Read the whole thing here. And there’s more from him on Boing Boing’s “Here’s the funniest, most scathing, most informative and most useful talk on AI and security” here And thanks to Abbas Raza of 3QuarksDaily for the heads up.

Necessary praise for 3QuarksDaily! “To be terribly corny, love has always held it together.”

Monday, July 11th, 2016

Running a blog ain’t easy. It’s time-consuming, it exposes you to nasty comments, and it pays (for most of us) diddly squat. So it’s nice when a blog gets kudos and sometimes, even a little cash. My friend Abbas Raza started 3QuarksDaily a dozen years ago … well, actually, our friendship began on 3QD, though I have yet to visit him in his idyllic village in the Italian Alps, where I will be able to sample some of his exquisite North Indian and Pakistani cooking.


Abbas Raza & poet Robert Pinsky – wife Margit Oberrauch looks on.

That will be a future pleasure. The past pleasure is that Humble Moi and the Book Haven have been regularly featured on 3QD, just as we’ve regularly featured 3QD gleanings on our pages. We’ve always been pleased as punch about it, but we must say that it’s been taken to a new level with Thomas Manuel‘s article, “Why the Web Needs the Little Miracle of 3QuarksDaily,” in The Wire today:

The need for filters, aggregators and curators to navigate the web isn’t new. Arts and Letters Daily, the inspiration for 3QD, was founded by the late Denis Dutton way back in 1998. It in turn was inspired by the news aggregator, Drudge Report, which started in 1995. But each of these had their own niche (literary humanities and conservative politics respectively) while Raza envisioned something more all-embracing – which ironically turned out to be a niche of its own. His plan was to “collect only serious articles of intellectual interest from all over the web but never include merely amusing pieces, clickbait, or even the news of the day… to find and post deeper analysis… and explore the world of ideas… [to] cover all intellectual fields that might be of interest to a well-educated academic all-rounder without being afraid of difficult material… [and to] have an inclusive attitude about what is interesting and important and an international outlook, avoiding America-centrism in particular.”

Morgan Meis

Morgan Meis is proud, too.

In practice, this elaborate vision looks deceptively simple. According to Morgan Meis, one of the editors of 3QD, all you had to do was “get a few reasonably smart people together, have them create links to the sorts of things they would want to read across the web, on any given day. Voila! You’ve got an interesting website. Then, don’t fuck that simple formula up. Don’t get cute. Stay the course.”

As Raza figured, an editorial team of ‘reasonably smart people’, by dint of their own diverse interests, would automatically bestow the site with a broader perspective. Currently this team, apart from Raza and Meis, consists of Raza’s old friend, Robin Varghese, his two sisters, Azra and Sughra Raza, poetry editor, Jim Culleny and assistant editor, Zujaja Tauqeer.

Varghese and Raza met at Columbia University in 1995 while they were both graduate students. Varghese, who posts much of the political content on 3QD, was pursuing a doctorate in political science while Raza had taken up philosophy after studying engineering as an undergraduate. Varghese still lives in New York and works in the development space while Raza currently lives with his wife in Brixen, a small town in the Italian Alps, where his major occupation, apart from running the website, is cooking elaborate North Indian and Pakistani style meals.

The article has a nice overview of the current predicament of the cyberspace echo chamber, and how 3QD really is different:

Today, information discovery comes in all shapes and sizes – from the New Yorker Minute that does a number on theNew Yorker, to Amazon’s book recommendation behemoth. There isn’t a doubt that the latter is a remarkable feat of software engineering, as are the algorithms employed by Netflix, Spotify, Facebook and Google. Netizens depend on these wonders – relying on them to suck in chaos and spit out order.



Yet these same sites are also examples of total moral capitulation. Underlying the logic of many algorithms is the idea that to find what people want, we need only look for what similar people have wanted. Apart from engendering near total surveillance, a mechanism built around the urgency of giving people what they want ignores the importance (or even the existence) of a responsibility to give people what they might need. This isn’t a surprising stance for profit-driven corporations to take. However, as citizens who value democratic access to resources and knowledge, it’s dangerous to allow ourselves to become complacent with gatekeepers who don’t acknowledge their own roles as stewards or see their power as weighted by responsibility to the community. It’s the logic of giving people what they want that’s made virality the metric for deciding what makes the news and triggered the current race for the bottom that has marked the new culture wars.

In stark contrast stands the purpose of 3QD as outlined by Raza in a radio interview with the National Endowment for the Arts. Laying out the three classical realms of knowledge – the realm of beauty, the realm of morality, the realm of truth, he stressed that all three were “immensely important to all human beings”. It’s a safe assumption that he didn’t learn this through a market survey.

What’s their secret? According to Morgan Meis, another 3QD friend: “It is the people and the relationships,” he said. “That’s the core of it. It is, to be terribly corny, love that has always held the thing together.”

Read the whole thing here. And go to 3QuarksDaily here.