RSS Feed

Could Chess Boxing Defuse Aggression in Arizona and Beyond?

By Andrea Kuszewski for Scientific American

Teleportation, cloaks of invisibility, smell-o-vision, 3D printing, and even holograms, were all ideas first imagined in science fiction—and now are real products and technologies in various stages of development by scientists. While this is common in fields like experimental physics, it isn’t as often that cognitive neuroscience and applied psychology score insights from this fantasy genre.
Chess-boxing, a hybrid sport combining chess and boxing, made its first appearance in the pages of a 1992 sci-fi graphic novel by Enki Bilal,Froid Equator, or Cold Equator. Combining what is described as the number-one physical sport and the number-one thinking sport into one completely new hybrid, chess-boxing was meant to be the ultimate test of body and mind.
In 2003, Dutch artist Iepe Rubingh wanted to give that idea life. He saw the potential for an incredibly challenging new sport that would require physical strength and agility, superior problem solving skills, and above all, unbelievable mental discipline and control. No longer just a sci-fi fantasy, chess-boxing is now one of the newest sport fads in Europe, quickly gaining popularity in the U.K. and the U.S.

The most awesome thing about chess-boxing—no, not the sci-fi roots, or the extreme physical skill and mental prowess necessary for dominance—is the brain-changing potential of the sport itself. The specific elements of chess-boxing—the nature of the execution of play as well as the training involved, have some exciting implications for the future of aggression management and preventative treatment of maladaptive behaviors.

The ability to control aggression, emerging from a boxing ring? This may seem unlikely, given that chess-boxing is a contact sport, but let me explain.


The Tragic Bias In Modern Culture

From "Divine Comedy" in Prospect Magazine
By Julian Gough

What is wrong with the modern literary novel? Why is it so worthy and dull? Why is it so anxious? Why is it so bloody boring?

Well, let’s go back a bit first. Two and a half thousand years ago, at the time of Aristophanes, the Greeks believed that comedy was superior to tragedy: tragedy was the merely human view of life (we sicken, we die). But comedy was the gods’ view, from on high: our endless and repetitive cycle of suffering, our horror of it, our inability to escape it. The big, drunk, flawed, horny Greek gods watched us for entertainment, like a dirty, funny, violent, repetitive cartoon. And the best of the old Greek comedy tried to give us that relaxed, amused perspective on our flawed selves. We became as gods, laughing at our own follies.

Many of the finest novels—and certainly the novels I love most—are in the Greek comic tradition, rather than the tragic: Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, Voltaire, and on through to Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and the late Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5.

Yet western culture since the middle ages has overvalued the tragic and undervalued the comic. We think of tragedy as major, and comedy as minor. Brilliant comedies never win the best film Oscar. The Booker prize leans toward the tragic. In 1984, Martin Amis reinvented Rabelais in his comic masterpiece Money. The best English novel of the 1980s, it didn’t even make the shortlist. Anita Brookner won that year, for Hotel du Lac, written, as the Observer put it, “with a beautiful grave formality.”

The fault is in the culture. But it is also internalised in the writers, who self-limit and self-censor. If the subject is big, difficult and serious, the writer tends to believe the treatment must be in the tragic mode. When Amis addressed the Holocaust in his minor novel Time’s Arrow (1991), he switched off the jokes, and the energy, and was rewarded with his only Booker shortlisting.

But why this pressure, from within and without? There are two good reasons. The first is the west’s unexamined cultural cringe before the Greeks. For most of the last 500 years, Homer and Sophocles have been held to be the supreme exponents of their arts. (Even Homer’s constant repetition of stock phrases like “rosy-fingered dawn” and “wine-dark sea” are praised, rather than recognised as tiresome clichés.)

The second reason is that our classical inheritance is lop-sided. We have a rich range of tragedies—Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides (18 by Euripides alone). Of the comic writers, only Aristophanes survived. In an age of kings, time is a filter that works against comedy. Plays that say, “Boy, it’s a tough job, leading a nation” tend to survive; plays that say, “Our leaders are dumb arseholes, just like us” tend not to.

More importantly, Aristotle’s work on tragedy survived; his work on comedy did not. We have the classical rules for the one but not the other, and this has biased the development of all western literature. We’ve been off-centre ever since.

But of course Europe in the middle ages was peculiarly primed to rediscover tragedy: the one church spoke in one voice, drawn from one book, and that book was at heart tragic. All of human history, from the creation, was a story that climaxed with the sadistic murder of a man by those he was trying to save, whose fatal flaw was that he was perfect in an imperfect world. The nicest man ever, he is murdered by everybody. Not only is this tragedy; it is kitsch tragedy, overegged, a joke. It cannot survive laughter, it is too vulnerable to it. And the Bible, from apple to Armageddon, does not contain a single joke.

The church spoke with one voice because it was on such shaky foundations. The largest and richest property empire of all time had somehow been built on the gospel of the poor. All other voices had to be suppressed, even dissenting gospels. Only once a year, in carnival, on the feast of fools, could the unsayable be said. A fool was crowned king, and gave a fool’s sermon from the altar that reversed the usual pieties. But these speeches could not be written down or circulated. They existed in the air, for a day, and were gone. By the late middle ages, the paralysis was almost total. If you change one word of the old Vulgate Bible, the whole thing comes under suspicion. All you could hear was a single voice reading a single book, the Vulgate, a Latin translation from a Greek original. When Erasmus finally retranslated the Bible, threw it open to interpretation, he caused a crisis that ultimately tore the church apart.

The problem is not specific to Christianity. Islam has always had a problem with comedy at its expense, as Salman Rushdie showed in The Satanic Verses. In Medina, in year two of the Hijra migration, with Mecca not yet fallen, the Prophet asked the faithful to kill the Jewish-Arab poet Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf for reciting his poems satirising the Prophet (and joking about Muslim women). The faithful obliged.

It is interesting, but unsurprising, that all the satirists murdered and allegedly murdered on Muhammad’s orders were, among other things, Jewish. With its vigorous tradition of Talmudic debate, and with no Jewish state to stifle or control that debate, Judaism never fell into the paralysis of the younger monotheisms. It was, to put it mildly, never state-approved. Judaism, excluded from the establishment in so many Christian and Muslim nations, has consequently produced a high proportion of the world’s great satirists, comedians and novelists. And, in Yiddish, it produced perhaps the world’s first compulsively comic, anti-authoritarian language, with its structural mockery of high German.

In Christian Europe, the Renaissance rediscovery of the classical texts occurred when the habit of submission to authority was at its most extreme. When printing was invented, no one thought to use it for anything other than the Christian Bible, for that was the myth of Europe, the one true myth.

As writers began moving cautiously away from the theological shore, they still felt the need for a holy book to guide them, to tell them how to write. Aristotle’s Poetics provided that. If you wanted to write tragedy or epic, here were the rules. You need not think for yourself. It’s particularly sad to see the narrowness of subject matter and style in the pictorial art of the era—Madonna after pink-cheeked Madonna, saint after martyred saint. So much talent, all wasted doing the Renaissance equivalent of Soviet realist art.

And then something astonishing happened: the invention of the novel privatised myth, because the novel, invented after Aristotle, did not have a holy book. The novelist was on his own. Sometimes he’s even a she. There were no rules. The chaos of carnival had found its form. The fool’s sermon could be published, could live on. All you learned from Rabelais or Cervantes was to mock everything sacred, all that went before. Including them.

And the reaction was fierce. Rabelais was jailed for his wild comedies. Voltaire, praised for his early tragedies, was jailed for his satires. Cervantes apparently started Don Quixote in a debtors’ prison. All had to flee town on occasion for fear of worse. Printing had to be done abroad, in secret, and the books smuggled to their destinations. The early years of the novel look remarkably like a guerrilla war, as pro-Bible forces try to put down the insurgency of the novel across Europe. Both were fighting for the same piece of territory: the territory inside your head.

Now a man could invent his own myth and spread it across the world. And the reader, head bowed over the novel, could have a vision without religion: a full vision, transmitted through space and time by marks on paper, using the novelist's arts.

The novel, when done right—when done to the best of the novelist’s abilities, talent at full stretch—is always greater than the novelist. It is more intelligent. It is more vast. It can change your entire internal world. Of course, so can a scientific truth. So can a religious experience. So can some drugs. So can a sublime event in nature. But the novel operates on that high level. Sitting there, alone, quite still, you laugh, you murmur, you cry, and you can come out of it with a new worldview, in a new reality. It’s a controlled breakdown, or breakthrough. It’s dangerous.
By all means, read the complete article, a feast of ideas (and an excellent reading list).

Anticancer Vitamins du Jour—The ABCED's So Far

From The American Journal of Epidemiology
by Tim Byers
Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado Cancer Center
It started 30 years ago with vitamin A: the idea that some cancers might be caused by vitamin deficiencies. Animal experimental models led us to the notion that cancer risk might be “materially” reduced by supplementation with beta-carotene, a retinol precursor. Although that idea was seductive, we were all disappointed when 2 large randomized controlled trials that began in 1985 in Finland and the United States reported an 18% increased risk of lung cancer caused by high-dose beta-carotene supplementation and a 28% increased lung cancer risk caused by a combination of beta-carotene and retinol. The vitamin A era was over.
Next came the B vitamins. Again, based on animal experimental evidence and supported by epidemiologic evidence of connections between diets low in B vitamins and increased cancer risk, a large randomized controlled trial was begun in 1985 in central China, where micronutrient deficiency was common and where rates of cancers of the stomach and esophagus were extraordinarily high. Nonetheless, several years of supplementation with a combination of riboflavin (vitamin B2) and niacin (vitamin B3) had no effect on incidence of upper gastrointestinal cancers. Interest in folic acid (vitamin B9) persisted, though, in part because of its striking effect on neural tube birth defects, coupled with speculation about possible benefits of food fortification for diseases such as colorectal cancer that were inversely associated with diets rich in folate-containing foods and supplements. However, a 7-year randomized controlled trial found that high-dose folic acid supplements actually increased risk of colorectal adenomas. The vitamin B era was over.

Dan Barber's Turkey Quandary

By Dan Barber, Executive Chef/Co-Owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture

I’m ambivalent about heritage turkeys, which is to say I feel strongly and not so strongly about them—all at once. Not so strongly because I’ve managed to convince my family to partake in the ridiculously complex (but enjoyable) ritual of brining-roasting-poaching-steaming the Thanksgiving turkey to get good flavor. This process is not necessary with the heritage breeds—in fact, brining them is exactly what you shouldn’t do because it masks the flavor. So now that I’m sourcing heritage breeds each year, I may be supporting the farm’s diversity, but I’m also aiding in the disappearance of a family tradition: the 10-step roast turkey dinner.

Fortunately, the turkey operation at Stone Barns accommodates both heritage and traditional camps. Livestock Manager Craig Haney raises two breeds: Broad Breasted Whites and Bourbon Reds.A prize-worthy Bourbon Red

The Broad Breasted Whites are the classically conceived Thanksgiving turkey, a breed commercially developed in the 1950s that makes up the majority (or monopoly—99%) of turkeys raised in the United States. Despite their genetic resemblance, there’s an important distinction between our birds and the Butterball turkeys you meet in the supermarket: The latter is likely raised in a windowless feedlot illuminated by bright lights 24 hours a day. At Stone Barns, on the other hand, our Broad Breasted Whites tour the pastures in a large mobile shelter, roosting on low wooden trellises. Their diet of organic grain mash and natural forage allows the birds to grow quickly, and contentedly.

While their rapid growth rate and large breasts make Broad Breasted Whites an attractive candidate for the farmer (and the white-meat crowd), if you’re thinking of flavor alone, or the preservation of rare breeds, Bourbon Reds are the natural choice. Unchanged by the homogenizing forces of the commercial market, this heirloom breed has managed to maintain its genetic legacy of rich, dark meat. It’s turkey that actually tastes like turkey, which is why I prefer them in the end.

However, as far as what to prepare and serve at Thanksgiving goes, I’m still undecided.

Source: On the Farm, the Stone Barns members newsletter.



An excerpt of the review of Laura Hillenbrand's new book, Unbroken, by Steve Oney for

With a fringe of white hair poking out from under a University of Southern California baseball cap and blue eyes sharp behind bifocals, 93-year-old Louis Zamperini refuses to concede much to old age. He still works a couple of hours each day in the yard of his Hollywood Hills home, bagging leaves, climbing stairs and, on occasion, trimming trees with a chainsaw. His outlook is upbeat, even rambunctious. "I have a cheerful countenance at all times," he says. "When you have a good attitude your immune system is fortified." But as he plunged into "Unbroken," Laura Hillenbrand's 496-page story of his life, the happy trappings of his current existence fell away.

"Unbroken" will be published Nov. 16 with a first printing of 250,000 copies. Its publisher, Random House, hopes to repeat the success it enjoyed with "Seabiscuit," Ms. Hillenbrand's 2001 best seller, which has six million books in print and became a hit movie. "We're positioning it as the big book for the holidays," says a Barnes & Noble buyer.

One of the many notable aspects of "Unbroken" is that its author has never met her subject. Suffering from a debilitating case of chronic fatigue syndrome, she was unable to travel to Los Angeles from her Washington, D.C., home. She did the bulk of her research by phone and over the Internet, which enabled her to zero in on key collections at such institutions as the National Archives.