April 30, 2005
The Adams family
A collection of anecdotes and memories from the life of Douglas Adams, the man behind "The Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy", as told by his friends and colleagues including Terry Jones, Neil Gaiman, & Stephen Fry and brought together into one bitter-sweet article in FilmForce. (Via SlashDot)
"That he was born is just one of the many undeniable facts about the life of the late Douglas Adams – author, humorist, raconteur, speaker, and thinker (although it should be noted that, on at least one parallel Earth, Mr. Adams was born a spring-toed lemur with a predilection for grassy fields and the works of Byron – a poetic lemur whose work was not terribly springy).Another fact which comes to mind is that, of the seven novels he wrote in his all-too-brief lifetime, by far the most popular is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and its four sequels – which make for a fine trilogy if you're somewhat numerically impaired"
Christopher Hitchens, Right-Wing Obscurantist
Alan Koenig in the Old Town Review Chronicles:
Back in October of 1991, a younger, more radical Christopher Hitchens wrote a superb essay entitled “A State within a State” for Harper’s magazine plumbing some of the more recent filthy deeds and unconstitutional crimes committed by the CIA. Hitchens favorably mentioned in passing the crusading work of a certain Senator John Kerry, who unearthed both financial links between corrupt Saudis, South American drug smugglers and the CIA (in the notorious Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI)) and investigated the links between narcotics and the Nicaraguan Contras. But that was a far different, much less courageous Senator Kerry from the one that ran for President this past November, and alas, we have a far different and much diminished Hitchens to contend with as well.
Sick of hearing about Harvard? So is everyone else--except Harvard-educated journalists.
Michael Steinberger in The Wall Street Journal:
Another academic year is drawing to a close, another year in which Harvard has generated vastly more headlines than any other American university. Most of these, of late, have concerned Lawrence Summers, Harvard's president, who famously suggested that there may be a biological explanation for the paucity of female scholars in the hard sciences. (He hasn't stopped apologizing since.) But a single controversy doesn't account for all the interest. Two recent books are decidedly unflattering to the school: Richard Bradley's "Harvard Rules" is, among other things, an assault on the entire three years of Mr. Summers's tenure, charging him with arrogance and bad manners, among much else. And in "Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class," Ross Douthat, class of 2002, describes his own Harvard education as a combination of vacuous classroom assignments, cruel social climbing and feverish networking.
Of course, a fervid interest in Harvard is nothing out of the ordinary: It is the country's most famous university, with a long claim on distinguished scholarship, political influence and high SAT scores. Most important, the media have long fawned over Harvard, treating its "brand" as pure gold. But while the school may have merited obsessive coverage in the past, it no longer does: Harvard is diminishing in importance as a factory for ideas and a breeding ground for future leaders. In all sorts of ways it is not nearly as pivotal to the life of the nation as it once was. You just wouldn't know that by reading the papers or browsing the bookstands.
Depression is a bona fide disease that damages body organs
From USA Today:
Against Depression, in bookstores May 9, puts this topic under the lens of cutting-edge science. [Peter] Kramer, a professor at Brown University, catalyzed a debate about antidepressants 12 years ago with his best seller Listening to Prozac.
Depression is a "nature and nurture" malady, as genes make some people vulnerable to illness under stress. Kramer explains how our bodies cope with stress and how inability to cope affects the bodies of depressed people. He scorns the ideas that mood disorders are just "a heavy dose of the artistic temperament" and that optimists are intellectual lightweights.
Kramer's key points echo "increasing evidence that depression has an impact on every body system and organ," says cardiac researcher Nancy Frasure-Smith of the Montreal Heart Institute and McGill University. "Over time, depression prematurely ages you," she says.
The Secret of Laughter: Magical Tales from Classical Persia
From The London Times:
Shusha Guppy is one of the most remarkable of Londoners, not merely trilingual in Persian, French and English, but genuinely tricultural, too. She has written brilliantly in both French and English, has made a reputation for herself as a singer and composer in the French cabaret style, and has been a tireless advocate of Sufi wisdom and Persian classical literature, in exile from a country that seems to be bent on destroying both.
This collection of traditional Persian tales contains two classics, one from Firdowsi’s Book of Kings and the other from Rumi’s Masnavi. The rest belong to the oral tradition of the naqal — the itinerant story-teller who would go from village to village, charming children and adults with tales that are rooted in the kindly morality of the Sufis, and which make abundant use of the magical devices of the Arabian Nights. Guppy heard these tales in her childhood, has carried the memory of them around the cities of Europe, telling them to children, embellishing them with details and wisdom of her own, and now writing them down in polished versions that are models of narrative clarity.
Donald C. Haggis reviews Archaeological Perspectives on Political Economies, edited by Gary M. Feinman and Linda M. Nicholas, in American Scientist:
Social scientists who study ancient societies now commonly use the term political economy to emphasize that economic systems fundamentally involve social and political relations. Even though archaeologists have long understood that the main developmental thresholds of sociopolitical complexity—such as the emergence of chiefdoms, cities and states—can be related to changes in economic behavior, we have only recently begun to grapple with the real complexities of integrated political and economic systems. The research questions emerging from the analysis of political economies are still derived from material patterns in the archaeological record: How was the agricultural landscape managed? How was food produced and redistributed? How were raw materials acquired and worked to produce goods for local use and consumption or exchange? And in what cultural context?
Amos Oz Awarded Goethe Prize
From the AFP:
Oz, a peace activist, was honoured for his literary work and impressive moral responsibility, according to Petra Roth, mayor of Frankfurt and president of the jury awarding the prize.
Dr. Amir Syed in Dawn.
Turmeric, an indispensable ingredient in spicy dishes of South Asia, has been used for generations to enhance the flavour of curries and giving them the characteristic golden colour. Besides its role as a food additive, the herb has found extensive application as an anti-inflammatory agent and as an anti-oxidative in the Ayurvedic and Unani systems of medicine. Recently, The Journal of Biological Chemistry reported some surprising findings about turmeric. Curcumin, chemically a polyphenol, is the active ingredient present in turmeric root powder which gives the herb its characteristic yellow colour. Investigators at the University of California, Los Angles, who studied curcumin’s activity in mice, found that it was highly effective against Alzheimer’s disease (AD). They were so impressed with their findings that they expect curcumin to eventually emerge as one of the most effective treatments for this devastating disease.
'The World Is Flat': The Wealth of Yet More Nations
Terrorism remains a threat, and we will all continue to be fascinated by upheavals in Lebanon, events in Iran and reforms in Egypt. But ultimately these trends are unlikely to shape the world's future. The countries of the Middle East have been losers in the age of globalization, out of step in an age of free markets, free trade and democratic politics. The world's future -- the big picture -- is more likely to be shaped by the winners of this era. And if the United States thought it was difficult to deal with the losers, the winners present an even thornier set of challenges. This is the implication of the New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman's excellent new book, ''The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century.''
Also, here's Fareed Zakaria's Martini recipe. [Thanks Sean!]
April 29, 2005
Intelligent design: Who has designs on your students' minds?
For a cold Tuesday night in March, the turnout is surprisingly good. Twenty or so fresh-faced college students are gathered together in a room in the student union at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, the state's largest public university. They are there for the first meeting of Salvador Cordova's Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) club. "I have a great deal of respect for the scientific method," Cordova tells his attentive audience as he outlines the case for intelligent design. Broadly speaking, he says, the concept is that a divine hand has shaped the course of evolution. The arguments are familiar ones to both advocates and opponents of the idea: some biological systems are too complex, periodic explosions in the fossil record too large, and differences between species too great to be explained by natural selection alone. Cordova — who holds three degrees from the university, the most recent one in mathematics — argues that the development of life on Earth would be described better if an intelligent creator is added to the mix.
Most scientists overwhelmingly reject the concept of intelligent design. "To me it doesn't deserve any attention, because it doesn't make any sense," says Bruce Alberts, a microbiologist and president of the National Academy of Sciences. "Its proponents say that scientific knowledge is incomplete and that there's no way to bridge the gap except for an intelligent designer, which is sort of saying that science should stop trying to find explanations for things."
Morgan Meis forcibly ejected from Vietnam
3 Quarks Daily editor Morgan Meis went to Vietnam with his new bride Stefany Anne Golberg for their honeymoon last year. As is usual with Morgan, he took an obsessive interest in the country, its history, literature, cuisine, and, of course, its vexed relations and encounters with the United States. He travelled widely while there, and read deeply when he returned. He even did some posts at 3QD about Vietnam here, and here.
Recently, Morgan and Tom Bissell were commissioned by the Virginia Quarterly Review to travel to Vietnam to cover the celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the reunification of North and South Vietnam (the fall of Saigon), along with a photographer. They left a week ago, and Morgan posted this at The Old Town Review Chronicles four days ago:
I spoke with the young Vietnamese about the American War. "I've heard about this war," a young woman said, "it seems like it was very terrible." "Yes," said another, "there was a documentary about it a few days ago. Those must have been difficult times."
So much for presuppositions. Perhaps the final and sweetest revenge is that they've moved on more than we have.
The next thing I heard was a hair-raising email that Stefany forwarded, in which he says:
It's a long story but we made it out of Vietnam. Because they were going to potentially detain us indefinitely and God knows what if we didn't get out right away we were forced to fly to Singapore under constant guard from the secret police. I am very mentally exhausted and was very scared for awhile. Now I'm in Singapore with no way to get home. I'm trying to figure things out from here.
I have just spoken to Stefany, and Morgan seems to be out of danger, and just trying to make his way home. We wish him a safe passage back. Here is the Monday Musing column Morgan did for 3QD just before leaving.
Ed Witten, the Filibusterer
Some have called Ed Witten the smartest man alive today. He is often compared to Einstein, and is by far the most famous string theorist around. Sean Carrol of Preposterous Universe reports (via Not Even Wrong):
Princeton professors stage "filibuster" against the anti-filibuster machinations of alumus Bill Frist. Two of the filibusterers are physicists Chiara Nappi and Ed Witten, the latter of whom regaled the crowd by reading selections from Griffith's Introduction to Elementary Particles. Couldn't he have just given an introductory lecture on twistors and string theory?
Thomas Powers reviews three recent books on the American intelligence effort, in the New York Review of Books:
"Chatter" seems too casual a word for what is arguably the most important single product of the mammoth American cyber-industrial establishment which gathers "communications intelligence." Intelligence professionals use "chatter" to describe the miscellany they acquire of the personal and operational communications of "persons of interest," another term of art meaning people who may know or be planning something the United States wants or needs to know about.
If you could teach the world just one thing...
2005 - announced as Einstein Year - marks the centenary of the publication of Albert Einstein's equation E = mc2. To mark this occasion, Sandy Starr at spiked and science communicator Alom Shaha have conducted a survey of over 250 renowned scientists, science communicators, and educators - including 11 Nobel laureates - asking what they would teach the world about science and why, if they could pick just one thing. Alom Shaha, who conceived the survey, has made four accompanying films in which interviewees talk through their responses...
Colin Berry, Paul Davies, Richard Dawkins, K Eric Drexler, Susan Haack, Matt Ridley, Simon Singh, John Stachel, John Sulston, and Raymond Tallis
The science of evacuation
Amanda Ripley in Time:
Most of the people who died on 9/11 had no choice. They were above the impact zone of the planes and could not find a way out. But investigators are only now beginning to understand the actions and psychology of the thousands who had a chance to escape. The people who made it out of the World Trade Center, for example, waited an average of 6 min. before heading downstairs, according to a new National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) study drawn from interviews with nearly 900 survivors. But the range was enormous. Why did certain people leave immediately while others lingered for as long as half an hour?
Harper Lee surfaces...
Billy Heller in the New York Post:
Lee won a Pulitzer and the book became an Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck as bigotry-battling lawyer Atticus Finch.
Then Lee practically disappeared. She never wrote another book, and she gave her last interview in 1964.
But like her reclusive character Boo Radley, Lee recently emerged to perform an act of kindness.
The author signed a first edition of her book that will be sold to raise money for the seriously ill son of Cookeville, Tenn., police chief Bob Terry.
Clairvoyant lunacy and obstinate romanticism
Julian Evans in Prospect Magazine:
In all the battles for the Enlightenment, one combatant's name is rarely mentioned. Don Quixote de la Mancha, icon of everything in humanity that is calamitously idealistic, is renowned for qualities other than rationalist courage: for kindness and foolishness; for unintended comedy and a refusal to be disenchanted; for clairvoyant lunacy and obstinate romanticism in a rotten, factual world. He rides out with Sancho Panza from his village in la Mancha to discover that the world is not as he has read about it in books of chivalry and, impervious to ridicule or failure, for 124 chapters seeks to live up to the pastoral ideal of the knight errant, that fiction of the good man. Only in the 126th and final chapter does he acknowledge the "absurdities and deceptions" of the books that inspired him and then, in an ending of unbearable sadness, finally renounces his world of fantasy, returns to his senses, and dies.
April 28, 2005
The Examined Life: The Z-Team
TWO WEEKS AGO, in an item about the New York Press's roster of the "50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers," I asked readers to nominate Bostonians for a list of our own. The Top 10 "most loathsome" Bostonians, according to readers, are – in descending order – Mitt Romney ("Fake Bostonian"), Ben Affleck ("No-talent actor mooching off his Boston roots"), Cardinal Bernard Law (in absentia), Tom Finneran, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, Tom Menino, WRKO's Howie Carr, Big Dig overseer Matthew J. Amorello, and WTKK's Mike Barnicle. These worthies are followed closely by WEEI's Gerry Callahan; Johnny Damon (as author, not athlete); William Bulger (whose brother Whitey tied for 50th place with Jay Leno and "Fever Pitch" star Jimmy Fallon – "Take off the Sox gear you phony"); Curt Schilling ("It's like the entire city of Boston can't make a decision until they get Schilling's input"); and, tied for 15th place, a lineup of grating furniture-store spokespersons: Bob of Bob's Discount Furniture, Eliot and Barry of Jordan's, and Bernie and Phyl of Bernie & Phyl's ("GO AWAY").
Turtles All The Way Down
The anonymous 3QD reader who wrote "I love you and would like your hand(s) in marriage" as a response in our reader survey, has outed herself: it is Nell Grey of Pigeon Post Pictures. Nell Grey and Walker Errant are making what seems a fascinating documentary film called Turtles All The Way Down. From their website:
One year ago, we met Richard Ogust, a writer sharing his Manhattan penthouse with 1200 threatened and endangered turtles and tortoises. He was in the middle of a swarm of media attention. CNN, CBS, NBC, the Discovery Channel and others around the world were all shining their spotlights on "the crazy turtle guy of New York City." But after the reporters left, the articles had been published and the programs had aired, Richard explained to us that the real story hadn't been told.
Turtles All The Way Down tells a story not about eccentricity, but about devotion. It is a story inspired by an appalling but little known fact: that we are on the brink of losing a group of animals that have survived the ecological instability of the last 200 million years, including the great extinction that eliminated the dinosaurs.
More on the film here. And Nell, if I weren't happily married, I would certainly have accepted your proposal.
Scientists make bacteria behave like computers
Bacteria have been programmed to behave like computers, assembling themselves into complex shapes based on instructions stuffed in to their genes. The work was led by Ron Weiss, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and molecular biology at Princeton University. The research could lead to smart biological devices that could detect hazardous substances or bioterrorism chemicals, scientists say. Eventually, the process might be used to direct the construction of useful devices or the growth of new tissue, perhaps restoring function to a severed spinal cord.
The study is detailed in April 28 issue of the journal Nature.
Sugar coating improves anticancer treatment
A coating of sugar could help nanoparticles deliver molecules to fight widespread tumours, according to research on mice. The team's nanoparticles, which contain gene-silencing molecules that can inhibit cancerous growth, are designed to be injected into the bloodstream and taken up primarily by tumour cells. The nanoparticles also manage not to create troublesome reactions from the immune system. The nanoparticles, which are small enough to pass through blood vessels into the surrounding tissue, are taken up by cancerous cells because they carry a molecular tag that binds to receptors found on tumours. The agent consists of small interfering RNA (siRNA). When the agent is taken up by a tumor cell, it inhibits expression of the tumour-growth gene, and the cell stops multiplying. Other attempts to carry siRNA to tumours have used nanoparticles made of lipids. But in some mouse studies, these particles provoked an immune response, which would make the approach difficult to use in humans.
Harlem Open Artist Studio Tour
Zeina Nadine Assaf is a very talented young NYC artist. She wrote to tell me about H.O.A.S.T., which she is taking part in this weekend. Do try to make it there:
The Harlem Open Artist Studio Tour (H.O.A.S.T.) is a community-based arts organization that was established in 2004. Our mission is to foster artistic expression by uniting and promoting the visual artists of Harlem and to strengthen the community by stimulating awareness of the contemporary arts movement.
Our first project is the 1st Annual Harlem Open Artist Studio Tour – a two-day event that will accomplish our objectives by bringing the public into visual artists’ studios in historic Harlem on 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Saturday, April 30 and 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., Sunday, May 1, 2005. This event stands as a tribute to the art and culture that flourish in Harlem today.
Saturday, April 30, from 11:30 - 4pm, and Sunday, May 1, from 1-5pm
At La Negrita, 999 Columbus Avenue, at the Northeast corner of 109th Street
Alessandro Petty writes for Domus Magazine (subscription needed) about Cairo's growing cemetery population, only he is talking about living people:
"Contrary to modern urban-planning principles, the dictates of Islam, public hygiene rules and social conventions, people continue to live in Cairo’s cemeteries. This is a practice rooted in the funeral ceremonies of the Pharaohs and the religious beliefs of the Copts. The cemetery is a place of contemplation for the Sufis, a place of exile for impoverished nobles, a caravansary for pilgrims on route to Mecca and first homes for families newly arrived in the city from the countryside. "
The Seeds of Civilization
Michael Balter in Smithsonian Magazine:
Archaeologists believe a 9,500-year-old Neolithic site in central Turkey may help solve the mystery of why humans first settled down in communities.
Gene mutation slashes need for sleep
Alison Motluk in New Scientist:
Some mutant flies can get by on 30% less sleep than their normal counterparts, thanks to a single mutation in one gene.
The finding is important because it suggests the amount of sleep needed may be largely controlled by one gene, which may shed light on human sleep needs, says Chiara Cirelli at the University of Wisconsin, US. “This isn’t some obscure fly gene - there’s a homologue in mammals and humans.”
The artists' Wittgenstein
Terry Eagleton reviews The Literary Wittgenstein edited by John Gibson and Wolfgang Huemer, in the Times Literary Supplement:
Why are artists so fascinated by
Ludwig Wittgenstein? Frege is a philosopher’s philosopher, and Bertrand Russell was every shopkeeper’s idea of a sage; but Wittgenstein is the philosopher of poets and composers, novelists and movie directors. Derek Jarman made his last major film about him; Bruce Duffy plucked a novel from his tormented life in The World As I Found It; M. A. Numminem has set Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus to music in his Tractatus Suite, and garbled fragments of the same text can be heard croaked in a hilarious stage-German accent by a Dutch pop group. The list is long.
One source of the fascination, no doubt, is the fabular, riches-to-rags nature of the philosopher’s career. The child of one of the wealthiest industrialists of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Wittgenstein gave away most of his
fortune and spent much of his life in zealously Tolstoyan pursuit of sancta simplicitas.
3QD Reader Survey Results
- Most people want us to put up as many interesting items as we can find on a given day, but a significant minority wants only 1-5 posts at most.
- A great majority of people prefer the posts to be more than a sentence or two, but less than a screenful.
- Most people seem to like the pictures in the posts.
- Many people would like more original commentary from us, though about a quarter of respondents want the site to stay the same.
- Most people like the Monday column, but only a small number would like to see more such features.
In addition, a significant number of people left very helpful suggestions and comments, of which my personal favorite was:
- I love you and would like your hand(s) in marriage.
Many thanks to all of you for taking the time to tell us what you want, and for all the encouragement. We are always suckers for flattery.
For more detailed results, all the comments, and the exact numbers, click here.
April 27, 2005
'I have always looked at life as though it were a novel'
Reported in The Guardian: Michael March talks to author Ahdaf Soueif about the war in Iraq and the west's view of Islam:
AS: If - rather than looking at what specific Muslims have done you look at what Islam says about itself - you find lots of ethical positions that one could build on. Diversity and equality are pretty good starting points: several texts celebrate diversity and affirm it as a positive good. And hand in hand with diversity comes equality. Putting a high premium on knowledge. Islam, until recent decadent times, has never set its face against science.
Encouraging you to simultaneously engage with the world and yet maintain a level of detachment: "Live for the next world as if you were to die tomorrow, and live for this world as though you were going to live forever." There is a tradition of the prophet that says that if the end of the world were to come and you were carrying a seed in your hand go ahead and plant it.
Physicists could soon be creating black holes in the laboratory
Ever since physicists invented particle accelerators, nearly 80 years ago, they have used them for such exotic tasks as splitting atoms, transmuting elements, producing antimatter and creating particles not previously observed in nature. With luck, though, they could soon undertake a challenge that will make those achievements seem almost pedestrian. Accelerators may produce the most profoundly mysterious objects in the universe: black holes.
In the early 1970s Stephen W. Hawking of the University of Cambridge and one of us (Carr) investigated a mechanism for generating holes in the early universe. The realization that holes could be small prompted Hawking to consider what quantum effects might come into play, and in 1974 he came to his famous conclusion that black holes do not just swallow particles but also spit them out.
His Brain, Her Brain
It turns out that male and female brains differ quite a bit in architecture and activity. On a gray day in mid-January, Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard University, suggested that innate differences in the build of the male and female brain might be one factor underlying the relative scarcity of women in science. His remarks reignited a debate that has been smoldering for a century, ever since some scientists sizing up the brains of both sexes began using their main finding--that female brains tend to be smaller--to bolster the view that women are intellectually inferior to men. To date, no one has uncovered any evidence that anatomical disparities might render women incapable of achieving academic distinction in math, physics or engineering. And the brains of men and women have been shown to be quite clearly similar in many ways. Nevertheless, over the past decade investigators have documented an astonishing array of structural, chemical and functional variations in the brains of males and females.
Some scientists say humans can read minds: Mirror neurons may generate ability to empathize
In 1996, three neuroscientists were probing the brain of a macaque monkey when they stumbled across a curious cluster of cells in the premotor cortex, an area of the brain responsible for planning movements. The cluster of cells fired not only when the monkey performed an action, but likewise when the monkey saw the same action performed by someone else. The cells responded the same way whether the monkey reached out to grasp a peanut, or merely watched in envy as another monkey or a human did. Because the cells reflected the actions that the monkey observed in others, the neuroscientists named them "mirror neurons." Later experiments confirmed the existence of mirror neurons in humans and revealed another surprise. In addition to mirroring actions, the cells reflected sensations and emotions.
"Mirror neurons suggest that we pretend to be in another person's mental shoes," says Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine. "In fact, with mirror neurons we do not have to pretend, we practically are in another person's mind."
Sheikh meets Shakespeare
Would Caliban have been more at home in the mangrove forests of the Sunderbans than on the island in The Tempest? Or was Puck a “pakhi” before he morphed into a fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream? The first few pages of Kalyan Ray’s debut novel Eastwords give a glimpse of an enticing land and a fascinating narrative. Here, Shakespeare pops up on Indian shores and hobnobs with our own Sheikh Piru, straight from the pages of Parashuram’s Ulot Puran. Eastwords is a novel that the professor of English literature in Morris College of the US has written between semesters and bundles of answer scripts.
Ray’s debut has already been inducted in the popular culture studies syllabus at MIT in the US.
MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE
Lauren Gunderson at Deepen The Mystery:
Rachel Corrie was 23 year old Americn activist who was part of a peace group in Palestine who was crushed to death by a bulldozer while defended Palestinian housing from demoloition.
Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner have turned her journals and emails (beautiful, wise words from someone as young as 12) into a play.
Regulated Resistance: Is it possible to change the system when you are the system?
In February of this year, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), a coalition of more than 800 peace and justice groups throughout the United States, held their second annual Assembly to hear and vote on proposals for a 2005 “action plan.” With the war in Iraq fast approaching its second anniversary, and the larger “War on Terror” crossing its third and half year, close to 500 delegates from 275 member groups traveled to St. Louis in the hopes that the “anti-war movement”—which emerged with unprecedented speed and size just prior to the US invasion of Iraq in spring of 2003—could be resuscitated. Despite impressive beginnings, the movement as a whole has yet to make any significant impact on US policy, or achieve any lasting public resonance. More disturbing is the fact that since Bush’s victory in November, it has gone completely MIA.
Without Top Predators, Ecosystems Turn Topsy-Turvy
When the construction of a hydroelectric dam on Venezuela's Caroni River was finally completed in 1986, it flooded an area twice the size of Rhode Island, creating one of South America's largest human-made lakes: Lake Guri. As floodwaters turned hilltops into islands, a key group of animals—predators such as jaguars, harpy eagles, and armadillos—disappeared from the islands. Some swam or flew away. Others drowned or starved to death. In the predator's absence, their prey—howler monkeys, iguanas, leaf-cutting ants—began multiplying. Soon these plant-eaters had devoured most of the once pristine forest.
A Painting with "Legs"
Jina Moore in Harvard Magazine:
Like the poems Emily Dickinson stored in her attic, or John Steinbeck’s repeatedly rejected early manuscripts, one of America’s best-known paintings was almost lost. American Gothic, Grant Wood’s ubiquitous vision of Midwestern farmers posing before their home, wedged its way into history by winning third prize in a Chicago art competition, says Steven Biel, senior lecturer and director of studies in history and literature and the author of a new book, American Gothic: The Life of America’s Most Famous Painting. “If it hadn’t won anything,” he adds, “it would’ve gone home to Iowa, where no one but Wood’s friends would’ve seen it.” Instead, the image has become synonymous with America itself.
Common infections blamed for childhood leukaemia
Roxanne Khamsi in Nature:
A decade-long investigation of childhood leukaemia has come to the conclusion that the disease is probably often triggered by common infections in toddlers, scientists announced today in London.
Mind-reading machine knows what you see
From New Scientist:
Scientists have already trained monkeys to move a robotic arm with the power of thought and to recreate scenes moving in front of cats by recording information directly from the feline’s neurons. But these processes involve implanting electrodes into their brains to hook them up to a computer.
Now Yukiyasu Kamitani, at ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, and Frank Tong at Princeton University in New Jersey, US, have achieved similar “mind reading” feats remotely using functional MRI scanning.
What's the Matter with Liberals?
Thomas Frank in the New York Review of Books:
For more than thirty-five years, American politics has followed a populist pattern as predictable as a Punch and Judy show and as conducive to enlightened statesmanship as the cycles of a noisy washing machine. The antagonists of this familiar melodrama are instantly recognizable: the average American, humble, long-suffering, working hard, and paying his taxes; and the liberal elite, the know-it-alls of Manhattan and Malibu, sipping their lattes as they lord it over the peasantry with their fancy college degrees and their friends in the judiciary.
Conservatives generally regard class as an unacceptable topic when the subject is economics—trade, deregulation, shifting the tax burden, expressing worshipful awe for the microchip, etc. But define politics as culture, and class instantly becomes for them the very blood and bone of public discourse. Indeed, from George Wallace to George W. Bush, a class-based backlash against the perceived arrogance of liberalism has been one of their most powerful weapons.
A380 Super-jumbo set for maiden flight
About 11 years and €10 billion ($13 billion) into the A380 program, the 555-seater "superjumbo" is set to heave its 280-metric ton frame aloft for the first time before 50,000 expected onlookers, both invited and uninvited.
April 26, 2005
George ka Pakistan: Reality TV, Desi Style
From Pakistan's Daily Times:
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Tuesday committed residency for George Fulton, a British national who appeared in Geo TV production George Ka Pakistan.
The TV programme ran for three months during which George was shown trying to adopt Pakistani culture in an attempt to become a Pakistani.
The prime minister made the announcement as a goodwill gesture at a meeting with George who called on him at Prime Minister’s House.
The prime minister praised George for his love and affection for Pakistani people and culture and announced the result of an opinion poll asking people to vote if George had succeeded in becoming a Pakistani. More than 60 percent people voted in George’s favour, 28 percent against him. The prime minister congratulated George on becoming a Pakistani citizen. George thanked Pakistanis who voted in his favour and said he would try to become a true Pakistani.
More here. [Thanks Husain!]
Fun Follows function
"Students at the LA campus of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) relish the good life of Southern California, riding a big wave, immersing themselves in a shimmering blue tank or lounging by a palm-fringed pool. Thanks to the wizardry of architect Clive Wilkinson, they can do all this in a design studio that's located in a gritty commercial neighbourhood 20 kilometres from the ocean. Lofty banking halls flanking the lobby of a 1926 beaux-arts office building have been stripped and turned into vibrant two-level study areas that are both functional and fun."
Forewarned and forearmed
Men need to be better informed about prostate disease and how to deal with it. A new book, by a leading New York surgeon, fills a much-needed gap.
Prostate cancer is far more common in men than breast cancer is in women. Yet the public awareness of the two diseases could not be more different. Women have their mammograms, their ultrasounds, pink-ribbon days, designer T-shirts and celebrity-awareness campaigns. Like breast cancer, cancer of the prostate is treatable if caught early enough. Unlike breast cancer, it is also completely curable. Yet more men in America and in Britain still develop prostate cancer—and more die of it—than any other cancer other than that of the lungs. Why so?
“Dr Peter Scardino's Prostate Book” goes a long way towards repealing the ignorance that even many educated men display about this disease.
But this book from Amazon by clicking here.
Simulators are changing the way doctors are trained
Jerome Groopman in The New Yorker:
Four students in their third year at Harvard Medical School recently met a patient named Mr. Martin. The students’ mentors, two physicians, told them that Martin had come to the emergency room complaining of abdominal pain that had grown steadily worse over several days.
Martin was lying on a stretcher, moaning. A monitor next to the stretcher indicated that his blood pressure was dangerously low—eighty over fifty-four—and his heart was racing at a hundred and eighteen beats per minute. An X-ray mounted on a light box on the wall showed loops of distended bowel, called an ileus. The intestine can swell like this when it is obstructed or inflamed.
“It hurts!” Martin cried as the students reviewed his chart. “They told me you’d give me something for the pain.”
...Fortunately, Martin is not a real patient but a mannequin, an electronic instructional device known in medicine as a simulator.
Early Black Holes May Have Heated the Universe
Michael Schirber in Space.com:
Though invisible, big black holes are not hard to find. Astronomers have noted evidence in the center of many galaxies for supermassive black holes weighing millions to billions of times our Sun.
Where these huge holes came from is an open question. One theory is that they are the result of a progressive build-up of smaller black holes, starting from the stellar mass black holes that formed from the explosions of the first stars.
If this hierarchical formation is true, then some of the middle stages between the 10-solar-mass acorns and the billion-solar-mass oaks should still be around. Yet confirmation of these intermediate mass black holes has been difficult to come by.
Emails 'pose threat to IQ'
Martin Wainwright in The Guardian:
The distractions of constant emails, text and phone messages are a greater threat to IQ and concentration than taking cannabis, according to a survey of befuddled volunteers.
Doziness, lethargy and an increasing inability to focus reached "startling" levels in the trials by 1,100 people, who also demonstrated that emails in particular have an addictive, drug-like grip.
Respondents' minds were all over the place as they faced new questions and challenges every time an email dropped into their inbox. Productivity at work was damaged and the effect on staff who could not resist trying to juggle new messages with existing work was the equivalent, over a day, to the loss of a night's sleep.
Murakami and the Aesthetics of Imperfection
'...this tale of two people's struggles to escape/fulfill an unknowingly shared fate is at once absurdly fun and highly sentimental. Murakami's voice -- detached but not indifferent, sympathetic but never mawkish -- comes through most clearly in that of a supporting character, a young androgyne librarian, who says to Kafka, "A certain type of perfection can only be realized through a limitless accumulation of the imperfect. And personally, I find that encouraging." Perfect.'
From Jon Zobenica's Atlantic review of Murakami's Kafka on the Shore.
Highly Sentimental? Not the right words for Murakami's aesthetic, although when you try to think of another phrase it isn't easy. But with his emphasis on imperfection, Zobenica is on to something.
He's Right: The novel is rich and strange and exceedingly wonderful. It shouldn't work, but it does. The Murakami sensation is one of the most positive signs I've seen about the existence of under-served intelligent young American readers.
Whatever happened to machines that think?
Justin Mullins in New Scientist:
In the next few months, after being patiently nurtured for 22 years, an artificial brain called Cyc (pronounced "psych") will be put online for the world to interact with. And it's only going to get cleverer. Opening Cyc up to the masses is expected to accelerate the rate at which it learns, giving it access to the combined knowledge of millions of people around the globe as it hoovers up new facts from web pages, webcams and data entered manually by anyone who wants to contribute.
Crucially, Cyc's creator says it has developed a human trait no other AI system has managed to imitate: common sense. "I believe we are heading towards a singularity and we will see it in less than 10 years," says Doug Lenat of Cycorp, the system's creator.
The "Virtue" of Lust?
W. Jay Wood reviews Lust by Simon Blackburn in Christianity Today:
Blackburn is a prolific writer of both popular and professional philosophy, an outstanding essayist, and an insightful reviewer of books, whose sparkling prose customarily displays philosophical skill and evident wit. Lust doesn't lack in stylistic grace and wit, but its ground note is a smirking satisfaction with its own provocations, and its treatment of opposing views falls well below Blackburn's usual standard.
At least the reader is forewarned. Blackburn announces at the outset that he has no intention of writing a book about the sin of lust, an intention he admirably fulfills—which may be all to the good, since he appears to lack any developed notion of sin and, even if he has one, he doesn't think lust qualifies as a sin. He knows quite well, of course, what reputation religious tradition, common sense, and ordinary language have assigned to his subject: "Lust is furtive, ashamed, and embarrassed"; "Lust pursues its own gratification, headlong, impatient of any control, immune to reason"; "Lust looks sideways, inventing deceits and stratagems and seductions, sizing up opportunities"; "Lust subverts propriety" and is "like living shackled to a lunatic."
April 25, 2005
More on Capote
'The trouble with being a bad boy is that people don’t remember you were once very, very good. In author Truman Capote’s last years, his cringingly public displays of drunkenness and drug use caused old friends to wring their hands over his squandered talent. By his death in 1984, the shambles of his personal life had dwarfed his literary reputation.'
From The Wilson Quarterly's Periodical Observer, on Brooke Allen's "Capote Reconsidered," in The New Criterion.