June 30, 2005
Loyd on His Mother's Bravery
'Bravery was being cool under fire. Bravery was going back to rescue the wounded. Bravery was proved, exclusively, in war and made one a man.'
Not so, according to war correspondent Anthony Loyd, who has written a very moving piece about the death of his mother for the Times of London. Loyd has reported from Bosnia, Chechnya, and Iraq - his book My War Gone By, I Miss It So is one of the best books on war reporting I have ever read. I was pointed to this essay by reading Laura Rozen's fine site War and Piece.
Scientists put melting mystery on ice
Until now, scientists could not explain why ice cubes in your drink melt. They've known the basics, but the details remained elusive. A breakthrough new study, announced today, supports a leading theory that melting starts when the fundamental structure of matter begins to crack.
The problem is that the earliest phase of melting has never been seen. Scientists can't see the atoms involved because they are so small and because they are hidden in the structure of solid material. So the team made some big atoms. Specifically, they made see-through crystals that are like small beads and are visible in an optical microscope.
"The spheres swell or collapse significantly with small changes in temperature, and they exhibit other useful properties that allow them to behave like enormous versions of atoms for the purpose of our experiment," said Ahmed Alsayed, a University of Pennsylvania doctoral student and lead author of a paper on the results in the July 1 issue of the journal Science.
Fire Ants Spurn Sex to Protect Genes
Clonal or asexual reproduction is not unique to little fire ants. Some lizard species, for example, produce female offspring clonally from adult females. In most ants, females are typically produced by sexual reproduction, while males develop from unfertilized eggs. But the small fire ant (Wasmannia auropunctata), which is considered an invasive pest in tropical habitats, is different, scientists found. They have determined that queens and males each produce offspring with genes identical to their own, except when reproducing the sterile worker ants.
The findings are reported in tomorrow's issue of the journal Nature.
June 29, 2005
Proper T-Shirt Folding
I didn't want to be the one to tell you this, but your mother has taught you wrong. That's not how you should fold a T-shirt. First found floating around the internet about a year or so ago, there's an inspired new Japanese technique that will shake off our tired western concept of folding. A quick Google search will find the video I'm raving about.
The Center for Land Use Interpretation
It's kind of a dumb and opaque sounding name, but The Center for Land Use Interpretation is a pretty interesting place. The website contains all of their documentation about the way that land is being used on this planet today. It's also a great place to find out about various projects in Land, Earth, Environment, Art, etc.
Mad for Degas
From Harvard Magazine:
In 1911 the little Fogg Art Museum mounted the only one-man museum exhibition to occur during his lifetime of works by Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (1834-1917). It was a daring departure from practice. The artist was not a dead Old Master. His subjects, realistically represented—jockeys, ballet girls, laundresses, and what a critic called “creatures whose chief pre-occupation seems to be…the taking of baths”—seemed to some viewers unworthy of attention.
Although the loan show consisted of only 12 works, was up only nine and a half days, and generated expenses of $178.70 (more than the $158.98 raised to fund it), Edward W. Forbes, A.B. 1895, who had become director of the Fogg in 1909, judged the exhibition a success. A high-Brahmin Bostonian with a penchant for early Italian pictures, he wrote a disdainful patron: “I think this show is an excellent thing for the Fogg Museum. It is bringing hundreds of people into the building who would never come before and who, perhaps, could have been reached in no other way except by a modern show.” Attendance totaled 550.
Thus began the museum’s keen and continuing interest in this artist, now celebrated in an exhibition, Degas at Harvard, which encompasses 62 works in many media (including a book of sonnets) gathered from the Fogg, the Houghton Library, and Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard’s research library and art collection in Washington, D.C. It will run from August 1 to November 27, filling the galleries of the Arthur M. Sackler Museum.
New WTC tower design made public
Phil Hirschkorn at CNN:
But it will also include reminders of the twin towers it will replace.
The roof above the public observation deck will be at 1,362 feet, the height of old South Tower, while a glass wall will rise 1,368 feet, the height of the old North Tower.
"In subtle but important ways this building recalls what we lost," said architect David Childs.
The building will bear a spire that will emit light at night to echo the Statue of Liberty's torch.
On Beauty and Aesthetic Autonomy
Rochelle Gurstein in The New Republic:
The astounding popularity of the Vermeer exhibition in Washington a number of years ago, where people actually stood in line in the snow for hours, suggested that the passion for beauty in art is still very much alive, at least on the part of ordinary museumgoers. But who would have thought that it would continue to persist among art-savvy insiders? Then I remembered a show at the Sonnabend Gallery in the late '80s, where Koons's life-size, Italian-crafted, painted porcelain figures--Michael Jackson and Bubbles, Pink Panther, and all the rest--were first shown, and I remembered being told by a usually thoughtful collector, "Sure, they're stupid, but look at the craftsmanship." And then there was the time a preternaturally sensitive art-dealer friend of mine instructed me in the subtle difference between a Warhol Brillo Box where the silk-screen process was slightly off register as opposed to more perfectly aligned ones. He told me that an off-register box was more "beautiful"--that was the word he used--since such blurs and smudges showed the human touch, and it was more valuable to boot.
I couldn't help thinking, at the time and now, of what Arthur Danto has said about pop and conceptual art (and I am paraphrasing him here): To look at a Brillo Box with the eye of a connoisseur is to comically misclassify its artistic interest, which is conceptual and not aesthetic.
The Second Coming Of Sartre
"His philosophy inspired a generation, then drifted out of fashion. Now, 100 years after his birth, the life and work of Jean-Paul Sartre are once again highly relevant - and bitterly controversial. John Lichfield explores his legacy."
From The Independent:
Jean-Paul Sartre - philosopher, novelist, playwright, polemicist, political activist, the secular messiah of existentialism, the prototype of the "engaged" French intellectual - died 25 years ago this year. He was born 100 years ago next Tuesday.
His funeral in April 1980 provoked an outpouring of grief more usually associated with actors than with ugly, chain-smoking, foul-smelling, squint-eyed philosophers. More than 30,000 people took to the streets of Paris to follow his coffin and - in the phrase of one fan at the time - to "demonstrate against Sartre's death".
For the next two decades, Sartre's standing fell (and Beauvoir's, if anything, rose). Sartre's many mistakes and inconsistencies - his support for Stalinism in the early 1950s, for Maoism in the 1970s, his defence of civilian massacres in Algeria and at the 1972 Munich Olympics - obscured the range, versatility and ambition of his writing.
His reputation as one of the most important thinkers and writers of the 20th century is now rising again, not so much in France as - paradoxically - in high academic circles in the United States, a country that he detested.
Toothpaste for Dinner
Sam Anderson writes a slide show essay about the most addictive comic on the web, in Slate:
Dorothy Parker once wrote that the characters in James Thurber's cartoons looked like "unbaked cookies." The Webcomic Toothpaste for Dinner tends to make even the doughiest Thurber look like photorealism. The characters all have oblong heads, three-fingered hands, and stacked eyes like flounders. They are noseless and earless and always on the brink of perspectival disaster. The handwritten text that sometimes dominates the drawings often flirts with illegibility. The art is so bad it suggests some kind of tragic and inspiring back story: an artist soldiering bravely on after losing his thumbs in a bear attack or a factory accident.
More here. [Thanks to Maeve E. Adams.]
High-Tech Pictures Reveal How Hummingbirds Hover
From Scientific American:
Previous investigations into the flight of the hummingbird had suggested that it could be employing the same mechanisms as insects, which often hover and dart in a manner similar to the bird. "But a hummingbird is a bird, with the physical structure of a bird and all of the related capabilities and limitations," explains Douglas Warrick of Oregon State University. "It is not an insect and it does not fly exactly like an insect." To unravel the hummingbird's aerial secrets, Warrick and his colleagues used a technique called digital particle imaging velocimitry (DPIV). Usually employed by engineers, DPIV uses microscopic particles of olive oil that are light enough to be moved to and fro by the slightest changes in air currents. As a pulsing laser illuminates the droplets for short periods of time, a camera captures them on film. From the resulting images, the scientists determined exactly how the bird's wings move the air around them.
Sri Lanka leader gambles on tsunami aid
Ethirajan Anbarasan at the BBC:
In addition, analysts say, the president has scored a victory over her political rivals by being "firm and decisive" in bringing about the deal with the Tamil Tiger rebels.
Under the agreement, Sinhalas, Tamils and Muslims will share nearly $3bn in aid pledged after the December tsunami.
Representatives from all three communities will be responsible for reconstruction work at different administrative levels in the Tamil-dominated north and east.
The Tsunami Relief Council, as it is called, may not have considerable political or executive powers but in more than two decades of war this is the first time both sides have come together to work in an administrative structure for a common cause.
The Mysteries of Mass
Most people think they know what mass is, but they understand only part of the story. For instance, an elephant is clearly bulkier and weighs more than an ant. Even in the absence of gravity, the elephant would have greater mass--it would be harder to push and set in motion. Obviously the elephant is more massive because it is made of many more atoms than the ant is, but what determines the masses of the individual atoms? What about the elementary particles that make up the atoms--what determines their masses? Indeed, why do they even have mass?
Historian, Novelist Shelby Foote Dies at 88
Nick Owchar in the Los Angeles Times:
Southern novelist and historian Shelby Foote, who chronicled Mississippi Delta life in his fiction and created a panoramic history of the Civil War, died Monday in Memphis, his wife, Gwyn, said Tuesday. He was 88.
Best known for the courtly eloquence he brought as commentator to Ken Burns' 1990 PBS documentary, "The Civil War," Foote belonged to a rich tradition of Mississippi storytellers that included William Faulkner, Walker Percy and Eudora Welty.
It was his appearance in Burns' film, enthralling its 40 million viewers with his battlefield's-eye-view of the war, that first gained this singular American storyteller the recognition of a wide audience.
"One of the reasons why that documentary worked itself into the bloodstream of this country is because of Shelby," Burns said.
Slight of build, his gray beard trimmed close to the jaw, Foote vividly evoked the horrors of 19th century warfare, such as the hail of bullets that cut men down at Shiloh, as well as war's smaller moments — days when rations ran so low that soldiers ate sloosh, a wretched mixture of cornmeal and bacon grease. And he did it with a charming mellow voice tone that seemed dipped in Delta mud.
More here. [Thanks to Winfield J. Abbe.]
June 28, 2005
AIM 25 AT THE BRONX MUSEUM
Fawad Khan is a young Pakistani, one of 35 artists included in the AIM 25 show at the Bronx Museum. The opening reception is tomorrow and is open to the public. The invitation, along with examples of his artwork, can be viewed at his website here. These are some of his works:
This is a work in progress:
After 2,600 years, the world gains a fourth poem by Sappho
John Ezard in The Guardian:
Written more than 2,600 years ago, the 101 words of verse deal with a theme timeless in both art and soap operas; the stirrings of an ageing body towards the nimbleness, youth and love it once knew.
The poem is the rarest of discoveries. Sappho's pre-eminent reputation as an artist of lyricism and love is based on only three complete poems, 63 complete single lines and up to 264 fragments.
These are all that have survived of the writings of a woman who the Greek philosopher Plato said should be honoured not merely as a great lyric poet but as one of the Muses, the goddesses who inspire all art.
Arthur Kempton in the New York Review of Books:
In the spring of 1947, Jimmy Fletcher heard from his bosses at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics that it might be a convenient time to visit Billie Holiday at home. Her manager, a former fight-fixer, whoremonger, and running dog in Al Capone's pack, had offered up the celebrated Negro "torchchanteuse" and notorious dope fiend as grist for Harry Anslinger's publicity mill.
Anslinger, the bureau's first and only commissioner, was the public face of America's war on drugs, and he hustled as hard, if not as well, as his envied rival J. Edgar Hoover. Splashy arrests kept the congressional purse holders mindful of who stood between America's schoolchildren and the ravening scourge of narcotics. For doers of the commissioner's bidding, Billie Holiday was "an attractive customer," a reliable source of repeat business.
Psychiatrists: Tom Cruise comments 'irresponsible'
The American Psychiatric Association on Monday sharply criticized actor Tom Cruise for televised remarks in which he called psychiatry a "pseudo science" and disputed the value of antidepressant drugs...
"Before I was a Scientologist, I never agreed with psychiatry," Cruise said. "And when I started studying the history of psychiatry, I understood more and more why I didn't believe in psychology. ... And I know that psychiatry is a pseudo science." (Full story)
Disputing the effectiveness of antidepressants generally, Cruise said, "all it does is mask the problem." He added, "There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance."
Cruise also singled out drugs, such as Ritalin, that are used to treat children for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, calling Ritalin "a street drug."
As "Today" host Matt Lauer pressed the 42-year-old actor on his views, Cruise said, "Here's the problem. You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do."
Tell Joe Barton How You Feel
Mark Trodden in a post at Orange Quark:
At the risk of being pedantic (Oh, who am I kidding, I'm going to go on and on about this stuff until it stops), the attack on science in the U.S. is going ahead full steam. Congressman Joe Barton (Republican, of Texas), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is sending intimidating letters to the members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and to Arden Bement, Director of the National Science Foundation. It's true - take a look! Chris Mooney has some excerpts from the letters, so I won't reproduce them here, but will just comment that they are of a kind designed to make scientists think twice about undertaking research on such a politically sensitive topic as global warming.
Representative Barton's tactics are just part of the more wide-ranging assault on scientific evidence that the Bush administration is waging.
More here. Mark also has other posts on the anti-science activities of the Bush administration.
New Movement in Parkinson's
As its 19th-century name suggests--and as many people know from the educational efforts of prominent Parkinson's sufferers such as Janet Reno, Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox--the disease is characterized by movement disorders. Tremor in the hands, arms and elsewhere, limb rigidity, slowness of movement, and impaired balance and coordination are among the disease's hallmarks. In addition, some patients have trouble walking, talking, sleeping, urinating and performing sexually.
These impairments result from neurons dying. Because the insights involve molecules whose activity could potentially be altered or mimicked by drugs in ways that would limit cell death, the discoveries could lead to therapies that would do more than ease symptoms--they would actually limit the neuronal degeneration responsible for disease progression.
Remembrance of Things Future: The Mystery of Time
There was a conference for time travelers at M.I.T. earlier this spring. I'm still hoping to attend, and although the odds are slim, they are apparently not zero despite the efforts and hopes of deterministically minded physicists who would like to eliminate the possibility of your creating a paradox by going back in time and killing your grandfather.
June 27, 2005
"If patent law had been applied to novels in the 1880s, great books would not have been written. If the EU applies it to software, every computer user will be restricted, says Richard Stallman."
Richard Stallman in The Guardian:
A novel and a modern complex programme have certain points in common: each is large and implements many ideas. Suppose patent law had been applied to novels in the 1800s; suppose states such as France had permitted the patenting of literary ideas. How would this have affected Hugo's writing? How would the effects of literary patents compare with the effects of literary copyright?
Consider the novel Les Misérables, written by Hugo. Because he wrote it, the copyright belonged only to him. He did not have to fear that some stranger could sue him for copyright infringement and win. That was impossible, because copyright covers only the details of a work of authorship, and only restricts copying. Hugo had not copied Les Misérables, so he was not in danger.
Patents work differently. They cover ideas - each patent is a monopoly on practising some idea, which is described in the patent itself.
Just Plain Cool
"NASA scientists have planned a spectacular celestial show for July 4th. That's the date on which a probe from the Deep Impact spacecraft is scheduled to slam into the comet Tempel 1 in an attempt to learn more about the comet's billion-year-old interior. New images snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope are giving researchers a sneak peak at what type of conditions they might find. The pictures show a new jet of dust streaming out of the icy comet."
Sex After Fascism
"In no Western country were questions of sexuality more politically central during the second
half of the twentieth century than the Federal Republic of Germany. after the collapse of National Socialism it was, in the slang of the time, Thema 1 ("Topic No. 1"); by 1970 the Nouvel Observateur could claim that the Germans were sex-obsessed—"Sex über alles"—noting that the heavy breathing of orgasm had mercifully replaced the stomping of boots. Nowhere were sexual and political liberation linked more fiercely during the 1960s and '70s, and nowhere—with the possible exception of the United States—was the backlash in the decades that followed more painful. Even in the German Democratic Republic, where socialism supposedly made matters of personal sexual morality less pressing, Siegfried Schnabl's 1969 Mann und Frau intim (Man and Woman Intimately) was the biggest-selling title of any book in East German history (the nearest competitor was a book on gardening)."
More from Bookforum.
How the Universe got its hydrogen pairs
A computer model has made progress in solving an astronomical mystery: why is so much hydrogen in the Universe paired up into molecules instead of existing as single atoms? The secret is simple. It comes down to the fact that space dust is probably bumpy rather than smooth. It has long been assumed that hydrogen atoms sticking to these dust particles are jostled together, encouraging hydrogen atoms to pair up into H2. But when one team of researchers tested this theory, it came up short.
Negotiations: 3: Down the Rabbit-Hole
Eastern Kentucky is one of the most accidentally beautiful places I have ever been. Being there, one feels as though God knocked over his cereal box one morning and Kentucky spilled out. The place is a jumble and a tangle, off-kilter and slightly askew: a world whose axis is tilted a few degrees further than that of the one to which we are accustomed. The land is ravaged by gorges and pock-marked with hollers; mountains make their way across it with jagged, sideways movements, like crabs. The sky seems to be warped in reflection of the terrain, and while I was there I had the distinct sense that one of my legs was longer than the other, which meant that I spent a lot of time leaning against crooked timbers to gain my equilibrium. If I were a Creationist, I would have to argue that eastern Kentucky is evidence not for Intelligent but Cockeyed Design. God had a hangover when He made this place.
The human element expresses a dialectic between this spilled and crushed landscape and the crushing poverty of its inhabitants. (The county I visited has the highest child poverty rate in the nation—40 percent—which means the 5,000 inhabitants of said county are consigned to a nightmare Thoreau never imagined: here men live their lives not in quiet desperation but amidst a desperate quiet.) Still, these are hard men whose families have been on the land for five and six generations; they will not submit to fate, and they keep their land tidy and well-ordered, pulling corn in neat rows from the soil with the same commitment it would take you or I to quarry granite from a mountainside with a pick and a shovel.
This dialectic between land and human life achieved its material synthesis, in my eyes, in a series of barns I passed on Route 191, between Grassy Creek and Campton. Still functioning, they had become torqued and twisted with age and environmental punishment, their metal roofs sliding off into the dirt like ice cream slipping from a cone in the sun. Their walls had shifted without giving way, and structures that had once been square had gone feral, turning rhomboid and parallelogram. Most were engaged in an agon with a riotous vine that held them in a death grip while waiting for a nearby tree to drop a limb and deliver the coup-de-grace.
My curiosity was piqued at first, but by the sixth of these barns my aesthetic sensibility was fully aroused and I began naming them as I passed: “Entropy: 1, 2 and 3.” “Time’s Arrow.” Squaring the Circle.” “Elvis Has Left the Building.” “A Practical Application of Non-Euclidean Geometry.” “In Advance of a Broken Neck.” “Waiting for Damocles.” “Unintentional Consequence.”
It was as though I had tumbled down a rabbit-hole to find myself in a world that was the result of a collaboration between Marcel Duchamp and Robert Smithson. These barns were Found Installations, pure and simple. In reality, of course, they were the result of a collaboration between an extreme environment and extreme poverty; but if one makes the effort to shear off one’s social conscience and experience them as accidental art objects, they are beautiful, haunting and tragic.
When Duchamp went to an International Industrial Exposition in the early part of the 20th century, he is said to have declared to his companions while standing before an airplane propeller that painting was dead. Pointing at it, he asked them, “Could anyone make a thing so perfect by hand?” Looking at these barns in Kentucky, I found myself asking a similar question: Could any intent produce these objects? A dainty little work in a precious Chelsea gallery is like a bit of Art Kitsch in comparison, dry and dessicated and dreadfully weak. Duchamp would have loved these barns; but as he knew, being an artist has less to do with what one manufactures than with how one sees.
Monday Musing: The Man With Qualities
Sahabzada Yaqub Khan is the father of one of my closest friends, Samad Khan. He is also probably the most remarkable man I have ever met. All Pakistanis know who he is, as do many others, especially world leaders and diplomats, but to those of you for whom his name is new, I would like to take this Monday Musing as an opportunity to introduce him.
The first time that I met Sahabzada Yaqub Khan about six years ago, he was in Washington and New York as part of a tour of four or five countries (America, Russia, China, Japan, etc.) relations with which are especially important to Pakistan. He had come as President Musharraf's special envoy to reassure these governments in the wake of the fall of the kleptocratic shambles that was Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's so-called democratic government. Samad Khan, or Sammy K as he is affectionately known to friends, invited me over to his apartment to meet his Dad. I had heard and read much about Sahabzada Yaqub and knew his reputation for fierce intellect and even more intimidating, had heard reports of his impatience with and inability to suffer fools, so I was nervous when I walked in. Over the next couple of hours I was blown away: Sahabzada Yaqub was not much interested in talking about politics, and instead, asked about my doctoral studies in philosophy. It was soon apparent that he had read widely and deeply in the subject, and knew quite a bit about the Anglo-American analytic philosophy I had spent the previous five years reading. He even asked some pointed questions about aspects of philosophy which even some graduate students in the field might not know about, much less laymen. Though we were interrupted by a series of phone calls from the likes of Henry Kissinger wanting to pay their respects while Sahabzada Yaqub was in town, we managed to talk not just about philosophy, but also physics (he wanted to know more about string theory), Goethe (SYK explained some of his little-known scientific work, in addition to quoting and then explicating some difficult passages from Faust), the implications of Gödel's incompleteness theorem, and Urdu literature, of which Sahabzada Yaqub has been a lifelong devotee.
I left late that night dazzled by his brilliance, and elated by his warmth and generosity. Sahabzada Yaqub listens more than he speaks, but when he does speak, he is a raconteur extraordinaire. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to get to know him well, and have spent many a rapt hour in his company. On my last trip to Islamabad, he and his wife and Sammy K had me and my wife Margit over for dinner, where upon learning that Margit is from Italy, Sahabzada Yaqub spoke with her in Italian. Then, realizing that she is from the South Tyrol (the German-speaking part of Italy near the Austrian border), he spoke to her in German, giving us a fascinating mini-lecture on German translations of Shakespeare. I can picture him now, emphatically declaiming "Sein oder nicht sein. Das ist hier die frage." (The picture on the right with Sammy K and me is from that night.)
Sahabzada Yaqub Khan has done and been so many things, that it is hard to know where to begin describing his career in the short space that I have. An aristocrat from the royal family of Rampur, he has served as a soldier, statesman, diplomat, and chairman of the board of trustees of Pakistan's finest university, among other things, and has excelled in each of these roles. In 1970, he was a Lieutenant General in the Pakistan army, and governor of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) when he was ordered by the military dictator of Pakistan at the time, General Yahya Khan, to have troops forcibly put down the mutiny there, which had spilled out into the streets. It is a testament to Sahabzada Yaqub's moral courage that he refused, and resigned instead. Yahya, of course, found less-conscientious generals to do his dirty work, and the result was a massacre of Bengali civilians before a humiliating defeat in war when India stepped in on the side of the insurgents, and ultimately the dismemberment of Pakistan. This is a dark chapter in Pakistani history for which the government has yet to apologize to the Bangladeshi people. Sahabzada Yaqub Khan is, however, still celebrated as a hero in Bangladesh. (His moral convictions haven't changed, either. The last time Sahabzada Yaqub visited New York in July, 2004 he came over for drinks and pizza--he is a man of sophisticated tastes who still enjoys simple things--and more than anything else, that day he repeatedly expressed his shock and dismay at the behavior of U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib. What particularly galled and appalled him was that the troops took such delight and pride in their torturous abuse that they felt compelled to record it on film--as if they wanted to be able to relive it. The lack of shame was what disturbed him the most.)
Soon after the debacle of 1971, when a properly-elected civilian government had taken power in Pakistan, Sahabzada Yaqub was offered, and accepted, several diplomatic appointments, serving as Pakistan's ambassador to France, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Let me illustrate his reputation as a cold-war strategist with a quick anecdote: one day Sammy K and I were searching through some old packed boxes of Sammy K's for a 70s punk rock record, when I came upon an official looking document, with the seal of the President of the United States on it. On examination, it turned out to be a letter from Nixon to Sahabzada Yaqub, written while Nixon was president, and (I am quoting from memory) this is roughly what Nixon had to say: "It was a pleasure meeting you and spending some time talking to you. Alexander Haig had told me that you are probably the most astute geopolitical thinker alive today. Having met you, I believe this was an understatement. Call me anytime." Or words to that effect.
From 1982 onwards, Sahabzada Yaqub Khan served as Pakistan's foreign minister in various governments. He was a central figure in the UN negotiations to end Soviet involvement in Afghanistan. From 1992 to 1994, Sahabzada Yaqub was also the United Nations Secretary General's Special Representative for the Western Sahara. And in November 1999, as I have already mentioned, Sahabzada Yaqub traveled to various countries as President Musharraf's special envoy. While Sahabzada Yaqub was in America as part of that tour, William Safire wrote an editorial in the New York Times in which, amongst much else, he said that for clarification about the situation in Pakistan he turned to "the most skillful diplomat in the world today: Sahabzada Yaqub Khan."
Though he has always been fiercely protective of his privacy, politely refusing to write his memoirs despite great public demand (including entreaties over the last few years from me), Sahabzada Yaqub Khan has recently allowed some of his writings to be collected into book form: Strategy, Diplomacy, Humanity, compiled and edited by Dr. Anwar Dil, had its launch earlier this month at a ceremony at the Agha Khan University in Karachi. Here is a description of the book from the AKU website:
...the book Strategy, Diplomacy, Humanity contains Sahabzada Yaqub-Khan’s selected writings, with photos spanning his entire life, culled from his lectures, articles and speeches between 1980s and the present day. They describe his thoughts on national strategy, diplomacy, world affairs, education and his vision of a world of dialogue and peace for all of humanity. In the foreword, Shaharyar M. Khan, former foreign secretary of Pakistan, describes the book as “essential reading for the student of modern history, diplomatic strategy, and the art and craft of negotiations. They reflect the outpourings of a brilliant analyst whose immense talent was applied towards achieving pragmatic objectives in Pakistan’s national interest.”
I have been unable to obtain the book, but even without having seen it yet, I can safely urge you to get a copy and read it if you can. I also hope that Sahabzada Yaqub overcomes his reticence soon and writes the detailed memoirs that history demands of him.
Among other things, Sahabzada Yaqub Khan is a true polyglot: he can speak, read and write somewhere between 6 and 10 languages. While he was governor of East Pakistan, he learned Bengali and delivered public addresses in it, which went a long way toward assuaging their concerns of cultural dominance by West Pakistan. He is also a stylishly impeccable dresser (he was voted best-dressed several years in a row by the Washington diplomatic corps). My greatest joy in his company, however, remains his inimitable explications of the deeper philosophical implications buried in Ghalib's couplets, of which he has been a longtime and enthusiastic student. In short, he is a man with many and diverse qualities.
Have a good week!
June 26, 2005
Climate and the Collapse of Maya Civilization
With their magnificent architecture and sophisticated knowledge of astronomy and mathematics, the Maya boasted one of the great cultures of the ancient world. Although they had not discovered the wheel and were without metal tools, the Maya constructed massive pyramids, temples and monuments of hewn stone both in large cities and in smaller ceremonial centers throughout the lowlands of the Yucatán Peninsula, which covers parts of what are now southern Mexico and Guatemala and essentially all of Belize. From celestial observatories, such as the one at Chichén Itzá, they tracked the progress of Venus and developed a calendar based on a solar year of 365 days. They created their own system of mathematics, using a base number of 20 with a concept of zero. And they developed a hieroglyphic scheme for writing, one that used hundreds of elaborate signs. The demise of Maya civilization (which archaeologists call "the terminal Classic collapse") has been one of the great anthropological mysteries of modern times. What could have happened?
Lewis Museum captures the soaring spirit of African-Americans
Edward Gunts in the Baltimore Sun:
With 82,000 square feet of space on five levels, the Lewis museum is the second-largest African-American heritage museum in the United States, after Detroit's. At its heart are permanent and temporary exhibits that tell stories about African-Americans in Maryland - the obstacles they've overcome and the contributions they've made. There are also gathering spaces for conferences and receptions, an auditorium, cafe, interactive learning center, oral history recording center, staff offices, classrooms and a store.
The land finally chosen for the museum is a corner parcel within easy walking distance of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the state's most-visited tourist district. The architects' challenge was to create a building that fits into the urban context but stands out enough to convey how unusual it is.
They responded with a boldly modern building that makes the most of its tight but prominent site. Then they imbued the building with layers of meaning that help tell what's inside. The design doesn't make literal references to African architecture. Its strength lies in the use of architectural symbolism - through colors, forms and materials - to create a building that avoids cliches but is undeniably African-American in spirit.
An interesting assessment from a man not usually considered particularly Left Wing.
NO ONE EVER THOUGHT IT would be easy to conquer the outposts of tyranny or to destroy the sponsors of terror. But it shouldn't be that hard, most of the time, to hold American foreign policy to some minimum standards: no rewards for gross acts of dictatorial oppression; no blind eye to facilitation of terrorism; no benign neglect for nuclear proliferation; no free passes for aiders and abettors of tyrants. Are we meeting those standards?
Not as much as we should be, and not as much as we could be.
And as an extra-special Sunday bonus here at 3Quarks, here are a couple of pictures of Mr. Kristol getting pied at Earlham College.
Come on, you reds . . .
"In 1666 Isaac Newton took a glass prism and separated sunlight into its constituent colours. In so doing he disproved Aristotle’s contention that all colour was a mixture of black and white, invented the modern notion of the colour spectrum, and showed what rainbows are made of. Four hundred years later French artist Yves Klein was still airily proclaiming that “colour is sensibility in material form, matter in its primordial state”. This doesn't say great things for art."
SCIENCE AND SOCIETY
Seen through the lens of popular culture, the future often seems like a time disconnected from the present. The view tends toward strange and dystopic—think 1984 and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and The Matrix. But when AAAS convened nearly three dozen top thinkers in science and technology policy to contemplate the year 2033, the perspective was strikingly different. The future, as they saw it, is familiar; many of the perils likely to confront humanity then are already evident today. While there are ominous portents in climate change, mutating viruses and emerging technologies for body and brain enhancement, they agreed that scientists, engineers and policy-makers can limit or prevent future problems—if they begin acting now.
One of the overarching themes of Vision 2033 is that technology will become more subtle and more powerful, reaching deeper into daily life.
Freeman Dyson on Norbert Wiener
Dyson reviews Dark Hero of the Information Age: In Search of Norbert Wiener, the Father of Cybernetics by Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, in the New York Review of Books:
At age eleven, Leo enrolled Norbert as a student at Tufts University, where he graduated with a degree in mathematics at age fourteen. Norbert then moved to Harvard as a graduate student and emerged with a Ph.D. in mathematical logic at age eighteen. While he was growing up and trying to escape from his notoriety as a prodigy at Tufts and Harvard, Leo was making matters worse by trumpeting Norbert's accomplishments in newspapers and popular magazines. Leo was emphatic in claiming that his son was not unusually gifted, that any advantage that Norbert had gained over other children was due to his better training. "When this was written down in ineffaceable printer's ink," said Norbert in his autobiography, Ex-prodigy, "it declared to the public that my failures were my own but my successes were my father's."
Lucre and altruism are in the makeup of biotech scientists
Rebecca Maksel reviews The Geneticist Who Played Hoops With My DNA And Other Masterminds From the Frontiers of Biotech by David Ewing Duncan, in the San Francisco Chronicle:
The legend of the chimera (a creature said to bear the head of a lion and the body of a goat, with a dragon's tail tacked on) has long fascinated humans. Its modern-day equivalent -- organisms composed of two or more genetically distinct tissues -- captivates conservatives and liberals alike. In his new book, "The Geneticist Who Play Hoops with My DNA," Duncan profiles seven scientists on the cutting edge of biotechnology, today's most controversial science.
Duncan, who has written on such diverse topics as the development of the Gregorian calendar and the history of Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto, turns his discerning eye toward the role of personality in science, concluding that individual scientists -- and their reputations -- are driving the current era of biological discovery as much as the knowledge itself.
And the scientists profiled are an unruly lot, some motivated as much by thoughts of fame as by the desire for knowledge.
Show me the way to go, Holmes
"Julian Barnes's wonderfully executed Arthur & George recounts Conan Doyle's own detective adventure."
Tim Adams in The Guardian:
Julian Barnes has always fancied a detective yarn. In the 1980s, he used to have a go at them himself, under the pseudonym of Dan Kavanagh, who wrote calculatedly hard-boiled tales about Duffy, a bisexual ex-cop on the trail of vice and murder in Soho. At the time, Barnes used to explain this sideline by saying it came from a different part of his head from the grown-up cleverness of Flaubert's Parrot or A History of the World in 10½ Chapters; it was a holiday job.
For Arthur & George, you might say that the author has combined for the first time those two halves of his brain, taken his rigour on vacation. With characteristically engaging intelligence, he has climbed into the mind of the most celebrated detective writer of all, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and set off on an adventure.
June 25, 2005
Damselfly Mating Game Turns Some Males Gay
From The National Geographic:
Disguises used by female damselflies to avoid unwanted sexual advances can cause males to seek out their own sex, a new study suggests. Belgian researchers investigated why male damselflies often try to mate with each other. The scientists say the reason could lie with females that adopt a range of appearances to throw potential mates off their scent. In an evolutionary battle of the sexes, males become attracted to a range of different looks, with some actually preferring a more masculine appearance.
The Passions of Robert Lowell
BY the time he died in 1977, expiring at the age of 60 in the back seat of a taxi on his way into New York City from Kennedy Airport, Robert Lowell had turned himself inside out in literature. Socially well connected and classically educated, with the bearing and voice of a disheveled senator, the highborn Bostonian wasn't well and hadn't been for years, but despite an exhausting life of marital blowups, manic-depressive breakdowns, political controversy and punishing hard work, he'd managed to invent along the way what came to be known as confessional poetry, a sort of orderly bleeding onto the page that in Lowell's case combined erudition, anguish and mundane detail for an effect of aching, lurid uplift. The poems of his later, most distinctive period, which began with the publication of ''Life Studies'' in 1959, inspired a long dominant mode whose best-known practitioners included two of his students, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. Lowell's poems proved that if writing is a form of therapy, it's a uniquely unsuccessful one, at least in medical terms, and that insights into the larger human predicament don't guarantee their author a good night's sleep, a stable marriage or a dignified passing. Winning Pulitzer Prizes and the like is no balm either. Nothing (even lithium, it seemed) could halt Lowell's slide into miserable ill health and psychological chaos.
Gaddis, Gaddis, Gaddis
The good people at the Gaddis Annotations Project were kind enough to offer to post my New England Review essay, "Henry Thoreau, William Gaddis, and the buried history of an epigraph," over in the interpretative essays section of their fabulous Gaddis site. I'm not just plugging the Gaddis Annotations site because they've posted my work - for anybody who's interested in Gaddis, especially for those reading his work for the first time, the site is an invaluable resource for tracking down WG's sometimes obscure references. The site is edited by Ron Dulin and Victoria Harding, and includes Steven Moore's Reader's Guide to William Gaddis's The Recognitions, as well as his informal notes (and those of other readers) on Gaddis's other novels. For more on Gaddis, try the defunct Gaddis Drinking Club - GDCer Bud Parr's more recent work can be seen at the fine lit blog Chekhov's Mistress.
Tsunami: Six Months On
From John Aglionby at The Observer.
Before the Boxing Day tsunami I'd never met anyone who had suffered so much that they had effectively lost their identity. In regular trips to the devastated regions in the last six months I've met thousands of such 'ghosts'; once proud people reduced to bedraggled, grieving bodies dressed in donated clothes and kept alive by the world's largesse.
It is only when one considers what it takes to rebuild someone's identity that one gets a sense of the size of the reconstruction task in Aceh and North Sumatra, the Indonesian provinces that bore the brunt of the 26 December earthquake and tsunami.
I've become more and more obsessed with the Earthworks movement in art. Michael Heizer, whose City was profiled by Michael Kimmelman at the Times a few weeks ago and linked here at 3Quarks, has been one of its most important practitioners.
Another of his projects, Effigy Tumuli, is one of the largest sculptures in the world. It's at the Buffalo Rock State Park in Illinois. It's based on the ancient Mound Building practices of various Native American tribes.
'How to Be Idle': Being and Do-Nothingness
Jeffrey Steingarten in the New York Times:
For every hour of the day and night there is a different way of being idle, which is why Tom Hodgkinson has written his book in 24 chapters. At 8 a.m. (''Waking Up Is Hard to Do''), true idlers turn off their alarms, flop over in bed and go back to sleep. Hodgkinson is amazed that we voluntarily buy alarm clocks, which serve nobody but our employers. Nine a.m. is ''the time when someone, somewhere, decided that work should start.'' And at 10 a.m. the idler is still sleeping in, living out Dr. Johnson's incontestable dictum that ''the happiest part of a man's life is what he passes lying awake in bed in the morning.''
The chief problem with modern life is not work in itself. It is jobs. In 1993 Hodgkinson founded the British magazine The Idler, on whose Web site he succinctly sums up the horrors of having a job: ''With a very few exceptions the world of jobs is characterized by stifling boredom, grinding tedium, poverty, petty jealousies, sexual harassment, loneliness, deranged co-workers, bullying bosses, seething resentment, illness, exploitation, stress, helplessness, hellish commutes, humiliation, depression, appalling ethics, physical fatigue and mental exhaustion.'' Yes, that pretty much sums it up. On this we can all agree.
And the solution? Become an idler.
Hands Across the Himalayas
Michael Elliott in Time Magazine:
The visit to India that starts this week by Wen Jiabao, China's Premier, is being spun as a celebration of relations between Asia's giants that are good, and getting better. Whatever the truth of that claim, this much is certain: very soon, meetings between the leaders of China and India will not be of merely regional interest. They will be watched by the whole world.
Combined, India and China account for nearly 40% of the world's population. Fueled by turbo-charged growth, they are both consolidating their positions as central actors in the international economy. Inevitably, their economic heft will be accompanied by political influence. China is pursuing economic alliances everywhere from Southeast Asia to Latin America; India may well soon have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Taken together, India's and China's rise to prominence is the great story of our time.
Keiji Tachikawa, who was the president of NTT DoCoMo and now is the head of the Japanease space agency announced a 20 years plan that ends in a vision of our moon with humanoid robots inhabitants, all made in Japan:
As part of the plan, Japan would use advanced robotic technologies to help build the moon base, while redeveloped versions of today's humanoid robots, such as Honda Motor Co. Ltd.'s Asimo and Sonys Qrio, could work in the moon's inhospitable environment in place of astronauts, he said in a recent interview.
Japan's lunar robots would do work such as building telescopes and prospecting and mining for minerals, Tachikawa said.
"I see a big role for Japan's robotics technologies on the moon," he said. "Japanese robots will be one of our big contributions. If there is work where robots can replace humans, they will."
June 24, 2005
The New World Order
Tony Judt in the New York Review of Books:
Those of us who opposed America's invasion of Iraq from the outset can take no comfort from its catastrophic consequences. On the contrary: we should now be asking ourselves some decidedly uncomfortable questions. The first concerns the propriety of "preventive" military intervention. If the Iraq war is wrong—"the wrong war at the wrong time" —why, then, was the 1999 US-led war on Serbia right? That war, after all, also lacked the imprimatur of UN Security Council approval. It too was an unauthorized and uninvited attack on a sovereign state—undertaken on "preventive" grounds—that caused many civilian casualties and aroused bitter resentment against the Americans who carried it out.
The apparent difference—and the reason so many of us cheered when the US and its allies went into Kosovo —was that Slobodan Milosevic had begun a campaign against the Albanian majority of Serbia's Kosovo province that had all the hallmarks of a prelude to genocide. So not only was the US on the right side but it was intervening in real time—its actions might actually prevent a major crime. With the shameful memory of Bosnia and Rwanda in the very recent past, the likely consequences of inaction seemed obvious and far outweighed the risks of intervention. Today the Bush administration—lacking "weapons of mass destruction" to justify its rush to arms—offers "bringing freedom to Iraq" almost as an afterthought. But saving the Kosovar Albanians was what the 1999 war was all about from the start.
And yet it isn't so simple.
Next stop, Forbidden City
Eliot Weinberger in the London Review of Books:
‘The poet,’ Gu Cheng wrote in 1987, ‘is just like the fabled hunter who naps beside a tree, waiting for hares to break their skulls by running headlong into the tree trunk. After waiting for a long time, the poet discovers that he is the hare.’ These words turned out to be prophetic; six years later, his terrible and sordid crash against the tree would nearly obliterate what had come before. He had been a major cultural figure in China; now his poems were being read as flashbacks from his death.
He was born in 1956 in Beijing, the son of a well-known poet and army officer, Gu Gong. At 12, he wrote a two-line poem, ‘One Generation’, which was to become an emblem of the new unofficial poetry:
Even with these dark eyes, a gift of the dark night
I go to seek the shining light1
In 1969, the Cultural Revolution sent his family into the salt desert of Shandong Province to herd pigs. The locals spoke a dialect Gu Cheng could not understand, and in his isolation he became absorbed in the natural world: ‘Nature’s voice became language in my heart. That was happiness.’ His favourite book was Jean-Henri Fabre’s 19th-century entomological notes and drawings; he collected insects and watched birds; he wrote poems in the sand with a twig, poems with titles like ‘The Nameless Little Flower’ or ‘The Dream of the White Cloud’.
Finnish Technology: Computer Screen Made From Fog
Tracy Staedter in Discovery News:
Such an immersive projection technology could have applications that range from walk-through advertisements to hygienic touch screens in operating rooms, where handling a keyboard or mouse could undermine sanitary conditions.
"The interactive screen is quite new and has not been used anywhere," said Ismo Rakkolainen, chief technology officer at Seinäjoki, Finland-based Fogscreen, who together with Karri Palovuori of Tampere University of Technology developed the technology.
According to Rakkolainen, other screens made from fog have been developed, but remain non-interactive because the large water vapor particles they employ would create a damp experience for the user.
But Rakkolainen's Fogscreen is a ceiling-mounted device that sprays a fine mist of tap water particles so small they feel dry to the touch.
The fog is contained to a rectangular shape because it is sandwiched between two layers of flowing air that keep it from dispersing.
Surviving a lightning strike
Joshua Foer in Slate:
Jerry LeDoux is a guy you don't really want to interview, because interviewing him means having to be near him, and that's like planting yourself by a dartboard. The stone claw hanging from his neck attests to his grisly encounter with a bear's jaw at a roadside park in August 1990. (His wife, Bee, brandishes a photo album that documents the mauling before he's done telling the story.) The Purple Heart on his Navy Seals sniper hat testifies to the three bullets he took in Vietnam. The ugly black mark on his finger is evidence that he once air-nailed it to a floorboard. The scar on his left arm is proof that he accidentally screwed his flesh to the wall. The long knife wound on his hand? "Things happen," he says. The most improbable of his many accidents is the one that left the least visible evidence—just a few white splotches on his arms and a discoloration near his hairline. But that doesn't mean it's easily forgotten. LeDoux rolls up his sleeve to show off a tattoo of a man getting struck by lightning engraved on his left bicep.
All LeDoux remembers about the moment he was struck in August 1999 is that he was standing ankle-deep in a puddle when he was overcome by an intensely bright light. He woke up a half-hour later, 20 feet away, with a vague taste of battery acid in his mouth, he said. The soles of his shoes had melted, his two-way radio had exploded, and several of his teeth had shattered. The medical ID tag he wore around his neck was melted into his chest.
Return to Hobbit Limbo
Carl Zimmer in The Loom:
So let’s recap: It’s been almost eight months now since scientists announced the discovery of Homo floresiensis, the diminutive people that some claim belong to a new branch of hominid evolution and skeptics claim were just small humans. We seem to have entered a lull in the flow of new scientific information about Homo floresiensis. The last thing we heard from its discoverers came in March, when they published scans of the Homo floresiensis braincase, which bolstered their case that the skull they found didn’t happen to belong to someone with a birth defect. The skeptics have made various noises about evidence that the fossils are indeed pathological, and thus can’t be the basis for recognizing a new species. They have told reporters about their visits to pygmies who live near the fossil site on the Indonesian island of Flores. But they have yet to publish any of this in a scientific journal, where their claims could be put to some serious scrutiny. For example, you can’t refute the claim that the fossils are a separate hominid species by showing that living pygmies on Flores are very short. You also have to deal with the odd body proportions of Homo floresiensis, such as its long arms. Perhaps these are pathological too, but no one has gone on the scientific record yet.
You thought you knew how to be a parent? Wrong: it isn't what you do, it's who you are
From The London Times:
IN THE late 1990s the US Department of Education undertook a monumental project called the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS). The wide-ranging ECLS data offer a number of compelling correlations between a child’s personal circumstances and its school performance. For instance, once all other factors are controlled for, it is clear that students from rural areas tend to do worse than average. Suburban children, meanwhile, are in the middle of the curve, while urban children tend to score higher than average. (It may be that cities attract a more educated workforce and, therefore, parents with smarter children.) On average, girls show results higher than boys, Asians show results higher than whites, and blacks show results similarly to whites from comparable backgrounds and in comparable schools.
Matters: The child has highly educated parents.
Doesn’t: The child’s family is intact.
A child whose parents are highly educated typically does well in school. A family with a lot of schooling tends to value schooling. Parents with higher IQs tend to get more education, and IQ is strongly hereditary.
June 23, 2005
More Creationism vs. Evolution debates
Via Sci Tech Daily, a preview of a debate on evolution vs. creation in 6 days . . . with some, er, interesting arguments for the latter.
"Evidence for the Creator God of the Bible
1. Natural law
The Laws of Thermodynamics are the most fundamental laws of the physical sciences.
- 1st Law: The total amount of mass-energy in the universe is constant.
- 2nd Law: The amount of energy available for work is running out, or entropy is increasing to a maximum.
This means the universe cannot have existed forever, otherwise it would already have exhausted all usable energy. The 2nd Law implies that no natural process can increase the total available energy of (i.e. 'wind up') the universe. So it must have been 'wound up'; (high available energy) by a Creator 'outside' (and greater than) the universe.
. . .
3. Biological changes
Observed changes in living things head in the wrong direction to support evolution from microbe to man (macro-evolution).
Textbook examples of adaptation by natural selection (first described by the creationist Edward Blyth, pre-Darwin) always involve loss of genetic information. Mosquitoes may adapt to a DDT-containing environment by becoming resistant, because some already have the genes for DDT resistance. But overall the population loses genetic information (any genes not present in the resistant ones are eradicated from the population, since the non-resistant mosquitoes killed by DDT cannot pass on genes)."