September 26, 2005
Dispatches: Optimism of the Will
The first time I saw Edward Said, in 1993, I was an undergraduate studying literature at Johns Hopkins, where he had come to give a lecture. An extremely pretentious young person, I arrived in the large hall (much larger than the halls in which other visiting literature professors spoke) with a mixture of awe and, I'm afraid to say, condescension. This was born of the immature idea that the author of Orientalism had ceased to occupy the leading edge of the field, postcolonial studies, which his work had called into being. At that time, the deconstructionist Homi Bhabha and the Marxist Aijaz Ahmad were publishing revisions of (and, in the case of Ahmad, ad hominem attacks on) Said's work, and Said himself seemed to be retreating from "theory" back to some vaguely unfashionable (so it seemed to me) version of humanism.
There are interludes in which a thinker's work, no matter how enabling or revolutionizing, are liable to attack, to labels such as "dated" or "conservative," from more insecure minds. In this case, the actual presence of Said destroyed those illusions utterly. Seated on a dais at a baby-grand piano, he delivered an early version of his reading of "lateness," on the late work of master figures such as Beethoven and Adorno. In a typical stroke, Said's use of Beethoven's late work as one example, and then Adorno's late work on Beethoven as a second example, highlighted the mutual relationship between artist and critic, each dialectically enabling the other's practice. The further implication, of course, that Said himself was a master critic entering such a late period (he had recently been diagnosed with cancer) was as palpably obvious as the idea that Said would say such a thing aloud was preposterous. And on top of it all, he played the extracts from Beethoven he discussed for us, with the grace of a concert pianist (which he was). I left the auditorium enthralled.
Within the next year, I was lucky enough to be invited to dinner with Said by my aunt Azra, who was one of the doctors treating him for leukemia. Seated next to him, I challenged him on several subjects, with the insufferable intellectual arrogance of youth. His responses were sometimes pithy and generous, sometimes irritated and indignant. On Aijaz Ahmad, who had been attacking him mercilessly and unfairly, he simply muttered, "What an asshole." How refreshing! When I asked him why we continued to read nineteenth-century English novels, if they repressed the great human suffering that underwrote European colonial wealth, he gave the eminently sensible answer, "Because they're great books." At another dinner, at a Manhattan temple of haute cuisine where he addressed the waiters in French, I complained that the restaurant's aspirations to a kind of gastronomic modernism were at odds with their old-fashioned, country club-ish "jacket required" policy. He raised an eyebrow at me and dryly remarked, "I hadn't even noticed the internal contradiction." Score one for the kid.
In 2003, as a graduate student in English at NYU, I rode the subway up to Columbia each week for a seminar with Said, which turned out to be the last one he taught. Wan and bearded, Said would walk in late with a bottle of San Pellegrino in hand and proceed to hold forth, off the cuff, about an oceanic array of subjects relating to the European novel (Don Quixote, Gulliver's Travels, Sentimental Education, Great Expectations, Lord Jim, etc.), alternately edifying and terrifying his audience. He had an exasperation about him that demanded one to know more, to speak more clearly, to learn more deeply in order to please him. Some found the constant harangues too traumatic for their delicate sensibilities; I loved to have found a teacher who simply did not accept less than excellence. It was a supremely motivating, frightening, vitalizing experience. In a class on Robinson Crusoe, a fellow student became confused about the various strands of eighteenth-century non-conformist Protestantism, prompting Said to irritatedly draw a complex chart of the relations between Dissenters, Puritans, Anglicans, etc. Similar demonstrations of the sheer reserves of his knowledge occurred on the subjects of the revolutions of 1848, the history of Spanish, and the tortuous philosophical subtleties of Georg Lukacs' Theory of the Novel, among other things. Said had a whole theory of the place of nephews in literature (not the real son, but the true inheritant), and he made himself his students' challenging, agresssive, truth-telling, loving uncle.
What was most impressive, perhaps, was that in a discipline in which rewarding fawning acolytes is the norm, Said never once allowed a student to make facile, moralizing remarks about 'imperialism' or 'Orientalism.' His belief was that in order to mount any kind of critique of these works, one had to master them first in their own context, on their own terms. He wasn't interested in hearing denunciations of colonialism; rather, he was obsessed with getting across the sheer formal complexity, the deep symmetries and ironic gaps, of great artworks. He demanded that we memorize information of all kinds, from the relevant facts about historical events to the birth and death dates of authors. He screamed at a student for not knowing what a nosegay was, the key to a climactic scene in Flaubert. His passion, a powerful negative vaccine, to paraphrase his comments on Adorno, infected those of us who weren't frightened into disengagement. I began to realize that here was a unique resource, an irreplaceable historical repository of culture and information, personified in the form of this dapper, indignant man. Said represented not only a set of unmatched comparatist knowledges, but a collection of rigorous reading practices and an unequaled example of thorny, courageous commitment to difficulty. And around this time, I found myself realizing that irreplaceable or not, he wouldn't be around much longer.
One day, Said yelled at me publicly for misprounoucing my own name. I had Americanized its proununciation for the benefit of a visiting professor, John Richetti, who I was questioning. "Your name is Us-udth!" Said cried, "It means lion in Arabic! Never mispronounce it for their benefit!" (Richetti was an old friend of Said's and found being characterized as one of "them" highly amusing; I ran into him a year ago and we laughed about it.) Afterwards, Said walked over and put a hand on my shoulder. "Sorry about that. We can't change ourselves for anyone. Opposition," he intoned, quoting Blake, "is true friendship." That encounter marked a turn for me. I began to visit Said in his office, waiting while he took phone calls from friends like Joan Didion, and telling him about my work. He had the special ability to make one feel that one could achieve anything - maybe it helped that he set the bar so high himself. Despite his heavy criticism of my use of certain theoretical vocabularies he had moved past ("the merest decoration," he called them), the last word of his handwritten comments on my paper inspired me and continues to inspire me: "Bravo." As a favorite aphorism of his from Gramsci goes, pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. Yet, during this period, he would intimate to me that things were not optimistic with his health at all. One day he declined my request that he read a chapter I had written, saying only, "I don't have time. You know, Asad, I'm not well." The unsentimental, factual tone of resignation told me everything I didn't want to know.
I remember September 25, 2003 vividly, the phone call I received from my aunt Azra with the inevitable news, the sick feeling with which I arrived at the class I was teaching, and then this: a strange, powerful feeling of indignation came over me, and I found myself needling my students, finding myself irritated when they didn't know something, and applauding zealously when they did made a breakthrough. I was, I realized, channeling or imitating the ornery yet loving spirit of the old lion. And since that time, I've suffered more losses, of people I love to illness and absence, and I have thought of him, bravely refusing to stop expecting more. In his last decade, as the situation in Palestine and Israel worsened and beloved friends such as Eqbal Ahmed and Ibrahim Abu-Lughod died, I know Edward felt more alone in the world. With his passing, though we try to forget it, the world has equally became an emptier, lonelier place. Without the superbly contradictory, fearfully charismatic, bravely heartfelt Edward Said, it is also a far less cosmopolitan place. And in the last two years, despite events that have made my world much emptier, much lonelier, I have remembered how to transform irritation with this fallen world into action, how to keep, in the face of all, indignantly hoping for better.
Two years ago yesterday, Edward W. Said died at the age of 67, having achieved eminence in criticism, literature, music, and politics, having served as an exemplar of the one doctrine that perhaps he in his uncompromising way would have accepted uncompromisingly, humanism. Bravo, Edward.
Poetry and Culture
Australian poet and author Peter Nicholson writes 3QD’s Poetry and Culture column (see other columns here). There is an introduction to his work at peternicholson.com.au and at the NLA. All postings at 3QD (September 26, 2005–March 3, 2008) are copyright, the author. All rights reserved. Apart from fair use provisions under the Commonwealth of Australia Copyright Act 1968, and its amendments, subsequent copying in any other manner requires written permission of the author.
The following essay can also be read online at Blesok in an English/Macedonian bilingual edition. Blesok No. 56 Volume X September-October 2007 ed. Igor Isakovski; available in print, Prosopisia Vol 1, 2008, Jayanta Mahapatra, Anuraag Sharma, Pradeep Trikha eds., Ajmer, India 44–56
To Seek and Find: Poetry and Limitations of the Ironic Mode in the New Millennium
The catastrophic events of September 11, 2001 were, obviously enough, an epic moment in world history. And in cultural history too. Here, with Dantesque finality, was a brutal confrontation between annihilating fundamentalism and capitalist pluralism. Art is political, and the implications for art arising out of this attack have complex resonances. Artistic periods never end with punctuation marks of such cataclysmic force, and doubtless, in years to come, there will still be people bringing their lack of seriousness onto us in the name of some tail-end of the expected modernist nirvana. September 11 should have brought us to a political and artistic reckoning. Subsequently, Australian artists have every reason to similarly confront the tradition within which they work and create, after the outrages in Bali on October 12, 2002. What have modernism and postmodernism given us, and what might be the limitations of their aesthetic cultural agendas. And where will we go from this point on.
One might have read Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil as a brilliant intellectual exercise without thereby adhering to his scorn for what he termed ‘slave morality'. Perhaps one could claim Nietzsche as the ‘godfather’ of the present loss of nerve amongst poets, though that would be unfair—Duchamp’s Fountain looks to be a more likely progenitor. In fact there was no getting beyond good or evil, even as love, just as there were clear limitations to the philosophical and artistic liberation proposed by modern and postmodern sensibilities. If Voltaire was the instigator of the enlightenment, then, surely, an act of terror was the symbolic black end of one loop of cultural experimentation which not all the references to Joyce, Eliot and Beckett, Mallarmé, Kafka or Sartre, Schopenhauer, Heidegger or Foucault, could summon back from entropy. Could the imagery be any starker: the contrast between art that indulged itself, increasingly in the ironic mode, at the cost of any semblance of responsibility to its increasingly unimpressed and diminishing readership; and there, in countless desperate acts, the brittle certainties of the funded fun future made seemingly redundant. In poetry, amenable sensibilities had a propaganda effort made on their behalf worthy of Goebbels, but the prospective audience was never convinced, either by the art itself or the slurry of theory surrounding it. The gentility principle might have driven many to the desperate shores of a verse technique where a confessional mode almost became a therapeutic cry for help;—much contemporary verse politicking espoused a similarly-perceived principle. There, the understood ground rules were based on an a priori assumption that what had passed before during the entire history of poetry was no longer adequate to meet the expressive demands of the brave new world. Since stem cell research and silicon chips could only preserve a sense of well-being to a certain extent, some were now going to open up a newly-evolved and superior verse technique that would conquer the deconstructed past and lead us into a freshly-felt and apprehended poetics. Or not. It was all very well to get enthusiastic about the Modernist ethic as espoused by a le Corbusier. Actually living in the buildings put up proved to be another matter altogether. And living in, or with, the poems put out by the critical establishment as similarly worthy of merit often found readers abandoned in a maze that could lead them up a desolate cultural garden path.
A large part of the critical ethos of our culture, with its net of conservative and avant-garde sensibilities, now seems an inadequate systematisation of the complexities within important works of art. In the sudden and unexpectedly given act of courage, grace or death, or the long slog toward some human dignity—the aid worker getting down in the dust and the blood, the teacher supplanting ignorance with learning—there was an alternative poetic act that had no need of accommodating aesthetics. As artists, we had learned to corral art into convenient and limiting holding pens; the animals inside were then sold off to the highest bidder. Some gave good money for New York expressionism; others paid handsomely for suicide chic; over at the ISCM they put down a fortune for the Boulez electronic extravaganza. But something strange happened along the way because it looked increasingly as if apparently outmoded nineteenth-century art had got beyond whatever forefront was being temporarily talked up. Tristan und Isolde sounded the depth of our skinful, but there was a Verklärung waiting in the wings, and the contemporary had no time for transfigurations. Emily Dickinson’ s poetry startled with its savage joy; Goya dragged revolutionary tumult to the edge of the canvas, seething with the imagery of disaster. But art aficionados, safe in their Western enclaves, mute herds trading their tame emails, had entirely missed the point. One was never in advance of the immediate historical moment, however seductive it seemed to want to have it otherwise. There has been some not-very-logical wish-fulfilment in the poetry world based on a futile desire to appropriate a time-traveller’s gold points reward scheme for being ahead of the rest. Certainly, talk about art, and theorising about art, reached the point where secondary considerations—the talk about art—was in danger of supplanting the primary consideration—the art. If Australians grabbed at people who ran or swam fast, or bashed balls of various kinds skilfully, as a desperate remedy for a failure to confront their destiny—Aboriginality, salinity, harsh political reality—the rest of the Western world showed that it was no less given to avoidance of reality too. Foreign policy had failed the poverty of millions; political imperialism had given itself over to triumphalism; fanatical hatred made suddenly clear the terrible cost of the partial, self-congratulatory view. Mandarin encyclicals sent forth from politically-correct, or incorrect, clearing houses had nothing to do with the creation of genuine works of art; to see so many poets set up house in them was just one more sign that the poetry world was diminishing in strength, diversity and vitality despite the fact that more poetry was now published than at any time in history. But how do you employ a poet, since any reasonably-good poet is going to be a Cassandra given to psychic keening: that never went down well in the staff room.
It is easy to make accusations of parochialism and to portray the reaction I have just outlined as retroactive. But if artists are claiming to do something important and worthy of our time, it is essential that we also remain worthy of the inheritance of freedom and democracy that gave us the option to write, compose or paint—digitise, download or deconstruct—as we wished. Aesthetic freedom never meant anarchy; being an individual in art did not mean you could indulge your sensibility, because the resulting artistic ivory towers were just as certainly going to go down in flames. Fortunately, this could occur without violence (though perhaps not the ‘violence from within that protects us from a violence without’ Stevens). Despite a century of despotism from various factions in the poetry world, from which one might have thought people had learned some principles of democratisation, and putting all the stylish folderol of HTML to one side, we were just getting the old Stalinist power plays all over again. Nothing had really changed in the minds of these people; they were dully intent on repeating their one-note aesthetic agendas. Thus when it came time to anthologise what we usually got was a series of fetishised poems meant to underline the editor’s subjective aesthetics—we hardly ever got the best poems by the best poets. And these people could not resist utilising the means of production. You could draw a comparison between the appalling collectivist farms at the height of the Communist period in Russia and many a poetic enclave. Just as the collectivist farm failed and millions starved, so the self-enclosed poetry collective saw off any untoward intellectual or poetic disturbing element. The purifying flame of excommunication hovered in the background. The end result was always the same—death of the system and the extinguishment of its hopes. Only the seeding ground of the house of all nations could breed the soil from which a civilised sensibility could emerge. Strangely enough, it was the Russian poets who seemed to get beyond the usual politics. What a roll-call of talent and individuality they managed amongst all the turbulence.
When considering the history of poetry during the twentieth century, it looked increasingly clear that the poets who mattered enough to become part of the culture that was going to last were going to be those instinctive poets who wrote because they had to, not spruik lines at the behest of a grant. There was Auden’s cosmopolitan insouciance, Frost’s dark pastoral, Stevens’ marmoreal aesthetic grandeur. Limestone cliffs, glittering birches, dazzling Key West reefs: the aesthetic was personal, political. It never made the mistake of romanticising itself through adoption of theory or of using language as a game, because poets of their stature knew that art was far too serious not to take language seriously too. Though clusters of theory gathered around their poetry, they had no need of it. If it was merely funny to hear a teenager refer to the ‘genius’ of the latest ersatz pop star, it was truly terrifying to read the German composer Stockhausen referring to the September 11 events as a ‘grosseste Kunstwerk’. Here was the aesthetic response gone completely awry. A century of aestheticising and ironising experience had reached beyond the protecting field of common sense.
[Part 2 of this essay continues here.]
When the gold myrtle wreath
From an uncertain tomb
Is put on display under glass,
Is sex and death
In each of their various fashions,
Tastes of salt,
Smells of hot bitumen
Or a handful of crushed leaves.
It rids the boredom of known stuff
And gossip that doesn't amaze
In a shiver scalping our skin.
It can't be polite—
Mucus, scar tissue, fluids
Best not mentioned
Rush to its page
That we sometimes write,
Sometimes sleep with,
Sometimes kill with.
Our depression won't exhaust it.
Think of a cleaver stuck in your thigh,
Skin made mortal,
Or the crimp on the face
When we stand on the edge of large things—
A hard birth, the end of the affair,
That loved thing whose name makes us sweat.
It isn't money,
Though money might buy
Something of it
(Cézannes on the wall,
The rights to Fellini's next film).
It might come
Just as you've ironed the ninth shirt
And feel like throwing the kid
Who hasn't shut up for three hours
Out the window along with the bills
(But the child
Is made wholly of this thing—
It can shred as years intervene).
Then, for each expert
Who sets down its plan,
The real thing goes off at tangents.
It won't fit in troughs,
Glinting, flittering over books,
Breaking Olympic records.
Try to put a sack over it,
Hold it under water—just like Johnny,
It'll be back, grinning.
So, whatever you might think
About its demise, it will be around,
The warmth behind our monotony,
That passion in the slipstream,
For it lives and keeps on:
That's what poetry is.
Written 1989 Published 1997 A Dwelling Place 20–21
September 25, 2005
David Runciman in the London Review of Books:
It would be nice, particularly after this summer of summers, to think that the Ashes remains the pre-eminent contest in world cricket, and that Anglo-Australian rivalry is still one of the most significant in all sport. But it is not true, and it hasn’t been true for some time. The rivalry in international cricket that counts at present is the one between Australia and India. If this were geopolitics, then Australia would be the United States, the one unquestioned superpower for over a decade, used to getting their own way ever since they saw off their rival superpower, the West Indies, in the early 1990s (the West Indian cricket team, like the Russian state, now seems to be in a condition of permanent and rather squalid decline). India, meanwhile, would be China, the superpower of the future, with all the resources needed to beat the Australians at their own game – the manpower, the talent, the raw nationalist passion – so long as a way can be found by their often corrupt and incompetent administrators of harnessing these obvious advantages. And England? England would be the EU: once the centre of the world, but currently engaged in an urgent and not always pretty attempt to modernise in order not to get left behind.
Step-fathers of the Serengeti and Other Future Movies
Carl Zimmer in his blog, The Loom:
"March of the Penguins," the conservative film critic and radio host Michael Medved said in an interview, is "the motion picture this summer that most passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing." —from an article describing how some religious leaders and conservative magazines are embracing the blockbuster documentary.
Well, it’s 2010, and what a remarkable five years it’s been. The blockbuster success of March of the Penguins in 2005 triggered a flood of wonderful documentaries about animal reproduction, all of which provide us with inspiring affirmation of the correct way to live our lives. Here are just a few of the movies that can guide you on your path…
Dinner of the Redback Spiders: This documentary follows the heartwarming romance between two spiders that ends with the male somersaulting onto the venomous fangs of his mate, his reproductive organs still delivering semen into the female as she devours him.
Toxic Love of the Fruit Flies: In this movie, male fruit flies demonstrate their ingenuity and resourcefulness by injecting poisonous substances during sex that make it less likely that other males will successfully fertilize the eggs of their mates. Sure, these toxins cut the lifespan of females short, but who said life was perfect?
Harem of the Elephant Seals: Meet Dad: a male northern elephant seal who spends his days in bloody battles with rivals who would challenge his right to copulate with a band of females—but doesn’t life a finger (or a flipper) to help raise their kids.
Much more here.
Japan to test supersonic airliner prototype
Kelly Young in New Scientist:
On 14 June 2005, Japan and France signed an agreement to develop jointly a new supersonic commercial jet. The three-year research plan includes developing lightweight composite materials.
The proposed aircraft could hold 300 passengers – three times that of Concorde – and would aim to make the New York to Tokyo journey in just 6 hours. It could be in business as early as 2015.
Japan also aims to cut the noise created by the jet's sonic booms and reduce the nitrogen oxide emissions from the flights.
NASA is also funding research into designing supersonic aircraft with a smaller sonic boom and less pollution in its Sonic Boom Mitigation Project, based at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, US. In May 2005, the agency awarded four industry teams $1 million each for a five-month study, says Kathy Barnstorff, a Langley spokesperson.
Paul Rudnick in The New Yorker:
Day No. 1:
And the Lord God said, “Let there be light,” and lo, there was light. But then the Lord God said, “Wait, what if I make it a sort of rosy, sunset-at-the-beach, filtered half-light, so that everything else I design will look younger?”
“I’m loving that,” said Buddha. “It’s new.”
“You should design a restaurant,” added Allah.
Day No. 2:
“Today,” the Lord God said, “let’s do land.” And lo, there was land.
“Well, it’s really not just land,” noted Vishnu. “You’ve got mountains and valleys and—is that lava?”
“It’s not a single statement,” said the Lord God. “I want it to say, ‘Yes, this is land, but it’s not afraid to ooze.’ ”
“It’s really a backdrop, a sort of blank canvas,” put in Apollo. “It’s, like, minimalism, only with scale.”
“But—brown?” Buddha asked.
“Brown with infinite variations,” said the Lord God. “Taupe, ochre, burnt umber—they’re called earth tones.”
“I wasn’t criticizing,” said Buddha. “I was just noticing.”
Ban the Bard
Miranda Sawyer in The Guardian:
Yes, yes, Shakespeare was a talented chap, but is he all that British theatre has to offer? Like Pride and Prejudice, like the Brontes, like Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, it seems that we, specifically, the English, can never get enough of Billy Shakespeare. Every season, there's some hot new production, some new approach, analysis or cast. If it's not theatre, it's a film, a television series or clever new book.
But is it audiences that clamour for such well-worn tales or the powers that be? Are Mr Darcy, Anne Boleyn and Macbeth so much more interesting than what's going on today? In this turbulent time of war and money, of natural disasters and manmade destruction, are our contemporary stories so dull, so unfabulous, so irrelevant?
Tate bans work for fear of offending Muslims
David Smith in the Observer:
One of Britain's leading conceptual artists has accused the Tate gallery of 'cowardice' after it banned one of his major works for fear of offending some Muslims after the London terrorist bombings.
John Latham's God Is Great consists of a large sheet of thick glass with copies of Islam, Christianity and Judaism's most sacred texts - the Koran, Bible and Talmud - apparently embedded within its surface.
The work was due to go on display last week in an exhibition dedicated to Latham at London's Tate Britain, but gallery officials took the unprecedented decision to veto it because of political and religious sensitivities.
Heatwave makes plants warm planet
Richard Black at the BBC:
A new study shows that during the 2003 heatwave, European plants produced more carbon dioxide than they absorbed from the atmosphere.
They produced nearly a tenth as much as fossil fuel burning globally.
The study shows that ecosystems which currently absorb CO2 from the atmosphere may in future produce it, adding to the greenhouse effect.
The 2003 European summer was abnormally hot; but other studies show that these temperatures could become commonplace.
In some parts of Europe, 2003 saw temperatures soaring six degrees Celsius above normal; hot enough that estimates of the deaths which it caused run into the tens of thousands.
It was also significantly drier than usual; and these two factors appear to have had a major impact on plant growth.
The environment isn’t flat
"Thomas Friedman’s vision of developing countries enriched by free trade and globalization could be an environmental disaster."
Jerald L. Schnoor in Environmental Science and Technology:
...Friedman is such an unrepentant cheerleader for globalization and free markets that he fails to recognize severe constraints on production caused by environmental degradation. In Chapter 2, his irrational exuberance is at its peak:
I think it would be an incredibly positive development for the world. . . . If India and China move in that direction [free market democracies without corruption], the world will not only become flatter than ever but also, I am convinced, more prosperous than ever. Three United States are better than one, and five would be better than three.
Can the environment really assimilate the current consumption patterns of even one U.S., let alone three? Can we raise the living standard for 3 billion more people in developing countries from poverty to the middle class, from an annual income of $3000 to $20,000 per capita, from an annual energy consumption of 30 to 150 gigajoules per person, from an emissions level of 0.5 to 6.0 metric tons of CO2 carbon per person per year? Can our atmosphere assimilate an additional 10 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases every year when we have the equivalent of five more countries with U.S. emission rates?
The Prospect/FP Top 100 Public Intellectuals
From Foreign Policy:
Who are the world's leading public intellectuals? FP and Britain’s Prospect magazine would like to know who you think makes the cut. We’ve selected our top 100, and want you to vote for your top five. If you don’t see a name that you think deserves top honors, include them as a write-in candidate. Voting closes October 10, and the results will be posted the following month.
|Jean Baudrillard||Sociologist, cultural critic||France|
|Gary Becker||Economist||United States|
|Pope Benedict XVI||Religious leader||Germany, Vatican|
|Jagdish Bhagwati||Economist||India, United States|
|Fernando Henrique Cardoso||Sociologist, former president||Brazil|
|Noam Chomsky||Linguist, author, activist||United States|
|J.M. Coetzee||Novelist||South Africa|
|Gordon Conway||Agricultural ecologist||Britain|
|Robert Cooper||Diplomat, writer||Britain|
|Richard Dawkins||Biologist, polemicist||Britain|
|Hernando de Soto||Economist||Peru|
|Pavol Demes||Political analyst||Slovakia|
|Daniel Dennett||Philosopher||United States|
|Jared Diamond||Biologist, physiologist, historian||United States|
|Freeman Dyson||Physicist||United States|
|Shirin Ebadi||Lawyer, human rights activist||Iran|
Anti-Bush, And Mincing No Words
From Washington Post:
This administration invaded Iraq. According to Pope John Paul II, it is an illegal war, an immoral war, a terrorist war. The U.S. has bombarded entire cities, used chemical weapons and napalm, killed women, children and thousands of soldiers. That's terrorism. In Venezuela they fostered a coup d'etat [in 2002] manufactured by the CIA . . . Recently,ReverendRobertson called for my assassination. This is a terrorist attack, according to international law. In Miami, on a daily basis, people on TV shows are calling for my assassination. This is terrorism. This [present U.S.] government is a threat to humanity. I have confidence that the American people will save humanity from this government -- they will not allow it to [continue to] violate human rights and to invade countries.
Nora Krug in the New York Times Book Review:
In at least one respect, Seth Mnookin's "Hard News" mirrors its subject - this newspaper - with almost dead-on accuracy: its paperback edition, published last month, includes a carefully constructed list of corrections. Many errors in the three-page mea culpa may seem mundane or inconsequential ("Danny Meyer is a celebrity restaurateur, not a celebrity chef"), but its very existence is noteworthy.
Corrections in books are rare. But the conclusion this implies - that books rarely contain errors - is itself incorrect. Books are not usually corrected because they can't be, not because they shouldn't be. As Mnookin's book shows, putting a statement between hard (or soft) covers does not make it more reliable than one published in a newspaper.
"The printed book page has always enjoyed a mystique that newsprint hasn't," said Ron Chernow, the National Book Award-winning author of "The House of Morgan" and "Alexander Hamilton." "People tend to accept more uncritically what they read in a book than what they read in a magazine or newspaper." Yet authors themselves, especially the most careful ones, know this mystique is undeserved. Uncorrected errors - some big, some small - are far more common than most publishers admit.
September 24, 2005
Plague hits the virtual world
From the BBC:
"A deadly virtual plague has broken out in the online game World of Warcraft. Although limited to only a few of the game's servers the numbers of characters that have fallen victim is thought to be in the thousands.
Originally it was thought that the deadly digital disease was the result of a programming bug in a location only recently added to the Warcraft game.
However, it now appears that players kicked off the plague and then kept it spreading after the first outbreak."
Not every photograph ever snapped of James Agee caught him between pulls on a bottle or puffs on a cigarette. It only seems that way because the journalist/critic/novelist/screenwriter drank and smoked himself to death at 45, in 1955, at a time when postwar American culture conflated art with martyrdom and manhood with excess. Think of the poets lost to lithium, loony bins and suicide, the jazz musicians strung up and out on heroin, the abstract expressionists who slashed and burned themselves. Delmore Schwartz, Charlie Parker and Jackson Pollock pointed the way for Jack Kerouac, James Dean, Truman Capote, John Berryman, Elvis, Janis and Jimi. Like the Greek warrior Philoctetes, hadn't they been allowed to play so brilliantly with their bows and arrows because they suffered suppurating wounds? So the iconic image, emblematic and self-destructive, was the Shadow Man - a Humphrey Bogart, a J. D. Salinger, an Edward R. Murrow, maybe even an Albert Camus. Agee, with his cold blue eyes, his thick dark hair and his handsome hillbilly Huguenot hatchet face, belonged on this wall of tragic-hero masks, at least till he inflated like a frog, from drinking alone in a Hollywood bungalow, and got kicked out of the 20th Century Fox studio commissary because he smelled so bad from never taking a bath.
more from the NYT Book Review here.
miniature 'gates' chases miniature island
from the New York Times;
It is not an easy job, towing 150 tons of conceptual art around Manhattan all day. There are tides and wind currents to negotiate. There are ferries and container ships and police boats to avoid. And then there is the precious cargo itself, not exactly your average garbage scow: "Floating Island," designed by the artist Robert Smithson, who died in 1973, is a kind of waterborne jewel-box version of Central Park, built on a barge, with live trees and shrubs.
It's enough to give a tugboat captain angina. So when Bob Henry, captain of the Rachel Marie, who is in charge of towing Smithson's island, looked out across the East River Thursday afternoon and saw another piece of conceptual art gaining on him, he did not view the development kindly.
"I got my own job to do, you know what I mean?" Captain Henry said.
Approaching the Rachel Marie on its starboard side was a small motorboat, affixed to which was a replica of one of the saffron-colored gates created by Christo and Jeanne-Claude that dotted Central Park last winter. Captain Henry remembered "The Gates" and, putting two and two together, he worried that maybe the man in the motorboat was planning on boarding his little version of Central Park and planting a gate somewhere among the trees.
"He was coming up on me a couple of times," recalled Captain Henry, the owner of Island Towing and Salvage in Staten Island and a plain-spoken 40-year veteran of the harbor. "I was trying to wave him off."
He added, sternly: "When I saw the kind of rig he was running, I didn't want him getting no closer. Joker like that? In a motorboat? I don't need that."
As all this was happening, a group of graphic designers in a studio in the Dumbo neighborhood in Brooklyn, who had been monitoring the Smithson project's daily passing from their office window, caught sight of the little floating gate chasing the little floating park.
"We all thought it was kind of hilarious," said Ian Adelman, who took some photographs. A fellow designer, Elizabeth Elsas, went down to the waterfront, where the motorboat driver and a man with a video camera who had been towed behind the motorboat were already getting out of the water. A crowd of supporters were waiting, as if to receive Lindbergh after crossing the Atlantic. But the would-be art pirates, whom she described as being in their 20's and "art studenty," were not forthcoming with their identities or even particularly friendly.
"They said that they do some public art pieces themselves, and they thought the 'Gates' project was stupid and kind of wanted to comment on public art and make a joke about it," Ms. Elsas said, adding that, apparently, this joke was not meant to be funny.
"We were laughing about it," she said. "But they weren't laughing."
Parents sue after alternate to evolution added to science curriculum
A federal judge in Pennsylvania will hear arguments Monday in a lawsuit that both sides say could set the fundamental ground rules for how American students are taught the origins of life for years to come. At issue is an alternative to the standard theory of evolution called “intelligent design.” Proponents argue that the structure of life on Earth is too complex to have evolved through natural selection, challenging a core principle of the biological theory launched by Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” in 1859. Instead, contend adherents of intelligent design, life is probably the result of intervention by an intelligent agent.
The suit, brought by 11 parents, challenges the Dover Area School District’s adoption last year of an addition to the science curriculum directing teachers — in addition to teaching evolution — to tell students about intelligent design and refer them to an alternative textbook that champions it. Three opposing board members resigned after the vote. The parents contended that the directive amounted to an attempt to inject religion into the curriculum in violation of the First Amendment.
The year of magical thinking
From The Guardian:
Joan Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, lived and worked together for 40 years. When he died suddenly in their New York apartment, as their daughter lay gravely ill in a nearby hospital, nothing prepared her for the tumult of grief and its assault on her sanity.
"Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity."
For a long time I wrote nothing else.
"Life changes in the instant.
The ordinary instant."
At some point, in the interest of remembering what seemed most striking about what had happened, I considered adding those words, "the ordinary instant". I recognise now that there was nothing unusual in this: confronted with sudden disaster we all focus on how unremarkable the circumstances were in which the unthinkable occurred, the clear blue sky from which the plane fell, the routine errand that ended on the hard shoulder with the car in flames, the swings where the children were playing as usual when the rattlesnake struck from the ivy.
September 23, 2005
Martti Ahtisaari favorite for 2005 Nobel Peace Prize
Former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari is favorite to win the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize but the odds are against U.S. President George W. Bush, the first bookmaker to take bets on the award said on Friday.
Australia-based Centrebet placed U.S. Senator Richard Lugar and former senator Sam Nunn as joint second favourites for the award on 7-1 for their work on dismantling former Soviet nuclear weapons. The 2005 winner will be announced on October 7.
"Ahtisaari ticks two of this year's most obvious boxes," Centrebet's betting manager Gerard Daffy said.
"He has great peacemaking credentials and brokered a deal between two warring parties from a tsunami-ravished area just a few months ago," he said. Ahtisaari was rated at 6-1.
Martti Ahtisaari was awarded the distinguished J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding in 2000. Other winners of this prize have included Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Vaclav Havel, Kofi Annan, and Colin Powell. You may read Martti Ahtisaari's Fulbright Prize speech here.
me you and everyone we know
"I don't think the whole poop thing is really grabbing people."
So said producer Gina Kwon to first-time feature director Miranda July, and she was probably correct: excrement definitely inhabits an in-between zone. Necessary? Yes. The stuff of interesting artwork? Sometimes. The foundation for a feature film pitch? Uh, no. Better to focus on the stars. Or the unusual plot. Or an emerging artist's exceptional promise. Financiers are an uptight bunch after all, a fact that July, an experimental filmmaker, video artist and musician, learned the hard way when she and Kwon began taking July's first feature film script, Me and You and Everyone We Know, to investors.
more from Res Magazine here.
Bring It On
The reaction from liberals to Bush's proposed War on Bayou Poverty has been outrage that Republicans would take advantage of the tragedy to advance their ideological agenda. Democratic leaders are upset about the suspension of the Davis-Bacon Act, sacred to unions, which requires the federal government to pay prevailing wages to workers. They've also denounced Bush's proposal to provide school vouchers to students displaced by the storm and the suggestion that Karl Rove might run the rebuilding show.
This is precisely the wrong response. Liberals, who have failed to muster any kind of social consensus for a major federal assault on poverty since LBJ's day, should welcome conservatives as converts to the cause. They should hold back on their specific objections—some of which are valid, some of which are not—and let Bush have his way with the reconstruction. Making New Orleans a test site for conservative social policy ideas could shake out any number of ways politically. But all of us have a stake in an experiment that tells us whether conservative anti-poverty ideas, uh, work. If the conservative war on poverty succeeds, even in partial fashion, we will all be better for its success. And if it fails, we will have learned something important about how not to fight poverty.
more from Jacob Weisberg at Slate here.
LISA RANDALL, a professor of physics at Harvard, is the author of Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions. She was the 1st tenured woman in physics at Princeton; the 1st tenured woman theorist in science at Harvard and at MIT. She's the most cited theoretical physicist in the world in the last five years as of last autumn — a total of about 10,000 citations. Lisa Randall’s research in theoretical high energy physics is primarily related to the question of what is the physics underlying the standard model of particle physics. This has involved studies of strongly interacting theories, supersymmetry, and most recently, extra dimensions of space. In this latter work, she investigates "warped" geometries. The study of further implications of this work has involved string theory, holography, and cosmology. Lisa Randall also continues to work on supersymmetry and other beyond-the-standard-model physics. "The very different uses of the word "theory" provide a field day for advocates of "intelligent design." By conflating a scientific theory with the colloquial use of the word, creationists instantly diminish the significance of science in general and evolution's supporting scientific evidence in particular."
For more fantastic images, go to the Scientific American Image Gallery here.
Shown here: Before and after pictures of the Indian Tsunami on right and New Orleans after Katrina on the left.
September 22, 2005
A Shadow World
Anita Desai reviews Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro in the New York Review of Books:
While reading several new novels published this past spring, one is struck by the way that the British novelists who take up the issues of our times prefer to do so not directly but at an angle. There is Ian McEwan, who, in addressing the shock of 9/11 (or 11/9 as it is spoken of in Europe), chose Mrs. Dalloway as a model and Virginia Woolf's way of including the horrors of World War II in a sunlit day of an English summer. Now we have Kazuo Ishiguro dealing with the present hotly debated issue of cloning by seeming to revert to an old tradition of British boarding school stories. McEwan's pleasant, bourgeois world is drenched in golden light. Ishiguro's more austere scene is cast in the pearly, opaque light with which we tend to drape the past; he hints at the shadows that lie around but chooses to keep them at a decorous distance.
The world Ishiguro creates is both similar to the one we know from our schooldays and yet not quite so.
AI systems may blow weathermen away
From New Scientist:
Weather forecasters could find themselves pushed out of a job by an artificial intelligence system designed to write clearer, less ambiguous reports.
Computer scientists at the University of Aberdeen, UK, were asked to generate an "artificial weatherperson" by operators of offshore oil rigs, who wanted more clarity in their forecasts. The vocabulary used by different forecasters can be vague and highly variable, says Ehud Reiter, who led the Aberdeen team.
While this is simply an irritation to most of us, it can be a big headache for the offshore oil industry, where unexpected bad weather can damage equipment and threaten safety.
Hurricane Rita and Particpatory Journalism
As I wait to see if and how badly Houston, where I grew up, gets hit by Rita, and sit worried about my parents, family and friends, I obsessively check this, The Houston Chronicle's Stomwatchers :
"[O]ur experiment in citizen journalism. The bloggers who are posting here live in various parts of the city, and they will be posting their experiences as Hurricane Rita approaches and moves through the area. Bloggers here are posting on their own and are solely responsible for the content of their blogs.
Rubirosa: The Last Playboy
And let us now praise famous men, with particular attention to those who were famous only for being famous. They were heroes, too—they kept tongues wagging and gossip columnists gossiping and rumors flying, until they didn’t any longer and slipped into oblivion. But occasionally one of these figures rouses the interest of a journalist or biographer or social historian, and then he’s back among us—interesting as an artifact of a vanished zeitgeist if not interesting in himself. Which brings us to the latest disinterred hero of this species: Porfirio Rubirosa, or The Last Playboy, as his biographer, Shawn Levy, calls him. Raise your hands, boys and girls, if any of you under the age of 50 remember him. It doesn’t count if you’re from the Dominican Republic, have specialized in the history of polo, or have been studying the memoirs of Zsa Zsa Gabor (either version). Zsa Zsa and “Rubi” specialized in each other when they weren’t marrying everyone else; in fact, they would seem to have been each other’s nearest equivalent, their lives lived in headlines, nightclubs and between the sheets, although she was sometimes to be found in front of a camera, while he could be found on a horse or behind the wheel of a racing car.
more from the NY Observer here.
Why was she wearing fur?
That was one of the first questions experts asked when they began studying a 17th-century portrait of a woman who had the unmistakably stolid face of a servant but was decked out in a sumptuous fur collar. And why did the light on her face appear to be reflected off the dark surface of that collar when it should be absorbed by it?
"Portrait of an Elderly Woman in a White Bonnet" with the fur collar.
These were puzzling questions, since the woman, whose head is covered in a plain white bonnet, certainly did not seem to belong to the class of 17th-century Dutch society that had its portraits painted. Some experts would have taken one look at the canvas and immediately dismissed it as the work of a minor artist.
more from the NYT here.
Alison Lapper Pregnant
I expected to be writing about how much I disliked Alison Lapper Pregnant, the 12-ton, marble sculpture that now graces Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth. I had seen pictures of Marc Quinn's maquette of the piece and had thought the subject matter - Lapper was born with no arms and shortened legs - too deliberately controversial, too feebly didactic and, as a result, rather banal.
But I should have known better. When it comes to sculpture, never underestimate the move from maquette to finished work. In the case of Alison Lapper Pregnant, something wonderful has happened in the zoom from miniature to massive, and it is not only the sheer scale of the thing (the statue is 3.55 metre tall and manages to feel even bigger) that demands a certain respect. White and dazzling, Quinn's sculpture has set a grey corner of a grey space unexpectedly ablaze.
more from The Observer here.
The happiest days of your life? Come off it
From The Guardian:
Curtis Sittenfeld evokes the horror of being a teenager in her examination of the cruelty of cool, Prep, says Viv Groskop. Lee Fiora is a dorky 14-year-old from an embarrassingly ordinary family in South Bend, Indiana, who ends up at Ault, an exclusive Massachusetts boarding school. Prep is the story of her survival there. It is about how she learns to fit in somewhere she doesn't belong, only to suffer social death the moment she finally feels accepted. Rejected by 14 publishers before it found a home, Curtis Sittenfeld's debut is an addictive portrait of adolescence - The OC meets Donna Tartt's The Secret History with flashes of Clueless. After rave reviews and becoming a New York Times bestseller, it has also been optioned as a film by Paramount.
Scientists explain the ‘Cheerio Effect’ or why floating things tend to clump together
You may or may not have pondered why your breakfast cereal tends to clump together or cling to the sides of a bowl of milk. Now there is an easy explanation. Dubbed the Cheerio Effect by scientists, this clumping phenomenon applies to anything that floats, including fizzy soda bubbles and hair particles in water after a morning shave. Dominic Vella, a graduate student now at Cambridge University, and L. Mahadevan, a mathematician from Harvard University, decided to change that. In a study that appears in the Sept. 15 issue of the American Journal of Physics, Mahadevan explains the Cheerio Effect using three basic concepts from physics: buoyancy, surface tension and the meniscus effect.
September 21, 2005
Hitchen vs. Galloway: The Jungle in the Rumble
From The Guardian (with a link to a video of the event at the bottom of the article, not to be watched while eating or shortly after having eaten):
"What had been billed as 'the grapple in the Big Apple' in the end owed more to pugilism than polemics, with jibes, like jabs, missing more often than they landed, and many a blow below the belt.
Hitchens berated Galloway for his 'sinister piffle', congratulating him on 'being 100% consistent in [his] support for thugs and criminals' and declaring: 'The man's search for a Fatherland knows no ends.' Galloway branded Hitchens a hypocrite and 'a jester at the court of the Bourbon Bushes'. Describing Hitchens' journey from the left to the right, Galloway said: 'What we have witnessed is something unique in natural history. It's the first metamorphosis of a butterfly back into a slug.' In the heat of battle the fact that butterflies come from caterpillars did not temper the applause from the audience, roughly two-thirds of whom backed Galloway.
Having both torched the moral high ground, they would both later claim it as their own. At one point Galloway told Hitchens 'Your nose is growing,' only to deride his opponent for his 'cheap demagoguery'. Hitchens scolded the jeering audience for their 'zoo-like noises', only to say that Galloway's 'vile and cheap guttersnipe abuse is a disgrace'.
In a debate that drew as much from the culture of the playground as the traditions of parliament, no hyperbolic stone was left unturned."
Or unthrown for that matter.
Nazi Hunter Simon Wiesenthal Dies at 96
Adam Bernstein in the Washington Post:
Simon Wiesenthal, 96, the controversial Nazi hunter who pursued hundreds of war criminals after World War II and was central to preserving the memory of the Holocaust for more than half a century, died early today at his home in Vienna, Austria. He had a kidney ailment.
Called the "deputy for the dead" and "avenging archangel" of the Holocaust, Wiesenthal after the war created a repository of concentration camp testimonials and dossiers on Nazis at his Jewish Documentation Center. The information was used to help lawyers prosecute those responsible for some of the 20th century's most abominable crimes.
Wiesenthal spoke of the horrors first-hand, having spent the war hovering near death in a series of labor and extermination camps. Nearly 90 members of his family perished.
James Traub in the New York Times Magazine:
In his global campaign against disease and destitution, Bono has taken the power of rock celebrity to new places — prime ministerial residences, the White House and the offices of the United Nations. But the success he has had is about a lot more than his soaring voice.
A New Era of Space Exploration
Josh Smith has brought this great site to my attention. It details NASA's plans for exploration of the moon, and has a nice slide show and other information. Check it out here.
Joshua Hammer & Christine Spolar in The New Republic:
...yet, for all its problems, the election may have created momentum for democratic reform that the Mubaraks will have trouble stopping. Cafés have been alive with talk of politics, and the strategies adopted by the pro-democracy forces--such as challenging the regime's election commission for the right to place independent monitors in polling stations--were closely watched. Monitors ended up having to negotiate their way into the polls, but they were surprisingly successful in many instances. And they gained valuable tools for the next go-round. Ayman Nour--the charismatic 40-year-old former parliamentarian whose arrest earlier this year prompted protests from the Bush administration--came in second with 7 percent of the vote, thus emerging as the leader of the nascent opposition. Nour's campaign was low-budget and wildly disorganized. But his message--he attacked ruling party corruption and called for a repeal of the repressive Emergency Laws, enacted after the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat--grew bolder as the weeks progressed. Equally important, the campaign changed public perceptions of Mubarak. "Before, Mubarak was seen as a God--detached, unreachable," says Negad El Borai, a human rights attorney and member of a pro-democracy group that sought to monitor the presidential elections. "Now the God is being forced to travel to the provinces, asking people to give him their vote. It's a sea change in Egyptian politics."
Do You Know the Way to Dr. Dre?
From Casa del Ionesco:
What the world needs now: a Burt Bacharach/Dr. Dre collaboration?
from The Independent
Once the world's smoothest crooner, Burt Bacharach is now collaborating with Dr. Dre and attacking President Bush. He tells John Walsh why he's swapped easy-listening for tough-talking:
Good article but one minor quibble: Burt is the Sultan of Songwriters, not to mention the undisputed Emperor of Easy, but his crooning is only marginally smoother than the use of sandpaper as a facial exfoliant: that's why Dionne, Dusty, Tom, Gene, Perry, Jack et alia were let loose on those melifluous melodies. Burt's exquisitely sophisticated arrangements even made Cilla sound good, though they failed to elevate his own resolutely earthbound vocals. As a songwriter... Burt's natural habitat is more Mount Olympus than Hasbrook Heights but as a crooner... hell, he's just another Icarus in diving boots.
Second thoughts on leap seconds
The Royal Astronomical Society on Wednesday called for a public debate on the proposed abolition of leap seconds, a tiny end-of-year adjustment to keep clocks in synch with the earth's rotation.
The International Telecommunications Union will meet in Geneva in November to debate a proposal to abolish leap seconds after 2007.
Mike Hapgood, secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society, said the debate has practical implications for computers, global positioning systems and for those who study phenomena -- such as tides -- that are related to the earth's rotation.
There have been 21 leap seconds since they were introduced in 1972, and the next is planned for the end of 2005.
Here Follows an Account of the Nature of Birds
Here Follows an Account of the Nature of Fish.
Here follows a description of an unknown town.
Here follows the phoenix-flight from human eyes.
Here follows the friendship fish and langouste.
All the marvels of erotic danger follow here.
Here follows the phone number of a dead person.
Here follows a game based on perfect information.
Five minutes have passed since I wrote this line.
I mistook my baby’s cry for the radiator hiss.
Here follows the address of a place to buy cocaine.
Big sadness come your way, sunrise, skyline.
Let’s do it some new way next time we try.
Do you have anything you can put inside me?
Here Follows an Account of the Nature of Birds.
from Dan Chiasson's Five Poems at The Paris Review.
Sartre and Beauvoir
Sartre and Beauvoir had met in Paris in 1929, when he was twenty-four, she was twenty-one, and both were studying for the agrégation, the competitive examination for a career in the French school system. Beauvoir was a handsome and stylish woman, and she had a boyfriend, René Maheu. (It was Maheu who gave her her permanent nickname, le Castor—the Beaver.) But she fell in love with Sartre, once she got over the physical impression he made. Sartre was about five feet tall, and he had lost almost all the sight in his right eye when he was three; he dressed in oversized clothes, with no sense of fashion; his skin and teeth suggested an indifference to hygiene. He had the kind of aggressive male ugliness that can be charismatic, and he wisely refrained from disguising it. He simply ignored his body. He was also smart, generous, agreeable, ambitious, ardent, and very funny. He liked to drink and talk all night, and so did she.
more from Louis Menand at the New Yorker here.
Chatting Up Cells: Nano reservoirs on a chip tell stem cells what to do
Stem cells can transform into whatever cell the body tells them to. Unfortunately, scientists have yet to master that particular gift of gab. But investigators at Stanford University may soon crack the language with tiny "chat rooms" for stem cells. In their natural milieu, stem cells have a variety of neighbors that pass on chemical messages at exact spots at particular times in specific amounts to guide the cells' development into a given cell type. In today's laboratory, however, researchers often bathe the whole cell with chemicals--kind of like out-of-control beer keggers compared with the sophisticated cocktail parties the body normally throws for stem cells. To uncover the mostly unknown placement, timing and identity of the cues, Stanford materials scientist Nicholas A. Melosh and his colleagues are re-creating the niche where stem cells normally dwell. They are developing a microscopic lab on a silicon chip that surrounds a stem cell with as many as 1,000 cavities, each 500 nanometers wide.
Male weevils give females the gift of youth
Ever think your spouse is turning you grey before your time? Well things are very different for a beetle being studied by Swedish evolutionary biologists. They have found that some male bean weevils can slow down the ageing process in their mates simply by having sex with them. Female weevils (Acanthoscelides obtectus) live longer when mated with males that have been bred to reproduce later in life, report researchers at Uppsala University. By supplying a cocktail of age-defying chemicals with their sperm, the males stop their mates dying off before they have had the chance to produce a large family. "The males are promoting their own selfish interests by being the good guys in this case," explains Göran Arnqvist, a member of the study team. "It benefits males if their mates live longer."
September 20, 2005
Island Floating around the Island
Speaking of the James Cohan gallery (previous post), they are invloved, along with The Whitney and others, in finally realizing Robert Smithson's dream of having a tugboat carry an island around the island of Manhattan. Links to various articles and so forth can be found here.
And here's something from New York Magazine:
New Yorkers enjoy the unexpected gesture, the extravagant folly, the existential leap. This fall, Minetta Brook (a nonprofit arts organization) and the Whitney Museum will realize a whimsical idea of this kind by the earthworks artist Robert Smithson. In a drawing made in 1970, three years before his death, Smithson conjured up a 'floating island' that would circle the fixed island of Manhattan like a slow-moving planet. Built on a barge and pulled by a tugboat, it consisted of a tailored landscape of rocks, trees, and pathways. It looked like something carved from Central Park.
Occupying the territory between Lee Friedlander's formal elegance and Gregory Crewdson's over-the-top American Gothic, Bill Owens has been using photography to pry into the American psyche for almost four decades. This show includes work from his best known series—"Suburbia," 1972, "Our Kind of People," 1976, "Working, I do it for the money," 1978, and "Leisure," 2004—as well as unpublished photographs from the late ‘60s that point toward Larry Clark's vision of debauched American youth.
more from Artforum here.
a link to the James Cohan gallery where the Owens exhibit can be found is here.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., writes in this week's NYTBR:
In the midst of this religious commotion, the name of the most influential American theologian of the 20th century rarely appears - Reinhold Niebuhr. It may be that most "people of faith" belong to the religious right, and Niebuhr was on secular issues a determined liberal.
Schlesinger asks if we are "Forgetting Reinhold Niebuhr." As usual, on political issues my friend Alan Koenig already had a bead on this some time ago. Here's an excerpt from his Beliver essay "Where are the Real Niebuhrians?":
In noting America’s unease and odd naïveté in wielding power for universal ideals, Niebuhr cautioned that, “Consistent with the general liberal hope of redeeming history, the American Messianic dream is vague about the political or other power which would be required to subject all recalcitrant wills to the one will which is informed by the true vision.”
In the present circumstances, something about that seems awfully timely.
First View Of Many Neurons Processing Information In Living Brain
Harvard Medical School researchers have applied a new microscopy technique in a living animal brain that for the first time reveals highly sophisticated time-lapse images of many neurons coordinating to produce complex patterns of activity. The approach will open up new avenues for analyzing neurodegenerative diseases and other aspects of the brain. "Put simply, this technique allows us to see the brain seeing," said R. Clay Reid, HMS professor of neurobiology, a member of the HMS Systems Neuroscience initiative, and principal investigator on the project. "It's an entirely new way of looking at brain function."
The method, the first to track the responses of all the neurons in a visual circuit simultaneously, promises to rapidly advance our understanding of how the brain is wired for complex image processing. Lessons learned by studying the visual system may eventually apply to other brain functions like movement, thinking, and learning, as well as neurodegenerative diseases.
Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore
Incensed by what it sees as a virtual pandemic of verbal vulgarity issuing from the diverse likes of Howard Stern, Bono of U2 and Robert Novak, the United States Senate is poised to consider a bill that would sharply increase the penalty for obscenity on the air. Yet researchers who study the evolution of language and the psychology of swearing say that they have no idea what mystic model of linguistic gentility the critics might have in mind. Cursing, they say, is a human universal. Young children will memorize the illicit inventory long before they can grasp its sense, said John McWhorter, a scholar of linguistics at the Manhattan Institute and the author of "The Power of Babel," and literary giants have always constructed their art on its spine.
September 19, 2005
Selected Minor Works: Replacing William Safire
Justin E. H. Smith
William Safire's recent retreat to half-time duties at the New York Times
may no doubt be taken as an indication that he is not long for this world.
I confess I cannot help but fantasize about the position this will open up,
not of course that of right-wing bloviator at the heart of the liberal media
establishment, but that of our nation's leading language maven. Give his
op-ed column to some cocky veteran of the Harvard Crimson. I want 'On
This title, under Safire's reign, has been something of a misnomer. He
purports to write on language, but for the most part writes on a particular
language. The language he writes on is also the language he writes in, and
it is, to be sure, a historically significant and widely spoken one. But
language itself is one thing, languages are quite another. Safire would
know this if he were willing to venture out a bit and consider a language,
such as French, that captures, in distinct terms, the distinct concepts of
language per se, on the one hand, and this or that language on the other.
Even if he were to concede that it's not langage but this or that langue
that interests him, surely there are others besides English that would
warrant attention. The Uralic family, for example, consisting in the Finno-
Ugric and Samoyed branches, has some interesting features. Yurak, one of
its lesser children has ten distinct moods for its verbs: indicative,
narrative, potential, auditive, subjunctive, imperative, optative,
precative, obligative, and interrogative. Yurak's cousin Selkup attaches
conjugational suffixes to verbs to express different modes of action,
including the continuative suffix, the breviative, the frequentative, the
plurative, and the usitative.
It's just a hunch, but I'm pretty sure Safire wouldn't have a thing to say
about the usitative suffix. And yet this is assuredly a bit of language,
employed competently by hunter-gatherers out in the tundra, and described
beautifully, with breathtakingly foreign extracts of written Selkup too
dense with diacritical marks to reproduce here, in Björn Collinder's
magisterial Survey of the Uralic Languages (Stockholm, 1957).
But let us return to the Indo-European family. If I were allowed to write
'On Language', I would devote much space to negation and to definite articles,
drawing rich examples for comparison from the Slavic, Romance, and Germanic
branches of this distinguished dynasty.
I would meditate on a curious parallel between the French split negation,
"ne.... pas" or "ne... rien", and a certain vulgar means of denying in
English. Consider the French for "I saw nothing": "Je n'ai vu rien."
Consider, now, the structural similarity to this of the colloquial "I didn't
see shit." I have no developed theory to offer, but it seems to me that
this counts as a split negation in English, and that 'shit' is doing exactly
the same work as the French 'rien'. That shit and nothing are substitutable
is a fact perhaps of interest to psychoanalysts as well as linguists. Here
I'm only pointing it out.
I have more developed ideas about definite articles. One thing that has
long troubled me is the existence of languages, such as Russian and Latin,
that can do entirely without them. I have seen some of Bertrand Russell's
work on definite descriptions translated into Russian, and there the
translator was forced to simply retain the English article. But one wonders
if the problem that concerned Russell would have come up at all if he had
been a monolingual Russophone.
The absence of 'the' in Russian troubled me greatly recently as I struggled
to translate Aleksandr Blok's melancholy and Nietzschean poem about
Leningrad, the one that begins "Noch', ulitsa, fonar', apteka." Is he
writing about a night, a street, a lamp, and a pharmacy, or the night, the
street, the lamp, and the pharmacy? Can this question even be answered?
In order to preserve the original Russian's meter, I decided to leave out
the definite articles in the first stanza, and put them in in the repetition
of the same terms in the second stanza, thereby yielding the extra syllables
needed to make the English rendition flow. Here is the result:
Night. Street. Lamp. Pharmacy.
Meaningless and murky light.
Live another quarter century.
It will be as now. No hope of flight.
You'll die, you'll begin again from the start.
Just as before, it will all repeat.
The night. The canal's icy ripple.
The pharmacy. The lamp. The street.
Now the question I've been unable to answer is whether the repeated use of
'the' at the end is poetic license on my part, or whether the original
Russian nouns entitled me to insert whatever articles I felt were needed,
and for whatever reason. Again, they are there at the end, and not in the
beginning, only to preserve meter, and not because the meaning of the
Russian seems to require them more in the second stanza. But are they truly
not there in the Russian, are they equally there and not there, or is there
simply no fact of the matter?
If Arthur O. Sulzberger is interested, I will be happy to meditate on this
further, as on related questions, in the Sunday Times. It is much more
likely, of course, that the same young cock from the Crimson who got the op-
ed column, or perhaps his roommate, will get the language column as well,
and he will expatiate on the origins of words like 'synergy' and approvingly
rehash the witticisms of Winston Churchill.
Having come to terms with this harsh reality, I look forward to offering my
thoughts on language, as well as art and culture, to you, the good readers
of 3 Quarks Daily, every third Monday in my new column, 'Selected Minor
Grab Bag: Bite Your Tongue, Movies Turn Dumb
In “Summer Fading, Hollywood Sees Fizzle,” published in the New York Times on August 24, Sharon Waxman discussed the decline of ticket sales in the context not of a shifting economy or social landscape but instead of the increasingly lacking quality of mainstream movies. The piece was a helpful reminder to discontented viewers that they are not alone. This may seem silly: many of us hear our friends bitching and moaning about movies all the time, but we also hear our friends bitching and moaning about the current state of the government, about obesity in the US, about cultural appropriation, about any number of liberal topics met only with clichéd observations and statements of the obvious. But while our government continues it spiral downward with increasing momentum, while obesity climbs, and while kaballah water is sold at Wal-Mart, Waxman’s presentation of a panicked film industry provides some hope that perhaps America is finally taking a stand against the monolithic empire of Hollywood. It is no longer the white elephant, but an issue in which the industry must respond to money, the thing that whispers throughout its collective home with deadly quiet and unnerving interminability.
That a slow in the flow of money has worried the industry of course comes as no surprise, but what seems to be happening is that excuses are wearing thin. No longer are studios entirely attributing dropping ticket sales to dvds, tv, home entertainment, bad weather, good weather, higher gas prices et cetera. Instead, the industry appears to be finally looking inward to reassess its product.
New Hollywood movies seem to suffer from several problems, some superficial and some more fundamental. The superficial problems lie in the changing conventions of the industry. While conventional formulas still shape movies, they are increasingly muddled and—oddly—simultaneously too specific. The crossbreeding of genres has spread conventions so thin that meanings can be confused or even contradictory. For example: Mr. and Mrs. Smith as an action movie sets up, plays out, and resolves glossy and unemotional violence in a typically Hollywood way, with predictable style and visual effects. As a romantic comedy too, the film uses a well-worn and well-known vehicle, a couple is living a static and cold life that is re-impassioned through some kind of hardship or trauma. The blending of these two systems, however, resulted in sloppiness all around: the movie didn’t have to have well choreographed or stimulating action sequences because of the romantic subplot while the romance didn’t have to be explained or even make sense because of the action.
Similarly, a movie like the Fantastic Four was enough of a comedy that its cartoonish CGI wasn’t as glaringly offensive and yet it was still at its core an action movie and so its comic simplicity was permissible. These constant justifications leave most mainstream movies that try and blend genre more a hodge-podge than an interweaving and we are constantly distracted from our questioning through the inclusion of more disconnected plot material.
My constant and first complaint when leaving new blockbusters recently has been about questionable logic. I am perfectly happy watching movies that are silly, ridiculous, fantastical, and minimal as long as there is some internal logic and consistency. New movies, though, are breaking standards of providing background information and causality that fifty years ago would border on avant-garde. But in today’s movies there are no ends to this choice. There is no refutation or exploration of narrative convention, no tongue-in-cheek homages or implicit criticisms in the oftentimes bizarre flow of plot information. Even in a pseudo-documentary like March of the Penguins, so many details of the story were left out, so many questions went unanswered, and so much of the film relied on picturesque imagery that I left the theater more confused than when I arrived about the subject. Of a documentary.
Film has successfully, since its beginnings, built a language around itself through which it expresses a kind of reality that the spectator not only observes, but engages with as well. We are asked to accept non-realistic sound and image as realistic, and we do so because we are so used to it. Editing is a typical example: while we don’t see the world through a series of edits, we never question this basic mechanism when watching a movie. Space is disrupted, it is extended and contracted, but we are never disoriented while watching it because we are a part of a larger cinematic reality, which we perceive differently. There are countless other examples of this same operation in film—from framing to sound use to camera angle and color manipulation—that all together build a basic vocabulary of the medium.
Genre takes the notion of vocabulary and hones it so precisely that it eventually functions as an equation into which each film provides variables, essentially introducing to the vocabulary a syntax that organizes the smaller formula-parts. Within this tight-knit code meaning is created through small changes. Take a standard horror plot but instead of the blob make the bad guy a space-monster, and suddenly the allegory shifts from fear of consumption to one of xenophobia. This same plug-in method exists in most genres, for example the feminist—albeit old-fashioned—western 40 Guns or the homosexual twist of the melodrama Far From Heaven, both of which heavily rely on the spectator to know the formula and thus understand the significant changes.
Over the course of the last century then, the silver medium has developed specific genres and specific stylistic conventions that have, through their repetition, crafted the ideal audience. New blockbusters, though, are losing this consistency by changing this vocabulary, partially by tying it in more closely to television. The difference between the two can be difficult to isolate, but it certainly has something to do with the cadences of dialogue and comic delivery, the “situational” humor. Likewise though, tv has become more cinematic, especially seen in the HBO series shows such as the Sopranos and Entourage. Whatever the difference, going to the movies has begun to feel—to those who have experienced it—like watching television for the first time in months and months: you are utterly disoriented in a world that you know you should “get,” in which every allusion and every reference soars above your head. Unlike television, however, film is not serial (sequels excluded), and the same modes of storytelling cannot be adapted to both.
Ultimately, it seems as though the language of cinema has finally begun to get ahead of itself, that the very formulas it established have been abstracted to a point that is so basic that the spectator is either bored by it or, in my case, dumbfounded by it. Film has almost followed the same, albeit more condensed, trajectory of other visual arts: from a time of documentary realism to increased experimentation and ultimately visual language built upon a foundation of conventional symbols. This language, however, has begun to grow incomprehensible to the very audience whose continued acceptance of it allowed its conception in the first place. The industry then has to take a more theoretical approach to the problem and figure out a way to re-connect to the audience not through the stories it tells, but by the way in which it expresses those stories. Generic and visual conventions need to return to an earlier state in which their very clarity generated interest, in which stories were easier to understand and in which language was not always foreign.
Monday Musing: General Relativity, Very Plainly
[NOTE: Since I wrote and published this essay last night, I have received a private email from Sean Carroll, who is the author of an excellent book on general relativity, as well as a comment on this post from Daryl McCullough, both pointing out the same error I made: I had said, as do many physics textbooks, that special relativity applies only to unaccelerated inertial frames, while general relativity applies to accelerated frames as well. This is not really true, and I am very grateful to both of them for pointing this out. With his permission, I have added Sean's email to me as a comment to this post, and I have corrected the error by removing the offending sentences.]
In June of this year, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the publication of Einstein's original paper on special relativity, I wrote a Monday Musing column in which I attempted to explain some of the more salient aspects of that theory. In a comment on that post, Andrew wrote: "I loved the explanation. I hope you don't wait until the anniversary of general relativity to write a short essay that will plainly explain that theory." Thanks, Andrew. The rest of you must now pay the price for Andrew's flattery: I will attempt a brief, intuitive explanation of some of the well-known results of general relativity today. Before I do that, however, a caveat: the mathematics of general relativity is very advanced and well beyond my own rather basic knowledge. Indeed, Einstein himself needed help from professional mathematicians in formulating some of it, and well after general relativity was published (in 1915) some of the greatest mathematicians of the twentieth century (such as Kurt Gödel) continued to work on its mathematics, clarifying and providing stronger foundations for it. What this means is, my explication here will essentially not be mathematical, which it was in the case of special relativity. Instead, I want to use some of the concepts I introduced in explaining special relativity, and extend some of the intuitions gathered there, just as Einstein himself did in coming up with the general theory. Though my aims are more modest this time, I strongly urge you to read and understand the column on special relativity before you read the rest of this column. The SR column can be found here.
Before anything else, I would like to just make clear some basics like what acceleration is: it is a change in velocity. What is velocity? Velocity is a vector, which means that it is a quantity that has a direction associated with it. The other thing (besides direction) that specifies a velocity is speed. I hope we all know what speed is. So, there are two ways that the velocity of an object can change: 1) change in the object's speed, and 2) change in the object's direction of motion. These are the two ways that an object can accelerate. (In math, deceleration is just negative acceleration.) This means that an object whose speed is increasing or decreasing is said to be accelerating, but so is an object traveling in a circle with constant speed, for example, because its direction (the other aspect of velocity) is changing at any given instant.
Get ready because I'm just going to give it to you straight: the fundamental insight of GR is that acceleration is indistinguishable from gravity. (Technically, this is only true locally, as physicists would say, but we won't get into that here.) Out of this amazing notion come various aspects of GR that most of us have probably heard about: that gravity bends light; that the stronger gravity is, the more time slows down; that space is curved. The rest of this essay will give somewhat simplified explanations of how this is so.
THE PRINCIPLE OF EQUIVALENCE
Just as in special relativity no experiment that we could possibly perform inside a uniformly moving spaceship (with no windows) could possibly tell us whether we were moving or at rest, in general relativity, no experiment we can possibly perform inside the spaceship can ever tell us whether we are 1) accelerating, or 2) in a gravitational field. In other words, the effects of gravity in a spaceship sitting still on the surface of the Earth are exactly the same as those of being in an accelerating spaceship far from any gravitational forces. Yet another, more technical, way of saying this would be that observations made in an accelerating reference frame are indistinguishable from observations made in a classical Newtonian gravitational field. This is the principle of equivalence, and it is the heart of general relativity. While this may seem unintuitive at first, it is not so hard to imagine and get a grip on. Look at the spaceship shown in Fig. 1 (in the next section, below) and imagine that you are standing on its floor while it is standing upright on the surface of Earth, on the launch pad at Cape Kennedy, say. You would be pressed against the floor by gravity, just as you are when standing anywhere else, like on the street. If you stood on a weighing scale, it would register your weight. Now imagine that you are in deep space in the same ship, far from any planets, stars, or other masses, so that there is no gravity acting on you or the spaceship. If the spaceship were accelerating forward (the direction which is up in Fig. 1), you would be pressed against the floor, just as when an airplane accelerates quite fast down the runway on its takeoff roll, you are pressed in the opposite direction against your the back of your seat. If the acceleration were exactly fast enough, you would be pressed against the floor of the spaceship with the same force as your weight, and at this rate of acceleration, if you stood on a weighing scale, it would again register your weight. You would be unable to tell whether you were accelerating in deep space or standing still on the surface of Earth. (You could perform all of Galileo's experiments inside the spaceship, dropping objects, rolling them down inclined planes, etc., and they would give the same results as here on Earth.) Are you with me? What I am saying is, for a gravitational field of a given strength in a given direction (like that at Earth's surface toward its center), there is a corresponding rate of acceleration in the opposite direction which is indistinguishable from it.
I am afraid of losing some people here, so let me pump your intuition with a few examples. Have you ever been on one of those rides in an amusement park (the one I went to was called the Devil's Hole) where you stand in a circular room against the wall, then after the room starts spinning quite rapidly, you are pressed strongly against the wall and then the floor drops away? It can be scary, but is safe because you are accelerating (moving in a circle) and this presses you to the wall just as gravity would if you turned the whole circular room on its side (like a Ferris wheel) and lay on the side of it which is touching the ground. Most gravity defying stunts, like motorcyclists riding inside a wire cage in the shape of a sphere, rely on the effects of acceleration to cancel gravity. You've probably seen astronauts on TV training for weightless environments inside aircraft where they are floating about. This also exploits the principle of equivalence: if the plane accelerates downwards at the same rate as a freely falling object would, this will produce what could be described as an upward gravitational force inside the plane, and this cancels gravity. Of course, from an outside perspective, looking through the plane windows, it just seems that the plane and the people in it are both falling at the same rate, which is why they seem to be floating inside it. But inside the plane, if you have no windows, there is no way to tell whether you are far away from any gravitational field, or simply accelerating in its direction. All this really should become quite clear if you think about it for a bit. Reread the last couple of paragraphs if you have to.
BENDING OF LIGHT BY GRAVITY
Consider the leftmost three drawings of the spaceship in Fig. 1. They show the spaceship accelerating upward. Remember, this does not mean that it is moving upward with a steady speed. It means that it is getting faster and faster each instant. In other words, its speed is increasing. Now we have an object, say a ball, which is moving at a steady (fixed) speed across the path of the spaceship from left to right in a straight-line path perpendicular to the direction the spaceship is moving and accelerating in (up). Suppose, further, that there is a little hole in the spaceship just where the ball would strike the exterior left wall of the spaceship, which allows the ball to enter the spaceship without ever touching any part of it. Imagine that the spaceship is made of glass and is transparent, so you can see what happens inside. If you are standing outside the spaceship, what you will see is what is shown in the leftmost three drawings of the spaceship in Fig. 1, i.e., the ball will continue in a straight line on its previous path (shown in the figure as a dotted line), while the spaceship accelerates up around it (while the ball is inside the ship). Here's the weird part: now imagine yourself standing still on the floor of the spaceship as it accelerates upward. You experience gravity which presses you to the floor, as described above. Now, you see the ball enter from the window in the left wall, and what you see is that it follows a parabolic arc down and hits the opposite wall much lower than the height at which it entered (shown in the rightmost drawing of Fig. 1) just as it would because of gravity if the spaceship were standing on the launchpad at Cape Kennedy and someone threw a ball in horizontally through the window. Do you see? One man's acceleration is another man's gravity!
You can probably guess what's coming next: now imagine the the ball is replaced with a ray of light. Exactly the same thing will happen to it. The light will follow a parabolic arc downward and hit the opposite wall below the height at which it entered the spaceship, when seen by the person inside. The reason that you normally don't see light bending in any spaceships is that light travels so fast. In the billionths of a second that light takes to get from one wall to the other, the spaceship doesn't move up much (maybe billionths of an inch) because it is moving much slower than light moves. This small a deflection is impossible to measure. (This is just as you don't see a bullet fired horizontally bending down much over a short distance, even though it is following a downward parabolic path to the ground. And light is a lot faster than bullets.) This bending of light must be true as long as we assume the principle of equivalence to be true, because if it weren't, we could then perform optical experiments on the ship to decide whether we are in an accelerating frame or a gravitational field. This is forbidden by the principle of equivalence. And since we now see that light will bend in an accelerating spaceship (seen by someone in the ship) and since we also know that the person in the ship by definition has no way of knowing whether she is accelerating or in a gravitational field, light must also bend in a gravitational field. (Otherwise the person would know she is accelerating.) It's really that simple!
The most famous experiment which confirmed the correctness of GR and made Einstein world famous overnight, was the observation of the bending of starlight by the Sun's gravity in 1919, which I mentioned briefly in my June SR column. Also, in case you are wondering why light is bent by gravity even though photons have no mass at rest, it is because light is a form of energy, and as we know from special relativity, energy is equivalent to inertial mass according to E = mc2. All energy gravitates.
GRAVITATIONAL TIME DILATION
This time, let's consider what happens with a rotational motion. Look at Fig. 2. It shows a huge disk. Imagine that we put two clocks on the disk: one at the center at point A, and one at the edge at point B. Also put a clock at point C, which is on still ground some distance from the disk. Now imagine that the disk starts rotating very fast as shown by the arrow. Now we know that the clocks at points A and C are not moving with respect to each other, so they will read the same time. But we also know that clock at B is moving with respect to the ground, and by the principles of special relativity must be running slower than C. And since C must be running at the same rate as A (they are not in motion relative to one another), B must also be slower than A. This will be true for an observer at C on the ground as well as at A on the disk, but their interpretations of why the clock on the edge at B is slower will be different: for the ground observer at C, the clock at B is in motion, which is what slows it down. For the observer at A, however, there is no motion, only a centripetal acceleration toward the center of the disc, and it is this acceleration which accounts for the slowing down of the clock. The further A moves toward the edge, the stronger the centrifugal force (and the centripetal acceleration), and the slower the clock he has runs. Since acceleration is indistinguishable from gravity (A has no idea if he tends to experience a force toward the outside of the disk because the disk is rotating, or whether the disk is still and he is in a gravitational field), clocks must also slow down in gravitational fields. This slowing down of time by gravity has been confirmed by experiments to a very high precision.
THE CURVATURE OF SPACE
We just looked at time. Let's see what happens with space. Take the same disk from Fig. 2 and replace clock B with a ruler. Place the ruler at B so that it is tangent to the disk. For the same special relativistic reasons that the clock at B will run slower, the ruler at B will be contracted in length. Use another ruler to measure the radius from A to B. since the rotational motion on the disk is always perpendicular to the radius, this will be unaffected by motion. Since only the ruler at B is affected, if that ruler is used to measure the circumference of the disk, the ratio of that measured circumference and the measured diameter will not be Pi (3.1415926...), but a smaller number, depending on the rate of rotation of the disk. This is a property and an indication of a curved surface. But the rotation (accelerated motion) is equivalent to a gravitational field as we have already seen, so we can say that gravity causes space to become curved.
There is much, much, much, more to this grand theory, and I have but drawn a crude cartoon of it here in the small hope that I might impart a bit of its flavor, and indicate the direction in which Einstein moved after publishing special relativity in 1905. Andrew, this is the best I can do.
Thanks to Margit Oberrauch for doing the illustrations.
Have a good week!
My other recent Monday Musings:
Three Dreams, Three Athletes
Francis Crick's Beautiful Mistake
The Man With Qualities
Special Relativity Turns 100
Vladimir Nabokov, Lepidopterist
Stevinus, Galileo, and Thought Experiments
Cake Theory and Sri Lanka's President