KITP Future of Physics conference, now online

The lectures from the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics’ conference on The Future of Physics are available online. Among the speakers were David Gross, Steven Weinberg, Frank Wilczek, and Edward Witten. Panels participants included Juan Maldacena, Roger Penrose, and Leonard Susskind.

“The conference opened with a review of all the exciting developments in theoretical physics in the last 25 years and closed with a special session in which the participants were asked to predict what exciting developments will occur in physics in the next 25 years.”

Le Carré, Fraser, and Dawkins offer advice and pleas on the US elections

John Le Carré, Antonia Fraser, and Richard Dawkins offer some thoughts on the US elections in the form of letters to Americans . . . unsurprisingly encouraging us to support Kerry.

Le Carré: “Probably no American president in all history has been so universally hated abroad as George W Bush: for his bullying unilateralism, his dismissal of international treaties, his reckless indifference to the aspirations of other nations and cultures, his contempt for institutions of world government, and above all for misusing the cause of anti-terrorism in order to unleash an illegal war – and now anarchy – upon a country that like too many others around the world was suffering under a hideous dictatorship, but had no hand in 9/11, no weapons of mass destruction, and no record of terrorism except as an ally of the US in a dirty war against Iran.”

Fraser: “First of all, if you back Kerry, you will be voting against a savage militaristic foreign policy of pre-emptive killing which has stained the great name of the US so hideously in recent times. A policy that Bush and his gang are set to continue – if they get the opportunity.”

Dawkins: “In the service of his long-planned war (with its catastrophically unplanned aftermath), Bush not only lied about Iraq being the ‘enemy’ who had attacked the twin towers. With the connivance of the toadying Tony Blair and the spineless Colin Powell, he lied to Congress and the world about weapons of mass destruction. He is now brazenly lying to the American electorate about how ‘well’ things are going under the puppet government. By comparison with this cynical mendacity, the worst that can be said about John Kerry is that he sometimes changes his mind. Well, wouldn’t you change your mind if you discovered that the major premise on which you had been persuaded to vote for war was a big fat lie?”

I don’t know if these things backfire (at the margins of course) or have no effect whatsoever.

Gehry Is Selected as Architect of Ground Zero Theater Center

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“Frank Gehry, admired for his voluptuous buildings of undulating titanium and steel, is to be the architect of a new performing arts center at ground zero, his first major cultural project in Manhattan, the development corporation in charge of rebuilding the site said yesterday.

The selection of Mr. Gehry for the arts center – which is to include the Joyce Theater and the Signature Theater – brings to Lower Manhattan a celebrity architect who has been notably absent from perhaps the most closely watched architectural site in the world.”

More here by Robin Pogrebin in the New York Times.

Stats on your city and neighborhood, with just a few clicks

My sense of my neighborhood and social spaces are imprecise and vague, based on a general feeling about how fun or wealthy or diverse they happens to be. I suspect that this is true for most people. More importantly, I’m skeptical whether quantifying these things adds to any of my experiences of them.

In any case, this web site, city-data.com (via preposterous universe), provides a host of statistical information on cities and neighborhoods in the United States. Surfing around it is fun. To compare my old neighborhood, in the East Village (zip code 10009), with my new one in Boerum Hill (zip code 11217):

Old neighborhood:

Population (2000): 58,595

Housing units: 30,199

White population: 35169
Black population: 6136
American Indian population: 310
Asian population: 5925
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander population: 33
Some other race population: 8323
Two or more races population: 2699

Median age: 36.0

Average household size: 1.98
Median household income (1999): $40176

Population by age and gender

10009lts

New neighborhood:

Population (2000): 35,353

Housing units: 16,474

White population: 16925
Black population: 11160
American Indian population: 198
Asian population: 1363
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander population: 22
Some other race population: 3932
Two or more races population: 1753

Median age: 33.8

Average household size: 2.15
Median household income (1999): $49567

Population by age and gender

11217lst

The return of the Chinese juggernaut

The war on terrorism occupies the bulk of our attention in the international arena, as wars usually do. There are, however, some profound secular shifts underway, most notable among them, the development of China and, to a lesser degree at least for now, of India. This piece in Le Monde Diplomatique puts the issue in historical perspective.

“An article in the New York Times this year asked whether the 21st century would be a ‘Chinese century’. This may be overstating the case: the Chinese transition is under way but is far from complete. None the less, assuming that the growth dynamic is maintained without major social or political disruption, China will indisputably become a dominant player in the international economic and financial system this century.

This represents a huge tectonic shift. Its distant origins are to be found in the position that Asia occupied in the world system before the North-South divide and the creation of third world countries . . . – a divide brought about by the European industrial revolution and colonialism. In a long-term perspective China, like Asia as a whole, can be seen to be resuming its precolonial history and gradually reclaiming the place that it occupied before 1800, when it was one of the main centres of the world economy and the world’s principal manufacturing power.”

How inequality will shape the biotech revolution, and vice versa

Among the concerns ushered in by the approaching revolutions in genetics and biotechnology is the issue of what they will mean for the distribution of health and, indeed, genetic traits themselves.

On the former, some worry about development of a “health genomics gap” between the rich North and poor South and suggest that genomics should be included into the Millennium Development Goals set forth by the UN in 2000.

But it is the latter issue that raises sharper and more dire concerns. Francis Fukuyama’s Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution raised the spectre that a revolution in genetic engineering will undo the by and large natural, genetic equality upon which equal humans rights and liberty are (ostensibly) predicated. (Here’s a review of the book.) In the extreme, he fears, speciation among us will create uncomfortable issues for politics and ethics. Some opponents of restrictions on genetic engineering and Fukuyama debate the issues here.

Jerry Fodor reviews a new book on Saul Kripke’s contributions to philosophy

In the latest London Review of Book, Jerry Fodor reviews a new book on Saul Kripke by Christopher Hughes, entitled Kripke: Names, Necessity and Identity.

“By pretty general consent, Kripke’s writings (including, especially, Naming and Necessity) have had more influence on philosophy in the US and the UK than any others since the death of Wittgenstein. Ask an expert whether there have been any philosophical geniuses in the last while, and you’ll find that Kripke and Wittgenstein are the only candidates. Again, as far as I can tell, Hughes’s exposition is accurate and sophisticated, and his coverage is more than adequate. Unless you are yourself a practitioner, this is all the Kripke that you need to know about.”

A Curtain of Cold, Primordial Hydrogen

“Detailed analyses of mankind’s deepest optical view of the universe, the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), by several expert teams have at last identified what may turn out to be some of the earliest star-forming galaxies. Astronomers are now debating whether the hottest stars in these early galaxies may have provided enough radiation to ‘lift a curtain’ of cold, primordial hydrogen that cooled after the big bang. This is a problem that has perplexed astronomers over the past decade, and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has at last glimpsed what could be the ‘end of the opening act’ of galaxy formation. These faint sources illustrate how astronomers can begin to explore when the first galaxies formed and what their properties might be.”

More on Hubble’s recent exploits, with jaw-dropping pictures, here at the Hubblesite and here at NASA. Or skip right to the page for the most recently released images.

And here at Space-Talk, devotees have an ongoing forum for conversations all about space, space, space.

Nation States on the Web

An interesting, and sometimes terrifying, thing to do is to visit websites of nations that are isolated from the world community, or doing bad things, or simply otherwise troubled.

First stop, The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, otherwise known as North Korea. Don’t forget to check out the section on becoming a member of the Korean Friendship Organization. In this section you can also watch the video (with lyrics) of the Song of National Defence (sic).

Next stop, Uzbekistan. The site is still being worked on and is less exciting than the North Korea site. Still, one can learn a thing or two. The section on the Status of the President can provide, at least, an Orwellian chill down the spine. Read the account on the website first, then check this report from Human Rights Watch. Most charming Karimov quote? Perhaps its “I’m prepared to rip off the heads of 200 people, to sacrifice their lives, in order to save peace and calm in the republic…If my child chose such a path, I myself would rip off his head.” How nice that the US counts such proud allies in the War on Terror.

Moving from the brutal to the outright bizarre, we would be remiss not to include Turkmenistan on the tour. There is no official government website, though the Embassy of Turkmenistan in DC has a rather extensive site. The message from President Niyazov Turkmenbashy includes the claim,
“Turkmenistan has undertaken the first and, therefore, most difficult steps on its way of revival, virtually re-formation of its own sovereign history and state system. It is ancient and event-wise exuberant. But today given the past, we continue it from the scratch.”
Niyazov’s cult of personality has become legendary especially with his recent re-naming of the months of the year in homage to himself. He is also fond of publishing his own works. Here’s what the State Information Agency of Turkmenistan has to say about his Great Book, the Ruhmana.

Next stop, Albania, one of the most isolated countries in the world during the dictatorship of Enver Hoxa. So far, it has been a difficult legacy to emerge from with any great stability. There is an official website here.
This Photographer’s Diary by David Brauchli is worth looking at.

Finally, for now, a look into Africa. The Zimbabwe official site is here. Not much there, really. An admirable piece by Samantha Power on the disaster of Mugabe’s regime is here.

And a brief glance at Sudan, about which there have been many posts in recent weeks here at 3quarksdaily. The restructuring of Sudan Airways seems to figure more prominently on the site than Darfur.

Probably this little tour would have the wrong ‘mood’, as it were, without the inclusion of this site. While no fan of moral equivalency, it is difficult to stomach the following.

“I do not avoid women, Mandrake, but… I do deny them my essence.”

Arriving Friday at Film Forum is Stanley Kubrick’s most overtly comic film, “Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” If, as is likely, you’ve already seen it, you may be surprised at how precisely calibrated its satire once again appears. Perhaps this is because the political thrust of our times perfectly suits the movie’s gleeful skewering of both the American cowboy ethos and the diastrous results that ensue from its boneheaded application to international relations (all phallic puns intended). In three roles, Peter Sellers is in absolute peak form, particularly when his Lt. Mandrake tries to get the recall code from a suicidally deranged Sterling Hayden (“And I can swear to you, my boy, swear to you, that there’s nothing wrong with my bodily fluids. Not a thing, Jackie!”) and during Strangelove’s climatic speech, but the two phone calls Sellers’ President makes to Dmitri Kissoff, the Russian premier, rise to the level of historical greatness. The utter genius of the film’s comedy extends its relevance far beyond the merely topical – by comparison, see the deadly serious “Failsafe,” made in the same year. And, as with all of Kubrick’s work, I defy you to find a lighting scheme that is less than painterly, a cut that is less than essentially motivated, a composition that is less than photographically brilliant, a form that is less than art.

Nemesis by Shazia Sikander, a traveling exhibition

Shazia Sikander, a friend of 3QD, we proudly boast, never fails to impress us with her talent, insight, and reserve; others are similarly affected. A recent New York Times article on her travelling exhibition Nemesis article begins:

Shazia

“DEXTEROUS and clever, Shahzia Sikander continues to surprise with an exhibition at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Conn. In addition to a suite of 51 drawings, a wall painting and a dazzling digital animation, there is video documentation of a collaborative performance with the Indian dancer Sharmila Desai. How does she find the time to do all this?”

And ends:

“If Ms. Sikander were still cranking out her glitzy miniature paintings, you could probably dismiss her as a victim of the art market merry-go-round. But she is not, and that takes some courage. This show suggests that she is a far more sophisticated and ambitious artist than her previous fare has led some to believe.”

Read the whole thing.

The continuing debate on Che as hero

A while ago, in a post on Che Guevara and Regis Debray, I made the obvious point: “There has been a lot of reflection on the life and legacy of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara,” adding, “The release of the movie of The Motorcycle Diaries, I suspect, will help add to it.”

The blogosphere has been abuzz with a debate on Che. Brad DeLong has entitled the virtual seminar “The Concept of the Hero in Twenty-First Century Civilization” and has taken the trouble of summarizing and linking to the major posts on the topic.

The (old) Dictionary of the History of Ideas is now online

Via Three-Toed Sloth, one of the smartest and best blogs around with posts like this: the Dictionary of the History of Ideas (Philip P. Wiener, ed., 1973/1974) is now online. (Read Cosma Shalizi’s take on the Dictionary of the History of Ideas, as well.) A new “updated and rethought” edition, entitled New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, edited by Maryanne Cline Horowitz, is in the works.

The Dictionary of the History of Ideas has some excellent, albeit by now outdated, entries; for example:

Kenneth Arrow on Formal Theories of Social Welfare; Isaiah Berlin on The Counter-Enlightenment; George Boas on Macrocosm and Microcosm, on Primitivism, and indeed on Idea; Dietrich Gerhard on Periodization in History; Sidney Hook on Marxism;Stuart Kauffman on Biological Homologies and Analogy; Frank Knight on Economic History; Richard Lewontin on Biological Models; Oskar Morgenstern on Game Theory; J. P. Nettl on Social Democracy in Germany and Revisionism; John Plamenatz on Liberalism; Judith Shklar on The General Will; and Rene Wellek on Periodization in Literary History.

The Critic

“Contemporary British and American writers are in love with what might be called irrelevant intensity.”

“Writers and literary academics have never been closer, and never further apart.”

“There used to be something thought of as ‘a Booker novel’ – a big, ambitious balloon sent up to signify seriousness and loftiness of purpose.”

The literary critic James Wood, responsible for all three of the above quotations, is nothing if not a serious book reviewer. He lectures at Harvard and writes mainly for the LRB and The New Republic. The first sentence comes from his unkind outing at the expense of Zadie Smith’s second novel. The second is from a rather more thoughtful review of The Oxford English Literary History, Vol. XII: 1960-2000: The Last of England? The third is from his mixed-bag musings on D.B.C. Pierre.

So, Wood is serious – and, refreshingly, not coy about being learned. (“Shakespeare would probably have read earlier versions of the psalm, such as those of Miles Coverdale and the Geneva Bible, which the King James translators adapted very closely and in places word for word,” Wood notes in this New Yorker piece about the making of the King James Bible.) A serious man who is seriously concerned about the state of contemporary letters.

But is he on the right track? Two views:

A very flattering piece on Wood by Adam Begley of the New York Observer, entitled “Lit Crit as It Ought to Be: Open-Eyed, Recklessly Committed.” Begley argues that Wood is “the most promising young critic around, but now that he’s pushing 40, let’s drop the qualifiers and say it loud and clear: He’s the best.”

A case against Wood from John Reuland, the Editor of Bridge Magazine Online:

“Wood is a critic in the wilderness. He’s unconcerned with things of this world, and his spiritual authenticity gives us faith in his judgments. Those judgments, we presume, issue from a belief system that’s transhistorical, never anachronistic because it doesn’t belong in time. Yet Wood’s problem as a critic is exactly that he is so principled. Just as some theologians claim we have a priori knowledge of God, one could easily claim that Wood had a priori knowledge that things don’t get any better than the nineteenth-century novel. Wood wants novels that chant the creed of his orthodoxy. He dismisses the art that shakes his faith, which raises the troubling question of whether faith that admits so little doubt is faith, or mere prejudice.”

Reuland’s full essay is here.

The Age of Nonfiction?

I’m not sure if it’s due to sunspots or historical circumstances, and I know my friends who write fiction and poetry will be unhappy that I’m saying this, but it seems to me that nonfiction is sometimes more exciting than fiction right now. Certainly the stastistics show a decline in fiction sales even while publishers are putting out 17% more titles. (Bowker has the full story.) Biography, history and religion showed double-digit increases for 2003. Some account for this as a post-September 11 reaction – unprecedented American interest in the outside world. It is also possible to view the trend aesthetically and suggest that perhaps fiction hasn’t been keeping pace with current events. (Indeed, how can it?) If this turns out to be the Age of Nonfiction – for talent follows the money – then this could explain the increasing interest in what is detestably called “Creative Nonfiction.” (Detestable because all writing ought to be “creative,” and because “creative” is a cruel term for good writing, so that the phrase “Creative Nonfiction” is doubly appalling from an artistic point of view.) Aldaily.com recently posted a link to an essay called “The Age of the Essay” by Paul Graham. Graham, famous for his work on Spam and Spam filters, has this to say about writing essays:

“What should you think about? My guess is that it doesn’t matter – that anything can be interesting if you get deeply enough into it. One possible exception might be things that have deliberately had all the variation sucked out of them, like working in fast food. In retrospect, was there anything interesting about working at Baskin-Robbins?”

Read the whole essay here.

Space Ship One wins the Ansari X-Prize

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“On October 4, 2004, SpaceShipOne rocketed into history, becoming the first private manned spacecraft to exceed an altitude of 328,000 feet twice within the span of a 14 day period, thus claiming the ten million dollar Ansari X-Prize.

In addition to meeting the altitude requirement to win the X-Prize, pilot Brian Binnie also broke the August 22, 1963 record by Joseph A. Walker, who flew the X-15 to an unofficial world altitude record of 354,200 feet. Brian Binnie’s SpaceShipOne flight carried him all the way to 367,442 feet or 69.6 miles above the Earth’s surface.”

In related news, “Sir Richard Branson hopes his new company will be the first to send adventurous tourists into space.

The high-flying entrepreneur announced Monday that the Virgin Group, his amassing of airline, entertainment and telecommunications companies, has entered into a technology licensing agreement with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Mojave Aerospace Ventures. Under the deal, Branson’s Virgin Galactic plans to become the first business venture to carry commercial passengers on space flights.

“We’ve always had a dream of developing a space tourism business, and Paul Allen’s vision, combined with (aircraft designer) Burt Rutan’s technological brilliance, have brought that dream a step closer to reality,” Branson said in a statement.

Virgin Galactic will privately fund the building of spaceships and related equipment, as well as operate the tourism company. The company is expected to open early next year, with the first flights operating in 2007.

Space tourists, who are expected to receive at least three days of preflight training, will pay approximately $190,000 each to travel toward the stars in a two-hour trip aboard the “VSS Enterprise.” The company said it plans to begin taking deposits early next year and is now accepting registrations for prospective astronauts.”

Click here for full text.