China’s Building Blitz Without precedent in history

From the Architectural Record:

In scale and pace, the building boom currently sweeping over China has no precedent in human history. China is spending about $375 billion each year on construction, nearly 16 percent of its gross domestic product. In the process, it is using 54.7 percent of the world’s production of concrete, 36.1 percent of the world’s steel, and 30.1 percent of the world’s coal.

More here.

Pomegranate Juice Fights Heart Disease

Stefan Lovgren reports for The National Geographic News:

Pomegranates In the mythology of ancient Babylonia, pomegranate was considered an agent of resurrection. Now there is scientific evidence for the fruit’s restorative powers. According to a new study, antioxidants contained in pomegranate juice may help reduce the formation of fatty deposits on artery walls. Antioxidants are compounds that limit cell damage. Scientists have tested the juice in mice and found that it combats hardening of the arteries (atherogenesis) and related diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes.

“In this experimental study, we have established that polyphenols [antioxidant chemicals] and other natural compounds contained in the pomegranate juice may retard atherogenesis,” said Claudio Napoli, a professor of medicine and clinical pathology at the University of Naples, Italy.

Pomegranate (Punica granatum) is native to a region ranging from Iran to the Himalaya. It later spread to the Mediterranean area and now grows in most of the United States. The apple-size fruit, which grows on rounded plants 15 to 20 feet (4.6 to 6 meters) tall, contains a sack of seeds and a juicy pulp. In ancient Greece pomegranate was known as the fruit of the dead. In Hebrew tradition pomegranates adorned the vestments of the high priest. Ancient Persians believed that pomegranate seeds made their warriors invincible. In China the fruit symbolized longevity.

The research is published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read more here.

Scientists recover T. rex soft tissue: 70-million-year-old fossil yields preserved blood vessels

Reuters report:

Dinosaur 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex fossil dug out of a hunk of sandstone has yielded soft tissue, including blood vessels and perhaps even whole cells, U.S. researchers reported on Thursday. To make sure she was seeing what she thought she was seeing, Schweitzer, a biologist by training, compared the Tyrannosaur samples with bone taken from a dead ostrich. She chose an ostrich because birds are thought to be the closest living relatives of dinosaurs and ostriches are big birds. Both the dinosaur and ostrich blood vessels contained small, reddish brown dots that could be the nuclei of the endothelial cells that line blood vessels.

Read more here.

What Adam Smith really said

Gavin Kennedy in The Scotsman:

SmithSome on the Right brazenly saw in Smith’s name an authority against much of what he opposed on moral grounds. He was cited to oppose shorter working hours, to continue employing women and children in coal mines and dark satanic mills, even in defence of slavery. Smith allegedly advised against interference in the business of business.

The cries went up – Laissez faire! Leave the mine and mill owners alone! They know best. The invisible hand will come right in the end. It’s all in Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Interfere at your peril.

Some on the Left naively saw Smith as a compelling authority in favour of state intervention. Wilberforce quoted him against slavery, a practice Smith opposed on moral and economic grounds. Others quoted his support for the government to fund a school in every village so that each child would become literate and numerate. But they did not like his moral sentiments or his political economy.

The distortions of Smith’s views have conquered popular discourse. Libertarians on the Right vie with voices on the Left and sling quotations out of context – they long since gave up reading his books.

The distortions began shortly after Smith died in 1790.

More here.

Break, Blow, Burn

Clive James in the New York Times:

13pr22camille Clearly designed as a come-on for bright students who don’t yet know very much about poetry, Camille Paglia’s new book anthologizes 43 short works in verse from Shakespeare through to Joni Mitchell, with an essay about each. The essays do quite a lot of elementary explaining. Readers who think they already know something of the subject, however, would be rash if they gave her low marks just for spelling things out. Even they, if they were honest enough to admit it, might need help with the occasional Latin phrase, and they will find her analysis of individual poems quite taxing enough in its upper reaches. ”Having had his epiphany,” she says of the sonnet ”Composed Upon Westminster Bridge,” ”Wordsworth moves on, preserving his solitude and estrangement by shutting down his expanded perception.” Nothing elementary about that.

She flies as high as you can go, in fact, without getting into the airless space of literary theory and cultural studies. Not that she has ever regarded those activities as elevated. She has always regarded them, with good reason, as examples of humanism’s perverse gift for attacking itself, and for providing the academic world with a haven for tenured mediocrity. This book is the latest shot in her campaign to save culture from theory. It thus squares well with another of her aims, to rescue feminism from its unwise ideological allegiances. So in the first instance ”Break, Blow, Burn” is about poetry, and in the second it is about Camille Paglia.

More here.

Internet Phone Service Creating Chatty Network

Ethan Todras-Whitehill in the New York Times:

JOHN PERRY BARLOW is pretty free and open, but he’s no simpleton. So when he signed on to Skype, a free Internet phone service, and a woman identifying herself as Kitty messaged him, saying, “I need a friend,” he was skeptical. He figured she was “looking for ‘friends’ to come watch her ‘relax’ in her Webcam-equipped ‘bedroom.’ “

Nevertheless, he took the call. “Will you talk to me?” she said. “I want to practice my English.”

Kitty turned out to be Dzung Vu My, 22, a worker at an oil company in Hanoi, Vietnam. They spoke for a long time, exchanging text, photographs and Web addresses, and discussing everything from the state of Vietnam’s economy to Ms. My’s father’s time in the army.

“One doesn’t get random phone calls from Vietnam,” Mr. Barlow, 57, the former Grateful Dead lyricist and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy organization for an unfettered Internet, wrote on his blog. “At least, one never could before.”

Mr. Barlow’s experience is not unique. Skype users report unsolicited contacts every day, and contrary to such experiences with phone and e-mail, the calls are often welcomed.

Skype was founded by Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, the creators of Kazaa, a peer-to-peer file-sharing service.

More here.

Karachi’s growing drug culture

Naveen Naqvi at NBC News:

At least 200 people, most in their twenties or thirties, partied away at a recent warehouse party and danced as a U.K.-based DJ played Danny Howells’ album for Global Underground.

Many stood on high platforms, their hands and eyes raised to the DJ’s booth on a balcony. They wore glow-in-the-dark bracelets, sunglasses, designer sports wear, and canvas shoes.

The scene could have been in London or New York, but this “rave” took place in the industrial area of Karachi, where you could name your poison and have it within minutes. 

Dealers dressed in baseball caps, baggy jeans and loose t-shirts milled around selling ecstasy for as low as $11 and as high as $25 a tab, cocaine for about a $100 a gram, acid for $10 a hit, and fifty grams of hashish for about $15. 

The gathering, one of many in Pakistan’s financial capital, demonstrated how the drug culture common to many Western capitals, has made inroads in one of the world’s strictest Islamic states.

More here.

preposterous to characterize Columbia as anti-Semitic

Karen W. Arenson in the New York Times:

Columbia_1Faced with complaints that Columbia University has tolerated anti-Semitism and intimidation in its Middle East studies classes, Columbia’s president said last night that academic freedom has some limits when it comes to the classroom and the broader educational experience.

“We should not elevate our autonomy as individual faculty members above every other value,” the president, Lee C. Bollinger, said in a speech to the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.

Professors, he said, have a responsibility “to resist the allure of certitude, the temptation to use the podium as an ideological platform, to indoctrinate a captive audience, to play favorites with the like-minded and silence the others.”

Arguing that the health and vigor of universities rests on their scholarly professionalism, Mr. Bollinger said that when there are lapses, they should not be “accepted without consequences.”

His remarks came as Columbia awaits the report of an internal committee set up to investigate charges by some pro-Israeli students that they had been intimidated in classes by pro-Palestinian professors in the department of Middle Eastern and Asian languages and cultures and outside the classroom as well. They also said that this occurred for several years and that Columbia had not taken their charges seriously.

More here.

What exactly is a tangible interface?

The Feature interviews Matt Jones:

Matt_jones Matt Jones and Chris Heathcote are Nokia’s oracles. Officially, Jones is a concept development manager and Heathcote is a user experience manager in Nokia’s Insight & Foresight group. Unofficially, the two are inciting a revolution in the way we interact with our mobile devices, and each other. At last week’s Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego, they wowed the crowd with a demonstration of a Nokia’s Near Field Communication, a cell phone shell containing a reader for wireless electronic tags. According to the researchers, NFC isn’t just another wireless standard though. Rather, it’s a harbinger of the “tangible interfaces” to come.

TheFeature: What exactly is a tangible interface?

Jones: We’re trying to come up with ways to rethink and remap the idioms of computing and communications that have traditionally been tied to the desktop and laptop so that they work better in the contexts in which people use smart phones. Embodied interaction through tangible interfaces is one way to do that.

TheFeature: Can you give a concrete example?

Jones: We’re looking at how touch can be used to execute a number of tasks or interactions so you don’t have to switch contexts from the real world to the world inside the screen. For instance, one person could touch his device to someone else’s and give them a “digital gift,” to borrow a phrase from our old boss Marko Ahtisaari. That digital gift might be something as simple as a URL or a photo that I’ve taken of a moment we just shared.

TheFeature: Awww. That’s sweet.

Jones: Well, I don’t want to get too Hallmark about it. All joking aside though, the touch technology provides measurable quantitative differences in the efficiency by which people can complete that kind of task. In terms of the measurements that people wearing white coats take inside usability labs, touch technology could reduce the number of interactions required by an order of magnitude.

More here.

Evolution at Work (and creationism nowhere in sight)

Carl Zimmer in his blog, The Loom:

You may have heard last month’s news about an aggressive form of HIV that had public health officials in New York scared out of their professional gourds. They isolated the virus from a single man, and reported that it was resistant to anti-HIV drugs and drove its victim into full-blown AIDS in a manner of months, rather than the normal period of a few years. Skeptics wondered whether all the hoopla was necessary or useful. The virus might not turn out to be all that unusual, some said; perhaps the man’s immune system had some peculiar twist that gave the course of his disease such a devastating arc. But everyone did agree that the final judgment would have to wait until the scientists started publishing their research.


Today the first data came out in the Lancet. One of the figures jumped out at me, and I’ve reproduced it here. The scientists drew the evolutionary tree of this new strain. Its branch is marked here as “index case.” The researchers compared the sequence of one its genes to sequences from other HIV strains, looking to see how closely related it was to them. The length of the branches shows how different the genetic sequences are from one another. The tree shows that this is not a case of contamination from some other well-known strain. Instead, this new strain sticks way out on its own.

More here.

The memoir mountain

William Grimes in the New York Times:

In 1884, Ulysses S. Grant, desperate for money and terminally ill with cancer, did what countless statesmen and military leaders had done before him: he sat down to write his memoirs. Racing against the clock, he turned out two substantial volumes on his early life and his military experiences in the Mexican and Civil Wars.

By any measure, he had a lot to write about and a lot to tell. He produced a classic memoir, as the genre was then understood: important events related by a great man who shaped them.

But that was then.

Today, Grant’s memoirs fall into the same sprawling category as “Callgirl: Confessions of an Ivy League Lady of Pleasure,” “Bat Boy: My True Life Adventures Coming of Age With the New York Yankees” and “Rolling Away: My Agony With Ecstasy,” to pluck just three titles from the memoir mountain looming in the next month or two.

More here.

A New Company to Focus on Artificial Intelligence

John Markoff in the New York Times:

ThinkThe technologist and the marketing executive who co-founded Palm Computing in 1992 are starting a new company that plans to license software technologies based on a novel theory of how the mind works.

Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky will remain involved with what is now called PalmOne, but on Thursday they plan to announce the creation of Numenta, a technology development firm that will conduct research in an effort to extend Mr. Hawkins’s theories. Those ideas were initially sketched out last year in his book “On Intelligence: How a New Understanding of the Brain Will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines,” co-written with Sandra Blakeslee, who also writes for The New York Times.

Dileep George, a Stanford University graduate student who has worked with Mr. Hawkins in translating his theory into software, is joining the firm as a co-founder.

More here.

Radical report supports baby sex selection

Shaoni Bhattacharya in New Scientist:

Parents undergoing fertility treatment should be allowed to choose the sex of their baby for “family balancing”, says a radical report by the UK parliament’s committee on science and technology.

The controversial document makes many other bold suggestions on human reproductive technologies. It does not rule out human reproductive cloning in the future; it backs the use of human-animal hybrid embryos for research; and it challenges the UK government’s intention to strip the anonymity from future sperm and egg donors.

More here.

Revolutionary Science

Jed Z. Buchwald reviews Science and Polity in France: The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Years by Charles Coulston Gillispie, in American Scientist:

The book’s nine chapters range from a careful account of the involvement of scientists in the early revolutionary Constituent Assembly, through discussions of education, the profoundly important creation of the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, the development of the metric system, and the years of the Terror, war and reaction. Along the way we meet some astonishingly colorful and often tragic characters. There are, for instance, the unfortunate Jean-Sylvain Bailly, a mediocre astronomer who became Mayor of Paris and met his end during the Terror, and the great chemist Lavoisier, a member of the General Tax Farm, who never could do things halfway and who thought that rational deliberation would always trump emotion. He too felt the kiss of Madame Guillotine, and none of his politically well-placed confreres (including the mathematician Gaspard Monge and the chemist Claude-Louis Berthollet) “said a word or lifted a finger.” We meet as well the young Laplace, onetime collaborator of Lavoisier and eventually a central figure in French mathematics and physics, as well as a sometime administrator, of whom Napoleon remarked that “he brought the spirit of infinitesimals to administration.”

More here.

Wrestling With a ‘Lolita’ Opera and Losing

Daniel J. Wakin in the New York Times:

In an introduction to the score for his “Darkbloom: Overture for an Imagined Opera,” which will have its premiere with the Boston Symphony Orchestra tonight, John Harbison calls the piece the remnant of a misguided project, an “unproduceable” opera based on a “famous and infamous” American novel.

What made it unproduceable, at least in part, was the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal involving priests and minors, Mr. Harbison said in an interview this week. The novel was Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” a work about a man’s passion for an adolescent girl.

“I suppose the subject matter never has been more socially unacceptable than it is now in the United States,” Mr. Harbison said. “Obviously I began to think more about that.”

More here.

Bobby Fischer’s scabrous and hate-filled farewell

Richard Lloyd Parry in The Times:

Fischer_cp_6088312After nine months of captivity and bitter legal struggle the former world chess champion flew to freedom in Iceland, spraying his vitriol far and wide. Japanese politicians, he declared, were “gangsters”. The US was “Jew-controlled”. “This was not an arrest,” he said, in the few minutes that he was audible to reporters between his arrival at Narita airport in Tokyo and his departure for Reykjavik. “It was a kidnapping cooked up by Bush and (the Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro) Koizumi. They are war criminals and should be hanged.”

To underline his point, he unzipped his trousers as he approached the airport, and made as if to urinate on the wall. This is the man who on the night of September 11, 2001, applauded the attacks on the United States as “wonderful news”, expressing the hope that Americans as a consequence “will imprison the Jews, they will execute several hundred thousand of them at least”.

More here.