Man smuggles own art into MoMA

From CNN:

Many a visitor to New York’s Museum of Modern Art has probably thought, “I could do that.”

A British graffiti artist who goes by the name “Banksy” went one step further, by smuggling in his own picture of a soup can and hanging it on a wall, where it stayed for more than three days earlier this month before anybody noticed.

The prank was part of a coordinated plan to infiltrate four of New York’s top museums on a single day.

More here.

Rousseau’s Narcisse at The Theater for the New City

Via Crooked Timber, Narcisse, a play by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, will be performed for the first time in the U.S. at the Theater for the New City, April 7th through April 10th.

Rousseau_picEyeball Planet and The Theater for the New City are delighted to announce the American premiere of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s play NARCISSE; a masterpiece which the legendary philosopher wrote at the age of 18 years old. NARCISSE has never been performed in the United States and will make its contemporary debut in a stunning, surrealistic and experimental production.

. . .

NARCISSE is an utterly contemporary drama that deals with the problem of narcissism and sexual ambiguity. The play is about a man who falls in love with an image of himself dressed as a woman and explores contemporary issues of desire, self-obsession and the difficulty of the relation between the sexes.

Changes in Support and Opposition to the War

The March 15 Stop the War demonstration in London was much smaller than the one two years ago. Support for withdrawing troops has waned.  What’s changed?  Andrew Mueller offers his reasons in OpenDemocracy.

“The Stop The War march of 15 February 2003 in London passed into legend precisely because it wasn’t just another outing for the usual suspects. Most of the people I spoke to had never been to a demonstration in their lives. They simply objected to being lied to by their government, to their money being spent on the destruction of foreigners who meant them no harm, and they were determined to be heard.

They had made a thoughtful, rational decision. The preponderance of such people was the reason there was refreshingly little chanting.

The non-chanting tendency will have been conspicuous by its absence from Stop The War’s London demonstration of 19 March 2005 to mark the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. This is a guess: I wasn’t there either. I suspect, however, that the woman we met in the first paragraph was in attendance, tooting on her infernal whistle, joining lustily in the fatuous mantras about ‘blood and oil’, nodding with expressions of grim resolve at the speeches. As for the banner she’ll carry, . . .  it might well be one of Stop The War’s official placards. These read ‘Bring The Troops Home’.

It’s a shame they don’t make banners large enough to include the parenthetical addendum: ‘and leave the Iraqi people – millions of whom recently risked their lives to vote – to the mercies of Ba’ath party recidivists, opportunist gangsters, and Islamist yahoos’. The moral arithmetic of Stop The War’s slogan is easy to appreciate – it was wrong to send troops to Iraq two years ago, therefore it must be right to withdraw troops from Iraq now – but it is the most depressing example yet of Stop The War’s failure to engage constructively with anything that has happened in the last three and a half years.”

Confessions of a bohemian

David Jays writes about The Letters of Lytton Strachey, edited by Paul Levy, in The Guardian:

Lyttonstrachey200x299‘As usual, it struck me that letters were the only really satisfactory form of literature,’ mused Lytton Strachey in 1916. ‘They give one the facts so amazingly, don’t they?’ Strachey’s iconoclastic biographical writing pounced on intimate detail and modern biography has followed suit, often focusing on the Bloomsbury circle. Michael Holroyd’s sprightly 1967 life of Strachey followed precisely this model, twitching at sauce and gossip, for which letters and diaries rather than published writings represent a treasure trove.

‘The literature of the future,’ he assures Virginia Woolf, ‘will, I clearly see, be amazing. At last it’ll tell the truth, and be indecent and amusing, and romantic.’ Initially, Strachey imagines writing plays or panoramic social novels – ‘My footmen are amazing, and so are my prostitutes’ – but only gradually defines his supple notion of personal history.

He and his friends, the Woolfs and Bells, Keynes and Forster, believed they were inventing the modern world and, to a surprising degree, they did. Their idea of modernity – of free thought, free talk, technological advance and self-examination – is still very much our own.

More here.

Rooting the River Horse

Kate Wong in Scientific American:

000ce0219aea1213987f83414b7f011c_1With its gaping maw, hairless body and eyes that sit high on its head, the semiaquatic hippo is one of the most distinctive members of Africa’s mammalian menagerie. Two species exist today–the common Hippopotamus amphibius and the smaller Liberian hippo, Choeropsis liberiensis–and 40 more are known from the fossil record. Experts agree that hippos belong to the mammalian order Artiodactyla, a group of even-toed, hoofed creatures whose extant representatives include camels, pigs and ruminants such as cows. But exactly where hippos sit on the artiodactyl family tree has proved devilishly difficult to discern.

Two hypotheses lead the pack. The first posits that the piglike peccaries, or tayassuids, are the closest relatives of the hippo. The second proposes that extinct swamp-dwelling creatures called anthracotheres own that distinction.

More here.

Brutal murderer and beloved poet

Donovan Slack and Eric Ferkenhoff in the Boston Globe:

NormIn Chicago, he is one of the city’s most beloved antiwar poets, an author of two books and a congregation leader at a West Side church. But in Massachusetts, he is notorious for executing a clerk at a Saugus clothing store in 1960, aiding in the murder of a Middlesex County jailer in 1961, and then escaping from a Norfolk County correction center in 1985.

Yesterday, his past and Massachusetts authorities caught up with Norman A. Porter Jr.

Now 65, the man on the ”Most Wanted” list has been living in Chicago for at least a decade as Jacob Jameson. As J.J. Jameson, he has been a frequent performer at Chicago lounges and was named’s poet of the month in March 2004.

More here.

13 things that do not make sense

Michael Brooks in New Scientist:

1 The placebo effect

DON’T try this at home. Several times a day, for several days, you induce pain in someone. You control the pain with morphine until the final day of the experiment, when you replace the morphine with saline solution. Guess what? The saline takes the pain away…

7 Tetraneutrons

FOUR years ago, a particle accelerator in France detected six particles that should not exist. They are called tetraneutrons: four neutrons that are bound together in a way that defies the laws of physics.

Francisco Miguel Marquès and colleagues at the Ganil accelerator in Caen are now gearing up to do it again. If they succeed, these clusters may oblige us to rethink the forces that hold atomic nuclei together…

More here.

Fabulous fabrications

From The Economist:

CartoonThe “fab lab”, as Dr Gershenfeld has nicknamed his invention, is a collection of commercially available machines that, while not yet able to put things together from their component atoms, can, according to its inventor, be used to make just about anything with features bigger than those of a computer chip. Among other tools it includes a laser cutter that makes two-dimensional and three-dimensional structures, a device that uses a computer-controlled knife to carve antennas and flexible electrical connections, a miniature milling machine that manoeuvres a cutting tool in three dimensions to make circuit boards and other precision parts, a set of software for programming cheap computer chips known as microcontrollers, and a jigsaw (a narrow-bladed cutting device, not a picture puzzle). Together, these can machine objects with a precision of a millionth of a metre. The fab lab’s purpose is to endow inventors—particularly those in poor countries who lack a formal education and the resources to implement their ideas—with a set of tools that can translate back-of-the-envelope designs into working prototypes.

And it works.

More here.

Mama’s Boys Get Better Milk

Michael Shirber in Live Science:

The tendency of some mothers to coddle their sons may be ingrained, at least in species where males compete for mates.

A recent study of Iberian red deer on a research farm has shown that mothers produce more milk of higher growth-potential for a male calf than a female one. The reason appears to be a genetic advantage, seeing as healthier, stronger males will mate more often – spreading the mother’s genes.

The researchers studied 60 female deer, which – over five years – produced 44 male and 47 female offspring. In collecting milk samples, the researchers took account of the weights of mother and fawn in their analysis.

In equal circumstances, sons were not only given more milk, but the milk was also three percent higher in protein concentration than what females were given.

More here.

The Education of Paul Wolfowitz

Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek:

It is often said in Washington these days that conservatives are full of fresh ideas while liberals defend old orthodoxies. At least in the realm of fighting poverty, the opposite is true. On those few occasions when they think about the subject, conservatives recite a stale catechism of clichés based on virtually no research or experience. You’ve heard them often: foreign aid is a waste, all of it ends up in Swiss banks; poor countries should just free up their markets and they will grow; Africans don’t want to work, etc.

If Wolfowitz is inclined toward these mantras, he should read Jeffrey Sachs’s compelling new book, “The End of Poverty.” Sachs, a distinguished economist who has spent the last three decades working with governments around the world, explains that none of these conventional wisdoms gets it right. Much foreign aid has been very well spent and led to landmark results.

More here.  Oh, and here’s Christopher Hitchens on, yes, Wolfowitz in Slate:

He almost went out of his way to be jeered and hooted at a pro-Israel rally in Washington in the early days of the Bush administration, by telling the gung-ho crowd not to forget the suffering of the Palestinians…

The truth is, he’s a bit bleeding heart for my taste, even though I know some very tough Kurdish and Iraqi and Iranian and Lebanese antifascist militants who would welcome him as a blood-brother. No shame in that, I think.

More here.

Literary Surrealism

John Allen Paulos in his column at ABC News:

PaulosThe Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle (Workshop of Potential Literature), Oulipo for short, was the name of a small group of primarily French writers, mathematicians and academics devoted to the exploration of mathematical and combinatorial techniques in literature. Founded in 1960 (and still somewhat active), the group searched for new literary structures via the imposition of unusual constraints.

Raymond Queneau’s “One Hundred Trillion Sonnets” is a prime example of Oulipo’s combinatorial approach to literature. The work is only 10 pages long with a sonnet on each page. Cut crosswise, the pages allow each of the 14 lines of each sonnet to be turned separately. Thus any of the 10 first lines may be combined with any of the 10 second lines, resulting in 10^2 or 100 different pairs of opening lines. Any of these 10^2 possibilities may be combined with any of the 10 third lines to yield 10^3 or 1,000 possible sets of three lines. Continuing, we conclude that there are 10^14 possible sonnets. Queneau claimed that they all made sense, although it’s safe to say that the claim will never be verified since there is more text in these 10^14 different sonnets than in all the rest of the world’s literature.

Another good example of Oulipo’s work is Jean Lescure’s (N+7) algorithm for transforming a text. Take an excerpt from your favorite newspaper, novel or holy book and replace each noun in it with the seventh unrelated noun following it in some standard dictionary. If the original text is well written, the resulting text is a bit surreal, but usually retains the original’s rhythm and even something of its sense. “Fourscore and seven yeast ago our fathoms brought forth on this continuance a new native, conceived in library and dedicated to the proprietor that all menageries are created equal.”

More here.

A Double Life in Black and White

Patricia Storace looks at a “graphic memoir” by Marjane Satrapi, in the New York Review of Books:

The two volumes of Persepolis, the implacably witty and fearless “graphic memoir” of the Iranian illustrator Marjane Satrapi, relate through an inseparable fusion of cartoon images and verbal narrative the story of a privileged young girl’s childhood experience of Iran’s revolution of 1979, its eight-year war with Iraq, her exile to Austria during her high school years, and her subsequent experience as a university student, young artist, and wife in Tehran after her return to Iran from Europe in 1998. That Persepolis 1, a book in which it is almost impossible to find an image distinguished enough to consider an independent piece of visual art, and equally difficult to find a sentence which in itself surpasses the serviceable, emerges as a work so fresh, absorbing, and memorable is an extraordinary achievement.

In the cartoon world she creates, pictures function less as illustration than as records of action, a kind of visual journalism.

More here.

Nearby Evidence for Dark Energy

Sara Goudarzi at

New research suggests evidence of dark energy in our cosmic backyard, but theorists are still divided on explanations for the ever-increasing speed with which the universe is expanding.

Until now, evidence for dark energy, a mysterious antigravity force apparently pushing galaxies outward at an accelerating pace, has only been found in the farthest reaches of the universe. But an international team of researchers has used computer models supported by observations from the Hubble Space Telescope to find hints of dark energy closer by.

More here.

Law and order among insects

Susan Milius in Science News:

A5977_163In a colony of tree wasps, workers on nursemaid duty crawl this way and that along the bottom of their nest, tending the youngsters in the comb. Most of the workers dutifully look after the queen’s offspring, stopping only to spit a runny meal into the mouth of a pale, lumpy larva snug in its cell. But one of these workers is up to no good. This selfish worker stays still for a minute or two in a suspiciously crouched position. She’s laying her own egg in an empty cell.

Such rogue egg laying is a crime against insect society. The wheels of justice, however, don’t require a special caste of investigators and prosecutors. Punishment among insects is meted out by ordinary workers—and sometimes the queen herself—says biologist Tom Wenseleers, who has watched dozens of hours of black-and-white videos from infrared security cameras that he’s trained on nests of tree wasps.

In the most dramatic episodes, the egg sneak finds herself surrounded by a posse of vigilante workers.

More here.

Startling Scientists, Plant Fixes Its Flawed Gene

Nicholas Wade in the New York Times:

Plant184In a startling discovery, geneticists at Purdue University say they have found plants that possess a corrected version of a defective gene inherited from both their parents, as if some handy backup copy with the right version had been made in the grandparents’ generation or earlier.

The finding implies that some organisms may contain a cryptic backup copy of their genome that bypasses the usual mechanisms of heredity. If confirmed, it would represent an unprecedented exception to the laws of inheritance discovered by Gregor Mendel in the 19th century. Equally surprising, the cryptic genome appears not to be made of DNA, the standard hereditary material.

More here.