Clairvoyant lunacy and obstinate romanticism

Julian Evans in Prospect Magazine:

In all the battles for the Enlightenment, one combatant’s name is rarely mentioned. Don Quixote de la Mancha, icon of everything in humanity that is calamitously idealistic, is renowned for qualities other than rationalist courage: for kindness and foolishness; for unintended comedy and a refusal to be disenchanted; for clairvoyant lunacy and obstinate romanticism in a rotten, factual world. He rides out with Sancho Panza from his village in la Mancha to discover that the world is not as he has read about it in books of chivalry and, impervious to ridicule or failure, for 124 chapters seeks to live up to the pastoral ideal of the knight errant, that fiction of the good man. Only in the 126th and final chapter does he acknowledge the “absurdities and deceptions” of the books that inspired him and then, in an ending of unbearable sadness, finally renounces his world of fantasy, returns to his senses, and dies.

More here.

The Examined Life: The Z-Team

Joshua Glenn in The Boston Globe:Fallon_1

TWO WEEKS AGO, in an item about the New York Press’s roster of the “50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers,” I asked readers to nominate Bostonians for a list of our own. The Top 10 “most loathsome” Bostonians, according to readers, are – in descending order – Mitt Romney (“Fake Bostonian”), Ben Affleck (“No-talent actor mooching off his Boston roots”), Cardinal Bernard Law (in absentia), Tom Finneran, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, Tom Menino, WRKO’s Howie Carr, Big Dig overseer Matthew J. Amorello, and WTKK’s Mike Barnicle. These worthies are followed closely by WEEI’s Gerry Callahan; Johnny Damon (as author, not athlete); William Bulger (whose brother Whitey tied for 50th place with Jay Leno and “Fever Pitch” star Jimmy Fallon – “Take off the Sox gear you phony”); Curt Schilling (“It’s like the entire city of Boston can’t make a decision until they get Schilling’s input”); and, tied for 15th place, a lineup of grating furniture-store spokespersons: Bob of Bob’s Discount Furniture, Eliot and Barry of Jordan’s, and Bernie and Phyl of Bernie & Phyl’s (“GO AWAY”).

More here.

Turtles All The Way Down

The anonymous 3QD reader who wrote “I love you and would like your hand(s) in marriage” as a response in our reader survey, has outed herself: it is Nell Grey of Pigeon Post Pictures. Nell Grey and Walker Errant are making what seems a fascinating documentary film called Turtles All The Way Down. From their website:

MeetthefilmmakersOne year ago, we met Richard Ogust, a writer sharing his Manhattan penthouse with 1200 threatened and endangered turtles and tortoises. He was in the middle of a swarm of media attention. CNN, CBS, NBC, the Discovery Channel and others around the world were all shining their spotlights on “the crazy turtle guy of New York City.” But after the reporters left, the articles had been published and the programs had aired, Richard explained to us that the real story hadn’t been told.

Turtles All The Way Down tells a story not about eccentricity, but about devotion. It is a story inspired by an appalling but little known fact: that we are on the brink of losing a group of animals that have survived the ecological instability of the last 200 million years, including the great extinction that eliminated the dinosaurs.

More on the film here.  And Nell, if I weren’t happily married, I would certainly have accepted your proposal.

Scientists make bacteria behave like computers


Backteria_hmed11a_1 Bacteria have been programmed to behave like computers, assembling themselves into complex shapes based on instructions stuffed in to their genes. The work was led by Ron Weiss, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and molecular biology at Princeton University. The research could lead to smart biological devices that could detect hazardous substances or bioterrorism chemicals, scientists say. Eventually, the process might be used to direct the construction of useful devices or the growth of new tissue, perhaps restoring function to a severed spinal cord.

The study is detailed in April 28 issue of the journal Nature.

More here.

Sugar coating improves anticancer treatment

From Nature:Mouse

A coating of sugar could help nanoparticles deliver molecules to fight widespread tumours, according to research on mice. The team’s nanoparticles, which contain gene-silencing molecules that can inhibit cancerous growth, are designed to be injected into the bloodstream and taken up primarily by tumour cells. The nanoparticles also manage not to create troublesome reactions from the immune system. The nanoparticles, which are small enough to pass through blood vessels into the surrounding tissue, are taken up by cancerous cells because they carry a molecular tag that binds to receptors found on tumours. The agent consists of small interfering RNA (siRNA). When the agent is taken up by a tumor cell, it inhibits expression of the tumour-growth gene, and the cell stops multiplying. Other attempts to carry siRNA to tumours have used nanoparticles made of lipids. But in some mouse studies, these particles provoked an immune response, which would make the approach difficult to use in humans.

More here.

Harlem Open Artist Studio Tour

Zeina Nadine Assaf is a very talented young NYC artist. She wrote to tell me about H.O.A.S.T., which she is taking part in this weekend. Do try to make it there:

RubberchixThe Harlem Open Artist Studio Tour (H.O.A.S.T.) is a community-based arts organization that was established in 2004. Our mission is to foster artistic expression by uniting and promoting the visual artists of Harlem and to strengthen the community by stimulating awareness of the contemporary arts movement.

Our first project is the 1st Annual Harlem Open Artist Studio Tour – a two-day event that will accomplish our objectives by bringing the public into visual artists’ studios in historic Harlem on 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Saturday, April 30 and 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., Sunday, May 1, 2005. This event stands as a tribute to the art and culture that flourish in Harlem today.

There is more information here.  More info on Zeina here, and you can meet her personally on:

Saturday, April 30, from 11:30 – 4pm, and Sunday, May 1, from 1-5pm
At La Negrita, 999 Columbus Avenue, at the Northeast corner of 109th Street


Alessandro Petty writes for Domus Magazine (subscription needed) about Cairo’s growing cemetery population, only he is talking about living people:

“Contrary to modern urban-planning principles, the dictates of Islam, public 880cairo_20_big hygiene rules and social conventions, people continue to live in Cairo’s cemeteries. This is a practice rooted in the funeral ceremonies of the Pharaohs and the religious beliefs of the Copts. The cemetery is a place of contemplation for the Sufis, a place of exile for impoverished nobles, a caravansary for pilgrims on route to Mecca and first homes for families newly arrived in the city from the countryside. “

Gene mutation slashes need for sleep

Alison Motluk in New Scientist:

Some mutant flies can get by on 30% less sleep than their normal counterparts, thanks to a single mutation in one gene.

The finding is important because it suggests the amount of sleep needed may be largely controlled by one gene, which may shed light on human sleep needs, says Chiara Cirelli at the University of Wisconsin, US. “This isn’t some obscure fly gene – there’s a homologue in mammals and humans.”

More here.

The artists’ Wittgenstein

Terry Eagleton reviews The Literary Wittgenstein edited by John Gibson and Wolfgang Huemer, in the Times Literary Supplement:

WittgensteinWhy are artists so fascinated by Ludwig Wittgenstein? Frege is a philosopher’s philosopher, and Bertrand Russell was every shopkeeper’s idea of a sage; but Wittgenstein is the philosopher of poets and composers, novelists and movie directors. Derek Jarman made his last major film about him; Bruce Duffy plucked a novel from his tormented life in The World As I Found It; M. A. Numminem has set Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus to music in his Tractatus Suite, and garbled fragments of the same text can be heard croaked in a hilarious stage-German accent by a Dutch pop group. The list is long.

One source of the fascination, no doubt, is the fabular, riches-to-rags nature of the philosopher’s career. The child of one of the wealthiest industrialists of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Wittgenstein gave away most of his fortune and spent much of his life in zealously Tolstoyan pursuit of sancta simplicitas.

More here.

3QD Reader Survey Results

The results of our reader survey (139 people responded) show roughly that:

  • Most people want us to put up as many interesting items as we can find on a given day, but a significant minority wants only 1-5 posts at most.
  • A great majority of people prefer the posts to be more than a sentence or two, but less than a screenful.
  • Most people seem to like the pictures in the posts.
  • Many people would like more original commentary from us, though about a quarter of respondents want the site to stay the same.
  • Most people like the Monday column, but only a small number would like to see more such features.

In addition, a significant number of people left very helpful suggestions and comments, of which my personal favorite was:

  • I love you and would like your hand(s) in marriage.

Many thanks to all of you for taking the time to tell us what you want, and for all the encouragement. We are always suckers for flattery.

For more detailed results, all the comments, and the exact numbers, click here.

‘I have always looked at life as though it were a novel’

Reported in The Guardian: Michael March talks to author Ahdaf Soueif about the war in Iraq and the west’s view of Islam:

Ahdaf1 MM: Name five points from Islam which could redirect history.

AS: If – rather than looking at what specific Muslims have done you look at what Islam says about itself – you find lots of ethical positions that one could build on. Diversity and equality are pretty good starting points: several texts celebrate diversity and affirm it as a positive good. And hand in hand with diversity comes equality. Putting a high premium on knowledge. Islam, until recent decadent times, has never set its face against science.

Encouraging you to simultaneously engage with the world and yet maintain a level of detachment: “Live for the next world as if you were to die tomorrow, and live for this world as though you were going to live forever.” There is a tradition of the prophet that says that if the end of the world were to come and you were carrying a seed in your hand go ahead and plant it.

More here.

Physicists could soon be creating black holes in the laboratory

From Scientific American:Black_hole

Ever since physicists invented particle accelerators, nearly 80 years ago, they have used them for such exotic tasks as splitting atoms, transmuting elements, producing antimatter and creating particles not previously observed in nature. With luck, though, they could soon undertake a challenge that will make those achievements seem almost pedestrian. Accelerators may produce the most profoundly mysterious objects in the universe: black holes.

In the early 1970s Stephen W. Hawking of the University of Cambridge and one of us (Carr) investigated a mechanism for generating holes in the early universe. The realization that holes could be small prompted Hawking to consider what quantum effects might come into play, and in 1974 he came to his famous conclusion that black holes do not just swallow particles but also spit them out.

More here.

His Brain, Her Brain

From Scientific American:Brains

It turns out that male and female brains differ quite a bit in architecture and activity. On a gray day in mid-January, Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard University, suggested that innate differences in the build of the male and female brain might be one factor underlying the relative scarcity of women in science. His remarks reignited a debate that has been smoldering for a century, ever since some scientists sizing up the brains of both sexes began using their main finding–that female brains tend to be smaller–to bolster the view that women are intellectually inferior to men. To date, no one has uncovered any evidence that anatomical disparities might render women incapable of achieving academic distinction in math, physics or engineering. And the brains of men and women have been shown to be quite clearly similar in many ways. Nevertheless, over the past decade investigators have documented an astonishing array of structural, chemical and functional variations in the brains of males and females.

More here.

Some scientists say humans can read minds: Mirror neurons may generate ability to empathize


In 1996, three neuroscientists were probing the brain of a macaque monkey when they stumbled across a curious cluster of cells in the premotor cortex, an area of the brain responsible for planning movements. The cluster of cells fired not only when the monkey performed an action, but likewise when the monkey saw the same action performed by someone else. The cells responded the same way whether the monkey reached out to grasp a peanut, or merely watched in envy as another monkey or a human did. Because the cells reflected the actions that the monkey observed in others, the neuroscientists named them “mirror neurons.” Later experiments confirmed the existence of mirror neurons in humans and revealed another surprise. In addition to mirroring actions, the cells reflected sensations and emotions.

“Mirror neurons suggest that we pretend to be in another person’s mental shoes,” says Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine. “In fact, with mirror neurons we do not have to pretend, we practically are in another person’s mind.”

More here.

Sheikh meets Shakespeare

From The Telegraph, Calcutta.Aparna

Would Caliban have been more at home in the mangrove forests of the Sunderbans than on the island in The Tempest? Or was Puck a “pakhi before he morphed into a fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream? The first few pages of Kalyan Ray’s debut novel Eastwords give a glimpse of an enticing land and a fascinating narrative. Here, Shakespeare pops up on Indian shores and hobnobs with our own Sheikh Piru, straight from the pages of Parashuram’s Ulot Puran. Eastwords is a novel that the professor of English literature in Morris College of the US has written between semesters and bundles of answer scripts.

Ray’s debut has already been inducted in the popular culture studies syllabus at MIT in the US.

More here.