What’s Left of the Union?

William Pfaff in the New York Review of Books:

The French and Dutch referendum votes against the European constitutional treaty caused many Europeans to be alarmed for European unity itself. This was called the biggest reversal for Europe in fifty years, a revolt against economic reform putting the euro in jeopardy, a “lurch to the left,” a repudiation of Europe’s modernizing elites, the beginning of the end for the European Union. “We who lead Europe have lost the power to make Europeans proud of themselves,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg’s prime minister and current holder of the European presidency.

The rejection is something much simpler. It is a crisis provoked by the expansion of the European Union. It was foreseeable, and was sooner or later inevitable. The French and the Dutch have done the European Union a service by bringing it on now. A Europe of twenty-five members (not to speak of a potential thirty-five, or more) is too big to function as the Europe of Six, Twelve, and even Fifteen has been able to function. It represents a radical break from the EU as it has existed.

More here.

Most distant Einstein ring is revealed

Jeff Hecht in New Scientist:

99997614f1Astronomers have spotted the most distant Einstein ring ever seen. It offers valuable insight both on the galaxy which acts as a gravitational lens and on the more distant galaxy whose light it magnifies.

Gravitational lensing occurs because massive objects – ranging from stars to entire galaxies – distort the fabric of space-time, bending the path of light passing near them. A strong gravitational lens can form multiple images of the distant object, or spread its light into an arc.

If the lens lies directly between Earth and the distant background object, the light can be distorted into a ring, named after Einstein because the effect is described by general relativity.

More here.

Journal Ranks Top 25 Unanswered Science Questions

John Roach in National Geographic News:

What is the universe made of? What is the biological basis of consciousness? How long can the human life span be extended?

These are just some of the as-yet-unanswered scientific questions pondered in tomorrow’s special 125th-anniversary issue of the academic journal Science.

Editor-in-chief Donald Kennedy and news editor Colin Norman tasked their staff to list the most challenging questions in science today and then winnow the number to 25.

To make the cut, questions had to be “tough enough and challenging enough and inviting to people who read them” to inspire readers to think about “what the solution[s] might be,” Kennedy said.

More here.  And Levi points out in a comment on this post that Carl Zimmer has links to all 25 essays here, one of which he himself wrote. Thanks, Levi.

A Curvy Klee Museum, Sprouting From the Swiss Hills

Alan Riding in the New York Times:

Strangely perhaps, in a land dominated by the Alps, the countryside around the Swiss capital is shaped by rolling hills that invite nothing more dramatic than unhurried contemplation. And it was this, both mood and look, that Renzo Piano sought to evoke when he added an $86 million museum, the Paul Klee Center, to the orderly Bern landscape.

The results are both striking and discreet. The center’s three round “hills” are etched and molded in a stainless steel that mirrors the sky, while their sloping roofs disappear under a field of barley. Thus the three basic tenets of Klee’s semi-abstract work – line, form and color – are present. And, by chance, a mere 100 yards away is the Schosshalden Cemetery, where Klee is buried.


The center, in a way, is a typical Piano museum, but typical only in that, when planning a museum, Mr. Piano noted, he does not work from a template but instead allows the location and purpose of each project to define the design. And this at least explains how the contrasting styles of, say, the Pompidou Center in Paris, the Menil Collection in Houston and the Paul Klee Center can be the work of the same architect.

More here.

Life begins at 90

From BBC London:Singh_1

At 94, he’s run seven marathons (five in London), countless half-marathons and was recently part of the world’s oldest marathon team in Edinburgh. Fauja Singh’s jogging skills were developed on an Indian farm in Punjab, and then at the magical age of 81, when he moved to the UK, his love for the sport became more “serious”. Next up? He’s set his sights on being a record breaker.

So any secrets to fitness? Fauja’s training regime includes a daily eight-mile walk and run, no smoking or drinking, plenty of smiling and lashings of ginger curry.

More here.

Educational research: Big plans for little brains

From Nature:

Neuro In 1997, John Bruer, the president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation, launched a broadside against the fashion of taking findings from neuroscience and trying to apply them in the classroom. Experienced in both cognitive science and education, Bruer set out to demolish the hype surrounding what he saw as blatant pseudoscience. “Currently, we do not know enough about brain development and neural function to link that understanding directly, in any meaningful, defensible way, to instruction and educational practice,” he wrote, arguing that so-called brain-based curricula had crossed “a bridge too far”.

Now, however, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) has decided that it’s time to span the great divide between neuroscience and education. Over the next five years, it is giving more than US$90 million to four large, multidisciplinary teams incorporating cognitive neuroscientists, psychologists, computer scientists and educationalists. A further series of grants will be announced later this year.

More here.