Logic and Strategy in Suicide Bombings

A while ago Christopher Brown suggested to me that terrorism in democratic societies is aimed at its polity so that it can place pressure on its government.  I thought it was wrong at the time, and still do to a large extent.  But there seems to be some evidence that this logic holds for suicide bombings, which has been largely used in and against representative democracies.  Robert Pape discusses his research in The American Conservative.

“Many people worry that once a large number of suicide terrorists have acted that it is impossible to wind it down. The history of the last 20 years, however, shows the opposite. Once the occupying forces withdraw from the homeland territory of the terrorists, they often stop—and often on a dime.

In Lebanon, for instance, there were 41 suicide-terrorist attacks from 1982 to 1986, and after the U.S. withdrew its forces, France withdrew its forces, and then Israel withdrew to just that six-mile buffer zone of Lebanon, they virtually ceased. They didn’t completely stop, but there was no campaign of suicide terrorism. Once Israel withdrew from the vast bulk of Lebanese territory, the suicide terrorists did not follow Israel to Tel Aviv.

This is also the pattern of the second Intifada with the Palestinians. As Israel is at least promising to withdraw from Palestinian-controlled territory (in addition to some other factors), there has been a decline of that ferocious suicide-terrorist campaign. This is just more evidence that withdrawal of military forces really does diminish the ability of the terrorist leaders to recruit more suicide terrorists.”

Also see this overview of the latest research, including Pape’s, in Slate. (Hat tip: Ram)

The new periodic table

StewartOxford ecologist Philip Stewart has designed a new periodic table of the elements, and it’s a hit. American schools are placing orders daily for Stewart’s table, and the Royal Society of Chemists recently sent a copy to every British secondary school. Stewart’s is the only remake to achieve widespread adoption since Dmitri Mendeleev invented the original periodic table in a fit of brilliance in 1869. “

More here, and don’t miss the slideshow.

Thornton Wilder

From The Village Voice:

Thornton The most cosmopolitan cracker ever to play Santa Claus and Davy Crockett, Billy Bob Thornton is a walking contradiction, reconciling the conflicting aesthetics of Northern and Southern truth and fiction. In person, he seems to have fewer of those sharp, hillbilly angles than appear on screen. He has skin that could advertise an L.A. salon (despite the scrollwork of tattoos up and down his arms). And while he’s wearing cowboy boots, he bought them—as the cowboy sneers in the salsa commercial—in New York City!

More here.

Why parrot moms get to wear bright colors


Parrots_1 In the animal kingdom, males typically get all the color, which they flaunt in the never-ending quest for sex. Males use color, size, antlers and other showy tactics to discourage males (or in some cases, to beat them up). Now and then, the reverse is true. Usually when females are the most colorful, however, it’s because sex roles have been reversed: The females are competing for mates and the males are tending the young.

So the parrot Ecletus roratus has been an enigma. The females stay in the nest while the males forage — a typical avian family setup. Females are well outnumbered, so they don’t have to show off to get a mate. Yet while the males are plain tree-leaf green, the females stand out like Fourth of July fireworks, brightly adorned with red and blue. Mom and Dad are so different that when scientists first found them in the Australian rainforest, they though it was two different species. A new study suggests an evolutionary logic for the odd coloring.

More here.

Details of US microwave-weapon tests revealed

David Hambling in New Scientist:

Test results of a US microwave weapon have been made public under the Freedom of Information Act. Called the Active Denial System, the weapon fires a 95-gigahertz microwave beam which is supposed to heat skin but leave no physical damage. Designed with crowd-control in mind, the beam causes pain in moments and becomes intolerable in under 5 seconds. To protect their eyes, test “rioters” were asked to remove contact lenses and glasses before being fired upon. They were also relieved of their loose change – everyone knows what happens to metal left in microwaves. But some experts wonder exactly how the amount of radiation a target receives can be controlled: what if someone in the crowd is unable to move away from the beam?

More here.

How one scientist’s simple sketches transformed physics

Peter Weiss in Science News Online:

A6337_1984The next time you get a letter, its stamp might have printed on it examples of one the greatest conceptual tools of modern physics. The tool is a kind of line drawing, and a bunch of those drawings appear on the face of a new U.S. postage stamp honoring a legendary physicist, the late Richard P. Feynman.

Those drawings are ubiquitous in physics today. “If you walk into a physics building anywhere in the world, you see those [drawings] on the blackboards,” says David I. Kaiser, a physicist and historian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who recently wrote a book about the sketches.

Created by Feynman in the 1940s to solve one of the most vexing puzzles of theoretical physics at the time—a feat for which he would share the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics—the drawings give physicists a quick, intuitive way to organize and understand difficult calculations. As scientists were uncovering droves of new subatomic particles in the 1950s and 1960s, Feynman diagrams—as the drawings came to be known—offered a means for visualizing the unfamiliar entities and their interactions.

More here.

Lapham Takes Stand in Polanski Libel Trial

Sarah Lyall in the New York Times:

Lewis H. Lapham, the editor of Harper’s Magazine, reached far back into the past on Wednesday, telling a British court about an encounter he says he saw in Elaine’s restaurant in Manhattan in August 1969, between the filmmaker Roman Polanski and a Scandinavian model named Beatte Telle.

“He began to praise her beauty and speak to her, romance her,” Mr. Lapham recounted, speaking of Mr. Polanski and Ms. Telle, strangers until that moment. “At one point he had his hand on her leg and he said to her: ‘I can put you in the movies. I can make you the next Sharon Tate.’ “

Testifying in a libel case setting Mr. Polanski, 71, against Vanity Fair magazine, which reported the anecdote in an article in July 2002, Mr. Lapham said that the incident was embedded in his memory. “I was impressed by the remark, not only because it was tasteless and vulgar, but because it was a cliché,” he said.

More here.

Studies Say We Learn to Fib While Young

Lee Dye at ABC News:

The first study is one of several recent reports showing that we were taught how to lie while we were very young, usually by those closest to us, like mom and dad, and granny. Don’t hurt Aunt Gertrude’s feelings by telling her you wanted a red car, not a book. Grin and bear it.

But the researchers wanted to take that a step further and see if children who are conditioned to put more effort into controlling their emotions are actually better at it than those who aren’t. Psychologists have a term for it that is so hard to say it’s, well, disgusting. It’s called “effortful control.”

More here.

India: Beyond the call centre

Soumya Bhattacharya  reviews Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity, in The Guardian:

Amartya_senEvery year, the 1998 winner of the Nobel Prize for economics returns to Santiniketan, the tiny university town 100-odd miles from Calcutta. In Santiniketan, the former Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, can be seen on a bicycle, friendly and unassuming, chatting with the locals and working for a trust he has set up with the money from his Nobel Prize. One of the most influential public thinkers of our times is strongly rooted in the country in which he grew up; he is deeply engaged with its concerns.

There can, then, be few people better equipped than this Lamont University Professor at Harvard to write about India and the Indian identity, especially at a time when the stereotype of India as a land of exoticism and mysticism is being supplanted with the stereotype of India as the back office of the world.

In this superb collection of essays, Sen smashes quite a few stereotypes and places the idea of India and Indianness in its rightful, deserved context. Central to his notion of India, as the title suggests, is the long tradition of argument and public debate, of intellectual pluralism and generosity that informs India’s history.

More here.

Why make war when you can make music?

“Politicians of all persuasions should take note of the work of Daniel Barenboim,” writes Julian Lloyd Webber in The Telegraph:

With such bona-fide Israeli credentials, you would hardly have expected Barenboim to become one of its government’s most conspicuous critics. Yet, like Menuhin before him, Barenboim’s questing mind ensures that his own considered opinions transcend mere political correctness.

His averred musical hero remains the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler who – tainted by his “association” with the Nazis – provoked a mass boycott by Jewish musicians (Menuhin aside) when his name was touted to take over the helm of the Chicago Symphony.

Over the past few years, Barenboim’s critiques of the Israeli government have been coruscating: “Israel is in the grip of a ghetto mentality. We have a powerful army. We have the atomic bomb. But the psychology of what comes out of Israel has the tone of the Warsaw Ghetto.”

To inevitable accusations that he has turned against his country, he retorts: “I don’t think I’m anti-Israeli. I think Sharon is anti-Israeli because it’s in the interest of Israel to understand the problems of the other side.”

More here.

Basker Vashee, 1944-2005

Basker_pic My old friend and teacher Basker Vashee (Bhasker Chaganlal Vashee) has died.

Basker was born and raised in what was then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).  In college, he was active in the nationalist struggle against the white minority government of Ian Smith, for which he was arrested and placed in solitary confinement for three years. After he was released, Basker went into exile in Europe and in Zambia, and became very actively involved with the Zimbabwean African People’s Union (not to be confused with Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwean African National Union).  He served as ZAPU’s “ambassador” to Europe in the years prior to the defeat of the Smith government in 1980.  Basker wrote on a wide set of issues, including debt and development in Africa, democracy in the Third World, an militarism.  And in his last years, he was working on a biography of Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe’s descent into authoritarianism. 

Basker seemed never to have quite left the condition of exile, always intending to return to Zimbabwe to lend a hand to making it a better place even, or especially, as it degenerated under Mugabe’s rule.  (Here is an interview with him on his life, exile and belonging.)

Basker was a very smart, but I also remember him as a gentle, kind and warm man, and he will be sorely missed by the many that knew him.

Cirque du Soleil Bids for World Domination


Cirque du Soleil is one of the great artistic follies of our age and one of its most baffling success stories. Four productions populate the Las Vegas Strip, while others are preparing to invade Perth, Australia; Osaka, Japan; and Ostend, Belgium. Cirque du Soleil has spawned a feature film, a reality TV series, and a theater-cum-spa in Montreal. Since decamping Quebec in 1987 with a show titled Le Cirque Réinventé (“we reinvent the circus”), it has all but banished P.T. Barnum’s carnival from the imagination. Five years ago, in a desperate bid to reclaim their birthright, Barnum’s heirs even produced a knock-off of the classier Canuck show—sans midway and avec fatuousness. It flopped. Meanwhile, Cirque founder Guy Laliberté—such an inspiring name!—exudes French-Canadian benevolence. He does not say, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” He says, “I dream of filling the planet with creativity.”

more here.

Aernout Mik

Pretty well known in Europe, getting more work in the US, Mr. Mik seems to be doing some interesting things. Refraction is currently on view at the MCA Chicago.

Refraction depicts the moments after a supposed accident, with a traffic jam visible behind the wreck. Though police, ambulances, and first aid workers stand in shock, no victims are visible. The video continuously shifts between simultaneous shots of onlookers and wreckage, revealing details and wider views. The footage is divided into three scenes which are separately projected onto screens. The overall effect jars with what one might expect in reality, charging the viewing space.

Robotics show Lucy walked upright

From BBC News:Lucy

The model, which uses footprints to predict gait, suggests “Lucy”, as the first fossil afarensis was called, walked rather like us. This contradicts earlier suggestions that Lucy shuffled like a bipedally walking chimpanzee. The research is published in the Royal Society Interface journal. “I think it is very interesting work,” Professor Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, told the BBC News website. “There was controversy as to whether [footprints purported to be from afarensis] were showing a human pattern. And it looks like they do.”

More here.

Google Moon

Googlemoon Google has introduced Moon maps :

On July 20, 1969, man first landed on the Moon. A few decades later, we’re pleased to cut you in on the action. Google Moon is an extension of Google Maps and Google Earth that, courtesy of NASA imagery (thanks, guys!), enables you to surf the Moon’s surface and check out the exact spots that the Apollo astronauts made their landings.”

but what’s more interesting is their future plans, and what they think will happen on the moon in the following decades:

“We usually don’t announce future products in advance, but in this case, yes, we can confirm that on July 20th, 2069, in honor of the 100th anniversary of mankind’s first manned lunar landing, Google will fully integrate Google Local search capabilities into Google Moon, which will allow our users to quickly find lunar business addresses, numbers and hours of operation, among other valuable forms of Moon-oriented local information.

Endangered turtle escapes a soupy fate


Turtle HANOI, Vietnam – They’re calling him “the lucky royal turtle” — a rare and endangered reptile that was saved from a likely fate in a Chinese soup pot by keen-eyed wildlife officers and a microchip. Poachers snatched the animal, a species called “Royal Turtle” in Cambodia because its eggs were once fed to kings, from a Cambodian river two months ago and toted it across the Vietnamese border on a motorbike with a stash of other, more common, turtles. Conservationists said that at 33 pounds (15 kilograms), the animal was sure to have fetched a good price when it reached the smuggler’s destination: The food markets of China, where turtle meat is a delicacy often made into soup. A raid on the smuggler’s house in southern Vietnam’s Tay Ninh province was the turtle’s first stroke of good luck. About 30 turtles were confiscated and transported to a wildlife inspection center, where workers noticed there was something different about this one.

More here.

Iraq: Next steps

Larry Diamond, in Slate, considers what can be done about Iraq.

“If Iraq is going to be stabilized, and if democracy is to have any chance of emerging, the terrorist and insurgent violence must be diminished. As senior American military officers keep insisting, this cannot be done through military and intelligence means alone. It requires political steps as well to widen the circle of Iraqis who have a stake in peace and order, and to take the nationalist steam out of the insurgency.

Four steps are now urgently needed. First, the Bush administration must declare that the United States will not seek permanent military bases in Iraq. Its refusal to do so has aroused Iraqi suspicions that we seek long-term domination of their country. Second, we should declare some sort of time frame (but not a rigid deadline) by which we think we can withdraw militarily—if Iraqi groups that are supporting or tolerating the violence will instead help build the new political order. Third, we need to talk directly to the (largely Sunni) political groups connected to the insurgency, some of which have been seeking to talk to the United States for more than a year now. Fourth, we need an honest broker to help mediate these discussions and build confidence in the process.”

Iraq: Bush’s Islamic Republic

Peter W. Galbraith in the New York Review of Books:

When President Bush spoke to the nation on June 28, he did not mention Iran’s rising influence with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. He did not point out that the two leading parties in the Shiite coalition are pursuing an Islamic state in which the rights of women and religious minorities will be sharply curtailed, and that this kind of regime is already being put into place in parts of Iraq controlled by these parties. Nor did he say anything about the almost unanimous desire of Kurdistan’s people for their own independent state.

Instead, President Bush depicted the struggle in Iraq as a battle between the freedom-loving Iraqi people and terrorists. Without the sacrifices of the American servicemen and -women, and the largesse of the US taxpayer, the terrorists could win. As Bush put it, “The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September 11—if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi.”

More here.

Media Meets Science: New Telescope a Team Effort

Bjorn Carey at Space.com:

050714_dct_3_02Gold shovels on hand, officials broke ground last week for the $35 million Discovery Channel Telescope to be built at the Lowell Observatory in Happy Jack, Arizona.

The partnership between the 111-year-old observatory and Discovery Communications began when Discovery caught wind that Lowell was looking into building a next generation telescope.

“The Discovery Channel Telescope and Lowell Observatory match up with Discovery’s core genre,” said Carrie Passmore, Senior Vice President of Public Partnerships at Discovery Communications. “It made perfect sense for us to make this move.”

The Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT) will be one of the most sophisticated ground-based telescopes of its size. At 4.2 meters, it will be the fifth largest telescope in the continental United States. It’s scheduled to see “first light” in 2009 and should be fully operational by 2010.

More here.

The astringently clear light of September 11

Rochelle Gurstein in The New Republic:

Inside_gurstein072005The beauty of New York on September 11 felt wrong, like a kind of mockery or cruelty but, then again, because of the quality of the light in late summer-early autumn, the weather is typically beautiful. It cares nothing for our affairs, I thought, and then began to wonder why I ever imagined that it somehow should. Surely this was a romantic conceit and I let it drop at that. But then the impossibly vast, storm-tossed, black-blue sky that fills the astounding painting by Albrecht Altdorfer, The Battle of Alexander, appeared in my mind’s eye. I went to my book shelf to locate this wonder of the early Renaissance imagination. When I opened the book and saw, in one glance, the swirling, tumultuous, infinite blue sky above and the swirling, tumultuous, infinite red battle below, each domain a spatial mirror image of the other, I immediately recognized one source for my feeling that nature should be in accord with human affairs. As my eyes pored over the astonishing number of meticulously drawn details, I took in how the magnitude of earthly events–the seemingly infinite number of soldiers rushing into battle against one another from all sides, armed with countless weapons, carrying countless flags and banners, on the backs of innumerable horses–was perfectly matched by the cosmic amplitude of nature unleashed–the swirling storm clouds, the lofty mountain ranges, the turbulent oceans, one blurring into the other, a sky so vast that it encompasses the sinking of the moon at its uppermost corner and the rising of the sun in its lowermost. The catastrophic chaos of war, I thought with a feeling for something approaching cosmic justice, was well met by the infinite scale of meteorological events.

More here.