Sperm-free sex keeps hens happily faithful

Anna Gosline in New Scientist:

Possessive cockerels use fake sex to keep their hens faithful. By merely mounting females – without bothering to waste precious sperm – cocks ensure their partners will not go looking for male competitors to fertilise them, a new study suggests. The finding may explain why males of many species – from insects to mammals – engage in seemingly meaningless sperm-free sex.

“Copulations that appear to be successful, but with no semen transferred, are almost ubiquitous,” says Tommaso Pizzari at the University of Oxford, UK, co-author of the study. “It suggests that this behaviour may be rather more than an accident or a by-product of males running out of sperm.”

While sperm was always thought of as a cheaper investment than eggs, in the past few years, researchers have begun to realise that sperm also carries a hefty biological price tag. In 2003, Pizzari and his colleagues showed that male chickens allocated their precious seed according to the likelihood of fathering children. Unfamiliar females always received a fulsome dose, while hens with which the cock had already mated several times ended up receiving little more than ruffled feathers.

More here.

Deep Insight: Comet Buster Reveals Dusty Secrets

Michael Schirber at Space.com:

050712_deep_impact_emit_02Now that the fireworks are over, scientists are sorting through what was learned from the Deep Impact collision with Comet Tempel 1 on July 4.

“It looks like we got a pretty good pop,” Pete Schultz from Brown University told SPACE.com yesterday.

Although Deep Impact’s 820-pound impactor struck the comet’s surface at approximately a 25-degree angle, it was still able to kick up an impressive plume of dust.   

The preliminary images and data indicate the comet has a cratered surface that is too soft to be made of ice, once thought to be the main component of comets.  The impactor-induced crater was not visible directly due to the thick cloud of dust, but researchers estimate it to be at least 330 feet (100 meters) wide.

“The major surprise was the opacity of the plume the impactor created and the light it gave off,” said Michael A’Hearn of the University of Maryland. “That suggests the dust excavated from the comet’s surface was extremely fine, more like talcum powder than beach sand.”

More here.

From Srebrenica to Baghdad

Christopher Hitchens in Slate:

Ten years since the hecatomb of Srebrenica … surely a decade cannot have passed so quickly? It really feels to me like yesterday. I can hear Susan Sontag’s exact tone of voice as she described being in a ministerial office in Sarajevo when the mayor of Srebrenica got through on a bad line to say, “This is goodbye.” He did not mean au revoir. Ronald Steel is one of the most gentle and humane liberals I have ever met, but I can still see his next-day’s op-ed in the New York Times, announcing that the fall of the “safe havens” was “a blessing in disguise,” since it might force the Bosnians to sue for peace. I can remember the red rage in which I wrote a letter to the Times, saying that a mass murder was a pretty effective disguise. And the sickening news, day by day, of the routine and organized torture and slaughter, and then the crude interment of the butchered cadavers, ploughed under like black plastic bags of refuse. I have had my differences with Mark Danner since that time, but if you wish to relive the episode (and you should want to do so) you really must look up his brilliant forensic inquiry in successive issues of the New York Review of Books.

Above all, what I remember is the sense of shame…

More here.

Planarity Flash Game

Eszter at Crooked Timber:

I have accumulated quite a list of fun sites. So far I have protected CT readers by only posting these occasionally. But I have so many now that I think I am going to make it a weekly feature. As additional warning, I have created a little button to signal these posts. The point of the button is to note: you have been warned, I take no responsibility for the amount of time you end up wasting due to clicking on these links.

Planarity Flash Game

Your job is to reposition the nodes so the links do not overlap.

Go ahead, try it.  [Thanks a lot, Robin!]

Komar Lives


Vitaly Komar’s first solo exhibition, after decades as half of the celebrated duo Komar and Melamid, elegantly proposes a spiritual truce between members of different faiths and beliefs. The holy day for Muslims is Friday, for Jews, Saturday, and for Christians, Sunday. Thus Komar calls for a more culturally inclusive (and temporally expansive) definition of “weekend,” undermining traditions of work that have most people behind desks or on their feet for forty-plus hours per week. In support of his proposition for a three-day weekend, he shows stained glass, paintings, and several montages.

more here.

Vietnamese Writer Won’t Be Silenced


Wearing an elegant tweed jacket and sipping fruit juice in a Left Bank cafe here, the writer Duong Thu Huong hardly cuts a threatening figure. But Ms. Huong, 58, evidently does in her native Vietnam, where she has spent time in jail, has seen her books banned and for 11 years was denied a passport to travel abroad.

Her sins, it seems, are many. Her novels dissecting life under one of the last Communist regimes are published and well received in the West. She is a former Communist Party member who was expelled as a traitor. And above all, she is a dissident – a “dissident whore,” one party leader said – who refused to be silenced even after spending eight months in prison in 1991.

more here.

Reports from Gleneagles

The terrorist bombings in London displaced attention on the G8 and its discussions on poverty and debt relief in Africa.  Although, we were unlikely to hear any sustained account of how argicultural subsidies in the West depress food prices in the Third World to levels where local farmers cannot compete, thereby lose their livelihoods, and fall into poverty.  Of course, given the fact that rural voting blocks are powerful in the United States, France and elsewhere, ending subsidies may be an enormous, if not wholly insurmountable hurdle.  Focusing on aid and debt relief may be a second best solution.

Michael Holman offers some thoughts on the meeting at Gleneagles.

“Is Africa better off after Gleneagles? The continent’s profile is higher, debate about its crisis is better informed and more vigorous. That can only be a good thing. And yes, there will be more money, though that is not necessarily beneficial – and we need to read the fine print that accompanies this largesse. Trade reform, which is vital to Africa’s recovery, will have to wait until the WTO round in Hong Kong in December. So it is too early for a confident assessment of what after all is a process, and not an event. Of just one thing do I feel certain: the politicians (Tony Blair and Gordon Brown) outmanoeuvred the pop stars (Bob Geldof and Bono). . .

By the end of the summit, Geldof and Bono were defending an outcome that, whatever its merits, clearly fell short of their original demands.”

(Read the other commentaries here.)

The Dictionary of Sensibility

Our old friend Kent Puckett has been working on an online Dictionary of Sensibility (with a number of collaborators, of course).  An example of an entry, “Delicacy/Modesty”:

“Like ‘sensibility’ itself, ‘delicacy’ has two interwoven frames of reference that complicate and enrich its significance. There is ‘delicacy of constitution’ and ‘delicacy of mind,’ ‘heart,’ or ‘soul;’ and each of these facets of meaning informs the other. Thus, delicacy can describe a physical sensitivity, on the one hand–an exceptional susceptiblity to stimuli from the senses–or it can indicate a sensitivity (often gendered female) to social or ethical punctilios.

The refinement inherent in ‘delicacy’ leads it sometimes to be opposed to ‘vulgarity.’ In this way the term takes on moral and socioeconomic associations as well.

‘Modesty’ seems less complex, and often appears as an epiphenomenon of delicacy.

We are no longer able to see the sun set

Andrew Rubin on Israel’s construction of the so-called security fence, in Al Ahram:

WallA comparison between the 1993 maps of the Oslo Accords and the existing plans for all three phases of the wall incontrovertibly shows that the wall is nothing less than the physical and concrete institutionalisation of precisely those aspects of Oslo that Israel had agreed to: the establishment of tiny cloisters and pockets of Palestinian self-rule, with no meaningful sovereignty, that Edward Said compared to the bantustans which the British had devised as a means of exerting colonial authority in Africa. Yet the comparison with British form of colonial rule ends with the establishment of numerous, non-contiguous bantustans. Whereas from 1918-1948 in British Mandate Palestine, Britain had dredged and designed the Port of Haifa, constructed six power stations for Palestinians and Jews, built public roads and buildings for everyone, all Israel has done is to shore up its military presence with more check-points, more prisons, more expanding settlements, more rerouted irrigation systems (for the settlements), more de- development (of Palestinian infrastructure and agriculture), more barriers and more of its massive $3.4 billion wall. In others words, it is colonialism without development, or “de-development” as Sara Roy called it, the sole aim of which is the complete destruction of the foundations of all aspects of Palestinian civil society.

More here.

Chaotic Computers

From New Scientist:

If you think the complex microchips that drive modern computers are models of deterministic precision, think again. Their behaviour is inherently unpredictable and chaotic, a property one normally associates with the weather.

Intel’s widely used Pentium 4 microprocessor has 42 million transistors and the newer Itanium 2 has no fewer than 410 million. “Their performance can be highly variable and difficult to predict,” says Hugues Berry of the National Research Institute for Information and Automation in Orsay, France.

Berry, Daniel Perez and Olivier Temam say that chaos theory can explain the unpredictable behaviour. The team ran a standard program repeatedly on a simulator which engineers routinely use to design and test microprocessors, and found that the time taken to complete the task varied greatly from one run to the next.

But within the irregularity, the team detected a pattern, the mathematical signature of “deterministic chaos”, a property that governs other chaotic systems such as weather.

More here.

Eye-to-Eye with a Black Hole

Michael Schirber at Space.com:

Hf_mm_bhjupiter_050711_01“The idea is to try to answer the question of what does a black hole look like,” said David Kornreich. 

The simple answer is “black” because light cannot escape the gravitational pull of a black hole.  But light traveling just outside a black hole will be bent — similar to what happens in a lens.

Kornreich and his student Bryant Gipson have figured out how images of landscapes and planets would be distorted by having a black hole sitting in the foreground. 

Such mathematical calculations have been done before for stationary black holes, but this is the first time it has been done for spinning black holes, Kornreich told SPACE.com.  Most black holes in the universe are thought to be rotating — many at high speeds.

In a stellar black hole, which forms when a giant star dies explosively, the rotation is a logical remnant of the star’s spin. Just as a skater speeds up when she pulls her arms in, the dead star’s rotation picks up dramatically as remaining material collapses into a small, dense black hole.

More here.

Textual Healing

Paula Fredriksen reviews Augustine: A New Biography by James J. O’Donnell, in The New Republic:

AugustineIt is hard to love Augustine. He stands as the source of some of the most baleful traditions of thought in Western culture. All humans, he held, are born indelibly marked, indelibly marred, by original sin. Human desire, especially sexual desire, is a premier sign and effect of Adam’s fall. Unbaptized babies go to hell. Salvation is a question not of human effort, but of divine predestination. The church, to propound spiritual truth and to protect it, should avail itself of the coercive power of the state. These are all Augustinian teachings.

And yet it is hard not to love Augustine. He states his questions and his convictions about the human condition with such ardor that the flames of his ideas leap across the chasm of sixteen centuries from his lifetime into our own.

More here.

Neuron Network Goes Awry, and Brain Becomes an IPod

From The New York Times:Music_1

Seven years ago Reginald King was lying in a hospital bed recovering from bypass surgery when he first heard the music. It began with a pop tune, and others followed. Mr. King heard everything from cabaret songs to Christmas carols. “I asked the nurses if they could hear the music, and they said no,” said Mr. King, a retired sales manager in Cardiff, Wales. Last year, Mr. King was referred to Dr. Victor Aziz, a psychiatrist at St. Cadoc’s Hospital in Wales.

Dr. Aziz explained to him that there was a name for his experience: musical hallucinations.

More here.

Rushdie on India and Pakistan’s Code of Dishonor

Op-ed from the New York Times:

…Now comes even worse news. Whatever Pakistan can do, India, it seems, can trump. The so-called Imrana case, in which a Muslim woman from a village in northern India says she was raped by her father-in-law, has brought forth a ruling from the powerful Islamist seminary Darul-Uloom ordering her to leave her husband because as a result of the rape she has become “haram” (unclean) for him. “It does not matter,” a Deobandi cleric has stated, “if it was consensual or forced.”

Darul-Uloom, in the village of Deoband 90 miles north of Delhi, is the birthplace of the ultra-conservative Deobandi cult, in whose madrassas the Taliban were trained. It teaches the most fundamentalist, narrow, puritan, rigid, oppressive version of Islam that exists anywhere in the world today. In one fatwa it suggested that Jews were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Not only the Taliban but also the assassins of The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl were followers of Deobandi teachings.

Darul-Uloom’s rigid interpretations of Shariah law are notorious, and immensely influential – so much so that the victim, Imrana, a woman under unimaginable pressure, has said she will abide by the seminary’s decision in spite of the widespread outcry in India against it. An innocent woman, she will leave her husband because of his father’s crime.

More here.

Claude Simon, winner 1985 Literature Nobel, dies

From the AFP:

He emerged in the 1950s as a leading exponent of the nouveau roman, or “new novel”, writing in a style characterised by interior monologues and an absence of punctuation.

His works include “Le Tricheur” (The Trickster, 1945), “Le Vent” (The Wind, 1959) and “La Route des Flandres (The Road to Flanders, 1960).

His publishing house, Editions de Minuit, said he died on Wednesday and was buried in Paris on Saturday.

Born on October 10, 1913, in Antananarivo, Madagascar, which was then a French colony, he went on to study in Paris, Oxford and Cambridge.

Simon was just 10 years old when his mother died and he was sent to live with his grandmother in the southern French city of Perpignan. His father had been killed in World War I, a year after he was born.

More here.

Psyching Out Evolutionary Psychology

JR Minkel interviews David J. Buller in Scientific American:

Philosopher of science David Buller has a bone to pick with evolutionary psychology, the idea that some important human behaviors are best explained as evolutionary adaptations to the struggles we faced tens to hundreds of thousands of years ago as hunter-gatherers. In his new book, Adapting Minds, the Northern Illinois University professor considers–and finds lacking–the evidence for some of the most publicized conclusions of evolutionary psychologists: Men innately prefer to mate with young, nubile women, while women have evolved to seek high status men; men are wired to have a strong jealous reaction to sexual infidelity, while women react to emotional infidelity; and parents are more likely to abuse stepchildren than their genetically related children.

More here.

Don’t dare ever call him “Chris”

Peter Wilby reviews Love, Poverty and War: Journeys and Essays by Christopher Hitchens, in The New Statesman:

Many left-wing opponents of the Iraq war will therefore want this collection to be bad: full of windbaggery, loose judgements, bad writing, and so on. Hitchens was never that good, was he? We on the left can manage without him, can’t we? Alas, no. Hitchens is just too damn good. You will find here the most brilliant anti-capital punishment piece you have ever read; the most thoughtful piece on Israel and anti-Semitism; a marvellously vivid report on North Korea (“I found a class of tiny Koreans solemnly learning Morse code . . . Nobody has told them that the international community abandoned Morse two years ago”); a hilarious account of how Hitchens gave evidence to a Vatican commission on the beatification of Mother Teresa; and a gloriously rude demolition of Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11.

More here.  And if you missed it, check out J.M. Tyree’s brilliant dressing down of The Hitch here.

Srebrenica remembered

This story may be a bit newsy for 3QD, but it’s important to note that it is the 10th anniversary of one of more sad and shameful events in UN and post-War European history, the massacre at the UN safe haven in Srebrenica.  From the BBC:

“Tens of thousands of people have been attending ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica.

Grieving relatives buried more than 600 newly identified dead, after prayers and words of support from international and local officials.

About 8,000 men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995 in Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II.

Serbian officials led by President Tadic paid respects for the first time.”

Radovan Karazic and Ratko Maldic, wanted for genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws and customs of war, remain at large. 

Literature: Comfort Food?

‘If you’re going to name a book after units of time, you’d better have something to say on the subject, and in ”A Day, a Night, Another Day, Summer,” Christine Schutt certainly does. Whether or not readers will find her voice comforting is another matter.’

So begins David Kirby’s NYT review (Reg Req’d) of Schutt’s new collection of stories. LitBlog Beatrice rightly noted that NYT completely missed Schutt’s work until her novel Florida was nominated for the National Book Award.

One further remark. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been reading a lot of Faulkner recently to try to keep up with the Oprah Book Club, but I have to ask…Since when is literature supposed to be comforting? Mr. Kirby, meet The Idiot.

Professor Lets Her Fingers Do the Talking

From The New York Times:

Math Dr. Taimina, a math researcher at Cornell University, started crocheting the objects so her students could visualize something called hyperbolic space, which is an advanced geometric shape with constant negative curvature. Say what? Well, balls and oranges, for example, have constant positive curvature. A flat table has zero curvature. And some things, like ruffled lettuce leaves, sea slugs and cancer cells, have negative curvatures. This is not some abstract – or frightening – math lesson. Hyperbolic space is useful to many professionals – engineers, architects and landscapers, among others. So Dr. Taimina expected some attention for her yarn work, especially from math students destined for those professions. But her work has recently drawn interest from crocheting enthusiasts.

More here.