Blind Sea Creature Hunts With Light

From National Geographic:Redlight

Many deep-sea creatures use blue or green luminescent light to defend themselves, but this relative of the jellyfish has twitching appendages that glow red—apparently to lure fish to their death. Steven Haddock of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and his colleagues collected three Erenna specimens off the coast of California during a deep-sea dive in a submersible. The animals, which cannot themselves see, belong to a new species of siphonophores, the group that includes jellyfish and corals. They are the first marine invertebrates known to produce red luminescent light, and they’re all the more surprising because researchers have generally believed that deep-sea animals can’t detect red light.

More here.

Negotiations 4: Smithson Sightings

The dirty little suspicion in the heart of every aesthete is that he is no better than a tourist. The appreciation of art and the activity of sightseeing are as old as culture, and their relationship is a lot closer than any of us would like to admit. There have been “art tours” to Florence since the Renaissance; Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water is all at once a sight to see, an art experience, and a tourist destination; art museums increasingly become sights one visits for their intrinsic artistic merit, whatever objects they might contain (Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao comes to mind); and then there is Land Art, wherein the artist chooses a remote area or deserted suburb (a “site”), “works” it in some way or another, and returns it to us (or invites us to come see it) as a sight which is itself, after the artist’s intervention, a work of art.

Distinctions between the tourist and the traveler notwithstanding, the trajectory I have traced above, from art tourism to tours as art, recapitulates the trajectory of art in the 20th century from its Representational to its Conceptual phase. One of the pieces of baggage that art was supposed to have lost along the way was the “aura” that objects carried. They went from being singular, authentic objects that were invested with the individual artist’s genius, which was itself invested with and an expression of Nature, or Truth, or the Sublime, to becoming everyday objects or representations of the same that were at times indistinguishable from objects we see every day: a snow shovel, a brillo box, graffiti scrawled across a broken wall, an inflatable flower. If you want to experience one of the last, great examples of Auratic Art, stand in front of one of Jackson Pollack’s giant canvases. The paint on those things is still wet, still dripping and pooling; they shimmer and shiver; they pulse; they emanate aura. When asked if he painted nature, Pollack famously replied, “I am nature.” He was the apogee and, in a certain sense, the end of the auratic in art.

The Robert Smithson retrospective currently at the Whitney, which is a “must-see” for the art tourist, turns this history on its head. One of the earliest practitioners of Land Art, Smithson began by transforming sightseeing into site-seeing, which then became blind-spot-seeing (Patterson, New Jersey) and in turn, finally, seeing sight. His early work is about making you “see” your sight. Mirrors are framed as sculptural objects in such a way that, looking at them, you can’t tell whether you are looking at the thing itself or at the reflection of the thing. These are uncanny, mind-bending works. In a single move, Smithson makes material the assault that Duchamp led, conceptually, upon the retina. Smithson gets behind the lines and forces the collapse of the eye. The entire structure of art as something-one-sees falls in a frenzy of reflections, and one is catapulted into the realm of the conceptual. Language not being up to experience, the only thing one can say at this point is, “Aaaah… now I see!”

After working you over with these mirrors that reflect the frames in which they are placed, thereby creating things that do not exist(!), Smithson introduces an organic element. Now he incorporates seashells, earth, rock salt and stone, so that there is a crossover and a junction between absolute nothingness (the mirror, the surface that only reflects) and elemental matter. I grew giddy at this point. I suddenly realized that I was standing in a room of Robert Smithson’s works, but he hadn’t made a single one of the pieces at which I was looking. They had been assembled not by Smithson (who died in 1973), but by the artslaves of the Whitney. The idea (Pour ten bags of basalt crystals on the floor. Bury a mirror in each one.) was of course Smithson’s, but the objects I was studying had been “made” in that space by someone else. Smithson had not placed each one of those tens of thousands of pebbles there and he had not left diagrams for where each one of them were to be placed in the pile. These were purely conceptual works; and since ideas are immaterial, they prohibit the auratic. Ideas are not wet and nothing sticks to them, neither genius nor nature nor intent—therefore, no aura. Ideas are atemporal. They neither accumulate experience nor decay in time. They escape entropy: hence, the third stage in Smithson’s oeuvre.

At a certain point in his career, Smithson was sponsored (by Yale, I think) to go to Mexico and look at some of the Mayan and Aztec monuments and do something down there. Make some art. What he returned with (and here the difference between the tourist and the traveler makes all the difference) was a series of slides of an old hotel, still functioning but in an advanced state of decay. Smithson had discovered entropy as an idea worthy of aesthetic exploitation. The most famous of the works he would create from this conceptual field, before his tragic death, was Spiral Jetty.

With Spiral Jetty, Smithson does something that I haven’t seen any other artist, anywhere, at any time, do: he renders a concept material, without loss or compromise either to the concept or to the materiality of his art. (The piece that comes closest would have to be van Gogh’s Sunflowers, which are like—but not yet—material sunlight.) I don’t know how Smithson is able to achieve this. It might be because he is not dealing with just a concept but with a universal law; but Spiral Jetty—the object itself—is not just a representation of entropy. It is entropy. It is the very thing it points to. Spiral Jetty is one of those sites (and artists are creating more and more of them) where one can go as witness to and celebrant of a universal sacrament: in this case, the second law of thermodynamics. And in these secular-sacred places, to which all and sundry tourists are invited, the aura, undeniably, returns and abides.

Not a postscript: Some of us have been having a very interesting little discussion as a result of Morgan Meis’s delightful, compelling post on Jeff Koons last Monday. Check it out; leave a note. We’re at over 9,000 words already (scroll down to the comments).

Monday Musing: Ghettos of the Mind, or What tells us about ourselves

It’s been a while since I’ve indulged my fascination with how the Internet allows us to glean some insights about ourselves.  In the past I’ve posted about the research of Edward Castranova, who has done studies of trade and norms in the worlds of massive multiplayer online role playing games. I was then taken by the work of the linguist who used “Hot or Not” to test if names added to whether we find someone attractive or not.

I was reminded of these uses of the net recently when reading an article about Edward Klein’s The Truth About Hillary Clinton.  The book, by all accounts, is a shrill screed about the deviousness and radicalism of Hillary Clinton, and takes as one of its main charges that she’s either a lesbian or infused with the culture of lesbianism (whatever that may mean). “To Arkansans, she walked like a lesbian, talked like a lesbian, and looked like a lesbian.”The book itself sounds uninteresting, and may be so over the top that prominent conservatives have distanced themselves from it.

The article mentioned that an search reveals that those who purchased the book also purchased Unfit for Command and How to Talk to a Liberal, and books with titles like Treachery and The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, which, by the way managed to revolt The Weekly Standard. My first reaction to the list was to echo Wilde and think, “Wow, patriotism really is the virtue of the vicious.”

But my second reaction was curiosity.

About a year ago, I posted about an APSA [American Political Science Association] panel on blogs and mentioned the concern that Cass Sunstein raised in

“See only what you want to see, hear only what you want to hear, read only what you want to read. In cyberspace, we already have the ability to filter out everything but what we wish to see, hear, and read. Tomorrow, our power to filter promises to increase exponentially. With the advent of the Daily Me, you see only the sports highlights that concern your teams, read about only the issues that interest you, encounter in the op-ed pages only the opinions with which you agree. . . . Is it good for democracy? Is it healthy for the republic? What does this mean for freedom of speech?”

A dystopic future, resulting from personalization?  Maybe.

I did a similar search on Michael Oakeshott, to see what people who’d purchased Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, specifically, had also purchased. While there was a lot of Leo Strauss, there was also Hannah Arendt, Richard Rorty, John Rawls, Sheldon Wolin, and Alasdair McInstyre (though I’m never clear where to put McIntyre on the political spectrum, save far away from me, that’s for sure).

Trying Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom produced an even wider spectrum of thinkers—from Marx, to Sen, to Heilbroner, to Keynes, Schumpeter, Bhagwati, Smith and Ricardo, before hitting Thomas Sowell and von Hayek on the right. (Incidentally, people who purchased The Communist Manifesto also purchased Freidman, Keynes, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Darwin and Hobbes.)

Now, while I didn’t think it, I did have to see whether it was possible that people on the Left—using as a proxy popular books on the Left rather than things like A General Theory of Exploitation and Class—read more broadly than those on the right, as long as the books weren’t a screed. So I decided to see what people who were reading Arundhati Roy’s Power Politics were reading. Unsurprisingly, lots of Chomsky, lots and lots of Chomsky.

I decided to try Michael Moore—I was one anti-war, lefty who really, really didn’t like Fahrenheit 9/11. Amazon returned a lot of Al Franken, as well as Molly Ivins, Craig Unger. My first reaction to this was, “well, but these aren’t screeds,” before I decided that my own ideological dispositions made me more tolerant of them. I still think they’re more reasonable than their equivalents on the other side, but I’ll also acknowledge that the fact that they validate and echo more of my beliefs may color my judgment.

One thing was for sure, below some threshold of intellectual “seriousness”, people weren’t exposing themselves to a diversity of opinion.  This was clear. In so much as they were exposing themselves to information from the other side, it was filtered.

Not too long ago, Eszter Hargittai posted the findings of some of her research on Crooked Timber. She and her collaborators were testing Sunstein’s hypothesis, at least as he laid it out in

“Our work has focused on addressing two questions. First, we are interested in seeing the extent to which liberal and conservative bloggers interlink. Second, we want to see what kind of changes we may be able to observe over time. Sunstein’s thesis suggests that we would see very little if any cross-linking among liberal and conservative blogs and the cross-linking would diminish over time. We go about answering these questions using multiple methodologies. We counted links and calculated some measures to see how insular the conversations are within groups of blogs. We also did a content analysis of some of the posts in our sample. We continue to work on this project so these are just preliminary findings.”

Their preliminary conclusion:

“Overall, it would be incorrect to conclude that liberal bloggers are ignoring conservative bloggers or vice versa. Certainly, liberal bloggers are more likely to address liberal bloggers and conservative bloggers are more likely to link to conservative bloggers. But people from both groups are certainly reading across the ideological divide to some extent.”

But whether liberal bloggers and conservative bloggers, or liberal writers and conservative writers for that matter, are ignoring each other is not the question.  It’s clear that they’re not. Chomsky’s read a lot of Kissinger, and Al Franken has read a lot of Rush Limbaugh, just as Nozick thoroughly read Rawls. Rather the issue is whether, as readers, we get our information about what the other side thinks filtered through those who we agree with and look up to. Arguing with someone does require that we have an open enough mind to change our positions in the face of goods reasons.  You don’t have to sign on to whole of the Habermasian project to recognize that.

The very sad thing is that discussions have become almost entirely strategic and less communicative, as it were.  That strategy may solidify one’s base and insulate it from being convinced of anything else. But these reading habits point to increasingly entrenched ideas and outlooks (though there are exceptions), and sadly to a world in which people argue less and less, in that real way where we can hope to change each other’s minds.

Memoirs of a survivor

Ten years ago, at the age of 42, observer literary editor Robert McCrum suffered a devastating stroke which left him paralysed down his left side. during his extended convalescence, he wrote a memoir. It was meant to close the door on his illness, but instead it opened another into a parallel world of other people’s pain.”

From The Guardian:

Is it for our 10 fingers that we think in decades? The Twenties for jazz and the great crash; the Sixties for sex and flower power; the Eighties for greed; some decades stick out like a sore thumb. Others make no impression. I have my own millennial decade. It doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in the sight of eternity, but it means a lot to me. Ten years ago, I could look at my hands resting in front of me on the bedsheet, but not count beyond five. Ten years ago, my left side – hand, foot, arm and leg – was paralysed, lifeless. I was recovering from a stroke. Most doctors who looked at me said I could expect years, even decades, of immobility, possibly in a wheelchair. At the time, I was quite grateful. According to the statistics, I was lucky to be alive. Of the 150,000 strokes that occur in Britain each year, one third are fatal. So 28 July 1995 is a date I won’t forget in a hurry. Ten years on it seems like a dream, a hallucination, or a nightmare. Occasionally, in the morning, I will wake and wonder, “Did it really happen?” But of course it did; I have what doctors call the ‘deficits’ to prove it. For me, amid all the late-Nineties talk of the millennium, the apocalypse came early.

More here.

Where has all the money gone?

Ed Harriman follows the auditors into Iraq. From the London Review of Books:

Cred_rep_wingsPilfering was rife. Millions of dollars in cash went missing from the Iraqi Central Bank. Between $11 million and $26 million worth of Iraqi property sequestered by the CPA was unaccounted for. The payroll was padded with hundreds of ghost employees. Millions of dollars were paid to contractors for phantom work: $3,379,505 was billed, for example, for ‘personnel not in the field performing work’ and ‘other improper charges’ on a single oil pipeline repair contract. An Iraqi sports coach was paid $40,000 by the CPA. He gave it to a friend who gambled it away then wrote it off as a legitimate loss. ‘A complainant alleged that Iraqi Airlines was sold at a reduced price to an influential family with ties to the former regime. The investigation revealed that Iraqi Airlines was essentially dissolved, and there was no record of the transaction.’ Most of the 69 criminal investigations the CPA-IG instigated related to alleged ‘theft, fraud, waste, assault and extortion’. It also investigated ‘a number of other cases that, because of their sensitivity, cannot be included in this report’. At around this time, 19 billion new Iraqi dinars, worth about £6.5 million, were found on a plane in Lebanon which had been sent there by the American-appointed Iraqi interior minister.

More here.

The Mpemba Effect (or ‘an apology to Morgan’)

Last Friday night (yes, this is how we spend our weekends) Morgan asked Robin and me a question: is it true that hot water will freeze faster than cold water? Apparently, he had gotten into an argument with someone who pointed to the obvious absurdity of the statement, and Morgan couldn’t remember exactly why this is true, but Materials_lab1 did remember reading somewhere that it is in fact true. In a manner superior and smug enough to indicate my superior knowledge of physics, I informed Morgan that he was wrong, and as a reference, told him that I remember Cecil Adams tackling this silly myth in The Straight Dope column some years ago. Sure enough, a quick search of The Straight Dope archives revealed this:

Dear Cecil:

I have a friend who insists that filling an ice cube tray with warm water will cause the cubes to form more quickly than they would if you started with cold water. He said it had something to do with the air circulation around the trays being affected by the temperature.

Not knowing much about frigidity myself, but being contrary, not to mention skeptical, by nature, I expressed doubt. Cecil, was I right, or is there indeed some basis in fact for this foolishness? –Mary M.Q.C., Santa Barbarba, California

Cecil replies:

You were smart to let me handle this, Mary. God knows what would happen if you tried to experiment with ice cubes on your own.

Needless to say, I conducted my research in the calm and systematic manner that has long been the trademark of Straight Dope Labs. First, I finished off a half a pint of Haagen-Dazs I found in the fridge, in order to keep my brain supplied with vital nutrients.

Then I carefully measured a whole passel of water into the Straight Dope tea kettle and boiled it for about five minutes. This was so I could compare the freezing rate of boiled H20 with that of regular hot water from the tap. (Somehow I had the idea that water that had been boiled would freeze faster.)

Finally I put equal quantities of each type into trays in the freezer, checked the temp (125 degrees Fahrenheit all around), and sat back to wait, timing the process with my brand new Swatch watch, whose precision and smart styling have made it the number one choice of scientists the world over.

I subsequently did the same with two trays of cold water, which had been chilled down to a starting temperature of 38 degrees.

The results? The cold water froze about 10 or 15 minutes faster than the hot water, and there was no detectable difference between the boiled water and the other kind. Another old wives’ tale thus emphatically bites the dust. Science marches on.

However, a reader wrote in to say that Scientific American had an article about why hot water freezes faster than cold, and old Unca Cecil had to revise his conclusion:

I know it must unnerve you to find that a supposedly infallible source of wisdom can make mistakes, so let me hasten to reassure you: Scientific American did not screw up. My results and theirs (specifically, those of Jearl Walker, author of SA’s “Amateur Scientist” column) are consistent–we were just working in different temperature ranges.

I found that cold water (38 degrees Fahrenheit) froze faster than hot water out of the tap (125 degrees F). I chose these two temperatures because (1) they were pretty much what the average amateur ice-cube maker would have readily available and (2) I couldn’t find a mercury thermometer that went higher than 125 degrees.

Jearl, who is not afflicted with penny-pinching editors like some of the rest of us, was able to get his mitts on a thermocouple that could measure as high as the boiling point, 212 degrees F. He found that water heated to, say, 195 degrees would freeze three to ten minutes faster than water at 140-175 degrees. (There were differences depending on how much water was used, where the thermocouple was placed, and so on.)

Jearl suggested that the most likely explanation for this was evaporation: when water cools down from near boiling to the freezing point, as much as 16 percent evaporates away, compared to 7 percent for water at 160 degrees. The smaller the amount of water, of course, the faster it freezes.

In addition, the water vapor carries away a certain amount of heat. To test this theory, Jearl covered his lab beaker with Saran Wrap to prevent water vapor from escaping. The freezing rate difference was greatly diminished. Conceivably convection (motion within the water) also plays a role.

Fascinating as all this no doubt is, all it basically proves is that very hot water freezes more slowly than very VERY hot water. The ordinary fumbler in the fridge, on the other hand, is dealing with temps more like the ones I was measuring, in which case cold freezes faster than hot. I rest my case.

You can see the Straight Dope page here. However, this is not the whole story either. Apparently the phenomenon in question is known as the Mpemba Effect after a Tanzanian high school student who discovered it in 1969. There is more to the story, and the possible mechanisms behind this anomalous effect here, here, here, here, and from Scientific American’s “Ask the Experts” column here.

My apologies to Morgan. (But I did double check. Can I get partial credit?)

‘Squandered Victory’ and ‘Losing Iraq’: Now What?

Reuel Marc Gerecht in the New York Times Book Review:

Gere184Could the administration have chosen a different course in Iraq that would today have the country farther down the road to popular government and cost fewer lives? Two new books — among the first ”insider” accounts by former Iraq advisers — find the White House guilty of an incompetent occupation. Representative government may, just possibly, still take hold in Mesopotamia, but neither Larry Diamond, a researcher at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University who was called by the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to temporary service in Baghdad in early 2004, nor David L. Phillips, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who served as an adviser to the State Department before and after the fall of Saddam Hussein, are at all optimistic.

More here.

Sach’s blogs on poverty in Africa from the G8

The London bombings came as the G8 came together to discuss poverty in Africa.  Attention to that very serious issue also suffered as a result.  Jeffrey Sach’s blogged the G8 (and unexpectedly the bombing) for the FT.

“We have recently heard much, and much wrong, about the question of whether aid can actually deliver benefits to the poor. The sceptics claim that vast amounts of aid have gone down the drain. They cite alleged huge numbers, approximately $500 billion of total aid to Africa over 50 years, as “proof” of the failure of aid. They don’t recognize that a sum of aid flows added over 50 or more years will sound large though the annual aid per African has actually been quite small.

Just do the arithmetic. Aid to Africa has averaged perhaps $10 billion per year during the past half century ($500 billion divided by 50), shared among an average African population of roughly 400 million during this period, or approximately $25 per African per year in aid. Of that annual flow, well over half would typically come as emergency food aid and salaries of US and European consultants, rather than as actual investments in Africa. In recent years, another part of the “aid” has been exaggerated headline figures on debt cancellation, which greatly exaggerate the cash flow relief per year. Actual investments supported by the donor aid might have averaged say $5 to $10 per African per year, or even less.

This has not been nearly enough to address a continent profoundly vulnerable to deep and widespread drought, pervasive disease, huge overland transport costs with many landlocked countries, and a legacy of a century of colonialism that left a disastrously poor physical infrastructure and a shockingly low level of literacy and higher education at the time of African independence. Small aid flows per African per year ran up against uniquely large developmental needs.”

In Praise of Hard Questions

From Science:

Darwin_1 Great cases, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes suggested a century ago, may make bad law. But great questions often make very good science. Some great questions get bigger over time, encompassing an ever-expanding universe, or become more profound, such as the quest to understand consciousness. On the other hand, many deep questions drive science to smaller scales, more minute than the realm of atoms and molecules, or to a greater depth of detail underlying broad-brush answers to past big questions. In 1880, some scientists remained unconvinced by Maxwell’s evidence for atoms. Today, the analogous debate focuses on superstrings as the ultimate bits of matter, on a scale a trillion trillion times smaller. Old arguments over evolution and natural selection have descended to debates on the dynamics of speciation, or how particular behaviors, such as altruistic cooperation, have emerged from the laws of individual competition.

Science’s greatest advances occur on the frontiers, at the interface between ignorance and knowledge, where the most profound questions are posed. There’s no better way to assess the current condition of science than listing the questions that science cannot answer. “Science,” Gross declares, “is shaped by ignorance.”

More here.

On the Chase for Elusive Genetic Markers

From Science:

Evabarroso_114x142_1 The research field Eva Barroso chose for her Ph.D. is so new that even she had never heard of it before seeing the job posting on the Internet. “I was interested in human genetics, but not especially in this field,” she says. What the Ph.D. project was proposing was the opportunity to try and track down genetic markers in order to predict an individual’s susceptibility to diseases that involve more than one gene.

The impact of such research could be huge. In the long term, Barroso says, “the idea is to have your DNA checked for [predisposition] to breast cancer, and every [other known disease].” Not only does she find it fascinating, she also finds it easy to grab the interest of her family and friends when she explains what she does–a rare quality in a scientific job.

More here.

Levitt and Dubner look at Child Safety Car Seats

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in the weekend’s installment of “Freakonomics” in the New York Times Magazine:

“Although motor-vehicle crashes are still the top killer among children from 2 to 14, fatality rates have fallen steadily in recent decades — a drop that coincides with the rise of [child safety] car-seat use. Perhaps the single most compelling statistic about car seats in the NHTSA manual was this one: ‘They are 54 percent effective in reducing deaths for children ages 1 to 4 in passenger cars.’

But 54 percent effective compared with what? The answer, it turns out, is this: Compared with a child’s riding completely unrestrained. There is another mode of restraint, meanwhile, that doesn’t cost $200 or require a four-day course to master: seat belts.

For children younger than roughly 24 months, seat belts plainly won’t do. For them, a car seat represents the best practical way to ride securely, and it is certainly an improvement over the days of riding shotgun on mom’s lap. But what about older children? Is it possible that seat belts might afford them the same protection as car seats?

The answer can be found in a trove of government data called the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which compiles police reports on all fatal crashes in the U.S. since 1975. These data include every imaginable variable in a crash, including whether the occupants were restrained and how.

Even a quick look at the FARS data reveals a striking result . . .”

Protein Tells Flowers When Spring Starts

From Scientific American:

Flowers The bursting blooms of many types of flowers herald the onset of spring. New research is helping scientists unravel the cellular signaling that prompts the plants to blossom after their winter slumber. According to a report published in today’s issue of the journal Science, the action of one protein that responds to daylight starts a chain reaction that allows flowering to commence. 

More here.

Another critical look at What the Bleep do we know?

From the Australian Broadcast Corporation Online:

“The movie gives two examples of experiments which have shown the power of the mind affecting reality. Neither of them convincingly achieve this. . .

John Hagelin, PhD, describes a study he did in Washington in 1992. 4000 volunteers regularly meditated to achieve a 25% drop in violent crime by the end of summer. He claims the drop was achieved.

But Hagelin’s use of the term ‘achieved’ for the drop in crime is a bit strong. He announced in 1994 (one year after the study) that violent crime had decreased 18%. You might think that meant there were 18% fewer violent crimes than in the previous year, but the decrease was actually relative to his predicted increase based on some fancy statistical footwork. Regular indicators of violent crime told a different story – the number of murders actually went up.

The meditation may not have helped the victims of violent crime, but it did win Hagelin the 1994 Ig Nobel Peace Prize.”

Culture and the Evolution of Norms

Via Political Theory Daily, Paul Erlich and Simon Levin outline some first steps in developing an integrated evolution theory of norms as a first step towards understanding cultural evolution.

“There is a long-recognized need both to understand the process of human cultural evolution per se and to find ways of altering its course (an operation in which institutions as diverse as schools, prisons, and governments have long been engaged). In a world threatened by weapons of mass destruction and escalating environmental deterioration, the need to change our behavior to avoid a global collapse has become urgent. A clear understanding of how cultural changes interact with individual actions is central to informing democratically and humanely guided efforts to influence cultural evolution. While most of the effort to understand that evolution has come from the social sciences, biologists have also struggled with the issue. . . [B]iologists and social scientists need one another and must collectively direct more of their attention to understanding how social norms develop and change. Therefore, we offer this review of the challenge in order to emphasize its multidisciplinary dimensions and thereby to recruit a broader mixture of scientists into a more integrated effort to develop a theory of change in social norms—and, eventually, cultural evolution as a whole.”

Crystal Clear


In 1953, while working a hotel switchboard, a college graduate named Shea Zellweger began a journey of wonder and obsession that would eventually lead to the invention of a radically new notation for logic. From a basement in Ohio, guided literally by his dreams and his innate love of pattern, Zellweger developed an extraordinary visual system – called the “Logic Alphabet” – in which a group of specially designed letter-shapes can be manipulated like puzzles to reveal the geometrical patterns underpinning logic. Indeed, Zellweger has built a series of physical models of his alphabet that recall the educational teaching toys, or “gifts,” of Friedrich Froebel, the great nineteenth century founder of the Kindergarten movement. Just as Froebel was deeply influenced by the study of crystal structures, which he believed could serve as the foundation for an entire educational framework, so Zellweger’s Logic Alphabet is based on a crystal-like arrangement of its elements. Thus where the traditional approach to logic is purely abstract, Zellweger’s is geometric, making it amenable to visual play.

more here.



Compared to Mark McGowan’s previous performance pieces, his latest enterprise seems relatively harmless. For an artist whose three-year career has included an attempt to catapult a 76-year-old pensioner into space (to highlight the way in which the young mistreat the old), walking backwards for 11 miles with a 27lb turkey on his head while shouting at fat people (to draw attention to the obesity epidemic), and scratching 50 shiny cars with his keys and photographing the evidence (for reasons that have never been entirely clear), his decision to leave a tap running for a year sounds almost anodyne. But McGowan’s latest stunt – wasting water in the backroom of a south London gallery – has caused the kind of publicity he can only have dreamed of. It’s a Shangri-la scenario for a man whose art doesn’t really exist unless people take notice of it.

more here.

‘The Prince of the City’: Cut Out for the Job

From The New York Times:

Giulliani A SWEDISH diplomat recently announced that he was nominating Rudy Giuliani, New York’s famously bellicose former mayor, for the Nobel Peace Prize. My first thought was: He won’t accept! But then, even better: If he wins, he could use his speech to denounce peace. Or Swedes. Or New York liberals. We miss Rudy; even some of the people who could barely stand him at the time miss him. The administration of the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has turned out to be, as Fred Siegel puts it in this very insightful and very argumentative book, a ”moderately competent muddle.” The Giuliani years were neither moderate nor muddled.

Two biographies of Giuliani appeared during his tenure, but in ”The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York and the Genius of American Life,” Siegel has produced the first book-length reckoning with Giuliani’s philosophy, achievements and legacy.

More here.

Avian Einstein: Precocious parrot grasps the concept of zero

From MSNBC:Parrot_hmed

A parrot has grasped the concept of zero, something humans can’t do until at least the toddler phase, researchers say. Alex, a 28-year-old African gray parrot who lives in a lab at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, has a brain the size of a walnut. But when confronted with no items on a tray where usually there are some, he says “none.” Zero is thought to be a rather abstract concept even for people. Children typically don’t grasp it until age 3 or 4, Brandeis researchers say. Some ancient cultures lacked a formal term for zilch, even as recently as the Middle Ages.

More here.

The Real Robinson Crusoe

“The adventures of a hot-tempered and impetuous Scottish pirate named Alexander Selkirk inspired one of literature’s greatest adventures, as our author, himself a member of the family, recounts.”

Bruce Selcraig in Smithsonian Magazine:

Crusoe_islandThree centuries ago an impetuous Scottish sailor known as Alexander Selkirk was languishing off the coast of Chile in a battle-scarred, worm-eaten British ship called the Cinque Ports when he began to argue with the captain that the leaky, disease-ridden vessel was a deathtrap. Selkirk, a skilled navigator, and the ship’s sickened crew were privateers—in effect, legalized pirates for the British Crown—who had spent a year at sea off South America robbing Spanish ships and coastal villages. Selkirk had already been on a similar voyage. He knew all the risks. But by October 1704, as the Cinque Ports anchored off a deserted archipelago 418 miles west of Valparaiso, Chile, he had made a life-changing decision.

Selkirk demanded that his 21-year-old captain, Lt. Thomas Stradling, whom he regarded as arrogant, leave him on the largest island, a wish that Stradling was only too happy to oblige.

More here.

Dieting may actually worsen your health

Sandy Szwarc in Tech Central Station:

It has been well documented that dieting virtually always fails long-term — about 90 to 95% of the time — and that dieting drop-out rates are high. But this study also poignantly illustrated that improvements to health and health behaviors with dieting are not maintained and in the end dieting actually worsens women’s health and quality of life. The dieting group which had significantly increased their physical activity right after the treatment period, had returned to their initial levels by the end of the study. And most remarkably, there was nearly 200% more bulimia and eating disorders among the dieters compared to the nondieters. The dieters’ self esteem and depression had also significantly worsened, which isn’t surprising given most dieters are left with an overwhelming sense of failure. And the psychological and physiological effects, as well as eating problems, resulting from calorie restriction itself have been clinically documented.   

The nondieters, on the other hand, enjoyed extraordinary improvements in their self esteem and feeling good about their bodies, and less depression.

More here.