Kung Fu Monkey steps up for Pakistan and India

Lindsay Beyerstein of the ever-excellent Majikthise:

John Rogers of Kung Fu Monkey is volunteering to match donations for the victims of the Pakistan/Central Asia Earthquake, as he did for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Listen up, people, he’s making an offer we can’t refuse:

Personally, I want to raise at least as much money for the Kashmir victims as I did for Katrina for a variety of reasons.

More here.

Morgan Meis/Flux Factory in London Times

3 Quarks editor Morgan Meis and the arts collective he heads in Queens, the Flux Factory, are included in an article in this past Sunday’s London Times:

Morgan_and_stefanie_2_1Founded in 1994, Flux is pretty advanced for a collective. It now has its own exhibition space, library, recording studio, computer lab, darkroom and bedrooms for artists in residence. There is even a board, presided over by the writer and philosopher Morgan Meis, 32. His wife, the musician and artist Stefany Goldberg, is the executive director. Then there is a vice-president — Jason Brown, a graphic designer — and a treasurer — the illustrator Aya Kakeda. “We’re pretty organised now and starting to hit the big time,” says Meis. Not that it was always like this. “We f***ed it up for years. We were a group of writers, philosophers, artists and musicians in our early twenties who just wanted a space to be creative together. We had no idea how to structure it, who was to do dishes, who was having a mental breakdown. It was a lot of fun, but it was also a nightmare.“

Recent shows — from novelists living in Big Brother-style installations to floating tea parties on the Hudson river — as well as corporate sponsors and an online shop, are all the result of Flux learning to take itself more seriously. But chaos is still encouraged. “It’s self- producing,” says Meis. Flux’s Thursday salons, for example, can be pretty unpredictable — on these open nights, all sorts drop by for dinner and a private view; numbers can reach up to 100.

More here.

Desperate Housewives of the Ivy League?

Katha Pollitt in The Nation:

Pollitt_2September 20’s prime target for press critics, social scientists and feminists was the New York Times front-page story “Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood,” by Louise Story (Yale ’03). Through interviews and a questionnaire e-mailed to freshmen and senior women residents of two Yale colleges (dorms), Story claims to have found that 60 percent of these brainy and energetic young women plan to park their expensive diplomas in the bassinet and become stay-home mothers. Over at Slate, Jack Shafer slapped the Times for using weasel words (“many,” “seems”) to make a trend out of anecdotes and vague impressions: In fact, Story presents no evidence that more Ivy League undergrads today are planning to retire at 30 to the playground than ten, twenty or thirty years ago. Simultaneously, an armada of bloggers shredded her questionnaire as biased (hint: If you begin with “When you have children,” you’ve already skewed your results) and denounced her interpretation of the answers as hype. What she actually found, as the writer Robin Herman noted in a crisp letter to the Times, was that 70 percent of those who answered planned to keep working full or part time through motherhood. Even by Judith Miller standards, the Story story was pretty flimsy. So great was the outcry that the author had to defend her methods in a follow-up on the Times website three days later.

More here.

Epic Failure

Jed Perl in The New Republic:

Ian Burns, the carpenter-shop charmer whose Epic Tour was a bright spot at PS1’s “Greater New York 2005” earlier this year, has turned embarrassingly portentous in his first New York gallery show, at Spencer Brownstone. Gone is the funny kid who invited visitors to take a trip in a wooden chair, which lurched along a train track lined with shadow plays and assorted amusements. At PS1, Burns didn’t seem to be taking himself too seriously. His work, tossed together with lumberyard basics, was light and provisional. I liked it.

Either there were undercurrents in The Epic Tour that I didn’t pick up, or else Burns has shifted directions now, but whatever the story there’s no question that the adorable kid has become yet another shrieking art world politico, offering big statements about Abu Ghraib, Abner Louima, and man’s inhumanity.

More here.

THE REAL CRISIS IN EVOLUTION TEACHING

Scott D. Sampson at Edge.org:

Sampson150Efforts to educate children and the general public about biological evolution have long suffered a severe crisis of relevancy independent of religious influences, and this crisis continues unabated. Even for those who accept its veracity in this country and others, evolution is generally (and mistakenly) envisioned as a process of the past, encompassed by abstract concepts that have little bearing on humans, let alone the future of Earth’s diversity. This failure of education, while complicated by a number of factors, is due in large part to a lengthy history of fragmentation and compartmentalization within academia that has left us with a void between two fundamental ideas: ecology and evolution.

To date, professional ecologists have focused overwhelmingly on processes operating on timescales too brief for evolution to be easily perceived. Conversely, evolutionary biologists are typically interested in short-term lab-based activities aimed at cells or genes, equally short-term effects of genetic change within populations, or processes involving turnover of species through geologic time. Within these distinct research programs, a synthesis of evolutionary and ecological theory has generally seemed unnecessary. Is it really surprising, then, that students rare develop a deep understanding of, let alone any sense of affinity with, these key concepts?

More here.

Dave Eggers brandishing his cutlass to defend underpaid teachers

Dan Glaister in The Guardian:

EggersaplongSet up three years ago by the writer Dave Eggers and some friends, 826 Valencia in San Francisco’s Mission district is a drop-in centre for schoolchildren looking for extra help with homework, a bit of peace and quiet, or a chance to listen to a good story.

The place has been so successful that it has spawned imitators: New York City has one in Brooklyn (the front is a superhero supplies shop, where the aerodynamic qualities of capes can be tested using an industrial fan), Los Angeles and Michigan have them, and others are imminent in Chicago and Seattle. Massachusetts and Cincinnati have centres modelled on 826.

But that is only part of the story. Eggers, along with two colleagues, has also edited an oral history book, Teachers Have It Easy. It describes, with sometimes startling explicitness, their daily lives. Sure, there’s the teaching, the long days, the constant pressure of being on the job. But other things truly shock: the teachers who mow lawns at weekends or paint houses to make ends meet. The teacher who works in a bar to buy books for his class. If you want an easy life, the book explains in an easy-to-follow chart, become a pharmaceuticals salesman, not a teacher.

More here.

The Singing Neanderthal

Barbara King in Bookslut:

029764317701_1Given its emotional power, it’s odd to discover that music’s evolutionary history has been neglected. Theories about the origins of technology and language crowd anthropologists’ shelves, but most evolutionists fall silent about music. In The Singing Neanderthal: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body, British archaeologist Steven Mithen sets out to redress this gap.

On page five, Mithen commands attention by announcing a dual intention to take on academic superstar Steve Pinker’s (The Blank Slate, How the Mind Works, The Language Instinct) views on the evolution of music and to atone for his own “embarrassing” past neglect of music (The Prehistory of the Mind). I was hooked; Pinker-worthy, non-ego-driven scientists don’t grow on trees. Happily, this initial promise of provocation is fulfilled, for Mithen offers a fascinating argument about the evolutionary relationship between music and language. To be precise, it is provocative, fascinating and, I think, quite wrong on multiple points. But how much fun is it, really, to curl up with a book that lulls you into placid agreement?

More here.

Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life

John Alcolado in the British Medical Journal:

AlcoladoMitochondria are truly fascinating beasts. While many of us find it difficult to become excited about vesicles, ribosomes, endoplasmic reticulum, or even the Golgi apparatus, it is difficult not to become entranced by the tiny organelles that fuel our existence. As with so many objects of admiration, it is difficult to be precise about what we find so enthralling. Is it that they posses their own DNA? That gram for gram they generate more energy than the sun? Or that they may have once been free-living organisms? Perhaps they fulfil a deep-rooted Oedipal complex; the only part of us that is all of our mother, with no paternal influence to dilute the relationship.

In this book, Nick Lane explores many of these questions. Taking a mito-centric view of life, he seeks to explain the critical role of mitochondria not only in energy production (power), but also sexual reproduction (sex) and apoptosis (suicide). He explores the hypothesis that the critical moment in the development of the eukaryotic cell, and hence multicellular life, and ultimately man himself, was the union of two cells, one of which became subservient to the other as the ancestral mitochondrion. 

As a Darwinian evolutionist, the author tells a good tale: “Once upon a time a methanogen and alpha-proteobacterium lived side-by-side in the ocean where oxygen was scarce…” and there are more twists and turns than in an average detective story, all plausible and potentially possible. Those on the creationist or grand design side of the fence will be consoled by the fact that although Nick Lane implies the evolution of humanity or the human consciousness he cannot believe that bacteria will ever “ascend the smooth ramp to sentience, or anywhere much beyond slime.”

More here.

DNA Studies Suggest Emperor Is Most Ancient of Penguins

Carl Zimmer in the New York Times:

11pengPenguins are some of the most improbable animals on the planet. They have wings and feathers but cannot fly. They are not fish, but they have been recorded as deep as 1,755 feet underwater. And the most improbable is the emperor penguin, which waddles across 70 miles of Antarctic ice to reach its breeding grounds. New research on penguin DNA suggests that the emperor also has the most ancient lineage of living penguins.

Scientists have long recognized a link from penguins to petrels and albatrosses. While albatrosses have more conventional bird bodies, they share subtle traits with penguins, like the arrangement of beak bones. They are generally considered the closest living relatives of penguins.

Penguins’ ancestors probably began their evolutionary march while Tyrannosaurus rex walked the earth. In a paper to be published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Canadian scientists investigated the origin of penguins by studying their genes. They analyzed segments from three genes, comparing their sequence in all 18 species of penguins and in other birds.

More here.

Blogging Prof Fails To Heed His Own Advice

Jacob Gershman in the NY Sun:

“I shouldn’t be doing this. I’ll be going up for tenure soon.”

It was with those words of self admonishment that an assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago, Daniel Drezner, inaugurated his Web log in September 2002.

As thousands of his online readers know, Mr. Drezner didn’t heed his own advice. Instead, he rose to blogosphere prominence. His site is perhaps the most widely read blog focusing on the international political economy, turning scholarly research on issues like outsourcing, the politics of trade, and monetary policy into bite-size pieces of analysis for a wider audience.

On Friday, Mr. Drezner’s first blog entry came back to haunt him: He was informed by his department that he was denied tenure and would have to look elsewhere for a job.

More here.

roman diary

Europe has long since been rebuilt. It moves in fits and starts toward a greater unity and a federal system closer to that of the United States than the former Soviet Union. Nationalism has never really gone away, though, especially in Italy, where it’s enjoying a resurgence of sorts under the bombastic “Forza Italia” party of Berlusconi. And, in what is perhaps the greatest difference between Wilson’s time and mine, when my plane touched down in Rome the new ruins were all behind me, in New Orleans. At no time since the end of the cold war has American dominance seemed more precarious, our superior attitudes more shambolic, our government so manifestly incompetent and indifferent to human suffering. Although a nominal liberal, I’m no less implicated in this indifference than our president and his cronies. In my newfound European refuge, I too have turned my back on my fellow citizens, as I lead my good life as a strange kind of American courtier, or, as I prefer to think of it, a member of a monastic order of artists, writers, intellectuals, and academics who, like the medieval monks of long ago, live within a walled cloister, its security assured by those captains of industry who still feel enough pricks of conscience to wash their money in the blood of culture.

more from Marco Roth at n+1 here.

michael tompkins

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Michael Tompkins was born to paint plywood—to be precise, the edges of plywood panels. In each of the five paintings in his New York debut at the Paul Thiebaud Gallery, Mr. Tompkins brings an astonishing gift for trompe l’oeil mimicry to depictions of the sad sack of lumber. Aligned along the bottom edge of each canvas, exquisitely limned plywood planks hold a variety of objects. To name just a few: fruit, a flashlight, a billiard ball, a roll of twine, books about Arthur Dove and by Monica Ali, power tools, marbles and a bottle of A-1 steak sauce, albeit without the telltale logo.

more from The New York Observer here.

Aernout Mik

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I posted something about Mik a couple of months ago. More and more I’m impressed that he’s doing something pretty interesting.

It’s kind of like walking into your living room late at night while the TV’s still on with the sound off—if you had a half dozen mammoth plasma screens in your living room. Somehow you left it on C-SPAN, which is showing a roomful of fastidious-looking, seemingly Scandinavian people congregated against ugly wallpaper beneath some scarily domineering chandeliers. What are they debating, precisely? It must have something to do with that mass of attractive, scruffy young people gathered on the expensive carpet to protest . . . something. (One inspired, apparently impromptu moment: A black-haired Bjork look-alike lifts up her T-shirt, gets no response to her black bra, then embarrassedly pulls the shirt back down.) As the fusty politicos jab their forefingers and wag their elbows, the ill-shaven youths sit and lie on the floor and sometimes gesticulate in unison. The subtext of Dutch artist Aernout Mik’s Vacuum Room, 2005, recalls a witty quote from director Peter Sellars: “There’s nothing to teach you about form without content like watching the Supreme Court.”

more from Artforum here.

Irish stylist springs Booker surprise

From The Guardian:

Booker_1 The veteran Irish stylist John Banville brought off one of the biggest literary coups last night when he took the £50,000 Booker Prize from under the noses of the bookies and the literary insiders. A 7-1 outsider in the betting odds and untipped by virtually any critic, his novel The Sea was declared victorious in a contest which the judges’ chairman, John Sutherland, said had been “painful” in its closeness. Banville triumphed when Professor Sutherland cast his chairman’s vote in his favour. Until then, the judges were tied, with two backing Banville and two, it is understood, supporting the runner-up, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

More here.

End of the world? Not likely, scientists say

From MSNBC:

End The recent spate of natural disasters affecting the globe “might be” signs that the Biblical apocalypse is near, says Christian televangelist Pat Robertson. On an Oct. 9 episode of CNN’s “Late Edition,” the preacher noted that hurricanes such as Katrina and Rita and earthquakes like Kashmir_1 the ones that struck Pakistan this past weekend and the tsunami-causing one that struck Indonesia last December are hitting with “amazing regularity.” Scientists see Earth doing what she always does, however.

(Up to 40,000 people are feared dead in the northern region of Pakistan as a result of the weekend earthquake. Image from despardes.com)

More here.