Frances Newton and the Prospects for a New Abolitionism

3 Quarks columnist Justin E. H. Smith writes in CounterPunch:

As I write this, Frances Newton is waiting to be executed in a prison south of Huntsville, Texas, having seen her most recent request for clemency denied by the Supreme Court. If the sentence is carried out, she will be the third woman executed in the state since the Civil War, and the first black woman. By the time anyone has a chance to read this, any call I might make for letters to the relevant power-holders may very well be too late. If she is still alive, by all means, write to them. Overload their inboxes. Call them potential murderers. But if she is dead, perhaps her death might serve as an occasion for those of us who find the death penalty abhorrent and disgraceful to take stock of how miserably we are losing this battle, and to contemplate the efficacy of our strategy.

More here.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2005


The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2005 jointly to

Yves ChauvinNobelchem
Institut Français du Pétrole, Rueil-Malmaison, France,

Robert H. Grubbs
California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, CA, USA and 

Richard R. Schrock
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA, USA

    “for the development of the metathesis method in organic synthesis”.

This year’s Nobel Prize Laureates in chemistry have made metathesis into one of organic chemistry’s most important reactions. Fantastic opportunities have been created for producing many new molecules – pharmaceuticals, for example. Imagination will soon be the only limit to what molecules can be built!

More here. (Advanced [PDF] and supplementary [PDF] information is also available from the Nobel Prize site.)      

How the provision of social services gets militarized

In These Times discusses the militarization of social services with Eric Klinenberg.

[In These Times] You have examined how police forces in cities like Chicago have usurped functions that were once the responsibility of public social service agencies. Do you see the same thing happening in the wake of Hurricane Katrina?

[Klinenberg] I do. Problems stemming from the militarization of social support programs are at the heart of the failed Katrina response. Beginning with the Crime Bill in 1994, all levels of government have delegated traditional social service responsibilities to paramilitary or military organizations—responsibilities that in many cases they are poorly suited to handle. In Heat Wave I call this an organizational mismatch, and one with serious consequences.

Take Chicago: During the ’90s the city asked the Chicago Police Department’s CAPS (Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy) program to take on a range of traditional caring functions—holding community meetings, checking in on elderly residents, helping to clean streets—effectively using the punishing branch of government to do what the giving branch had done before.

A Look at a fake 1938 Soviet Lunar Expedition

In The Moscow Times, a look at the director Alexei Fedorchenko and his ‘mockumentary’ about a forgotten 1938 Soviet lunar expedition, “Perviye na Lune” (“First on the Moon”).

“Working around the idea that the Soviet Union developed a space program in the 1930s, a project that culminated in a 1938 rocket launch, Fedorchenko mixed a range of material into ‘First on the Moon,’ from actual period newsreels to episodes scrupulously shot in the style of that time. Weaving between them are contemporary scenes, shot in color, which provide a linking strand in the form of a documentary investigation into the fates of the program’s participants. Screenings at Venice blurred the differences by bringing up the house lights before the film’s closing credits — which confirm that all roles were played by actors.

The result is stylish, sometimes very funny and ultimately affectionate toward its chosen subject. ‘The element of irony is very small, perhaps around 5 percent,’ Fedorchenko said in an interview this week. ‘The rest is something of an homage to the generation of our fathers or grandfathers, including their honesty, their genuine belief in an ideal.'”

35-year-old mystery solved in a flash of light

From NASA:Ssatellite_1

Scientists have solved a 35-year-old mystery of the origin of powerful, split-second flashes of light called short gamma-ray bursts. These flashes, brighter than a billion suns yet lasting only a few milliseconds, have been simply too fast to catch… until now.

If you guessed that a black hole is involved, you are at least half right. Short gamma-ray bursts arise from collisions between a black hole and a neutron star or between two neutron stars. In the first scenario, the black hole gulps down the neutron star and grows bigger. In the second scenario, the two neutron stars create a black hole.

More here.

Other Opiates of the Middle Classes

In Edge, Naseem Taleb suggests that we also turn a skeptical eye to other opiates of the middle class.

“As a practitioner of science, I am opposed to teaching religious ideas in schools. But, it seems to me somewhat misplaced energy — more of a fight for principles than for any bottom line. As an empirical skeptic, I would like to introduce a dimension to the debates: relevance, consequence, and our ability to correct a situation — in other words the impact on our daily lives.

My portrait of the perfect fool of randomness is as follows: he does not believe in religion, providing entirely rational reasons for such disbelief. He opposes scientific method to superstition and blind faith. But alas, human skepticism appears to be quite domain-specific and relegated to the classroom. Somehow the skepticism of my fool undergoes a severe atrophy outside of these intellectual debates . . .”

goethe and science


The journal Janus Head dedicates an issue to Goethe’s approach to science. Here’s what the editorial has to say about it. We’ll see how the harder headed 3Quarks science readers respond.

Although Goethe is often portrayed in opposition to science, he viewed his efforts as a further refinement of scientific method. What has made this Goethe-inspired evolution of science both enticing and forbidding is that it involves, in Frederick Amrine’s words, “the metamorphosis of the scientist.” Goethe knew that his delicate empiricism entailed “an enhancement of our mental powers” and for that very reason it still remains in its infancy. It entails becoming aware of the “object” view of the world that so strongly informs both our everyday and scientific thinking. When we leave this “natural attitude” (Husserl) behind, we can begin to see how we participate within the world and then work to gain new bearings for our thinking and perceiving. This is the path—both arduous and exhilarating—that Goethe trod.



A discussion at between Stephen Metcalf and New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman around his new book The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa.

Along the way, you treat a wide variety of artists, from Bonnard, in his own time the démodé impressionist, to Matthew Barney, now an à la mode multimedia superstar. But you seem (correct me if I’m wrong) most attuned to that artist whose life is an intense and often self-consciously unworldly devotion to his or her own tightly circumscribed routine; so that when the signature of that artist finally emerges, it doesn’t appear as something sudden, cheap, and public, as the commanding gesture of naughty self-branding that many people now associate with modern and postmodern art, but as something worthy of a similarly intense devotion on our part. Unschooled as I am, we seem to share a taste for: Bonnard, Charlotte Salomon, and Ray Johnson. Not coincidentally, these were my favorite chapters in the book. The essay on Bonnard is simply narcotic, as it lovingly describes Bonnard’s marriage to Marthe as the tender prisonhouse that became his universe. I won’t spoil it for the reader, but that last sentence, and that last image, are—well, what is the word when pathos is completely earned?

Michael Krebber


Michael Krebber’s failures have turned out to be his greatest strength. First he failed as an art student, then he failed as an artist. He turned to acting and fell short. Returning again to art, he managed to transform failure, if that’s still the correct term, into his own distinctive and undoubtedly attractive modus operandi. We are all surrounded by people we don’t quite understand. But Krebber, my eccentric colleague since 2002 at Frankfurt’s Städelschule, is a special case: a painter who, as he says, is “fundamentally” no painter, and a teacher who, he maintains, has nothing much to teach. And yet shows of his open around the globe where there are things on display that look like paintings to me. And his teaching—a peculiar mix of screenings, informal meetings, and inscrutable gatherings around carefully selected books, magazines, catalogues, etc.—has become legendary enough to attract aspiring young artists from all over the world. It’s strange. Has Krebber suddenly turned out a success?

more from Artforum here.

Optics Research Garners Nobel in Physics

From Scientific American:

Nobel This year’s Nobel Prize in physics is split between three scientists in the field of optics. They are Roy Glauber of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., John Hall of the University of Colorado and National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo., and Theodor Hänsch of the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany. Glauber received the award for his theoretical description of the behavior of light particles; Hall and Hänsch used that theory to develop a precision laser than can measure the color of the light of atoms and molecules, which can help identify the composition of materials.

More here.

Visions of Order in an Anxious Universe

From The Village Voice:

Order Blankness makes us uneasy. Confronted with silence or an empty sheet of paper, we feel the urge to fill it. For a few, this is a defining compulsion, known in frightening Latin as horror vacui and usually associated with messy drawings by the mentally ill, most famously the work of art brut exemplars Adolf W Madge Gill, and Edmund Monsiel.

In this small exhibit of that compulsion, W et al. make an obligatory appearance, but refreshingly, curator Brooke Anderson’s selections concentrate on five relative unknowns, all of whom draw visions of order to cope with various anxieties. Martin Thompson, a homeless man believed to be autistic, employs strict logic. From a formula, he inks a flawless geometric pattern on graph paper using a single color, then re-creates the work in its negative to make a diptych. The result can be mesmerizing, as if you’re glimpsing an object through separate blizzards.

More here.

Several Hundred m/s Closer to a Quantum Computer

From Wired News:

Crystal_fPhysicists in Australia have slowed a speeding laser pulse and captured it in a crystal, a feat that could be instrumental in creating quantum computers.

The scientists slowed the laser light pulse from 300,000 kilometers per second to just several hundred meters per second, allowing them to capture the pulse for about a second.

The accomplishment marks a new world record, but the scientists are more thrilled that they were able to store and recall light, an important step toward quantum computing.

“What we’ve done here is create a quantum memory,” said Dr. Matthew Sellars of the Laser Physics Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.

Slowing down light allows scientists to map information onto it. The information is then transferred from the light to the crystal, Sellars said. Then when the scientists release the light, the information is transferred back onto the beam.

More here.

Help Majikthise to cover the trial of Tom Delay

For those of you who followed Lindsay Beyerstein’s posts from New Orleans over at Majikthise, she is raising money to cover the trial of Tom Delay. (Those of you didn’t read her New Orleans pieces should do so.)

In addition to supporting a talented writer on this project, by donating you can help to start a new model of journalism that has been emerging in the last year or so. Until recently, the standard refrain from many has been that bloggers are dependent on the mainstream media for stories, which is usually true. And many complain that they merely comment, which need not be true, and is increasingly less and less true. “Blogging” stories, as Lindsay did in New Orleans, or Joichi Ito did from Madrid, seems a next step in the evolution of how we get information. And it seems a sphere where popular funding can exist and check a bias toward corporate or other special interest funding.

If any of you have ever complained that the MSM is biased, is biased toward their supporters, owners, etc., and yet have gotten annoyed that they never ever admit it, here’s a model of news in which you know where the reporter stands and know what you think of their writing and their insight, which in Lindsay’s case is remarkable. So, if you like Lindsay’s stuff, find the story interesting and important, consider supporting her trip.

didion again


Pieces on Joan Didion have sprung up like wild flowers in the past week or so and since the publication of The Year of Magical Thinking. The best of them so far is from John Leonard at The New York Review of Books.

It’s not just that the momentum she worries so much about has taken Didion in surprising directions. It’s that we should not perhaps have been surprised. How lazy to have labeled her the poster girl for anomie, wearing a migraine and a bikini to every volcanic eruption of the postwar zeitgeist; a desert lioness of the style pages, part sibylline icon and part Stanford seismograph, alert on the fault lines of the culture to every tremble of tectonic fashion plate. Yes, the Sixties seemed so much to hurt her feelings that her prose at times suggested Valéry’s frémissements d’une feuille effacée— shiverings of an effaced leaf—as if her next trick might be evaporation.

Wally Berman and friends


Derived jointly from the Semina roster and a mother lode of never-before-seen photographic portraits culled from the thousands of unprinted negatives in the artist’s estate — Berman was killed by a drunk driver on the eve of his 50th birthday in 1976 — “Semina Culture” provides a rich and detailed historical cross section of a fascinating layer of American culture and a superabundance of cool art. Co-curated by Michael Duncan and Kristine McKenna (both occasional Weekly contributors), “Semina Culture” casts a wide net and serves up a smorgasbord of old rubber boots and ripe red herrings — beautiful if you have eyes to see, and deeply compelling if you’re looking for a few good stories.

Take Cameron, for example, a.k.a. Marjorie Cameron Parsons Kimmel, cover girl for Semina 1 and author of the specific line drawing (a peyote vision in the doggy style) that sent the LAPD into such a tizzy. Cameron is known to aficionados of arcane Angeleno lore as the elemental vessel for Jet Propulsion Lab founder Jack Parsons and pre-Scientology L. Ron Hubbard’s “Babalon Working” — an attempt to spawn a “moonchild” or apocalyptic “Scarlet Woman” to usher in a global empire based on the magickal principles of Aleister Crowley’s Thelema. You know. After Ron fucked off with Parsons’ wife, Betty, and 10 large of his petty cash, Jack married Cameron before dying in a mysterious chemical explosion in his garage in 1952.

more from Doug Harvey at the LA Weekly here.

A New Measure of Well-Being From a Happy Little Kingdom

From The New York Times:

04happy_1 What is happiness? In the United States and in many other industrialized countries, it is often equated with money. Economists measure consumer confidence on the assumption that the resulting figure says something about progress and public welfare. The gross domestic product, or G.D.P., is routinely used as shorthand for the well-being of a nation. But the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has been trying out a different idea. In 1972, concerned about the problems afflicting other developing countries that focused only on economic growth, Bhutan’s newly crowned leader, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, decided to make his nation’s priority not its G.D.P. but its G.N.H., or gross national happiness.

Bhutan, the king said, needed to ensure that prosperity was shared across society and that it was balanced against preserving cultural traditions, protecting the environment and maintaining a responsive government. The king, now 49, has been instituting policies aimed at accomplishing these goals. Now Bhutan’s example, while still a work in progress, is serving as a catalyst for far broader discussions of national well-being.

More here.

Benazir and Zardari: Is it the end game?

From Despardes:

Benazir_zardari200 NEW YORK, OCT 3: Is it the end game for the leader of Pakistan Peoples Party, Ms. Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari? Many PPP supporters ( jialas ) from New York to Karachi have expressed grave concern at Mr. Zardari’s continued presence in New York, ostensibly to undergo aggressive cardiac rehabilitation therapy while his wife the former Prime Minister shuttles between London, Geneva and Dubai without visiting her spouse.

Mr. Zardari underwent a simple procedure in a Dubai hospital to place a stent to unclog his blocked artery but apparently it was not enough. After intensive tests, procedures and experts’ advices, he had another stent placed. Now they say he is undergoing cardiac rehabilitation. But Ms Bhutto’s total absence from the scene is more foreboding. Many political pundits here speculate that things have really gone bad in the Bhutto/Zardari household. Have the couple moved on? Is the relationship over?

More here.

Nobel Prize: Australians win for linking bug to ulcers

Andy Coghlan in New Scientist:

Two Australians have won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for establishing that bacteria cause stomach ulcers, it was announced on Monday.

Working at the Royal Perth Hospital, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren established beyond all doubt in the 1980s that Helicobacter pylori causes stomach ulcers by infecting and aggravating the gut lining.

Moreover, they showed that ulcers could be cured altogether by killing the bacteria with antibiotics. Hitherto, ulcers had been considered uncurable. Instead, patients’ symptoms were treated with a lifetime of drugs to reduce the acidity of the gut.

The pair’s claims provoked a fierce backlash from the medical establishment, which held to the dogma that ulcers were brought on by stress and lifestyle, and could not be cured. By revealing a simple cure, the researchers also threatened to destroy huge and lucrative global markets for the existing anti-ulcer drugs, which simply eased symptoms.

More here.

Complexity and Intelligent Design

John Allen Paulos in his consistently good Who’s Counting column at ABC News:

The theory of intelligent design, the purportedly more scientific descendant of creation science, rejects Darwin’s theory of evolution as being unable to explain the complexity of life. How, ask supporters of intelligent design, can biological phenomena like the clotting of blood have arisen just by chance?

A key supporter of intelligent design likens what he terms the “irreducible complexity” of such phenomena to the irreducible complexity of a mousetrap. If just one of the trap’s pieces is missing — whether it be the spring, the metal platform, or the board — the trap is useless. The implicit suggestion is that all the parts of a mousetrap would have had to come into being at once, an impossibility unless there were an intelligent designer.

Design proponents argue that what’s true for the mousetrap is all the more true for vastly more complex biological phenomena. If any of the 20 or so proteins involved in blood clotting is absent, clotting doesn’t occur, and so, the creationist argument goes, these proteins must have all been brought into being at once by a designer.

But the theory of evolution does explain the evolution of complex biological organisms and phenomena, and the above argument from design, which dates from the 18th century, has been decisively refuted. Rehashing the latter explanation and refutation is not my goal, however. Those who reject evolution are usually immune to such arguments anyway.

More here.

Crime and Punishment

Mark M. Anderson in The Nation:

Dresden_1Are the former Allied nations willing to acknowledge German suffering and loss during World War II? Are they willing to question the morality of the means by which they won the war, even the firebombing that laid waste to 131 German cities and towns, and killed more than half a million people (most of them women, children and the elderly)? Or was the extremity of Nazi aggression so great, the urgency to defeat Hitler so compelling, that the Allies have effectively been shielded from the kind of moral scrutiny that has been focused on the use of atomic weapons against Japan? However one might answer those questions today, for much of the postwar period the occupying nations on both sides of the Berlin wall felt little reason to justify their actions. Germans grumbled mightily among themselves, but any public airing of their grievances was subject to severe constraints and cold war manipulation. And when the German children born during or shortly after the war came of age in the heady years of the late 1960s, they demanded that Germany view the war through the lens of non-German victims, not that of its own losses. German victimhood became politically incorrect.

More here.