Doom is Everywhere

Paul Laity reviews Worst Cases by Lee Clarke, in the London Review of Books:

If you’re feeling vulnerable in these cataclysmic times, stay clear of Lee Clarke, the Eeyore of American sociology and author of the forthcoming study of disaster, Worst Cases (Chicago, £16). ‘Doom is everywhere,’ he says, ‘catastrophes are common.’ Viruses as deadly as Ebola could circle the globe in 24 hours, ‘on the planes that don’t crash’. And ‘it’s not a question of if but of when terrorists will detonate a nuclear device.’

Bad things happen all the time, but once in a while the bad thing is so unlikely as to be almost inconceivable. In 2001 a hunter in the middle of a wood in Pennsylvania fired his gun: the bullet failed to hit a single tree, travelled through the window of a house, went through a door and a wall, and killed a woman standing in her bedroom. A few years before, on Long Island, Andres Perez, testing his new .22 rifle, pointed it into the sky and fired. A minute or so later, Christina Dellaratta, sunbathing in her backyard nearby, felt a nasty sting.

For Clarke, five hundred airline passengers are five hundred potential casualties.

More here.

Inventor of Fake Dog Testicles Wins Ig Nobel Prize


This year’s Ig Nobel winners include:

PHYSICS: John Mainstone and the late Thomas Parnell of the University of Queensland, Australia, for patiently conducting an experiment that began in the year 1927 — in which a glob of congealed black tar has been slowly, slowly dripping through a funnel, at a rate of approximately one drop every nine years.

MEDICINE: Gregg A. Miller of Oak Grove, Missouri, for inventing Neuticles — artificial replacement testicles for dogs, which are available in three sizes, and three degrees of firmness.

CHEMISTRY: Edward Cussler of the University of Minnesota and Brian Gettelfinger of the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin, for conducting a careful experiment to settle the longstanding scientific question: can people swim faster in syrup or in water?

More here.

new atheism


As Alan Wolfe points out, the newly revitalized religions have made next to no changes on the doctrinal level. But they have modified their practices, appeals, and attitudes in a more accepting and nurturing direction, creating a new sense of community. This is more than a matter of marketing; it involves living one’s faith and meeting people’s needs. Atheists have much to learn from this. If the appeal of atheism relies on arguments or it casts itself as a messenger bearing cold hard truths, it will continue to fare poorly in today’s world. For secularists, the most urgent need is for a coherent popular philosophy that answers vital questions about how to live one’s life. As McGrath points out, classical atheists were able to provide this, but no more. A new atheism must absorb the experience of the twentieth century and the issues of the twenty-first. It must answer questions about living without God, face issues concerning forces beyond our control as well as our own responsibility, find a satisfying way of thinking about what we may know and what we cannot know, affirm a secular basis for morality, point to ways of coming to terms with death, and explore what hope might mean today. The new atheists have made a beginning, but much remains to be done.

more from Bookforum here.

do onto self, do onto others


Models of movement, which are activated in the brain when we observe the actions of another person, hold information and knowledge about the way our own body functions. The possibilities and limitations of movement of our own body are the reference from which we process and interpret the actions of another person. In other words, we understand in others that which we can do ourselves, and what we cannot do ourselves, we cannot also understand in others. Feedback from our own bodies apparently plays a role in our intuitive knowledge of the intentions of other people. In this way, we can predict not only the consequences of other people’s actions, but we are able to “put ourselves in the position” of the other person. Such a mechanism is the basis for sympathy and empathy, and thus decisive for the success and continuity of social relationships.

more from the Max Planck Society here.



War is where heroes are made, or so the story goes. In a self-conscious attempt to align his career path with the blazing trajectory of Winslow Homer, Steve Mumford launched his Baghdad Journal project in the summer of 2003. Sponsored by Artnet’s magazine feature, Baghdad Journal consists of sixteen dated and illustrated entries, records of Mumford’s travels in Iraq between August 2003 and December 2004. Each entry contains Mumford’s diary-style writing, illustrated by twenty or so scanned reproductions of his watercolors. Mumford’s scenes are deliberately chosen to challenge our expectations of war – the boundaries of the battleground are unclear, and there is little overt representation of violence. Instead, Mumford depicts the everyday reality of 21st-century war: the tedium of soldiers passing time at base, the efforts of ordinary Iraqis to continue the routines of urban life. But although Mumford’s project may seem anti-heroic, the idea of the lone male hero remains remarkably persistent throughout his sketches and writings, revealing how difficult it is to separate the age-old myth of the hero from an attempt to represent the realities of war.

more from n+1 here.

Male mice signal sex with tears

From Nature:Mice

It may not be considered manly for humans to cry. But when male mice shed a tear, they seem to be trying to prove their masculinity. So say Japanese researchers who have discovered that male mice release pheromones in the fluid that moistens their eyes. “Nobody expected that sex-specific pheromones would exist in tears,” says Kazushige Touhara of the University of Tokyo in Chiba. Pheromones, the chemicals that convey messages about everything from fear to sexual desire, are most common in sweat in humans, and in urine in mice.

More here.

Science gets the last laugh on ethnic jokes

From MSNBC News:

Joke “Heaven is where the police are English, the cooks are French, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian and everything is organized by the Swiss. Hell is where the police are German, the cooks are English, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, and everything is organized by the Italians.”

Obviously the national stereotypes in this old joke are generalizations, but such stereotypes are often said to “exist for a reason.” Is there actually a sliver of truth in them? Not likely, an international research team now says. The study, which compares “typical” personalities in many cultures with the personalities of real individuals from those cultures, appears in Friday’s issue of the journal Science, published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.

More here.

Pakistani transvestite eyes local poll triumph

From the Daily Times of Pakistan:

6_10_2005_untitled4Pervez Akhtar Tanoli is a candidate with a difference in Thursday’s local council elections; he’s a transvestite who rails against corruption and vows to help the poor.

Tanoli, or ‘Baby’ as he is known, is running for a seat on a council in a sub-district of Haripur.

“The constituents are my family,” Baby told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday. “I have nobody else. My family abandoned me because I am a transvestite.”

The former wedding dancer in his mid-thirties is not new to local politics. He has been councilor for the town of Haripur North since 2002, winning the seat with a record number of votes.

“People have voted for me to work for their benefit, not to dance at weddings,” he says.

“The poor have suffered at the hands of politicians because they put the tax money which is meant for development into their own pockets. I don’t do that and people know this. They know I only work for the poor.”

More here.

herstory – the israeli version


“The series ‘To Be Israeli,’ from Ziva Postak, editor of acclaimed ‘Shoah’ documentary by Claude Lanzman, presents daily domestic rituals of women as alternative to historical narrative of men

Israeli identity examined from a female perspective and the place of women in the context of Zionist history is the focus of a new documentary series, “To be an Israeli Woman,” from director Ziva Postak, who worked as editor for Claude Lanzman’s monumental masterpiece, “Shoah.”

Each episode will highlight the perspective of different women – a Jewish settler, an Ethiopian immigrant, a new immigrant from the former Soviet Union, a Palestinian – as an expression of the multiculturalism from where is drawn the monolithic and obviously fictitious identity of Israeli women.”

more Here

TV for equality


A new television campaign in Arabic will attempt to tackle the issue of racism and prejudice toward Arabs in Israel, and foster dialogue between Arabs and Jews.

The campaign, which will be broadcast during prime time on all major channels, is an initiative of the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel. Launched on the eve of the new year, the campaign’s commercials feature a black screen on which common phrases in Arabic appear. An announcer reads the words out loud.

Mossawa spokeswoman, Abir Kopty explained that the commercials aim at getting the viewers to consider their reactions to anything which represents “Arab,” including daily words and phrases such as “good morning” or “have a nice day.”

Kopty said that the campaign consists of two separate parts. In the first part, which includes the media commercials, the public will be exposed to the issue of inequality toward the Arab population in the country.

The second stage of the campaign that will follow the media one, will concentrate on inviting the Israeli public to attend the “Mossawa (equality) Days” festival in the northern Arab town of Nazareth, scheduled to be held during the month of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. “

more here

meat writing

When Walt Whitman began what would ultimately become his masterpiece “Song of Myself,” this was one of the first lines he wrote: “And the cow crunching with depress’d head surpasses any statue.” The nobility of the grazing cow, changing grass into protein, jolts the poet into an impassioned announcement of his own identity and an instant awareness of himself thatched in the expansive web of the world. Thus Whitman, in some small way, may be America’s first Meat Writer. The recognition and immediate reconciliation of digestive dissonance—the linking of himself to his food and beyond—is a catalyzing moment in his ecstatic celebration of life. No lesser a figure than Mohandas Gandhi drew this same conclusion, claiming “To me, the cow is the embodiment of the whole infra-human world; she enables the believer to grasp his unity with all that lives…. The cow is a poem of compassion.”

Popular Meat Writing is about making connections, tying the ubiquitous to the sensational, restoring a place and face to the rootless and indistinct. It puts our Christmas ham back in a cramped pen at Smithfield and plops the Iraq War squarely on our plates. Horrifying as these connections may be, they’re also reassuring. For the details may foster in us, as they did in Whitman, self-awareness—a greater sensitivity to our responsibilities, whether we can ultimately live up to them or not. After all, Meat Writing ties us to something, and no one likes to dine alone.

more meat writing from The Believer here.

hilton kramer on olitski


It was inevitable, perhaps, that a pictorial style based on transparent veils of color would prove severely limiting. What may also have effected a change in Mr. Olitski’s handling of color was Greenberg’s death in 1994. It’s hardly news that Greenberg’s influence was central to the development of color-field abstraction; without that influence, it’s doubtful that color-field abstraction would have acquired the authority it briefly enjoyed. I don’t say this as a criticism of Greenberg, whose writings I very much admire (though I often disagreed with him). But I do believe that his departure from the New York art scene made it possible for certain artists—Mr. Olitski among them—to expand their pictorial horizons into areas of style and concept alien to his taste. Be that as it may, it’s my view that in the Matter Embraced paintings at Knoedler & Company, Mr. Olitski has created his finest work.

more from Kramer (you can’t keep on old formalist down) at the New York Observer here.

Tate: two cities, tale


In the making of the modern world, Paris and London are related almost as head and body. It was Paris that had the ideas – from the idea of revolution to Charles Baudelaire’s notion of the artist of modern life to Picasso’s concept of cubism. The Marxist cultural theorist Walter Benjamin called Paris “capital of the 19th century” and he was right. Yet this is a paradox, because London was the place where modern life began, capital of the workshop of the world, metropolis of the largest empire the world has ever seen, home of the Crystal Palace that inspired Eiffel’s wondrous iron lattice in the sky. London was the grinding nightmare city of the future, in foreign eyes; the setting of Edgar Allan Poe’s chilling story The Man of the Crowd. When the French illustrator Gustave Doré visited mid-19th-century London he went in the spirit of an explorer visiting Africa and came back with dreadful doom-laden images of a future city where people live under railway arches in unimaginable squalor.

more from The Guardian Unlimited here.

ubiquitous korea

From NY Times

Oconnel583 “IMAGINE public recycling bins that use radio-frequency identification technology to credit recyclers every time they toss in a bottle; pressure-sensitive floors in the homes of older people that can detect the impact of a fall and immediately contact help; cellphones that store health records and can be used to pay for prescriptions…

…A ubiquitous city is where all major information systems (residential, medical, business, governmental and the like) share data, and computers are built into the houses, streets and office buildings. New Songdo, located on a man-made island of nearly 1,500 acres off the Incheon coast about 40 miles from Seoul, is rising from the ground up as a U-city.

…New Songdo sounds like it will be one big Petri dish for understanding how people want to use technology,” said B. J. Fogg, the director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University. “

Storing Halle Berry in a single brain cell

From Scientific American:Barre_1

A recent study indicates that our brains employ far fewer cells to interpret a given image than previously believed, and the findings could help neuroscientists determine how memories are formed and stored. In previous decades, two extreme views have emerged. One says that millions of neurons work in concert, piecing together various bits of information into one coherent picture, whereas the ot her states that the brain contains a separate neuron to recognize each individual object and person. In the 1960s neurobiologist Jerome Lettvin named the latter idea the “grandmother cell” theory, meaning that the brain has a neuron devoted just for recognizing each family member. Lose that neuron, and you no longer recognize grandma. Experts long ago dismissed this latter view as overly simplistic. But Rodrigo Quian Quiroga of the University of Leicester in England and his colleagues decided to investigate just how selective single neurons might be.

More here.

Photo Gallery: Best Science Photographs of 2005 Named

From National Geographic:Cancer_cell

Medical researcher Anne Weston took this photograph of a cancer cell with an electron microscope. She captured the image as the cell crept into a pore on a laboratory filter to illustrate how cancer cells move.

Pan Cambridge University lecturer John Brackenbury combined this series of high-speed photographs to illustrate the concept of panspermia. Panspermia is the theory that seeds of life exist throughout the universe and that life on Earth arose when those seeds landed on our planet eons ago. The image shows eggs shattering as they hit water, releasing smaller eggs within.

More here.