Indian and Chinese growth in perspective

Via Brad De Long, Parnab Bardhan throws some cold water on the idea that China and India are soon to become superpowers.

Both China and India are still desperately poor countries. Of the total of 2.3 billion people in these two countries, nearly 1.5 billion earn less than US$2 a day, according to World Bank calculations. Of course, the lifting of hundreds of millions of people above poverty in China has been historic. Thanks to repeated assertions in the international financial press, conventional wisdom now suggests that globalization is responsible for this feat. Yet a substantial part of China’s decline in poverty since 1980 already happened by mid-1980s (largely as a result of agricultural growth), before the big strides in foreign trade and investment in the 1990s. Assertions about Indian poverty reduction primarily through trade liberalization are even shakier. In the nineties, the decade of major trade liberalization, the rate of decline in poverty by some aggregative estimates has, if anything, slowed down. In any case, India is as yet a minor player in world trade, contributing less than one percent of world exports. . .

What about the hordes of Indian software engineers, call-center operators, and back-room programmers supposedly hollowing out white-collar jobs in rich countries? The total number of workers in all possible forms of IT-related jobs in India comes to less than a million workers – one-quarter of one percent of the Indian labor force. For all its Nobel Prizes and brilliant scholars and professionals, India is the largest single-country contributor to the pool of illiterate people in the world. Lifting them out of poverty and dead-end menial jobs will remain a Herculean task for decades to come.

Poor cell memory is key to cancer

From BBC News:

Dna_2 Every time a cell divides, it has to remember which of its genes are switched on or off at the time. If that memory is impaired, this can disrupt the proper development of cells and trigger cancer. Scientists at Cancer Research UK and Cambridge’s Babraham Institute have shown certain enzymes can alter this genetic memory. Evidence of this interference was present in a large proportion of tumours – strongly implicating the enzymes in the development of cancer. Retaining the memory of which genes are switched on and which are switched off when a cell divides is called epigenetics. Often genes are switched off by a change to the structure of its component DNA – a process known as methylation. The researchers discovered that AID, an enzyme involved in the formation of the immune system, can also alter methylation in DNA. This could leave cells with inaccurate memories – and lead to cancer.

More here.

Did Life Come from Another World?

From Scientific American:Life_1

Most scientists have long assumed that life on Earth is a homegrown phenomenon. According to the conventional hypothesis, the earliest living cells emerged as a result of chemical evolution on our planet billions of years ago in a process called abiogenesis. The alternative possibility–that living cells or their precursors arrived from space–strikes many people as science fiction. Developments over the past decade, however, have given new credibility to the idea that Earth’s biosphere could have arisen from an extraterrestrial seed.

New research indicates that microorganisms could have survived a journey from Mars to Earth

More here.

The architecture of Santiago Calatrava

Paul Goldberger in The New Yorker:

051031mast_4_r14547_p198Eero Saarinen’s swooping concrete T.W.A. terminal, at Kennedy Airport, has often been compared to a bird with outstretched wings. When Saarinen, who died in 1961, was asked if that was what he meant his building to look like, he responded that people could say whatever they wanted, but he had far more serious things on his mind than birds. The Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who has been greatly influenced by Saarinen’s forms, takes the opposite tack—he embraces analogies between his buildings and living creatures. If Calatrava had designed the T.W.A. terminal, he would have named it the Soaring Eagle.

And so Calatrava’s first high-rise apartment tower, in Malmö, Sweden, has been christened the Turning Torso. The title is a reference to a white marble sculpture, by Calatrava, of a human form in motion; in 1999, the five-foot-high work so captivated the building’s developer that he hired Calatrava to stretch the piece into a skyscraper—even though the architect had not yet designed one. The fifty-four-story structure, which has views of Copenhagen from across the Øresund Strait, opens in November. There are a hundred and forty-seven apartments—each of which has slanting windows, curving walls, and oddly shaped rooms—and all of them have been rented.

Calatrava is the most crowd-pleasing architect since Frank Gehry.

More here.

How Darwin and Einstein replied to letters

Kurt Kleiner in New Scientist:

Both Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein relied on pen, paper, and the postal service to communicate with correspondents around the world. But researchers have now found the pattern of their replies is the same as that of computer users answering email today, with both following the same mathematical formula.

The pattern could reflect some basic biological encoding that shows up in everything from humans at work to birds foraging for food, according to Albert-László Barabási, a physicist at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, US.

In previous work, Barabási looked at how long it took people to answer their email, and found a “bursty” pattern – most emails are answered fairly quickly, but a few sit around for a long time, and some sit around for a very long time.

To describe the pattern, Barabási created a mathematical model in which people prioritise their emails, then respond to the high priority emails quickly and the low-priority emails more slowly. When he crunched the numbers, his model fit the observed results perfectly.

More here.

Einstein on Science and Religion

Albert Einstein in Science & Spirit:

It would not be difficult to come to an agreement as to what we understand by science. Science is the century-old endeavor to bring together by means of systematic thought the perceptible phenomena of this world into as thoroughgoing an association as possible. To put it boldly, it is the attempt at the posterior reconstruction of existence by the process of conceptualization. But when asking myself what religion is I cannot think of the answer so easily. And even after finding an answer which may satisfy me at this particular moment I still remain convinced that I can never under any circumstances bring together, even to a slight extent, all those who have given this question serious consideration.

More here.

A neural thunderstorm, titanic and glorious

Michael Chorost in Wired:

With one listen, I was hooked. I was a 15-year-old suburban New Jersey nerd, racked with teenage lust but too timid to ask for a date. When I came across Boléro among the LPs in my parents’ record collection, I put it on the turntable. It hit me like a neural thunderstorm, titanic and glorious, each cycle building to a climax and waiting but a beat before launching into the next.

I had no idea back then of Boléro‘s reputation as one of the most famous orchestral recordings in the world. When it was first performed at the Paris Opera in 1928, the 15-minute composition stunned the audience. Of the French composer, Maurice Ravel, a woman in attendance reportedly cried out, “He’s mad … he’s mad!” One critic wrote that Boléro “departs from a thousand years of tradition.”

I sat in my living room alone, listening.

More here.

Scientists Complete Map of Genetic Variations

From AP:

HapmapScientists have mapped patterns of tiny DNA differences that distinguish one person from another, an achievement that will help researchers find genes that promote common illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.

The map represents “a real sea change in how we study the genetics of disease,” said Dr. David Altshuler, a leader of the project that included more than 200 researchers from six nations.

Scientists want to find disease-related genes as a means for diagnosis, prediction and developing treatments. Such genes give clues to the biological underpinnings of disease, and so suggest strategies for developing therapies.

More here.

A Report from Earthquake devastated regions in Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy reports on relief efforts in earthquake devastated regions in Pakistan, in Z Magazine.

For me personally, there was a sense of dejavu. Nearly 31 years ago, on 25th December 1974, a powerful earthquake had flattened towns along the Karakorum Highway killing nearly 10,000 people. I had traveled with a university team into the same mountains for similar relief work. Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had made a passionate appeal for funds around the world, taken a token helicopter trip to the destroyed town of Besham, and made fantastic promises for rehabilitation. But then hundreds of millions of dollars in relief funds received from abroad mysteriously disappeared. Some well-informed people believe that those funds were used to kick off Pakistan’s secret nuclear program.

Shall the present government do better? This will only be if citizens, and international donors, demand transparency and accounts are available for public audit.

The clock is ticking. In barely two months from now, the mountains will get their first snowfall and temperatures will plummet below zero. There are simply not enough tents, blankets, and warm clothes to go around. Hundreds of tent clusters have come up, but thousands of families remain out under the skies, facing rain and hail, and with dread in their hearts.

contemporary art, not so bad really


Art changes along with the world, for better or worse. Some artists’ work is so caught up in a particular moment, so bounded by gossip, by articles and rumours and reputation, that it becomes almost impossible to look at it freshly. Opinion drifts into consensus and the orthodox official line, the lines of explanatory text on the museum wall. The artist gets caught up in all this too, and might spend all their energy trying to escape. This has happened with Damien Hirst.

Perhaps one of the best artists at dealing with this impasse has been Bruce Nauman. Working between sculpture, performance, film and sound, neon works and drawings, he has made both one of the most varied and consistent bodies of work since the 1960s, while remaining somewhat aloof from the tides of fashion. Everyone else is left trying to catch up, as many students, leafing through the Nauman back catalogue, soon discover. But how many artists are conscious of their own range, the richness of what they do? Mostly, Nauman reacts to the difficulty of not knowing what to do next, and working through the condition of creative emptiness. Looking at his new work can make you think of things he did more than 20 or 30 years ago, and throw them in a new light. Lesser artists, meanwhile, just repeat themselves. Nauman’s kind of digging-in is more than persistence or doggedness.

more from The Guardian here.



My favorite image of Rosa Parks, who died Monday at the age of 92, is of the confrontation between her and a policeman on that auspicious afternoon of Dec. 1, 1955, when she refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Ala. After the officer had instructed her to “make it light on yourself” and give up her seat to a standing white man, she later said, she asked him, “Why do you push us around?” And he had given an honest answer: “I don’t know.” But then he explained that he had to arrest her anyway (even though she was not in technical violation of the city’s segregation laws, but that’s a whole other tangent of this rich saga). And so did history turn. In support of Parks’ defiance, the black citizens of Montgomery boycotted the city buses until segregated seating was abolished, one whole year later. And so was born what is still known as the modern civil rights movement.

more from Slate here.

The Detached Cool of Andy Warhol

From The Village Voice:Warhol_3

May 6, 1965
Andy Warhol makes movies with the same unruffled objectivity that he looks at life. His usual procedure is to set up the action—often a group of people interacting—point the camera at them, turn it on, and step back. The camera makes the movie: whatever happens, planned or not, is the film. Sometimes in the studio (which he refers to as “the factory”) there will be interruptions: telephone calls, people going up or down in the elevator, somebody dropping something or walking inadvertently in front of the camera. All is recorded. No trace of surprise or annoyance registers on Warhol’s face. He is totally cool or very uptight, depending on your point of view. The latter school says: “Andy’s been trained in Madison Avenue. He’s like a high-powered executive who doesn’t show his feelings, but he’s seething inside.” Personally, I think it the height of coolness to regard everything with a detached eye and rely on intuition to make instant decisions. Warhol’s intuition is usually correct.

More here.

Cinema Veritas: Harvard’s unique film program shines anew

From Harvard Magazine:Dani

The history, theory, and analysis of films as cultural and aesthetic “texts” became a legitimate academic field in the late 1960s, leading to a 1970s boom in cinema-studies programs across America — but not at Harvard. Although the College ventured into film studies through a General Education course and subsequent courses at the Carpenter Center, there was no degree program. In the film-studies program, students learn how to “read” films as complex historical and aesthetic artifacts. D.W. Griffith’s Civil War epic, The Birth of a Nation (1915), might be analyzed as a cinematic masterpiece of framing, continuity editing, mise en scène, and narrative structure, as well as a palimpsest of U.S. racial history: its positive depiction of the KKK was highly controversial but didn’t extinguish its popularity. Students examine national cinemas, film theory, and special topics such as film and philosophy, or the human body, or architecture.

More here.

God save the heretic

Christopher Hart in the Times of London:

Jonathan Swift observed that the problem with religion was that there wasn’t enough of it around: “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” Three centuries on there is even less of it around and we still hate each other.

The difficulty, at least for the scientifically educated but spiritually malnourished, is not the idea of religion itself, meaning some system of ritualised worship that helps us to make sense, if only symbolically, of the human, natural and supernatural worlds. The difficulty is rather that all the religions on offer are so patently preposterous, if not downright unpleasant.

More here.

origins of color photography


Over the past few years, the art world has rediscovered color photographers–such as William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, and Joel Sternfeld–who, in the 1970s and early ’80s, helped push the medium from the confines of commercial magazines into the realm of high art. At first glance, the vivid depictions of American life in “Bound for Glory,” on view at the Library of Congress through November 26, might be mistaken for works by one of their contemporaries. Familiar scenes from the American vernacular abound–gas stations, bars, store fronts, churches, home interiors–all rendered in the characteristically rich hues of then-popular Kodachrome slide film. The images, however, are more than 60 years old, created between 1939 and 1943 by photographers working for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Despite the establishment’s past condescension toward color photography, these pioneering works are anything but facile.

more from TNR here.

thoughts from rome II

Here’s a thesis to try out on friends: The anti-war movement, in its current form, is an unwitting complement to US government policy, not an opposition to it. It will enable a cowardly premature withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, an event that will be a horrendous betrayal of the Iraqis we promised to “liberate” and a complete failure of political imagination, and which both the Bush administration and the anti-war movement will claim as a victory. . . .

My doubts began the week before, at the meeting to plan out the banners called by Stormin’ Norman the Doorman. “Norm,” as he’s known around here, is a former Marine who did two tours of duty in Vietnam. This gives him a certain grave authority, though he keeps his war experiences at a distance which leaves whatever horrors he saw or did buried under gruff bad jokes: “I was shot at and missed and shat at and hit.” But Norm’s past is less worthy than his present. He’s the man who lets you into the building every time you reach the gate, who sells you laundry tokens and tells you where the buses go, who governs his post with the perfect sense of a good tyrant, knowing just when to enforce the rules and when to let them go (and there are rules aplenty here). He tells us that the sign is supposed to read “All troops out of Iraq” in English and Italian. “What about ‘All troops out of Iraq, all terrorists out of Iraq’?” I ask, wanting both to be even-handed and to voice my feeling that whoever caused the death of thousands of Shiites on a bridge, whoever killed Steven Vincent, whoever has been kidnapping girls who won’t wear veils—these people shouldn’t be part of the new Iraq either. Later, our resident poet will propose a sign: “Everyone out of Iraq.”

more from Marco Roth’s second dispatch from Rome at n+1 here.