Miniaturized satellites, in Nature:
A miniature satellite has arrived at the International Space Station (ISS), where it will take its first space flight in indoor comfort rather than in the harsh conditions outside the station.
Its inventors hope that the volleyball-sized probe will be the forerunner to a new generation of small satellites that can fly in formation, and possibly act as servicing robots for the ISS.
The probe arriving at the ISS this week is one of just three built by the SPHERES project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. The Synchronized Position Hold Engage Re-orient Experimental Satellite is designed to float in space while holding a precise position.
A flotilla of such satellites could eventually act as parts of a giant telescope, maintaining their position by communicating with each other using radio links, suggests David Miller, who leads the MIT team.
After peddling the idea that democracy in Iraq was easy as pie, Kanan Makiya decides to blame the facts, in NPQ.
The Shiite leadership have acted irresponsibly by not rising above their own sense of victimhood. This failure of imagination means they will lose more than anyone else in Iraq because they will be unable to reap the rewards of their own democratic majority status. Instead of consolidating their position, they risk provoking civil war. Iraq is on the precipice.
Though there are problems with the constitution over which one can quibble, the real issue is not the wording of the document itself or its decentralized, federal vision. It is a set of guidelines that in any case will be further interpreted down the road.
The destabilizing element is that there is no resolution over how powers are delegated or who, clearly, is accountable to whom. The Shiite leaders have not thought about the country as a whole. In the exile opposition, we have been thinking about federalism for 15 years, and even then we did not get very far in defining it. However, it is a new idea to the overwhelming majority of Iraqis who were not part of that exiled opposition; those inside the country barely grasp the concept. The relations of the regions to the center have not been thought through. The obvious implication that people filled with foreboding about the future will draw from such a document is that whoever has the most power—the Shiite majority—will implement the rules as they see fit.
Also in NPQ, Salman Rushdie, Tariq Ramadan, Imran Khan, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Reza Aslan, all on Islam, reform and democracy, war and terrorism. Reza Aslan on the democratic promise held out by Iraqi’s constitution.
The truth is that despite grumblings from those who were expecting a secular, liberal democracy to arise fully formed in the midst of a bloody and chaotic occupation, the constitution of Iraq is nothing short of a miracle. This is an enlightened charter of laws written in a lawless country embroiled in a civil war, whose framers were literally dragged onto the streets and beaten to death between meetings. And yet, in spite of the odds, Iraq’s leaders have drafted a constitution that reflects the values, interests and concerns of an overwhelming majority of a fractious population in a fabricated country that has never known anything resembling genuine democracy.
But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Iraq’s constitution is the way it has managed to balance the religious identity of the people (96 percent of whom are Muslim) with the requirements of democratic pluralism. Article Two of the constitution establishes Islam as “the official religion of the state” and “a basic source of legislation,” meaning that no law can be passed that contradicts “the fixed principles of Islam.” However, not only does the constitution deliberately leave those fixed principles to be defined by the natural democratic process in accordance with the changing values and sentiments of the Iraqi people, it unequivocally states that no law can be passed that contradicts the basic rights and freedoms outlined by the constitution. Among the first of these is that all individuals have a right to complete freedom of creed, worship, practice, thought and conscience. True, a constitution does not a democracy make. Still, as the template for a stable, viable, pluralistic and distinctly Islamic democracy, Iraq could not have hoped for a better founding charter.
In New Perspectives Quarterly, Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling on nuking Iran and what to do about proliferation.
The US government ought to recognize the taboo is in its favor and not try to develop a new generation of weapons with the aim of making them somehow useful on the battlefield. I’m afraid a lot of people in the Pentagon think, “We are so rich in nuclear weapons, it is a shame not to use them.” They should learn we are so rich in people and infrastructure that we will risk losing that if we encourage others, by our own example, to look positively on the use of nuclear weapons.
That is why, among other things, it is important to get the US Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty—not because testing is important, but because that treaty is a pillar of the taboo, another nail in the coffin of the idea of weapons use. The US, above all, should never say nuclear weapons should be used preemptively…
I don’t know if there is any way to stop the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons. If they do, we should try to persuade them to declare—as the Indians and Pakistanis have done—that they are for deterrence and defense, not for offensive use.
Further, we should assist the Iranians in making sure custody of their weapons is secure in any time of disruption. In the case of a riot in the streets, will the weapons be safe? Who might grab them in case of civil war?
If there were a statue of the Unknown Polymath it should look like Raymond Tallis: rangy, bearded, wide-eyed with disciplined wonder. For 30 years he has been rising at five in the morning to write for two hours before going off to work as a doctor. He has been a GP, a research scientist, and a professor of gerontology, one of Britain’s leading experts, who has published more than 70 scientific papers and co-edited a 1,500-page standard textbook of gerontological medicine. But in the solitary hours of the early morning he has also been a distinguished literary critic, poet and philosopher who has written a radio play about the death of Wittgenstein. On June 2 he is talking at the Hay festival about human exceptionalism.
more from The Guardian Books here.
John Kenneth Galbraith, the iconoclastic economist, teacher and diplomat and an unapologetically liberal member of the political and academic establishment that he needled in prolific writings for more than half a century, died yesterday at a hospital in Cambridge, Mass. He was 97.
Mr. Galbraith lived in Cambridge and at an “unfarmed farm” near Newfane, Vt. His death was confirmed by his son J. Alan Galbraith.
Mr. Galbraith was one of the most widely read authors in the history of economics; among his 33 books was “The Affluent Society” (1958), one of those rare works that forces a nation to re-examine its values. He wrote fluidly, even on complex topics, and many of his compelling phrases — among them “the affluent society,” “conventional wisdom” and “countervailing power” — became part of the language.
more from the NY Times here.
The always brilliant Rochelle Gurstein is back at TNR with a superb, lovely essay:
It has long been a sociological truism that we live in a world with few meaningful public forms, social customs, or religious ceremonies. Yet it is only when we face such devastating events as the death of a loved one that we learn what such truisms mean in lived experience: at the time of our most desperate need, we find ourselves abandoned to our own devices. It is not only that the bereaved must find their way as if no one before them had ever lost a husband or a wife; those who would comfort them are equally at a loss as to what to say or do. Priests still perform last rites, religious services continue to be conducted at funerals, and even non-observant Jews are loath to give up the custom of “sitting shivah”; but what remains of the old rituals and words of consolation has come to feel increasingly hollow.
Yet it would be wrong to imagine that those who lived in societies with well-established rituals of mourning somehow had an easier time reconciling themselves to their shattered lives. Personal letters from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries occasionally include the shocking news that a grieving husband or wife could not properly recover and has died. Nor does it appear that religious faith necessarily makes that reconciliation any less torturous. Consider the case of C.S. Lewis, one of Christianity’s greatest modern defenders, who kept a journal of his spiritual collapse after his wife, Helen Joy Gresham, died following a long and excruciating ordeal with bone cancer.
Sandra Upson in Scientific American:
Ask why most people are right-handed, and the answer might fall along the same lines as why fish school. Two neuroscientists suggest that social pressures drive individuals to coordinate their behaviors so that everyone in the group gets an evolutionary edge.
Approximately 85 percent of people prefer their right hand, which is controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain. One theorized benefit of locating a particular function in one hemisphere is that it frees the other to deal with different tasks. But that idea does not explain why population-wide trends for handedness exist in the first place. Moreover, evidence gleaned in recent years has overturned the long-held belief that human handedness is a unique by-product of brain specialization attributable to language. A suite of studies has revealed brain lateralization in species from fish to primates. Last August, for instance, scientists discovered that in the wild, chimpanzees show hand preferences.
The presence of lateralization throughout the animal kingdom suggests some benefit from it, contend neuroscientists Giorgio Vallortigara of the University of Trieste and Lesley Rogers of the University of New England in Australia. Also, last August, in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, the two presented evidence to support their idea that social constraints force individuals toward asymmetry in the same direction. They noted, for example, that baby chickens attack more readily when a threat appears on their left. And Rogers has found that chicks with more asymmetrical brains form more stable social groups: perhaps by approaching each other on the right, she hypothesizes, the chicks fight one another less and are more likely to notice predators.
Christopher Avery in Harvard Magazine:
In his new book, The Chosen, Jerome Karabel ’72, Ph.D. ’77, offers a provocative account of undergraduate admissions at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale from the late 1800s to the present—a period when the “Big Three” were transformed by the addition of representative numbers of women, minorities, and others who could never have enrolled before. Such a dramatic shift warrants explanation, and two decades of original research uniquely qualify Karabel, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, to provide it.
At heart, The Chosen is a great story. Karabel brings life to a century’s worth of faculty meetings and administrative maneuvering, providing an account that is both entertaining and authoritative. He also reveals many dirty secrets of the admissions process: primarily that the definition of “merit” was slanted in the past to ensure a sufficient number of “paying guests” for the universities to thrive financially. This will disquiet readers—particularly graduates of the Big Three—because of its clear implication that the admissions process is suspect, rather than sacrosanct.
The complete collection of maps from Carnegie’s, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats
Click on each map to view a larger image. Windows users should hold the cursor over the image and click on the icon appearing in the lower right-hand corner to expand the map to its full size.
The first five maps reflect the worldwide proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and their missile delivery systems. The country maps show the major nuclear installations, both civilian and military, in each country.
More here. [Thanks to Laura Claridge.]
PARIS—Just weeks after the centennial of the birth of pioneering minimalist playwright Samuel Beckett, archivists analyzing papers from his Paris estate uncovered a small stack of blank paper that scholars are calling “the latest example of the late Irish-born writer’s genius.”
The 23 blank pages, which literary experts presume is a two-act play composed sometime between 1973 and 1975, are already being heralded as one of the most ambitious works by the Nobel Prize-winning author of Waiting For Godot, and a natural progression from his earlier works, including 1969’s Breath, a 30-second play with no characters, and 1972’s Not I, in which the only illuminated part of the stage is a floating mouth.
“In what was surely a conscious decision by Mr. Beckett, the white, uniform, non-ruled pages, which symbolize the starkness and emptiness of life, were left unbound, unmarked, and untouched,” said Trinity College professor of Irish literature Fintan O’Donoghue. “And, as if to further exemplify the anonymity and facelessness of 20th-century man, they were found, of all places, between other sheets of paper.”
more from The Onion here.
Twenty years ago, Deng Xiaoping erected huge billboards throughout China that proclaimed, “Development is the Irrefutable Argument.” The way Deng’s slogan is translated today, China’s spectacular growth rates not only win the argument, they end the argument. The government speaks in a triumphalist discourse that is actually a remarkable echo of the language of nineteenth-century England, in the heyday of what historians later learned to call ‘the Industrial Revolution.’ England was enjoying tremendous industrial growth and taking over more and more of the world each year. Its mass media were united in an orgy of self-celebration. And yet its level of human suffering was alarmingly high. So much of its prosperity depended on the energy of its industrial working class, yet so much of this class lived in poverty and squalor. Victorian England was the world leader in productive power, but also in human misery. Plenty of people were aware of this mass misery. But most of them, when they thought critically, denounced the whole of modern life: they wished “to get rid of modern arts, in order to get rid of modern conflicts.” Marx was more complex: he wanted to affirm and to celebrate human progress, but also to confront its outrageous human costs. His thinking could be called a discourse of contradiction.
In our day everything seems pregnant with its contrary. Machinery, gifted with the power of shortening and fructifying human labor, we behold starving and overworking it. The new-fangled sources of wealth, by some weird spell, are turned into sources of want. The victories of art seem bought by loss of character.
There are good reasons to say that ‘everything is pregnant with its contrary’ in China today and to look for a language that can grasp and penetrate its inner contradictions. It is ironic that, for decades, a travesty of Marxism was imposed on a backward, peasant China that couldn’t possibly digest it. It is only now, as China goes through dramatic and explosive development, that Marx’s discourse of contradiction can be a powerful critical vision of its real life.
more from Marshall Berman at Dissent here.
It’s hard to overstate Gay Talese’s gold-standard reputation. A few years ago, David Halberstam called him “the most important nonfiction writer of his generation, the person whose work most influenced at least two generations of other reporters.”
The bedrock of that reputation consists of several exceptional magazine profiles from the 1960’s, in particular “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” published in Esquire in 1966. Helped along by one of the great modern magazine headlines, the piece became a canonical archetype of the so-called New Journalism — nonfiction conceived and written in the manner of fiction, with fully rendered scenes, extended conversations and plainly subjective depictions of mood. In 1969, Talese published “The Kingdom and the Power,” an institutional portrait of The New York Times, where he had been a reporter for nine years. That book became a best seller, certifying him as a literary pop star as well as a reporter’s reporter. Just two years after the Times book, he published another first-rate best seller, his story of a Mafia family called “Honor Thy Father.”
more from the NY Times Book Review here.
From Scientific American:
For the past five years, hundreds of scientists have been using a powerful new atom smasher at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island to mimic conditions that existed at the birth of the universe. Called the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC, pronounced “rick”), it clashes two opposing beams of gold nuclei traveling at nearly the speed of light. The resulting collisions between pairs of these atomic nuclei generate exceedingly hot, dense bursts of matter and energy to simulate what happened during the first few microseconds of the big bang. These brief “mini bangs” give physicists a ringside seat on some of the earliest moments of creation.
During those early moments, matter was an ultrahot, superdense brew of particles called quarks and gluons rushing hither and thither and crashing willy-nilly into one another. A sprinkling of electrons, photons and other light elementary particles seasoned the soup. This mixture had a temperature in the trillions of degrees, more than 100,000 times hotter than the sun’s core.