From The Edge:

Krauss_1 I just returned from the Virgin Islands, from a delightful event — a conference in St. Thomas — that I organized with 21 physicists. I like small events, and I got to hand-pick the people. The topic of the meeting was “Confronting Gravity. ” I wanted to have a meeting where people would look forward to the key issues facing fundamental physics and cosmology. And if you think about it they all revolve in one way or another around gravity. Someone at the meeting said, well, you know, don’t we understand gravity? Things fall. But really, many of the key ideas that right now are at the forefront of particle physics cosmology, relate to our lack of understanding of how to accommodate gravity and quantum mechanics.

More here.

Mouse Rides Frog in India Monsoon

From The National Geographic:Mouse_3

It could be the most spirited interspecies escape since The Rescuers. But unlike the 1977 Disney movie, this situation is anything but fun. Photographed Friday in the northern Indian city of Lucknow, a mouse perches on a frog in waist-deep (for a frog, anyway) floodwaters—a small sign of the early arrival of annual summer monsoon rains.

More here.


So it’s the end of my world cup, and a nice way to end it is flying home with an unexpected upgrade to business class on British Airways. As I tuck into a rather nice sauvignon blanc, I share with you some parting thoughts.

Given the stunningly corrupt politics of FIFA, this will be the last World Cup in Europe for a very long time, so I am bloody glad I went to this one. The reason this one ended up in Germany is down to a no-nonsense septuagenarian Kiwi named Jack Dempsey voting with his brain rather than with FIFA’s instruction sheet.

This World Cup was meant to be in South Africa, but Jack thought that a basic pre-requisite of hosting a World Cup was that downtown ‘Fan-Zones’ should be free of weapons fire. I wish the South Africans all the best in hosting the next one. But just as England and Brazil did not deserve to go further than the quarters, no country or continent deserves to host the World Cup. You have to be able to do it right. Make no mistake, the Germans did it right and I had a blast. Given Cooley’s last posting about the Quarter final games I shall refrain from very late post game commentary and instead do something else.

Step back about two weeks and Cooley, and the English lads, and me are in this rather swish cocktail bar doing nothing much in particular. Sitting behind us were a bunch of Swedish fans. So we were quite surprised when a 24 of the German police’s finest (and biggest) arrived in the bar. Eight stayed outside, backs to the bar to block entrance. 16 came into the bar (and it’s a small place) and surrounded two tables of Swedish fans. It was just then that one of the Swedish fans, standing next to me at the bar, started talking into his mobile in a language that was decidedly un-Swedish. I had a look around and then noticed that none of these Swedish ‘fans’ looked like a typical Swedish fan. (By this I mean, somewhat blonde, portly, over 40, about six foot tall, and so dense that when I was going home one night I caught a snippet of conversation on OB Strasse that went like this;

Woman, about 25, wearing thigh high white stiletto boots, mini skirt, little else:
“No, you don’t understand, I’m talking to you because I am a prostitute.”

Two Swedes – simultaneously: “Really?”

Anyway, back to the bar. So then I notice that most of these Swedish fans seems to completely unfazed by 16 very big heavily armed German cops. They sat there staring them out. And then I noticed that they all had one thing in common, serious tattoos and necks thinker than their heads. Yip – the real deal – world class hooligans. Since we were regarded as ‘zero threat’ by the cops, I discretely asked one of them what was going on. He replied that they had received Interpol info on these guys and were following them round, making it clear that they knew who and where they were, and that nothing as simple as changing shirts would throw them off the scent. Impressive policing indeed. Its nice to know that there really is no such thing as a gang of seriously organized Swedish hooligans (Apologies to Gothenburg FC Ultras – if they have any.)

All of which brings me to England’s world cup ‘campaign.’ As I mentioned in a previous post (or at least you could extrapolate this from what was there), I find it hard, as a Scot, to hate England. Not support – hate. I know I am supposed to, but really, I can’t. Its hard to watch the premier league every week and then hope the players you watch fail. So along with my English mates I watched them do what they usually do. That is, fail to meet anything like their nation’s collective expectations.

To recap: Ecuador 1-0. Piss poor second half, Owen flakes, sub-par performance but everyone (even Brazil) is allowed a bad opener. Trinidad and Tobago 2-0. As my friend Peter put it “I can’t believe it. Its 80 minutes and we are being held 0-0 by a 4 star holiday resort, hotel and pool complex.” The eventual 2-0 scoreline flattered them. Sweden 2-2. Owen down and out inside five minutes, some decent passing first half but shocking defending and distribution. Portugal, Quarter final, 1-3. I missed most of the first half of this ironically traveling to Coimbra in Portugal. I had to watch the second half in the train station bar surrounded by the locals. Rooney looses it (stop blaming Ronaldo, he did what any cheating-diving opposition player would do, and Rooney DID stamp on Carvahlo’s nuts. Last time I checked that was a sending-off offense) and England get stuffed on penalties, which brings me back to Germany.

They lost in the semi’s. I was gutted. I really wanted them to win it. Actually, what I really wanted was England to reach the final and for Germany to beat them on penalties, thus ensuring another ‘40 years of hurt’ (you see, there is still some Scot in me). If Germany had won it would have meant so much to a country that badly needs a confidence boost. In my opinion they played some of the most attractive (read – standing up in tackles, not falling over, and playing as a team) football of the tournament. In fact, a headline in one of the German papers put it well “Germany – the New England. England – The Old Germany.” Germany lost because, as my wife put it, they began to realize that they could win it, and so they began to play conservatively, like the Old Germany – and Italy had read that script before.

What I think these episodes show (not that this is any revelation) is just how much of football comes down to belief. Brazil believed their Nike generated hype and forgot that they actually had to play football and not just show up if they wanted to win. Germany under Klinsmann believed that they were better than everyone said, and they showed that. Once they got to where they expected, the semi-finals, their belief took one step back (as seen in the lack of shots on goal from the Germans in contrast to the exuberance that characterized their game against Sweden) and they paid for it. For England, their may have been three lions on their shirt, but there was never three lions in their hearts, and that was their undoing. My English friend Alex Hamilton put this very well so I quote him here.

“Amid all the recriminations here [in England] I have read one thing which impressed me most, from the West Ham manager Alan Pardew. He just said one thing – the team seemed to play with fear. Where fear comes from I don’t know, but we are talking about impressionable young men (who isn’t at that age?), and I suspect in the world they inhabit, fear is not something they are used to. It is also something oft denied by the swagger whipped up by both the media and the male football establishment. So when it shows itself, it’s all the more powerful, disabling even. We all fell victim to it – of all the people I watched England games with, the overriding emotion swirling about was fear. Everyone remarks upon the fact watching England is not enjoyable any more, that the fear of losing outweighs the joy of the game…It strikes me that the job of men “managing” at the higher echelons of sport, be it the coach, the manager, the head of the association, whomever, is to deal with the issue of fear. Klinsmann gets ridiculed for his Californian connections and his psychologists, but I see a limited team who carry an enormous weight on their shoulders very lightly…I also look at the England player to emerge with most credit, and see someone outside of England not burdened by the pedestal others quite clearly were. And, tellingly, the one who seemed the fittest.”

I can only concur.

So its nearly all over. The final is on Sunday. I leave you now with some rather prescient quotes from my earlier posts and some observations on diving from my mate Jonathan.

Blyth on Italy: “If they win, they will do so by boring their way to the semis.” At least they were far from boring in the semis.

Blyth on Brazil: “Brazil are of course the greatest team in the world? Bollocks and my arse.”
“I would however just like to note however that when Ronaldinho did a perfectly ordinary back-heeled a pass along the line to a teammate in the second half, the way the stadium reacted you would think he had just done an overhead kick from 30 yards into the goal. They are going to have to do a lot better than this if they want to get past the quarters.” Enough said.

Blyth on Germany: “This game sent notice that the Germans are going all the way.” OK, an stretch, but a boy can hope.

On Diving at the World Cup © J. Hopkin (2006)

“How about Thierry Henry’s outrageous dive – bangs his chest into Puyol’s arm as it moves backwards in a normal running action, and then falls poleaxed clutching his face. Narrowly beaten only by that time Rivaldo fell over in agony because the ball hit his knee as he stood by the corner flag. Best dive this week, however, goes to Gianluca Pessotto, 15 meters out of his office window and straight into Roberto Bettega’s car. Looks like he’ll make it though. Bettega’s mechanic was not available for comment.”

Allez Les Blues!!!!


Rosling on Gapminder

Via Misha Lepetich:

Gapminder is a non-profit venture for development and provision of free software that visualise human development. This is done in collaboration with universities, UN organisations, public agencies and non-governmental organisations…It was founded by Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund and Hans Rosling on 25 February 2005, in Stockholm.

You can view visualization of some trends here, click income for instance, or health. Misha also sends this informative presentation by Hans Rosling at a TED conference.


The Return of Dr. Katz, Sort Of

In Slate, Sam Anderson writes about one of my favorite comedy series, Dr. Katz.

The show emerged at the height of the Seinfeld era, when every standup comic was given a TV series along with a glass of water (a strategy that turned out some spectacular disasters). But Katz reversed this formula: Instead of building an entire series around one comedian, it stuffed as many comedians as possible into a single series. The show was an unabashed comedy parasite. This turned out to be a unique solution to TV writing’s chronic shortage of funny material, and it makes the DVD a kind of “Best of” anthology of mid-’90s standup. Roughly half of each episode consists of Dr. Katz’s so-called psychotherapy sessions, in which animated guest comedians, posing as patients, deliver their standup acts from the couch, complete with supplementary squiggly illustrations, while the doctor interjects serious hms and uh-huhs. The cartoon couch was admirably democratic: It cupped the wiggling animated buttocks of midrange working comics (Dom Irrera, Joy Behar) and big stars (David Duchovny, Julia Louis-Dreyfus) alike, and it made almost all of them seem funny. It was my first exposure to many big (or soon-to-be big) comedians: Jim Gaffigan, David Cross, Dave Chappelle, Mitch Hedberg (whose disjointed one-liners seemed to have been designed for the show).

Lethal Injection as a Death Penalty Fad

Speaking of the death penalty, our Justin Smith in Counterpunch:

The French historian Robert Muchembled has chronicled the changing attitudes towards execution in Europe from the 15th to the 18th centuries. In certain times and places, we may discern a desire for exacting vengeance on the condemned in the cruelest and most painful way possible. At other moments, the criminal is accompanied to his death by throngs of weeping nuns, who sprinkle him with holy water, and whisper to him reassuringly of God’s love and of the promise of redemption, and who ensure that death arrives both swiftly and gently. Yet the more compassion is showered on the condemned, the more his death takes on the character of a human sacrifice: the pagan Greeks wept too as they led bulls to the altar, though they refrained from offering fellow humans for the appeasement of their gods. One may be touched by the nuns’ compassion, yet wouldn’t true compassion require simply canceling the whole affair? You can sprinkle a man’s path to the injection table with rose petals, but he will hate it just as much as a gauntlet of jeers. The problem with execution is the death that results from it, not the etiquette of those who carry it out.

It can only be concluded that the logic governing the periodic changes since the 18th century, from one method of execution to another, is rooted not in science, nor in moral progress, but in fashion. What dictates hanging this season, and lethal injection the next, is the same illusion of real change that makes the style-conscious now disdainful of bellbottoms, now covetous of them. We do not like to think of our moral standards as comparable to sartorial whims.

Race and the Death Penalty

The relationship between race of the victim and race of the alleged perpetrator in capital cases has been noted before, but this new study confirms it using laboratory psychological methods. From Cornell Online:

The study, “Looking Deathworthy: Perceived Stereotypicality of Black Defendants Predicts Capital-Sentencing Outcomes,” is the first to examine whether death sentences are influenced by juries’ perceptions of defendants’ features as stereotypically black. The results are published in the May issue of Psychological Science.

The researchers include Cornell law Professor Sheri Lynn Johnson, associate director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project, who provided the legal expertise; lead researcher Jennifer Eberhardt, associate professor of psychology at Stanford University; and co-authors Paul Davies, professor of social psychology at the University of California-Los Angeles, and Valerie Purdie-Vaughns, assistant professor of psychology at Yale University.

The researchers obtained photographs of 44 black, male defendants convicted of murdering whites between 1979 and 1999 in Pennsylvania, a state that has the death penalty. Stanford undergraduates of various ethnicities were shown the photographs and asked to report whether the men’s appearance seemed stereotypically black on a scale of 1 to 11. They were told they could base their judgments on any number of features, including hair texture, skin tone and shape of lips and noses. They were not told the purpose of the study or that the men had been convicted of capital crimes.

The study’s authors then correlated the responses with the actual sentences received by the defendants in the photographs to determine whether perceptions of stereotypical racial features influenced death-penalty decisions.

The results showed that, controlling for other relevant variables, 58 percent of the convicts rated as having stereotypically black features had been sentenced to death. In contrast, only 24 percent of those convicts rated as having less-stereotypically black features had received death sentences.

gay talese interview

RB: In A Writer’s Life, you are sitting at a restaurant and you see a man eating a fish—then the paragraph continues on for another page or so—it reminded me of when we were in high school biology and you are shown a drop of water under a microscope—

GT: Yeah, it’s the imagination of the nonfiction writer. It is nonfiction we are dealing with, as you know—it’s what can be—the way of seeing is very private but can be very creative, and you can take any assignment, any subject, and write about it if you can see it in a vividly descriptive or instructive way. And as you mentioned, I am a restaurant-goer. I go to restaurants a lot. I work alone all day. At night I like to have something to do where I am around people and a restaurant is the best excuse of being around people. I don’t care about the food that much. I care about the atmosphere. Restaurants are a wonderful escape for me. And are for a lot of people. People go to restaurants for so many different reasons. To court a girl, to make some deal. Maybe to talk to some lawyer about how to get an alimony settlement better than they got last week. What I have done since I was 50 years younger than I am now—which is to say 24; now I am 74—I think what I do is write nonfiction as if it were fiction. On the other hand, it is clearly, verifiably factual—but it is a story. It is storytelling. It isn’t telling you a story of somebody you already know. It is, more often than not, somebody you do not know. Or if it is somebody that you do know that I am writing about, it will be something that you don’t know about that person. It is a way of seeing, a way of going about the process of research. It might be interviewing, or it might be hanging around. For example, many colleges in their writing programs teach some of my work. What they often do is teach something like “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” something I wrote when I was 25 years younger or more. That isn’t about Frank Sinatra at all. I didn’t even talk to Frank Sinatra—

more from The Morning News here.

figuring out bob dylan


Because for all his modernity, for all his cubist narratives and symbolist imagery, Mr. Dylan has never had any time for the 20th century’s cult of the id. Whatever else he may be doing as an artist, he’s adamant that he isn’t expressing himself. “The songs are the star of the show,” the Los Angeles Times’ Robert Hilburn quotes him as saying, “not me.” Yes, but he wrote them didn’t he? Not necessarily. “It’s like a ghost is writing a song,” he said of what is probably still his most iconic work, “Like a Rolling Stone.” “It gives you the song and it goes away. You don’t know what it means.” Only at the level of craftsmanship is he willing to discuss writing: “I’m not thinking about what I want to say,” he told Mr. Hilburn. “I’m just thinking ‘Is this OK for the meter?’“ Little wonder Mr. Dylan admits to loving “Don’t Fence Me In” and what he calls Cole Porter’s “fearless” rhyming.

more from The NY Observer here.

Mai-Thu Perret


THAT THE ART WORLD has something of a schoolgirl’s crush on utopia is yesterday’s news—but the infatuation shows no sign of waning. Aesthetics, we keep being told, are either complicit or relational, never somewhere in-between, a formulation that makes reconciling contemporary art and its oft-presumed preoccupation with social change very hard work. For Mai-Thu Perret, a Swiss-born artist (she now divides her time between New York and Geneva) who wants to distance herself from ideological absolutes without falling prey to empty relativism, this “gap between what art can do and what we wish it would do” is what “makes it interesting.” Utopia, for her, is best imagined when it intersects with the real, which is to say, when it fails.

more from Artforum here.

A Clip From the Chomsky-Foucault Debate

As the Chomsky wars continue over at Crooked Timber and Delong’s blog, Dan Balis sends me this clip. In the early 1970s Fons Elders hosted a series of debates on issues in philosophy for Dutch television. The most famous of these debates was one between Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky. (Rumor has it that Foucault was paid in marijuana.) The transcripts of all the debates are available (the others are interesting too, but it’s been a decade since I read the book) in Fons Elders ed., Reflexive Water: The Basic Concerns of Mankind (1974). Foucault vs. Chomsky on Justice and Power.

UPDATE: The second part of the clip can be found here. (Or click on the images.)

Rencontres d’Arles 2006 Photo Festival: Politics and Society

From Lens Culture:

Politics The International photography festival in Arles, France, now in its 37th year, is an abundant visual and social celebration. It brings together hundreds of photographers, publishers, curators and galleries, and thousands of photography lovers for a summer-long festival. The first week, July 4-10, is the most intense, with the opening of 67 exhibits, special live programs, projection screenings, book-signings, and award ceremonies. Masterclass workshops are conducted all summer long, and the exhibitions are open throughout the summer until September 17.

This year, the guest curator is Raymond Depardon — renowned photographer, film-maker, and writer. He has helped to craft an international festival from a decidedly French perspective. His selections include (in rather loosely defined categories): influences, companions and fellow travelers, and emerging talents intent on photographing politics and society. Several other exhibitions are curated by others, and add very contemporary points of view to the mix.

More here.

Coral Face Death From Above

From Science:Coral_1

As worried as many researchers are about carbon dioxide’s effects on global climate change, a cadre of oceanographers and marine biologists are most concerned about what the greenhouse gas is doing to the oceans. Since the industrial revolution, the oceans have absorbed 142 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, enough to increase the water’s acidity by 30% and to threaten coral and other organisms that depend on dissolved carbonate to build their skeletons, according to a U.S. government report released today.

Analyses of ice cores have shown that the ocean’s chemistry has been stable for about 650,000 years. But in the past 150 years, excess carbon dioxide dissolving into the water has caused the average ocean pH to drop from 8.2 to 7.9. This change has decreased the concentration of carbonate ions, which corals, planktonic marine snails called pteropods, and other marine organisms need to make calcium carbonate shells and skeletons. Laboratory studies have shown that the fewer the number of carbonate ions, the slower these organisms grow. And if the pH gets too low, these shells may start to dissolve, says Joan Kleypas a marine ecologist from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, and a co-author of the report. Eventually, reefs could shrink, and pteropods–a key food for juvenile salmon and other fish–could disappear, she warns.

More here.

the peer production era has arrived

Chris Anderson in Wired:

First, steam power replaced muscle power and launched the Industrial Revolution. Then Henry Ford’s assembly line, along with advances in steel and plastic, ushered in the Second Industrial Revolution. Next came silicon and the Information Age. Each era was fueled by a faster, cheaper, and more widely available method of production that kicked efficiency to the next level and transformed the world.

Crowd_2Now we have armies of amateurs, happy to work for free. Call it the Age of Peer Production. From to MySpace to craigslist, the most successful Web companies are building business models based on user-generated content. This is perhaps the most dramatic manifestation of the second-generation Web. The tools of production, from blogging to video-sharing, are fully democratized, and the engine for growth is the spare cycles, talent, and capacity of regular folks, who are, in aggregate, creating a distributed labor force of unprecedented scale.

The evidence is all around us. There are standard-bearers like Wikipedia and Yahoo’s Flickr photo-sharing service. There are entire realms that Second Life users are creating from scratch. And there is the enormous audience that YouTube has conjured with its idiotproof video-sharing technology.

More here.

The Return of Nuclear Fusion?

The world’s biggest ever nuclear fusion reactor is about to begin construction in the hills of Provence. But with persistent doubts over fusion’s capacity to generate energy efficiently and a raft of engineering conundrums, is this really money well spent?”

Fred Pearce in Prospect Magazine:

They call themselves “fusion gypsies”—scientists who have travelled the world, moving from one nuclear reactor to the next, living the dream that some day, somewhere, they can re-create the reactions that take place in the heart of the stars to generate huge amounts of cheap, clean electricity for the world.

Their goal is nuclear power, but not as we know it. This is fusion and not fission. Fission involves mining, processing and irradiating vast amounts of uranium, and leaving behind an even larger legacy of radioactive waste with half-lives stretching into the next ice age. Whereas, say the fusion gypsies, a small vanload of fuel supplied to a fusion power station could supply the electricity needs of a city of 1m people for a year, and leave behind only paltry amounts of radioactive waste that will decay to nothing within a century.

More here.

bioethics now

Consider what are sometimes cited as seminal events in the early history of bioethics: the Doctors’ Trial at Nuremberg, the Shana Alexander article in Life magazine ‘Who Should Decide?’ or the publication of the first edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves [by the Boston Women’s Health Collective]. The first of these in particular is a historical contingency: we are lucky that the Allies won the war and the trial occurred, but it could have been otherwise. Bioethics has roots in the sort of historical contingencies that philosophy abhors. The other two are examples of the type of publications that even today keep the audience for bioethics considerably more egalitarian than just academics. Just as the public declared that ‘Ethics Committees’ should not play God and decide who lives and who dies, and women proclaimed that male gynecologists should not be allowed to make decisions for women concerning their own bodies, bioethics became a field of its own when it was removed from the academic realm of philosophers and joined the practical world of medicine, law, and public policy.

more from Philosophy Now here.