Ker Than in LiveScience.com:
An evolutionary arms race between early snakes and mammals triggered the development of improved vision and large brains in primates, a radical new theory suggests.
The idea, proposed by Lynne Isbell, an anthropologist at the University of California, Davis, suggests that snakes and primates share a long and intimate history, one that forced both groups to evolve new strategies as each attempted to gain the upper hand.
To avoid becoming snake food, early mammals had to develop ways to detect and avoid the reptiles before they could strike. Some animals evolved better snake sniffers, while others developed immunities to serpent venom when it evolved. Early primates developed a better eye for color, detail and movement and the ability to see in three dimensions—traits that are important for detecting threats at close range.
Humans are descended from those same primates.
Nigel Leary reviews The Creating Brain by Nancy C. Andreasen, in Metapsychology:
Nancy C. Andreasen‘s book, The Creating Brain, is an interesting and insightful hypothesis about the nature of creativity. Her style is fluid and engaging, and she presents both her hypothesis and her research in equally effective and accessible ways. Andreasen is, to be sure, an interesting character: she started her career as a professor of Renaissance literature before going on to study as a neuroscientist, and she is now the Andrew H. Woods Chair of Psychiatry and Director of Mental Health Clinical Research Centre at the University of Iowa. This rare mixing of disciplines has left Andreasen in the somewhat extraordinary position to approach the notion of creativity from both a scientific perceptive (as a neuroscientist) and from an inherently creative background (as a literary professor). This meld not only gives Andreasen‘s book an engaging and readable style, but motivates her project, and provides her with a strong insight into both a) the creative process and b) the creative psyche.
From The National Geographic:
Batman fans will remember Two-Face, the villain with a mug that’s half handsome and half gruesome. Recently a Maine lobsterm an caught a different kind of two-faced prey—a lobster that looks half raw and half cooked. Alan Robinson of Steuben, Maine, hauled up this two-toned lobster last week while bringing in his catch near the town of Bar Harbor.
Half of the animal is mottled brown, while the other is bright orange—the color lobsters turn after they’ve been boiled.
Michael Holroyd in the Times Literary Supplement:
When I was invited to write the authorized biography of Bernard Shaw in the early 1970s, he was still accepted as a great force in the world, an influence on the young, a bearded prophet from a past age warning us provocatively, uncomfortably, of the dangers in our contemporary world. He did of course acclaim some social changes that had taken place, such as the National Health Service. But his role was mainly to challenge rather than to celebrate. His plays were quite regularly performed at the National Theatre and politicians such as Tony Benn and Robin Cook made no secret of having read him attentively and of having been influenced by his writings – nor did that legendary insurgent on his prison island, Nelson Mandela. American and Canadian academics in particular were devoting their careers to studying his work – his letters, his diaries, his music and drama criticism as well as his prefaces, political essays and plays. He was so prolific, so voluminous, so various, that there seemed plenty to keep them busy well into this century.
This is one of Anandaroop Roy’s interesting cartographic productions:
A cartogram for the 2004 US presidential election dramatizing the concentration of “blue voters” in metropolitan areas rather than in the blue states as such.
See more here.
Shankar Vedantam in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Neurobiologist Ben Barres has a unique perspective on former Harvard president Lawrence Summers’ assertion that innate differences between the sexes might explain why many fewer women than men reach the highest echelons of science.
That’s because Barres used to be a woman himself.
In a highly unusual critique published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the Stanford University biologist – who used to be Barbara – said his experience as both a male and a female had given him an intensely personal insight into the biases that make it harder for women to succeed in science.
Susan Straight reviews Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete by William C. Rhoden, in the Los Angeles Times:
So it was with great curiosity that I picked up William C. Rhoden’s “Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete.” But the African American sportswriter’s new book is an enlightening, thoughtful and sometimes sentimental look at black males in sports from the early 1700s to the present. His thesis is that black athletes for hundreds of years have used superior physical ability as well as “soul and style” not only to thrill and entertain their fellow Americans but also to make money for white owners, yet they have been unable to control their own destinies.
The title may be off-putting — an allusion to the 40 acres and a mule promised to freed slaves after the Civil War — and the analogy of big-time sports as a plantation may seem to be a stretch, but Rhoden, a sportswriter for the New York Times since 1983, has done his homework. Indeed, those who follow sports have seen countless black athletes lay bodies on the line for teams, universities and professional organizations that reap large financial rewards, while the players too often get little, sometimes not even a college degree or a long career. The huge signing bonuses and contracts celebrated in the media go to only a tiny percentage of black athletes; many more make do at subsistence level, especially in college.
“Masters of ambiguity, Iran’s leaders don’t want war with Israel and the U.S. — and are more alarmed by the Lebanese crisis than the West realizes.”
Afshin Molavi in Salon:
On the sidelines of a recent security conference in Oman, a former high-ranking Iranian official turned to a Saudi colleague and said: “You are overestimating our influence in Iraq. We are not as powerful as you think.” A few moments later, the Iranian smiled and added, “But don’t underestimate our influence, either.”
Such calculated ambiguity has become a familiar feature of Iranian foreign policy, particularly regarding its role in Iraq, its nuclear stance and, of course, its support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Sometimes the ambiguity approaches something resembling sophisticated statecraft; at other times it looks amateurish, like “bazaar diplomacy.”
Amid the ongoing Hezbollah-Israel war, the ambiguity has been on full display: Iran, on the one hand, denies accusations that it is playing a role in the conflict, while secretly pledging financial and military support for Hezbollah and publicly declaring the Jewish state unsafe from Hezbollah rockets.
More here. [Thanks to Zara Houshmand.]
Virginia Heffernan in her blog Screens at the New York Times:
Playing insanely hard, speedy neoclassical rock music is not the ticket to stardom anymore. The great guitar shredders — Buckethead, Steve Vai, that Viking guy and all those Italian-Americans — are rarely spotted on Fuse or the MTVs. And if you’re only watching TV, the shredder’s art seems to be as obsolete as the Baroque music it cribs from.
But shred’s not dead! Think about it. Who would be good at highly technical, highly demanding, classically-inspired music that relies heavily on Strads and other kinds of audiophile equipment? And who, of those people, might lack the parents or the social skills that would let them “play out,” especially when that means commanding a stage like Eddie Van Halen? That’s right: those bashful frontmen are our online video friends, especially JerryC and FunTwo.
From The Atlantic Monthly:
Notes on the History of Fiction A Review by E. L. Doctorow. Historically, there was something like a Trojan war, maybe even several Trojan wars in fact, but the one Homer wrote about in the eighth century B.C. is the one that fascinates us, because it is fiction. Archaeologists doubt that any Trojan war began because someone named Paris kidnapped someone named Helen from under the nose of her Greek husband, or that it was a big wooden horse filled with soldiers that finally won the day. And those particularized gods running the war for their own purposes, deflecting arrows, inciting human rages, turning hearts, and controlling history, might have kept the Greeks and Trojans at it for years and years, but they have no authority in our monotheistic world, and you can find no trace of them in the diggings in northwest Turkey where the archaeologists turn up the shards and bones and sling bullets of what might have been the real Troy.
But Homer (or the stable of poets incorporated under the name Homer) was either given to polytheistic fantasy or was the genius adapter of a system of cosmological metaphors that no one — not Dante, not Shakespeare, not Cervantes — has ever matched for sheer imaginative insanity. Read Homer’s hexameters and you find gods made in the image of man — jealous, mendacious, erotically charged, vengefully disposed, gender-specific know-it-alls, with empowering aptitudes that they wield as weapons in heaven as they do on earth.
From the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery:
Portraits are records of public figures, mementos of loved ones, documents of life’s milestones, and metaphors for the human condition. Today, portraits are created in all mediums, from painting to images created from sequenced DNA. There are just as many ways to create an exhibition, featuring the choices of one curator, a team, or through a competition. For this exhibition, with the support of Virginia Outwin Boochever, the National Portrait Gallery chose to hold an open competition, asking artists throughout the United States to submit painted and sculpted likenesses of people close to them. The jury saw only one portrait from each artist. From more than 4,000 entries from every state, the jury chose 51 works of art. They are as diverse as America, and represent numerous stylistic approaches. These are today’s faces, compelling our curiosity, and documenting the dynamic relationship between artist and subject.
See the rest here.
Jonah Lehrer in Seed Magazine:
Bob Moses’ insight was that the math curricula these schools follow misunderstand the mind. The same abstraction that many educators celebrated—algebra is often touted as an introduction to symbolic logic—stifled learning for many students. By taking his students outside the classroom, Moses made math a part of everyday life: He realized that the brain wasn’t designed to deal with abstractions it doesn’t know how to use, or to solve variables while sitting at a desk. Our knowledge, Moses intuited, is a by-product of activity. What we end up knowing is what we can learn how to use. We learn by doing.
Modern neuroscience can explain the wisdom of Moses’ pedagogy. From the perspective of our brain, learning and doing are just two different verbs that refer to the same mental process. The reach of this discovery extends way beyond eighth-grade math class. In fact, the same technique that improved test scores in Boston and San Francisco and Mississippi is also partly responsible for the runaway success of Toyota and the supernatural-seeming skills of a violin soloist.
Larry Hultgren reviews Bioethics Beyond the Headlines by Albert R. Jonsen, in Metapsychology:
If you plan to read only one book this summer on bioethics, Bioethics Beyond the Headlines by Albert R. Jonsen is your book. The author is one of the pioneers in the field of bioethics, and his newest book is both engaging and readable. As suggested by its subtitle, it covers the important topics: Who Lives? Who Dies? Who Decides? It is up-to-date, and it moves easily from classic issues such as forgoing life support in the case of Karen Ann Quinlan to contemporary concerns about tube feeding and lessons learned from the recent Florida case of Terri Schiavo.
This stimulating book covers all the major topics in bioethics. Following a brief introductory essay in Part I on the meaning and history of bioethics, Jonsen examines the disputes and ethical issues involved in seven news stories that deal with the practice of clinical medicine (Part II Clinical Ethics). He looks at the definitions of death; forgoing life support and quality of life issues; medical paternalism, patient autonomy and informed consent; organ transplantation; euthanasia and questions involving aid-in dying or physician-assisted suicide; ART (assisted reproductive technologies), including recent concerns emerging from preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD); and abortion. Each chosen headline or case is relevant and appropriate. For example, instead of rehashing the issue of abortion as it appears in standard bioethics, Jonsen focuses on the hotly debated procedure, called, medically, intact dilation and extraction, and, politically, partial birth abortion.
John Lahr in The New Yorker:
Stoppard, who was born Tomáš Straüssler, in Zlín, Czechoslovakia, arrived in England, via Singapore and India, in 1946, a nine-year-old refugee from the Nazis. “I put on Englishness like a coat,” he told the Independent recently. “It fitted me and it suited me.” Now a knight of the realm, and revered as one of his generation’s most important playwrights, Stoppard has been amply rewarded by the culture he adopted. Although he has written more than twenty plays and numerous scripts for film and television, “Rock ’n’ Roll” is only his second attempt to imagine himself back in the Czech landscape. The first was “Professional Foul,” an excellent 1977 TV play, which dealt with a soccer-loving professor of ethics whose moral horizons are widened by the false arrest of a former student.