B o Y awards

From Interior Design, December 2006:

The first annual Best of Year recipients were chosen from over 800 contenders.

El Greco and Pablo Picasso weren’t the only stars at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on November 30, 2006. Circulating among works by the master painters inside Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic structure were some 800 members of the international A&D community, convening to celebrate the winners of Interior Design’s first ever, annual Best of Year Awards.

Directly on the heels of the magazine’s Hall of Fame, which packed the Waldorf-Astoria’s grand ballroom with a record attendance of more than 1,500 people on November 29 and inducted Rand Elliott, Sergio Palleroni, Gaetano Pesce, Annabelle Selldorf, and Paul Siskin, the back-to-back events, says editor in chief Cindy Allen, “galvanized the design community—enabling us to honor the trifecta: people, projects, and products.”

This was the magazine’s first ever Best of Year (BoY) awards in which projects were divided into 19 categories—K&B, hospitality, and institutional among them—and voted on by Allen and judges Arthur Casas, Pam Light, Nick Luzietti, and Ali Tayar. “I’ve been on countless juries yet I don’t think I’ve been on one that had such a selection of A-listers opposite A-listers,” continues Allen.

More here.

Dwell on the past and you’ll lose an eye, Forget the past and you’ll lose both eyes


THE cold war may not be quite over, after all. For more than a decade, writers of thrillers and spy novels — and not a few conservative strategists — have been bedeviled by the transformation of the evocative evil empire into an oligarchic quasi-capitalist power. The world has provided other villains, but the peculiar charm of the pallid, citrus-starved Slavic heavy persists. And a spate of recent deaths of Russian whistle-blowers — most recently the murder of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow and the polonium 210 poisoning of the former spy Alexander Litvinenko in London — shows that the Soviet back story isn’t entirely buried. Like the Stalinesque corpse that keeps popping up in Tengiz Abuladze’s film “Repentance” (from the now-quaint Glasnost era), dark secrets have an afterlife. And when you dig them up, you sometimes find evil interred with the bones. The narrator and protagonist (by no stretch could you call him the hero) of Martin Amis’s new novel, “House of Meetings,” is an archetype of the eternal Soviet nightmare, a decorated war veteran who “raped my way across what would soon be East Germany” in the first three months of 1945. Now an octogenarian American exile, returning to Russia as a tourist, the unnamed man is recording his complicated history, dominated by the dozen years he spent as a political prisoner in a Soviet gulag, in a letter to his mythically named stepdaughter, Venus, whom he acquired peacefully and late in life, in the United States.

more from the NY Times Book Review here.



When Hogarth visited France in 1748, joining the trippers flooding to the newly opened continent after the war of the Austrian succession, he was arrested as a spy while sketching in Calais. Enraged, he immediately dramatised the event in The Gate of Calais, later turned into a bestselling print. In his painting, the town walls act as a great proscenium arch, framing a brightly lit stage where a fat cleric licks his lips as the cook carries the “Roast Beef of Old England” to the British inn – and Hogarth himself peers over a wall, like a stagehand making notes in the wings. Given his disdain of France as a land of “poverty, slavery and insolence”, it’s a surprise to learn that the Hogarth exhibition in Paris, due to reach Tate Britain in February, has been the Louvre’s most successful autumn exhibition for years. Instead of launching cries of xenophobia, French critics and visitors have simply accepted Hogarth’s polemic as inevitable for his time.

more from The Guardian here.

An Author’s Vision of the Mean Streets of Mumbai

From The New York Times:Chandra600span_1

The Dickensian sweep of Bombay, as Vikram Chandra prefers to call the city — the cops on the take, the slums patrolled by mobsters, the whores turned Bollywood starlets, the headboards in million-dollar co-ops that slide away at the touch of a button to reveal hundreds of thousands in hidden rupees — is itself a protagonist in “Sacred Games,” Mr. Chandra’s long-awaited 900-page novel (excluding glossary) just published by HarperCollins.

The latest in what one London critic calls the “subcontinental doorstopper” school of epic Indian fiction, “Sacred Games” combines the ambition of a 19th-century social novel with a cops-and-Bhais detective thriller. (Bhai is a Hindi and Gujarati term for wiseguy.) The book, Mr. Chandra’s third, was the subject of an intense bidding war among New York publishers, one apparently presided over by Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity, who bestowed upon this 45-year-old cherubic-faced author a seven-figure advance.

More here.

Too early to bed, too early to rise

From Nature:

Sleep_1 Society celebrates its early birds, but for an unlucky few, the internal alarm clock goes off much too early. Now, studies of early-rising mice have led researchers to change their view of how biological clocks tell time, and could ultimately lead to new treatments for people with sleep disorders. Variation in sleep cycles is normal, says Louis Ptácek, a geneticist at the University of California at San Francisco. “In the general population, there’s a huge spectrum between people who habitually wake up without an alarm clock or coffee at 6 am, and those who would sleep until two in the afternoon if they didn’t have any other responsibilities,” says Ptácek.

But at the far reaches of normal behaviour are individuals whose internal curfews are set much earlier or later than those of the rest of the population. People who have familial advanced sleep phase syndrome — which Ptácek estimates affects only 0.3% of the population — usually wake up around 4 in the morning, and go to bed around 7 at night. “The time that most people are most awake is around dinnertime,” says Ptácek. “But that’s when these people are so sleepy that their face could fall into a bowl of soup.”

Ptácek and his colleagues previously showed that some people with the condition carried a mutation in a gene called period 2 (PER2), and levels of PER2 proteins are often critically low.

More here.

a harrowing debut

Ali Smith in The Guardian:

Beasts_final … Beasts of No Nation, a first novel by Uzodinma Iweala, who is 23 and a Harvard graduate and has worked with Nigerian child soldiers in rehabilitation. This is the live underbelly of such a situation, in a novel so scorched by loss and anger that it’s hard to hold and so gripping in its sheer hopeless lifeforce that it’s hard to put down. In the writing, Beasts of No Nation is totally and shockingly alive from its very first paragraph. “It is starting like this. I am feeling itch like insect is crawling on my skin, and then my head is just starting to tingle right between my eye, and then I am wanting to sneeze because my nose is itching, and then air is just blowing into my ear and I am hearing so many thing: the clicking of insect, the sound of truck grumbling like one kind of animal, and then the sound of somebody shouting TAKE YOUR POSITION RIGHT NOW! QUICK! QUICK QUICK! MOVE WITH SPEED! MOVE FAST OH! in voice that is just touching my body like knife.”

This novel is winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum award for first fiction, the Sue Kaufman prize for first fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the New York Public Library Young Lions fiction award.

Thanks to Anjuli Raza Kolb for giving me this very powerful book.

More here.

Community colleges are bursting at the seams (but not with funding)

Catherine Wigginton in The Village Voice:

Screenhunter_10_jan_12_1659In Defending the Community College Equity Agenda, researchers point out that community colleges are key in providing higher education and can serve as a bridge to the middle class for immigrants, people of color, and those in the lowest income brackets. But achieving that mission has been difficult, say the book’s authors. Although four-fifths of the students entering community colleges say that their goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher, only 18 percent actually do that within eight years of their enrollment date.

That’s not only very low but very troubling, considering that nearly 50 percent of all credit-earning undergraduates in the United States are enrolled in community colleges. “I think people are often surprised at that number,” says Thomas Bailey, co-editor of the new volume and director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “These are institutions that aren’t on the radar.”

Besides having half of all students nationwide, community colleges enroll a disproportionate share of the country’s poorest students.

More here.

Why David Beckham is bad for American soccer

Robert Weintraub in Slate:

Screenhunter_07_jan_12_1547Beckham’s role has never been that of a scorer, even though his skill at curling free kicks into the far reaches of the net earned him immortality on the movie marquee. Beckham’s game is passing—he has the ability to put the ball on a sprinting teammate’s foot from half a field away.

Now on the dark side of 30, Beckham’s game, dependent as it is on vision and timing, has seen some slippage. Upon taking over the English National Team after the World Cup, Steve McClaren’s first order of business was to strip Beckham of his place on the squad. And this season, Beckham has started for Real Madrid all of five times in 17 matches. In fairness, he was solid in his first two seasons for los Galácticos, but he hasn’t fit into new manager Fabio Capello’s plans.

Since the words 250 and million will be appended to Beckham’s name in virtually every media mention, American fans will likely expect to see a player as dominant as the great Pelé. Forget putting up hat tricks—between his deteriorating skills and the mediocre talent he’ll line up next to, merely getting onto the score sheet might prove a challenge. But even if Beckham does play well, his presence stateside will likely do more harm than good for American footy.

More here.

Carter’s Inconvenient Truths

Paul Craig Roberts in CounterPunch:

Over time the occupied lands have been appropriated by Israeli settlements and now by a massive wall and special roads on which no Palestinian can travel. Palestinian villages have been cut off from water, from their fields and groves, from schools and hospitals, and from one another. Essentially, what was once Palestine has become isolated ghettos in which the Palestinian inhabitants cannot enter or depart without Israeli permission.

Israel’s policy is to turn Palestinians into refugees and to incorporate the West Bank into Israel. Slowly over time the policy has been implemented in the name of fighting terrorism and protecting Israel. Had Israel tried to achieve this all at once, opposition would have been great and the crime too large for the world to accept. Today Israel’s gradual destruction of Palestine has become part of the fabric of everyday affairs.

Many people, including intelligent Israelis, believe that peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved through military coercion and that peace requires Israel to abandon its policy of stealing Palestine from Palestinians. Jimmy Carter, whose long involvement with the issue makes him very knowledgeable and credible, is one of these people.

More here.

The Daily News on the Apartment Scam

Beth Ann’s experience with a craigslist scam makes the New York Daily News:


The phone calls kept coming, all from people interested in renting her upper West Side apartment.

The only problem: Beth Ann Bovino wasn’t renting it out.

She discovered that someone pretending to be her had placed a real-estate ad on Craigslist using her name, address and even an accurate picture of her brownstone.

The too-good-to-be true ad asked for $1,500 for the one bedroom with a fireplace – utilities included.

So the real Beth Ann Bovino responded to the ad, hoping to put an end to the sham.

“I probably should have gone straight to the cops but I thought I would be Nancy Drew,” said Bovino, 41, an economist at Standard & Poor’s. “That didn’t quite work out.”

[H/t Aaron Showalter & James Owens.]

Carter faces revolt over book on Middle East

From Guardian:Carterap64

The former US president Jimmy Carter was facing a revolt from some of his own supporters yesterday after 14 members of the advisory board of his human rights organisation resigned in protest at his view on Israel and the Palestinians. Mr Carter has faced a backlash to the argument in his latest book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, for a renewed effort to kick-start the Middle East peace process. The book has been denounced by some commentators as anti-Israeli.

The most vociferous attacks on Mr Carter have come from the pro-Israeli Alan Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard law school. In a series of articles published on a Boston website under the title Ex-President For Sale, Prof Dershowitz has accused Mr Carter of having been in hock to Arab leaders in countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The spat between the two men led to further controversy within Brandeis, a Massachusetts university founded by the Jewish community in America. Mr Carter declined an invitation to speak there because he would have had to debate with Prof Dershowitz. Yesterday, Mr Carter announced that he would speak at the university this month, but only after the law professor had been taken off the ticket.

More here.

Why a Quick Look Can Be Better than a Deep Study

From Scientific American:

Eye Perhaps all the time spent furiously hunting for the red- and white-stripe-wearing hider Waldo could have been avoided if his eventual spotter just glanced and pointed to the page. At least that is what is indicated by the findings of a new study conducted by researchers at University College London, which appears in the January 9 issue of Current Biology. Psychologist Zhaoping Li presented 10 subjects with a matrix of more than 650 lines leaning at a 45-degree angle, like slashes, with one object somewhere in the array reversed, like a backslash. The participants had to determine within seconds whether “the odd one out” resided on the left- or right-hand side of the screen in front of them. The subjects chose most accurately when they had little to no time to scrutinize the matrix.

More here.


V. S. Ramachandran at Edge.org:

Rama201What is the self? How does the activity of neurons give rise to the sense of being a conscious human being? Even this most ancient of philosophical problems, I believe, will yield to the methods of empirical science. It now seems increasingly likely that the self is not a holistic property of the entire brain; it arises from the activity of specific sets of interlinked brain circuits. But we need to know which circuits are critically involved and what their functions might be. It is the “turning inward” aspect of the self — its recursiveness — that gives it its peculiar paradoxical quality.

It has been suggested by Horace Barlow, Nick Humphrey, David Premack and Marvin Minsky (among others) that consciousness may have evolved primarily in a social context. Minsky speaks of a second parallel mechanism that has evolved in humans to create representations of earlier representations and Humphrey has argued that our ability to introspect may have evolved specifically to construct meaningful models of other peoples minds in order to predict their behavior. “I feel jealous in order to understand what jealousy feels like in someone else” — a short cut to predicting that persons behavior.

Here I develop these arguments further. If I succeed in seeing any further it is by “standing on the shoulders of these giants”. Specifically, I suggest that “other awareness” may have evolved first and then counterintutively, as often happens in evolution, the same ability was exploited to model ones own mind — what one calls self awareness. I will also suggest that a specific system of neurons called mirror neurons are involved in this ability. Finally I discuss some clinical examples to illustrate these ideas and make some testable predictions.

More here.

Newspapers…and After?

John Nichols in The Nation:

Newspapers_3Newspapers may be the dinosaurs of America’s new-media age, hulking behemoths that cost too much to prepare and distribute and that cannot seem to attract young–or even middle-aged–readers in the numbers needed to survive. They may well have entered the death spiral that Philip Meyer, in his recent book The Vanishing Newspaper, predicts will conclude one day in 2043 as the last reader throws aside the final copy of a newspaper.

More here.

Worldwide protests call for Guantánamo closure on 5th anniversary

From Amnesty International:

Screenhunter_05_jan_12_0050On the fifth anniversary of the Guantánamo Bay detention centre, millions of Amnesty International members and supporters are mobilizing around the world in a series of demonstrations and activities calling for the US authorities to close the prison camp once and for all.

As detentions at the US Naval Base move into their sixth year, the organization also called for all detainees to be given a fair trial without further delay or to be released. Demonstrations and other events are being held in cities across the world in more than 20 countries from Washington DC to Tokyo and from Tel Aviv to London, Tunis, Madrid and Asunción.

“No individual can be placed outside the protection of the rule of law, and no government can hold itself above the rule of law. The US government must end this travesty of justice,” said Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khan.

More here.  And go here to see what you can do.


Carole Angier reviews Greed by Elfriede Jelinek, in Literary Review:

Screenhunter_03_jan_11_2157If you have read Elfriede Jelinek’s most famous novel, The Piano Teacher, you’ll know what to expect from Greed. First of all, pathological characters, rendered with glassy fury: traditional Austrian self-hatred, like that of Kraus, Canetti and Bernhard, but – I know it’s hard to imagine – even more hateful. Second, something you don’t find even in them: a great deal of violent, sado-masochistic, four-letter sex. In sum, a horrifying vision of human nature (‘friends, that is, greedy beasts’) and nature itself (‘fundamentally evil’), in which human beings are objects, and objects are human – days stretch their limbs, valleys grin, handkerchiefs ‘are quite stiff from everything they’ve had to swallow in their lives’.

Get the flavour? (Sorry, the rub-it-in style is catching.) Disgusting, despairing, but undeniably intriguing, and not just because of the porn. That last quote is a clue: Jelinek’s pages pullulate with weird but wonderful lines that only she could have written.

More here.

Top 10 Coolest BBQ Grills (and then some)

From Neatorama.com:

Screenhunter_02_jan_11_2149In some parts of the USA, BBQ is not just food, it’s a religion. The fastest way to start a fight is not to talk politics, but to argue about the virtues of wood vs. charcoal vs. gas. Even the word itself is kind of controversial: is it barbecue, barbeque, bar-b-q, or BBQ? Just don’t bring it up with a purist (or the one cooking your burger!)

There’s no argument, however, about the popularity of BBQ. The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (yes, it’s a real organization – actually it is just one of many dedicated to barbecuing) did a study called “The State of Barbecue Industry Report”. The 2005 study[pdf] stated that 4 out of every 5 US households own a grill – in fact, 1 in 5 own more than one grill. And not surprisingly, “the primary griller (male) in the majority of households considers themselves to be average or above in terms of cooking skills”.

More here.

The triumph of unreason?

From The Economist:

Screenhunter_01_jan_11_2132_1The role of emotions in decisions makes perfect sense. For situations met frequently in the past, such as obtaining food and mates, and confronting or fleeing from threats, the neural mechanisms required to weigh up the pros and cons will have been honed by evolution to produce an optimal outcome. Since emotion is the mechanism by which animals are prodded towards such outcomes, evolutionary and economic theory predict the same practical consequences for utility in these cases. But does this still apply when the ancestral machinery has to respond to the stimuli of urban modernity?

One of the people who thinks that it does not is George Loewenstein, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. In particular, he suspects that modern shopping has subverted the decision-making machinery in a way that encourages people to run up debt. To prove the point he has teamed up with two psychologists, Brian Knutson of Stanford University and Drazen Prelec of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to look at what happens in the brain when it is deciding what to buy.

More here.

Choosing between Michelangelo’s Pieta, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, or Einstein’s 1905 paper on relativity

Chet Raymo at Science Musings:

Which of the following works would you choose to be lost, if only three could be saved: Michelangelo’s Pieta, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, or Einstein’s 1905 paper on relativity.

French microbiologist Antoine Danchin asked this question in his book, The Delphic Boat: What Genomes Tell Us.

The answer is easy, he says. Trash Einstein’s paper.

Not because Einstein’s theory of relativity is any less creative or any less important than the works of Michelangelo, Shakespeare or Mozart. In the long run, relativity may have vastly more significance for human life than the work of any single artist.

However, if Einstein had not invented relativity, someone else would have done so. The idea was in the air in 1905. Sooner or later, every detail of Einstein’s work would have been reproduced by someone else, or by a group of people.

The same is true of most big breakthroughs in science. Newton’s theory of universal gravitation was probably inevitable in the late-17th century, if not from Newton then from Robert Hooke, say, or Gottfried Leibnitz. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was conceived simultaneously by Alfred Russel Wallace.

But if Michelangelo, Shakespeare or Mozart had not lived, the works of their particular geniuses would be lost forever.

More here.