catching the tide

Rich Bowden at Worldpress:

Waveenergy The viability of harnessing waves as a lucrative renewable energy source received a boost last week following the announcement that the world’s first commercial wave energy project will begin delivering wave-generated energy to the north of Portugal later this month.

The first stage of the European Union-funded program, the result of two decades of research at Lisbon’s Superior Technical Institute, will bring the first 2.25 megawatts ashore at Aguçadoura, in northern Portugal, and will power 1,500 homes through the national state run electricity grid system according to an Inter Press Service (IPS) report.

Funded by a consortium headed by leading Portuguese renewable energy company Enersis, the venture uses groundbreaking Pelamis wave devices manufactured by Edinburgh firm Ocean Power Delivery, considered the world’s leading wave technology.

“This project, begun in 2003, is now in the world vanguard,” said Rui Barros, Enersis director of new projects, to IPS.

“Of all the varieties of renewable energy, perhaps harnessing the waves is the only one where Portugal might have a real future,” he said.

More here and here.

protest performance

Kick_my_ass_2In an extraordinary art performance, the internationally-renowned controversial British performance artist Mark McGowan will dress up as the President George Bush and crawl on his hands and knees for nonstop for an incredible 72 hours. He will be covering an amazing 36 miles on the streets of New York.  McGowan will have a sign on his posterior saying ‘KICK MY ASS’. He will be inviting members of the public, New Yorkers and allcomers to kick the sign. The event will start at Scope Art Fair on Thursday, February 22nd, 2007 at 3pm, and circumnavigate New York. McGowan will be wearing knee pads and a cushion will be placed inside his pants.

McGowan says that he is “offering the people of America, New York and visitors a service…a kind of theraputic engagement. Hopefully people will be able to come and kick me (the President, George Bush) as hard as they like, and gain some comfort in the fact that they can say I kicked George in the ass. On a more serious note this is a protest against George Bush and his policies and i am expecting injuries, i just hope not to severe.

More here.

an architecture to foster thinking

From Harvard Magazine:

The Janelia Experiment:

Janelia Great scientific research organizations, of the rare variety that produce multiple Nobel Prize-caliber breakthroughs, share common traits that can be imitated. This is the precept behind the creation of Janelia Farm, the new biological-research campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). In November, scientists from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute visited the new campus, where everything from architecture to organization to social culture has been planned to nurture an optimal environment for scientific discovery. What the visitors saw may offer ideas for Harvard, which is planning an ambitious science-research campus in Allston and working to ensure that the organizational structure of the sciences, as well as the architecture of new buildings, will promote a culture of interdisciplinary collaboration.

Janelia_2 In creating Janelia Farm, the planners relied heavily on historical precedent. “Every idea we have here, I can tell you who we stole it from,” says molecular biologist Gerald M. Rubin, the director of the facility, with a laugh. A former Howard Hughes investigator himself, Rubin has been involved since 2000 in planning the new campus (pronounced ja-NEE-lia, it is named for a former estate). HHMI, which has a $16-billion endowment, already provides $470 million a year to more than 300 top scientists at universities and research institutions throughout the country as part of its investigator program. Janelia Farm, with an annual budget of $80 million, was created to fill a perceived gap in the spectrum of research taking place in the United States. As Rubin wrote in the journal Cell, the domestic research portfolio has “shifted too far to the conservative.” Largely missing, he feels, are research organizations equipped to tackle extremely difficult problems in biology that may require long-term interdisciplinary collaborations to solve—perhaps 15 or 20 years, a time horizon far longer than that of any government grant.

Janelia_3 Because the primary building material at Janelia Farm is glass, there is a strong sense of connection with nature and its cycles nearly everywhere you go. Group leader Karel Svoboda, Ph.D. ’94, says the building is very functional in key aspects, such as on rainy days when “the light is extraordinary. We don’t always appreciate how much of an effect good light has on us.” Many interior walls are glass as well, creating a transparency that makes it easy to find people. Not everyone would be comfortable in such an environment, Rubin acknowledges, but then he wants to hire people who are comfortable with the collaborative environment that transparent walls seek to promote.

More here.

Identity and migration

Francis Fukuyama in Prospect Magazine:

Identity Modern identity politics springs from a hole in the political theory underlying liberal democracy. That hole is liberalism’s silence about the place and significance of groups. The line of modern political theory that begins with Machiavelli and continues through Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and the American founding fathers understands the issue of political freedom as one that pits the state against individuals rather than groups.

Modern liberalism arose in good measure in reaction to the wars of religion that raged in Europe following the Reformation. Liberalism established the principle of religious toleration—the idea that religious goals could not be pursued in the public sphere in a way that restricted the religious freedom of other sects or churches.

Freedom, understood not as the freedom of individuals but of cultural or religious or ethnic groups to protect their group identities, was not seen as a central issue by the American founders, perhaps because the new settlers were relatively homogeneous. In the words of John Jay (in the second “Federalist Paper”): “A people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles.”

More here.

The line of beauty

From Guardian:

Women372 With her scenes of village life, Amrita Sher-Gil dedicated herself to painting the ‘true’ India. Strikingly attractive, outspoken and intelligent, she died suddenly at only 28. Salman Rushdie on the inspiration for his flamboyant heroine in The Moor’s Last Sigh.

“In the mid-1990s, when I began to think about my novel The Moor’s Last Sigh, I soon realised that it would contain an account of the character (and also the work) of an entirely imaginary 20th-century Indian woman painter. I thought about my friendships and acquaintanceships with a number of fine contemporary artists – Krishen Khanna, Bhupen Khakhar, Gulam Mohammad Sheikh, Nilima Sheikh, Nalini Malani, Vivan Sundaram, Anish Kapoor – and of others I did not know personally but whose work I admired – Pushpamala, Navjot, Sudhir Patwardhan, Gieve Patel, Dhruva Mistry, Arpana Caur, Laxma Goud, Ganesh Pyne. The work of all these painters helped me think about the pictures my fictional Aurora Zogoiby might create. But the figure that, so to speak, “gave me permission” to imagine her personality, to invent a woman painter at the very heart of modern art in India – to believe in the possibility of such a woman – was an artist I never met, who died tragically young, and whom I first encountered in a luminous painting by Vivan Sundaram, her nephew. That artist was Amrita Sher-Gil.”

More here.

Havana Nights

From The New York Times:Cover2

The late 50s in Cuba were so rich with glamour and conflict it’s a wonder more stories haven’t been set there. Such a time, such a place, and all these elements in a long, slow collision: the sordid glory of casino culture, the last crest of old-school Hollywood splendor, the vicious florescence of the Italian and Jewish mafias, the worldly style of the Cubans themselves and the gathering rumble of the Revolution, all playing out in a gorgeous city. And here is Mayra Montero, a Cuban woman now living in Puerto Rico, and “Dancing to ‘Almendra,’ ” her ninth novel, lovingly translated by Edith Grossman: a flawless little book with a deceptively light touch, that covers exactly those years.

Montero’s novel is narrated by a man named Joaquín Porrata, a 22-year-old reporter living in Havana during the last days of Batista, who shows up for work one morning and finds he’s been assigned the story of a hippopotamus that has escaped from the zoo and been shot to death. As it happens, that same night the mafia capo Umberto Anastasia was murdered in a hotel barber’s shop in New York City, and from a rather strange little zookeeper named Juan Bulgado (or Johnny Angel, or Johnny Lamb: in Havana even a zookeeper can dream), Porrata discovers that the two killings are related.

More here.

How Not to Talk to Your Kids

From New York Magazine:Kids070219_1_560

Thomas (his middle name) is a fifth-grader at the highly competitive P.S. 334, the Anderson School on West 84th. Since Thomas could walk, he has heard constantly that he’s smart. Not just from his parents but from any adult who has come in contact with this precocious child. When he applied to Anderson for kindergarten, his intelligence was statistically confirmed. The school is reserved for the top one percent of all applicants, and an IQ test is required. Thomas didn’t just score in the top one percent. He scored in the top one percent of the top one percent.

But as Thomas has progressed through school, this self-awareness that he’s smart hasn’t always translated into fearless confidence when attacking his schoolwork. In fact, Thomas’s father noticed just the opposite. “Thomas didn’t want to try things he wouldn’t be successful at,” his father says. “Some things came very quickly to him, but when they didn’t, he gave up almost immediately, concluding, ‘I’m not good at this.’ ”

When parents praise their children’s intelligence, they believe they are providing the solution to this problem. But a growing body of research—and a new study from the trenches of the New York public-school system—strongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it.

More here.

Impaired breathing in obese tied to big waist

From Scientific American:Fat_1

Morbidly obese men tend to have more breathing difficulties than morbidly obese women, partly because they have much larger waistlines, a new study suggests.

Dr. Gerald S. Zavorsky from McGill University Health Center, Montreal, and colleagues examined the effect of the so-called “waist-to-hip ratio” on breathing in 25 morbidly obese adults scheduled for bariatric (stomach) surgery.

As the name implies, the waist-to-hip ratio is a calculation of a person’s waist circumference divided by their hip circumference. People with a high ratio have an “apple-shaped body,” whereas people with a low ratio have a “pear-shaped body.”

More here.

Amanda Marcotte on Why She Resigned from the Edwards Campaign

Amidst a storm of controversy and a nasty smear campaign, our friend, the politically very insightful Amanda Marcotte resigned as head blogger from the John Edwards campaign. Amanda explains why in her own words in Salon.

I announced that I was taking the job on Jan. 30, and the same week, I noticed a small flare-up of oddly aggressive and misogynistic comments in my moderation queue over a short, irritated post I wrote about the coverage of the Duke lacrosse rape case on CNN. I assumed that some anti-feminist blogger had linked me and so, in frustration, I went and rewrote my by-then week-old post to mock the commenters by spelling out my views in childish, easy-to-understand language. This may have been the first indication that the right-wing noise machine had noticed me and was looking for something with which to hurt me and my new employers.

A few days after my announcement, another in a series of inept shitstorms in the right-wing blogosphere came to my attention. Some vocal conservatives were accusing me of “scrubbing” my posting history at Pandagon, apparently on the theory that I was trying to hide inflammatory material. The evidence for this accusation was that I had mockingly rewritten a one-paragraph post, but since that was clearly not enough to get a real shitstorm going, there was a bevy of wild accusations that I had deleted much of the archives of Pandagon. What the right-wingers had really discovered was a very different, embarrassing secret. With all our server and software changes over the years, we at Pandagon had hopelessly scrambled and in fact deleted months and even years of the blog by accident. Some blog posts had funky URLs; others had the wrong author. We’d never fixed the problem because no one could figure out a way to do it that didn’t involve thousands of manual corrections.

Danny Glover, the journalist who “broke” the missing posts story without ever calling or e-mailing me to ask where the posts went, apologized for his mistake. As far as I know, he’s the only person involved in the “scrubbing” smear who ever apologized for spreading inaccurate information. Other bloggers eagerly repeated the nonstory. Michelle Malkin admitted she was wrong but didn’t apologize, and then auditioned a new smear.

The allegations flung in the next few days varied wildly. Malkin tried to piece together a case that the Edwards campaign should fire me, because when she videotaped herself reading my blog posts in an alarming, screechy voice, they sounded alarming and screechy. Also, shockingly for a would-be Democratic staffer, I had often said negative things about Republicans on my blog. Dan Riehl apparently thought it would speed my firing if he suggested that I was not as hot as “American Pie” actress Shannon Elizabeth. Danny Glover, trying to recover from reporting the utterly unmysterious disappearance of some of my archives, tried to argue that I had failed to disclose my association with the Edwards campaign. The problem was the disclaimer at the top of Pandagon. (Now removed, since I no longer work for the Edwards campaign.)

(Via Amanda herself at Pandagon.)

are all ocular harpsichords ultimately doomed to failure?


In Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Steven Spielberg uses a hand-sign system for teaching music to deaf children—devised by Zoltán Kodály in the early part of the twentieth century—as an analogy for the way in which man might communicate with a superior alien intelligence. In the visually stunning color-music sequence at the film’s climax, Lacombe (played by the French director François Truffaut) uses a large electric color synthesizer to play Kodály’s code to the visiting spaceship that hovers over him. For Spielberg, we are the deaf children who need to be tutored by a higher power. As one of the actors says when the first contact with aliens occurs: “It’s the first day of school, guys!”

Initially the communication between man and alien is tentative and awkward, and at one point a deep bass note from the alien ship blasts out the window of a control tower. However, in a short while the color-music dialogue has developed into a wonderful symphony of light and sound; the colored patterns flash rhythmically from the spaceship and are answered by a large multi-panelled screen behind the synthesizer.

more from Cabinet here.

Wiki Novel

In the New Scientist blog:

While one wiki has become a major feature of modern life, experiments with the medium are still continuing.

One is the “wiki novel” started by established, conventional book publisher Penguin. Amillionpenguins is fascinating, chaotic and often perplexing for the editor appointed to oversee it. Here’s a recent extract from the editors blog:

I, your miserable and long suffering editor, admit to feeling completely at odds with the novel as it stands…I’ve found the best way to approach amillionpenguins is to sample it basically at random.

Other people seem to love it. One participant contends that it is already better than On The Road or Lord of the Rings. This academic blogger is also a fan, although this one is less keen.

Reconsidering the Drinking Age

In Inside Higher Ed:

[Former Middlebury College president John M.] McCardell is about to try. With backing from the Robertson Foundation, he has created a nonprofit group, Choose Responsibility, that will seek to promote a national discussion of alternatives to the 21-year-old drinking age. The group is preparing a Web site with studies that challenge conventional wisdom about the advantages of the law, while explaining its flaws. The group will also push an idea — floated without success in the 1990s by Roderic Park, then chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder — to allow 18-20-year-olds who complete an alcohol education program to obtain “drinking licenses.” And McCardell and others plan to start speaking out, writing more op-eds, and trying to redefine the issue.

The current law, McCardell said in an interview Thursday, is a failure that forces college freshmen to hide their drinking — while colleges must simultaneously pretend that they have fixed students’ drinking problems and that students aren’t drinking. McCardell also argued that the law, by making it impossible for a 19-year-old to enjoy two beers over pizza in a restaurant, leads those 19-year-olds to consume instead in closed dorm rooms and fraternity basements where 2 beers are more likely to turn into 10, and no responsible person may be around to offer help or to stop someone from drinking too much.

Any college president who thinks his or her campus has drinking under control is “delusional,” McCardell said, although he acknowledged the political pressures that prevent most sitting presidents from providing an honest assessment of what’s going on on their campuses. But he said that the dangers to students and institutions are great enough that it’s time for someone to start speaking out. While he was president at Middlebury, one of his students died, a 21-year-old who was driving after drinking way too much.

How a network of gay donors is stealthily reshaping American politics

Joshua Green in The Atlantic:

Timgill200x285Tim Gill is best known as the founder of the publishing-software giant Quark Inc., and for a long time was one of the few openly gay members of the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans. He was born in 1953 to one of Colorado’s well-known Republican political families. (The town of Gill in the north-central part of the state is named after them.) After earning a degree in applied mathematics and computer science from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Gill founded Quark in his apartment in 1981, in the manner of other self-made computer magnates like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, with a $2,000 loan from his parents.

While Gill participated in gay activism in college, his passions ran more toward differential calculus, and he didn’t feel particularly beset by his homosexuality. He had come out to his parents when he was a teenager and been accepted. It was the very ordinariness of his upper-middle-class upbringing, in fact, that made his political awakening such a shock. In 1992, a ballot initiative approved by Colorado voters altered the state constitution to prohibit laws aimed at protecting gays and lesbians (it was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court). Gill noticed bumper stickers supporting the measure on the desks of some Quark employees. Not long afterward, he set up the Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado, through which he donates to “mainstream” charities—libraries, symphonies, vaccination clinics, even a Star Trek exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science—to spread the message that gays and lesbians care about the same things as everyone else. In 2000, he sold his interest in Quark for a reported half-billion dollars in order to focus full-time on his philanthropy.

Even as he has shied from the spotlight, Gill has become one of the most generous and widest-reaching political benefactors in the country, and emblematic of a new breed of business-minded donor that is rapidly changing American politics.

More here.


In the LRB, M.F. Burnyeat reviews at two new biographies of Pythagoras.

It is hard to let go of Pythagoras. He has meant so much to so many for so long. I can with confidence say to readers of this essay: most of what you believe, or think you know, about Pythagoras is fiction, much of it deliberately contrived. Did he discover the geometrical theorem that bears his name? No. Did he ponder the harmony of the spheres? Certainly not: celestial spheres were first excogitated decades or more after Pythagoras’ death. Does he even deserve credit for his most famous accomplishment, analysing the mathematical ratios that structure musical concordances? Possibly, but there is little reason to believe the stories about his being the first to discover them, and compelling reason not to believe the oft-told story about how he did it. Allegedly, as he was passing a smithy, he heard that the sounds made by the hammers exemplified the intervals of fourth, fifth and octave, so he measured their weights and found their ratios to be respectively 4:3, 3:2, 2:1. Unfortunately for this anecdote, recently rehashed in the article on Pythagoras in Grove Music Online, the sounds made by a blow do not vary proportionately with the weight of the instrument used.

My problem is that to convince you of such deflationary truths I have to give an account which inevitably is less exciting than, for example, the following extract from Bertrand Russell’s well-known History of Western Philosophy (1946):

Pythagoras . . . was intellectually one of the most important men that ever lived, both when he was wise and when he was unwise. Mathematics, in the sense of demonstrative deductive argument, begins with him, and in him is intimately connected with a peculiar form of mysticism. The influence of mathematics on philosophy, partly owing to him, has, ever since his time, been both profound and unfortunate.

The Problem of Animal Generation in Early Modern Philosophy

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews looks at The Problem of Animal Generation in Early Modern Philosophy, edited by our friend Justin Smith.

The puzzle of organic generation and the attendant issues of ensoulment, vitality, organization, and material reductionism, is a long-standing one. Related to this is the explanation of identity between parent and offspring. The opening chapter by James Lennox provides a perceptive overview of the importance of this issue for Aristotle and its relation to his dual project of narrative description (historia) and causal explanation in natural philosophy more generally. Aristotle had himself devoted such considerable space to the issue because it involved in some important respects the question of the origins of sensible substance, and this required some rationalization of organic generation within his larger metaphysical program. Lennox also shows in his analysis that Harvey’s insights, both empirically and methodologically, were deeply indebted to Aristotle, and his influence pervades Harvey’s own creative investigations of this problem in his Exercitationes de generatione animalium of 1651, the most extended text on this topic to emerge from the seventeenth century.

As discussed in the opening chapters of this collection, the pressing need for early modern natural philosophers to engage these questions was a direct result of the efforts to overthrow Aristotelian metaphysics and natural philosophy in the variegated way these were encountered in early modernity. Rejection of Aristotelianism and its conceptions of natural teleology, formal and final causation, and hylomorphic substance theory was central to the project of the new mathematical physics of Galileo and Descartes. Unfortunately for the ambitions of the “new philosophy,” this rejection of tradition simply did not work in the “vital” sciences, setting up a dialectic between the physical and biological sciences that has persisted to the present. Jacques Roger’s 1963 study highlighted the crisis that organic generation posed for this pan-mechanistic program. Further aspects of Descartes’s response to this problem are dealt with in considerable detail by Vincent Aucante through a perceptive discussion of Descartes’s struggle in his unpublished manuscripts to find some rational explanation of embryological development in accord with the laws of motion and his own methodological canons.

Americans Cooked With Chili Peppers 6,000 Years Ago

From The National Geographic:

PeppersDomesticated chili peppers started to spice up dishes across the Americas at least 6,000 years ago, according to new research tracing the early spread of the crop. Peppers quickly spread around the world after Christopher Columbus brought them back to Europe at the end of the 15th century, but their ancient history had been poorly known until now. “We’re excited to be able to finally trace this spice,” said Linda Perry, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. The researchers were intrigued by starch grains they found on artifacts collected at seven sites ranging from the Bahamas to southern Peru. The grains look like tiny jelly doughnuts squished in their middles and didn’t match those from obvious starchy foods such as potatoes, cassava, and other roots.

“It was only by accident that I figured out their source,” Perry said. The earliest chili pepper starch grains were found at two sites in southwestern Ecuador that are dated to about 6,100 years ago.

More here.

Evolving a Mechanism to Avoid Sex with Siblings

From Scientific American:

Incest Child molestation and rape top the social taboo list, according to a survey of 186 people between the ages of 18 and 47, and smoking marijuana ranks lowest among the 19 choices of forbidden behavior. In the middle—worse than robbing a bank but better than spousal murder—lies incest between brothers and sisters. Given the deleterious genetic impacts of offspring from such mating, some researchers have suggested that there may be an evolved mechanism designed to prevent that from occurring. And now evolutionary psychologist Debra Lieberman of the University of Hawaii–Honolulu believes she may have elicited some of its functions from this simple questionnaire.

Many animals show such “kin radar.” By mixing siblings in a litter, for example, scientists have shown that animals that grow up together appear to avoid mating, whether genetically related or not, largely based on recognizing specific smells. The evolutionary psychologists hypothesize that some form of mental mechanism assesses various cues to come up with an estimate of how related two people are. “The real question is: What are these cues?”

More here.

A Quest for Knowledge Inspired by a Devastating Loss

Janet Maslin reviews One in Three: A Son’s Journey into the History and Science of Cancer by Adam Wishart, in the New York Times Book Review:

Screenhunter_07_feb_16_0020For Adam Wishart’s father, it began as back pain. X-rays revealed a crumbling of neck vertebrae. Surgery repaired the vertebrae but uncovered a tumor, a byproduct of cancer that had originated elsewhere in his body. Doctors could not pinpoint its source.

Mr. Wishart’s father was a vigorous 72 when his illness was first diagnosed. But he began to look markedly older. He walked with a shuffle and developed difficulty in handling simple tasks. His skin grew pallid, his brain sluggish. Even as his decline became inevitable, his family vacillated between hope and fear.

The son’s way of dealing with his father’s death was to become as knowledgeable as he could, and to pass that knowledge on to readers. As the title of “One in Three” makes clear, he has a captive audience. “One in three of us,” he writes, “will develop the disease in our lifetimes.” And many of us will struggle to grasp the science, history and physiology of what happens.

More here.

Inside the strange industry that brings flowers to your table

Adrian Higgins reviews Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart, in the Washington Post:

2201bouquetofrosestoukraineIn an ideal world, we would buy cut flowers for a sweetheart’s birthday from Teresa Sabankaya. From her green kiosk in Santa Cruz, Calif., she sells blooms that she has raised lovingly on her flower farm. Her flowers, held in buckets that crowd her stall, are “all interesting, unusual, old-fashioned, ephemeral, perfumy,” Amy Stewart writes in her eye-opening new Flower Confidential. In summer, Sabankaya’s customers grab larkspur and poppies; in winter, heathers and berried plants.

But this isn’t how most American consumers get their flowers. Instead, our blooms are more likely to have been raised in high-altitude flower factories in Ecuador or Colombia, dunked in chemicals, flown to Miami and distributed to wholesale markets around the country. A rose cut on a Monday morning in the shadow of a snow-capped volcano might find its way to a Manhattan florist the following Friday, and then be good for a week or more with a little care. In your local supermarket, you will find roses completely devoid of fragrance — pretty in a stiff and uniform sort of way, but not the earthy roses of the garden or Sabankaya’s stall.

More here.