Emma Vandore in the Christian Science Monitor:
Scientists behind the European particle collider aimed at uncovering the secrets of the universe pushed Monday to build an even bigger machine — with money and partners from around the world.
Instead of whirling atoms in giant rings, as existing colliders in Switzerland and the United States do, scientists want a new-generation machine that will shoot them straight.
Particle physicists gathering in Paris on Monday for the most important conference in their field say a linear atom blaster is needed to complement what existing colliders are telling scientists about the universe, inching them closer to understanding why we are here.
Mel Shochet, a professor at the University of Chicago, said “this is by far the most exciting time” in his particle physics career.
Speaking at a Paris news conference, Shochet said “exciting new phenomena” would be seen first by existing colliders “and then followed up in great detail” by future machines, he said at a Paris press conference.
Depending on who wants to host it — and how much they are willing to pay — the next-generation collider could potentially be built anywhere in the world — with Japan, Russia, the U.S. and Switzerland all possible hosts for the most advanced project.
When one mentions the Romantics, poetry and not science is the first thing that comes to mind. The iconic Romantic image of the scientist is William Blake’s highly unflattering Newton (1795), a color print finished in watercolor, hanging in London’s Tate Gallery. The scientist appears as a heroic nude, imposingly muscled like a triumphant warrior. However, the figure’s pose is a far cry from the virile address of Michelangelo’s David or Cellini’s Perseus. Newton sits on a rock ledge, folded over so that his chest rests on his knees — an attitude that, assumed for more than thirty seconds, would serve as an acute stress position under enhanced interrogation. With a geometrician’s compass he is inscribing a semicircle within a triangle, and he embodies the mathematical order in which he is rapt. The muscles outlining his back ribs form a perfect row of rhomboids; an equilateral triangle set on its vertex and a larger triangle that caps the first define the junction of his hip and lower back; his left hand drops from his wrist at a right angle, quite uncomfortably, it would seem, and the fingers of that hand are bent to form a triangle along with one leg of the compass that they hold, so that the hand appears to be of a piece with the instrument; his left foot protrudes from beneath the ledge he is sitting on, as though he were riveted to matter; and he is clearly oblivious to everything but the figure he is drawing, the calculations he is making. What Newton cannot see is the spectacular iridescence of the immense rock he is perched on, and the tremulous darkness of the night sky that one would expect to entrance a natural philosopher, as it clearly does the artist. The appropriate amazement at nature’s magnificence is far beyond poor Newton. He is a grind, without imagination, without insight, without a chance of ever understanding what he is supposed to be doing on this earth.
more from Algis Valiunas at The New Atlantis here.
The American Museum of Folk Art American Folk Art Museum is one of my favorite museums in America. It’s also one of my least favorites. I love the museum because it’s committed to showing so-called “outsider art,” which I would define as art so visionary that the “real” art world can’t process it without relegating it to this ridiculous niche. (All great art is visionary; all great artists are in some way self-taught.) I hate the museum because its horrendous building smothers the art and vision contained within. And now the institution faces a new challenge: Last week brought the sad, startling news that curator Brooke Davis Anderson has been snatched up as Deputy Director for Curatorial Planning at the ambitious Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In the last decade as AFAM’s curator, Anderson, a brilliant scholar, organized extraordinary exhibitions of Martin Ramirez, Henry Darger, and Adolf Wolfli — three of the greatest artists of the 20th century. Come September, LA’s gain will be New York’s loss. (This, by the way, makes the fourth such coup, after Anne Philbin leaving the Drawing Center to become Director of the Hammer, Michael Govan departing Dia to work as Director of LACMA, and Jeffrey Deitch being named Director of LA MoCA.)
more from Jerry Saltz at New York Magazine here.
If someone were to tell me that there is a Soviet composer of whom I’ve barely heard, who composed 26 symphonies and 17 string quartets, many of which deserve to be in the standard repertoire, my first reaction would probably be to assume they meant Nikolay Myaskovsky – that modest, noble-minded ‘musical conscience of Moscow’ who composed 27 symphonies and 13 quartets, some of which do speak with a unique and treasurable voice. But if that same informant said no, it’s someone entirely different, then I should probably have to stifle a groan. What, yet another ‘neglected genius’? Presumably one of those countless moderate or eccentric talents who deserved a better roll of the dice but who is never going to be more than a footnote in musical history? And even if I should come to share my enthusiast’s point of view, isn’t life too short to add such a quantity of must-know music to the in-tray? And if those are my hypothetical reactions – as a supposed specialist in the field – what can I expect when I’m the one trying to do the persuading? Well, if you are reading this essay, I suppose I can at least count on your curiosity.
more from David Fanning at Sign and Sight here.
Danny Rubinstein in Dissent:
Against the background of Barack Obama’s attempt to defend the idea of “two states for two peoples” in Israel/Palestine, consider a recent talk given by the Palestinian Sufian Abu-Zayda. Abu-Zayda is fifty years old. He was born in the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza, the largest of the Palestinian camps, and he is considered the Palestinian spokesman most fluent in Hebrew, which he learned during the fourteen years that he spent in an Israeli prison on charges of participating in terrorist activities. After his release in 1993, he was one of the senior Fatah leaders in Gaza and was appointed to various positions in the Palestinian government. Among other activities he has been active in the Israeli-Palestinian Geneva Initiative, in which moderates from both sides argue that it is possible to find a just two-state solution.
It was quite surprising, therefore, that Abu-Zayda, in his talk to an Israeli audience, announced that he had changed his mind. Like other Palestinians who spoke to the Israeli media over the last months, he was responding to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at Bar Ilan University—itself a response of sorts to President Obama’s June 2009 speech at the University of Cairo. With some drama, Netanyahu had agreed that a Palestinian state should be established in territory of the Land of Israel to the west of the Jordan River. This was a significant change for Netanyahu, whose roots are in the nationalist movement that has given up its earlier slogan—“There are two banks to the Jordan, this one is ours, and so is that one”—but that still demands Israeli rule in the “Greater” Land of Israel west of the Jordan. Commentators talked of a “fissure” on the Israeli Right; it was widely believed that as long as Ben Zion Netanyahu is still alive, his son wouldn’t dare rebel against the nationalist traditions of the family.
But what might have seemed unbelievable a short time ago has become a reality. Netanyahu, at the head of the nationalist, right-wing government with members like Benny Begin (son of Menachem Begin) who have consistently rejected all concessions, has accepted the idea of a Palestinian state.
In his talk at Tel Aviv University, Abu-Zayda responded to what the prime minister had said: “Many thanks to Benjamin Netanyahu. After twenty years of the peace process [since the Madrid Conference in 1991], and after the mutual recognition of Israel and the PLO [in the Oslo Accords], he finally agrees to a Palestinian state.” There was irony in his voice as he continued, “Do you think you are doing us a favor when you agree to two states? No favor at all. From my side, from the Palestinians’ side—let there be one state, not two…. I was introduced to you as Sufian Abu-Zayda from the Jabalya camp, but I’m not from Jabalya. I might have been born there, but my family had been exiled in 1948 from a village named “Breer,” where Kibbutz Bror Hayill now stands, near the Gaza border. If there will be one state, I’ll be happy to rent or buy a house near the kibbutz and live there.” And then Abu-Zayda said in a loud voice, “You are doing yourselves a favor by establishing two states, not us.”
He isn’t alone in his opinion.
Heather Rogers in The American Prospect:
Morse Pitts has been cultivating the same land in New York's Hudson Valley for 30 years. His operation, Windfall Farms, is the very picture of local, sustainable agriculture. From early spring to late fall, the farm's 15 acres are luxuriant with snap peas, squash, mint, kale, and Swiss chard. Its greenhouses burst with sun gold tomatoes and an array of baby greens. Pitts, who is in his 50s and is tall with gray hair, doesn't use chemical fertilizers or pesticides or any genetically modified seeds. He cultivates biodiversity, not just vegetables.
Twice a week, he hauls his produce 65 miles south to Manhattan to sell at the lucrative Union Square farmers market. His converted school bus runs on biodiesel he makes from used vegetable oil, which he is also trying to use to power his greenhouses. Pitts does a brisk trade; demand for his produce is high, and the way he farms is increasingly valued. Since the mid-1990s the number of farmers markets has shot up 300 percent, and the organic sector has seen annual double-digit expansion.
But despite having no mortgage debt (he inherited the place), a ready market, and loyal customers, Pitts wants to leave his farm. His town recently rezoned the area as industrial, and if he wants to cultivate soil that's not surrounded by industry and its attendant potential for water and air pollution, he has to move. The problem is, he can't afford to.
Aside from the standard instability farmers must endure — bad weather, pests, disease, and the vagaries of the market — holistic and organic growers face great but often overlooked economic hardship. They must shoulder far higher production costs than their conventional counterparts when it comes to everything from laborers to land. Without meaningful support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, their longevity hangs in the balance. In the meantime, the USDA showers billions on industrial agriculture. Growers who've gone the chemical, mechanized route have ready access to reasonable loans, direct subsidy payments to get through tough years, and crop insurance, plus robust research, marketing, and distribution resources. Whether organic and holistic growers raise crops, like Pitts does, or grass-fed, free-range livestock, they must contend with circumstances made harder by a USDA rigged to favor industrial agriculture and factory food.
Casey Walker reviews Roberta Brandes Gratz's The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, in the Boston Review:
For half a century, rich men have talked about building a stadium at the tangled intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues in Brooklyn. Walter O’Malley hoped to construct a stadium for his Brooklyn Dodgers there, but Robert Moses—New York’s “master builder,” the bureaucrat through whom nearly all of the city’s major projects ran—refused to play nice. O’Malley took his ball and went home; the Dodgers decamped for Los Angeles in 1958.
But last March a new stadium project broke ground at Flatbush and Atlantic, where I live, and it promises to bring Brooklyn its first major sports franchise since the Dodgers’ departure—the NBA’s New Jersey Nets. In the 50 years since O’Malley’s stadium was thwarted, much has changed in the head-butting politics of American city building—and much has not.
Walk down Atlantic Avenue from Flatbush as I often do—carefully, because panel vans and car services menace pedestrians from all sides—and you will be in the footprint of the projected arena, the Barclays Center, anchor of the 22-acre Atlantic Yards project. Atlantic Yards is a familiar urban story: surrounding neighborhoods are braced for upheaval; architects have come and gone; redesigns have been announced, lambasted, tweaked, disowned; lawsuits multiply like kudzu; millions of dollars are all but blowing through the air; and the likely date of actual completion is anyone’s guess (Forest City Ratner, the developer, contends the Barclays Center will be finished by 2011, but the Web site does not give a timetable for the rest of the project).
Though I have closely followed the Atlantic Yards scuffle for years, I barely know what the project is anymore, what it will look like, or what it will contain. My guess is you would find city officials who are similarly unsure.
Jessa Crispin reviews Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, in The Smart Set:
I largely agree with the thesis that we have built our relationships around ideas that are actually toxic — that lifelong monogamy is not only an achievable goal but the absolute ideal, that infidelity must be met with swift divorce or else you are a doormat, that deviation from this template means there is something wrong with you. Yet while reading Sex at Dawn I was angry, frustrated, and bored, not to mention bewildered that grown adults striving to be taken seriously would write in a never ending torrent of puns — the names of the chapters alone (from “Who’s Your Daddies?” to “Mommies Dearest”) are a table of contents of horrors. Their simplistic ideas, their denial of the dark side of sexuality, seemed no better than my junior high belief in the brutal force of male sexuality. The truth lies somewhere between “men oppress women with their uncontrollable needs” and “women oppress men with their socially constructed monogamous love.”
Ryan and Jethá are not just writing a book of anthropology — they want to change modern marriage. They are not researchers, but a psychologist and a psychiatrist, respectively. Their idea of real world application, then, will say a lot about the book as a whole, as it reveals their agenda. Men need sex. Lots of it. With lots of different women. And this final chapter of the book tilts the balance heavily. Young men, newly charged with hormones, need sex in order to keep from becoming violent. As an example, they mention a society in which a special house is established so adolescent boys and girls can engage in sex freely. (Never mind the studies that report that early sexualization of girls is harmful to them, such as Harold Leitenberg’s study that showed the younger girls started having sex, the more likely they were to engage in drug and alcohol use and suffer from depression. Ryan and Jethá don’t mention those.) And for women who are not comfortable with the idea of allowing their husbands to fool around on the side, the authors have some guilt for them:
Monogamy itself seems to drain away a man’s testosterone… Researchers have found that men with lower levels of testosterone are more than four times as likely to suffer from clinical depression, fatal heart attacks, and cancer when compared to other men their age with higher testosterone levels.
They continue, “We know that many female readers aren’t going to be happy reading this, and some will be enraged by it, but for most men, sexual monogamy leads inexorably to monotony.” And death, apparently. Despite their evidence that women’s orgasms and sexual needs are fulfilled by multiple partners, one after the other, there is no corresponding “Men aren’t going to like hearing this, but your wives are going to need to bang the entire German World Cup team — this is what she needs it to be fully orgasmic.”
Scott McLemee in The National:
It is easy to imagine why Ernest Gellner would be one of the universally known figures in Anglophone intellectual life. A polymath whose work ranged across anthropology, history, philosophy, and sociology, his mind wrestled with an encyclopedia’s worth of nagging questions about nationalism, modernity, civil society, imperialism, Islam, psychoanalysis, ethics and epistemology. “I am not a donkey,” he liked to say, borrowing a line from Max Weber, “and I don’t have a field.”
He wrote clearly and trenchantly, with brio and dry wit. Clearly these were not among the qualities that had rubbed off on him from Weber (let alone from Immanuel Kant, another of the master-thinkers defining the horizons of his work). By my count, roughly half of Gellner’s almost two dozen books are collections of essays – a wry running commentary on half a century of public intellectual life following the Second World War: existentialism, structuralism, the thaws and re-freezings of the Soviet bloc, and the varieties of dissident enthusiasm in the West… These pieces revisit the themes and preoccupations of his monographic works, and retain their vitality, well after the original polemical targets have been forgotten.
All of this, to repeat, should explain Gellner’s monumental prominence – except for the fact that he has no such prominence. There are Foucauldians aplenty and Rortyans by the score – and even the occasional stray Marcusean, tending the flame. But of Gellnerians, there is scarcely a trace. Not that Gellner has been completely forgotten. His work remains central to debates on the nature of nationalism. But only with John Hall’s intellectual biography do we have a suitable treatment of Gellner’s work as a whole, seen on its own very large scale.
Sean B. Carroll in The New York Times:
In 1909, Charles Walcott, a paleontologist and secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, discovered one of the greatest and most famous fossil troves high in the Canadian Rockies on Burgess Pass in British Columbia. The slabs of Burgess Shale that Walcott excavated contained the earliest known examples at the time of many major animal groups in the fossil record, in rocks that were about 505 million years old. Walcott’s discovery was further evidence of the so-called Cambrian Explosion — the apparently abrupt appearance of complex animals in the fossil record within the Cambrian Period, from about 542 to 490 million years ago. Although not seen before on the scale documented in the Burgess Shale, the emergence of trilobites and other animals in the Cambrian was familiar to paleontologists, and had troubled Charles Darwin a great deal.
The difficulty posed by the Cambrian Explosion was that in Darwin’s day (and for many years after), no fossils were known in the enormous, older rock formations below those of the Cambrian. This was an extremely unsettling fact for his theory of evolution because complex animals should have been preceded in the fossil record by simpler forms. In “On the Origin of Species,” Darwin posited that “during these vast, yet quite unknown, periods of time, the world swarmed with living creatures.” But he admitted candidly, “To the question why we do not find records of these vast primordial periods, I can give no satisfactory answer.”
It was several days after the deaths in Bagua, and we were in a tiny car flying down a washboard gravel road—some left-of-nowhere oil company throughway punched into the Peruvian Amazon—when the paramilitary cops flagged us down. Everybody in the back was asleep: Plinio leaning on Alcides, Alcides—snoring—leaning on me. I elbowed Plinio. There are three rules for reporting in the Amazon: 1) add two screwups to every plan; 2) there is no such thing as a “little problem”; and 3) you never—ever—go in without an Indian guide. Plinio was mine. He was wiping sleep from his eyes as the cop, in military pants tucked into black boots, approached the car, a machine gun over his soldier. I wanted to go home. “It is routine,” Plinio said. “It is the state of emergency. He’s checking our IDs. Just remember our story.” He meant to remember the lie we’d concocted: that my partner, Duncan, and I were making a documentary about the Amazon’s threatened biodiversity. In fact, we were there investigating the impact of Peru’s booming oil industry on the forest’s indigenous villages. Many people don’t realize that Peru controls most of the Amazon’s headwaters—a massive chunk of the rainforest second only to Brazil’s portion—or that Peru’s past two pro-business presidents have bet the ranch on the area’s oil-rich energy lodes.
more from Kelly Hearn at VQR here.
The memorable, artless clarity of the Happy Birthday song is the essence of its genius. So with all its deliberate simplicity, it’s funny that the Happy Birthday song is a little bit hard to sing. We’ve all experienced this. As the end of each phrase gets progressively higher, you are, average singer, taken outside your comfortable vocal range, so that by the time you get to the third “birthday” (and it’s the “birth” note that’s the biggest problem) you’re practically in eunuch territory. Luckily, this high note happens quickly and only once so you can jump down from it safely and finish the song within the more gentle territory of the second line. (As opposed to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” for instance, a virtuoso song that nobody sings, a high-note holocaust which forces you to start really high from the get-go and keep singing higher and higher until you miraculously finish or implode.) We might think of this as the great flaw in “Happy Birthday to You.” To be fair, though, the “birth” note is not a problem inherent in the song. It’s starting “Happy Birthday to You” in a key that is too high which spells disaster. But here’s the thing: Because the song is always sung spontaneously, by a random group with (usually) uneven musical abilities, the key is always too high. The distance between the lowest note in the Happy Birthday song and the highest is eight steps and they happen, in that third line, right next to each other. That’s a whole octave leap. I’ve guesstimated that .0001 percent of the world’s population can make this octave leap. And yet we all sing it, time and again, debasing ourselves. Why? Because it’s funny. Every time. If you have Pavarotti in your gang, it makes no difference. “Happy Birthday to You” makes the collective sound terrible and, in doing so, makes everyone laugh. I’ve decided that the octave leap, the most curious part of the Happy Birthday song, is its finest element. “Happy Birthday to You” is disarming. It levels us.
more from Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set here.
Perhaps the most unlikely hero to emerge from this summer’s World Cup was Paul the octopus, a lightly spotted invertebrate living in an aquatic center in Germany. Paul earned worldwide fame for successfully “predicting” the winner of eight out of eight soccer games, including the final match. Before each game, Paul’s keepers would place two food-filled boxes, each of which was decorated with one team’s national flag, in the creature’s tank. Whichever box Paul ate from first was considered to be his pick. The octopus nailed it all eight times. Though Paul’s success seems mainly to have been luck — evidence for psychic sports forecasting ability in octopuses is, well, somewhat lacking — if you were looking to consult a brainy animal, you could do worse than an octopus. Research is increasingly revealing that there’s something sophisticated going on inside the octopus’s soft and squishy head. The critters, it seems, are surprisingly smart.
more from Emily Anthes at The Boston Globe here.
by Michael Blim
A bag of books for two bucks, said the sign. Deflation has hit the little Connecticut country library used book sales I haunt each summer. Imagine what you can stuff into a big supermarket paper bag, and then cross-rough it with a run of terrific books – a book of Giotto’s frescoes, Graham Greene’s The Comedians, three P.D. James mysteries, George F. Kennan’s Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin, a compilation of comic art propaganda that includes a study and pictures of Hansi: the Girl Who Loved the Swastika (the protagonist escapes Nazism by becoming a bride for Christ). All of these and A Guide to Thomas Aquinas.
All of these books bid for my affections, hoping for a quick conquest of my summer reading plans. Having laid hands on Robert Sherwood’s Hopkins and Roosevelt (1948) my fate was sealed. And fortunately for me, having spent as 3QD readers know the past two summers on first Hitler and then Stalin thanks to my library sales book buys.
What a delight to read the history of heroes once more. Sherwood tells the story of how Roosevelt and Hopkins, FDR’s alter ego insofar as he ever had one, battled the Great Depression and World War II together, with Hopkins the iron fist in Roosevelt’s velvet glove. The story is told with admiration and a beguiling humility. Though a successful playwright and a speechwriting White House denizen from 1940 onward, Sherwood never lost his awe of the two men, sharing intimate space and time with two persons who never shared their intimate thoughts with anyone.
Sherwood’s sense of wonder at what he observed is perhaps only exceeded by the reactions of a sympathetic reader. Hopkins, an Iowa-born New York social worker, put 4 million people to work in one month during the dark winter of 1933-34 and got 180,000 public works projects up and running in four. He put millions more to work with the Works Progress Administration, and after 1937 with half a stomach and successions of near-death crises due to chronic metabolic diseases left over after his bout with cancer, ran the Lend-Lease program that put ships, planes, tanks, and arms in the hands of a half a dozen of America’s allies in World War II and acted as FDR’s confidential agent with Churchill, Stalin, and their military and diplomatic staffs.
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