How do we know where the carbon is coming from?

by Paul Braterman

CarbonScripps_Institution_of_Oceanography _2011In 1957, Charles Keeling of Scripps Institution of Oceanography began regular measurements of carbon dioxide concentration at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. By 1960, he was already in a position to report a steady increase, together with seasonal variations. In the northern atmosphere, CO2 concentration falls during the spring and summer growing season, but recovers during autumn and winter as vegetable matter decays. This sawtooth pattern is superposed, however, on a steady overall increase.

Above, R: Scripps Institution of Oceanography (Invertzoo via Wikipedia)

The Keeling curve and beyond

Charles Keeling died in 2005, but the work is being continued by his son Ralph. When I visited Scripps in 1995, I saw Charles Keeling's original curve, ink on graph paper, on the wall in the corridor outside his office. That curve has now been designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark, and there are commemorative plaques both at Scripps and at the Mauna Loa Observatory. Charles Keeling's original paper, freely available here, goes into meticulous detail regarding sample collection, calibration, precautions taken to prevent local contamination, and comparisons between the Mauna Loa data and those that numerous other sites, including the Antarctic and samples collected from an aircraft.


L: Atmospheric CO2, 1700 – 2014; NASA via Forbes. Click to enlarge. Note that the zigzags for atmospheric data are not error bars, but annual fluctuations.

By 1985, the record had been extended backwards in time by analysis of air bubbles trapped in ice cores, with dates ranging from the 1980s to the 1600s and earlier. These dates overlap Keeling's data, and take us back to pre-industrial times. Before long, the ice core record had been extended to an 160,000 years, taking us into the Ice Ages, while further work has pushed it back to 800,000 years. We have estimates going back far beyond that, but employing indirect methods and with higher uncertainty.

During the Ice Ages, carbon dioxide played a dual role, as product and as agent. The temperature oscillations at this time were driven primarily by subtle changes in the Earth's motion (so-called Milankovitch cycles). But carbon dioxide is less soluble at higher temperatures (which is why your carbonated drink fizzes inside your mouth). And so in the first place the rise and fall of temperature led to a rise and fall of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as the oceans released and reabsorbed the gas. But then, the changes in carbon dioxide concentration amplified the original effect, since more carbon dioxide acting as a greenhouse gas makes the Earth lose heat less efficiently into space.

To summarise the results, current levels of CO2 are the highest they have been for over twenty million years. In the centuries leading up to 1800, levels were steady at 280 parts per million (ppm); a slow but steady increase took place throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century, so that levels had reached over 310 ppm when Charles Keeling began his studies; this increase has accelerated steadily since then; the present value is over 400 ppm; and the current rate of increase appears to be unprecedented in the geological record.

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Breath in a Box

by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

On the M2 bus to the East side, a man heaves as he steps in with his walker.

I have yet to open the box that has the Sufi nai you brought me.

When the man attempts to sit down, he has trouble balancing.

I have yet to open that box by my bedside. It's between your Rubik's cube and the shawl printed with Attar's verses from "the conference of the birds."

A woman, obese and weak, uses all the strength in her two arms to steady him. Both the man and the woman are out of breath as they sit down. They are not related.

I have yet to open the box you bought at a layover in Istanbul, nearly missing your flight.

The woman is of a different race and generation than the man. Both have a drizzle of sudden summer rain on their shoulders, as have I. And another passenger's library books.

The nai in the box is the kind of flute Rumi praises. It's made of pockmarked reed.

Outside the museum, the woman who gives small crumbs of her sesame bread to the sparrows, has her back to the man with the camera.

The reed bed has made the flute an emissary of its longing.

The camera lens must see the slightest scar of the sparrow. It is big enough to make a nest in.

Optimizing Ourselves into Oblivion

by Jalees Rehman

The short story "Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral" ("An anecdote about the lowering of work ethic") is one of the most famous stories written by the German author Heinrich Böll. In the story, an affluent tourist encounters a poorly clad fisherman who is comfortably napping in his boat. The assiduous tourist accidentally wakes up the fisherman while taking photos of the peaceful scenery – blue sky, green sea, fisherman with an old-fashioned hat – but then goes on to engage the lounging fisherman in a conversation. The friendly chat gradually turns into a sermon in which the tourist lectures the fisherman about how much more work he could be doing, how he could haul in more fish instead of lazing about, use the profits to make strategic investments, perhaps even hire employees and buy bigger boats in a few years. To what end, the fisherman asks. So that you could peacefully doze away at the beach, enjoying the beautiful sun without any worries, responds the enthusiastic tourist. Optimized

I remembered Böll's story which was written in the 1960s – during the post-war economic miracle years (Wirtschaftswunder) when prosperity, efficiency and growth had become the hallmarks of modern Germany – while recently reading the book "Du sollst nicht funktionieren" ("You were not meant to function") by the German author and philosopher Ariadne von Schirach. In this book, von Schirach criticizes the contemporary obsession with Selbstoptimierung (self-optimization), a term that has been borrowed from network theory and computer science where it describes systems which continuously adapt and "learn" in order to optimize their function. Selbstoptimierung is now used in a much broader sense in German culture and refers to the desire of individuals to continuously "optimize" their bodies and lives with the help of work-out regimens, diets, self-help courses and other processes. Self-optimization is a routine learning process that we all engage in. Successful learning of a new language, for example, requires continuous feedback and improvement. However, it is the continuous self-optimization as the ultimate purpose of life, instead of merely serving as a means to an end that worries von Schirach.

She draws on many examples from Körperkult (body-cult), a slavish worship of the body that gradually replaces sensual pleasure with the purpose of discipling the body. Regular exercise and maintaining a normal weight are key factors for maintaining health but some individuals become so focused on tracking steps and sleep duration on their actigraphs, exercising or agonizing about their diets that the initial health-related goals become lose their relevance. They strive for a certain body image and resting heart rates and to reach these goals they indulge in self-discipline to maximize physical activity and curb appetite. Such individuals rarely solicit scientific information as to the actual health benefits of their exercise and food regimens and might be surprised to learn that more exercise and more diets do not necessarily lead to more health. The American Heart Association recommends roughly 30-45 minutes of physical activity daily to reduce high blood pressure and the risk of heart attacks and stroke. Even simple and straightforward walking is sufficient to meet these goals, there is no need for two-hour gym work-outs.

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The Brain’s I: the great intermingling

by Katalin Balog

This is the last in a series of four essays on subjectivity and objectivity. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.

"…tie me to earth…"

(Angel Damiel from Wings of Desire)

1. Mind and body

Descartes thought God could create a disembodied mind – indeed he thought angels are such beings. Angels-from-battistero-firenzeConsequently, he thought that mind and body are distinct and separate entities. The essence of mind, or what he thought was the same, the person, is to think, feel, perceive, reflect, understand, and doubt; bodies, whose essence is to occupy space, are in some sense external to persons. Having a body, though supremely important for actual human beings, is not part of what it is to be a person.

Others deny that disembodied minds – minds that exists in the absence of anything physical – are possible. According to most contemporary philosophers, minds can only arise in brains – or, perhaps, in other physical substrates, not to rule out the possibility of alien intelligence – though the details of what this means are controversial. But even these philosophers could assent to the possibility of a brain-in-the-vat scenario, in which a person survives as a mere brain, hooked up to appropriate input and output channels; or, perhaps less fancifully, to the possibility of a brain transplant. These cases suggest that my body is external to myself, much in the way my cat is external to myself.

Yet Descartes was also puzzled about the relationship of mind and body. As he muses in his Sixth Meditation, sensations of hunger, pain, and bodily feeling reveal that "I am …compounded and intermingled with my body, that I form, as it were, a single whole with it". In a letter to Princess Elizabeth, he suggested that it is hard, maybe impossible to understand clearly how mind and body can be both separate and a "single whole". My body reveals itself, rather than being external to myself, as myself, a piece of the physical world, but alive and suffused by soul. The notion of two separate things interacting – as Descartes thought mind and body were – doesn't do justice to our experience of the intermingling of the mental and the physical in our own body.

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How to Drink Wine

by Dwight Furrow

Gerard_van_Honthorst_-_The_Happy_Violinist_with_a_Glass_of_Wine_-_WGA11668The wine world is never short on controversy. Among the most persistent are worries about how wine quality is assessed. Are scores the best way of assessing quality? Why do I disagree with wine critics so much? Why do price and quality often seem unrelated? Are cult wines worth their cost? And what about those florid tasting notes and esoteric descriptors wine critics use that seem to have nothing to do with what I taste?

We need some distinctions to sort out these issues.

Begin by distinguishing two distinct objects of evaluation.* First, there is the process by which we become aware of the aesthetic properties of the wine. This is the process of appreciation, and the object of attention is an experience which is of course guided by the wine. Secondly, instead of evaluating the experience of wine, we could evaluate the wine itself. This might sound odd. How can I gain access to a wine without experiencing it? And indeed, sometimes there would be no difference between my evaluation of the experience and my evaluation of the wine. However, sometimes there is an important difference because each is focused on a different kind of value. When we focus on evaluating an experience we are focused on intrinsic value, the value of an experience independently of how it is used or for what purpose. We enjoy experiences not because they are useful for some purpose but because they are good in themselves. By contrast, we can evaluate a wine for its instrumental value in causing our experience. Wine is good if it brings about an experience that we enjoy.

Here is why this is an important distinction, although I will use something less esoteric than wine as an example. Most of us value cars because they get us where we want to go. Some people value cars because they are fast and can win a race. In both cases the value of the car is instrumental and there are reasonably objective criteria for evaluating cars as a means of transportation. But some people value cars because they like to drive them or look at them. This is also instrumental value but in these cases the car is useful at causing an aesthetic experience.

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If your life were a play, could someone play you better?

by Amanda Beth PeeryHamlet

Many articles have been written about the greatest Hamlet actors of all time and what they brought to the role. One such article, a 2014 New York Times piece, describes John Gielgud's 1930s Hamlet as "melodious and intellectual" while Laurence Olivier played "an expressly physical Hamlet of quicksilver mood changes and Freudian motivation." Not only did the two actors interpret Hamlet differently, but with the same lines and the same minimal stage directions, Gielgud and Olivier created different characters.

What if an actor could play your life? By speaking the "lines" with a different inflection, or moving differently around a room, what kind of character could they create? Could they play your life more truly or beautifully than you?

I wonder how the subjects of biopics feel watching the movies about their lives. How would it feel to see an actor (probably more attractive, more glamorous than you) recreating pivotal scenes and dramatic conversations from your past? In a biopic, the script is different than the exact words you said, but even so, I wonder if you would feel a strange kind of doubling. Would your memories begin to merge with the scenes in the movie? Is it possible that the movie scenes could feel truer than the memories of real experiences? If the lead actor played a scene with more empathy or beauty than the way it was in life, would you wish you could go back in time and act, in that circumstance, more like the actor?

One purpose of a biopic is "for both artist and spectator to discover what it would be like to be this person, or to be a certain type of person" writes Dennis Bingham, a film scholar. On the other side, can the subject of the biopic, watching the movie, discover what it would be like if they were a different type of person?

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HE’S GOT THE FEVER . . . and the only cure is more literature

Stephen Akey in The Smart Set:

ScreenHunter_2754 Jul. 17 00.56Towards the end of Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a newly graduated magistrate is sent to a small Colombian town to investigate the circumstances surrounding the murder of the novel’s ill-fated protagonist, Santiago Nasar. 25 years after the murder, the narrator, conducting his own investigation, travels to the Palace of Justice in Riohacha to examine the magistrate’s report. Although the narrator can’t find the magistrate’s name on any of the surviving papers, “it was obvious that he was a man burning with the fever of literature. He had doubtless read the Spanish classics and a few Latin ones, and he was quite familiar with Nietzsche, who was the fashionable author among magistrates of his time . . . He was so perplexed by the enigma that fate had touched him with, that he kept falling into lyrical distractions that ran contrary to the rigor of his profession.”

In the decades since I first read Chronicle of a Death Foretold, I’ve often thought back to that unnamed magistrate, for one simple and terrible reason: He reminds me of me. Not that I’ve ever been tasked with anything so consequential as a murder investigation. My professional responsibilities as a lifelong librarian have tended to such things as answering reference questions and pointing patrons the way to the bathroom. What I share with the magistrate is the “fever of literature,” together with a choice of métier at variance with any literary dreams we might have had. Spiking our official reports about murder (in his case) and circulation statistics (in mine) with allusions to Nietzsche afforded some temporary relief of the fever but “ran contrary to the rigor” of our professions. Lamentably, no supervisor ever congratulated me on the lapidary elegance of my inter-office memos. I was lucky I didn’t get fired.

More here.

The weird power of the placebo effect, explained

Brian Resnick in Vox:

ScreenHunter_2753 Jul. 17 00.48Over the last several years, doctors noticed a mystifying trend: Fewer and fewer new pain drugs were getting through double-blind placebo control trials, the gold standard for testing a drug’s effectiveness.

In these trials, neither doctors nor patients know who is on the active drug and who is taking an inert pill. At the end of the trial, the two groups are compared. If those who actually took the drug report significantly greater improvement than those on placebo, then it’s worth prescribing.

When researchers started looking closely at pain-drug clinical trials, they found that an average of 27 percent of patients in 1996 reported pain reduction from a new drug compared to placebo. In 2013, it was 9 percent.

What this showed was not that the drugs were getting worse, but that “the placebo response is growing bigger over time,” but only in the US, explains Jeffrey Mogil, the McGill University pain researcher who co-discovered the trend. And it’s not just growing stronger in pain medicine. Placebos are growing in strength in antidepressants and anti-psychotic studies as well.

“The placebo effect is the most interesting phenomenon in all of science,” Mogil says. “It’s at the precise interface of biology and psychology,” and is subject to everything from the drug ads we see to our interactions with health care providers to the length of a clinical trial.

More here.

The Myth of the Muslim World

Asma Afsaruddin in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Photo_82057_landscape_650x433In his influential History of the Saracen Empires, the early-18th-century British scholar Simon Ockley remarks benignly about Islam and its beliefs: "The intellectual image of the Deity has never been degraded by any visible idol; the hours of the Prophet have never transgressed the measure of human virtues; and his living precepts have restrained the gratitude of his disciples within the bounds of reason and religion." Such views influenced Edward Gibbon and his largely favorable depiction of Islam in his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Similar positive assessments of Islam continued to be found through the first quarter of the 19th century; Goethe lists the Prophet Muhammad as his third source of inspiration, after Jesus and Apollo.

But a very different view emerges in the latter half of the 19th century. More typical of European attitudes during this period was that expressed by the French philosopher Ernest Renan in his now (in)famous lecture titled "Islam and Science," delivered at the Sorbonne in 1883. Renan pilloried Islam as being opposed to reason, progress, and reform. Continuing a familiar Orientalist theme grounded in the racial theories of the period, he attributed medieval Arab advances in the sciences and philosophy to Aryan and non-Muslim (primarily Greco-Sassanian) influences.

Cemil Aydin, in his thoughtful and provocative new book The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History (Harvard University Press), explores the reasons for this sea change in fundamental European attitudes toward Muslims. His study of the historical record demonstrates that the racialization of Muslims as a homogeneous group and the construction of the "Muslim world" as a seamless whole began in this period, with the onset of Western colonization of much of what we term today the Middle East and other parts of Asia.

What is interesting is that this European project of constructing a monolithic "Muslim world" was bolstered by Muslim intellectuals themselves, who, in the same period, sought refuge in Pan-Islamism.

More here. [Thanks to Yogesh Chandrani.]

From Kant to cant

Roger Kimball in New Criterion:

ImagesIn The Culture of Time and Space: 1880-1918, Stephen Kern sets out to show how the burst of technological, intellectual, and artistic innovation around the turn of the century “created distinctive new modes of thinking about and experiencing time and space.” This challenging task will attract anyone who is interested in modernism, though it is worth noting at the outset that Mr. Kern's “distinctive new modes” of experience are not really new but have their foundation in the revolutionary view of man's relation to nature that Descartes crystalized in the seventeenth century. Near the end of the Discourse on Method, Descartes notes that his study of philosophy has led him to a “knowledge that is most useful in life.” That knowledge is first of all not contemplative or theoretical but practical. It excludes the traditional idea that the world is a system of final causes in which man's destiny is figuratively writ, and it views nature as material to be grasped and manipulated according to human designs. The model is the artisan's knowledge of his craft: we really know something when we know how to make it. The index of such knowledge is the power and control it affords. Descartes thus envisions the growth of a “practical philosophy” that, unlike the speculative philosophy of the scholastics, can explain natural phenomena by explaining how things work. Hence the famous declaration that his method will render man “the master and possessor of nature.”

The success of modern technology has shown that Descartes's vision was not idle. For in an important sense, technology has remade the world, bringing close what was far away, delivering up the past to the inspection of the present. “All distances in time and space are shrinking,” Heidegger wrote in a late essay,

Man now reaches overnight, by plane, places which formerly took weeks and months of travel. He now receives instant information, by radio, of events which he formerly learned about only years later, if at all . . . Distant sites of the most ancient cultures are shown on film as if they stood this very moment amidst today's street traffic . . . The peak of this abolition of every possible remoteness is reached by television, which will soon pervade and dominate the whole machinery of communication.

It may be, as Heidegger is at pains to argue, that this conquest of time and space brings with it a new sense of distance, one less susceptible of technological abridgement. “Short distance,” he observes, “is not in itself nearness.” In taking charge of reality, man has not yet defeated distance. Instead, the speed and effectiveness with which he manipulates the world make genuine community and intimacy more elusive than ever. The dream of a “global village” remains unrealized.

More here.

Sunday Poem


—What'll it be?

Roast beef on rye, with tomato and mayo.

—Whaddaya want on it?

A swipe of mayo.

Pepper but no salt.

—You got it. Roast beef on rye.

You want lettuce on that?

No. Just tomato and mayo.

—Tomato and mayo. You got it.

…Salt and pepper?

No salt, just a little pepper.

—You got it. No salt.

You want tomato.

Yes. Tomato. No lettuce.

—No lettuce. You got it.

…No salt, right?

Right. No salt.

—You got it. Pickle?

No, no pickle. Just tomato and mayo.

And pepper.


Yes, a little pepper.

—Right. A little pepper.

No pickle.

Right. No pickle.

—You got it.


Roast beef on whole wheat, please,

With lettuce, mayonnaise and a center slice

Of beefsteak tomato.

The lettuce splayed, if you will,

In a Beaux Arts derivative of classical acanthus,

And the roast beef, thinly sliced, folded

In a multi-foil arrangement

That eschews Bragdonian pretensions

Or any idea of divine geometric projection

For that matter, but simply provides

A setting for the tomato

To form a medallion with a dab

Of mayonnaise as a fleuron.

And—as eclectic as this may sound—

If the mayonnaise can also be applied

Along the crust in a Vitruvian scroll

And as a festoon below the medallion,

That would be swell.

—You mean like in the Cathedral St. Pierre in Geneva?

Yes, but the swag more like the one below the rosette

At the Royal Palace in Amsterdam.

—You got it.


by Paul Violi
from Overnight
Hanging Loose Press

Biafra as memoir

Samuel Fury Childs Daly in Africa is a Country:

AchebeIn 2005, a former diplomat from the Republic of Biafra, named Godwin Alaoma Onyegbula reflected in his memoir on what being Nigerian meant to him: “I was born in this country, over seventy years ago, and know no other country better than I know Nigeria. I have lived through colonial Nigeria, independentNigeria, Biafran Nigeria, and present Nigeria.” Onyegbula continued, “We think we have lived through [this], [as] one country, but experience suggests otherwise. It is becoming more difficult to find an ‘authentic’ Nigerian; that is, someone whose ‘Nigerianess’ is obvious, and clearly distinguishable, to himself and others.” In the last 50 years, hundreds of people like Onyegbula who supported Biafra or fought against it have written their memoirs, ranging from small hand-printed pamphlets to thick, heavily-footnoted volumes. In various ways, all address what it means to be Nigerian in the wake of the Nigerian Civil War. In the long period of military rule that followed the end of the war, closed archives and an officially enforced silence meant that few historians openly reckoned with Biafra’s legacy.

Fiction was one site where Nigeria worked through the meanings of the war, especially in the work of well-known novelists, such as Chinua Achebe, Buchi Emecheta, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Cyprian Ekwensi. Today the younger fiction writers, Chinelo Okparanta, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Sefi Atta are helping to bring debates about the war back into public discussion. But by volume, the most significant body of writing on Biafra is neither history nor fiction, but memoir. A vast number of memoirs on Biafra circulate in Nigeria, and only a fraction of them are available outside of the country. The topics they address vary, from fiery political screeds on the causes and consequences of the war to intimate recollections of suffering and loss. Many, though not all, are written by people who supported the Biafran side. Some blend genres, mixing rumor with recollection, and a few take liberties with the war’s plot. As Onyegbula candidly warned in his own memoirs, “biography becomes boring when entirely true.” Virtually every important military figure on both sides wrote accounts of their lives (some, like Olusegun Obasanjo, wrote more than one). A fair number of these were ghostwritten or “as told to” someone else; penning memoirs for prominent people has become a cottage industry for Nigerian historians and journalists. The recollections of well-known figures in the war – government officials, officers, scientists and intellectuals among them – are widely read and discussed in Nigeria today. Some are hawked in bus stations and taxi ranks, alongside self-help books and prayer manuals. The contents of one unpublished autobiography by Emmanuel Ifeajuna, a 1966 coup-plotter turned Biafran officer, generates enormous speculation about the conspiracies leading up to the war.

More here.

By day, Claude Shannon labored on top-secret war projects at Bell Labs. By night, he worked out the details of information theory

Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman in IEEE Spectrum:

MjkyNDA4NALooking back on the last months of 1940, Claude Shannon was quite open about his desire to avoid the World War II draft: “Things were moving fast there, and I could smell the war coming along. And it seemed to me I would be safer working full-time for the war effort, safer against the draft, which I didn’t exactly fancy. I was a frail man, as I am now…. I was trying to play the game, to the best of my ability. But not only that, I thought I’d probably contribute a hell of a lot more.”

Shannon’s opportunity to contribute came at Bell Labs, which took him on board as a government contractor, and then as a full-time employee. His work for the war effort brought him to the Labs’ headquarters in Manhattan’s West Village, a scientific smorgasbord: chemical labs, vast production rooms, and “a warren of testing labs for phones, cables, switches, cords, coils, and a nearly uncountable assortment of other essential parts,” as the eminent U.S. engineer Vannevar Bush later described it.

With a host of new wartime projects under way and hundreds of new faces streaming through the office, including many in military uniforms, the thirteen stories on the Hudson’s edge felt especially chaotic. Even as several hundred Labs employees departed for active-duty service in the wake of Pearl Harbor, Bell’s in-house workforce swelled: 4,600 employees became over 9,000 in only a matter of a few years. More than 1,000 research projects were launched, each one a small piece of the war machine. The tempo picked up accordingly, and many of Shannon’s colleagues found themselves working six days a week.

More here.

Ravens have paranoid, abstract thoughts about other minds

Emily Reynolds in Wired:

1620Cementing their status as the most terrifying of all the birds, a new study has found that ravens are able to imagine being spied upon — a level of abstraction that was previously thought to be unique to humans.

The ability to think abstractly about other minds is singled out by many as a uniquely human trait. Now, a study from the Universities of Houston and Vienna have found that ravens are able to adapt their behaviour by attributing their perceptions to others.

The study, published in Nature Communications, found that if a nearby peephole was open, ravens guarded pockets of food against discovery in response to the sound of other birds — even if they didn't see another bird. This was not replicated when the peephole was closed, despite hearing the same auditory clues.

According to the study's authors, the discovery "shed[s] a new light on Theory of Mind" — the ability to attribute mental states to others. A number of studies have found that animals are able to understand what others see — but only when they can see the head or eyes, which provide gaze cues. This suggests that these animals are responding only to surface cues, and are not experiencing the same abstraction as humans.

More here.

In very sad news, Maryam Mirzakhani, first woman to win maths’ Fields Medal, dies at 40

From the BBC:

Aa-559d4ae489a6Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to receive the prestigious Fields Medal for mathematics, has died in the US.

The 40-year-old had breast cancer, which had spread to her bones.

Nicknamed the "Nobel Prize for Mathematics", the Fields Medal is only awarded every four years to between two and four mathematicians under 40.

It was given to Prof Mirzakhani, an Iranian, in 2014, for her work on complex geometry and dynamical systems.

"A light was turned off today. It breaks my heart… gone far too soon," her friend, Nasa scientist Firouz Naderi, posted on Instagram.

Born in 1977, Prof Mirzakhani was brought up in post-revolutionary Iran and won two gold medals in the International Mathematical Olympiad as a teenager.

She earned a PhD at Harvard University in 2004, and later a professorship at Stanford.

More here.

What Doesn’t Go Away

Kristina Moriconi in The Nervous Breakdown:

IMG_8428-1024x1024She researches genealogy. Collects. Organizes. Obsesses. Discovers distant relatives all along the Adriatic Coast. Roots stretching across continents and seas. But don’t ask her about cells or strands of DNA. About heredity or the odds of what might be passed down. Don’t ask her for the truth. There is a story the family tells. Well-rehearsed. Plausible. By now, she may even believe it herself: It is a hunting accident that killed her brother fifty years ago. A father, his two grown sons in the woods of Big Pocono State Park. What they don’t say: These are seasoned hunters, antlers and disembodied heads displayed like trophies in their living room and den. Someone careless, the story goes, cleaning a gun.

Approximately 1,000 people in the United States and Canada are accidentally shot by hunters every year, and just under a hundred of those accidents are fatalities.

That part is true.

But so is this: There are 20,000 gun suicides in the United States every year, more than 50 every single day. It can happen right inside the home. In the den, beside the gun cabinet, beneath the 15-point buck hung proudly on the wall.

Note: Blood becomes much harder to remove from carpet once it has dried. Spray the stains with water to keep the area wet. Blot. Do not rub. Apply salt paste. Blot again. Repeat.

But some things never go away.

More here.