Transgendered perspective on women in the sciences

Shankar Vedantam in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Neurobiologist Ben Barres has a unique perspective on former Harvard president Lawrence Summers’ assertion that innate differences between the sexes might explain why many fewer women than men reach the highest echelons of science.

That’s because Barres used to be a woman himself.

In a highly unusual critique published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the Stanford University biologist – who used to be Barbara – said his experience as both a male and a female had given him an intensely personal insight into the biases that make it harder for women to succeed in science.

More here.

The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete

Susan Straight reviews Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete by William C. Rhoden, in the Los Angeles Times:

So it was with great curiosity that I picked up William C. Rhoden’s “Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete.” But the African American sportswriter’s new book is an enlightening, thoughtful and sometimes sentimental look at black males in sports from the early 1700s to the present. His thesis is that black athletes for hundreds of years have used superior physical ability as well as “soul and style” not only to thrill and entertain their fellow Americans but also to make money for white owners, yet they have been unable to control their own destinies.

The title may be off-putting — an allusion to the 40 acres and a mule promised to freed slaves after the Civil War — and the analogy of big-time sports as a plantation may seem to be a stretch, but Rhoden, a sportswriter for the New York Times since 1983, has done his homework. Indeed, those who follow sports have seen countless black athletes lay bodies on the line for teams, universities and professional organizations that reap large financial rewards, while the players too often get little, sometimes not even a college degree or a long career. The huge signing bonuses and contracts celebrated in the media go to only a tiny percentage of black athletes; many more make do at subsistence level, especially in college.

More here.

The Persian game

“Masters of ambiguity, Iran’s leaders don’t want war with Israel and the U.S. — and are more alarmed by the Lebanese crisis than the West realizes.”

Afshin Molavi in Salon:

Story_3On the sidelines of a recent security conference in Oman, a former high-ranking Iranian official turned to a Saudi colleague and said: “You are overestimating our influence in Iraq. We are not as powerful as you think.” A few moments later, the Iranian smiled and added, “But don’t underestimate our influence, either.”

Such calculated ambiguity has become a familiar feature of Iranian foreign policy, particularly regarding its role in Iraq, its nuclear stance and, of course, its support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Sometimes the ambiguity approaches something resembling sophisticated statecraft; at other times it looks amateurish, like “bazaar diplomacy.”

Amid the ongoing Hezbollah-Israel war, the ambiguity has been on full display: Iran, on the one hand, denies accusations that it is playing a role in the conflict, while secretly pledging financial and military support for Hezbollah and publicly declaring the Jewish state unsafe from Hezbollah rockets.

More here.  [Thanks to Zara Houshmand.]

Shred’s not dead!

Virginia Heffernan in her blog Screens at the New York Times:

19guitar_1Playing insanely hard, speedy neoclassical rock music is not the ticket to stardom anymore. The great guitar shredders — Buckethead, Steve Vai, that Viking guy and all those Italian-Americans — are rarely spotted on Fuse or the MTVs. And if you’re only watching TV, the shredder’s art seems to be as obsolete as the Baroque music it cribs from.

But shred’s not dead! Think about it. Who would be good at highly technical, highly demanding, classically-inspired music that relies heavily on Strads and other kinds of audiophile equipment? And who, of those people, might lack the parents or the social skills that would let them “play out,” especially when that means commanding a stage like Eddie Van Halen? That’s right: those bashful frontmen are our online video friends, especially JerryC and FunTwo.

More here.

Pynchon on Amazon

In Slate:

Things did not delay in turning curious when the first beats of the drumroll began for Thomas Pynchon’s forthcoming book. Last month, lit-bloggers and news-writers reported that Penguin Press would issue the author’s sixth novel in December. This whetted the palates of those hard-core fans who have spent the years since 1997’s Mason & Dixon speculating that Pynchon was at work on a doozy about lady mathematicians of the old school and also, uhm, Mothra. Last week, put up a page that listed Untitled Thomas Pynchon at a svelte 992 pages and bore a description purportedly written by the master himself. In fact, it purported quite well indeed and also rather charmingly, promising an archetypal Pynchonian buffet of settings, characters, and old tricks (“Characters stop what they’re doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs. Strange sexual practices take place. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically.”) Then the description just vanished from the page.

Was this a hoax? A jump-the-gun glitch? A hype?

The Iliad of Homer

From The Atlantic Monthly:Homer

Notes on the History of Fiction A Review by E. L. Doctorow. Historically, there was something like a Trojan war, maybe even several Trojan wars in fact, but the one Homer wrote about in the eighth century B.C. is the one that fascinates us, because it is fiction. Archaeologists doubt that any Trojan war began because someone named Paris kidnapped someone named Helen from under the nose of her Greek husband, or that it was a big wooden horse filled with soldiers that finally won the day. And those particularized gods running the war for their own purposes, deflecting arrows, inciting human rages, turning hearts, and controlling history, might have kept the Greeks and Trojans at it for years and years, but they have no authority in our monotheistic world, and you can find no trace of them in the diggings in northwest Turkey where the archaeologists turn up the shards and bones and sling bullets of what might have been the real Troy.

But Homer (or the stable of poets incorporated under the name Homer) was either given to polytheistic fantasy or was the genius adapter of a system of cosmological metaphors that no one — not Dante, not Shakespeare, not Cervantes — has ever matched for sheer imaginative insanity. Read Homer’s hexameters and you find gods made in the image of man — jealous, mendacious, erotically charged, vengefully disposed, gender-specific know-it-alls, with empowering aptitudes that they wield as weapons in heaven as they do on earth.

More here.

Bush ‘out of touch’ on stem cells

From BBC News:Bush_7

Scientists have reacted with anger to US President George W Bush’s decision to veto a bill allowing federal funding for new embryonic stem cell research. They argue it will damage a promising field of medical research. Leading researchers labelled Mr Bush “hypocritical”, “out of touch” and “selfish” over his decision not to sign into law a bill approved by Congress. Mr Bush argued that the law “crossed a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect”.

Polls suggest most Americans back the research, which scientists hope will lead to cures for serious illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes. The vetoed bill, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, would have scrapped limits on federal funding imposed by Mr Bush in 2001. It was the first time in his presidency that Mr Bush refused to sign into law a bill approved by Congress. The bill failed to reach the two-thirds majority in its Senate vote which would have overturned the presidential veto.

More here.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Portrait Competition

From the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery:

ZiamanybrendaPortraits are records of public figures, mementos of loved ones, documents of life’s milestones, and metaphors for the human condition. Today, portraits are created in all mediums, from painting to images created from sequenced DNA. There are just as many ways to create an exhibition, featuring the choices of one curator, a team, or through a competition. For this exhibition, with the support of Virginia Outwin Boochever, the National Portrait Gallery chose to hold an open competition, asking artists throughout the United States to submit painted and sculpted likenesses of people close to them. The jury saw only one portrait from each artist. From more than 4,000 entries from every state, the jury chose 51 works of art. They are as diverse as America, and represent numerous stylistic approaches. These are today’s faces, compelling our curiosity, and documenting the dynamic relationship between artist and subject.

See the rest here.

What do an algebra teacher, Toyota and a classical musician have in common?

Jonah Lehrer in Seed Magazine:

HowweknowBob Moses’ insight was that the math curricula these schools follow misunderstand the mind. The same abstraction that many educators celebrated—algebra is often touted as an introduction to symbolic logic—stifled learning for many students. By taking his students outside the classroom, Moses made math a part of everyday life: He realized that the brain wasn’t designed to deal with abstractions it doesn’t know how to use, or to solve variables while sitting at a desk. Our knowledge, Moses intuited, is a by-product of activity. What we end up knowing is what we can learn how to use. We learn by doing.

Modern neuroscience can explain the wisdom of Moses’ pedagogy. From the perspective of our brain, learning and doing are just two different verbs that refer to the same mental process. The reach of this discovery extends way beyond eighth-grade math class. In fact, the same technique that improved test scores in Boston and San Francisco and Mississippi is also partly responsible for the runaway success of Toyota and the supernatural-seeming skills of a violin soloist.

More here.

Who Lives? Who Dies? Who Decides?

Larry Hultgren reviews Bioethics Beyond the Headlines by Albert R. Jonsen, in Metapsychology:

074254524501If you plan to read only one book this summer on bioethics, Bioethics Beyond the Headlines by Albert R. Jonsen is your book.    The author is one of the pioneers in the field of bioethics, and his newest book is both engaging and readable.  As suggested by its subtitle, it covers the important topics: Who Lives?  Who Dies?  Who Decides?  It is up-to-date, and it moves easily from classic issues such as forgoing life support in the case of Karen Ann Quinlan to contemporary concerns about tube feeding and lessons learned from the recent Florida case of  Terri Schiavo.

This stimulating book covers all the major topics in bioethics.  Following a brief introductory essay in Part I on the meaning and history of bioethics, Jonsen examines the disputes and ethical issues involved in seven news stories that deal with the practice of clinical medicine (Part II Clinical Ethics).  He looks at the definitions of death; forgoing life support and quality of life issues; medical paternalism, patient autonomy and informed consent; organ transplantation;  euthanasia and questions involving aid-in dying or physician-assisted suicide;  ART (assisted reproductive technologies), including recent concerns emerging from preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD);  and abortion.  Each chosen headline or case is relevant and appropriate.  For example, instead of rehashing the issue of abortion as it appears in standard bioethics, Jonsen focuses on the hotly debated procedure, called, medically, intact dilation and extraction, and, politically, partial birth abortion.

More here.

Tom Stoppard on Prague’s rock revolution

John Lahr in The New Yorker:

Stoppard_photograph_largeStoppard, who was born Tomáš Straüssler, in Zlín, Czechoslovakia, arrived in England, via Singapore and India, in 1946, a nine-year-old refugee from the Nazis. “I put on Englishness like a coat,” he told the Independent recently. “It fitted me and it suited me.” Now a knight of the realm, and revered as one of his generation’s most important playwrights, Stoppard has been amply rewarded by the culture he adopted. Although he has written more than twenty plays and numerous scripts for film and television, “Rock ’n’ Roll” is only his second attempt to imagine himself back in the Czech landscape. The first was “Professional Foul,” an excellent 1977 TV play, which dealt with a soccer-loving professor of ethics whose moral horizons are widened by the false arrest of a former student.

More here.

Trust an algorithm with your business?

Douglas Heingartner in the International Herald Tribune:

Do you think your high-paid managers really know best? A Dutch sociology professor has doubts.

The professor, Chris Snijders of the Eindhoven University of Technology, has been studying the routine decisions that managers make and is convinced that computer models, by and large, can do it better. He even issued a challenge late last year to any company willing to pit its humans against his algorithms.

“As long as you have some history and some quantifiable data from past experiences,” Snijders said, a simple formula will soon outperform a professional’s decision-making skills.

“It’s not just pie in the sky,” Snijders said. “I have the data to support this.”

More here.

Silence of the City

Dan Schulman in the Village Voice:

SchulmanRejection, of course, is simply a rite of passage for most writers. For Montandon, though, it formed the seed of an idea. Since there was no shortage of writers like him who’d tried and failed to make The New Yorker‘s pages, he figured there was an abundance of unpublished Talk stories lying around New York City. About a year ago he set out to provide a home for the orphan submissions, quietly launching, where he resurrects the unpublished contributions of Talk of the Town rejectees. Montandon insists the site is every bit a tribute to The New Yorker, not a parody of it. It maintains the look and feel of the magazine’s signature section down to the font and, in the top left corner, the profile of Eustace Tilly, the aristocratic fellow who appeared on the cover of The New Yorker‘s first issue in February 1925 (and on many others since). On Silence, however, Tilly trades his monocle for an eye patch to reinforce the theme of the site—work that under other circumstances wouldn’t have seen the light of day.

More here.

The strange case of l’affaire Zidane

Mick Hume in Spiked:

_41882168_zinedinezidane203In the week since Zinedine Zidane headbutted Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final, l’affaire Zidane appears to have taken over the world (especially the media world). It was certainly a jaw-dropping moment. But still, it was only a flare-up in a football match – and a bloodless one at that, with the other big shock being, as Duleep Allirajah argues elsewhere on spiked, that he bizarrely butted the Italian in the chest. (Zidane is clearly not the player he once was – last time he butted an opponent, the German player in question ended up with a fractured cheekbone and concussion.) Nobody was killed, as Boris Becker once reminded the hysterical press corps after losing a Wimbledon final. In normal times the storm should have subsidised soon enough, or at least retreated to the sports section of the media.

But these are not ‘normal’ times for news. If anything the story and the heated debates about what Zidane did and why have grown in intensity since the actual event, to the point where his Wednesday press conference was reported as if it were a presidential statement on the declaration of war or peace. Indeed, it has completely overshadowed the actual French President’s traditional Bastille Day address on Friday.

More here.

Starting Exercise Later in Life Still Helps Heart

From Scientific American:

Excercise Exercise has been shown to help the heart, whereas a lazy lifestyle can be a major risk factor for heart disease. But few studies have examined how exercise impacts health at different ages. Now researchers have shown in a small study that even those who take up exercise after age 40 derive significant health effects. Epidemiologist Dietrich Rothenbacher of the University of Heidelberg and his colleagues surveyed 312 patients–mostly men–between the ages of 40 and 68 who suffered from coronary heart disease and 479 volunteers matching the patients in age and sex. The scientists asked them to detail their physical activity from the ages of 20 to 39, 40 to 49 and 50 years and older. More than 10 percent of patients and 6 percent of the controls admitted to lifetimes devoid of physical activity.    

Compared to these inactive counterparts, those who were active throughout their lives enjoyed more than a 60 percent less chance of developing heart disease. But even those who became active only after the age of 40 enjoyed a 55 percent less chance of cardiovascular trouble, and those who went from being inactive to very active saw the greatest benefits.

More here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The importance of not being earnest

Christopher Sylvester reviews Letters from Oxford: Hugh Trevor-Roper to Bernard Berenson edited by Richard Davenport-Hines, in the London Times:

These letters were never intended for publication. Indeed, when asked late in the correspondence whether he would want them returned, Hugh Trevor-Roper even contemplated burning them. For apart from being wonderfully wise and witty, they are vicious about Oxford colleagues, and at least one of them contained such a heinous libel (of the royal physician attending George VI, see panel, below right) that it might have cost Trevor-Roper dear if it had fallen into the wrong hands. Although their context is Oxford university life, they afford an invaluable and entertaining insight into our national intellectual life in the 1950s.

Bernard Berenson was an intellectual and social celebrity. An American-born, Lithuanian Jew, whose parents had immigrated to Boston but who himself had gravitated towards European civilisation, he had become a ground-breaking art critic, but had also sullied his reputation in some quarters by deriving a substantial income from certificating works of art for dealers selling to wealthy Americans (he made $80,000 in 1909 alone). Nonetheless, he was considered a sage, to whose homes in Italy numerous intellectual and social figures made pilgrimage.

More here.

‘Yo, Blair!’: Overheard at the G8

From The Independent:

Bush: Yo, Blair. How are you doing? (Does he regard Mr Blair as an equal? What about ‘Yo, Tony’?)

Blair: I’m just…

Bush: You’re leaving?

Bush: Who is introducing the trade?

Blair: Angela (The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, will lead the trade discussion. That is good for Mr Blair. She is on his side.)

Bush: Tell her to call ’em.

Blair: Yes.

Bush: Tell her to put him on, them on the spot. Thanks for the sweater it’s awfully thoughtful of you.

Blair: It’s a pleasure.

Bush: I know you picked it out yourself.

Blair: Oh, absolutely, in fact (inaudible)

More here.  [Thanks to Maniza Naqvi.]

Save the Lebanese Civilians Petition


To The Concerned Citizen of The World:

“Killing innocent civilians is NOT an act of self-defense. Destroying a sovereign nation is NOT a measured response.”

Lebanese civilians have been under the constant attack of the state of Israel for several days. The State of Israel, in disregard to international law and the Geneva Convention, is launching a maritime and air siege targeting the entire population of the country. Innocent civilians are being collectively punished in Lebanon by the state of Israel in deliberate acts of terrorism as described in Article 33 of the Geneva Convention.

Go here to sign the petition.  [Thanks to Feras Samad.]