Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Blasts Off for Red Planet

Anthony Duignan-Cabrera and Leonard David in Space.com:

H_mro_orbitart_02MRO was designed to be “NASA’s google search engine”, Garvin said, to cut down the number of compelling places both at the surface and below the martian landscape that cry out for future exploration.

The spacecraft is carrying a hefty science payload to Mars, with six instruments designed to track Martian weather, resolve objects on the surface the size of a kitchen table and measure the planet’s composition and atmospheric structure with more detail than ever before.

“The MRO spacecraft is many things,” Richard Zurek, the mission’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), told SPACE.com prior to launch. “It’s aweather satellite, it’s a geological surveyor, and it’s a scout for future missions.”

The orbital spacecraft is expected to be the vanguard for two landers NASA plans to launch toward Mars in the next five years, and will identify potential landing targets. The Phoenix lander is currently scheduled to launch in 2007 and touchdown in the planet’s polar region. A large rover, the Mars Science Laboratory, is expected to launch in 2009.

More here.

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Nobel Winner May Face Prison

Steve Chawkins in the Los Angeles Times:

18916449A 74-year-old Nobel laureate in physics may face prison time for slamming into a van at more than 100 mph last year, killing one passenger and injuring seven others just south of Santa Maria, Calif.

John Robert Schrieffer, a former professor at UC Santa Barbara who won the Nobel Prize in 1972 for a theory he helped formulate at the age of 26, was driving on a suspended Florida license at the time of the Sept. 24 collision, authorities said Wednesday. He had nine speeding tickets on his record.

At an emotional hearing this week in a Santa Maria courtroom, Schrieffer tearfully apologized to the crash victims, who are members of a Ridgecrest, Calif., family and their friends.

But Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge James Herman was unmoved, sending Schrieffer to a state diagnostic facility where he is to be evaluated for a possible prison term.

More here.  More on John Robert Schrieffer here.  Update here. [Thanks to Winfield J. Abbe.]

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Novices take on Booker all-stars

From The London Times:

Salman_2 DAVID took on Goliath yesterday when three first-time authors found themselves up against literary heavyweights on the longlist of the £50,000 Man Booker Prize. The publishing debut of Harry Thompson made such a dramatic impact on the Booker judges with his historical novel about Charles Darwin, This Thing Of Darkness, that they considered him worthy of comparison with J.M. Coetzee, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003 as well as the Booker in 1983 and 1999. In what was perceived as a particularly strong year for literature, this year’s list included Salman Rushdie, who won the “Booker of Bookers” for Midnight’s Children in 1993. This time, he has been longlisted for his forthcoming Shalimar the Clown, which is to be published next month.

More here.

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Possible pattern found in Incan strings

From MSNBC:Inca_string_hmed2p

Three figure-eight knots tied into strings may be the first word from the ancient Inca in centuries. While the Incan empire left nothing that would be considered writing by today’s standards, it did produce knotted strings in various colors and arrangements that have long puzzled historians and anthropologists. Many of these strings have turned out to be a type of accounting system, but interpreting them has been complex. The findings are reported in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

More here.

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new economy gurus pilloried

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Paul Maliszewski has a pretty amusing essay in The Baffler about Wacker and Mathews, a consulting team that helps businesses and organizations become more creative.

Wacker and Mathews say that they, like the alchemists of old, “challenge convention”; they show too much humility or perhaps are reluctant to brag. Ancient alchemists spent years of pointless experimentation and fruitless inquiry that resulted in only a few practical pay-offs and meager returns on their kings’ hefty capital investments. It was an alchemist, Wacker and Mathews claim, with not a little pride, who gave William the Conqueror the idea to fashion his army’s shields from hermatite, a hard mineral, more durable than wood, thus improving his ability to kick ass. Companies retaining the services and counsel of Wacker and Mathews cannot reasonably expect these two—“professional fools,” (http://firstmatter.com/promise.asp) as they call themselves—to help vanquish the competition and seize valuable market-share, or, for that matter, invade England. But don’t allow that failure, however obvious, to be the only measure of their value as authors, futurists, thinkers, and alchemists. Wacker and Mathews have in fact succeeded where every alchemist before them has failed. They have turned shit into gold.

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ryle to dennett “I hae my doots”

Ryle1

Apologies that this post is a touch academic, but the Electronic Journal of Analytic Philosophy (which has some excellent content even if it looks like crap) has published Gilbert Ryle’s last letter to Daniel Dennett. It’s a pretty amazing letter that gets right to the heart of various philosophical problems. Here’s an excerpt:

I thought well of your Fodor-review [just then submitted to Mind , then under Hamlyn’s editorship]; but for reasons that I’ve forgotten, I’m anti-Fodor. But your review leaves me wondering 1) what on earth these ‘representations’ are supposed to be and do. Do I have them? Do I need them? Is their extension identical with that of Locke’s less pompous ‘ideas’? 2) What does ‘internal’ mean? Locke’s usual ‘inner’? If I run through the Greek alphabet a) in a sing-song; b) muttered; c) under my breath; d) merely ‘in my head’, is only d) properly ‘internal’? So when I mutter or intone ‘kappa’ audibly is this noise not a ‘ representation’ of an item in the Greek alphabet ? (On p13 [of the typescript] we hear about ‘representations of rules’. Sort of snapshots or echoes? Pinkish ones, or gruff ones?) Or if after dictating again and again a rule of grammar or chess, etc, the rule-wording goes running through my head by rote (like a maddening popular song), is that wording (or any word in it) a ‘representation’ of the rule–or of any part of it (if rules have parts)? From your review it seems that Fodor beats Locke in the intricacy of his ‘wires-and-pulleys’, when what was chiefly wrong with Locke was the (intermittent) intricacy of his ‘wires-and-pulleys’!

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This country wasn’t founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution

Jerry Coyne in The New Republic:

Exactly eighty years after the Scopes “monkey trial” in Dayton, Tennessee, history is about to repeat itself. In a courtroom in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in late September, scientists and creationists will square off about whether and how high school students in Dover, Pennsylvania will learn about biological evolution. One would have assumed that these battles were over, but that is to underestimate the fury (and the ingenuity) of creationists scorned.

The Scopes trial of our day–Kitzmiller, et al v. Dover Area School District et al–began innocuously. In the spring of 2004, the district’s textbook review committee recommended that a new commercial text replace the outdated biology book. At a school board meeting in June, William Buckingham, the chair of the board’s curriculum committee, complained that the proposed replacement book was “laced with Darwinism.” After challenging the audience to trace its roots back to a monkey, he suggested that a more suitable textbook would include biblical theories of creation. When asked whether this might offend those of other faiths, Buckingham replied, “This country wasn’t founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution. This country was founded on Christianity and our students should be taught as such.” Defending his views a week later, Buckingham reportedly pleaded: “Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can’t someone take a stand for him?” And he added: “Nowhere in the Constitution does it call for a separation of church and state.”

More here.

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August 11, 2005

Muslims unite! A new Reformation will bring your faith into the modern era

Salman Rushdie in the Times of London:

Nov02rushdieIn Leeds, from which several of the London bombers came, many traditional Muslims lead lives apart, inward-turned lives of near-segregation from the wider population. From such defensive, separated worlds some youngsters have indefensibly stepped across a moral line and taken up their lethal rucksacks.

The deeper alienations that lead to terrorism may have their roots in these young men’s objections to events in Iraq or elsewhere, but the closed communities of some traditional Western Muslims are places in which young men’s alienations can easily deepen. What is needed is a move beyond tradition — nothing less than a reform movement to bring the core concepts of Islam into the modern age, a Muslim Reformation to combat not only the jihadi ideologues but also the dusty, stifling seminaries of the traditionalists, throwing open the windows of the closed communities to let in much-needed fresh air.

It would be good to see governments and community leaders inside the Muslim world as well as outside it throwing their weight behind this idea, because creating and sustaining such a reform movement will require, above all, a new educational impetus whose results may take a generation to be felt, a new scholarship to replace the literalist diktats and narrow dogmatisms that plague present-day Muslim thinking.

More here.

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The Template for Public Grief

The incomparable Iain Sinclair has a new LRB essay on the aftermath in London:

They waited patiently, with plastic water and floral tributes, for their turn in the small garden of remembrance that had established itself around a tree in a fenced-off corner of the station frontage, between Euston Road and York Way. Despite the sombre aspect of the witnesses, this multi-faith shrine felt Mexican: a mass of conflicting colours, adapted football shirts, written-over flags, pink bears, white dogs. Sunlight dazzled on cellophane. The trunk of the sturdy whitebeam disappeared into a mound of banked flowers. A woman in a Red Cross uniform stood beside the tree with a Kleenex box held discreetly behind her back. At the point of entry, further boxes of two-ply tissues were stacked, ready to cope with an outpouring of confused emotion. An unnoticed accident of railway architecture, a suitable nowhere, was the sanctioned memory site, a cloister of mummified flowers.

Read the whole essay here.

I’m reminded of the fact that the first time we went down to the World Trade Center site to witness the collapsed buildings and smoking wreckage piled up stories high, there were National Guardsmen posted at Broadway and Maiden who were also equipped with boxes of tissues. We needed them, too.

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Source of Poison Frogs’ Deadly Defenses: Careful Food Consumption

From Scientific American:

Frog The poison frogs of Central and South America are as deadly as they are beautiful, thanks to chemicals called alkaloids that they secrete through their skin. Indeed, the venom from a single golden poison frog, for example, can kill 10 humans. Now researchers have unlocked the secrets of their counterparts in Madagascar and found that they employ the same method of acquiring thier toxins: through careful food consumption. Studies of frogs in the Neotropics indicated that a diet rich in ants provided the alkaloids.

More here.

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Wild Things: The Most Extreme Creatures

Mono_lake_03From Live Science:

Toxitolerant organisms can withstand high levels of damaging agents. They can be found swimming around in benzene saturated water or in the core of a nuclear reactor. One species of bacteria, Deinococcus radiodurans, can withstand a 15,000 gray dose of radiation – 10 grays would kill a human and it takes over 1,000 grays to kill a cockroach. Extraterrestrial life forms would most likely need to possess similar tolerances to radiation, as the atmosphere on other planets, or lack thereof, filters out much less radiation than Earth’s. “If it works this way on Earth, it’s likely to happen elsewhere,” says Spear, the University of Colorado scientist. “When you look up at the stars, there is a lot of hydrogen in the universe.”

More here.

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gratuitous george w. jokes

The full title of this piece from Matt Alexander at McSweeney’s is: ALTHOUGH
I LIKE A GOOD GEORGE W. BUSH JOKE AS MUCH AS THE NEXT GUY, SOME OF THEM SEEM GRATUITOUS AND MEAN-SPIRITED.
Here are a few samples.

Q: How many telemarketers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: Wouldn’t a more relevant question be “How many pounds of cocaine has Bush snorted?”

A doctor, a lawyer, and an accountant all die and go to heaven on the same day. When they get to the Pearly Gates, they are greeted by St. Peter. St. Peter says, “Scott McClellan is a lying sack of shit and I’d tell him so myself if he weren’t going straight to hell when he dies.”

Did you hear that Bill Clinton hired a new intern? It turns out that his old intern had to go home and spend time with her family after her brother was killed in Iraq.

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documenting upheaval

From The Art Newspaper.com.Nazemi1

Documenting the Islamic revolution in Iran as an eye witness and active participant, Akbar Nazemi took thousands of photographs out on the streets of Tehran, from the mass protests and rallies during the fall of 1978 to the overthrow of the government the following year. He would record the turbulent events of the day and then develop his film and distribute protest flyers at night. Smuggled out of Iran in the late 80s, when Nazemi emigrated to Canada with his family, these negatives reveal the minute details of one of the greatest political upheavals of modern times, from moments of joy and cooperation among the protesters to instances of rioting and extreme violence. More than 100 of these photographs are on view at the Art Gallery of Windsor, Canada, in Akbar Nazemi: unsent dispatches from the Iranian Revolution (6 August-16 November).

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Telling Stories: Winslow Homer at the National Gallery

Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker:

050808mast_9_r14344_p198Winslow Homer’s first oil painting, which he made in 1863, when he was a twenty-six-year-old freelancer illustrating Civil War scenes for Harper’s Weekly, shows a Union sharpshooter in a tree, balancing a rifle for an imminent shot. The man’s perch is precarious. His concentration is total. Nature—soft tufts of dusky foliage, scraps of yellowish sky—attends indifferently. Decades later, Homer recalled having peered at a man through the telescopic sight of a sharpshooter’s weapon. The impression, he wrote in a letter, “struck me as being as near murder as anything I could think of in connection with the army & I always had a horror of that branch of the service.” This compunction, which I encountered in a text accompanying an engraving of the same subject in a current show at the National Gallery, in Washington, D.C., of about fifty Homers from the museum’s collection, surprises me not for its content but because I don’t think of the extraordinarily stolid Homer as having opinions.

More here.

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Arabesques

Diana Abu-Jaber review Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology, edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi, in The Washington Post:

Ph2005080401603I gave a reading, years ago, after which one of the audience members commented that I “write like an Arab.” At the time, I was too startled to say much more than “Thank you.” Such a statement, however, is troubling to anyone who resists the notion that race carries with it some sort of innate sensibility. Indeed, for a fair-skinned, American-raised, Irish-Arab like myself, the notion of race itself is entirely questionable.

Cultural representation is always a tricky business. Authors who attempt to bridge cultures are accused of all sorts of insufficiencies and betrayals. And while Edward Said’s ground-breaking work Orientalism (1978) attacked the artificial divisions between the so-called “East” and “West,” the ideological divide between America and the Arabic-speaking countries sometimes seems as impassable as ever. One of the challenges for readers living in a time of fear is the deep silence that such anxiety and repression engender. But for some of us, a repressive state of affairs just makes us all the more curious.

So it is fortunate indeed that a timely, ambitious anthology has appeared to help break the silence.

More here.

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Entrenched Epidemic: Wife-Beatings in Africa

Sharon LaFraniere in the New York Times:

Women184_1Women suffer from violence in every society. In few places, however, is the abuse more entrenched, and accepted, than in sub-Saharan Africa. One in three Nigerian women reported having been physically abused by a male partner, according to the latest study, conducted in 1993. The wife of the deputy governor of a northern Nigerian province told reporters last year that her husband beat her incessantly, in part because she watched television movies. One of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s appointees to a national anticorruption commission was allegedly killed by her husband in 2000, two days after she asked the state police commissioner to protect her.

“It is like it is a normal thing for women to be treated by their husbands as punching bags,” Obong Rita Akpan, until last month Nigeria’s minister for women’s affairs, said in an interview here. “The Nigerian man thinks that a woman is his inferior. Right from childhood, right from infancy, the boy is preferred to the girl. Even when they marry out of love, they still think the woman is below them and they do whatever they want.”

In Zambia, nearly half of women surveyed said a male partner had beaten them, according to a 2004 study financed by the United States – the highest percentage of nine developing nations surveyed on three continents.

More here.

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A handy guide to chuggers in pelmets

Helen Carter in The Guardian:

On your way into work today you may have been stopped by a chugger. It is possible you made several calls on your handy and passed many greige buildings and people wearing pelmets.

Confused? These are some of the new words and phrases to appear in the revised second edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English, the press’s biggest single-volume dictionary of current English. A chugger is a charity mugger – a person who approaches passersby in the street asking for donations or subscriptions to a charity. A handy is a mobile phone and greige is the colour between grey and beige. Pelmet is slang for a very short skirt.

The dictionary contains many more insulting words than compliments. It has 350 ways of insulting someone, but only 40 compliments such as lush [meaning very good].

Insults include old-fashioned favourites such as clot or chump and the more modern muppet or fribble and gink.

There are 50 ways to describe attractive women, including eye candy and cutie, but only 20 ways of describing good-looking men; Greek god being an extremely handsome man.

The list also reflects the increasing influence of our multicultural society. There is desi (or deshi), a person of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi birth or descent who lives abroad. Also Hinglish – a blend of Hindi and English characterised by frequent use of Hindi vocabulary or constructions.

More here.

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Chernobyl ecosystems ‘remarkably healthy’

Michael Hopkin in Nature:

NuclearChernobyl’s ecosystems seem to be bouncing back, 19 years after the region was blasted with radiation from the ill-fated reactor. Researchers who have surveyed the land around the old nuclear power plant in present-day Ukraine say that biodiversity is actually higher than before the disaster.

Some 100 species on the IUCN Red List of threatened species are now found in the evacuated zone, which covers more than 4,000 square kilometres in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, says Viktor Dolin, who studies the environmental effects of radioactivity at the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences in Kiev. Around 40 of these, including some species of bear and wolf, were not seen there before the accident.

If animals at the top of the food chain are present, then the plants and animals they eat must also be thriving…

More here.

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The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics

Review by Peter Rickman in Philosophy Now:

This is a substantial volume of more than 800 pages and weighing nearly four pounds. Reading it in bed or on the bus is not recommended. Its ugly cover showing part of a plain face challenges our aesthetic judgement. The forty-eight chapters – in fact independent essays by thirty-eight predominately American authors – represent a comprehensive account of philosophical aesthetics practiced within the Anglo-American world. The approach is predominantly indebted to analytic philosophy and focused on contemporary debates on Aesthetics, i.e. developments of the last fifty years. However, this limitation is not a straightjacket. There are inevitably frequent references to Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Hegel and more recent writers on the subject such as Tolstoy, Dewey, Croce, Collingwood and Heidegger.

There are traditional, familiar and pervasive questions about aesthetic experiences and judgements that have received conflicting answers and surface again and again in these essays. There is, for instance, the question whether there is a distinct area for aesthetics defined in terms of specific formal characteristics or whether it is a pervasive feature of life that cannot be separated from living. In other words, can we always distinguish clearly between finding a woman or the portrait of a woman beautiful and finding her sexually attractive? Can we find an article aesthetically pleasing while repelled by its immoral implications?

Another problem is how we can be moved by fictional events and sympathise with characters we know do not exist such as Anna Karenina or the heroine of a soap opera. Moreover, how is it possible for audiences and readers to enjoy being distressed by imaginary tragic events?

More generally; do the same aesthetic criteria apply to natural phenomena and to art? What criteria are there for judging aesthetic value? Are there objective facts we can recognize as relevant, or is it all a matter of subjective feeling – and if the latter, can we account for the widespread belief that there are standards of valuation?

Finally, in my list that does not claim to be exhaustive, there is the question of whether art provides us with some kinds of knowledge, say insight into human nature or moral value?

More here.

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Turning ‘Unknown’ Into ‘Unknowable’

Bob McHenry in Tech Central Station:

Free_2One of the defects of democracy is that we usually have quite ordinary persons as our leaders. Sometimes this doesn’t matter; their particular defects don’t bear upon public affairs, or the times are sufficiently placid that it just doesn’t matter that they drink, or play too much poker, or cultivate friends of doubtful character, or whatever.

These are not such times. The President’s ignorance of science might have remained a private matter, but he chose to speak on the subject of evolution and “intelligent design.” This is a great pity.

Science — from the loftiest of theorizing (like that of Einstein or, oh, Darwin) through the conducting of painstakingly difficult experiments to the application of new knowledge to the improvement of human life — science, I say, is the chief engine of our society. The great bulk of business entrepreneurs so celebrated in certain circles as the movers and shakers have made their marks by exploiting the knowledge gained by scientists.

Even its opponents grant the prestige and accomplishments of science by pretending to do science themselves, whether in the form of “e-meters” that turn galvanic skin responses into signs of mystic energy flows in the body or in that of ID, which artfully turns “unknown” into “unknowable” in a flourish of bad math and illogic.

More here.

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