Nanotubes may heal broken bones

From Wired News:Bone_1

Human bones can shatter in accidents, or they can disintegrate when ravaged by disease and time. But scientists may have a new weapon in the battle against forces that damage the human skeleton.  Carbon nanotubes incredibly strong molecules just billionths of a meter wide, can function as scaffolds for bone regrowth, according to researchers led by Robert Haddon at  the University of California at Riverside. They have found a way to create a stronger and safer frame than the artificial bone scaffolds currently in use.

More here.

Monday Musing: Summer Lyrics

It’s hot in New York. Deep summer. Dog days. Somehow it all makes me think of Roman poetry. The mood is languid and personal, stuff happens slowly, even the disasters. I’m thinking of my favorite poet, Catullus. I’m thinking of the way he captured the feel of a lazy Sunday of desperate but indifferent screwing with the side door swinging open in a limp breeze. I’m thinking of how he captured in verse the specific insanities of love, when you’re finding it and when you’re losing it.

It all started in Greece I guess. It started with Sappho and Anacreon and Archilochos. We’re talking lyric poetry here. And with the lyric poetry of Sappho and friends something very different from the heroic dactylic hexameter of the Homeric epics came into being. It was intimate and personal. It was passionate and wounded. It was subjective. Some people, like the Hegelian minded philosopher Bruno Snell, decided that the very birth of the subject could be discovered in the transition from Homeric verse to the lyric poets, to the philosophic writing of Attic Greece. Probably that’s a little heavy handed and speculative. But it is true that Sappho feels new and different and even modern in a way that Homer or Hesiod or the Hymns don’t. Which is not to say that Homer isn’t great. Homer is great. Hesiod is great in a different way. But they don’t write about the here and now of a hot summer day and the passions and stupidities that can occur within. They don’t write, like Sappho does, straight to the heart of subjective experience. The Sapphic strophe bounces along like personal experience.

When Sappho writes the following you feel it in your gut or your balls or the middle of your feet or all of the above.

I just really want to die. She, crying many tears, left me And said to me: “Oh, how terribly we have suffered, we two, Sappho, really I don’t want to go away.” And I said to her this: Go and be happy, remembering me, For you know how we cared for you. And if you don’t I want to remind you ………….and the lovely things we felt with many wreathes of violets and ro(ses and cro)cuses and …………..and you sat next to me and threw around your delicate neck garlands fashioned of many woven flowers and with much……………costly myrrh …………..and you anointed yourself with royal….. and on soft couches…….(your) tender……. fulfilled your longing……….

And that’s without being able to convey the specific rhythm of the Sapphic meter, which relies on the relative length of long and short vowels in ancient Greek and can’t really be captured in English. (If I’m thankful for one thing in my overly studious younger days, it’s that I labored to read ancient Greek at the amazing CUNY Graduate Center Intensive Greek program with Hardy Hansen. Reading Homer in the original with my friends Theo and Dan one summer in the Catskills by a small lake amidst an invasion of fireflies was worth all the bullshit and then some.)

Skip forward a few centuries to the Hellenistic period. Callimachus and his pals are terribly serious scholars. Grammar, rhetoric and that sort of shit is the thing of the day. They’re officially establishing the kind of classical humanism that will be rediscovered in the renaissance and celebrated as, well, something remarkable in human achievement. Which it was, even if we don’t want to get all romantic about it. They call themselves the Neoteroi, the new kids on the block. They don’t write in the epic style. Like Sappho and friends, they’ve got an intimate and personal approach. They like a small moment, an individual experience.

Now we jump from the Greeks to the Romans. Rome: first century BC. The glory days. All the big boys are on the scene; Caesar, Cicero, Cato, Virgil. Catullus and his group of malcontents are trying to bring the style of the Greek neoterics into a Latin poetry. They’ve got various metrical problems to deal with. They want to create a poetic foot in Latin that can compete with Greek lyric. And they want to achieve the intimacy that is in such contrast to the epic feel (though Catullus could do epic very well when he wanted to, thank you). Catullus and his crew think of themselves as the new neoterics.

Catullus creates his hendecasyllables to fit the bill (basically a spondee, a dactyl, and then three trochees).

The great, the amazing thing about the hendecasyllables is the way that Catullus wields them both so lightly and with such an expert touch. There’s an off the cuff feel, extremely important to Catullus, but it actually came about through extremely labored and technical means. Achieving that effect was what it was all about. When it came together correctly, Catullus called it lepidus, a difficult word to translate but best understood as some combination between witty, elegant, and sophisticated. Catullus’ hendecasyllables were a mighty force. He could unleash them in love or in anger or in both. In poem 42 he sends them out against a woman who’s snatched one of his manuscripts. This is Richard Bullington’s translation, he translates hendecasyllables as ‘nasty words’.

Come here, nasty words, so many I can hardly tell where you all came from. That ugly slut thinks I’m a joke and refuses to give us back the poems, can you believe this shit? Lets hunt her down , and demand them back! Who is she, you ask? That one, who you see strutting around, with ugly clown lips, laughing like a pesky French poodle. Surround her, ask for them again! “Rotten slut, give my poems back! Give ’em back, rotten slut, the poems!” Doesn’t give a shit? Oh, crap. Whorehouse. or if anything’s worse, you’re it. But I’ve not had enough thinking about this. If nothing else, lets make that pinched bitch turn red-faced. All together shout, once more, louder: “Rotten slut, give my poems back! Give ’em back, rotten slut, the poems!” But nothing helps, nothing moves her. A change in your methods is cool, if you can get anything more done. “Sweet thing, give my poems back!”

And tying us back to our early Greeks, Catullus makes a translation/interpretation of Sappho. Here it is in the Latin, for those with the chops, and in an English translation.

Ille mi par esse deo videtur, ille, si fas est, superare divos, qui sedens adversus identidem te spectat et audit dulce ridentem, misero quod omnis eripit sensus mihi: nam simul te, Lesbia, aspexi, nihil est super mi

lingua sed torpet, tenuis sub artus
flamma demanat, sonitu suopte
tintinant aures, gemina teguntur
lumina nocte.
otium, Catulle, tibi molestum est:
otio exsultas nimiumque gestis:
otium et reges prius et beatas
perdidit urbes.

That man seems to me to be equal to a god,
That man, if it is right to say, seems to surpass the gods,
who sitting opposite to you repeatedly looks at you
and hears

your sweet laughter, something which robs miserable me
of all feelings: for as soon as I look
at you, Lesbia, no voice remains
in my mouth.

But the tongue is paralyzed, a fine fire
spreads down through my limbs, the ears ring with their
very own sound, my eyes veiled
in a double darkness.

Idleness, Catullus, is your trouble;
idleness is what delights you and moves you to passion;
idleness has proved ere now the ruin of kings and
prosperous cities.

When Catullus speaks of Lesbia here he is using, with a nod to Sappho, the pet name for his one time love, probably Clodia Metellus, a Roman socialite. His love for her was crazy and short. She seems to have been something of a femme fatale. Catullus writes some of the most beautiful love poems to her that have ever been written (again, and unfortunately, the English translations don’t really capture what is painfully frickin perfect in the Latin).

Let us live, my Lesbia, and love, and value at one farthing all the talk of crabbed old men. Suns may set and rise again. For us, when the short light has once set, remains to be slept and the sleep of one unbroken night. Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred, then another thousand, then a second hundred, then yet another thousand, then a hundred. Then, when we have made up many thousands, we will confuse our counting, that we may not know the reckoning, nor any malicious person blight them with evil eye, when he knows that our kisses are so many.

And when the love faltered, Catullus could write poems of heart rending worry and self doubt:

Lesbia always talks bad to me nor is she ever silent about me: Lesbia is loving me, if not, I may be destroyed. By what sign? Because they are the same signs: I am showing her disapproval constantly, I am lost if I do not love.

But there may not be a poem in any language that expresses the intense duality and pain of a love affair that is tearing apart one’s mind than the terse, beautiful odi et amo, I love and I hate. It goes:

odi et amo: quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.

nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

I hate and I love: How can I do it, you ask?

I don’t know, but it’s killing me.

Two lines. Everything in two lines. The entire world hangs in the balance of two lines. And when the balance finally broke and Catullus was jilted he could write some of the most vicious and nasty poetry that’s ever been penned.

The lude tavern and you tentmates, the ninth pillar from the capped brothers, you think that you alone have mentulas, do you think that it is permitted for you alone to have sex with whatever girls there are and that it is permitted to think that the others are goats? or, in an unbroken mind, because you fools sit, and 100 or 200 don’t you think that I will dare to rape orally the 200 loungers at the same time? Moreover think, for I shall write on the front of the whole tavern with sopiones for you. For my girl, who has fled from my embrace loved as much as no other will be loved, for whom great wars were fought by me, has settled down there, all of you fine and well to do men love her, and indeed, which is undeserved, all the punks and alleyway sex maniacs; son of the Geltiberia abounding in rabbits, Ignatius, whom a dark beard makes good and tooth scoured with Iberian urine.

In 54 BCE, Catullus disappears from history. Maybe he just died. Maybe he ran off to be something other than a poet. Who knows. But it’s raining like crazy on this humid New York night and I’m thinking of Catullus on his little boat he loved so. I’m thinking of his summer days with Lesbia and the way he burned and suffered and triumphed and failed. He joked that his poems might last for ages. It was an amusing thought because they were poems of the moment. But they did last for ages. Moments last for ages sometimes.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

IN DEFENSE OF COMMON SENSE

From The Edge:

Horgan200_1 John Horgan, author of The End of Science, and feisty and provocative as ever, is ready for combat with scientists in the Edge community. “I’d love to get Edgies’ reaction to my OpEd piece — “In Defense of Common Sense” — in The New York Times”, he writes.

Susskind100 Physicist Leonard Susskind, writing “In Defense of Uncommon Sense”, is the first to take up Horgan’s challenge. Susskind notes that in “the utter strangeness of a world that the human intellect was not designed for… physicists have had no choice but to rewire themselves. Where intuition and common sense failed, they had to create new forms of intuition, mainly through the use of abstract mathematics.” We’ve gone “out of the range of experience.”

More here.

The lost sub-continent

From The Guardian:

India_1 Seven years ago, publishers descended on Delhi in search of the next Arundhati Roy. But, writes William Dalrymple, the future Anglophone Indian bestsellers are more likely to come from the west. There is a wonderfully telling line in Mira Nair’s movie Monsoon Wedding: as the Verma family gathers from across the globe for a marriage, the heroine announces that she has applied for a creative-writing programme in America. Her businessman uncle nods approvingly: “Lots of money in writing these days,” he says sagely. “Look at that girl who won the Booker: she became a millionaire overnight.” If it was the literary merit of Arundhati Roy’s novel, The God of Small Things, that made the greatest impression on readers and critics in the west, it is fair to say that it was the size of her advance- more than $1 million in total – that made the most impression in Delhi. India has always had an enviable glut of talented writers; what has been much rarer, until recently, have been Indian writers who have been properly remunerated for their work (or indeed widely read outside India). The Robert Frost line – “There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money” – used to be true of even the most successful South Asian authors: the letters of the greatest of all Urdu poets, Mirza Ghalib, are full of endless worries as to whether he could pay his bills or afford to drink his beloved firangi wine.

More here.

Mr. Afghanistan

From CNN:

VstorymrafghanistanKhosraw Basheri feverishly pumped iron for years, toning his body so it rippled with muscle and veins. His hard work paid off when he claimed a historic title in his war-battered country — Mr. Afghanistan.

The 23-year-old businessman from western Herat province flexed and grinned his way to victory Saturday in Afghanistan’s first-ever national competition to select a top bodybuilder.

“I will never forget this day, the day I became Mr. Afghanistan,” said Basheri, sweat and makeup streaming down his massive frame. “This has been my hope for the past two years, since I started preparing myself for this.”

More here.

PAKISTAN ZINDABAD!

From Dawn:

FlagThe nation is celebrating the 59th Independence Day on Sunday with a renewed pledge to work hard for making the country prosperous, moderate and an Islamic democratic welfare state.

The day will dawn with a 31-gun salute in the federal capital and a 21-gun salute in all the provincial capitals. Special prayers will be offered after morning prayers.

Silence will be observed at 7:58am Sunday morning after the sounding of sirens to herald the flag-hoisting ceremonies throughout the country. All traffic will stop for a minute.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz who will be the chief guest, will unfurl the national flag at the flag-hoisting ceremony to be held at the Jinnah Convention Centre here at 8am.

Later, he will deliver his special message to the nation for the Day. School children will also present national songs on the occasion.

Read Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s message to the nation on independence day, 1947:

JinnahazamIt is with feelings of greatest happiness and emotion that I send you my greetings. August 15 is the birthday of the independent and sovereign State of Pakistan. It marks the fulfillment of the destiny of the Muslim nation which made great sacrifices in the past few years to have its homeland.

At this supreme moment my thoughts are with those valiant fighters in our cause. Pakistan will remain grateful to them and cherish the memory of those who are no more.

The creation of the new State has placed a tremendous responsibility on the citizens of Pakistan. It gives them an opportunity to demonstrate to the world how can a nation, containing many elements, live in peace and amity and work for the betterment of all its citizens, irrespective of caste or creed.

Our object should be peace within and peace without. We want to live peacefully and maintain cordial and friendly relations with our immediate neighbors and with the world at large. We have no aggressive designs against any one. We stand by the United Nations Charter and will gladly make our full contribution to the peace and prosperity of the world.

More here.  Listen to the speech here.  President Musharraf has conferred 192 civilian awards on the occasion of independence day, including a Tamgha-i-Imtiaz (Medal of Distinction) for the brilliant Pakistani artist Shahzia Sikander:

ShahziaShahzia Sikander was born in 1969 in Lahore, Pakistan. Educated as an undergraduate at the National College of Arts in Lahore, she received her MFA in 1995 from the Rhode Island School of Design. Sikander specializes in Indian and Persian miniature painting, a traditional style that is both highly stylized and disciplined. While becoming an expert in this technique-driven, often impersonal art form, she imbued it with a personal context and history, blending the Eastern focus on precision and methodology with a Western emphasis on creative, subjective expression. In doing so, Sikander transported miniature painting into the realm of contemporary art. Reared as a Muslim, Sikander is also interested in exploring both sides of the Hindu and Muslim “border,” often combining imagery from both—such as the Muslim veil and the Hindu multi-armed goddess—in a single painting. Sikander has written: “Such juxtaposing and mixing of Hindu and Muslim iconography is a parallel to the entanglement of histories of India and Pakistan.” Expanding the miniature to the wall, Sikander also creates murals and installations, using tissue paperlike materials that allow for a more free-flowing style. In what she labeled performances, Sikander experimented with wearing a veil in public, something she never did before moving to the United States. Utilizing performance and various media and formats to investigate issues of border crossing, she seeks to subvert stereotypes of the East and, in particular, the Eastern Pakistani woman. Sikander has received many awards and honors for her work, including the honorary artist award from the Pakistan Ministry of Culture and National Council of the Arts. Sikander resides in New York and Texas.

More on Shahzia here.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The struggle for Islam’s soul

“While most Muslims abhor violence, some terrorists are a product of a specific mindset with deep roots in Islamic history. If Muslims everywhere refuse to confront this, we will all be prey to more terror, writes Ziauddin Sardar.”

From the Toronto Star:

SardarIt is true that the vast majority of Muslims abhor violence and terrorism, and that the Qur’an and various schools of Islamic law forbid the killing of innocent civilians. It is true, as the vast majority of Muslims believe, that the main message of Islam is peace. Nevertheless, it is false to assume the Qur’an or Islamic law cannot be used to justify barbaric acts. The terrorists are a product of a specific mindset that has deep roots in Islamic history. They are nourished by an Islamic tradition that is intrinsically inhuman and violent in its rhetoric, thought and practice.

They are provided solace and spiritual comfort by scholars, who use the Qur’an and Islamic law to justify their actions and fan the hatred.

As a Muslim, I am deeply upset by the attacks, the more so now I know they were the work of British Muslims. But, as a Muslim, I also have a duty to recognize the Islamic nature of the problem that the terrorists have thrown up.

They are acting in the name of my religion; it thus becomes my responsibility critically to examine the tradition that sustains them.

The question of violence per se is not unique to Islam. All those who define themselves as the totality of a religion or an ideology have an innate tolerance for and tendency toward violence. It is the case in all religions and all ideologies through every age.

But this does not lessen the responsibility on Muslims in Britain, or around the world, to be judicious, to examine themselves, their history and all it contains to redeem Islam from the pathology of this tradition. To deny that the terrorists are a product of Islamic history and tradition is more than complacency. It is a denial of responsibility, a denial of what is really happening in our communities. It is a refusal to live in the real world.

The tradition that nourishes the mentality of the extremists has three inherent characteristics…

More here.

Matters of Gravity

Lee Smolin reviews Gravity’s Shadow: The Search for Gravitational Waves by Harry Collins, in American Scientist:

…despite the several billions invested in particle accelerators and detectors, there have been few truly major experimental discoveries in fundamental physics in the past 20 years. The fields that have continued to amaze are astronomy and cosmology, which are obviously healthy. But the only major addition to our knowledge of the elementary particles these past two decades was the discovery that neutrinos have mass. The list of new particles or effects that have been looked for—and so far not found—is longer: the Higgs particle, supersymmetric particles, dark-matter particles, proton decay, the fifth force, evidence of extra dimensions.

It is, then, very timely that Harry Collins has written a first-class study of how contemporary experimental physics operates. Collins is a distinguished sociologist, and in Gravity’s Shadow he demonstrates why it is important to go beyond superficial characterizations of science to study how groups of scientists actually work together and make decisions. Collins has taken as his subject the search for gravitational radiation.

Gravitational waves are ripples in the geometry of spacetime, analogous to electromagnetic waves. Just as moving charges and magnets produce light waves, masses when they accelerate inevitably produce waves in the gravitational field—a field that, as Einstein discovered in working out his theory of general relativity, is exactly the same as the geometry of space and time.

More here.

Archives of interviews, dispatches tapes, phone logs . . . of 9/11

From The New York Times and the city of New York:

“Faced with a court order and unyielding demands from the families of victims, the city of New York yesterday opened part of its archive of records from Sept. 11, releasing a digital avalanche of oral histories, dispatchers’ tapes and phone logs so vast that they took up 23 compact discs.

For the first time, about 200 accounts of emergency medical technicians, paramedics and their supervisors were made public, revealing new dimensions of a day and an emergency response that had already seemed familiar.

In details large and small, the accounts of the medical personnel – uniformed workers who were often overlooked in many of the day’s chronicles, but were as vital to the response and rescue efforts as any others – provide vivid and alarming recollections.

They spoke of being unable to find anyone in authority to tell them where to go or what to do. Nearly from the moment the first plane struck the World Trade Center, they had little radio communication. As their leaders struggled to set up ordinary procedures for a “mass casualty incident,” the crisis gathered speed by the minute.”

You can find the archives here.

The secret life of sperm

From Nature:

Sperm_2 “What’s in sperm?” demands Tim Karr. Because sperm have to swim far and fast, biologists have come to view them like racing cars: streamlined and stripped down of all unnecessary bits and pieces. Generally speaking, the DNA in animal sperm is tightly packed inside a sleek head structure that contains little of the cytoplasm that fills most other cells. Behind the head is the midpiece, containing more than 50 power units called mitochondria that drive the lashing motion of the attached tail. But what does a sperm deliver? One popular misconception is that only the head enters the egg, while the tail is discarded. But in most species, the entire cell enters the egg — midpiece, tail and all. And in many mammals, midpiece and tail structures persist in the embryo for several cell divisions. This results in a large number of proteins and other molecules being delivered to the egg.

More here.

‘Friedrich Nietzsche’: The Constructive Nihilist

From The New York Times:

Nietzhe_1 Nietzsche was born in Rocken, Prussia, in 1844, and died, having gone insane, in 1900. He was educated at Bonn and Leipzig and was self-educated (and dis-educated) thereafter. But who, really, was he? Heidegger is onto something when he advises us that philosophy can be possessed ”most purely in the form of a persistent question,” and that ”Nietzsche’s procedure, his manner of thinking in the execution of the new valuation, is perpetual reversal,” perhaps like life itself, not to mention Heidegger’s own devoted explications of Nietzsche. That arch-muse Lou Salomé, who knew him not only as a thought machine but also as a lover of sorts, stated the case more intimately when she wrote, ”In Nietzsche the most abstract thoughts habitually could reverse themselves into the power of moods which could carry him off with immediate and unpredictable force.”

Ecce homo, behold the man! As we peer down time’s long barrel to try to see him, his hand keeps turning the kaleidoscope.

More here.

Africa and Its Rapacious Leaders

Janet Maslin reviews The Fate of Africa: A History of 50 Years of Independence by Martin Meredith, in the New York Times Book Review:

08maslIn the words of an African proverb cited in Martin Meredith’s Sisyphean new volume: “You never finish eating the meat of an elephant.” That thought is summoned by the overwhelmingly difficult assignment that this historian, biographer and journalist has given himself. He has set out to present a panoramic view of African history during the past half century, and to contain all its furious upheaval in a single authoritative volume.

Everything about this subject is immense: the idealism, megalomania, economic obstacles, rampant corruption, unimaginable suffering (AIDS, famine, drought and genocide are only its better-known causes) and hopelessly irreconcilable differences leading to endless warfare. “The rebels cannot oust the Portuguese and the Portuguese can contain but not eliminate the rebels,” read a typically bleak 1969 American assessment of a standoff in Guinea-Bissau.

For the author, even organizing this information is a hugely daunting job. How can such vast amounts of information be analyzed for the reader? One way was to follow parallel developments in different places – which is more or less how Mr. Meredith works, with attention to the hair-trigger ways in which one coup or crisis could set off subsequent disasters. He is able to steer the book firmly without compromising its hard-won clarity.

More here.

Friday, August 12, 2005

IGNATIUS DONNELLY, PRINCE OF CRANKS

3 Quarks Daily editor J.M. Tyree has a funny piece in The Believer. Unfortunately, the entire essay is available only to subscribers. Nevertheless, here is a bit, with a link to the rest of the teaser:

Tyree202_1The opposite of a Renaissance man, presumably, would be someone who tried his hand at a number of different things and failed at all of them. Mostly forgotten today, Ignatius Donnelly (1831–1901) is worth a second look because he is quite possibly the greatest failure who ever lived. Donnelly, a bestselling writer and reform-minded congressman from Minnesota, might be dubbed the Great American Failure. Among the things that Donnelly failed to do were: build a city, reform American politics, reveal the facts about Atlantis, discover a secret code in Shakespeare, and prove that the world’s gravel deposits were the result of a collision with a comet. His dire political prophecies of class warfare and the imminent collapse of civilization also failed to come true.

Donnelly genuinely believed he was a genius, and that, by applying his mental powers to any problem, no matter how tangled or intractable, and regardless of the established body of relevant scholarship or scientific tradition, he could solve it with a fresh look. He was a kind of secular prophet, a combination of demagogue and revivalist tent-preacher, destined, he believed, to do great things. If Donnelly were alive today, he would probably be a “guru” on the lecture circuit, fervently putting forward his latest Theory of Everything. Congressman, master orator, pseudoscientist, student of comparative mythology, crackpot geologist, futurist, amateur literary sleuth, bogus cryptologist, Donnelly did it all with a charmingly boundless energy and a voracious intellectual appetite that utterly outstripped his real abilities.

More here.

The Truth About Jihad

Max Rodenbeck reviews five recent books in the New York Review of Books:

Aug20_cnnosamavideosAmerica’s past offers many examples of seeming setbacks being turned to dramatic and lasting advantage. The sinking of the battleship Maine is one that comes to mind, or of the liner Lusitania by a German U-boat, or of half the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. More recently, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan exposed a vein that allowed America and its allies to bleed the decaying Evil Empire, just as Saddam Hussein’s lunge at Kuwait in 1990 revealed an opportunity to score a number of American goals, from smashing this dangerous man’s army, to testing and displaying the power of new weapons, to warning potential rivals away from the Gulf’s crucial oil resources.

All these strategic overreactions had something in common. In each case, the identity and nature of the enemy were abundantly clear. In most such cases, too, little discussion took place to clarify the stakes involved, the advantages to be gained, or the optimum means for winning them. (Which usually meant the application of overwhelming force.)

Yet while the strikes against New York and Washington seemed to fit the first part of this historical template, they did not quite suit the rest. Here was yet another of the “sneak attacks” that seem to have punctuated America’s rise, demanding yet another crushing response. But where and who was the enemy? What was his motivation for attacking in the first place? What, beyond merely destroying this adversary, was the strategic prize waiting to be gained, a prize that surely must be worthy of an unchallenged global superpower? Which were the appropriate tools to be used for this broader mission? What were the risks?

By now it is clear that in pursuing the grand counterstroke, American policy has gone somewhat astray.

More here.

In Defense of Common Sense

John Horgan’s op-ed in the New York Times:

20050812_horgan2_184To commemorate Einstein’s “annus mirabilis,” a coalition of physics groups has designated 2005 the World Year of Physics. The coalition’s Web site lists more than 400 celebratory events, including conferences, museum exhibits, concerts, Webcasts, plays, poetry readings, a circus, a pie-eating contest and an Einstein look-alike competition.

In the midst of all this hoopla, I feel compelled to deplore one aspect of Einstein’s legacy: the widespread belief that science and common sense are incompatible. In the pre-Einstein era, T. H. Huxley, a k a “Darwin’s bulldog,” could define science as “nothing but trained and organized common sense.” But quantum mechanics and relativity shattered our common-sense notions about how the world works. The theories ask us to believe that an electron can exist in more than one place at the same time, and that space and time – the I-beams of reality – are not rigid but rubbery. Impossible! And yet these sense-defying propositions have withstood a century’s worth of painstaking experimental tests.

As a result, many scientists came to see common sense as an impediment to progress not only in physics but also in other fields.

More here.

The Big Gulp

“NASA pisses away millions hauling H2O into orbit. But there’s a better way – recycle astronaut urine. Just one question: How does it taste?”

Ff_82_urine_fTom McNichol in Wired:

People head to Reno for all sorts of reasons. Some want to gamble. Others are looking for a hasty wedding or quickie divorce. I’ve come to the Biggest Little City in the World to drink my own pee. Not straight up, of course. First, I’ll run it through a new NASA water purification system that collects astronaut sweat, moisture from respiration, drain water, and urine – and turns it all into drinking water.

NASA desperately needs this technology. Water makes for a heavy – and expensive – payload. Over the past five years, the agency has spent $60 million delivering potable water to the International Space Station on the space shuttle (6 tons at a cost of about $40,000 per gallon). Deploying the Water Recovery System on the ISS will cut the volume of water hauled into space by two-thirds and free up enough room on the shuttle for four more astronauts.

More here.

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.

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.]

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.

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.