Rebecca Maksel reviews The Geneticist Who Played Hoops With My DNA And Other Masterminds From the Frontiers of Biotech by David Ewing Duncan, in the San Francisco Chronicle:
The legend of the chimera (a creature said to bear the head of a lion and the body of a goat, with a dragon’s tail tacked on) has long fascinated humans. Its modern-day equivalent — organisms composed of two or more genetically distinct tissues — captivates conservatives and liberals alike. In his new book, “The Geneticist Who Play Hoops with My DNA,” Duncan profiles seven scientists on the cutting edge of biotechnology, today’s most controversial science.
Duncan, who has written on such diverse topics as the development of the Gregorian calendar and the history of Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto, turns his discerning eye toward the role of personality in science, concluding that individual scientists — and their reputations — are driving the current era of biological discovery as much as the knowledge itself.
And the scientists profiled are an unruly lot, some motivated as much by thoughts of fame as by the desire for knowledge.
“Julian Barnes’s wonderfully executed Arthur & George recounts Conan Doyle’s own detective adventure.”
Tim Adams in The Guardian:
Julian Barnes has always fancied a detective yarn. In the 1980s, he used to have a go at them himself, under the pseudonym of Dan Kavanagh, who wrote calculatedly hard-boiled tales about Duffy, a bisexual ex-cop on the trail of vice and murder in Soho. At the time, Barnes used to explain this sideline by saying it came from a different part of his head from the grown-up cleverness of Flaubert’s Parrot or A History of the World in 10½ Chapters; it was a holiday job.
For Arthur & George, you might say that the author has combined for the first time those two halves of his brain, taken his rigour on vacation. With characteristically engaging intelligence, he has climbed into the mind of the most celebrated detective writer of all, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and set off on an adventure.
From The National Geographic:
Disguises used by female damselflies to avoid unwanted sexual advances can cause males to seek out their own sex, a new study suggests. Belgian researchers investigated why male damselflies often try to mate with each other. The scientists say the reason could lie with females that adopt a range of appearances to throw potential mates off their scent. In an evolutionary battle of the sexes, males become attracted to a range of different looks, with some actually preferring a more masculine appearance.
The good people at the Gaddis Annotations Project were kind enough to offer to post my New England Review essay, “Henry Thoreau, William Gaddis, and the buried history of an epigraph,” over in the interpretative essays section of their fabulous Gaddis site. I’m not just plugging the Gaddis Annotations site because they’ve posted my work – for anybody who’s interested in Gaddis, especially for those reading his work for the first time, the site is an invaluable resource for tracking down WG’s sometimes obscure references. The site is edited by Ron Dulin and Victoria Harding, and includes Steven Moore’s Reader’s Guide to William Gaddis’s The Recognitions, as well as his informal notes (and those of other readers) on Gaddis’s other novels. For more on Gaddis, try the defunct Gaddis Drinking Club – GDCer Bud Parr’s more recent work can be seen at the fine lit blog Chekhov’s Mistress.
From John Aglionby at The Observer.
Before the Boxing Day tsunami I’d never met anyone who had suffered so much that they had effectively lost their identity. In regular trips to the devastated regions in the last six months I’ve met thousands of such ‘ghosts’; once proud people reduced to bedraggled, grieving bodies dressed in donated clothes and kept alive by the world’s largesse.
It is only when one considers what it takes to rebuild someone’s identity that one gets a sense of the size of the reconstruction task in Aceh and North Sumatra, the Indonesian provinces that bore the brunt of the 26 December earthquake and tsunami.
I’ve become more and more obsessed with the Earthworks movement in art. Michael Heizer, whose City was profiled by Michael Kimmelman at the Times a few weeks ago and linked here at 3Quarks, has been one of its most important practitioners.
Another of his projects, Effigy Tumuli, is one of the largest sculptures in the world. It’s at the Buffalo Rock State Park in Illinois. It’s based on the ancient Mound Building practices of various Native American tribes.
Jeffrey Steingarten in the New York Times:
For every hour of the day and night there is a different way of being idle, which is why Tom Hodgkinson has written his book in 24 chapters. At 8 a.m. (”Waking Up Is Hard to Do”), true idlers turn off their alarms, flop over in bed and go back to sleep. Hodgkinson is amazed that we voluntarily buy alarm clocks, which serve nobody but our employers. Nine a.m. is ”the time when someone, somewhere, decided that work should start.” And at 10 a.m. the idler is still sleeping in, living out Dr. Johnson’s incontestable dictum that ”the happiest part of a man’s life is what he passes lying awake in bed in the morning.”
The chief problem with modern life is not work in itself. It is jobs. In 1993 Hodgkinson founded the British magazine The Idler, on whose Web site he succinctly sums up the horrors of having a job: ”With a very few exceptions the world of jobs is characterized by stifling boredom, grinding tedium, poverty, petty jealousies, sexual harassment, loneliness, deranged co-workers, bullying bosses, seething resentment, illness, exploitation, stress, helplessness, hellish commutes, humiliation, depression, appalling ethics, physical fatigue and mental exhaustion.” Yes, that pretty much sums it up. On this we can all agree.
And the solution? Become an idler.
Michael Elliott in Time Magazine:
The visit to India that starts this week by Wen Jiabao, China’s Premier, is being spun as a celebration of relations between Asia’s giants that are good, and getting better. Whatever the truth of that claim, this much is certain: very soon, meetings between the leaders of China and India will not be of merely regional interest. They will be watched by the whole world.
Combined, India and China account for nearly 40% of the world’s population. Fueled by turbo-charged growth, they are both consolidating their positions as central actors in the international economy. Inevitably, their economic heft will be accompanied by political influence. China is pursuing economic alliances everywhere from Southeast Asia to Latin America; India may well soon have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Taken together, India’s and China’s rise to prominence is the great story of our time.
Keiji Tachikawa, who was the president of NTT DoCoMo and now is the head of the Japanease space agency announced a 20 years plan that ends in a vision of our moon with humanoid robots inhabitants, all made in Japan:
As part of the plan, Japan would use advanced robotic technologies to help build the moon base, while redeveloped versions of today’s humanoid robots, such as Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s Asimo and Sonys Qrio, could work in the moon’s inhospitable environment in place of astronauts, he said in a recent interview.
Japan’s lunar robots would do work such as building telescopes and prospecting and mining for minerals, Tachikawa said.
“I see a big role for Japan’s robotics technologies on the moon,” he said. “Japanese robots will be one of our big contributions. If there is work where robots can replace humans, they will.”
Tony Judt in the New York Review of Books:
Those of us who opposed America’s invasion of Iraq from the outset can take no comfort from its catastrophic consequences. On the contrary: we should now be asking ourselves some decidedly uncomfortable questions. The first concerns the propriety of “preventive” military intervention. If the Iraq war is wrong—”the wrong war at the wrong time” —why, then, was the 1999 US-led war on Serbia right? That war, after all, also lacked the imprimatur of UN Security Council approval. It too was an unauthorized and uninvited attack on a sovereign state—undertaken on “preventive” grounds—that caused many civilian casualties and aroused bitter resentment against the Americans who carried it out.
The apparent difference—and the reason so many of us cheered when the US and its allies went into Kosovo —was that Slobodan Milosevic had begun a campaign against the Albanian majority of Serbia’s Kosovo province that had all the hallmarks of a prelude to genocide. So not only was the US on the right side but it was intervening in real time—its actions might actually prevent a major crime. With the shameful memory of Bosnia and Rwanda in the very recent past, the likely consequences of inaction seemed obvious and far outweighed the risks of intervention. Today the Bush administration—lacking “weapons of mass destruction” to justify its rush to arms—offers “bringing freedom to Iraq” almost as an afterthought. But saving the Kosovar Albanians was what the 1999 war was all about from the start.
And yet it isn’t so simple.
Eliot Weinberger in the London Review of Books:
‘The poet,’ Gu Cheng wrote in 1987, ‘is just like the fabled hunter who naps beside a tree, waiting for hares to break their skulls by running headlong into the tree trunk. After waiting for a long time, the poet discovers that he is the hare.’ These words turned out to be prophetic; six years later, his terrible and sordid crash against the tree would nearly obliterate what had come before. He had been a major cultural figure in China; now his poems were being read as flashbacks from his death.
He was born in 1956 in Beijing, the son of a well-known poet and army officer, Gu Gong. At 12, he wrote a two-line poem, ‘One Generation’, which was to become an emblem of the new unofficial poetry:
Even with these dark eyes, a gift of the dark night
I go to seek the shining light1
In 1969, the Cultural Revolution sent his family into the salt desert of Shandong Province to herd pigs. The locals spoke a dialect Gu Cheng could not understand, and in his isolation he became absorbed in the natural world: ‘Nature’s voice became language in my heart. That was happiness.’ His favourite book was Jean-Henri Fabre’s 19th-century entomological notes and drawings; he collected insects and watched birds; he wrote poems in the sand with a twig, poems with titles like ‘The Nameless Little Flower’ or ‘The Dream of the White Cloud’.
Tracy Staedter in Discovery News:
A new interactive computer touch screen uses fog as a projection medium instead of glass or plastic.
Such an immersive projection technology could have applications that range from walk-through advertisements to hygienic touch screens in operating rooms, where handling a keyboard or mouse could undermine sanitary conditions.
“The interactive screen is quite new and has not been used anywhere,” said Ismo Rakkolainen, chief technology officer at Seinäjoki, Finland-based Fogscreen, who together with Karri Palovuori of Tampere University of Technology developed the technology.
According to Rakkolainen, other screens made from fog have been developed, but remain non-interactive because the large water vapor particles they employ would create a damp experience for the user.
But Rakkolainen’s Fogscreen is a ceiling-mounted device that sprays a fine mist of tap water particles so small they feel dry to the touch.
The fog is contained to a rectangular shape because it is sandwiched between two layers of flowing air that keep it from dispersing.
Via Sci Tech Daily, a preview of a debate on evolution vs. creation in 6 days . . . with some, er, interesting arguments for the latter.
“Evidence for the Creator God of the Bible
1. Natural law
The Laws of Thermodynamics are the most fundamental laws of the physical sciences.
- 1st Law: The total amount of mass-energy in the universe is constant.
- 2nd Law: The amount of energy available for work is running out, or entropy is increasing to a maximum.
This means the universe cannot have existed forever, otherwise it would already have exhausted all usable energy. The 2nd Law implies that no natural process can increase the total available energy of (i.e. ‘wind up’) the universe. So it must have been ‘wound up’; (high available energy) by a Creator ‘outside’ (and greater than) the universe.
. . .
3. Biological changes
Observed changes in living things head in the wrong direction to support evolution from microbe to man (macro-evolution).
Textbook examples of adaptation by natural selection (first described by the creationist Edward Blyth, pre-Darwin) always involve loss of genetic information. Mosquitoes may adapt to a DDT-containing environment by becoming resistant, because some already have the genes for DDT resistance. But overall the population loses genetic information (any genes not present in the resistant ones are eradicated from the population, since the non-resistant mosquitoes killed by DDT cannot pass on genes).”
“He made banality blue chip, pornography avant-garde, and tchotchkes into trophy art. How Jeff Koons, with the support of a small circle of dealers and collectors, masterminded his fame and fortune.”
Kelly Devine Thomas in Art News Online:
Earlier this year some of the most powerful players in the art world attended a 50th birthday party for Jeff Koons, the controversial art star who rose to fame in the 1980s. Jeffrey Deitch, who helped bankroll Koons’s ambitious and outsize “Celebration” series and nearly went bankrupt for it in the 1990s, hosted the party at his SoHo gallery, where examples from Koons’s oeuvre were projected on large screens and miniature versions of Balloon Dog, an iconic work, were handed out as party favors.
Among the high-profile museum directors, curators, artists, and collectors in the room that night were Koons’s longtime New York dealer Ileana Sonnabend, with whom he has worked on and off since 1986; Larry Gagosian, who recently began showing Koons’s new works and is now producing his “Celebration” sculptures; Robert Mnuchin, chairman of C&M Arts, which hosted a comprehensive Koons exhibition last May; and dealer William Acquavella.
Gregory M. Lamb in the Christian Science Monitor:
Computers and the Internet are changing the way people read. Thus far, search engines and hyperlinks, those underlined words or phrases that when clicked take you to a new Web page, have turned the online literary voyage into a kind of U-pick island-hop. Far more is in store.
Take “Hamlet.” A decade ago, a student of the Shakespeare play would read the play, probably all the way through, and then search out separate commentaries and analyses.
When completed, the site will help visitors comb through several editions of the play, along with 300 years of commentaries by a slew of scholars. Readers can click to commentaries linked to each line of text in the nearly 3,500-line play. The idea is that some day, anyone wanting to study “Hamlet” will find nearly all the known scholarship brought together in a cohesive way that printed books cannot.
More here. [Thanks to Laura Claridge.]
Celeste Biever in New Scientist:
A burst of high-frequency sound waves is enough to turn a range of oily liquid mixtures to jelly. Because the reaction is reversible, it could be used to remotely control the viscosity of liquid shock absorbers in cars or of lubricants in robotic joints, or to temporarily solidify fuels and paints so they don’t leak during transport. Engineers may one day even use the technology to make building dampers that absorb energy from external forces, prolonging a structure’s life and preventing a catastrophic event such as an earthquake from destroying it.
Gels are semi-solid mixtures that consist of a liquid trapped within the pores of a continuous network of chain-like molecules. They are usually created by adding an acid to a liquid with a solid suspended in it, known as a sol, or illuminating a sol with a flash of UV light.