Mice saved from lethal allergic reaction

From Nature:

Nuts For some people, it just takes a taste of peanut to induce a sudden and possibly fatal allergic reaction. Now researchers have unpicked the mechanism behind this anaphylactic shock, and have managed to protect mice against the condition. Many allergic reactions settle down of their own accord, or respond to antihistamine treatment. Should severe anaphylactic shock kick in, however, the only effective treatment is a quick injection of adrenaline (epinephrine). “The adrenaline contracts blood vessels and increases heart rate, combating low blood pressure. But it doesn’t interfere with the mechanism of the anaphylactic shock.”

That mechanism, however, has been a bit of a mystery. An allergic reaction occurs when an allergen, such as a peanut protein, triggers the release of histamines and other molecules that cause swellings and pain. But the biochemical pathways that then lead to severe anaphylactic shock have been unknown. Previous research in mice, which have a similar immune system to humans, had hinted that extreme amounts of nitric oxide (NO) throughout the body might be responsible. So Brouckaert and colleagues took a closer look. They induced anaphylactic shock in mice in two ways: by injecting a molecule to deliberately lower blood pressure, and by creating an allergic reaction much like that experienced in humans.

By injecting nitric-oxide blockers into some of the mice before attempting to give them anaphylactic shock, the researchers were able to confirm that nitric oxide was indeed the culprit. But, they report in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, it was coming from an unexpected source.

More here.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

a most unsuccesful war

No situation can continue to exist for long without an ideological reason. That’s how when once it was clear that it was not achieving its aims, an unsuccessful military campaign was upgraded with the wave of a magic wand to the level of a war of survival. When everyone understood that a moral reason had to be found both for the dimensions of the destruction sowed in Lebanon and the killing of the civilian population there, and for the Israeli dead and wounded (nobody is even talking about the exposure of the entire civilian population in the North of Israel to enemy fire while people are kept in disgraceful conditions in bomb shelters), a war of survival was invented, which by nature must be long and exhausting.

That is how a campaign of collective punishment that was begun in haste, without proper judgment and on the basis of incorrect assessments, including promises that the army is incapable of fulfilling, turned into a war of life and death, if not some kind of second War of Independence. In the press there have even been embarrassing comparisons to the struggle against Nazism, comparisons that are not only a crude distortion of history, but disgrace the memory of the Jews who were exterminated.

more from Ze’ev Sternhell at Haaretz here.

donne, not a milk drinker


It is the details that delight. Donne hated milk. Mortally sick, about to celebrate his death by sitting for his portrait in a shroud, he was urged by his doctor that “by Cordials, and drinking milk twenty days together, there was a probability of his restoration to health”. Donne would have none of it. The doctor (a Dr Fox, son of the author of the ‘Boke of Martyrs’) insisted that his patient should at least try. Donne thereupon drank milk — but for ten days only. Then he told Dr Fox that he would not drink the stuff for another ten days even “upon the best moral assurance of having twenty years added to his life”.

more from Literary Review here.

nasrallah obsessed


TEL AVIV—Where is Hassan Nasrallah? On Eretz Nehederet, Israel’s most popular satire show, the elusive Hezbollah leader suddenly bursts into the news studio, shimmying with Israeli folk dancers and baffling news anchors by showing off his talent as a crooner. “What, don’t you understand?’’ asks an actor playing the Shiite cleric turned televangelist. “I was born to be on television! I’m a ratings magnet! I’m the biggest star you’ve had!” The sketch is less a lampoon of some crazy foreign leader than a statement about Israelis’ burgeoning national neurosis. Since the beginning of a conflict that has so far driven a million Israelis into bomb shelters, Sheik Nasrallah—to an extent unequalled by any other figure in the Arab world—has become a national anti-star.

more from the NY Observer here.

james agee lives


“In 1936, Fortune magazine sent the young writer James Agee to rural Alabama to pry intimately into the lives of an undefended and appallingly damaged group of human beings, an ignorant and helpless rural family, for the purpose of parading the nakedness, disadvantage and humiliation of these lives before another group of human beings, in the name of science, of “honest journalism” (whatever that paradox may mean), of humanity, of social fearlessness, for money and for a reputation for crusading and unbias which, when skillfully enough qualified , is exchangeable at any bank for money . . . .”

The sentence, which contains eight more lines of caustic self-questioning, gives a good idea of why Agee’s magazine article and subsequent book were rejected by the editors who had contracted for them. Prefaced by more than sixty black-and-white photographs of chastening starkness by Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Agee’s study of three white sharecropping families, was published in 1941 and sold 600 copies. Reprinted in 1960, it came to be heralded as an ancestor of the New Journalism of Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe.

more from the TLS here.

What’s Happened to The New Republic

Delong looks at the worsening journalistic ethics of The New Republic, a magazine I haven’t been able to stomach in forever, and links to this claim in a piece by Second Lt. John Renehan in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education.

In 2004, shortly before I left for basic training, The New Republic ran a piece in which Peter Beinart, then the magazine’s editor, bemoaned the increasingly narrow demographics of those who serve and the consequent emergence of ‘two countries’ — one that serves, and a second, more-affluent one that thinks of service as a thing done by other Americans. Notably, Beinart admitted his own mixed feelings on being a member of the nonserving elite, wondering aloud what he might say when a child of his someday asks, ‘What did you do in the terror war, Daddy?’

Impressed, I wrote a letter to Beinart praising his frankness and noting my own decision to join the military — one prompted by similar callings of conscience. Then I offered him what I called a ‘public-spirited challenge’: One of The New Republic’s own should serve, and the magazine should write about it…It was a naïve sort of thing to write. My girlfriend took a look at the letter and said, ‘You know they’re never going to print this, don’t you?’ I did. But they did print it — with a notable omission. My ‘public-spirited challenge’ had been excised, leaving only praise for Beinart.

Delong goes on to wonder:

You know, if I had been sitting in Peter Beinart’s chair in June of 2004 and somebody had brought this proposed letter edit to me, I would have said: “We can’t do this. This is not moral. This substantially changes the points that the author of the letter was trying to make. We either preserve the author’s main points, or we don’t print the letter at all.” I would have gone to say: “Moreover, this would be stupid. Technology is changing very fast. If I were the author of the letter and if we posted this truncated version, I would be seriously pissed. It’s likely that the author’s being pissed will end up on the internet someday, in which case crazed persons in bathrobes accessing search engines will then be able to use it to give this magazine a real black eye.”

Crazy Beautiful: Mayhem was their antidote to a world gone mad

From The Village Voice:Dada_1

What would our lives would be like if Dada’s radically anarchic aesthetic had taken over? Would people be proclaiming abstract sound poetry on street corners? Would they wander about, like the notoriously free-spirited Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, bizarrely arrayed in pilfered goods and castoffs—a bra made of two tin cans tied with string, rows of curtain-ring bracelets pinched from Woolworth’s, a bustle of electric lights? Perhaps they’d hole up, like Kurt Schwitters building his Merzbau, an installation cobbled together from bits of urban and natural detritus. Perhaps every public gathering would become a provocation.

Dada Triumphs!, a 1920 photocollage by Raoul Hausmann, includes a map with the word “DADA” emblazoned across the northern hemisphere, announcing this movement’s vast territorial ambitions.

More here.

Of Pills and Profits: In Defense of Big Pharma

From Commentary:

The more our health depends on their little pills, the more we seem to hate big drug companies. In The Constant Gardener (2000), John le Carré assigns to the pharmaceutical industry the role played by the KGB in his earlier novels. A villainous pharmaceutical company is using Kenya as a testing ground for a lethally defective drug, and people who find out about it die, too. Four recent, non-fiction indictments of the industry tell a similar story. Conflating the four into one, one might title them collectively How Big Pharma Deceives, Endangers, and Rips Us Off, with the Complicity of Doctors.

Two of these books are by former editors of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. Slamming the drug companies, Marcia Angell argues that Big Pharma, as it has come to be called, “uses its wealth and power to co-opt every institution that might stand in its way, including the U.S. Congress, the Food and Drug Administration, academic medical centers, and the medical profession itself.” Slamming the medical profession, academics, and professional organizations, Jerome P. Kassirer, Angell’s former boss, labels them Big Pharma’s “whores.”

More here.

A Look Into Hizbollah’s World View

In openDemocracy, Fred Halliday on Hizbollah and his 2004 meeting with Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hizbollah’s deputy head.

The discussion with Sheikh Naim Qassem was in some ways different from many other interviews I had conducted with middle-eastern political figures over the past years. The sheikh remained calm and succinct throughout the conversation, and avoided long historical excursions of the kind most radical politicians in this region (as elsewhere) regularly indulge in. The British were not blamed for too much.

We began by discussing the history of Hizbollah. In the interview and at much greater length in his book, Sheikh Naim Qassem described the situation in the late 1970s and early 1980s: on the one hand, the “disappearance” and apparent murder of the then Shi’a leader Imam Musa Sadr, while on a visit to Libya, presumably because he had objected to the Libyan attempt to hegemonise the Shi’a community in Lebanon.

With the first Israeli military intervention in 1978 and then with the triumph of the Islamic revolution in Iran in early 1979, a number of radical Shi’a groups were formed, with the aim of promoting the place of the Shi’a in Lebanon, a country where they had been the least favoured religious group – despised by Christians and Sunni Muslims, but abused also by the Palestinians who tried to take over southern Lebanon in the 1970s, creating their own “Fatahland” near the Israeli frontier. At the same time these radicals were inspired by the Iranian revolution’s call for an “Islamic government”, along the lines propounded by Khomeini, and sought initially to replicate this in Lebanon.

Kansas Deals Blow to ID in Curriculum

From The New York Times:

Kansas voters on Tuesday handed power back to moderates on the State Board of Education, setting the stage for a return of science teaching that broadly accepts the theory of evolution, according to preliminary election results.

With just 6 districts of 1,990 yet to report as of 8 a.m. Central time today, two conservatives — including incumbent Connie Morris, a former west Kansas teacher and author who had described evolution as “a nice bedtime story” — appear to have been defeated decisively by two moderates in the Republican primary elections. One moderate incumbent, Janet Waugh from the Kansas City area, held on to her seat in the Democratic primary.

If her fellow moderates prevailed, Ms. Waugh said last week, “we need to revisit the minutes and every decision that was 6-4, re-vote.”

Letter from Beirut IV

by Rasha Salti

[NOTE: See Rasha’s earlier communications here and  here.]

(This siege note I wish to dedicate to Maher. –RS)

The history of earlier drives into Lebanon shows that even as the Israeli war machine gains momentum, so do the chances of terrible accidents and atrocities. In 1982, under the protection of Israeli forces, Christian Lebanese militias carried out the now infamous massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Ten years ago, during a campaign against Hizbullah similar to the one now underway, Israeli gunners blasted a United Nations monitoring post at the South Lebanese town of Qana, where terrified locals had taken refuge. More than 100 civilians were killed in a barrage that lasted only a few ghastly seconds. International outrage quickly forced Israel to end its offensive.

The Israelis say they are being more careful this time around, not least because they don’t want to be forced to stop. “The presidential approval by Bush, the surprising level of support he’s giving Israel, the patience he’s giving Israel—it looks as if there’s a great amount of slack being cut to us,” says a senior Israeli security source, who did not want to be identified by name because he is not authorized to speak on the record. “Absent a Qana, it might go on.”

–from the article “Torn to Shreds” in last week’s Newsweek

Bearing witness to a massacre only a few kilometers removed from one’s being (or home)

Coming into consciousness of, or bearing witness to, a massacre only a few kilometers removed from one’s being (or home), feels very much like the experience of being in the proximity of a very powerful explosion only at an extremely, extremely slowed motion. Taking stock of the information on time, place, and the toll of victims, watching televised transmission of rescue workers piling a kindergarden in rigor mortis, is identical to the astounding sensation of the air being sucked from all around, that typically precedes the explosion. And at some point, it all sinks in, the information processes into information, and the images breakdown into their compositional elements (rescue worker carrying four year old with hand stretched to the sky and fingers wide spread), and you explode, or implode, with some sort of a system shut down. For a split second your heart does not beat the way it is used to, and your lungs don’t quite inhale or exhale according to the book.

9:00 am, or somewhere around there. I am zapping between al-Jazeera, LBC, BBC, Future TV, and my new discovery of this war, Sky News. I have to finish some proposal text to send to funders to collect desperately needed funds to support the army of volunteers and the programs for displaced kids. I cannot disappoint “Nouna”, I have to be at the library at 10:00 am with the text in English.

9:05 am, or somewhere around there. Yasser Abou Halileh, who just landed in Lebanon from Jordan is catching his breath on al-Jazeera. He arrived to Qana and just reached the shattered shelter site. Qana was carpet-bombed throughout the night. The air-bombing was not a “surprise” to anyone, because the Israeli army dropped flyers advising residents to leave. The bodies piled in the shelter ravaged to rubble were of people too poor to afford the ride from Qana to Sidon or Beirut, or people with disabilities.

Qana besides being an extremely poor village in the anemic economic orbit of Tyre, was also the site of one of Christ’s miracles, then a little short of two thousand years later it housed a UNIFIL base (UN peacekeeping force), and a notorious Israeli massacre of fleeing hapless southern Lebanese villagers at said UNIFIL base. Yasser and his team headed for Qana because rescue workers alerted the media to the possibility of another massacre. The shelling did not stop as rescue workers lifted bodies from under rubble.

You know the rest of the story. An Yasser’s story as well, it is no different from any correspondent that suddenly becomes a human being, a father, a brother, a son and Yasser was looking for words to put together into sentences to report the first report of the massacre. When he and his camera arrived, rescue workers were on site, slowly pulling bodies from under the rubble. Yasser is catching his breath and slowly, you can feel the air being sucked from all around him, children of all sizes, mostly small and extra small (some are barely a few months old), piled next to him, covered in ashen powdered concrete.

As Yasser must have been experiencing “the explosion” of “implosion”, that’s when I felt the air being sucked from all around me. I jumped from my bed and ran hysterically in the house looking for someone in my family to tell the news to. And when I did, I realized that a vacuum cloaked me. I heard myself speak, I saw myself put my shoes on, pack my bag, feel tightness in my chest, say goodbye to my parents, walk out into the street. Walk out into the street. Flash of the voice of Yasser hiccuping wiith emotion. Nothing unusual about this Sunday morning. Forgot the laptop. Forgot what I owed Nouna. Flash of the image of the rescue workers leaning in half to be able to go into the ravaged building. Back up. Back upstairs. Flash of baby lying on rubble, her cutie derriere dripping a pool of blood and powdered concrete. Al-Jazeera’s screen. Zap, maybe it’s a mistake. An exageration. Text message from Rula: “Are you watching al-Jazeera?” I grab my purse again, leave. Come back: the laptop. On the street, as I wait to hail a cab, I wonder why there is not a trace of powdered concrete in the air. I could taste it in my mouth.

10:15 am, or somewhere around there. Municipal building, 3rd floor, Beirut’s Municipal Librairy. Elevator working. Flash of rescue worker carrying a baby girl, barefoot, covered in powdered concrete. Her arm sticking out, upright in rigor mortis, her palm wide and fingers stretched as if she were trying to reach out. At the municipal library that morning, there was a training workshop for the volunteers from the NGOs that are in charge of overseeing the settlement of the displaced in the schools around Beirut. A training workshop for educational games and activities around the book and storytelling. I walked in, greeted Nouna and another lady, I know I was not very present, the vacuum still cloaked me. I just said to them, as best as I could make coherent sentences “there was a massacre in Qana”. Most of the volunteers had woken up and rushed to the workshop without hearing news.

I put my laptop in the office, and sat, stood up and started calling people. Everyone was choking in shock, rage and horror. Rula was out of her mind, zapping frantically. Only al-Jazeera showed images, BBC and CNN had a very down-played report. She beckoned me to make phone calls. Who could I call? I am nobody. I called friends, and more friends, people in the know and out of the know. Then a text message came: Protest in front of the ESCWA building at noon. I was beginning to breathe again. Condoleezza Rice was supposed to land in Beirut sometime around noon.

11:00 am, or somewhere around there. I was still sucked into the vacuum. Things moving around me were confusing, I could not quite mediate with reality. My mind was racing. The flashes of dead bodies were still coming. I needed to describe them, in gruesome detail to someone. Whoever I called, described them to me, in their gruesomeness: “Did you see that baby girl with her buttocks drenched in blood?” She was there in front of my eyes, off course I had seen her.

I typed something in English on the laptop. I called Nouna. We discussed it. I repeated the things she said to me so they would sink in. One of the attending volunteers could not hold still, who smoked outside, paced, and checked her cell phone about ten times, walked over to us and said she was going to the protest.

12:00 pm, sharp. I was back on the street. I walked towards the ESCWA (basically the offices of he UN and UN-related institutions) building. The street was filled with people, men, women, children carrying flags, Lebanese, Hezbollah, and Amal, walked decidedly, almost angrily in the direction of the ESCWA building. By the time I got there, there was a mob scene in front of the building. Young men (and a few women) were banging on the gates, throwing rocks to the windows that were bouncing against the glass and falling back on them. The release of rage was collective.

The sheath of vacuum around me, inside me, dissipated. The explosion/implosion was now happening to me. I felt myself transform into a magma of anger and sorrow at once. I felt my own rage channel to the crowd, I stood on the sidewalk, sucked into the magnetism of the mob, my body totally merged with theirs. The flashes from the al-Jazeera broadcast were no longer caged inside me. They were wafting away. The flags were pulled down and instead the masts in front of the fancy structure were now flagging Hezbollah, Amal flags and portraits of Hassan Nasrallah.

(When people later criticized the mob scene for “attacking” the ESCWA building –”Was it necessary?”– I was surprised they did not have that rage, or that they could not comprehend it.) The crowd that unloaded into downtown Beirut was at that point mostly comprised of the displaced from the southern suburb. They shouted: “Hezbollah, Nasrallah, wel Dahiyah killa” (Hezbollah, Nasrallah, and the whole of the southern suburbs.)

On the other side of the street, at the foot of the Media Center building where newsmedia post their cameras and microphones and their anchors shoot their live shots, people were screaming at cameras.

The crowd was growing fatter and fatter, now people were coming more prepared, they had signs and banners, in Arabic and English.

I came across Mohammad, a friend, and finally, finally I could cry. I burried my head in his shoulders and wept helpless.

Mohammad led me to the Media Center building. I sat in one of the offices with windows onto the street. More and more people were coming. Army and internal security personel were also arriving. They stood by and watched. At some point a truck carrying some sort of a load of something parked in the lot across the street from the ESCWA building. It became a stage atop which various spokespersons stood and delivered speeches. I guess someone brought a voice magnifier, and someone else brought a tape and a tape player because soon there were also chants blaring. The flags flying on top of the crowd were now of several political parties: the “Free Movement”, the Communists, the Syrian Nationalist (the most overt supporters of Hezbollah). The most touching scene was of sunni and shi’i sheikhs huddled together, hand in hand almost talking and then delivering speeches. From the window of the 6th floor, I could see their round head coiffe and robes.

Randa sent a text message from Cairo. I asked her to call me. She was weeping and I begged her to call her activist friends and organize a mobilization in Cairo. I wanted to weep, and hated myself for stiffening my upper lip. I borrowed Mohammad’s phone and started to call friends across the world, hysterically, begging them to organize protests. I was nonsensical. I woke my sister in New Jersey. My tears were now flowing silently.

I felt I was going to collapse. I had to leave and be quiet for a while.

I walked home, a long, long meditative walk in the punishing heat of a late July afternoon. It was 2:00 pm. Everyone urged me to write something, a “siege note” for Qana. I could not.

Instead I slept. My eyelids felt heavy from crying.


Maher called. I woke up. He said he was leaving with a team of journalists to Tyre. Did I want to come. (I did not know.) I should be ready in ten minutes if I wanted to come. I said no, I was not thinking and I regretted it for the rest of the day. Until now when I write, I regret it.

Maher is a filmmaker. When this war started he was in Paris. He went nuts after a few days and decided to return. He wanted to be here for the war. He came on one of the ships that the French sent to evacuate French passport holders. His voyage was surreal, but that’s another story.

He has a project to establish a website to collect and disseminate the record of the lived experience of this war, lest it should lapse from the collective record again. He has started to distribute cameras to young filmmakers, artists, even volunteers to record, film, transcribe the mundane and the non-sensational everyday of surviving this war. The website is not ready yet, but as soon as it s, I will publicize it.

Maher had been itching to go to Tyre, closest to one of the sites of battle. He went with the convoy of journalists and humanitarian aid workers. If my rage took me to the street and the mob scene, his would drive him to the front, to the site where the hurt is most poignant. He told me he was going to Qana, and I was not surprised.

I called him the next day in the afternoon. He had indeed been to Qana, and visited the site, and smelled death. From his voice, I felt that something had happened, something that still impressed him greatly. His locution was more sullen than lazy, but I could barely make out what he said, and I kept asking him to repeat himself. He did not get exasperated, his voice was detached. He was speaking to me from a different world.

My heart sank. He said Qana was exactly what I saw on TV. He kept referring to going through Srifa as being very difficult. “Very difficult” he kept saying. Nearly all of Srifa is destroyed. Limbs covered in powdered concrete emerge from between the ravages of collapsed buildings. No one has had the energy or courage to pull out the dead. The Red Cross and Civil Defense ambulances have been targetted relentlessly by Israel. When the guns will quiet, we will discover that Qana is small-time compared to Srifa. There is a pattern emerging now: Marwaheen, Srifa, Blida and Qana: terror to induce forced displacement (or pardon my French, “deportation”). Scorched earth and mass graves, this is how we achieve the New Middle East.



Maher said nearly 60% of Bint Jbeil has now become flat rubble. Most of its central area. There two limbs stick out of collapsed buildings, and the smell of death is everywhere. While rescue workers pulled out the dead from that shelter in Qana, the IDF was shelling the only functioning hospital in Bint Jbeil, a day prior to Maher’s visit. That’s how battered Bint Jbeil was, even its hospital the IDF decided was a Hezbollah stronghold and posed a grave security threat on the well-being of the children of Kiryat Shmona who prefer to go to school and not dwell in shelters after they have kissed the shells that their army will shower on Lebanon to implement UN Resolution 1559 and eradicate terror.

In the convoy to Bint Jbeil, journalists outnumbered the rescue workers, and they found a group of elderly men and women who were trapped in a shelter. They could not ambulate without assistance and had not eaten for four or five days. They were carried out and given some water and driven to places where they could receive the care they needed.

Screenhunter_4_6The BBC produced a number of excellent reports from Bint Jbeil, in heir backdrop, I saw Maher’s face. His demeanor confirmed the impression I had after speaking to him on the phone. Maher had seen the face of death. Not death as in the sorrowful but inevitable expiring of everyday life, and not the death of a soldier on the battlefield. He had seen the face of organized, carefully orchestrated, mass-scale death, the planned death of hundreds and thousands as a solution to restoring power hegemony in a region.

You never leave a mass grave unscathed. Maher had seen several that day. Even if helping survivors seems like a life-affirming release, it will not alleviate the burden, the imprint of the face of death. I know he has been branded for ever now and there is not much anything that can be done about it. My forever beloved Marwan worked on collecting the bodies of victims in Sabra and Chatila after the massacre. Seeing the face of death was so overwhelming he left the country shortly thereafter. He moved to London and did not return to Lebanon for decades. You can still feel the brand of that mass grave in the lining of the timbre of his voice, in the lining to his gaze, there is a mute inconsolable sorrow.

I don’t know if Maher will leave Lebanon, but I know he will return to Beirut markedly changed. For the time being the pull of the mass graves, of the people trapped in shelters, of bodies surging through rubble is too powerful, he wants to be near them. While the journalists he drove down with have left Tyre, he called last night to say he is tempted to stay. His voice felt he called from a netherworld, Israel is now engaged in a massive ground offensive in the south.

This siege note took a couple of days to write. I could not find my words or sense of self after news of the massacre on Sunday.

The map above locates the infrastructure, mainly transport and vital sites, that have been bombed over the past days. It clearly reveals the siege that different cities/inhabitants have undergone and still suffer from, it also shows how Israel’s fierce assault on Lebanon completely violates the Geneva conventions & international law relative to respect for human rights in armed conflicts, through it’s massive destruction of vital civilian utility sites and infrastructure. The other map of locations bombed is being updated daily on www.lebanonupdates.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

The Hive

Marshall Poe in The Atlantic Monthly:

HiveSeveral months ago, I discovered that I was being “considered for deletion.” Or rather, the entry on me in the Internet behemoth that is Wikipedia was.

For those of you who are (as uncharitableWikipedians sometimes say) “clueless newbies,” Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia. But it is like no encyclopedia Diderot could have imagined. Instead of relying on experts to write articles according to their expertise, Wikipedia lets anyone write about anything. You, I, and any wired-up fool can add entries, change entries, even propose that entries be deleted. For reasons I’d rather not share outside of therapy, I created a one-line biographical entry on “Marshall Poe.” It didn’t take long for my tiny article to come to the attention of Wikipedia’s self-appointed guardians. Within a week, a very active—and by most accounts responsible—Scottish Wikipedian named “Alai” decided that … well, that I wasn’t worth knowing about. Why? “No real evidence of notability,” Alai cruelly but accurately wrote, “beyond the proverbial average college professor.”

Wikipedia has the potential to be the greatest effort in collaborative knowledge gathering the world has ever known, and it may well be the greatest effort in voluntary collaboration of any kind.

More here.

Letter From American In Ramallah

Ali Eteraz in his eponymous blog:

Following is a letter from an American in Ramallah, who is a friend of a friend. Checkpoints, Nasrallah, IDF, jokes, arrests, kidnapping — it’s all in there. We pick up after the initial greeting:

I apologize for the huge gaps in my emails. These past few weeks have
been very very busy and it has become nearly impossible for me to plan
ahead of time. Yesterday I was planning on going to Hebron when my
friend called me and told me that there was going to be a huge rally
“welcoming” Condalezza Rice. Sure enough he was right. The rally was
enormous. All of Ramallah—all the stores, all the supermarkets, all
the food stands—shut down protesting her arrival and the entirety of
the city hit the streets yelling, screaming, and chanting. So while
Condalezza was talking peace in Arafat’s compound, the entire city was
on the streets telling her to ‘go back to where she came from.’
Judging from the rally, it seems that Abu Mazen, the Palestinian
president, and Condalezza Rice were the only two people in all of
Ramallah (or more accurately all of the West Bank) who didn’t realize
that Condalezza was wasting her breath talking to a powerless
government and a powerless people. I guess the Bush Administration
never got the newsflash that more than half of the Palestinian
government was detained only a few weeks back by Israeli soldiers and
now are being tried in court. There are a few leaders who managed to
escape the roundups and the Israeli soldiers have come into Ramallah
nearly every night looking for them.

More here.

jon lee anderson in lebanon


A middle-aged woman in a black chador came over. When I asked if she minded living underground, she smiled and said, in a gravelly voice, “It’s all the same to me. If Israel and America want to do this to us, all we can do is to bear the situation, so if we have to stay underground we will. We don’t mind staying here as long as the boys are O.K.”—a reference to Hezbollah’s fighters—“and as long as Sheikh Nasrallah is fine. We can bear anything. Death is normal to us, and, anyway, it means we’ll go to heaven.” She told us that four children had been born in the underground garage. Two were boys, and they had been named Waaed, which means “the promising one,” and Sadeq, which means “the truthful one,” “because Sheikh Nasrallah says, ‘We have the promise of liberating the south.’ ” She added, “We don’t think the Israelis will come to Beirut, but, if they do, we know what to do with them.” A young pregnant woman standing next to her laughed and made lunging, stabbing motions with her hand.

more from The New Yorker here.

spooky real estate writing

I fall in love with individual books all the time, books I praise passionately, even promiscuously, to anyone who will listen. Out of the hundreds I read every year and blog about, though, only a few speak to me so loudly that I bestir myself from torpor and plunge into fanatical book-fiendish evangelizing. Toni Schlesinger’s Five Flights Up and Other New York Apartment Stories came to me for review this January in the form of a ridiculously cumbersome wad of xeroxed eleven-by-seventeen pages, inadequately secured by binder clips: it weighed three or four pounds, at a guess, with the flat cartilaginous heft of a stingray. Once I recovered from the format, I felt the shock—painful, delightful—you experience when you encounter something so perfect you’re furious you didn’t know about it sooner. My list of such things includes the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs,” Paradise Lost, Fabergé eggs, and the taste and texture of meringue. You will have your own list, but find a place on it if you can for this collection of the columns Schlesinger wrote for the Village Voice from 1997 to 2006 under the rubric Shelter.

more from The Believer here.

Entropy and Anthropic Explanations

Over at Cosmic Variance, Sean Carroll has a great post on Ludwig Boltzmann, entropy, and anthropic explanations.

A recent post of Jen-Luc’s reminded me of Huw Price and his work on temporal asymmetry. The problem of the arrow of time — why is the past different from the future, or equivalently, why was the entropy in the early universe so much smaller than it could have been? — has attracted physicists’ attention (although not as much as it might have) ever since Boltzmann explained the statistical origin of entropy over a hundred years ago. It’s a deceptively easy problem to state, and correspondingly difficult to address, largely because the difference between the past and the future is so deeply ingrained in our understanding of the world that it’s too easy to beg the question by somehow assuming temporal asymmetry in one’s purported explanation thereof. Price, an Australian philosopher of science, has made a specialty of uncovering the hidden assumptions in the work of numerous cosmologists on the problem. Boltzmann himself managed to avoid such pitfalls, proposing an origin for the arrow of time that did not secretly assume any sort of temporal asymmetry. He did, however, invoke the anthropic principle — probably one of the earliest examples of the use of anthropic reasoning to help explain a purportedly-finely-tuned feature of our observable universe. But Boltzmann’s anthropic explanation for the arrow of time does not, as it turns out, actually work, and it provides an interesting cautionary tale for modern physicists who are tempted to travel down that same road.

Can the Bombing of Dresden be Justified?

In The Weekly Standard, Hitchens considers whether the destruction of German cities was justified.

There is something grandly biblical and something dismally utilitarian about this long argument between discrepant schools of historians and strategists. In the Old Testament, God reluctantly considers lenience for the “cities of the plain,” on condition that a bare minimum of good men can be identified as living there. The RAF code name for the first major firestorm raid on Hamburg was “Operation Gomorrah.” And this was a city that had always repudiated the Nazi party. Some say that Dresden was not really a military target and that it was obliterated mainly in order to impress Joseph Stalin (perhaps not a notably fine war aim) while others–Frederick Taylor most recently–argue that Dresden was indeed a hub city for Hitler’s armies, and that doing a service to a wartime ally is part of the strategic picture in any case.

This leaves us with a somewhat arid and suspect antithesis: Were these bombings war crimes, and if so, were they justified on the grounds that they shortened the duration of the criminal war itself?

Anthony Grayling, a very deft and literate English moral philosopher, now seeks to redistribute the middle of this latent syllogism. He argues from the evidence that “area bombing” was not even really intended to shorten the war, and that in any case it did not do so. And he further asserts that the policy was an illegal and immoral one by the same standards that the Allies had announced at the onset of hostilities. This, at least, has the virtue of recasting a hitherto rather sterile debate. And some of what he says is unarguable.

The Night Listener

Patrick Stettner has a remarkable talent for telling stories about trust, narratives, and what happens to our relationships when we lose faith in the truth of what we are told. His new film, The Night Listener, adapted from the Armistead Maupin’s novel, has a few layers of this, oddly leading one review to state, “Although the movie opens with a claim that it was “Inspired by a true story,” I almost wish it hadn’t, simply because the tale is strong and genuine enough to stand on its own without the prop of a true story claim.” “Genuine enough” that the claim to truth is just a “prop”: both strange and quite an endorsement. The film opens this Friday.

Armistead Maupin’s 2000 novel The Night Listener pre-dated the Jayson Blair and James Frey scandals that challenged readers’ trust in dramatic “true” stories. But Maupin anticipated the issue when he personally became subject to a story he began to suspect was more or less than met the eye. An investigation followed, and Maupin ultimately fashioned The Night Listener, a fictionalized version of his experience. The slippery natures of truth, fiction, lies, and wishful thinking now get full play in the screen adaptation of The Night Listener, starring Maupin’s friend and fellow San Francisco native Robin Williams.

Life After Earth: Imagining Survival Beyond This Terra Firma

From The New York Times:

When the dust settles after World War III, or World War IX, humanity will still want to grow pineapples, rice, coffee and other crops. That is why in June on the island of Svalbard in the Norwegian Arctic, all five Scandinavian prime ministers met to break ground on a $4.8-million “doomsday vault” that will stockpile crop seeds in case of global catastrophe.


While it boasts the extra safety of Arctic temperatures, the seed bank is just the latest life-preservation plan to reach reality, joining genetic banks like the Frozen Ark, a British program that is storing DNA samples from endangered species like the scimitar-horned oryx, the Seychelles Frégate beetle and the British field cricket.

To a certain group preoccupied with doomsday, these projects are laudable but share a deep flaw: they are Earth-bound. A global catastrophe — like a collision with an asteroid or a nuclear winter — would have to be rather tame in order not to rattle the test tubes in the various ark-style labs around the world. What kind of feeble doomsday would leave London safe and sound?

More here.