Anatomy lesson hidden in Sistine Chapel

From Michelangelo_hmed_10a_1 MSNBC:

Two Brazilian doctors and amateur art lovers believe they have uncovered a secret lesson on human anatomy hidden by Renaissance artist Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. Gilson Barreto and Marcelo de Oliveira believe Michelangelo scattered his detailed knowledge of internal anatomy across 34 of the ceiling’s 38 panels. The way they see it, a tree trunk is not just a tree trunk, but also a bronchial tube. And a green bag in one scene is really a human heart.

More here.

Cubist Slugs

Patrick Wright reviews Disruptive Pattern Material; An Encyclopedia of Camouflage: Nature – Military – Culture, in the London Review of Books:

‘I well remember at the beginning of the war,’ Gertrude Stein wrote in 1938, ‘being with Picasso on the Boulevard Raspail when the first camouflaged truck passed. It was at night, we had heard of camouflage but we had not seen it and Picasso, amazed, looked at it and then cried out, yes it is we who made it, that is Cubism.’ Stein went on to suggest that the entire First World War had been an exercise in Cubism. Hailing Picasso as the first to register an epoch-making change in the ‘composition’ of the world, she concluded that a great convulsion had been necessary to awaken the masses to his discovery: ‘Wars are only a means of publicising the thing already accomplished.’

Stephen Kern has pointed out that the Cubist quality of camouflage was quite widely perceived during the war. The artist Lucien-Victor Guirand de Scévola, who was one of the forces behind France’s camouflage initiative, claimed to have used Cubist means to ‘deform objects totally’ and deliberately to have employed avant-garde artists in his section de camouflage, where they proved adept at ‘denaturing any form’. The Expressionist painter Franz Marc was among the artists who worked to the same end on the German side and, as Roy Behrens points out in this flamboyantly peculiar Encyclopedia of Camouflage, ships painted in the disruptive ‘dazzle’ schemes developed by the British artist Norman Wilkinson were said to resemble ‘Cubist paintings on a colossal scale’.

More here.

Giant balls of snot

Bjorn Cary at MSNBC:

050610_oceansnot_vmed_2pScientists have discovered giant sinking mucus “houses” that double the amount of food on the sea floor.

The mucus houses, or “sinkers,” are produced by tadpole-like animals not much bigger than your index finger. As sinkers drop to the sea floor, small sea critters and other food particles get stuck to the mucus and end up on the bottom of the ocean.

For years scientists have observed loads of life at the bottom of the ocean. But they weren’t able to find enough food — carbon — to support all that life. Sinkers, previously overlooked, may help fill that gap.

More here.

Modellers measure ‘word of mouth’ for films

Mark Peplow in Nature:

Film_1It’s official, says one group of researchers: Blade II is a bad film. Their study turns patterns of attendance into a single number that claims to grade a film’s quality.

The number attempts to gauge of how good the ‘word of mouth’ was around a given film, based on the behaviour of the harshest critics of all, the paying public.

César Hidalgo, now a graduate student in physics at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, and his colleagues, decided to study the ‘word of mouth’ effect in the film world simply because reviews often have a huge impact on audience numbers and there are copious data on ticket sales.

More here.

Why was “Don Quixote” originally written in Arabic?

Edward Rothstein in the New York Times:

Why was “Don Quixote” originally written in Arabic? Or rather, why does Cervantes, who wrote the book in Spanish, claim that it was translated from the Arabic?

13connMuch is being said this year about “Don Quixote,” in celebration of the 400th anniversary of its publication. And indeed, much has always been said about this extraordinary epic, narrating the misadventures of a half-mad hidalgo who seeks to re-establish the traditions of knight errantry. Faulkner reread it annually; Lionel Trilling said all prose fiction was a variation on its themes.

But aside from its literary achievements, “Don Quixote” sheds oblique light on an era when Spain’s Islamic culture forcibly came to an end. Just consider Cervantes’s playful account of the book’s origins. One day in the Toledo marketplace, he writes, a young boy was trying to sell old notebooks and worn scraps of paper covered with Arabic script. Cervantes recounts how he acquired a book and then looked around for a Moor to translate it. “It was not very difficult” to find such a Moor, he writes. In fact, he says, he could have even found a translator of Hebrew.

More here.

Mukhtaran Bibi

Sean Carrol at Preposterous Universe:

Update: Well, that was fast. Before I even got the post published, word is out that Mukhtaran Bibi may have been released! Who knows exactly what prompted the decision, but perhaps a well-timed blog campaign actually had some effect. On the other hand, it may just be a sham, as Kristof suggests (via Majikthise) — so it’s worth keeping the pressure on.

Update again (6/16): Apparently, she is still not free to travel. Perhaps unsurprising to see the US State Department joining in the “soothing” but misleading public statements.


Ezra Klein points to a post by Tom Watson about the arrest of Mukhtaran Bibi. Nicholas Kristof tells the backstory:

Last fall I wrote about Mukhtaran Bibi, a woman who was sentenced by a tribal council in Pakistan to be gang-raped because of an infraction supposedly committed by her brother. Four men raped Ms. Mukhtaran, then village leaders forced her to walk home nearly naked in front of a jeering crowd of 300.

Ms. Mukhtaran was supposed to have committed suicide. Instead, with the backing of a local Islamic leader, she fought back and testified against her persecutors. Six were convicted.

Then Ms. Mukhtaran, who believed that the best way to overcome such abuses was through better education, used her compensation money to start two schools in her village, one for boys and the other for girls. She went out of her way to enroll the children of her attackers in the schools, showing that she bore no grudges.

More here.

Joe Strauss to Joe Six-Pack

Taking a cue from our own J.M. Tyree (see here), David Brooks writes in the New York Times:

I was emptying some boxes in my basement the other day and I came across an essay somebody had clipped on Ernest Hemingway from the July 14, 1961, issue of Time magazine. The essay was outstanding. Over three pages of tightly packed prose, with just a few photos, the anonymous author performed the sort of high-toned but accessible literary analysis that would be much harder to find in a mass market magazine today…

The sad thing is that this type of essay was not unusual in that era. If you read Time and Newsweek from the 1950’s and early 1960’s, you discover they were pitched at middle-class people across the country who aspired to have the same sorts of conversations as the New York and Boston elite.

More here.  [Thanks to Asad Naqvi.]

The Fall

Article_fallBy the Fall’s sixth session, in March 1983, they’d managed to eradicate every hint of similarity to their contemporaries, which is to say that they wrote and played so eccentrically that the recording can hardly be heard on any terms but its own. Craig Scanlan had settled into his preferred guitar sound, just far enough out of tune to sound sour but not bitter; two drummers made their rhythms grind like a mill-wheel. “Smile,” a lacerating attack on a “lick-spittle southerner” fashionista, is built on a monomaniacal fifteen-beat-long riff. Half the band gets lost almost immediately and stays there, and it doesn’t matter, because Smith is in control, circling around to the title every few seconds and screaming it like a warning of an attack.

Douglas Wolk on The Fall at The Believer.

Fat Soap

Sriimg20050615_5871712_0“A bar of soap reportedly made from the fat of Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi goes on display for the first time at the 36th Art Basel, which opened on Wednesday. . .

‘I came up with the idea because soap is made of pig fat, and I thought how much more appropriate it would be if people washed their hands using a piece of Berlusconi,’ added the artist.”

More here.

Science education: Hothouse High

From Nature:Nerd

Two decades ago, some of the first science, maths and technology magnet high schools opened in the United States. The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) in Aurora, outside Chicago, was established the same year as Jefferson in 1985. The magnet concept caught on quickly as a way to challenge the best young minds, and as a possible answer to the decline in US-produced scientists and engineers. There are now 86 science magnet schools nationwide, which select gifted children with an aptitude for science. Australia, Jordan, Israel, Korea, Thailand, Japan and the United Kingdom have set up similar science-focused schools.

But is it a mistake to immerse students in the sciences at the age of 14 or 15? By the time they reach graduate school, such students have already spent eight years in focused study. Is ‘nerd’ school a place where overachievers bloom while others wilt under the pressure? Or would their talents be undernourished at a ‘normal’ high school? Graduates of the high-tech highs give a range of answers.

More here.

Conservation in Myanmar: Under the gun

From Nature:

Mayanmar In March 1997, Chris Wemmer, a biologist with the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington DC, received an alarming fax. It was an article from the British Observer newspaper accusing him of colluding with the Burmese junta in committing human rights abuses in the country now known as Myanmar.

The article, headlined “Save the rhino, kill the people”, implicated Wemmer’s organization in the murder and forced removal of ethnic Karen people to make way for a huge wildlife park, called the Myinmoletkhat Reserve. It criticized the Smithsonian Institution for being one of the first Western organizations to work with the regime “since it massacred 3,000 demonstrators in 1988”.

Wemmer still fumes about the article, which he claims misrepresented the Smithsonian’s involvement in this secretive southeast Asian nation. That the institution’s project, in a wildlife park called Chatthin, headed by a Karen warden, was based 1,200 kilometres north of the site of the atrocities described in the piece didn’t seem to matter, he complains: “We were guilty by association.”

More here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

2005 Art of Science Exhibition at Princeton

From Princeton University:

“[W]e asked the Princeton University community to submit imagery produced in the course of research or incorporating tools and concepts from science. The response was overwhelming: more than 200 entries from nearly 100 individuals in 15 departments. We selected 55 of these works to appear in the 2005 Art of Science Exhibition.”

One piece in the exhibit.

Manifold “A tornado ripping through the atmosphere is easy to identify, but in a mathematical sense, what velocity information is needed and how can we identify where the vortex begins and where it ends? A new method to do this involves following particle trajectories and investigating where the distances between trajectories stretch. This image shows some results of that work. We look at a very chaotic, periodic velocity field, named the ABC flow after its developers. We integrate trajectories both forward and backward in time, and observe the maximum stretching that occurs. The panels in the picture represent two-dimensional cuts through the three-dimensional velocity field.”

(Hat tip: Linta)

WG Sebald’s Last Interview

Onetti_tripp1 I recently stumbled across this, the last interview of WG Sebald before his tragic death in a car accident in 2001.

“My parents came from working-class, small-peasant, farm-labourer backgrounds, and had made the grade during the fascist years; my father came out of the army as a captain. For most of those years, I didn’t know what class we belonged to. Then the German “economic miracle” unfolded, so the family rose again; my father occupied a “proper” place in lower-middle-class society.

It was that social stratum where the so-called conspiracy of silence was at its most present. Until I was 16 or 17, I had heard practically nothing about the history that preceded 1945. Only when we were 17 were we confronted with a documentary film of the opening of the Belsen camp. There it was, and we somehow had to get our minds around it – which of course we didn’t. It was in the afternoon, with a football match afterwards. So it took years to find out what had happened. In the mid-60s, I could not conceive that these events had happened only a few years back.”

Rent a German!

20050302181754tea_couple1 It’s a real site, sort of, I think.  Here’s how they explain themselves. “rentagerman.de offers a wide range of Germans for your personal and social needs. You can select the German of your choice for an exclusive lifetime experience: Imagine to appear with your German at parties, family events, or just hang out with them at the local shopping center.”

And you can read various customer reviews like these:

Leila R., 36 (Rio de Janeiro):
“I will never forget, when I went to the beach with the German.
My friends had a good time, eating chicken with him under the sun of Ipanema beach.
Next time, I will buy him a new swimming trouser.”

Adam G., 48 (San Francisco):
“It was awesome! Having a German at the office for a week was a huge success! Since then, my relationship with my co-workers has improved big time! I’ll definitely do it again- It was, like, “oh my god, this is so it!”

Comedian for Senator? Don’t Laugh

From The New York Times:

Al_2 The swells who showed up before Al Franken’s speech at a Democratic fund-raiser to down finger food and punch were thrilled to see him, all the more so because he continues to make threatening noises about running for the Senate here in 2008. Mr. Franken grew up in St. Louis Park, a Minneapolis suburb, and was admitted to Blake, a competitive and expensive prep school, because, he said, “they needed some Jews to get their SAT scores up.”

“In this country, we are going through a very dark period,” he told his audience, “and someday your grandchildren are going to ask what you did, and you are going to tell them, ‘I worked my butt off,’ ” he said, exhorting the audience to work to turn out the current administration. He is a public person who likes his public and enjoys a microphone.

More here.

Faulty Biological Clock Genes Could Influence Addiction

From Scientific American:

Cocain According to a report published online this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, circadian rhythm genes help to regulate the brain’s reward system and could influence the addictive properties of drugs such as cocaine.

Colleen A. McClung of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and her colleagues studied mice lacking a circadian rhythm gene known as Clock. Compared to control animals, mice without Clock were hyperactive and became even more so after being given cocaine. What is more, they also found the drug more rewarding than normal mice did. Finally, Clock-deficient animals exhibited increased activity in the dopamine neurotransmitter system in the brain, which is heavily stimulated by cocaine use. “We found that the Clock gene is not only involved in regulating sleep/wake cycles, but is also very involved in regulating the rewarding responses to drugs of abuse,” McClung says.

More here.

William Dean Howells and the novel of New York

Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker:

Howell6_1Almost the first thing that every essay about the nineteenth-century American novelist William Dean Howells announces is that no one writes essays about William Dean Howells anymore; his eclipse is his identity. Yet in every decade since his death, in 1920, he has found strong advocates—and, although one might think that he needs to be argued for because he is distant from us, each new Howells has oddly resembled the critic who offers him. Howells is somehow both the road not taken and the street where we live.

More here.

Hashing exploit threatens digital security

Celeste Biever in New Scientist:

Cryptographers have found a way to snip a digital signature from one document and attach it to a fraudulent document without invalidating the signature and giving the fraud away.

The development means that attackers could potentially forge legal documents, load certified software with bogus code, or turn a digitally-signed letter of recommendation into one that authorises access to private information.

Digital signatures are used to authenticate website connections, emails and legal documents in some countries. They work because they are unique to the file or software that is signed, as they are created from the contents of the signed file. Therefore, if someone tries to cut a digital signature from one document and stick it to another, the signature fails because it no longer matches the document.

More here.

Stone Age Pornography Unearthed

Matthias Schulz in Spiegel Online:

010204351600New pornographic figurines from the Stone Age have been discovered in Germany. But researchers can’t agree on what the 7,000-year-old sculptures mean. Were our ancestors uninhibited sex fiends, or was reproduction strictly controlled to improve mobility? An increasing number of finds seem to indicate the Stone Age was an orgy of sexual imagination.

The project itself was far from extraordinary. Workers near the Eastern German city of Leipzig were digging a ditch for a new gas line. Hum drum. But what they discovered was far from routine. A backhoe unearthed a 7,200-year-old, Stone Age garbage pit — and it was filled with refuse from some of the first farmers on the European continent. Moreover, upon rushing to the site, archeologists discovered an 8.2 centimeter (3.2 inches) clay torso buried underground. The legs, abdomen and head were missing, but, according to the lucky archeologists, the figure still had its most important features intact: a “well-shaped behind” and a “short, but impressive” penis.

More here.