‘The Secret Man’: The Insider

Christopher Hitchens in The New York Times:

Hitchspan IN the spring of 1976 I took myself to the first available screening of ”All the President’s Men,” and sat enthralled in the darkness as Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman and Jason Robards portrayed the men I only wished I could be. When the lights came up at the conclusion, I discovered several of my journalistic colleagues dotted around the cinema, slumped thoughtfully in their seats. Our eyes met glancingly: we all knew what we were covertly thinking. If only. . . . And one day. . . .

More here.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Fictional States!

One of the best gifts I got this year was a subscription to Cabinet magazine. The new issue out now is all about “Fictional States” of various kinds, including the kind described here:

‘Call them micro-nations, model countries, ephemeral states, or new country projects, the world is surprisingly full of entities that display all the trappings of established independent states, yet garner none of the respect. The Republic of Counani, Furstentum Castellania, Palmyra, the Hutt River Province, and the Empire of Randania may sound fantastical, but they are a far cry from authorial inventions, like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia or Swift’s Laputa. For while uncertain territories like the Realm of Redonda might not be locatable in your atlas, they do claim a very genuine existence in reality, maintaining geographical boundaries, flaunting governmental structures, and displaying the ultimate necessity for any new nation: flags. Admittedly they may be little more than loose threads on the patchwork of nations, but these micro-nations offer their founders a much sought-after prize—sovereignty.’

More here from ‘New Foundlands,’ by George Pendle.

The print edition carries a curious leaflet, pasted on top of the masthead page, purporting to be from the printers of Cabinet, who claim that they are tired of having to correct the editors’ lazy proofreading. Fictional states…

‘Pakistan’s girl wonder’ is likely the youngest certified Microsoft expert

There has been a lot of negative attention focused on Pakistanis since it became apparent that the craven idiots who perpetrated the London bombings were of Pakistani origin. One of those bombers, Shahzad Tanweer, (or at least his family) came originally from the city of Faisalabad in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Lest we start making broad generalizations about Pakistanis, I present this item about a young girl, also from the fair city of Faisalabad:

Todd Bishop in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

226arfa14_programmerSitting down for a personal meeting with Bill Gates this week, 10-year-old Arfa Karim Randhawa asked the Microsoft founder why the company doesn’t hire people her age.

Under the circumstances, the question wasn’t so unreasonable.

Arfa, a promising software programmer from Faisalabad, Pakistan, is believed to be the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional in the world. The designation, given to outside experts who prove their ability to work with Microsoft technologies, has also been achieved by some teenagers. But it’s far more common among adults seeking to advance their computer careers.

Arfa received the certification when she was still 9, an impressive accomplishment in its own right, according to older programmers who have gone through the process.

More here, including an interview with young Arfa.  And there is more here, here, and here.  [Thanks to Sahabzada Abdus Samad Khan.]

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postsecret

Concert Postsecret is a weired and wonderful community art project where people mail-in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard. Each postcard reveals something. Some secrets are painful, others are funny, all of them are very private. In a world of instant exhibitionism it is amazing to feel the power of the hidden emotions being released. (via cool Hunting)

“The question I am asked most often is,”which secret is your favorite?” My favorite postcard is one I have never seen. In fact, it was never mailed to me. I learned about it recently from an email I received.

“…I was very excited because I too had a secret I wanted to post. I thought long and hard about how I wanted to word my secret and I searched for the perfect postcard to display it on. After I had created my postcard I stepped back to admire my handiwork. Instead of feeling relieved that I had finally got my secret out, I felt terrible instead. It was right then that I decided that I didn’t want to be the person with that secret any longer. I ripped up my postcard and I decided to start making some changes in my life…”

If someday I find an envelope in my mailbox with the pieces of that ripped-up secret, I will be sure to share it here.
-Frank”

An almost psychotically optimistic hope: Paulos on Penrose

Redes23marzo05_1John Allen Paulos reviews The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe by Roger Penrose, in his monthly Who’s Counting column at ABC News:

The first 400 pages of “The Road to Reality” sketch the mathematics needed to understand the physics of the following 700 pages. Like many mathematicians, Penrose is an avowed Platonist who believes that mathematical entities such as pi, infinite cardinal numbers, and the Mandelbrot set are simply “out there” and have an objective existence independent of us.

PenroseDeveloping his mathematical philosophy a bit with some interesting speculations about the relations between the mathematical, physical, and mental worlds (but never descending to sappy theology), he very soon gets into the mathematical nitty-gritty. He expounds on Dedekind cuts, conformal mappings, Riemann surfaces, Fourier transforms, Grassmann products, tensors, Lie algebras, symmetry groups, covariant derivatives, and fiber bundles among many other notions.

As suggested, the level of exposition and the topics covered make me wonder about the intended audience. Penrose writes that he’d like the book to be accessible to those who struggled with fractions in school, but this seems an almost psychotically optimistic hope. This is especially so because Penrose’s approach to so many topics is so clever and novel.

More here.

Summer Reading

From The Edge:

Summerbooksmosiac It’s Summer, time to lie on the beach and relax with a wonderful book. Here’s a selection of 40 recently published great Summer reads from the Edge community. Read Mandelbrot on “multifractals”, Dawkins on “true heredity”, Penrose on “Clifford bundles”, Marcus on “synaptic strengthening“, Searle on “biological naturalism”, Leroi on “intersex”, Pinker on “biological nature”, Garreau on “the telekinetic monkey”, Seligman on “avoidant people”, Randall on “extra dimensions”, Kurzweil on “the singularity”, Damasio on “neurotransmitter nuclei”, Greene on “quantum weirdness”, Dennett on the “Zombic Hunch”, Diamond on anthropology to zoology, plus many others. You can’t go wrong.

More here.

Parkinson’s Treatment Linked to Compulsive Gambling

From Scientific American:

Gambling Researchers have identified a strange side effect to a treatment for Parkinson’s disease: excessive gambling. Some patients taking medications known as dopamine agonists developed the problem within three months of starting treatment, even though they had previously gambled only occasionally or never at all. All of the patients in the new study were using dopamine agonists, compounds that mimic the behavior of the neurotransmitter in the brain, as part of their treatment regimes. The researchers report in the current issue of the Archives of Neurology that their newly-developed gambling problems cost patients upwards of $100,000 and, in the case of one patient, led to the break-up of her marriage.

More here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

It’s Tom Friedman’s problem

Good post by Lindsay Beyerstein at Majikthise:

If It’s a Muslim Problem, It Needs a Muslim Solution, opines Tom Friedman.

The Muslim village has been derelict in condemning the madness of jihadist attacks. When Salman Rushdie wrote a controversial novel involving the prophet Muhammad, he was sentenced to death by the leader of Iran. To this day – to this day – no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden.

For that, Juan Cole smites Friedman righteously Friedman Wrong About Muslims Again And the Amman Statement on Ecumenism.

It’s as if Friedman’s latest editorial spun out of control in a freak rhetorical accident. In the course of lecturing us about tolerance, he somehow ended up saying that all Muslims are complicit in terrorism.

Making Sense of The Daily Show’s new set

In Slate, Dana Stevens looks at changes to the set of The Daily Show, a recent topic of conversation among many I know.

“After a week’s hiatus, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart reopened last night in new digs, a few blocks west of its former location in midtown Manhattan. To judge by Stephen Colbert’s tour of the old Daily Show headquarters, which appears as an extra on the new Indecision 2004 DVD, the backstage staff was clearly in need of some spruced-up quarters in which to write and produce the show. But was I the only viewer disturbed by the more-than-cosmetic changes to the look of the studio itself? What is The Daily Show trying to say with its new set?”

Meeting Nature’s Needs

Demaray3

Based on what we know about the new needs of these animals in their current environment, the Hand Up Project proposes to manufacture alternative forms of housing, specifically designed for use by land hermit crabs, out of plastic. This solution offers multiple benefits. Not only will the project afford the animal badly needed additional forms of shelter, but we also contend that, by utilizing current technology, we may now be better equipped to meet the needs of this life-form than nature ever has.

more about the hand up project here.

Henri-Lévy as Tocqueville

The following project by The Atlantic seems like it may be very intriguing. The actual interview between Brooks andLevy
Henri-Lévy is only available to online subscribers but the description of what they’re doing is this:

In the May Atlantic the first of several installments of Bernard-Henri Lévy’s “In the Footsteps of Tocqueville” appears—a travelogue in which Lévy, a renowned author and public intellectual in France, describes his journey throughout this country, visiting various cities, historic sites, landmarks, malls, and churches, and commenting on aspects of our society and culture that only an outsider could perceive. The aim of this long-form piece is, in a sense, to attempt to replicate what the French author Alexis de Tocqueville accomplished in the nineteenth century with his book Democracy in America. Lévy’s Atlantic articles will eventually be collected and published by Random House, along with several previously unpublished chapters.

In New Jersey, Blog Carnival Is WWWeird

Peter Applebome in the New York Times:

In a perfect world, the Carnival of the New Jersey Bloggers would be a proper carnival you could take your kids to, with cold lemonade at the Parkway Rest Stop, sword swallowing by Mister Snitch!, dunk-the-blogger booth at Mary’s Lame Attempt at Fame, house of horrors at the Bad Hair Blog and the rest.

But then who in New Jersey contemplates a perfect world? So, absent perfection, for another glimpse of New Jersey Ascendant, check out the weekly assemblage of all things Jersey that has taken on a life of its own on the Internet.

For those with too much time on their hands, a blog carnival is a collection of Web log entries, usually on a shared topic – politics, food, poker, etc. The most famous of which is the Carnival of the Vanities, which has become the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey of blog carnivals.

More here.  [Thanks to Husain Naqvi.]

The Bling King

William Grimes reviews The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication and Glamour by Joan DeJean, in the New York Times:

Louis_14_1In “The Essence of Style,” her effervescent account of the birth of French chic, Joan DeJean returns, again and again, to the idea that virtually everything associated with the high life today can be traced back to one man, whose tastes and desires transformed France into an international luxury brand. Today, the diamond reigns supreme among gemstones. But it was not always so. Throughout the Renaissance, it was the pearl that symbolized wealth and beauty, while the diamond, in treatises of the time, ranked only 18th in importance. In the 1660’s, however, Louis developed a taste for the colorless stone that a French jeweler named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier began bringing back from India. In 1669, the king spent the equivalent of $75 million on diamonds, propelling the stone to the pre-eminent position it has enjoyed ever since, and establishing Paris as the world center for fine jewelry. The Sun King was also the bling king.

More here.

Andy Warhol, presented with Spielbergian intensity

From The Village Voice:

Warhol_1 Triggering interpretations that fence personal obsessions with death, sensationalism, and our preoccupation with “terror,” a theater of the macabre, Americana-style, swings into motion with the pairing of “Skull” paintings (1976) against the Washington Monuments. Ricocheting in a visual sight line from the front to the back of the galleries and activating the museum’s enormous scale, the skulls greet us like enormous sentries and draw us through the permanent installation of the mysterious “Shadow” paintings (1978–79). They pull us past Louise Lawler’s photographs of Warhol works and deliver us to a rear gallery they share with two oversize “Last Supper” canvases (1986), beyond which are a stash of six hardcore “Disaster” paintings (1963–64). Abetted by the towering cartoon monotony of the Washington Monument, the trail of skulls, and traces of Jesus Christ, the horrific spectacle of multiple real-life death scenes (plus one bloody birth scene) catalyze the Wow! moment and fuel momentary amnesia. Has Warhol ever been presented with such Spielbergian intensity?

More here.

The Next Pandemic?

From Foreign Affairs:

International health officials are warning that a deadly avian influenza virus may soon spread rapidly, overwhelming unprepared health systems in rich and poor countries alike. If the virus mutates to become easily transmittable among humans, the death toll of the resulting global pandemic could number in the millions.

As a call to action, the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs includes a special set of articles written by Laurie Garrett of the Council on Foreign Relations, Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota and the Department of Homeland Security, and Drs. William Karesh and Robert Cook of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Special condensed versions of the essays by Garrett and Osterholm, along with a Web-only Q & A with Garrett, are available on the Foreign Affairs website today.

Nature magazine is providing additional information on the medical and scientific aspects of the H5N1 virus. The coverage of both magazines is being coordinated to assist efforts of the Royal Institution World Science Assembly to spur preparations by governments and international organizations.

A lot more here.

ALL THE OIL IN CHINA?

James Surowiecki in The New Yorker:

When the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, or cnooc, made an $18.5-billion bid for the American oil company Unocal two weeks ago, topping a previous offer of $16.5 billion from Chevron, a political storm was inevitable. The Chinese government owns seventy per cent of cnooc (pronounced “see-nook”), and, for many in Washington, China is a natural enemy in the making. Representative Joe Barton said that the deal “poses a clear threat to the energy and national security of the United States.” Representative Richard Pombo prophesied “disastrous consequences.” A host of congressmen argued that the Committee on Foreign Investments—a government body that vets corporate acquisitions by foreign companies with an eye toward national security—should investigate the deal.

More here.

The little-known links in the chain to the bomb

Elizabeth Svoboda reviews Before the Fallout: From Marie Curie to Hiroshima by Diana Preston, in the San Francisco Chronicle:

The deliberations of the Manhattan Project’s kingpins at Los Alamos, N.M., have been hashed out ad infinitum in classic works such as Richard Rhodes’ “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.” Preston’s book escapes comparison with such literary behemoths by focusing on the key roles of lesser-known personalities. She proposes that for every Oppenheimer, Einstein and Teller — larger-than- life caricatures in the cultural lexicon — there is a bit player, equally integral to the drama, whose story remains largely unknown.

Among Preston’s cast of atomic Rosencrantzes and Guildensterns, German physicist Werner Heisenberg is most deftly portrayed. Though eager for Germany to win World War II so the Allies would not treat it “the way the Romans had treated Carthage,” Heisenberg never belonged to the Nazi party. Preston raises the intriguing possibility that he and others assigned to the German nuclear weapons project “had misgivings about producing a bomb, which may have unconsciously inhibited their work.”

More here.

Sperm-free sex keeps hens happily faithful

Anna Gosline in New Scientist:

Possessive cockerels use fake sex to keep their hens faithful. By merely mounting females – without bothering to waste precious sperm – cocks ensure their partners will not go looking for male competitors to fertilise them, a new study suggests. The finding may explain why males of many species – from insects to mammals – engage in seemingly meaningless sperm-free sex.

“Copulations that appear to be successful, but with no semen transferred, are almost ubiquitous,” says Tommaso Pizzari at the University of Oxford, UK, co-author of the study. “It suggests that this behaviour may be rather more than an accident or a by-product of males running out of sperm.”

While sperm was always thought of as a cheaper investment than eggs, in the past few years, researchers have begun to realise that sperm also carries a hefty biological price tag. In 2003, Pizzari and his colleagues showed that male chickens allocated their precious seed according to the likelihood of fathering children. Unfamiliar females always received a fulsome dose, while hens with which the cock had already mated several times ended up receiving little more than ruffled feathers.

More here.

Deep Insight: Comet Buster Reveals Dusty Secrets

Michael Schirber at Space.com:

050712_deep_impact_emit_02Now that the fireworks are over, scientists are sorting through what was learned from the Deep Impact collision with Comet Tempel 1 on July 4.

“It looks like we got a pretty good pop,” Pete Schultz from Brown University told SPACE.com yesterday.

Although Deep Impact’s 820-pound impactor struck the comet’s surface at approximately a 25-degree angle, it was still able to kick up an impressive plume of dust.   

The preliminary images and data indicate the comet has a cratered surface that is too soft to be made of ice, once thought to be the main component of comets.  The impactor-induced crater was not visible directly due to the thick cloud of dust, but researchers estimate it to be at least 330 feet (100 meters) wide.

“The major surprise was the opacity of the plume the impactor created and the light it gave off,” said Michael A’Hearn of the University of Maryland. “That suggests the dust excavated from the comet’s surface was extremely fine, more like talcum powder than beach sand.”

More here.

From Srebrenica to Baghdad

Christopher Hitchens in Slate:

Ten years since the hecatomb of Srebrenica … surely a decade cannot have passed so quickly? It really feels to me like yesterday. I can hear Susan Sontag’s exact tone of voice as she described being in a ministerial office in Sarajevo when the mayor of Srebrenica got through on a bad line to say, “This is goodbye.” He did not mean au revoir. Ronald Steel is one of the most gentle and humane liberals I have ever met, but I can still see his next-day’s op-ed in the New York Times, announcing that the fall of the “safe havens” was “a blessing in disguise,” since it might force the Bosnians to sue for peace. I can remember the red rage in which I wrote a letter to the Times, saying that a mass murder was a pretty effective disguise. And the sickening news, day by day, of the routine and organized torture and slaughter, and then the crude interment of the butchered cadavers, ploughed under like black plastic bags of refuse. I have had my differences with Mark Danner since that time, but if you wish to relive the episode (and you should want to do so) you really must look up his brilliant forensic inquiry in successive issues of the New York Review of Books.

Above all, what I remember is the sense of shame…

More here.