How much can science and popular culture intertwine? A lot, apparently, at least if some of the floats in this recent Carnaval, the sensual, samba-ridden, sexually ambiguous Brazillian festival before Lent, are an indication.
“[I]n 2003, a talented young carnavalesco (the designer of a carnaval parade; yes that’s a profession in Brazil) named Paulo Barros proposed to one of the less affluent samba schools, the Unidos da Tijuca, a science theme for the February 22, 2004 parade. No one had gone down this road before—typical Carnaval themes are Amazonia, African or Portuguese heritage, sex, the sea, television stars et cetera. Unidos da Tijuca agreed to the plan, and began preparing for ‘The Dream of Creation and the Creation of the Dream: Art and Science in the Age of the Impossible.’
Paulo Barros then approached the science-outreach group, called Casa da Ciência, at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). The enthusiastic Casa da Ciência crowd loved the idea, and worked with the samba school for a year to get ready. The results showed, from the words of the theme samba to the costumes.
. . .
The vast majority of Brazilian scientists, even some who usually left town during Carnaval, were supportive of this incredible opportunity for science to interact with popular culture. The United States equivalent might be a science-themed halftime show at the Super Bowl.”
I guess that it’s simply natural to try to understand the mechanics of the disaster even as we wait to hear about family and loved ones that haven’t been accounted for. What this simulation from the Tsunami Inundation Mapping Efforts project of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration shows can only be described as mind boggling. (Click on the simulation tab.)
The quake may have also affected the Earth’s rotation.
“According to Richard Gross of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, it’s possible that the Earth’s rotation did indeed speed up slightly as a large chunk of the crust fell toward the planet’s core, just as a spinning figure skater speeds up when she pulls in her arms.
‘I used a model of the elastic properties of the Earth along with the seismically determined source properties of the earthquake to compute the change in the distribution of the Earth’s mass caused by the earthquake, and hence its effect on the Earth’s rotation, including the change in the length of the day and in the Earth’s wobble,’ Gross told Explainer in an e-mail. ‘This calculation predicts that the earthquake should have shortened the length of the day by about 2.7 microseconds, and caused the Earth to wobble by about another 1 inch.’
Stuart Sipkin, a research geophysicist who has been studying the quake at the USGS’s National Earthquake Information Center, doesn’t dispute the calculation but urges caution until the model’s projection can be confirmed with observed data. Unfortunately, that’s not possible; according to Gross, current length-of-day measurement techniques are accurate to only 20 microseconds.”
William Grimes reviews An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World by Pankaj Mishra, in the New York Times:
The Indian novelist and journalist Pankaj Mishra had two ideas when he came up with the subtitle “The Buddha in the World.” Always, in his rambling meditations on the history and meaning of Buddhism, he struggles to place the Buddha in historical context. He evokes the physical settings, socioeconomic changes and political tensions of Northern India six centuries before Jesus, the world in which Siddhartha Gautama first spread his radical message.
At the same time, his own spiritual quest pulls the story into the present, as he sorts out his conflicted feelings about Buddhism and its relevance to the world of terrorist bombings, multinational corporations and seething third-world discontent.
Mr. Mishra, the author of a highly praised novel, “The Romantics,” has written an odd, uneasy book.
From A Talk With Karl Sigmund at Edge.org:
These ideas fed into our work on indirect reciprocity, a concept that was first introduced by Robert Trivers in a famous paper in the 1970s. I recall that he mentioned this idea obliquely when he wrote about something he called “general altruism”. Here you give something back not to the person to whom you owe something, but to somebody else in society. He pointed out that this also works with regard to cooperation at a high level. Trivers didn’t go into details, because at the time it was not really at the center of his thinking. He was mostly interested in animal behavior, and so far indirect reciprocity has not been proven to exist in animal behavior. It might exist in some cases, but ethologists are still debating the pros and cons.
In human societies, however, indirect reciprocity has a very striking effect. There is a famous anecdote about the American baseball player Yogi Berra, who said something to the effect of, “I make a point of going to other people’s funerals because otherwise they won’t come to mine.” This is not as nonsensical as it seems. If a colleague of the university, for instance, goes faithfully to every faculty member’s funeral, then the faculty will turn out strongly at his. Others reciprocate. It works. We think instinctively in terms of direct reciprocation — when I do something for you, you do something for me — but the same principle can apply in situations of indirect reciprocity. I do something for you and somebody else helps me in return.
Today from The Guardian (see my earlier posts here and here):
The violent protests that led to the closure of the controversial play Behzti were the result of a failed attempt to work with Sikh community leaders, a leading actor in the play has said.
Yasmin Wilde, who played Min, the victim in a rape scene which sparked particular criticism, said the play had been closed despite the mixed feelings of the cast after police advised that the violence was likely to escalate.
She said the long consultation between the Birmingham Rep, where the play was performed, and Sikh community representatives in the run-up to the production had caused problems.
Nicholas Thompson in Legal Affairs (via Arts and Letters Daily):
MALAYSIA AND INDONESIA COULDN’T BE CALLED TWINS, but they might be called siblings. The adjacent Southeast Asian nations possess similar natural resources and their citizens speak similar languages and follow similar strains of Islam. But Malaysia’s economy is prospering while Indonesia’s is floundering. Malaysia’s stock market is far more vibrant than its neighbor’s, and its average resident is three times richer.
Economists might explain these divergent paths by pointing to the countries’ different responses to the Asian financial crisis of the mid-1990s. Sociologists might find a cultural explanation in the close-knit community of Chinese immigrants who are the most powerful force in Malaysia’s business community. Historians might point out that Malaysia’s struggle for independence was much less bloody than Indonesia’s.
Another explanation lies in the countries’ legal systems, however. Malaysia was a British colony and its legal system is based on the common law: the set of rules, norms, and procedures that has guided the legal system of England and the British Empire for about nine centuries. Indonesia was a Dutch colony and its legal system derives from French civil law, a set of statutes and principles written under Napoleon in the early 19th century and imposed upon the lands he conquered, including the Netherlands.
According to research published by a group of scholars beginning in 1998, countries that come from a French civil law tradition struggle to create effective financial markets, while countries with a British common law tradition succeed far more frequently.
The author of 2001: A Space Odyssey is Sri Lanka’s most famous guest-resident:
British-born science fiction author Arthur C Clarke who has made Sri Lanka his adopted home lost his diving school with the deadly tsunami eerily echoing a plotline from his first book on the island…
“Curiously enough, in my first book on Sri Lanka, I had written about another tidal wave reaching the Galle harbour,” he said.
“That happened in August 1883, following the eruption of Krakatoa in roughly the same part of the Indian Ocean.”
He was referring to the submarine earthquake in the Indian Ocean off Indonesia that triggered the tsunami which devastated coastlines of seven Asian nations, with Sri Lanka one of the hardest hit.
More here, and also see this.
Jed Perl in The New Republic:
There is a heart-stopping intimacy about Duccio’s Madonna and Child, a new acquisition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The little panel, less than a foot high, dates from around 1300, when a few Italian artists were beginning to take an interest in the visual possibilities of raw, unfettered emotion–emotion that was not ritualized or abstracted. Duccio gives the interactions of a mother and a child a pungency and a delicacy that’s startlingly–disarmingly–familiar.
The massive earthquake that devastated parts of Asia permanently moved the tectonic plates beneath the Indian Ocean as much as 98 feet (30 meters), slightly shifting islands near Sumatra an unknown distance, U.S. scientists said on Tuesday.
A tsunami spawned by the 9.0-magnitude quake off the northern tip of Sumatra killed an estimated 60,000 on Sunday in Indonesia, Thailand, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and East Africa.
More here. It is recommended that one donate cash rather than supplies:
• American Red Cross
Contributions should be sent to International Response Fund, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. For more information about donating, call 800-435-7669.
For information about friends or relatives who may have been affected, call 866-438-4636.
I spent an evening in Susan Sontag’s apartment once. She wasn’t there; I was visiting a friend who was housesitting for her. As might be expected, the apartment was filled, wall-to-wall, with books. I looked through a few, and noticed that she had the interesting habit of cutting out reviews of a book from several sources, then folding and placing them in the book itself before shelving it. I tried to emulate her habit, with very little success. She was inimitable in many ways.
Susan Sontag, the author, activist and self-defined “zealot of seriousness” whose voracious mind and provocative prose made her a leading intellectual of the past half century, died Tuesday. She was 71.
Sontag died Tuesday morning, officials at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center said. She had been treated for breast cancer in the 1970s.
Sontag called herself a “besotted aesthete,” an “obsessed moralist” and a “zealot of seriousness.”
She wrote a best-selling historical novel, “The Volcano Lover,” and in 2000 won the National Book Award for the historical novel “In America.” But her greatest literary impact was as an essayist.
The 1964 piece “Notes on Camp,” which established her as a major new writer, popularized the “so bad it’s good” attitude toward popular culture, applicable to everything from “Swan Lake” to feather boas. In “Against Interpretation,” this most analytical of writers worried that critical analysis interfered with art’s “incantatory, magical” power.
More here, and “Notes on Camp” can be read here.
Gary Stix in Scientific American:
The National Security Agency or one of the Federal Reserve banks can now buy a quantum-cryptographic system from two small companies–and more products are on the way. This new method of encryption represents the first major commercial implementation for what has become known as quantum information science, which blends quantum mechanics and information theory. The ultimate technology to emerge from the field may be a quantum computer so powerful that the only way to protect against its prodigious code-breaking capability may be to deploy quantum-cryptographic techniques.
Full article here.
The erudite classicist, Daniel Mendelsohn, examines Oliver Stone’s Alexander in the New York Review of Books:
…at the end of the three-hour-long movie, four of the twelve people in the audience had left.
This was, obviously, not the reaction Stone was hoping for —nor indeed the reaction that Alexander’s life and career deserve, whether you think he was an enlightened Greek gentleman carrying the torch of Hellenism to the East or a savage, paranoid tyrant who left rivers of blood in his wake. The controversy about his personality derives from the fact that our sources are famously inadequate, all eyewitness accounts having perished: what remains is, at best, secondhand (one history, for instance, is based largely on the now-lost memoirs of Alexander’s general and alleged half-brother, Ptolemy, who went on to become the founder of the Egyptian dynasty that ended with Cleopatra), and at worst highly unreliable. A rather florid account by the first-century-AD Roman rhetorician Quintus Curtius often reflects its author’s professional interests —his Alexander is given to extended bursts of eloquence even when gravely wounded—far more than it does the known facts. But Alexander’s story, even stripped of romanticizing or rhetorical elaboration, still has the power to amaze.
Continue reading here.
Malcolm Gladwell reviews Diamond’s book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, in The New Yorker:
In “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” Diamond looked at environmental and structural factors to explain why Western societies came to dominate the world. In “Collapse,” he continues that approach, only this time he looks at history’s losers—like the Easter Islanders, the Anasazi of the American Southwest, the Mayans, and the modern-day Rwandans. We live in an era preoccupied with the way that ideology and culture and politics and economics help shape the course of history. But Diamond isn’t particularly interested in any of those things—or, at least, he’s interested in them only insofar as they bear on what to him is the far more important question, which is a society’s relationship to its climate and geography and resources and neighbors. “Collapse” is a book about the most prosaic elements of the earth’s ecosystem—soil, trees, and water—because societies fail, in Diamond’s view, when they mismanage those environmental factors.
Read more here.
Kent Sepkowitz, M.D., in the New York Times:
As a profession, I think we do tend to run on the dry side, though till recently the reason had eluded me. Then, last month, my wife and I bumped into an acquaintance of hers while walking along the street. The person, unbeknownst to my wife, is a patient of mine, someone whom I treat for a chronic infection. After the patient and I shared a moment of mutual panic, we three chatted amicably and moved on.
Except, that evening, my wife kept asking me why I was being so quiet and, well, boring. And I suddenly saw the problem: doctors are waterlogged with secrets, hundreds of them, thousands of them.
Each day brings a new batch: patients’ admissions about drug use or sexual indiscretion, a hidden family, a long-held dream, an ancient heartache, undisclosed H.I.V. infection.
John Schwartz in the New York Times:
For vivid reporting from the enormous zone of tsunami disaster, it was hard to beat the blogs.
The so-called blogosphere, with its personal journals published on the Web, has become best known as a forum for bruising political discussion and media criticism. But the technology proved a ready medium for instant news of the tsunami disaster and for collaboration over ways to help.
There was the simple photo of a startlingly blue boat smashed against a beachside palm in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, at www.thiswayplease .com/extra.html. “Every house and fishing boat has been smashed, the entire length of the east coast,” wrote Fred Robart, who posted the photo. “People who know and respect the sea well now talk of it in shock, dismay and fear.”
At sumankumar.com, Nanda Kishore, a contributor, offered photos and commentary from Chennai, India: “Some drenched till their hips, some till their chest, some all over and some of them were so drenched that they had already stopped breathing. Men and women, old and young, all were running for lives. It was a horrible site to see. The relief workers could not attend to all the dead and all the alive. The dead were dropped and the half alive were carried to safety.”
In early November of this year, as my wife and I took a dawn swim at one of the loveliest beaches in the world, Unawatuna (rated the 7th most beautiful beach on Earth by Conde Nast this year!), near Galle, in Sri Lanka, we could hardly have imagined that many of the lovely people we met there would be dead less than two months later; the beautiful old hotel we stayed in, as well as Auntie Moharram’s lovely seaside restaurant (where she showed off the new bar she was planning to put in) swept away. A friend of one of my closest friends, Ramani, has had her parents, husband, and both children killed. Five percent of the population of Sri Lanka is affected (homeless, injured, dead). As it happens, my wife and I had Christmas dinner two nights ago with a high-ranking offical of the Sri Lankan government, with whom we fondly shared many memories of our time there. And then the next morning, this wave of incomprehensible destruction. And as we are all too aware, it is not just Sri Lanka. We mourn also the thousands of victims in India, Thailand, and Indonesia. The New York Times has a list of ways to help here. I will update this post as I get more information on how to help most effectively.
The first picture shows me and Auntie Moharram in her restaurant, the second is where we were staying; both no longer exist. The third is a more recent picture of the area.
The human cost of the recent earthquake and tsunami is difficult to fathom.
For some, it probably brings to mind the terrible Lisbon earthquake that so shook the confidence of European Humanism at the time. One wonders if there will be similar repercussions on human thought from this event.
From the scientific side, there is some good info and useful links here and here.