From Scientific American:
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.
Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker:
Almost 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.
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.
Matthias Schulz in Spiegel Online:
New 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.
Christopher Hitchens in Slate:
A favorite slice of reality TV in today’s Iraq is the melodramatically named program Terrorism in the Grip of Justice. Aired on state-run Al Iraqiya, which doesn’t require a satellite dish, it shows the confessions of captured “insurgents,” mainly foreign fighters. When possible, it also shows the videos that these people have made, so that, for example, a man can be viewed as he slices a victim’s throat and then viewed, looking much less brave, as he explains where he comes from, how he was taught to rehearse beheadings and throat-slittings on animals, and other insights into the trade. On occasion, these characters are confronted with the families of their victims. At other times, they have been able to tell the families of the missing what happened to their loved ones. The aim is to demystify the holy warriors and also to encourage civilians to call in with further tips…
Terrorism in the Grip of Justice could only be shown once the transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government had been made. The United States could not have put any of these people on television, because the Geneva Conventions forbid the exhibiting of prisoners.
John Allen Paulos explains how numbers can suggest fishy business, in his column at ABC News:
Looking at large data sets and deriving loud conclusions from the reams of whispering numbers is often enjoyable. Herein are three quite disparate examples.
The first concerns sumo wrestlers and comes from “Freakonomics,” a fascinating new book by economist Steven Levitt and writer Stephen Dubner, that employs Levitt’s quirky economic insights to illuminate many everyday activities and practices. The second is simply a study I reported on in a book I wrote on the stock market, and the third comes from a simple analysis I recently made of grade distributions for a required math course at my university.
Diane Martindale in Scientific American:
In the underworld of assisted suicide and euthanasia, Russel Ogden examines the means and methods–even as he is shunned by academia and chased by the law:
In 1990 David Lewis, a Vancouver man living with HIV, went to a local newspaper and announced that he had assisted eight friends, all suffering from AIDS, in committing suicide–an act of murder in the eyes of Canadian law. For many people, the news simply affirmed what they had long suspected was happening in the AIDS community. But to Russel Ogden, a criminology graduate student at Simon Fraser University looking for a research project, it was an opportunity to go where no scientist had ventured before.
“I had a population in my backyard that had been living with euthanasia issues for some time,” recalls Ogden, who is believed by many to be the first researcher in North America to have formally studied the practices of underground assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Joshua Foer reviews Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies — and What It Means to Be Human by Joel Garreau, in The Washington Post:
Far-fetched as it may sound, the first person who will live to be 1,000 may already walk among us. The first computer that will think like a person may be built before today’s kindergarteners graduate from college. By the middle of this century, we may be as blasé about genetically engineered humans as we are today about pierced ears. These sorts of predictions have a habit of sounding silly by the time they’re supposed to come true, but there’s a certain logic to them. Joel Garreau calls that logic “The Curve.”
The Curve is the untamable force of exponential growth that propels technological progress. It’s the compound interest on human ingenuity. The fact that computing power has doubled every 18 months, right on schedule, for the last four decades is a manifestation of The Curve. So is the rapid expansion of the Internet and the recent boom in genetic technologies. According to the inexorable logic of The Curve, if you want to get a sense of how radically our world will be transformed over the next century, the best guide will be looking back at how much things have changed, not over the past century, but over the past millennium.
‘We have no proof as to what the most unread book of the last twenty years may be, but we can certainly hazard a guess: A Brief History of Time has long been mocked by publishers and comedians alike as the quintessential book that flies out of stores, only to collect dust at home. This year, Jim Wallis’s latest, God’s Politics, will join Hawking’s effort on your bookcase’s highest shelf , where it will remain ever after as a source of mild guilt. It’s easy to see why the Brief History goes unread: Physics is hard. Most people were traumatized in high school and don’t feel qualified to broach the subject. “Time” itself is so abstract as to seem unfriendly, and many of us like our books with people in them. By comparison, the unreadableness of God’s Politics is a mystery.’
From Leora Bersohn at The Revealer.
Looking at art in New York’s Chelsea can be a boring affair. So much painting, so much stuff for rich people. But that’s OK. There are things to be discovered. The Plum Blossom gallery has been doing a good job of showing quality work from Asia even if it is often suspiciously buyable. The current show, The Way to China is the Way to America has good stuff by Ji Dachun:
And by Zhang Hongtu:
Via Crooked Timber, John Thompson looks at the problems of publishing academic books. (In The Chornicle of Higher Education.)
“Whereas the ‘long decade’ from the early 1980s to 2000 was a buoyant period for many presses in the field of academic publishing, including many university presses, the period since 2001 has brought a rude awakening. Growth rates of university presses have fallen to the lowest levels in many years, returns from booksellers have reached unprecedented heights, and some university presses have been faced with the prospect of imminent closure. Nor has it been plain sailing for the big college-textbook publishers. Accustomed to annual growth rates of 6 percent to 8 percent, textbook publishers have suddenly found themselves faced with declining unit sales and surrounded by allegations that they are fleecing students with inflated prices.
Why do academic publishers find themselves in such difficult circumstances, and what, if anything, can they do about them?
To understand the problems of academic publishers today, we have to see that their current predicament is the outcome of a long process of development that stretches back to the 1970s and before.”
US researchers have claimed to have discovered a planet similar to Earth some 15 light years away. . .
“This planet answers an ancient question. Over 2,000 years ago, the Greek philosophers Aristotle and Epicurus argued about whether there were other Earth-like planets. Now, for the first time, we have evidence for a rocky planet around a normal star,” said team leader Geoffrey Marcy, professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley.
Is there an imbalance in New York Times‘ coverage of deaths in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians? One study tries to answer the question.
“Our findings indicate significantly distorted coverage by The New York Times of these topics. In the first study period The Times reported Israeli deaths at a rate 2.8 times higher than Palestinian deaths, and in 2004 this rate increased by almost 30%, to 3.6, widening still further the disparity in coverage. The Times’ coverage of children’s deaths was even more skewed. In the first year of the current uprising, Israeli children’s deaths were reported at 6.8 times the rate of Palestinian children’s deaths. In 2004 this differential also increased, with deaths of Israeli children covered at a rate 7.3 times greater than the deaths of Palestinian children.”
(Hat tip: Sughra Raza)
In OpenDemocracy, Mary Kaldor tries to answer a difficult question for those who believed that Saddam Hussein had to go but were critical of the war.
“Was and is there an alternative to war in Iraq? The most important strategy in the new type of war is the restoration of legitimate political authority. This is no less true in Iraq than in other new wars, both before and after the invasion.
In the period before the invasion, the best justification for war was regime change. Saddam Hussein’s regime was one of the most brutal in the world – millions had died from his maniacal foreign adventures, from the suppression of uprisings in the north and south, from purges and repression, as well as economic devastation. So was there another way to achieve regime change? From discussions with the opposition inside Iraq, I believe that there was a real possibility of ‘opening up’ the regime rather in the way that happened in east-central Europe in the 1980s as a result of a combination of pressure both from outside based on the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, and from below.
There was much more going on inside Iraq than was realised. Indeed the expatriate opposition and Saddam Hussein had a shared interest in suppressing this reality. There were underground movements and parties – including the Da’wa party (Shi’a Islamist), the Communist Party, the General Union of Students, and the League of Iraqi Women. There were also various efforts to create public spaces by artists and intellectuals.
Most interestingly perhaps was the way in which the mosques, both Sunni and Shi’a, were leveraging Saddam’s new emphasis on religion to create more open space within the mosques, in a strategy reminiscent of the Catholic church in Poland.”
Read the whole piece, here.