Rockin’ feet

Preview87 A somewhat bizzare collection of rock stars’ shoes and feet photographs was taken by German rock photographer Roland Owsnitzki in the last 20 years. The project is called “Feet Me

“Roland Owsnitzki is not a foot fetishist. “No, no, no, no,” says the 50-year-old German photographer from Berlin. “I’m not into that sort of thing.” So you haven’t got a pervy Helmut Newton thing going on? “Not at all. I just find feet really expressive.”

Laleh Seddigh, “the little Michael Schumacher”

Speaking of female fighter-pilots in the Pakistan Air Force, here’s some news from Iran. Otto Pohl in the New York Times:

14fpro[Laleh] Seddigh loves speed. She also loves a challenge. Last fall, she petitioned the national auto racing federation in this male-dominated society for permission to compete against men. When it was granted, she became not only the first woman in Iran to race cars against the opposite sex, but also the first woman since the Islamic Revolution here to compete against men in any sport.

What’s more, she beat them.

“I like competition in everything,” the striking 28-year-old said after parking the car and going for tiramisù in a cafe in North Tehran. “I have to move whatever is movable in the world.”

More here.

The evolution of creationism

William Saletan in Slate:

To understand the fight in Kansas, you have to study what evolutionists accuse creationists of neglecting: the historical record. In the Scopes trial, creationists defended a ban on the teaching of evolution. That was the early, authoritarian stage of creationism—the equivalent of Australopithecus, the earliest hominid. Gradually, evolution gained the upper hand. In 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that states couldn’t even require equal treatment of evolution and creationism. By 1999, creationists were asking the Kansas board not to rule out their beliefs entirely. This was creationism’s more advanced Homo erectus phase: pluralism.

Six years later, evolutionists in Kansas are under attack again. They think the old creationism is back. They’re mistaken. Homo erectus—the defense, on pluralist grounds, of the literal account of Genesis—is beginning to die out. The new challenger, ID, differs fundamentally from fundamentalism. Like its creationist forebears, ID is theistic. But unlike them, it abandons Biblical literalism, embraces open-minded inquiry, and accepts falsification, not authority, as the ultimate test. These concessions, sincere or not, define a new species of creationism—Homo sapiens—that fatally undermines its ancestors. Creationists aren’t threatening us. They’re becoming us.

More here.

Abu Ghraib Isn’t Guernica

Christopher Hitchens in Slate:

Botero1_1Ian McEwan observed recently that there were, in effect, two kinds of people: those who could have used or recognized the words “Abu Ghraib” a few years ago, and those to whom it became a new term only last year. And what a resonant name it has indeed become. Now the Colombian painter Fernando Botero has produced a sequence of lurid and haunting pictures, based on the photographs taken by American war criminals, with which he hopes to draw attention to the horrors inflicted there. But his true ambition, he says, is to do for Abu Ghraib what Picasso did for Guernica.

More here.

Environmental economics — who will pay?

From The Economist:

At the Miraflores lock on the Panama Canal it is possible to watch the heartbeat of international trade in action. One by one, giant ships piled high with multi-coloured containers creep through the lock’s narrow confines and are disgorged neatly on the other side. If it were not for the canal, these ships would have to make a two-to-three-week detour around South America. That would have a significant effect on the price of goods around much of the world. It is therefore sobering to consider that each ship requires 200m litres of fresh water to operate the locks of the canal and that, over the years, this water has been drying up.

Scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, in Panama, think that reforesting the canal’s denuded watershed would help regulate the supply. One of them, Robert Stallard, a hydrologist and biogeochemist who also works for the United States Geological Survey in Boulder, Colorado, has operated in the country for two decades, and knows the terrain well. A deforested, grass-covered watershed would release far more water in total than a forested one, he admits, but that water would arrive in useless surges rather than as a useful steady stream. A forested watershed makes a lot more sense…

Viewed this way, any scheme to reforest the canal’s watershed is, in fact, an investment in infrastructure. Normally, this would be provided by the owner. But in this case the owner is the Panamanian government, and Panama is in debt, has a poor credit rating and finds it expensive to borrow money. And yet investing in the canal’s watershed clearly makes economic sense. Who will pay?

More here.

Spring birth leads to earlier menopause

Michael Hopkin in Nature:

The season in which a woman is born influences the age at which she will go through the menopause, suggests a survey of northern Italians.

The survey, which looked at nearly 3,000 post-menopausal women at three clinics, revealed that those born in March showed the earliest menopause, at an average age of 48.9 years. At the other end of the scale, those born in October remained fertile until an average age of 50.3, with many lasting beyond 55.

More here.


Ilan Stavans in The New Republic:

The word “camouflage” is nowhere to be found in the canonical 1971 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Is this yet another proof that lexicographers leave out, or otherwise disguise, clues in their dictionaries for users to notice?

Browsing a dictionary requires breath, curiosity, and patience. Every time I open one, I’m filled with expectation: What will I discover about the words I use on a daily bases that I didn’t know before? What kind of mysteries did the compiler set out for me to uncover? Dictionary makers approach their discipline–the deciphering, and characterization, of the entire vocabulary bank constituting a language–in a cold-blooded, objective fashion, assuring readers no prejudice goes unpunished. What folly! Dictionaries, after all, are catalogs of social misconceptions. Look up the word “Jew” in Sebastián de Covarrubias’s Tesoro de la lengua castellana, the first full-fledge lexicon of the Spanish language, published in 1611, and you’ll find a description of a people who “continue to profess the Mosaic Law, which is a shadow of the truth.” Or open the Trésor de la langue française to “amour” and you’ll find as oblique reference: “love is sometimes more than just love, but also sometimes less.”

More here.

Abortion leads to less crime

Jim Holt reviews Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, in the New York Times:

Levitt has strayed far from the customary paddock of the dismal science in search of interesting problems. How do parents of different races and classes choose names for their children? What sort of contestants on the TV show ”The Weakest Link” are most likely to be discriminated against by their fellow contestants? If crack dealers make so much money, why do they live with their moms? Such everyday riddles are fair game for the economist, Levitt contends, because their solution involves understanding how people react to incentives. His peers seem to agree. In 2003, Levitt was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal, bestowed every two years on the most accomplished American economist under 40…

The trivia alone is worth the cover price. Did you know that Ku Klux Klan members affixed a ”kl” to many words (thus two Klansmen would hold a ”klonversation” in the local ”klavern”) or that the secret Klan handshake was ”a left-handed, limp-wristed fish wiggle”? In the mid-1940’s, a Klan infiltrator began to feed such intelligence to writers for the radio show ”The Adventures of Superman,” who incorporated it into the plotline, thereby making the Klan look ridiculous in the eyes of the public and driving down its membership. Levitt uses the rise and fall of the K.K.K. to illustrate the power of hoarded information.

More here.  Buy this book from Amazon with one click here.

Paul Theroux’s Drug Junket

“Paul Theroux planned to follow in Burroughs’s footsteps and experience the ultimate high in the rainforest, but instead he found oil prospectors, exploitation, and tourists in search of healing.” Theroux writes about it in The Guardian:

TherouxDrug tour was my name for it. “Ethnobotanical experience” was the prettified official name for it, and some others spoke of it as a quest, a chance to visit a colourful Indian village, a clearing in the selva tropical, where just a few decades ago American missionaries sought early martyrdoms among the blowguns and poison-tipped arrows of indignant animists resisting forcible conversion to Christianity.

The people who organised this drug junket characterised it as a high-minded field trip, eight days in the rainforest, to experience eco-awareness and spiritual solidarity, to learn the names and uses of beneficial plants. One of those plants was ayahuasca. There was no promise of a ritual yet heavy hints were dropped about a “healing”. We would be living in a traditional village of indigenous Secoya people, deep in Ecuador’s Oriente province, near the Colombian border, on a narrow branch of Burroughs’ Putumayo, where the ayahuasca vine clinging to the trunks of rain forest trees grows as thick as a baby’s arm.

More here.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Philip Ball Wins Science Book Prize

Mike Holderness and Maggie McDonald in New Scientist:

“One of the things about being an outsider is that you don’t have to think of anything to say.” With these words, Philip Ball accepted the 2005 Aventis Prize for Science Books at a ceremony at the Royal Society in London, UK, adding: “If only I’d put that money on myself at 8 to 1.”

His winning book Critical Mass considers the use of statistics in the attempt to discover new insights into group behaviour and the functioning of society. The book visits many unexpected corners of politics, economics and sociology, and offers a novel take on the links between the history of political philosophy, Newtonian physics and statistical mechanics.

More here.

Rushdie appreciates bloggers

Charlotte Abbott in Publishers Weekly:

As books like The Kite Runner and Reading Lolita in Tehran dominate the bestseller list, there are other signs that U.S. readers may be waking up to writers born abroad. The week-long PEN World Voices festival of international literature, which closed April 22, drew more than 8,000 people to 43 events in New York City. Many panels were sold out, forcing the organizers to turn away an estimated 2,000.

“We guessed the audience would be there, but it was a real thrill to see the response,” said Salman Rushdie, president of the PEN American Center, who attributed the diverse and youthful turnout to an “enormous amount of blogging” about the festival. With 75 foreign writers and 36 from the U.S., it was the largest international gathering of writers in New York since the PEN congress in 1986.

More here.  And there’s more, including audio archives of the conference, at PEN’s website here.

America’s magnet for creativity faces far-flung places on the rise

Clayton Collins reviews The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent by Richard Florida, in the Christian Science Monitor:

P17aThese days, the world’s rank-and-file creative workers can find plenty of nurturing environments in which conditions equal or trump America’s legendary offerings, Florida maintains. He calls the impending shift – not so much a mass migration as the cultivation of indigenous talent pools that attract a trickle of like minds – the greatest current threat to America’s global competitiveness. It is a bigger worry than China (and, presumably, than the outsourcing of low-wage jobs).

More here.  [For Alia Raza, who brought up this subject recently.]

Learn to love the equation

Marcus du Sautoy in The Guardian:

This year we are celebrating the centenary of the most famous equation of all time. Einstein’s E=mc2 is probably at the top of most people’s list of memorable equations. Like all great equations, Einstein’s discovery has the quality of a magic trick: you start with something on one side of the equation and then by mathematical magic the formula transforms it into something that appears completely different. In Einstein’s case, the trick was to show how matter (the m in his equation) can be transformed into pure energy (the E), a magic trick that was put to devastating use in the creation of the atom bomb.

More here.

Joy Division

The only time I saw Joy Division, Ian Curtis collapsed on stage during the fifth song and the set ended abruptly amid confusion and conjecture. The venue was the Tn_jd20Moonlight Club in north London; the date 4 April 1980, the final night of an Easter weekend showcase for Manchester’s Factory Records. Joy Division played only five more gigs. In the early hours of 18 May, Ian Curtis hanged himself, brought low by guilt, illness and acute depression.

More from The Observer.

Robots master reproduction

From Nature:

Robot Humans do it, bacteria do it, even viruses do it: they make copies of themselves. Now US researchers have built a flexible robot that can perform the same trick. It’s not the first self-replicating robot ever built, says Hod Lipson of Cornell University, who led the study. But previous machines with the capacity for copying themselves have been very simple, often spreading out in only two dimensions. And more complex devices existed only in computer simulations, not reality.
Lipson’s robot consists of four cubes, each 10-cm to a side, which are sliced diagonally into halves that can rotate against each other. This allows the robot to change shape, he reports in Nature. Provided it is fed with cubes, the robot can create a copy of itself within a few minutes.

More here.

Click here to watch the robot reproduce (amazing!).

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Why lusty canaries change their tune


Canary Young male birds may break rigid rules for song structure, but they quickly shape up when it’s time to attract a mate. During the first half of their youth, male canaries raised alone in soundproof cages can learn to precisely imitate computer-generated songs. As spring nears, however, the canaries literally “change their tune” by reorganizing the structure of their songs so that they conform to the rules of adult canary songs and the expectations of potential mates. This new study appears in Friday’s issue of the journal Science, published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.

“Short of driving a Mercedes-Benz, it’s what a bird can do to say ‘I’m such a good finder of food that I have the time to make these long songs,’” explained Rockefeller University’s Fernando Nottebohm, another author of the Science research.

More here.

Pakistan’s first women fighter pilots

Zafar Abbas for The BBC:Pilot_1

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) academy has been all-male for more than 55 years – but now it is going through major change. Women are now allowed to enrol on its aerospace engineering and fighter pilot programmes and are doing rather well. To the great surprise of many men, some of the female recruits will soon start flying jet-engine planes.

But when one male cadet said the women should be shown compassion, female cadet Saman Ahmed was swift to say they were there to compete on equal terms. “We don’t expect compassion, we don’t get compassion, and we don’t want compassion,” she said. And this confidence is not without reason for Cadet Ahmed has already won praise in her engineering studies, beating both men and women. Her excellence is not confined to the classroom, either. During a rifle exercise, I watched as she shot all five bullets right in the bull’s eye.

More here.

Anatomy of Hate: South Asia’s Hindu-Muslim Hostility

From The Village Voice:

Book_2_1 “Isn’t that a bit like a Catholic marrying a Protestant back where I’m from?” asks the Irish officer at the Canadian office as Amitava Kumar, a Hindu writer from India, and his soon-to-be wife, Mona, a Pakistani Muslim, submit their marriage application. It’s much worse, according to Kumar’s Husband of a Fanatic, the reciprocity of hate between South Asia’s Hindu and Muslim communities having reached new levels of hostility over the last decade or so. Inspired by Underground, Haruki Murakami’s book on Tokyo’s 1995 sarin gas attack, Kumar tries to get to the root of this animosity via the personal experiences of victims. He visits scenes of carnage and sites of remand and retribution, and attempts to discourse with casualties and aggressors in places as distant as India, South Africa, and Queens.

More here.

Novel Perspectives on Bioethics

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:Bioethics

On March 16, the Kansas Legislature heatedly debated a bill that would criminalize all stem-cell research in the state. Evangelical-Christian politicians and conservative lawmakers argued with molecular biologists and physicians from the University of Kansas’ medical school about the morality of therapeutic cloning.

Up against a substantial audience of vocal religious conservatives, William B. Neaves, CEO and president of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, a large, privately financed biomedical-research facility in Kansas City, began his impassioned defense of the new research by giving his credentials as “a born-again Christian for 30 years.” Barbara Atkinson, executive vice chancellor of the University of Kansas Medical Center, tried to articulate the difference between “a clump of cells in a petri dish” and what several hostile representatives repeatedly interrupted to insist is “early human life.” Clearly, in this forum, language mattered. Each word carried wagonloads of moral resonance.

I am a literature professor. I was at the hearing because I am also chairwoman of the pediatric-ethics committee at the University of Kansas Medical Center. I listened to the debates get more and more heated as the positions got thinner and more polarized, and I kept thinking that these scientists and lawmakers needed to read more fiction and poetry. Leon R. Kass, chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, apparently feels the same way. He opened the council’s first session by asking members to read Hawthorne’s story “The Birthmark,”and he has since published an anthology of literature and poetry about bioethics issues.

The fight in Kansas (the bill was not put to a vote) is in some ways a microcosm of what has been happening around the country.

More here.