The Popularity of first names over the last century

And by way of Steven Levitt:

Namevoyager_3 “The Baby Name Wizard’s NameVoyager is an interactive portrait of America’s name choices. Start with a ‘sea’ of nearly 5000 names. Type a letter, and you’ll zoom in to focus on how that initial has been used over the past century. Then type a few more letters, or a name. Each stripe is a timeline of one name, its width reflecting the name’s changing popularity. If a name intrigues you, click on its stripe for a closer look.”

And there you’ll also find some interesting pieces on name-onomics.

“Levitt’s primary thesis is that fashions which originate with the upper classes gradually trickle down the economic ladder. This, naturally, is no revelation — in fashion-based industries like apparel, it’s an explicit, institutionalized process.  .  . Levitt uses data about California parents’ economic status and name choices to propose a list of names that, ‘unlikely as it seems,’ are candidates to become ‘mainstream names’ ten years from now. . .

In fact, of his 24 predictions for ‘unlikely’ names that could possibly hit the mainstream in a decade, 7 were already top-100 names, including 2 of the top 15 (Emma and Grace). Looking boldly out into the future, he predicted the present. Oops. So much for revelations.”

Monetizing the monkey economy

The first installment of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s new New York Times Magazine column, “Freakanomics”, looks at what happens to moneys when they monetize exchange.

“The essential idea was to give a monkey a dollar and see what it did with it. . . It took several months of rudimentary repetition to teach the monkeys that these tokens were valuable as a means of exchange for a treat and would be similarly valuable the next day. Having gained that understanding, a capuchin would then be presented with 12 tokens on a tray and have to decide how many to surrender for, say, Jell-O cubes versus grapes. This first step allowed each capuchin to reveal its preferences and to grasp the concept of budgeting.

Then Chen introduced price shocks and wealth shocks. If, for instance, the price of Jell-O fell (two cubes instead of one per token), would the capuchin buy more Jell-O and fewer grapes? The capuchins responded rationally to tests like this — that is, they responded the way most readers of The Times would respond. In economist-speak, the capuchins adhered to the rules of utility maximization and price theory: when the price of something falls, people tend to buy more of it.

. . .

Once, a capuchin in the testing chamber picked up an entire tray of tokens, flung them into the main chamber and then scurried in after them — a combination jailbreak and bank heist — which led to a chaotic scene in which the human researchers had to rush into the main chamber and offer food bribes for the tokens, a reinforcement that in effect encouraged more stealing.

Something else happened during that chaotic scene, something that convinced [the researcher Keith] Chen of the monkeys’ true grasp of money. . . What he witnessed was probably the first observed exchange of money for sex in the history of monkeykind. (Further proof that the monkeys truly understood money: the monkey who was paid for sex immediately traded the token in for a grape.)”

You can also read their blog here.

White House Tapes Site

With all the recent interest in Felt and Nixon, it’s a good time to mention an excellent web site,, which acts as a clearinghouse for Presidential audio archives. The project, associated with the University of Virginia, has some timely clips of Nixon on Felt. Of the main page’s features, check out the FBI background check on Janet Leigh, and Nixon discussing one Donald Rumsfeld.

Cold fusion, for real

Michelle Thaller in the Christian Science Monitor:

For the last few years, mentioning cold fusion around scientists (myself included) has been a little like mentioning Bigfoot or UFO sightings.

After the 1989 announcement of fusion in a bottle, so to speak, and the subsequent retraction, the whole idea of cold fusion seemed a bit beyond the pale. But that’s all about to change.

A very reputable, very careful group of scientists at the University of Los Angeles (Brian Naranjo, Jim Gimzewski, Seth Putterman) has initiated a fusion reaction using a laboratory device that’s not much bigger than a breadbox, and works at roughly room temperature. This time, it looks like the real thing.

More here.

Lost Dumas novel hits French bookshelves

From the AFP:

A previously unknown novel by the author of “The Three Musketeers”, Alexandre Dumas — a 1,000-page adventure story about the start of the Napoleonic empire — hit French bookstores.

“Le Chevalier de Sainte-Hermine” (The Knight of Sainte-Hermine) first appeared in serial form in a French newspaper and lacked just a few chapters when Dumas died in 1870.

Claude Schopp, the Dumas expert who found the book at France’s National Library, has added a short section to bring the tale to its conclusion.

The novel completes a trilogy of works set in the aftermath of the French revolution, which begins with “Les Compagnons de Jehu” — written in 1857 — and continues with “Les Blancs et Les Bleus,” completed in 1867.

More here.

Salman’s leap for literary freedom

John Freeman in The Scotsman:

For the past year, however, Rushdie’s professional attentions have been focused on his role as president of PEN/America, which entails not just putting on fancy events but filing legal action. Mention the US government’s attempt to ban literature from countries like Iran to him now and he immediately switches into policy wonk mode.

“PEN has been fighting that particular regulation for a long time,” he says and then explains some of its details. “The US government is just now beginning to plane back on it. The question is whether the damage is already done.”

It seems somewhat ironic that Rushdie should survive a period of life-threatening danger, living in 30 houses in nine years, and wind up in the land of the free only to discover that he must start campaigning for freedom all over again.

If there is resentment, though, he certainly doesn’t show it. Rushdie has lived part-time in New York for more than five years now, and he’s not about to stop. He can at least now freely play table tennis with fellow author Jonathan Safran Foer without first greeting photographers outside.

More here.

Monday Musing: Special Relativity Turns 100

Einst_patOne hundred years ago this month, twenty-six-year-old Albert Einstein published a paper entitled “Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper or “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”. As we all know by now, 1905 was Einstein’s annus mirabilis, the miraculous year in which he published four papers in the Annalen der Physik. The first was a paper on the photoelectric effect; the second on Brownian motion; and the third, which we have already mentioned, spelled out the ideas which would come to be known as special relativity. In case you are less than sure why Einstein’s name has become a metonym for extreme intelligence, consider that there is broad consensus among physicists that any one of these three papers by itself would have been more than enough to win Einstein a Nobel Prize. The fourth paper, by the way, used the axioms of the third to derive a nice little result equating energy and mass: E = mc2, probably the most famous equation of all time. Not only that, he would certainly have won another Nobel for general relativity, which he published a decade later. In other words, you can safely think of Einstein as someone who, in a fairer world, would have been at least a four-time Nobel winner. As it is, the Nobel committee cited only the photoelectric effect when they awarded him the prize in 1921.

General_fig02_1Einstein’s results were disseminated and understood so slowly (especially in the English-speaking world) that when Sir Arthur Eddington lead an expedition to prove general relativity correct by showing that the light from stars near the Sun in the sky would be bent by its gravity (during a solar eclipse in 1919 when you could actually see stars close to the Sun), and a journalist asked him: “Is it true that only three people in the world understand relativity?” Eddington reportedly responded, “Who’s the third?”

Wyp2005_large_logoThis year has been declared the World Year of Physics in commemoration of the centennial of Einstein’s annus mirabilis, and in that same spirit, I would like today to attempt to give you a sense of what the theory of special relativity (SR) is, whose 100th birthday we celebrate this month. Most of you have at least some vague idea of what SR implies: you have heard that time slows down when you start traveling very fast (near the speed of light); that lengths contract; and almost everyone knows the Twin Paradox, where one twin travels out into space at high speed, then returns, say 6 years later to find that her twin on earth has aged 39 years while she was gone. You have probably also heard that Einstein is responsible for inextricably entwining space and time into spacetime. I will explicate all these aspects of SR, and I will not do it by using crude analogies, which tend to confuse more than they illuminate; instead, I will use the actual math so that you fully understand the beauty of this theory. Wait! Don’t stop reading just yet. The math required is no more than simple high school algebra, so if you remember how to do that, stay with me. If the sight of even the simplest equation makes you tremulous, then I can only say: learn some math! Einstein himself famously stated that “The presentation of science to the public must be made as simple as possible, but not more so,” and we cannot but follow his dictum here, where our very aim is to celebrate his science. (The beauty of SR lies in the incredible conceptual leap which Einstein made. The mathematics is relatively (!) straightforward, and this is what makes my elucidation of it possible. The mathematics of general relativity is much more advanced, indeed far beyond the abilities of most people who, like me, are neither mathematicians nor physicists. Even Einstein needed some help from mathematicians to work it all out.)


Galileo_hist_bigA century ago, this was the situation: Galilean and Newtonian physics said that any descriptions of motion by any two inertial observers (for such observers, bodies acted on by no forces move in straight lines) in uniform (not accelerating) relative motion are equally valid, and the laws of physics must be exactly the same for both of them. Bear with me here: what this means is, for example, if you see me coming toward you at a speed of 100 mph, then we could both be moving toward each other at 50 mph, or I could be still and you could be moving toward me at 100 mph, or I could be moving toward you at 30 mph while you are coming at me at 70 mph, and so on. All these descriptions are equivalent, and it is always impossible to tell whether one of us is “really” moving or not; all we can speak about is our motion relative to each other. In other words, all Newton motion is relative to something else (which is then the inertial frame of reference). So for convenience, we can always just insist that any one observer is still (she is then the “frame of reference”) and all others are in motion relative to her. This is known as the Principle of Relativity. Another way to think about this is to imagine that there are only two objects in the universe, and they are moving relative to one another: in this situation it is more clearly impossible to say which object is moving. (Think about this paragraph, reread it, until you are pretty sure you get it. Just stay with me, it gets easier from here.)

Maxwell_2At the same time, James Clerk Maxwell‘s equations of electricity and magnetism implied that the speed of light in a vacuum, c, is absolute. The only way that this could be true is if Maxwell’s equations refer to a special frame (see previous paragraph) of reference (that in which the speed of light is c) which can truly be said to be at rest. If this is the case, then an observer moving relative to that special frame would measure a different value for c. But in 1887, Michelson and Morley proved that there is no such special frame. Another way of saying this (and this is the way Einstein put it in 1905) is that the speed of light is fixed, and is independent of the speed of the body emitting it. (The details of the Michelson-Morley experiment are beyond the scope of this essay, so you’ll have to take my word for this.)

Now we have a problem. We have two irreconcilable laws: 1) The Principle of Relativity, and 2) The absoluteness of the speed of light for all observers. They cannot both be true. It would be another eighteen years before a young clerk in the Swiss patent office would pose and then resolve this problem. Here’s how he did it: he asked what would happen if they were both true.

Next, I will show how the various aspects of SR fall straight out of the assumption that both of these laws are true. I will focus in greater detail on the slowing down (dilation) of time, and then speak more briefly about length contraction, and the intertwining of space and time.


As I have mentioned, Einstein began by assuming that the following two postulates always hold true:

1) The Principle of Relativity, and

2) The speed of light will always be measured as c by all observers

Einstein1_1Now, keeping these in mind, let us consider a simple mechanism that we will call a light clock (shown in Fig. 1). The way it works is this: the top and bottom surfaces are perfect mirrors. The distance between the top and bottom mirror is known exactly. The light clock’s period is the time that it takes light to go from the bottom to the top, and then to come reflected back. Since the mirrors are perfect, light will keep on bouncing back and forth like this forever. All observers can build identical clocks with exactly the same distance between the two mirrors, ensuring the same period. And since the speed of light is always c, and the distance between the two mirrors can be measured precisely, we know exactly how long one “tick” or period of the clock is in seconds.


Let us now say that there are two observers, each of whom has such a clock. If one of them is moving past the other at a velocity v, something close to the speed of light, then the first observer, F, will see the second observer S’s clock as something like what is shown in Fig. 2. Of course, by symmetry, and the principle of relativity, S will see F’s clock the same way. Take a little time to look at Fig. 2 and convince yourself of this. (This is basically like thinking about a man moving a flashlight vertically up and down on board a train; if the train is stationary relative to you, you will see what is shown in Fig. 1; if the train is moving by you, you will see what is shown in Fig. 2. It should be quite obvious once you try to imagine it.)

Since S’s clock seems to be moving to F, it will seem to F that the light travels a longer path than just the vertical distance between the two mirrors, because after the light leaves the bottom mirror, the top mirror keeps moving to the right, and the light beam travels a diagonal path up to where the top mirror has moved to. (Imagine the whole apparatus moving to the right as the light beam goes up from the bottom mirror, or look at Fig. 2.) Since the speed of the light must still be measured as c by both observers, and according to F, the light beam is traveling a greater distance, it must be taking longer to make the trip to the top mirror and back. Therefore, according to F, S’s clock is ticking more slowly, and vice versa!

Someone might object that this is a special kind of clock, and maybe we could construct a different type of clock that would not slow down when seen speeding along relative to some other observer. This cannot be true. The reason is that if we were able to construct such a clock, it would violate our first postulate, the Principle of Relativity. Remember that in saying that only relative motion is physically significant, we are insisting that nothing done by S can tell her whether it is she who is moving past F, or vice versa. Suppose that two different types of clock were synchronized (one of them a light clock of the type we have been describing), then both of them are sent off with S at high speed,  if they do not behave exactly the same way and were to fall out of synchronization, this would tell S that it is she who is really moving, and this contradicts the first postulate. All clocks must therefore slow down in the same way when they are observed in relative motion close to the speed of light. In other words, this time dilation is not a property of any particular type of clock, but of time itself.

Einstein3So how much exactly is S’s time seen to be slowing down by F? To answer this question, consider the situation in Fig. 3. As shown, the light clock is moving to the right at a velocity v. At rest, the light clock has a period T. In half that time, when stationary, the light beam travels the distance A, but when moving, it has a slower period T’ because it travels the distance C at the same speed. This means that the ratio of the distances A/C is the same as the ratio of the times taken to traverse them, T/T’. (At the same speed, if you travel twice the distance, it will take you twice as long.) So,

(1) A/C = T/T’

Now while the light beam travels the distance C, the mirrors have moved a distance B to the right. The ratio of these two distances B/C, traveled in the same amount of time, is the same as the ratio of the speeds with which the distances are covered. (Moving for a given time at double the speed just doubles the distance covered.) So,

(2) B/C = v/c

Look at Fig. 3 again, and notice that the sides A, B, and C form a right triangle, so by the Pythagorean Theorem:

(3) A2 + B2 = C2

Dividing both sides by C2 we get:

(A/C)2 + (B/C)2 = 1

Subtracting (B/C)2 from both sides we get:

(A/C)2 = 1 – (B/C)2

Taking the square root of each side we get:

A/C = sqrt ( 1 – (B/C)2 )

Now if we substitute for A/C and B/C from equations (1) and (2) above, we get:

T/T’ = sqrt ( 1 – (v/c)2 )

And finally, inverting both sides, we get:

(4) T’/T = 1 / sqrt ( 1 – (v/c)2 ) = γ (gamma — the relativistic time dilation factor)

Since the speed of light is so high (186,000 miles per second or 300,000 kilometers per second), gamma is not significant at speeds that are common to our experience. For example, even at the speed which the space shuttles must attain to escape Earth’s gravity (11 km/sec), gamma is 1.000000001. At fifty percent of the speed of light (0.5 c), gamma is 1.155. You can confirm these values by plugging in the speeds into the time dilation equation above. One way in which we know that Einstein was correct about time dilation is that particles with known half-lives decay much more slowly when they are accelerated to near the speed of light in particle accelerators. For example, muons, which have a half-life of 1.5 microseconds, are observed to decay in 44 microseconds on average in a CERN experiment which accelerated them to 0.9994 c, at which speed gamma can be calculated using the equation above to be 28.87. In perfect agreement with the theory, 1.5 microseconds multiplied by 28.87 comes out to 44 microseconds, exactly what is seen in the experiment. There are countless other very exact confirmations of relativistic time dilation effects.


This time, imagine the light clock lying on its side (in other words, Fig. 1 rotated by 90 degrees counter-clockwise). Now the motion of the light pulse is back and forth in the same direction that the whole clock is moving. What happens this time? Well, as the light pulse leaves one mirror and heads toward the other, that mirror advances forward to meet it. This trip is shorter than when the clock is stationary. On the way back, though, the light pulse is chasing a retreating mirror, and the trip takes longer than it would in a stationary situation. This round trip period, T”, is longer than T’ by the factor 1/γ. (This is similar to the case where an airplane traveling across the Atlantic with a steady headwind against it, and then returning with the same wind at its back, will take a longer time for the round trip than if there were no wind at all. I leave the simple math here as an exercise for the reader.)

Now if this were all there is to the story, the amount of time dilation would depend on the orientation of the clock relative to the direction of motion, but then this would violate the Principle of Relativity. What prevents this violation is a shortening of lengths along the direction of motion. The distance between the two mirrors would thus contract by the factor 1/γ, reducing T” to the correct value T’ as it should be. So, lengths are observed to contract along the direction of motion by a factor of 1/γ. Again, this only becomes noticeable at very high speeds, approaching c.


Newton’s notion of absolute space and absolute time are no longer valid for us. We have seen that measures of time are relative to the observer, as are measures of space. The good news is that different observers of the same reality can agree on something. And this is what it is: we know that

T/T’ = 1/γ

Substituting for 1/γ from equation (4) and squaring both sides we get:

(T/T’)2 = 1 – (v/c)2

Multiplying both sides by (cT’)2 we get:

(cT)2 = (cT’)2 – (vT’)2

Here, vT’ is just the distance L’ that the moving clock travels in time T’. Meanwhile the stationary clock doesn’t go anywhere in time T, so L = 0, and by substituting that L2 = 0 and L’2 = (vT’)2 into the equation above, we get:

(cT)2L2 = (cT’)2L’2

Here, finally, is a quantity that is the same for both observers. It is not a measure of time or a measure of space; instead, it is a spacetime measure. So we find that in the end, though observers cannot agree about measures of space or time by themselves, it is possible to weave them together into a spacetime measure that everyone does agree on. This is what is meant when it is said that space and time have become interwoven after Einstein.

The account I have followed in explaining special relativity is essentially that used by Richard Feynman (who invented light clocks as a way of explaining SR) and Julian Schwinger. The two of them shared the 1965 Nobel in physics with Sin-Itiro Tomonaga.

Thanks to Margit Oberrauch for all the light clock illustrations.

Have a good week!

My other recent Monday Musings:
Vladimir Nabokov, Lepidopterist
Stevinus, Galileo, and Thought Experiments
Cake Theory and Sri Lanka’s President

Sunday, June 5, 2005

The DNA of Literature

Pity (and praise) the poor intern or assistant whose job it is to put The Paris Review author interviews online. Then settle in for the fine experience of what TPR rather dramatically calls “The DNA of Literature,” a vast pdf archive of material stretching from the 1950s to the present, from Algren to Auster. Yet another nice feature of the TPR site – the Audio Index feature which allows you to hear work read by the author.

Science in the Arab World

From Science:Arab

Of all its accomplishments, the West is perhaps most proud of its scientific revolution, which has been unfolding for the past half millennium. Only students of history remain consistently mindful of the pivotal and catalytic role that the Arab world played in the early phases of this revolution. Now, all of us should have a vested interest in advancing science and technology in the Arab community. Science and technology provide the means to feed people, improve their health, and create wealth. They can help to reduce societal tensions and build international bridges for badly needed dialogue and mutual understanding. To usher science and technology more thoroughly into Arab culture and society, however, the West needs to acknowledge the Arab world’s historical contributions, and the Arab world needs to stop dwelling on its golden past by also embracing lessons about science and technology that the West learned long ago.

In medieval Europe, where the Christian dogma that the world unfolded according to a divinely predetermined plan prevailed, there was little space for those willing and eager to understand nature in order to use it for their own benefit. Beginning in the 11th century, the ailing Arab provinces in Spain (Al-Andalus) were falling to European armies, and with them came priceless spoils that changed the world: the epic intellectual achievement of Arab-Islamic scholars since the 8th century. Flourishing libraries in cities like Toledo and Cordoba contained thousands of books on every field of knowledge. Unlike the Moguls, who in the 13th century destroyed Baghdad and its libraries, thereby abruptly ending the golden era of the Arab-Islamic civilization, the Europeans were quick to realize the value of these windfalls of knowledge.

More here.

Saturday, June 4, 2005

Democracy, Democratization, and the War on Terror

John Ikenberry responds to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s thoughts about the war on terror and shifts in the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

“I agree with Anne-Marie that the Bush administration has turned its war on terror into a campaign for democracy and freedom. I think it did so for two reasons. 

The first is tactical — it is a legitimation strategy aimed at a very real political crisis.  The Bush administration hoped that its original justifications for going to war against Iraq — disarmament and liberation — would vindicate its risky and controversial decision. The facts on the ground in Iraq — i.e. the ends — would justify the means. Instead, the failure to find WMD or a grateful people in the streets only intensified the domestic and global opposition to Bush’s essentially unilateral and preventive use of force.

. . .

It is doubtful that President Bush would have rolled out the neo-Wilsonian democracy and freedom rhetoric in his inaugural and State of the Union addresses if the war in Iraq had gone better.  It is an effort to provide an explanation — or master narrative — for what he has done when all the other explanations and narratives failed. The emperor’s wardrobe was empty — he needed new clothes.

There is a second — more substantive — reason for the Bush administration’s turn from the war on terrorism to the campaign for democracy and freedom. This has to do with the political-intellectual problem of figuring out how to cope with the threat of extremist violence itself. To its credit, the Bush administration has done the world a favor by dramatizing the threats which might emerge from the dangerous nexus of WMD, tyrannical states, and terrorist groups.  Looking into the future, it seems all too clear that small groups of angry and determined extremists will find it increasingly easy to obtain chemical, biological or nuclear capabilities and unleash them upon the civilized world.   

. . .

What this means is that troubled and undeveloped parts of the world that previously could be ignored or engaged for humanitarian purposes are now potential havens, catalysts, or launching sites for transnational violence. National security increasingly requires a ‘one world’ vision in which the slogan must be: No country or region left behind.”

Ten Most Harmful Books

Sean Carrol at Preposterous Universe:

Brad DeLong (after artfully denying that he would ever read Wonkette) points to an enlightening list at Human Events Online — the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. As voted on by leading conservative thinkers!

  • The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels
  • Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler
  • Quotations from Chairman Mao, Mao Zedong
  • The Kinsey Report, Alfred Kinsey
  • Democracy and Education, John Dewey
  • Das Kapital, Karl Marx
  • The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
  • The Course of Positive Philosophy, August Comte
  • Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche
  • General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, John Maynard Keynes

I love it. Mein Kampf snuggling right up there with The Feminine Mystique and The General Theory. (Because it’s Keynes, you know, who is responsible for our huge budget deficit. Those damned liberals, always running budget deficits.)

But the list of runners-up is where it really gets good…

More here.

Rushdie: “Just give me that old-time atheism!”

Salman Rushdie in the Toronto Star:

Rushdie_3“Not believing in God is no excuse for being virulently anti-religious or naïvely pro-science,” says Dylan Evans, a professor of robotics at the University of West England in Bristol.

Evans has written an article for the Guardian of London deriding the old-fashioned, “19th-century” atheism of such prominent thinkers as Richard Dawkins and Jonathan Miller, instead proposing a new, modern atheism which “values religion, treats science as simply a means to an end and finds the meaning of life in art.”

Indeed, he says, religion itself is to be understood as “a kind of art, which only a child could mistake for reality and which only a child would reject for being false.”

Evans’ position fits well with that of the American philosopher of science Michael Ruse, whose new book, The Evolution-Creation Struggle, lays much of the blame for the growth of creationism in America — and for the increasingly strident attempts by the religious right to have evolutionary theory kicked off the curriculum and replaced by the new dogma of “intelligent design” — at the door of the scientists who have tried to compete with, and even supplant, religion.

More here.

Fakes, Frauds, and Fake Fakers

Milton Esterow in Art News:

Some counterfeiters try to enter the “soul and mind of the artist.” Some delight in the chemistry of baking paint and creating wormholes. Some start with real pictures and then “restore” them until they look as if they’re by a different artist. From ancient vases to conceptual art—if someone made it, someone else has tried to bamboozle the world with a copy:

In Italy,” Salvatore Casillo, who founded the University of Salerno’s Museum of Fakes, recently commented, “if you’re a good enough counterfeiter, you eventually get your own show.”

Casillo was right. Several good-enough counterfeiters have recently had their own shows.

Icilio Federico Joni, who was known as the prince of Sienese fakers and specialized in Renaissance paintings until he died in 1946, got his own show last year. He was the star of “Authentic Fakes” at the Santa Maria della Scala museum in Siena, where he is considered something of a folk hero.

More here.

Albanian wins first world Booker

From the BBC:

_41211691_kadare2_203Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare has won the inaugural Booker International Prize, beating British authors Muriel Spark, Doris Lessing and Ian McEwan.

The writer, who has lived in France since 1990, will receive £60,000 at a ceremony in Edinburgh on 27 June.

Professor John Carey, chair of the judging panel, called Mr Kadare “a universal writer in the tradition of storytelling that goes back to Homer”.

Mr Kadare said he was “deeply honoured” to win the prize.

“I am a writer from the Balkan Fringe, a part of Europe which has long been notorious exclusively for news of human wickedness,” he said.

More here.

‘Vindication’: Mary Wollstonecraft’s Sense and Sensibility

From The New York Times:

Mary IN 1915 Virginia Woolf predicted it would take women another six generations to come into their own. We should be approaching the finish line if Woolf’s math was as good as her English. A little over a century before her, another Englishwoman, Mary Wollstonecraft, declared in her revolutionary book of 1792, ”The Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” that not only had the time come to begin the long slog to selfdom, freedom, empowerment — or whatever current feminist term serves — but that she would be the first of what she called, using the language of taxonomy, ”a new genus.” It took the renegade second child (of seven) — and first daughter — of Edward John Wollstonecraft, a drinker, and the unhappy Elizabeth Dickson, to take this virtually unimaginable plunge into uncharted waters. And she took this leap while displaying the full measure of female unpredictablity, while the world watched, astounded, dismayed and outraged. This Mary was quite contrary, and her reputation over time, unsurprisingly, has suffered from this complexity. Surely we women have a gene — in addition to those saucy, but ill-mannered, hormones — for theatrics, so frequently do they puncture our inner lives and decorate our outer ones in operatic robes. But occasionally high drama is the most efficient way to break through the status quo, and Mary Wollstonecraft’s radical mission called for extreme measures.

In her wonderful, and deeply sobering, new book, Lyndall Gordon, the distinguished biographer of T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Brontë and Henry James, tackles this formidable woman with grace, clarity and much new research. Despite occasional slips into strangely purple prose (when she reproaches her lover, ”retorts — great sprays of indignant eloquence — would fountain from her opening throat”), Gordon relates Wollstonecraft’s story with the same potent mixture of passion and reason her subject personified.

More here.

For Fruit Flies, Gene Shift Tilts Sex Orientation

From The New York Times:

03cndcellWhen the genetically altered fruit fly was released into the observation chamber, it did what these breeders par excellence tend to do. It pursued a waiting virgin female. It gently tapped the girl with its leg, played her a song (using wings as instruments) and, only then, dared to lick her – all part of standard fruit fly seduction. The observing scientist looked with disbelief at the show, for the suitor in this case was not a male, but a female that researchers had artificially endowed with a single male-type gene. That one gene, the researchers are announcing today in the journal Cell, is apparently by itself enough to create patterns of sexual behavior – a kind of master sexual gene that normally exists in two distinct male and female variants.

In a series of experiments, the researchers found that females given the male variant of the gene acted exactly like males in courtship, madly pursuing other females. Males that were artificially given the female version of the gene became more passive and turned their sexual attention to other males.

“We have shown that a single gene in the fruit fly is sufficient to determine all aspects of the flies’ sexual orientation and behavior,” said the paper’s lead author, Dr. Barry Dickson, senior scientist at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. “It’s very surprising. “What it tells us is that instinctive behaviors can be specified by genetic programs, just like the morphologic development of an organ or a nose.”

More here.

Friday, June 3, 2005

Where’s Chappelle?

Chapelle0514_1We don’t often live up to the claim that we cover ‘gossip’ here at 3Quarks but the Chappelle situation has intrigued me, especially since he must be one of a handful of the funniest people on the planet at the moment. After his $50 million dollar deal with Comedy Central for another run of The Chappelle Show he cut out for Africa leaving the third season in the lurch. Rumors were plentiful. He was at a mental institution. He was smoking crack. Etc. Simon Robinson of Time caught up with him in South Africa and chatted.

The first thing Chappelle wants is to dispel rumors—that he’s got a drug problem, that he’s checked into a mental institution in Durban—that have been flying around the U.S. for the past week. He says he is staying with a friend, Salim, and not in a mental institution, as has been widely reported in America. Chappelle says he is in South Africa to find “a quiet place” for a while. “Let me tell you the things I can do here which I can’t at home: think, eat, sleep, laugh. I’m an introspective dude. I enjoy my own thoughts sometimes. And I’ve been doing a lot of thinking here.”

Students may be the real victims of the evolution wars



The battle over teaching evolution is raging in communities across the country, but the headlines rarely focus on the “quiet” impact of this controversy. Science is becoming a political “hot potato” for some students — transforming what should be a dynamic, fascinating topic into a total turn-off. And some students are choosing silence over losing a prom date. “Children are very much worried about their place in the world. Some students only ask me about evolution privately, after class,” said Wes McCoy, PhD, who teaches Genetics, Biology and Astronomy at North Cobb High School in Kennessaw, Ga. 

More here.

Baudrillard and Virilio on the EU

Noted super-special-theorists Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virilio weigh in on the EU debate. Typically, Baudrillard mumbles an immense amount of nothing and Virilio sounds slightly more cogent.

“Baudrillard views the “No” vote as a new form of confrontation proper to our own hegemonic era. “This confrontation is not a class struggle, nor an international liberation movement, but an irreducible antagonism,” he explains. “It’s a confrontation that isn’t even political anymore but metaphysical and symbolic.”

“For Virilio, the referendum attests to a shift from a democracy based upon opinions to one based upon moods. This new democracy “does not require the free choice and decisive statement of a sovereign people,” writes Virilio, “but rather passive consent, an amicable solution for a population that is exposed to all possible brainwashing by the excesses of the public opinion polls, and that reacts only by reflex to the respective choices.”

more here.

Gutenberg to the Web

PglogoCalling the site Project Gutenberg is just about right. As the internet becomes, more and more, the collection spot for the hodge podge of accumulated human civilization we might as well start putting all the old books in there too. Really, it is a fairly remarkable idea.

There has also been a fair amount of debate recently about Google’s proposal to put millions of university titles online.

The idea is to make millions of important but previously inaccessible texts available to researchers everywhere, with a few clicks of a computer mouse.

The plan has its supporters. The head of Oxford University’s library service said the project could turn out to almost as important as the invention of the printing press. . .

But from the start Google’s recent plan met opposition. . . .

Other opposition has come from France, where there are fears that the Google project will enhance the dominance of the English language and of Anglo-Saxon ways of thinking.