If food smells good, it’s good for you


Tomato_hmed That fresh grassy smell wafting up from the newly sliced tomato may be its way of saying “I’m good for you.” Indeed, the odors from foods ranging from garlic and onions to ginger and strawberries may be nutritional signals that the human nose has learned to recognize. “Studies of flavor preferences and aversions suggest that flavor perception may be linked to the nutritional or health value” of foods, researchers Stephen A. Goff and Harry J. Klee report in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.Klee and Goff analyzed two types of tomato, the wild cerasiforme and the commercially grown Flora-Duke. Except for one chemical that also affects color, the sugars, organic acids and volatile compounds associated with tomato flavor were reduced in the commercial product.

For example, one of the volatile compounds associated with the “tomato” or “grassy” flavor is called cis-3-Hexenal, which is also an indicator of fatty acids that are essential to the human diet. They found that the wild tomato contained more than three times the amount of that chemical than the cultivated version.

More here.

Agent of Chronic Wasting Disease Found in Deer Meat


From The National Academy of Science:

Scientists have found disease-causing proteins known as prions in the muscle tissue of deer in 11 states and two Canadian provinces. This is the first time prions have been found outside the brain and spinal cord of deer, and the discovery has raised concerns about human consumption of deer meat.

Prions are the abnormal form of particular proteins that naturally occur in mammals. When these proteins transform into prions, they cause rare, fatal brain diseases such as chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, mad cow disease in cattle, scrapie in sheep, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people. Deer and elk appear to transmit chronic wasting disease through excretions like saliva, although the details remain unclear; research in this area is ongoing. There is no evidence to date on whether prions in deer cause disease in humans or other mammals.

More here.

Thursday, February 9, 2006

More on Ashura

“Sayyed Nadeem Kazmi’s quest to find out what devotion to Hussein means for those who participate in the ceremonies is documented in his film Ten Days. Here, he explains why he thinks Ashura is yet to be properly understood.”

Sayyed Nadeem Kazmi at the BBC:

_41313540_ashuracrowdsHussein ibn Ali was the beloved grandson of the Prophet Muhammad through the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima, and her husband, Ali ibn Abi Talib. Imam Hussein’s martyrdom 14 centuries ago was a turning point in the history of Islam.

It is a tragedy that resonates today among all Muslims, Sunni as well as Shia, for whom love for the Holy Prophet and his immediate family is an unwritten article of faith. But it is particularly important to the Shia who interpret Hussein’s sacrifice as an enduring ethical and moral legacy from which all humanity can take lessons.

Some years following the death of Muhammad, the temporal leadership of Islam turned away from its spiritual roots and became what many view as a corrupt dynasty. During the time of Hussein, Yazid bin Mu’awiya was de facto “king” of a now evolving Muslim military empire.

Screenhunter_4 For Yazid, it was essential that the blood descendants of Muhammad, whom he saw as his own family’s historical enemies pledge allegiance to him. Yazid’s own grandfather was Abu Sufyan, the most notable enemy of the Prophet, who embraced Islam only after several battles with and severe persecution of the Muslims.

Hussein was a threat not only because he was the grandson of the Messenger of Islam but because he insisted on Yazid renouncing what he saw as the corrupt and cruel form of government that he believed had hijacked the pristine Islam of his holy grandfather.

Both parties refused to yield and Hussein, along with about 70 of his kith and kin (which included women and children), was besieged at Karbala where an unprecedented massacre occurred at the hands of an army numbering thousands.

During the 10-day siege, Hussein’s camp suffered unimaginable tortures, including the cutting off of water supplies and the killing and wounding of infants.

Screenhunter_3After losing his own children to Yazid’s forces, Hussein was himself beheaded and his body mutilated. The few who survived were taken on foot to Damascus (some dying along the way) where Yazid’s dungeons awaited them.

It is said that many bystanders along the route recognised what had happened and began to beat themselves, some even weeping to death. This event was probably the beginning of the self-flagellation rituals we see today.

More here.  [Thanks to Husain Naqvi.]

The Betty I knew

Germaine Greer in The Guardian:

Betty1 Betty Friedan “changed the course of human history almost single-handedly”. Her ex-husband, Carl Friedan, believes this; Betty believed it too. This belief was the key to a good deal of Betty’s behaviour; she would become breathless with outrage if she didn’t get the deference she thought she deserved. Though her behaviour was often tiresome, I figured that she had a point. Women don’t get the respect they deserve unless they are wielding male-shaped power; if they represent women they will be called “love” and expected to clear up after themselves. Betty wanted to change that for ever. She wanted women to be a force to be reckoned with, and yet she let Carl Friedan have all the income from The Feminine Mystique. Or so she told me, sotto voce, in 1971. Something to do with community property, I guess. She was not yet divorced from him then.

My difficulties with Betty begin with the fact that, as I see it, it’s the three million readers of The Feminine Mystique that made the book great. Morever, I disagreed with its basic premise. Betty’s Zeitgeist was not mine. She had seen the alternative roles that women had fulfilled perfectly adequately during the war years closed to them, so they were forced to return to Kinder, Küche, Kirche. She contributed three children to the baby boom. That was the era of the New Look when hemlines dropped and waists were cinched and breasts were pushed out. According to Betty, what happened was that women’s sexuality was emphasised at the expense of all their other talents and attributes. What Betty saw as sexuality, I saw as the denial and repression of female sexuality. The Female Eunuch was conceived in reaction to The Feminine Mystique.

More here.

Tyrannosaurs get a father figure

From Nature:

Dino Ask any dinner-party palaeontologist and they’ll tell you that, despite its star turn in Jurassic Park, Tyrannosaurus rex didn’t live in the Jurassic period. But now a team in China has found a tyrannousaur that did, and it gives us valuable clues about the rise of this clan of prehistoric predators. The new species, found in Xinjiang province in northwestern China, lived around 160 million years ago. This makes it more than twice as old as T. rex, and the most primitive known member of the family.

At just 3 metres long, the creature is a small relative of T. rex, which could reach a mighty 13 metres. But its gaping, beak-like face armed with teeth, and its powerful legs, show that it too would have been a ferocious killer.

More here.

Ashura today

From GEO:

09feb06a3b218867b9043b18ddf4465493c4473yYaum-e-Ashur, the 10th of Muharram-ul-Haraam, will be observed throughout the country today with religious reverence to commemorate the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA).

The followers of Islam, while recalling the sacrifices rendered by the grandson of the Holy Prophet (SAW) for the cause of Islam, will reiterate their resolve to fight for the cause of justice.

The martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA) is a guideline to the Muslims to fight for the cause of justice and not to surrender against the evil forces. During the last nine days, the faithful held special Majalis in almost all parts of the country, while the radio and TV channels telecast special programmes with a changed pattern to pay tributes to Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA).

More here.  [I will take a break from posting anything further today.]

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

how to write about africa


Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’. Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal’. Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

more from Granta here.

screw you, new Pope


And then the Vatican weighed in on the Danish cartoon freakshow that is now literally burning up Eurasia. “The right to freedom of thought and expression,” said the little city-state that could, “cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers.”

Cannot? Really? Uh, screw you, New Pope!

Who’d have thought World War III, the war between secular societies and theocratic ones, would have come to a roiling boil over a dinky Danish newspaper?

But last week, bat-shit crazy theists of all stripes, international policy suckjobbers, NGO lifers, and European and American publicist-trained politicians and their dumb-eyed lackeys together hit a wall with the international incident.

Instead of blaming imams who toured the Arab world with inflammatory material of unknown origin, instead of say, keeping their mouths shut, the only way politicos could find to weasel out of their troubles was by trashing the international free press.

more from the Morning News here.

ironies of controversy


THE children’s book about the Koran that led to rioting across the world against the cartoons of Muhammad has become something of a bestseller.

The Koran and the Life of the Prophet Muhammad, by Kåre Bluitgen, illustrated with ten pictures of Muhammad, has been reprinted twice since it was published two weeks ago in Denmark.

Mr Bluitgen, who has written 31 books, said: “This is absolutely the fastest-selling ever.” When he was writing the book Mr Bluitgen complained that illustrators would only work for him anonymously out of fear of Islamic extremists.

more from The London Times here.



Everybody’s taking their shots at Bernard Henri-Lévy these days. Here’s another from n+1.

“Repetition,” writes Kierkegaard, “has not the disquietude of hope, the anxious adventuresomeness of discoverers, nor the sadness of recollection; it has the blessed certainty of the instant.” Tocqueville was a disquiet hoper, an anxious adventurer, a sad recollector – what is Bernard-Henri Lévy? God only knows. Tocqueville would have had ready some brilliant epigram, but BHL is more furtive and less self-aware. There are lots of questions in American Vertigo – I counted forty in the first twenty pages – but only sentence fragments for answers. If I had met BHL near the start of his trip, I would have asked him a few unanswerable questions of my own. Why aren’t you our Tocqueville? Could you ever have been? Could anyone write Democracy in America today? If not, why not? If so, who? And where? America or France? Nigeria? Iran? What would a closer follower of Tocqueville’s footsteps call our past sixty years of revolutions? And where would he or she go to look for our future?

Thoughts of Genocide

Malcolm Bull in the London Review of Books:

Waking to find myself a touch genocidal, I would, I imagine, be uncertain how to proceed. An unprovoked attack on my target group with whatever weapon came to hand might take out a few of them, but also bring my venture to a premature end. Reflecting that few are lucky enough to be in a position to do the job themselves, I could either confine myself to advocacy, or else embark on the difficult and protracted business of getting into a position in which I could expect others to obey my orders.

The problematic nature of this project suggests that genocide, if defined (as it is in the UN Convention) as actions undertaken with intent to destroy a specified ethnic, national or religious group ‘as such’, is not a solitary crime. If someone is sitting in their bedroom planning the annihilation of half the population, it is probably better described as fantasy than intent. On the other hand, soldiers who take no prisoners when clearing the survivors out of a bombarded village may have no sense that they are engaged in anything other than a messy military operation, and be quite indifferent to the identity of those they kill. Connecting the genocidal fantasy with the murderous reality is tricky. Genocide is a big-picture, ‘vision thing’; acts of genocide are generally routine police and military actions involving small numbers of people in particular locations. The fantasists will probably have killed no one, and (pace Daniel Goldhagen) none of the killers may share in the fantasy at all.

It is for this reason that prosecuting individuals for genocide has proved extremely difficult.

More here.

Of Wiretaps, Google Searches and Handguns

John Allen Paulos in his always brilliant Who’s Counting column at ABC News:

Bigjap_4Even if the probability that the purported terrorist profile is accurate were an astonishing 99 percent (if someone has terrorist ties, the profile will pick him or her out 99 percent of the time, and, for ease of computation, if someone does not have such ties, the profile will pick him or her out only 1 percent of the time), most of the hits would be false positives.

For illustration, let’s further assume that one out of a million American residents has terrorist ties — that’s approximately 300 people — and the profile will pick out 99 percent, or 297 of them. Great. But what of the approximately 300 million innocent Americans? The profile will also pick out 1 percent of them, “only” 3 million false positives, innocent people who will be caught up in a Kafkaesque dragnet.

It should be reiterated that such broad scale wiretapping and data mining is not only of questionable legality if not downright unconstitutional, but it is also ineffective and a waste of resources. Terrorism is a problem, but so are handguns, health care, the deficit, the environment, education, and a host of other issues that are more important to our personal and, I think, our national security.

More here.

Problems like homelessness may be easier to solve than manage

Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker:

050203gladwellIn the fall of 2003, the Reno Police Department started an initiative designed to limit panhandling in the downtown core. There were articles in the newspapers, and the police department came under harsh criticism on local talk radio. The crackdown on panhandling amounted to harassment, the critics said. The homeless weren’t an imposition on the city; they were just trying to get by. “One morning, I’m listening to one of the talk shows, and they’re just trashing the police department and going on about how unfair it is,” O’Bryan said. “And I thought, Wow, I’ve never seen any of these critics in one of the alleyways in the middle of the winter looking for bodies.” O’Bryan was angry. In downtown Reno, food for the homeless was plentiful: there was a Gospel kitchen and Catholic Services, and even the local McDonald’s fed the hungry. The panhandling was for liquor, and the liquor was anything but harmless. He and Johns spent at least half their time dealing with people like Murray; they were as much caseworkers as police officers. And they knew they weren’t the only ones involved. When someone passed out on the street, there was a “One down” call to the paramedics. There were four people in an ambulance, and the patient sometimes stayed at the hospital for days, because living on the streets in a state of almost constant intoxication was a reliable way of getting sick. None of that, surely, could be cheap.

More here.

The trials of Orhan Pamuk and Turkey

Can V. Yeginsu in the Times Literary Supplement:

PamukWillingly or not, Orhan Pamuk has become as much a political symbol as a man of letters. February 7, next week, was the date set for Turkey to try its foremost novelist for the crime of “publicly denigrating Turkishness”. The trial would have been of obvious import both to Europe, which is considering – sceptically in some corners – Turkish entry into its Union, and to the United States, where the President has called Pamuk a “great writer” whose “work has been a bridge between cultures”. George W. Bush, rather like his father when he was President, has often referred to the Republic of Turkey as the bridge between two cultures and, indeed, as a model of secular democracy for all neighbouring countries. There was a strong sense that the trial of Pamuk was a test for Turkey, a test of the substance behind its recent wave of democratic reform, and a test of its commitment to the civil liberty that enables individuals to say or write what they like. Then, after a great deal of media coverage, Pamuk did not go to trial; after uproar came bathos. Two crucial questions remain. First, has Turkey passed its tests? Second, was this the right test set by the international community? The answers lie, as ever, in the detail of the case, and in the Nabokovian caressing of that detail. Pamuk would appreciate the comparison.

More here.

Penn Jillette: The magician-comedian-writer’s secrets revealed!

Bryan Curtis in Slate:

060201_mb_penn_jillettetnPenn Jillette’s place in show business is less as a magician or comedian than as a thinker. A very deep thinker. Consider The Aristocrats, the 2005 documentary he made with his friend Paul Provenza. The movie emerged out of a series of late-night discussions between Jillette and Provenza, in which the pair would sit in restaurants on the Las Vegas Strip, gulping decaffeinated coffee and discussing (to borrow Jillette’s phrase) “the most pretentious shit possible.” For example? “We talk an awful lot about whether you have to stop at libertarianism or go on to anarchocapitalism,” Jillette said the other day. Luckily, Jillette and Provenza steered themselves away from anarchocapitalism (Death to Aristocrats?) and toward the science of dirty jokes. Out popped The Aristocrats, which had a small theatrical release but ignited a cultural interest in filth. (The new DVD hovers near the top of the Amazon.com sales charts.) If The Aristocrats was a celebration of bawdy free expression and the vanishing art of joke-telling, it was also a celebration of Penn Jillette’s peculiar worldview—something like the academic art known as radical deconstruction.

Jillette would make for an odd academic. Standing 6 foot 6 inches, wearing his hair in a ponytail, he looks like a man who spends a great deal of his time in a bowling alley.

More here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Patti Smith

250pxpattismithhorsesMy wife, Margit, and I just returned from a poetry reading/concert by Patti Smith at the Miller Theater of Columbia University. I had failed to get tickets in time (the performance was sold out) but we got lucky at the last minute (thanks, Akeel!) and were able to go, and are very glad we did.

The performance was “inspiring” (Margit’s word) and wonderful. Patti started the evening in a very restrained tone, reading some of her early poetry as well as poems from her just-published book Auguries of Innocence, and ended by being the punk goddess she is, accompanied on acoustic guitar by her long-time collaborator, Lenny Kaye. The transformation was enchanting. What was particularly nice was that (unlike at a rock concert) she felt relaxed enough to chat with the audience and provide extensive introductions to, anecdotes about (featuring Bob Dylan, Alan Ginsberg, etc.), Kayeand commentary on each of the works before reciting/singing it. She was absolutely charming, and one couldn’t help but draw a comparison between her dignity and the puerile prancing onstage of aging rockers like Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. I am no music critic, but my untrained ear found endearing the (a)symmetry between her and Kaye which makes them such a great team: while she is an inimitably powerful and talented singer, and Kaye is a masterful guitarist, her own guitar playing seemed to me elementary, as did Kaye’s singing. Together, though, they were amazing!

Here is a recent interview of Patti Smith by Rebecca Milzoff, in New York Magazine:

Musicreview051128_175Do you remember your first night in New York?

The first couple of months, I didn’t have the money to go to a movie or a play—to go anywhere, except to just walk around. It was beautiful going to Washington Square or Tompkins Square Park and seeing people gathered to read poetry or sing or play chess. For me, New York meant freedom; I loved that people didn’t stop and question you because of the way you were dressed. I didn’t need any entertainment.

I know you had a job at the Strand Book Store.

Well, I worked at Scribner’s bookstore from 1967 to 1972. The Strand was just a short period after that, and I didn’t like it. I worked in the basement, and it wasn’t very friendly. Scribner’s, though, was beautiful. People there took being book clerks seriously—you had to read The New York Times Book Review. I read a lot of French poetry: Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Nerval. Paul Bowles. Biographies of Yeats or Diego Rivera. And I could look at all the art books I wanted during lunch. I saw Pollock as sort of the next stop after Picasso and William Blake—like looking at jazz, but also a link with Cubism. And Scribner’s was so close to MoMA.

More here.

‘Lost World’ of wildlife found in Indonesia


060206_honeybird_hmed_11aDescribing it as the discovery of a “Lost World,” conservation groups and Indonesia on Tuesday said an expedition to one of Asia’s most isolated jungles had found several dozen new species of frogs, butterflies, flowers and birds.

“It’s as close to the Garden of Eden as you’re going to find on Earth,” Bruce Beehler, a Conservation International scientist who led the expedition, said in a statement.

“The first bird we saw at our camp was a new species,” he added. “Large mammals that have been hunted to near extinction elsewhere were here in abundance. We were able to simply pick up two Long-Beaked Echidnas, a primitive egg-laying mammal that is little known.”

The team of U.S., Indonesian and Australian scientists ventured into the Foja Mountains of Papua province last December. The remote area covers more than two million acres of old growth tropical forest.

More here.  [Thanks to Shabbir Kazmi.]

Iran daily to sponsor Holocaust cartoons; Israeli News Agency responds with contest of its own

Nazila Fathi in the International Herald Tribune:

A major Iranian newspaper is holding an international competition for cartoons about the Holocaust to retaliate for the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper last year.

The daily Hamshahri, which is Iran’s largest newspaper and is run by the capital’s municipality, said the competition would be co-sponsored by the House of Caricatures, an exhibition hall for cartoons in Tehran.

The newspaper said further information would be announced next week.

The daily made it clear that the contest was being held to see whether freedom of expression extended to mocking Holocaust. It invited non-Iranian cartoonists to enter the contest.

More here.  And this from the Israel News Agency:

In response to Iran’s best-selling newspaper announcing a competition to find the best cartoons about the Holocaust, the Israel News Agency launched an SEO – Internet search engine optimization marketing contest to prevent Iran news Websites from reaching top positions in Google.

“When I heard that a newspaper in Iran was now holding a cartoon contest on the Holocaust, I knew that SEO would be the most potent tool in combating it,” said Joel Leyden, publisher of the Israel News Agency. “That 12 winners in Iran would have their Holocaust cartoons published and would receive two gold coins (worth about $140 each) as a prize, I donned my SEO Israel Defense Forces uniform, cocked and loaded my keyboard. There is no way that Iran will spit on the graves of over 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.”

The Israel News Agency is asking every SEO advertising marketing professional to create Web pages and optimize the keywords: “Iran Holocaust Cartoon Contest” in order to prevent the Iran newspapers, the enemies of Israel, the Jews, the Christians and Western democracy from attaining a high Google and Google News position. The SEO contestants will wrap these keywords around their comments of how Iran has sponsored Islam suicide bombing terror attacks against innocent men, women and children in Israel. Iran directly funds the activities of the terrorist groups Hamas and Hizbullah.

More here.

Grape Compound Prolongs Life, Fish Study Concludes

From Scientific American:

Grapes_1 An organic compound found in grapes, berries and some nuts extended the life span of fish in a recent study. Nothobranchius furzeri lives an average of nine weeks in captivity but lacing its food with resveratrol boosted longevity by more than 50 percent.

Previous research had shown that resveratrol prolongs the life span of yeast and insects, but this study marks the first proof of its antiaging effects in a vertebrate. Neuroscientist Alessandro Cellerino and his colleagues at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy, tested different doses of the compound on more than 150 fish. Thirty fish received a small dose in their regular food, 60 received a medium dose and 20 received a large helping; meanwhile, 47 control fish enjoyed their insect larvae meals sans resveratrol. The control and low-dose fish saw no benefits, but even the fish who received only a middling amount of the compound lived up to 27 percent longer.

More here.

Olympic teams place bets on latest science


To sharpen their competitive edge, some of the U.S. Olympic athletes have been playing brain-controlled video games. Others have gotten room makeovers. Still others are wearing tighter clothing. And almost all of them have been caught on video. Believe it or not, this is Olympi serious stuff: Such technological tricks could make an athlete a fraction of a second faster, or just a little more alert — potentially spelling the difference between a medal-winner and an also-ran. But how do you separate the winning formulas from the high-tech hoohah?

Bill Sands, head of sport biomechanics and engineering for the U.S. Olympic Committee, has seen both sides of the high-tech equation: He says he’s sitting on some not-yet-publicized innovations in training that have yielded “staggering results,” but he’s also turned down plenty of “hare-brained ideas” that he feels aren’t worth the athletes’ time.

Consider the somewhat less baggy uniforms that the U.S. hockey team will be wearing this year at the Turin Olympics. Nike redesigned the jerseys to cut down on aerodynamic drag, developed lighter and better-fitting skates and even reduced the weight of the socks by 40 percent, said company spokesman Nate Tobecksen. During testing, the tighter uniforms made skaters ever-so-slightly speedier: “From red line to red line, it’s like a blade’s-length difference in speed,” Tobecksen told MSNBC.com. “So it could mean the difference for getting to the puck as opposed to being taken off the puck.”

More here.