Arctic Ice Cap Continues To Shrink

From The New York Times:

ArcticicecapThe floating cap of sea ice on the Arctic Ocean shrank this summer to what is probably its smallest size in a century, continuing a trend toward less summer ice that is hard to explain without attributing it in part to human-caused global warming, various experts on the region said today.

The findings are consistent with recent computer simulations showing that a buildup of smokestack and tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases could lead to a profoundly transformed Arctic later this century in which much of the once ice-locked ocean is routinely open water in summers.

It also appears that the change is becoming self sustaining, with the increased open water absorbing solar energy that would be reflected back into space by bright white ice, said Ted A. Scambos, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., which compiled the data along with NASA.

More here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

book reviews based on one random sentence

THE CITY OF GOD by St. Augustine (tr. Marcus Dods, D.D.)

“There is, then, nothing to hinder the gods from mingling in a bodily form with men, from seeing and being seen, from speaking and hearing.”

What happens when a humble grocery store clerk gets a special message… from the Man Upstairs himself?

This question is hilariously answered in St. Augustine’s rollicking City of God.

Augustine has dashed off the kind of page-turner that has the reader automatically casting the movie in his or her head. To play God, may this reviewer humbly suggest Whoopi Goldberg or Danny DeVito? Either performer would bring a rare humanity and sly wit to what otherwise might be a daunting role.

ABSALOM, ABSALOM!
by William Faulkner

“‘And so it was the Aunt Rosa that came back to town inside the ambulance,’ Shreve said.”

There’s no getting rid of Aunt Rosa. She’s a feisty old gal with a quick tongue, and she can use today’s modern slang as easily as any teenager.

Aunt Rosa is, of course, the memorably wacky central character of William Faulkner’s delightfully dark comedy, Absalom, Absalom!

The whole family is waiting for Aunt Rosa to die so they can inherit her vast fortune, but the stubborn old battle-ax just won’t comply. Every time it looks like the end, Aunt Rosa pulls off another miraculous recovery.

How long will it be before the oddball cast of nieces and nephews decides to take matters into their own hands?

Fans of classic British comedy from the Ealing Studio will appreciate the decidedly morbid—and hilarious—twists and turns.

more from Jack Pendarvis at The Believer here.

ezawa

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The kid-friendly feeling of animation clings to Kota Ezawa’s remakes of “serious” video works and documents. Take, for instance, his current installation: A simple arrangement of three projections placed side-by-side with audio bubbles for listening hung from the ceiling. The projection on the left remakes archival footage of a press conference during John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s famous Amsterdam “Bed In” for peace in 1969. The center animation recreates Susan Sontag lecturing at Columbia in 2001. The third is a take on Joseph Beuys’ 1974 talk at the New School in New York, where he discussed his ideas about art and invited audience members onstage to debate him. There’s something comical about all this: the flat colors; the moving, animated eyes and mouths; the range of accents; the overlapping of voices, which suggests the chatter at an extra discourse-y cocktail party.

more from Artforum here.

Elusive giant squid photographed

From San Francisco Chronicle:

Squid For decades, scientists and sea explorers have mounted costly expeditions to hunt down and photograph the giant squid, a legendary monster with eyes the size of dinner plates and a nightmarish tangle of tentacles lined with long rows of sucker pads. The goal has been to learn more about a bizarre creature of no little fame — Jules Verne’s attacked a submarine, and Peter Benchley’s ate children — that in real life has stubbornly refused to give up its secrets.

While giant squid have been snagged in fishing nets, and dead or dying ones have washed ashore, expeditions have repeatedly failed to photograph a live one in its natural habitat, the inky depths of the sea. But two Japanese scientists, Tsunemi Kubodera and Kyoichi Mori, report today in a leading British biological journal that they have made the world’s first observations of a giant squid in the wild. (Picture from MSNBC).

More here.

Smart Wi-Fi

From Scientific American:Wifi

People love Wi-Fi access to the Internet. More and more, they are using the wireless connection technology at Starbucks cafés, in airport lounges and at home. Wi-Fi seems irresistible because it makes the Net available to users anytime, anywhere. It provides fast communications links that allow e-mail messages to appear almost instantly and Web pages to paint computer screens quickly–all with the mobility and freedom that has made cell phones nearly ubiquitous.

Wi-Fi and other wireless communications technologies are growing–and changing–dramatically. More and more people in the U.S. and elsewhere are abandoning landline telephone service in favor of wireless cell phones, and municipal governments such as Philadelphia’s are creating citywide Wi-Fi coverage areas. Meanwhile the use of third-generation (3G) cellular telephony is on the upswing, and a new wireless technology called WiMAX may soon have a strong presence in the market. Increasingly, we are living in a wireless world.

More here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Remembering Maxine Rodinson

In openDemocracy, Fred Halliday remembers the great French Marxist historian of the Middle East, Maxine Rodinson.

“The greatest of all French writers on the middle east (and arguably the greatest tout court) is however less renowned today than he deserves to be. Maxime Rodinson (1915-2004) was certainly the formative influence on my own work.

Rodinson’s life-story fused scholarship and political commitment. He was born in Paris to a radical, Jewish, working-class family, and worked his way to the Sorbonne where he studied Semitic languages, ethnography and sociology, before teaching for seven years in a Muslim school in Lebanon. He returned to Paris to work in the Bibliotheque Nationale (in charge of oriental printed books) and later in the Sorbonne as professor of middle-eastern ethnology and old south Arabian languages.

Throughout, his political engagement was consistent and profound. He spent two decades (1937-58) in the French Communist Party (PCF), but remained devoted to independence of mind and accuracy in research, traits that flowered in the decades he spent as a Marxist writer after he broke with the party.”

A review of Gray’s Consciousness

In Science and Consciousness, a review of Jeffrey Gray’s Consciousness: Creeping up on the Hard Problem.

“Gray’s book is well worth the read. His coverage of models that address the hard problem of consciousness is reasonably complete. Gray is highly skilled at thoroughly critiquing each model (always finding both strengths and weaknesses). He gives the same constructive criticism to each model, in exactly the same measure he gives his own. His style is entirely fair-minded and refreshing.

I, for one, agree with most aspects of Gray’s comparator model wherein consciousness serves in late error detection, especially the next time a stimulus is presented. One potential point missed by Gray (but perhaps alluded to) is that consciousness may, in some instances, provide a representation of the stimulus-response. As Gray astutely argues in matters of brain, everything is a representation.”

A new biography of the Moor of Petersburg

Andrew Kahn looks at Hugh Barnes’ new biography of Pushkin’s great grandfather, Abram Petrovich Ganibal.

“The life of Abram Petrovich Ganibal (1697– 1781), the great-grandfather of Alexander Pushkin, reads like a parable of Enlightenment cosmopolitanism, a fable of reason and happenstance perfectly straight out of the pages of Voltaire’s Candide. Abducted as a child from his native homeland somewhere near Chad, he was sold into slavery in Constantinople. A shady Croatian operating as a Russian spy whisked him away from the intrigues of Sultan Ahmed III’s seraglio to the court of Peter the Great in the newly founded St Petersburg. Other blackamoors were named for their owner Tsar, taking both his Christian name (Petr) and patronymic (Petrovich). At some point the child baulked at being just another Petr Petrovich Petrov, gaining permission to retain his name Ibrahim (in the Russian variant, Abram).”

The 600th anniversary of the amazing voyages of Admiral Zheng He

In Le Monde Diplomatique:

“SIX hundred years ago, in 1405, the Chinese imperial fleet set out on its first voyage to explore and trade with the world. The logistics of the enterprise remain unparalleled in maritime history – 27,000 men aboard 317 ships. The most impressive vessels were the treasure ships, built of hardwood, 130 metres long and 50 metres wide; by the side of them, Columbus’s 28-metre long Santa Maria, in which he reached the Americas, would have looked like a dinghy, and he had only three ships and 270 men.

The ships had hulls with multiple watertight compartments for buoyancy, nine masts, and 12 gigantic sails made of bamboo slats rather than woven cloth; the slats could be angled like venetian blinds, which enabled the ships to sail in winds unusable by western craft. They carried trade and tribute goods and supplies; aboard was a massive complement of bureaucrats, merchants, interpreters, astrologers, priests, cooks, doctors, marines – soldiers trained to operate at or from sea.”

What we believe (and don’t believe) about health care

In Mother Jones, Rudy Teixeira tries to make sense of survey results of American opinions about health care.

“So, it appears that the public is very open to a government-supported system of universal coverage, but not sure about how (and how fast) to get there and what kind of system it really wants. This is a challenging environment for advocates of universal coverage. To be effective, they will need to resolve a number of unanswered questions about public responsiveness to a universal coverage message.

1. Does the public see a connection between universal coverage and containing health care costs? If so, what kind and how can that connection be strengthened? If not, what can be done to create that connection?

2. The public says it favors a government role in guaranteeing health insurance coverage for all. But how does the public envision that role? And what does the public really hear when terms like ‘universal coverage’ and ‘guaranteed health insurance’ are used? Do advocates know what kind of terminology would actually work the best when talking about these goals with the public?

3. If the public believes access health care is a ‘right,’ is that the best way to talk about the goal of universal coverage? If not, what is the best way to connect to Americans’ values in and around the health care issue?”

UN reform and the problem from hell

Samantha Powers in Le Monde Diplomatique (english edition), looks at the UN:

“Blaming the UN for the Rwandan genocide or for Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, as Richard Holbrooke, former US ambassador to the UN, says, ‘is like blaming Madison Square Garden when the New York Knicks play badly’. The UN is a building. It is the behaviour and priorities of the states within it that need to be reformed. Take two notorious examples of the UN in crisis: peacekeeping and mismanagement. The most serious accusations against the UN have been that the massacres in Rwanda in 1994 and Srebrenica in 1995 happened in the presence of UN peacekeepers.

Annan, who then ran the department of peacekeeping operations in New York, was warned by Romeo Dallaire, his field general in Rwanda, of the imminent events. Annan, unforgivably, failed to pass the warning to the Security Council.

But who must bear the greatest responsibility for allowing the genocide? Annan, who predicted that the warning would cause member states either to do nothing or to flee Rwanda (a prediction borne out during the genocide, when western powers withdrew UN peacekeepers)? Or Bill Clinton who, fearing that US troops might get drawn in, demanded that the blue helmets be evacuated when the massacres were already happening? Or François Mitterrand, who had helped arm and train the murderers, and whose French soldiers parachuted in to rescue leading perpetrators during the last days of the killings?

Has anything changed? Western nations have heeded the lessons of the 1990s, but not by ensuring that peacekeeping is done well. Instead, they have avoided peacekeeping altogether.”

Can German Conservatism survive?

Charles Hawley in Der Spiegel:

“According to Thursday’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, the leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, Governor Edmund Stoiber has already begun blaming Merkel internally for ‘her cold and heartless rhetoric’ used in the campaign.

But publicly, everybody on the right side of Germany’s political spectrum is acting as though the 35.2 percent result for the combined CDU and Bavarian Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) — while perhaps a bit disappointing — is really no big deal. On Tuesday, in fact, in the first meeting of the newly-elected CDU parliamentary group, Merkel was confirmed as the party’s front woman with 98.64 percent of the votes cast.

But the ritual sacrifice is almost sure to come. After all, it’s much easier to blame Merkel for the party’s election debacle than it is to face the truth exposed on Sunday: The right side of the German political spectrum is in an unfocused freefall. And conservative Germany is a shambles.”

Bollywood battles Mr. Bean in Afghanistan

From CNN:

LongraiIn the city that spawned Afghanistan’s Taliban, music and TV were crimes punishable by beatings and jail just a few years ago.

Now, India’s Bollywood and its raunchy song and dance numbers and wet saris compete with Mr Bean and women’s wrestling in the Sadat music and film market, a chaotic cacophony of sound where it’s always night inside and it’s always packed.

“I like Mr Bean, he is very funny,” says 12-year-old Mohammed Rahim, from behind the counter of his father’s Ariana VCD Center.

“I watch him all the time.”

Ariana is one of the dozen or so shops in the market. Rahim says he sells 50 VCDs of British comedian Rowan Atkinson’s famously bumbling Mr Bean every week.

More here.

Johnson’s dictionary

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It takes an eccentric to read dictionaries for pleasure. I do not use the word insultingly; I am glad that there are such people out there, and I wish there were more. however, in the category of works that are admired more than they are read—the Faerie Queene and Remembrance of Things Past are typical members—a dictionary must be at the absolute top of the list. While Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, which celebrates its two hundred and fiftieth anniversary this year, is a greatly admired book, it is also surely one of the least read. Yet Macaulay called it “the first dictionary which could be read with pleasure,” and even a short look at it will reveal the truth of his assessment.

more from Bookforum here.

DYLAN

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No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese’s documentary about Bob Dylan’s early years, is but the latest item in a flood tide of Dylanalia that, in trying to pay due homage to America’s most important rock artist, constricts his four-decade career to its first six years. (The film is reviewed today in Slate by David Yaffe.) Though delightful to watch—it’s artfully made and studded with revealing tidbits—the documentary wallows in baby boomer nostalgia, replete with loving shots of bustling Greenwich Village and period footage of JFK romping with Caroline and John-John. Even the film’s literary companion—a book released simultaneously but sold separately—is not a new biography or oral history, but a precious “scrapbook” festooned with pullout and pop-up reproductions of lyric sheets, concert tickets, newspaper articles, and similar memorabilia. Ironically, all the hoopla ends up reducing Dylan to the avatar of the 1960s that the film makes clear he has never pretended to be.

more from Slate here.

Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge

From Science (via Boing Boing):

19901medScience Magazine and the National Science Foundation are pleased to present the 2005 winners and honorable mentions in the third annual Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge. The links below will take you to the articles describing the achievements of these creative and gifted scientists — as well as an online slide presentation showcasing the competition’s winners and honorable mentions, and a profile of one of the winners on Science‘s Next Wave. All material is freely available to all visitors to Science Online.

More here.

schama: pulling no punches

Schama1

Tough love is what Schama has to offer his adopted homeland of 20 years: a riposte to the blood and glory of David McCullough’s 1776 and the vaingloriously named Freedom Tower that will rise to this symbolic number of feet on the site of the World Trade Centre. His constant use of the word ‘patriot’ to describe the American revolutionaries seems freighted with a contemporary distaste.

For the New York of 1776 that Schama describes is under temporary British control, a safe haven for tens of thousands of fleeing blacks who see a far better hope of salvation in Britain’s King George than a nascent American republic. And who, having fought for the British in uniforms bearing the insignia ‘Liberty to slaves’, will risk death in the water attempting to reach their army’s disappearing evacuation ships rather than return to the mercy of their former masters.

more from The Observer here.

Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians joining forces to save Dead Sea

Joshua Hammer in Smithsonian Magazine:

On a sweltering August afternoon, Israeli environmental activist Gidon Bromberg stops abruptly beside a gaping crater, more than 60 feet deep. “Better not walk any farther,” he warns. “The ground could swallow us whole.”

Up and down the Dead Sea, on the Jordanian and Israeli coasts, the shoreline is pockmarked by these sinkholes. The Dead Sea is shrinking, and as it recedes, the fresh water aquifers along the perimeter of the lake are receding with it. Salt deposits beneath the surface of the shoreline are collapsing without warning.

Bromberg directs Friends of the Earth Middle East, the most active of several environmental groups working to galvanize concern for the dying sea. With a staff of Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians, the environmentalists want to pressure the region’s governments to reform what they call “shortsighted” water policies they say have been sucking dry the Dead Sea—and the rivers, particularly the Jordan, and streams that feed it—for decades.

More here.

Which of These Foods Will Stop Cancer?

From The New York Times:Food_1

The diet messages are everywhere: the National Cancer Institute has an “Eat 5 to 9 a Day for Better Health” program, the numbers referring to servings of fruits and vegetables, and the Prostate Cancer Foundation has a detailed anticancer diet. Yet despite the often adamant advice, scientists say they really do not know whether dietary changes will make a difference. And there lies a quandary for today’s medicine. It is turning out to be much more difficult than anyone expected to discover if diet affects cancer risk. Hypotheses abound, but convincing evidence remains elusive.

So should people who are worried about cancer be told to follow these guidelines anyway, because they may work and will probably not hurt? Or should the people be told that the evidence just is not there, so they should not deceive themselves?

More here.

A Cool Early Earth?

From Scientific American:Earth

In its infancy, beginning about 4.5 billion years ago, the earth glowed like a faint star. Incandescent yellow-orange oceans of magma roiled the surface following repeated collisions with immense boulders, some the size of small planets, orbiting the newly formed sun. Averaging 75 times the speed of sound, each impactor scorched the surface–shattering, melting and even vaporizing on contact. These fiery conditions had to subside before molten rock could harden into a crust, before continents could form, before the dense, steamy atmosphere could pool as liquid water, and before the earth’s first primitive life could evolve and survive. But just how quickly did the surface of the earth cool after its luminous birth? Most scientists have assumed that the hellish environment lasted for as long as 500 million years, an era thus named the Hadean. Major support for this view comes from the apparent absence of any intact rocks older than four billion years–and from the first fossilized signs of life, which are much younger still.

In the past five years, however, geologists–including my group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison–have discovered dozens of ancient crystals of the mineral zircon with chemical compositions that are changing our thinking about the earth’s beginnings.

More here.