Anti-Bush, And Mincing No Words

From Washington Post:

Chavez_1 This administration invaded Iraq. According to Pope John Paul II, it is an illegal war, an immoral war, a terrorist war. The U.S. has bombarded entire cities, used chemical weapons and napalm, killed women, children and thousands of soldiers. That’s terrorism. In Venezuela they fostered a coup d’etat [in 2002] manufactured by the CIA . . . Recently,ReverendRobertson called for my assassination. This is a terrorist attack, according to international law. In Miami, on a daily basis, people on TV shows are calling for my assassination. This is terrorism. This [present U.S.] government is a threat to humanity. I have confidence that the American people will save humanity from this government — they will not allow it to [continue to] violate human rights and to invade countries.

More here.

The Corrections

Nora Krug in the New York Times Book Review:

Krug184In at least one respect, Seth Mnookin’s “Hard News” mirrors its subject – this newspaper – with almost dead-on accuracy: its paperback edition, published last month, includes a carefully constructed list of corrections. Many errors in the three-page mea culpa may seem mundane or inconsequential (“Danny Meyer is a celebrity restaurateur, not a celebrity chef”), but its very existence is noteworthy.

Corrections in books are rare. But the conclusion this implies – that books rarely contain errors – is itself incorrect. Books are not usually corrected because they can’t be, not because they shouldn’t be. As Mnookin’s book shows, putting a statement between hard (or soft) covers does not make it more reliable than one published in a newspaper.

“The printed book page has always enjoyed a mystique that newsprint hasn’t,” said Ron Chernow, the National Book Award-winning author of “The House of Morgan” and “Alexander Hamilton.” “People tend to accept more uncritically what they read in a book than what they read in a magazine or newspaper.” Yet authors themselves, especially the most careful ones, know this mystique is undeserved. Uncorrected errors – some big, some small – are far more common than most publishers admit.

More here.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Plague hits the virtual world

From the BBC:

“A deadly virtual plague has broken out in the online game World of Warcraft. Although limited to only a few of the game’s servers the numbers of characters that have fallen victim is thought to be in the thousands.

Originally it was thought that the deadly digital disease was the result of a programming bug in a location only recently added to the Warcraft game.

However, it now appears that players kicked off the plague and then kept it spreading after the first outbreak.”

James Agee


Not every photograph ever snapped of James Agee caught him between pulls on a bottle or puffs on a cigarette. It only seems that way because the journalist/critic/novelist/screenwriter drank and smoked himself to death at 45, in 1955, at a time when postwar American culture conflated art with martyrdom and manhood with excess. Think of the poets lost to lithium, loony bins and suicide, the jazz musicians strung up and out on heroin, the abstract expressionists who slashed and burned themselves. Delmore Schwartz, Charlie Parker and Jackson Pollock pointed the way for Jack Kerouac, James Dean, Truman Capote, John Berryman, Elvis, Janis and Jimi. Like the Greek warrior Philoctetes, hadn’t they been allowed to play so brilliantly with their bows and arrows because they suffered suppurating wounds? So the iconic image, emblematic and self-destructive, was the Shadow Man – a Humphrey Bogart, a J. D. Salinger, an Edward R. Murrow, maybe even an Albert Camus. Agee, with his cold blue eyes, his thick dark hair and his handsome hillbilly Huguenot hatchet face, belonged on this wall of tragic-hero masks, at least till he inflated like a frog, from drinking alone in a Hollywood bungalow, and got kicked out of the 20th Century Fox studio commissary because he smelled so bad from never taking a bath.

more from the NYT Book Review here.

miniature ‘gates’ chases miniature island


from the New York Times;

It is not an easy job, towing 150 tons of conceptual art around Manhattan all day. There are tides and wind currents to negotiate. There are ferries and container ships and police boats to avoid. And then there is the precious cargo itself, not exactly your average garbage scow: “Floating Island,” designed by the artist Robert Smithson, who died in 1973, is a kind of waterborne jewel-box version of Central Park, built on a barge, with live trees and shrubs.

It’s enough to give a tugboat captain angina. So when Bob Henry, captain of the Rachel Marie, who is in charge of towing Smithson’s island, looked out across the East River Thursday afternoon and saw another piece of conceptual art gaining on him, he did not view the development kindly.

“I got my own job to do, you know what I mean?” Captain Henry said.

Approaching the Rachel Marie on its starboard side was a small motorboat, affixed to which was a replica of one of the saffron-colored gates created by Christo and Jeanne-Claude that dotted Central Park last winter. Captain Henry remembered “The Gates” and, putting two and two together, he worried that maybe the man in the motorboat was planning on boarding his little version of Central Park and planting a gate somewhere among the trees.

“He was coming up on me a couple of times,” recalled Captain Henry, the owner of Island Towing and Salvage in Staten Island and a plain-spoken 40-year veteran of the harbor. “I was trying to wave him off.”

He added, sternly: “When I saw the kind of rig he was running, I didn’t want him getting no closer. Joker like that? In a motorboat? I don’t need that.”

As all this was happening, a group of graphic designers in a studio in the Dumbo neighborhood in Brooklyn, who had been monitoring the Smithson project’s daily passing from their office window, caught sight of the little floating gate chasing the little floating park.

“We all thought it was kind of hilarious,” said Ian Adelman, who took some photographs. A fellow designer, Elizabeth Elsas, went down to the waterfront, where the motorboat driver and a man with a video camera who had been towed behind the motorboat were already getting out of the water. A crowd of supporters were waiting, as if to receive Lindbergh after crossing the Atlantic. But the would-be art pirates, whom she described as being in their 20’s and “art studenty,” were not forthcoming with their identities or even particularly friendly.

“They said that they do some public art pieces themselves, and they thought the ‘Gates’ project was stupid and kind of wanted to comment on public art and make a joke about it,” Ms. Elsas said, adding that, apparently, this joke was not meant to be funny.

“We were laughing about it,” she said. “But they weren’t laughing.”

Parents sue after alternate to evolution added to science curriculum


A federal judge in Pennsylvania will hear arguments Monday in a lawsuit that both sides say could set the fundamental ground rules for how American students are taught the origins of life for years to come. At issue is an alternative to the standard theory of evolution called “intelligent design.” Proponents argue that the structure of life on Earth is too complex to have evolved through natural selection, challenging a core principle of the biological theory launched by Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” in 1859. Instead, contend adherents of intelligent design, life is probably the result of intervention by an intelligent agent.

The suit, brought by 11 parents, challenges the Dover Area School District’s adoption last year of an addition to the science curriculum directing teachers — in addition to teaching evolution — to tell students about intelligent design and refer them to an alternative textbook that champions it. Three opposing board members resigned after the vote. The parents contended that the directive amounted to an attempt to inject religion into the curriculum in violation of the First Amendment.

More here.

The year of magical thinking

From The Guardian:

Didionap128_1 Joan Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, lived and worked together for 40 years. When he died suddenly in their New York apartment, as their daughter lay gravely ill in a nearby hospital, nothing prepared her for the tumult of grief and its assault on her sanity.

“Life changes fast.
   Life changes in the instant.
   You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
   The question of self-pity.”

For a long time I wrote nothing else.

   “Life changes in the instant.
   The ordinary instant.”

At some point, in the interest of remembering what seemed most striking about what had happened, I considered adding those words, “the ordinary instant”. I recognise now that there was nothing unusual in this: confronted with sudden disaster we all focus on how unremarkable the circumstances were in which the unthinkable occurred, the clear blue sky from which the plane fell, the routine errand that ended on the hard shoulder with the car in flames, the swings where the children were playing as usual when the rattlesnake struck from the ivy.

More here.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Martti Ahtisaari favorite for 2005 Nobel Peace Prize

From CNN:

LongFormer Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari is favorite to win the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize but the odds are against U.S. President George W. Bush, the first bookmaker to take bets on the award said on Friday.

Australia-based Centrebet placed U.S. Senator Richard Lugar and former senator Sam Nunn as joint second favourites for the award on 7-1 for their work on dismantling former Soviet nuclear weapons. The 2005 winner will be announced on October 7.

“Ahtisaari ticks two of this year’s most obvious boxes,” Centrebet’s betting manager Gerard Daffy said.

“He has great peacemaking credentials and brokered a deal between two warring parties from a tsunami-ravished area just a few months ago,” he said. Ahtisaari was rated at 6-1.

More here.  Wikipedia entry on Ahtisaari here.  More biographical info here.

Martti Ahtisaari was awarded the distinguished J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding in 2000. Other winners of this prize have included Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Vaclav Havel, Kofi Annan, and Colin Powell. You may read Martti Ahtisaari’s Fulbright Prize speech here.

me you and everyone we know


“I don’t think the whole poop thing is really grabbing people.”

So said producer Gina Kwon to first-time feature director Miranda July, and she was probably correct: excrement definitely inhabits an in-between zone. Necessary? Yes. The stuff of interesting artwork? Sometimes. The foundation for a feature film pitch? Uh, no. Better to focus on the stars. Or the unusual plot. Or an emerging artist’s exceptional promise. Financiers are an uptight bunch after all, a fact that July, an experimental filmmaker, video artist and musician, learned the hard way when she and Kwon began taking July’s first feature film script, Me and You and Everyone We Know, to investors.

more from Res Magazine here.

Bring It On

The reaction from liberals to Bush’s proposed War on Bayou Poverty has been outrage that Republicans would take advantage of the tragedy to advance their ideological agenda. Democratic leaders are upset about the suspension of the Davis-Bacon Act, sacred to unions, which requires the federal government to pay prevailing wages to workers. They’ve also denounced Bush’s proposal to provide school vouchers to students displaced by the storm and the suggestion that Karl Rove might run the rebuilding show.

This is precisely the wrong response. Liberals, who have failed to muster any kind of social consensus for a major federal assault on poverty since LBJ’s day, should welcome conservatives as converts to the cause. They should hold back on their specific objections—some of which are valid, some of which are not—and let Bush have his way with the reconstruction. Making New Orleans a test site for conservative social policy ideas could shake out any number of ways politically. But all of us have a stake in an experiment that tells us whether conservative anti-poverty ideas, uh, work. If the conservative war on poverty succeeds, even in partial fashion, we will all be better for its success. And if it fails, we will have learned something important about how not to fight poverty.

more from Jacob Weisberg at Slate here.


From The Edge:Randall150

LISA RANDALL, a professor of physics at Harvard, is the author of Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions. She was the 1st tenured woman in physics at Princeton; the 1st tenured woman theorist in science at Harvard and at MIT. She’s the most cited theoretical physicist in the world in the last five years as of last autumn — a total of about 10,000 citations. Lisa Randall’s research in theoretical high energy physics is primarily related to the question of what is the physics underlying the standard model of particle physics. This has involved studies of strongly interacting theories, supersymmetry, and most recently, extra dimensions of space. In this latter work, she investigates “warped” geometries. The study of further implications of this work has involved string theory, holography, and cosmology. Lisa Randall also continues to work on supersymmetry and other beyond-the-standard-model physics. “The very different uses of the word “theory” provide a field day for advocates of “intelligent design.” By conflating a scientific theory with the colloquial use of the word, creationists instantly diminish the significance of science in general and evolution’s supporting scientific evidence in particular.”

More here.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A Shadow World

Anita Desai reviews Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro in the New York Review of Books:

Ishiguro_kazuo19951221 While reading several new novels published this past spring, one is struck by the way that the British novelists who take up the issues of our times prefer to do so not directly but at an angle. There is Ian McEwan, who, in addressing the shock of 9/11 (or 11/9 as it is spoken of in Europe), chose Mrs. Dalloway as a model and Virginia Woolf’s way of including the horrors of World War II in a sunlit day of an English summer. Now we have Kazuo Ishiguro dealing with the present hotly debated issue of cloning by seeming to revert to an old tradition of British boarding school stories. McEwan’s pleasant, bourgeois world is drenched in golden light. Ishiguro’s more austere scene is cast in the pearly, opaque light with which we tend to drape the past; he hints at the shadows that lie around but chooses to keep them at a decorous distance.

The world Ishiguro creates is both similar to the one we know from our schooldays and yet not quite so.

More here.

AI systems may blow weathermen away

From New Scientist:

Weather forecasters could find themselves pushed out of a job by an artificial intelligence system designed to write clearer, less ambiguous reports.

Computer scientists at the University of Aberdeen, UK, were asked to generate an “artificial weatherperson” by operators of offshore oil rigs, who wanted more clarity in their forecasts. The vocabulary used by different forecasters can be vague and highly variable, says Ehud Reiter, who led the Aberdeen team.

While this is simply an irritation to most of us, it can be a big headache for the offshore oil industry, where unexpected bad weather can damage equipment and threaten safety.

More here.

Hurricane Rita and Particpatory Journalism

As I wait to see if and how badly Houston, where I grew up, gets hit by Rita, and sit worried about my parents, family and friends, I obsessively check this, The Houston Chronicle’s Stomwatchers :

“[O]ur experiment in citizen journalism. The bloggers who are posting here live in various parts of the city, and they will be posting their experiences as Hurricane Rita approaches and moves through the area. Bloggers here are posting on their own and are solely responsible for the content of their blogs.

Rubirosa: The Last Playboy


And let us now praise famous men, with particular attention to those who were famous only for being famous. They were heroes, too—they kept tongues wagging and gossip columnists gossiping and rumors flying, until they didn’t any longer and slipped into oblivion. But occasionally one of these figures rouses the interest of a journalist or biographer or social historian, and then he’s back among us—interesting as an artifact of a vanished zeitgeist if not interesting in himself. Which brings us to the latest disinterred hero of this species: Porfirio Rubirosa, or The Last Playboy, as his biographer, Shawn Levy, calls him. Raise your hands, boys and girls, if any of you under the age of 50 remember him. It doesn’t count if you’re from the Dominican Republic, have specialized in the history of polo, or have been studying the memoirs of Zsa Zsa Gabor (either version). Zsa Zsa and “Rubi” specialized in each other when they weren’t marrying everyone else; in fact, they would seem to have been each other’s nearest equivalent, their lives lived in headlines, nightclubs and between the sheets, although she was sometimes to be found in front of a camera, while he could be found on a horse or behind the wheel of a racing car.

more from the NY Observer here.

New Rembrandt


Why was she wearing fur?

That was one of the first questions experts asked when they began studying a 17th-century portrait of a woman who had the unmistakably stolid face of a servant but was decked out in a sumptuous fur collar. And why did the light on her face appear to be reflected off the dark surface of that collar when it should be absorbed by it?

“Portrait of an Elderly Woman in a White Bonnet” with the fur collar.
These were puzzling questions, since the woman, whose head is covered in a plain white bonnet, certainly did not seem to belong to the class of 17th-century Dutch society that had its portraits painted. Some experts would have taken one look at the canvas and immediately dismissed it as the work of a minor artist.

more from the NYT here.

Alison Lapper Pregnant


I expected to be writing about how much I disliked Alison Lapper Pregnant, the 12-ton, marble sculpture that now graces Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth. I had seen pictures of Marc Quinn’s maquette of the piece and had thought the subject matter – Lapper was born with no arms and shortened legs – too deliberately controversial, too feebly didactic and, as a result, rather banal.

But I should have known better. When it comes to sculpture, never underestimate the move from maquette to finished work. In the case of Alison Lapper Pregnant, something wonderful has happened in the zoom from miniature to massive, and it is not only the sheer scale of the thing (the statue is 3.55 metre tall and manages to feel even bigger) that demands a certain respect. White and dazzling, Quinn’s sculpture has set a grey corner of a grey space unexpectedly ablaze.

more from The Observer here.

The happiest days of your life? Come off it


From The Guardian:

Curtis Sittenfeld evokes the horror of being a teenager in her examination of the cruelty of cool, Prep, says Viv Groskop. Lee Fiora is a dorky 14-year-old from an embarrassingly ordinary family in South Bend, Indiana, who ends up at Ault, an exclusive Massachusetts boarding school. Prep is the story of her survival there. It is about how she learns to fit in somewhere she doesn’t belong, only to suffer social death the moment she finally feels accepted. Rejected by 14 publishers before it found a home, Curtis Sittenfeld’s debut is an addictive portrait of adolescence – The OC meets Donna Tartt’s The Secret History with flashes of Clueless. After rave reviews and becoming a New York Times bestseller, it has also been optioned as a film by Paramount.

More here.

Scientists explain the ‘Cheerio Effect’ or why floating things tend to clump together

From MSNBC News:Cereal_vmed

You may or may not have pondered why your breakfast cereal tends to clump together or cling to the sides of a bowl of milk. Now there is an easy explanation. Dubbed the Cheerio Effect by scientists, this clumping phenomenon applies to anything that floats, including fizzy soda bubbles and hair particles in water after a morning shave. Dominic Vella, a graduate student now at Cambridge University, and L. Mahadevan, a mathematician from Harvard University, decided to change that. In a study that appears in the Sept. 15 issue of the American Journal of Physics, Mahadevan explains the Cheerio Effect using three basic concepts from physics: buoyancy, surface tension and the meniscus effect.

More here.