Steve Connor in The Independent:
A record loss of sea ice in the Arctic this summer has convinced scientists that the northern hemisphere may have crossed a critical threshold beyond which the climate may never recover. Scientists fear that the Arctic has now entered an irreversible phase of warming which will accelerate the loss of the polar sea ice that has helped to keep the climate stable for thousands of years.
They believe global warming is melting Arctic ice so rapidly that the region is beginning to absorb more heat from the sun, causing the ice to melt still further and so reinforcing a vicious cycle of melting and heating.
The greatest fear is that the Arctic has reached a “tipping point” beyond which nothing can reverse the continual loss of sea ice and with it the massive land glaciers of Greenland, which will raise sea levels dramatically.
More here. [Thanks to Josh Smith.]
Via Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance, a site devoted to discussions of different types of map projections:
“There is an endless variety of geographical maps for every kind of purpose. When looking at two different world maps one can wonder why the differences: do we draw the world as a rectangle, or an oval? Shouldn’t it be a circle? Should grid lines be parallel, straight or curved? Does South America’s ‘tail’ bend eastwards or westwards? What’s the ‘right’ way (or, more properly, is there one?) to draw our unique planet?
One important concern of cartography is solving how to project, i.e. transform or map points from an almost spherical lump of rock (our Earth) onto either flat sheets of paper or not-so flat phosphorus-coated glass.”
I was intrigued by polyhedral maps, printable cut-out forms of which are provided by the site.
“Several approaches were presented for reducing distortion when transforming a spherical surface into a flat map, including:
- first mapping the sphere into an intermediate zero-Gaussian curvature surface like a cylinder or a cone, then converting the surface into a plane
- partially cutting the sphere and separately projecting each division in an interrupted map
Both techniques are combined in polyhedral maps:
- inscribe the sphere in a polyhedron, then separately project regions of the sphere onto each polyhedral face
- optionally, cut and disassemble the polyhedron into a flat map, called a “net” or fold-out
Intuitively, distortion in polyhedral maps is greater near vertices and edges, where the polyedron is farther from the inscribed sphere; also, increasing the number of faces is likely to reduce distortion (after all, a sphere is equivalent to a polyhedron with infinitely many faces). However, too many faces create additional gaps and direction changes in the unfolded map, greatly reducing its usefulness.”
Christopher Grimes in the Financial Times:
Four years on, there is an architectural renaissance in New York that would have been difficult to imagine in the weeks that followed 9/11. Since the 1960s, the shape of New York’s skyline has been under the control of savvy developers who made fortunes erecting uniform brick apartment towers and boxy office buildings. Architects wanting to do something new had little choice but to look to Europe or Asia. This is changing: New York is once again becoming a city where adventurous architecture can happen. Many of the world’s top architects are, like Foster, working in the city for the first time.
The outbreak of adventurous design is extremely broad-based. There are public works, most spectacularly Santiago Calatrava’s design for a new transportation centre near the World Trade Center site. There are the midtown office towers: Foster’s Hearst building, Renzo Piano’s design for The New York Times and Cesar Pelli’s new office for Bloomberg LP, all departures from the corporate glass boxes that dominate midtown Manhattan. There are great new cultural designs, including Yoshio Tanaguchi’s elegant expansion of the Museum of Modern Art. Restorations include David Childs’ plan to convert the 1912 beaux-arts Farley Post Office into a desperately needed new Pennsylvania Station. And then there is the High Line, one of those priceless ideas that is often conceived but too rarely executed: the plan is to convert a 1.45-mile-long stretch of disused elevated train track into a public park 30 feet above Chelsea and the Meatpacking District. But perhaps the most heartening of all is the return to interesting residential design, spurred on by Richard Meier’s work on Manhattan’s west side.
From The National Geographic:
Currently doctors treat extensive burns by creating a graft. A piece of healthy skin from a victim is stretched up to six times its original size. The process creates holes in the skin so that it resembles a fine mesh fabric. The graft is then placed over the victim’s burned skin and, as the patient recovers, new skin cells grow to fill in the holes. The new trial will test whether spraying extra cultured skin cells in the holes of the mesh makes burns heal better or more quickly.
This is one of the best bits of writing about creationism/ID/evolution that I have seen, and it is by our own 3 Quarks columnist, Justin E. H. Smith, in Counterpunch:
Compared with the campaigns against abortion and homosexuality, the other two members of that trifecta of Godlessness, evolution may seem unimportant. The first two concern judgments about what is right and wrong, whereas with the latter it is only a matter of truth and falsehood. But it is precisely in debates about what is right and wrong that people should be taking up sides based on preference. When it comes to true-or-false questions, the traditional assumption has been that it does not matter what you prefer; all that matters is what the evidence imposes.
What is most troubling about creationism is how easily its defenders elide it with moral issues that invite us to take up positions based on things like principles. A society that outlaws abortion is just mean-spirited, but not for that reason delusional about the nature of reality; one that supresses a good scientific theory and replaces it with a fairy tale is simply retarded. And I mean this in the very literal sense that it is stunted, held back, left at the intellectual and emotional level of a three- year-old. Creationists would have all Americans frozen at that innocent stage where kitsch coloring books with scenes of smiling hippos on Noah’s ark, available at Christian supply stores (did Christ, by the way, need ‘supplies’?) throughout the country, seem to provide an adequate account of origins.
The advance of creationism, in short, is among the surest signs that in the US truth is increasingly something that is decided upon by preference-based convention, rather than something that is imposed, like it or not, by reality. And what is preferred in this case is infantile submission to the authority of the men who control church, school, and state.
More here. [Look for Justin’s first column at 3QD on Monday.]
Last year the President of Sri Lanka, Chanrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, gave a very good speech at the Asia Society, about which I wrote in my very first Monday Musing: Cake Theory and Sri Lanka’s President. The president is again in town for the UN Summit, and I had the pleasure of meeting her again last night, again at the Asia Society, and again, she delivered an excellent speech. Imagine my pleasant surprise, when halfway through the speech, after speaking of John Rawls and Amartya Sen, she referred to my Monday Musing column:
And equal civil and political rights are required for people to have equal access to healthcare. The political philosopher John Rawls captures this point by talking not just about equal basic liberties but about the equal worth of basic liberties. Similarly, Professor Amartya Sen refers to “Development as Freedom” in order to emphasize that development is not simply to increase growth rates in order to increase per capita income and purchase more goods, but to improve health, education, housing, so that people will have improved quality of life.
But it is not just political philosophers who are concerned about the practical implications of treating people as equals. We have interesting developments in what is called “game theory” among economists that develops mathematical models for dealing with the technical challenges of equal division of goods among “n” persons in day to day situations. In a friendly critique of the talk I gave last year at the Asia Society, a web blog – pointed out some of these important technical advances in conflict resolution, curiously known as cake theory, because these models use cake cutting as a metaphor for dividing goods equally.
Read the rest of the speech here.
Stacy Schiff in the New York Times:
In “circular skirt and scanties,” Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” flounced into print 50 years ago today. But before she tripped off the tongue and into the literary canon, before she lent her name to inflatable dolls and escort agencies, Lolita was a much-rejected manuscript, huddling in a locked drawer. Her author spoke of her only in secret, on the condition that his identity never be revealed. He kept her out of the hands of the United States Postal Service. She was his “time bomb.” The wonder is that – in a confessional culture, in taboo-toppling, hail-Britney times – she still startles and sears.
Humbert Humbert claims to have written the text in 56 days, but Nabokov was less of a madman, and a Cornell professor to boot. He labored over the pages for six years. Only in the summer of 1953 did he first mention his novel “about a man who liked little girls” to an editor. Nabokov was a fairly recent immigrant, but he knew well that no one in America was beating down the door to read the sexually explicit confessions of a European gentleman who several times a day, over the course of two years, rapes his prepubescent stepdaughter.
Nabokov’s wife, Véra, had already warned that the novel was not one for children. The first editor to read “Lolita” did not think it even a book for adults, at least not for adults unwilling to serve jail sentences. In 1955, Paris was a city rather than a celebrity; stars of X-rated films did not write how-to books; and “obscene” was a designation for art rather than a denomination of money. Behind Nabokov’s back, friends agreed that no one would touch the thing. They were right. “I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years,” cringed one editor.
“Gérard Prunier offers an incisive analysis of the Sudan crisis in Darfur, the Ambiguous Genocide. The world must act now, says Dominick Donald.”
From The Guardian:
During 2003, occasional reports emerged in the international media of fighting in Darfur, a huge tract of western Sudan bordering Chad. Over the next year the picture became confused, as – depending on who was doing the talking – a minor rebellion became a tribal spat, or nomads taking on farmers, or Arab-versus-African ethnic cleansing, or genocide.
An outside world that understood political violence in Sudan through the simplistic lens of the unending war between Muslim north and Christian/animist south – a war that seemed to be about to end – had to adjust. And nothing that has emerged since has made that adjustment easy. If Darfuris are Muslim, what is their quarrel with the Islamic government in Khartoum? If they and the janjaweed – “evil horsemen” – driving them from their homes are both black, how can it be Arab versus African? If the Sudanese government is making peace with the south, why would it be risking that by waging war in the west? Above all, is it genocide?
Gérard Prunier has the answers. An ethnographer and renowned Africa analyst, he turns on the evasions of Khartoum the uncompromising eye that dissected Hutu power excuses for the Rwanda genocide a decade ago.
Duncan Graham-Rowe in New Scientist:
The software, developed by NEC and the Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST) in Japan, goes further than existing cellphone camera technology by allowing entire documents to be scanned simply by sweeping the phone across the page.
Commuters in Japan already anger bookstore owners and newsagents by using existing cellphone software to try to take snapshots of newspaper and magazine articles to finish reading on the train to work.
This is only possible because some phones now offer very rudimentary optical character recognition (OCR) software which allows small amounts of text to be captured and digitised from images.
But with the new software entire documents can be captured. As a page is being scanned the OCR software takes dozens of still images of the page and effectively merges them together using the outline of the page as a reference guide. The software can also detect the curvature of the page and correct any distortion so caused, enabling even the areas near the binding to be scanned clearly.
While anyone who has ever heard live commentary on cricket matches knows that it is certainly a bona fide literary genre in itself (I grew up listening to the likes of the almost-Nobel-deserving Omar Qureishi, and the more restrained but nevertheless brilliant Chishti Mujahid), Sarah Crompton points out in the Telegraph that there is a dearth of literary treatments of cricket in fiction:
When Radio 4’s Front Row started to draw up a Literary 11, it got to a Literary 23 within a day – and that was without mentioning Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a massive fan who played for the MCC and once bowled the great WG Grace.
It did find space at 12th man for Samuel Beckett, the only winner of a Nobel prize to make an appearance in Wisden, but he was disqualified from the Front Row team proper because he never wrote about cricket. Tom Stoppard, on the other hand, got to open the batting by dint of his love for the sport and a speech in The Real Thing that compares good and bad writing to a cricket bat.
Harold Pinter made it into the team, not for his own descriptions of the thwack of leather on willow but for the way he made the cricket match a central feature in his adaptation of L P Hartley’s The Go-Between for cinema. Terence Rattigan is also in there, for a feeble screenplay for a long-forgotten 1953 film called The Final Test.
Christopher Hitchens in Slate:
There probably is a monograph by somebody, somewhere, on the single subject of Hungarian Jewry in the 20th century, from men of letters to political dissidents to economists to nuclear physicists. Think of the context: the cafe society of the twin cities of Buda and Pest, the end of Austro-Hungary, the cockpit of Bolshevism and fascism, the most ghastly closing scenes of the Final Solution and the first armed revolution against Stalin, all of this transmitted by a diaspora of the brilliant—and much of it mediated though a language that is almost impossible for an outsider to master.
In this demi-monde, the name of Arthur Koestler, who was born in Budapest on Sept. 5, 1905, would be pre-eminent. He is remembered today for his milestone novel Darkness at Noon and for his co-editing of the great anti-Stalinist collection of essays by disillusioned intellectuals The God That Failed. But he also wrote an imperishable series of memoirs relating his adventures and experiences in the Soviet Union, the Spanish Civil War, the partition of Palestine (where he lived briefly) in 1947/8, and the intellectual combats that defined the Cold War from its inception.
Daniel Ben-Ami in Spiked:
If Americans had to be described with one word, there’s a good chance it would be ‘fat’. Americans, we are constantly told, are the fattest people on the planet. Obesity is rife. Compared with other nations the Americans are not just big, but super-size.
Yet this obsession with obese Americans is about more than body fat. Certainly there is a debate to be had about the extent to which obesity is a problem in America – a discussion best left to medical experts. But a close examination of the popular genre on obesity reveals it is about more than consumption in the most literal sense of eating food. Obesity has become a metaphor for ‘over-consumption’ more generally. Affluence is blamed not just for bloated bodies, but for a society which is seen as more generally too big for its own good.
It is especially important to examine this criticism of American affluence in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. An assumption underlying much of the discussion is that, at the very least, wealth did America no good in its battle with nature. An editorial in last weekend’s UK Guardian caught the tone: ‘America is the richest and most powerful country on Earth. But its citizens, begging for food, water and help, are suffering agonies more familiar from Sudan and Niger. The worst of the third world has come to the Big Easy.’ The implication is that America’s wealth is somehow pointless.
Jed Perl in The New Republic:
Something very strange has happened in the past year or so. Knocking the art world has become the latest art world fashion. I am not referring to the voices of dissent that have been heard for decades from artists and critics who operate at the margins. What’s going on now is that a certain disaffection and even disgust has become an insider’s badge of honor, a mark of sophistication, so that artists and critics and curators who frequent the art fairs and auctions where new stars are crowned can be heard bemoaning the corruption of the scene.
Jerry Saltz, who writes for The Village Voice, personifies this new breed of insider disgruntlement. Writing about Damien Hirst’s astonishingly amateurish photo-realist paintings, which were at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea earlier this year, Saltz was dead-on accurate when he observed that “they are onlylabels–carriers of the Hirst brand. They’re like Prada or Gucci. You pay more but get the buzz of a brand.” Given all the attention that was lavished on these wanly rancid snapshots of a hospital corridor, a shelf full of pills, and a drug addict’s face, I can understand why Saltz thought he “heard the Drums of Destiny on the horizon” at Hirst’s “glitzy after-party, in an enormous tent on the roof of Lever House–amid dancing models, reveling stockbrokers and the same successful artists and art world showboats you see at every one of these events.”