For the Study of America in a Globalizing World

Sven Steinmo:

SvenAt the turn of the 21st century, the United States remains the preeminent nation in the world. Its military and economic power goes virtually unchallenged, while American culture is felt in even the most remote parts of the globe. At the same time the forces of globalization impinge on the United States in ways unimaginable only a few years ago. The very same forces that have contributed to America’s position in the world make it impossible for America to stand apart from that world.

As such, the Tocqueville Initiative at the University of Colorado at Boulder is premised on the belief that America is best understood in comparative perspective. Under the direction of Professor Sven Steinmo, the Initiative is a new inter-disciplinary effort bringing together scholars, political leaders, students and the general public into a dialogue over the role of the United States in a globalizing world.

More here.

WHY THE FRENCH VOTE WAS GOOD FOR EUROPE

Efraim Karsh in The New Republic:

EuBut in truth, France’s vote against the constitution is an important victory for European unity, because the document posed a serious threat to the great European experiment in peace and prosperity. What began 53 years ago as an idealistic attempt to use economic cooperation to heal a war-torn continent has deteriorated with the passage of time into a gigantic imperial machinery that has largely eroded the democratic values and objectives for which it was originally established.

As the European Coal and Steel Community evolved (in 1957) to the European Economic Community and then (in the mid-1980s) to the European Union, and as its membership expanded from the original six to a staggering 25, the organization’s vision of a confederation of states collaborating on an equal footing was increasingly replaced by the reality of an empire in the making–a consensual empire, yes, but an empire all the same, one in which a metropolitan center run by a new kind of bureaucratic political elite is responsible for more and more European decision-making and increasingly determined to remove control of lawmaking from member state governments.

More here.

WHY THE FRENCH VOTE WAS BAD FOR AMERICA

Philip H. Gordon in The New Republic:

Eu_1The humiliating political defeat inflicted on French President Jacques Chirac on Sunday–when 55 percent of voters rejected his appeals to support a new constitution for the European Union–has left more than a few Americans beaming with satisfaction. Even before the referendum, The Weekly Standard‘s William Kristol speculated that a no vote could be a “liberating moment” for Europe. After the ballots were counted, the American Enterprise Institute’s Radek Sikorski concluded that the result would be “quite good for transatlantic relations,” because it weakened “the most anti-U.S. politician in Europe.”

American glee at the sight of Chirac with mud on his face is understandable; he was, after all, the leading opponent of the Iraq war and has long championed a Europe capable of serving as a counterweight to U.S. power. But Americans should hold their applause, which they may soon come to regret.

More here.

McNamara Trashes Bush Nuke Policy

‘It is time—well past time, in my view—for the United States to cease its Cold War-style reliance on nuclear weapons as a foreign-policy tool. At the risk of appearing simplistic and provocative, I would characterize current U.S. nuclear weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary, and dreadfully dangerous…The whole situation seems so bizarre as to be beyond belief.’

Such is the view of Robert McNamara in Foreign Policy.

Occam’s Machete

David Lodge reviews What Good Are the Arts? by John Carey, in the London Times:

Regular readers will know that John Carey is that rare creature, an academic who writes shrewdly, wittily and economically on a wide range of subjects in a style that non-specialists can understand and appreciate. There is a principle, central to the British tradition of philosophical discourse, known as Occam’s Razor, which forbids the unnecessary multiplication of facts. Carey’s favourite argumentative tool is more like a machete. He has a ruthlessly logical mind that cuts through obscurity, pretension, fallacious reasoning and unsupported assertion, and he has a knack of summarising and quoting from writers with whom he disagrees to devastating effect.

More here.

Tax Breaks for Rich Murderers

David Runciman reviews Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight over Taxing Inherited Wealth by Michael Graetz and Ian Shapiro, in the London Review of Books:

What makes it so fascinating is that it is a mystery story. The mystery is this: how did the repeal of a tax that applies only to the richest 2 per cent of American families become a cause so popular and so powerful that it steamrollered all the opposition placed in its way? The estate tax was the most progressive part of the American tax system, because it rested on the principle that the wealthy few, if they were not willing to bequeath their money to charity, should not be permitted to pass it all directly to their heirs. It had been on the statute book for nearly a hundred years, and throughout that time it had been generally assumed that there was widespread support for the idea that unearned wealth passed between the generations, creating pockets of aristocratic privilege, was not part of the American dream. Because it was a tax that so obviously took from the relatively few to relieve the burden on the very many, there seemed no possibility that a sufficiently large or durable coalition of interests could ever be formed to get rid of it. Yet during the 1990s just such a coalition came into being, and not only did it hold together, it grew to the point where the clamour for estate tax repeal seemed irresistible.

More here.

How male or female is your brain? Some tests to take…

From The Guardian:

DivinelinkThe following tests were developed by Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge.

Take the interactive empathy quotient test.

Take the interactive systemising quotient test.

Baron-Cohen’s theory is that the female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy, and that the male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems. He calls it the empathising-systemising (E-S) theory.

Empathising is the drive to identify another person’s emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion. The empathiser intuitively figures out how people are feeling, and how to treat people with care and sensitivity.

Systemising is the drive to analyse and explore a system, to extract underlying rules that govern the behaviour of a system; and the drive to construct systems.

Read the full article here.

The tests work out your empathising quotient (EQ) and systemising quotient (SQ). The interactive version, which will calculate your results for you, requires Flash (version 5). Alternatively, the plain HTML version allows you to print off the questionnaire and calculate your own scores.

In either case, do both the SQ and EQ questionnaires then click on the link at the end for “your brain type”. This will tell you whether you have a male brain, a female brain or if you’re perfectly balanced.

Report your results as a comment on this post.

Comet put on list of potential Earth impactors

David L. Chandler in New Scientist:

A comet has been added to the list of potentially threatening near-Earth objects maintained by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Comet Catalina 2005 JQ5 is the largest – and therefore most potentially devastating – of the 70 objects now being tracked. However, the chances of a collision are very low.

The listing of Comet Catalina underscores the uncertainty in the knowledge of whether comets or asteroids pose a greater threat to Earth. Previous estimates of the proportion of the impact risk posed by comets have varied widely, from 1% to 50%, with most recent estimates at the lower end.

But comets are larger and faster-moving, on average, so their impacts could be a significant part of the overall risk to human life. And, unlike asteroids, they lie on randomly-oriented and usually highly elongated orbits. This makes them much more likely to remain undiscovered until they are very close to Earth.

More here.

Obesity: An Overblown Epidemic?

W. Wayt Gibbs in Scientific American:

000e50652345128a9e1583414b7f0000_1A growing number of dissenting researchers accuse government and medical authorities–as well as the media–of misleading the public about the health consequences of rising body weights.

Could it be that excess fat is not, by itself, a serious health risk for the vast majority of people who are overweight or obese–categories that in the U.S. include about six of every 10 adults? Is it possible that urging the overweight or mildly obese to cut calories and lose weight may actually do more harm than good?

Such notions defy conventional wisdom that excess adiposity kills more than 300,000 Americans a year and that the gradual fattening of nations since the 1980s presages coming epidemics of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and a host of other medical consequences…

More here.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A continuous vibrato of brushstrokes

Jed Perl in The New Republic:

053105image_perlGoing through “Rembrandt’s Late Religious Portraits,” the extraordinary exhibition that was at the National Gallery in Washington this winter and is now at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles until August 28, I found myself drawn deeper and deeper into the daunting and sometimes baffling variety of Rembrandt’s painterly approach, which involves not only the brush bristles but also the palette knife and the wooden end of the brush and perhaps fingers as well. When the art historian Otto Benesch wrote about these canvases half a century ago, he described “a continuous vibrato of brushstrokes, flecks and scratches with the brush stick, nervous and utterly alive.” The secret of this aliveness has everything to do with Rembrandt’s unwillingness to settle on a method or a system. The protagonists in his late paintings–figures from the Bible or the classical past, or his contemporaries, or family members, or the artist himself–live in a world where all the old Renaissance oppositions between light and shade or volume and void, which had been set in a finely plotted perspectival space, have dissolved. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that this dissolution and the revolution that it provokes have taken place at once, for we can feel a simultaneous thinning and thickening of the atmosphere, a fading of all fixed or known structures followed swiftly by the emergence of a new, shocking concreteness.

More here.

Christopher Hitchens vs. Peter Hitchens

From The Guardian:

Hitchensdavidlevene436346zxczxPugnacious commentators Christopher and Peter Hitchens have not spoken to each other since a row over a joke about Stalinism four years ago. For this special issue of G2, produced live in Hay in collaboration with an audience of festival-goers, we brought the estranged brothers together to discuss sibling rivalry, politics and reconciliation. Just don’t ask them to shake hands…

Female audience member Excuse me. I’m not usually awkward at all but I’m sitting here and we’re asked not to smoke. And I don’t like being in a room where smoking is going on.

CH (smoking heavily): Well, you don’t have to stay, do you darling. I’m working here and I’m your guest. OK . This is what I like.

IK Would you just stub that one out?

CH No. I cleared it with the festival a long time ago. They let me do it. If anyone doesn’t like it they can kiss my ass.

(Woman walks out)

More here.  [Thanks to Timothy Don.]

Love means always having to say you’re sorry

From CNN:

A British couple who hold the world record for the longest marriage said their success was down to a glass of whisky, a glass of sherry and the word “sorry.”

Percy and Florence Arrowsmith married on June 1, 1925 and will celebrate their 80th anniversary on Wednesday.

Guinness World Records said Tuesday the couple held the title for the longest marriage and also for the oldest married couple’s aggregate age.

“I think we’re very blessed,” Florence, 100, told the BBC. “We still love one another, that’s the most important part.”

Asked for their secret, Florence said you must never be afraid to say “sorry.”

More here.

Scrabble, Gender, and Evolution–or perhaps another “just so” story

John Tierney, in the New York Times:

“For a quarter-century, women have outnumbered men at Scrabble clubs and tournaments in America, but a woman has won the national championship only once, and all the world champions have been men. Among the world’s 50 top-ranked players, typically about 45 are men.

The top players, both male and female, point to a simple explanation for the disparity: more men are willing to do whatever it takes to reach the top. You need more than intelligence and a good vocabulary to become champion. You have to spend hours a day learning words like ‘khat,’ doing computerized drills and memorizing long lists of letter combinations, called alphagrams, that can form high-scoring seven-letter words.

. . .

The guys who memorize these lists have a hard time explaining their passion. But the evolutionary roots of it seem clear to anthropologists like Helen Fisher of Rutgers University.

‘Evolution has selected for men with a taste for risking everything to get to the top of the hierarchy,’ she said, ‘because those males get more reproductive opportunities, not only among primates but also among human beings. Women don’t get as big a reproductive payoff by reaching the top. They’re just as competitive with themselves – they want to do a good job just as much as men do – but men want to be more competitive with others.'”

Snap, Buckle, Pop: The Physics of Fast-Moving Plants

From The National Geographic:

Plants Fleet-footed animals, such as gazelles and cheetahs, aren’t the only livings things that rely on speed for their survival. The same is true for some plants and fungi.  Consider the Venus flytrap, the poster child for carnivorous plants: Its jaw-like leaves can ensnare insects in an eye-blurring one-tenth of a second. Other plants employ similar lightning-quick movements, if not to hunt, than to spread their seeds, squirt pollen, or shake off predators. Plants don’t have muscles. So how can some plants move so quickly?

Using the laws of physics, two scientists have detailed the mechanical design principles that govern these speedy plant moves. “To understand biology, it is always useful to come up with general principles as we have in this case,” said Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan, a professor of applied mathematics and mechanics at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mahadevan and his student, Jan Skotheim, report their findings in tomorrow’s issue of the research journal Science.

More here.

Watching New Love as It Sears the Brain

From The New York Times:Love

New love can look for all the world like mental illness, a blend of mania, dementia and obsession that cuts people off from friends and family and prompts out-of-character behavior – compulsive phone calling, serenades, yelling from rooftops – that could almost be mistaken for psychosis. Now for the first time, neuroscientists have produced brain scan images of this fevered activity, before it settles into the wine and roses phase of romance or the joint holiday card routines of long-term commitment.

In an analysis of the images appearing today in The Journal of Neurophysiology, researchers in New York and New Jersey argue that romantic love is a biological urge distinct from sexual arousal. It is closer in its neural profile to drives like hunger, thirst or drug craving, the researchers assert, than to emotional states like excitement or affection. As a relationship deepens, the brain scans suggest, the neural activity associated with romantic love alters slightly, and in some cases primes areas deep in the primitive brain that are involved in long-term attachment. The research helps explain why love produces such disparate emotions, from euphoria to anger to anxiety, and why it seems to become even more intense when it is withdrawn.

More here.

Monday, May 30, 2005

India emerging as hot destination for medical tourists

India_medicalIndia is emerging as one of the favourite destinations for health tourists in Asia with strengths in cardiac care, joint replacement and eye care. This is stated in an UNCTAD expert paper on General Agreement in Trade in Services (Gats). It said India attracted over 100,000 health tourists in 2002, most of whom had visited the country for cardiac care, joint replacements and eye care. Most of the visitors were from the Middle East, Britain and neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan. Thailand is the top destination for health tourism receiving rich visitors from the US and UK. Thailand has strength in cosmetic surgery, organ transplants, dental treatment and joint replacements.

According to the paper, Indian health care providers (doctors, nurses, technicians) deliver services in the Middle East on short-term bilateral contracts. The service providers have had their training in developed countries. India has also emerged as the most important source country registered under the H1A category to the US. As many as 81,000 Indian nurses went to the USA under H1A visa as compared to 15,838 for China and 5509 for the Philippines.

More here.

Johnny Depp to help fire Hunter Thompson from cannon

From the AFP:

The ashes of legendary “gonzo journalist” Hunter S. Thompson will be fired from a cannon housed in a giant fist-shaped monument paid for by movie star Johnny Depp, a friend told AFP.

Depp, who played the counter-culture icon in the 1998 film “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” is financing the 45-meter (150-foot) steel monument that will be the centrepiece of Thompson’s August 20 memorial service.

The service, to be held in the Colorado hamlet where the 67-year-old Thompson shot himself on February 20, will also be attended by Hollywood luminaries Sean Penn and Jack Nicholson, said Thompson’s friend Troy Hooper.

More here.

Style over function for stegosaur spikes

From Geotimes:

Stegoagi The spikes and plates of the Jurassic Stegosaurus may look like armor that could have staved off intrepid predators, but defense most likely was not their main purpose. According to new research, these bony growths on the back and tail were actually meant for species recognition — so that one Stegosaurus could pick his friends out of a crowd. “Paleontologists have been trying to determine what the plates and spikes of stegosaurs were for, for over a century,” says Russell Main, lead author of a new study published in Paleobiology this month. “The hypotheses have included defense, thermoregulation and display, [for] either sexual or species recognition,” he says.

In previous studies, scientists ruled out the defense mechanism as the primary function, as did Main, who is now a graduate student at Harvard University, and his co-authors Kevin Padian of the University of California, Berkeley, Armand de Ricqles of the Collège de France, Paris, and John Horner from Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont. Although their fearsome appearance may have played an accessory role in protecting the large herbivores, upon examination of the bone structure of the plates and spikes, the researchers determined that the relatively light construction was not robust enough to act as a deterrent to predators, Main says. “

More here.