Rich Cohen in the New York Times:
He sank a straw into a plastic container and took some cocaine onto his tongue. He returned to the drawer constantly in the course of the night, getting cocaine, pills, marijuana, which he smoked in a pipe — the smoke was soft and tangy and blue — chased by Chivas, white wine, Chartreuse, tequila and Glenfiddich. The effect was gradual but soon his features softened and the scowl melted and his movements became fluid and graceful. By midnight, the man who had emerged a bleary-eyed ruin hours before was on his feet and swearing and waving a shotgun and another show had opened in the long run of Hunter S. Thompson.
Philip Ball in New Scientist:
According to Mendeleev’s roll call, an element’s chemistry can be deduced from where it sits in the periodic table. Reactive metals like sodium and calcium occupy the two columns on the left. The inert “noble” gases make up the column on the far right, flanked by typical non-metals such as chlorine and sulphur.
Now this neat picture is being disrupted by superatoms – clusters of atoms of a particular chemical element that can take on the properties of entirely different elements.
Clay Risen in The New Republic:
Architecture, like literature, rarely translates into breezy newspaper copy. That’s why every spring when the Pritzker Prize rolls around, critics and reporters spend the bulk of their column inches gushing over the winner’s biographical highlights–and few, if any, on the substance of their work. These highlights then become shortcuts and talking points for the chattering class, such that while most people know that last year’s winner Zaha Hadid was born in Iraq and is the first woman to capture the prize, few could give even a cursory explanation of what her work actually looks like, let alone what makes it special.
Similar treatment has befallen this year’s winner, Santa Monica-based Thom Mayne.
Stefan Lovgren in the Ntional Geographics:
In his first paper in March 1905, Einstein argued that light is not a wave, as most physicists previously thought, but instead a stream of tiny packets of energy that have since come to be known as photons. The theory won Einstein the Nobel Prize in 1921 and helped lay the foundation for quantum theory, which states that physics cannot make definite predictions. It can only predict the probability that things will turn out one way or another. The quantum theory, with its statistical description of nature at the subatomic scale, has turned out to be right. However, Einstein came to reject the unpredictability of quantum mechanics, famously saying, “God does not play dice with the universe.”
“He couldn’t accept that so deeply woven into the fabric of the cosmos was an element of uncertainty,” said Brian Greene, a physics and mathematics professor at Columbia University in New York. “He hoped the probabilistic framework of quantum mechanics was merely an intermediary point physicists reached in their study. But that doesn’t seem to be the case,” said Greene, who wrote the best-selling The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. Einstein never succeeded in his search for a theory of everything. But many people consider string theorists such as Greene to be Einstein’s natural successors. String theory is a physical model that says that the fundamental building blocks of the universe are vibrating filaments of energy within every particle.
It is now the peak of Milano’s annual furniture fair week – Salone del Mobile, with companies and designers coming from all over the world to exhibit and network.
A great guide to interesting Salone events is fuorisalone.it website. Enjoy
The British public’s choice of safety bicycle as Britain’s greatest invention of all times, bypassing scientific achievements such as electricity generation, the jet engine, the invention of vaccination and the discovery of DNA structure, triggered the topic for this Reith’s series of lectures, titled “The triumph of technology”, given by Lord Broers and broadcasted by BBC4. The lectures take place in April and May and their transcripts and recordings can be found here.
“Humankind’s way of life has depended on technology since the beginning of civilization. It can indeed be argued that civilization began when humans first used technologies, moving beyond the merely instinctual and into an era when people began to impose themselves on their environment, going beyond mere existence, to a way of life which enabled them to take increasing advantage of their intellect…In the course of these lectures I shall look at some of the ways in which technologies have grown more complex, and yet how – despite hugely expanded public education – understanding of them has diminished.”
“Modern technology tends to be thought of in terms of the advances brought about by computers and electronic communications but it is in transport, medicine, energy and weaponry that we have seen the greatest impact upon our lives. It is these areas that distinguish the first world from the second and third worlds.
If poverty and disease are to be alleviated and the environment sustained, then technology must be harnessed on a vast and all inclusive scale. Large scale industry must be involved. Significant technology is not created by lone workers but by tens and hundreds of individuals working together across social and geographic boundaries.”
“I want this lecture series to act as a wake up call to all of us. Technology, I repeat, will determine the future of the human race. We should recognise this and give it the profile and status that it deserves.”
Topics already discussed are “Technology will determine the Future of the Human Race” and “Collaboration”, and the upcoming are “Innovation and management”, “Nanotechnology and Nanoscience” and “Risk and responsibility”
Nicolai Ouroussaff in The New York Times:
EVEN amid all the jostling institutional egos – with one museum after another gushing about ambitious expansion plans – it’s hard not to get excited about the Walker Art Center’s new home. For decades now, the Walker has been one of the liveliest museums in the country, an institution that maintained a strong independent voice despite its ties to the mainstream art world. When the museum hired the Swiss team of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron to design a $67 million expansion and renovation of its existing 1970’s-era building, it seemed like a match made in heaven. The architects had built their reputations on museum projects like London’s Tate Modern and the Goetz Collection in Munich, known for their meticulously refined materials and a sense of inner tranquillity.
The result is an exhilarating place to view art, one that packs in 11,000 square feet of additional gallery space, a 385-seat theater, a hip new restaurant and an expanded bookstore while upholding art’s place as the center of the museum experience. Anchored by an aluminum-clad tower, the addition is a masterly example of how exhausted motifs can acquire new meaning when reworked in a fresh setting.
Anders Stephanson writes on the life and legacy of George Kennan.
“Being ideologically anti-ideological, Kennan said more about Soviet ideology in his foundational texts than he usually did, much to his later regret. The notion of containment, nevertheless, was not really about ideology. His account of the Soviet Union had centered, as was his wont, on its alleged ‘nature’ as a specific phenomenon. As was also his wont, the analysis was couched in a language seductively metaphorical and suggestive–a language whose sources of inspiration had little to do with the ideology of the embryonic cold war.
First, ‘containment’ was the language of disease and disease control. Soviet communism was for Kennan ‘a malignant parasite.'”
Anderson Tepper in the Village Voice:
In Siddhartha Deb’s peripatetic second novel, Amrit Singh, a young but prematurely jaded journalist with the Calcutta paper The Sentinel, is looking for a way out: out of Calcutta, the routine of newspaper reporting, the darkness of his gloomy office cubicle and blinkered life. The opportunity comes with an assignment to head to the northeast of the country and open a branch of the paper there. His exile to this forbidding territory along the Burmese border turns out to be precisely the mission he’s been looking for.
Deb is a fluid, thoughtful novelist intent on retracing his steps around the periphery of his country—around the very idea of the nation itself. With his intimate portrait of a shattered, neglected landscape, Deb revitalizes a very Naipaulian obsession. “It was a town dissolving bit by bit into a state of nothingness,” Singh says of Imphal, “with each one of us in the town seceding in his own way from the blinding presence of the republic.” As young writers increasingly lay claim to different regions of India (Pankaj Mishra keeps returning to Benares and the Himalayas, and Amit Chaudhuri is enveloped in the sights and sounds of Calcutta), Deb rediscovers this faraway corner of the northeast.
From the March 17 issue of Nature:
University of Connecticut Health Center scientist, Robert Reenan, has uncovered new rules of RNA recoding–a genetic editing method cells use to expand the number of proteins assembled from a single DNA code. According to his work, the shape a particular RNA adopts solely determines how editing enzymes modify the information molecule inside cells. The study may help explain the remarkable adaptability and evolution of animal nervous systems–including the human brain.
In the Figure: DNA (left) encodes the instructions for making protein, but cells can’t read them directly. Instead, the DNA code is copied first into RNA in a process called transcription. RNA includes coding regions that direct protein assembly (green) and non-coding regions–called introns–that play a regulatory role (yellow, pink). By studying the RNA code for the nervous- system protein, synaptotagmin, in several different insects, Reenan uncovered the general rules of RNA editing. Each insect’s RNA folds differently and the structures determine how the molecules get edited inside cells. This figure illustrates editing of fruit fly and butterfly RNA molecules. RNA folding brings regulatory regions (yellow, pink shapes) together with editing sites (green shapes). The resulting “knots” of fruit fly RNA (upper panel) and “loops” of butterfly RNA (lower panel) guides editing enzymes to sites destined for modification. RNA editing lets cells produce a variety of different proteins from a single DNA code (right). The altered proteins often have different functions from their unmodified counterparts. (Credit: Nicolle Rager, National Science Foundation)
Margaret Paxson in the Wilson Quarterly (via Arts & Letters Daily):
Can a nation look for grace? Can it assign a category of persons to bear the burden of its moral tribulations, to be its collective conscience and collective sacrifice, to be its source of spiritual transcendence? In the story that Russia tells about itself, the category of people known as the intelligentsia has borne much of that burden. Members of the intelligentsia have prodded and scolded the people, sought spiritual high ground through their knowledge, and endured the loneliness of sacrifice and struggle against the powers of the state. Pushkin and Dostoyevsky and Mayakovski and Brodsky (scolds and prophets all) were part of the intelligentsia, but so too were thousands of other souls, more modest in their orations to the people, perhaps, but no less full of longing for knowledge and truth.
And now, in the rough-and-tumble of Russia’s transformation, what is to become of this intelligentsia, so weighed down by its historical role and by a sense of its moral mission?
This week in the magazine, Ian Parker travels to Antarctica with the Brazilian-born photojournalist Sebastião Salgado. Here are photographs by Salgado, narrated by Parker.
Listen to the conversation (and see the pictures).
NOTE: To listen to the conversation, you will need Flash Player, which may be obtained free of charge here.
Debora MacKenzie in New Scientist:
The virus that caused the 1957 “Asian flu” pandemic has been accidentally released by a lab in the US, and sent all over the world in test kits which scientists are now scrambling to destroy.
There are fears the virus could escape the labs, as the mistake was discovered after the virus escaped from a kit at a high-containment lab in Canada. Such an escape could spread worldwide, as demonstrated in Russia in the 1970s.
The flu testing kits were sent to some 3700 labs between October 2004 and February 2005 by the College of American Pathologists (CAP), a professional body which helps pathology laboratories improve their accuracy, by sending them unidentified samples of various germs to identify.
The CAP kits – prepared by private contractor Meridian Bioscience in Cincinnati, US – were to contain a particular strain of influenza A – the viral family that causes most flu worldwide. But instead of choosing a strain from the hundreds of recently circulating influenza A viruses, the firm chose the 1957 pandemic strain.
Dinitia Smith in the New York Times:
Jacob Neusner, a mild-seeming, grandfatherly man relaxing in his easy chair, might have published more books than anyone alive. “As of this morning, 905,” he said recently. It was 4 p.m. The count was still good.
Hold it! Mr. Neusner, 72, a professor of theology at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., has just called to say there are 924. This year alone there have been 22 books, most in his field, ancient Judaism. And no, he doesn’t count revisions or translations.
Mr. Neusner studies rabbinical writings of the first 600 years A.D., when rabbinic Judaism evolved. He has translated both the Palestinian Talmud (35 volumes) and the Babylonian, twice (second translation, 46 volumes). In fact, he has translated most of the ancient rabbinic literature. The Chronicle of Higher Education has called him probably the most prolific scholar in the nation.
Gregory M. Lamb in the Christian Science Monitor:
Most people think of placebos as harmless “sugar pills” given in clinic trials to some participants so that medical researchers can gauge the effects of the real drug on others. But in some trials, the “placebo effect” proves to be as strong as that of the drug. Consistently 30 percent or more of the subjects given placebos will show some improvement by taking the dummy pills.
So over the decades a small band of researchers has taken a hard look at those pills. Are they really effective? Should they play a role in medical therapy?
From the BBC News:
A gamma ray burst could have caused the Ordovician extinction, killing 60% of marine invertebrates at a time when life was largely confined to the sea.
These cosmic blasts are the most powerful explosions in the Universe.
The scientists think a 10-second burst near Earth could deplete up to half of the planet’s ozone layer.
With the ozone layer devastated, the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation could have killed off much of the life on land and near the surface of oceans and lakes.
More here. And there’s more about gamma ray bursts at PBS’s Nova here. [Thanks Robin.]