Free-trader leg-humping that passes for thought

Sorry, but I must post this review of Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, by Matt Taibbi, for its hilarity. From the New York Press:

Friedman300(Friedman never forgets to name the company or the brand name; if he had written The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa would have awoken from uneasy dreams in a Sealy Posturepedic.) Here’s what he says:

I stomped off, went through security, bought a Cinnabon, and glumly sat at the back of the B line, waiting to be herded on board so that I could hunt for space in the overhead bins.

Forget the Cinnabon. Name me a herd animal that hunts. Name me one.

This would be a small thing were it not for the overall pattern. Thomas Friedman does not get these things right even by accident. It’s not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It’s that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it’s absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse…

You have to read the rest here.  And there’s also this at Crooked Timber.  [Thanks Husain and Robin.]

Einstein and the Hotness of Women Physicists

Sean Carrol at Preposterous Universe:

Alan Boyle has written an enjoyable overview of what Einstein accomplished, and what it means for us today, over at MSNBC. By “enjoyable” I mean “quotes me a lot.” At first I couldn’t remember ever actually being interviewed by Alan, but then I remembered the press conference at the AAAS meeting, which I think is where these nuggets of rich wisdom were mined. (It has been suggested that I use this blog as a forum for puffing myself up. And?)

Another fun article by Alan is on Einstein’s successors, specifically that an increasing number of them are women. Anecdotal evidence and individual stories don’t prove anything, of course, but it’s nice to see talented people overcoming the obstacles that are strewn in their way.

At the risk of compromising my feminist credentials (“pretty sound” — Bitch Ph.D.), I can’t help but note an interesting fact. Namely, that while the percentage of physicists who are female is quite small, the percentage of attractive physicists who are female is very large. That is, the average hotness of female physicists is much (much) higher than that of their male counterparts…

More here.

Blogging and the Anti-Japan Protests in China

Contrary to popular belief, the blogosphere is not always a political hotbed of polemical partisanship. A good case in point is the much-yelled-about issue of the anti-Japan protests in China. For all the sound and fury on some Chinese blogs, there is also rational discussion and blogs are providing a meeting ground for common Chinese and Japanese people to speak calmly about the issues. Joi Ito has a very good post on his blog about the protests:

…I do think that the text books and teaching in Japan underplays the actions of the military in China and I believe the Japanese text books are a real problem that should be addressed…

In other words, the Japanese ministry of education needs an overhaul. Maybe they should use Wikipedia instead.

I’m not trying to trivialize the issues that are being protested by the Chinese, but if they are trying to cause change in Japan, maybe some of them can try to talk to their allies in Japan like me instead of trying to force or scare into submission their enemy. A reasonable bridge building effort between activists and experts on both sides to try to address the issues through tactical maneuvers might be useful.

Joi is admirably forthright in admitting Japan’s culpability (something I can relate to, having once apologized to an angry Bangladeshi cabdriver who was upset about the Pakistani army’s mistreatment of Bengalis in 1971), but what is truly remarkable is the discussion which follows in the comments to Joi’s post: there are well over a hundred comments, from all sides of the issue, and many interesting and innovative points are brought up and then debated with conspicuous and thoughtful civility. It is possible to have serious and considerate conversation in the blogosphere. Check it out.

And in a parallel development, I just saw that it was announced about an hour ago that Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi has extended an apology to China:

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi apologized on Friday for Japan’s wartime atrocities and said he would meet Chinese President Hu Jintao in a bid to repair ties that are at their worst in over three decades.

Koizumi, speaking after making the apology in front of world leaders at a multilateral forum, said he would meet Hu on Saturday on the sidelines of the Asia-Africa summit in Jakarta.

“Nothing is produced by antagonism,” Koizumi told traveling reporters. “Friendship is most important. I would like to hold the meeting from that perspective.”

More here in the NY Times.

Scientists develop ‘hibernation on demand’

From MSNBC:

Markroth_vmed A new trick could one day put humans into a hibernation-like state without all the frigid antics of an Austin Powers movie or an Arthur C. Clarke story. Using a natural chemical that humans and other animals produce in their bodies, scientists have for the first time induced hibernation in mammals, putting mice into a state similar to suspended animation for up to six hours and then bringing them back to normal life. The trick with the mice didn’t require freezing. Instead, the rodents breathed air laced with hydrogen sulfide, a chemical produced naturally in the bodies of humans and other animals. Within minutes, they stopped moving, and soon their cell functions approached total inactivity.

The results are detailed in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

More here.

Double bubbles hold scientific promise

From MSNBC:

Doublebubble_1 Scientists have discovered how to squeeze bubbles inside bubbles, which may offer a way to smuggle all sorts of substances — from expensive perfumes to cancer drugs — into places they couldn’t survive without protection. The new method, developed by David Weitz of Harvard University and his colleagues, produces droplets in carefully controlled sizes, with multiple fluids nestling inside each other. Some of the most ambitious hopes for these multilayered droplets are in medicine, where it would be essential to control the amount of drug being delivered.

The findings appear in Friday’s issue of the journal Science, published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.

More here.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Closer to artificial intelligence? or just more reason to be doubtful of our own?

A while ago I posted this on a self-writing, pro-war blog.  Now, a paper written by a “context-free grammar” program has been accepted by the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics.

“To their surprise, one of the papers — ‘Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy’ — was accepted for presentation.

The prank recalled a 1996 hoax in which New York University physicist Alan Sokal succeeded in getting an entire paper with a mix of truths, falsehoods, non sequiturs and otherwise meaningless mumbo-jumbo published in the quarterly journal Social Text, published by Duke University Press.

. . .

‘Rooter’ features such mind-bending gems as: ‘the model for our heuristic consists of four independent components: simulated annealing, active networks, flexible modalities, and the study of reinforcement learning” and “We implemented our scatter/gather I/O server in Simula-67, augmented with opportunistically pipelined extensions.’

Stribling said the trio targeted WMSCI because it is notorious within the field of computer science for sending copious e-mails that solicit admissions to the conference.”

Scientists solve unpopped popcorn

From CNN:

CornThe nuisance kernels have kept many a dentist busy, but their days could be numbered: Scientists say they now know why some popcorn kernels resist popping into puffy white globes.

It’s long been known that popcorn kernels must have a precise moisture level in their starchy center — about 15 percent — to explode. But Purdue University researchers found the key to a kernel’s explosive success lies in the composition of its hull.

More here.

Delong reviews Parker’s biography on Galbraith

Following on the earlier post on a review of Richard Parker’s John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics, here’s another one by Brad Delong in Foreign Affairs.

Harry Johnson, in his superb but not entirely fair critique of Milton Friedman’s Monetarists, said that in order to carry out an intellectual revolution in economics, one must propound a doctrine that has three qualities: it can be summarized in a single sentence, it provides the young with an excuse for ignoring the work of their elders, and it tells the young what they can do to further the revolution. John Maynard Keynes and Friedman both offered such doctrines. They said, respectively, that ‘aggregate demand determines supply’ and that ‘inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon’; they dismissed their predecessors as obsolete; and they set hundreds of young to the task of estimating consumption, investment, and money-demand functions.

Galbraith propounded no such easily summarized doctrine. The closest we can get is: ‘the world is complicated, and both right-wing ideology and the conventional wisdom that is this age’s self-image are terribly wrong.’ He offered critiques that required you to read and understand old theories, not new theories that allowed you to dismiss everything prior as irrelevant.”

Is there life on Mars?

Leonard David for science.com about finding traces of methane on Mars and what is so exciting about it:

“…There is no doubt in Mumma’s mind that something is going on at Mars. “Mars was wet…was it also alive…or is it now alive?”

But “alive” could be geologically alive and not necessarily biologically alive, Mumma said.

“Or Mars could be biologically alive,” he added. “Or maybe both. So to me that’s the real issue. Now we think that Mars is not a dead planet. Even if it’s just geology that is occurring and releasing this methane…that’s pretty darn interesting. And the geologists are very excited about this prospect.” …”

Humanity’s Map

Carl Zimmer in his blog, The Loom:

CarlThis morning the New York Times reported that the National Geographic Society has launched the Genographic Project, which will collect DNA in order to reconstruct the past 100,000 years of human history.

I proceeded to shoot a good hour nosing around the site. The single best thing about it is an interactive map that allows you to trace the spread of humans across the world, based on studies on genetic markers.

More here.  Do check out the interactive map (and the rest of the post).

Hybrid etymology

Stefan Beck reviews Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World’s Best Poems, by Camille Paglia, in The New Criterion:

Does Camille Paglia contradict herself? She certainly does contain multitudes. How better to describe a homosexual atheist who has so much good to say about Roman Catholicism? A feminist who outraged feminists by claiming that, if raped, she would “dust herself off” and get on with things? A strange and controversial critic of art and culture with the almost comic brashness to call her most beloved poems the “world’s best”?

Well, a few adjectives spring to mind, but none are quite fair to the odd—albeit inconsistent—pleasure to be taken in reading her new book.

More here.

Who’s Counting: Why We’re Not Giants

John Allen Paulos in his monthly column at ABC News:

Paulos_1Fascinating new scientific papers suggest how elementary geometry involving animals’ physical dimensions is sufficient to shed light on some very basic biological phenomena. In particular, the papers attempt to determine the metabolic pace of all life and, in the process, help resolve a problem in evolutionary time measurement.

More here.

Dealing with Uncertainty

Interesting article from Scientific American by Steven W. Popper, Robert J. Lempert and Steven C. Bankes:

The three of us–an economist, a physicist and a computer scientist all working in RAND’s Pardee Center–have been fundamentally rethinking the role of analysis. We have constructed rigorous, systematic methods for dealing with deep uncertainty. The basic idea is to liberate ourselves from the need for precise prediction by using the computer to help frame strategies that work well over a very wide range of plausible futures. Rather than seeking to eliminate uncertainty, we highlight it and then find ways to manage it. Already companies such as Volvo have used our techniques to plan corporate strategy.

More here.

Talk is cheap, and surprisingly effective

From The Economist:

When psychological and emotional disturbances can be traced to faulty brain chemistry and corrected with a pill, the idea that sitting and talking can treat a problem such as clinical depression might seem outdated.

Robert DeRubeis of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues beg to differ, however. They have conducted the largest clinical trial ever designed to compare talk therapy with chemical antidepressants. The result, just published in Archives of General Psychiatry, is that talking works as well as pills do. Indeed, it works better, if you take into account the lower relapse rate.

More here.

Billy Collins on e.e. cummings

From Slate:

In the long revolt against inherited forms that has by now become the narrative of 20th-century poetry in English, no poet was more flamboyant or more recognizable in his iconoclasm than Cummings. By erasing the sacred left margin, breaking down words into syllables and letters, employing eccentric punctuation, and indulging in all kinds of print-based shenanigans, Cummings brought into question some of our basic assumptions about poetry, grammar, sign, and language itself, and he also succeeded in giving many a typesetter a headache. Like Pound, who never wrote an obedient line, Cummings reveled in breaking the rules of grammar, punctuation, orthography, and lineation. Measured by sheer boldness of experiment, no American poet compares to him, for he slipped Houdini-like out of the locked box of the stanza, then leaped from the platform of the poetic line into an unheard-of way of writing poetry.

More here.

Surrender in the Battle of Poetry Web Sites

Edward Wyatt in the New York Times:

W. H. Auden may have lamented that “poetry makes nothing happen,” but that has not kept poets themselves – and their enthusiasts – from using the Internet to make trouble when they get riled up.

This week the poetry world is atwitter over the closing down of an Internet site that for the last year dedicated itself to exposing what it calls fraud among the small circle of poetry contests that frequently offer publishing contracts as prizes.

Alan Cordle, a research librarian who lives in Portland, Ore., has managed the Web site, www.foetry.com, anonymously since its inception a little more a year ago.

More here.

A rivalry to end the world: Oppenheimer and Teller

Vivian Gornick reviews three recent biographies in The Boston Review:

Two men—both brilliant at science, both hungry to exert an influence on world affairs, both living in a time that allowed them to aggravate into existence the ability to destroy the planet, and both sufficiently neurotic that neither fulfilled his own promise as a scientist (though both betrayed friends and colleagues to hold the power they thought they had attained). Only Thomas Hardy could have done justice to the melodrama that grew out of the fateful connection between Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller, and the American development of nuclear weapons.

More here.  And another review by Janet Maslin in the NY Times here.

Psychics Target Defenseless Goats for Homeland Security

Peter L’Official looks at Men Who Stare At Goats by John Ronson, in the Village Voice:

The titular livestock are the doomed subjects of a secret U.S. Army training program that, when successful, results in the bursting of a goat’s heart by mere thought suggestion. I kid you not. Ronson, “essentially a humorous journalist” in his own estimation, peeks into the mind of a military shaken to its core after Vietnam’s failure and desperate to welcome new-age methodologies for both battle and interrogation. Possessing sharp timing and a characteristically dry Brit wit, Ronson specializes in such offbeat topics; his previous Them: Adventures With Extremists wryly chronicled weeks spent with conspiracy theorists, Klan members, and Islamic terrorists.

Ronson’s humor rightly evaporates once he connects these flower-child-like forays into psych warfare with their bastardization at Abu Ghraib.

More here.