Loyd on His Mother’s Bravery

‘Bravery was being cool under fire. Bravery was going back to rescue the wounded. Bravery was proved, exclusively, in war and made one a man.’

Not so, according to war correspondent Anthony Loyd, who has written a very moving piece about the death of his mother for the Times of London. Loyd has reported from Bosnia, Chechnya, and Iraq – his book My War Gone By, I Miss It So is one of the best books on war reporting I have ever read. I was pointed to this essay by reading Laura Rozen’s fine site War and Piece.

Scientists put melting mystery on ice

From MSNBC:Ice_hmed_12p_1

Until now, scientists could not explain why ice cubes in your drink melt. They’ve known the basics, but the details remained elusive. A breakthrough new study, announced today, supports a leading theory that melting starts when the fundamental structure of matter begins to crack.

The problem is that the earliest phase of melting has never been seen. Scientists can’t see the atoms involved because they are so small and because they are hidden in the structure of solid material. So the team made some big atoms. Specifically, they made see-through crystals that are like small beads and are visible in an optical microscope.

Melting1_02 “The spheres swell or collapse significantly with small changes in temperature, and they exhibit other useful properties that allow them to behave like enormous versions of atoms for the purpose of our experiment,” said Ahmed Alsayed, a University of Pennsylvania doctoral student and lead author of a paper on the results in the July 1 issue of the journal Science.

More here.

Fire Ants Spurn Sex to Protect Genes

From The National Geographic:Ant

Clonal or asexual reproduction is not unique to little fire ants. Some lizard species, for example, produce female offspring clonally from adult females. In most ants, females are typically produced by sexual reproduction, while males develop from unfertilized eggs. But the small fire ant (Wasmannia auropunctata), which is considered an invasive pest in tropical habitats, is different, scientists found. They have determined that queens and males each produce offspring with genes identical to their own, except when reproducing the sterile worker ants.

The findings are reported in tomorrow’s issue of the journal Nature.   

More here.

Proper T-Shirt Folding

I didn’t want to be the one to tell you this, but your mother has taught you wrong. That’s not how you should fold a T-shirt. First found floating around the internet about a year or so ago, there’s an inspired new Japanese technique that will shake off our tired western concept of folding. A quick Google search will find the video I’m raving about.

From The Guardian. The video is to be found here and is pretty frickin lovely.

Mad for Degas

From Harvard Magazine:

Degas In 1911 the little Fogg Art Museum mounted the only one-man museum exhibition to occur during his lifetime of works by Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (1834-1917). It was a daring departure from practice. The artist was not a dead Old Master. His subjects, realistically represented—jockeys, ballet girls, laundresses, and what a critic called “creatures whose chief pre-occupation seems to be…the taking of baths”—seemed to some viewers unworthy of attention.

1degas Although the loan show consisted of only 12 works, was up only nine and a half days, and generated expenses of $178.70 (more than the $158.98 raised to fund it), Edward W. Forbes, A.B. 1895, who had become director of the Fogg in 1909, judged the exhibition a success. A high-Brahmin Bostonian with a penchant for early Italian pictures, he wrote a disdainful patron: “I think this show is an excellent thing for the Fogg Museum. It is bringing hundreds of people into the building who would never come before and who, perhaps, could have been reached in no other way except by a modern show.” Attendance totaled 550.

Thus began the museum’s keen and continuing interest in this artist, now celebrated in an exhibition, Degas at Harvard, which encompasses 62 works in many media (including a book of sonnets) gathered from the Fogg, the Houghton Library, and Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard’s research library and art collection in Washington, D.C. It will run from August 1 to November 27, filling the galleries of the Arthur M. Sackler Museum. 

More here.

New WTC tower design made public

Phil Hirschkorn at CNN:

Vert“The Freedom Tower,” will retain the height of the earlier design — at 1,776 feet, symbolizing the year the United States declared its independence.

But it will also include reminders of the twin towers it will replace.

The roof above the public observation deck will be at 1,362 feet, the height of old South Tower, while a glass wall will rise 1,368 feet, the height of the old North Tower.

“In subtle but important ways this building recalls what we lost,” said architect David Childs.

The building will bear a spire that will emit light at night to echo the Statue of Liberty’s torch.

More here.

On Beauty and Aesthetic Autonomy

Rochelle Gurstein in The New Republic:

The astounding popularity of the Vermeer exhibition in Washington a number of years ago, where people actually stood in line in the snow for hours, suggested that the passion for beauty in art is still very much alive, at least on the part of ordinary museumgoers. But who would have thought that it would continue to persist among art-savvy insiders? Then I remembered a show at the Sonnabend Gallery in the late ’80s, where Koons’s life-size, Italian-crafted, painted porcelain figures–Michael Jackson and Bubbles, Pink Panther, and all the rest–were first shown, and I remembered being told by a usually thoughtful collector, “Sure, they’re stupid, but look at the craftsmanship.” And then there was the time a preternaturally sensitive art-dealer friend of mine instructed me in the subtle difference between a Warhol Brillo Box where the silk-screen process was slightly off register as opposed to more perfectly aligned ones. He told me that an off-register box was more “beautiful”–that was the word he used–since such blurs and smudges showed the human touch, and it was more valuable to boot.

I couldn’t help thinking, at the time and now, of what Arthur Danto has said about pop and conceptual art (and I am paraphrasing him here): To look at a Brillo Box with the eye of a connoisseur is to comically misclassify its artistic interest, which is conceptual and not aesthetic.

More here.

The Second Coming Of Sartre

“His philosophy inspired a generation, then drifted out of fashion. Now, 100 years after his birth, the life and work of Jean-Paul Sartre are once again highly relevant – and bitterly controversial. John Lichfield explores his legacy.”

From The Independent:

Osartre001p1Jean-Paul Sartre – philosopher, novelist, playwright, polemicist, political activist, the secular messiah of existentialism, the prototype of the “engaged” French intellectual – died 25 years ago this year. He was born 100 years ago next Tuesday.

His funeral in April 1980 provoked an outpouring of grief more usually associated with actors than with ugly, chain-smoking, foul-smelling, squint-eyed philosophers. More than 30,000 people took to the streets of Paris to follow his coffin and – in the phrase of one fan at the time – to “demonstrate against Sartre’s death”.

For the next two decades, Sartre’s standing fell (and Beauvoir’s, if anything, rose). Sartre’s many mistakes and inconsistencies – his support for Stalinism in the early 1950s, for Maoism in the 1970s, his defence of civilian massacres in Algeria and at the 1972 Munich Olympics – obscured the range, versatility and ambition of his writing.

His reputation as one of the most important thinkers and writers of the 20th century is now rising again, not so much in France as – paradoxically – in high academic circles in the United States, a country that he detested.

More here.

Toothpaste for Dinner

Sam Anderson writes a slide show essay about the most addictive comic on the web, in Slate:

ProbabilityDorothy Parker once wrote that the characters in James Thurber’s cartoons looked like “unbaked cookies.” The Webcomic Toothpaste for Dinner tends to make even the doughiest Thurber look like photorealism. The characters all have oblong heads, three-fingered hands, and stacked eyes like flounders. They are noseless and earless and always on the brink of perspectival disaster. The handwritten text that sometimes dominates the drawings often flirts with illegibility. The art is so bad it suggests some kind of tragic and inspiring back story: an artist soldiering bravely on after losing his thumbs in a bear attack or a factory accident.

More here.  [Thanks to Maeve E. Adams.]

High-Tech Pictures Reveal How Hummingbirds Hover

From Scientific American:

0002a840b9b912b9b9b983414b7f0000_1Previous investigations into the flight of the hummingbird had suggested that it could be employing the same mechanisms as insects, which often hover and dart in a manner similar to the bird. “But a hummingbird is a bird, with the physical structure of a bird and all of the related capabilities and limitations,” explains Douglas Warrick of Oregon State University. “It is not an insect and it does not fly exactly like an insect.” To unravel the hummingbird’s aerial secrets, Warrick and his colleagues used a technique called digital particle imaging velocimitry (DPIV). Usually employed by engineers, DPIV uses microscopic particles of olive oil that are light enough to be moved to and fro by the slightest changes in air currents. As a pulsing laser illuminates the droplets for short periods of time, a camera captures them on film. From the resulting images, the scientists determined exactly how the bird’s wings move the air around them.

More here.

Sri Lanka leader gambles on tsunami aid

Ethirajan Anbarasan at the BBC:

_40052218_srilanka203body_apSri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s bold decision to push through a deal to share international tsunami aid has restored hopes of a negotiated settlement to the island’s ethnic conflict.

In addition, analysts say, the president has scored a victory over her political rivals by being “firm and decisive” in bringing about the deal with the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Under the agreement, Sinhalas, Tamils and Muslims will share nearly $3bn in aid pledged after the December tsunami.

Representatives from all three communities will be responsible for reconstruction work at different administrative levels in the Tamil-dominated north and east.

The Tsunami Relief Council, as it is called, may not have considerable political or executive powers but in more than two decades of war this is the first time both sides have come together to work in an administrative structure for a common cause.

More here.

The Mysteries of Mass

From Scientific American:Mass

Most people think they know what mass is, but they understand only part of the story. For instance, an elephant is clearly bulkier and weighs more than an ant. Even in the absence of gravity, the elephant would have greater mass–it would be harder to push and set in motion. Obviously the elephant is more massive because it is made of many more atoms than the ant is, but what determines the masses of the individual atoms? What about the elementary particles that make up the atoms–what determines their masses? Indeed, why do they even have mass?

More here.

Historian, Novelist Shelby Foote Dies at 88

Nick Owchar in the Los Angeles Times:

18230851Southern novelist and historian Shelby Foote, who chronicled Mississippi Delta life in his fiction and created a panoramic history of the Civil War, died Monday in Memphis, his wife, Gwyn, said Tuesday. He was 88.

Best known for the courtly eloquence he brought as commentator to Ken Burns’ 1990 PBS documentary, “The Civil War,” Foote belonged to a rich tradition of Mississippi storytellers that included William Faulkner, Walker Percy and Eudora Welty.

It was his appearance in Burns’ film, enthralling its 40 million viewers with his battlefield’s-eye-view of the war, that first gained this singular American storyteller the recognition of a wide audience.

“One of the reasons why that documentary worked itself into the bloodstream of this country is because of Shelby,” Burns said.

Slight of build, his gray beard trimmed close to the jaw, Foote vividly evoked the horrors of 19th century warfare, such as the hail of bullets that cut men down at Shiloh, as well as war’s smaller moments — days when rations ran so low that soldiers ate sloosh, a wretched mixture of cornmeal and bacon grease. And he did it with a charming mellow voice tone that seemed dipped in Delta mud.

More here.  [Thanks to Winfield J. Abbe.]

After 2,600 years, the world gains a fourth poem by Sappho

John Ezard in The Guardian:

Sappho1A newly found poem by Sappho, acknowledged as one of the greatest poets of Greek classical antiquity and seen by some as the finest of any era, is published for the first time today.

Written more than 2,600 years ago, the 101 words of verse deal with a theme timeless in both art and soap operas; the stirrings of an ageing body towards the nimbleness, youth and love it once knew.

The poem is the rarest of discoveries. Sappho’s pre-eminent reputation as an artist of lyricism and love is based on only three complete poems, 63 complete single lines and up to 264 fragments.

These are all that have survived of the writings of a woman who the Greek philosopher Plato said should be honoured not merely as a great lyric poet but as one of the Muses, the goddesses who inspire all art.

More here.

Street Diva

Arthur Kempton in the New York Review of Books:

Billie20holiday2In the spring of 1947, Jimmy Fletcher heard from his bosses at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics that it might be a convenient time to visit Billie Holiday at home. Her manager, a former fight-fixer, whoremonger, and running dog in Al Capone’s pack, had offered up the celebrated Negro “torchchanteuse” and notorious dope fiend as grist for Harry Anslinger’s publicity mill.

Anslinger, the bureau’s first and only commissioner, was the public face of America’s war on drugs, and he hustled as hard, if not as well, as his envied rival J. Edgar Hoover. Splashy arrests kept the congressional purse holders mindful of who stood between America’s schoolchildren and the ravening scourge of narcotics. For doers of the commissioner’s bidding, Billie Holiday was “an attractive customer,” a reliable source of repeat business.

More here.

Psychiatrists: Tom Cruise comments ‘irresponsible’

From CNN:

The American Psychiatric Association on Monday sharply criticized actor Tom Cruise for televised remarks in which he called psychiatry a “pseudo science” and disputed the value of antidepressant drugs…

Storycruisetoday “Before I was a Scientologist, I never agreed with psychiatry,” Cruise said. “And when I started studying the history of psychiatry, I understood more and more why I didn’t believe in psychology. … And I know that psychiatry is a pseudo science.” (Full story)

Disputing the effectiveness of antidepressants generally, Cruise said, “all it does is mask the problem.” He added, “There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance.”

Cruise also singled out drugs, such as Ritalin, that are used to treat children for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, calling Ritalin “a street drug.”

As “Today” host Matt Lauer pressed the 42-year-old actor on his views, Cruise said, “Here’s the problem. You don’t know the history of psychiatry. I do.”

More here.

Tell Joe Barton How You Feel

Mark Trodden in a post at Orange Quark:

At the risk of being pedantic (Oh, who am I kidding, I’m going to go on and on about this stuff until it stops), the attack on science in the U.S. is going ahead full steam. Congressman Joe Barton (Republican, of Texas), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is sending intimidating letters to the members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and to Arden Bement, Director of the National Science Foundation. It’s true – take a look! Chris Mooney has some excerpts from the letters, so I won’t reproduce them here, but will just comment that they are of a kind designed to make scientists think twice about undertaking research on such a politically sensitive topic as global warming.

Representative Barton’s tactics are just part of the more wide-ranging assault on scientific evidence that the Bush administration is waging.

More here.  Mark also has other posts on the anti-science activities of the Bush administration.

New Movement in Parkinson’s

From Scientific American:Parkinson

As its 19th-century name suggests–and as many people know from the educational efforts of prominent Parkinson’s sufferers such as Janet Reno, Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox–the disease is characterized by movement disorders. Tremor in the hands, arms and elsewhere, limb rigidity, slowness of movement, and impaired balance and coordination are among the disease’s hallmarks. In addition, some patients have trouble walking, talking, sleeping, urinating and performing sexually.

These impairments result from neurons dying. Because the insights involve molecules whose activity could potentially be altered or mimicked by drugs in ways that would limit cell death, the discoveries could lead to therapies that would do more than ease symptoms–they would actually limit the neuronal degeneration responsible for disease progression. 

More here.