China and The King of Cars

Ted Conover in the New York Times Magazine:

02cover_1The figures behind China’s car boom are stunning. Total miles of highway in the country: at least 23,000, more than double what existed in 2001, and second now only to the United States. Number of passenger cars on the road: about 6 million in 2000 and about 20 million today. Car sales are up 54 percent in the first three months of 2006, compared with the same period a year ago; every day, 1,000 new cars (and 500 used ones) are sold in Beijing. The astronomic growth of China’s car-manufacturing industry will soon hit home for Americans and Europeans as dirt-cheap Chinese automobiles start showing up for sale here over the next two or three years. (Think basic passenger car for $10,000, luxury S.U.V. for $19,000.)

But of course the story is not only about construction and production; car culture is taking root in China, and in many ways it looks like ours. City drivers, stuck in ever-growing jams, listen to traffic radio. They buy auto magazines with titles like The King of Cars, AutoStyle, China Auto Pictorial, Friends of Cars, Whaam (“The Car — The Street — The Travel — The Racing”). Two dozen titles now compete for space in kiosks. The McDonald’s Corporation said last month that it expects half of its new outlets in China to be drive-throughs. Whole zones of major cities, like the Asian Games Village area in Beijing, have been given over to car lots and showrooms.

More here.

The Bloodless Revolution: Radical Vegetarians and the Discovery of India

Julia Keay reviews the book by Tristram Stuart in Literary Review:

Keay_07_06One of the hardest things about writing on what might be called a ‘special interest’ must be convincing potential readers that you are not going to preach at them. Rest assured. Tristram Stuart doesn’t preach. What he does do is try to make us think about what we eat, and why, and what effect our choice of diet has on ourselves, the animal world, and the ecology of the planet. And, in spite of his misleading subtitle, he succeeds triumphantly. ‘Radical Vegetarians and the Discovery of India’ suggests a claim to spectacular achievement on the part of a fringe group trying to enhance its credentials. In fact The Bloodless Revolution is a scholarly, wide-ranging and utterly absorbing history of vegetarianism.

Although the word ‘vegetarian’ was not coined until the 1840s, as long ago as the sixth century BC Pythagoras propounded a theory of immortality that entailed the transmigration of the soul between living creatures – and thus the immorality of eating the flesh of any of them. Pythagoras was thought to have encountered this theory while travelling in Egypt, to which country it was believed to have been introduced by philosophers from India.

More here.

new musical instrument exemplifies the love affair between math and music

David Cohn in Seed Magazine:

Tritareexample_1In 580 BC the Greek philosopher Pythagoras discovered that harmonies could be expressed mathematically. His insight, which is based on the observation that doubling or halving the size of an instrument’s string produces a new octave, is the cornerstone of the musical scale.

Twenty-five hundred years later, two Canadian mathematicians from the University of Moncton in New Brunswick have created an entirely new kind of string instrument that exploits a kind of mathematics owing more to Pythagoras’s theorem for triangles than to anything he ever thought about music.

The Tritare is a Y-shaped guitar-like instrument, custom made by Claude Gauthier and Samuel Gaudet. The strings twist through three necks (Spinal Tap, eat your heart out), all of which project from the body of the instrument at different angles. When strummed, the result is a “network” of vibrations that yields a

More here.

A perfect new member for the EU

Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian:

Canada_flag3_1Driving through Toronto earlier this week I saw a shiny black 4×4 with an English flag sticking out of one side window and a German flag out of the other. Presumably a Canadian family of mixed English and German origin, so rooting for both teams in the World Cup. A little later I saw a car with the Portuguese flag on one side and the Italian on the other. It occurred to me that this pretty much sums up what we’ve been trying to achieve in Europe since the second world war. Welcome to the European Union – in Canada.

In fact, why doesn’t the European Union invite Canada to join at once? In most respects it would be a much easier fit than Ukraine, let alone Turkey. It effortlessly meets the EU’s so-called Copenhagen criteria for membership, including democratic government, the rule of law, a well-regulated market economy and respect for minority rights (Canada’s a world-leader on that). Canada is rich, so would be a much-needed net contributor to the European budget at a time when the EU has been taking in lots of poorer states. One of Europe’s besetting weaknesses is disagreement between the British and the French, but on this the two historic rivals would instantly agree. English-speaking Canada would strengthen the Anglophone group in the EU, Quebec the Francophone…

More here.  [Thanks to Seanna Blair.]

Humans As Cat Chow

Carl Zimmer in his blog, The Loom:

LionlicklipsTwo hundred thousand years ago or thereabouts, an African lion killed someone. Along with a meal, the big cat got a wicked stomachache. Today a record of that unfortunate death still survives, in the bacteria that make big cats sick.

The trail of this strange story starts in the 1980s, when scientists discovered that ulcers are caused by bacteria known as known as Helicobacter pylori. H. pylori is found in people around the world, and scientists learned how to recognize the different strains they carried. Based on the patterns of the strains, a team of scientists concluded in 2003 that Helicobacter pylori must have been present early in the history of our species, and was spread across the world during the migration of humans. (I wrote a long post on H. pylori and human evolution when the scientists who discovered its link to ulcers got the Nobel Prize.)

But there were skeptics.

More here.

The US and Iran: Three Nuclear Ironies

Ted Daley in Common Dreams:

Mushroom20_cloud“With supreme irony,” said historian James Harvey Robinson of the First World War, “the war to ‘make the world safe for democracy’ ended by leaving democracy more unsafe…” With comparable irony, a nuclear war to make the world safe from nuclear peril could end by leaving America more exposed to nuclear annihilation than at any time since the dawn of the atomic age.

A Nuclear Attack on Iran?

In the April 17th, 2006 issue of The New Yorker magazine, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh revealed that to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons perhaps 5-10 years from now, Pentagon planners were preparing not just military strikes on that country, but nuclear strikes. Some analysts, according to Hersh, insist that only our own tactical nuclear warheads can guarantee the elimination of Tehran’s nascent nuclear capability.

President Bush had the opportunity to disavow Hersh’s stunning charge on April 18th, when a reporter asked him directly if his administration was planning a nuclear strike on Iran. His reply? “All options are on the table.”

More here.

Bush, Koizumi see Elvis’ Graceland

From CNN:

StorygracelandarrivalAll it took was a simple invitation from Bush.

“You’re a pretty good Elvis singer,” the president said, in an obvious prompt to his guest. Bush knew what was coming, having previously experienced Koizumi’s tendency to burst into song when it comes to the late rock ‘n’ roll legend who is the Japanese leader’s undisputed musical hero. (Watch Koizumi’s attempt to sing Elvis’ ‘I want you, I need you’ — 2:06)

Koizumi quickly complied. “Love me tender,” he sang. “Wise men say, ‘Only fools rush in.’ “

More here.

Pyschiatry by Prescription

From Harvard Magazine:Psych_1

By the time he reached his early thirties, James was a promising scientist who had all the makings of an academic star. He had earned a stream of fellowships and was on the path to tenure at one of Boston’s preeminent universities. But James had a problem: he dreaded speaking in public. Academic conferences terrified him, so he avoided them whenever possible. He rarely interacted with colleagues. As a result, his ideas didn’t circulate and his career stalled.

In frustration, James sought help from a psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with a mental disorder known as “social phobia” and prescribed a well-known antidepressant effective in the treatment of extreme inhibition. The medication alleviated his severe anxiety and enabled him to do the things he previously couldn’t do. His work gained public recognition, and he has subsequently risen to the top of his profession.

In recent years, James’s story has become increasingly common. An estimated 22 million Americans currently take psychotropic medications—most for relatively mild conditions.

More here.

Up in Smoke

From The New York Times:

Chatt190 ‘English, August: An Indian Story,’ by Upamanyu Chatterjee A specter haunts Indian writing — the specter of authenticity. In the pages of magazines and journals, at soirées and (sparsely attended) book parties in New Delhi, literature is being judged by a specious metric of cultural and national loyalty. According to this standard, it is in the work of writers who live in India and write in an Indian language (and thus have trouble finding a Western publisher), and not, to quote one critic, in sell-out “export-quality prose,” that the country’s authentic voice is to be found.

Upamanyu Chatterjee’s “English, August,” was first published in India in 1988. The story of a young civil servant posted to a fictional rural town, it was hailed as the country’s “Catcher in the Rye” — a novel that captured the zeitgeist of the 1980’s, when India was uncertainly emerging from decades of economic isolation and ill-conceived socialism. Now, nearly two decades later, “English, August” is at last being published in America. The long wait, and the fact that, although Chatterjee writes in English, he still works and lives in India, confer a certain legitimacy upon his book. In a market dominated by cosmopolitan authors and fusion prose, “English, August” is being presented, in the words of one admirer, as “the ‘Indianest’ novel in English that I know of.”

More here.