A Case of Role Reversal in the Maglev Project

China finds German workmanship shoddy after the Maglev fire, in The People’s Daily (China). (And why are battery cells catching fire everywhere?)

If China didn’t develop her Maglev technology, if the German Maglev train had not caught fire, how would the Sino-German Maglev project have resulted? Since the Maglev fire in Shanghai on August 11th, the train has remained there unmoved. By August 18th, the train was repaired then moved on to a maintenance station. The next day, Shanghai Maglev Development Company said that they had preliminarily examined the cause of the fire to be the battery cell provided by Germany. A Chinese expert working in the German Maglev project believed the reason for the fire to be the Shanghai climate since it is more humid there than in Germany. The battery cell has never caused a fire in Germany before. The accident where the Shanghai Maglev cable end was burned in 2003 was also attributed to the Shanghai’s humid weather and bad air quality.

When the accident took place two weeks ago, the German spokesman declared that the first step of investigation was focusing on the improper use of the battery cell. However they have not yet been able to draw any conclusions still. Three days later, the spokesman found the cause of the fire to be the battery cell.

“Why has Germany delayed the announcement about the cause of the fire? It may be more beneficial for them to do so.” A Chinese scientist who is working in the German transportation sector told reporter. “Now it is time for the Hu-Hang(Shanghai-Hangzhou) Maglev project to be completed, Germany is using a delaying strategy.”

Zizek on Jerusalem

In the LRB, Zizek on Jerusalem.

If there ever was a passionate attachment to the lost object, a refusal to come to terms with its loss, it is the attachment of Israelis and many diaspora Jews to the ‘Holy Land’ and above all to Jerusalem. The present troubles are supreme proof of the consequences of such a radical fidelity, when taken literally. For almost two thousand years, when the Jews were fundamentally a nation without land, living in exile, their reference to Jerusalem was a negative one, a prohibition against ‘painting an image of home’ or indeed against feeling at home anywhere on earth. Once the return to Palestine began a century ago, the metaphysical Other Place was identified with a specific place on the map and became the object of a positive identification, the place where the wandering which characterises human existence would end. The identification, negative and positive by turns, had always involved a dream of settlement. When a two-thousand-year-old dream is finally close to realisation, such realisation has to turn into a nightmare.

Brecht’s joke a propos the East Berlin workers’ uprising in 1953 – ‘The Party is not satisfied with its people, so it will replace them with a people more supportive of its politics’ – is suggestive of the way Israelis regard the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza. That Israelis, descendants of exemplary victims, should be considering a thorough ethnic cleansing – or ‘transfer’ – of the Palestinians from the West Bank is the ultimate historical irony.

What would be a proper imaginative act in the Middle East today? For Israelis and Arabs, it would involve giving up political control of Jerusalem, agreeing that the Old Town should become a city without a state, a place of worship, neither a part of Israel nor of a putative Palestine, administered for the time being by an international force.

Can YouTube Survive?

The Economist wonders if YouTube can make money:

“STARBUCKS has comfy chairs, but they don’t charge people for sitting in them,” says Tom McInerney, the boss and co-founder of Guba, an internet-video company. Instead, he explains, Starbucks provides a comfortable environment, at considerable expense, so that people will buy overpriced coffee. That, in essence, is the business model being pursued by websites that host “user-generated content” such as personal blogs, photographs and today’s craze, amateur videos, which can be uploaded and watched on sites such as YouTube, Google Video, MySpace, Guba, Veoh and Metacafe. By offering a setting for free interaction, such sites provide the online equivalent of comfy chairs. The trouble is that, so far, there is no equivalent of the overpriced coffee that brings in the money and pays the bills.

That is why people like Chad Hurley and Steven Chen (pictured), the co-founders of YouTube, the clear leader of the pack by audience size, are casting around for a business model. Aware that inserting advertisements at the beginning of video clips, as some sites do, is annoying and risks driving away YouTube’s users, Mr Hurley and Mr Chen have announced two experiments with advertising, with the promise of more to come. One idea is for “brand channels” in which corporate customers create pages for their own promotional clips. Warner Brothers Records, a music label, led the way, setting up a page to promote a new album by Paris Hilton. The second experiment is “participatory video ads”, whereby advertisements can be uploaded and then rated, shared and tagged just like amateur clips. This “encourages engagement and participation,” the company declares.

Live recording of Darcy James Argue conducting Secret Society at the 3QD Ball, now available free online

Darcy has kindly made recordings available at the Secret Society weblog. Here they are:

(Right-click and select “Save Target As” — they take a couple of minutes to download.)

SETLIST (click to listen/download)

1) Flux in a Box
Solos: Rob Wilkerson, alto sax; Mike Holober, piano

Darcy_12) Phobos
Solo: Mark Small, tenor sax

3) Chrysalis
Solo: Aaron Irwin, alto flute/soprano sax

4) Induction Effect
Solo: Matt Shulman, trumpet

5) Ritual
Solos: Mike Fahie, trombone; Sebastian Noelle, guitar

6) Desolation Sound
Solo: Sam Sadigursky, soprano sax

7) Transit
Solo: Jacob Varmus, trumpet

Download all (zip archive)  [87.5 MB]

innuendo, insinuation and allusion


Jesper Just is crafting a subtle genre of his own, re-creating masculine stereotypes within emotionally ambiguous mises-en-scène. While innuendo, insinuation and allusion are hallmarks of his work, Just’s characters are strangers to consequences, and especially repercussions. There is no one to take responsibility for his narrative slivers. There are no protagonists and no director when the credits roll, and with no dénouements his audience can never take responsibility for their own emotions while Just holds them in suspense.

His films, teetering on the fringes of highly mannered mating rituals (The Lonely Villa, 2004) or unrequited homosexual affairs (Something to Love, 2005), never embark on storytelling. Just does not entangle his characters in explicit dramatic motives; instead he sketches thresholds of erotic indulgence, creatures that impersonate rather than perform and shadowy affiliations foregrounded by masses of loose ends.

more from Frieze here.

still spying


The spy thriller is a kind of weather report, taking disparate, shifting phenomena and working them into a prognosis for the days to come. Where the casual observer only sees the wavering breeze of foreign policy, approaching clouds of war, or sunny patches of treaties, the spy thriller knows of the coming of the storm, which may be why its most productive period coincided with the period we call the Cold War. Since that time, the form has co-existed rather uneasily with the present day, as if a kind of geopolitical global warming affects its ability to say anything other than the fact that things look very bleak indeed.

The response to this problem has taken the spy thriller in two opposed directions. John le Carré, the master of the Cold War novel, has tackled the situation head-on, directing his steely gaze towards multinational corporations and neoconservative cabals. The other approach, best exemplified by the novels of Alan Furst, has been to turn the clock back and convert a form obsessed with interpreting present and future into a historical receptacle, leaving it to us to decide if the double-crosses of the 1930s have any resonance in our world.

William Boyd’s latest novel, Restless, chooses the latter approach, its parallel stories focusing on the Second World War and the 1970s.

more from the TLS here.

center for land use interpretation


The world will have to wait to know the whole truth about the Center for Land Use Interpretation until the publication of my as yet unoptioned Mr. Coolidge’s Filing Cabinet of Wonder, but in the meantime we have Overlook — a splendid institutional autobiography compiling many of the highlights of the dummy corporation’s first decade of geosociological interrogation, edited by director (Mr.) Matthew Coolidge and associate director Sarah Simons, with an essay by former L.A. Weekly columnist Ralph Rugoff. CLUI, headquartered immediately adjacent to the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City (and embodying a fearfully symmetrical extrovert doppelgänger to the Jurassic’s trance-inducing interiority complex — one of the earliest and most inspired of CLUI’s site-specific interventions), is a cultural project that mimics the structure and aesthetics of large — essentially governmental — bureaucracies. But instead of delivering some pat critique of those unwieldy psychic parasites (or, worse yet, arbitrarily bestowing institutional authority on more Art), the center pursues a mission that seems like something the government should have been doing all along, if it had balls and a sense of humor.

more from the LA Weekly here.

A Woman in Jerusalem

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Jeru A Woman in Jerusalem by Abraham B. Yehoshua

The woman’s name was Yulia Ragayev, a mechanical engineer from a former Soviet Republic, who had been working as a cleaning lady on the night shift. What’s not in her slim human resources file was that she was so beautiful that, even dead, she inspires extraordinary concern in others. No one noticed Yulia’s absence for the simple reason that she had stopped working at the bakery a month before the bombing. Neither the owner nor the journalist is willing to let the matter rest there, however. An irritated human resources manager finds himself excoriated in print, and then appointed the dead woman’s escort back to her homeland.

His irritation fades, however, and he finds himself increasingly moved by his quest and the woman who inspired it. As his mission gets more and more improbable, the manager (who is recently divorced and isolated from his only daughter) finds a subtle spiritual renewal as he crosses frozen rivers to reunite what’s left of Yulia’s family for her funeral. As if to make up for her anonymity in life, Yulia is the only one named in the novel. The symbolic device works to create the atmosphere of a fable or folk tale, but can also be somewhat muffling. This is especially true once the human resources manager heads for the nameless European country, which is a mishmash of peasants, frozen landscapes, and the remains of the Soviet military complex.

More here.

Nuns go under the brain scanner

From Nature:

Nun Neuroscientists have identified a network of brain regions activated when nuns feel that they are at one with God. Artificially stimulating the brain in this way, they say, might allow people to have mystical experiences without believing in God themselves. Lead author Mario Beauregard at the University of Montreal, Canada, says that he wanted to know what was going on in the brain during spiritual, mystical or religious episodes because of his own personal experiences. During such moments, people feel that they are in union with God and feel peace, joy and love.

Beauregard and his colleague Vincent Paquette recruited 15 nuns from Carmelite monasteries, slid them into a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine and asked them to fully relive the most mystical moment in their lives. They didn’t scan the subjects when actually praying, because the nuns told the researchers that they could not connect with God at will.

As a comparison, the nuns also relived an experience in which they felt at union with another person.

More here.

A Switch is Born

Carl Zimmer in his blog, The Loom:

All living things have genes. Enzymes read those genes and produce a copy of their code, which a cell can then use to build a protein. But in order to read a gene, the enzymes must first lock onto a distinctive segment of DNA near the gene, known as a promoter. Promoters act like switches, which a cell can use to turn genes on and off. Different genes carry different promoters, so that they can be switched on under different conditions.

EscherichiaScientists have studied the promoters of the bacteria Escherichia coli more closely than those of any other species, and they’ve identified some of its switching patterns. When Escherichia coli is growing quickly, it produces a lot of gene-reading enzymes factors called sigma 70. Sigma 70 can switch on several hundred genes that allow the microbe to feed and build up its biomass and reproduce. If Escherichia coli begins to starve, it slips into a sort of suspended animation, and produces a different enzyme factor called sigma S. Sigma S recognizes a different set of genes that begin to make the proteins necessary for shutting the microbe’s operations down.

Here we have a wonderfully precise system for controlling genes. Now imagine that Escherichia coli acquires a gene with no promoter at all–just a random sequence of DNA next to the gene, 41 nucleotides long. Imagine that this DNA starts going through cycles of mutation and natural selection. Would it be possible for a random sequence to change into one Sigma 70 could grab? Could it go from nothing to a promoter?

The answer is yes. How long would it take? According to some recent experiments, two days. Two.

More here.

Climate changes shift springtime

From the BBC:

A Europe-wide study has provided “conclusive proof” that the seasons are changing, with spring arriving earlier each year, researchers say.

Screenhunter_1_17Scientists from 17 nations examined 125,000 studies involving 561 species.

Spring was beginning on average six to eight days earlier than it did 30 years ago, the researchers said.

In regions such as Spain, which saw the greatest increases in temperatures, the season began up to two weeks earlier.

The findings were based on what was described as the world’s largest study of changes in recurring natural events, such as when plants flowered.

The team of researchers also found that the onset of autumn has been delayed by an average of three days over the same period.

More here.

This Is a Bike. Trust Us.

Preston Lerner in the Los Angeles Times:

25026469Barely visible against the vast asphalt expanse of the Nissan test track, a white speck emerges from the soft light of the Arizona dawn. As it approaches, it takes shape as what might be a miniature submarine, or maybe a giant suppository on wheels. Crammed within the tiny, fully enclosed, artfully streamlined body is a world-class cyclist who’s reclining like guy on a Barcalounger as he pedals furiously enough to make his bike the world’s fastest sweatbox. He rockets past with a whoosh, and I suddenly understand why his ride is called a human powered vehicle, or HPV, rather than just a bicycle.

Whatever you call it, this little sucker is honking along so fast that it could merge comfortably into traffic on the 405. Moreover, the rider plans to maintain this speed for the next 52 minutes, thereby setting a world record by covering nearly 55 miles in an hour without the aid of an internal combustion engine, electric motor or flux capacitor.

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

Smilingly Excluded

Richard Lloyd Parry in the London Review of Books:

_42028956_tokyo203Foreign writers have been visiting Tokyo since the 1860s, but for such a vast, thrilling and important city it has proved barren as a place of literary exile…

At the peak of his Manhattan success, Jay McInerney came out to study karate and produced the dismal Ransom, full of sub-Hemingway machismo and lumbering Japonaiserie (‘he picked up his katana, made by the great swordsmith Yasukuni of the Soshu Branch of the Sagami School’). The best that Clive James – a regular visitor and student of Japanese – could come up with was the smirking comedy Brrm! Brrm! Only two novelists have filtered Japanese characters into English with any conviction, and neither of them has made a home in the country: Kazuo Ishiguro, British in all but name, has not lived in Nagasaki since he was a toddler; David Mitchell left Hiroshima four years ago. There is a certain amount of unjustly neglected travel writing, such as the work of the late Alan Booth. But Japan has never attracted the attention of a Chatwin or a Naipaul, let alone fostered a Kipling, a Somerset Maugham, a Hemingway or a Paul Bowles.

More here.

Foucault the Neohumanist?

Richard Wolin in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

FoucaultIn 1975 and 1976, Michel Foucault published two books that single-handedly reoriented scholarship in the humanities: Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality. Thereby, Foucault fundamentally altered the way we think about power.

For centuries, power had been associated with the negative capacity to deny or forbid. In spatial terms, it stood at the apex of a vertical axis. This view suited our modern conception of political sovereignty as a top-down phenomenon. Power reputedly consisted of a relationship between sovereign and subjects. It bespoke the capacity of rulers to censure or to control the behavior of those they ruled. That was the traditional model of power that Foucault vigorously challenged in these pathbreaking studies. As he remarked laconically: “In political thought and analysis, we still have not cut off the head of the king.” By remaining beholden to an anachronistic notion of power, the human sciences, Foucault claimed, remained impervious to the distinctive modalities and flows of power in modern society, tone-deaf to the diffuse and insidious operations of “biopower”: modern society’s well-nigh totalitarian capacity to institutionally regulate and subjugate individual behavior — via statistics, public-health guidelines, and conformist sexual norms — down to the most elementary, “corpuscular” level.

What would happen if we reconceived power as operating on a horizontal axis, wondered Foucault? What if the traditional vertical focus on sovereignty, governance, and law were diversionary, leading us to mistake power’s genuine tenor and scope? What if power’s defining trait were its productive rather than its negative or suppressive capacities? In that case, power’s uniqueness would lie in its ability to shape, fashion, and mold the parameters of the self, potentially down to the infinitesimal or corpuscular level. Following Descartes, we have typically been taught to conceive of the self as a locus of autonomy or freedom. But what if this autonomy were in fact illusory, concealing potent, underlying, and sophisticated mechanisms of domination?

More here.

Conservative Judaism gets a kick in the pants

Samantha M. Shapiro in Slate:

060828_fb_rabbitnI grew up in the Conservative movement, and my religious ideals line up with it in many ways. Yet I agree that it often misses the mark and suffers, as Schorsch said, from “a failure of nerve.” As the world is growing increasingly religious, the faithful are not growing more interested in reconciling modernity and tradition. They are becoming more orthodox. It’s somehow liberating (if not encouraging) to see the leader of a religious movement whose goal is to hold the middle ground forcefully wrestle with his sense of failure.

More here.

how we flush money down the toilet with our half-hearted endangered species laws

Paul D. Thacker in Environmental Science and Technology:

Pt_condorsMany California condors have extremely high concentrations of lead and must occasionally be caught to undergo chelation therapy to remove the heavy metal from their blood. But for the past 22 years, scientists and hunting activists have argued over how this endangered species is being poisoned. Now, research posted today on ES&T’s Research ASAP website (DOI: 10.1021/es060765s) finds that hunting ammunition is the cause of lead poisoning in condors. The results may spur state regulations that force hunters to use nonlead ammunition in the condor range.

Don Smith, a professor of environmental toxicology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and corresponding author of the study, says that years of anecdotal evidence have pointed to hunting ammunition as the source of lead in condors, but scientists lacked hard data.

“These results are a no-brainer,” he says. “The problem is that the people who need to be convinced to take action have not been convinced,” he says, referring to politicians and special interest groups that fight attempts to regulate lead ammunition.

More here.

The Origins of Radical Islam in England

Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank suggest that Muslim extremism among some young British Pakistanis can be traced to Kashmir.

[H]omegrown militancy can only partly account for the problem. That’s because it is primarily in Pakistan–not the United Kingdom–where British citizens are being recruited into Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. About 400,000 British Pakistanis per year travel back to their homeland, where a small percentage embark on learning the skills necessary to become effective terrorists. Several of the British citizens recently suspected of plotting to blow up airliners reportedly went to Pakistan to meet Al Qaeda operatives. According to a government report released this year, British officials believe that the lead perpetrators of the 2005 attacks in London–Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer–met with Al Qaeda members in Pakistan. Several individuals allegedly involved in a 2004 plot to explode a fertilizer bomb in Great Britain also spent significant time in Pakistan. In April 2003, Omar Khan Sharif, whose family immigrated to Great Britain from Kashmir, attempted to carry out a suicide attack in a bar in Tel Aviv after visiting Pakistan. In 2001, according to British prosecutors, he e-mailed his wife from there, writing, “We will definitely, inshallah, meet soon, if not in this life then the next.” And, in the fall of 2001, Sajit Badat plotted to explode a transatlantic airliner with a shoe bomb shortly after spending time in a Pakistani training camp.

But how to explain the lure of militancy for those who travel to Pakistan to become terrorists? The answer, in many cases, is Kashmir. A disproportionate number of Pakistanis living in Great Britain trace their lineage back to Kashmir. Though conventional wisdom holds that anger toward U.S. foreign policy is most responsible for creating new terrorists, among British Pakistanis, Kashmir is probably just as important. What’s more, for the small number of British Pakistanis who want terrorist training, the facilities of Kashmiri militant groups have become an obvious first choice–as well as a gateway to Al Qaeda itself.

sernovitz v. Shteyngart

3QD friend Gary Sernovitz reviews Absurdistan at n+1.

When you have two girlfriends, John Madden once said, you have none. Madden, the football commentator, was talking about quarterbacks. If neither of a team’s quarterbacks is good enough to end the debate on which one should play, then the team doesn’t have a player fit for the job. So, too, if a man can’t decide between two women, neither is the right one for him. Misha Vainberg, the narrator of Gary Shteyngart’s second novel, Absurdistan, has two girlfriends: Rouenna in the Bronx and Nana in the fictional Central Asian country of Absurdsvanï. This is not a problem for Misha, but it is a problem for Absurdistan. Misha’s frequent, fervent declarations of love for both women make him hard to believe about either one.

Absurdistan has bigger problems, though. Impressively imagined, it recreates the insidiousness, spectacle, and variety of contemporary American and global culture. Yet it suffers deeply from Shteyngart’s disregard for selection and consequence in his jokes, incidents, and characters, especially Misha himself. John Madden might also have said that when you have two voices, you have none, and Misha Vainberg has seven or eight.

appiah on beliefs and rationality


But don’t values still fall short of the standard of rationality by which we measure beliefs? Appiah replies that even a person’s beliefs are only rational relative to the beliefs he already possesses. It is no more irrational for a member of the Asante clan to believe that his aunt’s illness is caused by her daughter-in-law’s witchcraft than for a person in Manhattan to believe that a virus is responsible. The westerner does not see viruses invading cells any more than the Asante sees witches producing their malign effects. When scientists looked at photographs of cloud chambers they saw fuzzy lines which it was rational to interpret as the paths of electrons only because of prior theoretical beliefs. Appiah concludes that “you can’t get into the game of belief by starting from nothing”. However, he rejects the view that we cannot adjudicate between beliefs in witchcraft and viruses. The former, he declares, are false, the latter true; the theories and ideas of science are “far superior” to those of pre-scientific societies. By Appiah’s own reckoning, this judgment is rational only relative to the beliefs he already possesses.

more from Guardian Unlimited Books here.