My Pakistan Television Show

by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

PTVWhat they did not understand at the PTV station was that it's in my nature to be elsewhere, nodding attentively one minute, gone the next. I didn't understand it either, the tendency to let myself be stolen into another world, switching between here and there like flashes of moon jellies, now lit, now dim. I was six and always behind by a few moments or hours even in the sleepy town of Peshawar with its gray mountain-scape, chinar trees and flaxen afternoons; its rhythms defined less by blasting horns of public buses, or noise of plaza construction, more by the Mochi, the tap-tapping cobbler who could sew together anything from a ripped shoe buckle to a suitcase, the churning of the dyer with smoke rising from his boiling dyes and moist dupatta scarves in solids or tie-dye bellowing joyfully on a grid of ropes, or the radio playing commentary in cricket season, the sudden bursts and crescendos of the cheering crowds.

I don't recall the color or contours of the PTV building but I remember vividly my obsession with skipping across large square tiles, instead of walking normally from the make-up room to the studio. The make-up artist was a friendly lady, who, it seemed, could not do her work without chewing gum. She smelled like hairspray, lipstick and moist base; the smells I loved in this surreal, mirrored room, make-up being my favorite of all forbidden things in my regular life.

In the producer's room Marie biscuits and blue-rimmed teacups with thick chai were in constant supply. I would get mesmerized by the upside down reflection of Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah's photo on the glass top of the desk, dizzied as I'd get by the reflected motion of the ceiling fan—all the while trying to memorize lines. The props were another distraction: how could I not tinker with larger than life butterflies and flowers? I once ate all the sweet choori meant for the parrot that was to appear on my show. When I was told they had designed a door in a large apple for me to make an entry from, I couldn't keep it a secret and told everyone I knew, weeks before the actual episode. Those were the days before video games and the Internet, and emerging out of an apple was terribly newsworthy.

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Monday Poem

East-facing Windows

this morning our bed is ablaze
in wanton light

the sun hammers our windows
rimmed by zero wide and open

unrestrained by nada
it’s really something nothing

even oceans are more miniscule
than this dawning sea immense and single
that starts the day with a silent gong

no thought breaks its breakers
no idea surfs its silver spilling splinters
no theorems curse its curls and crests
no theses trip its liquid sprinters

light alone
our tireless maker

our natural neutral

Jim Culleny

Why Epistemology Matters

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

Western_PhilosophyEpistemology is the philosophical study of knowledge. Its main questions are: What do we know?; How do we know it?; and What distinguishes knowledge from lucky guesses, sheer dogmatism, and simple ignorance? The application of this discipline seems pretty obvious in the sense that our answers to these questions will then allow us the means to sort out many of the factual questions before us. A model for knowledge yields a model for inquiry, which, when put in to practice, resolves our disagreements. This is the old school story of the relevance of epistemology. It goes back to Xenophanes, who held in the hymn to progress that even though the gods didn't give us all the truths, we are better off inquiring. This thought runs from the ancient through the modern period to Descartes, who held that his exercises were for the sake of providing a means for philosophy and science to proceed with powerful criteria for progress. And this thought is alive even now with the applications of epistemology by Michael Lynch in his recent In Praise of Reason and Paul Boghossian in his Fear of Knowledge. The Cato Institute's Juan Sanchez's use of the term “epistemic closure” to criticize conservatives for their bad intellectual habits of know-nothingism, too, is in this tradition.

We think the old school story is right, at least in its broad outline. An epistemology is a useful thing to to sort nonsense from the things worth deliberating about; an epistemology is also useful as a guide for deliberation. But there's a problem in the background, and it's one that's regularly been pointed out about a number of high points in the Western tradition. It runs like this: Often, these epistemologies, for all their promise of being deployments of critical thinking, end up being merely dressed-up apologetics for the authors' preferred beliefs. Descartes is regularly the prime target for this criticism – his method was to doubt everything in order to find criteria for truth that could not be doubted; and once he found those criteria, they were used to endorse the core commitments of the Catholic Christianity to which Descartes had ascribed. How convenient, says the critic. And reasonably so.

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Bringing Sexy Back

by Quinn O'Neill V2

One of my windows overlooks a large grassy field that's shared among residents of my building. On sunny days, it's often strewn with young bikini-clad women, irradiating their flesh in order to achieve a darker complexion. Some people surely would appreciate the view; but being of the wrong sexual persuasion, having studied pathology, and having had a few friends who've had skin cancer, I can think only of the risks associated with their behavior.

Cancer is arguably the most serious consequence of excessive sun exposure. Worldwide, skin cancers comprise a third of diagnosed malignancies and most are attributable to over-exposure to UV radiation. Skin cancer comes in a number of varieties, the most common types being squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma. These vary widely in their appearance, but all arise when cells within the epidermis – the outermost layer of the skin – proliferate in an unregulated fashion and invade the underlying tissue. They can kill either through extension to adjacent vital structures or by metastasizing to other organs.

Despite the risks associated with UV radiation, almost 28 million Americans visit sunbeds every year, with 70% of these being white women between the ages of 16 and 29 – the same demographic that turns up on the grass outside my window on sunny days. By their standards, the typical person affected by skin cancer might be considered old, but their own age group is not invulnerable. I've personally known a few people who've developed melanoma – the most deadly kind of skin cancer – close to or before the age of 30. I grew up in a town with a large population of pale Celtic descendents, so my experience isn't reflective of risk in the general population; however, it probably does reflect an increased risk of skin cancers among lighter complected people. Unfortunately, very fair people at high risk may also be the most likely to feel unacceptably pale and take to the lawn in a bikini.

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Share and Share Alike

by Misha Lepetic

“People say New Yorkers can't get along. Not true.
I saw two New Yorkers, complete strangers, sharing a cab.
One guy took the tires and the radio; the other guy took the engine.”
~ David Letterman

Cheap-motelA few months ago, friends of mine moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. The three of them signed a lease on a five-bedroom duplex, with the express purpose of leasing out the remaining two rooms on Airbnb, the service that allows people to rent out extra rooms or apartments on a short-term, informal basis. Since then, they have had a colorful assortment of travelers, tourists, students and businessmen tramp through their place. In return, the additional income has allowed them to live in a much larger and better appointed place than would have been otherwise possible.

The expense of renting an apartment in New York has been the stuff of legend for a long time now, but as this expense continues its inexorable climb, brokering sites such as Airbnb have inspired people, perhaps for the first time, to intentionally re-conceptualize their living space as a business model. In other words, what is generously known as the “sharing economy” is really the monetization of all those bits and pieces – your apartment, your car, your power tools – that used to sit around and just, well, be yours.

And then last week, New York Administrative Law Judge Clive Morrick ruled Airbnb illegal. Is this really a setback to all the annoying shouting about the “sharing economy”? Or is it more of a setback to Silicon Valley’s dogma that there is always another patch of contemporary life that, whether it knows it or not, is in need of disruption?

Actually, let’s first be clear about the ruling, since there has been much breathlessness in the media around this. The so-called “hotel law” violated by the respondent had been passed in 2010. Specifically, the law prohibits the right to charge for a stay of less than 29 days if the person renting out the space is not present. So the law still has plenty of loopholes; Airbnb is by no means “illegal.” But it is also worth mentioning that most leases explicitly prohibit any rentals – most New Yorkers don’t need such a “hotel law” to find themselves in violation of their lease (or even condo or coop rules). This of course has not stopped Airbnb from encouraging people to sign up; after all, the company gets roughly 10% per transaction and is currently estimated to be worth around $2.5bn.

However, the ruling does raise an important point about the informality. When one talks of the informal economy, one imagines vast and chaotic open-air markets in Argentina, or hardworking street vendors in Bangkok. The informal also takes the form of vast trading networks, such as the flow of computer equipment into and out of Paraguay, as richly described by Robert Neuwirth in The Stealth of Nations. But informality has always been here in the United States, too, and it is getting bigger and more important.

As James Surowiecki noted in a recent New Yorker piece, approximately $2 trillion dollars of income went unreported to the IRS last year. But what is really impressive is the rate at which off-the-books income is increasing: “in 1992, the I.R.S. estimated that the government was losing $80 billion a year in income-tax revenue. Its estimate for 2006 was $385 billion, almost five times as much” – and that is still probably an underestimate. It is also worth considering that, as the job market has stagnated since the 2008 crash, these numbers can only have continued to increase.

Hence the great attraction in monetizing assets such as the extra room in your apartment. As an exceptionally carefully executed brokering service, Airbnb found its sweet spot by taking the classifieds from Craigslist and bolting on a rating and feedback system pioneered by eBay, the grand-daddy of retail-based brokering sites. Trust and transparency are literally what make this market function. Airbnb will even send over a photographer to make your place’s listing look great – after all, unlike Craigslist, they have real skin in the game. (Of course, this same transparency makes easy pickings for anyone wanting to enforce laws like New York’s). More subtly, it’s worth examining the ideological role the individual is expected to play, as shown in the way Airbnb organizes consumption.

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The Mundane-Ecstatic: Reconsidering J M Synge’s Prose

by Liam Heneghan

Dedicated to the students who travel with Randall Honold and me to Wicklow, West Kerry, and Connemara, this summer, following in the footsteps of Synge.

SyngeAt that time in my life before I realized that such things are rare, I was paid, modestly it’s true, by Glenveagh National Park to travel on foot through parts of northern Donegal to collect and name insects. It is rare to have time on one’s hands, rare to love so fully what one does, and rare to have so little conception of what the future holds. I was, however, a little lonely. Each morning I walked transects across the lonely bog to net flies. In the evenings I had all to myself the park’s administration building which housed a research facility where I would gently boil the preserved flies in beakers of sodium hydroxide and mount their translucent parts in euparol, an aromatic embedding medium, on glass slides. At the other side of the building was the bunk room where I slept. I only rarely talked to another soul.

Seeking company was, therefore, one of my reasons for taking afternoon bicycle rides through the mountainy countryside surrounding the park and when I could I’d chat greedily with farmers standing at the edges of their fields. The occasional walker would also stop and turn on hearing my bicycle approach and would say a word or two to me about the weather. It was oftentimes quite warm on those summer afternoons though, not infrequently, an immeasurable bank of gauzy cloud would roll in from the north Atlantic and obscure the sun. At that time I conjectured that the fine-grained nature of the Irish countryside, the fact that one could see every speck at a distance, every flower popping out from among grassy bog, was because of the immense amount of moisture in the air. Everything in Ireland is viewed through a million wet lenses. I talked one late afternoon in July of 1987 with a farmer who had stopped from his labor to drink cold tea from a little glass bottle. More often than not though the little back roads in Donegal were deserted.

One afternoon I rode an ambitious route which brought me closer to the sea. Many years later I drove those roads with my father, and he and an aging fisherman from Bunbeg assessed my father’s Irish, the latter by glances of incomprehension, as they both looked out on the waves. As I rode my bicycle through one of those small villages back in 1987 a dog who took especial umbrage at me on my bicycle worried me quite persistently. I sped up as best I could with him nipping viciously at my heels. The dog knew the terrain better than I, of course, and as we passed by a house close to the edge of the village he ran up on an embankment at end of the garden. Within a moment or two he was running level with my head. I assumed he was about to take a flying leap at me but he left off the chase, the knowledge of his victory being, it would seem, enough to satisfy him.

Later that afternoon I puffed my way up an especially steep boreen. The afternoon was hot and the birds were quiet in the recesses of the hedges. The road eventually defeated me and I dismounted and pushed my bike up the hill. I walked by a little house at the garden gate of which a woman stood and looking out upon the road. I hello-ed her and she mutely greeted me. I continued on my way. As I made my way to the summit of the little hill I felt a thud on my shoulder and then heard a series of sharp clacks upon the tarmac road. Someone was throwing stones at me. Looking back I saw a small besuited man who had appeared at the door of the house. He bent down to pick up another handful of pebbles and loosed them in my direction. The woman-of-the-house maintained her stance, though now looked in my direction. After my first yelp, none of us uttered a thing. I worked my way up the hill, as one does in a nightmare where one laboriously runs to slow avail. Stones, close by, rained down. On gaining the top of the hill I jumped back on the bicycle and sped off downhill and away from my assailant. Later that day I made my way back to the park by another route and was unmolested by neither man nor dog.

That’s the story! That’s the story!

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ON THE EDGE: retreat on the west coast of Kerry

by Sue Hubbard

Picture 148I have come about as far west in Europe as I can go without falling into the sea. The next stop is America. It is a different world to the busy life in Islington, north London that I normally lead dominated by deadlines, art openings, friends and family. I am in retreat. I have been coming to this extraordinary place, Cill Rialaig, an abandoned hamlet of stone cottages on the edge of a cliff, 300 feet above the Atlantic in Kerry on the west coast of Ireland for some time now. The village was restored in the 90s as an artist's colony. Mostly for visual artists but the odd writer, like me, slips in under the net. You have everything you need, though it's very simple. A kitchen, a shower, a peat burning stove. I sleep in a tiny converted hay loft, reached by a ladder. It has steep eaves and the bed nearly fills the room and there is only one tiny window. It is the view from that window that brings me back, that has entered my heart. It looks straight out on the Atlantic. At night the sky, a black dome of twinkling stars, my own planetarium. On a clear night you can see every constellation. It is rare in the modern world to experience real dark. And across the bay there is the blip of the far off light-house, like a heartbeat. Waking in the morning is always different. Sometimes there's a thick sea mist and everything is invisible, as though someone has spilled a bucket of white wash. Or it might be raining; insistent grey Irish rain that soaks everything, including the sheep sheltering behind the dry stone walls. But if you are lucky the strait will be full of sun, the sea calm and the colour of pewter, and you'll be able to see out to the two little rocky, uninhabited islands of Scarif and Deenish and the soft mountains on the headland beyond. It's like a peep of heaven. This is what this place must have looked like a hundred, no five hundred, even a thousand years ago. The only sign of modernity is the barbed wire fence that keeps in the sheep. Ahead there is only sea, sky and the islands. The rest is a just patchwork of fields with their tumbling dry stone walls and the odd standing stone or carved Celtic cross their inscriptions erased by harsh storms that lash in from the Atlantic.

I come here to think and write. I have written a series of poems The Idea of Islands, about my response to the place which was published by Occasional Press, here in Ireland, with wonderful charcoal drawings by the Irish artist Donald Teskey. They express something of this bleak and beautiful landscape, scared by poverty and abandoned by previous inhabitants forced to emigrate to America or Canada to find work. The also explore in language that, I hope, is both painterly and muscular, the ‘anthracite dark' both actual and internal, and how it is we make sense of it in a secular world. These poems now form one third of my new English collection, just published by Salt: The Forgetting and Remembering of Air. It was here I also finished my recently published novel, Girl in White, and wrote the introduction to my book of art essays: Adventures in Art. Writing, walking, reading, sleeping; that's what you do here.

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Somebody Give Bill Gates and Drew Faust a Copy of Citizens Disunited

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy in Guernica:

71Eq0bxA+kL._SL1360_Robert A.G. Monks, a long-time expert on corporate governance, is not known for mincing his words, and his latest book Citizens Disunited pulls no punches. He wants big investors to start using their influence to push back. Writing about corporate political power, Monks warns that “money buys voices, ears, face time, and sit-downs, but it also buys silence.” It is the silence in service of the status quo that he interrogates throughout his short, hard-hitting tome.

While soft celebrity news has found its way onto the CNN news ticker, an underappreciated struggle for the soul of American companies has been under way. In Citizens Disunited, Monks pulls back the curtain to reveal the broad outlines of a battle that has been raging for decades, largely outside of the public’s gaze, between activist investors and the companies that they own.

As Monks, who literally wrote the book on Corporate Governance, sees it, the little guys have largely lost in their attempts to reign in executive compensation, sky high options and managerial perks like the personal use of corporate jets, money for pet projects and campaign funds—all of which are provided at shareholder expense.

More here.

Man Booker International prize goes to (very) short-story writer Lydia Davis

Alison Flood in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_214 May. 27 10.02The impossible-to-categorise Lydia Davis, known for the shortest of short stories, has won the Man Booker International prize ahead of fellow American Marilynne Robinson and eight other contenders from around the world.

The £60,000 award is for a body of work, and is intended to celebrate “achievement in fiction on the world stage”. Cited as “innovative and influential”, Davis becomes the biennial prize's third successive winner from North America, after fellow American Philip Roth won in 2011 –prompting a controversial walk-out from the judge Carmen Callil, partly over her disappointment in the panel's failure to choose a writer in translation – and Canadian short story writer Alice Munro took the prize in 2009.

Best known for her short stories, most of which are less than three pages long, and some of which run to just a paragraph or a sentence, Davis has been described as “the master of a literary form largely of her own invention”. “Idea for a Short Documentary Film” runs as follows: “Representatives of different food product manufacturers try to open their own packaging.” In “A Double Negative”, she writes merely that: “At a certain point in her life, she realises it is not so much that she wants to have a child as that she does not want not to have a child, or not to have had a child.”

More here.

What F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tax returns reveal about his life and times

William J. Quirk in The American Scholar:

ScreenHunter_213 May. 27 09.57Several years ago, my colleague and friend Matthew Bruccoli, an English professor and author of books about 20th-century American writers, made a surprising request. He said he had F. Scott Fitzgerald’s income tax returns covering his working life, 1919–1940, and asked if I would like to write an article with him based on the returns. Matt was for many years a good friend of Fitzgerald’s daughter, Scottie, and in her will she had appointed him a trustee for the trust she had set up for her four children. It seemed to me such an amazing find; I asked Matt how he had obtained the returns. One day, he said, while he was helping Scottie organize things, they came across the tax returns. Scottie, saying that they wouldn’t interest anyone, was going to throw them out. Matt, who didn’t believe in throwing anything out, asked if he could take them. He sent the returns to me; Matt’s death in June of 2008 meant I would have to write the article without him.

What can be learned from Fitzgerald’s tax returns? To start with, his popular reputation as a careless spendthrift is untrue. Fitzgerald was always trying to follow conservative financial principles. Until 1937 he kept a ledger—as if he were a grocer—a meticulous record of his earnings from each short story, play, and novel he sold. The 1929 ledger recorded items as small as royalties of $5.10 from the American edition of The Great Gatsby and $0.34 from the English edition. No one could call Fitzgerald frugal, but he was always trying to save money—at least until his wife Zelda’s illness, starting in 1929, put any idea of saving out of the question. The ordinary person saves to protect against some distant rainy day. Fitzgerald had no interest in that. To him saving meant freedom to work on his novels without interruptions caused by the economic necessity of writing short stories. The short stories were his main source of revenue.

More here.

The audacious plan to end hunger with 3-D printed food

Christopher Mims in Quartz:

ScreenHunter_212 May. 27 09.51Anjan Contractor’s 3D food printer might evoke visions of the “replicator” popularized in Star Trek, from which Captain Picard was constantly interrupting himself to order tea. And indeed Contractor’s company, Systems & Materials Research Corporation, just got a six month, $125,000 grant from NASA to create a prototype of his universal food synthesizer.

But Contractor, a mechanical engineer with a background in 3D printing, envisions a much more mundane—and ultimately more important—use for the technology. He sees a day when every kitchen has a 3D printer, and the earth’s 12 billion people feed themselves customized, nutritionally-appropriate meals synthesized one layer at a time, from cartridges of powder and oils they buy at the corner grocery store. Contractor’s vision would mean the end of food waste, because the powder his system will use is shelf-stable for up to 30 years, so that each cartridge, whether it contains sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein or some other basic building block, would be fully exhausted before being returned to the store.

Ubiquitous food synthesizers would also create new ways of producing the basic calories on which we all rely. Since a powder is a powder, the inputs could be anything that contain the right organic molecules. We already know that eating meat is environmentally unsustainable, so why not get all our protein from insects?

More here.

Pulitzer Prize-winning Author Siddhartha Mukherjee Addresses 2013 Graduates

From MSKCC.Org:

Sid-02“Newspapers may bring us news of a scientific-industrial complex that is increasingly depersonalized … where terabytes of data are churned through supercomputers to generate gigabytes of information,” observed physician-scientist and writer Siddhartha Mukherjee. “But ask a real scientist and you get a profoundly different image of how real science happens.” Dr. Mukherjee, the author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, delivered the Commencement address at Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s 2013 Commencement and Academic Convocation. He is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a staff cancer physician at Columbia University Medical Center. “Science,” Dr. Mukherjee asserted, “is among the most profoundly human of our activities. Far from being subsumed by the dehumanizing effects of technology, science in fact remains our last stand against it.” Invoking “the indelible image of Gregor Mendel, a monk in wire-rimmed glasses, tending his plants, stooping with paint brush and forceps, to transfer the orange dust of pollen from one flower to the next,” he described a quality he called the “tenderness” of the scientific enterprise. “It’s not a word typically used to describe science or scientists,” Dr. Mukherjee acknowledged. “It describes a certain intimacy between human beings and nature, a nourishment that must happen before investigation can begin.” Dr. Mukherjee framed his talk by asking how Mendel, working in the mid-1800s in the garden of his monastery, “stumbled upon what is arguably the most seminal discovery of modern biology: that hereditary information is transmitted from one generation to the next.” “His science began with tending,” noted Dr. Mukherjee. “The laborious cross-fertilization of seedlings … the markings of wrinkles on seeds [which] led him to findings that could not be explained by the traditional understanding of biology or inheritance. Tending generated tension until the old fulcrum of biology was snapped in two.”

“Tenderness and tension,” said Dr. Mukherjee, “the two qualities that I think define science. Tenderness has to do with the day-to-day life of a scientist… . When I witness science in action, I see this tenderness in abundance.” “On Monday morning, the graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in my laboratory rush in to see how their cells have grown over the weekend. The best of these researchers have a gardener’s instinct: Some cultures need nourishment; some need to be left alone to inhabit the corners of incubators; and yet others need to be coaxed with growth factors to flourish… . “ And then, explained Dr. Mukherjee, “out of those years of tending comes tension — that spectacular crystallizing moment when all the pieces of a puzzle come together on the verge of making complete sense.”Speaking directly to the graduates, Dr. Mukherjee offered the following counsel: “First, as you go into the world, remember to tend whatever you do. Be tender. Grow things. Put your hand and mind to work.”

More here.

Lisa Randall’s Guide to the Galaxy

From Smithsonian:

Lisa Randall is telling me she may have a clue to the next great mystery in cosmology. We are having lunch in a restaurant at the Charles Hotel, not far from Harvard where she teaches theoretical physics, with specialties in particle physics, string theory, mathematics, astrophysics and cosmology. Randall, a slender woman, now 50, reminds one of a younger Joan Didion— light-years of consciousness behind her eyes. She is a star professor of the stars, a cosmological celebrity, and only in part because she is the first female theoretical physicist tenured at Harvard . It was really her conjecture in the late ’90s about string theory’s “extra dimensions” that gained her prominence in the field. She garnered more attention for her explication of the Higgs boson quest, and for her subsequent writings attempting to explain to the rest of us what she does and how exciting it is to do it, most recently Knocking on Heaven’s Door. And now she thinks she and her Harvard physics colleagues have found something new. What she is excited about is “dark matter,” which—along with “dark energy”—makes up the vast majority of the known universe. The current estimate is that 70 percent of the universe is dark energy and 26 percent dark matter. Which adds up to 96 percent. Meaning that what we see and know adds up to a measly 4 percent.

Four percent! The invisible 96 percent apparently keeps the universe in gravitational equilibrium, preventing it from collapsing on itself or dissipating into virtual nothingness. But we know almost nothing else about it. The problem has been that the dark stuff doesn’t seem to interact with the 4 percent we know in such a way that gives us a clue to its nature. But Randall believes she may have found a clue. In fact, the day before we met she delivered a talk at an American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston in which she announced that she may have found evidence of the interaction of dark matter with our matter. A potentially sensational development for cosmologists just now setting out into the uncharted vastness of the dark matter universe.

More here.

Sunday Poem

Saint Francis and the Sow
The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow,
and the sow began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.
by Galway Kinnell
from New Selected Poems by Galway Kinnell
published by Houghton Mifflin, 2000

Commander Hadfield Shows Us What Science Communication Could Be. Visually.

From Scientific American:

C_hadfield_richatScience communication has seldom had a better champion than Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield who just returned to Earth last night. Astronauts tweeting and talking from space is not a new phenomena, and though interesting scientific experiments abound way up on the ISS, they weren’t what caught the public’s imagination this go round. It was imagery.

NASA has understood the power of imagery – still photos, animations, illustrations and video – for a long time. Engagement, real wonder and CMellow_watching_Hadfield-300x300curiosity often comes from appealing to our dominant senses. And now, with the extremely visual nature of social media, with the ability to carry the internet in our pocket, we have the most powerful visual communication medium the world has ever known. Sure, not all scientific stories have the advantage of hurtling around the Earth in space: but the next time you’re writing your science blog, preparing to do some outreach, ask yourself if your finely crafted words don’t deserve some stunning and provocative visuals. There’s plenty of places to find them, or ways to make your own.

On a personal note, to NASA and Commander Hadfield, thank you for the look in my 2 year old son’s eyes when he tried to sing along to Space Oddity last night (and made up some lyrics about helmets and big giant Jupiter). That look in his eyes, that’s what science communication should do.

More here.

Tradition of the tile

Farida M. Said in The Herald:

Sumptuous, vibrantly coloured ornamentation is a distinguishing characteristic of Islamic architecture. As the human form and figurative representation are strictly forbidden, there is a total absence of sculpture in Islamic edifices. Instead, geometric patterns and rich surface decoration reach unparalleled artistic heights with stucco, brick, marble and ceramics. Some of the earliest – and finest – displays of ceramic tiling and ornamental inscriptions are to be found in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, built in the seventh century, hence, the oldest Islamic monument preserved in its architectural integrity; and in that masterpiece of elegance from the western extremity of the Islamic world, the al-Hambra in Granada, Spain. The use of ceramics in architecture began in earnest in Anatolia in the 13th century, at about the same time as in Seljuk Iran where specialisation in the glazed tile mosaic technique in Kashan gave ceramic tiles their Persian name, kashi, a contraction of kashani, meaning of Kashan. Then the indefatigable conqueror Emir Timur, known to the West as Tamerlane or Timur the Lame, forcibly transported master ceramists from their homeland to Samarqand. Thanks to Timur’s patronage, in a matter of three decades the drab ochre buildings of his capital were “bedecked in a dazzling livery of predominantly turquoise ceramic tile.”

The cladding of brick walls with glazed ceramic tiles in shades of azure blue, turquoise, cobalt and white soon became widespread in the Muslim world. In Ottoman Turkey, the Iznik factories evolved tiles that were never to be equalled in range and depth of tone, richness and variety of pattern, making it possible to sheet the interior of whole buildings with this gleaming decoration. In the Maghreb – Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria – floors and walls were lined with beautiful enamelled and painted earthenware tiles known as Zellij. In Iran under Safavid rule, what the Timurids had begun in Samarqand was carried on in Isfahan. Outstandingly beautiful glazed tile work produced in the haft rung or seven colour techniques sheathed the splendid palaces and majestic mosques of the country as Persian architecture reached a rare level of perfection. Surprisingly, ceramic tile work was not the favourite form of decorative art in Mughal India. Unlike the brick-built architecture of Iran, most imperial Mughal mosques and minarets, palaces and mausoleums were made of red-mauve sandstone and decorated with white marble. Thus the fabulous Taj Mahal, the epitome of Mughal art, is clad in luminous marble inlaid in the pietra dura style with precious and semi-precious stones.

More here.