Picture imperfect

From Nature:

Boy What do you do for a living?

I’m an applied mathematician, but I work in a computer science lab [at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire]. My primary research area is developing computational and mathematical techniques to detect tampering in digital media. Most of my funding comes from law enforcement: I have a grant from the FBI. As well as doing research, I am often approached by people and organizations to help to authenticate digital media — so I’ve become something of a digital detective.

How’s business?

I get so many requests that I’ve had to start charging for my time. This dissuades many people, but many enlist my help. I’ve worked on an amazing array of cases — a prisoner had me analyse images of a crime scene, a man accused of adultery had me analyse images purportedly showing him with another woman, a doctor had me analyse images of a patient who claimed that the images had been doctored to cover up botched work. The list goes on and on. I also do quite a bit of expert-witness testimony.

More here.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Lunar Refractions: Seeing Through Things

I had the perfect weekend planned. Although I rarely manage to visit my hometown, the occasional irresistible event does come along. This past weekend that event was a memorial service for Russell Thorn Blackwood, a philosopher, one of my father’s college professors, and one of my own mentors from about the age of four. As you might guess from this opening, the weekend didn’t quite go as planned, but was nevertheless perfect, in its own way.

When my early-morning flight from JFK was delayed and then cancelled (about five minutes prior to the rescheduled departure), I knew that the cushion of four hours I’d set between my arrival and the memorial service wouldn’t suffice. Resigning myself to spending the day at the airport between various lines, cancellations, and standby lists, I decided to get some work done. As often happens when I’m inclined toward such solid resolve, it rapidly dissolves as soon as I find the choicest reading material at hand. On this sunny Saturday it was the current issue of Bookforum, a magazine that typically lets me enjoy only one or two articles before hitting me with the next issue, equally full of great stuff I’ll never get the time to read. I could’ve easily responded to the delay with anger—so many people clearly did, shouting profanities at no one, verbally abusing the ticket-counter staff—but just didn’t feel it, and besides, it would’ve been inappropriate, don’t you think, to get angry while en route to a philosopher’s memorial service, not to mention at the results of a nice storm brought on by dear Mother Nature, who’s merely trying to keep Old Man Winter alive despite the impact of lifestyles aimed at creating an eternal summer here on earth.

Twaindlitt The subtitle for today’s piece might be “Seeing Through Things, or Photographing and Writing Through Them,” so as to play with both the physical and temporal possibilities of that special adverb/preposition/adjective, but I’m a bit ambivalent today, and that’s a bit drawn out. So, sitting down in my funereal garb next to a glamorously-shoed woman reading Glamour in terminal three, I set about a near cover-to-cover reading of this issue, with some delightful reviews and some specious judgments, and soon came across this: Mark Twain, in an 1877 interview in the Boston Globe, when asked “what are you now politically, Mr. Twain?” replied “Politics have completely died out within me. They don’t take to me or I don’t take to them. Since I have come in possession of a conscience I begin to see through such things.” His use of this phrase “to see through such things,” took me back to the night before, when in a talk about his work from 1969 to 1973 for a book launch Vito Acconci mentioned wanting to take Acconcidiary01 pictures that “photograph through things” and actions, just as words allow you to see through themselves to the idea behind them. Earlier this month I had come across Acconci’s more recent architectural work in an interesting book, No. 1: First Works by 362 Artists, where supposed artists write about what they consider their first work. I say supposed artists because many people in the book are rather insistent that they are not artists, or don’t identify as such, and Acconci was one of the most adamant. In this talk he reiterated his realization that he actually wanted nothing at all to do with art, but also did an excellent job of clarifying how his earlier performances (think of his poetry, writings and involvement with words—think perform, reform, transform) developed into the spatial work he’s now doing.

Acconciball01_1At Friday’s talk Acconci was introduced by Gregory Volk, who I mention here only because he (unintentionally?) said “ephemerable,” which is now my favorite new non-word (okay, okay, my favorite neologism, is that better? Maybe it is a word; Google honors “ephemerable” with approximately 61 strange hits, and it admittedly has a lot of potential…). Skipping over the talk itself—you really just have to be there when a poet-cum-artist-cum-architect credits an involvement with art to the coining of the term “Contemporary Art,” which, being about ideas rather than craft or end product, gave him the license to think, “well, maybe I can have vague ideas”—one of the audience members then predictably asked what he thought of Marina Abramovic’s reinterpretation of his 1972 Seedbed in late 2005. He had understandably little to say, and was fine with her riffing on his idea, which then led me to another tenuous connection, aside from the one by which everyone relates each artist’s work to the other’s.

Sontagfsg0374100721 The book No. 1 had also included a spread of Abramovic’s first work, and I’d seen her a couple weeks earlier at a tribute to Susan Sontag at the 92nd Street Y. She was the most striking of the six presenters that evening, who according to the press were to read passages of Sontag’s posthumously published book At the Same Time: Essays and Speeches. Luckily the author’s six friends did nothing of the sort, and instead talked about memories and things of their own choosing, with mixed results.

Judith Thurman read some of the quotes Sontag had jotted down in various journals, including: “Love is, to me, that you are the knife that I turn within myself” (Kafka); “Relax, there’s no shortcut to tragedy” (a friend, regarding the beginning of a love affair); “Liebe, Mut und Phantasie” (graffiti from the Austrian city of Graz); “Mary McCarthy can do anything with her smile—she can even smile with it” (a note by Sontag herself); and “my library is an archive of my longings” (also Sontag).

The most interesting contribution from Richard Howard was his mention of a three-hour televised interview with Kissinger that Sontag did for PBS, and his plea for it to become available again (hint, PBS or anyone who has access to the recording). Continuing Thurman’s point of her love for epigrams and aphorisms, he read her inscription in a book she once gave to him, “For Richard, whom I want to talk to all my life.” James Fenton focused on the importance of style, and her style, and curiously remarked that the preface is one of the few literary forms where writers still have a fair amount of freedom. Darryl Pinckney was concise, “Yes, it’s a drag not to have her.”

Sontag1974krementzjill In the initial presentations and following discussion Marina Abramovic had some amusing—dare I say sweet?—recollections. The two had met at a 2002 birthday party, where Abramovic was one of four guests, and bonded by telling jokes about the war and the UN’s botched interventions in her homeland. Sontag then quietly attended one of her multi-day performance pieces and at the end replied by leaving a napkin that read, “this was good, let’s have lunch, Susan Sontag,” with the museum guard. Her lemon meringue pie anecdote particularly hit me, as it’s my favorite dessert as well; when splitting a pie with Sontag she remarked that she’d never liked eating the crust and had always wanted to just eat the filling, but there were rules and etiquette to contend with, and she’d always held back. Watching Sontag agree and proceed to eat all but the crust she learned the valuable lesson that, sometimes, you really can just do whatever you want. A remark the author made to the artist during her illness was particularly striking, “I am not alone, but I feel lonely.”

So, how does any of this relate to my being stuck at JFK all day Saturday and missing a friend’s memorial service? The delay, plus the fact that its location prevented me from otherwise filling my time with studio or other work, afforded me time to reflect on this recent overdose of stimulating things. While sitting in the terminal and taking breaks between articles I overheard a man on the phone who was much worse off than I; booked on four successive flights, each of which had been cancelled, he’d been there for over two days. After he’d hung up the phone we began discussing strategies in such situations, and on a tangent I learned he’d flown in from Jordan, where he’d been working independently to help regional development under the aegis of some US government-related organization. He’d been in Macedonia before that, and the government had always sent a group of interpreters to facilitate the collaborations, but this time they’d not sent any—either forgetting or just assuming that everyone in the Middle East does or should speak English…. When my name came up before his on the standby list I felt terrible, and hoped there would be more space and he would be next, but I also wasn’t ready to give up my spot. As I walked down the ramp and across the tarmac to the puddle jumper awaiting the last lucky standbys I was overcome with guilt, and my mind explored all possible implications this moral dilemma had for my conscience, humanity, and simple impatience. After a few minutes the guy boarded, much to my relief.

On the return flight I was faced with yet another dilemma when I was third in a taxi line that hadn’t moved for over ten minutes, with not a taxi in sight. When one pulled up and whisked away the first person in line, the ground transportation agent stopped the next one to pass, a taxi with the ”off duty” light on. The gentleman ahead of me in line let me take it, and I soon found out why—the cabbie was furious at being stopped like that, had been going home to study for his nursing exam the next day, and told dispatcher he was headed toward the Bronx, not southern Queens. I felt terrible and told him to just circle round and drop me off, I could wait for the next car. After venting for a few minutes and stopping for gas (kindly stopping the meter as well), he soon dropped me off after chatting all the way about his immigration from Africa, studies, love of James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son, and his hope never to be forced out of this country.

Baldwin_civil_rights_march_1963 It seemed quite a coincidence to hear the taxi driver mention Baldwin, because I’d just reread a phrase of his in an old book of mine rediscovered while home. The phrase appeared in my high school English teacher’s inscription in a biography of Marcel Duchamp she gave me: “The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.” It all came together here—Duchamp started a change that later let Acconci’s work become art, his work in turn let Abramovic go somewhere else entirely, her work brought me a new look at Sontag, who’d included Eleonora de Fonseca Pimentel in one of her novels (I’d walked under a commemorative plaque for Pimentel on via di Ripetta just days before), and so on. All of them, in their own way, have heeded Baldwin’s words.

Right below the Twain excerpt I mentioned earlier was one from Dorothy Parker: “INTERVIEWER: How do you name your characters? PARKER: The telephone book and from the obituary columns.” If she were still writing, perhaps a Professor Blackwood might make an appearance in one of her yarns.

Gay men, blood donation and the limits of science.

I gave blood recently, and the barrage of questions asked of all donors reminded me that I’d been meaning to write this article since June of last year.  At that time, Art Caplan wrote that it’s time to let gay men donate blood, but he did not present much solid evidence for that position.  As it happens, we can be pretty sure he is in command of considerable evidence, having served as Chair of the HHS Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability for four years, but the article was presumably written as an exercise in persuasion and contained just enough information to make me curious.

In trying to decide for myself whether Caplan is right, I found myself in something approaching the position in which I imagine legislators must regularly find themselves: I was trying to find answers to policy questions (“should gay men be accepted as blood donors?”), without being able to rely on a personal background in the relevant science.  Policy decisions have to be made, but science will rarely give you a hard-and-fast answer even to those questions on which it has something to offer — and it becomes important to identify which questions those are, and which are not scientific questions at all.

The FDA bans blood donation by any man who has had sex with another man, even once since 1977 (the probable date of the first clinical AIDS case in the US), and by anyone who has been paid for sex during the same time period; donors are also deferred who have had sex in the last 12 months with anyone who qualifies for the since-1977 ban.  This policy was most recently formally revised in 2000, at which time the decision was made to stick with the 1998 recommendation (the even-once-since-1977 ban), which in turn was based on policy implemented in the late 1980s at the height of the “AIDS scare”.

One way of looking at the question is this: what change in risk could we expect to see if we changed the policy from a lifetime ban for men who have sex with men (“MSM”) to the same 12-month deferral that applies to women who have had sex with such men, or men who have had sex with prostitutes (both high-risk behaviours)?  Here’s where it starts to get complicated, because the risks are already so low that there is essentially no direct way to measure them, and current estimates of risk are derived from sophisticated mathematical models.  It’s tempting to do something like this:

1. MSM = approximately 2-3% of the general population
2. Of persons living with HIV/AIDS, approx 40-50% are MSM
3. expected increase in donations from the policy change = approx 1%
4. relative risk increase = (45/2.5) x 1 = 18%

Unfortunately, though, (1)-(3) are fairly well accepted estimates taken from the references listed below, but (4) is something I just made up, and it’s nonsense.  Intuitively appealing, maybe, but nonsense.   Inter alia, what makes it nonsense is the relationship between transfusion risk and screening methods.  The primary issue here is what’s known as the “window period”, the time that can elapse between infection and detectable levels of virus. The FDA says:

Studies have shown that up to 2 months may elapse between the time of infection and the time the HIV antibody test is reactive. This period of time is often referred to as the “window period.” Accepting men who have had sex with other men since 1977 as blood donors increases the likelihood for the collection of HIV-positive window period blood, because epidemiologic studies have documented higher incidence and prevalence rates in these populations. On March 14, 1996, FDA recommended donor screening with a licensed test for HIV-1 antigen, which has succeeded in further reducing the window period.

In fact, blood collection agencies now test every donation for HIV and Hepatitic C virus (HCV) by nucleic acid testing (NAT). This is an exquisitely sensitive test for viral genomic material; it is more sensitive than the antibody-based test for viral antigen, and unlike the antibody test, does not rely on the host response and is not subject to the resulting delays. According to the Red Cross:

Since 1987, the [HIV] window period has been reduced from 42 days to approximately 12-16 days following the implementation of the HIV antigen test in March 1996.

A variety of expert presentations at a March, 2006 FDA workshop on behaviour based donor deferrals indicated that, with the advent of NAT, the window period for HIV infection is less than 12 days.  In the US, the residual risk of transmission of HIV or HCV by blood transfusion is estimated, by a variety of models, to be around 1 in 2,000,000 donations.  This is clearly a very conservative estimate, since there are around 15 million donations every year and I could only find mention of four authenticated transfusion-related transmissions of HIV since NAT was implemented in 1999 (none of which involved MSM). At the same FDA workshop, Celso Bianco re-ran an earlier prediction using risk and other estimates that were getting general agreement at the workshop and came up with a figure, which he called conservative, of one infected unit per 32 years.

So, while it seems intuitively likely that including a high-risk group (as judged by increased prevalence) in the donor pool would increase overall risk, calculating — or rather, estimating — that increase is far from straightforward.  The only numbers I could find were presented by Andrew Dayton to the same FDA workshop:

The 5-year [deferral, instead of a lifetime ban] would result in possibly a 25 percent increase in the current residual risk, and the 1-year would be 40 percent.

So, worst case scenario: 1.4 transmissions per 2 million donations, instead of 1.0 — or about three extra cases per year (and remember that, to date, the observed level of transmission is much lower than the estimate).  I’m not familiar with what sorts of risks are considered acceptable in public policy formation, but I can say outright that I would be prepared to accept that risk to my own person as the cost of allowing MSM to participate on a more equal footing in a profound act of community altruism. (To say nothing of a 1% increase in a critical health resource that is often in short supply.)

Furthermore, given that the window period is less than two weeks and you can only donate every eight weeks, there is an obvious method for reducing the risk even further.  According to the AABB, red blood cells can be stored cold for 42 days or frozen for ten years, and plasmaand cryoprecipitated antihemophilic factor can be frozen for at least a year; of the fractions into which whole blood is routinely divided, only platelets have a shorter effective storage life, about five days.  It is clearly possible to hold (at least most of the fractions of) any first-time donation until the donor returns and can be re-tested; two clear tests eight weeks apart are definitive proof of HIV-negative status.

This brings us, though, to the reason I said “more equal footing”, not “equal footing”, above.  While MSM (as defined by the current even-once-since-1977 FDA exclusion) includes a great many men who have not had sex with another man for more than eight weeks, it also includes gay men for whom a 12-month deferral, or even an eight-week deferral, represents a discriminatory barrier.  Somewhat ironically, when the Public Health Service issued its first formal recommendations in 1983, they offered a partial solution: sexually active homosexual and bisexual men with multiple partners should refrain from blood donation.  While this leaves room for improvement in behaviour based deferral, since sexually active heterosexuals with multiple partners are also at increased risk, it would at least allow gay men in stable monogamous relationships to enter the blood donor pool.

Did you notice that we are no longer debating the science?  Now we are talking about public policy, social justice and what sorts of risks we are willing to endure.

In that light, here’s another way to look at the question: according to the CDC, African Americans make up approximately 13% of the US population but accounted for 49% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses in 2005 and 61% of people under the age of 25 whose diagnosis of HIV/AIDS was made during 2001–2004; over the same period, black women were more than twenty times as likely to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS as white women.  I think it goes without saying that we are not going to ban African Americans from donating blood on the basis of their ethnicity.

The FDA “believes that there is scientific justification for screening out all potential donors who are men who have had sex, even once, with another man since 1977”.  After all that, I agree with Art Caplan: the FDA is wrong.

———-
Some references:
FDA Workshop on Behavior-Based Donor Deferrals in the NAT Era
Epidemiology of HIV/AIDS — United States, 1981–2005
Twenty-Five Years of HIV/AIDS — United States, 1981–2006
CDC Basic Statistics on HIV
CDC>HIV/AIDS>Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports from 2006
CDC>HIV/AIDS>Fact Sheets
AABB Blood FAQ
AABB: Whole Blood and Blood Components
ARC: 50 quick facts about blood
ARC: Blood information

P.S. World Blood Donor Day is June 14, and you can find your nearest blood donation center here or here.

….

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

An Interview with Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Peter Hallward in the London Review of Books:

Vert_aristide_file_apIn the mid-1980s, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was a parish priest working in an impoverished and embattled district of Port-au-Prince. He became the spokesman of a growing popular movement against the series of military regimes that ruled Haiti after the collapse in 1986 of the Duvalier dictatorship. In 1990 he won the country’s first democratic presidential election, with 67 per cent of the vote. He was overthrown by a military coup in September 1991 and returned to power in 1994, after the US intervened to restore democratic government. In 1996 he was succeeded by his ally René Préval. Aristide won another landslide election victory in 2000, but the resistance of Haiti’s small ruling elite eventually culminated in a second coup against him, on the night of 28 February 2004. Since then, he has been living in exile in South Africa.

According to the best available estimates, around five thousand of Aristide’s supporters have died at the hands of the regime that replaced the constitutional government. Although the situation remains tense and UN troops still occupy the country, the worst of the violence came to an end in February 2006, when after an extraordinary electoral campaign, René Préval was himself re-elected in a landslide victory. Calls for Aristide’s immediate and unconditional return continue to polarise Haitian politics. Many commentators, including several prominent members of the current government, believe that if Aristide was free to stand for re-election he would win easily.

This interview was conducted in French, in Pretoria, on 20 July 2006.

More here.

Redesigning Robert Moses

Howard Kissel in the New York Daily News:

854kissel_robertmosesA few years ago, taking relatives on a walking tour of the West Village, I was struck by how many playgrounds there were. Mentioning it to a friend, I was surprised to learn they were created by Robert Moses.

Until that moment, like many New Yorkers, I had thought of Moses as The Great Satan.

I viewed him through the prism of Jane Jacobs, the author of 1961’s seminal “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” Jacobs’ idea of the city – based on streets that mixed residential and commercial uses, all on a human scale – was the direct opposite of his.

He was the proponent of huge apartment complexes with large expanses of grass between them – which, Jacobs correctly observed, remained largely unused.

He was the man who destroyed the South Bronx and many Manhattan neighborhoods to accommodate the automobile.

The demonic view of Moses was reinforced in 1974 by Robert Caro in “The Power Broker,” who stressed the ruthlessness with which he achieved his goals.

Thirty-three years later, Moses is again in the spotlight, this time viewed far more favorably.

More here.

Mother Teresa: Saint or Celebrity?

Stuart Derbyshire reviews the book by Gezim Albion at Spiked Online:

Mother_teresaMother Teresa is arguably the most famous religious icon of the late twentieth century. Her legacy and work continue to generate huge levels of debate and interest. Gezim Alpion’s book Mother Teresa: Saint or Celebrity?, which seeks to address the nature of her fame, celebrity and devotion to faith, is unique in locating the appeal of Mother Teresa within today’s broader celebrity culture. He also provides previously unknown and quite striking information about her personal life.

For Alpion, celebrity culture is a modern form of religion and Mother Teresa was the ultimate religious celebrity of the modern era. Unlike the many saints recognised by the Catholic Church, Mother Teresa’s apparent sanctity took root and flourished during her lifetime. Her beatification in 2003, just six years after her death, propelled her further towards actual sainthood. Alpion points out that the beatification of such a contemporary figure was as much a consequence of her growing stardom as it was of her devoted religious practice.

More here.

Kathryn Harrison on Joan Acocella

From the New York Times Book Review:

Harr190How many artists subscribe to the notion that creative success depends on input from the fickle muse or her modern avatar, mental illness? Probably very few. Like all romantic conceits, it fails to acknowledge the grubby reality of mortal life, in this case the dedicated, often torturous labor a writer or dancer or sculptor invests in what he or she makes. Among the lucid and often delightful observations Joan Acocella makes in her new collection of critical essays, “Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints,” none is more important than this: “What allows genius to flower is not neurosis but its opposite … ordinary Sunday-school virtues such as tenacity and above all the ability to survive disappointment.” In fact, Acocella suggests, the remarkable and sustained career of a prodigy like George Balanchine, to name one of her subjects, proves this artist “not an example, but a freak, of ego strength.”

Which doesn’t make the creative process any less mysterious. What emerges from a reading of “Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints” is Acocella’s — and through hers our own — respect and in certain cases even reverence for the dogged faith on which an artistic career is built. We know the seductive alchemy of art. To transform private anguish into a narrative of truth if not beauty; to make sense where there was none; to bring order out of chaos: these are the promises art makes.

More here.  [Thanks to Asad Raza.]

Despair and Charismatic Christianity

In the New Statesman, Chris Hedges on evangelism:

The engine that drives the radical Christian right in the United States – the most dangerous mass movement in American history – is not religiosity, but despair. It is a movement built on the growing personal and economic despair of tens of millions of Americans, who watched helplessly as their communities were plunged into poverty by the flight of manu facturing jobs, their families and neighbourhoods torn apart by neglect and indifference. They eventually lost hope that America was a place where they had a future.

This despair crosses economic boundaries, enveloping many in the middle class who live trapped in huge, soulless exurbs where, lacking any form of community rituals or centres, they also feel deeply isolated, vulnerable and lonely. Those in despair are the most easily manipulated by demagogues, who promise a fantastic utopia, whether it is a worker’s paradise, liberté-égalité-fraternité, or the second coming of Jesus Christ. Those in despair search desperately for a solution, the warm embrace of a community to replace the one they lost, a sense of purpose and meaning in life, the assurance that they are protected, loved and worthwhile.

During the past two years of work on the book American Fascists: the Christian right and the war on America, I kept encountering this deadly despair. Driving down a highway lined with gas stations, fast-food restaurants and dollar stores, I often got vertigo, forgetting for a moment if I was in Detroit or Kansas City or Cleveland. There are parts of the United States, including whole sections of former manufacturing centres such as Ohio, that resemble the developing world, with boarded-up storefronts, dilapidated houses, potholed streets and crumbling schools. The end of the world is no longer an abstraction to many Americans.

Gamesmanship

In the NYT’s Sunday Book Review, a look at two books by Paul Muldoon.

Paul Muldoon’s poetry, suspicious of sanctimony and sentimentality and frankly addicted to puns, dares us to ask: is he serious? Although his previous book of poetry, “Moy Sand and Gravel,” won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003, and Muldoon served from 1999 to 2004 as professor of poetry at Oxford (his august predecessors include Matthew Arnold, W. H. Auden and Muldoon’s friend and fellow Northern Irishman Seamus Heaney), readers new to his poetry are likely to wonder if he’s really serious, and others will already have decided that no, he isn’t: his poetry is too full of games, too obscure, too clever.

In “Horse Latitudes,” Muldoon’s most recent collection, there is plenty of serious feeling (particularly anger, nostalgia and grief) and a subtle historical awareness of civil conflict and military violence. These are grave moods and subjects. Yet he approaches those moods and subjects by means of his trademark verbal play.

Take the title poem. The expression “horse latitudes,” the book jacket explains, “refers to those areas 30 degrees north and south of the Equator where sailing ships tend to stand becalmed in midocean, where stasis (if not stagnation) is the order of the day, and where sailors … would throw their live cargo overboard to lighten the load and conserve food and water.” The poem consists of 19 sonnets, each named for a battle site beginning with “B” (Bosworth Field, Bull Run and so on), from which Muldoon derives gruesome anecdotes and curious stories.

Giuliani vs. McCain

From Time:

CBS News released a poll last night focused on Giuliani vs. McCain. Here are the particulars among Republican primary voters:

Head to Head Match Up
Giuliani 50
McCain 29
Niether 13

Giuliani wins 55-37 among self-described “moderate” Republicans, but he also wins 48-21 among those who label themselves “conservative” Republicans.

Favorable Rating
Among Republican voters only
Giuliani 60/7 (+53)
McCain 30/17 (+13)

Another interesting question: Republican voters were asked whether they would label Giuliani and McCain “liberal,” “moderate,” or “conservative.”

McCain
Among Republican voters only
Liberal 16
Moderate 38
Conservative 28
Don’t Know 18

Giuliani
Among Republican voters only
Liberal 20
Moderate 48
Conservative 18
Don’t Know 15

More here.

hogging good fortune

From Accidental Blogger:

Flying_pigs China’s booming economy has made its citizens dizzy at the prospect of striking it rich. The Chinese can barely wait to get their share of lucrative deals.  Gone is the communist era austerity – people are unashamedly pursuing wealth. This year particularly, Chinese optimism is at an all time high in anticipation of the coming “year of the pig,” traditionally associated with wealth and prosperity.  2007 is not just any ordinary porcine year. It is the “Year of the Golden Pig” which comes about once every sixty years according to the Chinese zodiac calendar.

Forget duck; Peking has been overrun by pigs.

As the Chinese New Year approaches, heralding the auspicious Year of the Pig, porkers are everywhere. Fifteen-foot-high inflatable pigs beckon shoppers into electronics stores; fluffy pink pig snouts enliven winter ear-muffs; corkscrew tails and round piggy faces decorate Ikea kitchen aprons

Wherever you look, happy hogs are rearing up on their hind trotters advertising this or that, or simply waving banners emblazoned with the new Chinese credo, for which the coming year is believed to be especially favorable: “Get Rich.”

Pigs are especially popular in the Chinese mind, summoning images of good-natured generosity and good fortune. So closely are the animals linked to human life here that the Chinese character for “home” includes the symbols for both roof and pig – all you need for a traditional Chinese household.

This year, moreover, is being proclaimed the Year of the Golden Pig, a doubly propitious period thanks to a combination of animals and elements in the Chinese zodiac that matches pigs and gold only once every 60 years.

More here.

Thanks Ruchira Paul.

Meeting the Asteroid Threat

From Science:Asteroid_2

Astronomers say they can now compute with great confidence which asteroids pose a threat to our planet. The problem, they told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes ScienceNOW), is that preventing a collision would require mounting a not-yet-planned space mission by a not-yet-identified governmental body.

The next known close encounter with an asteroid will occur, somewhat ominously, on Friday the 13th of April 2029. Then, Near-Earth Object 99942–also known as Apophis (Greek for “The Demon of Darkness”)–is expected to miss the planet by a mere 30,000 kilometers. The real sweating begins soon after, when astronomers must determine whether Earth’s gravity has steered Apophis onto a course for impact seven years later. Current calculations place the chance of that happening at about one in 30,000.

At 250 meters wide, Apophis is five times larger than the object that hit Earth 50,000 years ago and blew out the 1200-meter-wide Meteor Crater in Arizona. It’s also six times larger than the Tunguska object, which grazed Earth’s atmosphere before exploding over Siberia in 1908, flattening 2100 square kilometers of forest.

More here.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

homing fish

Jeanna Bryner at LiveScience:

070109_cardinal_fish_01 Ocean currents can whisk tiny larval fish a long way from home. Turns out, the little ones follow their noses back to their native reefs.

Jelle Atema, a sensory biologist at Boston University, and Gabriele Gerlach of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., analyzed small gene units called microsatellite markers in three species of reef fish, including the cardinal fish, spiny damsel fish and the neon damsel fish, living on five reefs within Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

The markers indicated that more returned to their home reef than random chance would predict. The most obvious was the cardinal fish [image], which showed clear genetic differences from one reef to another.

“Even though the [cardinal fish] larvae are dispersing out in the ocean, there are distinct differences between reefs as if they were not dispersing,” Atema explained. “That means they either have to, by great majority, all go home every generation, or those that do go to other reefs die off and they don’t reproduce.”

To find out what was steering the cardinal fish home, the scientists placed individual fish larvae into a flume containing “lanes” of water samples collected from different reefs. The cardinal fish larvae preferred water from their home reefs and spent more time in that part of the flume compared with water from other reefs [video].

The researchers suggest the young creatures sniffed out familiar scents dispersed in the water to guide them home.

More here.

catching the tide

Rich Bowden at Worldpress:

Waveenergy The viability of harnessing waves as a lucrative renewable energy source received a boost last week following the announcement that the world’s first commercial wave energy project will begin delivering wave-generated energy to the north of Portugal later this month.

The first stage of the European Union-funded program, the result of two decades of research at Lisbon’s Superior Technical Institute, will bring the first 2.25 megawatts ashore at Aguçadoura, in northern Portugal, and will power 1,500 homes through the national state run electricity grid system according to an Inter Press Service (IPS) report.

Funded by a consortium headed by leading Portuguese renewable energy company Enersis, the venture uses groundbreaking Pelamis wave devices manufactured by Edinburgh firm Ocean Power Delivery, considered the world’s leading wave technology.

“This project, begun in 2003, is now in the world vanguard,” said Rui Barros, Enersis director of new projects, to IPS.

“Of all the varieties of renewable energy, perhaps harnessing the waves is the only one where Portugal might have a real future,” he said.

More here and here.

protest performance

Kick_my_ass_2In an extraordinary art performance, the internationally-renowned controversial British performance artist Mark McGowan will dress up as the President George Bush and crawl on his hands and knees for nonstop for an incredible 72 hours. He will be covering an amazing 36 miles on the streets of New York.  McGowan will have a sign on his posterior saying ‘KICK MY ASS’. He will be inviting members of the public, New Yorkers and allcomers to kick the sign. The event will start at Scope Art Fair on Thursday, February 22nd, 2007 at 3pm, and circumnavigate New York. McGowan will be wearing knee pads and a cushion will be placed inside his pants.

McGowan says that he is “offering the people of America, New York and visitors a service…a kind of theraputic engagement. Hopefully people will be able to come and kick me (the President, George Bush) as hard as they like, and gain some comfort in the fact that they can say I kicked George in the ass. On a more serious note this is a protest against George Bush and his policies and i am expecting injuries, i just hope not to severe.

More here.

an architecture to foster thinking

From Harvard Magazine:

The Janelia Experiment:

Janelia Great scientific research organizations, of the rare variety that produce multiple Nobel Prize-caliber breakthroughs, share common traits that can be imitated. This is the precept behind the creation of Janelia Farm, the new biological-research campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). In November, scientists from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute visited the new campus, where everything from architecture to organization to social culture has been planned to nurture an optimal environment for scientific discovery. What the visitors saw may offer ideas for Harvard, which is planning an ambitious science-research campus in Allston and working to ensure that the organizational structure of the sciences, as well as the architecture of new buildings, will promote a culture of interdisciplinary collaboration.

Janelia_2 In creating Janelia Farm, the planners relied heavily on historical precedent. “Every idea we have here, I can tell you who we stole it from,” says molecular biologist Gerald M. Rubin, the director of the facility, with a laugh. A former Howard Hughes investigator himself, Rubin has been involved since 2000 in planning the new campus (pronounced ja-NEE-lia, it is named for a former estate). HHMI, which has a $16-billion endowment, already provides $470 million a year to more than 300 top scientists at universities and research institutions throughout the country as part of its investigator program. Janelia Farm, with an annual budget of $80 million, was created to fill a perceived gap in the spectrum of research taking place in the United States. As Rubin wrote in the journal Cell, the domestic research portfolio has “shifted too far to the conservative.” Largely missing, he feels, are research organizations equipped to tackle extremely difficult problems in biology that may require long-term interdisciplinary collaborations to solve—perhaps 15 or 20 years, a time horizon far longer than that of any government grant.

Janelia_3 Because the primary building material at Janelia Farm is glass, there is a strong sense of connection with nature and its cycles nearly everywhere you go. Group leader Karel Svoboda, Ph.D. ’94, says the building is very functional in key aspects, such as on rainy days when “the light is extraordinary. We don’t always appreciate how much of an effect good light has on us.” Many interior walls are glass as well, creating a transparency that makes it easy to find people. Not everyone would be comfortable in such an environment, Rubin acknowledges, but then he wants to hire people who are comfortable with the collaborative environment that transparent walls seek to promote.

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Identity and migration

Francis Fukuyama in Prospect Magazine:

Identity Modern identity politics springs from a hole in the political theory underlying liberal democracy. That hole is liberalism’s silence about the place and significance of groups. The line of modern political theory that begins with Machiavelli and continues through Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and the American founding fathers understands the issue of political freedom as one that pits the state against individuals rather than groups.

Modern liberalism arose in good measure in reaction to the wars of religion that raged in Europe following the Reformation. Liberalism established the principle of religious toleration—the idea that religious goals could not be pursued in the public sphere in a way that restricted the religious freedom of other sects or churches.

Freedom, understood not as the freedom of individuals but of cultural or religious or ethnic groups to protect their group identities, was not seen as a central issue by the American founders, perhaps because the new settlers were relatively homogeneous. In the words of John Jay (in the second “Federalist Paper”): “A people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles.”

More here.