Judith Pascoe in the New York Times:

Screenhunter_06_may_17_1620The owner of Napoleon’s penis died last Thursday in Englewood, N.J. John K. Lattimer, who’d been a Columbia University professor and a collector of military (and some macabre) relics, also possessed Lincoln’s blood-stained collar and Hermann Göring’s cyanide ampoule. But the penis, which supposedly had been severed by a priest who administered last rites to Napoleon and overstepped clerical boundaries, stood out (sorry) from the professor’s collection of medieval armor, Civil War rifles and Hitler drawings.

The chances that Napoleon’s penis would be excised so that it could become a souvenir were improved by his having lived and died at a moment when the physical remains of celebrities held a strong attraction. Shakespeare didn’t become Shakespeare until the dawn of the romantic period, when his biography was written, his plays annotated and his belongings sought out and preserved. Trees that stood outside the bard’s former homes were felled to provide Shakespearean lumber for tea chests and tobacco stoppers.

More here.

Is Simply Talking About Vices a License to Sin?

Gavan J. Fitzsimons, Joseph C. Nunes, and Patti Williams in the Journal of Consumer Research (via EurekAlert!):

This research examines the impact of asking intention questions about “vice behaviors,” or behaviors about which respondents simultaneously hold both negative explicit and positive implicit attitudes. Asking questions about the likelihood of engaging in behaviors for which respondents maintain conflicting attitude structures appears to give respondents a “license to sin,” resulting in increased rates of behavior versus those of a control group not asked intention questions. However, when provided with defensive tools that highlight the negative explicit component of their attitudes toward the behaviors, respondents are able to dampen the increase in behavior caused by the act of prediction.

Best Visual Illusion of the Year Contest Winners

From the contest website:

2007 First prize

The Leaning Tower Illusion
Frederick Kingdom, Ali Yoonessi and Elena Gheorghiu


Here is a novel illusion that is as striking as it is simple. The two images of the Leaning Tower of Pisa are identical, yet one has the impression that the tower on the right leans more, as if photographed from a different angle. The reason for this is because the visual system treats the two images as if part of a single scene. Normally, if two adjacent towers rise at the same angle, their image outlines converge as they recede from view due to perspective, and this is taken into account by the visual system. So when confronted with two towers whose corresponding outlines are parallel, the visual system assumes they must be diverging as they rise from view, and this is what we see. The illusion is not restricted to towers photographed from below, but works well with other scenes, such as railway tracks receding into the distance. What this illusion reveals is less to do with perspective, but how the visual system tends to treat two side-by-side images as if part of the same scene. However hard we try to think of the two photographs of the Leaning Tower as separate, albeit identical images of the same object, our visual system regards them as the ‘Twin Towers of Pisa’, whose perspective can only be interpreted in terms of one tower leaning more than the other.

More illusions here.

Fears for Democracy in India

Martha Nussbaum in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Nussbaummartha1 On February 27, 2002, the Sabarmati express train arrived in the station of Godhra, in the state of Gujarat, bearing a large group of Hindu pilgrims who were returning from a trip to the purported birthplace of the god Rama at Ayodhya (where, some years earlier, angry Hindu mobs had destroyed the Babri mosque, which they claimed was on top of the remains of Rama’s birthplace). The pilgrimage, like many others in recent times, aimed at forcibly constructing a temple over the disputed site, and the mood of the returning passengers, frustrated in their aims by the government and the courts, was angrily emotional. When the train stopped at the station, the Hindu passengers got into arguments with Muslim passengers and vendors. At least one Muslim vendor was beaten up when he refused to say Jai Sri Ram (“Hail Rama”). As the train left the station, stones were thrown at it, apparently by Muslims.

Fifteen minutes later, one car of the train erupted in flames. Fifty-eight men, women, and children died in the fire. Most of the dead were Hindus. In the days that followed the incident, wave upon wave of violence swept through the state. The attackers were Hindus, many of them highly politicized, shouting slogans of the Hindu right, along with “Kill! Destroy!” and “Slaughter!” There is copious evidence that the violent retaliation was planned before the precipitating event by Hindu extremist organizations that had been waiting for an occasion. No one was spared: Young children were thrown into fires along with their families, fetuses ripped from the bellies of pregnant women. Particularly striking was the number of women who were raped, mutilated, in some cases tortured with large metal objects, and then set on fire. Over the course of several weeks, about 2,000 Muslims were killed.

More here.

Antarctic ‘treasure trove’ found

From BBC News:

Antarticdeep An extraordinarily diverse array of marine life has been discovered in the deep, dark waters around Antarctica. Scientists have found more than 700 new species of marine creatures in seas once thought too hostile to sustain such rich biodiversity. Groups of carnivorous sponges, free-swimming worms, crustaceans and molluscs were collected. The findings, published in the journal Nature, could provide insights into the evolution of ocean life in this area.

Dr Katrin Linse, an author of the paper and a marine biologist from British Antarctic Survey (BAS), said: “What was once thought to be a featureless abyss is in fact a dynamic, variable and biologically rich environment. “Finding this extraordinary treasure trove of marine life is our first step to understanding the complex relationships between the deep ocean and distribution of marine life.”

More here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

All Through the Night

Escort’s new single and a short review in Pitchfork:


Good/bad news: Escort just released their “final” 12″, according to the press release that accompanies “All Through the Night”. Good news is that it’ll be the last just while they take time to complete their upcoming full length album.

The “I’m about to pop” warning from vocalists Zena Kitt and Toy is worth noticing, because “All Through the Night” is all control, all precision, all good diction: Check the aspiration on the p’s in “pop,” the way a single string follows each syllable.

You can stream the song from the link on the page.

When We Get There

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Miriam Wolf reviews Shauna Seliy’s new novel When We Get There.

It’s 1974, and the coal mining town of Banning, Pa., is struggling. The mines are closing one by one, and the close-knit population of Croat, Hungarian, Russian and other Eastern European immigrants is feeling the stresses and uncertainty of change in the winds.

Lucas Lessar is feeling more stressed than most. When the novel opens, it’s Christmas Eve, and 13-year-old Lucas is in the bosom of his extended family — his great-grandfather, the patriarch of the family; Slats, his grandmother, who works at “the Plate Glass”; and his gaggle of rowdy great-uncles and great-aunts. (They drink shots of whiskey and “feed each other moonshine cherries.”) It’s a poignant evening for Lucas. His father was killed in a mine explosion several years ago, and his mother mysteriously disappeared only a couple of months ago…

“When We Get There” is a novel all about mood. There is a sadness running through the book, uniting all the characters, even when they are having an evening out at the Croatian Club. Seliy is wonderful at creating lingering images, such as her description of Great-Grandfather’s pear tree, its fruit growing inside bottles fitted to the blossoms, the otherworldly quality of the pear brandy that fills the bottles. Or her meditation on Slats’ post-work ablutions, a metaphor for the woman’s strength and the toll her life takes on her body:

“Slats came home from the Plate Glass, stopped up the sink in the bathroom, and soaked her hands. She cursed the whole time. She cleaned her cuts every day so they wouldn’t get infected. Most of them were small, invisible from a few feet away, and she painted them over with iodine. The white basin had a pink glow from all the years of her rinsing her hands and spilling the iodine.”

Happiness wins science book prize

From BBC News:

Happy Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness had been tipped as the favourite to win the prestigious £10,000 award. It beat five other titles including Henry Nicholl’s Lonesome George, an account of the last known individual of a subspecies of Galapagos tortoise.

Reviewed by Malcolm Gladwell:

Stumbling on Happiness is a book about a very simple but powerful idea. What distinguishes us as human beings from other animals is our ability to predict the future–or rather, our interest in predicting the future. We spend a great deal of our waking life imagining what it would be like to be this way or that way, or to do this or that, or taste or buy or experience some state or feeling or thing. We do that for good reasons: it is what allows us to shape our life. And it is by trying to exert some control over our futures that we attempt to be happy. But by any objective measure, we are really bad at that predictive function. We’re terrible at knowing how we will feel a day or a month or year from now, and even worse at knowing what will and will not bring us that cherished happiness. Gilbert sets out to figure what that’s so: why we are so terrible at something that would seem to be so extraordinarily important?

In making his case, Gilbert walks us through a series of fascinating–and in some ways troubling–facts about the way our minds work. In particular, Gilbert is interested in delineating the shortcomings of imagination.

More here.

Does milk ruin tea?

From Nature:

Tea Here’s a ray of hope for milky-tea drinkers: new research shows that the quaint British custom of adding milk doesn’t ruin the beneficial properties of the traditional drink. Previous studies have suggested that milk can cancel the antioxidant effects of certain chemicals known as polyphenols, found in black tea. Media headlines warned drinkers not to ‘ruin’ their tea with milk. But the latest study, by Janet Kyle and her colleagues at the University of Aberdeen, UK, didn’t find any evidence for this effect.

The answer is not definitive says Simon Langley-Evans, from the University of Nottingham, UK. Langley-Evans conducted a similar trial in 2000 yet found that for some, but not all, of his trial subjects milk completely wiped out the antioxidant properties of tea. “The situation is a bit muddy at the moment, and this just adds to the mud,” he says of the latest news. What should follow from this work is a larger trial, in which more concrete conclusions can be drawn, he suggests.

More here.

The World in Their Hands

Margaret MacMillan reviews Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power by Robert Dallek, in the Washington Post:

Screenhunter_03_may_16_0151So close was the partnership between Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger that one historian has talked of a “Nixinger” foreign policy. In the first 100 days of his presidency, Nixon met with Kissinger, then his national security adviser, 198 times; by contrast, William Rogers, the secretary of State, met with the president only 30 times.

Nixon and Kissinger shared a similar view of the world — that nations should act to promote their own interests and to encourage international stability. Both worried about what Vietnam had done and was continuing to do to the United States; both wanted to mend relations with their allies, particularly in Europe; and both wanted a better understanding, including arms control agreements, with the Soviet bloc. Yet they were never friends, and both tried to take credit for the administration’s foreign policy successes.

More here.

Marcel’s House of Beauty

3QD’s own Justin Erik Halldór Smith, in his personal blog:

Dsc00167_1This is another poem, originally published in Duchamp Magazine, that I place in the genre “children’s literature for adults.”  The titular Marcel is a small dog, a terrier snub of snout, who in reality is not a beautician but clearly would be in the alternative universe of anthropomorphized animals.

Marcel’s House of Beauty

If you’re from one of the four-footed folk,
Or if you’re two-footed, but hatched from a yolk,
You still must be mindful to do up your hair,
Before your appearance on land or in air
Among other creatures of your kin and kind,
First tend to your face. Pay it some mind! 

But if you need help before you set out,   
If you can’t seem to do a darn thing for your snout,
All hope is not lost, there’s no need to pout,
    Thanks to Mr. Marcel.

For creature care that’s always right,
—And we don’t mean this to sound snooty—
But if you’re nocturnal and you’ve got a big night,
Or you’re diurnal, but look a fright in daylight,
There’s only one place for you to go:
    And that’s Marcel’s House of Beauty.

There’s matted-haired oxen and sweaty gnus
Getting shampoos Lord knows they could use.
The camel is having her ample humps drained,
She claims it’s relaxing, though looks rather pained.

There’s gabbing gazelles and yammering yaks,
Gossiping under the dryers,
But the proper hyrax won’t have any of that.
She knows ungulates are all liars.

There’s a few guinea pigs and one stylish rat,
On her whiskers, curlers; on her tail, some wax,
But it’s a rare day indeed that you’ll see a wombat,
Thanks to the municipal marsupial tax.

Marcel would service any beast,
Right down to bacteria, amoebas, and yeast,
(Except, we must note, for the gorgeous gorilla,
Who saunters in dressed to the nines.
He refers the madame to the new Primate Parlour,
Down the street just a couple of vines.)

…continue reading the rest of the poem here.

Executing Justice

Upholding the law is not just a matter of morality, but pragmatism. Extra-judicial killings by the State only promote terrorism. This article also appeared in Hindustan Times May 2, 2007.

Manoj Joshi in his eponymous blog:

Screenhunter_02_may_16_0121 …you need neither draconian laws nor an inordinate amount of time to prosecute those accused of terrorist crimes. All it requires is effort and a calculated understanding of why it is necessary to not only do justice, but to show that it is being done, more so when the violent crimes are motivated by a sense of injustice, imagined or otherwise.

These thoughts come to mind when we are confronted with evidence that Indian police officers detained three people, and gunned down one of them, Sohrabuddin Sheikh, claiming that he was plotting to kill Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. To hide this murder, they casually bumped off the other two, including Sohrabuddin’s wife, Kausar Bi. Those who have defended Sohrabuddin’s murder with the viewpoint that he was a criminal and ‘deserved to die’, have nothing to say about why the life of another person, his wife, was cut short. They also don’t realise that the logic of arrogating to themselves the decision as to who should live and die is exactly the one used by terrorists.

More here.  [Thanks to Ruchira Paul.]

Among the Disbelievers

Daniel Lazare in The Nation:

AtheistImagine it’s Paris in the spring of 1789 and you have just announced that you are an inveterate foe of tyrants and kings. Obviously, your message is not going to fall on deaf ears. But now that you’ve made it clear what you’re against, what are you for? Do you favor an aristocratic constitution in which power devolves to the provincial nobility? Would you prefer a British-style constitutional monarchy? Or do you believe in all power to the sans-culottes? How you answer will shape both your analysis of the situation and the political tactics you employ in changing it. It may also determine whether you wind up on the chopping block in the next half-decade or so.

This is the problem, more or less, confronting today’s reinvigorated atheist movement. For a long time, religion had been doing quite nicely as a kind of minor entertainment. Christmas and Easter were quite unthinkable without it, not to mention Hanukkah and Passover. But then certain enthusiasts took things too far by crashing airliners into office towers in the name of Allah, launching a global crusade to rid the world of evil and declaring the jury still out on Darwinian evolution. As a consequence, religion now looks nearly as bad as royalism did in the late eighteenth century. But while united in their resolve to throw the bum out–God, that is–the antireligious forces appear to have given little thought to what to replace Him with should He go. They may not face the guillotine as a consequence. But they could end up making even bigger fools of themselves than the theologians they criticize.

More here.

The Simpsons Hit 400

Simon Maxwell Apter in The Nation:

Lisa_saxTerribly animated (at least by Pixar or Dreamworks standards), unabashedly crude and, at times, prone to deus ex machina endings (including one featuring a robed, sandaled and bearded God who actually booms, “Deus ex machina!” as he sets things right), The Simpsons will present its 400th episode on Fox on May 20. It’s important to note the “on Fox” part, as there would be no Fox, let alone a Fox News, without The Simpsons. Indeed, the importance of The Simpsons to Fox was perhaps best illustrated in an episode of Family Guy, another Fox cartoon (and cheap Simpsons knock-off to some, delightful refurbishment of the genre to others), in which its protagonist rattles off some twenty-nine failed Fox programs that network execs had used to try and bolster the paltry Simpsons-Cops-America’s Most Wanted triad they were currently (and quite lopsidedly) using to entice primetime viewers.

More here.

The Greatest Long Tracking Shots in Cinema

Alan Bacchus at Daily Film Dose:

In a director’s cinematic bag of tricks the long tracking shot is the boldest way of making a statement. It’s the flashiest and most attention-grabbing egotistical way of flexing one’s muscle. In most cases it’s a narcissistic maneuver, “look-at-me” filming technique, but rare ones, the best ones, serve to reflect and further the story in a way that can’t be reflected with traditional editing…


Goodfellas (1990) – The Copacabana – dir. Martin Scorsese

The other granddaddy of the long tracking shot is Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco’s walk through the Copacabana in “Goodfellas”. This shot’s serves to put the audience in the point of view of Karen, who is about to be swept off her feet by the temptation of the gangster lifestyle. This introduction to Henry’s world will counterpoint their eventual downfall later in the film. The movement of the camera through the tight spaces and long corridors while maintaining constant dialogue makes this shot an impressive maneuver and a benchmark in cinema:

More here.

The subjection of Islamic women and the fecklessness of American feminism

Christina Hoff Summers in the Weekly Standard:

HijabsmThe subjection of women in Muslim societies–especially in Arab nations and in Iran–is today very much in the public eye. Accounts of lashings, stonings, and honor killings are regularly in the news, and searing memoirs by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Azar Nafisi have become major best-sellers. One might expect that by now American feminist groups would be organizing protests against such glaring injustices, joining forces with the valiant Muslim women who are working to change their societies. This is not happening.

If you go to the websites of major women’s groups, such as the National Organization for Women, the Ms. Foundation for Women, and the National Council for Research on Women, or to women’s centers at our major colleges and universities, you’ll find them caught up with entirely other issues, seldom mentioning women in Islam. During the 1980s, there were massive demonstrations on American campuses against racial apartheid in South Africa. There is no remotely comparable movement on today’s campuses against the gender apartheid prevalent in large parts of the world.

It is not that American feminists are indifferent to the predicament of Muslim women. Nor do they completely ignore it. For a brief period before September 11, 2001, many women’s groups protested the brutalities of the Taliban. But they have never organized a full-scale mobilization against gender oppression in the Muslim world. The condition of Muslim women may be the most pressing women’s issue of our age, but for many contemporary American feminists it is not a high priority. Why not?

More here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Wretched of the Earth

Nicholas D. Kristof writes about two recent books on poverty, in the New York Review of Books:

Poverty_mainPoverty both in the US and around the world remains a central fact of twenty-first-century life; a majority of the world lives on less than $2 a day, one common measure of who is poor. Yet we manage, pretty successfully, to ignore it and insulate ourselves even from poverty in our own country. When it pops out from behind the screen after an episode like the Watts riots of 1965 or the New Orleans hurricane of 2005, then we express horror and indignation and vow change, and finally shrug and move on. Meanwhile, the world’s five hundred wealthiest people have the same income as the world’s poorest 416 million.

These days, however, something interesting is stirring in the world of poverty. People like Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett have made it almost as prestigious for philanthropists to underwrite vaccinations as to underwrite the ballet. Bono and Angelina Jolie have made Africa almost sexy. And several Democratic presidential candidates have real expertise and interest in the issue, particularly domestically: Barack Obama worked as a grassroots antipoverty organizer in Chicago; Hillary Rodham Clinton has long labored on child poverty; and John Edwards has spent the last few years assiduously studying poverty and speaking out about it. On the Republican side, Sam Brownback is also very serious about poverty and related issues, including prison conditions and recidivism.

More here.

Bad Science

No one is saying that researchers cheat, but how they design a study of sex education can practically preordain the results.

Sharon Begley in Newsweek:

070428_so01_vl_widecFor us civilians, it’s hard to grasp how much of science is subjective, and especially how much leeway there is in choosing how to conduct a study. No one is alleging that scientists stack the deck on purpose. Let’s just say that depending on how you design a study you can practically preordain the outcome. “There is an amazing array of things people do to botch a study,” says Rebecca Maynard of the University of Pennsylvania.

For instance, 153 out of 167 government-funded studies of bisphenol-A, a chemical used to make plastic, find toxic effects in animals, such as low sperm counts. No industry-funded studies find any problem. It’s not that the taxpayer-funded scientists are hallucinating, or that the industry scientists are blind. But here’s a clue: many industry studies tested this estrogenlike chemical on a strain of rat that is insensitive to estrogen. That’s like trying to measure how stress affects lactation … using males.

More here.

Atheists with Attitude

Anthony Gottlieb writes about God is Not Great, by Christopher Hitchens, in The New Yorker:

GodThe terrorist attacks were carried out in the name of Islam, and they have been taken, by a string of best-selling books, to illustrate the fatal dangers of all religious faith.

The first of these books was “The End of Faith,” by Sam Harris, which was published in 2004 and was on the Times paperback best-seller list for thirty-three weeks. Then came “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon,” by Daniel Dennett, a philosopher at Tufts University, who has written popular books on the science of consciousness and on Darwin. Next was “The God Delusion,” by Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and Britain’s preëminent science writer. Harris joined battle again last year with “Letter to a Christian Nation,” which renewed his attack on Christianity in particular. And now there is “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” (Twelve; $24.99), by Christopher Hitchens, which is both the most articulate and the angriest of the lot. Hitchens is a British-born writer who lives in Washington, D.C., and is a columnist for Vanity Fair and Slate. He thrives at the lectern, where his powers of rhetoric and recall enable him to entertain an audience, go too far, and almost get away with it. These gifts are amply reflected in “God Is Not Great.”

Hitchens is nothing if not provocative. Creationists are “yokels,” Pascal’s theology is “not far short of sordid,” the reasoning of the Christian writer C. S. Lewis is “so pathetic as to defy description,” Calvin was a “sadist and torturer and killer,” Buddhist sayings are “almost too easy to parody,” most Eastern spiritual discourse is “not even wrong,” Islam is “a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms,” Hanukkah is a “vapid and annoying holiday,” and the psalmist King David was an “unscrupulous bandit.”

More here.