When you mix evolution with climate change

Jen Phillips in Smithsonian Magazine:

SpeciesrayAlready this year researchers have announced the discovery of a bunch of new species: 6 types of bats, 15 soft corals, thousands of mollusks and 20 sharks and rays, to name a few. If a report issued in 2006 by the Census of Marine Life—conducted by more than 2,000 scientists in 80 countries—is any indicator, we will see a bumper crop of new animals in the years ahead, too. These discoveries, from the Hortle’s whipray to the Bali catshark, are partly the fruits of new technology like DNA bar coding, which allows scientists to use genetic differences to tell one species from another. But that isn’t the only reason: Evolution actually speeds up in the tropics, research has found, and global warming is making it happen that much faster.

More here.

How Money Affects the Norms of Science

Tony O’Brien in Metapsychology:

0195309782_01_mzzzzzzzThe theme of The Price of Truth is that the ideal of science as the objective, disinterested pursuit of knowledge is just that, an ideal, and that modern science is intimately tied up with the business world, and with financial incentives of one sort or another. While there are some who would see this state of affairs as a travesty, Resnik is more pragmatic. Drawing on examples of classical scientists, and from the current practice of science, Resnik argues for a middle road, one in which there can be room for financial incentives to encourage science, but where there are adequate restraints on the excesses of money to maintain the more communitarian goals of science. This position does not come without warnings, however. There are real risks from conflicts of interest, and ample evidence that in the absence of safeguards, these risks will come to fruition. Resnik canvasses the issues and calls for a balanced approach. Fittingly for a book on science, Resnik’s is a voice of reason, and if his call for balance doesn’t satisfy supporters of lasseiz-faire libertarians or principled conservatives, this is probably no bad thing. As Resnik is fond of saying, the truth lies somewhere in between.

More here.

delicate walker, babbler, dialectician


It was Philip Larkin who said, in an obituary notice, that MacNeice could have written the words of ‘These Foolish Things’. To many people he’s still a poet of London and New York in the 1930s, worldly, suave and ironical. His poetry of the time was a cinematic one of city lights and cocktail bars, his philosophy an aesthetic of shining surfaces, ‘the sunlight on the garden’, ‘the dazzle on the sea’. The Irish light in his head was a metaphor for the variety of human experience and personality. His pleasure in things became, in his social poetry, a pleasure in people. His work enacted a struggle between darkness and light. The darkness derived from a psychiatric disorder in his mother which proved incurable; from a sheltered childhood in ‘darkest Ulster’, and an ambiguous fear of solitude: at school in England his fellows ‘could never breathe my darkness’. The light, by contrast, was prismatic. Variety being the spice of life, he set himself to champion variety and oppose homogeneity; his poetic joie de vivre had its source in a breaking wave.

more from Literary Review here.

Goethe’s Bright Circle

Jay Parini in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Screenhunter_06_may_12_1136Goethe became a jack-of-all-trades in Weimar, advising the duke on matters large and small, hunting on horseback with him, drinking with him in country inns. He served as a member of the inner council, sat on the war commission, and was chief inspector of roads, among other duties. He helped direct the duke’s financial affairs, and managed to pursue his own scientific research in areas including anatomy and physics. Oh, yes: He also wrote hundreds of poems — some the best ever written in any language — and numerous plays and novels, too. His verse play Faust was a lifelong project, which the critic Harold Bloom has called “a scandalous pleasure for the exuberant reader, but it is also a trap, a Mephistophelean abyss in which you will never touch bottom.” It’s a work that demands and repays countless rereading. One never quite gets to the end of Faust, nor does one wish to do so.

In the midst of all that, Goethe had magnificent friendships and rewarding love affairs. As Armstrong rightly notes, “The most fruitful — and the most intense — relationship Goethe ever had with a male friend was with the poet and dramatist Friedrich Schiller.” It was an exquisite friendship, marked by shared ideals between the two poet-playwrights, interesting conflicts, and deep respect on both sides. Goethe had a talent for friendship, and that gift helped to widen the bright circle around him.

More here.



Henri Matisse loved the light of California, and especially of San Francisco, which was the first place in America ever to see any of his paintings, just over a century ago. Next month, the city’s Museum of Modern Art hosts Matisse: Painter as Sculptor, the latest in a series of great revisionist shows that have drastically realigned the artist’s reputation over the past 15 years. This one puts paid to any lingering doubt that Matisse is one of the 20th century’s greatest sculptors. No previous exhibition has traced so clearly the imaginative thrust of his sculpture, laid out its interior logic so lucidly, or explored, in such detail, its impact on fellow artists.

more from The Guardian here.

Encyclopedia of Life

From OneWorld:

Life Many of the world’s leading scientific institutions today announce the launch of the Encyclopedia of Life, an unprecedented global effort to document all 1.8 million named species of animals, plants, and other forms of life on Earth. For the first time in the history of the planet, scientists, students, and citizens would have multi-media access to all known living species, even those that have just been discovered.

The Field Museum, Harvard University, Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole), Smithsonian Institution, and Biodiversity Heritage Library joined together to initiate the project, bringing together species and software experts from across the world. The Missouri Botanical Garden has become a full partner, and discussions are taking place this week with leaders of the new Atlas of Living Australia. The Encyclopedia today also announced the initial membership of its Institutional Council, which spans the globe, and whose members will play key roles in realizing this immense project. An international advisory board of distinguished individuals will also help guide the Encyclopedia.

The effort is spurred by a $10 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and $2.5 million from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and will ultimately serve as a global beacon for biodiversity and conservation.

More here. Visit EOL here.

E.O. Wilson: TED Prize wish: Help build the Encyclopedia of Life

From Ted.com:Wilson335

As E.O. Wilson accepts his 2007 TED Prize, he makes a plea on behalf of his constituents, the insects and small creatures, to learn more about our biosphere. We know so little about nature, he says, that we’re still discovering tiny organisms indispensable to life; yet we’re still steadily destroying nature. Wilson identifies five grave threats to biodiversity (a term he coined), using the acronym HIPPO, and makes his TED wish: that we will work together on the Encyclopedia of Life, a web-based compendium of data from scientists and amateurs on every aspect of the biosphere.

Watch this inspiring video here.

Love’s Deity

From The New York Times:

JOHN DONNE The Reformed Soul. By John Stubbs.

Donne It has always been convenient to see John Donne (1572-1631) as the St. Augustine of English letters, made priestly and pure in his own good time, and not too soon to have produced the brainy carnal thrustings of his early love poems. John Stubbs’s vivid new biography makes clear that the poet’s early verse is more emotionally disparate (“tender, brutal, cocky, manically unsure, knowingly sad”) than we often recall, and that Donne’s “desire for variation” was lifelong, part of an encompassing need to be “involved, employed, absorbed” in all that took place in this world as well as in everything that might lead to the next. “Change is the nursery,” the poet wrote in his third elegy, “Of musicke, joy, life, and eternity.”

When it came to the actual nursery and to subsequent childhood, Donne possessed a distinctly un-Wordsworthian desire to be finished with both as soon as possible, so that “the real pleasure of life,” as his biographer puts it, could begin. Stubbs shares the impatience of his subject, plunging Donne into sexual opportunity and sectarian danger within the first two dozen pages of his book. The talented young Elizabethan, son of an ironmonger, felt more compelled to be a gentleman than to remain a Roman Catholic, a lucky enough preference during the still new and brutal English Reformation.

More here.

10-word judgements on Tony Blair

From The Dubliner:


“Told you so, told you! Told you so, told you!”
Gerald Sleeman

“Better than Bush – articulate, intelligent, witty. Wish he were ours.”
Mary Bowman-Kruhm (US)

“Not Major. Not Hauge. Not Howard. Not Conservative. Not bad!”

“Complex. Easy to disagree with, easy to admire. That’s eight.”
Mike (Australia)

“The lives of 650,000 others cannot be followed by ‘but’.”
Consuelo Green

“Forty year Council housing waiting lists. Private housing price trebled.”
Brian Heath

“Education, educasion, edukashon – not my fault mate – Blair, Bliar, Liar!”
Ted Newcomen

More here.

That Damn Bird

A talk with Irene Papperberg on Edge:

Alex What the data suggest to me is that if one starts with a brain of a certain complexity and gives it enough social and ecological support, that brain will develop at least the building blocks of a complex communication system. Of course, chimpanzees don’t proceed to develop full-blown language the way you and I have. Grey parrots, such as Alex and Griffin, are never going to sit here and give an interview the way you and I are conducting an interview and having a chat. But they are going to produce meaningful, complex communicative combinations. It is incredibly fascinating to have creatures so evolutionarily separate from humans performing simple forms of the same types of complex cognitive tasks as do young children.

Introduction by Marc D. Hauser:

In the late 1960s, a flurry of research on the great apes—chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans—began to challenge our uniqueness, especially our capacity for language and abstract conceptual abilities. Everyone soon weighed in on this debate including the linguist Noam Chomsky, the philosophers John Searle and Daniel Dennett, and the psychologist Burrhus Skinner. One corner of this debate focused on the assumption that you need a big primate brain to handle problems of reference, syntax, abstract representations, and so forth. It was to this corner of the debate that Irene Pepperberg first turned. She started with a challenge: do you really need a big primate brain to run these computations? After over 20 years of work with her African Gray parrot Alex, the clear answer is “No!”

More here.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Orphan and the Mob

From Prospect Magazine:Fiction_gough

Read Julian Gough’s “The orphan and the mob,” winner of this year’s National Short Story prize.

From the gates of the orphanage to the site of the speeches was several strong miles. We passed through town and out the other side. The smaller orphans began to wail, afraid they would see black people, or be savaged by beasts. Agamemnon stuck closely to my rear. We walked until we ran out of road. Then we followed a track, till we ran out of track.

We hopped over a fence, crossed a field, waded a dyke, cut through a ditch, traversed scrub land, forded a river and entered Nobber Nolan’s bog. Spang plumb in the middle of Nobber Nolan’s Bog, and therefore spang plumb in the middle of Tipperary, and thus Ireland, was the nation’s most famous boghole, famed in song and story: the most desolate place in Ireland, and the last place God created.

More here.

Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine

From the University of Chicago Press website:

WallFor years David Shulman, one of Israel’s most prominent scholars, has opposed his government’s policies and practices in the West Bank through the joint-Isreali-Arab peace group Ta’ayush. In Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine he has created a passionate and anguished memoir of political activism and nonviolent resistance. An excerpt about the separation wall:

Confusion dominates discussion of the Separation Wall. Most Israelis want the barrier and believe it is the only effective means of stopping suicide bombers. There are those who argue against this—claiming that once the wall is built, the bombers, nurtured by despair, will come from within the vast Arab population trapped on the Israeli side of the wall. And there are some who oppose the very idea of “fencing off” or “fencing in” as a violent and self-defeating mechanism that effectively perpetuates the conflict. But, in general, the campaign led by Israeli peace groups against the wall is not aimed at the idea of a wall as such. It is a protest at the route that the government planners have mapped out, a route that penetrates deep into Palestinian territory and protects, before all else, every possible settlement and outpost. This trajectory virtually rules out a peaceful solution based on partition and the idea of two states for two peoples in Israel-Palestine. It also perpetuates a regime of terror inside the territories, leaving most Palestinian villages encircled, isolated, essentially ghettoized, and at the mercy of bands of marauding settlers. It also appropriates large tracts of Palestinian land, practically annexing them to Israel.

This basic distinction—between the wall as an anti-terrorist barrier, acceptable to nearly everyone, and the trajectory of the wall as planned by the Israeli right—has to be kept in mind in any discussion of the legal or moral situation.

More here.

Display’s creator lives under the gun controlled by Web viewers

Mark Caro in the Chicago-Tribune:

Screenhunter_05_may_11_2008“The first shot and the first hit I got, I said, ‘Why am I doing this?'”

But Iraqi-born Wafaa Bilal has specific political, emotional and artistic reasons for the painfully interactive anti-war installation he has set up in a West Loop gallery at 217 N. Carpenter St. Confining himself from Friday through June 15 in a room at Flatfile Galleries, the 40-year-old Chicago resident has rigged a paintball gun to a Web camera, a computer and a motor, so anyone who clicks on the exhibit’s Web site can aim and fire at him just about 24 hours a day.

The installation is titled “Domestic Tension,” though Bilal says he originally wanted to call it “Shoot an Iraqi.”

“Susan [Aurinko, the gallery director,] said, ‘No way,'” Bilal recalls.

Nevertheless, that’s just what people are doing. As of lunchtime Wednesday, Bilal says, about 1,850 rounds have been fired in the room, mostly at him, though sometimes his table lamp, computer and desk chair get attention as well.

More, including video, here.  [Thanks to Bryon Giddens-White.]

For cartoon-college grads, future is hard to sketch

Teresa Méndez in the Christian Science Monitor:

P11aOn a Thursday at the end of March, three student cartoonists shuffled into an airy room clutching portfolios bulging with superhero-inspired sketches, doe-eyed girls drawn in Japanese manga style, and endearing panels of a Vermont winter. An editor awaited each one. They were there scouting new talent on behalf of First Second books, a publisher of literary graphic novels, and children’s book divisions of two major publishing houses, Hyperion and Simon & Schuster. The cartoonists, students here at the Center for Cartoon Studies, were hoping to walk away with business cards, contacts – maybe, possibly, even a break.

Ding. A tiny silver bell rang. Ten minutes had passed. Reluctantly, the students pushed back their upholstered orange chairs to make room for the next group to cycle through. It felt, a little disconcertingly, like speed dating.

As with any commencement, what follows is cause for excitement and uncertainty. For the 18 artists who will graduate May 12 as members of CCS’s inaugural class, those feelings may be especially heightened.

The issue at hand: What exactly do you do with a $30,000 diploma from cartoon college?

More here.

An electronic page for every species on Earth

From The Encyclopedia of Life website:

EarthComprehensive, collaborative, ever-growing, and personalized, the Encyclopedia of Life is an ecosystem of websites that makes all key information about life on Earth accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world. Our goal is to create a constantly evolving encyclopedia that lives on the Internet, with contributions from scientists and amateurs alike. To transform the science of biology, and inspire a new generation of scientists, by aggregating all known data about every living species. And ultimately, to increase our collective understanding of life on Earth, and safeguard the richest possible spectrum of biodiversity.

1. What does Encyclopedia of Life seek to accomplish? What are its objectives?
2. Why now?
3. Why has this not previously been done?
4. Who is responsible for conceiving this project?
5. What impact will this have on science? On society?
6. What are the most significant obstacles you may face?
7. How have audiences been accessing this information to date?

More here.

Two illuminating new books on communism

From The Economist:

1907bk1Is there any reason left to care about Soviet communism? Economists have little time for Marxism-Leninism, finding it inadequate both in theory and in practice. Governments of what were once Soviet territories have eagerly signed up to the class enemy’s alliances, NATO and the European Union. Russia itself has moved on. Even China, ostensibly still a major communist power, chose its own path to markets and modernity and is now beating capitalists at their own game.

But two new books will convince doubters that spending time on the Soviet experience is still worthwhile. The authors are both based at St Antony’s College, Oxford. Robert Service is the current professor of Russian history, while Archie Brown, after 34 years of teaching, is now emeritus professor of politics.

Both are very much concerned with the Soviet legacy for the present day, although their approaches could hardly be more different. Mr Service has produced a wide-ranging history that traces communism’s intellectual origins back through early modern Europe to ancient Greece as well as its modern spread to countries covering a third of the earth’s surface. As he puts it: “Communist parties have existed in almost every area of the globe except the polar ice caps.” By contrast, Mr Brown uses a magnifying glass to look at the Gorbachev era and its effects.

Of the two, Mr Brown’s book is more immediately timely, but also more problematic. “Seven Years that Changed the World” speaks directly to the heated debate about the end of the cold war.

More here.

Why Are Most Artists Liberal?

Guy Hasson in The Storytellers:

Screenhunter_04_may_11_1602Stories, by their nature, have some sort of conflict. Otherwise, they would be boring. Conflict, by its nature, has at least two sides. To be able to write these two sides well, the artist has to understand, deep inside, that both sides are equally human. The more he portrays the other side as human, the better the story. The less human the other side, the more flawed the story.

That puts artists on the humanistic side of most ideological battles throughout history: against racism (the other race is people, too), against slavery (slaves are people, too), for feminism (women are people, too), for the rights of children (children think and feel just like adults), against child labor, for gay rights (homosexuals are just as human), for the downtrodden, for the poor (they are just like us, only poor), against most wars (because the other side bleeds red, too, and mourns with the same pain), and against most religions (in particular, against the religions that claim its followers are ‘the chosen’ and those who are not will not get into heaven and/or are inferior in some way).

Oddly enough, this little rule does not necessarily put artists on the side of animal rights, since animals may be many things, but they are not human.

More here.

The King of Beers

Budweiserfronte_2Daniel Davies at Crooked Timber:

I tend to regard myself as Crooked Timber’s online myrmidon of a number of rather unpopular views; among other things, as regular readers will have seen, I believe that the incitement to religious hatred legislation was a good idea (perhaps badly executed), that John Searle has it more or less correct on the subject of artificial intelligence, that Jacques Derrida deserves his high reputation and that George Orwell was not even in the top three essayists of the twentieth century. I’m a fan of Welsh nationalism. Oh yes, the Kosovo intervention was a crock too. At some subconscious level I am aware that my ideas about education are both idiotic and unspeakable. But I think that all of these causes are regarded as at least borderline sane by at least one fellow CT contributor. There is only one major issue on which I stand completely alone, reviled by all. And it’s this; Budweiser (by which I mean the real Budweiser, the beer which has been sold under that brand by Anheuser-Busch since 1876) is really quite a good beer.

More here.  [Thanks to Robin Varghese.]