Friday, December 30, 2011

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bound for Local Glory at Last

By PATRICIA COHEN

TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma has always had a troubled relationship with her native son Woody Guthrie. The communist sympathies of America’s balladeer infuriated local detractors. In 1999 a wealthy donor’s objections forced the Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City to cancel a planned exhibition on Guthrie organized by the Smithsonian Institution. It wasn’t until 2006, nearly four decades after his death, that the Oklahoma Hall of Fame got around to adding him to its ranks.

But as places from California to the New York island get ready to celebrate the centennial of Guthrie’s birth, in 2012, Oklahoma is finally ready to welcome him home. The George Kaiser Family Foundation in Tulsa plans to announce this week that it is buying the Guthrie archives from his children and building an exhibition and study center to honor his legacy.

“Oklahoma was like his mother,” said his daughter Nora Guthrie, throwing back her tangle of gray curls as she reached out in an embrace. “Now he’s back in his mother’s arms.”

The archive includes the astonishing creative output of Guthrie during his 55 years. There are scores of notebooks and diaries written in his precise handwriting and illustrated with cartoons, watercolors, stickers and clippings; hundreds of letters; 581 artworks; a half-dozen scrapbooks; unpublished short stories, novels and essays; as well as the lyrics to the 3,000 or more songs he scribbled on scraps of paper, gift wrap, napkins, paper bags and place mats. Much of the material has rarely or never been seen in public, including the lyrics to most of the songs. Guthrie could not write musical notation, so the melodies have been lost.

The foundation, which paid $3 million for the archives, is planning a kickoff celebration on March 10, with a conference in conjunction with the University of Tulsa and a concert sponsored by the Grammy Museum featuring his son Arlo Guthrie and other musicians. Although the collection won’t be transferred until 2013, preparations for its arrival are already in motion. Construction workers are clearing out piles of red brick and wire mesh from the loading dock in the northeast end of the old Tulsa Paper Company building, in the Brady District of the city, where the planned Guthrie Center is taking shape. The center is part of an ambitious plan to revitalize the downtown arts community.

Now that the back walls are punched out, workers trucking wheelbarrows of concrete can look across the tracks to the tower built by BOK Financial, which George Kaiser, whose foundation bears his name, presides over as chairman. Forbes magazine ranks Mr. Kaiser as the richest man in Oklahoma and No. 31 on its Forbes 400 list.

Ken Levit, the foundation’s executive director, said he thought of doing something for Guthrie after the Hall of Fame induction. Nowhere in Tulsa, he said, is there even a plaque paying homage to this folk legend, who composed “This Land Is Your Land”; performed with Peter Seeger and Lead Belly; wrote the fictionalized autobiography “Bound for Glory”; and sang at countless strikes and migrant labor protests in the 1930s and ’40s. Mr. Levit began a more than three-year campaign to win the consent of Ms. Guthrie, who had taken custody of the boxes that her mother, Marjorie Guthrie, had stowed away in the basement of her home in Howard Beach, Queens.

Ms. Guthrie, who as one of Guthrie’s youngest children, didn’t really know her father until Huntington’s disease began to rob him of his sanity, movement and speech many years before his death, in 1967, said she only rediscovered the kind of man he once was when she started to page through the boxes about 15 years ago.

“I fell in love through this material with my father,” Ms. Guthrie, 61, a former dancer, said from her office in Mount Kisco, N.Y.

Her older brothers Arlo and Joady were happy to have her take custody of the papers. Of Arlo, she said, “He was filled up with being Woody Guthrie’s son, so he was glad the responsibility moved to me.”

She said the information contained in the archives can clear up misconceptions about her father that she has frequently heard at scholarly conferences and read in articles, including that he didn’t write love songs or sexually provocative lyrics. She has also opened up his notebooks to contemporary musicians like Billy Bragg and Wilco, Jackson Browne, Rob Wasserman, Lou Reed and Tom Morello so that they could compose music to her father’s words.

One of those artists, Jonatha Brooke, is starting off the Guthrie Foundation and Grammy Museum’s yearlong centennial celebrations on Jan. 18 at Lincoln Center with a concert of new songs she wrote for the lyrics.

Woody Guthrie’s music has also had added play time this year as Arlo Guthrie, Mr. Seeger, and other musicians have sung his protest songs at Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York and elsewhere.

While this poor folks’ hero and the richest man in Oklahoma might not seem to have much in common, Mr. Kaiser’s foundation, with its $4 billion endowment, is dedicated to helping Tulsa’s most disadvantaged. “I cried for an hour after meeting George Kaiser,” Ms. Guthrie said. “This puts together what I’ve always dreamed of.”

Brian Hosmer, a history professor at the University of Tulsa who is organizing the March conference — ironically titled “Different Shades of Red” — said Guthrie’s legacy is contested in some quarters.

“There is no doubt there will be some voices in opposition to the way Guthrie is being emphasized — Oklahoma is about the reddest state you can have,” Mr. Hosmer explained, referring to its conservatism. “And when Woody Guthrie was a boy, Oklahoma was also the reddest state because we had more socialists elected to public office than any other.”

Guthrie always said he was influenced by the songs he had heard his mother sing in his hometown, Okemah, about an hour’s drive from Tulsa, with a population of 3,000. His radicalism offended local officials, who scorned Guthrie until an Okemah resident, Sharon Jones, decided to do something about it in the late 1990s. One of her cousins, an avid Guthrie fan, came to visit and was shocked there wasn’t a single mention of her idol. So Ms. Jones, who died in 2009, created the Woody Guthrie Coalition, which organized an annual folk festival, called WoodyFest, around his birthday on July 14, as well as a statue, a mural and a memorial. Sensitive to the area’s Baptist beliefs (including Ms. Jones’s), no alcohol was permitted at the celebration until this year.

Dee Jones, Sharon’s husband, explained that Guthrie “was kind of taboo because some influential people in this town thought Woody Guthrie had communist leanings.” But once the community realized that the 3,000 or so attendees brought in business, everyone got behind it, Mr. Jones said.

A couple of blocks from the memorial statue, visitors can run a finger along the fading letters “W-O-O-D-Y” on a fragment of Main Street’s original sidewalk, where the 16-year-old Guthrie signed his name in wet cement in 1928.

Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon, Woody’s 90-year-old sister, always hosts a pancake breakfast during the four-day music festival. A white-haired, elfin woman with a persistent smile and a sharp wit, Ms. Edgmon remembered how her brother was always making music.

“You’d sit down at the dinner table, and there’d be glasses of water, and he’d pick up a fork and play the glasses all around the table,” she said. “If it made music, he played it.”

Reciting snatches of Guthrie’s poetry and songs, Ms. Edgmon said her brother never cared what people thought of him and did not necessarily hold a particular affection for his birthplace. “He didn’t get attached to anything,” she said. “Everywhere was his home.”

Still, after so many years of Oklahomans’ snubbing her brother’s memory, she said the whole family was thrilled he was being honored: “What we were all shooting for,” she said, “was acknowledgment.”

NYT

Woody Guthrie Gets a Belated Honor in Oklahoma - NYTimes.com

Woody Guthrie Gets a Belated Honor in Oklahoma - NYTimes.com:

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Three Generations, One Roof

Three Generations, One Roof:

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Growing wealth widens distance between lawmakers and constituents - The Washington Post

Growing wealth widens distance between lawmakers and constituents - The Washington Post:

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Dear Leader Is Dead, Again

By WENGUANG HUANG

Chicago

WATCHING the outpouring of grief over Kim Jong-il’s death in Pyongyang, North Korea, on YouTube transported me back to China in September 1976, when Mao Zedong, whom we revered as the Great Leader, died.

I was a middle-school student in the central city of Xian. That day, my head teacher interrupted our math class and announced the news with tears. A young and impressionable student, I was overwhelmed in a way I could not understand, as if life itself had been overturned. How could it be possible? Mao was like an immortal to us. The first words that I had learned in elementary school were “Ten Thousand Years to Chairman Mao.”

While Western children sang carols and hymns on Christmas, we celebrated Chairman Mao’s birthday on Dec. 26 with songs like “Chairman Mao Is Our Savior.” My father used to point at Chairman Mao’s portrait on our living room wall and explain how his physiognomy set him apart. “Look at his big forehead, such a sign of greatness. His face and eyes exude kindness. He’s no ordinary person. He is heaven-sent.”

At the end of her announcement, my teacher began to wail, as did many of the girls in our classroom. We boys didn’t know what to do, but, worried that people might think we didn’t love Chairman Mao enough, we tried to squeeze out some tears. But it was hard because, as large as Mao was, we really didn’t know him.

So I began to think of my grandma, who was sick at home. If Chairman Mao could drop dead like this, so could she. My tears became real. Soon, I worked myself into such a frenzy of emotion that I fainted. A school nurse was called to treat me. All of my teachers were impressed by the depth of my grief over Chairman Mao. “I don’t know what will happen to us without Chairman Mao,” our head teacher sobbed while consoling me. I could tell her tears were genuine.

The school handed out black armbands and white flowers. Nobody dared laugh or joke. Wherever we went, there were portraits of Mao, draped in black and surrounded by white paper wreaths. Thousands of residents, organized by their work units, showed up at the People’s Square in downtown Xian. They quietly knelt in front of Chairman Mao’s portraits first. Then, someone started weeping. Soon, the whole group turned hysterical, beating their chests, screaming and howling, as if they were in a wailing competition.

In a sense, they were competing to see who was more loyal to Chairman Mao. Big posters went up wherever there was enough space for them: “The spirit of Chairman Mao will stay with us forever” or “Eternal glory to the Great Leader and Teacher Mao Zedong.” All entertainment in the city was banned. All day long, loudspeakers broadcast the same loop of mournful music. In our school, each class selected four students to stand around a makeshift Mao altar in four-hour shifts. I felt it a tremendous honor when I was chosen.

In a culture that frowned upon open displays of emotion at home or in public as frivolous, funerals provided a rare exception. In fact, the louder one’s wailing and the more dramatically you conducted yourself — chest and feet stomping and thrusting oneself toward the casket — the more respect you gained. It showed your deep love for the deceased.

In the case of Chairman Mao, dramatic displays of grief were a political necessity. At my father’s company, the president and other officials drank liquor while preparing for Mao’s memorial services late one night. Some passing workers reported the incident to the local public security bureau, accusing the company president of lacking revolutionary feelings for Chairman Mao and taking pleasure in a national catastrophe. Subsequently, he was placed under investigation and forced to make one “self-criticism” after another at staff meetings.

Looking back, it was ironic that Mao had spent his whole life preaching that humans were mortals and that there was no spirit left after death, yet in death, his designated successor elevated him to a godlike status, an immortal like the great emperors of China who presided over dynasties.

On the day of Mao’s memorial service in Beijing, there was pouring rain. “The heavenly God is shedding tears for Chairman Mao,” my teacher said somberly. “It always happened in the past when an emperor died.” We children were too young to share her sentiments. While listening to the live radio broadcast of the memorial service, a classmate of mine farted. We all started giggling. The student eventually was spared expulsion after his mother, a head nurse at a hospital, presented medical records to show he had a digestive disorder.

Following Mao’s death, many scholars secretly predicted that China would follow the path of the Soviet Union, which experienced a political thaw after Stalin’s death. The predictions proved to be true. Hua Guofeng, whom Mao had designated as the country’s new leader, was a relatively unknown figure. The state media fabricated his credentials and lavished praise on him. The country addressed  Hua as the “Wise Leader" and was urged to pledge loyalty to him. However,  his lack of political experience soon fueled a power struggle, which eventually enabled the moderate factions within the Communist Party and military to triumph over the radical Mao loyalists, including Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing. Thus, China opened its door.

We cautiously looked at the world, realizing that what we had been taught to believe was the greatest socialist country in the world was actually one of the poorest countries in the world. We studied the newly leaked information from our historical archives and learned our saintly leader was actually a brutal dictator who was responsible for the deaths of millions of people in his political campaigns.

Like the antique treasures excavated from the emperor’s tomb in my hometown, Mao’s personality cult crumbled when meeting the fresh air. His omnipresent statues were torn down and the billions of lapel pins that bore his image were melted to make cooking utensils. At the moment, even though the current leadership in China still venerates Mao and some people hang his picture in cabs, or plaster it on the walls of businesses as if he were a patron saint for the whole country, the Mao era has long ended.

Thirty-five years have passed, and it is sickening to see the echoes of Mao’s tyranny still being played out in North Korea. In the TV footage, I found many younger versions of myself among a group of schoolboys in front of a Kim Jong-il statue. Several were covering their faces, trying to force out a tear. They knew that if they didn’t, they or their families could be denounced.

I also saw the likenesses of my parents and my teachers — some were truly saddened at the loss of a demigod, while others resorted to funeral histrionics out of fear.

At this moment, all one can hope for North Korea, it seems, is that the transformation that swept over China after Mao’s demise might also take hold in this hermit kingdom that is so punishing to its people.

Kim Jong-il’s death and the ascension of his son Kim Jong-un, a young leader who has no political legitimacy, might provide a rare opportunity for the reform-minded leaders to follow the examples of Deng Xiaoping, Nikita S. Khrushchev and Mikhail S. Gorbachev, and open up the country to the outside world, allowing economic reforms, which have already been initiated grudgingly in the border regions with China, to blossom further.

Could it also be possible that Kim Jong-un, educated in the West, might consolidate his power with the help of loyal supporters and drastically change his father’s radical domestic and international policies, which have dragged the country down into total misery? If he instead continues with brutal rule, it won’t surprise me if, in a few years, he and his family stand trial, as so many other dictators in the world have.

It is often hard to remember how insane the 1970s were, but China, for all its faults now, did emerge from the shadow of Mao’s death. I’m optimistic that a North Korean Spring or Soviet-style glasnost will come soon, and that the organized public wailing and chest-beating over the death of a villain will forever be relegated to history.

Wenguang Huang, a writer and translator, is the author of the forthcoming “The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir.”

NYT

Deportation Without Representation - NYTimes.com

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

The House Backs Down

For a full year, House Republicans have replaced governing with confrontations that they allow to reach the brink of crisis, only then making extreme demands in exchange for a resolution. On Thursday, that strategy crumbled. Battered by public opinion and undermined by more reasonable Senate Republicans, the House’s leaders backed down and signed off on a deal to continue the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for two months.

The House Republicans’ stubborn opposition to the extension “may not have been politically the smartest thing in the world,” Speaker John Boehner said, in the understatement of the week. He still called it “a good fight.”

If the deal goes through on Friday — and even one angry lawmaker could stall it — the paychecks of 160 million workers will not shrink for at least eight weeks and three million jobless workers will keep their benefits. That will be paid for largely by mortgage fees, and negotiations will resume on paying for the remaining 10 months.

A Republican demand that President Obama make a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline will remain in the measure, as negotiated by the Senate last week. Republicans also won some minor adjustments to prevent small businesses from being harmed by the extension.

The struggle to reach an agreement, which was a clear victory for President Obama, exposed voters in the starkest way to the real temperament of the House that Americans elected a year ago. If the president wants it, they’re against it. If it might assist the middle class, as opposed to the rich, they will concoct an economic argument to oppose it. (“The payroll tax cut isn’t really that effective.”) And if it absolutely has to pass, they will throw in stray ideas — an oil pipeline, air pollution regulations — to win some part of their agenda, or kill the bill trying.

The Republican wounds this time were entirely self-inflicted. The crisis over the two-month extension wasn’t really about the payroll tax at all; it was about the hurt feelings of bumptious House members having to accede to a deal driven by the Senate and the White House. The real confrontation, over paying for the tax cut, is yet to come.

The only reason the Senate approved a two-month extension is that the two parties could not agree on how to pay for a full year. Before the House’s tantrum, Democrats had proposed an income-tax surcharge on millionaires, which would have been an eminently fair trade to help the middle class and the economy, but Republicans rejected it. The Republicans wanted to cut social spending more than the deal reached earlier this year, and make health insurance exchanges more expensive to undermine health care reform. Democrats were right to balk at that.

When the next battle comes, Democrats will presumably be facing a more cohesive group of Republican negotiators. Having already given in on the millionaires’ tax and the pipeline, they will have to push hard to prevent further damage to the economy. Still, this narrow victory showed the limits to Republican brinksmanship. Popular opinion was clearly on the side of the Democrats, as members heard from their constituents, and that momentum may produce a better long-term agreement.

NYT

UCLA physicists create world's smallest incandescent lamp / UCLA Newsroom

UCLA physicists create world's smallest incandescent lamp / UCLA Newsroom:

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Interesting News: Smallest Light Bulb in the World

Interesting News: Smallest Light Bulb in the World:

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Jacob E. Goldman, Founder of Xerox Lab, Dies at 90 - NYTimes.com

Jacob E. Goldman, Founder of Xerox Lab, Dies at 90 - NYTimes.com:

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Egypt’s Premier Assails Protesters and Cites Economic Damage - NYTimes.com

Egypt’s Premier Assails Protesters and Cites Economic Damage - NYTimes.com:

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The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Robert Fisk: The adventures of Tintin in Beirut

SATURDAY 17 DECEMBER 2011

We are all haunted by war.

The First and Second World Wars continue to hold us in their sticky embrace. The Lebanese are still trying to shake off the Christian-Druze massacres of 1860, let alone the 1975-1990 civil war. And there's a fascinating view that the events which lead to war somehow enter our bloodstream, become part of us, a history that goes round and round inside our bodies for ever. Most Lebanese regard the start-line of their civil war as the Christian Maronite Phalangist attack on a bus-load of Palestinians in the Beirut suburb of Ain el-Remmaneh, a red and cream American school bus – actually made at Kew in England – that now lies rusting in a field in southern Lebanon, registration plate long torn off but bullet holes intact and ghosts still aboard.

In an article headlined "Ghost Generation", the Lebanese writer Fifi Abou Dib has intriguingly recreated the last seconds of peace in Lebanon, the driver of the red and cream bus drawing on his cigarette – we don't know if, indeed, he smoked – annoyed at the traffic jam in which he found himself. "The tragedy of the bus at Ain el-Remmaneh is written in our collective history, for sure. But more than anything else, it has infected our DNA." It's true. Art galleries in Beirut often carry symbols of the bus, red and cream, a 1960s Fargo, mass grave to 27 men and women.

Yet only this last October did the Lebanese hold their first seminar on the events of the Christian-Druze war which broke out in the Metn and Chouf mountains 115 years before the bus massacre at Ain el-Remmaneh. And it was Dima de Clerck, doctoral graduate of the University of Paris 1, who drew attention to the connections between 1860 and 1975. "We are in the presence of two traumatic histories which feed on each other," she said. "...The recent war, which happened out of the blue but for clear socio-political reasons, resurrected the memory of 1860, brought it back to life... the history of that conflict, so badly neglected at the time, provoked Christians and Druze to take up arms in 1975, one side taking revenge for a past regarded as shameful, the other (wanting) to gain the political victory which their military success did not obtain for them in 1860."

This is not unlike the aftermath of the 1914-18 war when the victors, including the Brits, came to the conclusion that the War to End All Wars meant that humans must never engage in such a conflict again – while the losers believed that only another war could justify the effusion of blood suffered by the German nation.

Yet can one still read the runes in Lebanon today? Yes, of course, the Syrian conflict has created renewed tensions between Alawites and Sunnis in Tripoli, between Shia Hezbollah supporters of Syria and the Lebanese Sunni-Christian opposition. But it's the more subtle, inside-page stories which snag your coat as you breeze around Beirut. The last-minute cancellation at a Beirut film festival of Persepolis, the animated award-winning movie about a girl growing up in Iran after the Islamic revolution, for example; it was widely rumoured that the Iranian embassy had expressed its displeasure. And then came the weird disappearance of Steven Spielberg's name on the billboard for his The Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn at a cinema in (largely Christian) east Beirut.

Surely the Beirut security authorities had nothing against Tintin. Indeed, they denied any involvement in placing the crude strip of black masking tape over the director's name. The local film distributor blamed an individual cinema proprietor for this act of censorship, although, when I visited the place, Spielberg's name was still hidden by tape. Was this because Spielberg made Schindler's List, about the German who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust and which ends as Jewish survivors mourn at Schindler's Jerusalem grave? Or was it because Spielberg, whose Munich – and its theme of purposeless revenge attacks by Mossad – was widely admired in Beirut, is Jewish?

This violation of free speech – for that is what it was, along with the cancellation of Persepolis – cannot be seen in isolation. Infinitely more serious is the new Lebanese law to protect women from domestic violence. It hasn't gone before parliament yet but it is, for the most part, supported by the Christian community. Not so the Sunnis. Muslim authorities in Lebanon have opposed the project and the Dar al-Fatwa has actually refuted the text which – and I quote – "strikes a blow at Muslim women" and "cancels laws which are provided for married couples by religious courts". One of the nine parliamentary members working on the new law says that, for Sunni Muslim clerics, "encouraging women to struggle against violence is to encourage them to abandon the conjugal home and thus break up the family". Yipes! The legal article on rape by a husband was also criticised because – in the words of the Lebanese MP – "Islam didn't recognise this form of aggression because it regards the man as responsible for his wife".

As the Dar al-Fatwa statement actually says, "this project, which applies to a Western mentality, does not correspond to the values (sic) of our society" because "it endangers the traditional nuclear family" and "denies a father the right to educate his children – and especially his daughters – who need his protection". Shia Muslim authorities, I'm sorry to say, also denounced the law as "a dangerous business".

Dangerous indeed. If men can still rape their wives and exercise censorship in a civilised nation of educated, cultured people, is it any surprise that violence still haunts the land?

The Independent

Robert Fisk: The adventures of Tintin in Beirut - Robert Fisk - Commentators - The Independent

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Mexican extradited to face murder charge - UPI.com

Mexican extradited to face murder charge - UPI.com:

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Illegal Immigrant’s Transplant, Cheaper Over Life, Isn’t Covered - NYTimes.com

Illegal Immigrant’s Transplant, Cheaper Over Life, Isn’t Covered - NYTimes.com:

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Curse Words

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

¿Cómo ves?

Luis Eduardo Aute

Roberto González: El Huerto

The Slow Poisoner

Sesiones con Emilia

Los Patita de Perro

Charly Garcia

Varela and Sabina

Sea of Joy

Apple Wins Partial Victory on Patent Claim Over Android Features - NYTimes.com

Apple Wins Partial Victory on Patent Claim Over Android Features - NYTimes.com:

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Fearing Terrorism, U.S. Asks Journals to Censor Articles on Virus - NYTimes.com

Fearing Terrorism, U.S. Asks Journals to Censor Articles on Virus - NYTimes.com:

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Interior Backs Solar, Wind Farms in Calif., Ariz. - NYTimes.com

Interior Backs Solar, Wind Farms in Calif., Ariz. - NYTimes.com:

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National Guard at Border Cut to About 300 - NYTimes.com

National Guard at Border Cut to About 300 - NYTimes.com:

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American Jailed in Peru Returns to New York - NYTimes.com

American Jailed in Peru Returns to New York - NYTimes.com:

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NASA’s Kepler Spacecraft Discovers 2 Earth-Size Planets - NYTimes.com

NASA’s Kepler Spacecraft Discovers 2 Earth-Size Planets - NYTimes.com:

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Thousands of Women Mass in Major March in Cairo - NYTimes.com

Thousands of Women Mass in Major March in Cairo - NYTimes.com:

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It's a Small World: Kepler Spacecraft Discovers First Known Earth-Size Exoplanet: Scientific American

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La ruta de la onda

Tattooed Heroine Metes Out Slick, Punitive Violence

By A. O. SCOTT

Tiny as a sparrow, fierce as an eagle, Lisbeth Salander is one of the great Scandinavian avengers of our time, an angry bird catapulting into the fortresses of power and wiping smiles off the faces of smug, predatory pigs. The animating force in Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy — incarnated on screen first by Noomi Rapace and now, in David Fincher’s adaptation of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” by Rooney Mara — Lisbeth is an outlaw feminist fantasy-heroine, and also an avatar of digital antiauthoritarianism.

Her appeal arises from a combination of vulnerability and ruthless competence. Lisbeth can hack any machine, crack any code and, when necessary, mete out righteous punitive violence, but she is also (to an extent fully revealed in subsequent episodes) a lost and abused child. And Ms. Mara captures her volatile and fascinating essence beautifully. Hurt, fury and calculation play on her pierced and shadowed face. The black bangs across her forehead are as sharp and severe as an obsidian blade, but her eyebrows are as downy and pale as a baby’s. Lisbeth inspires fear and awe and also — on the part of Larsson and his fictional alter ego, the crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist (played in Mr. Fincher’s film by Daniel Craig) — a measure of chivalrous protectiveness.

She is a marvelous pop-culture character, stranger and more complex than the average superhero and more intriguing than the usual boy wizards and vampire brides. It has been her fate, unfortunately, to make her furious, inspiring way through a series of plodding and ungainly stories.

The Swedish screen version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” directed by Niels Arden Oplev, often felt like the very long pilot episode of a television crime show, partly because of Larsson’s heavy-footed clumsiness as a storyteller. Despite the slick intensity of Mr. Fincher’s style, his movie is not immune to the same lumbering proceduralism. There are waves of brilliantly orchestrated anxiety and confusion but also long stretches of drab, hackneyed exposition that flatten the atmosphere. We might be watching “Cold Case” or “Criminal Minds,” but with better sound design and more expressive visual techniques. Hold your breath, it’s a time for a high-speed Internet search! Listen closely, because the chief bad guy is about to explain everything right before he kills you!

It must be said that Mr. Fincher and the screenwriter, Steven Zaillian, manage to hold on to the vivid and passionate essence of the book while remaining true enough to its busy plot to prevent literal-minded readers from rioting. (There are a few significant changes, but these show only how arbitrary some of Larsson’s narrative contrivances were in the first place.) Using harsh and spooky soundtrack music (by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) to unnerving and powerful effect, Mr. Fincher creates a persuasive ambience of political menace and moral despair.

He has always excelled at evoking invisible, nonspecific terrors lurking just beyond the realm of the visible. The San Francisco of “Zodiac” was haunted not so much by an elusive serial killer as by a spectral principle of violence that was everywhere and nowhere, a sign of the times and an element of the climate. And the Harvard of “The Social Network,” with its darkened wood and moody brick, seemed less a preserve of gentlemen and scholars than a seething hive of paranoia and alienation.

Mr. Fincher honors Larsson’s muckraking legacy by envisioning a Sweden that is corrupt not merely in its ruling institutions but in the depths of its soul. Lisbeth and Mikael — whose first meeting comes around the midpoint of the movie’s 158-minutes — swim in a sea of rottenness. They are not quite the only decent people in the country, but their enemies are so numerous, so powerful and so deeply entrenched that the odds of defeating them seem overwhelming.

Mikael, his career in ruins and his gadfly magazine in jeopardy after a libel judgment, is hired by a wealthy industrialist, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), to investigate a decades-old crime. Dysfunction would be a step up for the Vanger clan, who live on a secluded island and whose family tree includes Nazis, rapists, alcoholics, murderers and also, just to prevent you from getting the wrong impression, Stellan Skarsgard, the very epitome of Nordic nastiness.

The Vangers are monstrous, with a few exceptions, but far from anomalous. The gruesome pattern of criminality that Lisbeth and Mikael uncover is a manifestation of general evil that spreads throughout the upper echelons of the nation’s economy and government. The bad apples in that family are just one face of a cruel, misogynist ruling order that also includes Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), the sadistic state bureaucrat who is Lisbeth’s legal guardian. And everywhere she and Mikael turn there are more bullying, unprincipled and abusive men.

Sexual violence is a lurid thread running through “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” and Mr. Fincher approaches it with queasy, teasing sensationalism. Lisbeth’s dealings with Bjurman include a vicious rape and a correspondingly brutal act of revenge, and there is something prurient and salacious about the way the initial assault is filmed. The vengeance, while graphic, is visually more circumspect.

And when Mikael and Lisbeth interrupt their sleuthing for a bit of nonviolent sex, we see all of Ms. Mara and quite a bit less of Mr. Craig, whose naked torso is by now an eyeful of old news. This disparity is perfectly conventional — the exploitation of female nudity is an axiom of modern cinema — but it also represents a failure of nerve and a betrayal of the sexual egalitarianism Lisbeth Salander argues for and represents.

Still, it is her movie, and Ms. Mara’s. Mr. Craig is an obliging sidekick, and the other supporting actors (notably Robin Wright as Mikael’s colleague and paramour and Donald Sumpter as a helpful detective) perform with professionalism and conviction. Mr. Fincher’s impressive skill is evident, even as his ambitions seem to be checked by the limitations of the source material and the imperatives of commercial entertainment.

There is too much data and not enough insight, and local puzzles that get in the way of larger mysteries. The story starts to fade as soon as the end credits run. But it is much harder to shake the lingering, troubling memory of an angry, elusive and curiously magnetic young woman who belongs so completely to this cynical, cybernetic and chaotic world without ever seeming to be at home in it.

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Sex, violence, sexual violence.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

Opens on Tuesday nationwide.

Directed by David Fincher; written by Steven Zaillian, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson; director of photography, Jeff Cronenweth; edited by Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall; music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross; production design by Donald Graham Burt; costumes by Trish Summerville; produced by Scott Rudin, Ole Sondberg, Soren Staermose and Cean Chaffin; released by Columbia Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 38 minutes.

WITH: Daniel Craig (Mikael Blomkvist), Rooney Mara (Lisbeth Salander), Christopher Plummer (Henrik Vanger), Stellan Skarsgard (Martin Vanger), Steven Berkoff (Frode), Robin Wright (Erika Berger), Yorick van Wageningen (Bjurman), Joely Richardson (Anita Vanger), Geraldine James (Cecilia), Goran Visnjic (Armansky), Donald Sumpter (Detective Morell) and Ulf Friberg (Wennerstrom).

NYT

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kim Jong-il, Dictator Who Turned North Korea Into a Nuclear State, Dies - NYTimes.com

By DAVID E. SANGER

Kim Jong-il, the reclusive dictator who kept North Korea at the edge of starvation and collapse, banished to gulags citizens deemed disloyal and turned the country into a nuclear weapons state, died Saturday morning, according to an announcement by the North’s official news media on Monday. He was reported to be 69, and had been in ill health since a reported stroke in 2008.

Called the “Dear Leader” by his people, Mr. Kim, the son of North Korea’s founder, remained an unknowable figure. Everything about him was guesswork, from the exact date and place of his birth to the mythologized events of his rise in a country formed by the hasty division of the Korean Peninsula at the end of World War II.

North Koreans heard about him only as their “peerless leader” and “the great successor to the revolutionary cause.” Yet he fostered what was perhaps the last personality cult in the Communist world. His portrait hangs beside that of his father, Kim Il-sung, in every North Korean household and building. Towers, banners and even rock faces across the country bear slogans praising him.

Mr. Kim was a source of fascination inside the Central Intelligence Agency, which interviewed his mistresses, tried to track his whereabouts and psychoanalyzed his motives. And he was an object of parody in American culture.

Short and round, he wore elevator shoes, oversize sunglasses and a bouffant hairdo — a Hollywood stereotype of the wacky post-cold-war dictator. Mr. Kim himself was fascinated by film. He orchestrated the kidnapping of an actress and a director, both of them South Koreans, in an effort to build a domestic movie industry. He was said to keep a personal library of 20,000 foreign films, including the complete James Bond series, his favorite. But he rarely saw the outside world, save from the windows of his luxury train, which occasionally took him to China.

He was derided and denounced. President George W. Bush called him a “pygmy” and included his country in the “axis of evil.” Children’s books in South Korea depicted him as a red devil with horns and fangs. Yet those who met him were surprised by his serious demeanor and his knowledge of events beyond the hermit kingdom he controlled.

“He was a very outspoken person,” said Roh Moo-hyun, who as South Korea’s president met Mr. Kim in Pyongyang in 2007. “He was the most flexible man in North Korea.”

Wendy Sherman, now the No. 3 official in the State Department, who served as counselor to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and accompanied her to North Korea, said in 2008: “He was smart, engaged, knowledgeable, self-confident, sort of the master-director of all he surveyed.”

Ms. Albright met Mr. Kim in October 2000 in what turned out to be a futile effort to strike a deal with North Korea over limiting its missile program before President Bill Clinton left office.

“There was no denying the dictatorial state that he ruled,” Ms. Sherman said. “There was no denying the freedoms that didn’t exist. But at the time, there were a lot of questions in the U.S. about whether he was really in control, and we left with no doubt that he was.”

When Ms. Albright and Ms. Sherman sat down to talk through a 14-point list of concerns about North Korea’s missile program, “he didn’t know the answers to every question, but he knew a lot more than most leaders would — and he was a conceptual thinker,” Ms. Sherman added.

And though he presided over a country that was starving and broke, he played his one card, his nuclear weapons program, brilliantly, first defying the Bush administration’s efforts to push his country over the brink, then exploiting America’s distraction with the war in Iraq to harvest enough nuclear fuel from his main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon to produce the fuel for six to eight weapons.

A Deal With Washington

President Bush said during his first term in office that he would never tolerate a nuclear North Korea, but as his presidency wound down, many of his aides believed he did exactly that.

It was not until the spring of 2007 that Mr. Bush was told by the Israelis that North Korea was helping Syria build a nuclear reactor; before the Syrians or the North Koreans were confronted with that evidence, Israel sent bombers on a secret mission to destroy the Syrian plant. The North Koreans have never explained their role.

By the time Mr. Bush left office, the administration had moved from four years of confrontation with the North to three years of halting negotiations. Led by Christopher R. Hill, a veteran American diplomat, the negotiations resulted in a deal that hawks hated: the United States agreed to supply North Korea with large amounts of fuel oil in return for the dismantlement of the aging Yongbyon plant, described by inspectors as a radioactive accident waiting to happen.

Mr. Kim played a weak hand very well. He succeeded in fending off pressure from Washington and Beijing, and forcing Washington to talk with him and ultimately to haggle with him. He chopped up and dragged out negotiations, holding on to his nuclear fuel and whatever weapons he had produced, giving him continued leverage. It is that arsenal that now worries American and Asian officials, who fear that plotting generals and party leaders may fight to control it as they pick Mr. Kim’s successor.

“When the history of this era is written,” said Graham Allison, a Harvard professor and expert on proliferation, “the scorecard will be Kim 8, Bush 0.”

But if “he was the greatest master of survival, against all odds,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul, “it was his own people who paid the price, and the price was pretty high.”

Mr. Kim’s policy of songun, or “army first,” lavished the country’s scarce resources on the military, at 1.1 million-strong the world’s fifth largest. During his rule, the North expanded its ballistic missile arsenal and, in October 2006, became the eighth country in the world to conduct a nuclear test.

But as the North’s economy shrank, its isolation deepened. Possibly as many as 2 million people — almost 10 percent of the population — died in a famine in the mid-to-late 1990s brought on by incompetence and natural disasters.

“Do not expect me to change!” is a popular catchphrase credited to Mr. Kim and used to exhort his people to remain loyal to his socialist ways.

Mr. Kim is believed to have been born in Siberia in 1941, when his father, Kim Il-sung, was in exile in the Soviet Union. But in North Korea’s official accounts, he was born in 1942, in a cabin, Abe Lincoln-like. The cabin was in a secret camp of anti-Japanese guerrillas his father commanded on Mount Paektu, a holy piece of land in Korean mythology. The event, the official Korean Central News Agency would often say, was accompanied by the appearance of a bright star in the sky and a double-rainbow that touched the earth.

Little is known of his upbringing, apart from the official statement that he graduated in 1964 from Kim Il-sung University, one of the country’s many monuments to his father. At the time, North Korea was enmeshed in the cold war, and the younger Kim watched many crises unfold from close up, including North Korea’s seizure of the Pueblo, an American spy ship, in 1968. He appeared episodically at state events, rarely speaking. When he did, he revealed a high-pitched voice and little of his father’s easygoing charisma.

In his youth and middle age, there were stories about his playboy lifestyle. There were tales of lavish meals at a time his country was starving — his cook wrote a book after leaving the country — and his wavy hair and lifted heels, along with a passion for top-label liquor, made him the butt of jokes.

There was also speculation that he was involved in the 1983 bombing of a South Korean political delegation in Burma, and that he had known of, and perhaps had ordered, the kidnapping of Japanese citizens. Nothing was proved.

Washington put North Korea on its list of state sponsors of terrorism after North Korean agents planted a bomb that blew up a South Korean passenger jet in 1987 — under instructions from Mr. Kim, according to one of the agents, who was caught alive.

Mr. Kim campaigned for power relentlessly. He bowed to his father at the front porch each morning and offered to put the shoes on the father’s feet long before he was elected to the Politburo, at age 32, in 1974, said Hwang Jang-yop, a former North Korean Workers’ Party secretary who had been a key aide for the Kim regime before his defection to Seoul in 1997.

“At an early age, Kim Jong-il mastered the mechanics of power,” Mr. Hwang said.

It was not until 1993, as the existence of the Yongbyon nuclear plant and North Korea’s nuclear weapons ambitions became publicly known, that Mr. Kim appeared to be his father’s undisputed successor. That year, he became head of the National Defense Commission, the North’s most powerful agency, in charge of the military.

In 1994, in a showdown with the United States, North Korea threatened to turn its stockpile of nuclear fuel into bombs. It was the closest the two countries came to war since the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953. The standoff was defused when Kim Il-sung welcomed former President Jimmy Carter, who pushed Mr. Clinton and Mr. Kim into a deal.

Within a month, however, the country’s founder and Great Leader was dead. Many doubted at the time that the younger Kim would take over. There were rumors of a military coup, and theories that he would be allowed to keep his fast cars and to consort with visiting European “entertainers” as long as he did not try to run the country. Like much intelligence about North Korea, that turned out to be wrong.

Mr. Kim has three sons, any of whom could potentially have succeeded him. But his home life is a mystery.

His oldest son, Kim Jong-nam, would have been the natural choice to succeed him. But he had a handicap: his mother never married Mr. Kim. Since his health crisis, in 2008, Mr. Kim had been grooming his third son, Kim Jong-un, believed to be in his late 20s, to be his successor. Reports from North Korea on Monday suggested that Kim Jong-un was in charge.

Mr. Kim consolidated power in the late 1990s, and flexed his muscle by testing a North Korean missile over Japan, sending that much larger and more powerful nation into a panic. It was through episodes like this that Mr. Kim learned true power: that he could blackmail his way to survival.

But he could not learn to feed his own people, and his country became even more dependent on China for food and fuel and on “humanitarian” donations from South Korea and the United States. In June 2000, Mr. Kim played host in Pyongyang, the North’s capital, to the first summit meeting with a South Korean president, Kim Dae-jung, since the peninsula was divided more than five decades before.

Pressuring Pyongyang

The South Korean leader received the Nobel Peace Prize later that year, though his reputation was soon tainted by revelations that a South Korean company had paid off the North Koreans, and presumably their leader, to arrange the trip.

Once President Bush took office in January 2001, all cooperation between Washington and Seoul over how to deal with the North came to a crashing halt. Mr. Bush rejected the South’s “sunshine policy” of engagement with North Korea, and ended Clinton-era talks that he viewed as dangerous appeasement.

A concerted effort began to push North Korea over the brink, and set off an uprising against Kim Jong-il’s leadership. To the degree Washington could, it cut off North Korean trade, its access to cash and its ability to export weapons and drugs. Mr. Bush called Mr. Kim a “tyrant” who “starves his own people.”

In October 2002, the administration presented North Korea with evidence that it had secretly tried to evade the 1994 nuclear agreement with the United States by purchasing equipment to enrich uranium from Abdul Qadeer Khan, a founder of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. The evidence was strong — the United States had tracked the shipments with spy satellites — but the C.I.A. overstated its confidence that the North was building separate, secret nuclear facilities.

That led to a confrontation that changed the nature of the North Korean threat. Mr. Kim ordered the ouster of United Nations inspectors who had been stationed at Yongbyon. The United States pressed for an end to fuel shipments to the North. In retaliation, from January through March 2003, just as the United States military was barreling toward the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Kim did what his father had come so very close to doing nine years before: he announced that he was reprocessing spent fuel rods into bomb fuel.

After the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Kim was not seen for nearly two months; there were reports that he had gone into hiding, thinking he was Mr. Bush’s next target. He emerged only to start another confrontation in 2006, first with a series of missile tests, then, in October, the North’s first nuclear test.

Some Asian and American officials interpreted Mr. Kim’s decision as a fit of pique because “six-party talks” — negotiations among North Korea, China, South Korea, Russia, the United States and Japan — were moving so slowly. Others said that Mr. Kim had simply learned from Saddam Hussein’s mistakes and determined that he would never face the United States without a nuclear weapon.

The test itself was something of a fizzle; it ended with a sub-kiloton explosion, less than a tenth of the power of the bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. But Mr. Kim had made his point. He was condemned in the United Nations, and China briefly cut off oil and other trade. But within months the United States agreed on a new series of negotiations.

While there were many starts and stops, and disagreements over what it means to fully dismantle a nuclear program, in the summer of 2007 Mr. Kim agreed to stop the production of new nuclear fuel at Yongbyon. By then he presumably had all the weapons he needed.

The plant began to be dismantled, and in the summer of 2008 the Bush administration talked about starting up with Mr. Kim on the hardest negotiations of all, over the price of giving up North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. He died before the talks could seriously begin. .

As soon as President Obama came into office, Mr. Kim ordered a second nuclear test, this one more successful than the first. And he waited out the predictable hail of international condemnation. The move aborted efforts by Mr. Obama to engage with the North Koreans. And the next three years were spent with the United States and South Korea demanding the North live up to the denuclearization pledges it made during the Bush administration.

Instead, it did the opposite. In November 2010, the North Koreans showed a visiting American scientist from Stanford University, Siegfried Hecker, an apparently working uranium enrichment plant that the country had been building for years, and that the C.I.A. had missed, though the agency had been right about other secret facilities. The plant gave North Korea a new way to produce nuclear weapons, even as his people fell into another food shortage.

The same year, the North made two attacks against the South Korean military, sinking a ship and later shelling an island near Northern waters. The episodes caused the United States and South Korea to conduct new joint exercises, even while the Chinese, apparently fearing a complete collapse of the North Korean regime, increased its economic aid.

Despite his ill health, he was reported to have visited one of the units that attacked the South, to hand out medals, and recently managed one last visit to his benefactors in China. But it is unclear whether his son and presumed successor accompanied him on the trip.

NYT

Shame on Egyptian Army!

Online Courses and Intelligence

I feel overtaxed. I teach three classes, do research, and  am following an Artificial Intelligence class at Stanford University [link].

I am not performing at the level I am used to. Besides those activities, I keep News on Relevant Science, and follow the latest developments in Physics.

My research helps with this situation.

I spend less time thinking what things really are; and spend more time paying attention and how I do know.

BTW, I will teach an Algebra class next term, [link].

I'm waiting for my son, so I can start using:

http://eduardocantoral.dyndns.org

I am following MITx

M.I.T. Expands Free Online Courses, Offering Certificates - NYTimes.com

M.I.T. Expands Free Online Courses, Offering Certificates - NYTimes.com:

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Kim Jong-il, Dictator Who Turned North Korea Into a Nuclear State, Dies - NYTimes.com

Kim Jong-il, Dictator Who Turned North Korea Into a Nuclear State, Dies - NYTimes.com:

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

War Really Is Going Out of Style

By JOSHUA S. GOLDSTEIN and STEVEN PINKER

Published: December 17, 2011

THE departure of the last American troops from Iraq brings relief to a nation that has endured its most painful war since Vietnam. But the event is momentous for another reason. The invasion of Iraq was the most recent example of an all-out war between two national armies. And it could very well be the last one.

The idea that war is obsolescent may seem preposterously utopian. Aren’t we facing an endless war on terror, a clash of civilizations, the menace of nuclear rogue states? Isn’t war in our genes, something that will always be with us?

The theory that war is becoming passé gained traction in the late 1980s, when scholars noticed some curious nonevents. World War III, a nuclear Armageddon, was once considered inevitable, but didn’t happen. Nor had any wars between great powers occurred since the Korean War. European nations, which for centuries had fought each other at the drop of a hat, had not done so for four decades.

How has the world fared since then? Armed conflict hasn’t vanished, and today anyone with a mobile phone can broadcast the bloodshed. But our impressions of the prevalence of war, stoked by these images, can be misleading. Only objective numbers can identify the trends.

“War” is a fuzzy category, shading from global conflagrations to neighborhood turf battles, so the organizations that track the frequency and damage of war over time need a precise yardstick. A common definition picks out armed conflicts that cause at least 1,000 battle deaths in a year — soldiers and civilians killed by war violence, excluding the difficult-to-quantify indirect deaths resulting from hunger and disease. “Interstate wars” are those fought between national armies and have historically been the deadliest.

These prototypical wars have become increasingly rare, and the world hasn’t seen one since the three-week invasion of Iraq in 2003. The lopsided five-day clash between Russia and Georgia in 2008 misses the threshold, as do sporadic clashes between North and South Korea or Thailand and Cambodia.

Countries remain armed and hostile, so war is hardly impossible. But where would a new interstate war plausibly erupt? Robert Gates, the former secretary of defense, said this year that “any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined.”

Chinese leaders would deserve a similar workup if they blew off the very basis of their legitimacy, namely trade-based prosperity, by starting a war. (China has not fought a battle in 23 years.) India and Pakistan came dangerously close to war in 2002, but they backed off when both sides realized that millions would die and have since stabilized relations. Neither North nor South Korea could win a war at an acceptable cost.

What about other kinds of armed conflict, like civil wars and conflicts that miss the 1,000-death cutoff? Remarkably, they too have been in decline. Civil wars are fewer, smaller and more localized. Terrible flare-ups occur, and for those caught in the middle the results are devastating — but far fewer people are caught in the middle. The biggest continuing war, in Afghanistan, last year killed about 500 Americans, 100 other coalition troops and 5,000 Afghans including civilians. That toll, while deplorable, is a fraction of those in past wars like Vietnam, which killed 5,000 Americans and nearly 150,000 Vietnamese per year. Over all, the annual rate of battle deaths worldwide has fallen from almost 300 per 100,000 of world population during World War II, to almost 30 during Korea, to the low teens during Vietnam, to single digits in the late 1970s and 1980s, to fewer than 1 in the 21st century.

As the political scientist John Mueller has pointed out, today’s civil wars are closer to organized crime than traditional war. Armed militias — really gangs of thugs — monopolize resources like cocaine in Colombia or coltan in Congo, or terrorize the locals into paying tribute to religious fanatics, as in Somalia, Nigeria and the Philippines.

Joshua S. Goldstein, professor emeritus of international relations at American University, is the author of “Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide.” Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard, is the author of “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.”

NYT

A Philanthropy Reboot in Silicon Valley - NYTimes.com

A Philanthropy Reboot in Silicon Valley - NYTimes.com:

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Mexican Drug Trafficking News - Breaking World Drug Trafficking in Mexico News - The New York Times

Mexican Drug Trafficking News - Breaking World Drug Trafficking in Mexico News - The New York Times:

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The Case Against Sheriff Arpaio - NYTimes.com

The Case Against Sheriff Arpaio - NYTimes.com:

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Obama Welcomes Tax Cut Deal - NYTimes.com

Obama Welcomes Tax Cut Deal - NYTimes.com:

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In Bradley Manning Case, Court Denies Recusal Request - NYTimes.com

In Bradley Manning Case, Court Denies Recusal Request - NYTimes.com:

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In Cairo Clashes, Death Toll Rises - NYTimes.com

In Cairo Clashes, Death Toll Rises - NYTimes.com:

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[1112.1059] Higgs Mass Prediction for Realistic String/M Theory Vacua

[1112.1059] Higgs Mass Prediction for Realistic String/M Theory Vacua:

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Almost Gone

The First African-American Woman to Receive a Doctorate from M.I.T. Champions the Dividends of Education: Scientific American

The First African-American Woman to Receive a Doctorate from M.I.T. Champions the Dividends of Education: Scientific American:

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Particle physics is at a turning point : Nature News & Comment

Particle physics is at a turning point : Nature News & Comment:

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Despite Delay, the 100-Watt Bulb Is on Its Way Out - NYTimes.com

Despite Delay, the 100-Watt Bulb Is on Its Way Out - NYTimes.com:

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Cornell Gets $350 Million Gift for Bid for City Campus, and Stanford Bows Out - NYTimes.com

Cornell Gets $350 Million Gift for Bid for City Campus, and Stanford Bows Out - NYTimes.com:

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She ROCKS!

Military Police Clash With Egyptian Protesters - NYTimes.com

Military Police Clash With Egyptian Protesters - NYTimes.com:

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S.E.C. Sues 6 Former Top Fannie and Freddie Executives - NYTimes.com

S.E.C. Sues 6 Former Top Fannie and Freddie Executives - NYTimes.com:

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Mexican city starting countdown to 2012 solstice, Maya calender date - The Washington Post

Mexican city starting countdown to 2012 solstice, Maya calender date - The Washington Post:

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NYT Timeline December 16, 2011

Journalist Is Shot Dead in Russia’s North Caucasus Region - NYTimes.com

Journalist Is Shot Dead in Russia’s North Caucasus Region - NYTimes.com:

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Cairo Clashes Mar Egypt Parliamentary Election - NYTimes.com

Cairo Clashes Mar Egypt Parliamentary Election - NYTimes.com:

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Bradley Manning, Accused of Aiding WikiLeaks, Will Appear in Military Court - NYTimes.com

Bradley Manning, Accused of Aiding WikiLeaks, Will Appear in Military Court - NYTimes.com:

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David Bornstein

NYT

"Governments can supercharge ideas like this. But they can also do great damage. The most disheartening follow-up of the year comes from Bangladesh. In March, I reported on the government’s politically-motivated (and vindictive) actions to oust the Grameen Bank’s founder, Muhammad Yunus. Unfortunately, the government won that battle and now it continues to intimidate the bank’s board members, nine of whom are village women elected by the bank’s borrowers. It also appears to be pursuing a variety of legal strategies searching for a pretext to limit the freedom of nongovernmental organizations, and take control of other Grameen-related companies ― there are 54 ― some of which are quite valuable, particularly Grameen Telecom, which owns a third of Grameen Phone, Bangladesh’s leading telecommunications service company. Governments and foundations that have supported microfinance should be aware that the threat of takeover is very real and could be enormously destructive to these institutions and the people they serve."

A big problem in help programs, is that there are always bullies, who had caused the problems to begin with, who pound back to recover their ill gotten perks.

Sheriff’s Arpaio’s Office Targeted Latinos, U.S. Says - NYTimes.com

Sheriff’s Arpaio’s Office Targeted Latinos, U.S. Says - NYTimes.com:

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Quotes on the Death of Pundit Christopher Hitchens - NYTimes.com

Quotes on the Death of Pundit Christopher Hitchens - NYTimes.com:

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Christopher Hitchins (1949-2011)

NYT

Wikipedia

Christopher Hitchens at his Washington DC home April 26, 2007.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

CP Violation and $$f_0(980)$$

arXiv

Scientists worry about giant plumes of methane in Arctic Ocean

Scientists worry about giant plumes of methane in Arctic Ocean:

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List of Golden Globe Nominees - NYTimes.com

List of Golden Globe Nominees - NYTimes.com:

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Gingrich talks brain research; occupiers protest | Iowa City Press Citizen | press-citizen.com

Gingrich talks brain research; occupiers protest | Iowa City Press Citizen | press-citizen.com:

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Waiting for the Higgs Particle - NYTimes.com

Waiting for the Higgs Particle - NYTimes.com:

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(12) Panetta Arrives in Baghdad for Iraq War Handover Ceremony - Digg

(12) Panetta Arrives in Baghdad for Iraq War Handover Ceremony - Digg:

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Gringrich and science - TIME

Gringrich and science - TIME:

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15 Fascinating TED Talks for Physics Students

Considering physics literally keeps the known (and possibly some of the unknown) cosmos alive and kicking, anyone with a particularly piquant passion for the science enjoy thousands of lessons far beyond classroom confines. No matter the principles and applications that capture their imaginations, there likely exists a corresponding TED Talk. Though, admittedly, many heavily emphasize things on a distinctly more spacey scale. Nevertheless, even the distant quasars and pulsars and black holes and question marks out there illuminate some decidedly more terrestrial phenomena.

  1. Michael Moschen juggles rhythm and motion:

    Physics students both novice and rightly seasoned will probably wring plenty of enjoyment out of this delightful merging of science and performance art. Macarthur genius Michael Moschen discusses the more-than-likely-game-changing Dynamic Manipulation process behind his breathtaking juggling acts. And, of course, shows off these perfectly-honed skills to an appreciative TED (and hopefully home!) audience.

  2. Stephen Hawking asks big questions about the universe:

    TED2008′s overarching modus operandi focused on taking broad questions and attempting to break them down and find some viable answers. Here, the highly decorated and heavily celebrated Cambridge cosmologist and theoretical physicist tackles the broadest — specifically, the very nature of the universe itself. Philosophical and scientific inquiries regarding its origins and populace have stimulated mankind since there was a mankind, and Stephen Hawking offers up some starting points for finding out the truth.

  3. Aaron O’Connell: Making sense of a visible quantum object:

    Quantum particles, which one cannot detect with the naked eye, adhere to physics principles entirely different than those propelling the macro world. One of Aaron O’Connell’s most astounding experiments applied these strange and beautiful phenomena to objects at the visible level, allowing them to exist in two places and two states simultaneously. Listen to him talk about this groundbreaking, jaw-dropping discovery that might very well change the shape of physics someday.

  4. Murray Gell-Mann on beauty and truth in physics:

    Despite his Nobel distinctions, Murray Gell-Mann makes sure to present his scientific and philosophical insights in a manner accessible to general audiences. At once intelligent and quite funny, he challenges viewers and listeners to think about the aesthetics behind inquiries. The idea of more attractive equations garnering more solid, viable results definitely sounds strange, but a fascinating — even a little engaging — case lurks behind it.

  5. Steven Cowley: Fusion is energy’s future:

    Few alternative energy options angry up the collective blood quite like those involving anything nuclear, despite its sustainability and cleanliness. Anyone interested in green initiatives and/or the science behind them will want to check out some of the proposals presented in this illuminating lecture. Even if they never see implementation, these designs still offer up some strategies to explore weaning humanity off fossil and other not-so-clean-burning fuel sources.

  6. Brian Cox on CERN’s supercollider:

    Although the Large Hadron Collider still needs some tweaking these days to offer physicists an intimate glimpse at particle potential, its ultimate goals remain mostly unchanged since this 2008 TED Talk. University of Manchester’s Brian Cox participates in "the biggest scientific experiment ever attempted" and outlines everything it will hopefully accomplish someday. No matter one’s familiarity with all things physics, he or she can still follow the wondrous project’s past and multiple possible futures (which, calm down, conspiracy theorists, probably won’t end the world anytime soon).

  7. Richard Feynman: Physics is fun to imagine:

    TED’s Best of the Web series shares this beautiful, even romantic, BBC talk by the heavily influential late quantum physics trailblazer. In a warm, intelligent, and approachable manner, he sends the audience on a journey inside everyday objects, educating them about the particles making them them. As the title states, the fabulous reality serves as a wondrous springboard towards piquing imagination, innovation, and creativity.

  8. Brian Greene on string theory:

    At some point, most physics students and all physics majors will encounter the bizarre and disputed world of string theory. It posits that every bit of matter in the universe grows from a core comprised of, well, strings of course, and strings vibrating through 11 dimensions. If that sounds a rather strange concept to grasp, don’t be intimidated — Brian Greene explains it thoroughly using ideas and terminology non-scientists can still process.

  9. Honor Harger: A History of the Universe in Sound:

    Stars make sounds, and Honor Harger blends her artistic and technological backgrounds to turn them into creative and educational pieces. Tracking their ancient songs allows scientists (and listeners) to hear what waves remain from the Big Bang! Listen to 14.7 billion-year-old compositions straight from the universe’s origins itself, courtesy of this amazingly beautiful presentation.

  10. Andrea Ghez: The hunt for a supermassive black hole:

    Before Muse ever dedicated a song to the concept, scientists went hunting for the unique physics constructs behind supermassive black holes. The Keck telescope has provided them some breathtaking insight into one of the universe’s most bizarre, powerful phenomena, including evidence that the Milky Way plays host to a particularly giant one at its very center. As technology advances, they may finally discover the truth behind this popular, and well-supported, theory.

  11. Dan Cobley: What physics taught me about marketing:

    Although Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, thermodynamics, and Newton’s second law have little immediate connection with the branding biz, Google marketing director Dan Cobley enjoys smashing the two subjects together. Physics was actually his "first passion," and he highlights how one can use the science to explain the business. Turkish Airlines, McDonalds, and other companies serve as examples in this educational and interesting little lecture.

  12. Patricia Burchat sheds light on dark matter:

    Both dark matter and dark energy make up 96% of the known universe, and despite no scientists ever encountering them directly, still majorly impact pretty much everything. It’s not possible to measure it directly at the moment, but there are ways to track what they are and what forces they exert. Particle physicist Patricia Burchat has devoted a generous proportion of her career to their study, and she shares what science knows about the bizarre structures.

  13. Sean Carroll: Distant time and the hint of a multiverse:

    Parallel and multilayered universes are, to the general public, the stuff of comic books and sci-fi films. Physicists, however, consider it a viable theory to test — and one for which they might be able to draw up some viable supporting science. Time’s strange and not-at-all-straightforward structure unsurprisingly might be the key to understanding this super strange possible reality.

  14. George Smoot on the design of the universe:

    Physics majors and students hoping to turn their studies towards the heavens should certainly switch on this fabulous TED Talk. Marvel at Nobel Prize winner George Smoot’s lush photos of deep space and contemplate the universe’s gorgeous complexities. In particular, he showcases how — despite massive furrows of dark matter and dark energy creating a nearly infinite void — everything we know today came together.

  15. Marcus du Sautoy: Symmetry, reality’s riddle:

    Everything from the most distant supermassive black holes to the minuscule quantum particles holding reality together operate on similar symmetrical principles. As a mathematician at Oxford, Marcus Du Sautoy understands the intricate inner workings of (almost) everything more than anyone, and he hemorrhages some of his knowledge in this 2009 recording. He knits together how all things interconnect with one another on a base, numerical level sure to tantalize physics buffs.

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