Thursday, November 28, 2013

Moscow Says Louis Vuitton Doesn’t Go With Red Square

This is the title of an article on the front screen of the NYT web site. The teaser below reads – next to the thumbnail of a curious photo from the provocative retail structure: “The luxury designer has built a temporary, two-story replica of a traveling trunk in Moscow, but to some officials, it is not temporary enough.” This makes you wonder: What century do these municipal bureaucrats live in, really? And what can be so “sacred” about this place anyway?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Collateral damage in Riga

After the collapse of that newly built supermarket which killed dozens of shoppers and three resquers, the president of Latvia described the tragic accident as “large-scale murder of many defenseless people.” Strong words reflecting much justified indignation – which also raise the obvious question: who was the murderer in this case?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Child's play

This morning, a title caught my attention on the front screen of the international edition of the NYT: “Sign of Hope: Children Playing Again.” That sounded quite extraordinary, so I looked at the teaser beneath. It started with: “The sight of children bouncing balls and using swings has given at least a glimpse of normalcy.” The rest of the sentence, though, indicated that the article was not about what I thought: it noted that those surprising signs of normalcy among children were on display “even if many are orphaned or burdened by awful memories of the storm.”

Friday, November 15, 2013

Of mice and humans

A couple of new neuroscientific studies were presented the other day at a press conference. On the basis of animal models, they were said to “reveal links between social status and specific brain structures and activity, particularly in the context of social stress.” One such study found that “adult rats living in disrupted environments produce fewer new brain cells than rats in stable societies, supporting theories that unstable conditions impair mental health and cognition.” On reading this, my first thought, of course, was: “Hmm, how would this finding about lab rats apply to a human society organized around a winner-takes-most rat race?”

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The true Copernican revolution

A slightly abridged version of this should probably have gone on Twitter, but I don't have an account there. Why? Because I don't want to generate "content" for yet another smug internet zillionaire; and because I would probably have 3 "followers" there. Anyway, I was in Torun a few days ago, in Poland. The old city there is quite impressive - in fact, the English adjective "impressive" doesn't quite begin to convey the feel of it. Ouitside of the old town there is, though, a big glitzy mall named after Copernicus - who was born here 540 Earth rotations around the sun.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The odds of scientific poiesis

Nautilus is a new journal which aspires to become the New Yorker of science writing - as if there can ever be such a thing. Most of the articles there are, indeed, finely written. But once in a while some overethusiastic prose does seems to slip in. Here is the teaser they emailed lately for an article festooned with the poetic title "The Odds of Innocence":

"Our group of astronomers took in the naked mountains by the sea. We had flown into the La Serena airport at noon, and found a parched landscape. What sparse vegetation there was survived by drinking coastal fog. Sleeping dogs melted in the sun and dotted the sidewalks beneath knotted telephone wires. In the busy town bazaar, an ancient man stood stooped by his cargo, dripping sweat, while two wolfish dogs sat on top of his empty car, a kind of primal security system."

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Nadal über alles?

An article in the NYT asks if Federer or Nadal is the greatest among the current generation of male tennis players. What does Nadal have going for him? Apparently, his “ability to crunch the best numbers in what remains the essence of tennis, a sport often referred to as boxing without the blood.” So, he “holds a 21-10 record over Federer”; “holds a winning record over every other Grand Slam singles champion who has crossed his path as a professional” (with one minor exception); has the same, this time perfect, “winning record over every member of the current top 30”; and the list goes on and on: “Nadal also has the best career winning percentage in tour history at 84 percent to Federer’s 81. Nadal also has the edge in Grand Slam winning percentage over Federer at 88 to 86 and in Masters 1000 winning percentage (84 to 77) as well as a better strike rate against top 10 opponents (69 to 65).”

Friday, November 1, 2013

The joy of lobbying for a good cause

Der Spiegel carries a probing interview with the spokesperson of the Professional Association of Erotic and Sexual Services – a newly founded lobbying group for prostitutes in Germany (brothel owners can join, too, but only if “they themselves are working or have worked as a prostitute”). Her profile says she was trained as a precision engineer, tried sex work while acquiring that kind of education, and has not yet given it up at 45. The new association will fight a misguided draft law which “lumps prostitution together with human trafficking,” contains some misguided new restrictions on the sex industry, and could force many brothels to close down. For this purpose, the lobbying group will work to correct “the public perception that thousands of women in Germany are being forced into prostitution.” Instead, the German public will be educated that “there are many good, clean brothels, and most of the women do these jobs independently and voluntarily.”