Saturday, May 31, 2008

First Exta-terrestrial National Park

A Fairy-Tale Landscape


Fun, fairy-tale nicknames have been assigned to features in this mosaic of images showing the workspace reachable by the robotic arm of NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander. For example, "Sleepy Hollow" denotes a trench and "Headless" designates a rock.

Click on Image to Enlarge

A "National Park," marked by purple text and a purple arrow, has been set aside for protection until scientists and engineers have tested the operation of the robotic scoop. First touches with the scoop will be to the left of the "National Park" line.

Scientists use such informal names for easy identification of features of interest during the mission.

In this view, rocks are circled in yellow, other areas of interest in green. The images were taken by the lander's 7-foot mast camera, called the Surface Stereo Imager.

The Phoenix Mission is led by the University of Arizona, Tucson, on behalf of NASA. Project management of the mission is by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Spacecraft development is by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona



by Jean Nordhaus
from Innocence. © Ohio State University Press, 2006.
From Writer's Almanac

Would it surprise you to learn
that years beyond your longest winter
you still get letters from your bank, your old
philanthropies, cold flakes drifting
through the mail-slot with your name?

Though it's been a long time since your face
interrupted the light in my door-frame,
and the last tremblings of your voice
have drained from my telephone wire,
from the lists of the likely, your name
is not missing. It circles in the shadow-world
of the machines, a wind-blown ghost. For generosity
will be exalted, and good credit
outlasts death. Caribbean cruises, recipes,
low-interest loans. For you who asked
so much of life, who lived acutely
even in duress, the brimming world
awaits your signature. Cancer and heart disease
are still counting on you for a cure.
B'nai Brith numbers you among the blessed.
They miss you. They want you back.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Welcome to Your Brain

A primer on the brain

Sam Wang explains why we lose our keys but never forget how to drive

When people find out that Sam Wang is a neuroscientist, they often pepper him with questions like: Do we really use only 10 percent of our brains? Does drinking kill brain cells? And will listening to Mozart make babies smarter? (The answer to all three is no.) With co-author Sandra Aamodt, editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Nature Neuroscience, Wang has answered those questions in Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys But Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life. Published by Bloomsbury in March, the book provides an overview of how the brain works and debunks myths and ideas that are embedded in popular culture. Wang, an associate professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Princeton, spoke with PAW’s Katherine Federici Greenwood.

What is the most widespread myth about our brains?

That we use only 10 percent of our brains. The earliest mention [of the myth] that we were able to find was in the writings of the great speaker but non-neuroscientist, Dale Carnegie. In his speeches Carnegie said this was a fact discovered by the elder of psychology, William James. But James wrote that we use only a small fraction of our brain’s full potential. That idea, which is inspirational and helps motivate people to try harder, turned into a very scientific-sounding statement by Carnegie. In fact, our brain is a very efficient device, and we use all of it.

In your book you address a question I often wondered about: Why can’t we tickle ourselves?

Because one thing our brains do is predict what a movement will feel like. Your body turns down the volume on sensations that are caused by your own movement. So any time your brain generates a command to, say, move your hand and touch your neck, it sends other information within your brain that says “I’m moving my hand” and that you may expect a sensation that feels like that. But when someone else touches you, you feel that sensation more strongly because you’re not generating a movement that predicts that sensation. The brain region that is probably involved in this is the cerebellum.

Why might someone forget where he put the car keys but remember something that happened when he was a child?

We think of memory as one thing that our brains do, but our brains have about half a dozen different types of memory that use different brain regions. So it’s possible to have trouble in one type of memory and to have less trouble in another type of memory. Short-term memory — such as keeping track of your car keys, recalling a phone number, or recalling a fact — begins to decline in people starting in their 30s. Short-term memory requires the hippocampus and other nearby structures. The hippocampus shrinks as you age, which may account for decline in function. Your long-term memories, such as things that happened at the age of 5, get stored elsewhere. It’s thought that factual memories get laid down in the hippocampus and then over time get transferred out to the cerebral cortex. Long-term memory is therefore stored in a more secure fashion, making it possible for a person to remember events clearly from many years ago while having difficulty with more recent events.

What can people do to maintain healthy brain function later in life?

Have an intellectually engaged lifestyle and undertake physical exercise. People who engage in fitness training to get the heart rate up, and who do intellectual work for a living or who have complex intellectual hobbies like learning a language or bridge, are more likely to retain executive function. Executive function, which begins to decline in people’s 70s and 80s, is a set of abilities including self-control, making plans for the future, and decision-making. The more education you have, the more likely it is you will maintain healthy brain function later in life. Physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain and the amount of energy available to the brain. The short slogan in the book is if you do physical things for a living, you should get an intellectual hobby. If you do intellectual things [for a living], you should get a physical hobby. end of article

Portland Area Number 3 Carbon Footprint Leader


By Neal Peirce
© 2008 Washington Post Writers Group
June 1, 2008

As greenhouse gases increasingly warm the globe, Which of America’s big metro areas are the “cleanest” and which the “dirtiest” in carbon emissions? And what are the most obvious steps that could be taken to protect the planet’s future?

A first-ever study of the climate footprint of America’s top 100 metro regions starts to tell the story. Based on 2005 figures calculated by the Brookings Institution, each region’s carbon emissions caused by cars and trucks, plus power supplied to residences, is reported -- not a complete score (industries and office buildings are omitted), but close enough for a clear picture.

The “winners” -- the most modest carbon generators, per capita -- turn out to be such regions as New York-Northern New Jersey, Portland, Seattle-Tacoma, San Francisco, Honolulu, San Diego, and a surprise performer -- Los Angeles.

The biggest carbon emitters, by contrast, included such metro areas as Lexington (Ky.), Indianapolis, Knoxville, Oklahoma City, Nashville and St. Louis.

So what explains the differences?

The best performers provide a clue: high-density, compact development with new and expanded rail transit. Many of the regions with the smallest per capita carbon footprints -- among them New York, San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles -- fit that profile.

By contrast, some of the metros with high per capita carbon emission scores have experienced dramatic sprawling, pedestrian-hostile development and are weaker on mass transit.

There are some exceptions: the Washington, D.C. and Atlanta regions, for example, have significant rail transit ridership but they’ve also sprawled so much they have larger than average carbon footprints.

And the source of power makes a real difference. The Nation’s Capital region has a carbon footprint 10 times the Seattle region’s, chiefly because it’s heavily dependent on coal for power, while the Pacific Northwest has major hydropower sources that don’t emit carbon.

Plus there’s a surprise geographic factor too: the heavy carbon footprint metros are overwhelmingly east of the Mississippi, the light carbon ones in the West. And there’s a north-south divide too: the map shows a concentration of high emitters in America’s heavily coal-consuming, fast-suburbanizing Southeast.

The implications are compelling: state officials, mayors, county leaders should push for protection of open lands, new transit lines that attract more compact development, and for rules and incentives to get utilities to switch away from coal (the most polluting, carbon-heavy energy source of all).

But the federal government needs to play a far more constructive role -- “Metros can’t ‘go it alone’ in solving as vast a problem as global climate change,” says Mark Muro, policy director of Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program.

And arguably, how the metros go on climate emissions, so goes America: the top 100 account for two-thirds of the country’s population and almost three-quarters of its economic activity. And their carbon output, despite all their mayors’ noble talk of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, rose 7.5 percent from 2000 to 2005.

The federal government is a poor ally now, Brookings charges. It fails to tax carbon fuels enough to discourage their polluting impacts and reduce the country’s massive dependence on foreign oil. While countries around the world expand their clean energy research budgets, Washington is spending just a third as much on energy research as it did in 1978. Federal transportation funding is tilted heavily toward highways, away from transit; indeed its formulas reward states for the worst behavior -- high vehicle miles traveled, fuel use, and lane miles of travel.

Solutions offered by Brookings include a targeted carbon tax or full “cap and trade” system so that polluting energy consumption pays its full costs. Dramatic increase in federal research on potentials like wind and solar power. A minimum power share of renewable sources that states must achieve (so that some, for example, can’t leave carbon-heavy coal riding high even while competitor states invest forward in more expensive renewables). And “modal neutrality” -- an even playing field between highways and rail in federal transportation funding to states and localities.

The tax code could be adjusted to give smaller houses and compact development a better break. And some ingenious shifts in regulations. Homebuyers, for example, now benefit from the federal Real Estate Settlement Practices Act that requires sellers to reveal hazards, impediments, detailed lending terms and the like. But why not, says Brookings, also require clear, nationally standardized energy information -- factors such as the efficiency of water heaters or furnaces or lighting, that can make a big difference in a buyers’ real costs?

America’s energy rules were written for a different world, a different century. So Brookings has it right: We need a massive reevaluation -- federal, state, and metro-wide -- to reinvent our energy future and reign in America’s cumulative, massive carbon footprint.

The Sheepherder's Ball

The Sheepherder's Ball: Hidden Basque Kitchens

by The Kitchen Sisters

Morning Edition, May 29, 2008 ·
To listen to the story Click Here.

Maybe you've been to
Sparks, Nev., to John Ascuaga's Nugget Casino. He's been there for nearly 50 years. We were interviewing Mr. Ascuaga for our story "Liberace and The Trinidad Tripoli Steelband" for our Lost & Found Sound series. He began to tell us about his Basque heritage and what led him to Nevada. The "Hidden Kitchens" series was not on the horizon then, but like we always do, we began asking him about the food of home.

Ascuaga's family is Basque, from the village of Orozco in the Pyrenees.

"My father came in 1900," he said. "All kinds of men came to Idaho, Montana, Nevada, California and New Mexico to become sheepherders. I still keep a flock of sheep to remember my heritage. I have a Basque restaurant in the casino, Orozco. It's the name of my grandfather's village."

The Lasarte Brothers

Many years later I was visiting my Nelson Sister, Jessie, about our upcoming story about the hidden kitchen traditions of the Basque and she said, "Oh, the men out in front, doing landscaping on our house, are two Basque brothers, the Lasartes."

I grabbed the tape recorder, she introduced us, and out of the blue we did an interview that is the center of this story. They spoke, they sang, they whistled. I heard all the calls they have for the sheep dogs that traveled with them over the long treks across the American West.

Francisco and Joaquin Lasarte came to America in 1964 from Basque country in northern Spain. Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator who repressively ruled the country for nearly 40 years, made life miserable for the Basque people, suppressing their language, culture and possibilities.

The result was a massive exodus, and the only way to come to the United States for many Basque was to contract as sheepherders. There was a shortage of shepherds in the American West, and Sen. Patrick McCarren of Nevada helped craft legislation in 1950 that allowed Basque men to take up this lonely and difficult job.

Neither Lasarte brother had any sheepherding experience when they arrived in America.

"You lonely, you by yourself," Francisco Lasarte said. "My God, you with 2,000 sheep and two dogs and you don't know what to do, where to go." The brothers were contracted for five years to this life. It was a sentence.

Each brother had his own flock, and they rarely saw each other or anyone else for months on end. Mostly they ate lamb and bread cooked in a Dutch oven in a hole they dug in the ground. You can still find these holes up in the mountains of Idaho, Montana, Nevada and California.

A herder holds freshly baked bread outside his wagon. The sheepwagon is a camp on wheels with beds, a table, and a wood stove. It was pulled in the early days by a team of horses and later by a pickup. Courtesy Basque Library at the University of Nevada, Reno

A Solitary Life

"You say Basque to a Westerner and you think sheepherder," said Mark Kurlansky, author of The Basque History of the World. "In Basque country very few people were shepherds. The seven provinces of Basque country are about the size of New Hampshire. No one has huge expanses of land there."

William Douglass, former director of the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, describes this solitary life.

"Teenagers were ripped up out of their communities back home, brought to a foreign land, with a foreign language, put up on top of a mountain ... crying themselves to sleep at night during the first year on the range."

The Basques have a family-oriented, communal culture, gathering around big tables to eat, drink and sing. This solitary life in remote mountains ran against the grain.

"Sprinkled throughout the rural newspapers of the American West in the early 20th century," Douglass said, "you get these reports of the mad Basco sheepherder, talking to themselves. Amongst Basques there's this whole vocabulary of madness: the sheepherder who goes over the edge, who becomes sagebrushed or sheeped."

"They had to have a sponsor to come over," Linda Elizalde McCoy said. Her family has run the Noriega Hotel in Bakersfield, Calif., for more than 75 years. It has been the way station to countless Basque shepherds.

A Home Away from Home

Hotels like the Noriega were home in the winter months for these isolated men. They piled into these Basque boarding houses that sprung up in Elko and Winnemucca, Nev., and Boise, Idaho. The men ate family style — big bottles of red wine, accordion music, conversation and card games.

Bernadette Hirigoyen was a cook at the Noriega Hotel. The dishes included soup, stew, flan, hard chorizo, chicken and paella.

"All the shepherds came there, lots of Bascos," Hirigoyen said. "Just guys, not women. Bascos knew this place; they would help each other find jobs. My grandmother was like a mother to the men in their teens. It was a lively community."

[Click Here for some Basque Recipes -- Sheepherder Bread, Lamb Stew, Flan]

The Voice of the Basque

For 25 years, the voice of the Basque was Espe Alegria. Every Sunday night, sheepherders across the mountains of the American West would tune in to listen to her radio show on KBOI in Boise. Alegria's daughter, Rosita Artis, sent us some old recordings of her mother's show. Dedications, birthday greetings, suggestions of where to find good pasture, the soccer scores that her husband got off the shortwave from Spain, and the hit tunes from Spain and the Basque region. She would help the sheepherders with immigration issues, with buying plane tickets home, with doctor's appointments. She did her show for free, but once or twice a year the owners of the sheep camps would give her a lamb. The family would take it home, throw it on the kitchen table, cut it up and put in the freezer.

While working on this story we had the pleasure of working with people at the Center for Basque Studies and the Basque Library at the University of Nevada, Reno. We went to Basque festivals in San Francisco and Bakersfield, to the lively Gernika Bar inside Boise's Basque Center, and the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in Boise, one of the most inspiring places we've been on the "Hidden Kitchens" trail. There we found artifacts, the aspen trees with Basque carvings known as Arborglyphs and the Basque Oral History Collection, Oroitzapenak Memories: Voices from Basque America, which contains dozens of oral histories, many available online.

The Sheepherder's Ball was the highlight of the year in Boise, Rosita Artis tells us. The men wore denim, the women wore simple house dresses.

"You know, you wear gowns and tiaras to a ball. We wore house dresses. That's what we had," she said.

Lambs were auctioned off and proceeds given to a charity. Huge platters of chorizo and stew and pork sandwiches were served. Jimmy Jausoro's band played long sets deep into the night, and the community drank wine and danced. The ball continues to this day every December at the Euzkaldunak Club's Basque Center.

—Davia Nelson

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


"We live in a deranged age, more deranged than usual, because in spite of great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing."

Walker Percy

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Portland Views

Cedar Crossing Covered Bridge

Click on image to enlarge.

What We Want

What We Want

Linda Pastan from Carnival Evening. © W.W. Norton.

What we want
is never simple.
We move among the things
we thought we wanted:
a face, a room, an open book
and these things bear our names—
now they want us.
But what we want appears
in dreams, wearing disguises.

We fall past,
holding out our arms
and in the morning
our arms ache.
We don't remember the dream,
but the dream remembers us.
It is there all day
as an animal is there
under the table,
as the stars are there

The English House of Commas

If you have a PowerPoint viewer on your computer Click Here. Remember that to advance through a PowerPoint presentation you need to click on the screen for each slide. To exit, right click to get a menu.

If you need a PowerPoint viewer for Windows Click Here.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Hilary and Josh

Hilary Hahn and Josh Ritter: An Uncommon Duo

By Tom Huizenga

Morning Edition, May 22, 2008 - Musicians from the pop and classical music worlds always seem to be collaborating. The results — sometimes called "crossover" — can often be a mishmash of music that doesn't quite sound like classical or pop.

Hilary Hahn and Josh Ritter are unlikely collaborators who are crossing into each other's territory in different ways. Hahn is a top classical violinist. Ritter is a folk-rocker. The two shared a stage at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art recently: She played classical pieces for solo violin, and he sang songs from his albums.

To Hear the entire concert Click Here and scroll down to "Hear the Concert.

When Ritter plays a concert with Hahn, at least half the audience is used to hearing Beethoven and Bach. As the Met show began — in a museum that houses paintings by Picasso and Van Gogh — Ritter said he was "storming the gates of irony," and he later remarked that it was cool to play in a place without a neon sign behind him and without anyone throwing beer bottles.

While Ritter is warming to upscale classical venues, Hahn has a different challenge. She says she's still learning how to improvise around Ritter's gentle rock songs.

"It's especially nerve-wracking playing before audiences that know something about it," she says. "At the same time, though, I don't want to write out a part; I don't want to take a shortcut. So sometimes you have to take the risks and try new things, and sometimes they fall flat in a concert, but some nights they click, and it's those nights that click that you can keep in mind and try to learn from."

The concerts Hahn and Ritter give together are experiments. They each play their own music and come together only on a couple of tunes throughout the evening. It's not a crossover project marketed by a record company. Hahn and Ritter think of it more as a double bill. They first performed together at a club in Montreal, Ritter recalls. He invited her to improvise with his band and play a classical tune on her own.

"She's like standing next to a tornado when she's on stage and playing," Ritter says. "It's something I don't get the chance to see. I feel like I'm standing inside music."

When Ritter backs up Hahn on a classical piece, he says he is forced to do something he's not used to — read notes from a music stand.

"We do a piece together at the end of the night, the 'Cantabile' by Paganini, and that has been the biggest musical summit of my life so far," Ritter says. "When that song is over, I just feel this weight lift off me."

Ritter and Hahn ask a lot from themselves, and they ask a lot from their audiences. Half come for her; the other half, for him. By the time it's over, Hahn says, a few discoveries have been made.

"There are a lot of people I've met after a show with Josh who said, 'Well, you know, I'm not really a classical person — I don't listen to a lot of classical music — but I really loved that stuff you played.' "

Ritter and Hahn are both hugely successful on their own. Her new CD of violin concertos is at the top of the Billboard classical charts, and he's been widely compared to Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Ritter says they perform together for the musical connections, not the money.

"Our motive was to see if two types of music that were done very differently could be brought together for a single evening," he says. "But we really didn't want to meet each other on each other's grounds, because I can't play what she plays, and she can't play what I play. We want to trust that the audience is going to appreciate both of those things."

(Special thanks to the Music Division of WNYC in New York.)

Adam LaMotte

Here are two recent YouTube Videos featuring Portland Baroque Orchestra member Adam LaMotte.

Click here for Summer from the Four Seasons, part 1

Click here for Summer from the Four Seasons, part 2

Adam LaMotte is becoming well known to audiences in the Northwest as a leader of both period and modern ensembles. He has appeared as soloist, concertmaster, and conductor of numerous orchestras throughout the country, including the Northwest Sinfonietta in Seattle, American Virtuosi of New York, Astoria Festival Orchestra, Portland Baroque Orchestra, and the Maggini String Orchestra in Houston. Mr. LaMotte recently returned from studying under Maestro Dumitru Goia in Bucharest, Romania, and continues his study of conducting with Gregory Vajda, Resident Conductor of the Oregon Symphony.

As violinist and violist, Adam has been hailed by critics as an "especially compelling" and "superb violinist" with "exceptional talent," whose performances are "energetic and exquisite." This season he performed as soloist in the Beethoven Violin Concerto, as well as both of Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerti. He has co-founded two critically-acclaimed ensembles, in Portland and in Houston, and continues to produce many chamber music and chamber orchestra performances. In collaboration with ensembles such as American Bach Soloists, Portland Baroque Orchestra, and Trinity Consort, Mr. LaMotte performs on period instruments, using a fine Italian instrument made in 1730 by Bernardo Calcagni, for which he is indebted to his generous patrons who made the purchase possible.

A native of Houston, Adam attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Manhattan School of Music and the Aaron Copland School of Music in New York, and had the opportunity to study with Daniel Phillips, Jorg Schwartz, Kenneth Goldsmith, and Ani Kavafian.

If you love orchids . . .

Cymbidium Orchid Slideshow

From a relative in California.

Shortly after the orchids bloom, I take photos
and add to my computer files for blooms in
the 2008 season.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Booksellers' Selections for Summer Afternoons

Booksellers' Selections for Summer Afternoons

by Susan Stamberg
Morning Edition
May 23, 2008 ·

Novelist Henry James once said the two most beautiful words in the English language were "summer afternoon." And what better way to spend a summer afternoon — or a spring, fall or winter afternoon for that matter — than curled up with a good book?

To that end, we huddled with booksellers from three independent bookstores to get their selections for the very best reads this summer.

And the picks are in! This year's selections feature a little bit of everything: from Don Lee's wacky brussels spouts farmers in Wrack & Ruin to Irina Reyn's re-imagined (and thoroughly modern) Tolstoy heroine in What Happened to Anna K. [See below} Whatever your reading fancy, our booksellers promise many pleasant afternoons, summer or otherwise.

To listen to Susan Stamerg Click Here.

Click on images below to read excerpts.

Click here for the complete list.



By Neal Peirce
May 25, 2008
© 2008 Washington Post Writers Group

Only lightly noted on this side of the border, our neighbor Mexico is engulfed in bloody, violent combat with and between death-dealing drug cartels.

Click image to enlarge

In a stunning reversal for President Felipe Calderon’s crusade to subdue the drug trade and its perpetrators, Edgar Gomez, the national police chief and lead anti-cartel crusader, was assassinated this month outside his Mexico City home. “This could have a snowball effect, even leading to the risk of ungovernability,” Mexico City sociologist Luis Astorga told the Washington Post.

Yet it’s hardly unique. More than 20,000 Mexican troops and federal police are struggling against the private armies of rival drug lords. Literally hundreds of officials and police have been murdered in the struggle -- some 6,000 in the last 2½ years, far beyond U.S. casualty counts in Iraq. Further drenching the country in blood, mass executions and even beheadings have been reported.

Talk about a national security issue for the United States! We share a 2,000-mile border with Mexico; it’s our second-largest trade partner, especially huge in agriculture. Millions of families are related across the border; thousands of Mexicans regularly cross over for work. Yet cartel murders of police are commonplace, and 30 percent of police in Baja California alone are estimated to be on a drug cartel payroll.

There’s a U.S. response before Congress right now. It’s President Bush’s request for a so-called Merida Initiative- a $1.4 billion three-year program to undergird the Mexican government’s anti-drug efforts with helicopters and other military equipment, training for Mexican police forces, plus phone-tapping, mail-inspection and Web-surveillance programs.

But there’s substantial congressional skepticism about aid that could flow to notoriously unaccountable, frequently corrupted Mexican military and police forces. And then the tough, basic question - realistically, how much could U.S. aid of roughly $500 million a year do to stem the gargantuan illegal drug trade that now flows across the Mexican border -- some $23 billion a year by U.S. Government Accountability Office estimate?

And is the problem really Mexico -- or our demand for drugs? There are three much smarter steps that a rational United States would make.

First, face up to where the Mexican cartels get their weapons of death. Virtually all, including pistols, grenades, high-powered ammunition and assault weapons such as the AK-47, are smuggled from U.S. territory, across the border into Mexico, where the gangster elements pay premium prices for them.

The weapons are often purchased legally at gun shows in Arizona and other states where loopholes permit criminals to buy guns without background checks. Then corrupted Mexican customs officials wink an eye at the smuggling.

Our obvious answer: Seal all gun show sales loopholes, requiring checks on every purchaser. And reinstate the United States ban on assault gun purchases which Congress, under gun lobby pressure (and with Bush administration acquiescence), let expire in 2004.

A second smart move: reduce demand for drugs on the U.S. side through treatment for addicted individuals. Consider cocaine alone: the RAND Corporation, in a study for the U.S. Army and White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, found that dollar for dollar, drug treatment is 10 times more effective at reducing its use than drug interdiction.

Our big mistake: Making Mexico the villain when it’s really the victim. And it’s “a familiar game,” notes Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance:

“U.S. leaders blame another country for our failure to reduce drug misuse here at home. That country escalates its war against drugs but asks the U.S. to pick up part of the tab. Aid is given, but it ends up having no effect on the availability of drugs in the United States. Politicians in Washington point their fingers again, and the cycle continues.”

Indeed, patterns of the international narcotics trade show that whenever some source of production or smuggling route gets clamped down, drug production and drug-trafficking gangs quickly regroup elsewhere.

Third and most basic of all: recognize that while prohibition of socially disallowed drugs can increase their cost, it can never halt demand. Why? Desire for mind-altering substances (opiates, alcohol, whatever) is virtually built into the human psyche.

Americans might recall the counsel of the late Nobel Prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman, who learned the immense dangers of repressing demand as, in his youth, he watched America’s misadventure into alcohol prohibition, and how it triggered the Al Capone-era wave of gang wars:

“Illegality creates obscene profits that finance the murderous tactics of the drug lords; illegality leads to the corruption of law enforcement officials... Drugs are a tragedy for addicts. But criminalizing their use converts that tragedy into a disaster for society, for users and nonusers alike.”

So now comes the Medina Initiative -- fueling the drug wars, foisting the consequences of our misguided prohibition onto an already-beleaguered neighbor. Will we never learn?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Teach your dog to drive

The Man Next Door Is Teaching His Dog to Drive

by Cathryn Essinger
from My Dog Does Not Read Plato. © Main Street Rag Publishing Company.

It all began when he came out one morning
and found the dog waiting for him behind the wheel.
He thought she looked pretty good sitting there,

so he started taking her into town with him

just so she could get a feel for the road.
They have made a few turns through the field,

him sitting beside her, his foot on the accelerator,
her muzzle on the wheel. Now they are practicing
going up and down the lane with him whispering

encouragement in her silky ear. She is a handsome
dog with long ears and a speckled muzzle and he
is a good teacher. Now my wife, Millie, he says,

she was always too timid on the road, but don't you
be afraid to let people know that you are there.
The dog seems to be thinking about this seriously.

Braking, however, is still a problem, but he is building
a mouthpiece which he hopes to attach to the steering
column, and when he upgrades to one of those new

Sports Utility Vehicles with the remote ignition device,
he will have solved the key and the lock problem.
Although he has not yet let her drive into town,

he thinks she will be ready sometime next month,
and when his eyes get bad and her hip dysplasia
gets worse, he thinks this will come in real handy.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Beyond the surface

Diving deeper into history of natural order

Princeton Weekly Bulletin
April 28, 2008, Vol. 97, No. 25

by Jennifer Greenstein Altmann

Princeton NJ — Eight freshmen gathered in a classroom in Blair Hall recently with history professor D. Graham Burnett to debate a fiery controversy from the early 19th century: Is a whale a fish or a mammal?

Caption: Associate professor of history D. Graham Burnett is the author of a new book [Trying Leviathan] that examines the debate over whale taxonomy as a turning point for the history of science in early America. (photo: Denise Applewhite)

The question was the subject of the 1818 court case Maurice v. Judd, which became the cause célèbre of the day. The trial was ostensibly about whether the whale oil of Samuel Judd, head of the New York Spermaceti Oil and Candle factory, should be considered fish oil and therefore subject to inspection by James Maurice, New York City’s inspector of fish oils. But the underlying question of whether a whale should be classified as a mammal or a fish became the subject of a sensational public debate where human taxonomy, the interpretation of the Bible’s book of Genesis, natural history and science itself were all at stake.

Burnett used the case as a focal point of his freshman seminar, “The Beast in the Sea: The Natural History of Whales.” To get the class immersed in the storied history of whales, Burnett asked his students to stage an appeal of the jury’s finding — which declared that a whale was a fish — as their midterm exam.

The trial also takes center stage in Burnett’s new book, “Trying Leviathan: The 19th-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature,” which looks at the debate over whale taxonomy as a turning point for the history of science in early America.

“The trial really seized people’s imaginations because the whole thing was so paradoxical,” said Burnett, an associate professor who specializes in the history of science. “There was broad consensus in the early republic that whales were fish — the notion this could be questioned, and by ‘philoso-phers’ of all people, struck nearly everyone as preposterous. There was much merriment at the expense of men of learning.”

The trial became a media sensation akin to the O.J. Simpson trial, with breathless coverage in newspapers, galleries crammed with citizen onlookers and celebrity figures engaged on both sides. William Sampson, the star plaintiff’s lawyer, and Samuel Latham Mitchill, a well-known naturalist, were “the Johnnie Cochran and Stephen Jay Gould of the day,” Burnett said.

Burnett stumbled on an account of the trial several years ago while researching the place of science in “Moby-Dick.” The case was such fertile ground for exploring changing perceptions of scientific knowledge that he ended up making the trial the focus of his study. He expanded the scope to examine the larger problems in the understanding of natural order that arose from the time of the pioneering 18th-century taxonomist Carl Linnaeus to Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary biology. Princeton University Press published the book last October.

“Controversies afford unique windows into knowledge being made,” said Burnett, who has taught at Princeton since 2001. “The agonistic setting of the courtroom obliges people not just to say what they know, but to defend it under cross-examination — to explain where they got their information and what buttresses it. You see down into the activities of science and the features of people’s relationship to the natural world, which are generally so difficult for the historian to recover.”

The trial also served as a moment in history when book learning was challenged by knowledge gained from life experience. Fisherman, whalers and craftsmen who worked with whale products testified alongside trained zoologists and comparative anatomists. Burnett also studied whalers’ logbooks at the New Bedford Whaling Museum to examine what whalemen knew about the anatomy and physiology of whales.

“It’s an interesting example of lay expertise,” Burnett said. “In what ways do people come to know nature through labor? It’s not the same kind of knowledge as in the university discipline of zoology or in academies of natural history, but there is deep expertise in the craft knowledge of those whose livelihoods necessitate intimate contact with nature.”

In March “Trying Leviathan” was selected as one of two recipients of the 2007 New York City Book Award from the New York Society Library, which recognizes books that capture the essence of New York City.

“Graham Burnett’s book is a terrific achievement,” said Anthony Grafton, the Henry Putnam University Professor of History. “He draws on an amazing range of sources, but wears his learning very lightly, writing an elegant and witty prose that anyone could read for pleasure. I love the way he tells the story of his central case, Maurice v. Judd, but I’m even more impressed by the way he uses the story to help us understand the meanings of law and science in a very different world. It’s wonderful to see scholarship of this depth and originality presented so well.”

Burnett graduated from Princeton in 1993 and went to the University of Cambridge as a Marshall Scholar, completing his Ph.D. in 1997. He taught at Yale University and was a Mellon Fellow in the Humanities at Columbia University and a fellow in the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library before joining the Princeton faculty.

His first book, “Masters of All They Surveyed: Exploration, Geography and a British El Dorado,” examined the relationship between cartography and colonialism in the 19th century. He also wrote “A Trial By Jury,” a narrative account of his experience as the jury foreman on a Manhattan murder trial. He said that the experience of an actual courtroom stimulated his interest in the historical relationship between science and the law.
Caption: A New York whaleman’s drawing of a sperm whale, circa 1810.

Mock trial tests students’ knowledge

To bring the subject of “Trying Leviathan” to life, Burnett split the students in his freshman seminar into two groups and assigned each team to act as lawyers in a mock appeal of the Maurice v. Judd trial. They prepared legal strategy memos for their “clients” and wrote briefs analyzing the problems at issue in the case. The assignment required that the students, in researching and framing their arguments, limit themselves to material that was available in 1818. The appeal was conducted before three graduate students in the Program in the History of Science, who played the roles of appellate judges.

“The rationale was to get them thinking like historians,” said Burnett. “I want them to get a feel for how you grasp the way people of the past made sense of the world. You have to submerge yourself in what they knew and blinker yourself with respect to the future — of which they had no inkling.”

That wasn’t easy, said student Erin Buchholtz.

“The word ‘scientist’ wasn’t even coined until the 1830s,” she said. “Additionally, it was hard to debate that whales were mammals — the word ‘mammal’ was considered obscene and offensive because it originated from the word ‘mammary.’”

Nevertheless, Buchholtz enjoyed posing as an attorney for the “whale is not a fish” team.

“The class has gotten us to look at history and science in a way we’d never thought of,” she said. “It’s opened up new thought processes and perspectives for a wide variety of ideas. It’s not uncommon for us to continue discussing things we talked about in class on the way back to our dorms, or at dinner the next day.”

“The trial was a lot of fun,” said Cameron Myhrvold. “Professor Burnett makes the subject exciting — he injects a lot of enthusiasm into our discussions.”

Sarah Strobel also has enjoyed the seminar. “We talked for two and a half hours — without stopping — about our favorite parts of ‘Moby-Dick,’ a novel that intimidated me before this class,” she said.

The massive subject of whales is one that Burnett will continue to explore. He is currently completing another book on whales, which will finish the trajectory of “Trying Leviathan.”

“The book focuses on the 20th century and the vast exploitative whaling industry, which was critical to a number of countries,” Burnett said. He chronicles how the perception of whales was radically transformed in a century’s time. Seen as mere beasts in the 1800s, whales during the 20th century moved to “the center of a transformed relationship to the natural world and became critical to the emergence of the global environmental movement. They were totems of the peace movement and symbols of the counterculture.” Changing scientific ideas, Burnett said, turned the “soulless monsters of the 19th century into soulful friends of humanity.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Solar-powered trash cans come to downtown Portland

Portland businessman puts out solar-powered trash cans downtown They're expensive, but the Oregon Zoo saves fuel and labor with similar cans
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Oregonian Staff

Portland parking mogul Greg Goodman was walking in Boston last year when he saw something that looked like a mailbox with a solar panel.

Only it wasn't a mailbox. It was a solar-powered trash can that smashes garbage -- making room for more garbage, limiting how often it's emptied and theoretically saving fuel and cutting greenhouse gases.

So Goodman bought two. He donated both to the city of Portland, and they now sit on Southwest Morrison Street, one at Broadway and one at Fifth Avenue. Each features logos for Goodman's City Center Parking, which operates 200 parking facilities, and the Oregon Environmental Council, a nonprofit he supports.

The cans have been on the street for three weeks now, so it's a little early to judge whether they're saving fuel or anything else, city officials said.

But the Oregon Zoo has five similar cans, which have saved fuel and labor, said Michael Weatherman, the zoo's custodial manager.

"I am very happy with them," Weatherman said.

The cans work like this: When garbage reaches a certain level, a sensor triggers the compactor, which smashes the trash. Lights on the front of the can -- green, yellow and red -- tell garbage haulers when it should be emptied. And the solar panel works even in the rain.

The city manages about 600 trash cans, most of them downtown, and has no plans to buy solar-powered models. So two cans are a drop in the bucket if you're looking at the big picture.

But that's exactly what Goodman, a developer and sustainability advocate, is looking at.

Soon, he plans to lobby other businesses in town to donate roughly $4,000, the rather hefty purchase price, to buy more of the trash cans for the city. Like the first two, each would include a logo for the business and a nonprofit the business chooses.

"I've already got others who've told me they're going to do it," Goodman said. "But I want to make sure they're working perfectly before I go out and sell them, because they're not cheap."

Stephen Beaven:


Lab-Grown Meat a Reality, But Who Will Eat It?

by Ketzel Levine

To Listen to the story Click Here.

Morning Edition, May 20, 2008 · Countless families are familiar with the domestic challenge of vegetarians and meat eaters living under one roof. Vegetarians often find the mere presence of meat repugnant; meat eaters prefer their wings and ribs seasoned without guilt. But these days, as "mixed" households explore their dietary options, a handful of scientists are cooking up what might be a possible alternative: meat grown in a lab.

Caption: The "semi-living steak" (above) was made of embryonic sheep muscle cells that were grown on a polyester scaffold for more than two months. This research was done in 2000 by the artists/researchers Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, as part of their project Tissue Culture & Art. Courtesy Tissue Culture & Art

Though the idea of growing animal parts in a lab rather than on a farm has been around for a century, it has never seemed like a good time to talk about man-made meat. But the concept has had some famous proponents, including Winston Churchill in his 1932 essay "Fifty Years Hence": "We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium."

Churchill was likely inspired by the work of Alexis Carrel, who at the time of Churchill's comment had been keeping alive a cultured piece of chicken heart tissue for 20 years. The Nobel Prize-winning scientist kept his experiment small, but it fed many an imagination, including that of author Frederik Pohl.

Pohl wrote the 1952 sci-fi novel The Space Merchants, in which tissue-cultured meat gets a starring if inglorious role — it's the starter ingredient for an ever-growing lumpen food source known affectionately as Chicken Little.

But Pohl, now almost 90, suspected the novel he wrote with Cyril M. Kornbluth wouldn't stay science fiction for long.

"Actually, when Cyril and I wrote the book, I thought we would see much of it actually happening," he says.

The Complexity of Meat

Meat isn't being cultured on the scale of Chicken Little yet, and because most carnivores don't spend much time worrying where their meat comes from, there hasn't exactly been a public demand. But there are in fact scientists who, despite little acceptance of what they do, are working this very minute to grow tissue-cultured meat.

It's happening in labs from Norway to North Carolina, and it's being done exactly the same way patches of human skin are already grown. All that takes is a skin cell marinated in a nutrient-rich concoction. Within a few weeks, it's pretty much ready to wear.

But British biologist Brian Ford, author of The Future of Food, says meat has always been a more difficult proposition.

"Meat is a complex mixture of tissue," he says. "Under the microscope, you can see all sorts of gristly bits and fatty bits and muscly bits. ... It's this sort of mosaic of different cell types that changes cells into what we know as meat — and that is a problem that nobody has successfully, as yet, addressed."

But somebody is getting close.

Food of the Future?

Vladimir Mironov, a biologist at the Medical University of South Carolina, is among a handful of scientists culturing meat from animal tissue. His work involves turning formless, textureless patches of the stuff into mass-produced form — like meat sheets, or what one might affectionately call "shmeat."

"I personally believe that this [is the] inescapable future," he says.

But standing between Mironov and shmeat right now are production models, production facilities, venture capital — and consumer demand.

"Technology, I think, is doable, and if you have reasonable investment it can be done. But ... you can't create [a] product which nobody wants to buy or is too expensive to buy. So the right timing ... is everything," he says.

So is this the right time? One unlikely nonprofit thinks so: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA recently announced a $1 million contest to create commercially viable chicken meat, sacrificing neither chicken nor egg. The deadline is 2012, the contest rules Herculean and the prize money paltry. But the thinking is pragmatic: If people must have meat, and factory farming is an animal nightmare, why not find a high-tech alternative?

Peter Singer, author of the 1975 treatise Animal Liberation, is all for it.

"I always thought it would be a good thing," he says. "The same way that I think it's good that the abuse of horses for pulling loads has ended. ... I think it would be good if the abuse of animals for raising them for meat were to end, because we had a technological solution to that. We had an alternative."

Uncertain Technologies

But molecular biologist Margaret Mellon from the Union of Concerned Scientists disagrees.

"Tissue-cultured meat just doesn't make sense to me," she says. "I think it's a very bad idea."

Mellon believes that all our food should be grown lightly on the land, using the riches of the Earth and the power of the sun — not in a factory.

"Picture it: You've got a big compound of buildings with scientists running around tending big vats of cultured cells, making sure that they're all at a constant temperature, that the cells are being kept sterile," she says. "I mean, where does that energy come from? That's a lot of fossil fuel."

So, to recap the opinions on the state of shmeat: It's animal-friendly but bad for the environment; we have the how-to, but not the how-come; unleashing unknown technologies is fodder for nightmares.

And at least one carnivore thinks it's real meat.

"If it [looks] like muscle, if it [smells] like muscle, if it tastes like muscle, that's muscle," Mironov says.

Which brings up one last point: the taste of shmeat. Like chicken, right? Not so, says a source who has sampled tissue-cultured turkey. It tasted like turkey.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Eye of the Beholder

Showcasing Shams

At the Museum of Fakes, what's not real is still art

* By Dina Modianot-Fox
*, May 08, 2008

Salvatore Casillo should be a happy man. The museum he runs in [Salerno] southern Italy—Museo del Falso—recently acquired a large collection of works attributed to contemporary Italian pop artist Mario Schifano, whose paintings have fetched up to $500,000 at auction. Any day now, the museum will take possession of thousands of oil paintings, drawings, lithographs and prints ascribed to other famous artists, including Andy Warhol. The best part? The museum pays nothing—not a cent, not a euro—for this art trove.

Here's the catch: the works are fakes. They come courtesy of the Carabinieri, Italy's military police, and its Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage—the biggest anti-art fraud task force in the world, with 280 agents operating in 11 Italian cities. Instead of being destroyed, as they were in the past, the fraudulent pieces will live to see another day in the Museum of Fakes, established in 1991 as part of the University of Salerno's Center for the Study of Forgery. A 2003 agreement between the university and the Carabinieri, the first of its kind, makes the museum the repository for all bogus artworks confiscated in Italy—a country so rich in art treasures that it has traditionally been a kind of candy store for forgers.

The works Casillo will receive represent a fraction of the 60,000 fakes sequestered by the Carabinieri in the past seven years and were seized primarily in southern Italy. The 'Schifano' pieces were taken from a show in 2005 at the prestigious former royal palace in Caserta. The 4,000 or so others, including the 'Warhols,' were seized from raids on print shops, galleries and warehouses across Italy and especially around the town of Cosenza.

Casillo, the museum’s director, is an author and sociologist who has spent 20 years studying counterfeits of all kinds. The museum’s mission is "to analyze the evolution of forgery, from technique to organization," he says, "and to give visitors the opportunity to see firsthand how the counterfeiters carry out their deception."

Unlike the works that hang on its walls, the Museum of Fakes resembles no other. Located in the basement of a university building, it is both storeroom and gallery. Phony Grecian urns line shelves while some paintings are still packed in brown paper (they can't be displayed until courts have dealt with the cases, which can take years). Other objects are filed in metal cabinets or displayed on the walls. Scattered around the place are bundles containing trickster tools of trade: paints, canvases, chemicals, anything used to make the piece look authentic.

Art forgery, explains Casillo, has been around since antiquity. By the end of the Middle Ages, so many fragments of the "true cross" existed that it was said 300 people would not have been able to carry it if all had been authentic. In 1528, when the German master Albrecht Dürer died, there were more fake Dürers on the market than real ones. Casillo says that in 1961 in the United States alone, 100,000 paintings were attributed to Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796 – 1875), the most copied artist in the world, even though he produced only about 3,000 paintings in his lifetime.

Casillo says that counterfeiting is a group effort involving a chain of corruption that ends at the unscrupulous seller's door. He tells of an instance when the Carabinieri went to the home of a collector to recover a fake Schifano. The owner insisted his was the real thing because the artist had been present at the purchase. As proof he showed the police a picture of himself with the painting, shaking hands with the man he identified as Schifano, who turned out to be an impersonator hired by the corrupt art gallery owner.

If forgery is a team effort, there is no question who the rainmakers are: artists sometimes so talented, says Casillo, that the best ones would never have been discovered had they not revealed themselves.

Sunday, May 18, 2008