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Cagey Couples Cavort in the Big Apple

Cagey Couples Cavort in the Big Apple: "

Filed under: John Mayer and Carrie Underwood have done rather well keeping their respective romances -- to actress Minka Kelly and 'Gossip' boy Chace Crawford -- under wraps. But this weekend in New York, both couples let their cats out of the plastic bag, more... Read more


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Autism, LINKS, religion, books (Spanish in English), neurosciences, art, culture and more for 01/23/11

Autism, LINKS, religion, books (Spanish in English), neurosciences, art, culture and more for 01/23/11: "

Autism-vaccine study was ‘fraud,’ journal says

A 1998 study that unleashed a major health scare by linking childhood autism to a triple vaccine was ‘an elaborate fraud,’ the British Medical Journal(BMJ) charged Thursday.

Blamed for a disastrous boycott of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine in Britain, the study was retracted by The Lancet last year and its senior author disgraced, after the country’s longest-running hearing, for conflict of interest and unethical treatment of patients.

But the BMJ, taking the affair further, on Thursday branded the paper a crafted attempt to deceive, among the gravest of charges in medical research.

‘The paper was in fact an elaborate fraud,’ the BMJ said in an editorial, adding: ‘There are hard lessons for many in this highly damaging saga.’

It pointed the finger at lead author Andrew Wakefield, then a consultant in experimental gastroenterology at London’s Royal Free Hospital.

Wakefield and his team suggested they had found a ‘new syndrome’ of autism and bowel disease among 12 children.

They linked it to the MMR vaccine, which they said had been administered to eight of the youngsters shortly before the symptoms emerged.

Other scientists swiftly cautioned the study was only among a tiny group, without a comparative ‘control’ sample, and the dating of when symptoms surfaced was based on parental recall, which is notoriously unreliable. Its results have never been replicated.

But the controversy unleashed a widespread parental boycott of the jab in Britain, and unease reverberated also in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Hundreds of thousands of children in Britain are now unshielded against these three diseases, said the BMJ. In 2008, measles was declared endemic, or present in the wider population much like chicken pox, in England and Wales.

Wakefield was barred from medical practice last year on grounds of conflict of financial interest and unethical treatment of some children involved in the research.

The BMJ, delving into the accuracy of the study as opposed to its ethics, said Sunday Times investigative journalist Brian Deer had ‘unearthed clear evidence of falsification.’

Not one of the 12 cases, as reported in the study, tallied fully with the children’s official medical records, it charged.

Some diagnoses had been misrepresented and dates faked in order to draw a convenient link with the MMR jab, it said.

Of nine children described by Wakefield as having ‘regressive autism,’ only one clearly had this condition and three were not even diagnosed with autism at all, it said.

The findings had been skewed in advance, as the patients had been recruited via campaigners opposed to the MMR vaccine, the journal added.

And, said the BMJ, Wakefield had been confidentially paid hundreds of thousands of pounds (dollars, Euros) through a law firm under plans to launch ‘class action’ litigation against the vaccine.

Deer, in a separate piece published by the BMJ, compared the scandal with the ‘Piltdown Man’ hoax of 1953, when a supposed fossil of a creature half-man, half-ape turned out to be a fake.

The Wakefield study ‘was a fraud, moreover, of more than academic vanity. It unleashed fear, parental guilt, costly government intervention and outbreaks of infectious disease,’ he said.

Wakefield, who still retains a vocal band of supporters, has reportedly left Britain to work in the United States.

Wakefield and his publishing agent did not respond to calls and emails from AFP requesting comment.

Wakefield has previously accused Britain’s General Medical Council (GMC) of seeking to ‘discredit and silence’ him and shield the British government from responsibility in what he calls a ‘scandal.’

The Lancet told AFP it would not comment on the BMJ accusations.

Autism is the term for an array of conditions ranging from poor social interaction to repetitive behaviors and entrenched silence. The condition is rare, predominantly affecting boys, although its causes are fiercely debated.

Autism study doctor says victim of smears

The doctor behind a linking childhood autism to a vaccine that has been branded a fraud by the British Medical Journal said he was the victim of a smear campaign by drug manufacturers.

In an interview late Wednesday with CNN, Andrew Wakefield denied inventing data and blasted a reporter who apparently uncovered the falsifications as a ‘hit man’ doing the bidding of a powerful pharmaceutical industry.

‘It’s a ruthless pragmatic attempt to crush any investigation into valid vaccine safety concerns,’ Wakefield said.

‘He is a hit man,’ Wakefield said of journalist Brian Deer. ‘He’s been brought in to take me down because they are very, very concerned about the adverse reactions to vaccines that are occurring in children.’

When asked who he meant by ‘they,’ he said Deer ‘was supported in his investigation by the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries, which is funded directly and exclusively by the pharmaceutical industry.’

In stunning charges Wednesday, the BMJ said the 1998 study that unleashed a major health scare by linking childhood autism to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine was an ‘elaborate fraud,’ and said the paper was a crafted attempt to deceive, among the gravest of charges in medical research.

The study unleashed a widespread parental boycott of the vaccine in Britain, and unease reverberated also in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Wakefield and his team suggested they had found a ‘new syndrome’ of autism and bowel disease among 12 children.

They linked it to the MMR vaccine, which they said had been administered to eight of the youngsters shortly before the symptoms emerged.

But not one of the 12 cases, as reported in the study, tallied fully with the children’s official medical records, and some diagnoses had been misrepresented and dates faked in order to draw a convenient link with the MMR vaccine, BMJ said.

Wakefield, a consultant in experimental gastroenterology at London’s Royal Free Hospital at the time of his paper, shot back, insisting the ‘truth’ was is in his book about the long-running scandal.

‘The book is not a lie, the study is not a lie. The findings that we made have been replicated in five countries around the world,’ he said.

‘I did not make up the diagnoses’ of autism.’

Experts say the study’s results have never been replicated.

When asked why 10 of his co-authors retracted the interpretations of the study, Wakefield said: ‘I’m afraid the pressure has been put on them to do so.

‘People get very, very frightened. You’re dealing with some very powerful interests here.’

Will autism fraud report be a vaccine booster?

This week more shame was heaped upon the discredited British researcher whose work gave rise to the childhood-vaccines-cause-autism movement, as a prominent medical journal published a report that the man had faked his data. But will it make a difference?

Some believe the latest news will finally destroy the reputation of researcher Andrew Wakefield and put an end to the claim of scientific underpinnings for the anti-vaccine movement. ‘We hope that declaring the paper a fraud will close that door for good,’ wrote the journal BMJ this week, in an editorial accompanying the report.

Yet at least some advocacy groups continue to take Wakefield’s side. And though the latest report may ease the doubts of some parents, experts said they’d be surprised if the latest news changes views overall.

‘This scared people and it’s hard to unscare them,’ said Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious disease expert at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

‘Until medicine can step up and say, ‘We understand the cause of autism,’ they may never be assured,’ said Offit, who has written books criticizing the anti-vaccine movement.

Wakefield made international waves following the publication in 1998 in the Lancet, a prestigious medical journal, that he and his colleagues had linked measles-mumps-rubella vaccine with autism in most of a dozen children they had studied.

It was a small series of observations, wrapped in a hypothesis - not even a full medical study. But it exploded in the media, prompting a wave of parental concerns in England as well as the United States.

Immunization rates in Britain dropped from 92 percent to 73 percent, and were as low as 50 percent in some parts of London. The effect was not nearly as dramatic in the United States, but researchers have estimated that as many as 125,000 U.S. children born in the late 1990s did not get the MMR vaccine because of the Wakefield splash.

It’s not clear how many U.S. parents knew details of the Wakefield paper, or how many even knew his name, vaccine experts say. But the research coincided with growing apprehension about autism in this country, and seemed to finally assign a likely reason for it. The idea that vaccines could cause autism took hold.

‘Clearly, the results of this (Wakefield) study have had repercussions,’ said Dr. Michael Smith, a University of Louisville infectious diseases expert who has studied the autism controversy’s effect on immunization rates.

Gradually, Wakefield’s hypothesis was checked by other researchers who failed to confirm a link between vaccines and autism. It was dissected by experts, and 10 of the article’s 13 authors renounced the work.

The first claims that Wakefield had doctored data came in a 2009 story in the Sunday Times of London by British journalist Brian Deer. That report said Wakefield made it seem some of the children did not experience symptoms until after they’d received their shots. Those findings were repeated in this week’s report in BMJ.

Then, last year, the Lancet retracted the Wakefield paper - 12 years after it was published. Wakefield was also stripped of his right to practice medicine in Britain; he has no medical license in the U.S.

This week, Wakefield continued to defend himself, calling the journalist ‘a hit man’ during an interview with CNN. And some parents of autistic children and other advocates argue that the criticisms of Wakefield are actually attempts to close off research into the safety of vaccines.

‘A character assassination initiative against those who look for answers only serves to stunt medical progress for our children and perpetuate unnecessary public health risks,’ said Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association, in a prepared statement.

But health officials counter that the science is settled and prolonging the debate is dangerous. Although U.S. vaccination rates have held steady through the last decade, health officials say vaccine fears led to outbreaks of measles and the virus Hib in 2008 in unvaccinated children in states like California and Minnesota. The Hib outbreak included at least one reported death.

In a country where the name Andrew Wakefield doesn’t register with most people, it’s not clear that this week’s report will make much difference. But perhaps it might have impact if it sways celebrities who have lent their voice to the anti-vaccine movement, like Jenny McCarthy, who has voiced her views repeatedly on television shows like ‘Oprah.’

‘It will be interesting to see what Jenny McCarthy and others say’ about the latest news, said Smith, the Louisville researcher.

A spokesman for McCarthy on Thursday said she was not available for comment.

Jenny McCarthy’s autism fight grows more misguided

So what if a study linking autism and vaccination has been called fraudulent? The ‘warrior mother’ still believes


Jenny McCarthy is loyal to a fault. And Andrew Wakefield isn’t a fraud in her book. Since her son Evan was diagnosed with autism in 2005, the former pinup turned self-described ‘mother warrior’ has become one of the most prominent advocates for autism awareness in the world. She’s written books chronicling Evan’s condition and what she describes as his ‘recovery’; she is at the forefront of ‘Jenny McCarthy’s Autism Organization’ — Generation Rescue. And she is the woman who publicly, most steadfastly has demanded, ‘for people just to start listening to what the mothers of children who have seen autism have been saying for years, which is, ‘We vaccinated our baby and something happened.’‘

Yet despite numerous studies, a definitive correlation between vaccination and autism has never been proven. And this week, Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s controversial, already largely discredited study that kicked off the whole debate back in 1998 was branded an ‘elaborate fraud’ by the British Medical Journal (BMJ). BMJ further noted that ‘not one of the 12 cases reported in the 1998 Lancet paper was free of misrepresentation or undisclosed alteration, and that in no single case could the medical records be fully reconciled with the descriptions, diagnoses, or histories published in the journal.’ Wakefield’s medical license was revoked last year for ‘serious professional misconduct.’

All of this is what is known around Jenny McCarthy’s organization as a ‘vaccine-industry funded media circus’ that’s ‘much ado about nothing.’

On CNN Wednesday night, Generation Rescue co-founder J. B. Handley disputed host Eliot Spitzer’s assertion that there’s ‘no affirmative causal link,’ between vaccination and autism, citing ‘new’ data on the subject and urging viewers, ‘Look at the SUNY Stony Brook Study, look at the Pittsburgh University Study.’ I’m not a scientist, but OK.

That University of Pittsburgh study on the ‘Influence of pediatric vaccines on amygdala growth and opioid ligand binding in rhesus macaque infants’ that Generation Rescue is currently touting does indeed find differences in brain development between unvaccinated monkeys and those given vaccines containing the contentious preservative at the heart of the autism debate, Thimerosal. But while the monkeys were given equivalent recommended doses of vaccinations for children born between 1994 and 1999, the study notes ‘Thimerosal was removed from most pediatric vaccines in the United States in 2001.’ Similarly, the Stony Brook study on ‘Hepatitis B series vaccine and development disability in children aged 1 – 9 years’ looks at data accrued from 1999 – 2000. And another study that Generation Rescue refers to as ‘new’ data that ‘shows Hepatitis B vaccine creates 3x higher risk of autism’ similarly relies on data culled from 1997 – 2002.

Does the discrediting of Andrew Wakefield’s study mean conclusively that there’s no merit to studying the link between the preservatives in vaccines and adverse, possibly permanent reactions in children? No. But it’s a simple fact that children vaccinated in the latter part of the past decade have been on different schedules and with differing and decreasing levels of mercury-based preservatives in their shots. As the FDA says, ‘At present, all routinely recommended vaccines for U.S. infants are available only as Thimerosal-free formulations or contain only trace amounts of Thimerosal.’

McCarthy’s own son was born in 2002. And despite Time magazine’s Karl Taro Greenfield’s observation last year that Evan’s symptoms sound remarkably similar to the neurological disorder Landau-Kleffner syndrome, McCarthy still considers him as ‘healed’ from autism. There is no doubt McCarthy went through a nightmare when her boy fell victim to mysterious seizures and displayed signs of social withdrawal. Her — and her organization’s — passion for children and commitment to their well-being are no doubt sincere. And every parent absolutely should talk to the family pediatrician about vaccination risks, about what shots can be spread out, what can be postponed, and what might be optional for his or her own child.

But any organization using a celebrity to mislead parents with claims of ‘new’ data that rely on decade-old vaccine formulas and schedules is more than disingenuous, it’s flat-out dangerous. It’s high time the woman who once said that ‘I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe’ took a step back and reconsidered the merits of that increasingly crackpot stance. And it’s time she acknowledged that clinging to research that’s been deemed patently fraudulent does not make one a ‘mother warrior.’ It makes her a menace.

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of ‘Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream.’ Follow her on Twitter:


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New MRSA Treatment Guidelines Published

Evidence lacking for widespread use of costly antipsychotic drugs

Tonsillectomy Guidelines Issued

Intensive logging created New England’s rich wetlands Fri, 07 Jan 2011 11:46:00

In clearing vast tracts of land, the prolific loggers of the 18th and 19th centuries left open-water bays silted up as seafood-rich wetlands

List of common misconceptions

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

‘Misconception’ redirects here. For the Law & Order episode, see Misconception (Law & Order).

This is an incomplete list, which may never be able to satisfy particular standards for completeness. You can help by expanding it with reliably entries.

This list of common or popular misconceptions describes documented ideas and beliefs which are fallacious, misleading, or otherwise flawed.

FDA Accepts Exelbine™ NDA For Filing

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Nonin Medical Announces Microsoft® HealthVault™ Certification Of World’s First Continua™-Certified, Bluetooth® Wireless Fingertip

New Brain Injury Association Survey Reveals Nearly 80 Percent Of Respondents Suffer Added Burden Of Neurologic

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New Year’s Resolution Idea: Contribute To Breast Cancer Research Jan. 22 At IU Simon Cancer Center

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Punctuated Evolution In Cancer Genomes; Chromosome Crisis Common In Cancer Causation

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Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (American Empire Project)

By Andrew Bacevich

American Conspiracy

A Review by Thomas Rid

Over the past five years, Andrew Bacevich has emerged as one of the most prolific and eloquent critics of American foreign policy. In several influential books and essays, Bacevich, a professor of international relations and history at Boston University, has often walked the fine line between scholarship and mass-audience opinionating. As a self-styled realist, he has mostly crafted these positions with detached, historically balanced analysis.

Washington Rules breaks with this trend: It is the passionate, personal, and polemical story of how Bacevich, as an Army officer visiting Berlin in 1990, embarked on an educational journey that led him to discover the ideological roots of America’s path to permanent war. At times Washington Rules articulates a sophisticated critique of the United States’ global ambitions. But with this book, Bacevich is dancing along another line. He now has at least one foot in the murky territory of conspiracy theory.

The first indicator is Bacevich’s obsessive use of dogma and quasi-religious language. The country is run not by presidents and senators, but by something bigger, the ‘Washington rules.’ These rules start with the ‘credo’: All presidents from Harry S. Truman to Barack have faithfully adhered to ‘catechisms off American statecraft founded on four assertions: (1) the world must be organized and ‘shaped.’ (2) America, and only America, has the vision, the will, and the wisdom to lead and enforce this global order. (3) America has articulated the principles that govern the international order, and these principles are, not surprisingly, American ones. (4) The world, despite occasional complaints, wants the United States to lead.

The other half of the Washington rules consists of the ‘sacred trinity’: the convictions that the United States must maintain a global military presence, that it must configure its forces to project power globally, and that it must counter anticipated threats around the world with interventions. The credo and the trinity — terms Bacevich uses throughout the book — promise prosperity and peace but, in effect, usher in the opposite: insolvency and perpetual war.

Washington Rules imposes a grand and simplifying scheme on a vast set of complex facts. Consider Bacevich’s explanation of the Washington rules’ origins: the cloak-and-dagger world of Cold War spies and the hidden Air Force command centers where cigar-chomping four-star generals devised strategies for nuclear overkill. The most important masterminds were Allen Dulles, the first and most influential director of the CIA, and Curtis Lemay, the first and most influential commander of the Strategic Air Command, the agency that was in charge of nuclear war. These two ‘semi warriors’ as Bacevich calls them with a curl of his lip, ‘left an indelible mark on our age.’ He describes how the Washington rules and America’s global footprint survived the defeat in Vietnam as well as the demise of the Soviet Union, aided by legions of semi warriors on the left and the right, apparently uninfluenced by partisan politics. President Bill Clinton’s secretary of defense, William Cohen, conserved the rules, and his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, midwifed them into the 21st century. President George W. Bush’s defense team, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, applied them in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For Bacevich, there is an obvious ‘chain of events’ that paved the way to 9/11: the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran in 1953; America’s ‘deference’ to Israel after the 1960s; U.S. dealings with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s; Washington’s support for jihadis in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan; and the Gulf War in 1990-91. If George W. Bush had acknowledged the connection between these policies and the fall of the Twin Towers, Washington’s sacred dogma would have been called into question, so he deliberately ignored it. Instead, under the Bush administration, the standard of debate fell to a level ‘hitherto achieved only by slightly mad German warlords. ‘

Bacevich carefully acknowledges that the Washington ‘elite’ is not all-knowing and often just doesn’t get it. Yet, especially when he discusses recent examples, he unearths willful deceit. General David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency doctrine, for instance, is dismissed as ‘counterfeit coin,’ a strategy that only gives the appearance of purpose to military activity, and in truth is a recipe for more and more wars in the various broken quarters of the world. Bacevich dismisses the threat of Islamic terrorism in a nonchalant way, shrugs off the geopolitical relevance of the Middle East and Central Asia, and disregards mad dictators eager to get their hands on nuclear weapons. Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Kim Jong Il are ridiculed as not more than ‘a motley collection of B-list foes’; North Korea, Syria, and Cuba are derided as ‘pygmies.’ America and its allies seem to have no A-list enemies. Consequently, there is no need for Bacevich to suggest alternative policies beyond just ‘getting out. ‘

This book is a pity. U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asia, driven by ideology and now hope, is indeed producing more and more questionable outcomes. An authoritative and constructive critique by an outsider with an insider’s knowledge would be highly welcome. Washington Rules offers a few illuminating glimpses, but no balanced view. Bacevich ends up doing a great service to his reviled semiwarriors by handing them a straw man they will manage to shoot down with ease.

Thomas Rid is a visiting scholar at the University of Konstanz in Germany and was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in 2009. His most recent book, Understanding Counterinsurgency, was published earlier this year.

read more about this book

New Spanish Language Superstars

by Oscar Villalón The Daily Beast

The new volume of Granta highlights bright new literary stars from across the Spanish-speaking world, says critic Oscar Villalon—and they wrestle with dark themes in a way few American writers dare to.

Maybe around the spot in Granta’s newest issue where the reader reaches Pola Oloixarac’s merciless story about an exhausted, perhaps bankrupt counterculture in Argentina (‘Conditions for the Revolution’), a dark seed planted back in the stories preceding it has taken root. It would seem, according to a new generation of Spanish-language novelists, we are living in an age where Big Ideas are dead, and this is far from a good thing, considering the Big Empty that’s filled the vacuum.

Ostensibly a showcase of the finest young talent in the Spanish-speaking world—a selection of 22 writers born no earlier than 1975—Granta’s The Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists tries to do for these authors what the London-based quarterly has famously done in the past for their U.K. and U.S. cohort. But this issue is much more than a literary beauty pageant. In the bleakest of these stories, we’re offered a glimpse at something approaching a post-human world, and in the most optimistic of this new fiction, we’re presented with a world in which personal relationships are all you can put your faith in—advisedly, of course.

‘When asked,’ write the issue’s editors, Aurelio Major and Valerie Miles, in their foreword, the majority of these authors ‘expressed skepticism, with varying degrees of reticence, nervousness or irony about the idea of an author having an active role in public life.’ That may well be because, looking over their shoulders at, say, the historical rubble constituting Franco’s Spain and Argentina’s junta rule (interestingly, 14 of the writers selected here come from just those two countries), what they see doesn’t recommend an embrace of political certitudes or even an attempt to understand life as a social epic.

These stories are resolutely middle-class, the scope much more modest and familiar than one might have guessed. Nothing here suggests a mammoth novel like Carlos Fuentes’ ‘Terra Nostra’ in the offing. Most of the characters are of a type: university professors, newspaper columnists, military officers, even Mormon missionaries. The writing life, or at least one of culture, is part of the mix. Yet there’s a fierceness in this writing, not to mention a refreshing frankness about all sorts of sex, missing from equally successful counterparts in the U.S.—that is, authors who write about the middle and upper class and who’ve been published multiple times and bestowed with prestigious prizes (though many of these novelists are also poets, musicians, and filmmakers, too—not to mention well-traveled and cosmopolitan).

In one way or the other, these authors seem to be wrestling with an understanding of the post-Big Idea world that is perhaps best distilled in Uruguayan author Andres Ressia Colino’s piece, ‘Scenes From a Comfortable Life.’ Jimmy Tanaka, a working-class young man who happens to be Japanese, gets an education from his girlfriend’s rich, Germanic father, who supplies him with this piece of sour wisdom:

‘This system is a fucking circle of doom. Produce more and more cheaply, and make the consumer swallow faster and faster. […] None of the food or the clothes or the music or the books or the drugs that you kids consume are real. It seems like food, like clothes, like music, but it’s all just something like those things, made to be devoured immediately. It’s a perfect system. A magnificent, gigantic, super-efficient piece of machinery that produces nothing, totally and absolutely nothing.’

The Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists: Granta 113 Edited by John Freeman 256 pages. Grove Press/Granta. $16.99.

Out of this nothing comes visceral horrors such as a J.G. Ballardesque tale of a porn star’s utter (and surgically assisted) dehumanization (Andres Barba’s ‘The Coming Flood’) and more hushed ones, such as Javier Montes’ ‘The Hotel Life.’ In both stories by these authors from Spain, sex is wrung of joy or even sweet mystery. As an ubiquitous commodity in a consumer society, sex is more of a fount of anxiety and debasement. Out of this nothing, though, there’s an attempt to create meaning, goodness, even civilization. Andres Neuman’s story of a widowed professor deciding to forgive his enemies (‘After Helena’) is disarmingly generous, yet avoids the twee with an ambiguous ending that could be read as sinister. Antonio Ortuno’s ‘Small Mouth, Thin Lips’ is a small marvel. The Mexican writer takes the inherently political scenario of an imprisoned writer forced to do the bidding of an oppressive warder and turns it inside out. It becomes a beautiful metaphor for the undeniable, seductive power of writing, of how culture can find ‘friends’ in the most rancid of times or places. In a similar way, Samanta Schweblin’s wonderfully strange story ‘Olingiris’ uncovers hope for two young women, alone in the big city and on the verge of becoming empty.

A testament to its translators, too—among them, Daniel Alarcon, Natsha Wimmer, Edith Grossman, Katherine Silver, and Margaret Jull Costa—Granta’s The Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists opens the door to significant writers deserving of a much wider audience—one that may all to readily identify with their reckoning of our globalized world.

Plus: Check out Book Beast for more news on hot titles and authors and excerpts from the latest books.

Oscar Villalón is a San Francisco writer and critic. His work has appeared in VQR, The Believer, Black Clock, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle,, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @ovillalon

Two Cheers for Nature


We are programmed to believe in a god

Even atheists can appreciate there are strong evolutionary and social reasons why humans usually believe in a higher force

Jesse Bering

The question: Is there a God instinct?

As a psychologist, the focus of my work has been on people’s reasoning about such things as God, the afterlife, and destiny. I am not a philosopher or a theologian, so I have not considered the actual, outside-the-head existence of these things. Not only do I find the latter ontological question rather dull, but I also start with the assumption – because there is simply no good scientific reason to assume otherwise – that these things do not exist. In my view, atheism is an essential starting point for the psychological scientist, because it enables us to examine the more intriguing and, more importantly, empirical question of why the human mind is so easily seduced by a ubiquitous set of unnecessarily complex claims.

For example, that it is so intuitive to so many people that consciousness (which is curiously similar to the ‘soul’, by the way) continues to go about its business perfectly well after death – and therefore completely independent of the now-decomposing brain – is astonishing when you stop to think about it. What, exactly, is the function of the brain if the mind can still happily occur once the brain stops working? In fact, as some of my own research shows, even diehard atheists are not altogether immune to attributing thoughts to the dead – by saying, for example, that a recently dead man must ‘feel’ vindicated because he now ‘knows’ there is nothing after death. So although the explicit idea of an afterlife, and the comfort that often goes along with it, is undoubtedly an important motivator in people clinging tenaciously to belief in psychological immortality once it arises, it fails to account sufficiently for the recalcitrance of the cognitive illusion when we know better.

In general, recent findings in the cognitive sciences cast considerable doubt on the everyday atheist’s assumption that religion can be explained by a simple ‘wish fulfillment’ theory – that we believe because we wish it to be true. I do not think this type of generic explanation is entirely intellectually bankrupt but I do think it is perfectly circular. Why does ours species need to feel like there is something bigger out there or to have a sense of purpose and so on to begin with? Do other animals have these same existential needs? If not, why don’t they?

These are not just aimless psychological musings. Many scientists believe human beings evolved a suite of cognitive traits that are more or less unique to our species. This does not make us ‘better’ than other animals but only different. And one of these uniquely human traits, commonly referred to as ‘theory of mind’, is at the heart of every profound existential question you could ever hope to ask: What happens when we die? What is the meaning of life? Why do bad things happen to good people?

Minds – like other unseen causal forces, such as gravity and mass – are unobservable and so ‘theoretical’ in the sense that we use this causal construct to explain and predict behaviors. Sometimes, even often, our theory of mind generates false logic (I may think you’re tearing up because I hurt your feelings, but in fact you’ve just got something in your eye). But all else being equal, in the social domain, it was hugely adaptive for our ancestors to be able to get inside other people’s heads like this.

In fact, theory of mind was so handy that it colored our species’ entire worldview. Not only did we see minds behind other people’s behaviors; we also saw minds as causing natural events, such as storms, malignancies, babies and accidents. Theory of mind became the warped lens through which we perceived the natural world. Through this very human cognitive prism, our species was doomed to experience certain unshakable cognitive illusions – including feeling as though there are unseen moral forces that are concerned about us as individuals. Much like optical illusions, we can, through knowledge, accept that what we perceive does not reflect reality. But as the data mounts, it is becoming clear that even atheists experience the vague sense that they are here for a preconceived purpose, that their minds are endless, that there are inherent moral truths, and that the nonhuman world employs human justice. And these cognitive illusions are dramatically more potent than, say, your average Müller-Lyer, because they involve strong emotions, social dynamics and cultural institutions.

Is God a human instinct? It is instinctive for us to seek a grand, moralistic mind that is not there. God is the default stance. And as I describe in The God Instinct, the illusion of God solved a very specific evolutionary problem for our ancestors – that of reputation-harming (and thus gene-compromising) gossip. By inhibiting selfish behaviors that they feared would be punished by supernatural agents, our ancestors would have promoted their prosocial reputations among actual people. But unlike any previous generation, we are now in a position to correct that wayward stance through an informed understanding of why we sense a mental presence that never was.

And then…

Pakistan: Lawyers shower assassin of governor opposed to blasphemy law with rose petals

And another group of clerics warned no one should pray or ‘express regret’ for the loss of Salman Taseer, who died essentially for committing ‘blasphemy’ against the blasphemy law. They said, ‘the supporter is as equally guilty as one who committed blasphemy.’

In barely two days, the wide reporting of this single case may have done more than any before it to rip the fig leaf of ‘moderation’ off of Pakistan, and to show what a uselessly relative label ‘moderate’ ultimately is.

As one Pakistani radio host said, ‘Extremist thought has become so mainstream that what we need to question in Pakistan is what people think constitutes extremism now.’ ‘Cheers and tears in Pakistan after assassination,’ by Sebastian Abbott for the Associated Press, January 5:

ISLAMABAD - Lawyers showered the suspected assassin of a liberal Pakistani governor with rose petals as he entered court. Some 170 miles away, the prime minister joined thousands to mourn the loss of the politician, who dared to challenge the demands of Islamic extremists.

The cheers and tears across the country Wednesday underscored Pakistan’s journey over the past several decades from a nation defined by moderate Islam to one increasingly influenced by fundamentalists willing to use violence to impose their views.

Even so-called moderate Muslim scholars praised 26-year-old Mumtaz Qadri for allegedly killing Punjab province Gov. Salman Taseer on Tuesday in a hail of gunfire while he was supposed to be protecting him as a bodyguard. Qadri later told authorities he acted because of Taseer’s vocal opposition to blasphemy laws that order death for those who insult Islam.

As Qadri was escorted into court in Islamabad, a rowdy crowd patted his back and kissed his cheek as lawyers at the scene threw flowers. On the way out, some 200 sympathizers chanted slogans in his favor, and the suspect stood at the back door of an armored police van and repeatedly yelled ‘God is great.’

Many other Pakistanis were appalled.

‘Extremist thought has become so mainstream that what we need to question in Pakistan is what people think constitutes extremism now,’ said Fasi Zaka, a 34-year-old radio host and columnist.

Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you’ll be disappointed slightly farther down the road:

Analysts say a majority of Pakistan’s Muslims still follow a moderate form of Sufi-influenced Islam. But there are signs that even some of those beliefs may have shifted to the right. An influential group of 500 clerics and scholars from the Barelvi sect, which opposes the Taliban, praised Taseer’s assassination.

The Jamat Ahle Sunnat group said no one should pray or express regret for the killing of the governor. The group also issued a veiled threat to other opponents of the blasphemy laws.

‘The supporter is as equally guilty as one who committed blasphemy,’ the group warned in a statement, adding politicians, the media and others should learn ‘a lesson from the exemplary death.’

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and other senior ruling party officials joined up to 6,000 mourners under tight security to pay homage to Taseer at a funeral in the eastern city of Lahore. Other parties, including the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N, which is more aligned with religious groups, had limited presence at the event.

After the service was delayed because several clerics refused to lead it.

The response to Taseer’s murder among ordinary Pakistanis seemed mixed. Some praised Qadri for targeting the governor, who in recent weeks had spoken forcefully in favor of clemency for a Christian woman sentenced to die for allegedly insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

‘Salman Taseer committed a grave crime calling the blasphemy law a ‘black law,’‘ said 30-year-old Ghulam Murtaza, a farmer on the outskirts of the southern port city of Karachi.

Others condemned the killing.

‘It is sad that he spoke from the heart and was murdered,’ said Farhat Firdous, a communications professional in Karachi.

But even critics said the government must be very careful about how it deals with the blasphemy laws, which rights activists say are used to settle rivalries and persecute religious minorities….

The problem does not end with the ‘abuse’ of the law: inherently abusive laws often lend themselves to further abuse, but there is no ‘right’ way to apply a law that is wrong.

More here

VIEW: Mortals killed to defend God

—Gulmina Bilal Ahmad Daily Times Pakistan\story_7-1-2011_pg3_4

It is ironic that they play God every day, yet they are against blasphemy. They declare people to be liable to live or die, which are Godly decisions. According to them, anyone who expressed sympathy over the death of a blasphemer was also committing blasphemy. Let me commit it then. Salmaan Taseer, may you rest in peace. Aasia Bibi may you count me as one of your supporters

It was not a security lapse. At least not all of it. Neither was it a planned conspiracy. Perhaps not all of it. As investigators, security analysts and armchair activists would undoubtedly discuss each and every angle of it, I remain dumbfounded and scared. For me, it was the death of tolerance. Voltaire said, ‘I disagree with what you have to say but will fight to the death to protect your right to say it.’ In Pakistan today, there is no room for dissent. We all have to subscribe to one ideology, one religion, one national identity and one language. It is as if we abhor diversity. Are constantly challenged by it. There is a dichotomy here. We subscribe to a religious belief that urges us to constantly seek God in nature, marvel at His creations of different colors, sizes and shapes. Yet, we kill in the name of a Being and a Prophet (PBUH) whose tales of tolerance are rote learned in every school of this country. If it were not so tragic and dangerous, it would be quite despicable to see what we have become. Self-loathing is what comes to mind at a time like this.

My mailbox is full as I write this. There are those who are outraged at the tragedy and then some who look upon it as another terrorist attack. The lucky ones are those who, as a defense mechanism in my opinion, busy themselves with the details of the particular attack. Was he sitting or standing? Was he hit from behind or from the side? How many bullets? Scared of the implications of the bigger picture, they try to find God in the details. Personal friends urge me to stay muted in my writings. Then there are those who see this as an act of Muslim faith, are congratulating Qadri and warning of other such attacks. When the cleric of Mohabbat Khan Mosque announced rewards for those who kill the so-called blasphemers, I was reminded of the words of Akbar Bugti who asked, ‘What use have I of a God who needs me to defend him?’

There are two Pakistanis as the Kohsar attack and my mailbox have reiterated. One who is made up of the wishy-washy liberals like myself who have secular and tolerant views but selectively articulate and practice them. Privately, I will express the need for a secular Pakistan, but when I am conducting human rights training for police personnel all over the country, I would not engage directly into a discussion with them on whether Pakistan should be secular or not? I would perhaps write in support of de-radicalization but when I publicly stand up I would try to measure my words. Rationalizing this hypocrisy, I would tell myself that there should be a difference between public and private speaking and hence the choice of words. However, to be honest, is this the only reason?

The other part of Pakistan comprises the majority that seem to be tied to the glorious days of Islam and their perceived place in the world. They announce rewards for people who kill. They organize themselves and then openly declare that anyone who stands up against them will be wajib-ul-qatl (worthy of murder). Widely reported in the media, the Barelvi Jamaat-e-Ahle Sunnat, in a written public statement, has declared, ‘No Muslim should attend the funeral or even try to pray for Salmaan Taseer or even express any kind of regret or sympathy over the incident.’ The statement went on further to state that anyone who expresses grief over the assassination could suffer the same fate. ‘The same fate’ is actually a death threat. Thus, this Pakistan speaks and threatens openly while the part I hail from cowers down in fear. Those of us who do speak out openly are then, in a way, if we were to believe a media militant, actually inviting trouble ourselves for, like Salmaan Taseer, we should not touch upon ‘sensitive topics’. This Pakistan runs website (, operates in Bazm-e-Raza, Memon Masjid Muslehuddin Garden and openly threatens and terrorizes. Their public statement has names such as Professor Syed Mazhar Saeed Shah Kazmi, Allama Syed Riaz Hussain Shah, Shah Turab-ul-Haq Qadri, Allama Zamir Sajid, Pir Khalid Sultan, Pir Ghulam Siddiq Naqshbandi, Allama Syed Khizr Hussain Shah, Alhaj Amjad Chishti, Allama Ghulam Sarawar Hazarvi, Allama Syed Shamsuddin Bokhari, Pir Syed Ashiq Ali Shah Jilani, Mufti Muhammad Iqbal Chishti, Allama Fazal Jamil Rizvi, Agha Muhammad Ibrahim Naqshbandi Mujaddidi, Maulana Muhammad Riaz Qadri, Maulana Gulzar Naeemi, Allama Syed Ghulam Yaseen Shah, and over 500 other ulema and honorable muftis attached to the Jamaat-e-Ahle Sunnat, Pakistan. Should they not be arrested for issuing written death threats and incitement for violence?

This is the face of another Pakistan. At Kohsar, the two Pakistans met and the more violent one prevailed. Violent and the more rooted. The security guard was the result of the increasing space that the Islamist jiyalas (zealots) occupy in Pakistan. Every day, whether one looks at the drawing room seminars of Al Huda and Farhat Hashmi, the philanthropic service delivery model of militancy adopted by Lashkar-i-Jhangvi or, what is extremely lethal, the teaching and working of the Hizb-ul-Tahrir, one sees their presence. The Hizb-ul-Tahrir has made inroads across every strata of Pakistani society. They are militant in their message and sophisticated in the message delivery tactics. It is, therefore, not surprising that their adherents range from various educated circles of society using the uneducated as cannon fodder. Working with police personnel from all over the country, I frequently find them to be voracious readers of ‘deeni literature’. When probed, it usually transpires that this ‘deeni literature’ is actually free jihadi literature propagating a conservative, militant, myopic worldview where non-Muslim Pakistanis are not really citizens but owe their existence to the magnanimity of the Muslim Pakistani.

Public space for such organizations, networks, literature and their followers is growing. No, it was not a security lapse. It was a triumph. Yet another victory for the militant, Islamic jiyala who enjoys the freedom to exercise his/her intolerant view and label anyone wajib-ul-qatl. It is ironic that they play God every day, yet they are against blasphemy. They declare people to be liable to live or die, which are Godly decisions. According to them, anyone who expressed sympathy over the death of a blasphemer was also committing blasphemy. Let me commit it then. Salmaan Taseer, may you rest in peace. Aasia Bibi may you count me as one of your supporters.

The writer is a development consultant. She can be reached at

‘Timing is everything’ in ensuring healthy brain development

Work published today shows that brain cells need to create links early on in their existence, when they are physically close together, to ensure successful connections across the brain throughout life.

In people, these long-distance connections enable the left and right side of the brain to communicate and integrate different kinds of information such as sound and vision. A change in the number of these connections has been found in many developmental brain disorders including autism, epilepsy and schizophrenia.

The Newcastle University researchers Dr Marcus Kaiser and Mrs Sreedevi Varier carried out a sophisticated computer analysis relating birth-time associated data to connectivity patterns of nerve cells in the roundworm, Caenorhabditis elegans. They demonstrated that when two nerve cells develop close together, they form a connection which then stretches out when the two nerve cells move apart as the organism grows. This creates a link across the brain known as a long-distance connection.

Publishing today in PLoS Computational Biology, the researchers have demonstrated for the first time that this is the most frequent successful mechanism by which long distance connections are made.

The animation shows the growth of the neuronal network with neurons being added at each stage. There are four different views, shown in succession, for each of the six identified stages of development.

Dr Marcus Kaiser, at Newcastle University, says: ‘You can draw parallels with childhood friendships carrying on into adulthood. For example, two children living close to each other could become friends through common activities like school or playing at the park. The friendship can last even if one of them moves further away, while, beginning a lasting friendship with someone already far away, is much more difficult.’

Mrs Sreedevi Varier adds: ‘Although it’s too early for this research to have direct clinical applications, it adds to our understanding of the structural changes in the brain and raises some interesting questions as to how these connections can become faulty. In further studying this mechanism, we may eventually contribute towards insights into the diagnosis and possibly the treatment of patients with epilepsy and autism.’

It has long been understood that the first connections in the brain created in the early days of development can be formed over long distances using guidance signals to direct nerve fibers to their correct positions – known as axonal guidance. Subsequently, other connections can follow those pioneer fibers to a target location creating connections between distant parts of the brain. Through these long-distance connections different kinds of information, such as sound and vision, can be integrated.

This EPSRC-funded research showed that most neurons are able to create a connection early on in their development when they were physically close together, potentially giving them more time to host and establish connections. These developed into a long-distance connection, the two cells pulling apart as the organism grows larger.

Studying the connections in the neuronal network of the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans the Newcastle scientists - who are also affiliated with Seoul National University, Korea - found that most neurons with a long-distance connection had developed in this way.

This new mechanism differs from the previous model for long-distance connectivity. An axon is a fiber that is extended from one nerve cell and, after travelling through the tissue, can contact several other nerve cells. Normally, axons would grow in a straight line. For several targets, however, the axon has to travel around obstacles, as a straight connection is not possible. In such cases, cells along the way can release guidance cues that either attract or repulse the travelling axon. One example of bended fibers is the visual pathway that at several points takes a sharp 90-degree turn to arrive at the correct target position.

Instead, establishing potential links early on when neurons are spatially nearby might reduce the need for such guidance cues. This reduces costs in producing guidance cues but potentially also for genetically encoding a wider range of cues. An early mechanism opens up the possibility that changes in long-distance brain connectivity, that are observed in children and young adults with brain disorders, arise earlier during brain development than previously thought. These are questions that the team continue to work on through data analysis and computer simulations of brain development.

More information: Neural development features: Spatio-temporal development of the Caenorhabditis elegans neuronal network, Sreedevi Varier and Marcus Kaiser Published in: PLoS Computational Biology

Provided by Newcastle University



One summer at the annual Bremen Music Festival in Germany, Robert Levin, a classical pianist, was in the midst of improvising a passionate and wild cadenza during Beethoven’s ‘C Major Piano Concerto.’ A cadenza is a passage in a concerto during which the orchestra ceases and a soloist strikes out on his own, improvising within the style of the piece. Up until the early nineteenth century, many classical composers wrote space for these cadenzas within their works. Levin is one of a handful of musicians who has taken it upon himself to revive the practice of classical improvisation. He is world renowned for his ability to effortlessly extemporize in the styles of several composers, including Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn. In this particular concert, however, Levin had gotten himself into a bit of a pickle.

‘I was going whole hog,’ Levin said, thanks to the permission Beethoven gave his renderers to modulate or change keys during his cadenzas. ‘I had gone really far afield and was in F sharp major. That’s as far away from C major as you can possibly get because if you keep going, you start to get closer to the other side.’

‘It’s like the world,’ Levin said, drawing a parallel to the structure of musical scales. ‘You go more than 12,500 miles around the equator and you might as well keep going.’

At this point, Levin pounded some F sharp major chords, and for a split second, he paused. ‘I was shocked at how far off I was and how crazy this all was,’ Levin said. ‘I thought to myself: ‘Oh my god! How am I going to get home?’ ‘

Imagine the pressure: Levin is sitting at the piano. A full orchestra of musicians, with instruments poised at the ready, not to mention the conductor, Sir John Eliot Gardner, are waiting for Levin to finish out the cadenza, so that they can resume the piece. And then there is the festival audience of thousands, some of whom, according to Levin, had sensed his predicament and audibly gasped.

‘I looked down at the keyboard and imagined myself saying: ‘Save me! Help me!’ ‘ said Levin. ‘And literally—I felt this—I thought the keys looked up at me and said: ‘You got yourself here. You get yourself out.’ ‘

What happened next, Levin said, was truly miraculous. ‘I started to play again. And so to speak, I slid on the banana peel of a diminished seventh chord and through some enharmonic sleight of hand—it was not planned—I suddenly found myself within sight of my front door, and I got home.’

There is something fascinating about the act of musical improvisation—that moment when a musician departs from the score, embarking on a thematically relevant, yet wholly spontaneous composition. We normally think of it as the province of jazz musicians, conjuring the iconic image of a sax player wailing through riffs in a smoky, dim-lit club. John Coltrane and Bill Evans were masters. Miles Davis was never much for rehearsal. He used to gather his band in the studio, rattle off a few suggestions for the broad shape each track should take, and hit record.

But many of the early classical composers—Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Liszt—were also known for improvising entire portions of their concerts. Liszt had a penchant for soliciting musical themes from his audience. Before a show, anyone could jot down a few bars of melody on a piece of paper. Some were original. Others were bits of recognizable tunes from the time, a popular symphony or aria. Liszt would then pull one of these melodies out of a hat and use it as a launching point. He’d reharmonize it or play it backwards, always wresting from it a spirited improvisation that could last for several minutes.

Regardless of genre, the appeal of improvisation is its danger. It’s an act of audacity, says Levin, but ultimately an act of profound humanity, given that it’s a communication between the performer and the audience. The musician takes a huge risk, trusting, hoping that his brain and fingers will successfully allow him to ‘walk the tight rope over the precipice and arrive at the other side,’ Levin says. ‘Or you might crash and burn. You never know.’ But the spectators, as they live vicariously through the musician’s adventure, love him for it.

How do musicians do this? When he’s ready to begin a cadenza, Levin says, he doesn’t have a plan. As many other seasoned improvisers claim, he just starts playing. It’s intuitive. But, Levin admits, he didn’t always know how to improvise. He had to learn. So the question remains: how can a skill that in its truest form is innate be learned?

Aaron Berkowitz, a cognitive ethnomusicologist, who took on the task of demystifying improvisation as the focus of his dissertation work at Harvard, has a theory. He likens the process of learning to improvise to that of learning a second language. Initially, he says, it’s all about memorizing vocabulary words, useful phrases and verb conjugation tables. Your first day, you might learn to say: How are you? I’m fine. ‘These are like the baby steps beginning improvisers take. They learn the structure of the blues. They learn basic chords and get the form down,’ said Berkowitz. But they’re still very limited in what they can do.

A dedicated musician will immerse himself in the recordings of his chosen genre or composer, just as a language student might absorb foreign films or tapes of people speaking. Over time, both musician and student accumulate more phrases and ways to combine them. ‘But you still can’t really invent anything. [The language learner] can’t talk about politics or the environment,’ Berkowitz said. ‘You’re still thinking: ‘Uh oh, here’s comes a verb. I have to put it in the past tense. I have to put it at the end of the sentence before I can say this whole phrase.’

But eventually, through constant practice, you get to the point where, scientists believe, these processes get pushed down into the subconscious. They don’t need to be consciously worked out anymore. They become a subroutine. Suddenly you realize you’re saying things you haven’t heard or memorized. You’re able to free-associate. Your brain begins exerting control at a higher level, directing bigger chunks of information that can be expressed as whole ideas.

The trajectory of acquiring a language, according to Berkowitz, where you begin with learned phrases, achieve fluency, and are eventually able to create poetry mirrors perfectly the process of learning to improvise. In the same way a language student learns words, phrases and grammatical structure so that later he can recombine them to best communicate his thoughts, a musician collects and commits to memory patterns of notes, chords and progressions, which he can later draw from to express his musical ideas.

Berkowitz was halfway through medical school at Johns Hopkins when he decided that his long-evolving interest in the intersection of music, music cognition and cognitive neuroscience could no longer be ignored. He decided to focus on improvisation mainly as a result of seeing Levin, a professor in Harvard’s music department, perform. ‘I was pretty blown away,’ said Berkowitz. ‘If you want to talk about improvisation, he’s one of the grand masters.’

As it turns out, Berkowitz’s theory seems to explain Levin’s road to improvisational mastery almost exactly. For his early and intense exposure to Mozart, whose style was the first in which he learned to improvise, Levin credits his father, a dental ceramist. ‘He was absolutely taken with him,’ Levin said. ‘He would smuggle 78s of Mozart into the house when we needed food more than we needed shellac records.’

When Levin was 12, he began a rigorous course of study with the legendary music teacher, Nadia Boulanger, in France. Levin credits Boulanger for giving him ‘a toolbox that contained everything that I needed for the rest of my life as a musician.’ Later, when Levin began to improvise in Mozart’s style, he discovered he had in place the requisite musical vocabulary and grammar thanks to Boulanger’s keyboard harmony, sight-reading and transposition exercises.

Fluency arrived for Levin during thousands upon thousands of hours of practice. At a certain point, he acquired a Mozart mindset, which consists, says Levin, of a collection of idiosyncratic musical details—rhythms, chords, turns of phrase—that recall the distinct language of the composer.

What came next, however, was the somewhat unsettling period when he began improvising in concert, which, with all its risk, was a completely different beast. ‘At first I thought, I’d better have a safety net,’ Levin said. Three hours before a performance, Levin would be lying there in his hotel room bed, trying to work out a mental roadmap for his impending cadenza. He’d get it all planned out and think ‘fine, I don’t have to worry about it.’

But inevitably, during performance, Levin would stray from his roadmap, forcing a choice. ‘You can think about what you should be doing instead of what you are doing and screw up completely or you can ditch everything you were going to do because you aren’t there, you’re somewhere else.’

Eventually, Levin just let go, and in doing so, made the crucial transition from fluency to poetry. ‘Now I prepare absolutely nothing,’ he said. ‘The orchestra is playing and I know I’ve got twelve seconds, I’ve got eight, I’ve got six, I’ve got four, and if nothing comes into my head, I just start playing. I start to play a scale. I start to play something. And as I play, I know something is going to come to me.’

At this level of musical cognition, the improviser often achieves a seamless trade-off between his conscious and subconscious knowledge. He knows he’s creating the music and feels very much in control, yet he also feels as if he’s watching himself play, a paradox that Berkowitz calls the creator/witness phenomenon. ‘They’ll be playing and something happens that they didn’t quite expect,’ Berkowitz said. ‘Then they react to that and it kind of starts this dialogue where the improviser is steering the ship, but is also being steered by the ship.’

Levin confirms this phenomenon, recalling his miraculous recovery at Bremen. ‘I was certainly the protagonist. Nobody else was calling the shots,’ Levin said. ‘But, at the same time, I was watching myself do this and said: ‘Whew! Lucked out.’ ‘

With a rough idea of how musicians learned to improvise, Berkowitz decided to go a step further. He wanted to know specifically how the musician’s brain acted differently when it was improvising as opposed to when it was just playing a scripted melody. Berkowitz teamed up with Daniel Ansari, a neuroscientist at the University of Western Ontario, and together they designed an experiment that would attempt to isolate the brain regions responsible for the aspect of improvisation that requires creativity.

Continue here

Amanda Rose Martinez is an award-winning science journalist and playwright. She writes about marine science, the environment and human nature.

Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)

‘Bernini was a sculptor, painter and architect and a formative influence as an outstanding exponent of the Italian Baroque. He was an exceptional portrait artist and owes to his father his accomplished techniques in the handling of marble and also an impressive list of patrons that included the Borghese and the Barbarini families. Bernini originally worked in the Late Mannerist tradition but rejected the contrived tendencies of this style. By 1624 he had adopted an expression that was passionate and full of emotional and psychological energy. His figures are caught in a transient moment from a single viewpoint, bursting into the spectator’s space. In 1644 such interpretation reaches maturity in his rendition of the vision and Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. The Spanish nun swoons in heavenly rapture at the point of an angel’s arrow. The work is a prime example of Bernini’s vision of a decorative whole combining different materials and colors within an architectural space. A succession of powerful patrons in Rome and in Paris assured his reputation as an entrepreneurial artist who captured the spirit of the Counter-Reformation. His extreme and intense characterizations have fallen in and out of favor but his Baroque legacy remains intact.’

- From ‘The A-Z of Art: The World’s Greatest and Most Popular Artists and Their Works’, by Nicola Hodge and Libby Anson

Taken From : Google Reader

MetroPCS To Launch Samsung Forte 4G Phone

MetroPCS To Launch Samsung Forte 4G Phone: "MetroPCS, the pre-paid phone carrier, is getting ready to launch a new 4G phone – the Samsung Forte, part of the Galaxy S range which includes the popular Galaxy Tab tablet device. The new Forte will be an Android phone with 4 inch touchscreen, QWERTY keyboard, 1GHz processor, 5- megapixel camera and microSD slot and [...]"

MetroPCS To Launch Samsung Forte 4G Phone

MetroPCS To Launch Samsung Forte 4G Phone: "MetroPCS, the pre-paid phone carrier, is getting ready to launch a new 4G phone – the Samsung Forte, part of the Galaxy S range which includes the popular Galaxy Tab tablet device. The new Forte will be an Android phone with 4 inch touchscreen, QWERTY keyboard, 1GHz processor, 5- megapixel camera and microSD slot and [...]"

Lynda - Rhino 4.0 Essential Training (Included Files Exercise)

Lynda - Rhino 4.0 Essential Training (Included Files Exercise): "
 Lynda - Rhino 4.0 Essential Training (Included Files Exercise)

Lynda - Rhino 4.0 Essential Training (Included Files Exercise)
English | H264 948kbps | 960x540 29.9fps | MP3 159kbps | 1.03GB
Genre: Video Training

In Rhino 4.0 Essential Training(Included Files Exercise), author Dave Schultze shows how the 3D NURBS-based modeling tools in Rhino 4.0 are used to engineer products from toy robots to full-sized aircraft. This course concentrates on using Rhino 4.0 for industrial design and rapid prototyping, with a review of common 3D terminology using specific examples. Along with a comprehensive exploration of the Rhino interface, the course includes an introduction to building 3D objects with Rhino's three primary entities: the curve, the surface, and the solid. Exercise files are included with the course.

Mobile app revenue will triple to $15 billion this year, Gartner says

Mobile app revenue will triple to $15 billion this year, Gartner says: "


Gartner Inc. on Wednesday predicted that mobile application revenue will nearly triple in 2011, to $15.1 billion, from $5.2 billion last year.

That will come from 18 billion downloads of the programs that run on a growing variety of smart phones and tablets from Apple Inc., Android, BlackBerry and others.

Apps were largely popularized by Apple after the release of its App Store in July 2008, which at the time had about 500 apps available for the company's iPhone and iPod Touch.

The store now has 350,000 apps available, including 60,000 designed for its iPad tablet computer. Last weekend Apple said it had sold 10 billion apps since the store had opened. Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi estimated that Apple drove 90% of app downloads in 2010.

As Verizon Wireless markets the iPhone next month, Apple's dominance stands to be bolstered even further.

Google's Android Market, the main competitor to Apple, has an estimated 200,000 apps, but has difficulty catching up to its more established rival, and according to Forbes, is "not happy" about it.

"Many are wondering if the app frenzy we have been witnessing is just a fashion, and, like many others, it shall pass. We do not think so," Stephanie Baghdassarian, a research director at Gartner, said in a statement. "However, applications will have to grow up and deliver a superior experience to the one that a Web-based app will be able to deliver."

Gartner said that about 80% of app downloads are free, but that over the next few years, users will begin paying for more of them as they come to trust the apps and associated payment mechanisms.

The company also said that by 2014, almost a third of app revenue will come from advertising, up from 16% in 2010.


Apple's App Store hits 10 billion downloads

Foursquare says it grew 3400% in 2010

-- David Sarno

Photo: Apple's app "hyperwall" at its retail store in San Francisco. Credit: Florianplag / Flickr.


Dave McClure’s super angel fund backs digital comics startup Graphicly

Dave McClure’s super angel fund backs digital comics startup Graphicly: "

Graphicly StoreIt looks like Hollywood executives aren’t the only investors taking a close look at comic books. Graphicly, a startup behind an application for buying and reading digital comics, just announced that it has raised $3 million in its first round of institutional funding.

2010 was a big year for digital comics launches, with startup ComiXology probably attracting the most attention for its Marvel and DC Comics iPad apps. But chief executive Micah Baldwin said in July that Graphicly was aiming beyond the iPad — it now has applications for Windows 7, Adobe Air, iPhone, iPad, Windows 7 Phone, Android, and the Google Chrome Web Store. And it has signed deals with publishers including Marvel, Archie Comics, IDW Publishing, and Boom Studios.

Users have downloaded the Graphicly app 600,000 times and spend an average of 20 minutes per visit, Baldwin told me yesterday. With the new funding, he plans to expand the application beyond just being a store and a reader: “Imagine clicking on a spot within a comic and launching a casual game or video that truly extends the story.”

The round was led by DFJ Mercury, with participation from 500 Startups (the “super angel” fund from well-known investor Dave McClure), Dundee VC, Ludlow Ventures, and individual angel investors. The Boulder, Colo. startup was incubated by TechStars and previously raised $1.2 million from DFJ Mercury and others.

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Huawei sues Motorola to block Siemens deal

Huawei sues Motorola to block Siemens deal: "Huawei sues Motorola to block Siemens dealHuawei Technologies of China has sued Motorola this week in an effort to block the company's sale of its network equipment unit to Nokia Siemens.

The company wants the $1.2 billion deal to be restructured to avoid infringing on Huawei's IP rights.

Huawei is demanding the deal exclude any equipment that is based on GSM or UMTS standards.

Allegedly, Motorola does not have a material UMTS business as it resells Huawei's UMTS equipment for wireless service and therefore should not be able to sell that gear.

Motorola split its company in half earlier this year, seperating its phone and set-top operations from its other core operations.

Both companies involved in the deal are still awaiting approval from Chinese anti-trust authorities, but say the case is 'without merit' and hope to close in the next month.

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Android Tablets Closing in on Apple's iPad.

Android Tablets Closing in on Apple's iPad.: "

Google has nearly caught up to Apple in smart phone popularity and is closing the gap in tablets, according to a survey commissioned by mobile apps services provider, Appcelerator. Click here for more.


Eric Schmidt sees next decade as age of “augmented humanity”

Eric Schmidt sees next decade as age of “augmented humanity”: "

Eric Schmidt may not be chief executive of Google anymore. But he isn’t going to stop sharing his vision for the future.

The chairman of Google talked about the next decade and how it will bring about a time when we are the masters of technology, and not visa versa. You could think of it, he said, as the of “augmented humanity.” If you’re looking for a roadmap of what to prepare yourself or your company for in the future, Schmidt’s vision is as good as any.

His view of the next decade is interesting because he has just spent the past decade as CEO of one of the few companies that is trying to touch almost everything in the digital world. Schmidt has given this kind of speech before, but he is fleshing out his vision with each talk. It was the first big talk he gave since turning over the CEO title to Google co-founder Larry Page last week. (He preceded the speech by announcing Google would hire 1,000 employees in Europe in the coming year).

“Technology will finally serve us,” he said in a speech at the close of the Digital Life Design conference in Munich. “In my whole career, I always felt like I had to serve the computer. It was me who had to fix the computer. We can all relate to that. Finally, I think we are at the point where they do what we want.”

Schmidt said the “smartphone more than the iconic device of our time; the smartphone is the device of our time.” He said sales of smartphones will exceed sales of PCs worldwide within two years.The mobile web is growing about eight times faster than the PC web at an equivalent point of its development.

Imagine the wonder, he said, of going online via a smartphone after being limited to getting information in an unconnected village for your whole life.

Every company, Schmidt said, should adopt a “mobile first” strategy to get ready for this era.

“I would argue that devices not connected to the internet are not interesting anymore,” he said. You should expect that every

device with a microprocessor will be connected to the network.

Schmidt said some estimates place the number of internet-connected devices at 35 billion. At some point, we’ll stop counting, he said, because everything will be connected.

Schmidt said he was particularly encourage that mobile carriers are now deploying Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks across the world now. LTE is rated to carry data at speeds as high as 50 megabits a second. In effect, the rated actual performance is around 8 megabits to 10 megabits a second in the real world. Actual service plans will likely give one or two megabits a second of service to users.

That’s certainly fast enough to do your email at maximum efficiency, but it takes about 10 megabits a second to do two-way video calls with great quality.

Schmidt noted that, on the ground, Australia is planning to bring fiber-to-the-home for 93 percent of Australians. That could give

users gigabit-per-second speeds in their homes.Such speeds would eliminate any obstacles to providing digital bits to people, whether they take the form of 3D games or high-definition video.

In the next decade, the last major piece of the puzzle — cloud computing — will come into its own.He noted that 1,000 computer servers can form the back-end system for voice translation software, which allows you to speak into the phone in one language and have your words come out in another language for the person on another phone.

“It seems to work like magic,” he said, noting that Google is testing the technology.

The changes that these technologies will bring about are mind-boggling, Schmidt said. The phone becomes not just a phone, but a phone connected to a bunch of supercomputers.

“You can sit in the airport and then use your phone to imagine that you’re skiing downhill virtually in Vancouver,” he said.

You don’t have to get lost anymore, with things like Google Maps. He noted that one blogger was arrested in Tunisia and he let people know about that through his phone and Google Latitude. He was rescued during that country’s revolution. Schmidt noted that satellite images of war-torn Sudan can show whether armed forces are building up in certain areas of disputed territory.

More cool and useful technology awaits.Cars can drive themselves. You no longer have to be bored when waiting for something.

The technology will provide you with helpful suggestions, like errands that you can do at places you are passing by — with your permission.

The devices to make this all happen are being put in place now. He said that Google Android phones are being activated at a rate well above 300,000 devices per day. There are 145 models of Android phones, 27 manufacturers, 169 carriers, and 96 countries.

The people who will reap the most benefits of this coming era are our children. He said that if you have a child, “the child is asleep or online.”

Disclosure: DLD paid my way to Munich so I could moderate a panel. VentureBeat maintains that our coverage of the conference is objective and independent.

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