lundi, avril 30, 2007

devaluado


DEVALUADO
Originally uploaded by loucovinagre.
Indeed.

you say you want a (dance) revolution

I like that schools are giving kids more options in PE and that there are group activities that are about personal skill and not as likely to be hijacked by team dynamics. But I wonder what will happen when the fad fades (although this one's been going for some time).
Dance Dance Revolution
By SETH SCHIESEL
Published: April 30, 2007

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Children don’t often yell in excitement when they are let into class, but as the doors opened to the upper level of the gym at South Middle School here one recent Monday, the assembled students let out a chorus of shrieks.

In they rushed, past the Ping-Pong table, past the balance beams and the wrestling mats stacked unused. They sprinted past the ghosts of Gym Class Past toward two TV sets looming over square plastic mats on the floor. In less than a minute a dozen seventh graders were dancing in furiously kinetic union to the thumps of a techno song called “Speed Over Beethoven.”

Bill Hines, a physical education teacher at the school for 27 years, shook his head a little, smiled and said, “I’ll tell you one thing: they don’t run in here like that for basketball.”

It is a scene being repeated across the country as schools deploy the blood-pumping video game Dance Dance Revolution as the latest weapon in the nation’s battle against the epidemic of childhood obesity. While traditional video games are often criticized for contributing to the expanding waistlines of the nation’s children, at least several hundred schools in at least 10 states are now using Dance Dance Revolution, or D.D.R., as a regular part of their physical education curriculum.

Based on current plans, more than 1,500 schools are expected to be using the game by the end of the decade. Born nine years ago in the arcades of Japan, D.D.R. has become a small craze among a generation of young Americans who appear less enamored of traditional team sports than their parents were and more amenable to the personal pursuits enabled by modern technology.

Incorporating D.D.R. into gym class is part of a general shift in physical education, with school districts de-emphasizing traditional sports in favor of less competitive activities.

“Traditionally, physical education was about team sports and was very skills oriented,” said Chad Fenwick, who oversees physical education for the Los Angeles Unified School District, where about 40 schools now use Dance Dance Revolution. “What you’re seeing is a move toward activities where you don’t need to be so great at catching and throwing and things like that, so we can appeal to a wider range of kids.”

A basic D.D.R. system, including a television and game console, can be had for less than $500, but most schools that use the game choose to spend from $70 to $800 each for more robust mats, rather than rip apart the relatively flimsy versions meant for home use.

In a study last year, researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., found that children playing Dance Dance Revolution expended significantly more energy than children watching television and playing traditional video games. West Virginia, which ranks among the nation’s leaders in obesity, diabetes and hypertension, has sponsored its own study and has taken the lead in deploying the game, which requires players to dance in ever more complicated and strenuous patterns in time with electronic dance music.

As a song plays, arrows pointing one of four directions — forward, back, left, right — scroll up the screen in various sequences and combinations, requiring the player to step on corresponding arrows on a mat on the floor. Players can dance by themselves, with a partner or in competition. (Though the game, which is made by Konami of Japan, began in arcades, it is now most commonly played on Sony’s PlayStation 2 and Microsoft’s Xbox game consoles.)

As a result of a partnership among West Virginia’s Department of Education, its Public Employees Insurance Agency and West Virginia University, the state has committed to installing the game in all 765 of its public schools by next year. Almost all of its 185 middle schools already use it.

The mastermind behind the project is Linda M. Carson, Ware distinguished professor at West Virginia University’s School of Physical Education and director of the state’s Motor Development Center.

“I was in a mall walking by the arcade and I saw these kids playing D.D.R., and I was just stunned,” she said. “There were all these kids dancing and sweating and actually standing in line and paying money to be physically active. And they were drinking water, not soda. It was a physical educator’s dream.”

In February, Ms. Carson and her main collaborator, Emily Murphy, a doctoral candidate at the university’s School of Medicine, announced results of a multiyear study. They found significant health benefits for overweight children who played the game regularly, including improved blood pressure, overall fitness scores and endothelial function, which reflects the arteries’ ability to deliver oxygen.

None of that would come as a surprise to Maureen Byrne, mother of two boys in Chesterfield, Mo., who introduced the game to her local school district after seeing its impact on one of her sons.

“My oldest son, Sean, used to have love handles; he was kind of pudgy, and I’ll be honest: we were worried about it,” she said. “We had heard of D.D.R., and I got it for him for his birthday. We put limits on the other video games he plays, but we told him he could play D.D.R. as much as he wanted. And now it’s like he’s a different kid. He’s playing sports and running, and we see D.D.R. as like his bridge to a more active lifestyle.”

Ms. Byrne and her family demonstrated the game for the local parent-teacher organization in the hope of convincing it to underwrite a test at school.

“I remember going to the P.T.O. meeting and getting in front of all of them without my shoes on and doing the moves, and that was kind of funny,” said Sean, now a 12-year-old sixth grader.

Today, eight schools in the Parkway School District, based in Chesterfield, have their own D.D.R. systems, and three other game systems circulate among various schools in the district, said Ron Ramspott, the district coordinator of health and physical education.

“Our teachers are really buying into D.D.R. as a way to promote both physical health and learning,” he said. “When you’re playing the game you really have to process the information and then also do the moves physically, so we think it can help with brain development as well.”

As Leighton Nakamoto, a physical education teacher at Kalama Intermediate School in Makawao, Hawaii, put it: “The new physical education is moving away from competitive team sports and is more about encouraging lifetime fitness, and D.D.R. is a part of that. They can do it on their own, and they don’t have to compete with anyone else.”

Mr. Nakamoto said that he had used the game in class for four years and that his school had also installed the game in its “Active Lifestyle” room, where students are allowed and encouraged to play in their free time.

Dave Randall, the educational specialist for coordinated school health for the Hawaii Department of Education, said Hawaii was trying to put together a program like West Virginia’s to get the game into all of the state’s 265 public schools over the next three years.

Back in West Virginia, Anna Potter, 12, and Mikayla Leombruno, 13, were not concerned about all of the academic theories as they shimmied and bounced to the beat in Mr. Hines’s gym class.

“I like that you get to listen to music and you don’t have to be on a team or go anywhere special to play,” Anna said after their song. “If you do baseball or basketball, people get really competitive about it.”

Mikayla chimed in, “And you don’t have to be good at it to get a good workout.”

the untaming of the shrew

This screams late-night infomercial to me. But leave it to the Scottish to figure this out.

And ... shrews?
Hope for sex-boost slimming pill
BBC News
April 30, 2007
Scientists are developing a pill which could boost women's libido and reduce their appetite.

The hormone-releasing pill has so far only been given to female monkeys and shrews who displayed more mating behaviour and ate less.

The team from the Medical Research Council's Human Reproduction Unit in Edinburgh believe a human version could be available within a decade.

But a psychologist said low-libido was usually caused by relationship issues.

Up to 40% of women are thought to experience a lack of sex drive at some point in their lives.

'Rump presentation'
The Edinburgh team, led by Professor Robert Millar, have been looking at the properties Type 2 Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone.

When it was given to monkeys, they displayed mating behaviour such as tongue-flicking and eyebrow-raising to the males, while female shrews displayed their feelings via "rump presentation and tail wagging".

But the animals also ate around a third less food than they normally would.

Professor Millar hopes to achieve a similar rise in libido and fall in appetite in a pill for women.

He told the Scotland on Sunday newspaper: "This hormone is distributed in the brain in areas that we suspect affect reproductive behaviour.

"It is considered a major pharmaceutical endeavour to address the area of libido.

"So the next stage is to produce a drug that simulates the actions of this hormone.

"It is most likely that we will do it in partnership with a pharmaceutical firm. It could be available to women within the next 10 years."

He said it may also be possible to develop a pill which worked for men, but he has so far not carried out any tests on male animals.

But psychologist Lesley Perman-Kerr said relationship problems usually had a psychological, rather than a biological, basis.

"Some women have problems specific to libido.

"But often if they go off sex, it's more to do with their relationship than their level of libido.

"When couples come to me and they are not having sex, the last thing they want to do is examine their relationship.

"They want to believe that it's nothing to do with their relationship."

dimanche, avril 29, 2007

it's in his tail

I've been watching Casey's tail since reading this article and he's mostly a right-wagger. Today at the dog wash, he went neutral and then his tail definitely wagged more to the left when an aggressive dog got too close.

Perhaps my favorite line from the article: Looking at the cat, a four-year-old male whose owners volunteered him for the experiment, the dogs' tails again wagged more to the right but in a lower amplitude.
If You Want to Know if Spot Loves You So, It’s in His Tail
By SANDRA BLAKESLEE
April 24, 2007
Every dog lover knows how a pooch expresses its feelings.

Ears close to the head, tense posture, and tail straight out from the body means “don’t mess with me.” Ears perked up, wriggly body and vigorously wagging tail means “I am sooo happy to see you!”

But there is another, newly discovered, feature of dog body language that may surprise attentive pet owners and experts in canine behavior. When dogs feel fundamentally positive about something or someone, their tails wag more to the right side of their rumps. When they have negative feelings, their tail wagging is biased to the left.

A study describing the phenomenon, “Asymmetric tail-wagging responses by dogs to different emotive stimuli,” appeared in the March 20 issue of Current Biology. The authors are Giorgio Vallortigara, a neuroscientist at the University of Trieste in Italy, and two veterinarians, Angelo Quaranta and Marcello Siniscalchi, at the University of Bari, also in Italy.

“This is an intriguing observation,” said Richard J. Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. It fits with a large body of research showing emotional asymmetry in the brain, he said.

Research has shown that in most animals, including birds, fish and frogs, the left brain specializes in behaviors involving what the scientists call approach and energy enrichment. In humans, that means the left brain is associated with positive feelings, like love, a sense of attachment, a feeling of safety and calm. It is also associated with physiological markers, like a slow heart rate.

At a fundamental level, the right brain specializes in behaviors involving withdrawal and energy expenditure. In humans, these behaviors, like fleeing, are associated with feelings like fear and depression. Physiological signals include a rapid heart rate and the shutdown of the digestive system.

Because the left brain controls the right side of the body and the right brain controls the left side of the body, such asymmetries are usually manifest in opposite sides of the body. Thus many birds seek food with their right eye (left brain/nourishment) and watch for predators with their left eye (right brain/danger).

In humans, the muscles on the right side of the face tend to reflect happiness (left brain) whereas muscles on the left side of the face reflect unhappiness (right brain).

Dog tails are interesting, Dr. Davidson said, because they are in the midline of the dog’s body, neither left nor right. So do they show emotional asymmetry, or not?

To find out, Dr. Vallortigara and his colleagues recruited 30 family pets of mixed breed that were enrolled in an agility training program. The dogs were placed in a cage equipped with cameras that precisely tracked the angles of their tail wags. Then they were shown four stimuli through a slat in the front of the cage: their owner; an unfamiliar human; a cat; and an unfamiliar, dominant dog.

In each instance the test dog saw a person or animal for one minute, rested for 90 seconds and saw another view. Testing lasted 25 days with 10 sessions per day.

When the dogs saw their owners, their tails all wagged vigorously with a bias to the right side of their bodies, Dr. Vallortigara said. Their tails wagged moderately, again more to the right, when faced with an unfamiliar human. Looking at the cat, a four-year-old male whose owners volunteered him for the experiment, the dogs’ tails again wagged more to the right but in a lower amplitude.

When the dogs looked at an aggressive, unfamiliar dog — a large Belgian shepherd Malinois — their tails all wagged with a bias to the left side of their bodies.

Thus when dogs were attracted to something, including a benign, approachable cat, their tails wagged right, and when they were fearful, their tails went left, Dr. Vallortigara said. It suggests that the muscles in the right side of the tail reflect positive emotions while the muscles in the left side express negative ones.

While some researchers have argued that only humans show brain asymmetry — based on the evolution of language in the left brain — strong left and right biases are showing up in the brains of many so-called simpler creatures, said Lesley Rogers, a neuroscientist who studies brain asymmetry at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia.

Honeybees learn better when using their right antenna, she said. Male chameleons show more aggression, reflected as changes in body color, when they look at another chameleon with their left eye. A toad is more likely to jump away when a predator is introduced to its left visual field (right brain/fear). The same toad prefers to flick its tongue to the right side when lashing out at a cricket (left brain/ nourishment).

Chicks prefer to use their left eye to search for food and right eye to watch for predators overhead, Dr. Rogers said. But when chicks are raised in the dark, they do not develop normal brain asymmetry. In trying to eat and watch for hawks overhead, such nonlateralized chicks become confused and vulnerable to attack.

Sheep, which are good at recognizing individual faces, use the right sides of their brains for knowing a Dolly from a Molly.

Chimpanzee brains are asymmetrical in the same ways as human brains, said William D. Hopkins, a researcher at the Yerkes National Primate Center and psychologist at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta. When chimps are excited, they tend to scratch themselves on the left side of their bodies, reflecting strong negative emotions, he said. And left-handed chimps are more fearful of novel stimuli than right-handers. Their dominant right brains may make them more cautious.

Brain asymmetry for approach and withdrawal seems to be an ancient trait, Dr. Rogers said. Thus it must confer some sort of survival advantage on organisms.

Animals that can do two important things at the same time, like eat and watch for predators, would be better off, she said. And animals with two brain hemispheres could avoid duplication of function, making maximal use of neural tissue.

The asymmetry may also arise from how major nerves in the body connect up to the brain, said Arthur D. Craig, a neuroanatomist at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. Nerves that carry information from the skin, heart, liver, lungs and other internal organs are inherently asymmetrical, he said. Thus information from the body that prompts an animal to slow down, eat, relax and restore itself is biased toward the left brain. Information from the body that tells an animal to run, fight, breathe faster and look out for danger is biased toward the right brain.

In this way, Dr. Craig said, animals are naturally designed to cope with changing environments.

mardi, avril 24, 2007

when i'm 64

I'm halfway there.

My birthday wish this year (and, I suspect 32 years from now) is to live without regrets, surrounded by loved ones, learning, traveling, savoring, contributing, and generally being as healthy, balanced, passionate, and happy as possible.

But I'll settle for world peace, a sustainable future, a cure for cancer, and equal rights for women. Yep, that about does it.

dimanche, avril 22, 2007

french contenders set for run-off

The French presidential election was this weekend. 85% of the electorate showed up, but no candidate got a majority; the run-off election is May 6.

This election raises the stakes for everyone, myself included. If Socialist Ségolène Royal wins, her promised policies will likely make it harder for would-be ex-pats like me to get gainful employment in France. But if conservative, free-market reformer Nicolas Sarkozy wins, the French welfare state (complete with a 35-hour work week and beaucoup de vacation (8 weeks per year) may very well go the way of the dodo bird, making France a less desirable career destination for me.

Sarkozy used a law and order appeal to scare people into getting to the polls. He also shifted his campaign language in the last months of the election, taking a decidedly authoritarian approach not unlike that of Jean-Marie Le Pen (the racist xenophobic Nationalist Front candidate). Exit polls indicate that older voters chose Sarkozy, while young picked Royal:
Almost half of French voters over age 70 cast their ballots on Sunday for the conservative candidate for president, Nicolas Sarkozy. Almost 30 percent of those ages 18 to 24 favored Ségolène Royal of the Socialist Party.
Le Pen finished fourth, with 11% of the vote. His racist, far-right views were no doubt bolstered by les émeutes, the widescale violent clashes between disaffected ethnic Arab and African youth and police in 2005. While Paris was burning, Sarkozy also made much political hay with the issue.
BBC NEWS | Europe | French contenders set for run-off
The top two candidates in the first round of the French presidential election are beginning two weeks of intense campaigning for the run-off.

Centre-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal defeated 10 others in Sunday's ballot, with a record voter turnout of nearly 85%.

Mr Sarkozy garnered 31% of the vote, while Ms Royal, bidding to be France's first female leader, took nearly 26%.

Centrist Francois Bayrou took 18%, and far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen almost 11%.

Middle ground
Voters are now faced with a clear left-right choice.

That political divide may be a return to French tradition, but both candidates are something new for France, says the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris.

Mr Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, has a free market stance that sometimes seems closer to that of Britain or the US and an aggressive image that is also a departure from the patrician style of past presidents.

He is hated by the left as a reformer who many fear would change the French way of life by making the nation work harder and longer and by cutting back on its generous welfare state.

Ms Royal is a woman who fought her way to the candidacy against the will of her senior Socialist colleagues. Her campaign has been dogged by wrangles over policy and a series of gaffes.

She is a regional leader whose presidential pledges include a higher minimum wage along with a new form of youth job contract, to ensure that the young in France have a chance of entering the tough job market that all but the best-qualified feel excluded from.

france looks ahead, and it doesn't look good

I never realized how much I appreciated Jacques Chirac.
France Looks Ahead, and It Doesn’t Look Good
By TONY JUDT
Published: April 22, 2007

IT is easy to underestimate Jacques Chirac.

Today the French will begin to vote for a new president, and soon Mr. Chirac, the 74-year-old incumbent, will pass from the scene unmourned. Over a political career spanning nearly five decades, during which he was mayor of Paris, prime minister (twice) and president for 12 years, Mr. Chirac appears to have achieved little.

As mayor from 1977 to 1995, he oversaw a steady rise in political corruption and municipal graft (albeit both at insignificant levels by American big-city standards). As president, he abandoned his promises to resolve shortcomings in France’s employment laws and social services in the face of street protests. And he has done little to redress the grievances of France’s minorities or the anxieties of young people. On both sides of the Atlantic, Mr. Chirac’s political obituary is being written in distinctly unflattering terms.

But is the French situation really so dire? From every quarter one hears calls for “reform” to bring France more in line with Anglo-American practices and policies. The dysfunctional French social model, we are frequently assured, has failed.

In that case there is much to be said for failure. French infants have a better chance of survival than American ones. The French live longer than Americans and they live healthier (at far lower cost). They are better educated and have first-rate public transportation. The gap between rich and poor is narrower than in the United States or Britain, and there are fewer poor people.

Yes, France has high youth unemployment, thanks to institutionalized impediments to job creation. But the comparison to American rates is misleading: our figures are artificially lowered because so many dark-skinned men aged 18 to 30 are in prison and thus off the unemployment rolls.

Meanwhile, recall what Jacques Chirac has done. In 1995 he became the first president to acknowledge openly France’s role in the Holocaust: “The occupier was assisted by the French, by the French state,” he said. “France accomplished the irreparable.” This was a phrase that would have stuck in the craw of his much-lauded predecessor, François Mitterrand, and, it must be said, of Charles de Gaulle himself.

However low his political fortunes, Mr. Chirac forbade his supporters to ally or compromise with Jean-Marie Le Pen’s racist and xenophobic National Front — again in contrast with Mr. Mitterrand, who cynically manipulated French election laws in 1986 to benefit Mr. Le Pen (and thus weaken the moderate right).

Conscious of Europe’s links to the Muslim world — and the cost of rebuffing and humiliating Islam’s only secular democracy — Mr. Chirac has steadfastly supported Turkish admission to the European Union, an unpopular stance among his conservative constituents. In 2004 he created the first French administrative agency with explicit powers to identify and fight discrimination.

On the global stage, he has been perhaps the most outspoken major world leader on global warming, warning that “humanity is dancing on a volcano.” And, of course, he initiated and led international opposition to President Bush’s war in Iraq.

Let’s not forget the hysterical Francophobia of 2003: not just the imbecilities of “freedom fries” but xenophobic outbursts from Congress, the Bush administration and the mainstream American press, where prominent commentators called for France to be thrown off the Security Council and offered to let French “weasels” hold our coats while Americans once again did their fighting for them.

It wasn’t only Americans who objected. When in 2003 Mr. Chirac told the Eastern Europeans who backed Mr. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain on Iraq that they had “missed an opportunity to shut up,” his blunt talk upset a lot of people and did little for France’s popularity.

But in all of this, he has been proved right. By standing up to Mr. Bush and instructing his representatives at the United Nations to block a rush to an unprovoked war, the French president saved both the honor of the United Nations and the credibility of the international community.

It is not obvious that any of his likely successors would have done as well. Mr. Chirac is old enough to appreciate Europe’s debt to America — on the 60th anniversary of D-Day he said, sincerely, that “France will never forget what it owes America, its steadfast friend and ally” — but Gaullist enough to oppose Washington’s folies de grandeur. His heir presumptive, Nicolas Sarkozy, is neither.

Mr. Sarkozy’s admiration and knowledge of the United States appear confined to its economic growth rate. He opposes Turkish membership in the European Union in the most intolerant terms: “If you let 100 million Turkish Muslims come in, what will come of it?” And his Gaullism is tainted by a weakness for rightist catchwords — “nation” and “identity,” not to mention “scum” when referring to rioting minority youths — with which he hopes to outflank Mr. Le Pen.

Ségolène Royal, the socialists’ candidate, has a Joan of Arc complex (in her declaration of candidacy last October she spoke of hearing “calls” and accepting “this mission of conquest for France”), and she practices what could be called a “soft” demagogy. On crucial issues — the European Union Constitution, Turkish admission to Europe — she has avoided commitment, promising instead to “listen to the people.”

Many of Ms. Royal’s socialist supporters manage to be both anti-American and anti-European: a Royal presidency would thus probably weaken the European Union without in any way strengthening France’s trans-Atlantic leverage — a leftist mirror of the agenda of neoconservative strategists in Washington.

Neither Mr. Sarkozy nor Ms. Royal (nor the centrist François Bayrou, the only other candidate with a serious chance of advancing to the runoff after today’s initial voting) shares Mr. Chirac’s historical appreciation of what is at stake in the construction of Europe: why it matters and why those who would divide or dilute it are playing with fire.

On this score, Mr. Chirac has reason to worry. Some new European Union member states want it both ways: to have an American-style low-tax economy that is underwritten by subsidies from Western European taxpayers. Poles and Czechs are happy to accept such handouts from Brussels, in the form of “solidarity funds,” yet at the same time welcome American missile defense systems without even consulting their fellow Europeans. Romania’s entry into the union this year hasn’t kept its president, Traian Basescu, from continuing to seek a “strategic Washington-London-Bucharest axis.”

In the hands of a new generation of politicians out for local advantage and indifferent to the past, Europe could unravel very quickly. Those who now celebrate Mr. Chirac’s departure should recall Rhett Butler’s admonition to Scarlett O’Hara when she sneered at the straggling remnants of the Confederate Army: “Don’t be in such a hurry to see them go, my dear; with them goes the last semblance of law and order.”

With the departure of Jacques Chirac, we are saying goodbye to the last semblance of statesmanship from a generation that remembered where an unraveled Europe could lead. I fear we shall miss him.

Tony Judt is director of the Remarque Institute at New York University and the author of “Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945."

retumbando

I've been interested in the disappeared since I was 11 years old.

Having spent some time Argentina and Uruguay recently, this exhibition resonates all the more...
Unresolved Chords Echo for ‘the Disappeared’
By HOLLAND COTTER
April 7, 2007
There may have been a more moving show of contemporary political art in the city this season than “The Disappeared” at El Museo del Barrio, but if so, I missed it. The title refers to a peculiarly chilling form of violence associated with political upheavals in Latin America over the last 40 years, one that is now becoming more common in Iraq.

A man leaves for work one morning, but doesn’t come home at the end of the day, or later that night, or the next day. A week passes. Relatives suspect that the missing man, who may or may not have had risky political ties, has been arrested or kidnapped. But they don’t know by whom, or where he’s been taken, or if he’s alive or dead.

He’s one of the disappeared, “los desaparecidos,” the victim of terrorism through stealth removal. A death permits mourning, assignment of blame, a possibility of closure. Disappearance generates uncertainty, paralyzes action, leaves an open wound. If I say nothing, a survivor thinks, maybe my husband, or child, or mother, or wife will be spared, even returned. If I inquire or accuse, I may seal their fate. As often as not, fear wins out.

The 15 artists in the show are all from Latin American countries that experienced totalitarian regimes in the late 20th century, when almost every family had friends who disappeared or were themselves forced into hiding or exile. Directly or indirectly, their art is about these experiences.

Some of it is explicitly autobiographical. Nicolás Guagnini’s father, a leftist journalist in Buenos Aires, vanished in 1977, when the artist was 11, at the beginning of a period that saw the disappearance, torture and death of some 30,000 of his countrymen. Mr. Guagnini, who now lives in New York, where he is a co-founder of the artist-run Orchard gallery on the Lower East Side, has made a single sculpture about his missing parent: a cluster of upright posts on which his father’s portrait is painted in fragments so that the face comes into focus, then dissolves, as the viewer circles the piece.

A photographic installation by Marcelo Brodsky, who is also from Argentina, expands the personal into a larger history. In early family snapshots, he is a child playing with his older brother, Fernando. In a 1967 group portrait of his eighth-grade class, he has circled 13 of the 32 figures, to indicate friends who as adults would go into political exile or disappear.

Fernando appears again, and for the last time, in a 1979 picture, taken in a military prison were he was jailed as a dissident and, Mr. Brodsky believes, murdered. In the late 1990s, the artist organized a memorial for all of these people from his past. It included a public reading of their names. The reading was recorded on video; the names sound through El Museo’s galleries.

Other work in the show is less diaristic, more about the facts of violence made visible. Sara Maneiro shows enlargements of X-rayed dental remains recovered from a mass grave of protesters massacred by government troops in Venezuela.

Iván Navarro, the youngest artist here, born in 1972, contributes a ladder made from fluorescent light tubes and printed with the names of Chilean police and secret service personnel indicted for torturing or killing fellow citizens. Arturo Duclos has covered a gallery wall with the outlined form of the Chilean flag made from human bones he collected over the years from medical students and other donors.

Fernando Traverso, an activist based in Rosario, Argentina, keeps the memory of dead friends alive by surreptitiously stenciling images of bicycles on city walls. Bicycles, hard to identify and easy to hide, were the favored mode of transportation for resistance fighters. When a bike was found abandoned, it usually meant its owner had been captured. Thanks to Mr. Traverso, there are still bikes in Rosario awaiting their riders’ return.

Not all the art is so specific in its references. Juan Manuel Echavarría, from Colombia, symbolically suggests the pathology of disappearance in photographs of a weathered mannequin displayed like a body on an autopsy table. In photographs by the Uruguayan-born Ana Tiscornia, newsprint portraits are half- obscured behind what looks like a coat of yellow slime. In several small videos, Oscar Muñoz paints similar portraits with water on light-colored stone; within seconds the water dries and the faces vanish.

No single work is more complex than “From the Uruguayan Torture Series” (1983) by Luis Camnitzer, an artist born in Germany, raised in Uruguay and for the last several decades an influential teacher and writer in New York. Combining close-up photographs of his own body with handwritten sentence fragments, he evokes the sensibilities of both tormenter and victim with corrosive subtlety.

Mr. Camnitzer is one of our finest political artists, which is to say one of our finest artists. Nothing he has done demonstrates this more persuasively than this devastating exercise in psychological portraiture, which is also self-portraiture.

Portraiture is, of course, an art form expressly designed to resist oblivion. And it is the essence of this show, which opens with a floor-to-ceiling spread of monotype memorial portraits by Antonio Frasconi, born in Buenos Aires in 1919, and concludes with an extraordinary portrait project called “Identity” by a collective of Argentine artists who use that word as their name.

Collaborating with the Association of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, women who have for years publicly demonstrated against government silence on disappearances, the collective has gathered photographs of couples who had children, or were expecting children, at the time they vanished. The installation, continually being added to, has been exhibited in Buenos Aires. The hope is that if any of those children, who would now be adults, survived, they might recognize the face of a lost parent and be reunited with living family members.

Whatever its practical results may be, it gives an overpowering sense of the sheer statistical enormity of loss. You think you’ve reached the end; you turn a corner and find more. It goes on and on, face after face, out of the gallery, down the hall.

This all may seem long ago and far away to us, but every Thursday in Buenos Aires, groups of women continue to hold their protests demanding a full accounting of their children’s fates.

“The Disappeared” was organized by Laurel Reuter, founding director and chief curator of the North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks. It is scheduled to travel through North and South America for three years, and has a bilingual catalog that is a work of art in itself. From Ms. Reuter’s stunning essay to the supplementary material, it is a total- immersion emotional experience.

And why is it that an on-the-road exhibition from a small museum in the Midwest is the most potent show of contemporary art, political or otherwise, in town? All I can say is that curators in our local museums should pay a visit, and ask themselves that question.

“The Disappeared” (“Los Desaparecidos”) continues through June 17 at El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue, at 104th Street, East Harlem; (212) 831-7272, elmuseo.org.

vendredi, avril 20, 2007

the disturbed are disturbing the rest of us

California man charged with threatening to kill university students
April 20, 2007 - 4:02 am

SAN DIEGO (AP) - A Web designer was charged Thursday with posting on his own site a bogus threat to kill 50 San Diego State University students, then alerting a TV station to try and draw publicity, the FBI said.

Cristobal Fernando Gonzalez, 32, faces one felony count of making a threatening communication through the Internet. He was being held on US$30,000 bail. His parents said outside the federal courthouse that he was remorseful. "I hope it doesn't ruin his future," said his mother, Diana Gomez.

Scores of schools across the United States shut down or evacuated students Thursday and at least a dozen people were arrested or under investigation as the wave of campus threats that started soon after the Virginia Tech shootings spread in the time it takes to make a phone call or post a message on the Internet. At least two students were arrested for bringing guns onto campus.

The overwhelming majority of the threats referred to Monday's massacre in Blacksburg, Va., or the 1999 Columbine high school killings, authorities said. Friday is the eighth anniversary of the Columbine attacks.

A man who allegedly threatened a school attack in Yuba City, Calif., that would dwarf the Virginia Tech attacks, in which gunman Cho Seung-Hui killed 32 people and himself, turned himself in to authorities late Thursday, said a dispatcher at the Sutter County Sheriff's Department. It ended a manhunt that prompted school districts in two cities to tighten security.

The man told a pastor Wednesday night "he had some sort of explosive device and he was going to make the incident at Virginia Tech look mild by comparison," Sheriff Jim Denney said.

Officials cancelled classes and activities for Friday at school districts in Yuba and neighbouring Sutter counties, as well as at Yuba College. Classes were expected to resume Monday.

In Michigan, police said they arrested a former Kalamazoo Valley Community College student who posted Internet messages praising the Virginia Tech shooting. Officials closed the college's two campuses through the weekend.

The 26-year-old man "said his intent was just to evoke a response from other people," sheriff's Lt. Terry VanStreain said.

"He got a response from us, I guarantee you that."

Among other arrests and school scares Thursday:

-A high school student in Federal Way, Wash., near Seattle, was arrested after authorities said he brought three loaded guns and extra ammunition.

-A 20-year-old man in Bismarck, N.D., was charged with saying on a blog that the Virginia Tech massacre was funny and he had plans for a school shooting rampage.

-A high school student in Fort Smith, Ark., was arrested after police said he scrawled a message on a classroom desk saying he wanted to "be a hero" like Cho.

-In St. Augustine, Fla., a 14-year-old high school student was charged with threatening in an e-mail between friends to top the Virginia Tech massacre by killing 100 people, a sheriff's spokesman said.

-Two more bomb threats came in by phone to St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas, the third straight day since Monday's massacre that the school had received a threat.

-A letter referring to Columbine was posted on a locker room wall at Community R-6 School in Laddonia, Mo. The school was locked down for much of the day. Officials said they would allow parents to keep their children home Friday.

mardi, avril 17, 2007

"hold the prosscuittoe"

One of my biggest flaws is being a compulsive editor. I can't tell you how often Leo and I see the word "prosciutto" misspelled on menus. But what really kills me is seeing it misspelled in multiple ways on the same menu.

I'm not a complete idiot, though. I know better than to say anything ...

"hold the prosscuittoe"

quotable

"There is a gigantic difference between earning a great deal of money and being rich."
-Marlene Dietrich (December 27, 1901 – May 6, 1992) German-born actress, entertainer, and singer.

cheesus h. christ

The English are just as crazy about cheese as their cheese-eating surrender monkey cousins across the Channel. And if you know me, you know better than to get between me and my fromage.

But this is just bizarre — the culture that brought us cheese enthusiasts Wallace & Gromit now has a Web site focused on a 44-pound round of cheddar that gets fan mail. Cue Nero ...

Steve Forrest for The New York Times

Tom Calver, of Westcombe, England, has installed a Webcam to allow viewers to watch his cheese mature. Waiting for Gouda? Forget it: it’s all cheddar, all the time.
Paint Drying? Sorry, Wrong Link. This Is Cheddarvision.
By SARAH LYALL
Published: April 17, 2007

WESTCOMBE, England, April 10 — The cruel randomness of celebrity became clear to Tom Calver in February, when the cheese got a romantic Valentine in the mail and he did not.

The home of the celebrity cheese in Westcombe is a working farm.

“What has he done?” Mr. Calver asked of the cheese in question, a 44-pound round of cheddar currently maturing on his farm in this Somerset hamlet. (Mr. Calver’s farm, not the cheese’s.) “He’s just sat there and got moldy.”

But in common with other instant media sensations and members of the world’s ditzerati, the cheddar has not been impeded in its rise to fame by the modest nature of its accomplishments. As the star of Cheddar-vision TV, a Web site that carries live images of its life on a shelf (www.cheddarvision.tv), the cheese has been viewed so far more than 900,000 times.

“It seems to have engaged many people who might not otherwise have bothered to engage with cheesemaking,” said Dom Lane, a spokesman for West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers, of which Mr. Calver is a member.

Mr. Lane helped set up the Webcam in December, when the cheese was made, beginning as milk from Mr. Calver’s herd of Friesian-Holstein cows and then progressing through the standard curds (and whey) phase on its path to becoming a hunk of cheddar. It is to remain on the shelf until December, when, fully mature, it is to be sold for charity.

“We were thinking, ‘How can we demonstrate to people just how long it takes to make a really good cheddar?’ ” Mr. Lane said. “And then we thought: ‘Let’s film it from start to finish. That’s really funny because there’s nothing to see.’ ”

Quite. The cheddar is not busy. It just sits there in a dank, climate-and-humidity controlled cheese-ripening warehouse, subtly aging with hundreds of other cheeses. Once a week a man named Gary, Mr. Calver’s cheese-turner, comes in and turns it to redistribute the moisture within. Compared with the cheese-cam, the old Yule Log on television was a roiling hotbed of nonstop commotion.

As befits an inert object of obsession, the cheese has become a blank slate upon which admirers can express their passions and idiosyncrasies. Poems and songs have been written about it. It has been invited to a wedding. At Easter, it received an anonymous gift of chocolate and decorative chicks.

E-mail correspondents have engaged in a lively debate about the metaphysical significance of the cheese’s mold patterns. From the United States, a teacher announced that his class had set up a wall of cheese, where students could post photographs of the cheese “in various states of rotation.”

Cheddarvision is only the latest boring Internet Webcam to randomly seize the public’s imagination, here in a country with an apparently unparalleled ability to produce them.

The ur-site was probably the one that showed a coffee pot in a Cambridge University computer lab in 1991. First displayed on the internal network as a way to show lab workers when the coffee was ready so they would not have to make fruitless journeys to the coffee machine, the site went global in 1993. It had more than two million visitors before being switched off in 2001.

Other dull British sites, helpfully compiled by Oliver Burkeman in a recent article in The Guardian, include one that shows nothing happening on a side street of Neilston, a suburban village near Glasgow. Another one (now defunct) showed a pile of compost in Sussex.

“It’s possible that you watched the compost decompose with a deep appreciation for the never-ending natural cycles of life and death,” Mr. Burkeman wrote. “Then again, maybe you were just bored.”

Back here in Westcombe, Mr. Calver denies that his cheese is boring. “The mold is growing,” he said. “Microscopically, you would see a lot of action.”

In fact, a time-release film of the cheese shows the effects of age on its person, as it progresses inexorably from young and smooth to old, veiny and mottled. Seeing the film is a poignant reminder of the ravages of time, similar in effect to watching, say, all the movies of Robert Redford or Nick Nolte in quick chronological succession.

Mr. Calver tasted the cheese in March, on the same day he graded it. (It will be graded twice more, at three-month intervals.) He has high hopes for it, but it is not the only cheese in his life.

“Obviously, I feel quite a lot for all the cheeses,” he said. “It’s like having lots of children. You can’t show one more affection than the others.”

The Web site is taking submissions for its name-the-cheese contest. Mr. Calver’s suggestion is “Tom’s Cheese,” but other possibilities include “Wedginald” and “Cheesus.”

As befitting a celebrity, the cheese has its own page on MySpace.com, where we learn that it is a Capricorn, that it is not interested in having children and that it has 521 friends.

Mr. Calver is not quite sure why anyone would want to watch his cheese, although he said it might have something to do with the frenetic and provisional nature of life today.

“It’s a security,” he said. “It’s something that’s there 24 hours a day. I heard of someone who said they looked at it before bed and found it a nice, comforting thing. You should really talk to a psychologist.”

lundi, avril 16, 2007

"i don't know whether to feel smug or utterly depressed."

I heard a teaser for the new PEW (Public Knowledge of Current Affairs Little Changed by News and Information Revolutions) report on NPR on my way to the gym tonight. The report gauges the effects of 24-hour cable news and the internet on the American public's knowledge of domestic issues.

It's not exactly a surprise that viewers of "The Colbert Report," "The Daily Show," and "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer" are the best informed people in the country. But I was baffled (and shocked, really) that NPR listeners and Bill O'Reilly's devotees are neck-and-(red)neck in their news knowledge. (Overall, Fox News Channel viewers were much lower.)

A friend sent me this note about it ...
There's an abbreviated version of the quiz at the PEW site, and I'm pleased to report I scored perfectly, landing in the top 96% of informed folks. Tragically, that makes me about 60% better informed than the rest of my demographic (college educated women between 18-35). I don't know whether to feel smug or utterly depressed.
I took the news quiz and also got a perfect score. My score confirmed what I already knew to be true: I am more well informed than the average citizen. How much more well informed is utterly depressing. It's also a sobering reminder to me that I need to improve my conversational français and español — it's high time that I got the hell out of this country.

642 days until I'm done with my MBA and (jehovah, gaia, buddha, shiva, and elvis willing) another party gets the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave ...

recharging my batteries

Leo and I spent the weekend camping in Guadalupe Canyon, Mexico with Ash, James, and Dana.

Getting there was half the fun. I couldn't believe it when we turned off the highway and saw a dry lake bed that had a few tire tracks on it and went as far as the eye could see. James headed out, avoiding the burnt-out abandoned cars, stacks of old tires, and bushes that came out of nowhere for 30 miles. (There are no paved roads and just a few random signs telling you how to get to the campsite. But all roads eventually do lead there.) Then, he managed to make it the last seven miles over boulders and sand without damaging the car or getting stuck.

Once at Guadalupe Canyon Hot Springs, we ate really good meat cooked over hot coals, we drank a lot, and we laughed. A lot. We sat and soaked in the mineral-water-filled hot tub in our campsite under more stars than I've ever seen.

Saturday, we hiked in the gorgeous sunshine and dipped our toes (some in our party dipped their entire bodies) in the ice-cold mountain springs and waterfalls. We braved the elements and helped James (outdoorsman extraordinaire and my camping hero for many reasons) repair the tent (twice) when poles snapped because of the winds in the middle of the night.

It's funny how invigorating it is to spend a weekend getting dirty and tired and how sleeping less and working more for basic things (like a hot meal) are actually energizing. The seven-hour drive home was well worth it, in spite of the border wait.

Ash, James, Dana, and Leo — thanks for a great weekend.

jeudi, avril 12, 2007

getting there

from: new york, NY to: paris, france

Go to Google.com, click on 'maps,' then click on 'get directions.' Type in 'New York, NY' as your starting point and 'Paris, France' as your destination. Once it computes your directions scroll down to No. 23
1. Head southwest on Broadway toward Warren St 0.2 mi 1 min
2. Turn left at Park Row 0.1 mi 1 min
3. Slight right at Frankfort St 0.3 mi 1 min
4. Turn left at Pearl St 56 ft
5. Turn right onto the F.D.R. Dr N ramp 0.4 mi 1 min
6. Merge onto FDR Dr N 7.7 mi 12 mins
7. Take exit 17 on the left for Triboro Bridge/Grand Central Pkwy toward I-278/Bruckner Expy 0.4 mi 2 mins
8. Merge onto Triborough Bridge Partial toll road 0.4 mi 1 min
9. Merge onto I-278 E via the ramp to I-87 N/Bronx/Upstate N Y/New England 0.6 mi 1 min
10. Take exit 47 to merge onto Bruckner Expy/I-278 E toward New Haven 1.9 mi 2 mins
11. Take the I-278 E exit toward New Haven 0.3 mi
12. Merge onto Bruckner Expy 5.0 mi 6 mins
13. Continue on I-95 N Partial toll road Entering Connecticut 62.1 mi 1 hour 12 mins
...
14.Take exit 48 on the left to merge onto I-91 N toward Hartford 36.8 mi 37 mins
...
15. Take exit 29 for US-5 N/CT-15 toward I-84/E Hartford/Boston 0.4 mi
16. Merge onto CT-15 N 1.7 mi 2 mins
17. Merge onto I-84 E Partial toll road Entering Massachusetts 40.7 mi 38 mins
...
18.Take the exit onto I-90 E/Mass Pike/Massachusetts Turnpike toward N.H.-Maine/Boston Partial toll road 56.0 mi 56 mins
...
19.Take exit 24 A-B-C on the left toward I-93 N/Concord NH/S Station/I-93 S/Quincy 0.4 mi 1 min
20. Merge onto Atlantic Ave 0.8 mi 3 mins
21. Turn right at Central St 0.1 mi
22. Turn right at Long Wharf 0.1 mi
23. Swim across the Atlantic Ocean 3,462 mi 29 days 0 hours
...
24. Slight right at E05 0.5 mi 2 mins
25. At the traffic circle, take the 2nd exit onto E05/Pont Vauban 0.1 mi
26. Turn right at E05 Partial toll road 17.3 mi 22 mins
...
27. At the traffic circle, take the 2nd exit onto A131/E05 heading to A131/Rouen/Paris/Evreux Partial toll road 9.1 mi 8 mins
28. Take the exit onto A13/E05/L'Autoroute de Normandie Partial toll road
20.3 mi 17 mins
...
29.Take the exit onto A13/E05/L'Autoroute de Normandie Partial toll road
56.5 mi 47 mins
...
30.Take the exit on the left onto A14 toward Nanterre/La Défense Partial toll road
12.5 mi 16 mins
...
31. Slight right at N13 1.4 mi 3 mins
32. Turn right at Avenue de Neuilly/N13 269 ft
33. At the traffic circle, take the 4th exit onto Avenue de la Grande Armée 0.7 mi
3 mins
34. At Place Charles de Gaulle, take the 5th exit onto Avenue des Champs-Elysées 1.3 mi 3 mins
35. Slight right at Voie Georges Pompidou 1.4 mi 3 mins
36. Slight left to stay on Voie Georges Pompidou 440 ft
37. Slight right at Quai de la Mégisserie 377 ft
38. Continue on Quai de Gesvres 0.2 mi 1 min
39. Turn left at Place de l'Hôtel de Ville

sex (and sexuality) on the brain

Interesting. Very, very interesting.
Pas de Deux of Sexuality Is Written in the Genes
April 10, 2007
By NICHOLAS WADE

When it comes to the matter of desire, evolution leaves little to chance. Human sexual behavior is not a free-form performance, biologists are finding, but is guided at every turn by genetic programs.

Desire between the sexes is not a matter of choice. Straight men, it seems, have neural circuits that prompt them to seek out women; gay men have those prompting them to seek other men. Women’s brains may be organized to select men who seem likely to provide for them and their children. The deal is sealed with other neural programs that induce a burst of romantic love, followed by long-term attachment.

So much fuss, so intricate a dance, all to achieve success on the simple scale that is all evolution cares about, that of raisingthe greatest number of children to adulthood. Desire may seem the core of human sexual behavior, but it is just the central act in a long drama whose script is written quite substantially in the genes.

In the womb, the body of a developing fetus is female by default and becomes male if the male-determining gene known as SRY is present. This dominant gene, the Y chromosome’s proudest and almost only possession, sidetracks the reproductive tissue from its ovarian fate and switches it into becoming testes. Hormones from the testes, chiefly testosterone, mold the body into male form.

In puberty, the reproductive systems are primed for action by the brain. Amazing electrical machine that it may be, the brain can also behave like a humble gland. In the hypothalamus, at the central base of the brain, lie a cluster of about 2,000 neurons that ignite puberty when they start to secrete pulses of gonadotropin-releasing hormone, which sets off a cascade of other hormones.

The trigger that stirs these neurons is still unknown, but probably the brain monitors internal signals as to whether the body is ready to reproduce and external cues as to whether circumstances are propitious for yielding to desire.

Several advances in the last decade have underlined the bizarre fact that the brain is a full-fledged sexual organ, in that the two sexes have profoundly different versions of it. This is the handiwork of testosterone, which masculinizes the brain as thoroughly as it does the rest of the body.

It is a misconception that the differences between men’s and women’s brains are small or erratic or found only in a few extreme cases, Dr. Larry Cahill of the University of California, Irvine, wrote last year in Nature Reviews Neuroscience. Widespread regions of the cortex, the brain’s outer layer that performs much of its higher-level processing, are thicker in women. The hippocampus, where initial memories are formed, occupies a larger fraction of the female brain.

Techniques for imaging the brain have begun to show that men and women use their brains in different ways even when doing the same thing. In the case of the amygdala, a pair of organs that helps prioritize memories according to their emotional strength, women use the left amygdala for this purpose but men tend to use the right.

It is no surprise that the male and female versions of the human brain operate in distinct patterns, despite the heavy influence of culture. The male brain is sexually oriented toward women as an object of desire. The most direct evidence comes from a handful of cases, some of them circumcision accidents, in which boy babies have lost their penises and been reared as female. Despite every social inducement to the opposite, they grow up desiring women as partners, not men.

“If you can’t make a male attracted to other males by cutting off his penis, how strong could any psychosocial effect be?” said J. Michael Bailey, an expert on sexual orientation at Northwestern University.

Presumably the masculinization of the brain shapes some neural circuit that makes women desirable. If so, this circuitry is wired differently in gay men. In experiments in which subjects are shown photographs of desirable men or women, straight men are aroused by women, gay men by men.

Such experiments do not show the same clear divide with women. Whether women describe themselves as straight or lesbian, “Their sexual arousal seems to be relatively indiscriminate — they get aroused by both male and female images,” Dr. Bailey said. “I’m not even sure females have a sexual orientation. But they have sexual preferences. Women are very picky, and most choose to have sex with men.”

Dr. Bailey believes that the systems for sexual orientation and arousal make men go out and find people to have sex with, whereas women are more focused on accepting or rejecting those who seek sex with them.

Similar differences between the sexes are seen by Marc Breedlove, a neuroscientist at Michigan State University. “Most males are quite stubborn in their ideas about which sex they want to pursue, while women seem more flexible,” he said.

Sexual orientation, at least for men, seems to be settled before birth. “I think most of the scientists working on these questions are convinced that the antecedents of sexual orientation in males are happening early in life, probably before birth,” Dr. Breedlove said, “whereas for females, some are probably born to become gay, but clearly some get there quite late in life.”

Sexual behavior includes a lot more than sex. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University, argues that three primary brain systems have evolved to direct reproductive behavior. One is the sex drive that motivates people to seek partners. A second is a program for romantic attraction that makes people fixate on specific partners. Third is a mechanism for long-term attachment that induces people to stay together long enough to complete their parental duties.

Romantic love, which in its intense early stage “can last 12-18 months,” is a universal human phenomenon, Dr. Fisher wrote last year in The Proceedings of the Royal Society, and is likely to be a built-in feature of the brain. Brain imaging studies show that a particular area of the brain, one associated with the reward system, is activated when subjects contemplate a photo of their lover.

The best evidence for a long-term attachment process in mammals comes from studies of voles, a small mouselike rodent. A hormone called vasopressin, which is active in the brain, leads some voles to stay pair-bonded for life. People possess the same hormone, suggesting a similar mechanism could be at work in humans, though this has yet to be proved.

Researchers have devoted considerable effort to understanding homosexuality in men and women, both for its intrinsic interest and for the light it could shed on the more usual channels of desire. Studies of twins show that homosexuality, especially among men, is quite heritable, meaning there is a genetic component to it. But since gay men have about one-fifth as many children as straight men, any gene favoring homosexuality should quickly disappear from the population.

Such genes could be retained if gay men were unusually effective protectors of their nephews and nieces, helping genes just like theirs get into future generations. But gay men make no better uncles than straight men, according to a study by Dr. Bailey. So that leaves the possibility that being gay is a byproduct of a gene that persists because it enhances fertility in other family members. Some studies have found that gay men have more relatives than straight men, particularly on their mother’s side.

But Dr. Bailey believes the effect, if real, would be more clear-cut. “Male homosexuality is evolutionarily maladaptive,” he said, noting that the phrase means only that genes favoring homosexuality cannot be favored by evolution if fewer such genes reach the next generation.

A somewhat more straightforward clue to the origin of homosexuality is the fraternal birth order effect. Two Canadian researchers, Ray Blanchard and Anthony F. Bogaert, have shown that having older brothers substantially increases the chances that a man will be gay. Older sisters don’t count, nor does it matter whether the brothers are in the house when the boy is reared.

The finding suggests that male homosexuality in these cases is caused by some event in the womb, such as “a maternal immune response to succeeding male pregnancies,” Dr. Bogaert wrote last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Antimale antibodies could perhaps interfere with the usual masculinization of the brain that occurs before birth, though no such antibodies have yet been detected.

The fraternal birth order effect is quite substantial. Some 15 percent of gay men can attribute their homosexuality to it, based on the assumption that 1 percent to 4 percent of men are gay, and each additional older brother increases the odds of same-sex attraction by 33 percent.

The effect supports the idea that the levels of circulating testosterone before birth are critical in determining sexual orientation. But testosterone in the fetus cannot be measured, and as adults, gay and straight men have the same levels of the hormone, giving no clue to prenatal exposure. So the hypothesis, though plausible, has not been proved.

A significant recent advance in understanding the basis of sexuality and desire has been the discovery that genes may have a direct effect on the sexual differentiation of the brain. Researchers had long assumed that steroid hormones like testosterone and estrogen did all the heavy lifting of shaping the male and female brains. But Arthur Arnold of the University of California, Los Angeles, has found that male and female neurons behave somewhat differently when kept in laboratory glassware. And last year Eric Vilain, also of U.C.L.A., made the surprising finding that the SRY gene is active in certain cells of the brain, at least in mice. Its brain role is quite different from its testosterone-related activities, and women’s neurons presumably perform that role by other means.

It so happens that an unusually large number of brain-related genes are situated on the X chromosome. The sudden emergence of the X and Y chromosomes in brain function has caught the attention of evolutionary biologists. Since men have only one X chromosome, natural selection can speedily promote any advantageous mutation that arises in one of the X’s genes. So if those picky women should be looking for smartness in prospective male partners, that might explain why so many brain-related genes ended up on the X.

“It’s popular among male academics to say that females preferred smarter guys,” Dr. Arnold said. “Such genes will be quickly selected in males because new beneficial mutations will be quickly apparent.”

Several profound consequences follow from the fact that men have only one copy of the many X-related brain genes and women two. One is that many neurological diseases are more common in men because women are unlikely to suffer mutations in both copies of a gene.

Another is that men, as a group, “will have more variable brain phenotypes,” Dr. Arnold writes, because women’s second copy of every gene dampens the effects of mutations that arise in the other.

Greater male variance means that although average IQ is identical in men and women, there are fewer average men and more at both extremes. Women’s care in selecting mates, combined with the fast selection made possible by men’s lack of backup copies of X-related genes, may have driven the divergence between male and female brains. The same factors could explain, some researchers believe, why the human brain has tripled in volume over just the last 2.5 million years.

Who can doubt it? It is indeed desire that makes the world go round.

so it goes

Kurt Vonnegut, Counterculture’s Novelist, Dies
April 12, 2007
By DINITIA SMITH

Kurt Vonnegut, whose dark comic talent and urgent moral vision in novels like “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “Cat’s Cradle” and “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater” caught the temper of his times and the imagination of a generation, died last night in Manhattan. He was 84 and had homes in Manhattan and in Sagaponack on Long Island.

Mr. Vonnegut suffered irreversible brain injuries as a result of a fall several weeks ago, according to his wife, Jill Krementz.

Mr. Vonnegut wrote plays, essays and short fiction. But it was his novels that became classics of the American counterculture, making him a literary idol, particularly to students in the 1960s and ’70s. Dog-eared paperback copies of his books could be found in the back pockets of blue jeans and in dorm rooms on campuses throughout the United States.

Like Mark Twain, Mr. Vonnegut used humor to tackle the basic questions of human existence: Why are we in this world? Is there a presiding figure to make sense of all this, a god who in the end, despite making people suffer, wishes them well?

He also shared with Twain a profound pessimism. “Mark Twain,” Mr. Vonnegut wrote in his 1991 book, “Fates Worse Than Death: An Autobiographical Collage,” “finally stopped laughing at his own agony and that of those around him. He denounced life on this planet as a crock. He died.”

Not all Mr. Vonnegut’s themes were metaphysical. With a blend of vernacular writing, science fiction, jokes and philosophy, he also wrote about the banalities of consumer culture, for example, or the destruction of the environment.

His novels — 14 in all — were alternate universes, filled with topsy-turvy images and populated by races of his own creation, like the Tralfamadorians and the Mercurian Harmoniums. He invented phenomena like chrono-synclastic infundibula (places in the universe where all truths fit neatly together) as well as religions, like the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent and Bokononism (based on the books of a black British Episcopalian from Tobago “filled with bittersweet lies,” a narrator says).

The defining moment of Mr. Vonnegut’s life was the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, by Allied forces in 1945, an event he witnessed firsthand as a young prisoner of war. Thousands of civilians were killed in the raids, many of them burned to death or asphyxiated. “The firebombing of Dresden,” Mr. Vonnegut wrote, “was a work of art.” It was, he added, “a tower of smoke and flame to commemorate the rage and heartbreak of so many who had had their lives warped or ruined by the indescribable greed and vanity and cruelty of Germany.”

His experience in Dresden was the basis of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” which was published in 1969 against the backdrop of war in Vietnam, racial unrest and cultural and social upheaval. The novel, wrote the critic Jerome Klinkowitz, “so perfectly caught America’s transformative mood that its story and structure became best-selling metaphors for the new age.”

To Mr. Vonnegut, the only possible redemption for the madness and apparent meaninglessness of existence was human kindness. The title character in his 1965 novel, “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” summed up his philosophy:

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”

Mr. Vonnegut eschewed traditional structure and punctuation. His books were a mixture of fiction and autobiography, prone to one-sentence paragraphs, exclamation points and italics. Graham Greene called him “one of the most able of living American writers.” Some critics said he had invented a new literary type, infusing the science-fiction form with humor and moral relevance and elevating it to serious literature.

He was also accused of repeating himself, of recycling themes and characters. Some readers found his work incoherent. His harshest critics called him no more than a comic book philosopher, a purveyor of empty aphorisms.

With his curly hair askew, deep pouches under his eyes and rumpled clothes, he often looked like an out-of-work philosophy professor, typically chain smoking, his conversation punctuated with coughs and wheezes. But he also maintained a certain celebrity, as a regular on panels and at literary parties in Manhattan and on the East End of Long Island, where he lived near his friend and fellow war veteran Joseph Heller, another darkly comic literary hero of the age.

Mr. Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis in 1922, the youngest of three children. His father, Kurt Sr., was an architect. His mother, Edith, came from a wealthy brewery family. Mr. Vonnegut’s brother, Bernard, who died in 1997, was a physicist and an expert on thunderstorms.

During the Depression, the elder Vonnegut went for long stretches without work, and Mrs. Vonnegut suffered from episodes of mental illness. “When my mother went off her rocker late at night, the hatred and contempt she sprayed on my father, as gentle and innocent a man as ever lived, was without limit and pure, untainted by ideas or information,” Mr. Vonnegut wrote. She committed suicide, an act that haunted her son for the rest of his life.

He had, he said, a lifelong difficulty with women. He remembered an aunt once telling him, “All Vonnegut men are scared to death of women.”

“My theory is that all women have hydrofluoric acid bottled up inside,” he wrote.

Mr. Vonnegut went east to attend Cornell University, but he enlisted in the Army before he could get a degree. The Army initially sent him to the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh and the University of Tennessee to study mechanical engineering.

In 1944 he was shipped to Europe with the 106th Infantry Division and shortly saw combat in the Battle of the Bulge. With his unit nearly destroyed, he wandered behind enemy lines for several days until he was captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp near Dresden, the architectural jewel of Germany.

Assigned by his captors to make vitamin supplements, he was working with other prisoners in an underground meat locker when British and American warplanes started carpet bombing the city, creating a firestorm above him. The work detail saved his life.

Afterward, he and his fellow prisoners were assigned to remove the dead.

“The corpses, most of them in ordinary cellars, were so numerous and represented such a health hazard that they were cremated on huge funeral pyres, or by flamethrowers whose nozzles were thrust into the cellars, without being counted or identified,” he wrote in “Fates Worse Than Death.” When the war ended, Mr. Vonnegut returned to the United States and married his high school sweetheart, Jane Marie Cox. They settled in Chicago in 1945. The couple had three children, Mark, Edith and Nanette. In 1958, Mr. Vonnegut’s sister, Alice, and her husband died within a day of each other, she of cancer and he in a train crash. The Vonneguts took custody of their children, Tiger, Jim and Steven.

In Chicago, Mr. Vonnegut worked as a police reporter for the City News Bureau. He also studied for a master’s degree in anthropology at the University of Chicago, writing a thesis on “The Fluctuations Between Good and Evil in Simple Tales.” It was rejected unanimously by the faculty. (The university finally awarded him a degree almost a quarter of a century later, allowing him to use his novel “Cat’s Cradle” as his thesis.)

In 1947, he moved to Schenectady, N.Y., and took a job in public relations for the General Electric Company. Three years later he sold his first short story, “Report on the Barnhouse Effect,” to Collier’s magazine and decided to move his family to Cape Cod, Mass., where he wrote fiction for magazines like Argosy and The Saturday Evening Post. To bolster his income, he taught emotionally disturbed children, worked at an advertising agency and at one point started a Saab auto dealership.

His first novel was “Player Piano,” published in 1952. A satire on corporate life — the meetings, the pep talks, the cultivation of bosses — it also carries echoes of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” It concerns an engineer, Paul Proteus, who is employed by the Ilium Works, a company similar to General Electric. Proteus becomes the leader of a band of revolutionaries who destroy machines that they think are taking over the world.

“Player Piano” was followed in 1959 by “The Sirens of Titan,” a science-fiction novel featuring the Church of God of the Utterly Indifferent. In 1961 he published “Mother Night,” involving an American writer awaiting trial in Israel on charges of war crimes in Nazi Germany. Like Mr. Vonnegut’s other early novels, they were published as paperback originals. And like “Slaughterhouse-Five,” in 1972, and a number of other Vonnegut novels, “Mother Night” was adapted for film, in 1996, starring Nick Nolte.

In 1963, Mr. Vonnegut published “Cat’s Cradle.” Though it initially sold only about 500 copies, it is widely read today in high school English classes. The novel, which takes its title from an Eskimo game in which children try to snare the sun with string, is an autobiographical work about a family named Hoenikker. The narrator, an adherent of the religion Bokononism, is writing a book about the bombing of Hiroshima and comes to witness the destruction of the world by something called Ice-Nine, which, on contact, causes all water to freeze at room temperature.

Mr. Vonnegut shed the label of science-fiction writer with “Slaughterhouse-Five.” It tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, an infantry scout (as Mr. Vonnegut was), who discovers the horror of war. “You know — we’ve had to imagine the war here, and we have imagined that it was being fought by aging men like ourselves,” an English colonel says in the book. “We had forgotten that wars were fought by babies. When I saw those freshly shaved faces, it was a shock. My God, my God — I said to myself, ‘It’s the Children’s Crusade.’ ”

As Mr. Vonnegut was, Billy is captured and assigned to manufacture vitamin supplements in an underground meat locker, where the prisoners take refuge from Allied bombing.

In “Slaughterhouse-Five,” Mr. Vonnegut introduced the recurring character of Kilgore Trout, his fictional alter ego. The novel also featured a signature Vonnegut phrase.

“Robert Kennedy, whose summer home is eight miles from the home I live in all year round,” Mr. Vonnegut wrote at the end of the book, “was shot two nights ago. He died last night. So it goes.

“Martin Luther King was shot a month ago. He died, too. So it goes. And every day my Government gives me a count of corpses created by military science in Vietnam. So it goes.”

One of many Zenlike words and phrases that run through Mr. Vonnegut’s books, “so it goes” became a catchphrase for opponents of the Vietnam war.

“Slaughterhouse-Five” reached No.1 on best-seller lists, making Mr. Vonnegut a cult hero. Some schools and libraries have banned it because of its sexual content, rough language and scenes of violence.

After the book was published, Mr. Vonnegut went into a severe depression and vowed never to write another novel. Suicide was always a temptation, he wrote. In 1984, he tried to take his life with sleeping pills and alcohol.

“The child of a suicide will naturally think of death, the big one, as a logical solution to any problem,” he wrote. His son Mark also suffered a breakdown, in the 1970s, from which he recovered, writing about it in a book, “The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity.”

Forsaking novels, Mr. Vonnegut decided to become a playwright. His first effort, “Happy Birthday, Wanda June,” opened Off Broadway in 1970 to mixed reviews. Around this time he separated from his wife and moved to New York. (She remarried and died in 1986.)

In 1970, Mr. Vonnegut moved in with the author and photographer Jill Krementz, whom he married in 1979. They had a daughter, Lily. They survive him, as do all his other children.

Mr. Vonnegut returned to novels with “Breakfast of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday” (1973), calling it a “tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.” This time his alter ego is Philboyd Sludge, who is writing a book about Dwayne Hoover, a wealthy auto dealer. Hoover has a breakdown after reading a novel written by Kilgore Trout, who reappears in this book, and begins to believe that everyone around him is a robot.

In 1997, Mr. Vonnegut published “Timequake,” a tale of the millennium in which a wrinkle in space-time compels the world to relive the 1990s. The book, based on an earlier failed novel of his, was, in his own words, “a stew” of plot summaries and autobiographical writings. Once again, Kilgore Trout is a character. “If I’d wasted my time creating characters,” Mr. Vonnegut said in defense of his “recycling,” “I would never have gotten around to calling attention to things that really matter.”

Though it was a best seller, it also met with mixed reviews. “Having a novelist’s free hand to write what you will does not mean you are entitled to a free ride,” R. Z. Sheppard wrote in Time. But the novelist Valerie Sayers, in The New York Times Book Review, wrote: “The real pleasure lies in Vonnegut’s transforming his continuing interest in the highly suspicious relationship between fact and fiction into the neatest trick yet played on a publishing world consumed with the furor over novel versus memoir.”

Mr. Vonnegut said in the prologue to “Timequake” that it would be his last novel. And so it was.

His last book, in 2005, was a collection of biographical essays, “A Man Without a Country.” It, too, was a best seller.

In concludes with a poem written by Mr. Vonnegut called “Requiem,” which has these closing lines:

When the last living thing

has died on account of us,

how poetical it would be

if Earth could say,

in a voice floating up

perhaps

from the floor

of the Grand Canyon,

“It is done.”

People did not like it here.

mardi, avril 10, 2007

et tu, new yorker?

My friend Nancy is part Scottish and her older sister is named Lesley. (Not Leslie, which is the correct masculine spelling of the same Scottish name.)

Anyhow, my name is gender-neutral and there are no clues (arcane or otherwise) about my gender in how it is spelled. Most people who haven't seen or spoken with me assume I'm a man.

Despite my odd name, I used to think that I'd give my kids gender-neutral names, like Dylan. Nowadays, I'm more interested in names that are language-neutral (i.e., spelled the same in English and Spanish). And there are several that are both language- and gender-neutral, like Ariel and Tristan/Tristán. (Neither one really grabs me.)

But back to Leslie ... this letter to the editor pretty much sums up why I include "Ms." in my professional e-mail footer:
Lauren Collins and the fact-checkers at The New Yorker do not have to feel too bad about mistaking my gender (The Talk of the Town, March 5th). When I was born, Leslie Howard was all the rage, hence the name of my parents' little boy. Then along came Leslie Caron, and everything went to pot. With my own experience as a guide, I strongly advise all new parents to give thier children utterly unambiguous names. Like Caligula.
-Leslie Epstein, American novelist

samedi, avril 07, 2007

roasted beets and carrots with cumin vinagrette

We made this for dinner tonight and ate everything while still slightly warm. The combination of beets, carrots, shallots, and parsley was very tasty and absolutely gorgeous to look at.
Roasted Beets and Carrots with Cumin Vinaigrette
10 medium beets (red and golden), cleaned, trimmed
5 TBSP plus 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup water

6 medium carrots with green tops
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3 TBSP red wine vinegar

1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots (about 1 large)
4 tsp fresh lemon juice, divided

chickpea puree
6 purchased flatbreads

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Place beets in roasting pan; drizzle 2 TBSP olive oil over. Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt; toss. Add 2/3 cup water to pan; arrange golden beets on 1 side of pan and red beets on other side. Cover with foil. Roast until tender, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim green tops from carrots to 1 inch. Peel carrots and cut into thirds crosswise, then quarter lengthwise. Place carrots on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 3 TBSP olive oil and sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper; toss to coat. Roast until carrots are tender and beginning to brown, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool carrots and beets.

Using gloved fingers, rub peel off beets. Cut each beet into 6 wedges. Place golden beets in medium bowl and red beets in another medium bowl.

Stir cumin seeds in dry skillet over medium heat until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Transfer 3/4 tsp cumin seeds to mortar or spice mill; grind finely. Place whole cumin seeds, ground cumin, and vinegar in small bowl; whisk in 1/2 cup oil. Season vinaigrette with salt and pepper. Beets, carrots, and vinaigrette can be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately; chill. Bring all to room temperature and rewhisk vinaigrette before continuing.

Add parsley, shallots, 2 tsp lemon juice, carrots, and 2/3 of cumin vinaigrette to bowl with golden beets; toss to blend. Add remaining vinaigrette and 2 tsp lemon juice to bowl with red beets; toss to blend. Season both beet mixtures with salt and pepper.

Place generous dollop of chickpea puree and 1 flatbread on each of 6 plates. Spoon golden beet-carrot mixture alongside. Tuck red beets into golden beet mixture and serve.

Bon Appétit, October 2006
Suzanne Goin
Makes 6 servings.

jeudi, avril 05, 2007

thursday mornings

I am sooooooooooooo over being in grad school part-time while working a full-time job.

The stress of it all has manifested in my being crabby and exhausted. I've been sick for all but one month so far this year, and after a long conversation with Leo, I'm opting to take a break or just take it easier. (One class a semester instead of two.) I know, baby steps ...

I mentioned my state of mind to Diana. Her take on it was that I'm 30 units into a 49-unit program and that I should look at it as though I've made it past hump day and that it's the Thursday morning of the week known as grad school.

It's an apt metaphor for where I'm at. That's because on Thursday mornings, I get up an hour early for a Toastmasters meeting that goes from 7 to 8:30 a.m.

I thought about Diana's point this morning as I cursed my alarm and rubbed the gunk out of my eyes.

I'm cranky and exhausted when I get up on Thursdays. I haul myself out of bed (often reluctantly and wondering why I signed up for this Toastmasters/ grad school thing anyway), stumble into the shower and clothes, rush the dog through his biological needs, and then hit the road to something that I actually get a lot out of. I lead/ sit through a meeting with good friends that invariably entertains me and teaches me something about myself or the world in which I live and then leave invigorated and wanting to share the experience and knowledge with someone else.

So, yes. I'm in the Thursday 6:20 a.m. stage. But I'm thinking that my current sleep deprivation and general crabbiness will fade as I approach the 9 a.m. on Thursday mark in my 'grad school week.'

mercredi, avril 04, 2007

lambda lambda lambda in da hizzouse

Music's Internet age and a wave of geek pride have led to ... nerds rapping. They're flowing like Han Solo about computers, video games, and sci-fi. Some are even touring and making enough cash to live off. No joke yo.
Marketplace: American nerdcore
MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: The music business is always changing and mutating into something new. Rap used to be huge but last year sales fell by more than 20 percent. Well now geeks, gamers and techies have created a new genre called nerdcore. Nerdcore rappers are even touring the country giving live concerts. Caitlan Carroll reports.

BEEFY: I'm a nerd, there's nothing I can do about it. I'm a nerd. I role play and I brag about it. I'm a nerd ...

CAITLAN CARROLL: That's Beefy. He's a 21-year-old nerdcore rapper who's just finishing up his first West Coast tour. Beefy says he never thought he'd be playing to a live audience.

BEEFY: I was in the eighth grade in middle school and I started rapping to impress the girl who sat in front of me, 'cause she was really into it. And I was like, 'Hey, I can rap.' So I started making that stuff you hear everywhere on the radio cause that's easy to write. I'm a thug and I do this and this is what I have. And it's all lies.

Soon, the computer geek dropped the gangster style. It was tough to maintain as a suburban eighth grader.

Beefy started rapping instead about his real interests, the bread and butter of nerdcore: video games, sci-fi and computers.

MC FRONTALOT: Nerdcore used to be just a made-up word, MC's tryin' ta . . .

MC Frontalot coined the term nerdcore back in 2000. Since then, websites like rhymetorrents.com and MySpace have helped create a community of geek rappers.

Frontalot says inexpensive equipment, software and nerd know-how make producing the music easy. He's able to rap full-time just through music sales off the Internet.

MC FRONTALOT: Between that and the t-shirts, you know, it covers my rent and my groceries, which is pretty much all that any indie music person ever dreams of.

This kind of do-it-yourself model has transformed the record industry. So says Negin Farsad, director of the film "Nerdcore Rising."

NEGIN FARSAD: I think that record labels are kind of going the way of the dinosaur. You know, you don't really need a record label anymore to get your music heard. What you really need is a high-speed Internet connection in your apartment.

Unfortunately, Internet stardom doesn't always translate into cash.

Beefy's going back to his part-time job at a pizza place after his tour. But he says it wasn't the money that brought him to nerdcore, it was the ability to bring nerdcore to cyberspace.

SONG: I want to be, I want to be, I want to be an Internet celebrity.

In Los Angeles, this is Caitlan Carroll for Marketplace.

mardi, avril 03, 2007

we must be relentless

554,000 Americans die of cancer every year.
"That's 9/11 every two days. If they dropped that bomb every two days, I'm telling you this country would pay attention."
-Lance Armstrong, American cyclist and cancer survivor
I'm with Lance on this one. I just don't understand how our national priorities mean spending 8 billion dollars a month in Iraq and cutting cancer research budgets by 30%.

Join Lance and his advocacy efforts with legislators.
We Have to Be Ruthless: An iconic survivor challenges the nation to close the gap between what we know and what we do about cancer.
By Lance Armstrong
Newsweek

April 9, 2007 issue - Trust me when I say that I'm not complaining about the attention cancer is finally getting in the media. But I don't understand why it requires two very upsetting announcements about cancer recurrence to prompt a national discussion about our nation's second leading killer.

I was struck, in particular, by the headlines about Elizabeth Edwards and the repeated use of the word "incurable." That word is so contrary to the American spirit and what we believe about our ability to innovate and excel. It doesn't take into account Elizabeth's considerable courage, and it says something alarming about the complacency that leads us to just expect another diagnosis with another new day.

It's clear that the way we battle cancer is deeply at odds with our values as a country, and with our common sense. There is a serious gap between what we know and what we do; what we deserve and what we get; what should be and what is.

The shameful reality is that we do not ensure that everyone benefits from what we know today about cancer prevention and detection. The outcome of a cancer diagnosis often depends on factors that have nothing to do with the disease, including race, insurance, economics, age and proximity to treatment centers. We can prevent about one third of cancer deaths just by widely distributing information about prevention and early detection—but we aren't doing it.

Meanwhile, we know scientific discovery is critical and our best hope for the future. Research labs hold the promise for improved screening and therapies and better understanding of metastases and prevention. Congress, however, repeatedly fails to fully fund the requested budget for the National Cancer Institute and recently cut cancer funding for the first time in more than 30 years.

These are only two examples of the disconnect between what we know and what we do. At some point we have to ask ourselves what is at stake. Who is left vulnerable by that gap? The answer is our spouses, parents, children and friends.

For that reason I am determined to lead a movement to fundamentally change the experiences and expectations of cancer patients. We need an unapologetic effort to demand what is right and champion what works. We have to be ruthless and relentless, as the author Jim Collins often says, in our quest for results. We must honestly and clearly affirm that this is an ethics issue. To confront it we must summon our resources and the moral courage and political will of the public, the health-care system and our government.

To that end, Americans deserve leaders who understand the magnitude of the problem and have carefully considered what to do about it. Trust me when I tell you that we are going to ask them. And we expect an answer.