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April 28, 2011

Mathematicians Develop Stress Test For Global Economy

From The Physics arXiv Blog

If China suffers a recession, how badly will the rest of the world be hit? Mathematicians have used network theory to calculate the answer

One of the rapidly growing applications of network science is the simulation of change in the real world. Ecologists, for example, are acutely interested in food webs and how the extinction of one species can have dramatic consequences for others.

The consequences of an extinction can be highly counterintuitive, such as triggering extinction cascades that wipe out many species, like an avalanche. This kind of phenomenon is impossible to test in the real world but it has recently become possible to study the consequences in silico, as we saw just a few weeks ago. .

What's more, biochemists are using the same process to see what happens when a protein is removed from a protein or metabolic network while computer scientists use it to measure how the world wide web would stand up to targeted attacks which remove certain nodes. It's an approach that has been remarkably successful.

So it should come as no surprise that economists might want to get in on the act. Today, they are beaten to this goal by a group of mathematicians at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Dan Rockmore and a couple of pals have recreated the world trade network from between 1870 and 2006 and then simulated what happens to it when certain countries become less active as might happen during a period of internal strife, or when they disappear entirely. They've also looked at what happens when the trade links between certain countries become broken as might happen during a war.

April 25, 2011

Advice for students and artists: 'Don't just do something, sit here'

By David Biespiel

Recently I had the privilege to address Cleveland High School's National Honor Society induction ceremony, and it dawned on me that poets and students may have more in common than meets the eye.

What I tried to express to the students and their proud parents is that for all the effort to win good grades, keep up their GPA, excel at the SAT, tame the ACT and advance in IB or AP courses -- and these do matter -- that in all the effort to thrive in that alphabetic zone of advancement, the effort always remains geared toward the future. And, thinking about these students heading into college soon, I can say with certainty that the push to focus on their future is only going to intensify.

But take it from the poets: Only focusing on the future -- on publication, on acclaim -- is the surest way to build frustration and anxiety.

So my message, for what it's worth, to those students as well as to poets and creative people of every stripe is this: Be here now.

Be present to your self now, honor your values now, your interests and your obsessions now. Be here now: with your loved ones, friends and families, of course, but also, and this relates most to poets whose families are literary as well, families of influences and sources, be here now with your imagination, your sense of potentiality, your desire to hold to the mysteries of language, and to write with uncertainties as you seek out discovery.

Read more.

British Library Purchases Poet’s 40,000 E-Mails

By Jennifer Howard
From Chronicle of Higher Education, The

E-mails don’t have the inky charisma of handwritten manuscripts, but they’re more and more a part of literary archives. For instance, when the British Library announced this week that it has acquired the poet Wendy Cope‘s archive, it made much of the hybrid nature of the material, which includes thousands of e-mails.

“Retrieved from ‘the cloud’, the collection of approximately 40,000 e-mails dating from 2004 to the present is the most substantial in a literary archive acquired by the British Library to date, affording among other things a fascinating and extensive insight into writerly networks,” the library said. The acquisition cost £32,000 (nearly $53,000), according to the announcement.

“It’s new territory for us,” Rachel Foss, lead curator of modern-literary manuscripts at the British Library, told The Independent newspaper. “This is the second major e-mail acquisition we’ve made, after Harold Pinter’s archive in 2007, but contains more material than that. We are increasingly acquiring digital material; this is going to be the norm as we move forward, and we are going to get to the stage where e-mails replace physical letters.”

Read more.

April 22, 2011

Egypt in Transition

Source: Chatham House

This paper is a summary of discussions that took place at a workshop held in Cairo in March 2011, six weeks after the former president, Hosni Mubarak, was forced to resign in the face of mass protests against his rule. Entitled ‘Egypt in Transition’, the workshop brought together a group of Egyptian activists, opposition party members, journalists and representatives of civil society organizations from across the political spectrum with a small number of UK policy-makers to discuss Egypt’s changing political landscape and its relations with the UK and the West.

The workshop’s agenda was broad to allow the discussions to be directed by the participants. Key findings that emerged included:

Egyptians feel that in the post-Mubarak era they have an unprecedented opportunity to reshape the political landscape.

Challenges that will be faced include increasing political awareness at the grassroots; connecting activists and the political elite to the needs of marginalized populations, especially in rural areas; and encouraging/enabling a fragmented opposition to coalesce into coherent groups.

The military’s role in politics is seen as problematic and it should be replaced by a civilian government as soon as possible.

The Mubarak era has left a bitter legacy in Egypt’s relations with the West, as most Egyptians perceive Western governments to have been supporters of his rule; Western policy-makers will have to make serious efforts to build relationships of trust with the new political actors in Egypt

Read the report.

Celebrating Earth Day with Britannica Online!

Earth Day: April 22

Earth Day is a day of hope that energizes people around the world. It brings communities together to confront the spectre of disappearing rainforests and a warming climate. It's a day that celebrates the advance of green innovations. Click on the links below to find a selection of Britannica's many articles that provide in-depth treatment of environmental problems and their solutions, and you'll learn about prominent campaigners and lesser-known innovators who have helped to make Earth Day what it is today.

o Greenhouse effect video
o Global warming video
o Biologist Rachel Carson

April 20, 2011

To Tug Hearts, Music First Must Tickle the Neurons

From The New York Times

The other day, Paul Simon was rehearsing a favorite song: his own "Darling Lorraine," about a love that starts hot but turns very cold. He found himself thinking about a three-note rhythmic pattern near the end, where Lorraine (spoiler alert) gets sick and dies.

"The stopping of sounds and rhythms," he added, "it's really important, because, you know, how can I miss you unless you're gone? If you just keep the thing going like a loop, eventually it loses its power."

An insight like this may seem purely subjective, far removed from anything a scientist could measure. But now some scientists are aiming to do just that, trying to understand and quantify what makes music expressive--what specific aspects make one version of, say, a Beethoven sonata convey more emotion than another. The results are contributing to a greater understanding of how the brain works and of the importance of music in human development, communication and cognition, and even as a potential therapeutic tool.

Read more.

April 15, 2011

Dying Generously

By Elsa Youngsteadt
From Amercian Scientist

For some single-celled organisms, self-destruction is neighborly

Suicide is an evolutionary conundrum. Single-celled organisms regularly kill themselves in reaction to stresses they might have survived, but it’s not obvious why natural selection permits such volatile behavior.

One explanation, that suicide can benefit neighbors and relatives of the deceased cell, got a boost with new experiments published in the February issue of American Naturalist. Working together at the University of Arizona, Pierre Durand, Armin Rashidi and Richard Michod found that when the unicellular alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii dies by suicide, it releases compounds that help surviving cells grow faster.

In multicellular organisms, programmed cell death (PCD) demands no special explanation because it’s not really suicide. The whole organism has to survive and reproduce, and its component cells should do whatever it takes to help. In humans, for example, PCD shapes fingers, blood vessels and other anatomical features during development, and eliminates damaged cells throughout life.

Read more.

April 13, 2011

Global Economic Prospects as of April 4, 2011: Continued Growth Despite the Turmoil

By Michael Mussa, Peterson Institute for International Economics

Paper presented at the nineteenth semiannual meeting on Global Economic Prospects
April 4, 2011

Political turmoil has raged across much of North Africa and the Middle East in the early months of this year, contributing to an upsurge in world oil prices that is part of a broader upturn in most commodity prices and in overall consumer price inflation. Meanwhile, a historic earthquake and tsunami have devastated parts of northern Honshu and crippled a major nuclear power plant. A powerful earthquake has also hit the southern island of New Zealand, and Queensland in Australia has suffered an enormous flood.

All of these developments, which could not have been anticipated six months ago, will have negative impacts on global economic growth during at least the first half of 2011 and suggest an increase in the downside risks looking farther forward. Nevertheless, my global growth forecast for 2011 and 2012 is essentially unchanged from six months ago. As reported in table 1, using purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rate weights, world real GDP growth on a year-over-year basis is projected to be 4.3 percent this year and 4.5 percent next year (compared with forecasts of 4.3 and 4.4 percent, respectively, as of last September).

The explanation of this forecast stability is that economic developments through mid-February, before most of the recent turmoil, pointed to an upward revision of global growth forecasts. Indeed, somewhat stronger than anticipated growth in the second half of 2010 for several (but not all) important economies, has led to an upward revision, from 4.6 to 4.9 percent, for estimated world growth in 2010. This has positive carry-over effects for growth in 2011. In addition, leading indicators such as purchasing managers indexes pointed to strong growth in early 2011.

Read more.

April 11, 2011

How to Read Poetry Today

By David Kirby
From New York Times, The

Some years ago, I wrote a poem called “Broken Promises,” which was adopted by the Poetry Out Loud project for its annual competition, meaning that high school students can recite it or one of several hundred other poems and maybe advance through regional and state competitions to the nationals, where some serious money is at stake. “Broken Promises” deals with just that: the promises we break and how they limp around and gaze at us reproachfully while enjoying an immortality denied to the promises we’ve kept.

Recently, I spoke with a group of high school teachers who wanted to discuss my famous poem — rather, to tell me what it meant. “It’s about your own poems!” said one teacher, and another shouted, “I think it’s about your children!” They seemed a little crestfallen when I said, no, the poem is about the promises we break, as the ­title and, as far as that goes, the poem itself says.

The teachers thought that my poem said one thing but meant another, and that it’s the reader’s job to figure out what the poet is really saying. No wonder poetry doesn’t have a bigger audience. All that code cracking. Who has the time?

Read more.

April 5, 2011

Census 2010 Offers Portrait of America in Transition

From U.S. Census Bureau, New Geography

The Census Bureau just finished releasing all of the state redistricting file information from the 2010 Census, giving us a now complete portrait of population change for the entire country. Population growth continued to be heavily concentrated in suburban metropolitan counties while many rural areas, particularly in the Great Plains, continue to shrink.

The release of all county data means it is also possible to take an unofficial, preliminary look at metropolitan area growth. The biggest gainers were Sunbelt cities in the South, Texas, and the Midwest, while the Midwest and Northeast continued to lag, particularly the old heavy manufacturing axis stretching from Detroit to Pittsburgh. But this picture was not monolithic. Many Southern cities with Rust Belt profiles like Birmingham failed to grow much compared to neighbors, nor did coastal California with its development restrictions.

A lot has been written about the so-called reverse Great Migration of blacks from the North to the South. These results show something of that effect, but less of a general than a specific migration. Some cities both North and South are becoming magnets for Blacks, while other traditional Black hubs like Chicago are no longer favored. Note that some northern cities that showed a larger increase in concentration started off on a low base, like Minneapolis-St. Paul:

Read more.

Mines and Mineral Processing Facilities in the Vicinity of the March 11, 2011, Earthquake in Northern Honshu, Japan

By W. David Menzie, Michael S. Baker, Donald I. Bleiwas, and Chin Kuo


U.S. Geological Survey data indicate that the area affected by the March 11, 2011, magnitude 9.0 earthquake and associated tsunami is home to nine cement plants, eight iodine plants, four iron and steel plants, four limestone mines, three copper refineries, two gold refineries, two lead refineries, two zinc refineries, one titanium dioxide plant, and one titanium sponge processing facility. These facilities have the capacity to produce the following percentages of the world’s nonfuel mineral production: 25 percent of iodine, 10 percent of titanium sponge (metal), 3 percent of refined zinc, 2.5 percent of refined copper, and 1.4 percent of steel. In addition, the nine cement plants contribute about one-third of Japan’s cement annual production. The iodine is a byproduct from production of natural gas at the Miniami Kanto gas field, east of Tokyo in Chiba Prefecture. Japan is the world’s second leading (after Chile) producer of iodine, which is processed in seven nearby facilities.

Full Report

April 4, 2011

Common Threads: Seven Poets and a Wealth of Readers

Compiled and edited by Kevin R. Morrissette & S.D. Mullaney for

Common Threads is a program of MassPoetry that seeks to have 10,000 people in the state read these seven poems in the month of April, National Poetry Month:

* In the Waiting Room by Elizabeth Bishop
* Samurai Song by Robert Pinsky
* The Lost Pilot by James Tate
* Occupation by Suji Kwock Kim
* Vita Nova by Louise Glück
* Love Song: I and Thou by Alan Dugan
* New England Ode by Kevin Young

All the poets have strong connections to Massachusetts.

April 1, 2011

Massive Maps of the Brain

By Veronique Greenwood
From Technology Review

Scientists combine two microscopy techniques to chart complex neural networks.

Scientists have created exquisitely detailed maps of parts of the mouse brain by combining anatomical information with knowledge of what the different nerve cells do.

By infusing cells with fluorescent dye, teams at Harvard Medical School and the Max Plank Institute for Medical Research pinpointed neurons in the mouse visual cortex and retina that responded to specific stimuli, like a beam of light moving in different directions. They then sliced the tissue and used electron microscopy, which can image some of the tiniest structures in cells, to map the connections between the neurons. Armed with knowledge of both how the cells connect and what they do, the teams gained insights into how the brain works.

This composite 3-D image from the Harvard team, which shows a half-millimeter-wide chunk of a mouse’s visual cortex, was created by stacking together millions of images snapped of more than 1,000 slices of brain tissue. Building a neural map is an arts-and-crafts project on a gargantuan scale; researchers go through every slice, identifying specific parts of each cell. The round, blue structures are the neuron bodies, the pink strands are blood vessels, and the long blue striations running up and down are the spindly arms known as dendrites and axons that project from nerve cells.

Credit: Davi Bock, Wei-Chung Allen Lee, and R. Clay
Reid, courtesy of Nature.

View the images at

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