Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 19th, 2009

Obama statement of his foreign policy

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Michael Scherer of TIME:

President Obama has an ability to issue coherent, Op-Ed-length answers during press conferences that is currently unmatched on the American political stage. Today, at a press conference in Trinidad, NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Obama to describe the “Obama doctrine” for foreign policy. At first Obama joked that it would be up to the press to write the “definitive statement on Obamism.” But then he said the following, which reads to me as just about the clearest, most succinct statement yet of Obama’s diplomatic approach (with a little editing). Here is his answer:

[T]here are a couple of principles that I’ve tried to apply across the board: Number one, that the United States remains the most powerful, wealthiest nation on Earth, but we’re only one nation, and that the problems that we confront, whether it’s drug cartels, climate change, terrorism, you name it, can’t be solved just by one country. And I think if you start with that approach, then you are inclined to listen and not just talk.

And so in all these meetings what I’ve said is, we have some very clear ideas in terms of where the international community should be moving; we have some very specific national interests, starting with safety and security that we have to attend to; but we recognize that other countries have good ideas, too, and we want to hear them. And the fact that a good idea comes from a small country like a Costa Rica should not somehow diminish the fact that it’s a good idea. I think people appreciate that. So that’s number one.

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Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2009 at 3:03 pm

Interesting ice cream dish

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The Wife just heard this on the radio:

Take a ripe avocado, peel and seed and mash it up with a fork. Add diced canned green chiles and lime juice, mix. Then mix that into softened vanilla ice cream and refreeze.

I bet also that canned diced jalapeños would be interesting: cold and hot at the same time.

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19 April 2009 at 2:59 pm

The Future of Agriculture

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Via the Ethicurean:

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2009 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food

And yet more from the Ethicurean:

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More little goodies:

Bill Marler talks about why he does what he does, how his kids have never eaten a hamburger (we bet they’ve snuck one), and how his response to meat reps saying “If only people would cook the meat” was “If only you didn’t put cow shit in it, people wouldn’t have to worry about it.” (Culinate; thanks Julie!)

***

Yes! magazine’s April issue, titled “Food for Everyone: How to Grow a Local Food Revolution,” is an informative, educational smorgasbord. Choice morsels: 8 Ways To Join the Local Food Movement; Claire Hope Cummings on GMO-colonized Kaua‘i, which some think should be called Hawaii’s “Mutant Garden Island; and a profile of Growing Power’s Will Allen.

***

Paul Shapiro, senior director of The Humane Society’s factory farming campaign, takes the poultry industry to task for going on the attack, PR wise, rather than distancing itself from the facility captured in a new animal-cruelty undercover video. God forbid they condemn the abuses. (Civil Eats)

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19 April 2009 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food

More snippets from the Ethicurean

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Several more short notes:

A new study from Purdue University — funded by Monsanto, interestingly — indicates that farmers who rely on Roundup Ready crops are definitely seeing increased herbicide resistance in weeds. Money quote: the researcher said “farmers should treat Roundup and Roundup Ready crops as an investment and work to protect the technology” by rotating crops consistently and using two different herbicides. (Purdue University) OK, so a genetically modified seed that costs extra, that you have to re-buy every year, and the act of buying which represents a contract that Monsanto will hunt you to the ends of the earth to uphold — now that seed doesn’t even do its one piddly job? GMO seeds rock.

***

The Associated Press has obtained records showing that the federal government handed out more than $687 millions’ worth of subsidies, for both cheap irrigation water and for water-intensive crop growing, over the past two years to hundreds of farmers in California and Arizona, the most seriously drought-stricken states in the West. (Washington Post)

***

Some big food processors, eager to avoid food-safety scandals, are paying other government agencies to do the FDA’s dirty field work for them. “With industry itself footing the bill, some safety advocates worry that the approach could introduce new problems and new conflicts of interest,” reports Andrew Martin. (New York Times)

***

The USDA’s People Garden, which started off as an ill-planned PR stunt, is not only really happening, it’s happening as a 100% organic showcase for food growing, reports Eddie Gehman Kohan, in a great post reported from the garden. And the effort is drawing out sustainability-minded USDA worker bees. (Obama Foodorama) Frankly, we’re stunned and a little stoned on the awesomeness of this. Except we fear that somewhere, Monsanto and Syngenta lobbyists are sitting around a darkened bar plotting their response.

***

The EPA will require pesticide manufacturers to test 67 chemicals to determine whether they disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates animals’ and humans’ growth, metabolism and reproduction. It’s about time — researchers like UC Berkeley’s Tyrone Hayes have been sounding the alarm about atrazine, for example, for years. We hope the tests will be conducted by third parties; the article doesn’t specify. (Washington Post)

***

The number of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay increased about 43% last year, probably a sign that measures taken to protect the beleaguered bay icon are working for now. (Washington Post)

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19 April 2009 at 12:27 pm

The Green Revolution today

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From the Ethicurean:

In India, the Green Revolution system of farming is heading toward collapse. Farmers are running out of groundwater, have to buy three times as much fertilizer as they did 30 years ago to grow the same amount of crops, and face pesticide-resistant insects. (NPR)

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2009 at 12:23 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food

Reality vs. the media

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The violence is not "spilling over the border" from Mexico:

On March 25, CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360° rolled into El Paso to report on Mexican drug-cartel violence. Cooper was one more in a recent wave of national news heavy hitters to parachute in, scare the pants off millions of viewers, then jet off to the next headline destination.

Dressed in military green, Cooper furrowed his brow and squinted solemnly into the camera as the lights of the international border checkpoint glimmered behind him. Guest Fred Burton, identified as a terrorism and security expert with Stratfor Global Intelligence, was beamed in from a studio in Austin to paint a menacing picture of Mexican cartels invading U.S. city streets. “It’s just a matter of time before it really spills over into the United States unless we shore up the border as best we can,” Burton warned.

By God, they’re coming to your neighborhood! Looking at another live feed from El Paso, listening to the breathless reports of violence and “expert” analysis about “spillover,” viewers could only assume that the city in which Cooper stood was under imminent assault.

That’s the reality these days for El Pasoans. Or rather, it’s the twisted perception created by border-warrior politicians and national news media, and foisted on Juarez’s relatively peaceful sister city. For El Pasoans and residents of nearby border towns, it might all be a mere oddity—maybe even worth a chuckle—if it didn’t mean the construction of 18-foot border walls, blustery talk about National Guard troop surges, and new resources for the disastrous war on drugs. While “troop surge,” “border wall,” and “drug war” might sound irresistibly sexy to politicians and pundits, it’s border residents who have to live with the fences and tanks and consequences.

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Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2009 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws, Media

Brain Dance

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How the NY Times created the magazine cover:

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19 April 2009 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Art, Video

Human behavior and global warming

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Very interesting article on human decision-making in regard to the environment. It begins:

Two days after Barack Obama was sworn in as president of the United States, the Pew Research Center released a poll ranking the issues that Americans said were the most important priorities for this year. At the top of the list were several concerns — jobs and the economy — related to the current recession. Farther down, well after terrorism, deficit reduction and en­ergy (and even something the pollsters characterized as “moral decline”) was climate change. It was priority No. 20. That was last place.

A little more than a week after the poll was published, I took a seat in a wood-paneled room at Columbia University, where a few dozen academics had assembled for a two-day conference on the environment. In many respects, the Pew rankings were a suitable backdrop for the get-together, a meeting of researchers affiliated with something called CRED, or the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions. A branch of behavioral research situated at the intersection of psychology and economics, decision science focuses on the mental proces­ses that shape our choices, behaviors and attitudes. The field’s origins grew mostly out of the work, beginning in the 1970s, of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two psychologists whose experiments have demonstrated that people can behave unexpectedly when confronted with simple choices. We have many automatic biases — we’re more averse to losses than we are interested in gains, for instance — and we make repeated errors in judgment based on our tendency to use shorthand rules to solve problems. We can also be extremely susceptible to how questions are posed. Would you undergo surgery if it had a 20 percent mortality rate? What if it had an 80 percent survival rate? It’s the same procedure, of course, but in various experiments, responses from patients can differ markedly.

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19 April 2009 at 12:03 pm

Transition to a low-energy economy

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Very interesting article in the NY Times Sunday Magazine:

The stage lights went up at the Panida Theater, a classy old movie house in Sandpoint, Idaho, and the M.C. stepped out of the dark with one finger high in the air. There was an uprising of applause and cheering. Then, shouting like a head coach before a bowl game, she said, “Sandpoint, are you ready?”

It was a Friday night last November. All around the little town of Sandpoint, beetles were blighting north Idaho’s pine forests. The previous day, the U.N. reported that emissions from automobiles and coal-fired power plants were collecting in brown clouds over 13 Asian and African cities and blocking out the sun. Iceland’s main banks had crumpled, and American auto executives were about to fly to Washington in private jets to plead for a bailout. Off the coast of Africa, Somali pirates were hijacking oil tankers. But the folks at the Panida Theater wouldn’t stop clapping. The Sandpoint Transition Initiative, a new chapter of a growing, worldwide environmental movement, was officially coming to life.

The Transition movement was started four years ago by Rob Hopkins, a young British instructor of ecological design. Transition shares certain principles with environmentalism, but its vision is deeper — and more radical — than mere greenness or sustainability. “Sustainability,” Hopkins recently told me, “is about reducing the impacts of what comes out of the tailpipe of industrial society.” But that assumes our industrial society will keep running. By contrast, Hopkins said, Transition is about “building resiliency” — putting new systems in place to make a given community as self-sufficient as possible, bracing it to withstand the shocks that will come as oil grows astronomically expensive, climate change intensifies and, maybe sooner than we think, industrial society frays or collapses entirely. For a generation, the environmental movement has told us to change our lifestyles to avoid catastrophic consequences. Transition tells us those consequences are now irreversibly switching on; we need to revolutionize our lives if we want to survive.

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Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2009 at 11:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Environment, Global warming

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Mental exercises help schizophrenia

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Interesting article in New Scientist:

Brain training in a computerised mind gym could help people with schizophrenia cope with the debilitating cognitive problems caused by the condition.

The obvious schizophrenic symptoms – such as having animated conversations with people who aren’t really there – can be controlled by antipsychotic drugs. However, people with schizophrenia find their difficulties with learning, remembering, making decisions and processing information even more problematic than hallucinations. These symptoms have proved hard to treat, making it difficult for people with the condition to hold down a job or deal with social situations.

Now there is hope. At the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, a team led by Sophia Vinogradov has put 55 volunteers with schizophrenia through "brain fitness" training, using software made by the firm Posit Science, also in San Francisco.

The brain fitness software starts by …

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19 April 2009 at 11:52 am

Not torture?

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ThinkProgress:

Marcy Wheeler digs through the recently-disclosed Office of Legal Counsel memos authored by the Bush Justice Department and finds these startling statistics: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002. Wheeler concludes, “The CIA wants you to believe waterboarding is effective. Yet somehow, it took them 183 applications of the waterboard in a one month period to get what they claimed was cooperation out of KSM. That doesn’t sound very effective to me.”

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19 April 2009 at 11:50 am

The problem with phthalates

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Blue Girl lays it out:

The Mount Sinai Center for Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research, a multi-year study launched in 1998, released their findings for years 6-10 on Thursday, and they shine a harsh light on the use of phthalates, potent endocrine disruptors and a component of plastics used in food packaging.  Phthalates, long maligned for their carcinogenic properties, are used to make plastics pliable.  They are fat-soluble and absorbed into the body, where they adversely affect hormone levels and metabolism, and the new data suggests that they are a major contributing factor in the skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity.  

The researchers measured exposure to phthalates by looking at the children’s urine. "The heaviest girls have the highest levels of phthalates metabolites in their urine," said Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai, one of the lead researchers on the study. "It goes up as the children get heavier, but it’s most evident in the heaviest kids."

This builds upon a larger Mount Sinai research effort called "Growing Up Healthy in East Harlem," which has looked at various health factors in East Harlem children over the last 10 years, including pesticides, diet and even proximity to bodegas.

About 40 percent of the children in East Harlem are considered either overweight or obese. "When we say children, I’m talking about kindergarten children, we are talking about little kids," Dr. Landrigan said. "This is a problem that begins early in life."

The study was conducted following 300 children in East Harlem and an additional 200 children from the surrounding community; and a separate group of approximately 400 girls in the same communities, in the 9-11 age range.  

The findings bring an additional causative factor in childhood obesity to the fore, introducing a new variable – environmental factors – into the equation.  Most people have assumed one of two positions in the debate over what has caused the increased incidence in childhood obesity.  Some claim …

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19 April 2009 at 11:48 am

"The Torturers’ Manifesto"

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Very good editorial in the NY Times:

To read the four newly released memos on prisoner interrogation written by George W. Bush’s Justice Department is to take a journey into depravity.

Their language is the precise bureaucratese favored by dungeon masters throughout history. They detail how to fashion a collar for slamming a prisoner against a wall, exactly how many days he can be kept without sleep (11), and what, specifically, he should be told before being locked in a box with an insect — all to stop just short of having a jury decide that these acts violate the laws against torture and abusive treatment of prisoners.

In one of the more nauseating passages, Jay Bybee, then an assistant attorney general and now a federal judge, wrote admiringly about a contraption for waterboarding that would lurch a prisoner upright if he stopped breathing while water was poured over his face. He praised the Central Intelligence Agency for having doctors ready to perform an emergency tracheotomy if necessary.

These memos are not an honest attempt to set the legal limits on interrogations, which was the authors’ statutory obligation. They were written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country’s most basic values.

It sounds like the plot of a mob film, except the lawyers asking how much their clients can get away with are from the C.I.A. and the lawyers coaching them on how to commit the abuses are from the Justice Department. And it all played out with the blessing of the defense secretary, the attorney general, the intelligence director and, most likely, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

The Americans Civil Liberties Union deserves credit for …

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19 April 2009 at 11:31 am

Damage due to fundamentalism

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Interesting article by Sarah Posner in The American Prospect:

Every once in a while, two simultaneously published books work in tandem to illuminate their subjects in ways that each book might not if read alone. Readers interested in the challenges of achieving sexual equality and in the dangers of religious fundamentalism — subjects that arguably cannot be understood in isolation from each other — will find such a convergence in new books written by two of our most important investigative journalists.

Michelle Goldberg’s latest, The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World, (excerpted in the May issue of The American Prospect) is an essential account of how U.S. aid policy, beginning in the 1970s with efforts to slow spiraling population growth, came under the sway of the sexually puritanical demands of the American religious right, to ruinous effects. The resulting unavailability of safe abortion and family-planning services, combined with the devastation of HIV/AIDS and other disasters, has wreaked havoc, Goldberg argues, on personal lives, economic prospects, and therefore political stability. Taking her readers through Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe, Goldberg shows how homegrown religious fundamentalism, with its own restrictions on sexual autonomy, converges with the U.S. presence to upend the future of generations of children.

To some, Goldberg’s view that religious meddling in the reproductive policies has led to a global crisis might seem overstated. After all, countless factors combine to undermine global security. Yet Goldberg’s argument, bolstered by her meticulous policy and historical research, transcontinental on-the-ground reporting, and impassioned analysis, serves, if nothing else, as a wake-up call. Reproductive justice is not an outpost "women’s" issue; it’s essential for the well-being of the planet.

Goldberg offers numerous examples of how religious belief structures — local and imported — have crushed the everyday lives and future well-being of women across the globe: …

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Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2009 at 11:24 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Religion

Accounts of torture

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Adam Serwer has a good article in The American Prospect:

Yesterday the Obama administration ordered the release of four Bush-era memos from the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that vividly describe "enhanced interrogation" techniques used by the CIA. The memos were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

"Transparency won today," said Ken Gude, a human-rights and international-law expert at the Center for American Progress.

One memo, written in August 2002 and signed by then OLC Chief Jay Bybee, approves a list of 10 "enhanced interrogation" techniques that the CIA wanted to use against Abu Zubayda, who was believed to be a senior member of al-Qaeda. The techniques are described in a detached, clinical manner: "walling," the act of throwing detainees against a "flexible wall," and "close confinement," the act of placing a detainee within a confinement box that forces the detainee to stand or sit. The memo also approves the use of insects with the confinement box to enhance detainees’ sense of terror.

The techniques listed do not rise to the level of torture, the memo says, because they do not cause severe physical or mental suffering. But the abstract descriptions of these techniques stand in stark contrast to detainee testimony of how they were actually applied, according to a 2007 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross. In addition to describing techniques outlined in the Bybee memo, the ICRC report describes several other techniques, such as forced nudity, the dousing of detainees with cold water, and forcing detainees to wear diapers. All of these appear to violate the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to which the United States is a signatory.

Alex Abdo, a legal fellow with the ACLU’s National Security Project, says comparing the clinical description in the OLC memos to the ICRC report was surreal. "The four memos were written by lawyers trying to construct a legal regime that allowed the unthinkable. The sterilized language they use in the memos as compared with the graphic descriptions of the ICRC report make that patently clear," Abdo says. "It’s as though you’re in Alice in Wonderland."

***

Waterboarding is a form of torture in which cloth or cellophane is placed over the victim’s mouth or head and water is poured over him to force a sensation of suffocation and drowning. The victim is restrained to a wooden board by leather straps to prevent struggling during the procedure. In the Bybee memo, waterboarding is described as a "controlled acute episode." During the procedure, "although the subject may experience the fear or panic associated with drowning, the waterboard does not cause physical pain." The personal accounts from the detainees contradict this description…

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19 April 2009 at 11:21 am

Parkinson’s disease linked to pesticides

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Interesting article in the LA Times:

UCLA researchers have provided strong new evidence linking at least some cases of Parkinson’s disease to exposure to pesticides.  Researchers have suspected for some time that pesticides may cause the neurodegenerative disorder, and experiments in animals have shown that the chemicals, particularly the fungicide maneb and the herbicide paraquat, can cause Parkinson-like symptoms in animals. But proving it in humans has been difficult because of problems in assessing exposure to the agents.

Parkinson’s is a disorder of the central nervous system that often impairs the sufferer’s motor skills, speech and other functions. It is not fatal of itself, but complications often are. The disease has been recognized since the Middle Ages but became more prevalent in the 20th century. As many as 180 of every 100,000 Americans develop it.

To explore a potential connection to pesticides, epidemiologist Beate Ritz of UCLA and her graduate student Sadie Costello, now at UC Berkeley, studied public records of pesticide applications in California’s Central Valley from 1974 to 1999. Every application of pesticides to crops must be registered with the state. Working with Myles Cockburn of USC, they developed a tool to estimate pesticide exposure in areas immediately adjacent to the fields.

They then identified 368 longtime residents who lived within 500 yards of fields where the chemicals had been sprayed and compared them to 341 carefully matched controls who did not live near the fields.

They reported in the current issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology that …

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19 April 2009 at 11:19 am

Interesting idea: get rid of the service academies

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Excellent point by Tom Ricks:

Want to trim the federal budget and improve the military at the same time? Shut down West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy, and use some of the savings to expand ROTC scholarships.

After covering the U.S. military for nearly two decades, I’ve concluded that graduates of the service academies don’t stand out compared to other officers. Yet producing them is more than twice as expensive as taking in graduates of civilian schools ($300,000 per West Point product vs. $130,000 for ROTC student). On top of the economic advantage, I’ve been told by some commanders that they prefer officers who come out of ROTC programs, because they tend to be better educated and less cynical about the military.

This is no knock on the academies’ graduates…

Continue reading. Interesting that he leaves the fourth service academy, the Coast Guard Academy, in place.

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19 April 2009 at 11:14 am

A book for you math fans

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Sounds interesting:

Structure and Randomness: Pages from Year One of a Mathematical Blog
by Terence Tao

A review by Cosma Shalizi

Terence Tao is an almost ridiculously distinguished young mathematician, perhaps best known for his work in combinatorics and number theory, especially the theory of arithmetic progressions of prime numbers. In early 2007, he turned the “what’s new” section of his home page into a blog, and his new book, Structure and Randomness, collects some of the writings that first appeared there: expository notes on mathematical results that are or ought to be well-known, sketches of unusual proofs for classical theorems, the texts of three invited lectures, a selection of discussions of open problems, and a few curiosities, including a famous — or infamous — attempt to explain quantum mechanics in terms of the video game Tomb Raider. What should we make of this?

The first thing to say is that Tao is a mathematician writing for other mathematicians. The knowledge of modern mathematics needed to follow everything in this book, or on his blog, is very broad. The implied reader of the expository notes is familiar with abstract algebra, algebraic geometry, functional analysis, graph theory, harmonic analysis, Lie algebras, mathematical logic, measure theory, number theory, partial differential equations, real analysis and representation theory, among other topics; other fields (most notably ergodic theory) appear as background to the lectures and as open problems. Readers needn’t have very deep knowledge of any of these subjects, and no one chapter uses them all, but Tao is certainly not writing for neophytes. (Online, he usually links terms to their Wikipedia definitions, but that doesn’t work in a book, of course.) Given that background, however, Tao does a fine job of providing new insights into old ideas, building intuition about why results come out the way they do, exploring why certain problems are at once interesting and hard, and explaining tricks (of which more later).

Despite the range of subjects Tao covers, certain themes keep recurring. (It’s an interesting question whether this reflects the author’s preoccupations or is just inevitable given the quantity of material.) We can call these randomness, obstacles and tricks.

The first of these themes is …

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Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2009 at 11:10 am

Posted in Books, Science

Tagged with

Cool spice rack

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Easily and cheaply made.

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2009 at 10:32 am

Posted in Daily life

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