Monthly Archives: October 2009

A giant moose goes to Paris

October 8, 2009
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A giant moose goes to Paris

In the wake of the American revolution, world-renowned French naturalist Count Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon in his Histoire Naturelle opined that the flora and fauna of the New World (humans included) were inferior to European specimens. Buffon’s theory of American “degeneracy” began a French and American culture war, as prominent Americans, among them Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, fought to refute the European claims. As a recent review in Natural History magazine notes, Lee Allen Dugatkin’s Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose: Natural History in Early America, vividly recreates these debates, including the amazing story—referenced in the book’s title—of Jefferson’s shipment of a full-grown moose carcass to Buffon, in the hopes of definitively proving that North American fauna were every bit the equal of Europe’s. Laurence A. Marschall writes for Natural History: He succeeded, with the help of correspondents in New England, who arranged to kill a moose in Vermont, cart it to the coast, and ship its skeleton and skin to Paris, where it arrived around October 1, 1787. Unfortunately, Buffon died within little more than a year of the moose, writing nothing more on the subject, so we will never know if he was convinced of the error . . .

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Preserving the last wild habitats of the Great Plains

October 7, 2009
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Preserving the last wild habitats of the Great Plains

Driving through the Midwest without falling asleep at the wheel can be a test despite the ubiquitous presence of Starbucks at nearly every overpass from Nebraska to Chicago. Not that it wouldn’t be rather, well, “plane” otherwise, but American industrial agriculture definitely has transformed much of the landscape of the North American interior into a monotonous, homogeneous grid. And the adverse impacts of these short-sighted agricultural practices go far beyond aesthetics, threatening public health, as well as the profitability of other industries that rely on the fragile ecosystems of the American heartland—ecosystems that have, over the last century, been all but obliterated. All the more reason why we should celebrate the hard work of folks like Michael Forsberg whose stunning photographic journey through some of the last remaining wild habitats in the Midwest has just hit the bookstore shelves in Great Plains: America’s Lingering Wild. In a recent article for the Nebraska based publication Prairie Fire, Forsberg himself details some of the trials and tribulations he endured to capture the rare images included in his new book, as well as some of the reasons he has for enduring. Toward the end of his piece Forsberg writes: Will we as a . . .

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“Wannabe U” Builds Prestige

October 7, 2009
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“Wannabe U” Builds Prestige

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Press Release: Melia, Cracking the Einstein Code

October 7, 2009
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Press Release: Melia, Cracking the Einstein Code

Because Albert Einstein’s equations so accurately describe the world around us, they seem timeless. But in truth, we have only understood how to apply his theory of general relativity for less than fifty years. When Einstein published his description of the effect of gravitation on the shape of space and the flow of time in 1916, few scientists knew what to do with it. Enter Roy Kerr, a twenty-nine-year-old Cambridge graduate who solved the great riddle in 1963. The solution he proposed emerged coincidentally with the discovery of black holes that same year and provided fertile testing ground—at long last—for general relativity. Today scientists routinely cite the Kerr solution, but even among specialists few know the story of how Kerr cracked Einstein’s code. Part biography, part chronicle of scientific discovery, Cracking the Einstein Code unmasks the history behind the search for a real-world solution to Einstein’s field equations. Offering an eyewitness account of the events leading up to Kerr’s great discovery, Fulvio Melia vividly describes how luminaries such as Karl Schwarzschild, David Hilbert, and Emmy Noether set the stage for the Kerr solution; how Kerr came to make his breakthrough; and how scientists such as Roger Penrose, Kip Thorne, and . . .

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Dispatches from Lisbon

October 6, 2009
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Dispatches from Lisbon

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Press Release: Forsberg, Great Plains

October 6, 2009
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Press Release: Forsberg, Great Plains

Spanning the area west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains once ranked among the most magnificent grasslands on the planet, second only to the Serengeti in sheer size, grandeur, and biodiversity. But today this broad expanse of prairie and steppe is among the most endangered ecosystems in the entire world. Here award-winning photographer Michael Forsberg—a frequent contributor to such publications as National Geographic, Audubon, National Wildlife, and Natural History—reveals the lingering wild that still survives on the Plains and whose diverse natural communities, landscapes, and native flora and fauna together create one extraordinary whole. Featuring contributions from novelist and wildlife biologist Dan O’Brien, noted geographer and environmentalist David Wishart, and American poet laureate Ted Kooser, Great Plains features 150 stunning full-color images along with literary, historical, and scientific passages that bring this extraordinary part of the country into more vivid focus than ever before. Most Americans know little about the landscape, wildlife, and history of this vast part of our country. But here, the beauty and majesty of the Great Plains come alive in all their quiet glory. Read the press release. Also see a gallery of photographs from the book, or these . . .

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Harcourt Argues for Parole for Juvenile Offenders in LA Times

October 5, 2009
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Harcourt Argues for Parole for Juvenile Offenders in LA Times

This term, the Supreme Court will hear two cases from Florida that call into the question the practice of punishing juvenile offenders with life sentences without the possibility of parole. Bernard E. Harcourt, a professor of law and of political science at the University of Chicago and author of the two books published by the University of Chicago Press—Language of the Gun: Youth, Crime, and Public Policy and Against Prediction: Profiling, Policing, and Punishing in an Actuarial Age—published an op-ed piece in this morning’s Los Angeles Times calling for the abolition of this practice. He writes: A 2005 ruling that held the juvenile death penalty unconstitutional, and similarly draw a bright line at 18 years of age for imposing life sentences without parole.… The tough-on-crime rhetoric of “lock ’em up and throw away the key” is entirely inappropriate in the case of children. Children’s brains, bodies and personalities are still in the process of growing and changing. And many experts in neuroscience and psychology believe that the same changeability that makes young people vulnerable to negative influences and peer pressure also makes them good candidates for reform and rehabilitation.… Juvenile offenders should be given the opportunity to . . .

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Press Release: Posner, The Perils of Global Legalism

October 5, 2009
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Press Release: Posner, The Perils of Global Legalism

From the Geneva Conventions to the United Nations to the International Criminal Court, the steady progress of international law has been hailed by politicians and the general public alike, representing a perpetual hope that conflict between nations need not end in belligerence, unilateralism, and war. Eric Posner believes that’s a naïve—and even dangerous—way of understanding how nations behave, and with The Perils of Global Legalism he lays waste to the illusion that international law will ever offer a meaningful alternative to the reality of nations acting in their own self-interest. After tracing the historical roots of the concept, Posner explains the fundamental problems of legitimacy and enforcement that render international law toothless; then, drawing on examples from land mine bans and free trade to NATO’s invasion of Serbia, he goes on to demonstrate that time and again, when faced with tough choices, leaders have blatantly disregarded international agreements in the name of perceived national interests. As the Obama administration’s foreign policy—and its approach to international law—faces its first real tests in the coming years, The Perils of Global Legalism will be essential reading. Read the press release. Also read an excerpt. . . .

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Those powerful images of the national parks

October 4, 2009
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Those powerful images of the national parks

If you saw just one episode of the PBS series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, or if you saw them all, you saw certain images repeatedly: brown bears catching salmon at Brooks Falls, a wolf loping across a meadow in Denali, bison lumbering through the snow of Hayden Valley, and Mt. McKinley rising to improbable heights above a cloud bank. These signature images are like a visual glue that Ken Burns used to hold together the multitude of places and people covered in the National Parks series. These indelible character of these signature images, and all the magnificent images in the series, attest to the remarkable power that photographic images of natural scenery have to create a compelling story and and establish cognitive and emotional connections with the parks as well as with the people who have preserved them. The National Parks series becomes the latest in a long chain of photographic imagery, including the work of Ansel Adams and New Deal filmmakers, to picture nature as a place of grace for the individual and the nation. This is the subject of a book we published a few years ago, Natural Visions: The Power of Images in American Environmental . . .

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Press Release: Ford, Soldier Field

October 2, 2009
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Press Release: Ford, Soldier Field

As fall beckons with changing leaves and shortening days, one thing is certain: NFL football is back, and Chicagoans everywhere are packing their coolers and grills for a trip to Soldier Field. For decades, the stadium’s signature columns provided an iconic backdrop for the Chicago Bears, but few realize that it has been much more than that. Soldier Field: A Stadium and Its City explores how this amphitheater evolved from a public war memorial into a majestic arena that helped define Chicago. Chicago Tribune staff writer Liam T. A. Ford led the reporting on the stadium’s 2003 renovation—and simultaneously found himself unearthing a dramatic history. As he tells it, the tale of Soldier Field truly is the story of Chicago, filled with political intrigue and civic pride. Designed by Holabird and Roche, Soldier Field arose through a serendipitous combination of local tax dollars, City Beautiful boosterism, and the machinations of Mayor “Big Bill” Thompson. The result was a stadium that stood at the center of Chicago’s political, cultural, and sporting life for nearly sixty years, long before the arrival of Walter Payton and William “the Refrigerator” Perry. Ford describes it all in the voice of a seasoned reporter: the high . . .

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