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13 things that do not make sense: #2

2 The horizon problem

OUR universe appears to be unfathomably uniform. Look across space
from one edge of the visible universe to the other, and you’ll see
that the microwave background radiation filling the cosmos is at the
same temperature everywhere. That may not seem surprising until you
consider that the two edges are nearly 28 billion light years apart
and our universe is only 14 billion years old.

Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, so there is no way
heat radiation could have travelled between the two horizons to even
out the hot and cold spots created in the big bang and leave the
thermal equilibrium we see now.

This “horizon problem” is a big headache for cosmologists, so big that
they have come up with some pretty wild solutions. “Inflation”, for
example.

You can solve the horizon problem by having the universe expand
ultra-fast for a time, just after the big bang, blowing up by a factor
of 1050 in 10-33 seconds. But is that just wishful thinking?

“Inflation would be an explanation if it occurred,” says University of
Cambridge astronomer Martin Rees. The trouble is that no one knows
what could have made that happen.

So, in effect, inflation solves one mystery only to invoke another. A
variation in the speed of light could also solve the horizon problem –
but this too is impotent in the face of the question “why?” In
scientific terms, the uniform temperature of the background radiation
remains an anomaly.

“A variation in the speed of light could solve the problem, but this
too is impotent in the face of the question ‘why?'”

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13 things that do not make sense: #1

The placebo effect

DON’T try this at home. Several times a day, for several days, you induce pain in someone. You control the pain with morphine until the final day of the experiment, when you replace the morphine with saline solution. Guess what? The saline takes the pain away.

This is the placebo effect: somehow, sometimes, a whole lot of nothing can be very powerful. Except it’s not quite nothing. When Fabrizio Benedetti of the University of Turin in Italy carried out the above experiment, he added a final twist by adding naloxone, a drug that blocks the effects of morphine, to the saline. The shocking result? The pain-relieving power of saline solution disappeared.

So what is going on? Doctors have known about the placebo effect for decades, and the naloxone result seems to show that the placebo effect is somehow biochemical. But apart from that, we simply don’t know.

Benedetti has since shown that a saline placebo can also reduce tremors and muscle stiffness in people with Parkinson’s disease (Nature Neuroscience, vol 7, p 587). He and his team measured the activity of neurons in the patients’ brains as they administered the saline. They found that individual neurons in the subthalamic nucleus (a common target for surgical attempts to relieve Parkinson’s symptoms) began to fire less often when the saline was given, and with fewer “bursts” of firing – another feature associated with Parkinson’s. The neuron activity decreased at the same time as the symptoms improved: the saline was definitely doing something.

We have a lot to learn about what is happening here, Benedetti says, but one thing is clear: the mind can affect the body’s biochemistry. “The relationship between expectation and therapeutic outcome is a wonderful model to understand mind-body interaction,” he says. Researchers now need to identify when and where placebo works. There may be diseases in which it has no effect. There may be a common mechanism in different illnesses. As yet, we just don’t know.

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BA update

BUENOS AIRES BRIEFING
March 2005

Back to the party

The city’s nightclubs are reopening, after a two-month closure. The city council had shut them down after 192 people died in a fire at the República Cromañón nightclub on December 31st. But at the end of February, after rigorous security checks, inspectors allowed two clubs to open and reckoned that around 40 would soon follow by the end of March.

The capital’s tourism and entertainment industries have suffered under the crackdown. Musicians have had to escape the city to find clubs to perform in, and the city’s formerly thriving alternative-theatre circuit has also been stymied by suddenly diligent safety inspectors. Even the Hotel Faena, one of the city’s most fashionable and exclusive hotels (which opened in October), had to turn guests away for a week during tiffs with zealous inspectors. Assailed for not doing enough to avert December’s disaster, the city has worked to demonstrate its toughness. The city council has beefed up controls on public venues, and the General Justice Inspectorate has decreed a ban on offshore companies operating in the capital. This is to mitigate one of the contributing factors in the República Cromañón case, in which the club’s ownership was obscured by arrangements with a series of Uruguay-based companies.

Cartel air

Security officials at Barajas airport in Madrid intercepted 60 kilos of cocaine that had been shipped from Buenos Aires’ main airport, Ezeiza, revealing serious breaches in security there. Though the packages were discovered in September, their existence was not made public until February. The government has blamed the air force for keeping the discovery quiet. The chief executive of Southern Winds, the airline responsible for the shipment, denounced the case in the Argentina courts in October, and blamed rogue employees. But the judge on the case suspects the incident points to larger problems in airport security, and has arrested several Southern Winds executives.

The packages had fake labels claiming they were the property of the Argentine embassy in Madrid, and were sent as unaccompanied luggage, which is prohibited. They also were not passed through the airport’s scanners. Shortly after the cocaine was found, security videos that could have identified the smugglers were erased. The government, under fire for its handling of the scandal and concerned about systemic security gaps, has acted with characteristic vigour. It has removed the senior command of the air force, previously responsible for security at airports; dissolved the force’s National Aeronautical Police, replacing it with a civilian force; and cancelled a joint venture between the state and Southern Winds.

Also in the
Buenos Aires guide

History lessons

What better reprieve from high-pressure city life than an afternoon in the company of real-life gauchos?…

Read more

In the streets again

After a lull in activity at the beginning of the year, the capital’s piqueterosunemployed protestors—returned to the streets in February. In the most serious incident, a 24-year-old piquetero was arrested after attacking a car that tried to pass through a column of marchers. Demonstrators smashed several of the car’s windows, covered it in dents and inflicted cuts and bruises on the occupants, including three young girls. The organisation responsible, which has ties to Quebracho, one of the city’s most radical left-wing groups, later apologised, calling it “an error”. But the family of those assaulted rejected the apology, and said they would sue the government for not guaranteeing the free passage of traffic.

The attack was another blow for the image of the piqueteros, who have drawn ire after repeated roadblocks and clashes (incited by some more extreme groups). In response, the city’s prosecutors have ordered a firmer crackdown, as opposed to the national government’s soft approach. In a first step, prosecutors have demanded that participants not cover their faces during protests, and banned the sticks carried by the demonstrators’ security forces. The piqueteros have, for now, obeyed the command.

Last ride

Norberto “Pappo” Napolitano, an Argentine rock legend, was killed in a road accident at the end of February, shortly before his 55th birthday. He was hit by a car after falling from his Harley Davidson motorbike near the city of Luján, outside Buenos Aires. Before the accident he had been drinking heavily.

BB King, an American blues legend, called Pappo “Latin America’s greatest guitarist.” He was a pioneer of local rock music, briefly forming part of the legendary Abuelos de la Nada, before starting his own band, Pappo’s Blues, and later launching Argentina’s first heavy metal band, Riff, in 1980. During his career he recorded with virtually all the big Argentine rock bands and appeared with several American stars (including Mr King). Blunt and irascible, Napolitano had once been accused of fascism; just before he died he was being prosecuted for punching another musician. But there was a gentler side: he lived at home with his mother until her death in the 1990s. Thousands of fans turned out to salute his funeral cortege and participate in the services at the city’s Chacarita cemetery.

Raising the dead

Scientists recently found the long-lost body of Facundo Quiroga, a brutal provincial leader known as the “Tigre de Los Llanos” (Tiger of Los Llanos). His burial site had been a secret for 170 years. Quiroga and his mentor, the equally tyrannical Juan Manuel de Rosas, were denounced by Domingo Sarmiento, a revered 18th-century figure, for their bloody vision of federalism in Sarmiento’s tremendously influential book “Facundo”. His coffin was found entombed in the wall of his family’s crypt in the famous Recoleta cemetery. As local legend held, he had been buried standing upright and with a sword, so he could fight against Death. Historians think his burial site was kept secret to stop his many enemies from digging up and burning his remains.

Two centuries later, Quiroga continues to generate controversy. Politicians from La Rioja, his native province, demanded that his remains be sent there, alleging that the tomb where he was buried had been neglected. Burial rows are a regular topic in Buenos Aires. There were recently proposals to make a mausoleum in Buenos Aires province for General Juan Domingo Perón and his wife Evita, and to bring to Argentina the remains of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Catch if you can
March 2005

Henri Cartier-Bresson retrospective
(c) Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos(c) Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos

Until April 10th 2005

With the support of the French embassy, the Borges Cultural Centre hosts an expansive retrospective of the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, a Parisian photographer who championed a photojournalistic style. This show features 155 of his pictures. Born in 1908, Cartier-Bresson was trained to be a painter; by 1932 he became inseparable from his Leica camera, which he wielded with a painterly eye. After documenting the liberation of Paris in 1945 (he spent three years as a Nazi prisoner-of-war), he travelled the world, mostly India and China, where he captured iconic images of Gandhi and of Mao’s rise to power. Though he rejected photography for drawing in the last 25 years of his life, he has left an unrivalled body of work.

See obituary: Kingdoms of the world in a moment, August 5th 2004

Centro Cultural Borges, corner of Viamonte and San Martín, Centre. Tel: +54 (0)11 5555-5359. Open: Mon-Sat, 10am-9pm. For more information, visit the museum’s website.

More from the Buenos Aires cultural calendar

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Raymi@LitBlogs

Me parece que este pibe se enamoró de Raymi, chequen su “review” de raymitheminx.com: LitBlogs blogs Raymi.

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argentina@economist

Screeching to the precipice
Feb 24th 2005
From The Economist Global Agenda
Argentina appears to have persuaded most of its bondholders to accept a deeply discounted debt-restructuring offer. But the country’s financing problems will continue unless it can coax back capital stashed abroad by its citizens

Kirchner refuses to blink

WHEN Argentina started restructuring its $81 billion-plus-interest in defaulted debt last month, it was billed as the biggest game of chicken in financial history: the government vowed not to improve its offer, worth broadly 30 cents on the dollar, and bondholders promised never to accept it. Now it seems that despite their threats of lawsuits, asset seizures and collective rejection of the Argentine ultimatum, the creditors swerved practically before they got into the car.

Most analysts were predicting that at best 70% of bondholders would accept the offer, which closes on Friday February 25th. By the day before, about half the outstanding debt had been exchanged, retail investors were queuing to hand over more and some big institutional investors planned to follow suit on the last day. Most now reckon that at least 80% of creditors will participate. That looks high enough to persuade the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to bless the deal and also to trigger “exit consent” clauses in the bonds that could make them virtually illiquid for those who choose not to take part.

The success of the government’s negotiating strategy—which was not to negotiate at all but to offer a take-it-or-leave-it package instead—is a political triumph for Argentina’s president, Néstor Kirchner. As his Peronist party heads into legislative elections in the autumn, he can claim that he faced down the foreigners and won.

The foreigners have been chasing their claims since Argentina’s government stopped servicing its debt more than three years ago, on December 23rd 2001. It was the biggest sovereign default in history. Despite liberal help from the IMF, the government could not meet the punishing yields exacted by skittish investors or balance its books in the midst of a protracted recession. It devalued the peso, then decoupled it altogether from the dollar, dismantling the “convertibility system” that had killed hyperinflation a decade before. At its worst, the peso lost three-quarters of its value, wreaking havoc on the finances of banks, companies and households, which could no longer meet their dollar liabilities. But hyperinflation did not return, and after the economic meltdown of 2002, Argentina’s newly competitive exchange rate helped it grow once again.

Standard & Poor’s, a rating agency, has said that after the restructuring it will rate Argentina a B-minus debtor, a status that Ecuador did not attain for five years after its default. Foreigners will probably not want to lend to the Argentine government directly for a while after taking a 70% loss—twice the average haircut in recent sovereign defaults—and the government will still be left with a public debt equal to 80% or more of GDP. But the country’s new credit rating should increase access to capital for its best-behaved companies. Other immediate benefits include a smaller chance that lawsuits against the government will succeed and a better relationship with the IMF. The Fund might allow Argentina more time to repay the $14 billion it owes the IMF and soften the conditions that govern it.

Most important, greater confidence in Argentina (and its soaring equity markets) may bring home some of the $150 billion or so its citizens hold abroad. The return of flight capital is a practical necessity for the country to keep growing. Its galloping GDP growth, 8.8% in both 2003 and 2004, owes a lot to high soyabean prices and the use of capacity left idle by the economic collapse in 2001-02. Commodity prices have already declined from their peaks and capacity constraints are likely to be felt again this year, so fresh capital will be needed. Mr Kirchner has hardly wooed external direct investors: his government is yet to lift the freeze imposed during the crisis on rates charged by most foreign-owned utility firms. This has exacerbated worries that contracts in Argentina are not worth the paper they are printed on.

The president seems to be betting that a successful restructuring will increase domestic investment from its current level of 17% of GDP to more than 20%, enough to sustain impressive growth throughout the economic cycle. Only time will tell if the Argentines cheering his “patriotic” intransigence towards the international financial community are willing and able to shoulder the burden themselves.

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Punta 05

Finalmente le pungié a Bryx las fotos de Punta, 2005.

¡Chequenlo!

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MILLION DOLLAR BABY

Acabo de terminar de ver Million Dollar Baby, la última película dirigida y protagonizada por Clint Eastwood. Me atrevo a decir que es mejor que Mystic River, es más poderosa, más cercana y la mejor demostración de dirección que he visto en todo el año.

No están aún los candidatos para el Oscar, pero me parece que el ganador es cantado.

The New York Times > Movies >Movie Review: MILLION DOLLAR BABY:

When a man grows old his joy
Grows more deep day after day,
His empty heart is full at length
But he has need of all that strength
Because of the increasing Night
That opens her mystery and fright.

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no se fuma más en mi dpto

Seis mil no fumadores mueren por el humo de los otros

Así lo informó el ministro de Salud, Ginés González García. Dijo que el Gobierno buscará “ampliar” los espacios libres de tabaco

El ministro de Salud de la Nación, Ginés González García, sostuvo hoy que es necesario un “cambio en la conciencia colectiva”, para “ir ampliando los espacios libres de humo”, al proseguir hoy su cruzada contra el cigarrillo.

González García, el integrante más antiguo del gabinete después del derrumbe del gobierno de Fernando de la Rúa y que impulsó proyectos de ley para que se prohiba fumar en espacios públicos cerrados, señaló que “la política del Estado Moderno debe ser ayudar a modelar la conducta pública saludable”.

“Hay 202 empresas libres de humo que lo cumplen a rajatabla, y lo cumplen con el consenso de los empleados”, y agregó: “Ya tenemos municipios libres de humo, y hay que trabajar en los hogares”.

El ministro de Salud especificó que existen “6 mil muertes” de aquellos personas que no fuman, y justificó, “creo que son causas muy suficientes para cambiar esta conducta colectiva, por eso hay difundir este tipo de cosas”.

Asimismo, atacó a las tabacaleras ya que la publicidad de cigarrillos se está “burlando” con los mensajes que transmiten, por eso el proyecto de ley contra el tabaco incluye la restricción de este tipo de promoción.

En tanto, González García opinó que “más allá de la ley, que siempre está, se necesita un cambio de conciencia colectiva”, y concluyó, “no hay por qué pensar que los argentinos no podemos cuidarnos”.

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torrent on!

Como sabrán, mataron muchos sitios de Torrents, como por ejemplo Suprnova.org. Sin embargo siguen online los trackers y algunos mirrors, por ejemplo Bi-torrent.

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Shaq issues warning to Kobe

link

“MIAMI — Shaquille O’Neal has some advice for former teammate Kobe Bryant when the rivals play against each other for the first time — stay out of the lane.

‘If you’ve got a Corvette that runs into a brick wall, you know what’s gonna happen,’ he said in a halftime interview on ABC’s ‘Monday Night Football.’ ‘He’s a Corvette. I’m a brick wall. So you know what’s gonna happen.'”

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Un estudio médico revela por qué los árbitros se equivocan al cobrar offside

“El ojo y el cerebro no son capaces de procesar toda la información visual necesaria para aplicar correctamente el ofside (fuera de juego) en el fútbol”, según un estudio español recién difundido que podría dar una explicación científica a muchas decisiones arbitrales polémicas. La investigación fue encabezada por el médico del Centro Salud de Alquerías (Murcia), Francisco Belda Maruenda, quien junto a otros 126 científicos reclamó que la Federación Internacional de Fútbol (FIFA) modifique la regla XI sobre la falta conocida como “posición adelantada”.

Los especialistas sostienen en su estudio, publicado por el British Medical -una de las revistas médicas más prestigiosas del mundo-, que es “es humanamente imposible” para un árbitro o juez de línea apreciar esa irregularidad.

Según la investigación, el árbitro debe mirar al mismo tiempo al jugador que tiene la pelota para comprobar cuándo hará el pase, a su compañero más adelantado y al último defensor: esto implica que debe mantener en su campo visual varios “objetos” en movimiento al mismo tiempo. El proceso requeriría por lo menos dos movimientos “sacádicos”, es decir, los que realiza el ojo para registrar cada uno de los objetos en su campo de observación.

Según los investigadores, se cometen errores en la aplicación de esta norma porque el árbitro tiene que cambiar de objeto de visión en corto espacio de tiempo, algo para lo que no está capacitado fisiológicamente.

Belda sostuvo hoy en una conferencia de prensa que “son necesarios medios técnicos como la observación de la grabación congelada de la imagen de televisión para apreciar el fuera de juego con exactitud”.
¿Se erradica?

Entre las muchas variantes reglamentarias que se analizan de cara al futuro, varios de los dirigentes de la FIFA ven con buenos ojos que la posición adelantada deje de ser sancionada. Creen, con razón, que así el fútbol podría ser mucho más ofensivo y los partidos terminarían con mayor cantidad de goles. A la vez están los puristas que, en nombre de la nostalgia, dicen que su anulación modificaría la esencia del juego.