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The Complexity Matters blog features the Thursday Complexity Post as well as other complexity inspired news items.

 

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A Plexus Workshop Where Playing Made Music

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, January 9, 2017

A Midwife to Music Inspires New Songs

Did your grade school chorus director tell you to just mouth the words and not sing? Were you told to hold that clarinet in the right position during the concert, just don’t play? 

Jon Gailmor knows how to heal those childhood wounds and restore the joy of musical participation.  In rapid succession, Jon can be funny, thoughtful, trenchant, gentle and provocative as he encourages groups of people to create lyrics, rhythm and melody in bursts of collaborative enthusiasm.  He’s a highly accomplished musician himself, great with guitar and voice.  And he can use those talents to bring forth musical gifts from people who are surprised to discover they have them. “Part of it is spontaneity,” he said, describing the process. “It captures the heart, and where you are. Here’s how I characterize my skill: I’m part catalyst and part midwife. I can be an audience for you, and I’m objective.”

At a recent Plexus Institute workshop in Washington DC, hosted by Lisa Kimball, an entrepreneur, organizational development consultant in healthcare, education and businesses, and former Plexus Institute president, a small group of adults decided their first song would be about complexity and the environment.  It was a universally engaging topic that allowed ample opportunity for modification and change of direction.

Jon struck a D chord that accommodates a range of voices. “I’m a back beat guy,” he said, illustrating a steady downbeat 1 to 3 rhythm, commonly used in classical and military music. Those present called out a profusion of ideas and built on the ideas of their neighbors. Land, seas and starlight met toxic fumes and human folly.  Jon encouraged alliteration, metaphor, free wheeling discussion and advised finding “mouth friendly” words.  The verses are the beads and chorus is the thread that connects them, he explained as he drafted proposed lyrics on a white board. 

“We’re destroying the planet, trash in the sea,” the first verse began, combining several thoughts of contributors.  The conversation probed why we do these things, and how we enable heedlessness.  Are we willing to lighten our footprints? If we don’t want government intervention and regulation, and we want personal responsibility and control, the whole issue of climate change becomes ideologically fraught, observed Bruce Waltuck, who spent much of his career designing business process improvements in federal agencies.  

Lynne Feingold, who has worked in the arts and studied music and improvisation, suggested lyrics representing survival needs of living creatures, endangered by pollution and environmental degradation.  Ann-Marie Regan, an organizational development specialist who works in a highly complex health care institution, offered subtle refinements that smoothed the flow of lyrics.  The chorus, a group-creation, was optimistic. 

“We got this/together/ solutions are learned each day

Green power around us/ sun, wind water/ lead the way.

Another more lighthearted song celebrated the diversity and unexpected juxtapositions of life in Washington, DC, where an Afghan can driver is likely to be a poet and you might run into Peruvian holy men contemplating fate. The words were deliberately whimsical, and message cheerful.

  “Everyone’s welcome/ the rainbow lives here,” the chorus announced, “DC’s our home, where love conquers fear.”

When the songs were finished, Jon made CDs of the group singing them, and those present reflected on the experience.  “We jumped right into the process, and something good happened in the way we interacted and listened to each other,” observed Marc Narkus-Kramer, an executive with a background in music and engineering.  “We all worked together elaborating on each others’ ideas, and no one had too much ego involved.  This is the kind of thing that could be used in business. It could be used to create mission statements, or to get un-stuck. I’ve done some of these things in corporations, and it’s liberating.”

“It is kind of a liberating structure,” Lisa commented.  “The structures of the music and the lyrics are strengthened in the process, and some extraneous things are eliminated.” 

“We didn’t need specific criteria, but we did need to make words and music fit,” said Rich Bataglia, a musician who has taught improv to children, adults and individuals of all ages who have disabilities.   “Improv has some simple rules and complex theory.  And you don’t have to be a poet or a musician. People who can’t sing can be very helpful in crafting a melody.”

Learn more about Jon Gailmor here.

 

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New Year's Resolutions and Interacting Networks

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, January 9, 2017

Weight: A 'Setting of Complex Interlocking Systems'

This is the season when millions of us resolve to lose weight.  Statistically speaking, weight loss is the most common New Year’s resolution, surpassing vows to do good deeds, spend time with family and find a better job.  Researchers say it’s also the resolution most commonly broken.   

The Harvard Medical School newsletter Healthbeat  stresses we need both diet and exercise, and it urges us to keep math in mind.  One pound of body fat stores some 3,500 calories, the letter says, and walking or jogging uses only about 100 calories a mile. It’s discouraging to think you’d have to walk an extra 35 miles lose one pound. But if you eat 250 fewer calories and walk for 30 minutes every day, you could lose about a pound in a week.  

All sorts of apps are available to measure food intake and calorie burn. Scientific Reports Nature identifies a new tool—artificial intelligence.   The popular app Noom is one of the biggest to turn to AI, and it is described in a Fast Company story by Michael Grothaus. An analysis of the results of 35,921 users from 2012 to 2014 found 77.9% of participants reported a decrease in body weight and nearly 80% said they kept the weight off for more than nine months. The app uses AI to analyze a user’s food intake and exercise data and suggest personalized diets, fitness regimes, and individualized tips on nutrition and health. But Noom President Artem Petakov told Fast Company that mathematical calculations have to be paired with motivation, and that comes with a human coach. (Personalized coaching programs start at about $45 a month.)

Forget will power, Petakov advises, it’s about behavior change, and he asserts behavior change can be learned, just like math or a foreign language. You can learn what triggered bad eating habits, he says, and learn to replace bad habits with better behaviors. Of course an empathetic and knowledgeable coach helps. 

But don’t think it will be easy. A story by Gina Kolata in the New York Times Science of Fat series stresses that it’s simplistic to think there are only a few key places to intervene in the tangled web of controls that set a person’s weight. Researchers studying obese people who had bariatric surgery found there are multiple interacting mechanisms influencing weight, many of which are still not well understood. Dr. Lee Kaplan, an obesity researcher at Massachusetts General, told The Times that bariatric surgery, which only changes the digestive tract, immediately alters more than 5,000 of the 22,000 genes in the human body.  After surgery, he said, there are also changes in hormones, neurons, the white blood cells in the immune system, and in the gut microbiome, the thousands of strains of bacteria in the intestinal tract.

Weight and its management need to be viewed as an “entire setting of complex interlocking system” where a whole network of activity responds to environment as well as genes, Dr. Kaplan says. He explains that means there are whole classes of signals coming from the gut and going to the brain and that they interact to control hunger, satiety, how quickly calories are burned, and how much fat is stored on the body. To make the science of weight and obesity even harder to penetrate, these systems can vary significantly from one individual to another.    

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The Unseen Arbiters in Our Lives

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Saturday, December 31, 2016

Value Judgements Live in the Numbers

Algorithms are among the most profound invisible influences in our lives. They help us find our driving destinations, the new music and fashions we like, what we want to read or view.  They are also increasingly used in fundamental decisions about where we live, the schools we attend, the jobs we get, and what happens should we run afoul of the law. 

An algorithm is a procedure or set of instructions to solve a problem or make a data-based predictions.  Many algorithms are secret because the companies that develop them consider them proprietary. 

Increasing evidence shows many algorithms incorporate the biases of the people who write them, and some are unintentionally discriminatory.   A New York Times story by Claire Cain Miller reports, for example, that ad-targeting algorithms have shown ads for high paying jobs to men but not women, and ads for high interest loans are shown to people in low-income neighborhoods but not in upscale areas. 

While racial discrimination in housing is illegal, a Vox story by Alvin Chang illustrates how decisions on criteria for affordable housing, and the design of algorithms used in formation and ads about housing availability, can inhibit a neighborhood’s racial integration and help keep poor neighborhoods poor.  

Cynthia Dwork, a Microsoft Research computer scientist, a leading thinker on algorithm design and analysis, told the Times computer science education must stress that algorithms embody value judgments and therefore bias in the way the systems operate.   “The goal of my work is to put fairness on a firm mathematical foundation, but even I have just begun to  scratch the surface,” she said. “This entails finding a mathematically rigorous definition of fairness and developing computational methods—algorithms—that guarantee fairness.”

As part of its project “Machine Bias” examining algorithms, ProPublica looked at how the U.S. criminal justice system is increasingly using algorithms in predicting a defendant’s risk of future criminality.  An article by Julia Angwin reports that the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled recently that judges could use the computer generated risk scores to determine whether a defendant received jail or probation,  but that the scores could not be “determinative.” The court also said pre-sentencing reports must warn judges about the limits of the algorithm’s accuracy.  Wisconsin has been using the risk scores for four years, but has not independently tested them for accuracy or bias.

ProPublica obtained more than 7,000 risk scores assigned to individual defendants by the company that makes the tool used in Wisconsin.  After comparing actual recidivism to the company’s predicted recidivism, Pro Publica found the scores were wrong 40 percent of the time, and that black defendants were falsely labeled future criminals at almost twice the rate of white defendants. Because the company’s proprietary risk-score formula did not have to be publicly disclosed, ProPublica was not able to examine the data or the calculations used in interpreting it.  

Angwin writes that the Court’s directive to warn judges that risk scores over-predict recidivism among black defendants is a good first step in accountability.  “Yet as we rapidly enter the era of automated decision making,” she wrote, “we should demand more than warning labels.” 

The credit score is the only algorithm that consumers have a legal right to examine, challenge and demand that erroneous data be deleted or corrected. Those rights are spelled out in the Fair Credit Reporting Act signed by President Richard Nixon in 1970.  Advocates for fairness in decision-making software say that today we need the right to examine and challenge data used to make algorithmic decisions about us. 

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Profits, Long Tails and Truth

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Saturday, December 31, 2016

The tantalizing opportunities for inexpensive internet marketing is creating a moral quandary for ad agencies and the brands they represent: Are they carelessly bankrolling the toxic websites that promote fake news, wild conspiracy theories and irresponsible rumor? 

A New York Times story by Sapna  Maheshwari explains much online advertising takes advantage of  the long tail of the internet.  The long tail is the name for statistical distributions found in power laws, Pareto distributions,  and exemplified in population clusters,  the occurrence of rare illnesses, and income inequality among other things.  The work of mathematician Benoit Mendelbrot has led him to be called “the father of long tails.”  Chris Anderson popularized the commercial application of term in 2004 Wired Magazine article, and elaborated on it in his book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More.  A long tail strategy in sales would mean selling small numbers of items from a seemingly infinite inventory to large numbers of people could produce more profit than selling blockbuster items to fewer people.

“The long tail is to advertising what the subprime was to mortgages,” said John Marchese, president of advertising products for the Fox Networks Group, told the Times. . “No one knows what’s in it, but it helps people believe there is a mysterious tonnage of impressions that are really low cost.” “Impressions” is an advertising industry term that generally means an ad has been displayed and can be viewed.

Prominent well-established online sites usually deal directly with their advertisers.  For a fraction of the cost a complex system of agencies and third party networks can place ads on thousands of smaller little-known sites, such blogs and niche sites that draw small but attractive audiences such as parents or trucking enthusiasts.  The system is automated, and as Marchese explains, it is set up to reward clicks and impressions. That reward, according to Marc Goldberg, chief executive of Trust Metrics, an ad safety vendor, has fueled the introduction of low quality sites in the advertising ecosystem.  Technology that can protect brands from appearing on sites that feature violence and pornography has been less effective in weeding out site for irresponsible fake news.

In addition to deliberately fabricated partisan news, teenagers and young adults in the U.S. and abroad this year discovered they could make easy money creating fake news sites and making up rabidly partisan stories intended to be spread Facebook and circulated through Google. Google and Facebook have both announced plans to target false information.

VOX reported researchers found several pernicious fake stories, which even after being discredited, got vastly more shares and reached more people than stories from respected traditional news sources. Further, Vox reported that earlier this year investigations conducted by BuzzFeed found that nearly 40 percent of the content published by far right Facebook pages and 19 percent of the content published by extreme left-leaning Facebook pages was false or misleading.  BuzzFeed even found that in one own in Macedonia, a ring of teens was making money by publishing thousands of fake right-wing news stories across hundreds of fake news websites. Anytime a story went viral, they’d make money on the ads that accompanied it.

Oxford Dictionaries named “post-truth” as the 2016 word of the year. And the “post” in this hyphenated term doesn’t just mean “after.” The Oxford announcement explains "post" now has an expanded meaning signifying that it “belongs to a time when the specified concept (truth) has become unimportant or irrelevant.”

 


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Nutrition and Nurture Designed for Body and Spirit

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Saturday, December 31, 2016

An Entrepreneur Serving Body and Soul

The Reverend Angel Garcia Rodriguez is a Spanish priest who is also an innovator and entrepreneur whose nonprofit enterprises are designed to nourish the body and spirit of those in need.

He has opened four restaurants called Robin Hood in Madrid and other Spanish cities and hopes to see his mini chain grow.  His innovative business, however, doesn’t involve robbing the rich to give to the poor.  The restaurants serve breakfast and lunch to paying customers and use the revenue earned to cover costs of a free evening dinner for the homeless.  A New York Times story by Raphael Minder describes his work.

 Father Angel, as he is called, told The Times poor people need to regain a sense of purpose and dignity that isn’t always on soup kitchen menus. “To get served by a waiter wearing a nice uniform, and to eat with proper cutlery, rather than a plastic fork, is what gives you back some dignity,” he said.  He hopes to open a Robin Hood Restaurant in Miami in January, and is trying to convince celebrity chefs to volunteer their talents for occasional meals.   

He is also president and founder of Messengers of Peace, a non governmental organization with 3,000 employees and 5,000 volunteers who run old age homes and services for people struggling with poverty, unemployment, other social ills, and the impact of deep pubic spending cuts in Spain. The organization also runs projects in developing countries.

Last year Father Angel began a community program in an abandoned church in Madrid, where people, many of whom are destitute, are welcomed 24 hours day regardless of their religion. They can eat, consult with medical volunteers, access free WI-FI and use restrooms. Mass and occasional soccer games are shown on televisions screens.  Food is served in the back pews. Father Angel and another priest say mass, and confession can be conduced by iPad for those who are hard of hearing.   Father Angel acknowledged to The Times that his methods were not always in line with the church’s rules, notably his welcoming of gay couples.  However, he says his actions and methods are broadly in line with the messages of Pope Francis.  Read more stories about Father Angel’s efforts in the China Daily, Gulf News and the Kuwait Times.

 

Best Wishes for Peace and Joy this Holiday Season! 

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The Costs of Cash and Clashing Concepts of Wealth

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Cash: 'The squirmy ferret of societal wealth' 

Kenneth S. Rogoff, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and now a professor at Harvard thinks paper currency hinders smooth functioning of the global financial system and he argues the U.S. should phase out cash.

A New Yorker story by Nathan Heller reports Rogoff sees substantial benefits to phasing out cash, starting with big bills and gradually letting smaller bills fall into disuse. Eliminating cash, he says, would make it harder for U.S. currency to be used international corruption,  reduce tax evasion that’s costing government $460 billion a year, and cut other crimes. He thinks it would even deter illegal immigration better than a wall because wages of undocumented workers are by necessity paid in cash.   

Heller’s story examined Sweden, where the biggest denomination bills were eliminated in 2013 and most retail transactions now take place with credit cards and phone apps.  One impetus for the move away from cash, Heller writes, was the Vastberga heist, in which some $6.5 million was stolen rom a cash depot in Stockholm.  Seven men were arrested, he writes, but the money wasn’t found.

“Cash is the squirmy ferret of  societal wealth,  tricky to secure physically and once liberated in the wild, almost impossible to get back,” Heller writes, describing the spread of the trend against cash. “And money, as technology, has changed a lot in half a century. ”  In Belgium, 93 percent of consumer transactions are cashless.  In sub-Saharan Africa, he write, where only a third of the people have bank account but 60 percent have cellphones, mobile payments are surpassing paper currency.  

While young people are comfortable without cash, Heller writes, the de-emphasis of cash has been hard on older Swedes who have less comfort with cards and apps and rural shop owners who use cash but have to travel to distant banks to make deposits and keep bills on hand.   Heller reports that Sweden’s central bank, the Riksbank, and many of its peers are studying blockchain technology, which could in the long term eliminate need for physical cash. Block chain is the technology that underlies Bitcoin.    

Radical changes always disrupt  and in India a crusade against cash has caused chaos.  Prime Minister  Narenda Modi, who was elected in 2014 after campaigning against economic corruption,  is trying to combat the  hoarded and undeclared “dark money” that gets laundered through jewels, buildings and other luxuries. Modi announced Nov. 8 that 500 and 1,000 rupee notes ($7.50 and $15 respectively)  would be good only for four more hours, then would have to be exchanged for smaller notes.  A story in Slate by Hasit Shah describes the confusion and hardships that have accompanied the rush to demonetize.  Too little cash is available, the rules keep changing, and there are long lines at banks and ATMs.  Wages haven’t been paid, and some 300 million people lack the official IDs needed for processing cash exchanges. The ultimate goal is a digital society that would connect India’s huge population to the internet and the broader social and economic opportunities it offers. Shah says right now, that goal is elusive because broadband supply is limited outside urban areas.  There aren’t enough wires in the ground and even in cities mobile connectivity is patchy.     

Cash allows privacy that electronic transactions record, and some people want anonymity. Heller considers what we really want from money.  “What we seek most in currency is a way to mete out dreams,” he writes.  “So far, the U.S. still embraces cash because our concept of wealth is material. We collect it, handle it, hoard it. American money is private.  Sweden has embraced cashlessness more readily in part because it finds the value of currency in the transfer and velocity, the social path it follows, the bonds it traces.  It’s social: a network conception of wealth.”

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Complex Math and Simple Joys

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Learn from the Cake and the Custard

In Eugenia Cheng’s kitchen, custard exemplifies nonassociativity.  You have to combine the sugar and the egg yolks first, and whisk them into a froth before adding the cream.  Blending the ingredients in any different order, she explains, will produce a runny mess.  

Dr. Cheng is Scientist in Residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Honorary Fellow of the University of Sheffield and Honorary Visiting Fellow of City University, London. Previously she was Associate Professor of Pure Mathematics in the School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Sheffield, UK.  She is also an extremely good cook.  In her book How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics, she combines her fascinations with math and food with her mission to make math understandable for everyone.

In a New York Times story, Natalie Angier writes about meeting with Dr. Cheng and experiencing the magic of numbers of delicious treats.  Making a cake, for example, is an associative process, because the butter, sugar, flour and eggs can be combined in any order and you’ll still have a cake.   In math, addition and multiplication are associative.   In the nonassociative custard, as in subtraction and division, the order of operations is essential.

Angier describes Dr. Cheng pulling a beautiful and sinfully tempting specimen of knot theory out of her oven, which she named Bach pie, for the great composer loved by mathematicians and almost everyone else. It’s a creamy dark chocolate rectangle, studded with banana slices, topped by an “Escher-like braid of four glazed pastry plaits that follow divergent trajectories, never quite crisscrossing where you expect them to.”    The story provides Dr. Cheng’s analysis of the symbolic confection: “BAnana added to CHocolate gives you BACH,” she explains. The braiding illustrates the structure of a Bach prelude and the kinds of patterns that knot theorists study to find how “looped up the braids are and whether you can transform one braid into another by wiggling the different strings.”  And there’s a recipe.

Aside from her culinary creativity, Dr. Cheng is a theoretical mathematician whose specialty is category theory, a field so abstract and impenetrable that it even has some mathematicians scratching their heads. Angier, a Pulitzer prize winning science writer, glosses over it mercifully. Click here for a paper Dr. Cheng has written to simplify the theory for curious laymen.  Read the Times story here and a review of Dr, Cheng’s cookbook here.

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Iceland's Catastrophes Bring Flood of Tourists

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, November 28, 2016

Catastrophic Disruption Fed Tourist Boom in Iceland

Remember the volcanic eruption in Iceland that spewed thick clouds of ash over European skies, disrupting air travel word-wide and leaving millions of travelers stranded for six days in April 2010?   That followed the 2008 financial crisis, when Iceland’s banking troubles spilled into WikiLeaks, and a severe economic depression was accompanied by significant unrest. 

As if the financial implosion and volcanic explosion weren’t enough, Iceland’s Pirate Party,  a collection of anarchists, hackers, geeks, poets and activists from the far right and far left,  this year gained more seats in Parliament and its influence is expanding.   The result of all this disruption? A booming tourist industry.  

A New York Times story by Kimiko De Freytas-Tamura explains that after Eyjafjallajokul (pronounced AY-yah-fyah-lah-YOH-kuul) erupted, journalists from all over the world arrived and publicized the spectacular landscapes and geographic details of the 35 active volcanoes on this Arctic island.  Foreigners shortened the name of the erupting volcano to E-16.  Tourism had already grown after 2008 because the collapse of the Icelandic krona made visiting less expensive.  Even the Pirate Party, with its black pirate flag and anti-establishment reputation,  helped “burnish Iceland’s image  as cool and alternative,” according to the Times.

Tourism is now the country’s biggest employer and many Icelanders are pouring money into new construction and services.  The owner of a luxury resort, for example, told The Times Iceland was saved by the financial crash and the eruption. The owner, Fridrik Palsson had always sold Iceland as a great place to see the Northern Lights,  and now he employs an astronomer in his hotel and bought three expensive high powered telescopes for his guests’ sky watching.

The story describes Reykjavik, the capital city, as looking like a Scandinavian version of Singapore—clean, orderly, and wealthy, with upscale restaurants and businesses.  Tourists are expected to outnumber Iceland’s population of 330,000 by seven to one next year, and some residents worry about traffic, growing housing costs, and light pollution spoiling the landscape. Diddi Bardarson, who owns a 500 acre ranch where he breeds Icelandic horses, has benefited from tourism, but he’s also among those who think tourism may prove ephemeral. He told The Times he and his horses are preparing for leaner times.  “Horses start slowing down their heart beat. They try to get fatter and grow a thicker coat for the coming hard winter,” he said. “So should humans.” 

 

 

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Water Bears Eolved Resistance to Damaging Radiation

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, November 28, 2016

Learning Resilience from the Earth’s Toughest Creature

How much change, shock, extreme environmental variation and damaging stress can a living creature absorb and still survive? The strange microscopic creatures called tardigrades—also known as water bears—can tolerate almost anything and their extraordinary resilience may help us learn how to be tougher ourselves.

An article in The Verge by Rachel Becker points out that tardigrades can survive 30 years in a freezer, rapid dehydration, temperatures just above absolute zero and hotter than boiling, massive doses of radiation, baths in organic solvents, and even a trip to open space.  They can live years without food or water.  In fact, they are nearly indestructible.

Scientists who have sequenced their genome are discovering clues to how they manage such resilience. Part of their stress resistance, the scientists reported in Nature Communications, comes from tardigrades’ ability to lose bits of damaged DNA that induce cells to consume their own components.  The creatures also have, over time, evolved a protective protein that provides resistance to damaging X-rays, and scientists have been able to transfer that resistance to human cells.

“Tolerance against X-ray is thought to be a side product of the animal’s adaptation to severe dehydration,” the study’s lead author Takekazu Kunieda explains in a Scientific American article by Jason Buttel.  Kunieda, a molecular biologist at the University of Tokyo, says that severe dehydration wreaks havoc on living cells, and can even tear apart DNA, in much the same way that extreme X-ray does. To learn how tardigrades protect themselves against such extremes, Kunieda and colleagues began sequencing the genome of one of the toughest species of tardigrade. They inserted the tardigrade genome into mammalian cells to study its working processes closely. Then by manipulating cultures of human cells, Buttel writes, researchers were able to produce pieces of the taridgrade’s  inner machinery to learn which parts were providing the creature its resistance.  Eventually they found that a protein called Dsup prevented the tardigrade’s DNA from breaking under the stress of radiation and dehydration.  Further, they found, tardigrade-infused human cells were 40 percent less damaged by radiation. 

Ingemar Jonsson, an evolutionary ecologist who studies tardigrades at Kristianstad University in Sweden told Scientific American that protection and repair of DNA is a fundamental component of all cells and an element in ageing and many diseases, including cancer.  The possibility of improving resilience in human cells could benefit cancer patients undergoing radiology, protect workers at nuclear plants, and possibly even help grow crops in extreme environments on other planets, scientists say.

Bob Goldstein, a biologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who helped sequence the genome of another tardigrade species, thinks Kunieda’s  research is the first of many such discoveries that will have exciting implications for humans.  Because the tardigade can resist so many kinds of extremes, he observes, it must have many different ways of protecting itself.  Jonsson calls the tardigrade genome a genetic treasure for further research.     

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Ballet Slippers and Marching Boots

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, November 10, 2016

Classical Dance Soothes Stress at the DMZ

“Men everywhere dance.  There are no human societies in which they do not.”

Poet Charles Olson quoted by philosopher Maxine Sheets-Johnstone.

After North Korea’s nuclear test and rocket launch earlier this year, as tensions in the demilitarized zone along North Korea’s border increased, South Korean soldiers on the font lines were developing a creative way to combat stress.

Soldiers in the South Korean army’s 25th Division are taking weekly ballet lessons taught by Lee Hyang Jo, a ballerina from the Korean National Ballet.  Reuters reports that the program began last year and has already included a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

In a PBS Newshour interview, South Korean Battle Commander Heo Tae-Sun said through a translator, “Ballet require a great amount of physical strength, is very good for strengthening muscle, increasing flexibility and correcting posture. So I think ballet has helped us.”  One of the soldiers, Kim Joo-Hyeok elaborated, explaining life at the border sometime makes him feel insecure.  “However,” he said, “through ballet I am able to stay calm and find balance.” The plies, tendus and other classical ballet exercises  may influence mood, confidence and reflection among the soldier-students of dance more than traditional exercises.    

In her book The Corporeal Turn: An Interdisciplinary Reader, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone discusses dance of all kinds as an evolutionary phenomenon and a manner of thinking.  Sheets-Johstone is an interdisciplinary scholar and philosopher who began her career as dancer and choreographer.

“Any process of thinking in motion is tied to an evolving changing situation,”

she writes. “To be thinking in movement means that a mindful body is creating a particular dynamic, as that very dynamic is kinetically unfolding.”  Unlike language, in her view, dancing involves the whole body in time and space and encompasses rhythm, risk and balance.

In his poem Among School Children, William Butler Yeats reflects on the movement of life through turbulent experiences in love, loss, strength, youth, age and frailty. His eight lyrical verses explore the ever-changing pieces of existence and conclude with the questions:

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,

Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

 

 

 

 

 

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