Starling murmurations, new research


This video is about a starling murmuration in Britain.

From Science:

How bird flocks are like liquid helium

By Marcus Woo

27 July 2014 1:00 pm

A flock of starlings flies as one, a spectacular display in which each bird flits about as if in a well-choreographed dance. Everyone seems to know exactly when and where to turn. Now, for the first time, researchers have measured how that knowledge moves through the flock—a behavior that mirrors certain quantum phenomena of liquid helium.

“This is one of the first studies that gets to the details of how groups move in unison,” says David Sumpter of Uppsala University in Sweden, who was not part of the study.

The remarkable accord with which starling flocks fly has long puzzled researchers and bird watchers alike. In the 1930s, the ornithologist Edmund Selous even suggested that the birds cooperate via telepathy. Researchers have since turned to more scientifically sound ideas, using mathematical models.

In the 1990s, physicist Tamás Vicsek of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest came up with one of the more successful models, which is based on the principle that each bird flies in the same direction as its neighbors. If a bird angles right, the ones next to it will turn to stay aligned. Although this model reproduces many features well—how a flock swiftly aligns itself from a random arrangement, for example—a team of researchers from Italy and Argentina has now discovered that it doesn’t accurately describe in detail how flocks turn.

In their new study, the team, led by physicists Andrea Cavagna and Asja Jelic of the Institute for Complex Systems in Rome, used high-speed cameras to film starlings—which are common in Rome and form spectacular flocks—flying near a local train station. Using tracking software on the recorded video, the team could pinpoint when and where individuals decide to turn, information that enabled them to follow how the decision sweeps through the flock. The tracking data showed that the message to turn started from a handful of birds and swept through the flock at a constant speed between 20 and 40 meters per second. That means that for a group of 400 birds, it takes just a little more than a half-second for the whole flock to turn.

“It’s a real tour de force of measurement,” says Sriram Ramaswamy of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Sciences in Hyderabad, India, who wasn’t part of the research.

The fact that the information telling each bird to turn moves at a constant speed contradicts the Vicsek model, Cavagna says. That model predicts that the information dissipates, he explains. If it were correct, not all the birds would get the message to turn in time, and the flock wouldn’t be able to fly as one.

The team proposes that instead of copying the direction in which a neighbor flies, a bird copies how sharply a neighbor turns. The researchers derived a mathematical description of how a turn moves through the flock. They assumed each bird had a property called spin, similar to the spins of elementary particles in physics. By matching one another’s spin, the birds conserved the total spin of the flock. As a result of that conservation, the equations showed that the information telling birds to change direction travels through the flock at a constant speed—exactly as the researchers observed. It’s this constant speed that enables everyone to turn in near-unison, the team reports online today in Nature Physics.

The new model also predicts that information travels faster if the flock is well aligned—something else the team observed, Cavagna says. Other models don’t predict or explain that relationship. “This could be the evolutionary drive to have an ordered flock,” he says, because the birds would be able to maneuver more rapidly and elude potential predators, among other things.

Interestingly, Cavagna adds, the new model is mathematically identical to the equations that describe superfluid helium. When helium is cooled close to absolute zero, it becomes a liquid with no viscosity at all, as dictated by the laws of quantum physics. Every atom in the superfluid is in the same quantum state, exhibiting a cohesion that’s mathematically similar to a starling flock.

The similarities are an example of how deep principles in physics and math apply to many physical systems, Cavagna says. Indeed, the theory could apply to other types of group behavior, such as fish schools or assemblages of moving cells, Sumpter says.

Other models, such as the Vicsek model or others that treat the flock as a sort of fluid, probably still describe flock behavior over longer time and length scales, Ramaswamy says. But it’s notable that the new model, which is still based on relatively simple principles, can accurately reproduce behavior at shorter scales. “I think that’s cool,” he says. “That’s an achievement, really.”

Sumpter agrees. “It’s kind of reassuring we don’t need to think about the telepathic explanation,” he says.

See also here.

Italian futurism, exhibition in New York City


This video from New York City is called Italian Futurism at the Guggenheim: Exhibition Overview.

By Clare Hurley in the USA:

“Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York

25 June 2014

Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, February 21-September 1, 2014

The exhibition of Italian Futurism now on view in the main rotunda at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City deals with the 20th century art movement whose ultimate fate was bound up with the betrayals of the working class and the rise of fascism in Italy after the First World War.

Some commentators have suggested that hesitation on the part of museums and curators to mount a comprehensive overview of Italian Futurism in the US prior to the current show has been due to a certain squeamishness about the movement’s association with fascism after Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy in 1922. If that were ever a consideration, it no longer seems one today. The exhibition, including 360 pieces by 80 artists, has been organized by Guggenheim senior curator Vivien Greene. It has been hailed as a tour de force, and called “epic” by New York Times art critic Roberta Smith.

This current enthusiasm, however, is largely unwarranted. As an artistic movement, Futurism was not much more than an Italian variant of other European modernist trends, sharing and openly adopting many of the formal concerns and strategies of Cubism, Dadaism and Divisionism. At best the result is interesting, at worst derivative.

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

The movement coalesced around the poet-editor Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944), and its subsequent development was more or less synonymous with his name. Marinetti’s long life and leadership role was key in aligning what had begun as a politically heterogeneous artistic circle with Mussolini’s fascism. Marinetti’s outlook was summed up as early as 1909 in his “Founding and Manifesto of Futurism,” which announced from the front page of the French newspaper, Le Figaro: “We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.”

Umberto Boccioni, self portrait

The degree to which other Italian futurist artists shared Marinetti’s enthusiasm for militarism no doubt varied, but their petty bourgeois class position left them incapable of playing any independent role in the emergent class struggles in Italy in the second and third decades of the 20th century. Most were sympathetic to the outlook of the “irredentists,” who wanted Italy to enter World War I to reclaim its northern territory. In the aftermath of the war, their political confusion was effectively channeled into support for the nationalist chauvinism advanced by Mussolini, to destroy the political independence of the working class and subordinate it to the needs of the Italian bourgeoisie.

The Futurists’ rightward political trajectory was mirrored in the artwork in the Italian Futurism exhibit. Its subordination to fascism ensured that whatever originality and spontaneity it once possessed was extinguished. Paradoxically, the art goes progressively “downhill” in quality after the sculptures by Umberto Boccioni in the first gallery, despite the uphill climb of the Guggenheim’s spiral layout.

Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio)

Like most of Boccioni’s artwork in his short life—he was killed in action in 1916—his bronze Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio, 1913) evokes velocity through the fragmented human form in a way that is visually striking, if not ground-breaking.

Giacomo Balla, Abstract speed + sound

Boccioni’s paintings, such as The City Rises (La città che sale), 1910-11, as well as Giacomo Balla’s Abstract Speed + Sound, (Velocità astratta + rumore), 1913-14, and Gino Severini’s Blue Dancer, 1911, are similarly familiar in their use of brightly colored, arching, frenetically multiplied forms to suggest the speed and tumult of modern urban life. Carlo Carra’s Funeral of the Anarchist Galli (Funerali dell’anarchico Galli), 1910-11, is one of the more compelling of these paintings, at least by virtue of its subject.

The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli

In addition to copies of Marinetti’s many manifestos, the exhibition includes other examples of “words in freedom” poetry, often with experimental typography used to convey its freedom of—or perhaps from—ideas. These bear a superficial similarity to the “nonsense” poems and performances of the Dada movement, which likewise were a gesture of disgust and rebellion by a section of bohemian artists. However, the Dadaists, active first in Zurich, Switzerland and then in Germany, put these aesthetic techniques to different purposes and pursued a generally left-wing orientation, implicit when not explicit.

Antonio Sant'Elia

One also can see similarities between the unrealized architectural renderings of architect Antonio Sant’Elia and the design principles developed at the Bauhaus, founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany in 1919. Both groups looked to modern industry and technology to meet the needs of mass society for functional yet aesthetic architecture and furniture design. Again, however, the generally left-wing outlook associated with the Bauhaus meant that it was shut down and its buildings destroyed when the Nazis came to power under Hitler in 1933.

The exhibition’s survey of Italian Futurism covers the period up to Marinetti’s death in 1944. The final section is comprised of paintings from the World War II period—grim, unmoving images of serried ranks of faceless soldiers, tanks and gun barrels. The most interesting of these were views from airplanes (aeropittura) like Tullio Crali’s Before the Parachute Opens (Prima che si apra il paracadute), 1939.

The show culminates with the much-hailed mural paintings created for the Palazzo delle Poste (Post Office) in Palermo, Sicily, by the only woman in the group, Marinetti’s wife, Benedetta Cappa. Despite the Futurists’ willingness to lend their art to the Fascist cause, Syntheses of Communications (1933–34) was the only public commission of Futurist art under Mussolini. Benedetta’s mural series is meant to be the apotheosis of the movement’s concerns with modern means of mass communication. With pastel colors and a rather bland decorative design, however, it ends the exhibit not with a burst of energy, but a sense of depletion—or perhaps relief.

In Literature and Revolution (1924), Trotsky identified the international Futurist trend with the tensions and contradictions of the pre-World War I period. The “armed peace” and routinism and banality of bourgeois political life, he observed, “weighed heavily on poetry at a time when the air, charged with accumulated electricity, gave signs of impending social explosions.” Trotsky added, “Futurism was the ‘foreboding’ of all this in art.”

He was singularly unimpressed by Futurism’s fierce “oppositional character,” noting that “violent protests against bourgeois life and art” had a long tradition in French Romanticism and other trends. Moreover, he pointed out, it was naïve to contrast the dynamics of Italian Futurism and its verbal sympathy for “revolution” with the supposedly worn-out bourgeoisie. The latter, Trotsky noted, was “bold, flexible and has claws,” and was entirely capable of making use of radical feelings and moods, “destined by their nature to feed rebellion,” for its own ends. He explained that Italian fascism, in fact, had come to power “by ‘revolutionary’ methods, by bringing into action the masses, the mobs and the millions, and by tempering and arming them.”

Thus, he concluded, “It is not an accident, it is not a misunderstanding, that Italian Futurism has merged into the torrent of Fascism; it is entirely in accord with the law of cause and effect.”

The Guggenheim exhibit does not show any interest in this history. Far from understanding the dynamic that led the Russian avant-garde to support the Revolution while the Italians made common cause with Mussolini’s fascists, the Guggenheim exhibit settles for a superficial look that seems a kind of “rehabilitation” of Italian Futurism. Underpinning this approach is the old canard that equates “left” and “right” extremism.

Asked whether she thought, in reference to Futurism, “it was about freeing themselves in order to better the future? Or was it more political?,” curator Vivien Greene replied, “[the Italian Futurists] start off as a left-wing revolutionary movement and then—how it often happens when you’re at one extreme of something totalitarian—you shift to the other and end up being on the right.” (Interview with Karen Day in Culture, February 18, 2014. Emphasis added)

The argument that “fascism and communism are twins” sounds like a warning to sections of artists who are today impelled to examine political questions in an atmosphere of unprecedented inequality and the growing danger of world war that recalls the period of the rise of Futurism about a century ago.

There have been a few signs of radicalization among artists. Among them are the weekly “art occupations” that have been staged at the Guggenheim exhibit to the protest the superexploitation of workers engaged in the construction of the new Guggenheim branch in Abu Dhabi.

… This is a positive development, but the trajectory of these circles will, as in the past, depend on developments outside the art arena. In examining and learning from the Futurists of the 20th century, the most serious among these artists will turn to the international working class and the struggle for socialism.

Costa Rica 1-Italy 0, congratulations with frog video


This video is about gliding leaf frogs in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica played against Italy today at the football World Cup in Brazil.

In the World Cup’s “group of death“, were underdogs Costa Rica had to play three teams which had been world champions, Costa Rica won 1-0.

This means that Costa Rica can continue to the next round. Congratulations!

The Costa Rican frog video is to celebrate the decisive Costa Rican goal.

New jellyfish species discovered near Venice


This video is about the new jellyfish species, discovered near Venice.

From Wildlife Extra:

New jellyfish species found

A bloom of new yellow jellyfish, which started appearing in the Gulf of Venice in their thousands last autumn, have proved to be a new species, say scientists from the University of Salento.

The jellyfish belongs within the genus Pelagia and has been named Pelagia benovici. It is similar to the Pelagia noctiluca, also known as the mauve stinger for its purple glow and stinging abilities

It was quite a surprising find in the North Adriatic as these waters are one of the most one of the most investigated areas of the world and it is impossible for such a conspicuous jellyfish with large population numbers to have remained unnoticed until now say scientists, who think it was probably introduced to the area in the ballast water of ships in the 1980s.

The scientific description of this new species is here.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Unusually big jellyfish on Dutch beaches


This video from Italy is about a barrel jellyfish.

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands:

Giant jellyfish on Dutch coast because of mild winter

Friday, May 16, 2014

Barrel jellyfish half a meter in diameter, and eleven kilos! In recent days there have been several reports of unusually large jellyfish in the Wadden Sea, but also on the British coast. These barrel jellyfish are not only unusually large, but also appear at an odd time. Normally, you will find barrel jellyfish on the Dutch coast only in the late summer and autumn.

Grown in winter

The explanation for this phenomenon is simple: these giant jellyfish have survived the winter. Meanwhile, they have grown, and therefore they are so big. That happens occasionally, but only in a mild winter. In a cold winter the jellyfish all die, leaving only the polyps alive. These polyps produce jellyfish at the end of spring again; making the barrel jellyfish you see in summer much smaller.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Homophobia in Germany and Italy


This video from Italy says about itself:

Berlusconi: better to have a passion for beautiful girls than being gay

31 May 2013

“Meglio essere appassionati delle belle ragazze che gay” (“Better to have a passion for beautiful girls than being gay”) is one of the most famous wisecracks of the former prime minister of Italy, the media billionaire Silvio Berlusconi.

British daily The Guardian asked people from various countries: What’s it like being LGBT in your country? A reader from Germany shares her story:

Germany: Hostility below the surface

Penal code § 175, outlawing gay sex, was of course abolished decades ago, we have openly gay foreign ministers and other openly lesbian and gay politicians – and it’s been legal now to “marry” your partner by committing to a civil union (without some rights like the right to adoption as a couple etc.). But recent homophobic attacks against Baden-Württemberg’s proposed new school curriculum that includes the teaching of sexual diversity shows that there’s lots of resentment under the surface.

Of course, compared to having to fear for one’s personal safety on a daily basis, things in Germany are pretty good. But I find it nonetheless annoying to have people take for granted that I have a husband just because I’m a woman. And it’s not just annoying but sad that in smaller German towns, gays and lesbians are practically invisible and are too afraid to be recognized by neighbors or bosses to join a gay parade, if there is one in the first place. And I feel it is altogether tragic and shocking to hear, after having moved to a different town, that a young lesbian acquaintance of mine — one of those who did not join the parade — has committed suicide.

So, on the surface lots of rainbow colors, but it’s still pretty dark underneath.

A bit of better news from the USA: Same-sex couples flock to Arkansas after judge strikes down marriage ban.

And not so good news from the USA: Boycott launched against openly gay St Louis Rams player Michael Sam, by Christian lobbyist Jack Burkman.

Greek bishop condemns homosexuality as ‘perversion of human existence’: here.

Britain: MANY in the LGBT community fear a return to the “dark ages” on HIV awareness as the government’s austerity programme silences key programmes, activists were told yesterday: here.

Singapore bans library books that show gay couples. Politician Yaacob Ibrahim says government must abide by ‘community norms': here.

Again, hundreds of refugees drowned near Lampedusa?


This video says about itself:

9 August 2013

Documentary on the issue of immigration to the Italian island of Lampedusa, aimed at sensibilising people to the plight of African immigrants to Europe.

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Fear of many deaths in Lampedusa

Update: Monday, May 12, 2014, 15:37

In the Mediterranean a boat has capsized with probably about 400 refugees on board. It is feared that many refugees have drowned. …

The Italian Coast Guard has rescued about 240 refugees from the sea so far. Twenty dead bodies have been recovered. …

The boat capsized when it was en route from Libya to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Yesterday there [Libya] 40 boat people drowned already. In October 2013 more than 300 migrants died when their boat capsized [near Lampedusa].

According to the Times of Malta, the Italian navy task force in the Mediterranean is called the Mare Nostrum task force. A name with unpleasant echos from the Roman empire, and the twentieth century attempts by Mussolini’s fascists to “revive the Roman empire” and its “Mare Nostro” with war in Libya, Albania, Greece and elsewhere.

ITV reports already forty dead bodies recovered. One should fear the death toll will still be much higher.

The Mediterranean Has Become the Grave of Migrants: here.

Death toll of migrants seeking to enter Europe via Mediterranean worsens: here.

In the last three weeks, more than 150 refugees have died in the Mediterranean in an attempt to find asylum. On May 5, 22 died off the coast of the Greek island of Samos in the Aegean when their boat capsized; 10 others are still missing: here.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Berlusconi-mafia connection arrest in Italy


This video, recorded in Italy, is called Ex-Berlusconi minister arrested in Mafia investigation.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Former Berlusconi minister arrested over mafia ally collusion

Friday 9th May 2014

A FORMER minister in Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing government was arrested in a luxury Rome hotel today for allegedly helping a political ally convicted of mafia collusion to flee abroad.

Claudio Scajola is accused of helping Amedeo Matacena to flee to Dubai, evading a five-year jail sentence, said anti-mafia prosecutor Arturo de Felice.

Mr Matacena was declared a fugitive last summer. He was tried for ties with the Calabrian ’ndrangheta crime syndicate.

Mr Scajola resigned as industry minister in 2010 amid allegations that he paid far below market value for a luxury apartment overlooking the Colosseum in Rome.

He was later tried and acquitted of wrongdoing.

Mr Scajola is the second close Berlusconi aide to come under judicial scrutiny.

Marcello Dell’Utri has been declared a fugitive in Italy and detained in Lebanon, where he fled before a decision on an appeal against his conviction for mafia links.

Enhanced by Zemanta