Short Takes: News From All Over

Van Gogh Painted Perfect Turbulence
By Philip Ball, Nature
Dashes of gold and blue illuminate a gust of wind curling above a sleepy town in Vincent van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night. To curators and art enthusiasts, it’s a brilliant work of art stroked from a mentally disturbed mind. To physicist Jose Luis Aragon, it’s a mathematical replica of turbulence patterns, like those visible ‘in swirling water or the air from a jet engine.’ By using digital technology to track patterns of luminosity in compositions van Gogh created during fits of psychotic illness, Aragon and his colleagues discovered a visual map of the ‘deep mathematical structure’ of turbulent flow, a concept some scientists have regarded as ‘harder than quantum mechanics.’ — Kristen Mueller

By Heather Boushey,
Earlier this month, the Bush administration changed federal welfare laws to narrow the scope of what activities constitute acceptable work and work preparation for welfare recipients. For example, under the new rules, a single mother in school receives credit hours for studying in a supervised study hall, but not for studying at home after she puts her child to sleep. Such changes, enacted under the banner of promoting welfare recipients’ ‘self sufficiency,’ strip discretionary power from individual states, opting instead for a uniform, national standard that, claims Heather Boushey of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, ignores a wide spectrum of barriers to employment like language, disability, and disproportionately expensive childcare. — Evan Noetzel

Walk in the park? Take park with you
By Jennifer Taplin, The Daily News
Vexed by a lack of walkable green space within their city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, four architecture students at Dalhousie University built a mobile, self-propelled ‘park.’ Their human-sized mesh and plywood hamster wheel is inlaid with inviting grassy sod held in place by fishing line. In the wheel’s inaugural downtown roll, the students drew curious onlookers as they alternated turns walking the cylindrical green space up and down concrete thoroughfares. While future city rollabouts have not been ruled out, at least one member of the design team has suggested retiring the wheel by converting it into a hot tub. (Thanks, Treehugger.) — Evan Noetzel

Indian Temples Do Brisk Business in Women’s Hair
By Swapna Majumdar, Women’s e-News
Hair today, gone tomorrow. Such is the case in many Indian temples, where people offer their locks as a ‘symbol of religious devotion and surrender of the ego,’ Swapna Majumdar writes, only to have temple workers collect the hair and auction it to exporters. India is one of the largest exporters of human hair, much of it going to Chinese wig-making factories or the United States, which took in $82 million worth of hair in the 2004-2005 fiscal year. Though some say the practice exploits the devout, others, like hair exporter Kishore Gupta, call it an opportunity: ‘Hair that is thrown away is waste but hair that is collected is money.’ — Rachel Anderson

What Not to Watch
By Lakshmi Chaudhry, In These Times
Makeover shows aren’t just ripping through women’s closets, they’re tearing apart their self-esteem in the process, writes Lakshmi Chaudhry. Hit shows like the BBC’s ‘What Not to Wear’ and its TLC spin-off involve bombarding some unsuspecting woman with public humiliation before she gains her prize of a broadcasted visit to shops and the salon. Chaudhry points out that while these shows capitalize on belittling the guest’s choices, shows like ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’ that feature male subjects tend to reserve a bit of kindness for the man’s ego, teasing his style choices as ‘clueless’ while steering away from his sense of self. On the other hand, women are often coached on how to dress by what is ‘appropriate’ and can find their own choices deemed ‘slutty’ or ‘trashy.’ — Rachel Anderson

Street Smarts
By David Roberts, Grist
Many believe that the American Dream is taking up too much space, but critics blaming a mass of suburbanites aren’t really helping matters. So says Anthony Flint, author of This Land: The Battle Over Sprawl and the Future of America, in an interview with Grist about how sprawl came to be, the inertia that enables its maintenance, and our real options for change. Flint is pulling for smart-growth, which would eliminate many of sprawl’s hidden costs by using existing city infrastructure but containing its reach. Most importantly, he claims, smart-growth communities are pleasant, vibrant places to live. — Suzanne Lindgren

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.