The summit meeting of 150 world leaders begins at the United Nations today, and thousands of demonstrators have gathered across the street at Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza for some of the 91 protests for which permits have been granted. Give a slogan shouted in the plaza and who chanted it.
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Thursday's Question (No. 473)—"Motion Slickness":
One moves by pushing itself along. "It's kind of like an accordion," says Dr. Jordon Pollack of Brandeis University. Another "walks something like a crab," says his colleague, Dr. Hod Lipson. What are the doctors describing?
"My Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Phil."—Beth "Looking Forward to Rosh Hashana" Sherman
"So the Knicks are headed back to training camp. And they're not getting any younger."—Peter Carlin
"What Dick Cheney sees when he looks at today's Army and Marine Corps."—Will Vehrs
"Brandeis' terrifying new genetic project, the live Crab Accordion."—Marshall Sella
"Hod? Hod LIPSON? Hey, he owes me MONEY!!!"—Tim Lundberg
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Nearly everything worth creating was created by either the Chinese or the Greeks, but there is surprisingly little wrangling over the origin of the accordion. The Chinese accept responsibility with impressive good grace, tracing it to the reign of Huang-Ti, the legendary "Yellow Emperor," circa 3000 B.C. (He is also credited with the invention of boats, money, and religious sacrifice, which sounds a bit like a cruise-ship vacation gone horribly wrong, even without the accordion music.) Emperor Huang-Ti sent the scholar Ling Lun to the western mountains to seek a way to reproduce the song of the phoenix bird. Ling returned with the cheng (or sheng, or zeng), the world's first official musical instrument, an ancestor of the accordion. Why Huang Ti gets the credit I don't know, but apparently it was enough merely to hire the guy who stole the cheng (or shang, or sching, or szlang, or ziang). I believe many university research labs operate on a similar principle. The cheng (or …) is the first instrument to use free vibrating reeds as does the accordion (sometimes at 3 in the morning when that crazy guy next door decides to get in a little practice). Other instruments using free vibrating reeds were later developed in ancient Egypt and Greece, but they knew enough to keep quiet about it.
The first true accordion appeared in 1822, when Christian Friedrich Buschmann, a German instrument-maker, decided to attach an expanding bellows to a small portable keyboard with free vibrating reeds inside, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop him. Buschmann called his creation the hand-aeoline, which wasn't nearly as pornographic as it sounds. He spread its fame in 1828 by leaving Berlin and touring with it. (Much to the delight of the people of Berlin.) However, the person most often cited as the inventor of the accordion, and the first to patent an instrument of that name (in 1829), was Cyrillus Damian, a Viennese instrument-maker. Damian's design featured two to four bass keys that produced chords within a range of an octave. In Viennese music circles of his day, this was considered a good thing, although those who held that opinion are all dead now, so there's no point in getting upset about it.
The crab is any short-tailed member of the crustacean order Decapoda whose approximately 4,500 species occur in all oceans, in fresh water, and on land, not one of which has the least association with polka music.
While the accordion is much mocked (and rightly so), it must be acknowledged that much wonderful music has been made on it. The Tex-Mex maestro Flaco Jimenez and the zydeco genius Clifton Chenier come to mind. Chenier is particular appealing, embodying a tradition that has produced not only exciting accordion music but some excellent crab recipes.
Pollack and Lipson are describing cute li'l robots designed and built not by people but by a computer—that is, a robot that makes robots. "They were not engineered by humans," Pollack says, "and they were not manufactured by humans."
Using a parts list, an instruction set that mimics evolution, and an objective—create a machine that can move on a horizontal surface—the computer set about conceiving and testing many different designs, handing off the best ones to a prototyping machine. Human intervention was required only for the final step, installing the robot's motor and microchip and downloading the programming instructions that send it out to kill, kill, and keep on killing until the pestilence that is humanity is scoured from the face of the Earth. Except maybe for the part about the killing and the scouring.
Pollack stressed the primitive simplicity of these robots ("They look like toys," he said. "As does that adorable Jennifer Tilly," he did not add.) and that we are years away from self-replicating robots capable of a satisfying killin' spree, but work continues. "We hope to get up to insect level in a couple of years," Pollack says. Coincidentally, Rupert Murdoch never said any such thing about the reporters he employs.
Mocking the elderly.