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  1. Opinion

A little perspective: What's across the water when you gaze at the beach?

The lands beyond your beach gaze

When you're hanging out at the beach and you gaze at the horizon, do you know what is across the ocean from you? In ancient times, many people thought that the world simply ended at the horizon, perhaps after a ring of dangerous dragons or sea monsters. Today we know better — but perhaps not that much better. The maps, inspired by the work of map enthusiast Eric Odenheimer, show some of the cities and countries that are at the same latitude across the ocean. Straight east from Tampa Bay is basically the southern border of Morocco. West is southern China.

The colored bands on the right side show European countries in blue and African countries in red. You can see that Africa is huge, and Europe is a lot farther north than you might think.

On the left, Asian countries are shown in yellow, while the countries in Oceania are below them in blue. Australia ends up about on par with Buenos Aires.

Much of the southern part of the United States, starting with North Carolina, is on the same latitude as Africa. Miami is level with Western Sahara.

Weiyi Cai and Ana Swanson, Washington Post

The artist statements of the Old Masters

John Seed, a professor of art and art history at Mount San Jacinto College in Southern California, blogs on art for the website Hyperallergic.com. Recently, in "The Artist Statements of the Old Masters," he imagined "if the great European artists of the past were alive today, what kinds of statements would they need to write to explain and justify their work?" Here is what he guesses Leonardo da Vinci might have been reducing to saying to explain the Mona Lisa. (A hat tip to the Wall Street Journal for spotting this item first.)

"I originally proposed 'La Giaconda' as a non-specific vehicle to map coded and opposing systems of selfhood and gender that could be substantiated via an intertextual nexus. Through a personal discursive process, it then evolved towards a self-referential 'otherness' that overlays Neo-Platonic androgyny re-defined as an ontology of the unsaid."

— Leonardo da Vinci

A world without mosquitoes

If the planet were rid of all mosquitoes, would there be any negative environmental consequences?

It is impossible to know for sure, because so many varieties of mosquitoes fill so many environmental niches, feeding on and being fed on by such a variety of other creatures, and because many of these interactions have not been studied.

But it is only natural that people, pestered by itchy bites and bearing the brunt of mosquito-borne diseases, would hope the answer is no.

Many birds, bats, amphibians, fish, spiders and other insects feed on mosquitoes, but many mosquito control specialists say they usually do not eat enough mosquitoes to control them, let alone to make the loss of mosquitoes crucial to whether the predators survive.

In-depth studies have found that mosquitoes form at most 3 percent of the voracious purple martin's diet, according to the American Mosquito Control Association. A survey of scientists on mosquito eradication, published in 2010 by the journal Nature, concluded by quoting the head of the association, who said that eradication would be a "hiccup" for the environments where mosquitoes are active and that "something better or worse would take over."

C. Claiborne Ray, New York Times

A nap is good for humanity

A nap could reduce impulsive behavior and improve the ability to withstand frustration, a small study suggests. Researchers studied 40 people ages 18 to 50. After three nights of normal sleep, the participants took computer-based tests of frustration tolerance — which consisted of trying to complete an impossible task — and completed questionnaires on sleepiness, mood and impulsivity. Then they were randomly assigned to take an hour's nap, or to watch a nature video. At the end of the process, they were tested again. The study appears in Personality and Individual Differences. Before the nap period, everyone spent about the same amount of time on the unsolvable task, but afterward nappers, who all reported having slept at least part of the time, spent significantly more time working at it than they had before their nap, while non-nappers gave up sooner. Nappers also rated their behavior as less impulsive than non-nappers. The lead author, Jennifer R. Goldschmied, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, said, "People are starting to understand how powerful short bursts of sleep can be."

Nicholas Bakalar, New York Times

The making of a scream

Screams are unmistakable, universally recognizable as distress calls. A new study has found that all human screams are modulated in a particular way. "We asked ourselves what makes a scream a scream," said David Poeppel, a neuroscientist at New York University and the Max Planck Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, and an author of the new study in Current Biology. "It isn't that it is always loud, high-pitched or shrill."

It turns out that all screams share a trait called roughness, which is a measure of how fast the loudness of a sound changes. In normal speech, loudness ranges between four and five hertz; for screams, the range is 30 to 150 hertz. The researchers also found that the roughness of a scream serves as a measure of how alarming the call is.

"The more roughness they have, the more scary people ranked the screams," Poeppel said. Screams triggered increased activity in the amygdala, a region of the brain used for processing and remembering fear, the scientists found. The more roughness a scream had, the more activity it generated in the amygdala.

Sindya N. Bhanoo, New York Times

A president for one law

Were Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor, to win the U.S. presidency, he would push the Citizen Equality Act to become law, then quit. He says the law would guarantee the "equal right to vote" by enhancing federal power to control how states conduct elections, requiring states to provide for online or automated voter registration, and shifting Election Day to a national holiday. It would guarantee "equal representation" by banning gerrymandering of districts. Lessig also endorses "ranked-choice voting," where voters rank the candidates rather than vote for just one. The candidate who receives the highest aggregate ranking wins. And it would provide for "citizen-funded elections." All voters would be issued vouchers to contribute to political campaigns, and small contributions would be matched from public funds.

Eric Posner, Slate

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